Thursday, 4 August 2016

Diamond for Dwarves - A Jasper Blake Mystery (Part 6 - Finale)

Chapter 10

I woke up with a dull headache. Then I realized that my body felt funny, in fact, my limbs felt numb, my neck sore, and my eyes grimy. I tried to open my eyes only to find that they were blindfolded.
Why am I blindfolded?
“Did you wake up, sweetheart?” a feminine voice asked. I tried to pick it up from somewhere. Why did that voice sound familiar?
“Well, love, how do ye find yer accomodashuns?” asked another voice, one that belonged to a man this time, but oddly it appeared to be coming from the same location as the first.
“Who’s there?” I heard myself ask.
“You don’t recognize me?” This time it was Jasper’s voice.
“Jasper? What is going on?” I asked, trying to loosen my bonds.
“Easy there, sweetheart. Don’t get so excited!” It sounded like Jasper, but….
“Who are you? And why am I blindfolded?” I asked, trying to pin point the voice’s owner. I heard the rustling of materials, shifting of position, footsteps approaching me, a presence, and lastly, the sound of the person’s breathing as he brought his face right up to mine.
“So that you will not be frightened, darling.” Darling?
The blindfold came off. I blinked as my eyes got adjusted to the sudden brightness. I was in the middle of an empty shed. There was a window to the left of me with its paned glass all grimy and cracked; the floor was planked and covered in years of dust; the door (which happened to be the only exit) was closed and across the room from me. Between the door and myself was a young woman. She was dressed in a yellow dress with yellow hair flowing in ringlets about her shoulders.
“Lavinia?” My eyes searched the room for Jasper and other people, but it was only the two of us: myself and the mystery woman.
“Are you looking for someone, love?” she asked, but her voice was that of a male.
I shook my head to comprehend what I was seeing.
“You look confused. Here, perhaps this would make better sense.” She strode towards me. Her eyes were green, but there was something rather chilling about them. With a smile playing at her lips, she began to undress. First she removed her hair, which turned out to be a wig, revealing short curly pale hair. Next the dress fell to the floor revealing a slender body wearing a shift with padded breasts. Next were the shoes, revealing hairy feet with hair just like the ones on her head. As I watched I realized that it was not an elven woman standing before me, but a rilud male. He bowed his head and plucked something from his eyes. Squeezing them shut for a moment, he then opened them.
“Ah, that is much better!” The man smiled.
Sunlight from the windows fell on the man’s curly hair giving it a strange glow of ash and gold, but I believe it was actually snowy white. His face was beautiful with large ruby eyes, a regal nose, the bone structure of his face was actually round, yet because he was slim his form was slender, his cheek bones high and prominent. I could not help staring at him for if he had the right hair and eye colours he could pass off as the younger version of the man in my dream.
A smile curled up at the corner of his mouth as his eyes held a mischievous glint to them. “Mind if I slip into something more comfortable?” the man said in Jasper’s voice. He walked around me; trying to see what he was up to I peered behind me. There was a sack in the far corner, the man began to take out clothing from there.
“Did you want to watch?” he teased. He turned to face me. I stared in horror at where his sex would be, but there was only an ugly scar instead. “If I may remind you, it is rude to stare.”
I tore my eyes away from his emasculated body. The man chuckled as he finished dressing. He then strode towards me with shoes on his feet.
“You’re not Lavinia,” I heard myself whisper.
There was a look of amusement in the rilud’s eyes. “No, I am not,” his voice changed again, this time a bit higher in tone, his mimicry gone. It appears this was his real voice.
“Why am I here tied up like this?” I asked, getting to the point.
He brought a low box, using it as a stool, he sat down. “I wanted to talk to you.”
“Really!” I could not keep the disbelief from my voice, “If you gave me your card and a message that you wanted to meet we could have done so over tea.”
He laughed at my sarcasm. “I could see why Aryn wanted to keep you close.” He brought his box closer until we were almost within touching distance.
“Who’s Aryn?” I asked. My voice was a whisper.
He smiled. “He didn’t even tell you, eh? Well, I suppose he had his reasons, though I have expected that since he knew you for a long time and trusted you he would tell you.”
I swallowed. Something told me to be careful with this one. He looked pleasant and innocent as most rilud men I have met, however, this one had a reek of death coming from him. I heard of stories how riluds were known for their violent wrath. Usually they keep that wrath far away by maintaining a mild nature. However, when a rilud experiences a violent loss with cruel and malevolent intent, their wrath is unleashed upon their perpetrators. These violent and raging riluds were called, “tyrns” (taken from the word “tyranny”) or “turned” as some would call them. Their naturally brown hair become snowy white, their earthen brown eyes glow ruby red, and the short stubby horns on their heads (which were an inch long) double in length and size. I glanced at this rilud’s head searching for horns, but could not see any.
“If you are looking for my horns, I have lost them long ago.” He told me with an icy smile.
“Would you care to give me your name, please, sir?” I changed the subject.
The ice briefly thawed from his smile as he put his hand to his chin. “Yes, how rude of me for not giving you my name. The name is Dickon Pruner.”
“H-how do you do? I am Cassisa Fullerton,” I introduced.
“Cassisa Fullerton,” he said as if he was savouring a sweet. “I like the sound of that, but you are a Draconian – those from the Eastern Kingdoms. How is it that you would have a Western name?” I was impressed he called us Eastern Kingdomers or “gold skins” Draconians, our official name.
“I gave myself that name.” I told him.
“For what purpose?”
“I’m sure you would understand that as one who looks different from those of the West it would be beneficial.” I explained with the same temperature he gave me.
“Shame, I would have loved to hear what your name sounds like in your native tongue.”
“Perhaps another time,” I said dully. I don’t want to give this man any more information than I already gave him.
We sat there. Our conversation became a staring match. I could understand how a frog felt when facing a snake. I told myself not to back down or look away, for if I did who knows what would come from him.
“You could know what one is thinking if you look at that person’s eyes,” my father had once told me. My eyes shifted to Dickon’s. He stared back at me unblinking – his eyes were very hard to read.
Again the corner of his mouth curled upwards. “You like my eyes?”
I was not sure what to make of this person. He was flirting with me, but it could be a ploy. I decided not to answer.
He reached into his pocket and brought out a silver pocket watch. “It is supper time. Perhaps, you would like some victuals.”
“I am not hungry, thank you.” The moment those words left my mouth my traitorous stomach growled.
Dickon chuckled. “I guess that would be a ‘yes.’ Excuse me a moment, please.”
He stood up from his seat, opened the door and brought from outside a folding table, a basin, a pitcher of water, and a towel. He set the pitcher in the basin with a towel near the door on a wooden box.
“I imagine you would like to wash up before your meal,” He walked around me, slipped another rope around my waist and tied me to my chair. Then he unbound my hands.
I rubbed the circulation back to into them as my eyes remained on his face. He brought the folding table before me, placing the basin on it he poured out the water. He draped the towel over his arm and gave me a bow, “Your water, miss.”
I peered at the water. Suddenly I felt my head pressed down, my face hitting the water as it filled my nose and mouth! I tried to struggle out of Dickon’s grasp, but his hands firmly held my head. My head was yanked back up, I coughed feeling water burning my sinuses and throat.
“Let me reminded you, my sweet,” Dickon hissed into my ear. “You disgust me!”
My face was shoved into water again. As my hands tried to claw at his hands pressing me down, then a violent tug by the hair, I gasped to breathe.
“It’s because of people like you who unsexed me!” I felt something shoved into my mouth, I gagged. I realised that it was his thumb pressing on my tongue and making me choke.
“Perhaps you are wondering what I am talking about,” his thumb slid out of my mouth. I coughed.
“Very well, I will tell you a story…” Dickon began releasing me, “Once upon a time, in a small kingdom called O’Lirr was a king who had a beautiful family. The king had a beautiful wife named Antonia, two sons and four daughters. The children’s names were Xenia, Cynthia, Naryssa, Sylvana, Gunther, and Aryn. The king was loved by his people and his subjects as he was respected by leaders and kings of other countries. O’Lirr was a rich and fertile land, both in natural resources, water, and vegetation; the people who lived there were never in want. However, despite the peaceful life of O’Lirr, the royal family had a string of tragedies that occurred within the Autumn Palace, the king’s residence.
“First it started with the eldest Princess Xenia, who drowned in a river at age 12, then came Princess Cynthia who died of poisoned sweets at age 14. Prince Gunther, who was to be the first in line for the throne, was killed in a riding accident at age 15. At age 16, twin princesses Naryssa and Sylvana died from the Spotted Fever. The doctors later discovered dresses sent to the girls carried the illness.
“The deaths of the prince and princesses led to rumours of the royal family being cursed. The queen fell into melancholy after burying her five children. The ministers, trusted friends of the king, suggested having body doubles and poison-tasters to keep the young Prince Aryn safe from any further death attempts. So the king secretly had his ministers find youths who would not only become companions for the young prince, but also body doubles and poison-tasters. Two youths were brought into the royal family: one of them was a young man whose father was a dwarf, the youth’s name was Mercury Blake; the second young man was a rilud by the name of Dickon Pruner who was the son of a local tree pruner and gardener.”
I looked up at Dickon. He smiled thinly.
“Yes, that Dickon Pruner is I.” He continued, “A year later, a young girl was adopted into the royal family who was later given the name Rayn by Prince Aryn – an anagram of his own name. The son of a dwarf, a rilud and a young girl were the prince’s playmates, they later developed a bond so strong they even made themselves blood brothers and sister. Years passed, the secret of Prince Aryn having body doubles were of course kept tightly; the ministers, and those who knew about the secret, aged until they took the secret to their graves. We grew together, making sure that we would continue to look alike. Mercury made sure he had help from the elven doctors to make his height the same as Prince Aryn’s, as did I. In the hidden inner court of the Autumn Palace, the three of us lived with the prince so that we trained, practiced and learned to behave, fight, think, walk, talk, and even have habits like Prince Aryn until no one could tell us apart. However, there was one problem. Rayn was a girl and girls become women. Her body with her monthly courses made it difficult for her to continue playing ‘prince’, so she was given the role of the prince’s ‘private maid’.”
I listened to this strange tale as Dickon continued, “One night, the Autumn Palace was set on fire by a coup. The king was killed with his queen. Prince Aryn was told by the king’s remaining advisors his life was in danger and he had to leave the palace. Immediately, Mercury and I took action. Dressed identical to Prince Aryn, we lured the rebels away from the prince. Mercury was shot as he was caught by the rebel soldiers. I put up a bit of a chase as I rode the prince’s horse out of the Palace with a fellow servant. The servant got killed by a bullet. I was captured. The rebels saw that I was an imposter and sold me to the slave market in one of the Eastern Kingdoms. There an Oronean purchased me and made me his slave where I was made sport. He later unsexed me so I could not breed.”
I shuddered at the horror Dickon painted. He smiled even more seeing me in discomfort. He approached me and grabbed my chin. I could not stop shaking for I saw a look of malicious glee in those ruby eyes.
“I was my master’s abused dog, so I had to wait until I could kill him. When I finally had the chance,” he leaned towards me and whispered, “I tore his limbs apart!” He began to laugh delighted by the memory.
I wanted to shrink away from him, but his hand had a firm grip on my chin. When I felt something wet slipping down my cheeks. I realized I was crying.
“Oh, did I scare you, my dear?” he cooed, his thumb stroking my jaw line.
“Please let me go,” I whispered.
“Let you go?” Dickon peered into my eyes, his eyes wide with madness. He gave me a toothy grin. “But that would be too easy. Besides,” his eyes suddenly saddened, “I want a woman’s touch.”
He grabbed my collar and tore my blouse, I cried out. I prayed as I had never prayed before.
“If you don’t struggle so much, I will make it painless.” He brought out something from his back pocket. It was a knife.
“Ishual!” I whimpered, “Please help me!”
He sniggered. “Ishual, please help me!” he mimicked. “Your god can’t help you just as he didn’t help me!”
The door flung open with a BANG! A shot rang through the air as Dickon’s knife flew out of his hand.
“You took a while,” Dickon commented at Jasper who stood in the now open doorway with a pistol in his hand pointing right at him.
“Jasper!” I cried out and felt a squeeze tightening around my neck.
“Don’t!” Jasper aimed at Dickon’s head.
The tyrn released me and raised his empty hands. “I was just getting acquainted with your lady friend, Aryn,” Dickon told Jasper in a pleasant tone as if we were having tea rather than holding me hostage and torturing me.
“Hands where I could see them,” Jasper commanded.
“Are you sure?” Dickon threw something on the ground. A cloud of smoke burst up. I felt myself carried in my chair. Another loud bang followed by splintering of wood. Moments later I saw the air clear and found myself staring down at a street in Oxen Basin. It was then I realized that I was still bound to my chair and Dickon, with his monstrous rilud strength, had me tipping dangerously with the front chair legs on the edge of the building top.
I shrank back as far as the chair would allow me so my weight would go to the back of my seat.
“Cassisa!” I heard Jasper call; his shoes pounded the rooftop and stopped a distance behind us.
“That’s right, Aryn. Not too close!” Dickon held me so that I would be leaning a bit more forward.
I tried to hold my panic in as I gripped the edge of my seat and focussed on staying on the chair, which was getting very difficult with gravity inviting me to fall.
“Let her go,” Jasper said.
“Really?” I felt a brief moment of weightlessness. I screamed, then felt a violent tug and was suspended over the street again.
“I didn’t think you wanted to see her go so soon.” I could hear enjoyment on Dickon’s part.
“What do you want?”
“A private word with you.”
“I will talk if you set her down safely.”
“Where? Here?” I was brought back on the roof. “Or here?” Again I was over the edge.
“The roof!”
Dickon clucked his tongue. “You are no fun! Oh, very well! But you must drop your pistol.” I heard a moment of silence, then I was gently placed a foot away from the edge on a solid surface. My chair was facing away from the street so I saw that Jasper had the pistol on the ground a foot away from him.
Dickon approached Jasper. I watched as they spoke, but could not make out what they were saying for Dickon had his back turned to me. As the conversation progressed, Jasper’s eyes grew with concern written on his face.
Dickon stepped away from Jasper and grinned. “Remember, Aryn, they are waiting for you.” He did a quick jig and with a twirl he ended his little dance beside me. A spray of crimson burst from his chest once, then twice, he fell across my chest and pulled me over the edge with him.
“Cassisa!” Jasper shouted, grabbing the chair and kept me from going over.
I felt something grab my hair, I cried out in pain as Dickon tried to bring himself up by my hair. Immediately, a shadow fell over me followed by a sickening sound of something sliced; the weight that pulled at me fell away. Cries and screams of people come from the ground below as I was lifted back to the roof safely.
“That was a close one, eh?” It was Ian’s voice.
Both Ian and Jasper carefully raised my chair so that it would stand securely on its four legs.
“The captain’s on his way, Jasper,” Ian told him.
“Thank you, Ian,” Jasper replied.
“And, uh, Cassisa,” I looked up to see our friend looking sheepish. “My apologies for your hair.”
I shook my head. “It was a small price to pay. Thank you for saving me.”
With a nod, Ian handed the knife to Jasper. “I’ll be meeting the captain and his men,” he said as he walked away.
Jasper made quick work with my bonds. The moment I was free I stumbled out of my chair and sat on the rooftop rubbing circulation back into my limbs. Jasper removed his jacket and covered me.
“You are safe now,” he assured me.
I could not help looking at him. It was Jasper. I threw my arms around him tears of relief pouring from my eyes with my nose running just as freely as I buried my face into his neck.
“Hey!” Jasper was surprised. I guess he didn’t know what to do for a moment because it took him a full minute until he actually put his arms around me and finally pulled me close.
“You came,” I sniffled.
“Of course, I would.”
“I didn’t think you would.”
“Why would you say that?”
“You fired me.”
There was a brief pause. “When was this?”
“Yesterday.”
He pulled away so he could look at my tearstained messy face. “I fired you?”
“You dismissed me.”
“I dismissed you?”
“Something about losing my temper and hitting my employer.”
There was another pause. “Just because I fired or dismissed you does not mean I will not help you. Besides, I thought that hit was well deserved (at least according to the jury at Rosemary’s).”
“I still lost my temper.” I inhaled and looked at him in the eye, “I am s–” He put a finger to my lips.
“I would rather hear the words starting with T and Y,” he told me, his tone very kind.
I tried to search the words he was asking for.
“I was saying that I want to hear a ‘thank–’” I did not let him finish as I pressed my lips on his giving him a warm kiss. When we parted, he sat there momentarily dumbstruck.
“I – I thought I needed permission to get one of those,” he stammered.
“I just gave you one.”
“Your permission?”
I nodded.
“Well, in that case!” He returned my kiss. Just as we were kissing, we heard a cough. We turned to see Ian with Captain Peere and some of his rangers looking at us – Ian grinning from ear-to-ear, the captain blushing a bit and some of the rangers looking every other way except us. We both moved away from each other.
“Well, Blake,” Captain Peere said clearing his throat, “Now that we have your full attention. We would like to take you to Station House 22 to write up our report on the Tiller murder, the Willowdale murder and the kidnapping of Ms. Fullerton.”
“Right away, sir,” Jasper grinned as he stood up.
“Right!” the captain turned to his men and said, “All right, lads! Let’s move along, shall we?”
Jasper held out his hand to me. I gratefully took it and allowed him to pull me to my feet. I wobbled a bit, but I managed.
“Would you like me to carry you?” he teased.
“I will be all right, thank you!” I stumbled. He caught my elbow.
“Cassisa,” his expression this time was serious, “will you please continue to work with me? Not as a secretary, something…” His eyes searched for a word.
“A partner, perhaps?”
“How about one with the possibility of becoming my future wife?”
“Your future wife?”
“I do not mean right away…I mean, perhaps in a year or two…Of course, with your parents’ permission…” He blubbered as colour rose on his cheeks and spread to his ears.
I could not help smiling. “How about we build our relationship by getting to know each other first, then we shall meet my parents?”
He looked at me as I slipped a hand on his arm. He smiled. “I think that would be a good start. Yes.”

Epilogue

The case of the murder of Gavin Tiller was closed with Gavin’s sister Peony’s confession. The Zenian cook who was held in custody was released for being proven innocent. As for the murder of Rineaux Willowdale, with Jasper’s investigation, and some help from Ian, it was concluded that Dickon Pruner was the one who murdered the man.
“I will compile a report for the captain and the rangers,” Jasper said as he sent me home. Good to his word, he did that within the day, all three cases solved and closed.
Two days passed since my kidnapping. I was still a bit shaken after my rescue that Jasper encouraged me to take a day off.
“How did you know it was Dickon?” I asked. Jasper and I celebrated in our office with tea and some fresh cinnamon rolls from the local bakery.
“Dickon was actually leaving hints for me to follow.” Jasper explained as he took a bite of his roll. He chewed and swallowed. “Do you remember the chess pieces?”
I nodded.
“Those were his calling cards.”
“His calling cards?”
“It was his way of leaving me a message that he was at the place and that he wanted me to find him.”
“And you did find him.”
“I did – with great caution, of course.” Taking a sip of his tea, he continued, “I had Ian conduct multiple searches, getting as much information as possible regarding places or events where the chess pieces were found. He had some help from Harris and Rusty, while Merl and Vanessa gave me any leads that came their way.”
“So the chess piece that you got from Merl.”
“I asked him about that. He told me that it was not from him. Then I remembered that there was a young man who worked at the morgue. I believe you saw him. He was the one who notified you that I was at the door.”
I recalled a young man in a lab coat at the morgue. I shook my head in disbelief.
“I still can’t believe that was Dickon.” Then, I added, “If that was Dickon, why didn’t Merl and Vanessa realize sooner?”
“Dickon captured Eric (the young man who worked at the morgue) and took his place. They found the real Eric knocked out in a broom closet. Dickon was also Lavinia – as you may have figured out.”
I nodded at that. The rilud was a master of many disguises. “Did he do the same with the real Lavinia?”
“Apparently, the real Lavinia had been dead for some time.”
I stared at Jasper in disbelief.
“I believe Dickon was hired to find Willowdale by someone, possibly Lavinia. Captain Peere had learned that Willowdale had made a will to whomever would claim to be his true heir. The real Lavinia had died by an illness in a hospital in Eastern Noridca.”
Jasper paused, taking a sip of his tea, and continued, “Dickon was hired to investigate Willowdale. He was given the dead woman’s identity and approached Willowdale himself. What probably was not expected was that Dickon would meet Gavin who probably saw through his disguise.”
“So Dickon…is he dead?” I had to ask.
Jasper nodded. “Merl and the captain had me examine him before they took him away. Two shots through the chest, but it was the fall that killed him.”
I found myself touching my shortened hair. After Ian had hacked me free from Dickon’s death grip, I returned home and asked Rosemary to fix the choppy ends. It felt strange seeing my reflection without my long hair. My hair was my beauty so I was a saddened at the loss. My friends at Rosemary’s told me that the new look made me cherub-like – I took that as a compliment.
"I still have trouble understanding why Rineaux Willowdale was killed," I mentioned remembering the third murder.
"Willowdale was notorious amongst the female servants for his carnal appetites. He may have approached Dickon thinking he was a woman, only to get himself killed."
“So, how do you like your new look?” Jasper changed the topic, perhaps for my benefit.
"Ian suggested that I would purchase a suit with trousers." I told him, “He said, 'It will make yer work easier'," I imitated Ian's Eastern Nordican accent, "personally, I think he felt bad about my hair so he paid for the suit. I think it will take some time getting used to.”
I stood up to show Jasper my new navy blue suit. For a tie, I used a broad piece of black satin and pinned it with a silver brooch. The brooch was purchased from my first pay on this job.
“Well, if I may remind you,” Jasper stood up from his seat. He wiped his fingers on his handkerchief and approached me. “I would like to see you with your hair long again.”
“Oh?” I tilted my head.
He brought out from his coat pocket a small slender box. “For you, my dear,” he held the box out to me.
Taking it I opened the box. Inside was a brass hairpin with a bright red gem.
“It’s not a ruby, but,” Jasper said shyly, “I would be honoured if you accepted it – celebrating our…partnership.”
“Thank you,” I smiled. “To me it is a ruby.”
Give a dwarf a ruby and he will be your brother for life.” Jasper quoted the proverb. “Do you know why it is a ruby?”
I shook my head.
“In ancient times, dwarves gave their brothers rubies or garnets as a symbol of being blood brothers.” He then added, “Do you know why I am giving you a red stone?”
“You want to be my brother?”
“Well, not exactly. When a dwarf gives a woman a ruby it is his promise that he will treasure her.”
“Well,” I was not sure what to say to him other than, “That is quite a commitment.”
“I intend to make that commitment.” Jasper plucked the pin from the box and tucked it into my hair behind my ear.
“Jasper,” I placed my hand over his.
“Yes?”
“Rook, or Dickon, called you ‘Aryn’. Why?”
Jasper hesitated. “Cassisa, I –”
“If you do not feel comfortable in telling me, you don’t have to. But if you want to have a relationship with me, I would like to have one without any secrets.” I was remembering my last two marriages where each of my husbands’ secrets brought me heartache.
Jasper’s other hand went behind my head and brought me closer to him. “I will be very honest with you, but I am afraid to tell you my secrets, because of what it may bring.”
“I am aware that some histories could affect people…” I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer for courage make the best choice. “But I have decided to love you regardless who you are and where you came from.”
He pressed his lips to my ear and whispered, “Aryn Phineas.”
I looked up at him.
“That is my real name,” he explained, “I was the youngest son of King Benik of O’Lirr.”
I was confused. “Aryn?”
“Dickon Pruner was my body double and personal body guard.” He continued after a pause, “I was adopted by a relative of Mercury Blake.”
“Blake? As in –” I pointed at him. Rather rude of me, but I was not sure how voice my thoughts.
He nodded. “Mercury was my second body double and bodyguard. I came to Nordica when I was twelve with his uncle who later adopted me.”
“Wait a minute! Aryn Phineas. The Aryn Phineas who was believed to be killed with his family during O’Lirrean revolution?”
“The very same.”
Recalling the initials “A.P.” left for Jasper and his panic upon seeing it now made sense.
“Cassisa,” I looked at him and saw his face sad and worn. “I want to be clear with you. I have no land, no title, and no riches that I could give you from my old background; all that is lost with my family during the revolution. I could only give you,” he stretched his arms, “myself as I am. Will you please accept me?”
“Of course I would. Besides,” I put my arms around him and buried my face in his chest. “I only know you as Jasper Blake and I will call you exactly that.”

He returned my embrace. “Thank you,” he said as he kissed the top of my head.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Diamond for Dwarves - A Jasper Blake Mystery (Part 5)

Chapter 8

“You have a confession?” I echoed. It was not meant to sound like a question. I heard Jasper say something, but I was not sure if I heard him right. He looked down at the cigarette case in his hands momentarily deep in thought.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
Finally, he looked at me. “We have a problem.”
“All right,” I inquired.
“Before I took up the Tiller case, I was working on another case that is completely unrelated – at the time it was not pressing. However,” he gave me a guilty look, “it appears the previous case also demands my attention.” With those words he brought out his notebook.
“I want you to finish the Tiller case in my stead.”
“What? Now?” I was not sure I was hearing it right.
“That would be ideal –” he suggested, but I cut in.
“But, this is –”
“It is sudden. Yes, I am very aware of that. However, something has come up that I cannot be at two places at once and this is where I would need someone to represent me.”
“But this is not good, Jasper. You are my employer and this case should be yours to finish.”
“The other case is urgent and it is out of town.”
“Surely you cannot just up and leave right away?” I did not want him to leave me stranded with this case we were working together and I was still not making any sense of.
“I will be leaving Oxen Basin tomorrow evening and from then, it will be only for a couple of days – who knows, you may be able to solve the case by then.”
“Tomorrow?” But that is too soon! I did not want to work on this case alone, especially with a lot of pieces missing, not to mention the fact that I had next to no experience in investigating.
“How about we finish solving this case together as soon as possible and leave together!”
He stopped and turned at my suggestion.
“Did I just hear you right, that you want to come with me on this other case?”
“I understand this would mean that you would have to stay a bit longer, however the fact of the matter is I do not have the experience you have in this line of work. I would much prefer if you stay and finish this case before we move on to the next one.”
“We?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, we!” I then added, “Surely, you weren’t suggesting that this other case you are so eager to look into has a deadline.”
“Well –”
“Then take me with you!” If Jasper was being his spontaneous self, I guess I will take that chance in having him leave town with me in tow. “After we finish this case! No, wait! You said you have to leave the city tomorrow. That won’t work! Surely there is a way to make this work!”
He looked at me for a moment and burst out laughing, “You are serious, aren’t you?”
“I am and with a job that has expectation of solving the case and laying some ghosts to rest, I would be even more so. We did agree to take the diamond case along with the Tiller murder and we are responsible to finish them both.”
He gave me a crooked smile, though his eyes had some reluctance. “I’m glad someone has some sense. You are right. We did agree to take these cases and we will finish them.”
I relaxed. “So, that means you are staying and we will finish the Tiller case together?”
“Indeed we shall do that.”
Relieved, I smiled. “So, where shall we begin?”
“Let’s finish the Tiller murder. I believe there is a connection to the dwarven diamonds if we start digging deeper.”
We were back in our meeting room comparing what we had found so far.
“Tell me what you have found,” Jasper said as he sat in a wooden chair next to the desk we had near the blackboard.
“Well,” I began, “What I have are of what we already know.”
So I went over my notes starting with the Tillers: both Gavin and Peony were half-brother and sister; Gavin worked under the employment of three elven families (Everwoods, Sunnydales, and Pinegroves) as their gardener and yardkeeper; Gavin was a member of the guild for Keepers of Diamond Caves; he was found asking around rumours about diamond trades; he was also seen with an elven lady by the name of Lavinia (who was at the Willowdale residence); and he had sought sanctuary during a time when St Eleanor’s was unoccupied and unobserved.
“Now, my turn,” Jasper opened his notes and gave the following: Willowdale was a well respected elven gentleman. However, there had been rumours amongst the servants of the household that he was involved with many women, some of whom were his own female servants that he dismissed with some reason such as petty theft, drunkenness, or lewd behaviours. Willowdale was once married many years ago, but his wife died a year after their marriage and they never had children. Many years later, with many changes in the household staff, Willowdale brought home a young woman who was believed to be his own daughter, likely a bastard. Because she resembled someone in his family, he was convinced that she was his daughter – that girl was Lavinia.
“The funny thing about this story was, Lavinia first appeared about a year ago. She was polite and her behaviours were refined. What the servants find odd was that she preferred to do things on her own, dressing herself, doing her hair, and other skills that a young lady would require with the help of a servant. She liked her privacy and told her father she would like to keep it that way. Her father, probably because he doted on her, gave her that freedom.”
“I thought fathers were usually strict about their daughters’ whereabouts in the home,” I commented.
“What makes you say that?”
“Being a daughter myself with rather overprotective parents I would say that would be expected.”
His eyes had a sad look about them.
“Jasper?”
“Yes,” he replied quietly, “yes, I would have to agree with that.” He gave me a smile as if to chase away a sad thought. “Let us say, that her father was protective. He would have her under lock and key; however from what I had learned from the servants (and when we saw Lavinia) she seemed to roam freely.”
“What was her reaction when she was told her father died?” I asked.
“Well, apparently she was the one who found her father dead in the room. She was the one who reported it to the rangers, leaving them an address of a friend of hers.” Jasper gave the address which was the Tiller residence.
“It is funny how we keep going back to that place.”

After comparing notes, we decided to order something from Digger’s shop and do some more work together. Jasper purchased some apple turnovers and a pot of tea.
“Do you have a weapon?” Jasper asked the moment we finished our tea and sweets.
“A weapon? No. Why?” I looked up at Jasper as I collected the empty teacups.
“I think it would be good for you to have a weapon.”
I felt uneasy about possessing a weapon. I know that if one possessed a weapon for self-defence there were likely chances of it being taken from that person and used against him.
I voiced my concern. “What if the weapon is used against me?”
“Then, we shall make sure that does not happen.”
Walking behind his desk Jasper reached down to one of drawers and brought out two weapons: one looked like a cylindrical stick about an inch thick and a foot long; the other was a small pistol with its handle made of polished dark wood inlaid with an ivory star.
“Choose a weapon,” he told me, “or better yet, take both. You never know when you will need them.”
I looked at him. Seeing his eyes sincere with his decision, I picked up the stick.
“Ever used one of those?”
With a flick of my wrist the stick extended to three feet. I held it upright before me like a sword.
“Something like it,” I gripped the handle with both hands. The stick reminded me of the time when my father first introduced me to Oronean style fencing when I was about seven. The practice blades we used then were bamboo, lengths of bamboo bundled with strips of leather with a thick disc of hide for a hilt. The bamboo blades that Father used to teach me with were about four feet in length, of which he brought from Oronea. I once asked him to teach me how to fight, but he refused saying, “I would rather teach you to fight with your wits than with a sword that could also kill you in the end.” At the time I wondered why he even introduced me Oronean fencing, now I could conclude that he only wanted me to see that we have some warrior blood running through us. Perhaps I got my hot headedness from my father’s warrior roots.
Jasper’s voice broke into my thoughts, “Shall we give it a try?” In his hand he had another stick like mine extended before him.
“In here?”
“I’m sure we could accommodate some space for sparring.”
I glanced about me: the area where we seated our clients was large, but cluttered with furniture. Moments later we moved all the furniture against the walls to make a space large enough to parry or hold a small duel.
“How about having some rules?” I suggested.
“Rules would be good.”
“No throwing people around.”
“That won’t happen.”
I picked up a chalk and drew a line about a foot away from the furnitured walls. “We remain in the area I have just marked off to reduce damage and injury.”
He nodded in agreement.
“Tapping your opponent will be counted a point. No stabbing, jabbing, or any acts of violence that would produce injury. Any questions?”
“If I may, Ms. Fullerton,” he raised his hand, “injury is inevitable in something like this.”
“I agree, however I would like to take precautions.”
“Very well,” he stood close to one side of the chalk square. I took my place across from him. He stood upright with the stick extended in one hand, his free hand behind his back, “En garde?”
I gripped my weapon in both hands near the base. Shifting my feet shoulder width apart I held the stick before me like a sword. With a cry I ran towards him, he dodged my attack. For a few minutes we continued this dance of my half-hearted attacks and his effortless dodging, until he suddenly turned giving me a playful tug at my hair. The bun I had painstakingly put up that morning fell apart. I gave him a look at what he had just done.
“Come, come,” he teased, “don’t let that stop you.”
With my hair dishevelled, I ran towards him swinging harder, none of the blows landed on him. In a blink of an eye his face was before mine, my vision briefly obstructed as something warm and soft brush against my lips! I jolted. By the time he stepped away from me, I saw a slow half-grin on his face and realized that he had just kissed me!
Infuriated that he would take advantage of me, I gripped my stick and attacked him this time with more determination. Jasper’s eyes had a spark of delight as if he saw something he wanted to see. I swung, hacked, spun, and dodged. Still unable to hit my opponent, I breathed deeply and closed my eyes. I imagined my father before me during a brief practice, his Oronean practice blade before him in one hand telling me that he was going to invite me to put more effort in what I did. He moved towards me, I ducked and swung. My opponent collapsed.
I blinked and saw not my father, but Jasper holding his side.
“Oh my goodness! Jasper, are you all right?” I knelt before him.
He winced, but also looked pleased. “I knew you had it in you.”
“You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” I was referring to his kiss and undoing my hair. I wanted to point out that he made me angry by that kiss he gave me, but I turned to leave, only to have him grab my wrist preventing me.
“What?” I demanded.
“Tell me why you are angry.”
“I am not.”
“You are,” he argued.
“All right then, I am angry with you? And there is a good reason!” I put in with force before he said something.
“Care to tell me?” He had a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
“Why did you do that?”
“Do what?” Jasper smiled. He was clearly enjoying this.
“Why did you mess my hair? And why did you kiss me?”
“I like you!”
I stopped. “What?”
Jasper straightened himself. “I like you, Cassisa,” he said, “in fact I liked you the moment I laid eyes on you.” He raised his stick, and flicked a hidden switch, making it shrink back to its original size.
I stood there stunned, trying to process what he had just told me. He kissed me because he liked me? Suddenly, at the recollection of that kiss, how he used that against me reminded me of my fury sent my hand painfully across his face.
“Not without my permission!” I yelled at him.

That evening during supper, the males were deep in conversation while Jasper and I sat at opposite ends of the table from each other. I pretended my indifference as I spooned the vanilla custard to my mouth in hope of smothering my irritation from that kiss he stole from me.
“So the victim was found with a red mark,” Merl spoke as Rusty, Harris and Ian listened intently at his recent medical examination.
“Any other injuries?” Harris asked, taking notes.
“A bruise on the lower ribcage made recently, the shape was that of a long thin object. No broken bones.”
I slowly looked away feigning a sudden interest on the designs of Rosemary’s dinnerware.
“Victim was found with some rouge on his lips –” Merl added.
A tea cup was loudly set on its saucer coming from the far end of the table. In my mind’s eye I could see everyone turning to Jasper; everyone – except me.
“I believe the suspect was, in fact, the actual victim in this case,” Ian commented.
“How so?” Merl asked innocently.
“By the shape of the red marking in question on the man’s face is that of a woman’s hand.” Ian explained, “By the angle of the mark one could deduce that it was possibly made when the man was standing upright and the woman in question approached him. The rouge on the man’s lips would prove my statement further.”
I tried to watch from a reflection on Rosemary’s silver teapot as the other three men nodded in agreement. I heard a nervous cough (from Jasper) and the sound of a chair creaking (Jasper shifting in his seat).
“Well, if you ask me,” Rosemary put in bringing fresh pots of cream and sugar for tea, “I would say that man deserved that mark.” With that she returned to the kitchen.
“And yes, Jasper, we can do it too,” Rusty added referring to their observational skills; his deadpanned reply held a hint of laughter.
I stood up from my seat with my dishes and went to the kitchen. Rosemary was occupying herself with washing the pots. I quietly stood beside her and placed my dishes on the counter.
“Allow me,” I offered.
“I am almost done here,” Rosemary then added, “and don’t let those lads bother you.” She finished rinsing one of the pots and placed it on a drying surface to the side.
“He kissed me without permission,” I sulked.
She gave a soft chuckle. “Well now, I would have done the same if I was in your position.”
I relaxed a bit at her response. Watching her finish rinsing the last of the pots, she stepped to the side so I could do my dishes. I could hear Jasper making some kind of protest against whatever it was his friends were teasing him about this time.
“Although, and I know I would be a busybody when I say this, I would suggest that you would make some peace with the lad.”
I looked at her wondering if she made that suggestion out of anger, but it was not so.
“There was an old saying, ‘One should not end the day in anger, it should be dealt with as soon as possible’.”
I nodded. I know that phrase, yet the idea of me pasting a smile and giving a lip service of apology just did not sit well with me. I have done that many times in the past, and lost some friendships in the process all because my apology was phony. Although there were times I was genuine in admitting wrong and tried to restore relationships that I ruined by apologizing, yet I still lost those friendships. The bitter reminder left an unpleasant taste in my mouth and a just as unpleasant lump in my throat.
I spoke to Ishual about this. My mother called it “ego”, my former friends called it “pride”. Whatever it was, I despised that part of me like a parasite that tickled in the back of my throat reminding me of this ugly part of me I wished to get rid of but could not. When I asked Ishual what I should do, he said nothing.
“Rosemary, would he accept my apology?” I heard myself ask, I could hear my voice within me say, I don’t want to go on like this!
“Why wouldn’t he?”
I shrugged. “I am a proud woman, or so I am told, and my apologies mean nothing.”
She stopped what she was doing. “Now, who told you that?”
I looked at my hands soaking in dishwater. “Just some friends,” I fibbed. Once friends – most of whose names I clearly remember.
“Well, do you think you were flippant with your apologies?”
“I don’t believe so,” I said looking right at her. I felt like crying. I was sick of those accusations. I was honest. Or at least I tried, and yet people did not believe me.
Rosemary smiled. “Then, you should not worry,” she assured me, “If you are being honest and genuine, it does not matter what others say.”
“Does it?” I felt tears fill my eyes.
“Oh, dear child! You believe in Ishual who sees and hears everything. He is the most reliable witness wherever we are. He knows your heart. If you are honest and open to him in all that you do he knows that just as he would know if you are lying or hiding something.”
I felt my lip turn up a smile. “Do you think Jasper would accept my apology?”
“Do you think there was something you did that deserves an apology?”
“I hit him across the face for kissing,” I added the last bit when she broke into laughter.
“Perhaps he deserves an apology for the hit. Expressing such behaviours in anger is not a wise thing – especially when he is your employer.”
I nodded in agreement. “You’re right.”
“Cassisa,” I looked up to see Jasper at the kitchen doorway, “A word with you if I may.”
I looked at Rosemary who smiled at me and gave me a kind nudge. “Run along, dear. I will finish your dishes.”
“But –”
“Remember, do make peace with him while the day is still young,” she said with a wink.
“Thank you, Rosemary.” I left her to meet Jasper.
We left the place and began to stroll along the road nearby. For a while we did not say anything.
“Jasper,” I began, “I –”
“Cassisa,” Jasper interrupted.
“Yes?”
“We will finish this case together.”
I smiled. “I am glad –”
“After that I will no longer have you as my secretary.”
I stopped. Did I just hear that he was going to dismiss me?
“Are you saying I am fired?” I felt dread sinking in like a weight.
“I am afraid it will have to come to that, yes.” Jasper turned to me, he had a look in his eyes, were they sadness?
“I’m sorry, I am trying to explain this –”
“It’s all right, Jasper,” I felt tears welling up, but this time I will not cry. “I trust your judgement on this one.”
“You do?”
“Before you continue (and I am saying this regardless of the decision already made) I just wanted to let you know. Thank you for hiring me. I am sorry for crossing the line with my temper.” I swallowed and continued, “If you much prefer, you could dismiss me sooner.”
“I don’t see why I should –”
“Thank you for your time,” I turned to leave but he grabbed my wrist.
“Now, wait a minute! We are not done here!”
“I thought we were.”
“First of all, I want to finish this case with you, therefore I do not plan on giving you an early dismissal. Secondly, I…” He looked at me, but I cannot seem to look at him. “Is it an apology you are asking me?”
Now I was the one laughing! “Whatever for? I was the one who lost my temper and hurt you.” I squeezed my eyes shut to collect my thoughts. Then I opened them and looked right at him, “I apologize for hitting you. That was not something I should have done to someone who has authority over me.”
His hand loosened its grip briefly where I was able to slip out of them and head back to Rosemary’s.

Chapter 9

The next morning, I woke up with a cloud of dread hanging over me. Recalling the conversation with Jasper last night only worsened my melancholy. As a former teacher I had days where I was so discouraged with myself and my life I nearly drowned from my melancholic state. As I lay in bed I silently spoke to Ishual. I told him what I did wrong (along with other things I may have done wrong) and my regrets with my behaviours thanks to my temper. I also told him my disappointments in myself especially when I thought I had finally found a decent job; I was hoping I could stay and help my parents pay back the remaining debt my last husband had left me; and yet the question remained of what I need to do with myself now that I was dismissed.
Throughout this silent exchange, I felt tears streaming down from the corners of my eyes on to my pillow. What should I do? I was at a loss. I did not want to get up out of bed. A knock sounded on my bedroom door.
“Cassisa,” Rosemary called, “Jasper is asking for you.”
Tell him I just died! I was tempted to say, instead I asked, “What time is it?”
“It is eleven minutes after nine o’clock.”
My world had already ended; I did not see how Jasper wanted me. Then I heard a commotion: Rosemary making a fuss about something and – was that a male voice on the other side of the door?
Pounding on the door demanded my appearance.
“Cassisa! Get up right now! We have case to solve!” It was Jasper.
I took my time getting out of bed and putting my clothes on. By the time I was fixing my hair, Jasper opened the door.
“One would usually knock before they enter,” I told him coldly. I was not too keen on seeing him.
“I already did, and I gave you ample time to be ready.” He held up a lunch pail. “I have your breakfast here. Also, since I believe you would like to freshen up before you present yourself to the world, you have five minutes.” With that he sped downstairs, probably to avoid another commotion with Rosemary because I saw a rather black look on her face. I wondered if that look was towards me for my extreme tardiness or towards Jasper for being upstairs where a woman’s privacy was maintained. I decided it was both.

We sat in our usual hansom driven by Matthews. I sat as far away from Jasper as I could to almost dangerously leaning over my side of the seat. I felt a strong hand grip my arm and pull me back.
“Do you want to get yourself killed?” Jasper scolded.
I kept my look sullen and faced away from him.
“Really, Cassisa, you are being immature.”
“If I might remind you,” I began, “I am still angry at myself and at what had happened between us.”
“So why are you angry and what exactly about?”
“Well, what do you think?”
“Well, what is it?”
I shot a look at him. He had a smirk on his face. It now irritated me that he found this whole ordeal entertaining and got the upper hand by returning my question with a question. How I hated that!
“Ah! We have arrived.” He eagerly jumped out of the hansom just before I was about to say something else I would regret later. Luckily I kept my mouth shut and followed him.
I realized where we were when Jasper stopped at the main gates leading to the front property of Willowdale residence. The place was closed off, but none of the rangers were in sight. Pulling on our cotton gloves, Jasper and I entered the crime scene. For the first time, I noticed that Jasper carried an envelope with him that I recognized held the coroner reports from Merl.
“According to Constable Ryans, who happened to be part of the investigation, Rineaux Willowdale was found in his room.” Jasper led me to Willowdale’s bedroom. The door was left open ajar with its bloodied carpet visible.
“Hmmm, this time the rangers did a rather thorough job,” he commented as he showed me a photograph of Willowdale lying on his side in a pool of blood.
I gave up remaining angry and decided to cooperate. “I didn’t know they took pictures of the scene,” I said, though part of me still chiding my overextended stewing.
“Usually they don’t, but after a visit from someone above I suppose it was brought to attention.”
There were five photographs. The first one was of the victim and the state he was found in. The second was the details of the wound and the blood stains on the floor. The remaining three were of the state of the crime scene.
“What do you suppose that is?” I pointed at a strange marking on Mr. Willowdale’s body. It was almost hidden under the collar, but it was a discoloured patch that appeared to creep up to his lower jaw.
Jasper peered at patch I pointed out. “It looks like a rash.” He flipped through Merl’s report and found what he was looking for. “‘Victim had a severe allergic reaction from iron. Rash spreading around the upper arm where a deep laceration had occurred spread down to the left elbow, up the left shoulder and along the left jaw.’ What’s this? ‘Victim had a history of injury on the right hip, evidence shown on the shorter left leg due to shifting bodily weight on the left side. Victim would be using a cane for support.’”
“How did he die?” I wondered aloud.
“According to Merl the victim was stabbed.”
A thought crossed my mind wondering if anything was left after the Rangers did their investigation. I crouched down and began to search under furniture. Just under the bed was something that glinted. I went down on my belly, reached under the bed and felt my hand close over something long and slender. I brought it out; it was a cane of polished ebony. The black wood was polished to a velvet shine with a faceted knob of smoky quartz on top.
Good eye,” Jasper complimented.
I heard a faint rattling sound came from within the cane. I gave it a shake and heard it again.
“There’s something inside.” I examined the cane and noticed that there was a hidden groove located about a span down from the top; I began twisting the length where the groove was until the cane separated into two sections revealing its inside revealing a compartment holding several diamonds ranging from 2 to 4 carats all bearing dwarven runes.
“Well done, Cassisa!” Jasper praised.
I flushed. “We should take this to the station house,” I said as I put the cane back together.
“The lads there would be impressed at your find.”
I could only smile and say, “Let’s see what else we could find here.”
We did another search.
“Now what do we have here?” Jasper crouched down in front of a grated air vent. The bolts were oddly a size smaller than the holes they were in so the grate to the vent could easily be removed.
“What is in the vent?” I asked.
The grate fell away the moment he gave it a gentle tug. Inside the vent was a white handkerchief with a ruddy-brown stain. Taking the handkerchief, he opened it to reveal plain white handkerchief, two letters cut from newspaper, and a silver letter opener.
“D and P,” he said as he studied the cut out letters, “This letter opener is made of steel.”
Elves are naturally allergic to iron, which also means they were allergic to steel because of its iron components. Because one prick or scratch would cause them serious harm, some elves would take the extreme of even building their homes without iron materials, including nails. They would hire special carpenters who had the skill of building homes without any metals – something that would be impossible for humans to imagine, but made possible if that skill was demonstrated.
I peered over Jasper’s shoulder as we studied the letter opener. It was a plain letter opener, one that could be found in an office.
“It appears we have found the murder weapon.” Jasper wrapped the letter opener in its handkerchief then rolled them into his own to keep it from further exposure. “I think we are done here.”
“I wonder if the handkerchief was from the murderer.” I commented as we made our way out of the room. Just as we were about to leave Willowdale residence, something shining in a corner near the main entryway caught my eye. I reached down and picked it up. It was a round brass locket. The item was in a small corner near the door almost hidden from sight. On the locket was the initial T, inside contained a small painted portrait of a large eyed dark haired woman. The woman was young, somewhere in her twenties, her dark hair was piled on her head, she wore a yellow dress and on her hand was a large ruby ring. For some reason the face looked very familiar. Then I recalled something about the ring, when we were conducting our investigation.
“The man called her Lavinia... The lady was wearing a gold ring with a ruby on her left hand.” Could it be? I turned to Jasper.
“Are you thinking what I am thinking?” he asked with a knowing look.
“I believe so.”

Jasper and I immediately paid Peony a visit. We stood in front of the Tiller residence and knocked on the door. The moment Peony appeared at the door she let us in.
As we sat in her den, this time Jasper was the one who asked the questions.
He held up the locket we found. “This locket was found in the Willowdale residence, Miss. Tiller. Would you care to explain how it got there?”
Colour drained from Peony’s face as she fiercely shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“You are aware that Rineaux Willowdale had been killed in his home. Surely, you must know something.”
“The locket is indeed mine. But I swear, I did not kill him and I certainly do not know how it got in the home of that man!” Peony shook like a leaf as she wrapped her arms around her.
“Lavinia,” I said.
A look of recognition flashed across Peony’s face. She looked at me in surprise.
“I believe you know her?” I inquired.
Peony shook her head, but her eyes told us otherwise.
“Peony, two people are dead. You need to tell us what you know about Lavinia.”
Peony bit her bottom lip, eyes downcast. “She is my half-sister – or so we believe.”
“Half-sister?” Jasper asked.
“She shared the same mother as Gavin and I, but her father was Rineaux Willowdale.”
“How do you know this?”
“I learned of this just after Gavin died.” Peony sobbed, covering her face with both her hands, her knees sank to the floor. “I came across some papers that mentioned our blood relation. I confess. I have killed my own brother.”
“Tell us what happened,” Jasper said.
We watched as Peony sniffled. I approached her and handed her my handkerchief, which she accepted gratefully. After liberally blowing into it and wiping her nose, she began her story.
“Gavin and I were very close. He protected me when I was small from my father’s violence. After my father passed away and our mother fell ill, he continued to take care of both myself and our mother. When our mother died, Gavin found work at the Willowdales. He had been working with the elven community for years as well as being part of the guild for Keepers of Diamond Caves.
“One day, he came home with a concerned look on his face. When I asked him, he told me not to worry. He never told me what it was that bothered him, yet as days and months passed, I noticed that he was distant. Finally, it came to a point that it made me worry for him, I followed him. I saw him meeting a young woman at an Oronean restaurant. He seemed very affectionate towards her. I was shocked. He used to tell me everything and now he had a secret – with a woman! Then he would leave with her to the park and I followed. It was then I overheard Gavin and that woman plotting to run away! As I continued to listen I heard them setting a time and place. I wanted to know what this was about so I waited for them at the cemetery near St. Eleanor’s Chapel.”
“When was this?” Jasper took notes as we listened.
“This was at midnight, and that was when I saw my brother meet not a woman, but a man! It was dark and the man my brother was meeting wore black so I could not see who exactly it was. He started to attack my brother, making him run to the chapel for sanctuary. As I watched, I became worried about my brother’s welfare so I followed him. I saw them fighting each other in the sanctuary where it was also dark. I found a sickle that was left by one of the gardeners behind the chapel. I grabbed it and entered the chapel. I attacked whom I thought was the assailant, but only to discover I had stabbed my brother!” At that Peony broke down into tears.
“Miss. Tiller,” Jasper spoke gently, “Go to the rangers right now and tell them what you have told us.”
“You believe me?”
“What you have told us, explains your brother’s death. However,” he added, “What I do not understand why is why you did not tell them this sooner.”
She replied, “I was afraid.”

Moments later we accompanied Peony to the station house where we handed in the evidence we also found in our investigations. As we left, Jasper was lost in thought.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“Hm? Oh, yes.” His face, however, told me otherwise. He then turned to me. “What do you think? Peony admitted to the murder of her brother, and yet, there was another that had occurred which may have a connection and she did not mention.”
“Perhaps she did not commit that one, or she is hiding something.”
“Perhaps…” Jasper did not seem convinced. Suddenly he stopped. “Cassisa, I want you to go straight home.”
“Go home?” Oh, yes, this was our last case together. “All right, I will do that.” I held out my hand.
Taking my hand, he gave me a confused look.
“Good work, Jasper,” I forced a smile on my face.
He gave me his half-grin and shook my hand. “You did well too, you know.”
I kept my smile as I turned to make my way back to Rosemary’s.

I walked for some distance, believing that Jasper would not see me, I let my tears fall. I was not sure why my heart ached. I asked myself if it was because I will no longer work with Jasper. As I reached into my reticule to get my handkerchief, someone handed me theirs.
“Thank you,” I sniffed as I wiped my eyes.
“I would be careful with that, my dear,” said a kind voice, “The chloroform may work too quickly.”
“Chloroform?” The handkerchief pressed against my face. It was then I saw a pair of large green eyes and bright yellow hair. The world around me spun, a strong arm caught me as I stared into the face of the mystery woman.
“Lavinia?” I heard myself say as I fell into a deep sleep.