“You did what?” I croaked, slamming down the coffee mug. Warm liquid sloshed onto the oak table.
I pressed my palm against my forehead as if it could contain the escalating fury. Across the room, Vincent slouched in the wing chair; his glasses perched precariously on the bridge of his nose. His graying moustache quivered. Any empathy I may have felt for Vincent had been jettisoned moments earlier when he arrived in my office and confessed his secret.
After a couple deep breaths, I faced Vincent. “Why didn’t you tell me this earlier? After all the time I spent with you. This is completely out of character for you.”
Vincent straightened and aimed his hazel eyes directly at me. “Charlotte, please let me explain.”
I held my palm out to silence him and glanced over at the laptop screen. The words blurred and the blinking cursor mocked my predicament.
“Let me get this straight. You’ve worked at Wallington Manor for 30 years. The owners and guests adore you. Now you tell me Mr. Wallington the fourth didn’t die of a heart attack. Instead, you poisoned him. Are you serious?”
Vincent’s head bobbed slightly. “Completely.”
“Somewhere in this past year, you should have told me. Why didn’t you?”
“I was scared.”
“Scared! Of what? Did you think I would delete you? Come on, you’re one of the main characters in this novel. Why didn’t you say anything during our interviews?” My fingers drummed against the table.
“But, I’ve told you now. That should suffice. The guilt is smothering me.”
“Do you have any idea how long it’s going to take to rewrite this story? All because you were scared. Just go away. Let me think.”
Vincent stood, straightened his coat, bowed slightly, and vanished.
This is supposed to be a literary story, not a murder mystery. On top of that, it’s turning into a cliché. The butler did it. Good grief. My editor isn’t going to like this. Wait, I might not even have an editor after this disaster.
Over the next few days, I deliberated over the situation. Always polite, even somewhat contrite, Vincent relentlessly attempted to explain the situation from his perspective. Each time he tried to gain my attention, I brushed him aside. The frustration over this plot twist consumed more emotional energy than I expected to expend.
Writing is supposed to be enjoyable. Work, yes. Exasperating at times. But not this emotionally draining. I can’t keep losing sleep over Vincent. Come on, Charlotte, get a grip.
Once my anger had simmered into disappointment, I spent hours reading and rereading the draft, searching for a way to incorporate Vincent’s revelation into the story without compromising the integrity of the plot I had constructed. It seemed futile.
Friday, I met with one of my writing group members at the coffee house and explained the situation. “Antonio, what do I do now? I can’t rewrite this entire book.” I took a gulp of my mocha latte and waited for a reply.
Antonio tapped his fingers together as he replied. “Think about how our sins must grieve God’s heart. In the same way, you’re grieving over Vincent’s actions.”
“Leave it to you to find a spiritual lesson in this. So I’m guessing you want me to forgive and forget, right?”
“Charlotte, you already know what to do. You said so yourself you’re not angry anymore. Just remember, though, it’s your story. Your creation. Characters don’t have free will the way we do. Imagine if they did.”
“We’d never meet our deadlines,” I chuckled. “Thanks, Antonio.”
After he left, I turned on my laptop and clicked open the story. God is merciful, but also just. I can’t simply let this situation disappear. I’m a writer. Antonio’s right. I created Vincent and this story. I can fix it, starting with finding out why Vincent poisoned Mr. Wallington.
After another sip of my latte, I began typing.
A knock at the door before midnight startled Vincent. No guests were scheduled to arrive tonight. Vincent slipped on his glasses and a housecoat and went to investigate. He switched on the chandelier in the foyer and unbolted the door.
Outside, a uniformed man stood aiming a flashlight in the doorway. The officer pushed the door open with his boot, grabbed Vincent’s hands, and slapped handcuffs around his wrists. “Vincent Chesterton? You are being arrested for the murder of Franklin Wallington the fourth. You have the right to remain silent.”
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