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Arsenic and Old Paint

Excerpt

Arsenic and Old Paint

"What was that?"

"A ghost?" Samantha teased me.

"Naw, that ain't no ghost," my temporary assistant, Evangeline, said with surprising conviction, her stage whisper reverberating down the wood-paneled hall. "Sounded like a lady to me."

We picked up our pace down the stairs. Although the day outside was bright and cheerful, as befit San Francisco in the early fall, inside the Fleming Mansion it was dim and gloomy. Sunshine struggled to find its way past the floor-length, hunter green velvet curtains to cast a pattern of shadowy prison bars on the intricate Turkish wool runner. A bone-deep mustiness permeated the portrait-laden walls: the smell of old money.

I longed to tear down the curtains and fling open the leaded windows, allowing the sun and fresh bay breezes to air out the place, but we were already sort of trespassing. Two rules had been made crystal clear to me when I signed the contract for this job: what happened in the club stayed in the club, and double-X chromosomes who wandered beyond the service areas would be summarily fired. According to my birth certificate, that meant me.

Another sound split the tomblike silence.

A woman's scream.

The three of us gaped at each other for an instant before charging down the rest of the stairs to the second-floor landing, across the hallway, through an open bedroom door, and into an old-fashioned en suite bathroom.

Samantha, in the lead, stopped short. I bumped into her, and Evangeline—nearly six feet tall and built like an Olympic shot-putter—plowed into me, throwing me off-balance and causing me to clutch at Sam, who stumbled forward. Our Keystone Kops routine came to a halt as we took in the scene.

The man in the bathtub looked ill. The sword protruding from his bony white chest didn't help.

A curvy blonde with a cheap dye job knelt by the side of the claw-footed tub and sniffled, her blood-curdling screams having subsided to high-pitched whimpers. She wore a black-and-white French maid's outfit, complete with a stiff lace apron and cap, and her name, Destiny, was stitched in gold thread on her right shoulder.

Not so long ago I would have been screaming and whimpering right alongside her, but now I just felt woozy. In the past year and a half I had tripped over a few dead bodies. Apparently a person could get used to anything.

Chalk one up for personal growth.

© Hailey Lind


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