Red Lettering

Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Short Story Contest Entry by T

“Shots and Shadows”

by T

“Never would I have thought it of you, Dawson!  How could you do such a thing?  Elves are said to be loyal, not traitorous!”

Mr. Ainsworth, pacing to and fro, waved his hand like a conductor.  Usually the motion would catch the attention of Samuel Dawson, his long-time business partner.   Not so, this time.  The elf remained as he was, seated with head and shoulders bent, as if the glares of the two bobbies on either side of him weighed him down.  His dark business suit was plastered with mud, and one trouser-leg was pulled back, revealing a freshly bloodied bandage.  One would no longer recognise him as the respected associate of Mr. Ainsworth, owner of one of Britain’s finest country hotels.  Ainsworth, further irked by Dawson’s silence, turned to the police sergeant with a huff.

“I’ve had quite enough with this scoundrel, sergeant; take him out of my sight!”

Sergeant Beake sniffed loudly, causing his mustache to stretch and making him look just as dissatisfied as he felt.

“Let the inspectors come first.” He said

“What would there be for them to do?  That miserable elf admitted to everything already.”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple, Mr. Ainsworth.”

Ainsworth muttered something, and motioned to his butler.

“Chadwick, go see if the inspectors are on their way.  They’ve taken quite enough time as it is.”

Chadwick promptly left the room and made his way to the main door.  Upon opening it, he thought that he couldn’t really blame the inspectors for their tardiness.  It was a perfect night for a crime, and a miserable night to be called upon.  Blankets of mist mirrored the clouds above.  It was difficult to see anything, much less approaching inspectors.  Chadwick shut the door, blocking out the biting November chill, and turned back.  But just before he was about to return, he glimpsed a flicker in the window.  It was a weak light, but it stood out in the darkness and was coming closer at a good pace.  Chadwick stood at the window, waiting until the light came to the gate, and again he opened the door.  A flood of warm light rushed from the house, illuminating the outlines of a horse-drawn buggy, and two figures stepping out of it.  One was a man with the build of a bear, his white hair glowing in the darkness. The Inspector, Thought Chadwick.  The other was unexpected.  Much smaller, walking with an odd gait and with ears so long Chadwick at first took the figure to be another elf.

“Thank you for coming, Inspector, especially on a night like this one.”  Chadwick said as the new arrivals hurried into the warmth of the house.  He looked down at the odd little one.

“This is your secretary, I presume?”

She looked up.  Her blunt brown nose wrinkled slightly, but her reply was in a steady voice.

“I am Inspector Maclean’s associate actually, Inspector Rose Chaput.  His apprentice, if you will.”

Years ago, she would have given him a swift kick, which is a dreadful thing to receive from a faun.  But years ago, she was still working off the bad habits picked up by her life as a criminal.  Her first case with her mentor found her as the guilty suspect.  Few would have seen the little thief as a potential investigator, but few had the perception of Hamish Maclean.

Chadwick apologised, and led them into the study.  Sergeant Beake came up to greet them.

“Glad you’re here, Maclean.”  He sniffed, mustache tilting.

“The suspect’s admitted to it all.  Thing is, I don’t like his story.”

At Maclean’s request, the Sergeant showed them to the scene of the crime, in another room.  What was left of the massive singular window lay scattered on the floor, along with a smattering of bullets.  The wind flew freely in, swirling the curtains and lighter shards, making a soft sound like skittering mice.   The sergeant’s voice took on a tremor from the cold and his fingers quivered as he pointed across the room.

“Around 11 at night Mr. Ainsworth heard the gunshots and breaking glass.  When he and a few of his servants ran out to investigate they found none other than Mr. Samuel Dawson, his business partner, whom had left the house an hour before.  Dawson admits that it was a burglary attempt, he shot the window to get into the room, but he won’t say what he was after.” The sergeant ended with a shivering sniff.

Maclean scanned the room, frowning.

“Was anyone near the room at that time, any lights?” He asked

“No.” Sniff.

Maclean noticed Rose shaking her head; she met his gaze and mouthed cover-up.  She was right.  Maclean and Rose had both seen their share of crime.  This attempt at burglary was far too amateurish to be anything short of a scheme.

“I’d like to speak with the accused, if you don’t mind.”  Maclean said, turning back to Sergeant Beake.  The sergeant, glad to come out of the cold room, nodded and sniffed.

 

***

 

Ainsworth and Dawson remained as they were before.  One pacing and muttering, the other bowed and silent.  Maclean picked up two chairs and placed them in front of the accused.  He sat in one, and it creaked in protest; Rose sat in the other, her deceptively delicate pointed feet barely reaching the floor.

“Mr. Dawson, I’m Inspector Maclean, and I’d like that you be honest with me.”

Samuel Dawson, keeping his head low, tilted it to look towards his former business partner. His sharp ears quivered, perhaps listening to Ainsworth’s muttering.  Then he looked Maclean in the face.

“So would I.” He said, his eyes never leaving Maclean’s. The stare of an elf is no small thing.  Their almond eyes, without whites, can pick up the smallest detail from even a far distance.  Maclean sensed the power in Dawson’s eyes, and did not avert his gaze.

“Then tell me what happened.”

The accused’s stare never wavered, although he would occasionally tilt an ear towards Ainsworth.  He spoke evenly, as if his words were rehearsed.

“I will not deny my guilt, Inspector.  I was planning my theft even as Ainsworth and I were planning renovations.  I left the house at 10, but stopped the motor car a mile away and walked back.  I waited, hidden in the hedge, until every light was out, and I could see my target in the window.  Then I broke the glass, shooting along the rim with a pocket revolver.  Before long Ainsworth and his servants came and caught me.”

He indicated to his wounded leg.  Evidently Ainsworth’s party had been carrying their own guns.  Dawson returned to his steady stare at Maclean.

“I am guilty.”

“That is all you will say?” Maclean asked, squinting

“That is all I can say.”

For a moment the only sounds in the room were Ainsworth’s pacing and the sergeant’s sniffing.  Finally Maclean excused himself, then he and Rose retreated into a quieter room.

“That was little better than a repeat of what the sergeant told us.” Rose said in a hushed tone.

“That’s not how I saw it.” Maclean responded as he pulled a newspaper from his pocket and unfolded it.

“You mean to say you understand what happened, just from Dawson’s flawed confession?”

“The clues were there, Rose.  You noticed the flaws, think on them for a bit.”

Maclean retreated to his paper, and Rose knew she would get no further help from him.  It was a recent trick of his, letting her take over the cases as he prepared for retirement.  It was both honouring and irritating.  Rose sighed, closed her eyes, and thought back to the interrogation.  She pictured Dawson, miserable but with a certain fire in his all green eyes.  Envy?  No.  Anger?  Somewhat.  Passion?  Why passion, what for?  She pictured the way he tilted his ears towards Ainsworth.  What was he listening for?

“Mr. Dawson, I’m Inspector Maclean, and I’d like that you be honest with me.” 

 “So would I.”  Unusual thing for a criminal to say.  Something was holding him back from telling the truth.

“I will not deny my guilt, Inspector.  I was planning my theft even as Ainsworth and I were planning renovations.  I left the house at 10, but stopped the motor car a mile away and walked back.  I waited, hidden in the hedge, until every light was out, and I could see my target in the window.  Why would Dawson wait an hour, when he could simply return at a more preferable time?  But as for that window, that was the biggest flaw in the statement.  With all the lights out, he wouldn’t be able to see inside.  The dark window would instead act like a mirror.  Rose frowned, and wondered if perhaps the target may have been outside instead.  In that case, what was the point in Dawson’s next action?  Then I broke the glass, shooting along the rim with a pocket revolver.  Before long Ainsworth and his servants came and caught me.” Breaking glass with a pistol was no quiet way to commit burglary, nor was it the safest.  When she thought about it, Rose realised that she had seen no tracks through the broken glass to indicate an entry. Yet the oddest point of the statement was that Dawson used a pistol at all.

“Elves don’t carry guns…” she mused

As a dwindling race, all elves take vows to never use a gun for either defence or offence, in an effort to preserve life.  It was elfish nature to remain true to a vow until it was accomplished or until the vow’s witness released them.

 “I am guilty.”

“That is all you will say?” Maclean asked, squinting

“That is all I can say.”

Again, there was the indication that Dawson was forced to restrict his words.  Rose opened her eyes and blinked.  She couldn’t help but feel she was missing something.  She looked over at Maclean, and the main headline of his newspaper caught her eye.  Even if it was from last month, the announcement of the end to the 1908 Summer Olympics was still attention grabbing.  She might not have noticed a smaller column, if the tiny headline hadn’t had the word ‘elf’ and ‘Ainsworth’ printed on it.  She squinted and leaned in closer to read.  Maclean took no notice of her, or at least pretended not to.  There was not much said in the column; only a few words about some elves disappearing during their stay at the Ainsworth country hotel in Scarborough.  Rose tilted her head, her ears pricked in realisation.  She grabbed the paper and pulled it down to face Maclean.

“I think I know what Dawson was doing, and where ‘they’ are hiding.  Excuse me a minute, please.”

Rose ran out of the room, down the hall, and then out the door into the night.  She dashed around the side of the manor to where the broken window was.  Rose studied it for a second, and then turned in the opposite direction.  She estimated her target and took off, keeping in a straight line.  She sprang over the stone wall, agile as any goat, and continued running, never wavering.  The fog remained heavy as ever, so that she didn’t know she was on the road until she felt the ground change under her pointed feet and heard the clattering of stones.  Then she smelled petrol and gasoline, and stopped abruptly.

“Hello?” she called.  No answer.

“I am Inspector Rose Chaput, assistant to Inspector Hamish Maclean; we are here to help you!”

There was the faint sound of rustling, like someone struggling to stand up, and before she could react, Rose was blinded by the sudden burst of motorcar headlights.  She smiled in triumph.

 

***

 

Maclean continued to scan his paper after Rose had left.  He waited ten minutes or so, underlined a few key headlines, and then folded the paper again.  He did not return it to his pocket, but kept it under his arm as he strode into the room where the others still were.

“Pardon me, would you mind looking for my assistant.  She ran off a while ago, but I don’t know where you’ll find her.”  He said to the Chadwick, and then turning to Ainsworth he said

“Would you go as well?  Rose is a slippery creature, difficult to find.”

Ainsworth shot a glance towards the elf, who returned the look.

“Harrumph…Chadwick’s sure to find her, she could not have gone too far, Inspector.” He said, lowering his hefty frame into a chair.  Maclean saw that it would take quite a bit of work to remove Ainsworth from his seat.  But he had prepared for that.  He sat in his own chair, facing Dawson, and pretended to read his paper.   Dawson looked up.  Something flickered in his almond eyes.

“The Summer’s Olympics brought your hotel some nice business, I assume.” Maclean said, tapping the headlines.

“Yes, and some of our guests even stayed a while after the event was through.” Dawson replied.

“All that profit, you didn’t really need to attempt the robbery, did you then?”

Dawson was silent for a moment, his ears tilted towards the muttering Ainsworth.

“I had my reasons.” He said at last.

Maclean flipped through the papers, saying no more.  After a time he folded the paper and laid it on his lap, his hand rested above an underlined article.

“I suppose the Olympics also gave you a chance to see a few of your fellow elves from across the world.  That must have been pleasant…”

Dawson’s eyes flickered again, but before he could speak Ainsworth snorted loudly.

“Inspector Maclean, is this an interrogation or a tea-social?  I want this crime over with as soon as possible!”

He was interrupted by a motor-car horn bellowing from outside like a monster goose.  Maclean smiled.

“I understand, Mr. Ainsworth.  Sergeant, you will want to come with me.”   Maclean trod out the room, the sergeant followed with a sniff.  Outside they found Rose, sitting in the passenger seat of a motor car as if she was Her Majesty the Queen. In the driver’s and back seats sat more elves.  There was certain pallor about their faces and eyes, not from the cold, but from something worse.  On sight of the policeman, their eyes began to glow hopefully, and one even stood.  Rose stepped primly out of the car, her own eyes glowing.

“I have the testimony of three witnesses, sergeant.  You are arresting the wrong man.”

As soon as the other elves were brought into the main room, everything changed.  Ainsworth burst out of his chair, and Dawson made a motion as if to do the same, before he remembered his leg and the police men beside him.  But whereas Ainsworth was bewildered, even upset at the new arrivals, Dawson was overjoyed and laughed.

“You saw it!”  He gasped

“You saw it!”

“What is he talking about?” Ainsworth blustered

“Who are these elves and what are they doing here?”

“You will be answering those same questions in court, Mr. Ainsworth.” Rose said.  Although she had to tilt her chin to look at the man, she did it with authority.

“However, the elves already told me their part.  It seems you have another business besides hotel work.  I suppose you prefer a pretty penny over clean hands.  Crime-lords will pay an attractive sum to have a sharp-eyed elf as a spy or lookout.” Rose’s ears flicked, as if she were flinching.  She did not have to be told about the workings of the underworld, she knew from experience.  She turned to Samuel Dawson, and grinned.

“Mr. Dawson was beginning to look like the fool of the crime kingdom, shattering a window when he was around the house so often he could have slipped away with anything.  But you were not stealing material things, Mr. Dawson.  You were stealing captives.  You prepared for them a getaway car, waiting at a mirror-like window to see that they were safely gone, and then shattered that window so that no-one would see the lights of the escaping car, as well as for distraction. I`m told that elves don`t carry guns, not to end life at least.  But I see that an elf would carry a gun to save a life.”

All eyes turned to Dawson, who sat erect and gave his one-time partner a final glance, this time victorious.  Whatever had held him back before no longer applied.  He was a free elf.

“It`s true.  I didn’t know about Ainsworth’s activities before this summer, but when I found out he forced me to vow never to tell anyone about them, neither verbally nor through writing.  But these are my people, and I could not let them be taken into a miserable life of forced crime.   I decided to help them escape.  The plan was as you said, and originally I was meant to escape with them.  When Ainsworth caught me and brought in the police I knew that things could go either way.  On one hand I could find better help and even justice for the victims; but on the other hand I could be convicted, while the true criminal continued his work. Because of my vows, I could not tell you exactly what happened.  Even so, I chose my words carefully so that I would still be truthful, and perhaps give you a clue as to what happened.  I cannot say how relieved I am that you understood!”

The policemen transferred themselves from Dawson to Ainsworth.  Ainsworth’s jowls quivered with supressed anger, but he submitted regardless.

“Well done, Rose.” Maclean said as he placed his large hand on her shoulder.  He was free to retire now; the inspection business was in good hands.

 

If you would like to vote on this or any other short story, email me at craftingstoriesinred(at)gmail(dot)com.

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11 thoughts on “Short Story Contest Entry by T

  1. Hannah on said:

    WOW! What an awesome unique modern fantasy world!!! Yay for the elves and the awesome faun! I want more stories in this world!

    • Thank you, it was interesting to write.

      It’s funny you mention that. I do have more ideas; but I don’t know when I will actually sit down to work on them.

  2. I love this, what a surprise ending! Great story. I love how there were clues, like the Olympics one, to give the reader hints, but not giving away Rose’s thinking. 🙂

  3. Wow…fauns are apparently much smarter than this human. I never would have figured it out. 😀

  4. I really like how you built up the mystery of this. Good job.

  5. Wow. I did not see that coming, haha. I guess there goes my dreams of being a detective. Just kidding. But anyway, great job on your story! There were subtle clues that lead up to the ending, so it wasn’t just like a totally out-of-the-blue surprise ending. I also really liked the way you described the setting; this may be my most favorite line in the entire story: “[t]he elf remained as he was, seated with head and shoulders bent, as if the glares of the two bobbies on either side of him weighed him down.” And Rose’s backstory, if you ever get around to writing it, seems interesting. A past life as a criminal— you can’t just leave me hanging!

I love hearing your comments. Please add to the discussion! (It'd be awesome if you could keep the comments G Rated. Thanks. :p)

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