Case of the Stern Staircase
"A Chittles and RedEye Story."
Dame Edith took off her pale pink gloves which she always wore to the Opera. She had just returned and her butler was putting away the horse and cart. No Tesla for her. Only the finest. She was born wealthy and had managed through clever investments to become one of them most wealthy women in the Greater Britains. She shook her red hair out from the elegant hat she had been wearing, inspired by Gardini, an Italian clothing designer who also specialized in personalized hats for the lords and ladies. He had spent the better part of a year sewing on the various jewels she had insisted be placed in a specific pattern about the rim of the hat.
She wanted her wealth to not only dazzle the minds of others, but also to dazzle their eyes. A kind woman in some ways, she always fed the poor on the holidays, gave free food to the Kitchens of Queen Mary of Scots, and partook in the elections to help them be honest, she was nevertheless not one to think much about anything else, but her accumulation of wealth and her beauty.
She looked at her reflection in her Gaudin portrait, with its faceted glass cover, and saw a gray hair popping out of her red. She let out a sound of alarm, checked to make sure none of her servants were watching, and swiftly plucked it from existence.
"That's better." She sighed with relief.
She eyed the steep staircase that wound its way to the top of her three storm mansion. It was gelded with gold and silver trimming on its railing and each step was carpeted with a plush, deep red rug. As a matter of fact only one other person had more red in their home than herself, one Lord Frederick, known to the commoners and his course friend, Chittles, as RedEye. She blushed at the thought of the man. Though a good score of years younger than herself, the idea of a tête a tête with the man caused her to get goosebumps in places she didn't dare admit existed to anyone but herself.
"Fanks." She called out.
Her butler, Fanks, came rushing into the living room and stood next to the staircase, with a key on a plush red cushion.
She took the key, gave him a nod and began ascending the staircase. Several steps creaked when she was halfway up. She didn't look down. She knew Fanks would still be standing there waiting for her to safely reach her room. It was her custom, and his duty.
"Fanks. Do see to those stern steps. My staircase should be as firm as my wealth. Stern and strong. I didn't import these beautiful pieces of wood to have them become grumbly and uncooperative when they are needed the most."
"Yes, My Lady." Fanks said from below.
She nodded, so he knew he she had heard him, and then continued upwards. She laughed. "I know I shouldn't have had that last glass of champagne." She heard a loud creaking sound as she took the second to the last step and looked down. Something was wrong.
Lord Frederick, also known as RedEye, because of his constant affliction from allergies which kept his eyes bloodshot constantly, got out of his Tesla, which Chittles was driving this day. He looked at his gorilla like companion, whose face and body were thick and strong like that of an ape, and smiled.
"It could be worse, Chittles."
"Yes. You could have cooked breakfast."
"Complain. Complain. Complain."
Chittles gave RedEye, his best friend, the evil eye, but RedEye ignored it and didn't die or have a heart attack. "When will you get over that weird Voodoo stuff, Chittles, it won't work on me. I'm protected from it."
"Yeah, by your swollen ego." Chittles muttered.
"I heard that."
RedEye laughed and pressed the button at the gate of Dame Edith's mansion. A few moments passed, and then Fanks opened the front door, straightened his clothes and came forth, followed by a well dressed policeman, who looked not only angry, but deeply disturbed.
"Good afternoon, Inspector Bloodstone."
"What's good about it? I had to leave my favorite dish to come to this woman's death investigation, abandon my newly found son's birthday party, and ignore the fact that it's a Sunday and I don't work on Sundays."
Chittles nodded. "Death is a hard mistress."
"Well personally, I'd prefer it if she made an appointment, Chittles."
Chittles nodded again. "Maybe someday she will."
Inspector Bloodstone did a double take, not sure if Chittles was making a joke at his expense or not, or predicting a dire future.
RedEye stepped back as the gate swung outwards to admit him and Chittles.
"Good day, Fanks, this must be a hard thing to bear what with your family needing your employment at this time. How is your youngest son doing?"
Fanks looked at the Inspector, then back at RedEye. "He can barely walk without help. It's only because of my sizable salary here that I've been able to keep up with the medical expenses."
"I'm sorry to hear that." RedEye responded sincerely, and then when the Inspector jerked his head towards the front door, he sighed. "Well, work awaits us."
Chittles and RedEye followed the Inspector inside, where they discovered the body of Dame Edith laying sprawled at the base of the spiral staircase.
Fanks came up and sighed. "I saw the whole thing. Her face. She couldn't believe that death had a date with her this day."
"None of us ever do, do we?" RedEye commented, shaking his head.
He stooped beside the fallen woman, felt her neck, then her upper shoulders. Her legs were crossed over awkwardly.
"Chittles, please note that this woman died of a broken neck. Fifth cervical above the shoulder pan."
"Yes. Noted." He replied, scribbling in his book. "She broke both legs as well, I see."
RedEye felt both legs carefully, and then nodded. Her back as well, I think."
He probed the backside of the sprawled woman, gently pressing several spots that protruded much too far outwards. "Three vertebrae. Lower lumbar area, middle back and upper thoracic."
RedEye stood up and looked at the Inspector. "I see no reason to investigate this further. She has obviously suffered a great fall."
Fanks shuffled his feet nervously. The Inspector motioned with his hands to speak up.
"Uh, actually Lord Frederick, she didn't fall."
"What!" RedEye and Chittles both exclaimed at the same time.
"It was more like she was propelled."
He led the men up the staircase until they reached near the top. He pointed at the second to the last step. "It was this one."
RedEye leaned down and pressed it. "It is as firm and stern as a step should be."
"Exactly." Fanks agreed.
Chittles stepped on the step and bounced a bit, but no creak or groan came from the step.
"Do you believe in ghosts, Lord Frederick?" Fanks inquired nervously.
"Not usually. But anything is possible in a world of magic and science." RedEye pointed out.
"Well, I was watching her when she stepped on this...stern step...and it didn't budge, but I heard it creak loudly at the same time I think she did."
"What happened next?"
"She flew up and backwards, as if propelled by a blast of air so powerful it could shake down this home."
"Did you feel such air?" Inspector Bloodstone asked pointedly, his eyes on Chittles, who was slipping some crackers from a bowl on a nearby table to eat.
"What?" Chittles asked, and swallowed them.
Fanks gave Chittles a sour look, and then looked at the Inspector and RedEye. "Not even enough to move one hair."
Chittles reached into the bowl again and this time, Lord Chittles slapped the back of his hand with his cane. "Mind your matters, Chittles."
"Spoil sport." Chittles complained, but withdrew his hand. His eyes roved the room and spotted the table where a bowl of fruit sat. He licked his lips.
RedEye knelt close to the fallen woman again, then rolled over her to her back, so he could press her eyelids open. When he did he saw something dark and malignant looking out at him. He dropped back, letting out a startled sound.
Dame Edith's body rolled back into the same position again to his astonishment.
Chittles, about to take a huge bite from one of the apples on the table, made a choking sound.
The Inspector and Fanks looked over at him. He put the apple back and rejoined them.
"What? A hungry man doesn't have a clear mind. Benjamin Franklin's motto. Full stomach, healthy mind."
RedEye tapped Chittles stomach with the tip of his cane. "That doesn't apply to fat stomachs."
"I am not fat. Just well endowed." Chittles bragged with a huge grin.
"And you're...wrong." Chittles shot back.
"I am not."
"You most certainly are." Chittles hurled back.
"I definitely am not."
"Will you two stop it?" The Inspector uttered with frustration. "There's a dead woman here and an unsolved murder."
"Actually." RedEye went to the table and took the apple Chittles had picked up. "Not necessarily."
He took the apple and went back to the fallen woman. He placed the apple before her mouth. Nothing. He rubbed the apple against her lips, allowing some of the blood there to touch the apple then went up the steps and placed the apple on the second step.
Immediately, the apple shot into the air, hurtling high over his head.
The Inspector gasped. Chittles caught the apple, wiped off the blood with a hanky, and then began eating it, as if nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred.
RedEye came back down. "Case solved."
"How so?" The Inspector demanded, perplexed by that possibility.
"The second step is obviously possessed."
Fanks shook his head. "Then why didn't it throw me when I stepped on it?"
"Dame Edith had one fatal flaw and that was her undoing." RedEye explained.
"What is that?"
"She had everything in this home draped in red, including the stairs."
RedEye touched the railing. "This staircase was imported from Russia, and was used exclusively by the late Emperor. When he died, he cursed the second step."
"How so?" The Inspector inquired, his curiosity piqued.
"That anyone who was not stern when they stepped on it would perish."
RedEye looked to Fanks. "What was the last thing that Dame Edith spoke before she was expelled from the staircase?"
Fanks told them.
RedEye looked at the Inspector. "Case closed. Chittles do collect our usual fee before you join me in the Tesla."
RedEye nodded to Fanks and the Inspector and turned to leave, then turned back. He put a hand on Fanks' shoulder. "My good man, I want you to have our fee instead. It should keep you and your lovely child until you can find a new placement."
Fanks began to cry. "You are too kind!"
RedEye, stopped, looked back and cried. "Nonsense. What is the point of having wealth if you can't do good with it as well as buy expensive things?"
Chittles turned to the Inspector and put out a hand.