Blood painted her hands a devil red.
Jessalyn watched the liquid death drip off her fingers and onto the dust ruffle. Eyes like glossy marbles, she stared at the body of Duke Trane lying face-up on the bed, the chimney poker still wedged in his abdomen. Jessalyn had stabbed him several times. How many, she couldn’t remember. It happened faster than a dream, slower than waking up.
Her body quaked as she grabbed for the apron tied about her waist. At frantic speed, she began to scrub the stained sin off her hands.
What am I gonna do? she thought. The family will see I be missin’. They’s gonna know it was me. They’s gonna know I killed ‘em.
Even in these days of Prohibition, Duke partook in illegal drinking on and off his property. Right now, he should be downstairs guzzling whiskey and cocktails with the rest of the Tranes. Surely someone would have noticed his absence by now. How long did Jessalyn have until they came searching for him? The first place they’d look would be his bedroom. The room she killed him in.
Jessalyn’s heart escalated when observing her once white apron. A splotchy mess of red gunk on cotton, it exuded a metallic scent so wretched bile toured the upper chambers of her throat. What would she do with such evidence? Burry it? Burn it? And what would she do with the body?
Jessalyn dared to step closer to the bed. Gulping down her cowardice, she leaned over the corpse of her master. Duke’s soulless expression stared up at the ceiling. Suddenly, words from a recent conversation echoed at the back of her head. Goose bumps sprouted along her arms as she studied Duke’s vacant gaze.
The fact that they weren’t blinking didn’t bother her. It was that they were hazel and shaped like almonds. Just like hers.
Placing a hand over her mouth, Jessalyn looked at the rest of his features. Under scruffs of a dark, graying beard were dimples. Duke didn’t smile much, but when he did those dimples were the size of baby buttons. She too had the same dimpled cheeks.
First his eyes. Now his dimples.
It can’t be true, she thought.
Like a bullet leaving its barrel, Jessalyn shot back from the body and tripped over a rug. She scurried back on the floor and rammed into the bricks of the fireplace. Tears blurred the room. A sensation of icy spiders crawled down her spine.
“We look alike. How am I just now seein’ it?” Jessalyn parted her trembling lips. “Did I just kill my father?”
Moments before she stabbed him with the chimney poker, Duke had told Jessalyn that she was his bastard child. She obviously hadn’t believed him. He only said such a thing because she had the poker tight in her grip, aimed straight for him. After what he had done, Duke knew she was going to kill him and would have said anything to make her second guess doing it. That’s what she thought, anyway.
Jessalyn was smart to have assumed he was lying. With her light brown skin and bird limbed physique, she never would have thought Duke Trane, a pale, fat stomached coward, looked a thing like her. She couldn’t have been his daughter. There was no way in Hell. But was it possible? Could he have been telling the truth?
An inescapable nausea swam in the pit of Jessalyn’s stomach. Her chest pumped up and down, lungs never satisfied with enough air. The hot flames from the fireplace warmed her icicle skin. She shot a hand to her forehead, brushing back beads of sweat. “No! He can’t be my father! Ma would have told me. Or she would have at least told Ollie.”
Ollie, her older brother by three years, lived in the house and worked as the Tranes’ chauffeur and mechanic. They looked like an obvious brother and sister pairing, but his pigment had always been darker than hers. Heck, even in certain lighting Jessalyn could pass for white if she put on enough of Hattie Trane’s face powder.
Thinking about Ollie stirred up old childhood memories. One of them attacked her brain all at once. She looked back on a lazy Louisiana day when she and Ollie were playing marbles in the servants’ stairwell. She had bluntly asked him during a game why he thought she was fairer skinned than him and their ma. Almost immediately, Ollie dropped the colorful marbles he collected in his hand and watched their rainbow bounce down the stairs. “Oops.” She remembered his voice was awkward, almost nervous. Ollie kept quiet as he moseyed down the stairs. Normally he would have jumped over every other step. “You’re wonderin’ why you be fairer than me?” he had finally asked when gathering up the marbles. “I don’t got you a reason for it. I may be tobocca’ dark compared to yer creamy, cocoa coatin’, but that don’t make Ma and I different from ya. We’s still just the same, little sis. Just the same.”
Jessalyn had never thought much of his response after that day. But now gaping at Duke’s legs dangle off the bed, her mind ran wild. “Does Ollie know I’m Duke’s daughter?”
Footsteps clacked on the hardwood floors coming up the stairs. Heartbeat explosive, Jessalyn shot her attention to the door. The staircase was to the immediate right of Duke’s bedroom. Someone was coming and if they were coming to see him they could enter any moment. There was nothing to do but hide.