Murder Most Posh: A Mrs. Xavier Stayton Mystery

BOOK: Murder Most Posh: A Mrs. Xavier Stayton Mystery
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MURDER MOST POSH

 

A MRS. XAVIER STAYTON MYSTERY

 

 

 

 

Robert Colton

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events in this story are fictional or used fictitiously.

 

MURDER MOST CONVENIENT

Copyright © 2014 Robert Colton

All rights reserved.

ISBN:

ISBN-13:

Published by Seventh Zone Press,

Saint Louis, Missouri 

Printed in the USA

Cover photo by Cameron Whitman

Cover design by Robert Colton

 

 

 

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 

First Printing November 2014

 

 

 

For more information:

www.robertcolton.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In memory of

Beverly Wagner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don’t know what I did before that. Just loafed, I suppose.”

 

 

-P. G. Wodehouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also By Robert Colton

 

 

Rome to Alexandria:

A Collection of Short Stories

 

Pompeii:

A Tale of Murder in Ancient Rome

 

Pompeii:

A Conspiracy Among Friends

 

Pompeii:

Hazard at Bay

 

Pompeii:

Pluto’s Maze

 

and

 

MURDER MOST CONVENIENT

A Mrs. Xavier Stayton Mystery

 

 

                                         
                     October 18
th
, 1927 

Mr. Francis Lazenby

Red Star Line International

Public Relations Agent 

 

Dear Mr. Francis Lazenby,                                           

    Greetings to you on this day. Enclosed with this letter, you will find a copy of the manuscript that I have written after my crossing on board the Red Star Line’s RMS
Olivia
. This is the same body of work that I am sending to my prospective agent, so you will find it is not a completed work, and there are notes to my potential editor. All the same, once you have read the story, I am sure that you will approve of my request to include the name of the ship and the names of her crew in the finished novel. 

   My lawyer has told me that some companies are quite finicky about allowing their names to appear in print. As I am currently being sued by my late husband’s cousin-in-law in regards to a different manuscript, I would very much like to avoid any other undo legal matters.  

   I have described the details of my trip aboard your company’s beautiful ship just as they have occurred. No embellishments have been made on my part. However, I have justly flattered the opulence of the RMS
Olivia
and told a thrilling account of my travels. I cannot see why your company would object to its name being used.  

   Furthermore, as I do so love the ship, I hope that after you have read my manuscript, you will immediately contact your supervisors and see to it that the lifetime ban of traveling with the Red Star Line that has been imposed on me is lifted.

   Thank you for your time, and I do so hope that my work meets with your enthusiastic approval. 

Most Sincerely,

Mrs. Xavier Stayton  

 

Chapter One

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden in the pantry, peering through the slats, I watched our maid Clarice as she consumed four hard-boiled eggs while smoking a cigarette and flipping through the pages of a less-than-reputable newspaper.

   Clarice was a mousey little thing. Ill-mannered and clumsy, she remained employed as a member of our household only because my mother-in-law and I never discussed anything other than pleasant topics with each other. Clarice was not a pleasant topic.

   As the maid sat at the kitchen table, flicking her ash
almost
into the ashtray, the rest of the house stood at peace. Porcelain vases, framed art, and prized Oriental rugs were left unbroken or marred, at least until the maid felt obliged to return to work.

   She popped another egg into her mouth and chewed it like a dog licking peanut butter. I watched her relaxed manner with delight. Practicing my sleuthing skills on Clarice was rather less strenuous than keeping up with my previous subjects.

   After reading a handful of whodunits and detective novels, it seemed to me that I should experience “tailing” someone firsthand. Thus, one morning, just seconds after my mother-in-law left the house, I ran to the street and waved down a taxi. After leaping inside, I told the driver, “Follow that car!” He looked down the avenue, and there was no sight of our black sedan. Disappointed, I told him to drive me to Mother Stayton’s favorite department store.

   Slinking behind racks of gowns at H and N, I found myself rather astonished by how quickly the woman amassed a large collection of items to purchase. By the time she spotted me, lurking behind a mannequin, she sighed and told me with great relief, “Oh, how fortunate you are here. Go fetch Humphrey; it will take him several trips to schlep this all out to the car.”

   Next, I attempted to shadow my dear friend Lucy as she went out to complete a list of errands. This proved most disastrous, as she caught a glimpse of me from the start and rightly assumed my intentions. Leading me on quite the chase, our adventure ended when the curator of the London Museum of Antiquities contacted the police and had us questioned. Apparently, Lucy’s fugitive dashes from one wing to another had caught the notice of the docents. The curator was most embarrassed when he recognized me. Mother Stayton and I have always been generous to the museum. After rushing off the constable, apologizing wildly, and thanking us for our recent gift, he encouraged Lucy and me to continue “our game of hide-and-seek” on the third floor. Apparently, the Oriental curiosities currently on display were not drawing a crowd.  

    Spying on the fellow who manages our finances proved a bit more confusing. Mr. Jack left the house in his own little unreliable motorcar one afternoon. With a scarf tied about my hair to conceal my identity, I waited just up the street in Xavier’s roadster. Following Mr. Jack, I couldn’t fathom why he pulled over, sprang out of his car, and let a bit of air out of all four of the tires. I followed him, then, to the petrol station and parked across the street.

    After rushing into the station, he excitedly led a rather handsome mechanic out to his car. With the inspection of the tires completed, the mechanic returned with an air pump, and, with bulging biceps, he inflated Mr. Jack’s inner tubes. I just wasn’t sure what to make of all this.

   Clarice, yes, she was the perfect subject. I began to wonder just how long I had been in the pantry watching her. With six hard-boiled eggs eaten, the rag of a paper read nearly through, and several cigarettes now smoked, it was a relief that Mr. Jack handled the young woman’s wages or I would have felt inclined to dock her.

  I almost leapt when the house telephone rang. I placed both of my hands to my mouth and tried to take a deep breath as my heart raced. Clarice, with little a care, smashed out her newly lit cigarette and stood from the table. Lifting the earpiece from the telephone, she placed herself close to the mouthpiece and timidly said, “Clarice speaking.” She paused to listen to the speaker and then said, “Yes, she’s here; she’ll be right about.” Clarice then placed the earpiece on top of the telephone and said, “Mrs. Xavier, a letter just arrived for you from New York. Ms. Lucy is waiting for you in the drawing room with it.”

    I leapt out of the pantry. “How did you know I was in there?”

    The little woman shrugged and said, “Sacks o’ potatoes don’t smell like Black Narcisse.”

   I glared back at Clarice, unsure how to respond, but quite sure that she thought I had lost my marbles.

***

       Lucy’s lovely dark eyes widened as I rushed toward her. Completely forgetting my manners, I plucked the envelope from her hand. My own hands began to shake wildly, leaving me no other choice than to force the letter back to my dear friend and beg, “Open it; read it!”

   Lucy tore at the envelope with her slim little fingers. She took the folded letter out and shook it open.

   “From Mr. Harland Orenstein: Dear Mrs. Stayton, thank you for sending me your
most
unique piece of work. After thoroughly reading the manuscript, I do not believe that I am the correct literary agent to represent your work. I wish you the best of luck in your publishing endeavor…” Lucy’s lyrical voice went silent.

   I took the letter from my friend. My hands were no longer shaking. Quickly, I reread this brief message. I was quite puzzled by his disinterest. There weren’t enough lines to
read between
.
Had he not liked the mystery, the characters, or my way of telling the story? Certainly, this was not the response that I had anticipated.

   I poured my heart into my manuscript. The death of Ms. Phyllis Masterson and my deduction of her murderer made for a most spellbinding adventure. My dearest friends, with no reason to lie to me, all agreed that the work was brilliant. 

  “Mr. Harland Orenstein, you are in error,” I remarked, more or less thinking aloud. 

   Forcing a pleasant smile, Lucy said, “Well, you must contact a different agent.”

   Mr. Orenstein represented the current queen of whodunits. It was my intention to rival this author, who spun the tales solved by her little foreign detective. What better agent than the man who put her on the literary map?

   “I’ll do no such thing,” I responded, admittedly on the defense.

   Reaching for the little covered candy dish on a nearby table, I removed a clove and placed it on my tongue. The sweet, spicy taste began to ease my cares.

  I crossed the room to gaze upon the photograph of my dear Xavier. The image was, of course, captured in black and white, but my mind saw him in vivid color, just as he had lived. Piercing blue eyes, sun-kissed tan skin, porcelain white teeth, and his pale blond hair.

   I hadn’t written my novel for fame or wealth. I had written it so that, on the dedication page, I might inscribe the words,
To My Dearest Xavier, our brief time together remains endless.

   This would not be taken away from me. My book would be published; my dedication would be immortalized.

   “I need to speak to Mr. Jack,” I told Lucy, rushing from the room like a startled rabbit.

   “Why?” she called.

   Looking over my shoulder, I told her, “We are going to New York!”

 

 

   Three bellhops gazed in amazement as our chauffeur pointed at the various pieces of luggage that were strapped to our black sedan. My mother-in-law had insisted on taking Lucy and me shopping for appropriate travel wardrobes once I informed her that we were sailing to New York.

   Although scheduled for a single week in the States, Mother Stayton had obliged us to pack for a full season. It was always my first intention to agree with her rather than to reason with the good-hearted woman.

   “Just the overnight bags,” I reminded the driver. Of course, they were buried deeply beneath a layer of hefty suitcases. How we’d managed to make it from Holland Park to Southampton without the cords giving way, I have no idea.

   “It looks as if we have packed everything but the kitchen sink,” I remarked.

   My mother-in-law’s eyebrows arched as she gazed back to the baggage. “Kitchen sink, dear?”

   Lucy chimed in, “It’s just an expression; she means that we are prepared for anything.”

   “Oh, yes, quite,” replied Viviane Burk Stayton, missing the point.

    Along the drive from home, I had asked several times if Mother Stayton wished to change her mind and join us. The woman’s apparel suggested quite a nautical frame of mind. Her ashen blonde hair was mostly concealed by a rather fancy hat, and a lovely navy blue gown accentuated the curves of her body.

   My mother-in-law easily attracted the notice of the opposite sex. Striking for any age, a bit of youthfulness still clung to her. (Now, here, I think an editor might be of help. In my previous novel, I already described the appearances of my mother- in-law, Lucy, and myself. In this, my second offering, how necessary is it to point out that Lucy has marvelous dark hair, a beautiful face, and a striking figure, or that I’m un-unique with auburn hair, even features, and good complexion?)

   She insisted that Lucy and I travel on without her. With a minimum of six days at sea on either side of our stay in New York, it would take her twice as long to reschedule her busy social calendar.

   Once in the hotel, Lucy and I followed Mother Stayton to the registration desk, where she politely informed a smiling employee that we had a reservation.

   Some confusion about the date caused a cluster of well-tailored men to converge on the desk and flip through the reservation book a great number of times.

   Lucy and I sat on a delicate little bench and took in the opulence of the hotel. Gold brocade lined the walls above and below rich dark wainscoting. The carpet was deep burgundy, and while it had no pattern woven into it, the light reflecting from the multitude of crystal chandeliers cast a rainbow-like formation of pinpoints about the plush flooring. 

   Watching Mother Stayton tap at the reservation book with a manicured finger, I could see that the storm would be quick. Only a woman as pampered as she could turn any slight miscommunication into a full-blown incident.

   Others about the lobby began to hear my mother-in-law’s voice above the usual din of noise. As heads turned in her direction, the hotel staff attempted to pacify her. I suspected with one pitchy cry of dissatisfaction, we would soon be whisked away and presented with three of the finest rooms the establishment had to offer. 

   Lucy leaned into me and suggested, “Should I be taking notes?”

   We had fallen into the habit of recording various examples of behaviors that I might include in any future manuscripts. I answered with a shrug, knowing that the scene was soon to end.

   Raising his voice over an irate Viviane Burk Stayton’s shrill cry for compassion and justice, the senior manager assured her, “We will have our three finest rooms made ready as soon as humanly possible.”

   Satisfied, she fell silent and bowed her head to the man. I was quite relieved that Lucy and I would be off to the port the following day and would not have to play witness to Mother Stayton checking out of the hotel. I dare say the discount she’d demand due to the confusion over the reservation might include them cutting a check to her.

   Contented, she crossed the lobby and smiled at the two of us. “Our rooms aren’t ready yet; perhaps we should have a drink.”

   We followed Mother Stayton into a large ballroom set with little tables and arranged furniture. A slim woman sat at a harp and strummed a soft, elegant tune.

   “A glass of sherry,” said Mother Stayton after the waiter greeted us.

   “The same, please,” I said to the man.

   “May I have a glass of orange juice?” asked dear, sweet Lucy.

   “She’ll have a sherry too,” said Mother Stayton to the waiter, and then to Lucy, “You won’t get scurvy on board the
Olivia.
It is the most luxurious ship on the seas.”

   Lucy blushed. “They say that even a second-class berth on the RMS
Olivia
is finer than a first-class cabin on any other ship.”

   Mother Stayton’s eyes widened as if Lucy had just said something highly unpatriotic. “Dear child, that might be, but remember, you aren’t traveling second class on the
Olivia.
You are traveling first class.”

   Lucy’s complexion turned even pinker.

  “Such a shame Mr. Jack couldn’t get you your usual cabin.” Mother Stayton said this just loudly enough for anyone near us to hear. Already, at the mention of the RMS
Olivia
, several necks had craned in our direction.

   “Well, we did book passage at the last moment,” I said, lowering my own pitch.

  “All the same, as many times as you’ve traveled on the
Olivia
, you’d think they would be more accommodating.”

  Mother Stayton smiled and nodded her head at a few people who looked in her direction. It wasn’t so much the mention of the famous liner that caught their attention as her raised voice.

BOOK: Murder Most Posh: A Mrs. Xavier Stayton Mystery
11.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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