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June, 2006

The following story was the second runner up entry in the first Annual Sleuth Mystery Fiction Contest.

The Murdered Starlet

by AZN Cinderella

"Uhh!" I groaned. I was rereading one of my many novels for the hundredth time.

I threw the novel clear across my office. It flew until hitting smack dab into the cold wall.

"I always thought that book was a classic. A classic piece of boredom!" I sighed and retrieved the novel from the floor. Today would be another dull dreary day, I thought. Oh how wrong was I!

Ring! Ring! The noise jolted me back into reality. I walked briskly across the room to the telephone.

"Hello?" I answered.

"Hello, AZN Cinderella? Is that you?" a soft voice quivered.

I instantly recognized the voice. "Why Ruby Bethke! Is that you? Is something the matter?" I asked. Ruby was usually cheery yet her voice sounded so upset. So worried.

Suddenly, my old chum burst into tears.

I was stunned. In all the years that I've known her I had never heard her cry. It wasn't like her. Ruby had always been one of the toughest people that I've known. Never willing to show a weakness. Never willing to show pain. Never willing to cry.

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry for bursting out like this." Ruby apologized. "It's just that I'm so worried."

"Well, is there anything I can do?"

"Yes, that's why I called you. Oh no! I must go. I cannot speak to you here. I'll meet you at the Owl and Walnut in ten minutes. Must go!"

"Wait! What happened?" It was too late. Ruby had already gone.

I was confused and curious. Why was Ruby so hasty? Why was she so worried?

"Well, I suppose that I'll find out soon enough." I murmured to myself as I grabbed my seal skin coat and hat and set off in the cold, cruel London winter towards the Owl and Walnut.

The temperature wasn't much better in the Owl and Walnut. It was about as cold as it was outside. The only thing warming the bar was the impenetrable smell of alcohol.

I was able to quickly spot my slim, well dressed friend out of the few customers in the bar. I walked up to my friend and sat next to her.

"I came here as soon as I could. What's the matter?"

Ruby looked at me with her teary emerald green eyes. You could just take a glance at her tear-streaked face and know how worried she was.

"You know that I'm an opera singer and that I have made many other friends that sing opera." Ruby took a sip of her drink, perhaps to calm her wavering voice and continued, "Do you know of Kathryn Wiley?"

I nodded. Kathryn Wiley was one of the biggest names in the operatic circuit, along with Ruby of course. Although, Kathryn always seemed more famous than Ruby. Kathryn was known for her beauty rather than talent. Ruby, too, was beautiful. She just wasn't as beautiful as Kathryn. Yet if you compared Kathryn's cold soprano voice to Ruby's warm melodic voice, Ruby would shine far brighter than Kathryn. It was sad yet true.

"Kathryn and I have become great friends. We have so many things in common. We loved opera as children. We both absolutely hate the London winter!"

"Who likes the London winter?" I interrupted.

Ruby chuckled. A smile lit up her face.

"Nobody. But..." Her smile quickly fell. "I, I think that she's in danger. At first, we thought that it was a joke, but the threats became much more serious."

"What kind of threats were they?" I inquired.

"There were ominous calls; hate notes - even a hate poem about killing her!" Ruby shivered. "That poem was the worst of all. I was with her when she got it."

"What happened?" It sounded like Ruby was right. Kathryn's life might be at stake.

"We were walking to a café during our lunch break for Madame Butterfly. It was so eerie. The whole street was deserted or so we thought. When we got to the café, it was closed. We stood there and pondered where we should go for lunch. Little pebbles dropped on to our heads from above. We looked up and saw a paper wrapped brick falling down at us! We quickly ran to the side just as the brick landed. It barely missed Kathryn!"

"Why that's an attempt on her life and a threat!" I exclaimed. Now I was completely convinced. This was going to be a dangerous case.

"It left a dent in the cobblestone. Kathryn took the paper off of the brick and discovered the poem. Ever since then, Kathryn's been too scared to go outside! Even then, she's not safe. Now whoever's doing this is mailing threats to her with no return address. Do you think that you can help her?"

"I promise to do whatever it takes to apprehend this person. Now I have a question. Why were you so hasty during the call?"

"I was at Kathryn's house when I phoned - her parlor to be exact. That was when I suggested to hire you. Her husband is a suspect. He was coming back home because he forgot some important papers. I could not let him overhear the call so I had to go." Ruby explained.

"I should talk to Kathryn herself. Does she have time today?" I asked.

"Why yes. In fact, she wanted me to invite you to come to her house as soon as possible. She would have come here herself but she has a dreadful headache and stomach pains."

"I suppose that she must be eager to speak with me. Shall we go now?"

"Yes." Ruby paid for her drink and we called a cab.

As we pulled up to the house, I was astonished at how large it was. The white mansion had ivy crawling up its walls and was covered with snow. The house seemed innocent and angelic on the outside but there would be danger and mystery inside.

Ruby took out a key and tried to unlock the door. To our surprise, Ruby had just locked the door.

"If I just locked the door then the door was never locked! She was too afraid to just leave the door unlocked!" Ruby realized as she quickly unlocked the French doors.

Something had happened. I just knew that something terrible had happened.

"Ruby, show me where Kathryn is and hurry!" I told her.

"She was in her bedroom the last time I saw her." Ruby started to run.

I followed my friend up the stairway, down the hall, and into Kathryn's bedroom. Ruby opened the door and looked inside. She stood there with a shocked expression upon her face.

I looked inside and gasped.

Kathryn Wiley's body was sprawled on the Oriental carpet. Her blue dress had a large spot of still wet blood. A long knife protruded from her chest. Her curly blonde hair covered her face.

I stepped inside and brushed Kathryn's hair away from her face. I will never forget that expression on her face. That shocked expression will forevermore be captured in her hazel eyes and her face will be encoded in my memory.

Ruby walked towards me and said, "I want you to find whoever murdered Kathryn. I have faith in you, my friend."

I told Ruby that I would do my best and asked her to call the police. I knew that the police would not be of any help in finding the killer, but they had to be informed.

Surprisingly, the police came fairly quickly. Either they had nothing better to do or they were interested because the victim was an operatic starlet.

The police chief questioned us. All the usual stuff. Why were you here? When did you find the body?

"I'm a detective. Ms. Bethke has hired me to investigate this murder. I would like to investigate the crime scene." I told the officer and showed him my business card.

"You're welcome to investigate." The officer replied.

I went back inside the room and examined the body. Those eyes... I shivered. I pulled myself together and spotted a few strands of long wavy red hair.

After putting on a pair of gloves, I placed the hair in and evidence bag.

My attention turned to the knife. It was a long kitchen knife. I gingerly took the knife out and discovered that only half an inch of the knife had gone in. There was only one stab wound on the body. Yet, the wound wasn't sufficient enough to kill.

I noticed a wrinkled piece of paper on a nightstand beside the large bed. I picked it up. It was the handwritten death poem Ruby mentioned. It said:

"I hate you with all my heart.

I want to cut you away, part by part.

Cut your lips off your pretty face.

Banish you from the human race.

Signed, Gemini"

There was a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. Who was this Gemini?

I placed both the knife and poem in separate bags and took them with me for further inspection.

Ruby walked into the room.

"The police have left. I cannot believe that they forgot the body!" she exclaimed angrily.

"I want to get started questioning immediately. Do you know anyone that would do this to Kathryn?" I took out a small notebook and pen to write information about the suspects.

"As I said before, her husband, Russell Wiley, is a suspect. Kathryn had been having an affair and he found out. He was terribly angry.

Her maid, Grace Brahman, hated Kathryn. I suppose that she was jealous of her. Kathryn had a charmed life.

Her mistress, Howard Almond, found out that Kathryn wanted to end the affair. They had a huge fight.

That's all I can think of."

"Oh!" a petite woman with straight red hair had stepped into the room. She was wearing a maid's uniform.

"What happened?" the woman asked. Her brown eyes grew large at the sight of her employer's lifeless body.

"I'm sorry, Grace, but Kathryn was murdered." Ruby told her.

Grace gasped.

I didn't want to start questioning her until she got over the shock, but I had a job to do.

"I'm a detective investigating Mrs. Wiley's murder. Could you tell me where you were at the time of the murder?"

"I was at A New Leaf Teas buying Mrs. Wiley's favorite tea."

I jotted her alibi down and told them, "I must go now. Good bye! I might need to do further questioning later."

I decided to go to Howard Almond's house before verifying Grace's alibi. It turns out that nobody was home. I might as well go inside to search for clues, I reasoned as I picked the lock.

I slipped inside and searched for any evidence. I stumbled upon the bedroom and searched the contents of the wooden nightstand drawers. There was nothing.

Suddenly, I heard the slamming of the front door. Footsteps were approaching the bedroom. I saw an adjoining door and opened it. It lead to a bathroom. I quickly went inside just as Howard Almond came storming into the bedroom. I could clearly hear the suspect talking to himself.

"Kathryn!" he yelled angrily. "I gave you love and warmth that you husband couldn't give you! And how do you repay me? By ending our affair! You never even loved you husband; you loved his money!"

I could hear Howard's body slamming into the bed.

Kathryn didn't love her husband? That was interesting. If she didn't love Russell then she might've not given him much in their marriage. Then, Russell may have gone to someone else. It was just a theory but it was a reasonable possibility.

Turning around in the bathroom, I saw a large window over the bathtub. I swiftly ran over to unlock the window and slipped out without the suspect ever knowing I was there.

When I got outside, I could see the sunset. I knew that I would have to hurry to get to the Tea Shop before it would close.

I arrived at A New Leaf Teas ten minutes before it would close. I went up to the merchant, Esmeralda, to ask her about Grace Brahman's alibi.

"Hello." I said. "Was Grace Brahman here at the time of Kathryn Wiley's murder?"

"Grace Brahman? No, she wasn't here. I did hear something interesting about her this afternoon, though."

I never entirely trusted rumors but they had been helpful in some of my pervious cases.

"What did you hear?"

"I heard that she is secretly in love with Russell Wiley."

"That is interesting. It's getting late. Good bye."

As I tossed and turned in my bed, I pondered about my case. There was another murder weapon I had to find. Also, I needed more information on my suspects. I had a feeling that there was more to them that meets the eye.

I overslept the next morning. As I hurriedly got dressed, I realized that I hadn't observed the crime scene just the body. I chided myself and ran out the door. I had to go back to the victim's house.

I knocked on the French doors. Grace Brahman opened the doors.

"Oh. Hello." She greeted. I thought that she seemed a bit nervous.

"I need to look at the crime scene again." I stepped inside.

"Would you like me to show you the way?"

I shook my head and went to the late Mrs. Wiley's bedroom. I searched through her vanity drawers. I pushed aside lipsticks, powders, brushes, moisturizers... She was quite a vain person! Under the mountains of makeup, I found a small stack of notes. They were the rest of the threatening notes.

"Whoever wrote these was most likely an amateur." I remarked. All the notes were handwritten with a distinct style.

I placed the notes in my coat pocket and noticed a red carpet stain in the corner of the room. I touched it. It was slightly damp. I smelled it. It was red wine. I looked around. There was no wine glass.

"The stain was made the day before. The wine might've had poison in it!" I concluded.

There was nothing else of interest in the room.

I went down the stairway to speak to the maid. I saw her running across the parlor with a small pouch of white powder in her hand and decided to follow her. I stayed as close to her as I could without being seen. Grace went in to a room and hid the pouch inside a hollow book on a stand. I sprinted back into the parlor and made a mental note to look in the hollow novel later, when she wasn't looking.

I pretended to be observing a painting when Grace walked in.

"Are you done, detective?" she asked.

"Not quite. I have to ask you some questions." I replied, pausing for affect. "Did Mrs. Wiley drink red wine?"

"Yes. She had a glass everyday."

"Did she have a glass yesterday morning?"

"Yes. She dropped her glass. Mrs. Wiley screamed at me to pick it up." She shuddered. "I dreaded her screaming. I threw the glass away. She had made a chip in it."

"Are you in love with Mr. Wiley?" I had caught her off guard.

Grace blushed and clammed up.

"You should tell me, Grace." I said taking a step forward. "I will assume that you are, if you don't cooperate."

She crossed her arms and swiftly glanced around before looking at me.

"Im fond of him, I admit, but I do not love him!" Grace exclaimed. From the way she was acting, I doubted that she was telling me the truth,

"May I have a cup of tea in the kitchen?"

She sighed. "Yes. Help yourself. Don't expect me to be a maid for you, too." She shot a dirty look at me.

That did not bother me. I went to the kitchen. I didn't want a cup of tea. I wanted to find the glass the wine was in. I found the trash bin and dug through it. I found the wine glass near the top. It still had drops of wine in it. I took the glass and hid it inside my coat.

I went back to the parlor and said good bye to Grace. I would have to come back later to speak to Mr. Wiley and look at the hidden pouch.

I decided to pay a visit to Howard Almond. This time, he was there.

He answered the door and asked who I was.

"I'm Detective AZN Cinderella. I'm investigating the murder of Kathryn Wiley. I understand that she was having an affair with you."

He gestured for me to come inside.

We sat down in his living room and he began to speak.

"Yes, we were having an affair. She wanted to break it off. I was angry but I did not kill her."

"Where were you at the time of her murder?"

"I was at the restaurant talking to the waiter."

"Do you suspect anyone that would kill Kathryn?"

"Yes, I suspect Ruby Bethke and Monica Lipman. Ruby was jealous and angry because Kathryn got chosen for roles for her beauty, not talent. Monica was her loan shark. Kathryn spent most of her money she made and always needed more. She never paid back her debt."

"That's all that I need for now. Good bye." I stood up and left.

I went to Chez Formage to have lunch and verify Howard's alibi. After I placed my order, I asked the waiter, Artemus, if Howard was here at the time of Kathryn's murder.

"Howard was here. I noticed that he seemed a bit angry. I'm not sure why, though." Artemus left to place my order with the chef.

As I ate my lunch, I thought about my next moves. I knew that Ruby couldn't have murdered anyone. She was with me when it occurred. Howard had a true alibi. Grace might've murdered her. I couldn't just jump to conclusions, though. I had more suspects to question. I finished my lunch and left the money on the table.

I had a friend in Shanghai. She could tell me if there had been poison in the wine glass. However, I wanted to find the pouch of powder first. If the powder was the poison that murdered Kathryn, the evidence would be incriminating.

There I was at the Wiley's doorstep for the third time. Grace answered the door once more.

"Is Mr. Wiley here?" I asked, getting to the point.

"Yes, he's in his office." Grace led me up the stairs to the first door on the right. "He's working." She said and left the hallway.

I opened the door and walked in.

Russell Wiley was tall with black hair. He was working at a mahogany desk piled with legal papers - he was a very well respected lawyer.

He looked up from his work and took his reading glasses off.

"I assume that you're the detective investigating my wife's murder."

"Yes. I have some questions for you."

"You're going to ask me "where were you during Kathryn's murder." He predicted with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

"Yes. Where were you?" He didn't seem upset about the murder at all. Grief manifests itself in strange ways I reminded myself.

"I was at the library. I had a meeting with a client. You can ask the librarian."

"That's all I need for now. I might be back later."

"Nice to meet you!" Mr. Wiley said as I walked out of the room.

I went back downstairs. Grace was not in sight. This was a good time to take a sample of the white powder.

I found the room without any trouble. I silently opened the door and walked to the stand. I opened the hollow book and found the pouch, along with a letter. After taking a sample of the powder, I read the letter.

It turns out that Grace was lying about her love for Russell after all. It was a love letter from Russell to Grace.

"Dearest Grace,

I wish for nothing more than for us to be together. Kathryn has been a horrible wife! I should have known that she loved my money, not me. You, however, are an angel that loves me. You know that I love you with all my heart. If only Kathryn was out of our way, we could marry! Until we are finally together, we must keep our romance a complete secret. Only you and I will know.

Love, Russell"

I slipped the note back into the book.

"What are you doing!?!"

I turned around. It was Grace.

She stormed over to me and grabbed the book right out of my hands.

"Did you look in this?" she asked angrily shaking the book in my face.

"Yes." I admitted. There was no way out of this. "I'm a detective and this is my job."

"You know about Russell and me?"

"Yes. What is the powder?"

Grace froze and shouted, "I'm not saying anything more to you! I'm glad that Kathryn's dead! Whoever killed her did us all a favor!" She walked out of the room with the book, fuming in madness. She was probably going to Russell to tell him what had happened.

I ran out of the house before Russell could hurl his anger at me.

I went to Kathryn's loan shark, Monica Lipman's, house. She opened the door after I knocked three times. Ms. Lipman was tall - about 5ft 9 in, slim, and had long wavy red hair. The strands of hair from the crime scene were surely hers.

"Yes?" She looked at me curiously with light blue eyes.

I introduced myself to her and explained that I was investigating Kathryn Wiley's murder. "I have been informed that you were the late Mrs. Wiley's loan shark and she never paid back her debt. I need to ask you some questions."

"Yes, I see. Come right in."

We sat down in her parlor and she poured me a cup of tea, which I accepted graciously. It was quite good, in fact. I placed the cup down and began the interrogation.

"Where were you at the time of Mrs. Wiley's murder?"

"I was with the fortune teller. I wanted to know if Kathryn would ever pay back the debt. I guess she never will now."

"Were you at the crime scene?"

"No. I hadn't heard that she was killed until earlier today."

I confronted her with her hair being at the crime scene. "Now, were you there or not?"

Monica sighed. "Yes, I was there. I feared that if I told you, you would assume I murdered her."

"Do not underestimate me. Detectives do not assume, we prove. Why were you there and what happened?"

Ms. Lipman took a sip of fragrant tea and explained. "I went to Kathryn's house to see if she would finally pay her debt. I knocked, but no one was there. I tried the doorknob and found the door unlocked. I have been in her house before, so I knew where her bedroom was. Imagine my shock when I found her on the floor, dead. I stood over the body to see if it really was Kathryn. That was probably when my hair fell on to the body. At that, I panicked and ran out of the house as fast as I could."

"I have some errands to run. Thank you for the tea."

We shook hands and I went to the Imperial Library.

The library seemed quieter than usual. The click-clacking of my heels echoed in the large space.

The librarian was at her desk reading a book. She looked as If she wanted to fall asleep.

"Samantha Brown?"

"Yes, detective?" She yawned. "What can I do for you?"

"Was Russell Wiley here at the time of his wife's murder?"

"Yes. He was having a conference of some sort."

My next errand was the fortune teller.

"Good afternoon. Was Monica Lipman here at the time of the Wiley murder?"

"No. She was not here."

I was glad to have finished verifying alibis. Now I had to send the wine glass and sample of powder to Ling in Shanghai.

I swiftly rummaged through all of the junk in my bedroom trunk for a box. There had to be somewhere! I finally found a medium sized box in between the heap of junk in the trunk. I took an old dress to use as padding for the bumpy trip. I placed the glass and sample in the dress, carefully wrapped it, and placed it in the box. Taking a sheet of paper and pen, I composed a letter to Ling.

"Ni how, Ling.

I need you to help me with one of my cases. As a favor, may you check if this glass had poison in it? May you also check what this powder is and if it is the same poison used in the glass (if the powder was poison and if the glass was contaminated)? Thank you. Please send the results back as soon as possible.

Your friend, Cindyrella"

After placing the letter on top of the wrapped evidence, I taped the box shut and mailed the package express to Shanghai.

When I finished my lonely supper of leftovers, I sat on my bed with the notebook to review the case. Ruby, Howard, Russell could not have committed the crime. They all had valid alibis. Grace and Monica were the only people that could have murdered Kathryn Wiley. Then, I remembered the love letter. There was the option of partners in crime. It just made everything harder to solve! So far, Grace was the prime suspect. She was the type of person that couldn't hide her emotions, much less not act upon them. Monica seemed to lose more than she gained. Monica was not a dumb person. She would have known that if Kathryn died, she would never get her money back! Still, I needed more evidence.

I took the threat notes and the hate poem from my coat pocket and spread them on the bed. I noticed that there were two handwriting styles. One was narrow and cursive. The other was extremely neat print while the cursive looked like someone madly scribbling a note. Now, I was no handwriting expert but perhaps the librarian would be willing to help me. I looked at the clock. It was seven. The Imperial Library had closed an hour before. I would go to the library first think in the morning. I read over all of the notes. It was dreadful. All of the letters were so full of anger and hate. Most of the letters criticized her for being a morally bad person, some were just cruel and few seemed jealous... jealous of her beauty.

"You are so beautiful.

Beautiful like a rose.

A rose with too many thorns.

The thorns that prick a man to his death.

A rose that will soon wither in to dust.

Signed, Gemini"

I wondered about the name "Gemini". Perhaps the person was a Gemini. But, that seemed too obvious. Hmm... Gemini...Gemini was the twins. The name meant two people! That made perfect sense only...which two people were working together?

I would have to wait until tomorrow before I could do anything else. I needed to find out who wrote the notes. The results for the powder and wine would arrive tomorrow afternoon. I knew that I could depend on Ling to be prompt.

I gathered up all of the notes and my notebook and hid them under my bedspread. Seeing as the night was still young, I went down to the Owl and Walnut for a drink before collapsing into a deep sleep.

***

It all happened in a grey blur. I was awakened by the closing of my bedroom window.

There were two people. Both were wearing black clothes and ski masks.

"Don't wake her up!" a masculine vase ordered.

I was able to distinguish a small person nodding.

"After we find the notes kill her. She will ruin our plans and we'll be put in the slammer!"

The small person nodded once more and ran out of my bedroom.

The man started to rummage around my desk.

Thinking quickly, I silently got out of bed and grabbed a vase from my nightstand. I walked behind the intruder and slammed the vase on his head. It immediately shattered in my hands.

"Ahh!" he shouted in pain and crumpled on to the floor like a curtain falling down.

"What a waste of a good vase." I thought before running out to the living room. I caught a glimpse of the accomplice jumping out of the window. And a glimpse of the helper's straight red hair. She must have been alarmed by the man's shout.

I found a ski mask under the window and quickly went back to my room. The man was gone. I rapidly looked underneath my bedspread and was relieved to find my notes and notebook safely tucked away. I breathed a sigh of relief.

As you might have imagined, I did not get a good night's rest. I stayed up the rest of the night. If there was a positive side to this late night rendezvous, it would be my suspicions were confirmed. I knew who committed the murder. I just needed the proof.

The next morning, I discovered something not that surprising as I swiftly scanned the newspaper. Russell and Grace were getting married. The column mentioned that they would be moving to New York shortly after the wedding. It said that they wanted to get a new start.

I finished my morning cup of tea and paid a trip to the library.

I went up to the librarian and showed her two of the notes with two different handwritings.

"Can you tell me who wrote these?"

Samantha put on her reading glasses and examined the notes.

"If you only had one handwriting sample for me to examine, I would just tell you." She had a greedy gleam in her eyes.

I could tell that I was not going to like this.

"But, seeing as how you brought me two and the fact that you know that we librarians don't make much money..."

"Oh, fine!" I fished some money out of my pocket and discreetly handed the bribe to her.

She hungrily counted the money and placed it inside her skirt pocket.

"The messy handwriting is Russell Wiley's and the other is Grace Brahman's."

You don't have to be a professor to guess who I suspected. I had one piece of evidence, two if you counted their intrusion last night. I needed more evidence before I could accuse them. I knew who did it and why, but I needed to figure out how the accomplished the murder.

I went back to my apartment to discover a small parcel on my doorstep. Ling was more prompt than I had expected. I took the brown package inside and sat down on my bed. Placing it in front of me, I unwrapped the parcel. There was a note from Ling and some papers inside.

"Hi Cindyrella!

Your package came in the dead of the night! It woke me up from a good sleep but nevertheless, I did the tests and sent the results back as soon as I could. You should really come back home and visit. Take a vacation! Dear cousin, we all miss you so much!

Your cousin and friend, Ling"

"Sorry Ling." I muttered to myself. "I need to finish this case before I can visit home. I do miss you all." I sighed. I hadn't been home for a few years. There was no way I could go back, at least not until I save up enough money. I made enough for a comfortable living. I had enough for the rent, bills, bribing the townies, food, and drinks but not enough for a vacation.

I picked up and read the thick documents thoroughly. In short, the wine glass had no poison in it. However the powder was poison. The powder had no taste of smell and it worked slowly. It gives the subject that consumes it a horrible headache and stomach pains before the poison kills them. It generally takes fifteen hours to kill a human. There was no known cure for this poison. This powder was extremely rare and expensive. Only the rich could afford it.

A theory came to my mind. The night before Kathryn died, wither Grace or Russell laced Kathryn's food or drink -perhaps both - before she ate it. After she consumed the deadly poison, there was no chance of saving her. And we know the rest. The next mid afternoon she was dead. Grace stabbed Kathryn just as she died to cover up the use of the poison.

I was now ready to arrest Grace and Russell.

I went to Mr. Wiley's house but nobody was home. I tried the doorknob and found it unlocked. I stepped into the parlor and felt a strange force pull me into the room where I discovered the powder. Inside the room, I made an incriminating discovery. On the bed, I found two pairs of matching black clothes and one ski mask. It matched the mask the intruders left. On the desk, I noticed that someone had clipped out the column announcing Grace and Russell's marriage. This time I read the article carefully.

I cursed myself and dashed out of the house to call a cab. It turns out that I had overlooked a critical paragraph that said Grace and Russell were getting married at City Hall...TODAY! It had begun five minutes ago!

Time was running out. I had to get to them before the wedding was over.

I ran into City Hall and found the room they were getting married in with a pair of handcuffs ready.

I burst into the room.

"Stop this wedding!" I cried and pulled out my gun.

Grace and Russell turned around and looked at me in surprise. Once they realized what was happening, the murdering duo tried to run out of the room.

Ruby, who happened to be one of the guests, knew that I would not have barged in here for nothing and tripped Grace. She got on top of Grace and held her hands down.

I ran after Russell and hit him on the head with the butt of my gun. Like the last time, he shouted in pain and fell down onto the cold marble floor. I slapped the handcuffs on him and ordered one of the guests to phone the police.

The cops seemed to have nothing to do for the whole week, for they came even quicker than before.

As the police apprehended the couple, Grace and Russell shot me a dirty angry look. It didn't matter. They would be put in jail for a long time.

After the confused guests and police dispersed, Ruby came up to me.

"I always thought it was a bit strange that they were marrying so soon after Kathryn's death. Thank you for finding them. Now Kathryn can finally rest in peace. Here's your reward." Ruby took out a thick wad of bills.

I tried to protest, saying we were friends and I had enough money for right now but Ruby shoved the money deep into my pocket and ran off before I could say anything more.

"Keep it! You deserve it!" Ruby shouted as she ran off.

I went back home, a bit tired, and jumped into my bed. Ling's note was still on my blanket. I counted my reward money. I couldn't believe it. Ruby had given me five thousand dollars and I knew exactly what I was going to do with it.

One of my rare smiles appeared on my face.

I looked at my cousin's note.

"I think that I will take that vacation, Ling. I'm coming back home."

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