The Forth Conspiracy by THOMAS THORPE
A thin red trail flowed over ivory-colored marble.
It curled left and crossed a second tiny stream before pausing to expand at a
seam between tiles. The fluid resumed its course until a new stream snaked to
join the current, sprouting from the pool of blood three feet away.
William watched the pattern evolve with morbid fascination.
The house was unusually quiet. He stood still; head cocked, listening, no
sounds of servants moving or clatter of pans from the kitchen. He glanced at the
pendulum clock in the hall. Ten to six.
He crouched by the body sprawled beneath the upstairs balcony.
The back of John Forthwait’s head was an ugly mass of brown twists and maroon
paste. His face lay turned toward the half-parted doorway, staring with a
lifeless eye and open mouth. A crumpled nightshirt draped onto the stained
floor, which transformed the white cloth to a shade of burgundy.
Shuffling sounds filtered in from outside. William straightened, hearing his
brother-in-law climb the front steps. The door swung open with a blast of
morning light. Charles’ quiet conversation with Emily and Elizabeth abruptly
“My God, it’s Forthwait!”
Charles twisted to shield the women’s wide-eyed glimpses. He looked back
quizzically over his shoulder.
William glanced once more at the corpse, and shook his head with sudden
impatience at his timid relation. “Don’t bother about that, help me roll his
They lifted the sagging flesh. Splotched fabric fell away revealing an ugly
gash at the victim’s midsection.
Elizabeth darted upstairs.
Emily stood behind the men, rubbing her pale arms in an effort to stop
trembling. “How could this happen? We were outside for less than an hour.”
She looked up to see her two sisters start down the curved stairway.
Elizabeth clutched her sibling tightly, forcing the cringing girl to take each
step toward the tragedy below. When they reached the landing, eighteen-year-old
Victoria stopped to behold her boyfriend’s rumpled mass. Color drained from her
face with eyes looking as lifeless as those of dead man. Abruptly, she fainted.
Charles lunged to keep her sagging head from hitting the floor. He carried
her limp torso into the adjoining room and settled it onto a chesterfield.
Relieved of his burden, he headed to the servant’s quarters, shouting names to
arouse the household.
Cold nausea gripped William. He shot a worried glance at Elizabeth. Neither
his years at Oxford nor a sizeable fortune would do them much good in the face
of a murder investigation. They had enough to worry about without this
unthinkable crime at his brother-in-law’s estate.
He took his wife’s arm and looked up at the balcony above. “The wound
suggests he was stabbed, and pushed over the upstairs railing,”
Elizabeth put a hand to her mouth. “No! Who would do such a thing?”
“It’s these damn Forth’s. They won’t let up until they have everything we
own. Now, somehow, one of us has killed their relation. They’ll come after us