The first attempt to drive to the museum had been less successful than Charlotte had hoped and she had ended up back at the house before long. The darkness here seemed to get more alarming as the season change began to really take hold and she felt less safe as the sun began to sink into the horizon earlier. The weather had been less than cooperative lately as well and as the evening slowly dragged its darkness across the moody autumnal sky, she found that she not comfortable with the idea of being alone out there. Charlotte was less enthused to find that being in her makeshift home was becoming ever so slightly frustrating as well. She had not been prepared to find out that her brother was less accepting of her running off now that they had a common enemy in their midst. Seems his calm had worn off and the storm within him was starting to come to a boiling point. Victor was beside himself as he spent his time scheming, finding ways to cut Caroline out of their lives and off from his own financial affairs. He’d already been forced to do some damage control and it had made him wary of when she would disappear for hours by herself. He was utterly convinced that Charlotte would find their little lamb of a half sibling and turn her into a twitching pulp. He was absolutely right, of course, but he seemed to be in the type of mood that didn’t allow him to find any comfort in the knowledge that Charlotte would keep her alive and mostly in one piece long enough to find out what she’d been doing with that damned inheritance that he would get once their father was in the ground. While the prospect of their assumed father dead usually helped to improve his humor, he was still stubbornly insisting that he was not keen to harbor a murderess who’d brought with her a lynch mob. She so dearly wanted to enlighten him that her hands might be as dainty as they had always been but as unclean as they could possibly be as well but that seemed like a poor choice at the moment.
The early part of the evening was spent with him silently brooding and thinking on his next move to barricade himself from her influence. It was Victor’s way of going about everything. He wished nothing more than to wall himself from the world, keeping everyone at a distance. In this case, it may very well be a good method for keeping him safe from their ignorant sibling but it also meant that their enemy was willfully spending his inheritance with reckless abandon. Victor couldn’t care less about the money but he was also in control of his finances and quickly tying up loose threads that Caroline might be able to touch. His diligence was a comfort because it meant that he would not have his home taken from under him, as seemed to be what Caroline had been planning if his mutterings were any indication. That said, it also allowed the rat her freedom to roam and spend, which was getting alarming, considering that the evidence seemed to point that she was living the high life. That hotel room that had been damaged was far too beautiful to be cheap and while she might be clueless, Caroline was far too entrenched in the old world snobbery to settle for less than what she grew up with. Charlotte was far less forgiving of this than Victor and she had every interest in being more proactive in her half sibling’s destruction. Watching him as he paced was torment as she was forced to sit and ruminate herself. How she would prefer to be out there trying to extract that money from the wretch. This could all be over sooner if she could only get her hands on Caroline. If she could only get Victor to simply give her the reins on this one and let her have her way. It could all be over sooner if he would just turn his back and let her just take care of everything as she was so good at doing. Very soon, they would both be free of the stain upon their lives but Victor seemed only keen to leave the problem to her own foolish devices. Charlotte, ever the problem solver, had a more permanent interest in mind than her brother. And once that money was hers, she could examine exactly how fond she was of her dearest and only real sibling.
Victor had been positively annoying since they had discovered Caroline’s treachery. His rage and utter hatred for their deceptive sibling should have left him too distracted to care what Charlotte was up to and yet it had seemed to sharpen his senses significantly. It should also have allowed her to try to finally get a glimpse of what else he might be holding close to himself. Alas, he was still carefully guarding his affairs and made a point to keep an eye on what she did and even testing how much she knew. It was the bane of having a sibling that was as clever as she was. Victor was not stupid like Caroline was and he was more likely to be more cautious because of it. He did not give any indication of what he thought and though he had a wicked temper that he held to like a rider desperate to keep on his steed, it was a burden he knew well enough to keep his emotions from exposing him. Most irritating and since Charlotte could not afford to lose Victor as a playing piece yet, she was very keen on making sure that Caroline suffered for all of it.
Thankfully, though her brother as very observant of her behavior, he also allowed himself certain concessions. Turned out that his temper, while uncomfortably restrained, still had some sway over him and he soon found himself just as irritated with her as she was with him. Once Charlotte had successfully convinced him that her cabin fever was driving her mad, he cast her off to leave for the day. Sure he’d issued a dire warning that should she fail to return by sundown, they would not allow her back. She knew he meant it but it was of no concern of hers. She was nothing if not resourceful and a day was all she might need if certain things fell into place for her. So far, her luck had been most accommodating. Turned out that her trip to town proved to be just what she had hoped for.
A few days had passed since Charlotte had found out about the vandal in the hotel and it turned out that being away from town had been good for her. It had allowed her to clear her head of the urgency that the greed brought out in her but mostly, it had allowed the town time to spread the news around. With her imposed time limit, Charlotte did not trust that she would be able to make it to the museum and back before the grey sky blotted out the sun on her. Instead she made her way to have tea in the hotel that had harbored the mysterious vandal. Oh, if only she’d had the good sense to come here first and this might have been more expedient. The town might well be dying down for the colder months but a good story seemed to bring them all about with a vigor that made her jitter. The tea room was large enough to accommodate everyone and the hum of gossip was everywhere. Charlotte could hardly believe her luck. The information that spread around that room was almost more than she could handle and she had to bite her tongue to keep from giggling like a giddy school girl.
A table close to her was seated three older ladies in large hats, speaking as though they were only ones in the room. The eldest in the centre of the trio nattered on about the atrocity of a wool coat that they found discarded in a trash bin near the hotel. One of her listeners fretted about a murderer lurking in their midst. Behind her, meanwhile, a younger couple spoke of a hussy that had shouldered her way around the post office recently. She looked like a drunkard, her eyes hidden by dark glasses and looking red and vicious at a short moment when she removed them. For a brief moment, a couple of staff members approached each other, looking at a woman who had worn a cloche that was at least three seasons out of style. They quietly whispered if it might be the culprit whom everyone thought was mad, come to return and ruin yet another room. If there had been any doubt in her mind that Caroline was the culprit before, it was gone now. And apparently the oaf was lingering around somewhere nearby. Somewhere that it was easy to get a stiff drink. Pity that her sniveling half sibling had managed to evade notice for now. While everyone seemed to notice that there was something wrong with the strange woman who had been here, flashing her stolen money and fumbling around, no one seemed to notice where she had managed to run away to. It was only a matter of time, however, before her clumsiness would reveal her. A bit of patience had paid off this time.
It was tempting to find a place that might serve alcohol to the desperate in this town. Somewhere as tiny as this, there could only ever be one. If the drunken woman that couple had seen was indeed Caroline, that would be the best place to look for her. So very tempting it had been but that damned time limit was approaching and Charlotte knew better than to bait her brother while he was in this mood. She reluctantly made her way back towards the house, feeling dour at the prospect of having to wait yet another day to find the imbecile that made her life so bloody difficult. Making her way up the drive, she felt positively aflutter with anticipation as she struggled to think of what she might do to drive the wretch out. It wouldn’t do to corner her because if Charlotte couldn’t catch her in the act, there was little point to hoping that she would stay put. No, it was best if she didn’t know that she was even there. Caroline would stay where she was as long as she thought for certain that Victor was in the dark.
As she entered the house, she found the stormy mood she had left behind had broken. Victor was absolutely seething when she entered the drawing room and when she saw the letter clutched in his hand, she already knew why. A wide smile reached her lips. Unaware of her presence, he crumpled the offending paper in his trembling fist, its destination soon to be the fire. Quickly Charlotte rushed to her snarling brother, his eyes flashing like the flames at the sight of her. For one wonderful moment, she actually thought he might strike her but that control remained for now. Clutching to his arm, Charlotte beamed.
“Be careful, my brother,” she laughed, cheerfully. “You’re holding the key to the liar’s undoing.”