Palo Alto Weekly 15th Annual Short Story Contest
by Patricia Bass
I was deep into my favorite radio soap opera, when my telephone rang. Not an unusual occurrence, being that I am the Sheriff of East Clarksville and almost the only cop in town. Almost, because in a bizarre suicide bombing seven years ago my buddy Roger got his arm blown off and bled to death. Almost the only cop, because technically I've still got his arm in a tub of formaldehyde in my linen closet.
Anyways, I answered the phone in my typical "do not disturb I own a gun" voice. I rarely expect emergency calls, because our town holds 132 people, and rarely do things get rowdy enough for them to have a conversation of more than "'Mornin', Mrs. Smith" or "Excuse me, sir, but your lawn mower ate my dog," much less rob a bank or steal a handbag.
"Excuse me, sir," plied the female voice on the other line, "but my husband's dead. I cordially invite you to my abode, 43 Walter St., tonight as soon as possible to investigate this most devastating occurrence."
"Of course, Mrs. I'll be right over." Well, there went MY soap. Now I'd never know if Marcella and Philip ever tell Rachel if it's her identical twin that's making Hortense jealous.
In ten minutes I jogged down to 43 Walter Street and rang the bell. Donn Jacobs answered it politely and led me to the kitchen where her husband lay with a kitchen knife through his back. Being the gentle, genteel lady she is, Donna had mopped up the blood around him and began to push him to the far corner of the room so she could bring out a table. I took a look at him, prodded him with my foot, and declared the death to be after four, within the last two hours. He was named Bill, but we all knew him as "Tough Guy." Yes, it is a queer nickname, but he got it in the army, so no one comments on it.
"Tea, officer?" She inquired. I declined but sat with her and ate crumpets with strawberry jam while I extracted evidence from her. As I listened I began to notice that the strawberry jam had mold, so I pretended to keep on listening as I scraped it off on the side of the table. All I heard was that her home housed four servants: a cook (Sue), a maid (Jane), a gardener (Dick), and a nanny (Gloria), plus herself, her husband, and their infant child.
It was an interview impromptu and prompt to Sue, Jane, Dick, and Gloria, where I came to learn that: a) they all loved Mr. Jacobs (yeah right, or who killed him), b) Sue was playing croquet in the backyard the entire time along with the rest, so they all had alibis, and c) they could all verify the fact that Donna Jacobs was at the market with her best pal and confidante, Betsy at the time of the murder. Betsy would confirm it, I knew. So that makes alibis for them all. I doubt Tough Guy will be avenged.
I came back inside and lied, proclaiming "Well, it's pretty late so I'll head home, but I have a few clues, so don't worry." Which was a complete and UTTER falsehood, being that it wasn't pretty late, I was planning on hitting a few bars, not going home, and I had no idea what to do about this case. On my way out I got myself a glass of water which I swallowed in a gulp and sloshed on the floor before I hastily ran out.
After sitting in my office for 2 hours, and smoking a pipe in the style of Sherlock (although not shooting cocaine in the style of Mr. Holmes, that's one aspect of him that's irresponsible, but look who's talking) I decided upon the following: a) Yes I do understand you are tired of lettered thoughts. I don't care. b) I am never going to understand this case. c) I need to look like I understand this case if I want to keep my job.
So the next morning I was up and ready to tell Donna Jacobs my version of what happened to Tough Guy.
"Mrs. Jacobs, I am sorry about your husband, but I have figured the case so don't fear a murderer on the loose," I said consolingly. "Here's how it happened: Enter Tough Guy," I began, as I mimed his movements. "He walks over here." I walked to the water I spilled the night before. "Look! Water! So he tripped, and fell against the table."
I pretended to slip and hit my head on the table, right where I wiped the strawberry jam the night before. "His blood is still on the table where he hit is head! Then he fell on the knife that was on the table, and slid to the floor!" I finished with a smile of intelligence.
"But wasn't the knife through his back?" Donna questioned. "Plus if his head hit the side of the table, how could he fall on TOP of a knife that-"
"It's too complicated for you to understand," I lied for the second time in 24 hours. "I won't even bother."
"Oh well," she said. "Thank you Sheriff."
A case well done I thought.
Later that week Betsy (the pal and confidante) came to dinner at Donna's, newly widowed.
"I love this food, Donna! " Betsy mumbled through a mouthful of mashed potatoes. "It's great Sue can make this! Where did you find such a good cook?"
"Childhood friend. We're very close. Steak?" Donna asked politely.
"Yes please." Betsy smiled out with bright red lipstick. "Oh, and I love your cutlery Donna,Iām so happy we shopped for them together! These dinner knives are marvelous!"
"Oh, I know Betsy," Donna smiled back through her black veil, "they cut through even the toughest meat. "
Betsy giggled at their inside joke and thought of her identical dinner knife at home. And her nearly identical husband.