Prologue

A House in Disarray

Prologueblackroses

Everything is dangerous, my dear fellow.
If it wasn’t so, life wouldn’t be worth living.
Oscar Wilde

Councilman Adrian Adams rushed up the steep steps to the carefully maintained brownstone and slammed the heavy oak door behind him, blocking out the howling wind and icy sleet. He paused a moment to catch his breath.

“Damn, it’s miserable tonight,” he muttered to himself as he set his dripping umbrella on the tiled floor. “This friggin’ umbrella is useless. The sleet’s blowing sideways!” He glanced up the narrow stairway while he unbuttoned his dripping coat.

“Honey? Are you home? Sorry I’m late,” he called. “There’s always someone to meet or another proposal to consider. I had drinks with a building consortium about a new project.” He paused to listen to the silence that greeted him. “Martha?”

Shrugging off his coat and hanging it on the antique English coat rack, Adrian looked in the hall mirror. His wet hair was plastered over his face so he carefully combed it back to conceal his bald patch again.

He walked through the diminutive living room and into the kitchen. There was still no sign of Martha. Sighing, he opened the cookie jar and took out a macaroon, then went to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a neat Scotch. He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar. With the cookie in one hand and the Scotch in the other he climbed the stairs, the metal taps on his shoes beating a slow staccato on the polished oak staircase. He heard the creak of a floorboard and glanced up at the second-floor landing.

“Martha?”

There was no reply. He shrugged and took a bite of the macaroon before continuing to the second floor. He surveyed the unused bedrooms of his grown children, even though there were no lights on and no reason to think his wife would be in any of them. A noise yanked his attention to the third floor, where the master bedroom and his private office were. He recognized the squeak of cheap tennis shoes on the oak parquet floor.

“Damn it, woman, why won’t you answer me,” he shouted up at the third floor.

But when he got there, there wasn’t a light on anywhere, not even in the bathroom. He noticed that the double doors to the bedroom were thrown wide open; they rarely used both.  He peered into the darkened bedroom, trying to detect any movement, but a noise coming from the direction of his private study made him turn. He heard a whistling sound and felt something drive into his hip. His knees buckled but the pain didn’t register. He saw his expensive, handmade Italian suit drenched in blood. A large man stood before him holding the nineteenth-century sword Adrian displayed in his office. Without thinking, Adrian dropped his glass and grabbed the blade in an attempt to prevent his attacker from using it again. His assailant withdrew the weapon from Adrian’s hip, slicing through his fingers in the process. Adrian howled, the pain to his fingers more intense than the injury to his side. All he could do was watch as his attacker raised the sword and, slammed it down into Adrian’s shoulder. The blow emitted an odd metallic twang as it vibrated through his bones. Adrian’s left arm collapsed and hung uselessly by his side. His hand made feeble clutching motions, no longer following his commands to defend him. He gritted his teeth and slammed the open blade with what was left of his right hand, hoping to knock it from his attacker’s grip, but all it did was twist Adrian around. His attacker pulled the weapon, drawing Adrian to him, but the blade didn’t give. Bracing himself, the assailant yanked the blade back—it gave way with a sharp metallic crack—and Adrian lurched forward. As he did, his shoe slipped on the blood-splattered step. As his attacker raised the sword to strike once more, the councilman fell backwards. On the way down, his ribs shattered as he slammed into the oak railings and balusters, and he partially lost consciousness when his head struck the wall. Yet he remained strangely aware of his body tumbling down the stairs, as if recording it all for some future narrative.

A sudden prolonged yell cut through the fog of his thoughts and he was overwhelmed by the searing pains radiating through his body. He had one last moment of extreme clarity. His attacker, a swarthy heavyset man dressed in a black leather trench coat, rushed down the stairs wielding a large bowie knife. Adrian tried lifting his arms to protect himself, but they wouldn’t respond.

The man hacked at him repeatedly as Adrian’s life drained away to the wet sounds of the savage, relentless butchery.

chainandlock

Opal unlocked the brownstone’s basement door and nudged it open with her shoulder. She entered the exquisite brownstone in the exclusive district using the side door into the basement reserved for the help. While the doors in the rest of the residence worked perfectly, this one was always difficult, despite her best attempts to fix it. Dropping the grocery bags on the table, she closed the door behind her and took a moment to catch her breath. The house seemed especially quiet. Even if Mr. Adams had already left for the office, the mistress was usually puttering about upstairs doing something or other. Opal picked up the groceries again and climbed the treacherous old stairs that led to the first floor. She hated these rickety old stairs. Carrying the family’s supplies, she couldn’t grab the railing, meaning any misstep might mean her death. Without insurance, she might not survive even if they could treat her.

Still, she kept smiling as she pushed her way into the kitchen, hurrying to store the groceries before the mistress caught her. The Adamses didn’t like being reminded that their food actually came from stores. She stood still for a moment, listening for any movement. The house was so silent it bothered her. The mistress always rose at an early hour, and normally there were people coming and going by now. Curious, she walked up the hallway towards the staircase, calling out as she went.

“Mrs. Adams? Is there anyth—”

Opal screamed when she saw the mangled body of her employer lying in a pool of blood at the foot of the stairs. The sound echoed around the house as she clapped her hand to her chest and stepped back. She knew she needed to call for help, but having worked for the Adamses for so many years she knew better than to call 911. Hurrying to the servants’ phone in the back room, she called the Police Commissioner himself. He’d know what to do.

 

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