We are all gathered round the large oak dining table enjoying the splendid evening meal his lordship has provided. We’d all been summoned by Lord Harken’s lawyer as the late Lord Rupert Harken had passed on suddenly earlier this week.
So here we all sit. To my right is Sherry Harken, the late lord’s granddaughter, a slip of a girl at eighteen with golden locks and aqua eyes, and a figure to set any mans heart racing. Next to her sits her father Sir Rodney Harken, heir to the manor and Harken estate, a broad shouldered man with piercing blue eyes and jet black hair. Rodney lost his devoted wife six years ago to cancer.
Sitting immediately at my left is Sir Peter Broderick, the Earl of Dorset and business partner of the late lord. The earl is somewhat overweight for his age and height; he sports an upturned moustache that is greying at the edges. Broderick’s mistress sits next to him, Miss Joanna Crosbie, a woman of substance and standing. A woman who’s beauty would not go unnoticed amongst a large crowd; her dark brown tresses cascade down over her shoulders framing a sharp slender featured face.
Next to Joanna sits Gordon Fletcher, friend and lover to Lady Samantha Harken, the late lord’s widow, and Rodney’s stepmother. Gordon Fletcher is a renowned cad, a bounder, a profuse gambler and cheat, who owes Lady Harken more than the money she’s lovingly handed over to get him out of trouble in the past. Fletcher, a man almost fifteen years younger than Lady Samantha, slim and muscular with noticeably clean cut handsomeness.
At the head of the dining table and directly opposite me sits Judge James Rignhart, QC and lawyer to the Harken estate. Rignhart is in his late years, balding and wrinkled with age. He has served as legal aide to the late lord for some thirty years, and handles all matters concerning the Harken estate and businesses. Rignhart is what is known as a man of irrefutable honour, a man who can be trusted, and relied upon whatever the occasion.
Myself, well I’m here because I knew Lord Rupert Harken, the old goat, for some reason he’d befriended me a year ago. I first met Rupert at the gentlemen’s club just off Trafalgar Square, an exclusive club for the wealthy gentleman. I suppose our meeting was quite by accident really, if I hadn’t have bumped his Lordship and thrown my whisky all down my tweed riding jacket our chance meeting would have probably been swift and fleeting. As it was his Lordship, as was the nature of the gentleman, took blame upon himself and as an apology invited me to a shoot at the manor that Sunday. Of course I graciously declined, but Rupert was having none of it, and so our friendship was formed.
Once dinner had been served and cleaned away the household servants were dismissed, and instructed not to return until the following day, apparently it was written into his Lordship's will that the household staff, including butler and cook be given the night off. After fulfilling their duties they would be expected to attend a celebration of passing, a small party his Lordship had ordered be arranged, and held at the local town hall as a parting gift from his Lordship for services rendered.
Judge Rignhart knocked back his glass of ruby red port, placed the crystal glass gently on the table, wiped his lips with his napkin, and cleared his throat with a hearty cough.
“We are all gathered here today at the behest of the late Lord Rupert Harken for the official reading of his Lordship's last will and testament. His Lordship requested we all partake in this evening meal before the proceedings begin. Now that we have I hope digested our fill, I can now set the proceeding in motion.”
A ferocious rumble of thunder catches my attention from Rignhart, a storm is brewing outside. Several flashes of crisp blue-white lightening flash through the dinning room window causing Sherry to jump unexpectedly. The burning wall oil lamps flicker slightly, threatening to blackout.
Sir Rodney smiles at Sherry’s scare. “It’s nothing to worry about Sherry, probably your grandpa having a grumble at my getting the estate!”
“And what makes you so sure you will inherit the estate, Rodney?” asks Lady Samantha Harken as she enters the room.
“Because… mother…” his tone with the word mother is scathing, “father has said many times everything will be left to me once he’s gone.”
Lady Samantha, the late lord’s second wife, and a few years younger than he, seats herself in the vacant seat next to Gordon Fletcher. Fletcher immediately places his hand on her leg and rubs if lovingly. Rodney’s eyes thin as his dislike of Fletcher begins to show. Lady Samantha smiles at Rodney with her wicked green eyes, she knows he abhors Gordon, but as long as she holds the reigns there is little he can do. Lady Samantha Harken is in her mid-fifties with silver-white hair that is just short of her shoulders. Samantha has kept her voluptuous figure well by excising daily and riding every other morning. Lady Samantha’s well kept figure, and her wealth is what attracted Fletcher to her.
“Lady’s and gentlemen, shall we proceed?” Rignhart asks and without waiting begins. “This is the reading of the final will of Lord Rupert Harken, deceased. Being of sound mind and judgement…”
“You can dispense with all the legal jargon Rignhart, just get to who gets what!” Rodney interrupts. “Wouldn’t want to bore my dear stepmother with the boring details now would we.”
Rignhart glances at Lady Samantha, who replies acceptance with a nod and smile.
“Another port James?” inquires Rodney and proceeds to fill Rignhart’s empty glass without waiting for a reply.
Rignhart, whose favourite tipple is port acknowledges with a nod, and begins.
“Very well. The first is addressed to Sherry; to my dearest granddaughter Sherry, I bequest the sum of two point five million pounds, to be held in trust until she reaches the age of twenty-one. Rodney, with the oversight of Judge Rignhart will administer the trust fund accordingly until Sherry comes of age”
All look at Sherry, some smile, pleased with her good fortune, others frown, most of all Gordon Fletcher.
Rignhart takes a sip of port from his newly filled glass, emits a small cough and continues.
“To my partner in crime, Sir Peter Broderick, I bequest all my business shares in our joint ventures with the exception of Harken Transport.”
Sir Peter nods, he doesn’t need the finance his bequest will give him, and he had expected Rodney to take control of Rupert’s business empire. He couldn’t help but wonder who would get Harken Transport, it being the largest of Harken’s holdings.
“The majority of my estate, nine tenths to be precise…” Rodney’s eyes light up in anticipation, “…will reside with my dearly beloved wife Samantha.” Rignhart announces.
“What!” shouts Rodney who is obviously more than annoyed at this outcome, he is on his feet glaring at Rignhart.
Fletcher is more than delighted with the news, as is Lady Samantha. Fletcher puts his arm round Samantha and hugs her tightly while Rodney transfers his hateful glare at them both.
“Father, sit down.” Sherry says, tugging at his jacket.
Rodney though reluctant sits and silently awaits the finale of the reading.
“To my only son Rodney, I leave my entire holdings in Harken Transport along with the last tenth of the estate. All subsequent debts and promises left upon my death will be met by my dear philandering wife Samantha, and that excuse for a man Gordon Fletcher.”
Now Rodney’s grim expression turns into a smile. He knows well that his father has promised a great deal of money to several charities and associates along with pledges to employees and house servants. With luck Fletcher and his stepmother would come out of this without much of the Harken fortune.
“Taking Lord Rupert’s wishes in consideration, I have drawn up a breakdown of the financial status of the estate after implementing said wishes…” says Rignhart, “Unfortunately Lady Samantha, most of the estate will have to be sold to cover the mounting debts his Lordship accrued over the last few years.”
“Debts? Rupert never mentioned any debts to me!” she replies with obvious distaste.
Rignhart nods. “I understand in his loneliness these past two years; his lordship took to gambling and surmounted large losses. Losses that will have to be paid and the only means of fulfilling these debts are to place Harken Manor up for sale.”
Lady Harken is obviously distressed by this shock news. She gets up and holds her head high.
“I am sure there are more than enough resources in this estate to cover all of my late husband’s errors! This is my…” she looks at Rodney and Sherry, “…our home, and I will not contemplate its disposal. Perhaps Harken Transport can burden some of the financial cost as I’m sure Rupert would not have wanted this!”
“Sorry mother, but Harken Transport will not be settling any such debts!” rebuts Rodney with a cynical smile.
Lady Samantha’s look at this time could have possible struck Rodney dead. Rodney simply revelled in the moment, he had wanted for a long time to get his own back on her for duping his father in marriage, thus ensuring her a life of comfort and a share of the estate.
The antique dark wood grandfather clock standing in the hall strikes ten, ten deep hollow chimes sound throughout the large manor. As previously agreed, after the reading of the will everyone would spend the night here, although Rodney, wanting to immediately take the reigns of Harken Transport wanted to head back to London to install himself as company president.
Judge Rignhart had to remind him that every article of the will must be adhered to if he is to gain Harken Transport, and if not then it will all revert back to Lady Samantha. Rodney quickly backed down, not wanting to let his stepmother have anything he could take from her.
With the will read, the gentlemen moved to the drawing room for a libation. Lady Samantha, obviously distraught retired to her chambers. Sherry, not wanting to listen to the mundane talk of work and business also retired to her chamber. Sir Peter Broderick and Joanna Crosbie made their excuses and retired also.
Rignhart swigged a large gulp from the brandy glass as he sat his portly behind in one of the plush comfy chairs. Fletcher helped himself to one of the late lord’s cigars from the green marble box sitting on the antique mahogany writing davenport. Rodney pours himself a large whisky to toast his good fortune, and hopefully the downfall of Lady Samantha along with her gigolo.
For the next hour and a half the talk is about how Rodney can make Harken transport into a much large business. Fletcher, realising he could possible come out of this with nothing other than a broke Lady Samantha hanging onto his coattails tries to ingratiate himself with Rodney by hoping to vie for a possible high position with Harken Transport. The necessity for him to actually do manual work has never occurred to him before, and if unsuccessful then he would have to move on, there are many lonely wealthy women out in the world. During this time I am seated opposite Rignhart and Rodney, watching and listening, and taking everything in.
Rignhart glanced at his gold hunter pocket watch, it is almost midnight, and the storm outside still rumbles on. He throws back the last drop of his umpteenth brandy, and places the balloon glass on the chair side table.
“Well it is late, and I believe it is time I retired. Good evening gentlemen.”
“Sleep well James!” replies Rodney.
Fletcher, realising him attempts to sway Rodney are falling on deaf ears goes up to join his soon-to-be ex-lover Samantha. Rodney takes one last whisky and retires to his bedroom, which is next to Sherry’s. I alone remain behind in the drawing room.
The manor is deadly quiet, outside the thunder rumbles loudly. The oil lamps have been extinguished yet the manor is lit up inside by numerous flashes of steel-white lightening. The old hallway grandfather clock strikes one, the sound echoes along the dark shadowy hallway.
Sherry Harken is tucked up in the four poster bed under her thick quilted blankets. Her sleep is tormented by the thunder and lightening, each flash lights up her room in a spooky glow. She buries her head below the blankets for some protection from the intimidating lightening.
Three flashes follow in unison, on the third flash there is a shadow standing over Sherry’s cowering body. The shadow is in the shape of a blade being held aloft. A fourth flash follows, Sherry pulls the cover back, and the shadow blade falls. Hers eyes are wide, her mouth open in a silent scream.
The lightening flashes on the blade showing its steel edge. It plunges deep between Sherry’s heaving breasts. No sound comes from her dying lips. A pool of young red blood seeps through her white lace nightgown around the sunken blade. Her eyes are wide and stare lifeless, her heaving breasts are now still, she breathes no more.
Next door, Rodney, a little tipsy because of imbibing too much has taken to sleep in the rooms large luxurious crimson satin upholstered lounge chair. He hasn’t bothered to shed his clothes, and an empty whisky glass dangles precariously from his right hand. A single oil lamp burns softly on the bedside cabinet, its eerie glow flickers orange-yellow. Behind Rodney a secret panel slowly creaks open in the book lined wall. A dark shadow creeps closer as Rodney snores.
The tormenting flicker of the oil lamp is just enough light to see a knotted rope loop round Rodney’s neck. The rope slowly tightens then jerks hard. The knot bites into Rodney’s windpipe, the dangling glass drops and shatters on the highly polished floor.
Rodney’s eyes blink wide and bulge as he gasps for air, his finger fight in vain; his knuckles turn white while clawing at the garrotte. His lips redden and twist in terror, his eyes bulge more, his legs kick out and his fingers tremble as they claw at the tightening garrotte. In only a few short minutes Rodney’s fingers stop clawing, his stiffened kicking legs relax. There is one final throat restricting tug on the garrotte and Rodney chokes to death.
Downstairs in the hallway, the old grandfather clock chimes two. Sir Peter Broderick and Joanna Crosbie sleep soundly in their grand draped four-poster. They are unaware of a shadowy presence that has entered. Sir Peter and Joanna are cuddled together like newly wed lovers. The only light that cuts the darkness is the intermittent lightening.
The crisp cold blue-white lightening flashes expose the long shining broadsword that hovers precariously above them, waiting for its deadly time to fall. The broadsword is hefted high and as a shrill crack of thunder hits the bedroom illuminates with lightening flash. The broadswords falls slicing with ease through its targets necks and decapitating both Peter and Joanna in one swift blow. Joanna’s pretty head tumbles from the bed onto the plush white carpet with a dull thud.
Two doors along is Judge Rignhart’s room, the portly barrister snores loudly in his comfy bed, dreaming of whatever delights him. He is for all intents and purposes dead to the world, his plentiful intake of alcohol forcing sleep to come with ease and deeper than usual.
The door opens silently and in flows the shadow, it moves to a shining suit-of-armour standing at the east wall and takes a firm hold on its battleaxe. Rignhart grumps and groans as he turns onto his side, if he were awake he would see the death that is about to befall him. The shadow is now standing next to the bed. Rignhart snorts again and rolls onto his back.
The lightening flashes, the battleaxe raises into the air above Rignhart, it drops. There is a crunch of shattering bone, a sickening snapping of skin and bone as the battleaxe imbeds in Rignhart’s scull. Rignhart’s face turns bleach-white with a stream of thick crimson blood running down between his close eyes. With the battleaxe remaining in Rignhart’s split scull the shadow floats back towards the door.
The faithful old hallway grandfather clock hits three and three deep vibrating chimes sound out. In the master bedroom sleeps Lady Samantha with Gordon Fletcher by her side. He knows it will be the last night he spends with her, for on the morn he goes in search of another wealthy aristocrat.
The door handle turns, but this door is locked. Lightening illuminates the room with two bright flashes. Through the solid oak wood of the door seeps the dark shadow, it floats to the bedside and looms over them, watching them sleep peacefully. The shadow holds its smoky arms wide, a white lace cloth in one hand, and a sharp silver dagger in the other.
In one swift movement the shadow roughly shoves the cloth into Samantha’s mouth and at the same time runs the cold steel across her throat releasing her inner fluid. Samantha wakes; she struggles with fearful eyes wide. Fletcher moves slightly, grumbles, but doesn’t wake.
The blood stained dagger forcefully plunges between Samantha’s wide open eyes, her eyes instantly turn white and her struggling halts. Her blood seeps freely over the crisp white pillow turning it pink, and still Fletcher sleeps soundly on.
At eight the following morning the household staff return, cook immediately make for the kitchen to prepare breakfast. Mason, the butler readies the chambermaids to rouse the family and guests when all hear a shout from Lady Samantha’s room. Quickly Mason and chambermaid Marie run to the bedroom, Mason turns the door handle but it is locked.
Receiving no answer, Mason pulls out his set of master-keys, and sends Marie to rouse Sir Rodney. Mason sifts through the abundance of keys trying to locate the bedroom key; suddenly he is disturbed by a harrowing scream emanating from Sir Rodney’s room. He turns from the door to see a crying Marie running towards him; she almost falls into Mason’s arms. Marie is shaking, tears freely flow down her flushed cheeks.
“What is the matter?” asks Mason.
“Sir Rodney…” stammers Marie.”Sir Rodney…he’s…he’s dead!”
By now the rest of the household staff, having heard Marie’s scream, crowd round Mason and Marie, everyone wanting to know what is going on. The ever professional Mason, realising something sinister has happened during the night takes full control of the situation. He orders Mrs Brown, the cook to take Marie and Penny, the other chambermaid down to the scullery, and then sends footman David to call for the police.
By nine thirty the police are at Harken Manor. Mason enlightens Inspector Divane of the situation and hands over his master keys. Constables search each room finding the bodies of Sir Rodney, Sherry, Rignhart, Broderick and Crosbie. Divane himself unlocks Lady Samantha’s door and finds her corpse. He hears a mummer from over in the corner and sees Fletcher cowering and shaking in fear.
The following investigation lasted some six weeks, but the police were stumped. The only lead they have is Gordon Fletcher. Unfortunately, Fletcher, as ordered by the police physician is currently residing in a mental institution, unable to formulate any coherence in his speech, his mind is totally shot. Three weeks later Fletcher is found hanging from the ceiling light, thus formally ending Divane’s hampered investigation into the Harken murders.
As I stand watching them take Lady Samantha’s remains to be entombed alongside Lord Rupert’s coffin in the Harken mausoleum, I dwell on the events that have brought us to this point. You see, we must go back one full year to know why these unfortunate events have happened.
It all began on the day I attended the shoot, you remember, the shoot Lord Rupert Harken invited me to, I mentioned it earlier at the beginning of our story. Well, I arrived early that fateful Sunday morn; they were all there Rupert, Samantha, Rodney, Sherry, Peter, Joanna, and Rignhart, all with the exception of Fletcher who had taken off to London for the day, no doubt to woo some other floozy.
At first I was accepted and made welcome, although the sly jibes of “he’s not real gentry” I chose to ignore. Anyway, by ten o’clock we all sat for breakfast and during this time it became obvious I wasn’t really a part of the upper-crust society I was currently experiencing. Lady Samantha made it quite obvious in no certain words that I was beneath her and shouldn’t have been invited, although to his Lordships credit he did try to defend my presence.
The shoot began, Lord Rupert offered me one of his shotguns which I took, and for the next couple of hours we shot more grouse than I have ever seen before. Just before lunch is when the fatal accident happened. I pulled my shotgun up and trained it on a bird, that’s when the shot hit me in the back of the head. I fell to the grassy ground, the pain was excruciating, everything seemed distant to me, veiled in a shroud of misty white.
“Good lord! Is he dead?” Samantha’s voice just penetrates my hearing.
Rupert stoops over me, his face close to mine. “Damn it woman, you should be more careful with a gun!”
I can feel a wetness slowly sliding down my back. Rupert, who is holding my head removed his hands, they are covered in blood.
“It…it was an accident…I didn’t mean to…” started Samantha only to be cut short by Rodney who has a wide grin on his face. “Looks like you have done it now mother! If he dies!”
At this time I become aware of the pompous frame of Judge Rignhart, he stands towering over me with snapped shotgun leaning on his arm.
“This won’t do, won’t do at all. Think of the scandal! The gentry will be most displeased and Harken Holdings will probably suffer!”
By now Rupert is standing. Sherry has come over and is laughing, why I don’t know, but she is. Rignhart seems to take a most sober stance, probably because of his high standing as a Judge and any involvement with scandal can have a deep lasting effect.
“Shouldn’t we call for someone?” Samantha inquires.
Peter Broderick is now here as well along with Joanna Crosbie. Broderick is the only one to speak at this point. “I think we should keep this between ourselves. It looks like he is just about dead anyway. And as it was an accident!”
“Yes, yes, Peter is right. Besides I doubt if anyone will miss him, after all isn’t he just a commoner?” adds Joanna, fearing that if this gets out her and Peter’s torrid affair will get back to his other business partners and affect his standing.
“But what about the body? We can’t leave it here someone may find it. I can’t take another scandal, my friends would all be so horrified!” asks Sherry.
I can’t really believe what I am hearing, I’m not dead yet though all they are concerned with is the possibility of a scandal. It is at this time I realise I’m going to die, coldness runs up my body from feet to scalp. I can feel my life slowly slipping from me, and these people just stand discussing their own needs to avert a scandal.
“It is agreed then? We shall bury the body in yonder wood, and speak no more on this matter.” Lord Rupert announces.
At first Rignhart is reluctant, but with persuasion from the others, and with more than a little inducement from Broderick and Rodney, Rignhart capitulates for he knows even he could not defend Lady Samantha without a scandal running rife.
“Rignhart, check his breathing!” orders Rodney.
At last, they’ll know I’m still alive.
Rignhart’s thick fingers fumble at my neck hopelessly attempting to find my pulse, which I know is there for I feel it pulse with every fading beat.
“He is dead!” confirms the judge.
What! No, no I’m still alive!
“Well then?” Rupert says, and with those words he and Rodney pick up my limp body.
“Peter, fetch a shovel from the gardeners shed, he is not here today.” Rupert says as they carry me towards the wood.
As I lay in the shallow grave looking up through motionless eyes I see them all looking down on me. There are no tears, not even regrets, only cold hard eyes worried about their own self being and importance.
“Should we not say a few words?” Joanna asks.
“Who will hear them?” responds Peter.
Dirt hits my face and my body, the sunlight is slowly fading, not by time but by earth covering me. I am now in darkness, my breath has left me, and my heart has stopped for now I am dead. It is now my need for revenge is burned deep into my everlasting soul. At the edge of death itself I pledge to myself to come back from the grave and take each life in turn until my revenge is satisfied.
As they close the steel door to the Harken mausoleum I turn to face the wood opposite, the wood of my unmarked shallow gave. My fading image begins to walk there not looking back, returning to my death plot knowing my revenge is satisfied and paid in full, and now that I have told my story I can rest in peace.