Chapter 05: Washing for Murder
While Francis Atkinson was busy with his tasks, Miss Walker was facing the biggest news of her life in the dining-room of her home.
Her entire family gathered in the dining-room—herself, her three brothers, and her parents.
When she looked around her, she knew something was not right. It was the increasing silence that finally got her to say, “W-well, we’re all here... together... this evening! For the first time in ages!”
When nobody said anything, she gulped.
“Er - anybody going to toast for this?” she added, raising her glass of water.
Simon looked at his little sister in the eye. “Penny, we have something to tell you,” he said.
Penelope looked back at him with wide innocent eyes. “All right...”
“We were at the party hosted by Michel Green,” he began, “because he had won that robot-making contest in the fest last semester. And, Penny, you won’t believe what happened there.” He paused, as if debating whether to tell her or not.
“What?” she asked, trying not to sound breathless. Sensing death in the air, she geared up for a ghost to pop up in front of her. ’I’m almost sure about it.’
Simon looked at her warily, before he said, “Madeline Washer’s dead.”
Penelope’s jaw dropped. Such news meant that she had another client on her so-called job of mediation.
“Okay, tell me more, please,” she said, seemingly unfazed.
Simon raised an eyebrow at her, but obliged:
“Minnie Washer was Michel’s guest and we found her in the washroom, no blood about. At least,” he glanced at Daniel, trying not to smile and succeeding, too, “Danny didn’t faint. Or maybe he did.”
“Stop it, Simon!” exclaimed Daniel with an irritated frown. “This is a serious matter, you know!”
“All right,” said Penelope, cutting to the chase. “Either she was poisoned or strangled. Did you guys call the police?” Yes, she read too many murder mystery novels every day of her life!
“Mrs Green was overseeing the whole thing. So, as soon as Diana spilled the beans, she telephoned the cops.”
Daniel went on: “Michel and Minnie were, um, doing whatever they were doing, or so he told Detective Osborne. Then, Minnie told him that she wanted to go to the washroom and – well, he didn’t hear from her since.”
Brandon took up the story:
“Michel did miss her after about fifteen minutes since she was gone, as he told the detectives. As he was about to go after her, Diana Ellis showed up and asked Michel where she could find a washroom. He directed her to the same one I’d seen Minnie go into, and asked her to check if Minnie was still there. I saw her because we happened to be standing right in the front of it. It was at the very back with a good view, you know.”
“And,” added Daniel, “none of us went in there. I was going to, when Diana came out screaming for all she was worth. Her face yelling louder than her that she might have seen a dozen ghosts or something! I put her down on a chair nearby and we four boys went in to investigate – and saw Minnie sprawled on the floor. I checked her pulse and she – well, I found her unreturnable.” Simon looked meaningfully at his sister.
Penelope Walker had work to do that summer.
Dejected, Penelope walked back to her room and sat down on her bed.
The family had had a hurried Supper at the restaurant her father was working at, ‘The Taj Paradise’. There had been no time to cook after the lengthy discussion.
After Madeline had been found, the Walker brothers had been questioned, along with the other guests, by the Carmel Criminal Investigation Department.
“I believe they’ll soon be calling in Minnie’s acquaintances for questioning,” Simon had added, “and that includes you.”
“Not to mention she never actually liked you,” Brandon had agreed quietly.
Penelope had nodded as all this had sunk into her head. This was not the first death she had encountered. She had been a witness to such things in person before. So, she had become nearly detached from all emotions whenever she heard of them, as if they were a normal thing.
It had all begun when she was but a child of ten years…
Penelope switched on the overhead light, shut the door to her room, went over to her bed, and lay on it, face up. She was too tired to do much else. To be truthful, more than anything else, she was afraid of mediating ghosts. She did not want to have anything to do with them. But it was something that she had been born with and so, she could not avoid it.
This was not to say that there weren’t things that still bothered her because of it. There had been people in her past who had died and not made an appearance before her.
She thought: ’Did she not like me, after all? Or, did she not have anything to tell me? Uncle Antony sure did…’
The long-awaited tears at last made their ways to her eyes. They crawled lazily down her cheeks, as she recalled the reason why she had left her old home. Each memory pricked her heart like thorns.
Finally, she wiped her eyes, turned around to snuggle into her blankets. She reached out to turn off the light, and lay on her side of the bed.
’If only I were normal like the others,’ she thought. ’What about Simon, Brandon, and Daniel…why not give one of them this job?! Why me?! I’m too weak to handle such a burden…’
’Then again, maybe that’s why I was given it…’
Penelope recalled how her old friend used to tell her over and over how special she was…
’Is it true…what is true…? All that she’d said? What kind of a power was she talking about? Surely nothing to be reckoned with…?’
Such thoughts ran through her mind, till she fell into a deep, deep sleep…
When she next opened her eyes, Penelope found that the entire room was dark.
This was odd. She remembered the night lamp at her bedside table was alight before she had drifted off to sleep.
She also noticed that she was standing and not lying down.
She realised she was probably in the dark corridor once again.
She was sure of this conclusion, when she felt a cold draft of air hit her. That was a sign of a ghostly presence. At least, she felt like that every time Francis was on the verge of showing up. The ghost was somewhere in front of her…
Then, out of thin air, a tall thin woman materialised in front of her. She was wearing a green cloak that completely covered her body from her neck to her ankles. Her blonde hair splayed all about her head. There was an unreadable expression on her face.
Penelope blinked, wondering if this was going to be another realistic dream… Had she not had enough of them for one day? And why only her?! She was getting rather tired of these things…as if her life was not complicated enough already…
A voice echoing in the corridor startled her out of her thoughts:
“I heard you’re a Mediator.”
Penelope once more came very near to jumping through the roof. She looked around here and there, looking for any visible source of the voice. But, there was only the cloaked young woman.
The girl peered at the stranger for a moment, before light dawned upon her:
She was a ghost… but a sort of un-ghostlike aura emanated from her. It overwhelmed the girl completely. She wanted to run away, but she found herself rooted to the spot, unable to take her eyes off the ghost in front of her.
“How do you know about me?” asked Penelope, when she finally found her voice. “And, more importantly, who are you?!”
The woman’s shoulders beneath the cloak moved ever so slightly.
“News travels fast,” she replied, sounded nonchalant. “By the way, do you know that you’re actually asleep?”
Penelope blinked at her, before the words all sunk into her head. “‘News travels fast’?? What do you mean?! And – and…I’m what?!”
“Hush, even dream voices can’t escape echoing here, you know. You need to keep that volume down.”
“Yea... I mean, no… I mean…” Penelope’s voice trailed off, as she failed to respond any better.
“Girl, I have no time to waste. Either you answer ‘aye’ or ‘nay’.”
“Is it true that you can help break my curse?”
“Help break your what!?”
The woman rolled her eyes at her. “Is it really this difficult to deal with children these days? So, what I’ve heard is true…”
“What are you rambling on and on about?!”
The woman rolled her eyes at the little girl. “Is it true that you can help break my curse?” she repeated.
Penelope was not sure if she heard the question right. “I…I don’t know… Unless you mean, the curse of having a ghostly existence on this planet, then I certainly don’t think so! I…er…I mean, I think so… I mean… Oh, what do I mean?!”
The woman, to her great disappointment, looked away, as if to ignore her completely. She felt foolish to be standing there and mumbling some random words.
Suddenly, Penelope felt a familiar hand grip her shoulder. She sighed in relief as she recognised her all-time saviour. She backed away and stood behind Francis, who was standing in a protective stance.
“Penny,” he said in a grim voice, “this is Rosalie Arche. She’s a Witch from the London branch of Carmel Town. Been here long before me, but cursed to remain on Earth for eternity.”
“Oh,” Penelope managed. “Is that what she was going on about just then?”
“Indeed. In fact, I believe that you should have your rest now.” He glared in Rosalie’s direction. “You can do this tomorrow.”
Penelope gulped but nodded her head, even as the Witch rolled her eyes again and turned away.
Rosalie disappeared into the darkness of the corridor. It was only then that Penelope let out a breath she did not realise she had been holding. She then turned towards her friend.
“I say, who is she? And what is this corridor? Why does it not open to the terrace garden like it used to?!”
A deep chuckle rumbled in Francis’s throat as he turned around to face his young friend. “Too many questions even in your sleep?” he said. “Go to bed, Penelope.”
“No, I mean –”
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