Detective Ragbone shook a small amount of graphite onto the frame, while marveling at the unnaturally uniform craquelure of the forged Venus in the Mirror. Having momentarily forgotten the gravity of the current scene, he quipped, “Even Rubens knew better than to daub a perfect crack.”
“Ragbone! Decorum, please.” Inspector Wiggins coughed into his hand.
Ragbone, smooth as butter, launched into a monologue designed to assure the Lady of the manor that, though he might be less welcome than a snake in a ranarium, he was an expert at detecting:
“My custom brush is actually a bit of crin and shaped much like milady’s farthingale. It gently lifts away all of the graphite that has not adhered to the oils left by the pores in our intruder’s fingers. The pattern that remains is a facsimile of his dactylogram, which is as unique as any snowflake.”
Lady Worthingham, still flushed from the crude reference to her undergarments, nevertheless approached the vile detective with the curiosity of one not accustomed to the underbelly of the city. She asked, “But, how does this pattern help you catch this monster?”
The Inspector began to answer, but Ragbone cut him off. “We have a register, milady. We classify intruders by their criminal propensities and affix inked fingerprints thereon. I doubt there are more than a dozen offenders who simultaneously profess their affections with poetry and their jealousy with a hatchet buried in a competitor’s head.”
Lady Worthingham gasped and involuntarily glanced at the morbid outline of her poor husband, forever stilled beneath a hastily thrown sheet. The handle tented the sheet, giving the whole scene a macabre undertone that affected everyone but Ragbone. She turned back to his discourse.
“…remember a twisted case of occultism involving axinomancy, wherein the alleged adept was anything but. She missed the ground entirely, and the axe wound up in her mother’s chest. I doubt we will be cross-referencing her with the fingerprints found here. Indeed, I would first check our belonephilia files to see how many have mastered the poetic discipline of the decastich.”
“My, but you do go on!” Lady Worthingham breathed. Her malicent frame belied her soft voice, which was full and fluffy with femininity.
Ragbone eyed her closely. He appeared to recense his opinion of her, in the same manner in which his graphite had been brushed away to reveal a hidden truth. “Did you ever have an affair, milady?”
Inspector Wiggins shouted, “Ragbone! That’s enough! What the hell are you playing at?”
“Inspector, this alleged intruder is like a seventh string on a crwth–it doesn’t exist! I assert that Lady Worthingham herself is the culprit. Her feigned interest in dactyloscopy was a subtle attempt to distract me from wondering why this painting is a fake!”
“Ragbone, you’d better explain yourself.” The Inspector, though agog, took the prudent measure of inserting himself between the now distraught widow and her foyer.
Lady Worthingham slumped. “Don’t bother. I never expected to get away with it.”
Detective Ragbone commiserated. “Indeed, milady, you overplayed your hand with the poetry. Sensitive men and axes do not mix nearly as well as an enraged woman does with a hatchet.” He pointed to the covered body. “It was he who had the affair, no?”
Lady Worthingham sobbed, “He sold my Rubens to buy trinkets for his strumpet! When I found out from my appraiser that the painting was worthless, I confronted him. The bastard laughed in my face!” She kicked the corpse before holding out her wrists to the Inspector.
Copyright © 2017 by Mitchell Allen
Originally appeared on CreativeCopyChallenge #476.