Caldwell mansion was a huge, old example of Gothic architecture that was a little terrifying to Dixie Mae Carver. Today marked her third visit to the building to deliver her Beauty Maven makeup to a sweet, elderly lady, Miss Holly Caldwell. The house, or castle as Dixie called it, made her feel small and unimportant as she made her way up the long, flagstone walkway that led to the front door.
Today she was delivering a large makeup and skincare order that she was sure would please Miss Holly. The upcoming Friendship Autumn Ball had every woman within a 50-mile radius racing to buy beautiful ball gowns and skincare regimens to make them look their best. Miss Holly had purchased the Supreme Beauty Maven Collection and an assortment of light, pink lipsticks, foundation and eye shadow that had the potential to go with any gown she decided upon for the ball.
Dixie had been a Beauty Maven cosmetics representative for a few months and had really appreciated Holly Caldwell’s large orders. It had boosted the income of her fledgling business, which was a huge relief for her. She had been struggling to keep up with the mortgage payments on her parent’s home after they had both died in a car accident the year before.
She pounded on the door a little harder than she normally would hoping to get Marleen’s attention. She was Miss Holly’s hired companion. Marleen was a sweet old gal, but she was also hard of hearing.
The latch made a slight popping sound, and the old door yawned open. From where she stood in the doorway, she could see the interior was unusually dark despite the early afternoon hour. She cautiously walked into the foyer and noticed that the curtains were closed in the adjacent living room.
Dixie thought it was odd and was about to leave when Miss Holly’s Maine Coon cat, Horatio, presented himself. He meowed at her, coaxing her further inside. She set her Beauty Maven delivery bag down on the hall table and took off her coat, hanging it on the coat tree just inside the door. She shut the door and called out, but no one answered.
“Miss Holly, are you here? Marleen?” she called as the cat followed her around from room to room. Horatio meowed at her again and rubbed on her legs every time she paused.
“Watch it there kitty; I don’t need a snag in my pantyhose right now. I have a lot of errands to run, and your house is just the first on my list.” She reached down to rub the cat on the cheek and felt something dry and crusted on the cat’s fur. Upon closer inspection, she saw it was dark in color.
“What did you get yourself into?” she asked the cat. “I would think that a handsome kitty such as yourself would keep a little cleaner than this. How about I help you wipe it off?”
Dixie found her way into the kitchen and located some paper towels. She wetted down a few before she bent down and used them to wipe the cat’s cheek. When she looked at the wet paper towels, they were a pinkish color.
“Ewwww kitty, what is all over you? Did you scratch yourself too hard?” Dixie asked as she felt the cat’s head and shoulders, expecting to feel a scab under the luxurious fur. The cat, however, had no apparent injuries.
Dixie stood up abruptly when she heard a strange noise. She could feel the hair on the back of her neck prickle; then she heard a loud thump that sounded like it came from the rear of the house. Her feet felt heavy, and her heart pounded loudly in her chest.
Horatio was scared as well. His ears went back before he skittered away, clawing at the slippery linoleum as he headed out of the room.
When she didn’t hear anything else, she cautiously made her way from room to room in the downstairs looking for the source of the loud thud. She convinced herself that it was just the wind and old houses tended to make a racket when the fall wind was blowing.
Dixie walked into the sunroom and noticed Miss Holly in the recliner facing the window overlooking her rose garden.
“Miss Holly? I’m sorry to barge in like this. Marleen was nowhere to be found, so I let myself in. I hope that is alright,” she said, slowly walking up behind the chair, not wanting to startle the woman.
As she stepped closer to the chair, she sensed that Miss Holly was sleeping. Upon closer inspection, however, she saw a huge carving knife sticking out of the woman’s chest. Miss Holly’s unseeing eyes were still open, and her mouth was open too.
“Oh, my gosh,” Dixie said as she stumbled backward. She landed with a thud on her bottom and began crawling like a crab backward until she hit the wall. The sound of her heart pounded loudly in her ears, and she could barely think straight. When she finally had a coherent thought, she scrambled to her feet, grabbed her cell phone from her pink sweater pocket and dialed 911.
Dixie held the cell phone in her trembling hands while she gave the woman dispatcher her name and stated her emergency.
“A woman has been murdered?” the dispatcher asked, her voice going up at least one octave.
“Yes, I’m pretty sure she has; she’s not breathing. I’m not sure if the person who murdered her has left yet or not,” Dixie said in a hushed voice.
“You need to get out of there right now,” the dispatcher said sternly. “Don’t touch anything. Are you near a door to the outside?” the dispatcher asked.
“Yes,” Dixie replied.
“I want you to quietly walk out the door and then get to your car, if you have one, and lock yourself in it until the officers arrive,” the dispatcher said.
Dixie stood there for a second, feeling as if she were in a dream. Everything seemed surreal.
“Dixie?” the dispatcher said. “Did you hear what I said? Get the heck out of there, right now!” the dispatcher said firmly.
“Oh, okay,” Dixie said, forcing her lead feet to hurry for the door to the backyard.
Once outside, she quickly walked around the house, back to the driveway and the safety of her car. She quickly got into her vehicle, locked the doors and asked the dispatcher if she was still there.
“I’m still here. The officers are on the way; I’ll stay on with you until they arrive,” the dispatcher assured her.
Dixie mumbled her thanks and looked up at the huge house. She thought she saw the curtains move slightly in a window on the second floor, but maybe her eyes were playing tricks on her. She blinked a few times and what she thought she had seen was now gone.
In the distance, she could hear sirens wailing, and she relaxed a little. Help was on the way. Unfortunately, her body didn’t get the memo. She started shaking even though it was warm from the noonday sun in her car. Dixie rubbed her arms and then sat on her hands to make them stop shaking.
A few moments later, one of several police vehicles pulled into the driveway behind her. An officer came up to her window and knocked on it. His voice was stern as he commanded her roll down her window. She did so reluctantly.
“Ma’am, I need you get out of your car,” he urged.
Dixie did as she was told while another officer led her to the end of the driveway where several other police vehicles were now parked, the officers at the ready.
“You told the dispatcher that you thought someone could still be in the house with you, right?” an older officer asked.
“Yes, and I thought I saw a curtain move in the window, there,” Dixie replied, pointing to the window on the second floor.
The officer spoke quickly into the microphone on his shoulder, telling the officers inside where to look.
After what seemed like an eternity, the officers emerged from the house. “All clear,” one of the officers said, re-holstering his gun. “There is a deceased woman in a back room of the house.”
The older officer nodded and began barking a series of orders to his men while Dixie stood there, wondering what to do.
“Ma’am, we’re going to need some information from you. A homicide detective will be here soon,” he said and then turned to speak to the other officers, directing their next movements.
“Hey, he’s here now,” one of the officers said, heading towards the black SUV that had pulled up to the curb.
Dixie watched as a young man got out of the car and spoke to the officer in charge. He was handsome in a rugged way but looked tired for someone so young. She guessed that line of work would probably create a few worry lines on anyone’s face. It was nothing that a little Beauty Maven moisturizer couldn’t help, she thought.
The officer and the homicide detective walked up to her, and the young man’s eyes locked on Dixie’s. “Dixie Carver, this is Detective Granger. He is the homicide investigator on this case,” he said before walking away and barking more orders at the other officers in front of the mansion.
“Can I ask you a few questions?” Detective Granger asked, pulling a pencil and pad of paper from his pocket.
“Sure, you can ask me anything,” she said, smiling a little despite the seriousness of the situation. It was hard not to look into that face with the most stunning blue eyes she had ever seen.
“Suppose you tell me how you came to be in the house of a murdered woman?”