Lacking skills can kill you. It can also save you Margaret decided, pulling herself into a standing position from the slippery freshly waxed oak floor. Gathering the dry cleaning, for her employers she took it and put it away quickly. At fifty-nine, she had never been athletic; still she knew what it was like to shine the floors of Camedor Inn to a gloss so high you could see your face in it. She also knew what it was like to lose her footing on it, after forgetting she had waxed them. For twenty years, she had enjoyed her work, as much as she enjoyed her employers the Norvol's. The aged couples were like her parents because she never knew her own, she had embraced them as well. Back in the kitchen she began tipping across the floor as her white rubber soled shoes squeaked, she made it safely to the granite counters where the artsy spread of Hope the Inn's cook rested. Chicken, roast, turkey, as well as many platters of vegetables, breads, cakes, and puddings warmed. The Norvol's name had again reached the top of the county dinner hosting list, and they loved it, mainly Mr. Norvol, nothing excited him more than when the Inn was filled with laughter, flowing spirits, and music which Margaret as always made sure was in absolutely perfect and lovely. She went along checking the huge bouquets of yellow and white Carnations that were spewed throughout the Inn, for freshness and fragrance. Satisfied she smiled to herself as down the long hallways she blew in and out of each vast room. Soft winds lifted the white chiffon curtains out and back where they rested like softly folding hands against the large open lead paned windows, which overlooked the lawns of Camedor Inn.
The skies were threatening rain, she thought, looking at the sky before going back to work, but not too soon, she hoped. The Inn had been on this land for centuries, passed down through Mr. Norvol's family for many years, and although it was 2014, once a soul stepped over the marble thresholds, they were immediately in the past. Hurricane oil lamps, China from England, were just a snip of the everyday normal. Margaret placed tiny vanilla cards with names on them at the head of each gleaming white plate with the pink floral imprints; she straightened the silver eating utensils on the highly polished cherry -wood dining tables, all was lovely. Looking over the room, for a second, and third time, she felt a humble satisfaction rising as before she turned down the electric lights, she lit each long white candle. Strolling over to the large double French doors, she announced to the crowd on the promenade near the outdoor wine bar where everyone was gathered giving an ear to Kenneth Franks about his polo ventures, that dinner was now served.
Margaret? How are you? Mr. Chafner county auditor beamed as he leaned in to her, on his way to his to the dining room, Margaret could not help but think, as she always did that his moustache was heavier than he was, I am well, Margaret smiled, watching him search for his name on the table, whiskey had been his friend too long that evening she thought. Once all the guest were seated and the Norvol's had joined them, Margaret excused herself for home, Leonard, would serve the food, and Hope would clean the dishes she decided, as she strolled through the Inn, up the stairs, away from the soft music and loud talking. It was when she reached the top of the stairs, nearing the doorway of the lavender sitting room where her coat and purse were hung, that she heard it. A gut wrenching male scream, followed by one of the women: a shrill cry that cause her blood to run cold. Turning she raced back down the stairs, through the candle lit hallways, and into the dining room.
Standing, everyone was around Mr. Norvol, as he lay on his side, fallen from his chair onto the large green intricate patterned rug. Mrs. Norvol, standing near by hand to mouth was pale as a ghost, crying as many of the men present tried to right him. Call 911!! Now, Margaret heard herself say, rushing to his side, pushing everyone back, give him some room! He needs air, she cried, instructing David and Daniel Thyme, brothers and the county pharmacist, to bring him into the adjoining living room, and place him on the overstuffed teal sofa. Mrs. Norvol followed closely, as did the other guest. Margaret worked furiously to open the collar of Mr. Norvol's yellow dress shirt, freeing wispy white hairs; she saw his pulse beating furiously beneath his thin skin, as he tried to say something to her. She also saw it stop. Noooo, she cried over again, and as if on cue, a downpour began accompanied by thunder and lightening
Although the coroner had taken Mr. Norvol's body away two hours ago, no one else was going anywhere. All the guest and employees of Camedor Inn were not to leave the premises under any circumstances. Margaret helped Leonard and Hope serve food, coffee and fresh towels in between consoling Mrs. Norvol, who had climbed inside herself by the low fire burning in the fireplace of the den where she fingered the white pearls on her neck. Guest, were sprinkled throughout the Inn, talking, staring or just plain wide eyed with confusion. Hazy was all Margaret could feel, like walking through smoke and mist, that could not be cleared no matter how many glasses of Sherry she drank that did not even sneak up on an idea of being drunk. Rain poured, thunder crashed as lightening lit up the Inn with a glare so great it looked like a beautiful sunny day. It was not sunny, and nothing was beautiful, it was two o'clock in the morning, Margaret thought as she helped, Mrs. Norvol, up and down the hall to her bedroom, where she helped her dress and ready for bed. He's gone; she whispered looking deeply into Margaret's eyes that were now threatening to spill large pools. I know, she managed to say as she blinked them away, before blowing out the hurricane lamp on the bedside table. Pulling the heavy comforter up to Mrs. Norvol's, chin to ward off the creeping wet fall, night air, she turned to go, I will see you in the morning, Margaret whispered.
Lying in bed, Margaret thought about the day, the events played like a slow motion movie to her. Turning on her back, in the little room off the kitchen across the hall from Hope and down the hall from Leonard, she sighed. These rooms were theirs for just such an occasion, or in this instance an event. Leonard had been here when she came twenty years ago. He was a butler, but mostly a driver. She sighed, although she only had a cat at home, she still liked her apartment. Hope came on three years later, only forty-eight; she was a great cook, Margaret thought, reflecting on Hope's strawberry shortcake. That was good, Margaret could never cook, and she did not want to learn.
She had never been married or had children, no time for that fuss. Raised by adopted parents she had left home at eighteen and had never looked back. Working hard jobs her whole life had been all she had known, until she met Mrs. Norvol in the library twenty years ago, and after sharing a conversation about quilts, and patterns. That landed her in a life that was more than a job. The Norvol's had offered her room and board, she had declined, needing to maintain a measure of independence, she kept her apartment in town. Thunder shook the three level forty rooms Inn; though not enough to keep Margaret who was not tired awake, there was no sleeping for her.
The green light on the lighted panel near the light switch told her Mrs. Norvol was resting comfortably, that was good. Many of the guests were, not still, some were, including Mr. Chafner who had long retired, his cheery charisma left with the body of Mr. Norvol. Margaret thought of Mr. Norvol, he was a kind man, married for fifty years, federal financier he had lived well. With no children, he made it his business to free anyone that he could from the strains of poverty. Margaret felt tears streaming down her face. What had he been trying to say? She thought, it sounded like, chicken rocked, no, no, that was not it, Mr. Norvol spoke as if he stepped fresh from the 1920's, she thought. Or did he say, check the stocks? Maybe but which ones, he had many Margaret decided, now sitting, brushing her red curls. Why at three in the morning she wondered should she be doing that, she had no answer.
Not as hard, still with as much fury the rain continued to pour, as Hope prepared breakfast and Mrs. Norvol sat perched in her pink silk bathrobe at the small kitchen nook. She did this from time to time, before the guest were awake and breaking the fast, but this morning was different, because the man she loved so dearly was not seated across from her in his white silk smoking jacket. Margaret encouraged her to eat the poached eggs and dry toast, she declined, but she did take sips of the steaming black tea She looked worn out, lonely as if she had lost her best friend, Margaret thought, and it was because she had. Taking her small hand, as she took a seat across from her Margaret didnt speak, as tears ran anew from Mrs. Norvol's soft brown eyes that looked like the lights had been extinguished. He was as healthy as a horse, she managed, I don't understand. Margaret had heard of perfectly healthy people dropping dead, still she knew that was true, Mr. Norvol's was in great shape for a seventy-seven year old. Let's just wait on the coroner to get back to us, Margaret whispered, patting her frail hand, standing she went to help Hope and Leonard prepare to serve the guests.
Wiping down the wooden handrails, Margaret moved through the Inn in a daze. Are you alright? Hope asked taking her arm you are swaying, she said helping her to a seat on the bench near the wall. Because Mr. Norvol was a respected and beloved and member of the small community his death had been first priority, rushed through all the proper channels to the shock of the town, the authorities, the guest and Mrs. Norvol. Mr. Norvol had been murdered Margaret did not find this shocking, she had half expected it, what she did not expect was that it had not been determined, how. The how exactly was still a mystery, as that was all the coroner was privy to release until he had further toxicology reports. The police had been at Camedor Inn all day, taking statements, names, and the addresses of the guest, most now gone, a few soon to too leave. Mrs. Norvol was long gone, on the last train to her sisters in Oklahoma she had planned to stay there until all was settled, meaning she was not going to attend a funeral. The arrangements had been left to his best friend Mr. Chafner, Mr. Norvol had planned all things in his life, his last, and finally wishes were not any different. Margaret placed all the cleaning supplies in the black plastic buckets, and headed to the pantry off the kitchen. Hope sat with her until she felt better before assisting her with the sponges, and drying towels. What do you think happened to him? She asked Margaret is hushed tones. Unlocking the pantry door, she took the bucket from Hope. Hope had a way of looking nervous and suspicious when there was no real reason too, which is why the police had deemed it almost necessary to give her a lie detector test, but they soon relented. Following Margaret from the pantry, Hope stood near watching her lock the door. Margaret met her eyes, there was no way to explain what had happened, or who did it, or for that matter why, and up until now Margaret had decided to allow the authorities to handle it, but that thought was no longer in her head. Sharing her ideas with Leonard and Hope, she went off to make arrangements.
The Inn should have been closed down for the fall season after the county dinner, it was yearly and traditional. Margaret was not going to allow that to happen, not this year. Following the last of the burly red-faced police officers to the door, she locked it. Having made arrangements for Percabel to be delivered to her at once after the closing of her apartment, Margaret against the wishes of Leonard and Hope decided to keep the Inn open. Leaning, her head against the cool colorful lead paned glass portraying a man in habit doing what Mr. Norvol loved best polo, Margaret sighed. He had been like a father to her, a mentor at the most. Dimming the electric lights in the kitchen, she switched on the open sign, before heading to the basement.
Leonard looked annoyed Margaret thought, as the clerks piled the white limousine with packages from the general store. Tipping them, she thanked them before climbing in the front beside Leonard, as his annoyance grew. She paid him no mind, she was not the lady of the inn, but she was second in command, meaning should she give orders they must be followed, and this included Leonard as well. Normally he and Hope lived quietly at the Inn for the winter, with Mrs. Norvol away they lived quietly until spring. Leonard pulled the long machine into the winding drive, shutting off the engine; he assisted Margaret solemnly with the packages. Smiling at him, she wondered what it was like for a man to wait on a woman who had undertaken shopping such as she had. For the last two days, it had been her goal to make the Inn exhume fall, with the final addition of the fall leaves wreaths for the large Inn doors, she decided she had achieved it. Oh Great! You are back, Hope cried and laughed at the same time meeting them in the drive, she began gathering packages. We nearly have a house full, where is the whiskey? I need to make hot cider. Leonard left them to the remaining packages taking long strides he headed to the Inn. Tall and straight Margaret always thought when she saw him, as she followed Hope, both loaded down, into the Inn. Here Leonard after peeling off his short coat took their packages, placed them on the island along with the others. Retrieving the ring of key from the old cement nail near the door, he headed to the basement, returning just as soon with two large bottles of whiskey in hand. It was stored away for the winter; Mr. Norvol thought it best to do it before the closing. Both women looked at him, as he sat the bottles down and left. Looking at the bottles then to each other the women set about their work.
Margaret handed the deliveryman a check for the return of fresh towels, sheets, and comforters while shooing Percabel away with her foot. The laundry was sent out every week during the Inn's open months. This was the return of linen ,that would normally have come back in the spring. Thanking the man that was too short for his long legs, she headed to the linen closet. Placing the linen away, Margaret thought of Leonard, in all the years they had worked together he never had much to say to her or Hope, he was very stoic and bland, going into town late nights for who knows what, although she had a few guesses. He was bald, and had piercing grey eyes, that looked like slits. Hope was not very fond of him, she always locked her bedroom door, after all this time still she said she did not want any surprises. The aroma of baked chicken permeated the Inn, as guest rustled about. Chicken, Margaret thought, "The Chicken Rocked". Why did that not make sense to her?
Mr. Norvol had not eaten chicken he had Roast, and vegetables. Locking the linen closet, she headed back down the stairs. Hello, she smiled at the young couple that stood near the old piano, admiring the interior of the Inn off the foyer. If you need anything, Margaret added, just pick up the house phone and dial 9, it rings right to my pager. Thank you, the young lady nodded hair so thick and black it looked almost unreal, as she watched her male partner drink the hot cider. I hope I am not being too nosy; Looking at Margaret but is there any truth to the rumor that the owner died right here in the Inn? I mean, that's why we came we want to hear more about the story, possibly see his ghost, she smiled.
Margaret felt a heat of anger rising in her, well you may have come in vain, she barked, turning she took her leave. It had not occurred to her that the reason for the Inn filling up so quickly in the past three days was that people was looking for some excitement related to Mr. Norvol's death. It made her sick.
Taking her dinner of roast chicken, potatoes, corn and peach cobbler in her tiny room, Margaret thought about what the young lady had said. Tossing a small piece of chicken to Percabel, who was curled into a ball on the heavy rug near the heater, before she herself ate in a hurry. Lunch had come and gone, and she had been so busy she did not partake of anything, now she was famished. The chicken tasted so good, she had taken three slices from the roast pan. Hope and Leonard had retired for the night, she thought after she was done she would do the same. Setting the heavy green plate aside on the food tray, she spooned the Peach Cobbler. It was as always delightful, and gone in less time than her dinner. Percabel blinked hard at her before yawning, stretching and dozing off. Don't judge me Mr., she whispered, standing she headed to the kitchen. The rain had stopped, and cool air was blowing through the partly opened window above the sink, leaning closer Margaret could see the moon peeking through the trees, in a sky that was now clear. I think I will take a walk, she thought.
Normally cobblestone clicked when someone walked on it, but not tonight, because rubber shoes only squeaked and slipped. Chilly, Margaret hugged herself breathing deeply. Thinking she had heard talking near the French Doors, in the garden near the dining room, she listened. There was talking, a familiar voice as well, moving closer, she noticed it was Leonard. He was on the phone, a cellphone? Margaret gasped; she had never seen that man on a phone in her life much less a cell phone. I will handle everything, he stated, you just leave all to me, he told the party on the other end. The red hair on the back of her neck stood up, what was he going to handle? She wondered, but that was it, he ended the call before slipping through the French Doors. Margaret, shivering hurried back to the Inn the way she had come.
Slipping off the rubber work shoes, she placed them on the stand near the door before almost racing to her room. With a thud, she ran into someone in the darkness, instinctively reaching for the light switch the room illuminated in yellow, about the same time Percabel cried out from his tail being injured. Hope? She cried, breathless what are you doing here? Looking for you, Hope whispered, looking suspicious as always.
Margaret watched Percabel fly under the bed, as she spoke, what do you want this time of night? I thought you were sleeping. Hope gave her a strange glare, I thought you were too, but anyway I'm here to say I think Leonard killed Mr. Norvol. Margaret thought of what she had just heard, and almost agreed, but said nothing. Oh? She asked. Yes, Hope went on, he was the only one that had the chance to be near him long enough. But we don't know what happened to him, Margaret replied, looking around the room, nothing was out of place she noted. He was poisoned, Margaret, you know that! Mrs. Norvol told everyone before she left for her sisters, Hope almost laughed. Everyone but me, Margaret stated annoyed. Well, she did, Hope nodded, and I will bet it was in his whiskey that is why I think Leonard did it. A sound in the hall outside the door made both women look in that direction. Well we can talk more about it tomorrow Margaret said, guiding Hope from the bedroom, before locking her door.
Hanging up the phone, she had confirmed with Mrs. Norvol what Hope had said, so why had she not recalled hearing details that were so important? Too busy is what she thought, or had she too been poisoned the reason she had been feeling so hazy that night? Hope took the keys from the young couple as they were leaving; the young lady eyed Margaret but said nothing. Well, I have work to do she told Hope, heading to the pantry. Dusting was not one of Margaret's favorite things to do, but she had to do it. Wiping the old piano down, then its keys she kept thinking of Mr. Norvol's words, she moved through the rooms nodding to guest that were reading quietly near the large bookshelves, or having hot tea while playing cards quietly. The old Grandfather clock struck twelve in the den, yes she thought, I will dust you too, wait your turn. Watching Leonard, in the garden she wondered about what Hope said. Could he be a killer? He was awfully quiet, and angry, having been with the Norvol's for many years he could have harbored some resentment, yet the authorities did not think so.
Gathering her supplies she headed up the stairs to begin cleaning empty rooms, she loved to turn down the comforters filled with the smell of lilac, somerset meadow, Mrs. Norvol's favorite and Lavender. Turning the heaters on low in each room, she exited for the later comfort of the guest. Standing in the hallway, she looked at the small gold clock sitting on the wood table near one of the bathrooms, as she lost her breath, and dropped the cleaning bucket. Her legs felt like water as they raced her body to the top of the stairs and down, through the long hallway, past the living room, library, foyer and into the den. Standing in front of her was the massive cherry wood Grandfather clock. That was it; she said more to herself than to anyone who may have seen her in flight. Mr. Norvol had said, "Check the Clock". Looking furiously over it, around it and under it she did not see anything, no hidden cameras, cords, or compartments. Why did she need to check the clock? Turning she saw Leonard in the doorway watching her. Can I be of assistance to you? He asked. She looked at herself in the heavy mirror on the wall. Her hair frazzled, and she looked wildly unkempt. I'm fine, she stated with more emphasis than intended. Leonard nodded, before leaving. Margaret took a seat on the maroon carpeting, and caught her breath. "Check the clock she said, Check the Clock"...
Steaming tea always made cool nights better; Margaret sipped the hot brew as she thumbed through the animal magazine. Alone and the only one left awake she had made it through another day. Her attention was broken with the ring of the house phone, standing she attempted to cross the slippery floors of the kitchen to reach it. Climbing back to her feet, she snatched the receiver up just before it stopped ringing. Camedor Inn, she chimed. Margaret dear, Mrs. Norvol's soft voice said. How are you darling? I am great, how are you? Margaret asked, filled with concern. I am taking things day by day, the older woman added, I can't believe he is gone. Margaret agreed, her thoughts wondering, Mr. Norvol, was a lifetime person, the ones that lived when everyone else died. She came back to the sound of Mrs. Norvol's voice asking her did she get that. No Margaret, replied, could you say it again? Sure dear, I will but after I am done, promise me you are off to bed? I promise Margaret lied, she knew she could not sleep. Wonderful, Mrs. Norvol's stated, now, I need you to look on the bedside table in our bedroom and give me the prescription number on my arthritis cream, I need it refilled my joints are hurting something crazy with this cold. I won't be a moment, Margaret, replied.
Once in the master bedroom, she hurried to the bedside table, picking up the receiver she gave Mr. Norvol the number, before and updating her on life at the Inn, and wishing her well. After hanging up, she saw a small piece of yellow paper sticking from beneath the electric clock, on the nightstand. She did not need to pick it up she knew what it was, the receipt she had placed there a few days ago, lifting the heavy antique clock she took it out from underneath. Inside it was another one, from Mr. Norvol's doctor.
Looking at the ceiling Margaret waited, as she lay in bed unable to sleep. For a return call from Dr. Stevens, to match the six she had placed to him. The lighted panel told her Leonard was about and that made her uneasy. The shrill ring of the phone caused her to jump, as she bolted upright and answered it. After a lengthy conversation, she hung up. Confused, and needing the dawn to arrive, that was much work afoot. Blowing out the flame of the oil lamp, Margaret went to sleep.
Sunlight would not have awakened Margaret from the dream of running through the fields in the snow, because it had been beaming in her face for nearly an hour, neither the alarm clock that had been screaming for nearly as long. The furious shaking from Leonard did wake her, though; bolting upright, she stared into his face. What are you doing in here? She cried, her eyes leaving his blank face to rest on Hope standing in her doorway looking like she had seen a ghost. What is going on here? Margaret asked climbing from the small bed, shutting off the alarm while shoving the prying eyes of her two co-workers from her room. Leonard left Hope to explain leaving them. Hope looked afraid, we thought you were dead, you missed breakfast, I had to have Leonard break in on you. What time is it? Margaret cried. It's just after eight Hope nodded. Oh no, Margaret cried again, I am late.
Bursting into the police station, Margaret took a hold of every arm within reach. I know what happened, to Mr. Norvol! She told everyone, Sergeant Myers crossed the busy Police Station, taking Margaret by the arm, he ushered her into his office. Please sit down he said more like an order, than an invite. Margaret took a seat watching the man who watched her. You were saying. He stated finally. I know who killed Mr. Norvol. Leaning back in his chair, he waited on her to explain. When Mr. Norvol was dying, Margaret began, he spoke to me, I thought he said "The Chicken Rocks", but he said, "Check the Clock". I did, and I found a receipt with his dry cleaning receipt, his doctor's bill. Mr. Norvol had gone to an appointment with him that morning. I called him to find out why, and he told me Mr. Norvol had been experiencing shortness of breath, dizziness, and fatigue and sweating. Margaret watched the Sergeant to make sure he was listening. After a battery of test, he found nothing; still before Mr. Norvol left his office, he ran a series of blood test. He got the test back yesterday; extremely high levels of Tetrachloroethene or perchlorethylene were in Mr. Norvol's blood.
Someone poisoned him! Margaret cried. Sergeant Myers nodded, you are right, he was poisoned, reaching in his desk drawer; he pulled out a manila envelope. We received his toxicology reports this morning from the coroner, the levels were beyond high. You see, Margaret, , the reports show that this was not something that occurred that day, that it had been going on for years, the poison was clear to his bones, Mr. Norvol only wore clothes that were dry cleaned, confirmed by his wife, and those chemicals had been seeping into his body for years. So it was not a "who" that killed him, but a "what." Margaret thought back, this was true, she knew that. Now it made sense to her that when she had unfastened his collar, she had been drugged obviously through his clothes that's why she felt in a daze. The chemicals had seeped into her body as well, with her picking up the dry cleaning, weekly. Margaret hung her head, Mr. Norvol knew he was dying and he directed her to the clock to find out why, because he was not sure that anyone would ever know. Standing, he crossed the room and opened the door, she is ready now she needs to go home and rest, he called to someone. Turning she saw it was Leonard, what are you doing here? She barked. Sergeant Myers smiled; he like you needed to find out what happened to Mr. Norvol. He made sure nothing stood in your way at the direction of Mrs. Norvol, who supplied him with a private cell phone to keep her informed. Margaret stood, moving slowing from the office she looked at Leonard, you know she began, I thought maybe you had killed him. Leonard smiled something she had never seen him do, No, Ms. Margaret, I loved my big brother too much for that, he has always taken care of me, I will miss him greatly. Standing, she stared at him, who knew she thought? Who knew? Lets go home.