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  • Writer's pictureHugo Earnshaw-Saran

Phantasmal Inheritance



My favourite case of all time was one I received in the early days of my investigation agency. My real name is Parker Beaufort-Parker, but I drop the second ‘Parker’ for obvious reasons so I just go by Parker Beaufort.


It all began on a hot summer afternoon. I was sitting at my desk…


“Maybe we can investigate the case of why I’ve yet to get a single case this year,” I muttered to myself as I stared at the phone, which had refused to ring.


Until—it suddenly rang. I straightened my back and picked up the phone.


“Parker Beaufort Investigations,” I said, as I untangled the cord.


It was Lilith Wolfstern, one of the richest women in the state, and she wanted me to come meet her at the Wolfstern Estate. I wanted to sound busy, so I said I couldn’t make it over there until the next morning.


“That’ll be fine,” she said curtly and hung up.



--------------


I drove over there early the next morning. Wolfstern Estate had a gothic-style mansion, covered with ornate windows. It was surrounded by extensive gardens and a large iron fence for privacy. I was buzzed through the front gates and approached the main house.


When I got there, I was greeted by a woman who I guessed was in her eighties. She wore a deep green cashmere jumper and a purple wool coat. Her clothes were plain, but clearly very expensive. The wrinkles on her face deepened as she smiled to greet me.


“Parker! Do you remember me?” Lilith said.


A memory came rushing back. Blooming flowers beside a large mansion. My heart was warm at that moment. A slightly younger Lilith walked through the garden, a welcoming smile on her face.


“Yes, I do Ms. Wolfstern.”


“Oh, you mustn't be so formal with me. Our families used to run in the same circles,” she said with a sly smile. She gestured for me to follow her, “Come with me, to a more private place so we can talk openly.”


She led me to her garden. I sat down with her on a bench.


“What would you like me to investigate, Ms. Wolf—sorry, how would you like me to address you?” I remembered I called her Auntie Lilly, when I was very young, but that didn’t seem appropriate now.


“Please, call me Lilith.” She gazed at her mansion. “I don’t know how much you know about the history of my family.”


I had done my research, of course, but my parents also used to occasionally socialise with the Wolfstern family, so I was familiar with their story. Lilith’s grandfather was the founder of Wolfstern Industries, which was famous for its extremely intricate and expensive umbrellas and eyewear. The entire family lived in the Wolfstern Manor, a sprawling estate in our small town. Lilith’s father sold the company decades ago—no one knew for exactly how much, but the rumours were that generations of that family would never have to work again. It seemed to be true. Sadly.


“I live off my inheritance, which includes this home. My children and grandchildren still live here, and have never had real jobs so they just hang around like a bad smell.” She wrinkled her nose. “They behave like they can just grab a pound of gold from the Wolfstern fortune anytime they want.”


“Are they wrong?” I asked.


“They will be soon. I’m selling the house, or that’s my plan. I listed this place off-market months and months ago, with people making discreet inquiries for me - not many people can afford a home like this, of course—and once it sells, I want to disappear. I’m hoping to escape to the city with Bunny.” Lilith said in a serious tone. “Bunny is the only one who has never taken me for granted and truly loves me unconditionally. I haven’t told the rest of the family about this, so please keep it to yourself.”


“Of course. So, Lilith, how can I help?”


“I finally have a serious buyer. My lawyer ran a background check and they can afford it. The problem is, things have been happening around the Wolfstern Manor, strange things. And the buyer has heard that the house is ‘haunted’.” She sighed. “The house isn’t haunted. I didn’t believe ghost stories when I was a child, and I still don’t. But they don’t want to take any chances and have asked me to prove it. If I can do that, then they’ll take this place off my hands and I’ll be free.”


“Okay, so you want me to find out who’s doing this and why they’re doing it.” I said. “But why me?”


“Because… you understand. What it’s like to be a family like ours. You get it. You’re someone I can openly talk about money with. I am certainly sorry about what happened with your father and gambling the company away–”


“That was a long time ago. It does not need to be mentioned.” I looked down at my notebook.


“You came to the house with your parents once or twice when you were young. I always thought you were a humble, caring, and clever child. Remember when we sat on this bench, talking about flowers and how funny it was that there were lilies just like my name?”


I smiled at the memory.


“And how are your parents?” Lilith continued. “I haven’t seen them since…your father’s poker game.”


I felt uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to show it. “They’re ok. They don’t go out much, and I still live with them at the big house,” I said quietly.


“You know, the Beaufort-Parker mansion was so spectacular when your grandparents lived there. I haven’t been there in a long time.”


“It needs a lot of work now,” I said. “But it’s liveable.”


The Beaufort-Parker estate was smaller than Wolfstern Estate, but still impressive. My great-grandfather founded a railway company that became very successful. Unfortunately, my father had trouble stopping himself from gambling, and famously lost the company in a poker game when I was ten. Things changed a lot after that, but my parents refused to sell the house. It was a heavy weight that I had to carry.


“See?” Lilith leaned in. “You understand how much work and money it takes to keep these homes in good shape. It’s exhausting.”


I did understand. And I wanted to see Wolfstern Manor in its full glory. Lilith agreed to show me around the house.


We walked through some French doors into the drawing room and were greeted by Lilith’s children and grandchildren. I knew not all the smiles were genuine.





------------




“Now, you must know that a tour of Wolfstern Manor would not be complete without the introduction of my children and grandchildren,” Lilith said as she started introducing the children.


“This is my daughter Ophelia, but we call her Pelly. She loves her plants dearly, and wanted to be a horticulturist when she was young.” Even though it was dark outside, Ophelia was wearing a sunhat indoors. She had shining pearl earrings and overalls that were made especially for working in fields. “She’s not a horticulturist, but she does mess around in my gardens,” Lilith added dismissively.


“That’s my son Theodore—Teddy—at the grand piano over there.” She pointed at a tall, dark-haired man sitting at a walnut Steinway in the corner. Most of his face was obscured by shadows in the corner of the room. “Teddy’s always had a passion for music, so we got him that grand piano for his eighth birthday. He never passed any piano exams, but he still likes to play.” Teddy’s enigmatic smile looked strained at that comment. He looked away from me, and started playing Mozart’s Ronda Alla Turca.


“Here we have my grandson Magnus,” Lilith said as she pointed at a boy in his late teens with messy black hair. “We call him Maggy most of the time.”


“No, it’s Maggot!” A voice shot out.


“Cordelia! Not in front of our guest!” Lilith said sharply to the young woman in the leather armchair. “Please excuse my granddaughter. There appears to be some sibling discord that we need to deal with later.”


Lilith took a deep breath. “As I was saying, we call him Maggy.”


Cordelia slumped down in the armchair and started scrolling on her phone.


“Maggy loves dead bugs, and collects them, and the best thing is it’s ethical because he just finds them dead and brings them to hold a funeral in his room.”


“But the funeral is not a standard funeral,” Pelly spoke up. “He researches anatomy using wooden tools he created himself to surgically remove organs.”


I would never phrase an open heart surgery as a funeral, but then again, I wouldn’t be surprised to find the name Wolfstern as a synonym of quirky in the thesaurus.


“I’d be happy to show you my collection,” Maggy volunteered. I shuddered at the thought of seeing that many dead bugs in one place.


The door to the hallway, which was ajar, pushed open.


“Oh! Bunny!,” Lilith said with delight. “This is Bunny, my favourite child.”


Everyone else rolled their eyes but I noticed they were careful not to let Lilith see them. Bunny made herself comfortable on the sofa.


“And you’ve already sort of met Cordy—Cordelia,” Lilith glared at her. “She always has her eyes glued to her phone, which makes it quite hard to tell if she's listening to you or not when you’re talking to her,” she said through clenched teeth.


“She’s trying to be an ‘influencer’ on social media,” Pelly said defensively.


“Oh it’s trying all right. I don’t know what it means and I don’t care.” Lilith said with a wave of her hand. Cordy scoffed and rolled her eyes.


“Well, I can see you’re all very…busy. So I will continue with the tour. Bunny, will you join us?” Lilith said as she turned to leave the room.


I noticed that Pelly, Teddy, Maggy and Cordy all let their smiles fade as soon as Lilith turned her back.




--------------



Outside in the main entrance hall of the house, Lilith continued showing me around. She first pointed at the chandelier on the ceiling, shaped like an umbrella. Wolfstern Industries was known for expensive umbrellas and eyewear, and her grandfather had commissioned a number of different pieces that were dotted around the mansion.


Lilith then showed her brass earrings that looked like umbrellas. “This is a family heirloom. My grandfather commissioned it and gave it as a fifteenth wedding anniversary gift to my grandmother.”


Lilith’s grandfather also had an impressive art collection. I stopped to admire several of the baroque paintings, and as we entered Lilith’s study, she gestured at a large oil painting of a young woman with a beautiful black and rust floppy-eared Doberman.


“What do you think of this one?” Lilith said with a smile. I looked at the descriptive plate below it: “Lilith and Indiana”.


“It’s you!” I exclaimed.


“Yes, with my grandfather’s favourite dog. She was everyone’s favourite, actually. I know it might seem a bit egotistical to have this up, but he commissioned it when I was 18, and I think it’s no different to having photos in the house.”


I agreed.


“I had a Doberman too, when I was young. She was so loving and we cared for each other so much.” I felt a pang of nostalgia.


“I remember,” Lilith said, looking at me. “She was a beautiful dog. Have you had another dog since?”


I shook my head. “No. I would like to, but it was a big loss and there’s so much to do at work and with the house…”


Lilith put her hand on my arm. “They’re like our children; a part of the family. You’ll know when you’re ready,” she said kindly.


I wiped my eyes. “Shall we get to work?”


“Come, have a seat,” Lilith sat down at her desk, and I made myself comfortable on a couch opposite to her. “Is there anything you want to know?”


“Can you tell me what strange things have been happening in the house?”


“Of course! First, I had a group of ladies over for dinner a couple of months ago. Around my age, lovely people. The dinner was going well, until maggots started crawling out of the food before we started dining! And who likes maggot infestations?”


“That certainly is…undesirable,” I said, taking notes. “Has anything else happened?”


“Many nights, when the clock strikes 3:00 am, creepy deep notes are played on the piano. We’re a superstitious bunch, and so are many of the people I know, so it is quite the fright. I didn’t think anyone would find out about that, but somehow the local gossip columnist, Edna, got wind of the story and wrote about it!” Lilith was exasperated. “No one wants to buy a haunted house, Parker! At least not one that costs as much as this one.”


I nodded in agreement. “Who do you think is doing these things?”


“I suspect someone in this house is doing it. No one else would be able to get in.” Lilith shook her head in frustration. “For the maggots…my grandson, Magnus would make the most sense. He collects insects — especially the otherwise disgusting ones.. It is utterly disgusting, and I am ashamed of him. He said he wants to become an entomologist, but he’s never tried to study it properly!” Lilith said, obviously annoyed with her grandson’s laziness.


“But my son Teddy is the one who plays the piano. Magnus is hopeless at it. And Teddy would never touch a maggot. He’s too scared to even swat a mosquito. So I really don’t know.”


I returned to the Beaufort-Parker estate and started by sending a short email to Edna, the gossip columnist, to politely inquire who her sources were.



-


WIth that, the investigation had officially begun, and I was ready to interview. Destination — the Wolfstern estate.


I arrived at the big doors and was let in by the butler, Edward.


Although I was taking the investigation very seriously, I wanted it to appear informal; my plan was to wander around the estate and casually bump into family members I wanted to interview. Since they were all lazy heirs and heiresses, I guessed they would probably be around.


I found Ophelia in the garden, watering hyacinths. I took off my sunglasses and approached her.


“Ophelia?”


She looked up. “Oh, hello. Please, call me Pelly. It’s Parker, right?”


“Yes, that’s right. Parker.”


There was an awkward silence. The ratio of the family’s quirkiness to their ability to make a conversation awkward at this rate could probably be equivalent.


“How are you?” I wasn’t always great at conversation either.


“My hyacinths are getting eaten by caterpillars.” She sighed. “So you’re here to…?”


“Your mother asked me to look into some of the strange things that have been happening on the estate. She’s worried there might be a security breach.”


Pelly took off her gardening gloves. “And why are you coming to me? I don’t know anything about that stuff.”


“Oh I was just going for a walk and admiring the gardens. Are you in charge of them?”


“Uh, sort of. We have a head gardener of course, but I provide critical advice and supervision.” Pelly smiled broadly. “Hyacinths are my favourite flower. Do you like them?”


I had never given any thought to hyacinths before. But I said, “Of course! Their distinct colours are beautiful to look at. They’re one of my favourites too.”


Pelly looked delighted. “By the way, did my mother say your name is Parker Beaufort?”


“Yes.”


“As in, from the Beaufort-Parker family?”


“That’s us.”


“Oh I’m so sorry about what happened with your father. Gambling is such a horrible addiction.”


I smiled and tried to look relaxed. “It’s ok. It was a long time ago. He hasn’t played cards since.”


“But still, to lose everything like that. I wouldn’t ever be able to handle that.” Pelly looked at me carefully. “But you still have the house, right?”


“We still live there. It needs a bit of work, but we manage.” Time to change the subject. “Have you lived here, in this house, your whole life?”


“Of course! Why would anyone ever leave this house? Can you imagine?” Pelly gestured at the mansion. “Even when I got married and had my children, we always lived here.”


“And is that the same for your brother as well?”


Pelly laughed. “Teddy would never leave. I mean, he occasionally goes into town to get coffee or tea, but otherwise he does not leave.”


“And your children?”


“Of course! The only time that Maggy leaves is when he’s going to find some bugs nearby, and Cordy is always in her room!”


I didn’t mean if they literally ever leave the house, but it sounds like they only leave the estate for a minor amount of exceptions.


“Your brother seems to be a very talented pianist. Do you ever play?”


“Well…I used to. Every once in a while mother would make me take a piano class with Teddy, but I haven’t touched a keyboard in decades.”


“I was intrigued to hear about your son’s insect collection,” I said, trying a different angle.


“Oh Maggy is the best! Actually, he and I have quite a symbiotic relationship when it comes to our hobbies and interests. He helps me tackle the bugs that are troubling my plants and sometimes takes them for his collection.”


“But he only collects dead bugs?”


“Yes. As a mother, it is my duty to encourage his passions, not judge them.” Pelly placed a hand on her heart.


“But he does handle live bugs, such as when he’s helping in the garden?” I asked.


“Oh I know what you’re going to say, that Maggy is responsible for those maggots at that horrible dinner because he happens to be a bug enthusiast. But I know for a fact that he couldn’t have done that, because he was seeing the doctor for a bee sting that afternoon, and didn’t finish until dinner had already started.”


That was some intriguing information to be heard.


“Thanks, Pelly. Hope the bugs stop bothering your hyacinths!”


“Sure, we’ll be hoping together!”


-


Back inside the main house, I removed my hat and quickly put the notebook I had hidden in it in my pocket, to be written in later.


When I walked up onto the second level, I found Cordelia taking selfies in front of a giant baroque-style painting that featured a bearded man, holding out his hands.


“Oh, Cordelia! What a surprise to see you here.”


“Ugh, it’s Cordy. And plus, I’m here all the time.” She looked at her phone. “My post of this painting is going to be so popular.”


A baroque painting didn’t seem like something that would go viral, but I kept my opinion to myself.


“What is the painting called?” I asked.


“I don’t know, ‘EXPENSIVE’? Ugh, do I look like an art expert to you?”


Definitely not. “So…you’re an influencer?”


“What’s that supposed to mean?” she snapped.


“Uh…” Clearly I had not prepared enough for this conversation. “I meant, what kind of an influencer are you?”


“A rich one? Duh.” She took another selfie on cue. “I post my outfits, take photos around the house. Have you seen some of the heirlooms my grandmother has? People love seeing rich people stuff.”


“Oh that’s cool. Have you got a big following?”


“DO YOU?!” She rolled her eyes. I didn’t have any personal social media accounts, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. Cordy looked defensive. “I’ve only been doing this for two years, ok? The algorithm is working against me because I’m young, pretty and privileged. But it’s only a matter of time before I make it big.”


“...C-college?” I asked, nervously.


Cordy shot daggers at me with her eyes. “What?”


“Do you…have any plans to go to college?” She was still glaring at me. “I mean, people your age often move out and go to college.”


“Why would I do that? This place is the best. It doesn’t get any better than here.”


Finally, an opening. “Even with these strange things going on around the house?”


“Sure, they’re creepy, but they’re great for Instagram stories.”


“Did you post about the maggots at dinner?” I asked, as I tried to get a look at what her Instagram account was.


“Ugh, no! As if! But you know, ghosts, piano playing in the middle of the night, people eat that stuff up.” Cordy took another selfie. “I know you’re interviewing me. It’s pretty obvious that my stupid brother was the one who put the maggots in the food.”


“But your mother said she took Magnus to the doctor for a bee sting that afternoon.”


“Firstly, I call him “Maggot”?” Cordy’s upspeak was unbearable. “And secondly? He saw the doctor, but the doctor came here. There was plenty of opportunity.”


“So, while we’re on the topic of strange things happening around the house, do you know anything about the piano playing at midnight?”


“Well, other than being a great alarm clock if you’re a super early bird? I don’t see the point of the piano playing? The only person that could pull that off is my uncle.” Cordy said with a very direct accusation. “Why are you asking me this stuff? It’s just common knowledge that he’s the best at the piano.”


“I hope your career as an influencer goes well.”


“Ugh, thank you?”


I left. By this point, I was done with the upspeak.





----------



I knew where I was going next. I heard the sound of soft piano keys flowing throughout the old mansion. I strolled towards the lounge and couldn’t help but be impressed by the beautiful grand piano.


“How did you know I would be here?” The back of Theodore’s head said to me as he stopped playing.


“I just followed the sound of the music.”


“I can tell that you’re going to interview me. Go ahead. Fire away.” He started playing again.


I moved around the Steinway so that I was looking at Theodore.


“Not an interview, Theodore; I just want to chat with you. Your mother is worried there might be a security breach. What do you think about what’s been happening around the house? The strange incidents?” I asked.


“Nada. That means ‘nothing’ in Spanish. I don’t know anything about the maggots at dinner nor the piano sounds at night. And please call me Teddy.”


“From what I hear, you’re the only one who plays the piano in the family.”


“That’s not true. I sometimes teach Pelly to play a bit of piano, and we all know that she likes maggots. Maybe even as much as that strange son of hers.” Teddy said.


“So you think it’s someone inside the house doing this? One person who plays the piano and can be around maggots?”


Teddy shrugged and played a few mysterious-sounding notes.


“Do you think it could be an outsider?”


Teddy played two recurring deep chord combinations that symbolised “no”. “Why would anyone bother?” he scoffed.


“But if it’s someone in your family… Do you think that someone is framing you by using the piano?”


He played keys that very much symbolised a ‘Dun, dun, dun!’


“I hope you have all the answers you needed because sadly I must excuse myself from this ‘interview’.”


He got up from the piano, and walked outside of the lounge - probably to dinner. It was late. Teddy was almost too quirky to be a suspect, and I hadn’t yet worked out why any of them would want to create rumours about Wolfstern Estate when they didn’t know that Lilith was planning to sell. I went to look at the sheet music on the piano when I spotted something behind it.


Either the rug had a small opening in it, or it was some sort of secret passageway.


I held one of the gaps in the rug and opened it like a trapdoor. Then, I saw a set of stairs that led to what looked like the inside of a room. An underground one. Against my better judgement, I went down and closed the trapdoor behind me.


Everything went dark. Using the flashlight on my phone, I could see the room was vacant. But there was a narrow hallway that led to other small rooms. A network of secret passageways underneath the house! Beaufort-Parker Manor had secret passageways too, but nothing that looked as extensive as this.


I picked one route at random, and lifted the trapdoor up a tiny bit. It led me to the kitchen.


I could hear the butler talking with someone. Then I heard the upspeak, and I knew it was Cordelia.


“We can’t keep this secret for long, we should be honest.” Edward, the butler, said to Cordelia. I started recording the conversation on my phone, just in case. My eavesdropping skills hadn’t been used to this extent in quite a long time.


“We have to. Remember, the goal is for us to stay here. If we get caught, Grandmother will kick us out, even if she doesn't sell the house.” Cordy snapped at Edward. So they knew about Lilith trying to sell the house. I checked to make sure my phone was still recording as Cordy continued. “She’ll never suspect we did it, not while her eyes are on my disgusting brother. The maggots were a great plan.”


“But he didn’t do it. I agreed to turn a blind eye to what you and your mother were doing, but I didn’t agree to frame your brother. I’ve known you both since you were babies,” Edward said.


“Ugh, what difference does it make? No one will be able to prove that Magnus didn’t do it. Plus, they’re super disgusting, and everyone knows he’s obsessed with insects.”


Edward started to sound distressed. “But I was in the kitchen for the entire preparation of that meal. What if they start to suspect me? Everyone always says the butler did it!”


“Well it’s too late now. It’s already happened, and you’re involved. If we confess, Grandmother will be furious and she’ll kick you, me and mother out. In other words,” Cordelia scoffed. “Everything we were trying to avoid would happen.”


“I can’t believe how comfortable you are with lying.”


“And I can’t believe how weak you are,” Cordelia said in a harsh tone.


“You think I’m weak? I’ve been working for your family for most of my life. Before you were even born. If I get kicked out, I can find another job. What happens to you if your grandmother stops paying for everything?”


“Ugh, I am so done talking to you.” Cordelia scoffed as she walked out the kitchen.


“Leaving the room is not the power move you think it is!” Edward grunted, and then muttered: ”Child.”


With the recording, I had enough evidence for the maggots at dinner. I considered speaking to Edward, but I was worried he’d tell Cordy or Pelly and decided against it. I quietly closed the trapdoor and returned to the lounge via the secret passageway, before heading home.





--------



I wasn’t home for very long.


At midnight, I got an urgent call from Lilith. She said she needed me at the house straight away, and had sent her driver over to pick me up.


Edward let me into the mansion. Although it was very late at night, all of the lights were on and everyone was awake and I could hear conversations on the floors above.


“Come with me.” Lilith and I hurried up to her study and I saw it straight away: the painting of Lilith and Indiana had dozens of white flowers draped over it and scattered beneath it, all the way down to the carpet.


“They’re lilies of the valley,” Lilith said.


“Poisonous,” I added. It was one of the few flower facts that I knew.


“Very.” Lilith stared at the display. “And it’s very similar to my name.”


I was sure that was not a coincidence. This was not just any decoration, it was a threat to Lilith’s life.


“You should call the police, Mother,” Pelly said from behind us. Lilith jumped.


“I agree - I think we need to alert the authorities to something serious like this,” Teddy piped up. I turned around, and found the rest of the family standing there. Then, Teddy’s phone made a noise.


“Who’s calling you at this time of night, Teddy?” Pelly asked.


“No, it’s just an alarm.” Teddy muttered.


I looked at the clock: 2:45 am.


“I don’t want that kind of negative attention,” Lilith said firmly, giving me a meaningful glance. She didn’t want the potential hearing about another incident.


“Did anyone see or hear anything?” I asked them all. Everyone shook their heads.


Bunny appeared in the doorway.

“No no, out!” Lilith cried. “I don’t want Bunny to see this,” she added and hurried out.


Cordy was inspecting the flowers.


“Ooh, I have lily of the valley flowers on my Animal Crossing island,” Cordy said as she took a selfie in front of the painting.


I saw Magnus hanging back, and when his mother Pelly went to hug him, I noticed that he kept his hands in his pockets.




---------




Over breakfast the next morning, I read the reply I had received from Edna, the local gossip columnist.





--------


To: Parker Beaufort

From: Edna B


Dearest Parker,


I never thought I’d be hearing from a Beaufort-Parker!


I’m sorry to say that I never reveal my sources. I am a journalist with high standards! But I can assure you that they could not be closer to the family and I trust them 100 percent. It’s such a shame that the beautiful and renowned Wolfstern Estate is now considered haunted, but I must report what I hear. Do let me know if you hear any news - I pay money for good stories!


Keep me posted!


Edna B


-


I pinned the email up on my “evidence board” in the drawing room. The drawing room in Beaufort-Parker Manor looked old and worn, with holes in the antique rugs and dusty corners. Not very good for entertaining guests, but it was perfect as a home office and ideas room for me. Knowing that Pelly and her daughter Cordy were behind the maggots at dinner, my best guess was that one of them was the source of Edna’s gossip.


I was always pretty sure the perpetrator was not an outsider, but after my conversation with Edward I knew that for sure. Ophelia and Cordy had worked together to put the maggots in the food, and they dragged Edward into it with them. But what about the late-night piano ghost? And the lily of the valley floral display around the painting of Lilith.


I couldn’t get the image of Magnus with his hands in his pocket out of my mind.


I called Lilith.


“Oh I’m so glad you called,” she said. “The buyer is putting a lot of pressure on me. Do you have anything I can tell them?”


I told her I did. I had most of the puzzle in place, but not all of it, so it was a bit of a gamble. But sometimes I was my father’s child.


-


I had asked Lilith to gather the entire family and Edward in the lounge.


I opened the trapdoor and ascended from the secret passageway. I saw some looks of surprise. They didn’t expect me to know about the secret passageway.


“Why are we here? I’m bored.” Cordy said.


“Parker is about to tell us who has been causing me all this grief in the house,” Lilith said as she raised her hand to ask everyone to be quiet.


I stood in front of the fireplace.


“It’s funny,” I said. “Just like in my favourite movie - they all did it.”


“I’m sorry, what?” Lilith said in astonishment. “Who put the maggots in the food?”


“On the day of that dinner, Pelly snuck into her son’s room and found a location that he had on a map where he gets maggots, so she took some from that location.” Lilith gasped and stared at Pelly. “She gave the maggots to Cordy, who took a secret passageway into the kitchen. Edward caught her coming out of the passageway and threatened to tell Lilith. Cordy persuaded Edward to go along with the plan because she had found out that Lilith was selling, and was going to cut everyone from the fortune.”


“No, I didn’t do that. Bring some factual evidence to the table,” Edward said in distress.


“I was waiting for you to say that.” I played the recording I took of the conversation he had with Cordy.


“Of all people, you three did it? Why?” Lilith asked in confusion.


“Next is the painting. Magnus found out somehow that Pelly was helping Cordy frame him by putting maggots in the food. He responded harshly, and used lily of the valleys to make it seem like she had done it.” I looked at Pelly. “You have lily of the valleys in your garden, so it made a perfect choice for Magnus to frame you.”


“I didn’t do it though, and if I did, how would you know?” Magnus asked me.


“Take your hands out of your pockets.” I looked at his hands. “If I’m correct, you have lily pollen stains on them.”


“I don’t.”


“Then why are you hiding your hands?”


He slowly held his hands out, and Pelly gasped.


“Why? Why did you have to frame me?”


“Okay, I believe you, but who played the piano?” Lilith asked.


“Who is the only one in the entire family talented enough to play the piano?” I gestured towards Teddy.


“What? That’s absurd. It’s too obvious… did you, Teddy?” Pelly said in confusion.


“Did anyone else notice Teddy had an alarm go off shortly before 3am last night when we were all gathered around the painting?” I asked. “It was to wake him up to go play the piano.”


“Ugh, that’s so sloppy!” Cordy groaned.


Teddy drew back in shock. “I-I just thought everyone would think it was just a ghost! And plus, at least I wasn’t one of the people to frame a family member.”


“Wait, so you all knew that I was going to sell the house?” Lilith asked.


“Yes.” Pelly spoke for everybody.


“We just didn’t want you to sell so that we could all stay here as a family.” Cordy said, trying to smile sweetly as the others nodded their heads. Lilith looked unimpressed and asked them to leave.





---------




After everyone had left the room, Lilith sat down on the sofa with Bunny next to her.


“Well done, Parker. I knew you were the right person for the job, especially when I could see that Bunny trusts you.”


“That is a high compliment! So now that the house will sell, what will you do?” I asked.


Lilith looked deep in thought. “You know, I’ve always wanted to leave this big house and move to a two-bedroom apartment in the city with Bunny. To go to the grocery store. To be normal.”


“You’re not worried about your children coming to ask you for money?”


She shook her head with a smile. “I don’t plan on telling them where I’m going.” She stood up and held out her hand. “Hopefully I won’t need your services again, but I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me.”


We shook hands, and then she hugged me. I walked to the door and turned back to see Lilith beaming at Bunny. She looked genuinely happy.


One month later, Teddy, Pelly, Cordy and Maggy had all moved out. I heard that they protested, and Cordy threatened to sue, but Lilith had her lawyer talk to them and give each of them a small amount of money.


Lilith and Bunny left two weeks after that, and were never seen again.





EPILOGUE





It had been two years since my investigation at Wolfstern Estate, and I had heard nothing about or from Lilith. So I was surprised to receive a proper handwritten letter in the post.


-


Dear Parker,


I moved into the city with Bunny, and we love it here. We’ve made new friends, and I even joined a yoga group. Now I know what it’s like to live a normal life. I go down to the grocery store two blocks away once a week, and Bunny and I walk everywhere. Keeps us two older girls fit.


Thank you again for your help in making this possible for Bunny and me.


Best wishes,


Lilith W.



-----



I smiled as I read the letter. I looked around the interior of my room in the Beaufort-Parker mansion. After decades of neglect, the wallpaper was peeling and the paint had rubbed off. I thought to myself: “What if we restored the estate to its former glory?”



------



18 months later, I was sitting in the garden reading the local newspaper, when I stumbled upon an article written by Edna B.





-------


IS THIS THE RICHEST DOG IN THE WORLD?

By Edna B


It’s been two months since we received news that the matriarch of the Wolfstern family passed away peacefully in her sleep.


A little birdie tells me that after years of counting on receiving a good chunk of cash from Liilth’s will, her family was shocked to discover that everything had been left to her faithful Doberman, Bunny. My sources estimate that Lilith’s fortune was worth over 100 million dollars, which would make Bunny one of the richest pooches to ever exist.


The big question is, who will Bunny live with? Although Lilith’s children and grandchildren are all clamouring to have this pot of gold with four legs by their side, someone in the know informs me that Bunny will live out the rest of her years at the Beaufort-Parker manor which has recently gone under refurbishment.




-------



Bunny nudged my elbow with her nose to get my attention. She was elegant and beautiful with black and rust fur that glistened and big brown eyes that looked deep into mine. I gave her a scratch behind one of her floppy ears. Content with that for now, Bunny stretched out on the grass and took a nap in the sunshine.


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