DEATH AND DADDY'S GIRL
by James L. Oddie
Lori Tinsley looked out the car window at the pedestrians who were fighting the cold wind from off Lake Michigan. Her eight-year-old car was at the mechanic's for the third time in as many months. She said, "Thanks for going out of your way, Bubba. I appreciate it. I sure wasn't looking forward to a seven block walk in this weather."
Her blond-haired brother, Bubba, grunted.
Lori was beautiful. Her hair, a reddish auburn, had a natural curl like her dad's. Her eyes were the color of her hair. Her mouth, a little wide she thought. A faultless complexion and a well-proportioned figure completed the picture.
Friday night, Lori had brought her weekly paycheck home, and to her surprise, Bubba offered to drive her to the bank this morning. At the bank, she deposited the check, leaving just enough in the account to pay the utility bills. She took the rest in cash they needed for the week: $100.00 each for her mother, her brother and herself.
Back in the car Bubba returned to character. He grabbed her wrist, twisted her arm behind her back, and said, "Okay, Bitch, give me an extra fifty bucks. I didn't have much luck on the ponies last week, but I'm going out and win big today. And don't you say a damned thing to Mom."
After she had given him the money, despite her pleas, he told her to get out, leaving her to walk home.
Monday evening, Lori worked late. She took the bus home as usual, but got off at the all-night market and walked the last three blocks carrying two bags of groceries. She climbed the five steps of the apartment house and, with fingers numb even through her gloves, tried to get the key into the lock.
She entered the lobby, dimly lit by a lone bulb in the dust-covered chandelier that hung from the domed ceiling. The paint on the elaborately-carved frieze, now chipped and faded, gave mute testimony to once-splendid grandeur. She made her way up the narrow stairway to the fourth floor, clutching the bags to her as she opened the door.
A raspy voice greeted her. "Well, I wondered when you'd be getting home. Where the hell you been 'til midnight?"
The woman who spoke sat in a wooden chair in the kitchen, her hair in curlers. She wore a chenille robe that had at one time been lime-green. Her left hand held a half-empty bottle of gin, while her right hand patted the small dog on her lap. The soiled, pink bows on its ears and the gray hair on its muzzle attested to its gender and age. Its dull eyes and lackluster coat mirrored those of its mistress.
Lori leaned against the door while she caught her breath. Her nostrils were assailed by the odors she had come to hate — stale cigarette butts, the unwashed bodies of the woman and her dog, and the remains of the two frozen dinners left on the drainboard.
A cracked, glass ashtray lay upside down on the vinyl floor; its previous contents, crushed-out lipstick-stained cigarette butts, scattered about. A cigarette balanced on the edge of the table sent a plume to the light fixture above — the cheap, ornamental glass of which was stained by years of assault by that same yellow-gray smoke.
Lori pushed the door shut with her elbow, put her bundles down on the table and walked to a cupboard in the corner. She opened it and took out a broom and dustpan. Returning the few steps to the table, she swept the glass pieces and cigarette butts into the pan. While she did this, the seated woman picked up the burning cigarette and nervously puffed on it — waiting for a reply to her taunting question.
Lori put the broom back into the closet and the dustpan against the wall. After she had methodically put the food items into the cupboards and refrigerator, folded the bags and put them into a cabinet under the sink, she walked to the table and sat in an empty chair.
She spoke in a soft voice. "Stella, I told you this morning I had to work late tonight. Don't you remember? God knows I have to get in every hour I can, and since neither you nor Bubba will do the shopping, I stopped at the market."
"Working? You call that work? Diddling around in some office with a bunch of faggots and wannabe studs. I know the kind who work in those places. I'll bet you were working! The question is, working on who...or is it whom...Miss High-and-Mighty, know-it-all Lori?"
Stella slammed the bottle down on the table and rose quickly and unsteadily to her feet, catapulting the dog into a corner, where it sat and whimpered.
"Now look," Stella screamed, "you've frightened Kewpie! As for Bubba, he was home before ten o'clock tonight."
She picked up the dustpan and scattered its contents onto the floor. "And I don't need your help with the housework, thank you. Your dear brother and I can get along just fine without you in that regard. He loves his mother."
Stella shuffled back to the table and sat. As the little dog jumped onto her lap, she picked up the bottle and took a long swig of the gin.
Lori stood, took her coat from the chair, and opened the hallway door. Fatigue wracked her as she yelled, "I don't want to fight with you, Stella. It's just the same thing over and over every night."
The sound of a man's voice came from the back of the house. "Cut the yelling, Bitch. A guy's got to get his sleep."
"There, damn you," said Stella, "you woke up your brother. Now I suppose you're proud of yourself. You're more like your father every day — no respect for your loved ones."
Lori turned again. She snapped, "Sure, dear brother Bubba got home earlier than I did. He probably ran out of dough and couldn't sponge anymore off anybody at the bar or the bowling alley, or wherever he was. What's the matter, couldn't you give him some? Don't tell me you've gone through that whole hundred already, this is only Wednesday."
"Wednesday, smenesday, how you expect us to get by on that? We have to live too, you know."
"Well, I can't give you more than that right now."
"Can't you get an advance or something? Whatcha working for, a bunch of cheapskates?"
"Look, Stella, I've just started this job. You can't expect me to ask for an advance this soon."
The voice from the back of the house boomed again. "Shut the hell up, will ya? If I have to come out there, you'll be damned sorry. I'm getting up early to play golf with Joe and Finney."
Lori's hand tightened on the door knob. She started to reply to her brother's remark, then looked down at the bruises on her wrist and remembered what Bubba had done to her on Saturday.
She turned her gaze to her mother and sighed. She was trying to remember the other Stella. The one in the photograph album Lori kept in the bottom drawer of her dresser. The perky blonde cheerleader Stella, voted "most likely to get married first" in high school, and who immediately proved everyone right by bedding and wedding Lori's father, the quarterback of the football team.
She wanted desperately to pull from her mind happy childhood memories of this woman who bore her, took her to her breast and watched her first steps -- but they weren't there. It was her father who had played patty-cake with her, her father who had held her when the dark things came into her room in the night.
Now time, and the images of this Stella with the unkempt dark-rooted blonde hair and the slurred speech — this stranger Stella — were, like a fog entering a valley, obscuring those once-cherished images of her father.
When she was twelve, he had been seriously injured on the job — paralyzed from the neck down. Luckily for them, his insurance had paid for a day-nurse. Stella, still young and attractive, had, after a few months, begun going out in the evening after dinner.
One night Lori came home early. Hearing subdued laughter, she peeked into her mother's bedroom. Stella, in bed with a man, didn't notice her, so she closed the door quietly and went to her room.
Lying in bed, she heard snores from her father's room on one side and laughter from her mother's room on the other. She put the pillow over her head, clutched her Teddy closer, and cried herself to sleep. She never told anyone what she had seen, but after that, she called her mother by her first name.
Three nights later, as the doctor was leaving, he told Lori her father had asked for her. She tip-toed into his darkened room and looked down at this man she loved. He smiled, and without opening his eyes, took her hands in his — once calloused, now soft. As he began to speak in measured words, she leaned closer.
"Darling Lori." He paused and took a deep breath. "Doc says I haven't got much longer.... Now, no crying." ... "Bubba's always called you "Daddy's girl," ... well, it's always been the two of us ... against them, right?... And now I've got to depend on you. You're the strongest...Stella's a drunk, Bubba's ... a loser." He stopped and inhaled the oxygen deeply. "They'll never make it on their own... Got to promise me you'll watch out for them... See to it they don't destroy themselves -- or each other. You'll do that, be Daddy's girl and take care of them?"
Lori, too emotional to speak, squeezed her father's hand and nodded her head.
On Lori's sixteenth birthday, Stella had gotten drunk and Bubba had put her in bed. Later, a soft knocking sound awakened Lori.
"Who is it?"
"It's me, Sis, let me in. I have a birthday present for you."
She opened the door. In the darkness, he grabbed her arm and pressed himself against her. She realized, to her horror, he was naked. She tried to scream, but Bubba had one hand over her mouth, while he tore her nightshirt with the other. She scratched his face and beat on his arms, but his greater strength was not to be denied. He forced her onto the bed.
Ashamed, she did not tell anyone, but from that night, she kept her door locked.
The next morning, Lori heard Stella ask about the scratches on Bubba's face and bruises on his arms. He laughed and joked about some of his "dolls" and how it was a "real jungle" out there.
Instead of being angry, Stella had said, "Why go out in the jungle, when you've got a tiger at home?"
Lori knew then she could not keep her promise to her father.
When her father died, only Lori mourned. When she cried, Stella had said, "I'll give you something to weep about — all we're going to have to live on now is social security. You'll have to get a job after high school."
Lori asked: "Why can't Bubba get a job? He's healthy enough."
"No," came the biting reply, "Bubba's going away to college. He's going to make his mother proud."
Lori had hoped Bubba's absence would bring she and her mother closer, but the breach only widened. Stella would go to cocktail bars in the afternoon. Later at night Lori would hear the noises and laughter again from her mother's room.
One evening she found Stella sitting at the kitchen table, more drunk than usual, and crying. When Lori asked why, Stella threw the empty gin bottle at her and yelled: "Nothing you'd give a damn about. Some lying slut at the college claims Bubba got her pregnant. He's been expelled. That oughta make you happy."
After Bubba had been back about a week, she heard muffled sounds and laughter coming from her mother's room again. She thought her mom had brought another man home. Later she heard Bubba treading barefoot down the hallway.
The noises continued each night, with less laughter and eventually no laughter at all, and Stella began drinking more.
Two mornings later Lori found Stella in bed — her dog stretched out on her chest. They were both dead. She had given Kewpie the same sleeping pills she had taken herself.
Lori tried to cry at her mother's funeral, but the tears wouldn't come.
Bubba, in his only suit and tie, patted her hand and whispered, "Don't you worry, little sister, we'll get by. You just keep happy every day on that job you like so much, and good ol' brother Bubba will keep you happy at night."
She gave him an icy glare and pushed him away. "If you're thinking, like mother like daughter, you must have a short memory. Just forget it."
Bubba had pulled away, smiled and said, "Just kiddin' kiddo. Hell, I don't need you. I've met a new doll named Peaches who's hot for ol' Bubba here. Goin' to a ritzy party tonight."
The next morning, a hungover Bubba said, "Last night I heard about a job at an advertising agency that'd be perfect for you."
"Why you so concerned about me all of a sudden?"
"Who says I'm thinking about you? With mom gone, our income's gonna take a nose dive, and I'm sure as hell not gonna work if I don't have to."
He handed her a business card. "Give this dude a ring — looking for an artist."
Lori phoned E. J. Hammond & Associates, went for an interview, and was hired.
Edward Hammond, a commanding figure in his fifties, reminded Lori of her father — friendly, efficient and sympathetic. In contrast, his wife, a former Miss Georgia finalist, about fifteen years younger, seldom smiled.
Lori couldn't understand how he could run the business and spend so much time chatting with everyone in the office. After a week, she realized why — his wife really ran the business.
Lori, at first was exhilarated by her new job, but after a few days found her co-workers treated her the same as the students at school. The women in the office were cold to her. She didn't have any trouble attracting the men, however, they followed her everywhere.
One day she knocked on Mr. Hammond's office door.
"Yes, Miss Tinsley, what's this about?"
Lori, hesitant to begin, finally blurted out, "Mr. Hammond, you've got to do something about the way the men in the office treat me."
"Just about all of them —- especially the married ones."
Mr. Hammond got up from his desk and walked around behind her. "Oh, surely, it can't be that bad. You're probably just imagining it — Lori, isn't it? And why don't you just call me Ed? Maybe you're just mistaking their attempts to be friendly."
He placed his hands on her shoulders.
"Remember, Sweetie, in a close-knit group such as we are here, we all have to scratch one another's back once in awhile."
His hands now playfully scratched her back.
"I don't mind telling you that I've noticed you more than once around the office myself."
By now his hands had moved to the fronts of her arms.
"You'd be amazed how far a girl can go in this organization if she plays along."
As he spoke, his hands moved slowly onto her breasts.
Without speaking, Lori brushed his hands away. She saw heads turn and heard snickers as she ran, crying, into her office.
She considered her situation all weekend. Bubba's gambling losses were becoming excessive, and she had hardly enough left to pay the rent. Monday she went into the office determined to do something about it. She buzzed Mr. Hammond on the intercom.
The box on her desk said, "Yes? Hammond here."
Without identifying herself, Lori said, "Mr. Hammond, please stop chasing me and looking at me the way you do. You have a lovely wife and don't need to act this way."
The only sound from the box — laughter.
Controlling the tremor in her voice, she played her trump card: "If you don't leave me alone, I'll tell your wife."
The box said, "No you won't, you little bitch. You know why? Because you and I both know how much you need this job. If you tell my wife, I'll blackball you — you'll never work in this city again."
That evening, leaving late, she noticed a light in Mrs. Hammond's office. She knocked on the door and entered.
Mrs. Hammond was examining a small silver pistol."Yes, Lori, what may I do for you?"
Hesitant at first, Lori said, "I didn't want to bother you, Mrs. Hammond, but..."
"Goodness," said Mrs. Hammond, tossing the pistol onto the chair next to her desk, "I think you know me well enough to call me Marion."
Lori pulled back, "It doesn't look like a good time..."
"Oh, you mean the gun? Nonsense, come sit."
Lori picked up the gun, placed it on the desk, and sat.
Marion continued, "I've been meaning to tell you what a wonderful job you're doing, and I might as well tell you now, Mr. Wilkes from the Marketing Department is leaving next week." She smiled. "We're hoping you'll move up into that position. It'll mean a sizeable raise. What do you say?"
"Oh, Mrs. Ha... Marion, that's marvelous."
She reached out for the woman's hand. "I don't know how to thank you."
Then, suspicious, she pulled her hand back. "Or is it Mr. Hammond I should be thanking?"
"Heavens no, Lori, but I'm not surprised you might think that. I happened to hear your conversation with my husband on the intercom. It's not the first time he has done this. You see, I was the first Marketing Director at Hammond and Associates before Edward and I were married. I knew the kind of man he was, but like so many other women, I told myself I could change him, but I guess you can't teach an old dog...as they say."
Encouraged by Marion's honesty, Lori told her everything — her problems at home, with the men at the office, and her recent problems with Edward Hammond himself.
"Hmmm," said Mrs. Hammond, "I think there's a way we can help each other."
She got a bottle of white wine from a small refrigerator, and placed it on the desk alongside two flame-red glasses.
She motioned to Lori. "Here, Hon, you pour us a couple of drinks while I lock the door, and we'll talk about it."
The two women spoke until late evening. As she unlocked the door, Mrs. Hammond held out a small gold envelope and said, "Oh, wait, I almost forgot. Here are your business cards."
Lori looked at the top card. It read, Lori Tinsely, Marketing Director.
"Ohhh, thank you, Marion." She laughed, and continued, "You must have been pretty sure of my answer. But seriously, it's wonderful to finally find someone I can trust here at the agency. Now I really feel like part of the family."
"Good, that's one thing I definitely want you to be."
The next two days were without incident. On the afternoon of the third day, Saturday, while Lori sat at the table paying bills, Bubba came home wearing a new sheepskin-lined coat and gloves.
"Those new?" Lori asked.
"Yeah, from Peaches." He smiled. "She likes to keep me warm. Any mail for me?"
"Yes, there's a letter for you from the place I work."
"For me? What the hell they writing to me about? You have anything to do with this?"
"Yes, Bubba, the agency's taking on a lot of new accounts and they need a person who can be friendly, take the bigwigs to a three-martini lunch and a round of golf, you know, sweet talk them. I told them you could do it — and it pays a bundle."
"Well, hell," said Bubba, "if that's all it is, I can do that in my sleep."
He opened a desk drawer and took out a metal, sword-shaped letter opener. He hurriedly opened the envelope and laboriously read the message inside.
"You're right. Your boss says he's going out this evening, but wants me to come to his house between eleven and eleven-thirty to talk about it. I guess I've had you figured wrong all along, little sister. I thought you hated me because Mom always liked me best, just like I've always hated you because you were Dad's favorite."
"Don't be silly," said Lori. "We've got to stick together now that the folks are gone."
"Yeah, this'll be great. With a salary like they're talking about here in this letter, and a couple of hundred from you every week, I can live the way I should — like I never could before."
He walked into the kitchen and came back carrying a bottle of gin.
"Well, I'm going to grab a shower and change. Gotta make a good impression. This is a big night for me."
Sure is, thought Lori, bigger than you think. Aloud she said, "Good idea."
Walking towards the bathroom, he said with a wink, "If any of my harem, especially Peaches, calls, tell 'em I'll call back.” He winked. “Gotta keep 'em all happy you know."
When Bubba returned, Lori was sitting on the sofa in her pajamas and robe watching an old movie. He wore a new, dark-blue suit and smelled of cologne, and Lori knew that he could not have bought either on his allowance.
"Peaches?" She asked.
"The new suit."
"Oh, yeah. Like I said, she likes me to look cool while I'm keeping her warm."
She admitted to herself she had never seen him look so handsome. It was easy to see why girls were drawn to him. He was like a big, blond, Teddy bear, and his bad boy, cuddle-me look, was like a sex magnet.
He sat next to her and put his hand on her thigh.
She pushed it away. "Cut it out, Bubba," she said in a soft but resolute tone. "You know that stuff doesn't work with me."
"Just kiddin'," he said.
He moved to the chair and sat watching the TV screen. "I don't know why you like those old foreign movies — gotta read all those titles — and it's not even in color. What the hell's the name of that one?"
She answered, "Diabolique."
"What's it about?"
"Nothing you'd care about."
He picked up her purse and turned away.
She rose and yelled, "Oh, no, you don't!"
She reached around him and, when she grabbed the purse, some items fell onto the floor.
Bubba laughed as he helped her pick them up. He said, "Gotcha that time."
She saw her three twenty-dollar bills were still there, "I suppose you need some money?"
"Me? Hell, no. That's one thing I have plenty of now. My new doll's loaded. I won't be needing your handouts anymore."
When the front door slammed, Lori went into her bedroom, dressed quickly, and returned to the living room. With gloved hands, she picked up the letter and envelope Bubba had received from Hammond & Associates and walked into the kitchen.
At the stove, she held the letter over the flame and dropped it into the sink. When she turned on the water, the ashes disappeared down the drain. She opened the cupboard under the sink and took out a paper bag, a piece of cloth, and a cardboard tube she had saved from a roll of paper towels.
In the living room, Lori screwed the top onto the bottle of gin. She picked up the letter opener by its blade and slid it into the cardboard tube. After pushing tissues into each end, she carefully put the tube and the bottle into the bag.
Smiling, she looked again at the TV screen. Turning off the set, she said, "Yes, Bubba, Diabolique."
She put on her coat, picked up the bag, and went out the door.
A half-hour later, in a small park outside of town, Lori parked behind a gold Lincoln Continental. Wearing gloves and carrying a small parcel, she opened the passenger's door and slid onto the seat.
The driver quietly asked, "Did you bring them?"
"Yes, Marion. I think I have everything you said to bring in this bag."
"Good, let's go over everything one more time, just to make sure."
"Okay. That'll help a lot."
Marion said, "Ed and I are going to the theater this evening. When we get home, probably about eleven, I'll send Ed out on some pretense — refill my prescription, or something. Then your brother will come, thinking he has an appointment with Ed. He'll find no one home and leave. Got it up to here?"
"Yes. Bubba fell for the cushy job idea like I knew he would."
Marion continued, "When Ed gets back, I'll put on gloves and do my thing with the letter opener."
Marion closed her fists on top of the steering wheel and looked out the windshield.
Lori quietly asked, "Are you sure you can do it? He is your husband."
"Believe me, dearie, after the hell he's put me through for the last five years, it'll be as easy as stepping on a cockroach."
She looked into Lori's eyes, "You'd never dream to what lengths I'd go to get rid of him."
After a pause, Lori prompted, "And then you're going to..."
Marion turned and looked at her.
"Oh, yes, then I'm going to put the gin bottle with your brother's prints on it on the bar in plain sight in Ed's study. About seven-thirty, the time we usually get up, I'll find the grizzly deed and phone nine-one-one."
She laughed, "Too bad you won't be able to see the act I'll put on."
Lori laughed and fluttered her eyelashes, "I'll bet it won't be any better than mine when the cops question me. When I let it slip about how upset my dear, protective brother got when I told him about your husband's been hitting on me. That should tie the noose around his neck — tight."
Marion opened her purse and handed Lori an envelope. "Here's the money the cops'll think Ed paid your brother to shut him up. Crisp new bills. You remember what to do with those?"
"Yes," answered Lori, "I'll bury these in Bubba's top dresser drawer."
She laughed. "Bubba'll have a tough time explaining these. He'll finally get what he deserves. I didn't realize how much I hate him — Dad was right, he's a born loser."
She turned to Marion, "It's wonderful the way you've worked it out. I burned the letter he thought came from your husband, so he'll not have that as an alibi. And when they find his prints all over the letter opener and the gin bottle — and the five thousand dollars in this Hammond envelope — he'll get what he deserves."
Marion took Lori's hands in hers, smiled, and said, "Yes, I certainly hope he will."
As Lori opened the door, Marion cautioned, "Don't open the envelope — it has Ed's prints on it. It'll look better if it's still sealed."
At home, still wearing gloves, Lori went into her brother's room and shoved the envelope under the cluttered garments in the top drawer as per plan.
The next morning, while raucous snores came from Bubba's room, Lori dressed quickly, and, carrying her shoes and purse, closed the apartment door quietly behind her.
At 10:00 A.M., though the Hammonds had not arrived, the staff had started its weekly status meeting. Alice, Mr. Hammond's secretary, came bursting into the boardroom yelling, "Oh, my God! Mr. Hammond's dead!"
After she had been quieted, she continued, "I got a phone call from the police. They said Mrs. Hammond had discovered her husband's body."
That's all Alice knew.
About 2:30, Alice escorted a very officious looking man into the conference room. About five-feet-six and stockily built, he had a pallid complexion. His gray hair and eyes seemed to blend with his gray suit. When he soberly introduced himself as Detective Lieutenant Gray from Homicide Division, Lori had to restrain a snicker. She remembered a film she had once seen called, The Invisible Man.
He spelled out exactly what the police had discovered to this point: "As we see it, while Mr. Hammond was at home last evening, someone came into his study and murdered him. We hope to get more details later from his wife, but at the moment, the doctor has her under sedation. We're hoping that one of you might be able to throw some light on the crime."
While the detective spoke, Lori's breathing became labored. As she slumped to the richly-carpeted floor, she said softly, but loudly enough for everyone to hear, "I shouldn't have told him."
When Lori opened her eyes, Alice was pressing a cool, damp tissue to her forehead. She sat up and said, "Excuse me, I can't imagine why I did that. It never happened before."
Detective Lieutenant Gray knelt down and asked, "What did you mean when you said, 'I shouldn't have told him.'?"
Lori looked shocked and gasped, "I said that?"
"You sure did. What did you mean? 'Shouldn't have told' who what?"
Lori twisted a handkerchief between her fingers, fluttered her eyelids, and said, "It probably doesn't mean anything...but Mr. Hammond was making unwanted advances — you know, sexually harassing me — for the past few weeks. It got real bad, and I guess I mentioned it to my brother. He has been awfully protective since Mom and Dad died, and he does have a terrible temper when he's been drinking, but...oh, no, you can't think..."
Her voice quavered as she looked up at the lieutenant.
Gray asked, "Does your brother live with you?"
After Lori's affirmative response, he asked, "Just what is your address, Miss?"
That evening, wearing a new, red-satin nightshirt, Lori sat curled up in the overstuffed chair formerly commandeered by her brother. She sipped chilled creme de menthe while watching the eight-o'clock news. The detective who had questioned her earlier was telling a newsperson with an abundance of blonde hair and cleavage that the police would soon have a suspect in custody.
Her face to the camera, Blondie asked, "Have you any evidence?"
"Yeah, lots of it. But nothing I can divulge as yet."
Blondie took the lieutenant's hand in hers, fluttered her eyelids, and playfully said, "Aw, come on, just between the two of us, you can surely tell our millions of listeners something."
And then, she very softly whispered, "You don't want me to lose my job, do you?"
Lieutenant Gray stared at the camera, then, at Blondie. He slipped his hand from the newswoman's grasp, reached into his pocket, and withdrew a small notebook.
Referring to his notes, he said, "The deceased wife told us all kinds of things. Open and shut case, if you ask me."
"Have you been able to establish any motive?"
He moved in closer to the camera. "Well, the way we see it, the dead guy, Hammond, was a womanizer. We think the suspect went there to tell him to back off."
Lori smiled and took another drink of the cool, green liquor.
Gray continued, "If Hammond was anything like his wife tells us, he probably laughed at the suspect. So the suspect shot him."
The glass fell from Lori's hand as she leaped from the chair. She yelled at the screen, "'Shot'? What do you mean, 'shot'?"
The blonde continued: "Were you able to speak with the victim's wife?"
"Yes. Poor thing blames herself. Says when she and her husband got home from the theater, she went out to get a prescription refilled — sleeping pills. Feels if she hadn't, her husband would be alive today. When she got back, she says she thought her husband had gone to bed.
Seems they had separate rooms — not to my liking."
He winked at Blondie , nugged her with his elbow, and quietly said, "Nor to yours neither, I'll bet."
Lori, on her knees, watched Blondie frown and say, "You were saying...Mrs. Hammond blamed herself?"
"Yeah. She said she thought if they'd shared a bedroom, or if she hadn't taken the sleeping pills, she'd have known he wasn't in bed. Don't see what difference that makes myself, guy would have been just as dead. She also told us she knew the suspect was very upset and had made verbal threats, but never dreamed it would lead to this."
He puffed up his chest, and continued, "Open and shut case the way I see it. Same old story, the suspect felt wronged and did something about it — very sloppily, though — even left a bottle of wine and a red glass right there with her prints all over them. And if that ain't enough, we even found her business card under the desk."
Lori thought, what was this fool saying? She sat on the edge of the chair and yelled at the detective, "What are you babbling about? You've got it all wrong! Shot? Her fingerprints on a wine bottle? Her fingerprints on a red glass?"
What had happened? Had Marion shot him instead of stabbing him? And why shouldn't Marion's business card be under the desk? She lived there, didn't she?
A picture formed in her mind.
In Marion's office, it was she, who had poured the wine into red glasses. She, who had picked up the gun and placed it on the desk. But that didn't explain the business card. The only way one of her new business cards could have gotten there was if — but no, Marion was her friend — she wouldn't have — couldn't have... ”
Then, she remembered, Bubba had grabbed her purse. He'd helped her pick things up. Could he have taken one of her new cards? But that would mean Marion knew Bubba.
She ran into Bubba's room, opened the top dresser drawer and pulled out the envelope Marion had given her.
She cried, “I don't care how Hammond was killed, Bubba will never be able to alibi his way out of this five thousand dollars."
She tore the envelope open.
Inside, was a copy of the letter Bubba had received asking him to come to the Hammond's for a job interview, and some sheets of blank paper.
Puzzled, she returned to the living room and looked at the TV screen.
It showed the grieving widow leaving police headquarters. She was being escorted to her gold, Lincoln Continental by a tall, young, blond man in a dark-blue suit.
Lori’s sobbing drowned out the screech of tires in the street, footsteps on the stairs and heavy knocking on her door. Her eyes were riveted on the TV — watching the car drive off. Through her tears she saw the vanity license plate. It read: PEACHES.
Jim Oddie lives in the apple capitol of the world with his wife, Pat. After a career as a commercial artist and exhibit director, he has been writing short mystery stories for about a dozen years, and drawing cartoons and caricatures for many years more.