Monday, 28 September 2015

The Phantom of Elswick Hall (part 4)

All eyes were on Robin. Tom looked as if he was about to cry, but then so did Robin. She looked at me, unconvinced. "Gabriel," she spluttered, "are you trying to be funny?"
Rachel stepped between us, looking at me in such a way as if to ask, "Are you out of your mind?" Instead, she said, "You know he's not capable of that, Robin." She turned to me. "What are you doing, Gabriel?"
"I want to say my job, but that would be overly melodramatic. I'm solving the crime."
"And that's not melodramatic?" Rachel said, but I ignored her.
"How can she be the murderer?" Someone exclaimed. "She wasn't even in the room at the time."
"The woman was killed by poison, thus I wouldn't have need to be in the room." Robin said. "Hang on, why am I incriminating myself?"
"She isn't the murderer." I said.
"But you just said-"
"No. I just said you were the Phantom of Elswick Hall. I never said she was the murderer."
"I feel like the last kid on a school trip." Rachel announced. "By which I mean you've lost me."
"Tom," I said, giving him the attention he wanted, "tell me something. How does the phantom become a phantom?"
"The man drowned in the marshes." Tom said, and took a gulp of his gin as if to wash the words from his mouth. Begrudgingly, Lucy placed a cup in front of him. She'd evidently remembered her duties.
"Exactly." I said. "Then his ghost marched back across the marches, broke into the Hall and left a load of muddy foot prints everywhere. Besides obviously not being the cleaner's favourite person, what does this tell us?"
No answers.
I smiled. "It tells us nothing. What does inform us, however, is the state of my good friend Robin here. Her shoes are muddy, her shoulders are damp, as is her hair. It would be logical to presume that this was because the rain is falling pretty quickly outside and she was dampened as she ran from the car park to the entrance. But that's not the case is it, Robin?"
She shook her head. "My car broke down. I had to hike across the moors."
I smiled. "And you left muddy foot prints throughout the corridors. Hence why you are the Phantom. The real question is: Who is the murderer?"
"Well?" Tom asked, picking up his glass. "Who is it?"
I shrugged. "I've no idea. We'll have to wait for the police to get here."
Everybody sighed and turned away, their grumblings to low to be understandable. I turned to Rachel and Robin, "At least we proved ghosts aren't real."
"You are such an idiot." Robin said.
"Why didn't you tell us about your car?" Rachel asked.
"I thought there were more pressing matters. I was going to mention it."
Before I could comment on how she could get a taxi back, I was interrupted by a sudden bout of coughing and spluttering. We all turned and I cursed. "Not another one."
Tom was choking on something, his eyes bulging, his face turning red. He looked like he was about to explode. Rachel swore and raced towards him, Robin quick in tow. I stayed where I was for a moment, my mind pondering ruthlessly. Every variable, every detail flashed before my eyes. I grinned. Oh, it was obvious. Just one problem.  She was gone. I turned around and saw the door was gaping open. "Damn!" I cried. "Rachel, Robin, save him."
With that, I ran.

I followed the muddy footprints through the wooden corridors, towards the bar. The clap of thunder and the zap of lightning was evident in my ears. My feet pounded against the floor, propelling me on and on. I passed Linda's corpse without even realising, reaching the open French windows. I leapt out, within moments feeling my shoulders and head pelted with rain. She was racing across the moors, towards the road which led to the Hall. I had to stop her before she got there.
My shoulder stung as I ran, the sweat playing with the roughly healed flesh. I felt slightly light headed, but I ploughed on nonetheless. As I ran, the ground turned softer and softer beneath my feet. At first, it lapped my shoes with long lashes of mud, then my ankles and my trousers. I cursed. I could feel the ground squelching and shifting beneath each smash of my foot into the floor. The only blessing was that the person I chased after was having the same problems.
The sky rolled and thundered, spitting it's terrible tears down on me. It was becoming an effort to even raise a foot now, with my shoes sinking away into the muddy floor. I cursed, urging myself on with dying energy. The mud seemed to absorb me, oozing into my shoes, making each squelch much louder. The murderer seemed to continue her escape, but I forced myself on. I could catch her. I knew I could.
It appeared as if two gods were having a fight above me, clashing their axes and swords together with resounding results. It felt in someways as if the ground beneath my feet was shaking with seismic explosions. I stumbled, but the ground held me in place. I clawed my foot out and tried to move another step, but I sunk even deeper now, up to my knees. Those terrible images of the original phantom drowning in the mud flooded my mind. The swelling eyes, the mud oozing through his nose. I felt a pang of sickness wash through me, followed by a new sense of determination. I couldn't let that happen. I had to stop them.
I ran and I ran, sinking deeper and deeper, drowning in the cold ooze of the night and the mud. It was hopeless and endless but I knew I must catch her. Rachel and Robin may fail to save Tom but I had the power to avenge him and Lynda.
I picked up speed, roaring after her, getting closer and closer. My trousers felt heavier than usual, weighing me down and slowing my responses. The sweat oozing into my shoulder made me want to howl at the moon, but I bared my gritted teeth and hurried on. I had enough stitches to impress a professional knitter, whilst my lungs were like empty oxygen tanks. I was on the verge of death, but that seemed quite inappropriate to think considering Tom. Nonetheless, I was approaching her.
As we neared the road, I launched myself forwards. I rugby tackled her to the floor, holding down her arms and legs with my own. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do next, but the decision was taken away from me by my good friend, 'Perfect Timing.'
On the horizon was the howling of police cars, racing towards Elswick Hall hoping they weren't too late. They weren't. I'd managed to capture the murderer. The waitress. Lucy.

I sat inside the Hall with both a blanket and a tin foil sheet wrapped around me. It didn't stop my shivering. The paramedics had wanted me to take my trousers off, worrying the were making me colder, but in the end they respected my dignity and let me instead ruin a priceless sofa. Robin stayed with the policeman, explaining what she'd managed to work out. Rachel stayed with me and we sat in silence for a while. She was pretty cut up about Tom's death. The poison had been deadly. Deadly nightshade.
"It wasn't the berries, was it?"She said, eventually.
I shook my head. "It was the gin."
"The gin?"
"Lucy poisoned the gin in the restaurant. Tom gave it to Lynda to drink; he was beginning to detox, and it killed her. Lucy tried again with the glass just after I revealed Robin was the phantom."
"Why is it always so obvious after you've said, but never before?"
"Like magic tricks." I said. "I don't know, I don't want to know. All I do know is that I want a Hot Vimto."
Robin wandered in with a tray of coffees. "Well done, Gabe. You were right. It was Lucy."
"Got a motive?" I asked, accepting the coffee begrudgingly. It wasn't quite Hot Vimto.
"Like something from a novel." She said. "Turns out the lass was a radicalised Christian. Brought up in a cult of all things to believe that scientists were the devil's spawn."
"I'll try not to be offended." Rachel said.
"Where'd she get the nightshade?" I asked.
"No idea. The police are going to raid her church. I imagine there will probably be some growing there."
"I wouldn't be surprised." I said, reminded of that scene in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. "Do the police have any evidence?"
"She confessed." Robin grinned. "Eager for everyone to know the sacrifices she'll make for religion. It's bizarre. It's like she's proud."
"She is." I said. "That's the problem."

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