The smell of death surprised him every time—sweet and pungent in its foulness. Rence stood over the body of Lord Harrison, regarding the pattern of his splattered blood across the slate tiles of the monastery. Beside the body was a pistol—a relatively new model by the looks of it. Pinched between his gloved thumb and forefinger, Rence lifted it from the pooled blood, the barrel cold and greasy. It was a decorative thing: a three barrelled flintlock with brass mechanism and an ornately carved ivory grip. A curious smile crept across his lips.
This was a rich man’s weapon.
Clarence Gale—or Rence, as he called himself—had been investigating murder for years now, and he was getting very good. At first he helped the commonfolk when the watchmen turned a blind eye; now he worked for the lords and ladies of Copperton, though this he kept a secret. The watchmen would be furious to learn the nobility paid a former miscreant to solve the murders they otherwise could not. So Rence pocketed the gold and delivered his findings without ever revealing his face—a request he was more than happy to accommodate.
The monastery had been empty for decades now; the church collapsed long before Rence was even born when the monarchy suppressed the practice of organised religion. But the people still came to the abandoned holy houses, every now and then, in hope of gaining some form of enlightenment from the souls of the departed divine servants. Lord Harrison was one such man, it seemed.
A shiny, silver amulet on a delicate chain lay gripped in his death-stiffened hand. Rence pried it free. A nine-pointed star pierced by a sword—a symbol of the old faith. A reformist snuffed out by the monarchy? Possible. If Rence had learnt anything from the crimes of the rice it was that the Copperton upperclass worked in paranoia, conspiracy and deceit—simple acts of vengeance were the realm of the commonfolk.
Rence carefully placed the pistol and amulet into his leather satchel, scratched and weather-worn from years of service. They’d fetch a good price at old Hubert’s curio shop, once all fingerprints were scrubbed clean. Toeing Lord Harrison’s corpse, Rence rolled the man’s body from stomach to back; hidden under his torso was a book, bound with goatskin and twine. He leafed through the pages, many of which were ink-stained completely black from a spilled pot. An accident, or——
Half a page had been spared the obsidian onslaught and several lines of script remained. Rence bristled as he read.
Marianne eight years, brunette 120 gold
Celeste twelve years, blonde 105 gold
A ledger of girls bought and sold: Lord Harrison was a trafficker, one fortunately now out of business. The murderer was not the criminal here, something his employer would struggle to accept. But Rence would investigate no further. He placed the ledger, open to the page listing the stolen girls’ names, upon Lord Harrison’s chest just as the bells in the town clock tower were beginning to chime—a shrill, piercing announcement of the impending dawn.
It was time to prepare his report.
This was written for the Australian Writers’ Centre’s monthly Furious Fiction competition: a 500-word writing challenge to be completed in no more than 55 hours utilising the supplied prompt.
August’s criteria was to include six provided descriptions (shiny, silver; cold and greasy; scratched and weather-worn; sweet and pungent; ink-stained; shrill, piercing), one of which was required to appear in the opening sentence.
Due to other commitments, I was unable to enter the competition; however, I chose to complete the task anyway.
(c) Jessica A. McMinn 2019
Comments and critiques are welcome and encouraged.