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Speculative Fantasy Mystery

Jenice Muriel Shore Hayward Longstreet Chapel was 96 when she passed from this life to the next. She was an extraordinary woman. Wife, mother, business woman, a chic but quiet icon and enigmatic darling of New Paltz, New York. Her obituary read:


Born in 1925, Jenice moved with her parents from Russia to New Paltz. Her father, Leon, was hired by the H&B construction company as chief engineer and designer on major bridge contracts in Ulster County. Her mother, Katerine, a homemaker, occasionally worked at a small bakery making wedding cakes. Jenice was the oldest of three children.  


Jenice had an innate sense of style and confidence. She also had her father’s mind for numbers and an amazing head for business. She had three devoted husbands, successful business men, who were the recipients of her business acumen. Happy to keep busy in the community, she raised 4 children, attended church regularly, was a leader in local charity work and managed a small animal rehabilitation facility.  


Jenice had ongoing back pain caused by a horseback riding accident when she was in her mid 40s.  


She was a beloved member of the New Paltz community. She will be missed.  


She leaves behind 4 children, and 6 grandchildren.  


The obituary did not say the back injury would eventually lead to her death, and not from natural causes. 

___________________________________________


Marion du Monde and Faulkner Grayson stood together in the oval pathway of a garden at the center of which was a statue of Marion’s favorite horse. Marion was wearing her favorite navy blue riding coat, white blouse, white breeches and riding boots. Faulkner, who went by Grayson, wore a dapper pinstripe suit and fedora. A great departure from his usual black suit and bowler. Marion brushed some dust from Grayson’s suit. He is particular about his appearance. However, she told him that the black suit made him look like an undertaker. In their current situation that might not be the best look especially because they were expecting Jenice Chapel, a mutual friend, who would be stepping from life to eternity. Grayson and Marion were to greet her at the gate between life and death. 



Jenice was not surprised to learn that she had passed away at 96 years old.  As she walked through a white, cloud-like haze to familiar looking estate. That of her friend Marion du Monde. A look of confusion and dismay crossed her face as she noticed that her attire consisted of silk pajamas, a robe with feathered collar, and matching slippers. Most embarrassing.  She held her pet Pomeranian, The Czar, in her arms.  Even in the afterlife, he was her constant companion.  After some hesitation, she crossed through a well-kept archway in the hedgerow before her.  


 Marion approached Jenice with caution to avoid startling her. 


Quietly she said, “Jenice?”  


Jenice looked at the face, taking a moment to process.  


“Marion! Oh Marion how good to see you,” she said with glee! 


“Faulkner Grayson is that you? My goodness,” She continued!


“We want to welcome you to Montenero,” said Marion. 


Grayson gave a little smile, “Hello Jenice. Lovely to see you again!” 


“What are you two doing here? I take it I’m... deceased,” replied Jenice?


Grayson spoke up, “Jeni we will be happy to answer all the questions you have however, we’ve got to have a bit of a chat dear. Let's go up to the house where you can sit down.”  


“Do you remember the story of our French Chef Henri Gerard,” Marion asked?


“Yes of course. Anaphylactic shock wasn’t it? Horrible way to die,” said Jenice


“You will meet him and his wife Juliette in a moment,” Grayson added. 


Marion and Grayson showed Jenice to the kitchen of the large du Monde mansion. Marion introduced her to Henri Gerard and his wife Juliette.  


“Madame, it is a pleasure to meet you,” said Henri as he shook her hand warmly. 


Juliette smiled as she took her hand gently. “Welcome Jenice, we've been looking forward to meeting you!”


“Indeed? What HAS Marion been telling you,” she inquired with a dramatic flair?  


Henri laughed, “Simply how you came to know both she and Grayson. It is a small world, so-to-speak, yes?”


“We are so thrilled you are here. Please let me show you to the dining room, where we have prepared breakfast,” said Juliette. 


“Oh thank you so much! I can eat a true Chef’s cooking without any consequences. However, I do feel a bit awkward about my attire,” replied Jenice


“You look lovely, Jeni, as always,” said Grayson. 


Jenice filled her plate with all the sumptuous foods prepared by Henri. Fresh eggs, tomato with fresh herbs, fresh breads and pastries. There was a look of sheer delight on her face as she ate.   


“Now what is the topic of this discussion we must have Marion, old girl,” she asked?


Marion held Jenice in a steady gaze. “Jeni, dear heart, we’ve got to tell you that your death was not from natural causes. I’m so sorry,” said Marion. 


Grayson added, “Your… your passing came at the hands of your Physician Assistant. It was an overdose of some injectable medicine, according to our information. Our instructions are to allow you to return to find the evidence that will bring your killer to justice,” he managed to say with some difficulty.    


Jenice looked stricken. Drawing a breath in sharply, she stared at Grayson wide eyed. Her mouth opened then snapped shut again.  


“Take your time,” said Juliette. 


“How do you propose we bring Bickie to justice,” she asked with halting words 


“We will send you and The Czar back through the gate to your home. There you will find a person, a young woman, appraising your earthly possessions. This will be nothing so sordid as being a ghostly apparition. No, you will be able to speak to her, she will see what you see, her hands will be your hands, you will find the evidence needed to present to the law,” Henri explained.  


“I think I understand. I will not occupy her body. My spirit will be in the room surrounding her and she will act as my investigator,” replied Jenice.


“Yes, that is correct,” Henri continued.  


Marion’s eyes continued to follow Jeni’s facial expressions. “Jeni, don’t worry as soon as you’ve found the necessary evidence you will be able to return immediately. The young woman will only remember the encounter as a strange dream. On the plus side you will be able to return in an outfit of your choosing.” she said teasingly. 


“Then I guess I’d better get started because these slippers are ridiculous,” she said with a wink. 


Grayson walked Jenice to the entrance to the entrance of Montenero Gate of Death, giving her a small hug, he then watched her disappear into the white mist.  


“I’m glad we don’t do this often,” he thought to himself.  


Marion, Grayson, Henri and Juliette sat down to wait for Jenice to return. 

___________________________________________


Fern Elizabeth Rogers sat down on a box in the middle of the master suite formerly belonging to Jenice Chapel. She was a petite, dark eyes rimmed by round glasses. Her dark hair tucked up into a baseball cap. She had come to collect certain pieces that had been willed to the County Historical Society. She pulled a list from her valise.  


“Mrs. Chapel had been very generous,” Fern thought. 


Fern, who had been nicknamed Liz, was the part time curator at the Historical House and a volunteer at the local library.  


“Liz, I’ll be in the conservatory,” a voice called up from the landing below startling her. 


“Geez Mike, a little warning! That’s fine. It’s going to take us at least a month to appraise, collate, collect, tag, pack, and deliver these donations. I LOVE it,” Liz shouted back. 


She heard Mike retreat back down the stairs. Then suddenly she heard a dog bark. Was the sound behind her? Mrs. Chapel’s dog was no longer among the living.  


“I love my job but working in these old houses always makes me feel creeped out,” she thought. 


“I can understand that, I think I’d feel a bit uncomfortable in a stranger’s big, old house full of memories. Although you are doing me and my family a great favor. Thank you very much,” said Jenice.


Liz jumped up “What? Who is there? Mike, stop joking,” Liz said loudly, almost shouting.  


“There’s no way anyone else should be here, the house has been sealed by the court,” she said to herself. 


“Liz I know this must seem very strange but please do try to stay calm sweetie. I’m here because I need your help,” said Jenice calmly. 


“Mrs. Chapel? Is that you? What are you doing here? What do you mean you need my help? How did you get here? I think I need some air,” she replied in a hoarse whisper.  


“Yes, lovely, it’s Mrs. Chapel. I’m here because my death wasn’t of natural causes and I need the evidence to prove it. As soon as we locate it I can go back through the gate leaving you in peace,” she answered.


Liz, in a somewhat bewildered state, answered; “Seriously? How do you propose we do this”?


“Think of this like one of those games like my great grandson plays. Virtual reality, I think they are called. You see what I see. If something needs to be moved I’ll move it using your hands. You won’t be hurt or even remember what has happened here today. Let’s get to it so we can both move on,” said Janice with a calm but assertive voice.  


“O..k..” replied Liz slowly.  


Jenice knew there must have been evidence left behind. Bickie hadn’t had time to clean up. It was the day her nurse Mary-Ellen Graham was to be there to assist with her physical therapy.  


Bickie was Arthur Bicknell III son of her dear friend Artie Bicknell. His son had always wanted to be a Physician Assistant. He was a brilliant young man with a great bedside manner. He was what they called a concierge doctor. He went where and when he was needed, for a fee, of course. Working in partnership with a local doctor’s group, Bickie enjoyed a very good reputation. Unfortunately he was also a closet gambler carrying a heavy load of debt. 


Jenice stood for a moment trying to recall every moment of the day she died. Bickie brought her usual medications for the back pain. Some were injectable, others were in pill form. He massaged her back with the pain relieving gel and then used a TENS machine on her shoulders. Bickie’s treatments took place right there in the master suite. Usually right on the bed.  


She said, “If I were Bickie where would I hide incriminating evidence if I hoped to retrieve it later?”


“I hope you are wrong about Arthur Mrs. Chapel I’d hate to see such a popular guy go down for murder,” Said Liz


“Honey, I wish I were wrong but I have it straight from an unimpeachable source that Bickie killed me,” Janice replied with confidence. 


“Oh gosh. What am I supposed to do with this evidence once I or we find it,” asked Liz?


“First get a pair of rubber gloves and a plastic bag from the bathroom. There are some in the drawers in the vanity. Then use the cellular phone in my bedside table drawer to call my son Bobby Longstreet. Tell him you found a serious problem with some items during the appraisal and you need to see him immediately. Don’t take no for an answer,” replied Janice. 


Jenice and Liz began to search around the bed. It was a large, ornate, mahogany, four poster bed covered with a large tapestry curtain.  


“My husband Bertram Hayward bought this bed from a little known Italian artist. The workmanship is unparalleled,” Jenice said.


“Unfortunately there are too many hiding places,” replied Liz  


“No not really dear, I always lay on the right side of the bed. Bickie would have had to hide the evidence nearby because Mary-Ellen, my physical therapy nurse, only left the room once to get a towel from the bathroom,” Janice replied as she or rather Liz searched the bed. 


“Wait, do you feel that Mrs. Chapel? It’s one of those glass injection vials and maybe a syringe,” Liz exclaimed in a whispered tone! 


Jenice directed Liz to the disposable gloves and the small plastic garbage bags in the bathroom.  


“How do you know about all this forensics stuff Mrs. Chapel,” asked Liz? 


“Bobby is a criminal attorney sweetie. Let's get this stuff bagged up and make that call to his office,” Jenice said with some urgency in her voice.


Liz said “Wait! I’m supposed to document all this stuff with photographic evidence or video! I’ll get my camera then we can take pictures of what we found and where!” 


“You are a sharp cookie! Are you married? I’ve got a grandson about your age,” Jenice said.  


“Mrs. Chapel, is this really the time,” asked Liz in an exasperated tone? 


“Always time for a little romance,” Jenice said gently. 


“After this is taken care of I’ll pencil in time for romance. However, I want Bobby here so I can get this evidence out of my hands and over to the authorities,” Liz said as she placed the vial marked Insulin and the syringe in the plastic bag. 


“I’m not diabetic. Though an overdose of insulin would be the perfect murder weapon. It’s naturally occurring in the body. With the injection marks on my back it would be hard to distinguish if there were an extra. Though I suspect that insulin injection went directly into my arm,” Jenice replied. 


Her job done, Jenice watched from a distance as Liz sat on a chair beside the bed. She was tired and needed a moment. The next thing she knew, she was opening her eyes. She’d fallen asleep! She felt a strange compulsion to go check behind the headboard of the bed. There, tucked in a nook, was a bottle of insulin and a syringe! Just as it was in her dream. First, she photographed the items, as she would any antique piece. Then she found the gloves and the plastic bag. Again, following the sequence she saw in her dream, Liz took the cell phone out of the bedside table. She found the number for Robert Longstreet.  


“Who is this and why are you using my mother’s phone,” he shouted into the earpiece


“It’s Liz Rogers, Mr. Longstreet, I had to use your private number because there’s a problem with the appraisal at your mother’s home. You should come here immediately,” Liz said in an anxious voice that left no doubt as to the urgency of the matter.  


“5 minutes,” he said. 


Moments later Liz heard the sound of a motorcycle. Robert turned the key in the huge front door and stepped through into the hall. 


Liz shouted, “Mr. Longstreet I’m in your mother’s room please come directly up the stairs.”  


By this time Mike who was appraising items in the conservatory became aware of the commotion.  


Calling out to Liz, “Is everything okay Liz”?


“Yes, nothing for you to worry about. I’ve brought Mr. Longstreet here to ask him about some items in his mother’s room that weren’t on the list,” she said, trying to keep the fear out of her voice. 


She heard the sounds of Mike walking back to the conservatory.


Robert Longstreet was not at all what Liz expected. Medium height, well built, wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket, leather motorcycle boots, khaki pants and a denim shirt. His hair was curly and bright red. He appeared much younger than she anticipated!


“Miss Rogers I presume,” he said, holding out his hand. 


“Yes, I was collating the items your mother donated to the History House when I came across this,” she said nervously, handing him the small bag with the syringe and bottle of insulin.  


“Where did you find this,” asked Robert, his face having turned ashen white? 


“I was examining the headboard for any damage when I found this stuck in a small nook in the wood carvings. I photographed it just as I would if it were an antique. I wore disposable gloves so I would not damage any fingerprints then I bagged up those gloves too,” she replied pointing to the camera. 


“Brilliant job! There have been rumors about Bickie’s serious gambling habits. Worst part of this is that Grand didn’t leave him any money. I caution you not to say anything about this to anyone unless I’m with you,” he said, handing her one of his business cards.  


“Bickie has friends in high places but the Longstreet Law Firm will see to it that you are protected. I fear this is going to mean a long and messy investigation. Poor Grand,” He continued.


Liz noticed Robert’s eyes well up with tears. She gently touched his arm


Standing up to leave the room Robert stuck out his hand, “Thank you again Miss Rogers. Is there a way I can contact you”?


“Check your text messages,” she said with a smile. 


“Feel free to use my number even if you don’t have a case related question,” said Robert shyly. 

______________________________________________________

Jenice felt it was time to go back to Montenero. Having changed into a nice sweater and pair of casual slacks, she put Czar on his leash. Then she happily walked through the white mists to find Marion waiting for her.  


“Welcome back,” said Marion! 


“I’m glad to be back,” said Jenice.

______________________________________________________

Two days later a picture of Arthur “Bickie” Bicknell in handcuffs appeared on the front page of the newspaper above the fold. The headline read “Appraiser Does a Number On Bicknell”. Indeed she had, with a little help from a friend.


August 06, 2021 01:22

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