The Devil is in the Detail – Short Story

Mrs. Makaka boasted of being the cleanest head cook House Lanka had ever seen. Deep down in the dressed stone walls and spotless floors of the kitchen, she brooded over the greasy pots.

Pascal, the second footman, was off nursing a terrible case of athlete’s foot and Miss Ng’ang’a was a no show as always.

Probably frolicking around the gardens… Mrs. Makaka thought sneering as she brought the steel wool to the bottom of the pot and started to scrub off the crusted ugali.

However, something caught her ear… something unusual.

Mrs. Makaka stopped and listened.

Her ears had never lied to her before. As the head cook, it mattered that she was on top of things in the kitchen. That is why no food had ever gone missing ever since she took over from Lydia.

She knew the sound of the pantry door opening, even of a steel lid sliding across a boiling pot of goat’s head soup. Perpetrators were in turn dealt with accordingly.

However, this particular sound was unfamiliar to her. For one, it was not coming from anywhere in the kitchen. It was coming from upstairs.

Shaking off the excess soap from her hands, Mrs. Makaka withdrew her hands from the pot and wiped them against her apron. Then she stilled and allowed her ears to take in her environment.

She heard the muffled simmering of the stew, the fading crackle of the dying firewood in the oven, and then unmistakably so, a scream.

A scream at this hour of the night from the upper chambers…? It did not bode well with her.

Against her better judgment never to venture past the servant’s quarters, Mrs. Makaka raced to the door, her moist hand struggling with the latch, and eventually managed to open it.

Her first thought was the children. Perhaps one of them had slipped and fallen down the stairs in the dark while coming for a night snack.

On the other hand, what if it was an intruder? Whatever the case, she had to know, if for nothing else, her piece of mind. So she took a candle and walked out.

The scream had stilled, but there were footsteps now, heavy boots and clumsy steps, though not from where Mrs. Makaka would have guessed. It sounded to her as if someone was running down the steps that led to the cellar.

“Who’s there? Susan? Susan is that you?” Mrs. Makaka called to the darkness below but there was no answer.

That was odd.

She peeked down over the stairwell, noting the fading hurried footsteps below as above her, raised voices drew her attention. Mrs. Makaka jumped, feeling her heart trot to a speedy beat. The door that led to the lower quarters stood ajar.

Were the Lankas probably having an argument?

Mrs. Makaka moved hesitantly upwards towards the door as something glinted over the burnished bronze knocker. She hoped against her better judgment that it wasn’t what she thought it was.

Please let it be goat’s blood, she thought as she eyed the scarlet strewn marks on the handle, watching not to touch the liquid.

Pushing the door open further open with her foot, her eyes immediately landed on a dark mass on the grand foyer marble floor right ahead. Her hand stretched out towards the switch on the wall and the dark patch lit up scarlet under the fluorescent glow.

Her fears were confirmed.

It was definitely blood and some of it had been smeared around the floor clumsily. Whose blood it was though, she did not know. There were however two distinct tracks, one leading towards the main door and the other towards the lower quarters.

Panic-stricken, she screamed, dropping the candle as she saw blood on her fingertips. It seemed to have been strewn over the switch as well.

Mrs. Makaka hurriedly wiped the blood off her finger against her apron as her eyes darted around the room. There was no one in the hallway, so where had the raised voices come from, and more importantly, who had screamed and why?

She brought her hands to her mouth as she approached the liquid and stopped, gagging. Had someone been stabbed? If so, where were they now and who was it that ran down to the cellar?

Mrs. Makaka’s first instinct was to lock the door to the lower quarters, which she did. She then hurriedly stuffed the key into her apron and wiped the remnants of blood from the key on her fingers against the apron.

She then raced towards the telephone meaning to alert Denyeko,  the foreman. Unfortunately for Mrs. Makaka, the line was dead. This hardly seemed coincidental.

Upstairs the lights came on as rushed footsteps were heard. Another scream erupted outside the house and fear lurched at Mrs. Makaka’s throat.

What was happening?

The telephone receiver slipped out of her hand, hanging helplessly against the burgundy wallpaper. Lord Lanka came rushing in from the direction of the study, gun in hand, barefoot with a vest and trousers.

He zipped his pants quickly.

Down the steps came Lady Lanka, hair in a bonnet, her movements rippling her silk nightdress.

“What is it Makaka, what’s the?” Lord Lanka started and stopped when his eyes landed on the pool of blood.

Lady Lanka’s hand went to her mouth as she ran and grabbed her husband’s hand.

“My God Peter, is that blood?” Lady Lanka exclaimed.

“Go make sure the children are safe! I’ll handle…” Lord Lanka ordered as the scream reignited outside.

“My God…!” Lady Lanka whispered. “We should phone the authorities!”

“No need… I have a gun and this is my property. Nobody breaks in and causes havoc in my home.” Lord Lanka added sternly.

Hearing the scream now, Mrs. Makaka shivered in fear. It sounded a lot like Miss Ng’ang’a.

Lady Lanka stood rooted to the spot. “What if they’re armed as well?”

“Then they better know how to use the damn thing.” Lord Lanka said as Mrs. Makaka’s eyes met his. “Go to the kitchen and wait there!”

“But there’s someone down in the cellar!” Mrs. Makaka said as she fumbled in her pocket and removed the stained key. “I heard them and locked them in.”

Lord Lanka managed a curt nod. “Good thinking. Give it to me.” He said yanking it from her hand as he cocked his gun. “Go upstairs with Priscilla and help with the girls.”

He turned to his wife. “Take them to our room and lock the door. Don’t let anyone but me inside!”

Dear God, please let Susan be okay! Mrs. Makaka prayed as she raced up after Lady Lanka.

Grabbing the first thing she could find; Miss Jackie’s umbrella, Lady Lanka made for the girl’s bedroom first, rousing them from their sleep.

Mrs. Makaka helped, as outside a loud bang, almost like a small explosion, erupted.

Gun fire! Mrs. Makaka thought. Has someone been shot?

Miss Nina screamed as Lady Lanka gathered her and Miss Jackie to her side. “Lock the door!” Lady Lanka ordered.

“But Lord Lanka said…” Mrs. Makaka interrupted.

“I said lock the door now!” Lady Lanka snapped.

Mrs. Makaka obeyed and locked it, stuffing the key in her pocket. She then turned in Lady Lanka’s direction, her eyes on Mrs. Makaka’s apron.

She focused on the bloodstains. “Mrs. Makaka, you’re hurt?”

“No…” Mrs. Makaka answered.

“Girls, into the bathroom… now…” Lady Lanka ordered as they obeyed.

Hurriedly, Lady Lanka followed them, locking themselves inside.

Mrs. Makaka raced after them, banging at the door. “Please let me in! Please… I’m scared.”

“Sorry, Makaka. We still don’t know what is going on and you have blood on you. I have to think of the girls.” Lady Lanka went on.

Stupid woman! What about me? I risked my life to alert you all. Serves me right for working for the Lankas…

“Of course ma’am… I’ll go see about the others.”

Way to remind me of my place in the hierarchy.

Mrs. Makaka unlocked the door and raced out of the room, thinking of getting as far away from the sound of the gunshot as possible.

She could no longer hear Miss Ng’ang’a screaming outside and for the moment, the only sound was her bare feet stomping against the carpeted hallway.

It was her first time up here and she had no idea where to go.

Think woman, what do you do? The telephone is dead, and there seems to be a dangerous man in your midst. Also, by the sound of things, Lord Lanka either shot at them or vice versa.

Ugh… Why did I have to volunteer to stay in late today? Serves me right for working on a Sunday… It’s the Lord’s punishment.

She was just about to cross the upper lobby overlooking the grand foyer when the door barged open downstairs. Mrs. Makaka tripped and fell but decided to stay there, afraid to move.

Lord Lanka’s growled downstairs. “Makaka! Makaka!”

Mrs. Makaka breathed a sigh of relief as she straightened herself up. Then she froze, staring down into a familiar set of caramel eyes in Lord Lanka’s grasp.

“I believe this is yours.” Lord Lanka barked.

Mr. Asap Makaka stood hands tied behind his back, his overalls stained in blood.

“Asap… what, my Lord…” The words were hard to form, and her feet were suddenly heavy as she struggled to get down the steps.

When she finally got down, Lord Lanka released the man who fell hard on his knees. Mrs. Makaka embraced him, analyzing his bruised face and busted lip. He had obviously been beaten severely.

Behind them stood Susan, petrified.

“What happened? Why do you look like this?” Mrs. Makaka implored her husband.

He began to speak but Lord Lanka interrupted him. “I found him trying to have his way with Miss Ng’ang’a” Lord Lanka barked.

“I did no such thing! I was delivering the pig’s blood for the dogs when…” Asaph shot back as Lord Lanka kicked him in the stomach.

Mrs. Makaka raced to Asaph’s side. “My Lord, please, have mercy. He’s a good man.”

“A good man indeed… that he would even lie to my face shows how impudent he is…” Lord Lanka growled.

“What is the meaning of this?” Lady Lanka screamed from the top of the stairs.

“My love, it appears we have been housing the devil in our house this entire time.” Lord Lanka barked.

“This man tried to force himself on Susan under the cover of delivering Pig’s blood. God knows what ritualistic depravation he wanted to perform on the poor girl. But I stopped him right on time. Had I not fired that gun, who knows what would have happened.”

Asaph shook his head in disapproval, eyes on Mrs. Makaka as she failed to stop the tears now streaming down her face. She looked back up at Lord Lanka, then at Susan. “My husband is not that kind of man.”

“He did it, he tried to force his way on me, and when I refused him…” Susan started as Mrs. Makaka jolted up to her feet.

“I said my husband is not that kind of man Susan, he is not. Tell the truth. There was someone who ran down to the cellar. Tell the lord who it was!” Mrs. Makaka asked as Susan’s eyes went from Mrs. Makaka to Lord Lanka.

She was lying, Mrs. Makaka could tell. She saw it every time Miss Ng’ang’a came in after having supposedly been tending to the children. She never met her eyes, fidgeted with her hands, and smelled strangely of wildflowers.

Her hair was frazzled and her face blushed. It was as she had guessed it. She had been frolicking with whoever had raced down to the cellar.

“I checked the cellar Makaka. There’s no one there!” Lord Lanka added.

How quickly though? He had only recently come from outside and fired a shot assumedly at Asaph. What time did he have to check the cellar?

Lord Lanka was clearly covering for her. Why?

Lady Lanka finally made her way to her husband, eyeing Asaph coldly. “What did you do to him?”

“Justice of course and the epitome of it shall be concluded here within the hour.” Lord Lanka added. “We shall hang this rapist for all to see.”

Mrs. Makaka felt as if the air had been sucked from her lungs.

“My Lord, she lies! My husband is a good man. He wouldn’t harm a fly.”

Why are you protecting her? She’s a maid.

“Well it’s not a fly he was harming, was it? It was a woman and one of my maids, which is a lot worse.”

Then it dawned on Mrs. Makaka; the pig’s blood, the separate footsteps, the Lord emerging from the study instead of their bed chambers not fully clothed and barefoot.

She had heard rumors of the hidden passageways in the Lanka House, as well as the Lord’s appetites, but she had not proven their existence…

…until now. The man in the cellar had to have been Lord Lanka.

Of course, it makes perfect sense. The two of them must have been together, Asaph found them, was startled and in the confusion, they tried to flee or something, hence the blood on the floor. Now the lord is trying to pin it on my Asap to protect this wench! His mistress!

“I swear upon all that is good, Asaph did not do this.” Mrs. Makaka pleaded.

You did my Lord; you and your disregard for the sanctity of marriage and vows. Why did I ever agree to come here? This family is cursed by the devil himself, we all know it. It serves you right… this is all your fault.

“Are you perchance calling my husband a liar Makaka?” Lady Lanka snapped.

Yes… a liar and an adulterer. May he burn in hell for harming an innocent man to cover his infidelity.

“No ma’am. I know my husband and I know he could never do this. There was someone in the cellar. You have to believe me.” Mrs. Makaka pleaded on.

It was your husband. He has taken your nanny up as his mistress, can’t you see. Or are you too blinded by your silks and diamonds to notice when he leaves your bed?

“Did you let him into the cellar? Is that how this pig farmer managed to enter my house? That would explain the blood on your apron.” Lady Lanka screeched insanely. “You wanted to punish her, right?”

Again Mrs. Makaka was lost for words.

She went down on her knees. “Ma’am, why… why would I conspire to do such a thing to my own friend?”

“Because you’re jealous. You’re upset that she’s prettier than you and she gets to take care of the children while you scrub pots and pans.” Then she turned to Asaph. “I’ve seen how your kind looks at my girls when they pass by. You sick bastards!”

Craven old woman! It is your husband who eyes them with lust in his eyes. You cannot even see the fear in them because you’re too busy spending his slave gold. He is the devil in your house, not my Asaph.

“Ma’am, please, he’s innocent.” Mrs. Makaka said as Lady Lanka slapped her.

“Lord Lanka is never mistaken. If he says that he found your husband trying to force himself on Miss. Ng’ang’a, then that is what he saw.” Lady Lanka said and that is when Mrs. Makaka saw it.

There, spattered on Lord Lanka’s trouser cuff was unmistakably a red tint of blood, the same blood that lingered on the trim of Susan’s frock and feet.

Their feet were red, soiled in pig’s blood and sin, yet somehow it was Mrs. Makaka and Asaph who were in the wrong.

“You will take your belongings and leave my house. We’ll see who will be mad enough to take in the wife of a rapist!” Lady Lanka hissed.

There were words that were exchanged. Somewhere in there was talk of a noose, a crowd, and judgment. Judgment…? What did a man who harmed his own know of judgment?

Oddly enough, at that very moment, Mrs. Makaka remembered the simmering pot of stew down below in the kitchen. It must have reduced by now, even started to burn. If it was not turned off soon, it would devastate the kitchen with smoke… perhaps even start a fire?

“Let them come and dispose of you and your wretched filth of a husband!” Lady Lanka spat.

Yes, thought Mrs. Makaka, let the flames of judgment come, let them come and dispose of your wretched filth of a husband.

The End.

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