A Cozy Murder

Detective Retired John Johns came to Halcyon Days Township to live his life in peace and quiet. He had had it up to his eyeballs with his days on the Big City Police Force. If it wasn’t one murder, it was another. After putting in his twenty, he decided enough was enough. He turned in his badge, took his pension and headed out to the tranquil pastures of Halcyon Days.

Halcyon Days was a small village. The folks were about as folksy as folksy could be. Never resisting a tip of the hat and a howdy if they met you on the street. And the neighbors cared enough to bring you chicken soup if you were sick

John Johns moved into a two bedroom bungalow and went to work on his hobby, crossword puzzles. Back in the Big C, it seemed he never had a chance to finish a puzzle before a murder dropped into his lap. The first thing he did when he moved into his dream house with the white picket fence was to log onto Amazon and order a hundred or so puzzle books. That should keep him for a while, then he went outside and planted some roses in the front yard.

He had just come back from the Sunday morning services at the little white Church. It wasn’t that he was religious. It was just the place to catch up on the local news. If the sermon was about adultery, he was darned sure there was someone caught in an adulterous affair.

There were seldom any sermons about adultery. The last one remembered was just before the preacher was caught with the church secretary. Shortly after that, both ran off and left their spouses behind. But everything turned out a-okay as it always seemed to in Halcyon Days. The spouses suddenly realized they were in love with each other. If the sermon had been on loving your neighbor, it would have really set the folks’ ears a twinkle.

John Johns was in the middle of boiling a kettle of water for a cup of Rose Petal Tea. Then the phone rang. It wasn’t an ordinary ring. It was the kind of ring that said to Johns there was going to be trouble on the other end. He hesitated but, after the seventh ring, he finally picked it up.

“Is this Detective Retired John Johns?” the phone wanted to know.

“Yes,” Johns answered.

“This is Sheriff Bobby Beaufort. I need your help. There’s been a murder.”

“I can’t help. I’m retired.”

“Seems that there was a sleepover at the Old Fletcher Manor. Six folks stayed last night. One of them folks, Sir George Ruckus, didn’t show up for blueberry pancakes. When he didn’t join the others for bridge, they all figured something was wrong. Sir George never in his life missed a game of bridge.” (Now you know this is a cozy mystery. They always play bridge in these kind of stories.)

“So why are you calling me?”

“I’ve got my hands full with helping the LLBS. That’s Ladies Local Bake Sale for the new comers. They always like a uniform around. Otherwise they won’t think it’s official.”

“Can’t you send a deputy.”

“Don’t have no deputies. There’s never any crime to have a need. So as you can see I’m in a pickle what with the LLBS and all. And the mayor is having a hissy. When the mayor has a hissy, it’s not pleasant. He hasn’t had one in a while so he’s saved up.”

John Johns looked at his cup of tea and really didn’t want to give it up for some wild goose chase. But he had always taken the side of prudence. He said yes and hung up.

Fifteen minutes later he was in his red Ford heading out State Road 1001. He was in his official detective get-up of white shoes, white suit, white shirt, red tie and white hat. It took him six minutes and thirty-seven and a half seconds to get to the Old Fletcher Manor Gate. He made his turn off the state road and drove through the gate toward the mansion on the hill. It took him another twenty-seven minutes and fifteen seconds to drive the curves up that hill to the three-story antebellum white mansion.

The Butler answered the doorbell.

“I’m Detective Retired John Johns and I am here to make inquiries.”

“Inquiries, Sir?”

“Yes. I understand someone got snockered.”

“Snockered, Sir?”

“You know, kaputski.”

“Kaputski, Sir?

“Somebody’s with the fishes.”

“There are no fishes here, Sir.”

“You know. Snuffed, scragged, whacked, annihilated.”

“Oh, you mean decimated?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Follow me.” Butler turned and led John Johns into the Drawing Room.

As he followed, John Johns thought he knew who did the deed. The Butler Do-ed It. It’s always the Butler in these kinds of affairs. To be on the safe side, he kept his suspicions to himself.

As he walked into the Drawing Room, a fly crossed his path. He swished it away. The fly flew over to the blonde in the corner. She didn’t move a muscle. The fly left her and completely ignored the gentleman standing beside her. He had a mustache.

“Madame,” Butler said. “A Detective John Johns.”

The woman with the red wig and powdered nose rose from her chair and greeted the detective. “Thank God. A professional. Not that amateur of a sheriff who’s been playing party pops with the school marm. I am Pamela Wigsley.” (She’s called Wigsley so the reader will remember she’s the one in the wig.)

“I hear you have a murder on your hands.”

“Yes, we have a murder on our hands.”

“Here, Willy.” He handed his hat to Butler. “Treat it with care. It was my great granddad’s.” (Remember the Chekhov rule. If a white hat shows up in a scene, it must be used by the end of the story. So watch for the white hat. It may be important.)

“Yes sir. But I am not Willy. I am Butler.”

“Sure you are.”

With white hat in hand, Butler buttled his way out of the Drawing Room.

John Johns took charge. “Where’s the corpus delecti?”

“In the Library.”

John Johns said, “Of course. It always has to be the Library. Where else would a murder occur? Where’s the Library?”

“Through that door.”

“Through that door?” The detective pointed to the door Madame Wigsley mentioned.

“Yes.”

John Johns went to the door, opened it and walked into the Library. Several seconds later, he came back into the Drawing Room. “There’s been a murder in there. Somebody tea-and-crumpeted his tea-and crumpets.”

“Yes,” Wigsley said. “And it has to be someone in this room who did it.”

“Not the Butler?”

“Of course not. If Butler the Butler was a murderer, I would not have him on my staff.”

“And who found the body?”

“The maid, Daisy Maid Bluebell.”

John Johns went to the Drawing Room door and called for Daisy Maid Bluebell, the maid. “Could you bring me a cup of Rose Petal Tea please?”

Pushing away the tear in her eye, she said, “Yes, Sir.”

Why was there a tear in her eye? he asked himself. Well, it was obvious no one would accuse her of the murder. After all, she found the body. No, there had to be another reason.

Johns scanned the room, taking in each of the six while he awaited his tea.

As they waited for Johns’ tea to come, none of the six spoke. They were very quiet and they were nervous.

Finally the maid returned with the tea and handed the cup and saucer to Johns. She started to leave. “Please stay,” the detective requested Daisy Maid.

“Yes, Sir,” she said, then took her place beside Mustache.

Johns took a sip of his tea, smiled, then complimented the maid on her perfect cup of tea. He sat the cup and saucer on the table and perused the room. A slight smile crossed his face. It was one of his gotcha smiles.

“Well, well, well,” he said to the group. “Let’s see. Wigsley, it’s obvious you did not do the crime. If you had, then you would have gone to the trouble of straightening your wig.”

Wigsley said, “Oh, it’s crooked.” She straightened her wig.

“Yes,” Johns said. “If you had murdered our friend Sir, you would have wanted to make sure you looked perfect. So no one would suspect you.” Then he turned to Fashion Sense, a man in absolutely the nattiest of all the natty outfits you might ever see. “It’s definitely not you. You’re too much a coward.”

“A coward?” Fashion Sense did not raise his voice. He was too much of a coward to do so. “How can you accuse me of such a thing?”

“Anyone with your fashion sense would be way to afraid to get blood on his natty nats, wouldn’t one?”

Next came the Brunette. “I know you didn’t kill him or anyone else.”

“How do you know?”

“If you had done the deed, I wouldn’t be able to ask you out. Are you free for dinner next Saturday evening?”

“Of course,” the Brunette said and smiled. “Finally, I have a date,” she thought. “It’s been years and I don’t have a thing to wear. Now I definitely have a good reason to go shopping.”

Johns moved on to Regina Queensberry. “It could have been you. But no. You and Hector here would have too much to lose. You still have to announce your engagement. So, you would wait till after the Season is over before committing the crime of the century. So that leaves Blondie here.”

The tension had been killing Mustache. He couldn’t stand it any longer. So he confronted Johns. “What about me?”

“No, I don’t think it was you. Of all the cases I have investigated, never has a man with a mustache–or a woman, for that matter–committed murder. Grand larceny, yes. Fraud, yes. Bank robbery, yes. But not murder.”

“You’re wrong,” Mustache said adamantly. “Very wrong. I could have done it too.”

“No. You don’t have a motive.”

“I do too. Sir George was sleeping with Daisy Maid Bluebell, then he was going to throw her over for Blondie when he got the chance. It was just a matter of time. I couldn’t stand seeing my Daisy Maid hurt like that.”

Daisy Maid turned to Mustache and hugged him. She was crying. “I didn’t know. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I thought you would just laugh,” Mustache said. He was crying now.

“I would never laugh at you, My Darling. The only reason I went off with Sir George was because you didn’t ask me out.”

Johns stepped forward, removed Daisy Maid from his arms and cuffed Mustache with his handcuffs. He retrieved his white hat from Willy. (Sorry to mislead you readers about the white hat. That’s called a red herring. Makes the reader think that somehow that white hat had something to do with the crime.)

With Mustache cuffed to the backseat, Johns drove straight to the jail. As he drove, he hummed, “Another one bites the dust.”

So there you have it. No blood. In fact, we don’t even see The Victim. For all practical purposes, Sir George was the McGuffin of the piece. Just the reason for John Johns to show off his stuff.

 

 

Politics in America 3: The New Mayor

Chapter 3
Weazel Sneeze gets a new mayor

Now Weazel Sneeze had a rotating mayorship. For the last term of four years, Corncob Jones was mayor. He was a descendent of the Weazel family. When chosen, it was decided that he was a Weazel if there ever was one.

Now it was a Sneeze’s turn. Since the citizens were all for decorum, it only seemed right that P. F. Sneeze become the mayor. After all, he was not any Tom, Dick or Harvey. He was the great great great, oh what the heck, he was directly descended from the original Sneeze, Goof-off Sneeze.

Now there’s some things everybody around Weazel Sneeze knew about P. F. Sneeze. First off, the P. F. stood for Pig Farmer. ‘Cause that was his vocation, his calling and what he did for a living. He used to be called Fourth till his ever-loving Daddy, P. F. Sneeze the Third died. For years, Third had been known as P. F. Now that he was long gone to that pig farm in the sky, Fourth was the new P. F.

P. F. was a right righteous fellow if ever there was one. He also had a lot of gumption. He got it the natural way. He took after his Mama. She was known in parts near and far throughout the state as a woman with petticoat gumption.

PF’s gumption had gotten him into trouble recently, but no one would have respected him around Weazel Sneeze if he hadn’t gotten into trouble. It was in the genes of the folks in those parts. Any way the State had given him a citation for “excessive pig farming without a license”.

“Just like the guvmint,” he told his nearest and dearest, the newly minted and nuptialed B S Pudding.

Under protest, he paid the fine and got hisself a license. But he wasn’t happy about it.

Everybody knew that he was qualified for excessive pig farming with or without a license. P F was highly edumacated fellow. He’d taken the correspondence course in pigology from the Snort Holler College of Agriculture and Horticulture and All-them-other Cultures. He could “Sooie” with the best of them. And he had a diploma to prove it.

P F wasn’t much of a talker. No sirree. He wasn’t a listener either. Mostly he was an ignorer. Give him a conversation to ignore, and he’d be the first to ignore it. That had been the thing that attracted B. S. to her husband, and she liked it. After all, if you’re going to be ignored by your red-blooded American male of a husband, you might as well choose a husband who takes his ignoring seriously.

On top of that, B S, what with her renovating her face, was now the prettiest girl in Podunk County. All the fellas ‘round about that part of the state were after her. Both the eligibles and the ineligibles. Only P F ignored her. It was right there and then that B S knew he was the man for her.

B S had always known she was something special. When P F went out of his way to ignore her, she knew she had found the One. She was tired of the pedestal all the other men put her on. The air up there was way too hard to breath. It was like being on Everest without an oxygen mask. Little did B S know she was about to have a special place in history.

Once every four years during Leap Year on February 1st, Weazel Sneeze got a new mayor. Three months after P F and B S were hitched, P F was inducted as mayor. When the City Council came to him to propose the proposal, P F just followed his usual strategy of ignoring them. But the City Council had decided aways back that he was their man. They were not taking No for an answer. He was going to be mayor whether he liked it or not.

They threw a bag over P F’s head and threw him into the back of the Official Weazel Sneeze Pickup Truck. It was a Chevy. Once upon a time, it had been a Ford. No one could remember why the folks in Weazel Sneeze had abandoned that brand, but they had. The City Council sang “Roll out the barrel” as they drove him down to City Hall, which just happened to be an outhouse on the other side of town. Though it was an outhouse, it was a mighty fine outhouse, and big enough for four people to take a dump in. The City Council was only three people. With the mayor that made four. So you can see that it was the perfect place to hold a City Council Meeting.

That City Council threw P F into the Outhouse and closed the door. Talk about smell. That place had a smell. P F was just about to gag from the odor.

There was only one way that the new mayor was going to get out of that outhouse. And that was through the front door. But that wasn’t about to happen until the mayor performed his first function as mayor. It was a tradition that went way way back.

We’ll leave that till next week’s episode of “Politics in America”.

Welcome to our town

In honor of National Poetry Month, I shall be doing my poetry thing each Sunday in April.

To Richard Hugo, whose book of essays, The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing inspired this one.

“Welcome to our town”
the sign says, and I drive on past
a woman raking leaves,
an Amelia or an Emma who lost
her husband Patrick and her only
son Samuel to one war or another,
past a mailman dropping
letters into a mailbox
letters from a Carl
off at school somewhere upstate,
he’s majoring in violin,
past a Bill or a John or a Tom
standing on his newly mown lawn
watching me drive on past kids
practicing their football moves,
kicks and passes and tackles
underneath a billboard of “Home
of the State Champion Tigers”,
past a high school, a city on a hill,
red-bricked and one-storied
in the shape of a V for Victory,
brown-eyed sons and blonde-haired daughters,
dark-skinned girls and blue-eyed lads
emerging into the sunlit afternoon,
escaping a universe of lockers,
hallways and classrooms,
past two boys on blue bicycles
dancing wheelies and a fifteen-year-old
Sara in black leotards
skateboarding off the sidewalk.
And down the street apiece
a general store and three elderly fellows,
the Willis brothers with white beards,
a third clean shaven Kevin Leroi
with a John Deere embroidered on his cap
playing dominoes and swapping stories
and raising their hands to wave at me
driving on past a small white church
with a steeple and a cemetery, its gravestones
going way back to the founders of the town,
past the town square and the memorial
to the World War II veterans felled
on Anzio and Normandy beaches
against Hitler and his Nazi war machine,
and still I drive on, homesick for another town,
past the Diary Queen and the teacher’s college
and out toward the ocean of traffic on the interstate
with another “Welcome to Our Town”
sign receding in my rearview mirror.

Politics in America 2: Weazel Sneeze

Chapter 2
As Weazel Sneezes, Weazel Sneezes

In a time not so far away in the future…

It was the time when winter was coming. It was the time of the Walking Dudleys. It was the time of the big party in Rio known as the Olympics.

So what does that have to do with this novel? Not much. I just thought it would be fun to write that.

Our story begins in Weazel Sneeze, U. S. of A. A regular booming metropolis of twenty-five, give or take a few, depending on the season. Just where is Weazel Sneeze? A hop, skip and jump past Snort Holler. It’s right smack dab in the center of Podunk Country. No famous person ever came from Weazel Sneeze.

Oh, sure, several had passed through that idyllic little community. A couple of future actresses stopped for a while to work as waitresses in the local diner, Sam ‘N’ Ella’s All-You-Can-Eat Buffet. They quickly became tired of “Hon” and “How ’bout it” from the local boys. As soon as their automobile was reassembled and repaired, they left only their dust behind. “What did we do to deserve that?” the locals asked.

Another young woman, name of Ellie May Marmalade of the Snort Holler Marmalades, stopped and worked in the local house of ill-repute, better known as Barbara Ann Butt’s Twerl and Kurl. The local ladies came there for fixings. That is, a perm and a complete makeup job known as a makeover. No plastic surgeon could have done a better job.

Why Betty Sue Elmira Doris Bobbie Jo Pudding-Sneeze, known to one and all as B. S. Pudding, recently married to the mayor, had gotten her a brand spanking new nose to replace a schnooze the size of Mount Vesuvius. Afterwards she paraded through the town, showing off her new proboscis. When all the folks saw the miracle, they lined up at the front door of the Twerl and Kurl for their own beautification.

Ellie May Marmalade stayed just long enough to earn herself a ticket to Hollywood. She later became known as Big Bazookas, the biggest porn star in the world of porn stars. When asked where she had gotten her sex training, she never mentioned Weazel Sneeze. She was just too embarrassed.

The men folk in the town went down to the Twerl and Kurl to watch all the ladies getting their do done. Seems there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment for a Saturday afternoon, except the Twerl and Kurl.

As I said above, no one famous actually came from Weazel Sneeze. That is, until one of their native sons ran for President of the United States. The Mayor, to be exact. The Mayor, on top of being the mayor, was also Captain of the Podunk County Irregulars.

Why was there the need of a Podunk County Irregulars? In case of invasion from the next county over, White Picket Fence County named after that Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Polly’s white picket fence.  The White Picket Fence County Regulars hadn’t shown their faces in Podunk County for nigh on in a hundred years. But, like the Rapture, you just never knew when it might happen. It could happen anyday. Besides the Podunk County Irregulars subbed for the Podunk County Volunteer Fire Department.

And who knew when the Volunteer Fire Department might need a sub or two. One night some twenty years ago every man, woman and child of the Volunteers had all taken a notion and gone over to Snort Holler for a snort. They ended up staying for a week. When they moseyed on back to Weazel Sneeze, they had the biggest hangover you ever did see. None of them Vols could rustle themselves out of bed for nigh on a week. So you can see the need for the Irregulars.

So Weazel Sneeze is the very place you might want to look for a President. A truly all-American town. All the folks of the town lived in log cabins. No one could say the mayor was not born in a log cabin.

Chapter 3 Next Wednesday.

Short Story Wednesday: The Debutante’s Ball

Short Story Prompt: “Why I Live at the P. O.” by Eudora Welty

Miss Luella Sue Pepper was in need of a husband. She had just turned eighteen and she was ripe for marrying. Her Daddy, William Kean Pepper, said so. Her Mama, Eustasha Alice Pepper, said so. So did her Aunt Michaela Marie. Seems it was apple picking time for their young darling, her being the fairest maiden in the Valley. Only problem was Miss Louella Sue was not in a marrying mood. She liked her solitude. She considered herself wearing the likes of that Emily Dickinson up Amherst, Massachusetts way.

The night of the debutante’s ball Miss Louella Sue locked herself in her room. There was not anyway she’s going to that fancy dress shindig. No way atall. She’d heard stories.

Her Mama, Eustasha Alice, did her best to get her one-and-only darling to come on out of her room and go to the ball. She knocked on Miss Louella Sue’s door with a knock that sound real urgent like. “Y’all come out of there, y’hear. It’s time you put on your best shoes and get on down to the American Legion Hall with me and your Daddy. I’m sure you’re gonna meet a right nice boy tonight.”

“I am not going,” Miss Louella Sue called out, and she meant it.

“You know Mary Eloise Gaine’s boy, Henry, will be there, Darling.”

“I ain’t interested in no Henry Bradford Gaines. You ought know that.” Miss Louella Sue meant these words even more.

Her Mama said softly, persuasive like, “Darling, I know you want to be one of them poets. And you can. Going to this here cotillion will give you something to write about. You can write poems about how all the boys tripped over themselves just to get to dance with you.”

“I don’t care what you say. I am not going to no ball. And that’s final.” As far as Miss Louella Sue was concerned, it was final.

“Your dear friend, Pearl Eugenia Willingham, will be there. She’ll be downright disappointed if you don’t share this night with her.”

“How do you know that?” She was asking ’cause she really wanted to know. How could anybody know anything about what Pearl Eugenia wanted. Pearl Eugenia shared her wants with not a single soul.

“She toll me so. She did last Sunday at church.”

‘Bout this time, her Daddy showed at Miss Louella Sue’s door. He walks right hard past her Mama and knocks on the door. It is one of them meaning-business knocks too. “Girl, you get your skinny butt dressed and get downstairs. If you ain’t down there in a half hour, I am gonna personally knock this door down and tan your hide. You’re going to this do whether you like it or not. So you want to be able to sit and sip punch and let them boys admire you? Or do you want to have to stand all night ’cause your butt will hurt something bad?”

From behind the door came a whimper of a voice, “Yes, Daddy.” She knew that there’d be no going against her Daddy no matter what. Miss Louella Sue may have been spoiled all the way down the Mississippi to New Orleans, but she wasn’t so spoiled she didn’t know trouble when it came her way. There wouldn’t be any sweet talkin’ her Daddy tonight. ‘Sides maybe she’d get a poem or two out of this night just like her Mama promised.

So she swallowed her pride and got dressed. In two shakes, she’s downstairs, wearing the red and white evening gown her Mama bought over in Memphis for the occasion. Her Daddy looked her up and down and smiled like he’d smiled when he got that new hunting rifle last Christmas. Indeed he was proud. He leaned over and pinned a white orchid corsage on her. Then he gave a sigh.

“Darling Daughter, you gonna make some fella one beautiful bride,” he said, beaming proud as he could be.

Mama and Daddy Pepper loaded their one-and-onlyin his brand new red Ford pickup. Before you know it, they were at the Hall. They weren’t the first ones to arrive and they weren’t the last ones. Mama led her daughter to the staging area for the debutantes. Soon she’d be walking out into the ballroom, getting herself presented like she was one of them New York City debutantes.

As Miss Louella Sue Pepper walked backstage, all the other girls stared at her. They knew she would have the pick of the litter tonight. She was one fine looking girl and they knew it. But all Miss Louella Sue Pepper could think of was how tight her shoes were. She’s also thinking getting dressed up like this was downright unnatural. She’d rather be out of these clothes and in some jeans and a t-shirt than standing in a line looking like a fool for all to stare at.

Then it hit her right side up against the head. She didn’t have to play favorites with any of them boys. She would give a dance to each and every one of them. At the end of the night, she’d go home with a smile on her face, knowing she had outwitted her Mama and her Daddy.

She and the other girls made the walk out into ballroom, all eyes fixed on the five girls, folks ooo-ing and ah-ing at the girls. Those young ladies were something that night. All dressed up and presented to the town and ready for marrying.

Miss Louella Sue danced first with the hotshot of all the boys, Henry Bradford Gaines. His flaming red hair was something to behold. But she was not impressed. If he thought he had a claim on her, he could guess again. She went on to dance with the Breckinridge boys, all three of them. But not at the same time.

Once she’d made it through those fellas, she took herself a break. She sat herself down to give her footsies a break. She sent Peter Charles Breckinridge, the youngest of the brothers, off to get herself some punch. “And don’t come back without it,” she commanded in that Southern Belle voice of hers.

She was joined by Pearl Eugenia Willingham. She said to Pearl, “What you thinkin’.”

Pearl said to her, “Don’t know why everybody makes such a fuss.”

“Me neither. It’s almost like we’re lambs being led to the slaughterhouse.”