Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"The Case of the Unicorn Horn" by Cherie Reich

"The Case of the Unicorn Horn"
A Liam O'Hare Mystery
By Cherie Reich


Liam O'Hare stood and watched the crowd gather around the covered dais. Whispers of anticipation traveled and assaulted his ears. In moments, the museum staff would lift the covering and unveil what was possibly a unicorn horn.

"All of this is completely preposterous," Dr. Matthew Johnson said, wiping a bead of sweat off his forehead. "I don't know how Dr. Worthington keeps his position at the University with such stunts."

"If he's right, then he might end up as Sir James Worthington," he commented. His eyes scanned each face. If the archaeologist was correct, then the world would be in an uproar, and that horn would become very valuable. It's one reason the museum hired him for extra security.

"Certainly you don't believe there's actually a unicorn horn up there, O'Hare?" Matthew asked his companion.

The Irishman snorted. "Not one bit, but it's not a matter of if I believe. They do."

"True, and the bloody media's here as well." Matthew tucked his kerchief into his pocket.

"Not all of them are so terrible." He spotted one member of the media they were quite familiar with coming toward them. "Good evening, Miss Parker."

"Good evening, Mr. O'Hare, Dr. Johnson. What brings you out on a snowy night such as this?" Charlotte Parker flashed both gentlemen a friendly smile. Her pen and notebook poised in her hand.

"The same as you. We came to see whether or not it's true," Liam said.

She arched her eyebrow. "Really now?"

"Of course." Liam preferred to keep his cards close to his chest, even though he did trust Charlotte.

At the dais, two employees spoke quickly to each other, and Liam froze. He couldn't see what they were saying, but it appeared hurried. I wonder what's going on, he thought.

"It looks like they're about to start." Matthew motioned to Mr. Dolores Irving, the museum curator.

As one, people turned toward the front and conversation hushed. Mr. Irving stood in front of the covering, his hand rested upon the velvet. "Welcome, everyone. I know everyone came to hear from Dr. Worthington, but he's currently indisposed at the moment. We all came to see his fabulous new discovery more. Without further ado, I present to you the unicorn horn."

With a flourish, he whisked off the cloth. It fluttered to the floor.
On the dais, a two-foot golden horn protruded from the chest of Dr. James Worthington.

A collective gasp filled the crowd. Then, several women screamed. One fainted.

Charlotte stepped back, bumping into Liam, who steadied her.

"Stay here," he whispered into her ear, and she nodded, her gray eyes wide.

"Matthew, check on Mr. Worthington. Don't allow anyone else near the body." Liam searched for the undercover policemen from the Scotland Yard while Matthew pushed through the people to the front. He caught the gaze of Captain Morris. "The doors," he mouthed the words.

Captain Morris nodded. "Men, guard the doors. No one leaves."

The captain, Liam, and Charlotte moved toward the front. People in their fancy dresses and tuxedos clutched each other. The woman who fainted was revived. Scotland Yard's finest blocked the exits.

Morris stood in front and raised his arms. "Everyone, please calm down."

"This is just an unfortunate incident," the museum curator added.

Liam stood beside of his friend, and he arched an eyebrow at Charlotte. He disliked that she followed him, but she didn't listen very well. "What is your prognosis, Matthew?"

"Rigor mortis hasn't set in, and he's quite dead." Matthew knelt down and peered at the wound and the stage area. "I believe he was killed upon this stage and wheeled into this area."

Liam agreed, kneeling down as well. "What's this here?"

A golden stain smeared against the archaeologist's jacket. He touched it, and it came off on his fingers. I wonder, he thought, touching a piece of the horn. "It's paint. Gold paint."

"It's a fake," Charlotte said and wrote in her notepad.

The word "fake" raced through the crowd. The previous shock and horror of the evening changed to anger and rage.

The curator wiped perspiration off his brow. "There must be an explanation for this."

"Did Worthington have an assistant?" Morris's words boomed in the room.

Several people looked around before a young gentleman disengaged himself from a stunning blond in a burgundy dress and walked toward them. "I worked with Dr. Worthington."

"Did you see this infamous unicorn horn? Is this the one?" The captain's eyes roved over the man, and Liam knew he was searching for the same thing he was, a sign of his guilt. True, anyone here could've killed the archaeologist, but most murders were done by those closest to the victim.

He pulled out a handkerchief and passed it over his nose. His face paled, but he looked at the horn. "That's not the one we had. It wasn't golden. It's definitely not real."

"You believe he found a real one?" Liam couldn't keep the skepticism out of his tone.

"Oh, yes, we tested it. It was animal, and it was unlike any horn we'd ever seen. This one was white, almost pale silver." The man's gaze darted anywhere but the corpse.

When the man moved his hand, Liam spotted a hint of something sparkling on his jacket cuff. He motioned to Morris, and the captain noticed it as well.

"Then, why did you kill him, sir?" Captain Morris grabbed his sleeve and showed the man the gold paint.

His eyes widened, and he trembled. "I-I didn't. You c-cannot believe such a thing!"

Liam's eyes focused upon his appearance. No, this was too simple. From what Liam could tell, the man didn't have a drop of blood on him. "Captain Morris, sir?"

"Arrest him, Peters. And, you did a fine job, Mr. O'Hare. We couldn't have solved this case without you. Open the doors. You are released, and Peters, be certain to ring the coroner for Dr. Worthington." Morris gave the young man over to Peters. The doors opened, and people rushed out.

"Matthew, Charlotte, the killer isn't this young man. Someone has the real horn." The smudge on the man's jacket couldn't have possibly come from contact with the fake one. Who was it, though? Once again, Morris was too quick to judge, and everyone was leaving.

Charlotte searched people. "It could be anyone."

"Miss Parker's correct." Matthew stood on his tippy-toes.

"I didn't do it!" The young man cried while the cuffs locked on his wrists.

The female journalist shifted and stood upon the dais. "Mr. O'Hare, the blond woman he was with. She walks stiff-legged."

"It could be a condition, Miss Parker," Matthew said.

Liam considered Charlotte's words. As a journalist, she had great instincts. As a woman, she wasn't barred by the prejudices men may have. He wouldn't have suspected the blond, but she limped strangely. It was as if one leg couldn't bend at the knee. And, she was getting away. She slipped through the door. "After her!"

Running with his own limp, he chased after the blond woman.

Footsteps followed him.

When he exited the museum, a gust of snow-filled air struck him. His breath plumed from his lips, and he searched the people. Many were getting into awaiting hansoms. Could their mystery woman already left? Were they too late?

"Where is she," Charlotte asked.

"I don't see her," Matthew said.

Liam studied the snow-covered ground. Many footprints marred the pristine snow, but he spotted one set that was odd and on top of the others. "This way!"

They followed him while he pursued the tracks. Then, he saw her as she hopped into a hansom. "Stop her."

A police officer near the carriage jumped in front, and the horses whinnied and stomped the ground.

Liam slipped and grabbed the handle, causing the door to rip open. The blond woman stared at him while he caught his balance. "Will you please step out, madam?"

"I will not!" She leaned forward to close the door.

"No, madam, we need to see what's under your skirts." He held the door from her.

"I beg your pardon." She leaned back in horror, her eyes flashing in the dim light.

"What are you doing with the Countess?" The young man's voice cut through them.

"O'Hare, that's a good question. What are you doing?" Captain Morris came upon them.

"Allow me." Charlotte slipped by Liam and shut the door.

The carriage rocked, and Liam, Matthew, Dr. Worthington's assistant, Captain Morris, and Peters stood in shock as shouts of protest and screams rose within.

When the door opened, they all stumbled back. Charlotte exited the hansom; her long black hair had fallen down her back. She had a scratch marring her face. "She killed him and stole the horn. She had it tied to her leg."

With a flourish, she produced the silver unicorn horn. It gleamed in the gas lamp lights.

* * *

Full night had descended, and Liam, Matthew, and Charlotte stood outside the museum after everyone else had left.

"You did quite well, Miss Parker." Liam touched the scratch along her pretty face with his gloved hand.

She blushed. "I did what I had to do."

"Was it really a unicorn horn?" Matthew lit a cigarette. The tip glowed.

"I don't know. It looked real. Why would the Countess risk everything if it wasn't?" Charlotte rubbed her hands together. 

"Greed, most likely," Matthew said.

"Very true." Liam's words sounded far away even to himself. The snow fell heavy, and he thought he heard a horse galloping along the street. Conversation froze when the white horse appeared through the snowflakes. He thought it had a horn upon his head. Blinking, the unicorn disappeared. No, it must've been an illusion.

"Did you see that, Liam?" Matthew's eyes were wide; his voice hushed.

"Was it really…?" Charlotte breathed deeply and clutched Liam's arm.

"It couldn't have been," Liam said, trying to convince himself as much as them.

They all started when their hansom arrived and laughed. Liam shook himself from the vision. It was some night, but he was glad they could put the mystical behind them.

The case of the unicorn horn was officially closed.


Aubrie said...

Very clever to take the unicorn theme and make it your own. I love how you write in this genre. It's definitely you.

Impaled by a unicorn horn! Ouch! I bet you're the first person to make it into a detective story!

Btw, did you watch Colombo growing up? I did and I loved it. :)

Aubrie said...

btw, the LOVE how there's a real unicorn at the end. hehe :)

Jessica Yopp said...

I'm pretty sure I gasped at the same part your mom gasped at. :D

And I laughed when Liam says "No, madam, we need to see what's under your skirts."

Cats! said...

Ooo, Cherie, Very Good! I love it!

You are good at writing mysteries.

Cherie Reich said...

Thanks, guys!

I do love writing mysteries, but I don't write enough of them, I think. I should strive to write more.

And, I don't remember watching Colombo much, but I did read lots of Nancy Drew books and The Cat Who mystery series growing up.