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The Lexington House Murder

~ Chapter Ten


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Ichabod Crane was furious. As he and Mailer bumped along in the carriage, Mailer was yet expressing his shock that the Wellington-Trumbells hadn’t mentioned a daughter, when Ichabod interrupted him.

“This is what we shall do, once we arrive at Lexington House. I want to be the one who speaks to them. I may be overly harsh in tone, but stay silent. I want them to think you sanction by methods, without actually committing yourself; in the event complaints are brought.

“You shame me, Crane - to think I wouldn’t stand up for you. Regardless of the circumstances. Do you know the reason you were actually called in on this case?”

Ichabod looked up slowly at Mailer. “I thought it was because of Sleepy Hollow.”

Mailer shook his head.“An apparent witness, not yet tested, has reported that a murder was committed by the spectrum of a man now dead several years. While I look forward to you interrogating that formidable housekeeper on her visions of the dead, I cannot sit here and let you think you were consulted simply because someone mentioned a ghost.”

“Then why am I here, Mailer?”

“Because I pleaded with Dobbins to assign you to the case. You may think you are known only for Sleepy Hollow, but many men in the force believe that you alone are responsible for the modern methods of police detection now used. For standing up for the belief that violence against another’s person or property is not just a fate of life to be blamed on the most convenient lower class person. But rather it is crime, subject to examination, deduction, reasoning and, if appropriate, trial as prescribed by the law. You have the admiration of many of the men who, who feel you have elevated their position as true policemen.”

“Here come I; in a new position as Magistrate in a city of this size and importance. My first case, a murder within the upper classes. I went to Dobbins immediately, and asked him outright, who was the finest detective available any where in the city.”

Mailer leaned towards Ichabod. “Dobbins did not hesitate even a moment. He said to me
‘Crane is your man. Touchy fellow, but the best reasoning crime solver I have ever met.’

The ghost story was a extra bit I thought might entice you or at least give you a credible reason as to why you were called in from another district. Sounds damn stupid, now. Crane, I am sorry for being misleading. Are you against me now? Not that I would blame you.”

“No ill feelings, Mailer. Actually I am rather flattered. And this has certainly turned out to be an intriguing case. Perhaps my dream of being a deputy chief constable is not beyond my grasp. But it will take both our wits to figure out what has happened here. If for no other reason than to provide some justice to Miss Janelle.”

Mailer smiled and looked out the carriage window. “Alright then, we are coming up upon the house. Let us go in and make our acquaintance with the story of Megan Wellington-Trumbell and with the formidable personage of Mrs. Eloise Parker, housekeeper.”

The front door of Lexington House was opened for the detectives by an extremely attractive middle-aged woman. She stared at the both for only a moment, before beckoning them in.

“I am Mrs. Parker, the head housekeeper here.” Mailer and Crane each thinking that the woman was the very opposite of what they had expected. She spoke to them in a smooth low tone. “Constable Crane and Magistrate Mailer, it is so regretful that you have made this trip. You see, neither of my employers is available right now. And I myself am in the middle of settling the house accounts. Perhaps we can decide on a more convenient time for you to return.” She was so confident in her excuses that she began to move back toward the front door.

“I too, am regretful, Mrs. Parker.” Ichabod said in a booming voice. The sound of it had startled Mailer, but the woman never even flinched. Ichabod began to circle her, slowly. He continued in a loud, strong voice:

“Regretful, that the staff and the owners of Lexington House apparently fail to understand that a homicide; that is the cold-blooded murder of another human being, has been committed at their home and in their midst. Too much time has been wasted, allowing for “distressed feelings,” which I personally am not all that convinced are sincere.”

“You, Mrs. Parker, will alert your employers that they are to be ready to present themselves in approximately one hour for questioning. Then you will return to the small parlor, where Magistrate Mailer and myself, will interview you regarding the murder. The remainder of the staff is to take the police cabs waiting outside and proceed to the station where they will be questioned, individually, by the station officers. Any attempt to stop me and I will recommend that you all be removed to the closest police station for questioning there.”.

Crane wheeled and put his face very close to the housekeeper’s. He lowered his voice considerably and spoke each word with deliberation.

“Heed me well, unless there is immediate cooperation shown, this will end badly for you all.”

A young housemaid on the upper landing let out a high pitched squeal. But she was quickly stifled, by a look from Eloise Piece. She then turned her eyes to Ichabod with a penetrating look of hatred. Not shock or anger at being inconvenienced, but pure hate. Mrs. Van Ernst had been correct. Mrs. Parker was certainly capable of producing the most menacing of expressions. When the woman passed her eyes over his face, Mailer felt the hair on the back of his neck rise up.

Crane walked confidently into the small parlor and stood looking out the window. In the back gardens a very young girl played with her nanny. She would have been a very pretty little girl, but for the flat, empty expression on her small face. Something about the forlorn look of that little girl made Crane even more incensed.

Behind him, Mrs. Parker now presented herself. “I have given your message to Mr. Wellington-Trumbell. He, being the civic-minded and caring person that he is, has graciously agreed to see you in one hour. But begs your understanding that Mrs. Wellington-Trumbell cannot be disturbed. She yet suffers from shock.”

Ichabod indicated the housekeeper was to sit down. She did.

Ichabod moved so that he was standing directly above her, forcing her to look up. “A certain Miss Janelle Washington does and will, for a very long time, suffers also from a devastating shock. Much more devastating than I believe could possibly be true of Mrs. Wellington-Trumbell. I therefore shall expect to question her by herself, either before or after her husband. One of the female staff may be present, if that would make Mrs. Wellington-Trumbell more comfortable.” Again the woman showed no change in the her facial expression, but her eyes darkened and glared at Ichabod.

“Now, Magistrate if you will kindly take notes, I shall begin.”

“Ready, Constable” Mailer emphasizing the title with his voice.”

Mrs. Parker, I understand you came upon the murderer in the large sitting room at approximately 4:30 am. Why were you downstairs at that moment?”

“I am a light sleeper. I was awakened by a noise coming from the lower floor sitting room. I went down to investigate it.”

“What exactly did you see in the sitting room?”

“I saw someone who appeared to be Thomas Wellington-Trumbell, the master’s younger brother, bending over Margaret with the knife.”

“But Thomas is dead, so you are saying that you saw his ghost, bending over the girl.”

“Upon, reflection, I realize that in the dark the attacker I saw must have been someone who resembled Thomas from the back. I believe when I first spoke to the police I was in deep shock myself.”

“So. At this point we are to understand then that you no longer claim to have seen a ghost?”

“Yes. Just someone who appeared to be Thomas from the back.”

“Who is Megan?” Crane evidenced no change of expression or tone which would have underscored the abrupt change in topic.

The question, though, had brought a wariness into the housekeeper’s face.

“She is the daughter of my employer.” She managed to regain her even tone.

“And how old is she?

“Five years old”

“I am soon to become a father, myself, Mrs. Parker, for the very first time. I have little experience with children. This child looks rather unhappy to me.”

“She has her moods, like any child.”

“Was Margaret a satisfactory employee? By that I mean, did she perform her work well, good attitude, met her hours, no staying out late, that sort of thing.”

“I often had to explain things to her more clearly than with the others. But in general, I had no complaints about her work.”

“Did you like her?”

“I do not engage in emotional ties with the other staff. Margaret was a pleasant and respectful girl. I can only say I had no dislike of her.”

Crane had been pacing the floor, now he took a seat across from Mrs. Parker. “You hear a noise in the middle of the night, and go down to investigate. Without rousing one of the other staff to alert them of whatever it was you were “investigating.”

“No.”

“And your first reaction upon seeing this ghostly tableau of a man attacking some in the sitting room was not to cry out for help. Not to arouse the house, nor even light the lamps. But to quietly slip back up to the servants quarters to awaken only the driver to go and fetch the police.”

“First, I wished to avoid startling the man, I went directly to the driver before waking the master, because I thought best to lose no time fetching the police; when it would hardly matter if the master knew at that moment or five minutes later. And there was no reason to light the lamps, they were already lit.

“But just now you said it was dark in the room. So dark you were almost mislead into thinking a ghost of a man you know was standing before you. You are now claiming that you were in such shock at the sight you mistook a man for a ghost in a well lit room. And yet, in this severe state of shock you respond with a very cool, reasoned and well thought out course of action.”

Mrs. Parker did not answer.

“You do not appear to me to be a timid woman, Mrs. Parker. Did it not cross your mind, to try and help the girl, she may well have still been alive; why did you not to come to her aid; try to wound the man or stun him. You could have grabbed anything - something, a small chair, a vase…any of the five sturdy walking sticks which sit not two feet from the entrance of the sitting room.”

“It was obvious to me that the girl was already dead.”

Crane allowed himself a smile, “How so”

“Well, I could see her clearly stretched out and that the wound had stopped gushing blood. Of course I thought her dead. And just perhaps, Constable, I am human enough to instinctively want to protect myself from being attacked.”

“Far more than human, you must be extraordinary to be able to see right through a man. As you yourself just so recently emphasized, the man’s back was to you, bending over the body.”

Crane stood up and crossed his arms. “Unless you want us to believe you paused to walk around the scene before leaving to wake the driver, I do not believe you knew Margaret was dead only from seeing her at ten feet away in a dark or lit room. And I do not understand how you could describe a wound as gushing, when she could have just as easily bled out slowly. Unless of course you witnessed the wound being inflicted.”

He paused. “Or perhaps you too were a witness, James Wellington-Trumbell!” Crane dramatically threw open the parlor door the whole way, revealing the somewhat hunched-over figure of the master of the house.

James quickly regained his dignity and walked firmly up to Ichabod. “How dare you use your bullying tactics on my housekeeper? I will not allow this to go on for one more moment. I will contact my solicitor at once. Surely, this ‘interview’ is not proper police procedure!”

Suddenly James whirled around at the sound behind him. His wife, Helen, stood there cowering. Her husband could not keep the contempt out of his voice. “I thought I made it quite clear to you, that you were to remain in your bed chamber.”

“I was alarmed that Megan might hear your voices. I came down to see after her. You know James, it might be better that I take her away until this matter is over.”

Ichabod was surprised indeed. He had not thought the woman capable of completing a phrase, never mind actually daring to advise her husband in any manner.

Helen Wellington-Trumbell’s body had shaken during the whole of her speech and from where Mailer sat he thought he could see what appeared to be a fresh ugly bruise beginning on the side of her head.

Helen backed up to exit the room. James caught her by the arm rather roughly, but immediately began to speak assuringly to his wife.

“No need to worry about Megan, my dear. Mrs. Parker and I will take care of her, but I do believe you should consult our physician immediately to diagnose your continued state of shock over this matter. I will take you myself, this instant. Perhaps the doctor will recommend that you go alone to the country house. I would be happy to make all the arrangements.”

Helen Wellington-Trumbell looked straight into her husband’s face and fell into a dead faint on the floor. After what seemed like an hour, but was just shy of half that time, Helen was being lifted onto a pallet by the local patrol officers to be transported to he doctor’s office. She appeared to remain unconscious. Ichabod and Mailer stayed close to the woman as she was being lifted, at one point deliberately blocking James’ attempt to kneel next to his wife.

“If you and Mrs. Parker would kindly go ahead and hold open the front entrance, we will accompany your wife.” Ichabod said. James looked at Crane with pure malice, but indicated by a nod of his head, that he and Mrs. Parker would proceed ahead.

Even before he could bend over the prostrate woman, she was suddenly awake and tugging at Mailer’s sleeve. He bent his ear close to the woman’s lips. “Do not let Megan stay with them, I beg you. I beg you. And do not let Janelle come to this house ever again. Please do these things I am asking.”

As the stretcher carrying her, came within view of her husband, she quickly re-assumed an attitude of unconsciousness again.

Crane let the gurney continue on its way. He blocked James’ way with his arm. Crane said to the man firmly, “I will be sending over a patrol officer to guard Miss Megan. I am directing both you and Mrs. Parker to stay away from the child. If you do not follow my instructions I shall have the Chief Constable approve a removal order for the girl. And that my dear Mr. Wellington-Trumbell would certainly raise a lot of unpleasantness. Now good night to you both.”

Ichabod and Mailer walked over to their own carriage waiting for them and climbed in.

Mailer slowly shook his head. “My god, Crane, what a day! With each break through another mystery presents itself. If you don’t mind, after we drop you off at the constabulary, I will go on to the Van Ernst’s. I think it best if I talk to Janelle and explain that we will need to keep watch of her for several days.”

“Yes” Crane answered. “Before you go, if you don’t mind, gather the statements made by the staff members at the patrol station. And have them delivered to my office. But I will not be going there now. I prefer to be dropped off at my home.” Mailer looked a little startled at the quiet tone of confidence in which Ichabod spoke. ‘Do not pull such a long face Mailer, things may look dark at the moment, but I believe I see light ahead. All will be known soon. Go and look after your Janelle.”

The carriage pulled up in front of the Constables house and he leapt down. “Cheer up, Mailer. You are going to get a citation and a raise in pay out of this.”



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