Fantasy Fiction posted May 28, 2022 Chapters:  ...31 32 -33- 34... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
Tal is determined to find the blackmailer.

A chapter in the book The Maid of Bitmore Swamp

The Hunt Begins in Earnest

by Shirley McLain

The witch of Bitmore Swamp and her daughter have moved from the swamp into Candlewick. Bethelda Nightshade assumed the identity of widowed Duchess DeCrecy and her daughter from France.
Bethelda, Tal, and Anya sat in one of the day rooms discussing what plans Tal had put into place for the property. Things couldn’t be going better for the estate.

Tal found a young Irish woman who ran a private school in the North Country and showed interest in moving to the southern area for a complete change. Margaret Sullivan was due to arrive tomorrow for her interview.

When Tal checked Margaret’s credentials, they were impeccable. She was the perfect one to instruct Bethelda and Anya and take over the running of the school when it started.

Everyone felt relaxed now, because it had been weeks since a word was heard from the blackmailer. Bethelda hoped something happened so she wouldn’t be bothered again.

Being lost in the thoughts of the blackmailer, Bethelda jumped when a loud knock sounded. Anya laughed when her mother jumped. “Gosh, Mother, you are jumpy today. I don’t think I’ve seen you jump at noise before.”

“Nothing is wrong,” Bethelda said before calling out, “Come in.”

Entering the room, Walkford bowed his head and said, “Your Grace. I have a letter for you. Someone knocked on the door, and when I answered it, no one was there. I saw this envelope on the top step. It only has your name on it.

Bethelda’s body shivered from the cold chill, which ran up her spine. She knew what it was. Tal stepped forward and took the letter from the silver tray held by Walkford.

“Thank you, Walkford. That will be all.”

“Yes, Sir. Your Grace, would you like more tea and some snacks brought up?”

Bethelda looked at Walkford, not believing he didn’t accept Tal’s word. “No, Walkford, there will be nothing else. Thank you.”

Tal ripped the letter open. He looked at Bethelda and then began reading the letter out.

My dear Duchess, the time has arrived to make you happy and leave my weight at three hundred pounds. I want you to know why you are paying, and why you will hang. 

I saw you murder and dispose of my uncle’s body. You are a murderess, and you will pay one way or another. The next time you hear from me, it will be to give you instructions on where to take the gold.

Tal finished reading and folded the letter, handing it to Bethelda. “This has gone on long enough. Did you kill someone, Duchess?”

The tears welled up in Bethelda’s eyes. “I have only knowingly killed one person. That was my abusive stepfather. I did dispose of his body, so he would never be found. That’s when I ended up in Bitmore Swamp.”

“Mother, who outside your family knew of your stepfather’s abuse?”

“No one I know of. Jessie physically abused my mother, but was lecherous around me. My mother didn’t share any of our family's misfortune. She chose him for security and felt she had to bear the burden. I never told my mother how he acted around me, other than he was nicer to me. I poisoned him and took him deep into the woods and burned the body.”

“That leaves two possibilities I can see,” Tal said.

 “What would those be?” Anya asked

“Either someone followed her from the house or spent the night in the forest and followed because of curiosity. Was anyone close to your stepfather that lived on your farm, Bethelda?”

“There were only the four of us in the house. He had relatives living close by because he was from the area, but I never knew who they were. This was over fifty years ago, and my memory is slipping after all these years.”

With a boisterous laugh, Tal said, “Sure, Duchess, don’t give me a load of guff. I am much older than you, and I know your mind is a well-oiled spring trap. You may not want to deal with this memory, but you must. I have every intention of stopping this extortion within a week. Now think about the weeks leading up to your step-father’s death. Did anyone come to the house? Take your time and let the memory come forward naturally. You know as well as I that if you try to force a memory, it becomes obstinate.”

“I only remember one man and his two children visiting with Jessie. Who they were, I have no idea. Jessie never bothered to introduce anyone, even to Mother, much less to Bethany or me. I only remember they had coal-black hair and vivid blue eyes. I thought the children were cute with their curly hair. I’m sorry I went off on a tangent. I know this isn’t much help.”

“If you don’t need me for anything right now, I think I will talk to Bethany and get her memories of the time. Who knows, we might luck out.”

“I wouldn’t hold my breath,” Anya said.

“Go and visit my sister and tell her hello for me.”

“I will do that, Duchess.” Tal left the room after saying goodbye to both women.

“I must admit, Anya, I was beginning to feel comfortable, and I know there is something that always happens to shake up my world.”

“I know this looks and feels bad, Mother, but I’m sure Tal will get to the bottom of this blackmail. He has not failed us one time."
Tal looked around the outside of Bethany’s house before he knocked on the door. Strong psychic currents were flowing around the house. Bethany must have put a protection spell around her house. Tal knocked on the door, and patiently waited. He knew Bethany was home because he felt her strong familiar presence.

The door opened, and Bethany’s face brightened when she saw her visitor. “I haven’t seen you for at least eight months. It isn't that I’m not happy to see you, but why are you here?”

“Tal laughed,“Can’t I stop by to see an old friend?”

"Sure you can, but we’ve known each other for too many years to count, and this is a first. Come on in, and I’ll make us some tea, or do you want something stronger?”

“Tea is fine, Beth. I came by to talk to you about your stepfather. You know someone is blackmailing Bethelda, and I plan to stop it.”

“Why don’t you pay whoever it is and get them out of the way? It's not like Bethelda doesn't have the money.”

“Because it will never stop. They will return for more every time the money runs. Do you remember anyone coming here to see Jessie?”

“I remember a man with a couple of small kids, but he never told us who they were.”

“Do you know if he had any family in town?”

“There were a lot of Saunders in town, but I never knew the relationships.”

“Beth, do any Saunders remain in town? I know in your practice, you see everyone over time. Think hard!”

“There is no one with the Saunders name left in Candlewick. There might be a married Saunders woman who wouldn’t be using that name. Would you like me to ask around discreetly? Who knows, we might luck out.”

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