Authors: Connie Suttle
Note: I entered a contest a couple of years ago. The criteria was that it had to be a mystery and exactly 200 words long. It didn't win. Here it is—all 200 words of it.
Falling to ruin while weeds grow unchecked about it, the house sits silent. Ivy climbs the walls, threatening to smother it completely in a year or two. Few remember the Blanchards and fewer still drive past the house, which was caught up in probate for years. Tim Blanchard, Bill and Sara's nephew, eventually won out in court. Now, Tim was allowing the house to die a quiet death.
Sara was sentenced to life in prison after a swift conviction, although her attorney had persistently argued that she didn't have the strength to strangle Bill, even in his sleep.
She used a rope! The handsome prosecutor asserted loudly, pacing before the jury box. Sara tearfully claimed that she'd found Bill already dead, at the end of the house where the ivy grew. The jury hadn't believed her story, preferring to side with the charismatic prosecutor instead. Bill had cheated on Sara, the police investigator testified. When the weeping mistress took the stand, Sara's fate was sealed.
Leaves of untended ivy rustle in the breeze as they cling tightly to the house. Thick, underlying vines shift and flex their black-hearted lengths, savoring revenge against the man determined to cut them down.
This is a sequel to another short story about Conner—GSW or How I Met My Mother. That story will be available in
The Stroke of Midnight
, an anthology released by
"If the wind is gonna do my hair, I wish it would do a better job." I caught the strands whipping into my face and made a futile attempt to push them behind an ear. The breeze was certainly playing havoc with everybody's hair and clothing as we walked across damp, stubbornly green grass at Atlanta's best cemetery.
Many of us felt obligated to go to the interment at the cemetery after the funeral, although the weather was less than ideal. Christmas was less than two weeks away, so this was an awful time for anyone to lose a family member. Especially one so young and full of life.
"Conner, the only way to keep your hair in place today is if you'd left it home," Shane, my next-door neighbor and best friend, observed quietly at my side. He'd driven us to the funeral, and now we walked across the cemetery toward his waiting Lexus.
"Shane, I guess we ought to be thankful. That poor girl we buried won't be worrying about the breeze today."
"Yeah. We should be thankful. That doesn't mean we can't complain when we feel like it."
I sighed. We'd both stayed to watch as Carolina Gregg's expensive white casket was lowered into the ground. Carolina's father, the only family Carolina had left, remained behind, his hands clenching and his face twisted in grief as we'd quietly stolen away after a few words of condolence.
Vince Gregg was a junior partner in my husband Steven's prestigious law firm. Steven couldn't be bothered—not with his wife nor to attend a funeral. He'd sent a text asking me to go, claiming he had business. I'd believe that, as long as the business included a twenty-two-year-old redhead from Duluth.
Carolina's death had been a terrible accident—she was nineteen and a student at the University of Georgia. A star on the University diving team, she'd been practicing a high dive, came too close to the platform and hit her head on the way down. She was unconscious when she hit the water and died three days later, never waking from the coma. As I said, a terrible accident.
"Think Steven's at the office today?" I asked as Shane punched the remote to open the Lexus' doors. Shane snorted. That was reply enough.
Once inside the car, I pulled down the passenger side mirror and checked my hair. If a tornado had come through, my hair might have looked neater.
"Nobody will see us before we get home," Shane assured me as he pulled away from the curb. Carolina had been buried in Atlanta's Oak Park Cemetery—at great expense, no doubt, and I watched as we rolled past it in all its landscaped perfection. I rubbed my forehead in an attempt to stave off gathering tension.
"The dead don't care, you've said it often enough," Shane murmured as he settled into a line of vehicles waiting to turn onto a street outside the gates. "It's for the living. I know that." He turned the wheel neatly and sped up to keep a truck from rear-ending us.
I sighed and leaned back in my seat. At fifty-four, Shane was a year younger than I was and still good-looking enough to entice the occasional younger man on a date. He had no gray in his light-brown hair and his hazel eyes still twinkled. He didn't have any sign of crow's feet, either. Dammit. I pulled a brush from my purse and went to work on my hair.
"Conner, if you looked any better at your age, you'd be Cher," Shane grumped as I brushed my stubborn hair back. "Granted she'd have to go blonde again, but she's never shied away from hair color. And you can always look for another man to flaunt in Steven's face."
"Shane Patrick Taylor, if I have to, I can walk home."
"Not in those shoes," he pointed out. I wiggled a foot encased in Christian Louboutin. He was right. Not in those shoes.
* * *
"Now what?" A familiar car sat in my driveway as Shane pulled in to let me out. "Wonder how long he's been here."
"I told you to never promise anything like that. Ever," Shane frowned at me. "Want me to come inside and keep things civil?"
"You're the one who almost caused the fight last time," I pointed out. "Are you spoiling for another fight with our esteemed detective?"
"Esteemed? Conner, have you taken up drinking as a hobby? Esteem and Detective Glass have never been properly introduced."
"He's a good man. Granted he's still pining for his dead wife, but he does his job."
"Every other sentence is about his dead wife," Shane mumbled as he climbed out of the car. "She might as well be living and your husband may as well be dead."
"Shane, we will be nice today," I pointed a finger at him across the top of his vehicle. Detective Jon Glass slid out of his unmarked, standard-issue patrol car and stood, stretching his five-nine frame. We were roughly the same age, he and I, and he'd earned Shane's disgust when he ignored me and talked about his dead wife. All. The. Time. I was surprised when a second man emerged from the passenger side of Detective Glass' vehicle.
"Detective Glass. How nice to see you again," Shane said, feigning false politeness as we walked up. "How's your wi?" Shane didn't finish his question; he was too busy trying to breathe after I'd caved his ribs in with an elbow.
"I'm still coping," Detective Glass sighed, ignoring Shane's uneven breathing. "I miss Gladys every day." Yeah, her name was Gladys Glass. The name alone probably killed her.
"What can I do for you, Detective?" I asked politely. "I thought we concluded our three cases earlier in the year." We had. I can count to three, just like any two-and-a-half-year-old.
"I persuaded Detective Glass to introduce us," the second man came forward, offering his hand. He probably hadn't hit fifty yet, but he was cozying up to it. "I'm Special Agent Matthew Ricks. From the Georgia Bureau of Investigation."
Right then, I wanted to stick an elbow in Detective Glass' ribs. He and his partner had promised not to tell anyone about my special talents. Yet here we were, with the cat not only let out of the bag but climbing the limbs of Georgia's law-enforcement tree just as fast as it could.
"I told him he couldn't tell anybody," Detective Glass whined, cringing beneath my accusing glare.
"And Conner told you not to tell anybody," Shane said. "We see how well that went." Sarcasm was certainly one of Shane's assets. He probably listed it on his resume. If he needed a resume. He was ranked as Atlanta's second richest citizen. Women used to flock to him, until they learned he wasn't interested. In women, that is.
Shane always said if my husband Steven ever met an untimely end, he'd marry me just to keep unwanted attention at bay. I told him to get his ass back through the gate in our shared fence. If Steven died, it might be a cold day in hell before I'd marry again.
"Well, since you're here," I motioned both men toward the house. Shane followed, muttering obscenities under his breath.
"I only want you to come to the scene with me once, just to tell me if anything is there," Special Agent Ricks said, sipping the iced tea Shane plunked in front of him. Detective Glass asked for coffee, so I was waiting for the coffeemaker to finish brewing a fresh pot. I'd offered cookies, bagels or donuts. Glass munched away on a donut. Special Agent Ricks smeared cream cheese on a sea salt bagel.
"Fine," I sighed, pouring a fresh cup of coffee for Detective Glass. "When?"
"As soon as we're done here," Special Agent Ricks said, taking a generous bite of his bagel.
"Conner, go change, I'll handle this," Shane said. I gave him a look—one that said he'd better be civil or I would run naked through his next neighborhood barbecue.
* * *
"Much better. Gladys liked designer jeans," Detective Glass commented when I arrived in the kitchen ten minutes later, dressed in jeans and a silk T, a blazer slung over my arm. I'd shoved my feet in ballet slippers—I could walk in those without the heels sinking into the lawn.
"Where are we going?" I asked sweetly.
"Buckhead," Detective Glass replied, emptying his coffee cup. "A real estate agent was killed last night. No motives. No enemies. No evidence. No reason for her to die."
Why did I get the feeling she was connected, somehow?
"She's the Governor's cousin," Special Agent Ricks supplied before the thought barely had time to form. "That's why I'm tagging along with Detective Glass, here."
"Well, it had to be complicated, didn't it?" Shane growled.
"Shane, your house is that way," I pointed through my wide kitchen window. "Go there. Now."
"Nope. I'm coming, too. Detective Glass said I could."
"Oh, for cripe's sake," I tossed up a hand in frustration. "Detective, how much blood is at the scene?"
"A lot." He grinned. The last time Shane had gone with the Detective and me, he'd gotten nauseated at the amount of blood and spent half an hour puking.
"See, this is what you get for causing arguments," I hissed at Shane.
"Come on," Detective Glass stood. Maybe he was looking forward to seeing Shane cough up his toenails. I wasn't.
* * *
"Must have done well at real estate," Shane said beside me as we climbed out of his car. The house had to be at least eight thousand square feet, with terraces across the back. We'd parked behind the house to get off the street, right outside four spacious garages lined up on one side. All the garage doors were open and four shiny cars gleamed in the afternoon light.
"All the wealthy clientele came to her." Glass and Ricks arrived just ahead of us, and they'd waited for Shane and me to get there before going inside the house. Glass backed up a little after his statement—he was talking to some of Atlanta's wealthy. Only one Atlanta resident was wealthier than Shane.
Detective Glass went pink as Shane and I remained silent, then cleared his throat uncomfortably. "The, uh, body is in the foyer, toward the front. Follow me and don't touch anything," he cautioned as Shane, Special Agent Ricks and I fell in behind him. Several police officers guarded the back entrance, but they stepped aside to allow the Detective and the rest of us inside the massive house.
"Anything yet?" Glass whispered as we walked through the back entry, past the kitchen and down a lengthy hall toward the front door.
"Nothing, unless you mean the dead woman who's been following us ever since we stepped inside the house," I replied dryly.
* * *
Nina Shelton blinked as I turned toward her. She looked younger now than when she'd died—but they all did. She'd been trying to get someone's attention from the moment her body was discovered, but nobody could see her. Except me.
"Who did it?" I asked, point blank. Most of the spirits I met couldn't spill the beans fast enough, as soon as they knew I could see and hear them.
"I don't know," ghostly tears poured down her face. "He wore a mask and ran away before everything went dark."
"She doesn't know," I sighed to Detective Glass, who waited, holding his breath. If he thought I'd be able to hand him a name and another promotion, then he was disappointed. Really disappointed.
"Ask her to describe the assailant," Special Agent Ricks demanded. Well, somebody was taking charge. I wasn't sure whether I liked it or not.
"He was six feet tall, I think," Nina sniffled. She'd been dressed for bed in a silk robe over pajamas, so her assailant had arrived late.
"Six feet, maybe," I relayed the information. "Wearing a mask. What time?" I asked Nina's spirit.
"After nine. I always go to bed around that time, so I can get to the gym at five."
"After nine," I told Ricks.
"Matches the coroner's estimate," Ricks nodded.
"Which hand held the gun?" I asked.
"Let's see, uh, right hand," Nina said. I repeated her words to Ricks. He nodded and pulled a small notebook from a jacket pocket. Shane stood on tiptoe to get a look at what Agent Ricks scribbled on a small page.
"She was forty-eight?" Shane asked as Agent Ricks wrote. "I heard she was younger."
"You knew her?" Agent Ricks turned a speculative eye on Shane. Well, Shane seldom practiced discretion.
"Not really. She donated to my charity. As a business expense," he added. "A hundred dollars, every year." At least he knew not to grumble over the amount. After all, Nina was still standing there, listening.
"No regular contact?" Ricks stared at Shane, an eyebrow lifted. If he thought Shane might be intimidated by a lifted eyebrow, then he needed to go back to Agent School.
"No regular or personal contact, no. She always mailed a check to the charity. That's it," Shane replied. "She sold a house to an acquaintance. He said she was in her thirties."
"Was you acquaintance happy with her services?" Ricks' eyebrow was still lifted.
"Yeah. Charlie loves that house. Said he got a deal on it, too."
"Look," I said, pulling Agent Ricks' attention away from Shane. "I think you'll be a busy man if you start questioning everybody who ever bought a house from Miss Shelton. Besides, Charlie Dillon is on the City Council, in addition to being four feet tall. I also doubt his ability to find a ski mask that coordinates perfectly with his business suits."