He was in the foyer removing his hat and gloves when Flora walked. He put them on the table.
“Here are the pen and paper you asked for, Sir,” she said handing them to him. She was dressed in her coat and hat.
“Thank you, Flora,” he said, taking them from her. “Are you going out?”
“Yes, Sir. It’s my evening off.”
“Oh, yes. Any plans for the evening?”
“Yes, Sir. I’m going to the pictures with my friend. I’m meeting her there. Afterwards, we will have supper at her Mom’s place.”
“It sounds like you have a pleasant evening ahead. Do you mind waiting until I write this note and then deliver it to Miss Bennett for me?”
“Not at all, Sir.”
He smiled and then turned away to write his the note. “Do you have money for a cab?” he asked.
When she didn’t answer, he raised his eyes to the mirror and saw her staring at his hand. He glanced down and realized that he was holding the pen in his left hand. Deftly, he switched it to the right and wrote the note. He folded the sheet of paper, took his seal out of the drawer and pressed it on the paper. When he turned to face her, a smile masked the anger that seethed in him. He had picked the pen up with his left hand. Philip was a right hander. Flora, being a left hander herself, noticed the mistake.
He held the note out to her. She hesitated for a moment and then took it, her eyes avoiding his. “Goodnight, Flora.”
“Goodnight, Sir,” she said and quickly walked to the door and let herself out.
He stood there for a few minutes, his mind whirling. What was he going to do? Then an expression of unnatural calmness came over his face and taking up his hat and gloves, he left the house.
Flora hurried quickly down the cobbled streets, jumping at every unexpected sound she heard. In her mind the words of the newspaper played over and over. “Based on the angle of the stab wounds, our killer is left handed.”
Master Philip was right handed, she was sure of it and yet, tonight, she saw him take up the pen in his left hand. I must go to the police and report this, she thought. Instead of heading in the direction of the residence, she continued straight ahead.
It was becoming cold and she drew her coat closer about her. Her footsteps rang loudly on the street as she walked as fast as she could through the alleyways, wishing she had taken a cab with the pocket money she had. She didn’t like walking about the streets in the night. There were all sorts of characters lurking about. And she kept thinking that someone was following her. She thought she heard footsteps behind her but every time she turned around, there wasn’t anyone there. You’re imagining things, she chided herself. You’ll feel safe once you’re in Scotland Yard and talking to the kindly Chief Inspector.
With a start, she realized that she had made a wrong turn and was at a dead-end. She turned to head back to where she had come from when a dark figure suddenly appeared and was walking toward her. Panicking, she looked around her but there was no escape. She would have to go past him. Perhaps he was lost too. Perhaps he was a harmless derelict. She went towards him, heart pounding in fear and apprehension. I can’t let fear prevent me from going to the police and telling them what I know. I will just walk past him as if he isn’t there.
As she drew closer, she saw that he was no derelict but a gentleman who looked out of place. There was something familiar about him. And then she realized who it was. She tried to run but it was too late. He had her cornered like a trapped animal. She saw the tie in his hands and the maniacal look in his eyes. “Master Raymond,” she gasped and she fought him wildly but it was no use. Everything went black.
It was near dawn when he finally got back to the estate. Instead of going directly to the house, he walked unsteadily up the hill overlooking the grounds and leaned heavily against the tree, his breath harsh and unsteady. His raven dark hair was tousled, his clothes slightly disheveled, beads of perspiration formed on his wide brow and his face was deadly white. Images Flora’s face as he pulled the tie tighter and tighter around her throat flashed across his mind. It was the same look of terror he had seen on Estelle’s face when she realized that she was going to die.
Flora had fought him like a wildcat to the end, clawing at him. He put his hand against the side of his neck where she had scratched him. There was blood on his fingers. He would have to clean the scratches as best as he could and hide them. He felt in his pocket for the note which he had the presence of mind to remove from her purse. He was going to burn it. What he wrote in it, he could say to Constance in person. And the tie. He would have to dispose of it.
He hadn’t wanted to do Flora in. She was a pretty little thing and he had even entertained the idea of getting involved with her but decided that it would be foolhardy to do so. If she hadn’t noticed his mistake and been on her way to Scotland Yard, she would still be alive. He had to be very careful. No one could ever find out that he was Raymond. They had to believe that he was Philip, the heir of Cherry Grove Estate.
As he moved away from the tree, the sun made its slow ascent in the sky. Another day. Another beginning.
Later that morning, they found Flora’s body. As the Chief Inspector examined her, he thought, she looks familiar. Her purse lay discarded at her feet. Money was still in it. This was no robbery. And there was bruising around her neck. This poor girl whoever she was had been strangled. He raised her right hand and saw what looked like blood and skin under her fingernails. She had fought her attacker and whoever he was, he had scratches, possibly on his face, neck or hand. All they had to do was find out who this girl was and then they would find her killer.
This sequel to The Attic is in a response to the Thursday Photo Prompt – Beginnings found at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.
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