A Smidgeon of Ghosts
She was near to the front door and heard someone coming up the stairs. She peeked out the window and saw, Sigmund, the wiry Polish postal man about to ring the bell.
Throwing a shawl around her, she stepped outside and said, "Good morning, Ziggy. It's so brutally cold, would you like to come in for a cup of coffee?"
"There is nothing I would like more, but the weather has already slowed my progress, but thank you for asking."
He handed her a package and said, "Looks like another Christmas present. Tell your father I hope he's feeling better soon."
The neighborhood could set its clock by seeing her father come down the porch stairs with his medical bag and walk down the street to his office. When people didn't see him for two days, the knocks on the door were many, as they inquired into whether the doctor was all right.
She had untied the wrapper on the package and was about to place it with the other packages when she saw the note, Madeline, Merry Christmas, my friend, please open me now.
Trying to decipher who had sent her the gift, she looked for a return address but could find none. She thought perhaps it was from Jonathan, but usually his New York Times return was always visible when he sent her a letter.
She never prematurely opened holiday packages. Her father would kid her about how she had her children wait till Christmas evening before opening their gifts. She didn't know why, but she always wanted to savor the moment and make it last as long as possible.
Traveling through the mahogany pillars that accented the parlor, she walked through the dining room, and then crossed to the swinging door to enter the expansive kitchen.
She said, "Mrs. O'Malley, what should I do? I've received a Christmas present, and a note included asked that I should open it. You know how much I don't like to do that."
"My goodness, child, breaking you of a habit is a test. It's a blustery winter day that could use some cheery sun added to it. What better way than to open an early Christmas gift? If that were me, the paper would be torn to pieces, and I'd already be enjoying my present.
"What if it's candy or a gift of ham or sausage? We would be able to prepare it for your father."
"Oh, I hadn't thought of that―that's most likely why they said to open it now. You're right, if it's food, it could be perishable."
"Well, come back and tell me what you received. I'd like to share in the joy."
Madeline sat on the large square dark green and brown leaf decorated brocade rug that covered the oak hardwood floor in the living room parlor. She opened the package gently, wishing to preserve the beautiful wrapping. Encased in a flocked shimmering silver wrap, adorned with a bow accented by two silver bells, was a heavy dark red box.
When she lifted the lid, and removed the tissue covering, her hands trembled, and all she could say was, "Good heavens, Father, come here, hurry."
She would show the letter to Hugh and also to Jonathan Franks, her two dearest companions that she had known since she first ventured into the world as a female detective and sought the infamous Ripper.
In the year 1890, it was still considered unconventional for a woman to have a career such as she had. She hoped someday that would change. Because she had some success in her recent cases, she was taken more seriously now and was careful how she chose the cases she would take.
On her way to Hugh Scott's house, she remembered how it all began. In her 28th year, in 1887, Madeline became a widow during the Christmas season. It was a shocking occurrence that had her entire neighborhood in mourning for quite a while. At the time, it was not unusual to find her at her physician Father's side, especially during an emergency when he might be unable to find someone to assist him. Her father had trained her since a child, and she was quite competent to aid him. On this particular day, she was doing just that, and her husband, Russell, and two toddlers, Will, and Nate were at home getting ready for the holidays. They had recently put the Christmas tree up, and the supposition of the authorities was that a lighted candle may have ignited the tree. All three perished that day, Russell, charred and damaged grotesquely, but the children, only overcome by smoke, merely looked asleep when she saw them.
Madeline spent many months believing she was going in and out of sanity, and only her father's medicinal opium could calm her and bring her to some level of functioning.
October 12, 1889
Dear Miss Donovan,
I don't believe you know us, but I know that your father, Dr. Donovan once treated my sister for pneumonia many years ago. Perhaps as a child, you may have passed our home, as many of the children liked to play outside the fenced area, and saw the children throw stones at our windows. Of course, my dear, I'm sure you never did that.
Now, to the point, Madame Ruby, a fortune teller of some notoriety, has told us of your prowess at bringing criminals to justice. She said she is a great admirer of yours and hopes you might be interested in what we have to ask of you—we, being my two sisters, Agatha, and Cecilia.
I know that this case, however, is not typical, for it involves a spiritual miscreant. Now, there's much to explain, too much for a letter and we humbly ask that you should join us for dinner as soon as possible. You may bring a guest, but only if they can be completely trusted.
I don't mean to scare you, Oh, my no, just the contrary. Our ghosts have always been most amenable; it is only until recently that we feel we might have a problem.
Silver Bells Slaying