Welcome to the April 2023 edition of First Monday Free Fiction.
To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on the first Monday of every month. At the end of the month, I’ll take the story down and post another.
This month’s free story is called Paris Green and is one of my Helen Shepherd Mysteries. This time around, Helen and her team have to solve the mysterious case of museum intern Kitty Chan, who is found dead in the basement of the Victoria and Albert Museum, dressed in a stunning green Victorian ballgown. But how exactly did Kitty die, why was she wearing a vintage ballgown from the museum’s collection and what was she doing after hours in the basement of the museum anyway?
Helen and her team follow the clues and find that they all lead back to…
Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd looked up at the towering main entrance of the Victoria and Albert Museum and frowned.
The last time she’d been here, some five months ago, had been on an outing with her niece Olivia. The original plan had been a trip to the Scotland Yard’s Black Museum, but Olivia’s mother had deemed the Black Museum too violent, so the Victoria and Albert it was. Luckily, Olivia had thoroughly enjoyed herself, even if she had been looking forward to the grisly crime and serial killer memorabilia on display at the Black Museum.
But now the staid Victoria and Albert Museum had become a crime scene itself. And not the scene of a robbery either, but of a murder or at the very least a suspicious death.
Police Constable Martin Jackson waited for Helen on the steps of the museum. A couple of Japanese tourists had apparently mistaken him for one of the exhibits and were happily snapping photos of the Constable in his uniform. Some of the tourists had even taken to posing with him.
PC Jackson endured the attention stoically and seemed more than a little bemused at the thought of finding himself on display in several Japanese holiday snapshots. Once Helen appeared, he excused himself and stepped forward to meet her.
“Good morning, Inspector,” he said, shaking Helen’s hand, “I’m supposed to take you to the body. DC Walker and Dr. Rajiv are already on the scene.”
“Thank you, Constable,” Helen said with a wistful look at PC Jackson’s empty hands. His predecessor, PC Kevin Walker, had always remembered to provide Helen with a fresh cup of coffee, before he’d been promoted to Detective Constable.
Helen sighed. “Fine. Lead the way, Constable.”
PC Jackson did lead the way, through the entrance hall into the history of fashion gallery and then through a door marked private and down a flight of stairs into the labyrinthine bowels of the Victoria and Albert.
“Where are we going anyway?” Helen asked, as the cellar grew dustier and gloomier.
“The victim was found in one of the conservation workshops,” PC Jackson replied.
“Attempted robbery or break-in?” Helen wanted to know. The pervasive dust tingled in her nose, making her sneeze.
“No, it’s… You really should see this for yourself, Inspector,” PC Jackson said, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Now PC Jackson was still new at the Met. Nonetheless, when Helen finally stepped into the crime scene, she couldn’t help but agree with him. This was certainly a sight that even the most jaded of police officers didn’t see every day.
For there, on the floor of a room that looked like any other of the many store rooms and workshops through which they’d passed on the way here, lay the body of a young woman. She was dressed in a gorgeous ballgown of emerald green silk, a wreath of artificial flowers set on her bobbed black hair, ever so slightly askew. The girl looked absolutely stunning, like Cinderella dressed up for the ball. She was also quite dead, sightless eyes staring up at the cavernous ceiling.
“All right, now this is different,” Helen said. She pressed a handkerchief to her nose, because the smell inside the workshop was quite appalling.
This story was available for free on this blog for one month only, but you can still read it in Paris Green. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.