It was a balmy Saturday night when Julia and Steele landed back in Philly. Julia’s Aunt Isabella sat in an old high back chair near the living room window. Next to her was a small table with a bottle of sherry that was almost empty. She sipped her drink from a small blue glass as she watched the children playing outside. At first glance everything looked normal however as Julia and Steele moved closer the tranquil setting was not as it had seemed. Steele stopped in mid stride and grabbed Julia by the arm when he noticed the 45 pistol resting in her aunt’s lap. Julia’s gasp caused her aunt to turn from the window to face them. Tears were streaming down her eyes.
“Auntie what’s wrong? What are you doing?” Isabella calmly put down her glass and wiped the tears from her eyes. Before Steele could approach her Isabella picked up the gun. “Julia whispered to Steele I just bought her that bottle the other day. It usually lasts her a week.”
Isabella slowly shook her head, “I can’t do it anymore, I just can’t.” Steele could see the pain in her face.
He asked her, “what is it that can’t you do?” When he took a step towards her she raised her weapon. She sniffled and looked toward her niece.
“Do you know what today is?”
Julia nodded “yes; it’s the day my parents were killed.”
Isabella waved the gun back and forth. “Not killed, murdered. I have lived with this lie for twenty years. It’s time for me to end this. Your Uncle Cecil and I were dating at the time.
When he found out about the gold he decided that your mother was a better catch so he dumped me and pursued her. He was relentless. He didn’t give a damn about her, all her wanted was her money. Romone and Rosa were the perfect couple. They would have never done anything to harm one another.”
The liquor had begun to take its toll and Isabella was finding it more difficult to focus.
She stared at the gun.
You know this was my daddy’s pistol; he brought two back from the war, a 38 and this 45. I asked him once if he had killed any Germans with it but he never did answer. I used to think some things are better left unsaid.”
Steele felt as if he were wearing a pair of lead shoes. He knew that any attempt to take the gun could result in a blood bath. Isabella was racked with guilt, but why? What deep dark secret was worth keeping all those years? Why was she contemplating taking her own life?
Steele decided to pose a question.
“Isabella, why didn’t you report your sister missing when she didn’t come home that night?”
The woman waved the loaded gun in his direction.
“Mr. Steele, my niece has told me all about you. She was right. You are a very wise detective. I didn’t report her missing because I already knew she was dead.” Julia gasped when she heard the words coming from her aunt.
“Auntie! How could you have known unless…”
Julia’s aunt took a sip of sherry and nodded. “I was hurt when your uncle dumped me but I loved my sister more than anyone could ever know. I still miss her so much.” Isabella fought back the tears.
“Your Uncle Cecil was a real bastard. I’m glad he’s dead.” She glanced out the window then recalled the events of that deadly night.
“It was hot and muggy on the night your parents were murdered. The power in this neighborhood went out just as it got dark. They said it was a transformer or something. I was sitting at this same window when Cecil came in. It wasn’t till that moment that I realized I had never gotten my key back from him; anyway I sat and watched him. He was as jittery as a June bug on a hot grill in a heat wave. The first thing I noticed was that he was sweating like crazy. I watched him wiping something. He jumped when he noticed me sitting here. When he moved closer I could see that it was daddy’s thirty eight. His hands were covered in blood. I confronted him and we got into a heated argument. Then….he just blurted it out. He confessed to murdering my sister and his own brother Romone.” Isabella began to cry. She sobbed as she continued the story.
“Then the slimy bastard told me he loved me and asked to marry me. Two months earlier that was all I wanted but that night all I wanted was revenge. I literally saw red. He knew that if I married him that they couldn’t make me testify against him in court if he got caught. I think that’s what must have pushed me over the edge. The 38 was lying on the dining room table. He asked me to think about it and said he was going to the kitchen to wash his hands. That’s when I took daddy’s gun and shot him in the back.”
“Wait,” Julia interrupted. “Uncle Cecil said it was daddy who tried to kill him but daddy was already dead.”
Steele was way ahead of Julia. By now he had figured out most of what happened that night.
“Cecil gambled on the fact that no one would find the bodies till morning. The fact that it took three days played right into his hands. By distorting the timeline he was able to ruin his brother’s good name and remove himself as a suspect. How could he have committed the murders if he was laying here bleeding to death? It was impossible for the coroner to determine the exact time of death after three days so Cecil could tell any story he wanted to. But if the gun was brought back to the house how did it get back to the roof?”
Isabella turned to her niece then used her hand to shield her eyes in shame before lobbing yet another verbal grenade into the conversation of confessions.
“I took it there,” she whispered.
Julia slumped into the chair next to her, “oh auntie, what have you done?”
Isabella pleaded with Julia, “I had no choice. The gun was registered. It was in my possession.
Friday night is when I used to play cards up the street with the girls but because of the blackout I didn’t go. Don’t you see how that looks? With Cecil dead a triple murder with me as the only one left standing. The gun that killed your daddy came from this house. They would have fried me for sure.”
Now Julia was crying, she just couldn’t wrap her mind around what she was hearing.
After all these years of believing her parents did themselves in. First there was the letter in the safety deposit box now this. For the moment her newly discovered wealth didn’t seem to matter.
There was one glaring truth that was impossible to ignore. The gold was cursed.
Julia pressed her aunt for information. She needed clarity, some sort of closure to this delayed nightmare.
“Uncle Cecil didn’t die. It would have been your word against his.”
“No,” Isabella shook her head. “I left him for dead when I went to the roof of the barber shop. I put the gun in
Rosa’s hand. When I came back Cecil was
gone. The neighbors told me that everyone thought he must have surprised a
robber. That bastard had more lives than a freaking cat. I have had to live with this lie for the last twenty
years. I knew you would hate me once you knew the truth. Mr. Steele, take good
care of my niece.” Isabella raised the gun to her head. “Julia, it’s time for
you to go now.
Julia rose from her seat and yelled “NO! I don’t hate you. Auntie, you’re all I have. I need you.”
Tensions in the room were at their peak. This was the tipping point, the moment of truth.
Things could easily go either way. Steele tried to calm things down. “Isabella, Julia found the gold coins. She is a wealthy woman but what good is it without being able to share it with loved ones? She doesn’t blame you. Don’t you think she’s lost enough family already? Please put the gun down.”
With tears streaming down her face Julia decided to take a chance. She slowly walked over to her aunt and gently took the weapon and laid it on the floor. “I love you auntie, no matter what.”
She reached down and hugged her aunt. After Steele picked up the gun he wanted to leave the two to sort things out but there were still unanswered questions.
“Once the cops were convinced that Rosa and Romone had killed each other why didn’t Cecil turn you in for shooting him?” Isabella wiped the tears from her eyes and collected herself.
“Cecil wanted the gold more than he wanted to see me in prison. He knew that if he turned me in that I would have nothing to lose by telling the police what happened on the rooftop that night. We could have both ended up in prison and that’s a chance he didn’t want to take so it was a standoff that lasted twenty years. He kept a close eye on Julia hoping that one day she would lead him to it. In a way he was right. It led him to your ex-husband but his nine lives ran out before he could get to it.”
Final chapter Tuesday