Today's Reading

Before long Beatrice was obsessively collecting papers, desperate for news on the hunt for the killer. Her family thought it strange that Beatrice, once so social, began to forgo their evening card game to lock herself upstairs. Beatrice, enthused by her newfound passion, dropped hints that she was in love. She knew this was the only way to pacify her mother and guarantee hours left alone for her to "swoon and fantasize"—or whatever it was women did in these situations. Her mother happily accepted this excuse.

In a way, Beatrice was in love. She was gripped by the potential motive for the murder, the clues indicating that the killer may have known the victim, the way every detail surrounding the case had potential significance. It also didn't hurt that Sir Huxley was devastatingly handsome. In his newspaper etching he was strong-jawed, with an asp-topped cane and a pristine top hat. His assistant was a man named Inspector Vivek Drake, a man with a scarred face and eye patch. Drake's newspaper etching was far less flattering; he was always pictured with a scowl. Therefore, Beatrice was not surprised when the unseemly Drake pointed the finger at the young lady, Verity Swan. Sir Huxley admirably defended her honor and innocence, ever the true gentleman.

Ultimately in the DeBurbie case, the butler was charged and Huxley hailed a hero. He fired his scowling assistant, Drake, and opened a luxurious office near the West End. Thereafter, the crime column transitioned into an account of Huxley's day-to-day as a private investigator. Beatrice followed it with relish, imagining herself next to Huxley, peeking into alleys or discussing theories in his mahogany study. She underlined intriguing details with flowing lines and doodled "Huxley and Steele" in each article's margins. She even attempted to stitch a cameo of the gentleman. Her lack of skill at needlework ensured her interest would remain undetected, as everyone thought she had embroidered a potato.

Unfortunately in Swampshire all of this made her—one shudders to even say—a morbid creep. There are many types of creeps, of course: the peeping Toms, the lurkers, those who dare to show up at a party twelve minutes earlier than an invitation states—but in Swampshire, creeps of the morbid variety were considered the most unsavory. If anyone found out about Beatrice's secret obsession, she would be publicly disgraced and shunned. Politely, but completely.

Therefore she knew her hobby could not last. A gentleman might have been able to live in both worlds, but not a lady. Certainly not a lady in Swampshire. Eventually, Beatrice would have to grow up and become a respectable woman for the sake of herself and her family. This would likely occur next week, she always assured herself. Or, possibly, the week after.

But today, she found herself in the turret of Marsh House, the Steeles' cramped but charming home, trying to fit in an examination of one more article before the evening's ball. She was so absorbed that she barely noticed the muffled sounds of her father tying a bucket of water above a door frame somewhere downstairs.

Mr. Stephen Steele was lanky and bald, with a curled mustache and a penchant for pranks. His collection of fake blood capsules, array of rubber knives, and tendency to hide in dark corners and jump out at his daughters had likely contributed to Beatrice's spirited disposition. She always brought a sharp wit to the table, and he always brought a pooting pillow. (The pooting pillow was Mr. Steele's invention and his most prized possession. It was an inflatable rubber cushion that, when placed on an unsuspecting victim's seat, would create the loud sound of broken wind.) Nothing thrilled Mr. Steele more than pretending to die into his soup. His commitment to this bit would have been applauded if the joke did not instill such fear in his wife and daughters. The Steele women were not permitted to inherit their estate, as its deed dictated that it could be granted only to a man. The Steeles had no fortune to fall back on; the house was their only asset. Therefore, should Mr. Steele ever fall into his soup and not pop up cackling, the mansion would pass to their closest male relative, cousin Martin Grub. If one of the girls could simply marry Mr. Grub, everything would be fine, but he was completely disgusting, so this was unlikely.

Which is why Beatrice's mother had to be the practical one in the marriage. Mrs. Susan Steele was a formidable (albeit short) woman. What she lacked in height she made up for in loudness of voice, confidence of demeanor, and a seven-inch updo. It was from Mrs. Steele that Beatrice inherited her keen understanding of human nature, though Mrs. Steele used this to gain friends and exert influence instead of to analyze criminals. Organized and outgoing, Mrs. Steele knew how to put a plot into action. Her daughters' future marriages were Mrs. Steele's main scheme. If she spoke of anything apart from wedding bells, her family had yet to hear it.

"Beatrice!" As if on cue, Mrs. Steele interrupted Beatrice's concentration with a screech from the base of the turret's staircase. "You should not be hiding out up there! You must use any extra hours in the day to take a turn about the garden in case any gentlemen are watching! A lady is always one step ahead."

Beatrice glanced outside. Shadowy swampland surrounded Marsh House, and the deep green of the land blurred with the darkening sky. A storm is coming, she thought with a delicious chill. It was hardly time for a walk. But as the eldest daughter who couldn't seem to get her nose out of a book and a ring on her finger, she was used to her mother's persistent pestering.
"What could you possibly be doing that's more important than finding a husband?" Mrs. Steele pressed.

The victims' entrails were ripped from their corpses and arranged in a heart.

"Thinking about my beloved," Beatrice said cheerfully, and stuffed a moth-eaten shawl under the door to stifle the sound of her mother's continued protests.

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