“She’s old and it’s about time she died,” spat Eloise.
“Why don’t you tell us how you really feel, little sister,” Paul responded languidly from his perch on the velour chaise in his great-Aunt’s drawing room. He was sipping on a very fine brandy and examining his manicured nails. His chocolate brown hair flopped lazily over one eye.
“Well it’s true!” said Eloise, with a toss of her blonde curls. She was wearing a groove into the plush carpet between the door and the east window. “And don’t act like you’re not just as anxious as I am for her to keel over and get it done with.”
“We all are, Eloise, but some of us have the good sense not to say so out loud, at least not in her house where she could hear us,” Rupert, the eldest, chimed in from his spot near the fireplace “Or are you trying to get yourself cut out of the will?”
“Hmph,” said Eloise as she looked down her sharp nose, picked some invisible thread off her silk dress and pouted.
The siblings were gathered for Sunday lunch with their great-Aunt Beatrice, who was fabulously wealthy and who, despite her advanced age, insisted on carrying on living despite the swaths of people who were eagerly awaiting her demise.
Great-Aunt Beatrice had made her money by marrying well but, at 87 years old, she had long outlived each of her four increasingly rich husbands. She now sat atop a rather massive fortune, which she dangled before her family’s grubby paws. Her living siblings, their children and grandchildren, her children and grandchildren (and everyone in between) all tirelessly worked to remain in her good graces – aka her will.
If they worked as hard at actual jobs as they did in pushing their noses up my ass, they’d all be wealthy, great-Aunt Beatrice always thought. She did not enjoy being used for her money — and before you claim ‘Pot, meet Kettle’, great-Aunt Beatrice claimed she married for love, which was true, as she loved money — so she tortured her family in a myriad little ways, mostly by forcing them to do things they hated doing.
She would make the ones who were afraid of heights go skydiving; the ones who were claustrophobic go spelunking; and the ones who were deathly afraid of insects go trekking through the Amazon. She made the agoraphobics go open-air camping, the shy ones give public speeches, and the chatty ones go on silent retreats.
Saying ‘no’ meant a life of guaranteed penury (or being “middle class”) so the whole family lived out their worst nightmares in the hopes of a great pay-off in the end. For Beatrice, the excitement of doing these activities that she had no business doing at her age was only heightened by her relatives’ discomfort.
Of course this torture led to a great many attempts on Beatrice’s life, but the spry old fox proved much too clever for her murderous kin.
She’d whipped up an antidote against the poison in her gin (a gift from her brother, Earl); beaten a hired hit man senseless with her iron umbrella (Cousin Milly was behind that one); and skillfully steered her out-of-control car into an embankment of snow upon discovering the brakes had been cut (courtesy of Rupert, her good-for-nothing son). As it were, the prisons of Wadbrook-upon-Thames were starting to fill up with all her kin.
And it was, in fact, the subject of murder that had caused Eloise’s little outburst.
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Eloise was tired of waiting. All those years of writing thank you notes and sitting through laborious dinners and having tea with the withered old tree was penance enough – not to mention that she had been repeatedly forced to take clay pottery lessons even though great-Aunt Beatrice knew how much she despised getting her hands dirty.
It was time for her to live the life to which she was entitled (which was basically the life of Helene Harrinton, her old boarding schoolmate whose family money was as old as the bible and who had married into even older money and was now on to her third perfectly blonde-haired, blue eyed cherub, despite sporting a rock hard yoga body). Why should she live off a paltry allowance of £1,000 a week when the sky could be the limit?
And was it really even murder? Eloise just wanted to speed her old Aunty across the finish line. It shouldn’t be illegal, she thought, to kill someone with one foot in the grave. Sprightly as that person may be. Her brothers, though, were taking some convincing.
Paul didn’t care one way or another about the fortune, being kept, as he was, by an even wealthier old sugar daddy who was one sexual romp away from a heart attack and would surely leave him well taken care of.
Rupert was too nervous about ending up in prison like all their other plotting relatives. He did not have the constitution, he claimed, to deal with all the fondling he would be forced to endure on account of his delicate features.
Now at Sunday lunch, where the trio would be forced to stand and recite poetry as if they were children, for God’s sake (just because great-Aunt Beatrice liked to see them squirm) Eloise wanted to put her plan into action.
“The old witch’s too cunning,” Rupert mumbled as he gazed out the window. “How do you expect us to succeed where everybody else failed?”
“Their schemes were too elaborate,” said Eloise, rather forcefully. “Cutting car brakes and hiring hitmen…do you remember cousin Myrtle letting all those scorpions loose in Beatrice’s closet?
No, we just need to keep it simple. We’ll just push her down the stairs, is all. She’s brittle; she’ll break by the time she gets to the bottom.”
“I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if you pushed her and she just floated down like Mary Poppins; she’s remarkably resilient,” said Paul.
“She might be strong for her age but she’s not supernatural,” said Eloise. “Besides, do you have a better idea?”
“Uhh..waiting? She’s not a vampire, she’s not going to live forever.”
“Easy for you to say, you’re already living in the lap of luxury!” Eloise fumed. “She could easily carry on living another ten years at least and I want to be rich and young, not some old crone with a bag of money I can’t enjoy because I’m all arthritic and what not.”
Paul sighed deeply and rolled his eyes. “You’re only 23, Eloise. You’re a long way off from arthritis.”
“Whatever. I’ve made up my mind – it’s down the stairs for old Aunt Beatrice. And since you’re both chicken shit, I’ll do it myself.”
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With that, Eloise marched herself upstairs to her great-Aunt’s boudoir, where she was getting ready for lunch. She left Paul contemplating his brandy and Rupert shuffling nervously, unsure if he should stay where he was or go and help his sister.
It was quite some time before the two men heard a loud scream and a series of heavy thuds coming from across the hall. It sounded like someone had flung a full suitcase down the stairs.
“My God,” said Rupert, his eyes wide. “She actually did it!”
Paul jumped up from his chair, all pretense at nonchalance discarded as he hastened out the drawing room door, Rupert on his heels. The scullery maid and the cook rushed out from the kitchen and the butler arrived from wherever butlers lurk when they are not needed.
They all stopped in their tracks when they saw the ghastly scene before them.
Her body, crumpled, at the bottom of the stairs. Her legs trailing upwards as if she had put them up after a long day’s work. Her torso faced left towards the kitchen while her head turned back and up, an angle a neck should not have been able to reach. Blood, rich and thick, was seeping slowly from beneath her head across the white tiles.
In shock, they looked up at the woman at the top of the stairs.
“Oh,” she said, her eyebrow cocked, her hand at her throat. “She tripped. Poor thing.”