The headlines were splashed with the scandal everywhere and Charlotte seethed each time she saw it. The little tramp had done something she had never once counted on. Time was already of the essence and here Caroline was making it all the more difficult. All the more high profile too. The police wouldn’t be the only one on the look out for suspicious things in the news and a murder in a small town was as suspicious as anything could be. Oh sure, there were likely to be deaths here and there and not all of them innocent and old age related. Charlotte was well versed in the fine art of death and how it worked in any given place. The elderly should found in their beds or somewhere comfortable, even if in reality, they had been given a push into the grave. The young should look like an accident. The downtrodden were easier but less worth the effort. The rich would cover up anything that might look scandalous anyway so it was more fun to strike them wherever would be most embarrassing. Give a little something for the gossip ring to enjoy even if the common people never knew about it. All these things she’d done. All these things she knew well enough to know how to get away with the act without even being accused. And then this bloody amateur comes and ruins her cover and any chance Charlotte had of taking her time to ensnare her.

Even Victor knew! He didn’t yet know it was Caroline but even he was highly suspicious. The only thing that saved Charlotte the high offense of having to defend herself against this little set back was that the headlines screamed about blood being everywhere in the parlor room. She could see it in his face that there was that knowing look he would give her if he suspected that she was guilty but by his own admission, that was more reflex when he read about a recent death involving a man. He said as much also that the man involved was of ill-repute and even her brother was well aware that she’d have nothing to do with him. Of course, her former husband’s creditors may not and if she did not act quickly, this might well become a concern.

Damn that Caroline! All this worry was likely to cause wrinkles of a kind, certainly. When this was over, she would have lines across her forehead like small waves for sure.

With her own name cleared at the house, Charlotte made the best of the situation and insisted that she needed a shopping trip away to help her cope with the sudden turn of events. She was well aware that Victor didn’t buy it but he would also notice if she were not taking advantage of this little event to further her own interests in some way. He also knew better than to pry and that left her open to hunt. She drove herself to town, fully aware that an elderly man was driving some ways behind her in a car that she knew her brother owned. She was irritated by this but it wouldn’t stop her. Instead, if she was to have a chaperone, she would ensure that he was going to be as bored as she could possibly make him. Unfortunately, this also meant that she was losing valuable time as she made her way to various cutesy shops in town and forcing herself to look at these useless trinkets as though she might be fawning over them. When the elderly man with the sallow face entered the shop she was in, just as pained as she was to be looking at these ceramic knick knacks, she decided that she needed to truly plunge herself into a place that might send him running back to her nosy sibling.

After waiting for a moment to see that the man was truly bored to tears, she then slowly and deliberately made her way towards a nearby clothing boutique. Keeping her dark glasses on all the way there, she had to bite her tongue to keep from gagging at the thought of what she was about to do. Reminding herself that she had done far worse things than this in the pursuit of riches, she grit her teeth under her forced smile and tried hard not to look pained as she wandered inside and immediately made her way to the only form fitting dresses she could find.

Oh it was a disgrace! Thank mercy that no one fashionable lived in breathing distance of this little hell that she’d found herself stuck in otherwise she might need to use some of the supplies that she’d gotten from the chemist prior to visiting her brother. They were not cheap and they could only be acquired so many times before people asked too much. She thought of those supplies that she’d craftily hidden now as she walked around looking at clothing that was so far out of fashion, it might make Caroline feel at home. She knew she could not kill the man who’d wandered in just now and was trying as hard as she was to hide the pained look on his face. She knew that she couldn’t do such a thing without enraging Victor or getting caught but the temptation was so high as she grabbed a garment in front of her and cringed when she felt the fabric. It was definitely not high end and very hastily made too. There were no bold colors and it was killing her a little to be touching these things, trying to force herself to find something to pretend to fawn over. She wondered if the man in the store was trying desperately to find the exit yet. She had half a mind to join him, if he was. Why, look at these clothes? They weren’t just out of fashion, they were out where any common person might touch them. It looked as though a ragamuffin had come and made a mess of them for sport!

When Charlotte spotted one of the offending garments on the floor, she had a mind to turn on her heel but then she saw that it was torn. A little bit and only at the corner of the neck hole but enough that it would not pass for a simple flaw in how it was made. It had been cast aside, under the racks and given that she’d had to move something to see it, it was obvious that it was deliberately done. Suddenly, Charlotte found that she was no longer having such a difficult time with her faux shopping trip. She glanced behind herself and the gentleman was still there but far more distant. The look on his face was unmistakable disdain and she couldn’t help smiling. He was faltering and she’d found something of interest. Putting on the act further, she grabbed at a dress that she wouldn’t be caught at her own funeral in. The cut wouldn’t flatter anyone and the fabric might as well be made of burlap for how it might be to wear against the skin. As soon as she picked it up, she saw yet another hidden victim tossed beneath a pile of clothes. Again torn at the neck and a bit at the shoulder. As though someone had been trying desperately to pull it over their head quickly. Someone, maybe, who needed new clothing in a hurry? Someone who couldn’t be caught with a lot of money without looking suspicious to anyone?

Charlotte looked behind to see that her gentleman follower had lost interest in this pursuit and was hurrying towards the door. She waited until she saw him leave the doors before casting the offensive item aside like the worthless rag it was. She trailed through the clothing, focusing on those things that she thought Caroline might be drawn to but with little luck. She continued making her way through, undaunted. She felt as though with just a small bit of patience, she might yet find something to give away the little rat. Maybe even figure out where the vermin was hiding. It would be too easy to find her here and she knew it but Charlotte had seen now how clumsy she was. How utterly inept she was when it came to keeping her affairs guarded. She’d all but shown off what she’d been up to with the murder of that wretched excuse for a man. Now if only she would be just a little more careless, she might be caught before the authorities sent her to the gallows. Maybe she would yet be found.

After making her way around the boutique, Charlotte felt that she was no closer to her goal but on the off chance she might yet find something, she made her way towards the back. A door to the back alley was left open, as though it had been forgotten about. Looking about herself, she carefully made her way outside and into the dim light of the alleyway. Her wolfish smile brightened when she happened upon a small bundle of clothing sitting just to the side of the garbage piled in the back. Even from a distance, Charlotte could tell that it was something her idiot half sibling would have done. Folded too neatly to be random, they were placed as though they were expected to be taken by a servant for the laundry. How very like dear stupid Caroline. Standing before them, Charlotte cast a long shadow over the suspect pile and moved the top garment with the toe of her shoe. There was a faint throbbing of the healing prick on her finger when she saw the dry blood on the blouse that lay just under a drab coat.

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