Elements of Mystery takes chemistry to a new level in the ongoing series of mystery novels by author Terri Talley Venters.

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Cornelius stood guard at the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, North Carolina. He sat in his usual spot, perched on the rooftop, guarding the west entrance of the estate. Thousands of tourists traversed the long hallways each day to gawk at the Gilded-age opulence of the largest, privately-owned home in the United States.

Cornelius protected the estate with over a hundred others. He took his duties seriously. He and his coworkers never moved an inch during their twelve hour work shifts. But staying perfectly still proved easier than expected, especially since Cornelius recently turned one-hundred years of age.

As the next group of tourists appeared on the rooftop, Cornelius noticed a child who appeared about eight-years-old.
The small boy held his Mother’s hand, pointed at the guard and asked, “Look at that one, Mommy, why is he so ugly?”
“Michael, sweetheart, it’s not polite to point and say mean words,” the boy’s mother said, rolling her eyes, incredulous of the words pouring from her child’s mouth.

“It’s okay, Mommy, he can’t hear me,” Michael said, looking up at his mother to make his point.

“I know baby, but let’s practice our good manners just the same,” she said.

“Can we walk to the edge with Daddy and look? Please?” Michael asked, pleading with his pout lower lip.

“No, Michael, Mommy is too scared to look over the edge. I don’t know why your father insisted we take the rooftop tour with a small child. It’s so windy, and I’m terrified you’ll blow right off the edge,” she said, squeezing Michael’s hand.

“Please notice all of the gargoyles perched along the rooftop of the Biltmore. Each one is different, and some even boast voluptuous breasts like this one here,” the tour guide said, pointing towards the female gargoyle. She gave the men a few seconds to admire the taut nipples of the statue and shoot a few perverted pictures before continuing with the tour.

“Some gargoyles are used as waterspouts to divert the rain water, while other serve as guards to protect the estate. I’ve worked at the Biltmore for over thirty years. And every so often, I notice the gargoyles are perched in a slightly different spot than they were the day before,” the guide said.

“How do the gargoyles switch places,” Michael asked.

“Magic,” the guide said, smiling as she tossed the sandy blonde hair of the adorable blue-eyed boy.

Cornelius refrained from chuckling at the tour guide’s comment. He’d noticed it too. The gargoyles did appear in different places on occasion. But while the guide found it magical and amusing, it infuriated Cornelius.

Cornelius heard the sound of wings flapping and cursed silently because he knew the noise belonged to a pigeon. Those damn “rats with wings” proved the bane of his existence because they were stupid, loud, dirty, and pooped everywhere. He crossed his fingers, and prayed the pigeon pooped in a territory belonging to another guard. The last thing Cornelius wanted was to clean pigeon poop after his shift ended.

“Mommy, look. The toes on the gargoyle just moved,” Michael said, pointing.

“No, Honey, you’re imagining things. Gargoyles can’t move because they’re statues guarding the estate,” the mother said.

“But the lady said sometimes the gargoyles switch places,” Michael said.

“Why do you listen to the tour guide and not me when I tell you to clean your room. She merely teased when she said the gargoyles switched places,” the mother said.

“But I saw…” Michael said.

“It’s just your overactive imagination. Come on let’s go. Mommy and Daddy are anxious for the wine tasting at the winery,” the mother said, pulling Michael away.

The group of tourists exited the rooftop for the last tour of the day. Dusk loomed ahead and Cornelius looked forward to the end of his long shift. Although his duties at the Biltmore Estate seemed important, the job itself felt easy. But sitting in the same place twelve hours a day for the last one-hundred years proved exhausting.

After the sun set and the darkness of the night settled in, Cornelius watched the last of the tourists and the guides leave the Biltmore, shutting down for the night.  Cornelius breathed an enormous sigh of relief. His stomach growled with hunger as he contemplated what to eat for dinner–venison, lamb, beef, game or fish?

Tonight he felt like dining alone. His tough day guarding the rooftop put him in a foul mood. He felt antisocial and hoped none of the other guards took offense for his craving solitude for a few hours.  He could always meet up with the others later.

Cornelius watched the last of the Biltmore workers vacate the grounds until sunrise tomorrow morning. He wiggled his toes and rolled his shoulders to help alleviate the cramping in his limbs from sitting perched all day on the rooftop without a single break.

When the coast looked clear, Cornelius, the gargoyle, extended his wings.  He jumped off of the Biltmore rooftop and flapped his powerful wings through the air, flying into the darkness of the night.

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