Bloody nightingale

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Heavy

Both Delphine and Jona rushed up onto the stage to see what the damage was. Delphine, who’d had some minimal training as a nurse-aid, hoping the bullet had grazed her and Jona who she assumed had a similar reason. From there they managed to fence off the chaos coming from the other patrons and slipped into the roles of medic and authoritarian.

“This didn’t graze her,” Delphine said gravely, cradling the poor woman’s limp head. “There’s too much blood.”

“Is there anything that can be done for her?”

Delphine felt the woman’s pulse, both on the neck and her wrist. Nothing. Not even a flicker. She wasn’t breathing and she was growing colder by the second. There was no other conclusion she could possibly come to.

“I’m afraid not. She’s gone.”

Jona stood, taking off his jacket and removing the wallet. Once Delphine understood what was happening she lifted the woman’s head from her lap and laid her down gently, allowing the coat to carefully cover her pale, frozen face. That poor woman, Delphine kept on thinking. That poor, poor woman.

“Alright, I want this area clear for the Police!” Jona commanded to the gaping crowd. None of them moved. It wasn’t until he pulled out something from his wallet and flashed it to the crowd that they all began to listen. “Now! I won’t ask again.”

When she caught a glimpse of the badge in his hand she felt as if she could’ve doubled over. It was a policeman’s badge-and by the look of it, a high-ranking one.

“I never did ask about your line of work,” she said quietly, standing on unsteady feet.

“Detective Sargent Kingsbury-Victson Police. I’m sorry to cut our dance short Delphine but it seems we’ve found ourselves within the scene of a crime.”

“Just my luck,” she sighed, too quiet for him to hear. “So where do we go from here?”

“I’ve got to call in the Calvary. This is far from what I hoped my night would be but it’s got to be done.”

Priscilla found her again as Jona-Detective Sargent Kingsbury went to track down a telephone. Delphine hadn’t even realized she was shaking until her friend came rushing to her side, touching her bare shoulder. Shock, it must have been. Cold, unyielding shock coursing through her veins.

“Oh Delphi! Are you alright? You’re trembling. Come sit down and I’ll get you something to drink.”

It was whisky that Priscilla had given her. Sitting right on the edge of a black, velvet sofa, unable to think of anything but the blood that stained her skirt. Delphine swigged it quickly, focusing on the heavy burn at the back of her throat and the soothing it brought to her wary bones.

“Oh Delphi, this is terrible! Your first night in Victson and you’ve had to deal with something so dreadful. I can scarcely believe this would happen, and in such a place! This was her debut, she was going to be so wonderful…”

Delphine tried to focus on Priscilla’s words but she couldn’t. Something else caught her eye instead. As she idly scanned the room she couldn’t help noticing something in the left wing of the stage. A flutter, then the flash of a leg. A trouser-leg, brown tweed with a black-leather shoe. No sock but on the bare ankle was a very distinctive tattoo of a bird. A Nightingale. How absurd! She thought. How crudely and horribly absurd.

“Delphine?” Before her stood Detective Sargent Kingsbury. He couldn’t have been farther from the charming, roguish suitor she’d met just a little while ago. “I’m sorry but I’m going to need you to answer a few questions in relation to tonight’s events. The manager of this establishment has allowed me use of his office, if you’ll follow me…”

She followed the detective through a corridor, up a flight of stairs and along a rotten-smelling hallway that led directly to what she guessed was the manager’s office. She did wonder why he was questioning her here rather than the police station but she was glad of it regardless. The last thing she wanted to face was a cold, grey interrogation room with nothing more than her flimsy cocktail dress to keep her warm.

“Name?”

“Delphine Isabella Price.” The detective raised an eyebrow. Apparently not impressed with her hiding her old-money surname.

“Age?”

“Twenty three.”

“Date of birth?”

“15th June 1901.”

“What time did you arrive at the club?”

“My friend and I caught the tram at ten past eight, got off at eight twenty so I think that puts my arrival here at eight twenty-seven. Does that suffice?”

“Perfectly. What did you do once you arrived?”

“My friend and I, Priscilla Mobbs, went to sit near the bar to have a drink. That was, of course, when I met you.”

“Of course.” He replied sardonically, “If I may ask, what time did you arrive in Victson today?”

“My ship docked at three O’clock in the afternoon and I arrived at my new place of residence at three fifteen. Priscilla came upstairs to visit me about two or three hours later after I’d finished most of my unpacking. You can ask her if you need a more accurate time.”

“That won’t be necessary, thank you. Now, when I saw you approach the victim onstage I couldn’t help noticing you approached the situation with some care. Do you have any experience in the medical field?”

“The bare minimal, I’m afraid. I spent a little bit of time as a nurses-aid in Australia. It wasn’t much but I can clean wounds, change dressings and find pulses. Or in this case, lack thereof.”

“In some circumstances that’s all you really need to know,” he said with a humorless smile. “Is there anything odd you might have noticed about the scene of the crime? Any strange details I should know about?”

“There is something,” she wondered briefly if she should tell him about what she saw. It wasn’t much to go on at all. ”…Around the curtain of the left stage wing I saw something. A man’s trouser-leg, his shoe and a bare ankle. I thought it a little odd he didn’t wear a sock but therein lies the point of it. He had a tattoo of a bird on his ankle-a nightingale, I think.”

Kingsbury looked thoughtful for a long moment. Had anything in what she said been helpful? She wasn’t so sure. It was all very vague what she had saw but she recalled it the best she could. A moment ago she just wanted it all to be over but talking it through with him felt…comforting, somehow. Like she was getting it off her chest.

“You have been very helpful tonight Miss Price.” He said, “I just have one more question for you.”

“Yes?”

“Why on earth did you neglect to mention your surname was Price?”

“Take a wild guess. Listen, it’s not as if I’m ashamed of it, it’s just easier to make a first impression if the person I’m getting acquainted with isn’t thinking so much about who my family is. It’s not personal I promise, it’s just easier when I want to make friends.”

Kingsbury, visibly softened, allowed himself to relax a little. Delphine was glad he didn’t seem to take it personally. Some of the others she tried to befriend had done just that and it made her feel rotten when she wasn’t sure she should’ve been feeling rotten.

“Thank you for cooperating Miss Price, you’re free to go. I’ve got to get back to the station and, well, prepare for an investigation.”

She shook hands with the man for the first-and last time that evening. A strong grip, she thought. A good, strong, protective grip. To think, if things had gone differently this evening she could’ve been appreciating his strong, protective grip in an entirely different way.

“Goodbye Detective Sargent. Best of luck with your investigation.”

In the club she was met by a cluster on onlookers bombarding her with questions. Who was she? Did she know the poor girl? How did she know the poor girl? Where did she come from? What was it like to touch a dead person’s body like that? Delphine was feeling sick all over again. As soon as they spared Priscilla she was going home. Back to the flat, back to her bed and with any luck she could sleep it all off.

“Alright, alright! Leave the poor girl alone, will you? Don’t you all have homes to get back to?” One of the bar-tenders cut through the crowd, shooing them away. A tall, sturdy-looking man with dull, grey eyes and a smooth, bald dome for a head. He was carrying what looked to be a tumbler of amber-colored liquid. “Here chook, get this in you. After what you just did I’d say you need it.”

Whisky. And he was right, Delphine did need it. From the slow burn at the back of her throat to the warmth it provided that made her think a little less about the blood staining her clothes.

“Thank you sir. I don’t think tonight has gone the way anybody here thought it would.”

“I’ll say! For an hour and a half I’m pouring drinks and mixing cocktails and then the next thing we know, the singer’s dead!”

He gave a barking laugh and as absurd as it was, Delphine started to laugh along with him. It was all so absurd to her it almost seemed silly!

“I shouldn’t be laughing, I really shouldn’t!” Delphine choked, “I think it might be part of the shock. Some people do that.”

“I know-it was all we could do when the war ended. To keep us from thinking about all the bad dealings. When you slept in trenches you could become trench-critics. This dirt is too damp, these bunks are too narrow, that sort of lark. I liked to think it was man’s way of trying to patch up the wounds of the mind.”

“That’s a good way to think of it. I was too young to have any part in the Great War so I’m afraid I can’t truly know what it is like but my brothers, all of them, went into service and all came back changed by it.”

“How so? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Oh, not at all. I think the essence of it was them realizing that not every problem could be smoothed over with money, comfort and a loving family. The bombs, the gunfire, losing their friends, all without any sort of warning. Life is precious, fragile, unpredictable. They could not control it and neither could anybody else.”

She emptied the rest of her glass, relishing the way it blurred all the metaphorical edges. This was usually as far as Delphine could go when it came to talking about the war. It wasn’t that it traumatized her personally; she was too young to have any sort of involvement and in any case she was kept well away from it inside the cozy, warm confines of her boarding school. It was just talking with her brothers, the ones who were changed from it, that was challenging. Delphine wanted to understand them better so she could make some sense of it all but no matter what she did the reasons for all this bloodshed were never clear.

‘Just like tonight,’ she thought as her eyes met the bar-tender’s once more. The singer, the gunshot, the bullet lodged into her cranium; what was the reason for it? All she did was sing a song and a damned good one too. Even now Delphine could still remember how well she sounded. If she’d just paid more attention to her name, her face…

“Delphi! I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to desert you.” Priscilla appeared through the same door Delphine had just a few moments ago. “That detective just had to ask me a couple of questions. Do you want to leave now? I don’t think I could stand to be here any longer.”

“Neither do I Cilla. Let’s go home. What do I owe you for the drink Mr…”

“Ames will do Miss, and don’t worry about it. On the house.” He smiled gently at her, she smiled back. Under the rough, grizzly exterior was something familial, grandfatherly.

“Thank you Mr. Ames. You’ve been very kind.”

Delphine was more than glad to have been whisked away from that club by Priscilla. There were very few on the tram with them to stare at her blood-soaked dress and even then they didn’t dare question her. Not even the conductor uttered a word. He just let them off at their stop where they got off without fuss and made their way back to the Mobbs bakery.

“Do you need me to come up with you?” Priscilla asked her.

“I should be fine from here, but thank you. I start my new job on Monday so I’d better pull myself together before the weekend’s done. Feel free to come and visit any time you want.”

“Thanks Delphi. I’ll check in with you tomorrow, is that alright?”

“That’d be nice Cilla. I’ll have the tea ready for when you come.”

After bidding her new friend goodbye Delphine headed up to her flat, switched on the gas-heater to warm everything up and began to run herself a bath. It was a small tub-almost half the size of the tub she had at home, but it suited her fine as well as tonight’s purpose. Scented with sandalwood oil and rose-petals, she let herself sink into the warm water and relax. The blood came away from her skin like it was nothing and the chill from her ordeal had begun to ease at last.

But she knew she couldn’t stay in that bath-tub forever. The water would go cold, the oil would lose its’ scent and the memories of tonight were too close at her heels to push away. So she drained the tub, ran a white, fluffy towel over her body and slipped into a fresh nightgown. Switching off the lights, turning off the heater, Delphine intended on just getting into bed and sleeping the troubles away. They wouldn’t stray far and no doubt she’d be obsessing over them come tomorrow but for now all she could think of was closing her eyes. As far as days went, this must’ve been the most draining one she’d ever faced.

“Long day,” she yawned, curling onto her side. “Long day indeed.”

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