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Third Place: Evelyn Investigates


"Evelyn Investigates" by Melissa Behrend in Third Place. Steaming tea mug


Evelyn Investigates

by Melissa Behrend

Third Place


            If one more person asks me to return to that crazy school, I thought as I read yet another email from my former principal, I will scream. I will literally scream. Neighbors will come running to my door.

            When I retired last year, at 65, I thought that was it. But no. They kept calling me… and emailing me…but I’d had enough of students’ whines, parents’ complaints, administration red tape. I was not going back—I didn’t care if there is a teacher shortage. I’d earned my pension and I am going to enjoy retirement.

            In the midst of my angry, solitary rant, there was a loud banging at my front door. Whoever it was, was serious. I hurried to open it, with a fake welcoming smile on my face, even though I felt anything but.

             “You’ve got to come quick! Mr. Harrison is dead!”

            I stood at my door, shocked, “W-what?”

             “Come on!” my neighbor, Mary, grabbed me by the wrist and pulled. I barely had the wherewithal to grab the door handle to shut it behind me before we were off. We traipsed through my front yard over to Robert’s--Mr. Harrison’s, house. His front door stood wide open.

            “Mary, slow down! Robert’s dead? How do you know?”

            “I always come over here in the mornings! You know that,” she gave me an incredulous look.

            “I did?”

            She looked at me again, the same way. “Yes, we always have coffee together in the morning. I mean, honestly, I’ve told you this a million times.” She pulled me, stumbling, into Robert’s foyer. I didn’t see anything. And by anything, I mean a dead body.

            “I can’t go in there again. He’s in the kitchen,” she said, tearing up.

             “Okay, I’ll go look.” I patted her arm and charged into the kitchen. And immediately stopped. There he was, slumped over on the dining room table. His poor pup, Moochie, was curled up at his feet. I assumed Mary had checked his pulse, and hopefully even called 911, but since I wasn’t sure, I walked over and checked for myself. No, no pulse. Robert was dead. Was it a heart attack? Stroke? The three of us weren’t spring chickens, but I’d never noticed Robert to be in poor health. He walked every morning, and apparently he and Mary were great chums. Maybe even romantically involved? How had I not known this?

            “Hey, Mooch. You wanna come with me?” I called to the little terrier who was looking up at me with those big brown puppy eyes. How was it possible that every dog, no matter their age, still had those same puppy eyes? They killed me. Poor choice of words, but still.

Moochie did not want to come with me. He wanted to stay right where he was. I got it. It was hard to say goodbye to someone who’d taken care of you for a decade. I knew for a fact that Moochie had just turned 10, Robert had been telling me Moochie’s adoption story just last week, when we’d stop to chat on our respective morning constitutions.

            “Evelyn!?” Mary whisper-yelled from the doorway.

            I walked over to her. “Did you call 911?”

            “Why? Is he still alive?”

            “Well, no, but you still need to call 911. The police will have to come, and they’re sure to want to send paramedics.”

            “Why?”

            “Why?” I repeated in disbelief. “If you’d called earlier, it would have been to check to make sure he’s dead. He’s definitely dead now, but they still have to, you know, verify, and take the body away.”

            “Well, I didn’t know that.”

            “What did you think was going to happen?” I asked. Did she think we were going to put him in my car and drive him to the funeral home?

            “Well, I… I don’t know. You’re just so efficient and take-charge. I thought you’d handle it.”

            This is what I got for always organizing the potlucks and block parties around here. My background as a former teacher made everyone think I’d be just the person to do, well, anything that needed organizing or taking care of. To be honest, it got old.

            “Fine, okay. You’ll need to call 911, though, they’re going to want to talk to the person who found him.” She looked at me in disbelief, or reluctance, I’m not sure which, but she made the call.

            I only heard her side of the conversation, but she seemed to get the point across.

            “I found my neighbor dead this morning!” I was afraid she was going to cry again.

            “No, he’s not breathing.”

            “Yes, we’ve checked his pulse.”

            “My other neighbor is here with me.”

            “The address? Oh, oh… it’s…” here she looked to me.

            “141 Cherry Street,” I told her, and she repeated it to the operator. At our age, you forget things, but stress compounded the forgetfulness.

            She looked at me. “They’re on their way. They want us to stay put.”

            Of course we were going to stay put. Where on earth did she think we were going to do? Leave Robert’s body in the kitchen and go shopping?

            “Do you know Robert’s family?” I asked. Seemed reasonable, if they had coffee together every morning.

            “Oh, no, his sister.” This was not an answer, I thought.

            “His sister?” I prodded.

            “Yes, his sister lives over in East Brunswick. Her number is probably around here somewhere…” she began opening Robert’s drawers. She found his junk drawer and ruffled through it. “Ah ha! An address book!”

            Tell me you’re old without telling me you’re old, I thought. Only us oldies still used physical address books. While I did have a contact list on my phone, I still had a book at home, in my junk drawer, too.

            “I think her last name is Pitts?” Mary didn’t sound sure of this. “Nancy Pitts?”

            We leafed through until we found her. “I… I guess we should call her?” Mary asked. I knew she meant I should call her. I guess it was my turn.

            I held out my hand for the book. “I’ll do it.”

            I heard a car pull into the drive, “I believe the police are here. Can you get the door while I make this call?”

            “Oh, of course,” she said. “Is there anything I should do? Or tell them?”

            “I guess tell them Moochie’s friendly?” I suggested, before walking into Robert’s living room to make the call. I didn’t mind sharing hard truths—I’d been a high school English teacher for over 40 years, after all, but this was someone I’d never spoken to, so as an introduction, a death in the family was not ideal. I didn’t relish it, that was for sure. I’d heard a lot about his sister over the years, but had somehow never met her. Robert always seemed to be going to visit her. She never visited him. Odd, I guess, now that I thought about it. But every family is different.

            The phone rang on the other end. I wondered if she’d even answer. I rarely, if ever, answered calls from unknown numbers.

            “Hello?” A surprise. She answered. I felt a mysterious voicemail would have been better. I’d already planned it in my head. No details, only a directive to call in regards to her brother. Oh, well. No need for that hastily planned voice note now.

            “Hello. Is this Nancy?”

            “Yeeeesss?”

            “Nancy, you don’t know me, but I’m Evelyn—”

            “Oh, Robert’s neighbor, Evelyn?”

            I paused, nonplussed.

            “Um, yes. I’m his neighbor.”

            “Oh, it’s so nice to speak with you! Robert always speaks so highly of you.”

            Again, I paused. He did?

            “Nancy, I’m so sorry to tell you this, but we found Robert deceased this morning.”

            There was silence on the end of the line, then, “Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, Robert!” She cried, and I could hear someone asking her what was wrong. I heard the phone drop, then it was picked up again.

            “Hello? Hello? Who is this?” a man’s gruff voice.

            “Hello. My name is Evelyn, I’m Robert’s neighbor. I’m so sorry to tell you, but we found him deceased this morning.” I realized I was a broken record, but it was the only line I’d come up with, so I stuck with it.

            “Oh,” his voice lost its gruffness and dropped in volume.

            “I’m so sorry,” I repeated.

            “Yes, thank you for calling,” he said. “We’ll be over right away.”

            He hung up, and I went into the kitchen, where all the activity was. The first responders were preparing to transport his body. Moochie was standing next to Mary; she was crouched down, holding his collar. He was struggling to get free, but luckily, he was a little guy. “I need to find his leash,” she told me.

            I guess Moochie would go home with Mary. That was one less thing to worry about.

            I gave a statement to the police, telling them what I saw and when, then they told me I could go home. I asked how he’d died, but they were vague. Possibly a heart attack. But they’d need to investigate a little more. So did I. I was curious. What could make an otherwise healthy sexagenarian keel over in his morning coffee?

 

            Later that afternoon, there was another knock on my door. I approached cautiously. The last time I’d opened this door, I’d gotten terrible news.

            Opening the door, I found a well-dressed couple in their 50s. He was a, well, a salt-n-pepper fox if I’d ever seen one. George Clooney, but approachable. And she was no slouch, either. Her clothes were obviously designer, and her bottle blonde hair was expensively styled. I did not know these people. I hoped they weren’t selling anything.

            “Hello?” I asked, with a well-chosen smile. This one not as welcoming as the one for Mary.

            “Evelyn?” the woman asked.

            “Yes?”

            “Oh, good. I’m Nancy, and this is my husband, Cole. I’m Robert’s sister, and I just wanted to come over and thank you for calling this morning.”

            “Oh, of course,” I said. “We all loved Robert so much. Would you like to come in?” I asked, opening the door and gesturing.

            “Well, if it’s not an imposition…” she said. But I could tell she’d been planning to come in all along. She had hoped to impose.

            “Not at all, come on in. Excuse the mess.” Reader, there was no mess. My home was, and always is, immaculate. Since retiring from teaching, I had time on my hands, and cleaning had become my hobby. One of my hobbies. Along with macrame, baking, gardening, and reading. Sad, sure, but at least the house was clean when strangers dropped by.

            We sat in the living room. I had no idea what they needed, but I wanted to be polite.

            “Evelyn, like I said before. Robert always spoke so highly of you.” I was still surprised by this. We chatted nearly every day, and I did bring around baked goods several times a year, but to hear he’d sung my praises to people I didn’t know felt, well, odd.

            “That’s so nice to hear. I always enjoyed talking to him. He always had great tips to share and Moochie is just the sweetest. Will you be taking Moochie home with you? I think Mary, Robert’s neighbor on the other side, has him with her now.”

            Nancy scowled. “Oh, her. Yes, we’d better go get the dog from her. I don’t want her to have anything of Robert’s.” I was taken aback. What had Mary ever done to this woman?

            “Oh, you’ve already met Mary?”

            Cole cut in, “No, we haven’t. We’ve just heard about her from Robert.”

            Wow, whatever Robert had said, rubbed these people the wrong way.

            “I understand they were good friends,” I said, “A coffee date every morning.” I smiled, but when I uttered the word ‘date’ Nancy cringed.

            “I wouldn’t call them ‘dates’,” she said. “More like a way for her to scheme her way into our family, and Robert’s bank account.”

            “Oh, I didn’t realize they were that close,” I said. Huh, I guess it was a romantic relationship. Again, how had I missed that? I considered myself observant. I also didn’t realize Robert was wealthy. This area was nice, but it wasn’t the affluent area of town. He was a little eccentric, though. I guess he was one of those weirdly wealthy guys who liked to hide it.

            “They weren’t, not really. She just kept coming over and Robert was too nice to tell her to stop.”

            Cole patted Nancy’s knee; it seemed like he was trying to get her to stop talking. She looked at him. “What? He was. I don’t believe for a second he was interested in that woman. And at his age? He needed to protect the family money, not bring someone else into it.”

            Ah, family money. I felt like this was getting a little too personal for me.

            “So, Nancy—” I started. I wanted to find out why they were here, in my living room.

            “We’d like you to look into his death. I don’t believe it was natural,” she said, cutting me off.

            “What? Me? I’m a retired schoolteacher, not a detective. Besides, wasn’t it a heart attack?”

            “We know you were a teacher, but Robert always said you were so smart. Figuring out who wasn’t picking up after their dogs, who was calling to complain about neighbor’s putting up fences without a permit, who was stealing newspapers from whose driveways…he said you’re like Sherlock Holmes! And as for the heart attack, I don’t buy it for one minute! He’d just had a checkup and the doctor said he was healthy as a horse. The police are supposed to let me know something soon, but I know he was murdered!”

            Murdered? And if I was so observant, I think I’d have noticed my neighbors were meeting for coffee every day, but I didn’t say this.

            “Well, I mean, if you’re looking for a Nosey Parker, guilty, but I’m not sure I could solve a murder. If he was even murdered. And if he was, won’t the police look into it?”

            “But you were close to him. And you’re close to Mary. I think she’s worth checking out.”

            I promised them I’d give it some thought, and got up to walk them out. I took a step and looked at Cole, “I apologize, this may sound crazy, but you look so familiar to me. Have we met?”

            They both laughed. “I get that a lot,” he said. “I’m ‘Cole Pitts, the guy with the best deals around!’”

            It took a second, but then it dawned on me. “Oh! You own the car dealership on 520. That’s how I know you. I see your commercials all the time.”

            “Yep, guilty as charged. Everyone looks at me funny, trying to figure out how they know me. TV!” he sounded quite proud of himself. I guess I would be too, if I owned the largest car dealership around.

            After they said they’d call with any updates, I saw them out and sat back down to think. Robert, murdered? If he was as wealthy as they insinuated, was someone out to steal his money? Maybe Nancy was referring to their money, though; I bet they did pretty well from car sales. I decided I might be able to find out if anything was taken, but the police wouldn’t talk to me. Would they?

            I walked over to Mary’s and asked her to accompany me back to Robert’s house. We’d all exchanged keys over the years, in case of emergencies, so we were able to get in.

            “That sister was a piece of work,” Mary grumbled. “I offered to keep Moochie, but she basically ripped his leash out of my hand and took off with him. I didn’t even get to say goodbye!”

            “She’s just grieving,” I told her. “Everyone does it differently.”

            Inside Robert’s house, I began poking around. “What are you looking for?” Mary asked.

            “Hmm, I don’t know. The sister said Robert was, well, wealthy, and she wondered if maybe Robert had been murdered. She said he was recently given a clean bill of health from his doctor.”

            “Are you…investigating?” Mary asked. “Is that something you do now?”

            “Well, no, not really. She just asked if I’d take a look. So, I’m looking.”

            We searched the house from top to bottom—which took a while. Robert lived in a two-story Victorian with plenty of nooks and crannies, even a turret room. But nothing looked disturbed, at least not to me. I’d never been farther than the kitchen when Robert was alive.

            “Do you see anything missing? Does anything look disturbed to you?” I asked her.

            “Me? I’ve never been up here before,” she said, blushing. She was obviously lying.

            “Oh, I Just thought if you had a standing coffee date, maybe you’d have seen more of his house than me. I’ve only ever been in the kitchen.”

            “Well, I’ve never been in any of these rooms either. We just had coffee in the kitchen, or on the deck if it was nice.”

            I still thought she was lying, but I let it slide.

            In the kitchen, I noticed there was just the one coffee mug on the table. “Mary, were there two mugs here this morning?”

            “Oh, yes, there should have been. He always had a cup out for me.” Hmm, did that mean the police had taken his mug? Did they think he’d been poisoned? Nothing else caught my eye, so we called it a night.

 

            “Yes, hello. I’d like to speak to someone about my neighbor’s death. Robert McNeil? Yes, I’ll hold.” I figured this was a, pardon the pun, dead end, but I thought I’d give it a shot. What else did detectives do?

            “Hello? This is Sergeant Wilcox. Who am I speaking with?” an even-toned man asked.

            “Oh, hello, Sergeant. My name is Evelyn Peters, and my neighbor, Robert McNeil passed away yesterday. I just had a couple questions for you.”

            “Questions?”

            “Yes, his sister led me to believe it might not have been natural causes.”

            “And do you have any information about his death?” His tone was a little accusatory. Maybe calling hadn’t been a good idea. Did I look guilty now?

            “Well, I went over there after his sister asked me to investigate…and I found there was just one mug on the table, instead of the two that should have been there. Do you think he was poisoned?”

            “I’m not at liberty to discuss an ongoing case. And, all due respect, ma’am, we’ll do the investigating if necessary.”

            “Oh, of course. I just wanted to point that out, in case—"

            “Wait, did you say you went back into the house?” he asked.

            “Well, yes. I had a key. The house wasn’t taped off or anything…”

            I heard him sigh. “I didn’t think we needed to do that,” he said. I could almost see him shaking his head through the phone.

            “Well like I was saying, when we—”

            “Who, exactly, is ‘we’?” he asked.

            “Oh, my neighbor Mary accompanied me,” I explained.

            “And what did you find?” I could tell I was trying his patience, which was the opposite of what I’d set out to do.

            “Like I said,” now my patience was being tried, “we found only one coffee mug on the table, when their should have been two. I was wondering, did you remove it? Or is it missing?”

            Sergeant Wilcox was silent. Finally, he said, “Thank you for this information, Ms. Peters. We’ll look into it.” And he hung up.

            Well, I never, I thought. I’d already looked into it, that’s why I was calling. I grabbed my laptop and looked up “Poisons you can’t taste in coffee”. I hoped the police wouldn’t check my browsing history. If they did, coupled with what I’d just told the sergeant, I’d be up a creek.

            My Google search returned very helpful results—if I wanted to “Poison my lover’s coffee or tea”. Yes, that really was the top result. That helpful site turned me onto ethylene glycol, which is found in all kinds of products, including antifreeze. I know you can’t buy antifreeze anymore, but if someone still had some hanging around their garage…? The article said it was deadly, but it would cause the recipient to slur his words and become unstable on their feet; similar to someone who’s had too much to drink. But if Mary hadn’t been there when he drank his coffee… no one would have been there to witness it.

            I decided to call Mary. I had a quick question.

            “Hi, Evelyn,” she answered on the first ring. “How are you?”

            “Oh, Mary, I’m fine. How are you holding up?”

            “I’m just sad. Robert was such a nice man. I’ve lost such a good friend.” I still wondered if the two were more than just good friends, but I wasn’t going to ask.

            “I have a quick question for you—were you late going to Robert’s house yesterday?”

            She paused. “I was, actually. How did you know?”

            “Just a hunch. What kept you, if you don’t mind me asking?”

            “I got the oddest phone call. Against my better judgement, I answered an unknown number. The caller told me I had some unclaimed money, and asked me a bunch of questions. But after I answered, they hung up! I never found out how I’d get my money.”

            “Oh, no. You didn’t give them your social or anything, did you?”

            “Well, I may be old, but I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. No, I didn’t give them that. But they did ask me about places I’ve lived. I hope I’m not about to get scammed out of all my money.”

            “Hmm. I don’t think so; in fact, I think the caller may have been trying to waylay you, and keep you from Robert’s house.”

            “Why in the world would someone do that?” she asked.

            “I think Robert was poisoned—”

            “What!”

            “And I think, if you’d have been there, you’d have noticed, and you might have been able to call the paramedics in time.”

            “Oh, no! Are you saying I could have saved him had I not answered my phone?”

            I immediately regretted my words. “Oh, no, Mary. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel worse. I’m just trying to figure this out for his sister.”

            Mary was quiet. I’d placed my foot firmly in my mouth. This was a common occurrence. My lack of tact was perfected over decades in the classroom. I thought for a moment.

            “Actually, what I think I’m saying is… I think the person who called you may be the killer! If not the killer, then the accomplice.”

            Mary gasped. “Are you serious? I was talking to the killer?”

            “Like I said, if not the killer, then their accomplice. I think they kept you on the phone so you couldn’t help Robert.”

            Mary gasped again. She was very good at it. Very dramatic. “So, what do we do now? How are we going to figure out who did it?”

            I wasn’t sure there was a ‘we’ here, but I’d never actually investigated anything more than whether or not a student had plagiarized a paper, so maybe she could use the help.

            “I think we should ask around the neighborhood. See if they noticed anyone at Robert’s place yesterday morning.”

            And so we did. We decided to use our gossiping skills for good, and headed across the street to Anne’s house. Anne was notorious for gossiping; she knew everything about everyone on the block. Usually this annoyed me to no end, but today, I hoped it would come in handy.

            “Hello, ladies!” Anne answered the door with a huge smile and larger than life greeting. She was always happy to have an audience.

            “Hi, Ann, how are you?” I hoped Anne would invite us in.

            “Come in, come in! Would you like some tea?”

            And just like that, we were in.

            Seated in Anne’s dainty living room—picture lace and doilies and way too many pastel pillows, tea and cookies on the table in front of us, Mary started. “I guess you heard about Robert?”

            “Oh, yes. It’s so awful.” Did she really think so, I wondered? If so, someone needed to tell her face. Anne’s eyes were shining a little too much, her mouth was upturned a little more than it should have been, at least in my humble opinion.

            “We were wondering,” I began, only to be cut off by Anne.

            “I’m sure you’re especially upset,” she said, looking pointedly at Mary. “I used to see you going into his house every morning, almost like clockwork.”

            Mary blushed. “Well, yes, we had coffee together most mornings.” So I really had been out of the loop.

            Seeing an opening, I jumped in. “Did you see anyone else going into Robert’s house in the mornings? Specifically yesterday morning?”

            “Hmm, yesterday morning? Before he died?” Anne paused dramatically. “Now that you mention it…yes, yes I did. Yesterday morning, early, before most of the block was awake, I saw a car over there.”

            We waited. Anne didn’t share anymore.

            “So, did you recognize the car? Did you see anyone getting in or out of it?” I prompted. Anne just loved this—an audience waiting with bated breath.

            “Well, I don’t think I’d ever seen the car before, but I saw a woman getting back into it. She had on a scarf and black sunglasses, but I could tell everything about her was expensive. The clothes, the car, the accessories. She looked well put together. Not sure what she was doing over there, though.”

            Hmm, well dressed and a fancy car? Sounded like it could be Nancy. I couldn’t be sure, yet, but it definitely could have been. But if it was Nancy, what had she been doing at her brother’s house the morning he died? And had she told the police? She hadn’t shared anything about it with me. And while she wasn’t required to do so, she had asked me to investigate, so shouldn’t she have?

            I needed to do some more sleuthing.

            Back outside, I looked to Mary, “Feel like gossiping a little more?”

            “Always.”

            Next, we went to the Morrison’s house, right next door to Anne. They were both retired, and were, luckily, also at home.

            “Mary! Evelyn! What a wonderful surprise. Would you like to come in?” Jenn asked us. We did.

            “We don’t want to waste your time, so I’ll cut to the chase. Did you happen to see anyone at Robert’s house yesterday morning?” I asked.

            “Oh, before he died, you mean?”

            “Yes. It’s possible he didn’t die of natural causes,” Mary explained.

            “Oh, no—do you think we’re all in danger?”

            “I don’t think so. His sister seemed to insinuate Robert has money, so I’m wondering if this death had something to with that.”

            “Oh, my. Well, yesterday morning we would have been out walking the dogs early. I’m trying to think…”

            Jenn paused, then looked over her shoulder. “Steve?”

            Steve walked in, “Yes, my dear?

            “Do you remember seeing anyone over at Robert’s yesterday morning, maybe before or after the dog walk?”

            He paused, thinking. Then he nodded his head. “Yeah, now that I think about it, I did see someone coming out of his house when we were heading out. There was a woman. I think she had a hat on, and glasses? Don’t you remember, there was a car parked right out front. Buster ran over and tried to say hi to her, and she ignored him?”

            “Oh, yes! I always hate it when people ignore our dogs,” she laughed. “They’re the best boys!”

            “Do you remember what kind of car it was?” Mary asked.

            “Um, I think it was a silver Mercedes. I remember because I was admiring it, wishing it was mine,” he laughed.

            A silver Mercedes. Didn’t Cole Pitts sell Mercedes? The clues were all pointing at Nancy. I needed to make a call. Or two. As they walked across the street, I told Mary my plan. “Oh, boy. Be careful. I’ll be ready when you need me,” Mary said.

            At home, I made the first of two calls. It didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, but I went ahead with call number two, anyway, crossing my fingers.

            “Hello?”

            “Hi, Nancy, it’s Evelyn.”

            “Oh, right, I didn’t recognize your number. Are you calling because you’ve found something out? Do you think Mary did it?”

            “Actually, I had a couple questions for you.”

            “Oh, sure. How can I help?”

            “I wanted to understand why, exactly, you think Mary would kill Robert? I mean, it’s not as if she could get Robert’s money if they weren’t married?”

            “Oh, that woman! I’m sure she had a plan. She probably found a way to get into his accounts. Maybe she figured out his password or something. She’s probably planning to transfer all of his money to her accounts right now.”

            “Did you tell the police about this?”

            “I did! They told me to contact the bank right away, and I did. She won’t get a penny.”

            “Well, that’s very reassuring. I assume his will was safe, and you were able to find it yesterday morning?”

            “Yes, thankfully, I found his will.”

            “Was that yesterday morning when you were over here the first time or the second?”

            “It was earlier. Wait—what do you mean? The first or second time? I was only over there when we met you, after you called.”

            “Oh, I must have been mistaken. I thought I’d noticed your car over there earlier. If it wasn’t you, Robert had an early morning visitor. I think they may have been the killer.”

            “So, you don’t think it was Mary, then?”

            “I don’t. I think if I can find out who the driver of that car was, we’ll have our killer.”

            “Well, thanks for calling, Evelyn, and thanks for all you’ve done. I won’t bother you anymore with this. I’ll pass what you’ve said on to the police, and I’m sure they’ll take it from there.”

            “Oh, it’s no problem. Always happy to help,” I said.

            “Actually,” she said. “Maybe I could stop by your place this evening? I have to come by Robert’s to gather up a few more important papers for the lawyers. I would love to properly thank you. I’ll bring some of the cookies I just finished baking.”

            “That sounds lovely. Just pop over whenever you’re done at Robert’s. I’ll be here.” I hung up. Unlike the first phone call, that had gone exactly how I’d planned.

 

            “Knock knock!” Nancy called out in a perky voice as she tapped on my front door.

            “Hello. Please, come in,” I led her into my dining room, where I’d set out tea, napkins, and small plates for the cookies she’d brought along.

            “Have a seat. I thought we could have tea and cookies while we chatted.”

            “Thank you, that sounds great!” She put the box of cookies on the table and had a seat.

            I poured two cups of tea. As I got ready to sit down, she stopped me. “Oh, could I bother you for some milk?”

            “Of course. Let me grab it.” I took my time in the kitchen. When I returned, she was placing cookies on our plates.

            “Hope you like chocolate chip,” she said.

            “Delicious! I love them,” I told her, offering her the milk.

            I sat and we chatted. “Have you been able to make any arrangements for Robert yet? I know it’s very soon.”

            “Well, he left me very specific directions. Once the police release his body, we’ll have a service. He wanted to be cremated, so we’ll have a simple remembrance ceremony at some point.”

            “Do let us know, because I’m sure most people on the block will want to attend. Everyone loved him.”

            “Yes, that’s what I keep hearing,” she said. “How are the cookies?”

            “They’re wonderful, thank you so much for sharing them with me.”

            “Of course! It’s the least I could do for all your help.”

            “Well, I don’t know how much I’ve really helped.”

            Just then, there was another knock on my front door. I got up to answer.

            “Oh, hello, Mary!” I tried to sound surprised.

            “Hi, there. I saw Nancy’s car was here, and wanted to stop in and share my condolences again.”

            “Of course, come in. We’re just in the dining room.”

            Mary followed me in. “Please, have a seat. Would you like some tea?”

            “Thank you, yes.”

            I poured her a cup and went to the kitchen to get her a plate. Behind me, I heard the two chatting.

            “I just wanted to say again how sorry I am about Robert. He was a fun, interesting soul. Always such a pleasure to speak with.”

            “Thank you, I appreciate that.”

            Returning to the dining room, I remembered Robert’s dog. “How’s Moochie settling in?”

            “Oh, he’s a love. We have one dog, a Yorkie, Gracie, and the two are getting along well.”

            We sat for a moment; I reached across the table. “Mary, you must have one of these—” and just as I reached, I knocked over Mary’s teacup.

            “Oh, for Pete’s sake. I’m so sorry! Let me get you a towel!” I grabbed her cup and mine and Mary grabbed the plates, keeping everything out of the majority of the mess. I brought towels back to the table and soaked everything up.

            “Let me pour you another cup,” I told her.

            “Oh, don’t bother, Eveyln. It’s not necessary. I just saw Nancy’s car and just wanted to stop by for a moment. I really need to be getting home anyway. But thank you for the cookie,” she said.

            “Thank you, Mary.” Nancy nodded at her, not at all upset that she was leaving.

            Just as we reached the front door, there was another knock.

            “Sergeant Wilcox!” I said, pulling the door open. “What on earth are you doing here?”

            “Ms. Peters, I am absolutely sure you know what I’m doing here. After all, you called me.” He came right in and headed to the dining room. Mary and I followed.

            “Is this your cup of tea?” he asked, looking at the two cups on the kitchen island, referring to the one that still had tea in it. I heard Nancy gasp.

            “Yes, that’s it.”

            He picked up the tea, looking at Nancy as he did so. “Should I have a drink?” he asked her. She sat, her mouth opening and closing like a fish’s.

            “What? I—”

            “Give it up, Mrs. Pitts. I was just in your car. And yes, I have a warrant. Looks like you carry around a lot of antifreeze, even in the spring. Odd, especially since antifreeze isn’t available to the public anymore. I guess your husband has access? I’m sure the service department at his car dealership uses it quite a bit.”

            “Is it illegal to have antifreeze in your car? My husband wants me to be safe. You never know when your car will need it.”

            “No, it’s not illegal, but when one’s brother has been poisoned by said antifreeze, I would say that’s pretty damaging. Maybe even incriminating.”

            “You can’t prove it was me!” she said.

            “Well, once I take this tea back to the lab, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to,” he answered.

            Her face was all the answer we needed. It had guilt written all over it. There was another knock on the door. It was one of his deputies.

            “Nancy Pitts, you have the right to remain silent…” The deputy read her her rights, and led her outside, handcuffed. I think Mary was shellshocked. Not me, I was exhilarated. I’d helped catch a killer!

 

            “That was Sergeant Wilcox,” I said, disconnecting the call. “He said she confessed. Apparently, she was the sole beneficiary of Robert’s will and knew it. The car dealership hasn’t been doing well, and they needed money. Robert had refused to give them any more money—apparently he’d been giving them money for years. So, they decided to take matters into their own hands. She and Cole planned it together, while she carried out the poisoning. They’ll both be going to prison for a while.”

            “That’s so sad. I’m sure if they’d talked to him a bit more, Robert would have found some way to help them, even if it was just a loan. I can’t believe they killed him over money.”

            “Money really is the root of all evil,” I responded.

            “But I do still have one question,” Mary said, tilting her head.

            “What’s that?”

            “If Nancy killed her brother, why in the world did she ask you to investigate? That seems insane.”

            “Well, I didn’t want to have to tell you this…” I said, looking away.

            “What?” Mary had no idea.

            “It seems Nancy was convinced you were trying to, I don’t know, get Robert’s money somehow. And she couldn’t have that.”

            “Oh, bless her heart,” Mary laughed (and we all know what that means). “I had no idea Robert had a dime to his name. And even if I did, what in the world was I going to do with it? Suddenly become a woman of means? Take cruises, get my hair done weekly? Yes, she is insane.”

            At least Mary took that well, I thought. I hadn’t wanted to tell her.

            “So, then, do you have a new hobby?” she asked.

            “I think maybe I do. Turns out sleuthing is quite fun. Are you up for being the Watson to my Holmes?” I asked her.

            “What else do I have to do?” she replied.



Winning pieces are published as received.

 
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Fiction Potluck

October 2023

Third Place Winner:


Melissa Behrend

Melissa Behrend fell in love with books and writing at a young age (as evidenced by the crayon-written words in her Golden Books). Today she is pursuing her dream of being a published novelist while working as a writer for tech companies. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two dogs, Mayhem and Chaos.

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