Short Story – Inheritance

closeup photography of clear jeweled gold colored cluster ring on red rose

I wrote this piece for a creative writing university assignment, with a word-limit of 2,000.

2021 © D.E. Kendall



D.C. Hayley Pearce begrudgingly pulled up outside a grand Victorian townhouse. She was frustrated to be investigating yet another theft involving the upper-middle-class of London – when there were endless cases more deserving of her skills across the East End – Hayley trudged up the several stone steps and approached an emerald door guarded by imposing Roman pillars.

“Good afternoon,” Hayley forced a warm smile as she flashed her detective badge at the immaculately presented red-haired woman who answered the door, “Are you Mrs Spencer? I’m D.C. Pearce, we spoke on the phone.”

Hayley was invited into the lavishly decorated home of Karen and Peter Spencer; she struggled to maintain focus as she gazed in awe at the gloriously high ceilings from which chandeliers, dripping with multifaceted glass gems, were suspended.

“Can I get you anything to drink?”

The pleasant tones of Karen’s voice snapped the detective from her reverie as she politely declined. Perched on the edge of a decadent corner sofa, Hayley removed a recording device from her pocket and placed it upon the glass coffee table in front of her.

“No pen and paper?” Karen’s tone remained casual as she carefully placed a dish of homemade millionaire’s shortbread on the table, beside Hayley’s recording device.

“Thankfully, we’re a little more sophisticated than Sherlock Holmes,” Hayley’s eyes were on the delicious-looking shortbread before her. “Is Mr Spencer going to be joining us? I require witness statements from you both.”

“Yes, Peter will be with us shortly. He’s running a little late at the office.” Karen mimicked Hayley, her eyes devouring the shortbread she’d obviously denied herself for decades.

“Excellent. Do you mind if we begin?” Hayley activated the recording device upon Karen’s acceptance of the terms.

“I’d been helping Norah, my now sister-in-law, prepare for her wedding for the last year and a half. It’s all been incredibly stressful for her, especially since falling out with her closest friend over bridesmaid dresses six weeks before the big day.”

“Did that friend attend the wedding?”

“Unfortunately not. I heard she was turned away from the hotel.” Karen appeared saddened by the revelation, “Norah asked me to step in as chief bridesmaid after her friend refused to speak with her.”

“Could I have the name of that former friend please?”

“Of course,” Karen declared, “Sally Hensworth.”

“Thank you. How would you describe your relationship with Ms Evans?” Hayley couldn’t resist helping herself to a piece of shortbread, cut into a near-perfect cube.

Karen reeled off a twenty-minute monologue of epic proportions covering every detail of the relationship she had with her sister-in-law, within which she illustrated an affectionate friendship that had lasted the two years they’d known one another. Satisfied that Karen’s speech reflected the opinion of their relationship expressed by Norah, Hayley checked her watch, aware that Peter was nearly half an hour late to their meeting.

“Do you recall Ms Evans wearing her engagement ring upon arrival at the venue, the morning of her wedding?” “To be perfectly honest, Detective Pearce, I was so focused on helping Norah get ready that I did not notice,” Karen prepared for another theatrical speech, “I did, however, remind her that it was customary to wear the engagement ring on her other hand during the wedding ceremony. Although, I am not certain she agreed. That engagement ring was special to her. It was bequeathed to Alan by he and Peter’s late grandmother, Florence, in her will. Norah never let that ring out of her sight, so I am surprised someone was able to steal it. When she discovered it was missing that evening, I helped her search high and low for it. The poor thing was in such a sorry state.”

“Yes, thank you Mrs Spencer, Ms Evans has already informed us of her version of events.” Hayley was desperately hoping Peter would arrive before Karen went off on another conversational tangent.

The front door was violently flung open, only to be slammed shut moments before a tall gentleman in a business suit, with dishevelled blonde hair, rushed into the room.

“Peter, this is Detective Pearce. I’ll make us some coffee.” Karen disappeared, soon followed by the sound of clanging cups coming from the kitchen.

“Mr Spencer–”

“Please, call me Peter,” he plonked himself onto the seat Karen vacated as he ran a hand through his hair to flatten it.

“Peter,” Hayley forced a false smile; she hated being obliged to forgo formality, “I have a few questions to ask regarding–”

“Yes, yes, I know why you’re here. Sorry, don’t have all afternoon. Got to be back in the office by five for a late meeting. What do you need to know?”

“First, I have to get on record your compliance with the use of this recording dev–” Hayley also hated being interrupted.

“Yes, it’s fine. I’m happy to be recorded. Please, carry on.” Peter shoved three small cubes of shortbread into his mouth simultaneously.

“Coffee!” Karen cheerfully announced as she placed a tray on the table, insisting Hayley have a coffee with cream and two sugars despite her repeated attempts to decline.

“If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the kitchen loading the dishwasher.” Karen pecked her husband on the cheek before she disappeared into the kitchen once more – the clashing and smashing about of plates and cutlery suggested her inexperience at loading the dishwasher.

“Alright,” Hayley composed herself, “I understand that your brother, Mr Alan Spencer, inherited an heirloom from your grandmother that he gifted to Ms Evans when he proposed to her. Why didn’t you inherit it? After all, you were the eldest of her grandchildren.”

“Didn’t want it.” Peter’s tone was blunt, “I married Karen fifteen years ago, while Alan only met Norah two years ago. Gran died three months before Alan proposed to Norah, so it made sense for her to have it.”

“Were you angered by that?”

“What, by the fact my brother gave his girlfriend a ring our Gran had worn continuously for sixty years without getting it cleaned first? Of course not.” Peter stuffed a further three shortbread squares into his mouth.

“Did you see Ms Evans wearing the ring on the day of the wedding?”

“Like I’d pay that much attention to her,” Peter scoffed, “I was busy organising the groomsmen, then Karen sent me home to fetch her hairspray. Apparently, she couldn’t cope without it. She had every aspect of the wedding organised, yet still managed to add to my to-do list.”

“So, you left the venue to retrieve your wife’s hairspray from home the morning of the wedding?”

“Yes,” Peter spoke to Hayley as though she were a child, “I left the hotel to collect the hairspray for my wife because, apparently, it’s the only one that holds her hair in place all day. She was too busy helping with Norah’s dress to leave, so, I got it for her. Hotel’s only a ten-minute drive away.”

“I see.” Hayley smiled, though itched to snap at the witness who was more focused on finding a napkin than answering questions, “And did you notice anyone who shouldn’t have been there as you were leaving or returning to the venue?”

“As a matter of fact,” Peter scratched his head as if rekindling lost memory, “there was some woman, dressed to the nines, protesting to a doorman that she was on the guest list as I returned. Apparently, she worked with Norah, which wouldn’t surprise me as they looked identical, but the doorman insisted she wasn’t allowed in. Said her name was Sarah, or Sandra ‘Chickenfirth’, or something like that.”

“Sally Hensworth?”

“That’s the one.”

Hayley thought it suspicious that Peter didn’t know who the woman was, yet he could recall the name when prompted. Peter’s late arrival and subsequent agitation concerned Hayley too; she longed to turn the collection of witness statements into an interrogation, though hadn’t the evidence to do so.

D.C. Pearce thanked Peter for his time, and he sent her on her way – though Hayley couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

* * *

Two days later, unsatisfied by the witness statements provided by Peter and Karen, Hayley set up a meeting at the station to speak to Alan alone; the only time they’d spoken was in the presence of his distraught wife.

“Thank you for agreeing to speak to me.” Hayley gestured for the smartly dressed solicitor to take a seat across the desk in her boxlike, cluttered office.

“No problem,” Alan straightened his tie with one hand, holding the other out for Hayley to shake, “I’m keen to find my grandmother’s ring, it means the world to my wife.”

“It states here,” Hayley opened a manila file and ran a finger along its contents to find the information she wanted to confirm, “the ring was worth approximately forty-thousand pounds. Is that correct?”

“That is correct, yes. We had it valued when my grandmother passed away.”

“And how did your brother react when you inherited your grandmother’s ring?”

“He was furious.”

Hayley could see Alan didn’t want to delve into an explanation as he looked down to adjust his cufflinks, though she needed to know more. “You failed to mention that when we spoke previously. Why?”

“My wife doesn’t know.”

Hayley remained silent to allow Alan to elaborate.

“If Norah knew she’d be heartbroken. She’s aware Pete never liked her. He thought she was a gold digger – she’s ten years younger than me and worked in a backstreet salon in Hackney. But Norah had no idea Pete contested the will when he discovered I’d inherited the ring. She thinks she’s finally been accepted into the family. Although Karen has made a real effort with Norah, Pete never hides his reservations. The ring was the extent of my inheritance, while Pete was left Gran’s holiday cottage in the Cotswolds.”

“Is it true that you and your brother fought just two weeks before your wedding?”

“Yes,” Alan looked up from his cufflinks to meet Hayley’s emotionless gaze, “he got dreadfully drunk at my stag party. Pete started slurring accusations about Norah, suggesting she’d stolen Gran’s beloved diamond ring from Karen and that marrying her was a mistake. He refused to believe that Norah keeping her maiden name was a gesture to reassure my family that she wasn’t marrying me for my money.”

* * *

Four weeks later, the three-carat solitaire diamond ring was discovered on an internet auction site, and the profile that posted it was traced to an IP address; Hayley had the proof she needed.

Racing up the several stone steps towards the Spencers’ front door – with backup of two uniformed officers – Hayley was prepared for impending conflict.

Repeatedly bashing on the ruby door didn’t rouse a response, so Hayley threatened to break the door down on the count of three.

“I’m here, I’m here!” Peter emerged with his hands in the air, “Please don’t damage the door, I just had it repainted.”

“Peter Lyle Spencer, you are under arrest for the theft of–”

Wait!” Karen’s voice bellowed from deep inside the Victorian townhouse.

Hayley and her colleagues ignored Karen’s dramatic cries as they span Peter around and slapped handcuffs onto his wrists.

“It was me. I did it. Please, take me instead.” Karen held her wrists together, palms upturned, looking to her shoes as she accepted her fate.

“No, sweetheart, don’t–” Peter’s pleas weren’t enough to prevent his wife from confessing.

Karen admitted to stealing the ring while Norah was panicking about a stain on her wedding dress – a stain Karen had covertly planted to cause a kerfuffle. She then handed the ring, hidden in a hair scrunchie, to her husband to ferry home under the guise of retrieving hairspray. Jealous that Norah had inherited the diamond ring she’d long admired, Karen acknowledged that she could never wear it without being disowned by her family. Therefore, she listed it for sale a few weeks later, without realising D.C. Pearce was still on the case.

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