Serialized Fiction: A Riverwards Murder Mystery (Part Four of Four)
The Spirit is pleased to present a story of serialized fiction throughout the month of August. For the past three weeks, we’ve published a new part in the developing story of William, a watchman in 19th century Northern Liberties. Here is the tale’s dramatic conclusion.
It was dead of night and now twenty-four hours since William discovered Ellen’s body. He was held up in the top floor of the brothel, drinking spirits from the bottle. Hidden from the investigator Mr. Winston hired to replace him.
He woke at day to the sound of commotion outside. William looked out his window and saw Ben Meyers being restrained at the front door, followed shortly by what was presumably Ellen’s body wrapped in linen.
There was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” William said.
It was Rosetta. “I was gathering some laundry, do you want anything cleaned?”
“At least let me clean your shirt.”
He looked down and saw it was stained with blood from where Francis shoved him. He peeled it off and tossed it to her. She left the room but appeared again shortly after.
“What now?” he asked.
“You know Ben isn’t guilty.”
William just looked out the window. Rosetta walked up to him and placed her hand on his shoulder. He gripped the window frame. She put her other hand on his and he turned to look her in the eyes.
“Would you like me to read your palm?” she asked.
“How would you do that?”
“Here,” Rosetta took his hand, palm up. “These are the sort of tricks I started with.” She began tracing the lines of his hand with her finger. “Your heart line is broken. You’ve experienced a loss.”
“You could say that.”
“It meets your fate line though, so there is romance in your future.”
Rosetta started to caress his hand but he pulled it back.
“I wish I could read Francis’s,” she said. “The crime must be written there.”
William nodded, but then a thought crossed his face.
“Where is my shirt?”
“I gave it to Celia to wash out back.”
He took off down the stairs. Outside Celia kneeled in front of a wringer with a bucket of water and basket piled with cloths. Practically diving for them William tore through the pile.
“Where is my shirt?”
“I’m getting to it,” she said.
He continued digging. He found it at the bottom and ran back to the room.
“Look at this,” William said. He held up his shirt featuring Francis’s bloody palm print.
Ellen’s room was somehow more gruesome without her body. The floor had been hastily scrubbed clean, though still stained red. They carefully picked through the room looking for any trace of a print. Every surface had been wiped down. There was hardly a speck of dust. They turned over every sheet, looked under every ledge, flipped through every book.
After an hour of this William sighed and returned to the window. He looked out at the back yard where two nights ago he first saw the culprit escape down the side of the house. And then it struck him. He opened the window and climbed down the side with an eye to each foothold. It was there he spotted it, below the second story windows where you had grab hold of the framework to hoist yourself down, was a red stain with the same heart, head, life, and fate line as that of Francis’s bloody print.
Francis Winston was held at Eastern State Penitentiary until summoned to the Commissioner’s Hall and tried before a jury of his peers. He was sentenced to death by hanging. In the following week he was brought to Second and Callowhill and before a small crowd his crime and sentence were read aloud. William was the only one who watched when his support dropped from under him.