Part-Time Job

By Troy Blackford

"Yes, Ms. Sidebottom," I said, biting my lip to stifle a laugh. My sister Rowan and I had been in Amelia Sidebottom's employ for less than a week, and I'm afraid that her name still struck us both as ridiculous.

"You are to address me as Miss Sidebottom," she corrected, "not Ms."

"Yes, Miss Sidebottom," I replied.

Rowan and I, having answered an ad in the paper, had been hired on as the imperious Miss Sidebottom's "housekeepers and companions" the week before, and had only just begun our post a few days previous. As Miss Sidebottom scolded me, I remembered what Rowan had said when she saw the ad: "Companion for an old lady? I didn't know jobs like that still existed." As I stood listening to our new employer tell me her preferred procedure for dusting her shelves, it surprised me that people like Amelia Sidebottom still existed.

She seemed, along with the house and everything in it, to be straight from another time. The house was over one-hundred years old, and Miss Sidebottom had to have been at least three-quarters of the way to her own centennial. She insisted on referring to both me and my sister as 'Miss Ravenscroft,' despite the confusion caused by calling us both by the same name. She was like a character from a Victorian novel they make you read in school — old-fashioned in everything from her clothes right down to her manners.

"And then you are to repeat the process with each of the successive shelves. Is that perfectly clear Miss Ravenscroft?"

I assented, and assured her that I would instruct my sister as precisely as I myself had been instructed.

"Good girl," Miss Sidebottom said approvingly. "I have every faith that you will do so." She leaned forward conspiratorially. "It is not by accident that I have asked you to make my wishes clear to her. She is a satisfactory housekeeper, but I find that she possesses a rather second-rate memory. At least in comparison to your own, my dear."

I blushed and made some allowance for my sister's scatterbrained ways — something about how hard Rowan had to study. This excuse was accepted with a grimace and a skeptical harrumph, and I was left alone to continue the dusting.

* * *

"Rachel!" my sister shouted at the top of her lungs, jolting me from sleep. "Rachel!" she cried again as she flung my bedroom door open.

"Jesus, Rowan. What is it?" I asked, groggy but alarmed.

"It's Miss Sidebottom! She just called me," she began breathlessly. I glanced at the clock. It was just past two in the morning. "She's fallen and hurt herself," Rowan continued. "I told her she should call an ambulance, but you know her! She's crazy! She said this whole long thing about how she doesn't think doctors are going to be much help — which is ridiculous because she sounded fine to me! She keeps yelling over and over that she's not letting any 'officials' in her house until you and I come to take care of a few loose odds and ends for her."

My sister usually had a terrible memory, but from her diction it sounded like she had come close to repeating old Sidebottom's message verbatim. My sister was already dressed, and as I threw on my clothes, I had to wonder what it all could mean.

* * *

"Misses Ravenscroft!" Amelia Sidebottom wheezed. "I knew I could count on you to arrive in a punctual fashion." Sidebottom was collapsed at the foot of the stairs, sprawled out awkwardly in a position that was painful to look at. Yet still she insisted on proper decorum and grammar. I marveled that such an anachronistic creature happened to have a cell phone in her pockets when she fell.

"You're hurt! Why haven't you called 911?" Rowan cried, aghast.

"You'll see soon enough, child," Sidebottom said. "That's why I've called you here. I have certain...odds and ends to tidy up before I call an ambulance. There'll be people poking their noses about my business here before too long, I expect." There was that phrase again: 'odds and ends.' She took a big, gasping breath and then continued. "I feel as though I can trust you two. That's why I hired you. So I need you to promise me a little discretion. Can you girls do that?"

We both answered — rather uneasily — that we could. "Good. Now, go to the desk in the study and open the center drawer. There will be four large envelopes inside. I want you to bring them to me," she said, gesturing at Rowan.

My sister paused for a moment, bewildered, before leaving to carry out Miss Sidebottom's wishes. Rowan returned within a few moments.

"Bring those to me," Miss Sidebottom said. "Spread them out so I can read them." They were labeled 'Son,' 'Daughter,' 'Son & Daughter,' and 'R. & R. R.' Sidebottom plucked that one out and handed it back to my sister. "Take these other three," she told me, "and burn them in the fireplace." I did as I was told while our employer explained.

"When you came to work for me, and once I decided I liked you of course, I had a fourth will made up."

"A fourth will?" my sister asked.

"Don't speak out of turn, Miss Ravenscroft. Yes, you heard me child. A fourth will. These envelopes are like those things they make for children, 'Choose-Your-Own-Adventure' books. I have decided which of these adventures I wish to choose."

I had already lit the fire and thrown in the three envelopes before it dawned on me what she meant. She had had various wills drawn up, and planned on having someone destroy the ones she didn't want to be acted upon before she died. From what the old woman had said, I had just burnt her wills that left her possessions to her son, to her daughter, or split it between them. Miss Sidebottom held up the remaining envelope.

"This is the one I want my lawyers to see." Rowan and I were both too flummoxed to realize what should have been obvious. Rowan asked "Who or what is 'R. & R. R?"

"Why, it's for you and your sister, you unimaginative little thing!" Miss Sidebottom sounded completely taken aback. I felt equally aghast, though for entirely different reasons.

"Oh, but you can't leave all your money to us!" I argued. "You hardly know us."

"I can and I have," she responded. "My money, my house, and all my investments. You may now call the ambulance."

* * *

My sister handled the call while I got Miss Sidebottom a glass of water. I thought my pulse must have been racing and affecting my sense of time, because the emergency responders seemed to arrive in the driveway only a few minutes after Rowan's call. We ran to the window as the ambulance, lights twirling, began pulling up the long, snaking drive that led to the house.

"Is that a police car, too?" my sister asked. I looked out into the darkness and saw at once that she was right.

I was about to ask Rowan what she had said to the dispatcher that they had sent police when I noticed a second squad car pulling in behind that one. Just then, I heard a scurrying sound behind us, and I turned around just in time to see Miss Sidebottom fling herself once more to the ground from the third stair.

"Miss Sidebottom!" I cried, disoriented and scared, as I ran to her. Her entire attitude had shifted.

"Get away! Get away, foul brutes! The police will be here any second!" She lay on her back, writhing in agony.

"What's going on?" my sister wailed. "Are you alright?"

"I said get back! The police won't let you do this!"

I blinked in disbelief. At that moment, the door flew inward and two police officers rushed in. My sister and I merely stood over the writhing and screaming Miss Sidebottom, at a loss. Rowan was still holding the envelope.

"Oh, thank goodness!" Sidebottom cried. "These two hooligans flung me down the stairs!"

I took a step backwards, staring at her with wild eyes. "What?" I looked up entreatingly at the police officers. "That's not what happened!" My comment was met with sneers and silence. The look of disgust on the taller officer's face still haunts me.

"I found out," a gasping Miss Sidebottom struggled to say. "I found out what they did! It was terrible!" Rowan's mouth dropped open in astonishment and horror.

"What do you mean what we did?" she cried. In her shock, the folder fell from her hand to the floor.

"Hello," said one of the officers, bending to pick it up. "What's this?"

"Evidence," cried Miss Sidebottom. "It shows exactly what they did. They found my other copies, and burned them over there." She pointed at the fireplace. "But I wouldn't let them take this one away from me. They pushed me down the stairs while fighting me for it!"

"What on earth are you talking about?" I said, aghast.

"You keep your mouth shut, for now," said the disgusted cop, whose nametag read 'Officer Dentmore.' As all this happened, the EMTs ran in with a stretcher and picked up Miss Sidebottom.

"Look in the basement," she continued. "They thought I wouldn't find out, that I wouldn't go down there because of my back. But the smell," she groaned, as if remembering something vile. "Simply terrible. I took pictures, and printed them out, and put them in my safe place before I called. In case they tried to do something to me. To, shut me up!" She heaved a tremendous sigh. "But they found my hiding place."

My sister was bawling now, and that was probably the only reason why — from my older-sister instincts to be 'the strong one' — I wasn't crying myself.

"And you say the deceased was your gardener?" Officer Dentmore asked, scribbling in a small notebook.

"Yes, sir," she said as she was being carried out of the house.

"Deceased?" cried a distraught Rowan. The others ignored her.

"And when did he last report for work?"

"About a week ago. Right when," the words caught in her throat as she suppressed a sob. "Right when these two murderers started work! I never dreamed..." She trailed off. As the EMTs carried her over the threshold, she fixed her gaze on me and my sister and cried "I wish I'd never placed that ad in the paper!"

As the two officers slipped cuffs on my wrists and began reading us our rights, I couldn't help but feel the same way.

* * *

"Come on, Rachel. Play straight with us. When did you hide the body in the basement?"

Officer Dentmore had been interrogating me for four hours. Rowan had been led to a separate room, and I half-suspected that by now she had confessed to every murder in the last forty years. She was soft and easily rattled, and these officers were expert rattlers.

"I've told you exactly what happened. I never met the man in question. Miss Sidebottom called my sister and I over tonight — well, I expect it was last night by now — with some story about having fallen down the stairs. She was lying on the floor when we got there. She told us that she needed us to do something before we called an ambulance — some bull about burning three of her four possible wills."

I was getting pretty good at the sequence of events by now, as I had repeated this story dozens of times. Still, I recognized that a lot was riding on stating our side of the case. I continued.

"Only she must have already called an ambulance and the police before we got there, because you and the paramedics arrived only a couple of minutes after we called 911. And that stuff about burning the wills was just to make it look like we were destroying evidence. We didn't even know what they were supposed to be when we burnt them! We certainly didn't know they were printed-out photos of a murdered man we'd never met."

Dentmore frowned, but allowed me to continue. "When we finally saw the ambulance and police cars coming down the drive, Miss Sidebottom got up from the floor while we weren't looking, threw herself down the last few stairs, and began screaming at us to get away. That's when we first heard all this stuff about the murdered gardener."

There was a tap on the mirrored glass, and the door opened. A woman walked in. Dentmore looked irritated.

"What?" he barked.

"It's a pretty big 'What,' I'm afraid. She's actually telling the truth," said the woman, sliding a file across the desk to Dentmore. "Detective Martin," she said, introducing herself to me as though I were an equal and not a murderous old-lady pusher.

I was profoundly interested to know why and how my fortunes had changed so rapidly. She quickly explained.

"We've pulled your phone records, as well as those of Ms. Sidebottom." I didn't bother telling her that Miss Sidebottom would have been livid to hear herself being referred to as such. "Batty old thing was trying to frame these poor girls," she said to Dentmore. "But she got tripped up on a lot of little details."

Dentmore, to his credit, looked inclined to believe her — though he was clearly just as shocked as I was, and not nearly as happy.

"For one," she continued, "the medical examiner says the man had been dead a week — at least a day or two before these girls ever had any contact with Sidebottom. The GPS data for the sisters' phones shows that they didn't go over to Sidebottom's tonight until after she called them, and it shows that Sidebottom called the police and ambulance before they arrived. The gardener's phone location data, when overlaid with the girls' movements, shows they were never in the same place at the same time."

I was stunned. "So, the whole job posting?" I stammered, trailing off.

"Nothing more than a put up job," said Detective Martin. "Lady killed her gardener, hid the body, and then immediately put out an ad for some 'housekeepers' she could try to pin it on."

My head was spinning. The whole thing was just an elaborate plot to lure someone to the house so Sidebottom could frame them for murder? I couldn't believe the duplicitous intricacy of her plot. Neither, judging from the conflicted look on his face, could Officer Dentmore.

"It was a clever plan, in a way," Martin said. "It probably would have worked twenty years ago. She erased the call to you from her phone, apparently thinking that she had erased all records of the call. She didn't seem to understand the technology involved in phones today. That your location data was on file, for example. Those little details were what spoiled it."

I shook my head, remembering something I had said to my sister after we had first met Miss Sidebottom.

"She was definitely out of another time," I said in a musing voice.

"In another time," said Officer Dentmore, "you and your sister would have been hanged for murder on that old lady's word alone."

I shuddered, remembering how close I had been to shutting off my phone's GPS tracking to save battery power. It was my jogging app, I realized, that had convinced me to leave it on. "Well," I said, "I've never been happier to have my personal data collected." I paused for a moment, and then said "Now I better go scrounge up some money to bail out my sister."

"Bail her out?" asked a confused Officer Dentmore. "For what?" added a curious Detective Martin.

"No clue," I said, smiling, "but there's no way she didn't confess to something two minutes into the interrogation, even if she hadn't done it."

Troy Blackford is a 29-year-old writer living in the Twin Cities with his wife, a son on the way, and two cats. He has stories published in the Missing Slate, Roar & Thunder, Bewildering Stories, Rose Red Review, Inkspill Magazine, Roadside Fiction, The Glass Coin, and many others. He has an audiobook collection out through "In Ear Entertainment" entitled "They Who Cry Out Seek to be Heard," as well as a print short story collection entitled "For Those With Eyes to See."

His short story "Hanging Weight" appeared in omdb! in June, 2013

Copyright 2013 Troy Blackford. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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