Yay! It’s time to return to the adventure =) Moving is now done and settling in, which will take a while, has commenced. So it’s time for some fun.
Thanks for joining the adventure.
The Jamison House
The work hours grow longer as the days lengthen into summer. With the heat of the sun comes the oppressive humidity from the open tubs of water you use for washing.
Everyday you walk into the washroom and the damp heat hits you like a wall. In less than an hour your hair’s plastered to your scalp and your shirt sticks to your back. This is normal, your life as a wash person for the Jamison house. With five years of work, you’ll be free to do as you please but since the Jamison’s paid your fare to the new land, you’ve two years left to your service.
As work goes, you can’t complain.
But this morning it’s not just the heavy heat that meets you at the door. The stench doubles you over, gagging. Only with a supreme force of will do you keep your breakfast in your stomach.
Never in your last three years has the washroom smelled like this. It’s urine and warm flesh. Sure, you’ve cleaned sheets the kids peed on, but this isn’t the same.
You hold your apron over your mouth and nose in an effort to soften the smell and then brave opening the washroom again.
Nothing in the immediate vicinity looks off. It’s just the smell that says something’s horribly wrong. You venture farther into the room.
The tubs steam around you, which means Michael’s been in already, working hard to fill them before you and the other washers arrive. It’s then you spot the oddity.
Seven out of eight washtubs are steaming; the last one in the far corner is not. With all the others giving off damp mist, it’s hard to see that the eighth one’s different but, drawing closer, you see there’s no water inside.
Something else occupies the tub. At first you see a shoe, then the homespun pants, and by the time you’re close enough to see Michael’s face, you’re positive you don’t want to see. But somehow you can’t look away.
He’s a color of blue no person should be. Dark marks on his neck remind you of fingers. Whoever did this had to be strong because Michael was not a small man. Clutched in his hand is what looks like fabric from maybe a gray, wool coat.
You back away and race from the washroom with your stomach rolling again. Poor Michael. Although you didn’t know him well, he always smiled at you. One of the few people who made the effort to be friendly.
You should take this directly to the Jamison’s. Michael was their responsibility. But you hesitate. The Jamison’s care very little about their workers as people. It’s possible they’ll just clean everything up and brush the details under the rug.
But what are your other options? Do you investigate the murder yourself? What do you do if you figure out who killed Michael? It isn’t like you’ve got a way to punish the killer.
But you have to do something. The other wash people will be in soon and, if you’re going to investigate yourself, they’ll have to be a part of it. They’re young, really young, and you’re not sure how they’ll handle it either way.
So do you…
A. Tell the Jamisons?
B. Investigate Yourself?
The Jamison House Option B: Investigate
The image of Michael, blue and unnatural, sticks in your mind. You try to picture him smiling like he always did to greet you in the morning but the other image is just too fresh for you to push it aside.
You can’t take the chance the Jamison’s will brush this under the rug. Michael deserves better than that.
Gathering your courage again, you head back into the washroom for a closer look at the murder scene. You want this part done before the others arrive. They shouldn’t have to face it with you.
Upon closer investigation, you find a black spot in the back corner of the room like someone used the dirt floor to snuff out a torch. The room’s full of windows to allow light and air flow, so the idea of a torch doesn’t make sense unless someone was in the room at night.
You also find two poles tucked against the wall with heavy scuffing on the floor at the backside of the tub. As far as you can deduce, someone used the poles to roll Michael into the tub.
The call’s timid but you recognize that it’s Sam, the boy who works beside you. Since you’re in the back of the washroom, he probably can’t see you.
“Over here,” you call. “Don’t let the others in.”
When Sam appears out of the steam, he’s holding his arm over his nose and tears stream from his eyes.
He spots Michael and stops, staring. “He was so excited yesterday,” Sam mumbles.
“He said Mr. Jamison offered him Maurice’s job at the house. He was going to be the Butler for the rest of his term.”
This was news. “Did Maurice know?”
Sam finally raises his eyes to look at you. He shrugs. “Don’t know.”
“All right, let’s get Michael out of here,” you gesture for him to give you a hand.
Using the poles that were left against the wall, you and Sam lift the tub to carry it into the woods. The sight of you moving the tub isn’t strange, the poles fit into rings on the side of the wooden frame. It’s how you empty it each night.
You return to the washroom for some shovels. You’re about to head back to the woods to dig the grave when you feel a chill breeze against your face. Since you’re in the washroom, the touch stands out like someone trailing their fingers over your cheek.
You approach the back wall and the breeze grows stronger. Then you see it, a line in the dirt like the grains are falling into a hole. When you trail your fingers along the line, sure enough, a larger line appears. You follow it with your fingers until you have the outline of a trap door.
Lifting it, you peer down into the dark depths of a tunnel. The need for a torch makes more sense now.
You task Sam with digging the grave with a few of the others and then, finding a lantern, you head down into the tunnel to investigate.
It’s a tiny space, just wide enough for you to slide through sideways. Thankfully, it’s a short tunnel but you estimate it’s just long enough to lead to the main house. You set the lantern on the floor and lift the hatch at the end barely an inch, just enough to see what’s on the other side.
The smell of fresh bread wafts through. Then the bustle of the kitchen reaches your ears. From the angle you’re viewing everything, the trap door must be right by the oven in the corner. The cook’s tall, lean frame passes in sight as he carries a bag of flour to the kneading table.
He grunts in pain as he lowers the bag and holds his back for a moment, looking around his kitchen as he does. You let the door fall back into place and sit on the dirt floor of the tunnel to think.
Whoever strangled Michael had to be strong because Michael wasn’t a small man. But the person also had to be thin enough to fit through the tunnel and need the poles the get the body into the tub.
Last, he or she had to know about the tunnel.
Maurice, the current butler, might fit all of those criteria. And, from the sounds of it, he was about to loose his position to Michael.
How to check the theory though?
You could lure Maurice out to the woods to show him the body and confront him there—
Or maybe a few of the smaller kids could keep a watch on him for the next few days. If no one speaks up about finding the body, he might get nervous and check to see what’s happened.
Bb: Lure Maurice out?
Bc: Spy on Him?
The Jamison House Option Bc: Spy on Him
There’s just not enough evidence for you to feel comfortable confronting Maurice, and the wash crew readily agrees to help you in spying on him.
So, you decide it’s time to repair the drying lines outside and start hanging the laundry out again instead of hanging it up in the room attached to the washroom. With the weather warming and the days lengthening, it’s the perfect time of year for this anyway.
Toward the end of the day, Maurice wanders over with a heavy frown on his face that droops his mustache below his chin. He walks through the lines and then heads into the washroom where the tubs no longer steam.
“Had hot water this morning?” he asks as he turns sideways to fit between two of the tubs.
You nod an affirmative.
Could he fit through the tunnel? Maurice is shorter but round. You wonder if he’s got scrapes on his belly or if you’ve got the wrong person.
“Isn’t there usually ten tubs?” he points to the empty back corner.
“Repairing one,” you answer on the fly. “We set it under the trees so the sun wouldn’t damage the repair. It’ll be back up by the morning.”
Maurice nods with a satisfied grunt and leaves.
“Think he’s getting nervous?” Sam asks after the Butler’s gone.
“Maybe.” You specifically mentioned the trees to see if Maurice would investigate later and find the grave.
But you spend the next several days watching with nothing more. You move the tenth tub back into the washroom and sleep there at night to both keep an eye on the woods and fill everything with hot water in the morning since Michael’s no longer around to do it. The work gives you a whole new appreciation for the man.
On the morning of the third day, Mr. Jamison calls everyone to the porch of the main house. He stands proudly beside Maurice and holds up a page of paper. It’s cream, heavy stock, and the writing on it is bold.
Then Mr. Jamison holds the page against the porch railing and signs it. After giving it a moment to dry, he folds it neatly and hands the page to Maurice, who smiles for the first time you’ve ever seen.
They shake hands and Maurice leaves the porch, a grin splitting his face.
“His freedom,” someone whispers. “He served his five years, now he’s free.”
Sam sidles up to you. “Maurice didn’t have a reason to kill Michael,” he whispers.
You nod your head but don’t say anything because you’re still watching the porch. Brandon, the cook, climbs the steps to stand beside Mr. Jamison. He’d be the same height as the landowner except for his hunched back. He can’t stand straight.
You recall seeing Brandon with his sack of flour the other morning, recall him clutching his back after setting it down. Strong enough to strangle Michael, but weak enough to need the polls to move the body.
Mr. Jamison hands Brandon a new vest, the sign around the house of the Butler’s position. They shake hands and dismiss everyone by entering the house. Before he follows the landowner inside, Brandon discards his apron and tosses it to one of the kitchen workers.
“It’s him,” Sam says. “Brandon’s wanted out of the kitchen for forever. “
You agree but you’re focused on the apron. “Sam, get that before it disappears.”
He sees where you’re looking and takes off into the gathered people. Before long, he reappears beside you with the discarded apron in his hand.
You pull from your pocket the piece of cloth Michael clutched in his death grip. It fits perfectly with the inside, torn pocket of the apron.
“What do we do?” Sam asks.
Bc1: Take the Pocket to Mr. Jamison?
Bc2: Confront Brandon with the Wash Crew?
The Jamison House Option Bc1: Take the Pocket to Mr. Jamison
Confronting Brandon, making him pay for Michael’s death, would be wonderful, but by yourself would be foolish and with the wash crew, all of whom are younger than you, would endanger them. You just can’t do that.
“We’ll take the apron to Mr. Jamison,” you tell Sam.
He nods and goes to hand the apron to you. You refuse to take it.
“Brandon’s the Butler now,” you say. “We’ve got to go through him to see Mr. Jamison. You hang on to the apron. I’ll keep the pocket.”
Sam clutches the apron and then shoves it into the pocket of his own apron. When you turn toward the house, he follows you with his hands stuffed deep into his pockets and his shoulders hunched. He looks like a dejected street urchin. You hope that’s not a bad sign.
All of the workers have scattered back to their respective tasks by the time you climb the porch steps. Your stomach rolls with apprehension but you make sure your knock on the door is firm, confident.
Moments later Brandon opens the door and scowls at you. “What?” he asks.
“Here to see Mr. Jamison about a problem with the water,” you say. There kind of is a problem, Michael’s not around to fill the tubs. You hope the words ring true.
“The Master’s busy. I’ll come around later to look,” Brandon moves to close the door.
You catch it before it latches by shoving your toe in the way. Even with your heavy boots, the smack of the wood sends a pain into your foot.
“It needs attention now,” you insist, “Or the Master’s going to be lacking in sheets come tonight.”
Brandon’s scowl deepens, if possible. He’s a thin man and the expression pinches in the corners of his lips until you can’t see the pink of his mouth anymore.
“This way,” he finally says and opens the door wide enough for you to enter. He leads you to the library. “No soiled aprons in the house,” he says and holds out his hand for Sam’s apron.
Sam’s eyes go wide. “It’s clean,” he insists, stuffing his hands deeper into the pockets.
Brandon just stands there, his hand still out for the apron.
“What’s this?” says a voice behind you.
Spinning, you find Mr. Jamison amongst the books. You could of sworn the library was empty when you entered and, looking around, you see no other door, but despite this, Mr. Jamison’s right there.
“Making him presentable, Sir,” Brandon explains.
Mr. Jamison waves his hand in dismissal. “Leave him be.” He turns to you. “What are you here for?”
You glance at Sam and then hold out the torn pocket. As quickly as possible, you explain where you found the piece of fabric and Sam holds out the apron when you reach the part about Brandon throwing it to the kitchen crew just a little bit ago.
Mr. Jamison accepts the evidence without a word. He listens until you’re done and then fingers the fabric while eyeing Brandon.
The thin man, surprisingly, does not say a word in his defense while you explain. It’s unnerving to say the least.
Finally, he speaks up, “Sir, there’s no way I could’ve done this. I have to be in the kitchen that time in the morning. Someone would’ve noticed my walking between the kitchen and washroom.”
Mr. Jamison nods and you realize you forgot to mention the tunnel. You open your mouth to bring it up but Mr. Jamison holds a hand for silence.
A worried look finally hits Brandon’s face. He opens his mouth to protest but then snaps his lips shut without saying anything. Spinning on a heel, he bolts for the door and escapes out of it before anyone can react.
You cry a protest and head after him.
“Not to worry,” Mr. Jamison calls, “I’ll have the hounds hunt him down.”
You turn back toward the landowner and see he’s already pulled the cord on the wall for someone to respond.
“However,” Mr. Jamison continues. “There’s the issue of you and the boy. I cannot have servants in my household who keep a murder from me. I’ll sign your papers over to my neighbor, Mr. Colter, to finish your term.”
Whereas Mr. Jamison just doesn’t care, you’ve heard far worse about Mr. Colter. “Keeping it from you was my decision,” you protest. “Keep Sam on. He’s invaluable and loyal.”
Mr. Jamison considers and then nods. “You’re off my land by morning.” He says and dismisses you.
You fight Mr. Colter for an extra three years before he signs your freedom papers but Sam’s released in his usual five and Brandon’s caught. He’s still serving his time in the local jail as far as you know.
Blessings and have a wonderful weekend,