The House

The House

A Story by Arina Petrova
"

Brian and Louisa Keene move into a new house, unware that a dead body is hidden on it premises.

"

Chapter 1


The house was a large square thing, covered in blue paint and adorned with white wooden shutters. It was located on a quiet street in a completely ordinary and uneventful neighbourhood. In fact, the neighbourhood's most remarkable characteristic was probably its incredible tranquility. You could walk outside during the peak of day, close your eyes, and comfortably pretend that you were on a deserted island. All in all, it was a neighbourhood like many others, with mundane streets made up of large, slightly box-like houses surrounded by shrubs, trees and other types of vegetation. 

The people who lived in these houses seemed like they, too, were rather subdued. They nodded politely at each other while mowing their expansive lawns or watering their innumerable shrubs, and sometimes stopped to exchange a few words of polite small talk. The majority of the time, however, everybody minded their own business. A quiet and pleasant neighbourhood, it was favoured by the retired and those with large families.

The only sour note, it seemed, was an old car dealer and hypochondriac named George Pearly, who lived at the very end of Poplar street. Mr. Pearly was a self-proclaimed “old-timer” and felt that he was unjustly forced to move out of his large, century -old family house into a new development, while the marvelous mansion was sold to some private company, who, no doubt, wanted to take it down and use the land to build a hotel �" or something of that sort.  Whenever any of his neighbours had the misfortune to become entangled in conversation with him, the topic soon invariably turned to the olden days, and in particular, his life at the mansion. In truth, George Pearly understood that what has happened was probably for the best. He was, after all, only getting older, and the old mansion required constant care and attention which was beyond the means of his younger relatives, let alone his own.

As it happens, it was on a particularly dull and dreary winter day that Mr. Pearly happened to look out of his window just in time to see a small car, followed by a large truck, zoom onto his street and stop by the blue, white-shuttered house in question. With a grunt the old man turned away. George Pearly did not like change, at least not when it was out of his control. And although he felt no particular loyalty towards the neighbourhood, he did not like to see anything out of the ordinary ruin the regular rhythm of his day. And the two vehicles were, Mr. Pearly reflected, undoubtedly harbingers of change.

Two people, a man and a young woman, alighted from the small, rather ramshackle car. The truck, which had stopped behind the car, contained another man, rather fat and stocky in stature, who appeared to be wearing only one shoe. To George Pearly's amusement the stocky man promptly stepped into a puddle with his bare foot and was forced to fish a shoe out from the insides of his vehicle. In the meantime, the two other people had unlocked the front door of the house and already carried in several suitcases. Next, opening the back of the truck, the two men climbed in and reappeared again carrying a small armchair.

Uninterested in the proceedings of unloading boxes and furniture, Mr. Pearly turned away from the window again and walked, as briskly as his rheumatism allowed, across to the kitchen. He knew that these must be the new occupants of house 405 across the street. Putting on the kettle he decided he would invite his next door neighbour, Mrs. Linda Marrow, a widow, in for a good bout of gossip. George considered Linda Marrow to be an “old-timer” as well, although she was a good thirty years younger than him. With these thoughts, George Pearly picked up the telephone.


Chapter 2


With a sigh, Louisa Keene plopped down on top of a coffee table, ignoring her husband's accusatory glance. It had been a hard day of carrying various articles of household ware and unpacking boxes, and all of it in the most detestable weather conditions. For, although it was almost April, and technically spring, the weather was still stubbornly wintery. In fact, there had been a most severe snowstorm in the past week, which left snow banks of several metres high along roads and in people's yards.

With another sigh Louisa looked out of the window, which opened onto the back yard. Apart from a sparkling frosty carpet of white, she could see the roof of the shed at the back of the property and some hopeful tree tops. It was true that their piece of land was located in a small dip, making their yard sit lower than that of their neighbours and the snow cover more than was tolerable, but the sight still made her shiver. It really is too much, thought Louisa sleepily, hypnotized by the white expanse, we ought to do something with all this snow, or else we're going to end up with a swimming pool when it all melts, although...

“Can you get off the coffee table and sit somewhere else?” 

Her husband's irritated tone snapped her out of her reverie. Louisa unwillingly got up and leaned against the kitchen counter, still looking out into the yard. Brian Keene suspiciously eyed the coffee table, looking for signs of breakage. Louisa was, after all, slightly past the point of flower-like fragility. In fact, she has lately been looking rather dumpy.

Finally taking her eyes off of the top of the shed, Louisa turned to her husband, “Do you know if there could be anything interesting in that shed? I thought the realtor said something about the previous owners having had a beekeeping hobby? Wouldn't that require some sort of equipment?”

Overwhelmed with the sudden onslaught of questions and exhausted from lugging furniture, Brian looked wearily at his wife and snapped, “Do you think I wrote everything she said down?” And with that he got up to look for his misplaced car keys.

At this very moment, there came an energetic knock at the front door. Louisa, feeling apprehensive, cautiously walked to the front of the house and timidly looked out of the window. What she saw was a tall, thin woman wearing a mink collar and holding a bundle, with a small, stooped man in a large hat standing behind her.

Nervously glancing round herself for her husband, Louisa advanced towards the door, deliberately being slow in the hope that they would go away. After standing with her hand on the door knob for several seconds, she finally opened the door and carefully looked out onto the visitors.

“Welcome, welcome!” Cried the tall woman paradoxically, with a wide smile and an unsuitable amount of merriment, “We are your neighbours from across the street. What a horrible day to be moving in, you poor things. You must be exhausted! May we come in?” 

With these announcements, the woman bustled in with the air of one entering her own house. The small man quietly followed suit. Louisa, completely floored, looked helplessly around in the hopes of seeing Brian, but he was nowhere around. After taking the strangers' coats Louisa silently led the way into the kitchen, realizing that she was probably acting very peculiar and unfriendly.

“How rude!” cried the woman, startling Louisa and causing her to blush, “We forgot to introduce ourselves. My name is Linda Marrow. I am your neighbour. I live across the street.” She vaguely waved her arm to the left.

The little man came forward rather apprehensively and coughed, after which he extended his hand and murmured, “I am Mr. Pearly. Although you may call me George, of course. That is, if you wish. It appears to be customary nowadays.”

Louisa, somewhat intimidated by George, tried to introduce herself, “I am Louisa. I mean Louisa Keene. If you'll just give me a second...”

But, before she could excuse herself with the purpose of locating her husband, there was an angry yell from across the hall, produced by none other than Brian Keene: “Where the hell did I put those keys? Did you take 'em? I swear I put them on the mantlepie.... Oh.” With these rather unsavoury remarks, Louisa's husband appeared in the kitchen doorway. Seeing the two guests, he stopped short and turned rather pale. Linda Marrow chuckled and flitted forth to embrace him with her welcoming warmth.

“You must be the other one. Very nice to meet you. I am Linda Marrow, and this is George Pearly. We live across the street-  in separate houses, of course. Ha ha! We are the only neighbours you will probably meet personally. Ha ha ha! Of course, I personally love making new acquaintances. Ha, ha.”

Mr. Pearly turned a sour face towards Brian and gave him a curt nod. Evidently, he did not share Mrs. Marrow's enthusiasm for making friends. In fact, truth be told, she had to bribe him with home-made apple cider into coming to meet the new arrivals.

At last everyone finally settled down to the business of drinking tea. While sipping murky liquid from one of the dusty teacups Louisa had produced out of one of the boxes, Mrs. Marrow presented the newcomers with a bundle. A housewarming gift, she called it. It turned out to be a small woven rug with a pattern of birds on it. Ignoring the fact that she had received too many rugs to count from friends and family before moving, Louisa graciously thanked Mrs. Marrow.

The unexpected visitors seemed to have a positive effect on Brian. He forgot about his car keys and engaged Mr. Pearly in a tentative conversation about golf, a game he had only played once in his life. George Pearly himself was only acquainted with golf through an old friend whose son-in-law played it. Every now and then Mr. Pearly interrupted the conversation to blow his nose, citing a severe bout of cold.

Linda Marrow happily chirped away to Louisa, “You know, my dear,” she said, with an air of confidentiality, “I don't believe George has a cold. In fact, he probably doesn't. I know the type. My grandson was just like this when he was a toddler, always sniffing and crying and having fits. Nothing but attention seeking, in my opinion. Although he is a good and reliable man overall. George is, I mean. Not my grandson, although he is a fine young man, too. Not that George is young,” Linda stopped to chuckle, “Although he does have some vulgar friends, my grandson does.” An expression of bewilderment assumed itself on Mrs. Marrow's face. She was obviously remembering something one of her grandson's friends had said.

Louisa laughed. She was beginning to find Linda a very likeable, although rather chaotic in nature, woman. It would be nice to have friends in this new place, she thought. She had not hoped to make friends so soon upon arrival, and found the prospect appealing. The whole of Linda Marrow's being seemed to be fixed upon making friends and socializing. 

Louisa snapped out of her thoughts, realizing that Mrs. Marrow has now switched to asking questions, “What about you, my dear? What brought you here? This poor house has been standing vacant for almost a year! What do you do? I am hosting a dinner party in a week, will you come?”

“Of course we will,” said Louisa. She had never seen anyone so eager to make friends.

With a rush of warmth, she had the sudden desire to tell Mrs. Marrow everything about her life.

“Brian is an engineer,” she began, “he was invited to work on some sort of project involving bridges in this area. At first we were reluctant, but quickly changed our minds. You see, before moving here we were living in a cramped apartment with neighbours who had dogs and loud children.”

“Absolutely terrible,” cut in Mrs. Marrow, “We used to have a dog when I was a child. The mess, and the dirt and the terrible noise! I believe my brother eventually sold him to someone. Anyway, what about you, Louisa? What do you do?”

  “Currently, nothing. I have a degree in philosophy. Hardly a useful thing. Brian wants me to get a position as secretary for the company he works,”  here Louisa stopped suddenly and bit her lip. She wasn't sure how much she wanted to be a secretary. To be honest, she wasn't even sure what she would have to do, apart from spending a considerable amount of time typing on a computer. But it doesn't matter right now, thought Louisa, looking at Linda Marrow's eager face. Not when they were having such a good time.

The rest of the evening passed in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. Even the intimidating George seemed to become more genial and forget about his cold. The party ended rather late in the evening, with the hosts exhausted, but content.


Chapter 3


A month had passed since the arrival of Louisa and Brian Keene at house 405. Time had flown by rather quickly and decidedly pleasantly, with many visits to and from Linda Marrow. The snow was rapidly melting away, although there was still enough of it around to dampen the spirits and create considerable hazards. But, for the most part, life was going smoothly. Brian spent most of his time in the office and at various construction sites, while Louisa solved various housekeeping issues. This course of events continued for several weeks until one day came the news. 

It came early one Tuesday morning by phone. As it is usually expected, the news was not good. One of Brian's cousins, a much older one, had died. The death was not fully unexpected, as cousin James has been battling leukemia for quite some years. Nevertheless, Brian was compelled to start making plans to travel back for the funeral as soon as he possibly could.

He left by train early the next morning, deciding not to take the car. And although he promised to be back in no more than three days, Louisa, in her turn, felt anxious at being left alone in a new place so soon after arrival. Even after a month she was not completely sure which road led to the grocer's. Mrs. Marrow, however, promised to help.

Almost as if on purpose, the snow disappeared almost completely right after Brian's departure. The weather suddenly became much warmer and the air developed a markedly spring-like feel. Birds began chirping with renewed vigour and various insects began crawling out of their winter hideouts. Louisa decided that this would be the perfect time to have a look around the yard and a peek into the shed. She had a distinct feeling that it would be a mess. The warmth in the air spurred one on towards new undertakings.

She chose a particularly sunny and warm day for her endeavours, and, with the help of Linda Marrow, began to poke around the various flower beds and shrubs trying to decipher what each of the plants were. The melting snow had uncovered a vast amount of flower beds and bushes, along with several footpaths which zigzagged their way across the yard.

“Do you think this might be a chrysanthemum bush?” asked Louisa hopefully, looking at a small but distinctly undisciplined shrub. Although Louisa didn't really know what a chrysanthemum might look like, she had often read about them in books and found the name to be rather romantic. 

Mrs. Marrow looked with disapproval at the long unruly branches. “It looks like a barberry shrub to me,” she said, “and it looks like it badly wants a trim. All we need is a pair of garden shears.” 

Finding this to be a good reason to finally open the shed, the two women started hunting round for the key. It was finally located by Louisa under a large rose bush, attached to a metal key chain with a flower shaped pendant. This rather surprised her. She was sure that the realtor had said that it would be in the mailbox, not under a bush. However, not wanting to spend any time upon this useless detail, Louisa decided that she must have been mistaken. Calling out to Linda Marrow, Louisa hurried towards her with the key.

The next several minutes, upon looking back, always seemed rather foggy and dream-like to Louisa. Her mind could not accept that such a normal and pleasant day could possibly lead to what had happened next.

Mrs. Marrow, opening the shed with the newly found key, stepped into its dark interiors and ambled forth with a determined air. There were no windows and no source of light, except for that coming from the open door. The inside of the shed appeared to be stacked from floor to ceiling with various articles of household and garden importance. Louisa, feeling less courageous than Linda, apprehensively took a step forward. The number of cobwebs was not encouraging. She could only imagine the numerous spiders that must be watching them from the many hiding places in the shed. There was also a strange stale smell coming from somewhere at the back of the building.

Suddenly, out of the darkness, Louisa heard a sharp staccato gasp and a loud thump. She peered into the darkness in front of her but could only make out a shelf stacked with building instruments. The noise seemed to have come from her right hand side, the direction in which Mrs. Marrow had disappeared. An icy, sickening feeling of unease took hold of Louisa's insides. 

In a hollow voice that sounded too loud for the tomb-like atmosphere of the shed, she asked shakily, “Mrs. Marrow? Is everything fine?” No response. The only sounds she could hear was the rumble of a lawn mower and the sound of a car passing in the distance. 

The strange smell grew noticeably stronger as Louisa moved forward. It disturbingly reminded her of rotting meat mixed with sweat. The darkness grew thick around her. All of a sudden, her right foot bumped into something substantial, but at the same time curiously soft. With a dropping feeling in her stomach, Louisa realized that it was Mrs. Marrow. Linda was lying in a heap in front of a row of bins. Louisa, momentarily choked with dread and unable to think clearly, stared down at her immobile friend.

After several long minutes, Mrs. Marrow lifted her eyelids with a flutter and uttered a low croaking sound. Relief flooded Louisa, but it was not long lived. As she looked up to see what could have possibly scared the steadfast woman so much, she came face to face with a head. It was sticking out of one of the bins, held between a rake and a garden spade and partly concealed by a shovel.

The shock that came with seeing a face where she did not expect to was not made better by the condition that it was in. The head obviously belonged to someone who had been dead for quite some time.

Louisa felt lightheaded. Prickles floated down her skin and made her feel cold. A feeling of unreality took hold of her. This could not be happening. She was obviously dreaming. That was the only plausible explanation. Slowly backing until she felt a wall behind her, Louisa slid down to the floor of the shed. Putting her head in her hands she tried to force herself to wake up. She squeezed her eyes shut and imagined that she was lying in bed. A few seconds more and she would open her eyes and be back in her bedroom.

A voice, weak and low, interrupted her concentration: “The... there is a... body. In the bin.” The words sounded as if the tongue that had spoken them weighed a ton, “We need... to call...”

Louisa lifted her head from her hands. Beside her, lying in a crumpled pose, was Mrs. Marrow, and above Mrs. Marrow there was a head sticking out of a bin.


Chapter 4

Louisa sat in her living room, looking at the street through the big picture window. The curtains fluttered lightly in the breeze coming through the open window. It was a gorgeous, warm day. Small buds were finally becoming visible on the trees and early flowers were in full bloom. The air that wafted in through the window smelled soft and sweet. Spring has definitely arrived.

Louisa looked in front of her as if in a trance, hardly noticing the beauty and freshness around her. She felt cold and tired. Afraid to look around, much less behind herself, she stared straight in front. The world seemed menacing and hostile. You never knew what you would see if you turned your head. She was thinking about the body in the shed. What bothered Louisa most was the fact that the dead body had been in there for a considerable amount of time. In fact, it was probably there when they had moved in. All this time there had been a corpse on the property. But even scarier was the thought that the body might have been put in the shed after their arrival. She shivered.

Suddenly, snapping back to reality, Louisa became aware of a presence in the room. There was someone behind her. With a feeling of dread she remembered that she had left the back door unlocked. There was no doubt about it. She could sense movement with the back of her head. The intruder was approaching from behind. The nightmarish quality of the world around her intensified. A shadow flitted over the wall in front of her, causing the blood in her body to freeze. She couldn't breathe. Like a clammy stone statue she sat heavily in her chair, afraid to move. She knew that she needed to get up, preferably grabbing something heavy in the process, but she could not muster the courage nor the energy needed for action.

The wind picked up speed and clouds gathered in the sky. The room grew darker. With a startling loudness, a knock on the front door sent Louisa leaping up from her chair. She spun around; there was nobody in the room, all she could see were the swaying shadows of the trees outside. The knock sounded again, causing her to jump. Carefully, much in the same fashion as on her first day in the house, Louisa edged towards the window. Mr. Pearly was standing on the doorstep in front of the door. Tears rolled down Louisa's face. With a sprint she flew to the door and opened it.

George Pearly started at the sight of Louisa. And indeed, she was a sight to behold. Her gruesome discovery of the head, and other body parts along with it, had only happened yesterday. Since then, she had neither slept nor looked in the mirror. Her hair was hanging down in messy, dirty chunks and her face was pale with dark eye circles. Unable to control her relief, Louisa crumpled up and began to bawl. She knew that she was undoubtedly scaring poor George, but she couldn't help it. The horror and the stress of yesterday's events burned bright in her mind. 

After helping Mrs. Marrow out of the shed, Louisa had called the police. They arrived within a few minutes and immediately turned to examining the crime scene. Lots of pictures were taken, both inside and outside of the building, and many samples were gathered. The body, or what was left of it, was taken out of the bin. It belonged to a tall, middle aged man with brown hair. According to the forensic doctor, he had been dead for no less than a month. Death had been caused by a stab to the heart, after which the body had been dismembered. The identity of the man was established soon after. His name was Jordan Gray and he was one of Louisa's neighbours �" or would have been one of her neighbours. His house was on the street parallel theirs, in fact, their backyards touched. He had gone missing about a month ago. After all the technicalities were done with, the police had turned their attention to the two women. A lot of the questions they asked seemed unnecessarily suspicious to Louisa.

Mrs. Marrow, usually outgoing and full of life, seemed to shrink after the discovery. She provided short, curt answers devoid of detail and nervously glanced around, avoiding eye contact with her questioners. After the police officers had left, she refused Louisa's invitation to stay the night with her, and quickly left without so much as a goodbye. Louisa went back to the house alone. After calling Brian, she spent the whole night staring nervously at the television with unseeing eyes and jumping at the smallest sounds.

“I thought I would drop by and see how you were doing,” Mr. Pearly said, bringing Louisa back to the present. Looking at the tears rolling down her face, George took her by the shoulders and led her into the living room. Sitting her down on the couch he sat across from her.

“I'm sorry,” said Louisa quietly, “I'm not myself right now. I was scared. I thought someone was in the house. But there wasn't... Have you seen Mrs. Marrow today?”

“I have,” answered George, “She's in a bad state. Deeply shocked. Surprising, considering that she didn't know the man. Although, seeing the corpse, I can imagine...” Noticing the look on Louisa's face, George Pearly quickly cut himself off.

“I'll go clean myself up,” said Louisa, “and then we'll go see Mrs. Marrow together. I need a change of surroundings.”


-----


Linda Marrow did not answer the door when George and Louisa knocked. After several attempts, George simply opened the door and walked in. Louisa followed him. The house had a sad, stale atmosphere. All of the curtains in the house were drawn and there was a heavy smell of dust in the air. The kitchen and living room were empty and silent, the only sound coming was from a clock ticking on the mantlepiece.

“Mrs. Marrow?” called Louisa, her voice small in the silence, “It's us. Are you home?”

Following a corridor lined with watercolours, Louisa reached an open door, which evidently led to the bedroom. Peering inside, she could see the foot of a bed with a crumpled square of blanket. Hesitantly, she walked in, stopping just inside the doorway. Mrs. Marrow was lying in bed, with two pillows under her head and a thick blanket on top of her. Her eyes were open and glazed. Not noticing Louisa, she was intently staring at the ceiling. For the first time, Louisa realized that Linda Marrow must be well over fifty, if not sixty yet. With her hair lying tangled across the pillow, and without her usual lipstick and blush, Linda Marrow looked old.

“Go away,” said Mrs. Marrow suddenly in a flat voice, “I know what you came for. I did not do it. I wasn't there and I didn't see anything. I won't tell anyone.”

“What exactly did I do Mrs. Marrow?” Louisa asked, feeling spooked and confused. Edging towards the bed she could see a glass of water and a bottle of pills on the bedside table beside Mrs. Marrow. 

Suddenly, Linda Marrow took her eyes off the ceiling and looked unsteadily, but with definite hostility, at Louisa. After several seconds, she rolled over on her side and closed her eyes. Louisa stood looking for some time at the poor woman. Then, as she turned round to go she realized with a start that George Pearly was standing behind her, just inside the door. For how long he had been there she did not know.

George looked at Louisa for some time, and then, taking her by the upper arm, led her out of the room. He closed the door behind them and led her to the kitchen, where he sat down on a chair.

“The poor woman,” he said, “she doesn't know what she's talking about. She has taken sleeping pills, probably too many. Don't worry, my child.” 

For the first time since she had met him, Louisa thought that George Pearly looked kind. His eyes were soft and sad and he was looking with something close to tenderness at Louisa. This made her want to cry again, and before she could stop herself, tears were once again rolling down her cheeks.. 

“Don't cry. I will call the doctor. Poor Linda needs help. Then, we will go to my house and have a drink.”

 

Chapter 5


It was evening. The day was finally over. George Pearly sat down in one of the armchairs in front of his fireplace and sighed. The fire was almost out, having been lit when Louisa was still here. Taking a sip of the whiskey he had poured himself, George stared gloomily at the fire.

Such a terrible occurrence. The poor woman, he thought. A good thing the doctor is with her right now. It had really been a blow to see Linda Marrow in the state she was in now. He had known her for many years. A kind soul, always cheerful, always ready to help. A pity that things had to turn out this way. He wondered if life would ever go back to normal. He came to the conclusion that it eventually would. Life, after all, always has a way of going back to being mundane.

With a leap his mind jumped to the topic of Louisa Keene. A strange woman. He knew almost nothing about her. Who was she, really? Linda had said something about engineering, but it seemed dubious to George. And her husband? Why did he leave so suddenly? Has Louisa told him about the body? Such a strange occurrence. The body in the shed, he though grimly, just like the title of some mediocre detective story.

He remembered what Linda Marrow had said: I wasn't there and I didn't see anything. She had also said something else, but he couldn't remember what. It probably didn't matter. His business was to keep out of the business as much as possible. That tired-looking detective who arrived at the scene that day had seemed capable enough.


----

  At that same moment, Louisa was also thinking about the events of the day. After the doctor had arrived to look after Mrs. Marrow, Mr. Pearly had taken Louisa back to his house and given her a good dose of some strong drink. Then, they had sat in front of the fire and Mr. Pearly had told her about the past. He talked about seeing Ronald Reagan in person- a story Louisa found dubitable- about the joy of buying new Frank Sinatra records, about maddening telephone operators and about his own life. Mr. Pearly had talked extensively about his own past. His grandfather had had something to do with diamond mines in Africa, she had gathered, helping him surmount a substantial amount of wealth. With this money he had bought a lackluster business and a huge mansion. The business had sizzled out by the time George Pearly went to school, but the house had survived. It still stood somewhere, albeit empty. Mr. Pearly has been forced to sell it.

For some reason, the thought of the house made Louisa want to cry again. She wished they had bought that old proud house instead of this one, with a dead body in the shed. She imagined it must be somewhat like its old owner. George Pearly had struck her as a sad man. A kind one, but whose values were at odds with the rest of society. Both he and Mrs. Marrow reminded her of characters out of an old movie.

With a pang, Louisa thought of the words Linda Marrow had uttered. What had she not seen? What would she not tell? And George, how long had he been standing behind her? Did he know what Linda had meant? With these questions in mind, Louisa fell asleep.


Chapter 6


Louisa was awakened the next morning by the insistent pealing of the doorbell. Slowly opening her eyes she looked at the clock. It was only eight in the morning. For a moment, she thought that it might be Brian, back from the funeral, but then she remembered that he had said he will only be back in the evening. With a deep sigh Louisa got up. She had the unpleasant feeling that some sort of trouble was awaiting her on the other side of the door. Even more strange was the fact that the ringing was coming from the back door.

Before opening the door, Louisa looked out of the kitchen window to try and see who it was. With a pang of annoyance she saw that it was the police detective who had arrived on the day of the discovery. Remembering the many rude and suspicious questions he had asked her, she unwillingly opened the door.

“It's me. Sergeant Green,” began the police detective, and, in an angrier tone, continued: “Did we not tell you not to go near the shed? We put new tape around the shed yesterday morning after we finished collecting more evidence. Today, we come, and it's broken. It is, in case you didn't know, an offence to tamper with the crime scene.”

Louisa, flabbergasted by the nature of the accusations, said, as unpleasantly as she could, “I wouldn't go near that shed if you paid me. I don't know who broke your stupid tape, but it wasn't me. Perhaps it was one of your police people. And what evidence could you possibly find there that you haven't found on the first day, anyway?”

Sergeant Green, sceptical of Louisa's mitigations, looked past her shoulder and, with a doubled air of authority, said, “In any case, we need to have a look around your house. The murder weapon, you know, still hasn't been found and we-”

“Not surprisingly,” interrupted Louisa, and immediately realized that she had made a mistake as Green bent a distrustful eye on her. Recovering herself and remembering the various crime shows she had watched, Louisa asked, “Do you have a search warrant?”

Of course I do.”

With a sigh, Louisa moved aside.

As Sergeant Green and another police officer searched through her house, Louisa sat by the window in the living room and looked outside. It was a windy, cloudy day, with the promise of rain in the air. Spring, though Louisa, is the most fickle time of the year. One day it felt as if summer was just around the corner, and then the next day you had freezing rain. One step forward, two steps back.

Louisa's musings were interrupted by the appearance of Mr. Pearly, who stepped out of his front door wearing a giant pair of rain boots. He looked up and down the street a few times and then went across his yard to Mrs. Marrow's front door. Louisa had the sudden desire to run across the street and catch up with him, but the thought of Sergeant Green pilfering through her house stopped her. To her surprise, Mr. Pearly went into the house without knocking.


Chapter 7


George Pearly entered Linda Marrow's house with an air of caution. He did not know if the doctor was still around. Nevertheless, he had to see Mrs. Marrow as soon as possible.

“Linda, it's George. I have to tell you something,” he called, shattering the dead silence of the house. When no response followed, he walked through the kitchen and dining room, and entered the living room.

The storm clouds, which were steadily gathering overhead, cast shadows onto the walls of the spacious room. Despite the unpleasant weather conditions, the large picture window was wide open. The curtains were blowing chaotically in the strengthening wind and a small statuette has apparently been knocked over. Advancing, George could see the top of Mrs. Marrow's head above her enormous love seat, which stood turned towards the window. Edging closer, he saw a limp hand resting on the armrest. 

“Linda, yesterday, when I was thinking about...” Mr. Pearly stopped short. Something was not right. Slowly walking around the love seat, George came upon a horrible picture. Linda Marrow was sitting in her chair with her head craned slightly to the side. Her eyes were halfway closed and her mouth was open. Her arms were lying limply on the armrests, each wrist covered in blood. Upon looking closer, George could see several deep, horizontal slashes. Her housecoat was also covered in blood. Mrs. Marrow was dead. 

George turned around and quickly left the house. He had seen police cars standing outside Louisa's house. Reaching her front door, he pressed the doorbell and thumped loudly on the door. A bewildered Louisa came out to greet him.

“No time for hello's. Mrs. Marrow is dead,” Mr. Pearly spoke breathlessly. Pushing past Louisa he rushed inside to find the police officers.


--Half an hour later--

Sergeant Green, appearing in Linda Marrow's doorway, motioned for Louisa and George, who had been standing outside the house, to come inside. A look of relief was upon his face.

“Ample evidence to suggest that it was a suicide,” he said, “And what's more, we can consider the case of the body in the shed closed. The murder weapon has been found.”

“Where?” Asked George in a faltering voice.

“On the floor beside Linda Marrow's body. She had used it to kill herself.”

“You don't mean to say...?”

“Yes, we do, Mr. Pearly. Linda Marrow murdered Jordan Gray and then, possibly out of guilt, killed herself. The motive, most likely, has died with her.”

George Pearly and Louisa looked at each other in disbelief.


Chapter 8


Brian Keene arrived late that evening. His train had been delayed by two hours, leaving him tired and grumpy. He had read about the discovery of the body in the newspapers, but, much to Louisa's surprise, didn't seem upset or even interested in any of the details. He accepted the official version that it was Mrs. Marrow who had killed the man.“She always did seem too chirpy” was his verdict, and when Louisa tried to explain the horror of the fact that they had practically been living with a dead body for a month, he waved it off.

Louisa, on the other hand, was not so easily satisfied. Lying in bed that night, she thought through the various points of the case. Sergeant Green had gladly written the case off as solved, but in her own opinion, many things were still unclear. For example, who had broken the police tape around the shed? She knew it couldn't have been Mrs. Marrow, as she was in bed the whole day. She also couldn't imagine Linda Marrow cutting a dead body into pieces.

No, this wouldn't do. With a decisive swing of her covers, Louisa got out of bed. Brian could sleep as soundly as he wanted, but she would not be satisfied until she found out the truth. Mrs. Marrow, despite her many apparent neuroses, had been a friend, and Louisa was sure she was innocent.

After grabbing a flashlight, Louisa quietly opened the door and tiptoed outside. If someone had been looking through the shed yesterday, it meant that it contained something important, and even if they had found what they were looking for, maybe they had lost something else. At any rate, it was a starting point. Pushing her fear and trepidation aside, Louisa started for the shed. Justice was more important than cowardice, she told herself.

She felt a cold shiver down her spine as she unlocked the shed door. Illuminating her path with the flashlight, Louisa carefully crept along. Everything looked just as it had on that fateful day when they found the body. Except, of course, that the body itself was gone. Suddenly, Louisa thought that she heard a light footstep outside the shed. Straining her ears, she listened. This time it was loud and clear. Someone was approaching the shed, with quiet, measured footsteps. 

Stopping and turning around Louisa extended her right arm to the side, feeling with her hand for something to grab. The long handle of some metal implement hit her fingers. Grabbing the thing she braced herself for a possible attack, but no attack came. Instead, the door of the shed quietly swung closed, slowly cutting off the moonlight. Louisa, holding her flashlight in one hand and the implement in the other, edged forward. Her heart pounded in her head. She hoped against all odds that it had been the wind. But, before she could reach the door, her nose picked up the faint odour of smoke. With a lightheaded flurry of panic, Louisa realized that the shed was on fire.


Chapter 9


With all the strength she could muster, Louisa pounded on the door with the metal implement she was holding, but the solid wood refused to budge. Someone had propped the door with something on the other side, locking it in place. Turning around, Louisa pounded on the wall. Exhausted, she sank down to the ground, tears gathering in her eyes. She could hear the flames beginning to crackle outside the walls of the shed. With a glimmer of hope, Louisa thought about the noise and the light that a fire was bound to produce. Someone had to notice it. But, by then, it would probably be too late for her.

The shed was quickly filling up with dark, thick smoke. It burned her eyes and choked her throat. Suddenly, without any warning, a portion of one wall came crashing down, consumed by flames. An idea suddenly struck Louisa. Carefully, shielding her face with one hand, she crept towards that wall. Using the metal implement she hit at the jagged edges of the fire-consumed opening. The smouldering pieces of wood easily gave way. Methodically, she worked her way until she came to a portion of the wall not covered by fire. Breaking away those pieces with her hands, she gingerly crawled out.

A waft of fresh air hit her face. Slowly, on all fours, she crawled away from the shed, coughing and wheezing. The cool night air felt heavenly. Collapsing on her back Louisa looked up at the night sky. Her eyes closed. She was exhausted. A door opened somewhere in the distance, but she didn't care. The smoke, leaving her body, carried with it her ability to think.

A voice suddenly exclaimed, “Louisa! What the hell did you do?!” Unmistakably, it was the voice of her husband, angry and shocked. 

Louisa smiled up at him with closed eyes. With her hand she tried to pat the ground beside her. All of a sudden a hand grabbed her by the arm and pulled her up.

“What happened, Louisa? Wha... wha...” Brian couldn't get his words out.

Reluctantly opening her eyes and looking at her husband, Louisa said in a raspy voice, “Call the firefighters. And that awful detective. Someone burned down our shed.”


Chapter 10


Detective Green arrived soon after with several police officers. After asking Louisa about the events of the night, he transferred his attention to looking at the charred remains of the shed. Louisa, not wanting to be left out, also decided to inspect the crime scene. Ignoring Green's irritated glances, she began examining the ash-covered ground. With her head bent, she shuffled across the perimeter of the shed, using a rake she had found to move ashes and charred pieces of wood out of the way. When she had reached the right side of the building, the one farthest away from the house, she came upon something curious. 

There, entrenched deeply in the mud, made soft and sticky by yesterday's rain, were a row of footprints, leading from a stone footpath to the door of the shed. They were very large footprints. A sudden image of Mr. Pearly, wearing his oversized rain boots, flashed into Louisa's mind.

Amazed and disturbed by her discovery, she stood looking down at the footprints as if in a trance. Detective Green, noticing her contemplation, came towards her.

“I see you have found footprints,” he said grudgingly.

“Yes. And I believe I know who they belong to.”

With a sigh of vexation, Green took Louisa by the elbow and led her inside the house. He knew the type. The witness who thinks that they can solve the case before the police, not taking into account the due process or any of the formalities. He had already been involved in a case where one witness, an elderly lady, kept coming up with new suspects.


Chapter 11


George Pearly was just about to pour himself some whiskey when he heard a short, timid knock on the front door. With a grimace of annoyance, he put down his tumbler and limped across to the door. His rheumatism has been acting up lately, making him grumpier than usual. Opening the door he saw Louisa, her face pale and nervous.

“Hello Louisa,” he said, “I thought you would come today. Come in.” He stood aside to let her pass, carefully closing and locking the door behind her.

Louisa went into the living room and turned around. With an effort she forced herself to look right into George Pearly's eyes. For the first time, she noticed just how black they were. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking or feeling �" or so she thought.

Standing less than a metre away from the old man, Louisa went straight to the object of her visit, “You burned down my shed last night. I believe you were trying to kill me.”

To her great surprise, Mr. Pearly chuckled. Walking across the room he sat down in an armchair. “Sit down,” he said, nodding to a chair opposite him.

Hesitantly, Louisa took a seat on the corner of the chair. She had expected a somewhat different reaction. Not sure what to expect now, she decided that the best course of action would be to do as she was told and remain vigilant. 

Mr. Pearly was watching her with benign, albeit sad, eyes. He looked as if he were about to make some grand revelation. 

“I grew up in a poor family,” began Mr. Pearly, looking sadly in front of him, “We had once been wealthy, but had gone bankrupt, due to some bad choices on my grandfather's part. From quite an early age, I learned that money equals comfort. It equals the ability to be able do what you want with your life. If my family had had money, my life would have turned out differently. When I was younger I didn't mind as much, but as I grew older, I began to feel with more clarity the discomfort that lack of wealth brings. I also began to understand the value of leaving something for the younger generations. The big house my grandfather bought should have been a family relic. But I lost it, and along with me so did the future generations.”

Louisa was starting to feel apprehensive. She had the feeling that Mr. Pearly was dragging out time in the hope that a course of escape might open itself up. Had he been a younger and stronger man, escape would not have been a problem, but as things were, Louisa was many times stronger than he was.

“What I mean to say, Louisa,” said Mr. Pearly, in a gentle voice, “is that I killed Jordan Gray, and I did it for the house. He had once been most foolish to tell me that he possessed three large, uncut diamonds worth a considerable sum in his home. He had supposedly inherited them from one of his uncles, who had been involved in the same diamond mine as my grandfather. I killed him for those diamonds. I hoped that I could use the money to buy back my house. You see, Louisa, those diamonds belonged to my grandfather. They were stolen long ago, by Jordan Gray's uncle. My grandfather suspected that it was him. After my conversation with Gray, I was sure of it. I tried to reason with him. Convince him that those diamonds were rightly mine, but he became violent. I killed him in what I believe was self defence. But I believe in taking what you get and making the most out of it.”

Louisa sat as quietly as she could, afraid to say or do the wrong thing. Despite knowing that Mr. Pearly was the murderer, the revelation left her feeling shocked. She had not expected George to tell her everything so easily. Besides, many questions were still unanswered.

Mr. Pearly was watching her calmly, with something close to a smile on his face.

Finding her voice, Louisa asked the question that was bothering her the most, “What about Mrs. Marrow?”

Mr. Pearly sighed, “Linda was simply a foolish woman who happened to become a witness. You see, my dear, I am an old and weak man. Jordan Gray was a tall, healthy man half my age. After I killed him, I cut him into pieces, so it would be easier to dispose of the body. I decided to hide them in the shed of the empty house across the street. How could I have known that you would move in within a couple of days? Anyway, I put the body parts into bags, and lugged them one at a time across the street to your property. 

“I suppose Linda must have seen me carrying the bags, although I deliberately chose a moonless night for the deed. She never said anything about it to me, and I never suspected that she saw anything. I don't know. Perhaps she had one of her fits of insomnia, and was waiting by the window for her sleeping pills to work. In any case, when she saw the body she must have realized that this is what I have been carrying that night. That morning, several days ago when we came to visit her and found her in bed in a stupor, she was talking to me.”

“Did you place the knife in her house, hoping that the police would find it and arrest her?”

Mr. Pearly nodded, “Yes. I saw how foolishly she was acting and thought that it would be a good idea. Help the police close the case, so to speak. I didn't expect her to use it to kill herself.”

“And me?” asked Louisa, “Were you afraid that I might find out the truth?”

George Pearly laughed. “No,” he said, “But I didn't like you snooping around the crime scene.”

“But I did,” said Louisa, “find the truth. And all because you were careless enough to leave footprints in the mud.”

Upon hearing those words, George abruptly got up from his armchair and slowly shuffled to the kitchen. Louisa, not sure what he was going to do next, quietly followed him. Mr. Pearly picked up a tumbler of golden brown liquid and with a gulp tossed it down his throat. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he leaned on the kitchen counter.

“Alright Louisa,” he said in a low voice, “ You might as well call the police. There's not much else left to do.”


Chapter 12


Louisa was sitting in her living room with Brian and detective Green. After she had finished telling the two men everything that had happened at Mr. Pearly's house, she realized that she felt sad remembering the dignified way that George had given himself up to the police. She knew that he was a selfish man, but nonetheless he compelled a certain admiration. 

Walking to the big picture window, she looked at the two houses across the street, standing side by side, empty and forlorn. Their sight conjured the image of another house in her mind. A much older and more monumental house, made out of stone. More like a mansion, really. She imagined it standing somewhere, proud and full of history, but empty.

© 2021 Arina Petrova


My Review

Would you like to review this Story?
Login | Register




Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Stats

30 Views
Added on January 13, 2021
Last Updated on January 13, 2021
Tags: crime, detective, investigative, investigation, murder, mystery, whodunit, murder mystery, short story

Author

Arina Petrova
Arina Petrova

Canada



Writing
The Hunt The Hunt

A Story by Arina Petrova