Murder or a Duck
by Beth Goder
George called out, “Mrs. Whitman, you have a visitor.”
Mrs. Whitman strode from her workroom, her white hair skipping out of its hairpins. She straightened her work skirt, massaged her bad knee, then hurried down the hall.
“George, what’s happened to the lamp with the blue shade?”
“To which lamp are you referring?” George smoothed down a cravat embroidered with tiny trombones. Improper attire for a butler, but George had never been entirely proper.
Mrs. Whitman examined the sitting room in further depth. The blue lamp was gone, as were the doilies, thank goodness. An elegant table sat between the armchair and green sofa, which was infused with the stuffy smell of potpourri. Behind the sofa hung The Roses of Wiltshire, a painting that Mrs. Whitman had never cared for, despite its lush purples and pinks and reds. And the ficus was there, too, of course.
Mrs. Whitman pulled out a battered notebook. George’s trombone cravat indicated she was in a timeline where he was courting Sonia. A good sign, indeed. Perhaps, after six hundred and two tries, she’d finally landed in a timeline where Mr. Whitman would return home safely.
Consulting her charts, she circled some continuities and crossed out others, referring often to an appendix at the back. The notebook was worn, its blue cover faded. And it was the twelfth one she’d had since starting the project.
George cleared his throat. Mrs. Whitman didn’t even glance up. “You have a visitor,” he said.
“George, I need to ask you a few questions.”
George sighed, but made no comment.
“Has Mr. Whitman returned from his trip?” She always asked this question first, in the hope that George would direct her to the study, where she’d find Mr. Whitman reading a book or knitting socks.
“He’s due back sometime today.”
That was what George always said. Mrs. Whitman had been through it over and over again; she knew it was useless to organize a search until the evening, when everyone else would begin to worry.
Undeterred, Mrs. Whitman asked her control question. “Did you wear your navy suit anywhere this year?”
George raised an eyebrow, but said, “I wore my suit once to the Lacklustres’ evening ball, and again at the horse show for troubled teens.”
If the Lacklustres were holding a ball, then they hadn’t gone bankrupt yet, which meant she was in a timeline where Winston Tuppers hadn’t revealed Mr. Lacklustre’s banking fraud. And the horse show for troubled teens never appeared without a corresponding tea party later in June. Mrs. Whitman flipped busily through her charts.
“Which tea cakes are they selling at the market on Quill Lane? Chocolate? Lavender? Orange and cream?” she asked.
“There is no market on Quill Lane. It was torn down last year,” George said, a rare look of concern on his face. “Are you sure you’re feeling quite all right?”
“Just one more question,” said Mrs. Whitman, making a mark in her notebook. “Is it Sir Henry waiting in the foyer?”
“No,” he said. “Mrs. Lane requests your attention.”
Mrs. Whitman snapped the notebook closed. If Mrs. Lane was visiting, it could only mean one thing. She was either there to kill Mrs. Whitman or sell her a duck.