The following is the third installment of a fictional story that will be published through the McNicholas Milestone in installments. All characters, settings, and dialogue are purely figments of the imagination. Parts one and two can be found here: Part I, Part II.
Thumbnail courtesy of www.criminalelement.coment.
PART THREE: THE REVEREND
Clerk Conners wrapped a heavy arm around me in a half-hearted hug. I forced myself to stay put under his foreign sign of affection.
“It’s lovely as always to see you, Mary,” he hiccuped. “But I must attend to the other guests as well. Enjoy your evening.”
I nodded once, feigning a sickeningly sweet smile as I watched him half walk, half stumble into the throngs of people. There was a man easily corrupted in Mr. Conners, but could a taste of revenge make a killer? He was one of hundreds of people who knew Mr. Andrews beyond a name associated with a business, any one of them could be responsible I suppose… and a drunk man was, unfortunately, an honest man.
I made a mental note of the way he had held himself while talking, and the words he chose to string together. Mr. Conners had been detached from the situation.
“He had a lot of people who hated him. It was only a matter of time before it all caught up to him. Still, it’s a shame he’s gone.”
I replayed the monotone words over in my head. Detached because he was a killer? Or detached because he wasn’t? Perhaps it was neither. A man like Mr. Conners certainly had the money to instigate without collecting blood on his own hands.
I sighed, letting the tension leave my body. The night was still young, and the trails that lead to Mr. Andrew’s killer had to be far less than straight and narrow for a high profile member of society like him.
I wandered towards the grand front entrance to the mansion, the yellowish glow of the lights guiding my footsteps. My sand paper throat had me yearning for something to quench its thirst, and perhaps there was something inside that would not have an effect on my speech and judgment which I could drink.
The double-doored entrance accented the reddish-brown marble floors. Pillars made of that same marble reached for the high ceilings, the swirls of black and white streaks through the rock. Crystalline Chandeliers illuminated the vast entry. I had been in this entry hall before, when Mother and I had visited Mrs. Conners.
For a moment I found myself trying to comprehend the intensity of the space. Now, the hall was filled with an abundance of people, voices lifting up into the air and becoming tangled like a web, each conversation unidentifiable to my ears in respect to the next. The space hummed with energy, the laughter almost electric as my senses were heightened by the display.
Now, the space was in use. But I had seen it when it sat in silence. I had witnessed the loneliness of an empty mansion. It didn’t feel lonely as all those people spilled their drinks and danced to the music coming from the yard, but I suppose the guests will all return home eventually, and the hall will fall quiet again.
In the center of the room there was a table, upon which clear bowls were filled to the brim with punch. Next to the bowls sat a series of green glass bottles, labels reading “Mountain Valley Spring Water.” I made a beeline towards it, but I made it all of five steps before a man snagged my attention from the corner of my eye.
Reverend Thomas stood with his shoulders back and chin up as he clasped hands with another gentleman. My feet stopped as if on cue.
“I know, Reverend, but it’s not every day that an old friend gets out of prison.”
My father had been discussing the matter with Reverend Thomas over the phone last night, and from what I had gathered, the Reverend seemed less than thrilled about Mr. Conners’ party. The man who had been conversing with him backed away and slipped into the cover of the crowd. Reverend Thomas looked around for a second as he found himself alone.
My eyes shifted towards the water on the table, and then back to the Reverend. Then, to the young woman whose feet led her towards the man. A sigh pushed past my lips and I swallowed hard, disregarding the scorched earth that had morphed into my throat. I half-jogged over to the Reverend, pulling at my lips to expose a wide smile.
“Reverend Thomas!” my voice chimed, chipper. His head shot up, eyes surveying the crowd for the source of the voice. A sense of recognition broke out across his face when he saw me.
“Ah,” he said. “Josey. Your parents are a here, are they not?” My stomach sank. For a moment I had allowed myself to let them slip from my mind. They were here, and a small chill of anxiety made its way down my spine.
“Yes, sir,” I said, forcing the smile to remain on my face.
“I wasn’t aware that they brought you along to these kinds of things,” he said, folding his arms over his chest.
“Oh,” a nervous laugh erupted from my mouth. “Well, you know Mother. There’s nowhere better to find a wealthy husband than here I suppose.”
“Fair enough,” the Reverend chuckled, brushing a few white flecks from the cuffs of his sleeves. The distinct clicking of heels on marble made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as they neared. The Reverend’s eyes flicked over my shoulder, and they softened as a smile tugged at the corners of his lips.
“Ms. Andrews,” Reverend Thomas said.
“Reverend,” the woman replied. Her blonde hair was swept away from her face, showing off a set of prominent cheek bones.
“Josey, this is Ms. Andrews, wife of your father’s employer.”
“How do you do,” she said, voice dipping like honey. My brow pinched together subconsciously as I searched her face. Ms. Andrews? The Ms. Andrews?
What was she doing here? Why was she here? How was she here? my mind raced. Ms. Andrews drifted toward the Reverend’s side. He rested a hand on her waist.
“I’m… well,” I managed to say in between my internal interrogation. She was younger than I would have expected, no sign of emerging wrinkles. She could’ve been in her late twenties… far younger than her husband.
Ms. Andrews’ hand pulled at Reverend Thomas’ sleeve.
“You’ve got…” she trailed off, inspecting a white speck. “Wax?” Reverend Thomas brushed at his cuffs again.
“Oh,” he laughed. “It’s that artist… John O’Malley. I was speaking with him before you came. He’s always shedding that wax… says no matter how hard he scrubs at his hands, there’s always more somewhere.”
“Ah, yes,” she nodded. “He owns that gallery downtown doesn’t he? The one with the wax figures?”
“That he does.”
“My husband was going to buy that building and expand the company,” Ms. Andrews shrugged. “I suppose he won’t have to relocate all his creations anymore.” The Reverend studied his shoes, suddenly finding the floor much more interesting than the beautiful woman at his side.
“I apologize, Josey, but Ms. Andrews and I must be on our way. It was lovely seeing you. Give your father my regards,” the Reverend’s voice fell flat as he turned on a heel and stalked away, pulling Ms. Andrews by the hand behind him.
“They’re repulsive, aren’t they?” a dark haired, dark eyed woman pursed her lips from beside me. “Her husband goes missing, and it’s like he never even existed.”
I studied her movements.
“I’m Jillian. You look less than thrilled to be here as well.”
“Josey,” I said, not sure what to make of the woman before me. “If you don’t want to be here, then why did you come?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” she smirked. I chewed on the inside of my lip.
“Touché,” I sighed.
“I do some work at a bar. My employer needed me here tonight,” she inspected her fingernails. “Seen those two there a few times too, always cozied up and adulterous.”
“An affair?” I blurted out.
“If you put it nicely I suppose,” she snickered. “Though I’ve seen that man Andrews there too, and I’m not so sure I blame her. That man was a piece of work… made my life harder more than a few times.”
She took a sip of the bubbling liquid in her cup. “I’m just rambling. It was nice meeting you Josey.” With that she sauntered off just as mysteriously as she had come.
And just like that, I had my web. Could an adulterous wife be responsible for a husband’s disappearance? Or was it perhaps her partner… a seemingly virtuous man and friend of the missing. Maybe an artist was angry about a business expansion… Or maybe Mr. Andrews had been the cause of one too many headaches for that Jillian.