It was long after the searching of the remains of the building, and I was relaxing in the tub with all of my hair pinned up on the top of my head so it wouldn't touch the water. The water was exceptionally warm and relaxing. The day had been long and so full of thought that my head ached. It would be about this time of night that Arthur would be in the process of drinking himself into a coma. After finding the rose, I had borrowed Mr. DeGory's camera to take photos of the holes in the skull and the rose. I then took the rose as evidence. After some talking with Mr. DeGory and being forced to 'play' with Lulu, Arthur and I returned home and discussed the evidence because we both knew he'd be too drunk later to even think of it. After that we had a bit of lunch. Then, Arthur brought me to Ms. Jenson's home to play with her son Constantine. Finally, we came back home and I took a bath.
I stood and drained the tub. This forced me to look at my pale skin. Even in the summer I kept this cursed complexion. I wished my skin were peachy like Arthurs. I pulled a soft, white towel over my self and dried. There was a blue nightshirt I had laid out for myself along with a pair of matching light blue socks. I pulled them on and buttoned up the nightshirt.
Arthur was dinking a bottle of whiskey on the couch with his feet on the coffee table and face towards the ceiling, singing "Oh My Darling" when I walked in. He turned his head towards me and paused his singing.
"Well hey there pussywillow." He said with mock endearment in his voice.
"What is that supposed to mean?" I said with scorn, but I couldn't hide my amused smile at his red cheeks and retarded grin.
"You look like a damn w-woman." He said with snorty laughter.
"Well you look like a blushing schoolgirl." I jeered good-naturedly and went about fetching my wine from the dining room cupboard.
"Why a-are you wearing a nightgown?" He called very much above the volume necessary to reach my ears.
"It's not a gown it's a shirt." I retorted blankly as I pulled out my wine bottle and glass.
"Then why aren't ya wearing pants or underwear?" He shouted.
"Because it's comfortable." I poured myself a glass of red wine "Wait, how do you know I'm not wearing underwear?"
"Bacuz the back the shirt is stuck inyer fannycrack." He burst out laughing and took another swig of whiskey. I blushed in embarrassment and tugged it out.
"I think it's time you stopped messing with Mr. Booze." I grunted as I brought over my glass and sat beside him.
"I think it's time yah started wearin pants to bed, missy." He punched my shoulder in a friendly manner, but it was a little harder than he meant it to be.
"I am no 'missy', and I won't." I took a sip of wine.
"But Navemba's cold. Aren't ya cold at night?" His eyes held genuine drunken-man concern.
"No, I'm a sweaty sleeper all year around. Wearing light clothing keeps me cool." I took another sip of wine and crossed my arms.
"I think izall them fuggin' blankets ye keep on yer bed. What're yoo trying tah hide, dammit?" I couldn't help but laugh.
"I'm not hiding anything you drunken brute." I said as I giggled "The blankets are comforting to me." Suddenly Arthur's sweet 'sure to bring your daughter home by curfew and then help feed the cattle with my sleeves folded slightly above my elbows" face lit up.
"We shood dance! I can teach ye to dance!" He stood up and grabbed my arm, tugging me up with him.
"Isn't it late for dancing?" I quickly set down my wine so it wouldn't spill.
"Naw, naw! It's plenny good a time!" He cranked up the gramophone and put the needle on the record. A gentle waltzing tune began to play. He grabbed me again and pulled me into a woman's waltzing stance. "I'mma teacha to dance!"
"But I don't need to learn to dance like a woman!" I complained with a smile, pushing him away. I hate to admit it but I always did like Arthur, and he was like a brother to me. And a fun drunk.
"Settle down Langleh, itta be fun, yull see!" He began waltzing me around on awkward feet, stepping on mine.
"Ow, watch it!" I pushed him away.
"Fiiiiiiiiine. Just stand on mah damn feet. I wanna daaaaaaance!" He pulled me to him again and forced me on his toes "La dadadada dada dada . . ." We rocked on his feet to the music, slow dancing around the room. Eventually he tired out and flopped back on the couch. I returned to his side.
"Who needs entertainment when I have you, Arthur." I snickered and began unpinning my hair and letting it fall to tickle the couch.
"I dunno myself. Geeeeez, why do yah keep yer hair like that? Y-yah look like a girl." he drank the rest of the bottle of whiskey down.
"It's my sister's fault, do I always have to tell you that?" I took a long drink of my wine.
"Yer sister's just trying to get boys t-to take yoo from me! I won't let nubudy take yoo!" He yelled and put his hands on my shoulders.
"Haha, no guy will take me away, you silly! I'm not a girl!" I shoved him away playfully.
"Naw, they'll take someone purdy like you!" He shouted as he pointed at me.
"They will not!" I blushed "I'm not pretty, I'm handsome!"
No, yoo are beautiful, Langley! Amazinly beautiful! I won't let any man take yah from me!" He forced me down on the couch, his strong, horse-reining arms pinning my thin, useless ones down to the cushion. "I'll make you mine s-so nobody can 'ave yoo but me!" He forced his lips to mine, blasting hot alcohol-smelling breath on my face from his nose. He used his lips to part mine and force his tongue inside. I could smell and taste the liquor as his tongue bathed mine. His eyes closed and he tore at the crevice in my nightshirt, popping off the buttons in his eagerness and forcing his hand inside. I managed to break free of my shock when his fingers grazed my left nipple and I kneed him hard in the groin. He gasped into my mouth and reared up. I kicked him in the chest as hard as I could, sending him backwards on the couch. I grasp the sides of my open nightshirt and held them shut. In fear, I sprung from the couch and backed into the dining room. Arthur sat up, grasping his injured groin and looking to me with remorse.
"I-I'm so sorry Langley!" He wheezed, seeming to wake up from his drunken stupor "I'm so sorry! I'm so stupid . . . I didn't mean to do it! You know how I am when I'm drunk. . ."
"I do know how you are when drunk, but you aren't like that!" I spat and turned away, running for my room. I heard him chase me and slammed the door to my room behind myself, locking it.
"Langley!" He called urgently, working the knob "Langley please! Let me in! I'm sorry . . . I'm so sorry . . . Can't we talk about this?" I heard him give up and sit against the door,
"Please Langley . . . I'm your friend . . . Your partner . . . Let me talk to you . . ."
"No!" I growled "Go away! Sober up, or drink more! Do whatever you want, I'm going to bed!" I pulled off my damaged nightshirt and pulled on a new one.
"Please don't be mad . . ." I heard Arthur stand and leave. I crawled into my bed and curled up under the thick covers. I didn't know what to think. My best friend and partner tried to come on to me like I were a woman. I hugged my blankets to me and drifted into an uneasy sleep, the rose staring at me from my dresser.
"Langley! Langley get up!" A harsh knocking on my door startled me awake "It's morning!" Arthur called from behind the door. His voice was groggy and pained. He had a hangover. I wrestled off my covers and went to the window. I was surprised to see it wasn't afternoon like I expected. Arthur could say it was morning just as easily as anyone, but that didn't always mean it was true. His hangovers would put him out cold, and when he was finished ailing enough, he'd sing it was morning, no matter what time of day. This day he was just lucky enough to hit it on the mark. The sky was still as cloudy as yesterday, and just as foggy at that.
"Langley, I heard your bed creak. I know you're up, now let me in. I won't hurt you, I swear it on my life!" Arthur pleaded behind the door.
"Not hurt, but I'm not sure about molestation. Have you remembered I'm male yet?" I said crossly as I stood before my dresser mirror. I touched my lips. A little dry from the cold night, but not any different than usual. They didn't look different, but they sure felt different. Scorned, cursed, still tasting a little like whiskey. Stolen lips meant for a woman's touch, not a man's. Or 15-year-old boy's. My first kiss, kidnapped by a drunkard . . . I wondered if it was his first kiss too.
"I won't touch you, Langley. I remember. I'm so sorry about it all. I regret it." For some reason the word 'regret' stung a little when it hit my ears. I plucked up the rose from the cup on my dresser and stared into its petals. 'Are you bad luck?' I wondered. I sighed and neared the door, unlocking it. Arthur burst in and tripped on his own foot, plummeting to the carpet. I hurriedly put the rose back.
"Smooth." I smiled, suppressing laughter. I studied him. His hair was sweaty and sticking to his head and cheeks, looking like cowlicks. He still wore his suit from the day before. He shook his head and lunged stood up, then lunged at me and forced me into a tight hug.
"I'm so so so sorry, Langley. I was a monster last night. I've gone and scared away my best friend because I can't handle myself when I'm drunk!" Fat tears rolled down his face.
"I thought you said you wouldn't touch me, droopy-eyes. Let go so I can get dressed. We still have the matter of the case to discuss with Mr. DeGory." I didn't really want to go back to the station. What would I tell Lulu about the night, and more importantly, what wouldn't I? He released me.
"Please tell me, Langley, was that the first time I did something that stupid? I can't remember." Wipe wiped his eyes, and then his nose. His cheeks were rosy and puffy like a toddler's from crying, which must have taken place long before he came to my room as well.
"It was the first time." I assured him and gave him a pat on the chest "Now go clean up while I dress. And no whiskey for you tonight. I'll bash you over the head with the very bottle you drink from if you take so much as a baby-sip! Now out." I pushed him out the door and shut it. With a sigh of relief, I shrugged away my nightshirt and pushed off my socks. Before the mirror I braided my hair and pinned my bangs, put on a dark red suit and matching cap, and finally strolled out to the kitchen. The paper was already out on the table. There were no interesting headlines. Pipes groaned above me, so figured Arthur was going to make an attempt to wash away the layer of sweat, tears, and shame building up on him. I could still faintly smell the scent of him whiskey-breath in my nose. I sat in one of the chairs and tried to convince myself that I wasn't what he wanted last night, but a little girl that looked far too much like her sister. It was hard, considering what he said, and I drifted to sleep with my face on the table from the effort.
A shaking of my shoulder roused me from my slumber. Arthur was dressed in a grey suit today and trying to wake me.
"Wake up, it's time to go." He said "Mr. DeGory wants to see us now." I sat up and stretched.
"Alright. Just let me get some things and I'll meet you up front. Get Silverbelle." I hurried to my room and retrieved the rose and photos I'd taken at the scene yesterday, and the photos from Mr. DeGory's desk. Arthur was adjusting the mare's saddle when I came out. He had our suitcase hooked on her.
"Ready now, half-pint?" he said as he lifted me up as always.
"Oh, save the taunting for later. I just want to go." I grumbled and patted Silverbelle's shoulder.
"Fine, fine. Grouch." He hoisted himself up behind me and took her reins. With a snap he were off on the path to the station again. Something felt different about riding with Arthur today. Something off that made me feel that leaning against him might be a bad idea. I kept myself forward-pointing over Silverbelle's neck. It was a ride that seemed longer and quieter than usual. As hard as I tried to push them away, the thoughts of Arthur's drunken, tongue-lolling snog kept creeping into my mind and brushing all other normal thoughts away. Was something wrong with me? Silverbelle suddenly stopped while I was mid-thought and I was nearly jolted forward from her, but Arthur managed to catch me around the waist.
"We're here." He announced and hopped down from her. He helped me dow and took her reins. "You know the drill. I bring her back to the stable as always. Stay on the steps for me this time though. There will be no lashing of your tongue at Mr. DeGory today." I wasn't sure what soap he was using, but it sure scrubbed shame and guilt off well. I sat on the steps while he took his mare back. A crow fluttered down now far from me, inspecting me with it's black-bead eyes. Something red in it's beak caught my trained eye, but when I moved to see closer it fluttered away. I thought it was a rose petal.
"Ready to head in?" Arthur called as he came back around the corner some number of minutes later.
"It's about time." I taunted and stood up.
"Hey, I wasn't gone that long." He retorted. I ignored him and marched up the steps. The door creaked, as always, when we entered. It was a surprise to see the place looking deserted. "Hello?" Arthur called into the dimness. I heard something faint and moved towards the hallway leading to Mr. DeGory's office. Suddenly Lulu popped from behind the desk.
"SURPRISE!" She screeched, almost giving me a heart attack "You're back again my love!" With skipping strides she pounced me. I fell to the floor under her. For one horrible moment I flashed back to when Arthur was pinning me. The fear seeped through my body and I tossed Lulu away with one heave. The startled girl skittered back on her heels before falling and landing on her rump.
"I-I'm sorry, Lulu. I'm not really myself today." I apologized, sitting up. Lulu hopped to standing and brushed off her dress as though it were dirtied.
"That's ok, you're still attractive." She mused. Arthur rolled his eyes.
"Where is your father?" He asked in a flat tone.
"Daddy is in his office. It's soooooooo dull in there." Her griping echoed through the building.
"Why don't you play with Langley while I talk to your daddy." I shot Arthur an angry face, but he looked past it. Lulu snatched my arm before I could verbally protest.
"Sounds good! Let's go, Langley!" With that she dragged me off down the hall into an unexplored room and shut the door.
"Why did you bring me in here?" The room was as dull as the rest of the place, but seemed to be used to store extra furniture.
"I don't know, go sit." I obediently sat on a dark green couch. "Now tell me what's got you all tangled in the head." She demanded. There was no way around it now.
"Arthur drank himself drunk last night." I began.
"He drinks himself drunk all the time." She returned.
"And he made me dance."
"He's danced a number of times with me too." She rolled her eyes "Is that it?"
"I really don't like dancing." I lied smoothly. Lulu meant well, but she wasn't the brightest.
"Hell, you sure are a weakling. I hope you know we'll have to dance at our wedding." She teased. I shook my head at her gullibility.
"So what do you do around here while your father works?" I asked, trying to change the subject.
"Mostly just sit around, tease him a little." She sighed "But it gets really boring."
"Why don't you just stay home with your mother?" I ventured, resting my elbows on my knees.
"Well I'd rather be here them have my hair tugged by the babies. It's either be bored here or be tortured there." I didn't know how it was to have younger siblings. My older sister Molly was the only relative I ever knew that was close to my age. "Hey Langley?"
"Is it hard living with Arthur?" She asked. I looked up into her cherub-face. It was blank and waiting for my response.
"Well, sometimes. But we usually get along in our own way." I answered finally.
"Oh." Was all she muttered.
"Well, what do you suppose we do now?" I urged.
"I don't know, there really isn't much to do." Lulu took a seat beside me and sighed "Like I said, it's really boring around here." She looked me over "You know, you look like you have a lot of money. But I know you don't get paid much."
"Thanks, Lulu." I smiled sarcastically. Suddenly there was a knock on the plain wooden door.
"Lulu, come on out now. Bring Mr. Jessup with you." It was Mr. DeGory. Lulu bounced up like a rabbit and grabbed me, dragging me once more.
"Are you guys done yet?" She groaned.
"Yes, yes. We're done." Lulu released me and went to the side of her father. I flanked Arthur. After reviewing the evidence you boys turned up, I've decided to make this a murder case. Arthur has agreed to take this one. He could use your help on this one, fella." Mr. DeGory mused at me.
"I'll help in any way I can." I kept my voice flat and business-like.
"Sure you will." He smiled an overly-sweet smile.
"I already suspect that the killer murdered their victims, then set the fire as a cover and a distraction as they escaped." I stated smartly.
"Right, well, have fun you two." Arthur and I nodded and headed out. I looked over the photos I had gathered while Arthur fetched Silverbelle. I couldn't understand quite yet how the killer stripped the body clean entirely, or what the holes in their heads were for. A small movement caught my eye in the grass close to the path. With overwhelming curiosity, I moved to inspect it. At first I wasn't sure what I was looking at. Then realization hit me.
It was the crow from before, completely restrained by vines with little rosebuds and thorns covering them. The vines were growing out of it's head.