It is my pleasure to present to you the first of three 4th place winners from the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, “Dark Skies” by Adele Marie Park
I liked this story a LOT. Adele’s writing here is superb.
This story is probably one of the best at really nailing the contest theme. We don’t adhere too strictly to that, but you can tell when somebody really made the effort to hit the bulls eye.
I think you’ll agree with me when you’re finished reading this very good story.
Word Weaver Writing Contest Winner
Adele Marie Park
Streaks of pink, purple and orange lit the twilight sky.
“God’s paintbrush,” Ben Malcolm thought as the display tempted him to take a moment to admire the world he wanted to leave behind. How could he be lonely, faced with such miracles?
Tears filled his rheumy eyes and he floundered for a moment before reaching into the pocket of his wax jacket to retrieve a threadbare cotton hankie.
He rubbed his eyes and blew his nose.
She would have laughed at his antics if he hadn’t lost her last year. No laughter filled the small bungalow now.
The chair she had sat in glared at him accusingly every night.
The television she had loved so much was silent, sulking with him.
A sharp noise broke his stupor and he jerked his head up, wincing as a sharp pain reminded him he was old.
The black and white collie barked again. There was something urgent in the tone, a shout of “Come here. See what I’ve found.”
Ben shuffled forward, his cane sinking into the water-soaked track.
“I’m coming,” he said.
Sparky ran towards him, barking like a puppy then galloped back to his spot.
He hurried, ignoring the pain in his hip, the thunk of an old heart and the wheeze that passed for breathing these days.
As he reached the collie, the dog sunk to its belly. Puffs of panted air steamed into the gloaming air.
He glanced at the dog then down at the short moor grass where something had stolen the dog’s attention.
He fell to his knees and a whoosh of breath came deep from the bottom of his lungs.
A blue eye, which had once sparkled, stared up at him from out of the grass.
* * * * *
In the police station, Constable MacKay was finishing tea and a scone when the phone rang.
Frowning he listened to a frantic garble of words until he recognised who it was.
Rising from his chair and still chewing, he told them to slow down.
Within a second his body went rigid and the remainder of the scone fell from his fingers.
He replaced the handset with trembling fingers.
* * * * *
For as long as Alice could remember, all she had wanted to be was a detective.
The long years training would be worth it, she had told her mother. This was the start of her glorious career.
Instead, her first posting had been to the village of Speir Dhubh, (angry sky), in the highlands of Scotland, far from her city of lights, Glasgow.
Twenty houses, a post office, a pub and a bus service that ran, sometimes, to Inverness the Highland capital.
She counted her heart beats as the old car hit the bumps of what passed as a road.
“A body’s been found by old Ben Malcolm’s dog?” she asked holding onto the seat as they went over another pothole.
MacKay grunted an affirmation as he concentrated on the water-logged track they were driving on.
Ben Malcolm was visible in the glimmer of twilight skies.
The old man waved his stick at the approaching car while his dog strained against the constriction of a leash, barking loud enough to be heard over the engine.
The tires screamed in protest as MacKay applied the brakes and they spun splattering mud up the sides of the white paint.
MacKay exited the car first, placing his peaked cap firmly on his head.
Alice, tentative and mindful of the muck beneath her feet, took a second longer before she left the car. The moors were wild and inaccessible unless you stuck to the path worn down by years of feet.
The roar of the sea was audible letting residents know it was just over the rise of the brown topped hill.
The smell of peat filled a traveller’s nostrils first, then the wet bog smell, and lastly the tang of the sea.
Desolate and unwelcoming that’s how Alice first described it to her mother on the phone. Now she was filled with the primitive zest of the land. Humans were almost an afterthought on this free, rolling landscape.
As MacKay talked to the old man he held his arm tight against his chest.
She strode forward, squelching into muddy pools. She didn’t care. “Ben, do you feel unwell?”
The old man was grey, all the way from his hair to his big, calloused, shaking hands.
She turned away from them and headed for her radio. “I’m calling an ambulance.”
Surprise was always evident when this overriding concern for her fellow humans blasted through the mask of the stern policewoman.
She had seen the body out of the corner of her eye. A fleeting glimpse of hair the colour of straw spread across the heather. White skin with a purple-blue tinge to it as the hand was thrown down the fingers curled as if they grasped something.
Behind her, the two men continued conversing while the dog barked like a berserker.
She squatted, her nose wrinkling as the stench of the bog filled it.
A pencil was withdrawn from her pocket, and she parted the grass with it. She gazed at the face of a dead woman. Gauguin couldn’t have painted the victim with more colour than nature had. Young skin swollen by death’s hand was mottled purple and blue. The victim’s eye’s gazed towards the sky. Was that the last thing she’d seen? The tip of the pencil touched the gaping wound across her throat.
“Who did this to you?” she whispered.
The sound of knees not used to bending alerted her that MacKay was beside her.
“We’re going to have to get the big boys in on this one, lass.”
* * * * *
It didn’t take long for “the big boys” to get to the small village. By the time the body was removed to the police station, they were drawing up outside in their shiny car. Two men got out, and with a click of automated locking, they walked into the police station.
Originally, the police station had been the blacksmith’s cottage, and no matter how many times it was painted white, some of the soot still pushed through as it to remind them of its once glorious use.
MacKay met the men at the front desk, which was located in the one room used for the office, booking procedures and tea-making.
Alice looked up from her desk.
One man was tall and thin, dressed in a woollen coat over a sharp cut suit. His hair was immaculate, and the scent of expensive aftershave wafted from him.
The other was smaller, wore a shabby coat and a suit that had seen better days. Obviously, he was in charge.
MacKay led them through to the back room where the local doctor was examining the body.
Neither man had spared her a glance and a smile twisted the corners of her mouth upward. She was the one who had the evidence, what there was of it. It lay in front of her in a plastic bag. The dead woman had no identification on her. No purse, no documents of any kind.
Alice, however, had noticed something peeping out from a pocket on the jeans the woman wore. She’d rescued it with a pair of tweezers, and wearing gloves. With care, she had teased the crumpled piece of paper into something she could read. It was a letter from a solicitor, addressed to their murder victim. The contents of the missive were going to spread shock waves through the village. It declared that Antonia Fraser was the illegitimate daughter of General MacLeod, a descendant of the family had settled this area when there was nothing here but moors. They had a steady rise in fortunes over the years and the house they lived in was built by an ancestor in 1800. In the village hierarchy, the MacLeod family were considered royalty.
The present head of the family was the aforementioned General MacLeod. His wife Marianne had come from an old and established family further north in Caithness. They had four children, Maggie the eldest, Stuart who was currently at Edinburgh University, Duncan who managed the land and Dorothy the youngest. General MacLeod’s mother, Lady Constance also lived with them on the estate.
Alice chewed the tip of her pen as she waited for the computer screen to tell her it had received the information she had typed in. She also waited for the “big boys” to beat a path to her desk.
With that thought still fresh in her head, the door to the back room opened and a rush of men’s voices broke the peace of the front office.
“This is Alice Bruce,” MacKay said.
Alice rose from her seat and stood with her shoulders straight.
The shabby man nodded his head. “Detective Robinson.”
They shook hands.
His skin was warm and so was his smile. He was used to putting people at ease. Years of experience showed in the lines on his face, but his eyes twinkled. She liked him already.
The younger man pushed his hand out towards her and she was reminded of an awkward scarecrow. “Detective Alan Muir. Nice to meet you.”
She shook his hand.
His skin was cold, his face unlined and no experience lay in his blue eyes-yet.
“Alice has the evidence you need to look at.” MacKay placed his hat on his head, turning to the door. “I’ll be with the doctor if you need me,”
There was polite silence lasting until he left the room.
“He’s tired,” Alice said, although why she felt the need to defend MacKay she had no idea.
“Aye. You don’t have many murders here, do you?” Robinson said. Laughter trickled out, just enough to put her at ease.
She fumbled for the evidence bag and held it up.
“This was the only thing that we found,” she said and handed it to Robinson.
While he read the contents, Alice and Alan glanced at one another.
The younger man swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbed like an accusing secret.
“Can I make you some coffee?”
The grateful yes she received from the younger man proved her instincts right.
* * * * *
The MacLeod estate consisted of 45 acres of managed land. The house stood like a proud mother in the middle of these lands.
The driveway leading up to the house was edged, either side by laurel trees, shaped into soft domes by a loving hand.
The wheels of the car crunched over the gravel with soft popping sounds.
Alice sat in the back seat and stared out at something which seemed far out of her reach. A fairytale place found by accident and never forgotten.
Alan drove, and she smiled at the way his head darted around like a chicken. His obvious awe of the fairytale which he had found himself in was the same as hers.
Robinson seemed unaffected. Perhaps his experience made him immune to such charms.
They were soon at the stronghold.
As she exited the car, Alice looked upward. The grand house appeared to gaze back down at her. The many windows beaming with cleanliness that welcomed the visitors.
The door opened and the woman who emerged looked about as welcoming as a vegetarian in a burger joint.
This would be Lady Marianne MacLeod, Alice thought and noted the expensive cashmere jumper and tweed skirt down to the Italian leather brogues. Steel grey hair was styled by an expensive, artistic hand.
As they walked towards her she folded her arms.
Alice took a deep breath and forced down feelings of intimidation. These people weren’t above the law, this was a murder investigation.
“Good morning, I’m Detective Robinson from Inverness. Is General MacLeod at home?”
The woman’s body language stiffened even more than before. If she had been a porcupine, Robinson would have quills in every orifice.
“What is this about?” Her voice held years of tradition and breeding. Cultured with an attitude of “do I have to deal with common people like you?”
“I need to ask your husband a few questions. Is he at home?”
Good for you, Alice thought. Her respect for Robinson was growing. He seemed unflappable, unlike MacKay. She didn’t blame MacKay, but he was in denial. Thirty years spent as the law in a village whose streets were crime free didn’t prepare you for what had happened. He was due to retire next year, and it seemed cruel to visit murder upon him now.
Mrs MacLeod’s expression crumbled and now her stance with folded arms looked more defensive than offensive.
“You better come in.” She turned her back on them and Robinson, given permission, followed her into the house itself.
They were shown to a reception room which belonged amongst the pages of gloss slicked country house magazines.
Robinson sat down on one of the couches which had been a living animal at one time but its skin had been pressed, and moulded into an expensive designers dream.
Alice stood beside the window, glancing out at the garden and admiring the blooms.
Alan stood beside her, awkwardness seeping from him into her.
By her estimation, they waited ten minutes before the door was opened as if by an enthusiastic child and General MacLeod almost bounced into the room.
Robinson rose and faced him.
“What is going on? I heard there had been a dead body found, is it about that?” General MacLeod said as he filled the room with his presence and his voice.
A tall man with white hair. The shadow of the colour it was once threaded through his speckled moustache. Black as night his hair would have been, but like many in the highlands, he would have lost the colour early on.
He sat in a wing-backed chair like a king on his throne and waved his hand in the air. “Sit down.”
His wave included her and Alan, but she had to touch the younger man’s arm before he moved. They sat beside Robinson on the couch.
“I am sorry, but this might be painful for you,” Robinson said.
He handed the evidence bag across to the general who frowned. From the top pocket of his hacking jacket, glasses were produced which he put on, his chin lifting up a notch as he peered at what was written. Time ticked courtesy of several antique clocks in the room.
Alice kept her gaze on the various items around her, embarrassed for the general. What a way to find out he had a daughter.
The general lowered the evidence bag and stared at Robinson. “Is this true?” he asked, his voice the thin whisper of an old man.
“Yes, sir. We enquired of the solicitors. Apparently, the girl’s mother told her before she died. Do you know who this is?”
The general shook his head as he buried himself backwards in the chair, a shrunken visage of the man who had marched through the door minutes ago. “She was murdered? Here?”
He wasn’t asking for these questions to be answered. The shock was now coursing through his body, his brain was trying to process what he had been told.
The door opened with the sound of a gentle click and Lady Marianne entered. Her hands shook as she wound them around one another, her gaze bored into her husband. “It’s her. Isn’t it?”
The tone of her voice sent shivers through Alice, let alone how the general felt, but he twitched a little in his chair.
“Pardon me, Lady…”
“Why? What have you done that you need pardoning? Not like him.” It was as if a hissing snake had taken over her speech.
Moving in a slow shuffle she stood beside her husband, her hand that gripped the back of his chair was white with pressure.
“My husband had an affair twenty years ago next month. The woman worked here as a designer. I employed her, I picked her out and she betrayed me by sleeping with my husband. He was so infatuated with her that he was going to leave us. The family, the estate, everything.” The last word projected from her mouth complete with spittle that landed on her chin.
Alice saw hatred in her eyes, she felt heat rise in her face and wished that she was anywhere but in this timeless room with its secrets laid bare.
“My father made him see sense and the woman was packed off with no forwarding address.”
Alice watched the general’s reaction to those words. He bristled, that was the only word that she could use to describe his body language. As if he were a wild boar caught in a trap.
“Did you know she had a child?” Robinson asked. His voice was calm, the softness of a blanket over troubled sleepers.
Lady Marianne shook her head.
The general cleared his throat.
“I have to ask certain questions. Where were you yesterday at noon?”
“With me,” Lady Marianne said.
Robinson glanced at her. “And where would that be?”
Alice kept the smile from appearing, but her respect for Robinson went up another notch.
The general stirred in his chair, some of the military warrior he used to be stirred within him. He sat up straight. “We were overseeing the estate accounts. Always a dreadful chore. We had lunch then we took our daughter, Dorothy to her appointment in Inverness. We returned around six, had dinner, watched some rot on the television then went to bed.”
Robinson rose to his feet. “Thank you, sir. That’s all for now. If you want a copy of the letter I can arrange it for you.”
“Hm. Oh, yes.” The general rose to his feet and held his hand out, Robinson shook it. “Thank you, detective, please arrange that for me today, if you can.”
Alice watched Lady Marianne and for a second her face twisted into someone who could kill.
* * * * *
In the back seat of the car, Alice shuffled her hat around in her fingers. She was surprised to find emotions pushing themselves onto her unwanted.
“What did you make of that?” Robinson said and his glance in the rear-view mirror included her in that question.
“Bloody awful, sir,” Alan said his voice quivering. “We need to dig deeper.”
Robinson nodded then glanced at Alice, again.
“Martha from the post office knows everything about everyone. She’s known as the local historian. We should go there next,” she said.
Robinson edged the car out of the drive and glided back onto the main road. “Then that’s where we’re going. This case will be a long one, I think. We’re booked into the pub. What’s the grub like there?”
“It’s very good, sir. They do a mean Chili.”
Robinson laughed which made Alice smile like a child as if she had just impressed her father.
* * * * *
Outside the post office remained what it had been, a whitewashed cottage. A gaudy red plastic sign declared its new function. Displayed in the one window was all manner of things that villagers might require. From dolls in bright boxes to string and scissors. The front door was painted pillar box red with a square glass window where a sign hung crooked, declaring that it was open.
Alice pushed the red door and an electric buzzer jarred her nerves as she entered.
The scent of paper, plastic goods and old coffee wafted around. It was a long room.
In the middle was a card display that blocked the view of the counter, and to either side was shelving filled with the treasures within.
“Hello?” she called out.
“Aye. Just a second.” A woman pushed open a door marked private and bustled into view.
Martha Cooper had taken over the running of the post office from her mother. She had lived all her life in the tiny flat upstairs which had been added to the cottage when it became the post office. Her hair had once been red but was now white as snow and done in a style which accentuated the colour. Her smile almost hid her blue eyes and Alice thought she was the kindest woman she had ever met.
“Hello, Alice. These will be the Inverness police with you then?”
The post office served the same purpose of the pub as a hub of local gossip, but unlike the pub, it opened its doors earlier.
“This is Detective Robinson and Detective Muir,” Alice introduced them then stood to one side.
Martha shook their hands in turn, her smile growing. Excitement shone in her eyes. “Come through to the back. I can put the kettle on.”
They followed her as she lifted the counter, and then through the door marked private. They emerged into a square room, littered with stock and post office supplies. There was an easy chair beside a fireplace with an electric fire in it. A television stood in front of the chair. A table covered by a garish coloured oil cloth had three chairs placed around it.
Robinson took her offer of tea, Alice and Alan declined.
“Would you prefer a diet drink, Alice, I know you like them.”
Alice smiled at her, it was those little touches which Martha remembered that put people at ease. “Yes, please.”
Alan said yes to the offer as well, and she busied herself getting her guests their refreshments.
Once that had been settled, Martha took a chair from a forgotten corner stacked high with papers and placed the paperwork on the floor. She dragged the chair over to the table and sat down. “What a dreadful thing to happen. In my living memory we’ve never had a murder in the village,” she said her easy smile dropping.
There were grunts of varying degrees from them all in answer.
Martha shook her head and tutted. “And, no idea who the poor girl was?”
“We know her name. Antonia Fraser. Do you recognise that name?” Robinson asked.
Martha cocked her head to one side for a moment. “No. I’m afraid I don’t. Sorry.”
“There’s no need to apologise. What I would like from you, Martha is a rundown of everyone who lives here. Your position as postmistress will be invaluable to us.”
Alice tipped an invisible salute to him, he knew exactly how to prod people with a gentle touch getting them to open up.
Martha smiled, her body language that of a teenage girl rather than the woman she was. The mountain of information she knew surpassed an encyclopedia. Tales from leftover days that her mother had gathered about the people and their offspring were lodged inside her memory.
Alice listened then, blushed as secrets were thrown across the table to them. She lived here. Knew these people, even if just to say “good morning” to. Now their deepest secrets were presented to her. This was an intrusion, part of her thought. The police investigator, the logical side, took the dirty knowledge and filed it away.
When Robinson asked about the MacLeod family, Alice noticed the first hesitation.
Martha`s expression clouded over, and she stared ahead as if reliving a personal memory.
The knowledge that General MacLeod never loved his wife didn’t come as a surprise to those sitting around the table, but what was a surprise was the reason the marriage took place. The MacLeod fortunes had been handled with care, Marianne’s family had very little left. Her father had begged MacLeod to marry his daughter, and as they’d served in the same regiment, he’d agreed. A loveless marriage, and an affair. These were all things that kept the best selling mystery novels in print.
However, her voice when recounting these sad confessions was as different as chalk and cheese. There was a sadness in her eyes, and a catch in her voice that was missing from the earlier secrets she spilt.
Alice filed this away for later when she could discuss it with Robinson. Surprised that she would even think he valued her opinion made her swallow and turn away from the vicious history being revealed.
At the end of her tale, Martha sniffed and rose. “I hope it’s been of some use to you. That poor girl, an innocent.”
That had been their cue to leave and voicing a thank you, they left the post office.
The sky had burst open and a deluge of rain battered them as they stepped outside.
Alice was glad of the rain, upon leaving the post office she had felt as if she’d rolled in others dirty secrets until they’d stuck to her skin.
Arriving back at the station they found it empty.
Alice checked the clock and explained to the two detectives that MacKay went home for his dinner around this time.
Robinson chuckled. “Let’s get dinner at the pub. We can go over what we’ve learned today.”
Alice was surprised and flattered that he’d included her in that invitation. Thoughts of being singled out for transfer to Inverness to work under Robinson flooded her mind as they walked to the pub.
As she stepped into the hum of conversation and the scent of meals being received by grateful customers, broke the thread.
Robinson picked a table, and Alan went to the bar to order the drinks.
A menu sat on the table which Robinson picked out of its plastic holder and handed to her. “Well, Alice, what’s your thoughts?”
She blinked feeling the hunger gnaw at her stomach reducing her brain to mush. “Oh. So much information, but something isn’t right.”
“I agree and no doubt after we’ve eaten that something might come to us.”
Alice chose the special, lasagne. She’d had it before, and knew it was delicious. Although the old saying “eyes bigger than belly”, fitted her perfectly. She ate half the meal and left the rest, watching as the two men tucked into steak pie and chips.
Despite her stomach being satisfied the butterflies continued inside her, thoughts whirled around her head with the speed of a washing machine.
People watching was part of her job and to stem the nerves she looked around the pub. Mostly villagers although there was a table of hikers who by the look of their gear had only stopped for dinner. Someone in this village had committed murder. Where the hell was MacKay? Did he suspect someone?
The clinking of knife and fork together turned her attention back to their table.
Robinson leaned back with a satisfied sigh while Alan looked wistful at the food left on her plate.
Sheree, the owner’s daughter sauntered over to clear their plates.
She glanced at Alice, looking her up and down as only a teenage female could. “Are you finished?”
Alice nodded. “Yes. Excellent as usual.”
The girl raised an eyebrow then collected their plates with practised ease, waltzing off to the nether regions of the kitchens.
“They’ve found traces of DNA,” Robinson said.
A loud thump inside her chest made her sit forward.
“We’re waiting for the results. It was under the fingernails of our victim.”
“That was a lucky break, sir,” Alan said.
“Aye. Now, suspects?”
“Lady Marianne is the obvious one although she has an alibi,” Alan said.
“It could be false, her husband could be covering for her, but I don’t think so. The shock on their faces was real,” Alice said.
Robinson leaned in so the three of them resembled a group of children discussing secrets. “This case hangs on the DNA results and then we face the task of testing the whole damn village.”
Alice heard the thread of despair in his voice and wanted desperately to solve the case so he didn’t have to worry. Not once, did she question the relationship she was building with him inside her own thoughts?
* * * * *
With dinner over, Alice head back to the station while the two detectives stayed at the pub to rest in their rooms.
As the door opened she saw MacKay. He manned the front desk as usual and was reading the Inverness Courier. “Have they solved it yet?” he said looking over the edge of the paper.
She walked in, letting the door swing shut behind her, and leant on the counter. “No, Sarge. But, they do have DNA. From under the fingernails. What do you think?”
MacKay put down the paper and stared into space for a few seconds before bringing his gaze to rest on her. “I think that the identity of the murderer will shock this village. Secrets, Alice, old, nagging secrets.” He sighed and went to pick up the paper, she stopped him.
“You know who it is don’t you?”
The paper rustled as he used it to cover his reaction to her question. “No, lass. I don’t know, but I have a suspicion which would do them and you no good.”
Her guts started to turn over. She’d always been able to tell if someone was telling a lie or the truth and MacKay was as truthful as they came.
“It’s time to shut up shop. The skies darkening early, it’ll rain again before we’re done,” he said.
As they closed the station she noticed subtle changes in him. His shoulders looked bowed and he walked with a heavy tread. Compassion flared inside her, this man had taken her in and trained her. All of a sudden she forgot about Inverness and Robinson. “Sarge? Is everything alright?” She wanted to say more, but they had barriers to respect.
“No, lass, but it will be.” He smiled at her as he held the door open for her, and as it shut he locked it.
Alice looked up at the sky and watched the black clouds gather like crows. A deep sense of foreboding settled in her stomach making it feel as heavy as a medicine ball.
* * * * *
The jingle of happy music from her phone woke her from dreams where she wandered the moor searching for something just out of reach. Checking the number ran a jolt of energy through her body and she sat up in bed to answer.
Robinson had news. The DNA results were through and could she meet them for breakfast at the pub?
Alice dressed as if she were having an out of body experience. Her mind wandered through a thick forest of possibilities, while her body took care of the daily functions.
She slammed the door behind her and shuddered as it echoed around the quiet street.
Shoving her hat on her head as she walked to the pub, her steps lengthened until she was almost running.
The pub was empty, the scents of beer and sour whiskey filled her nostrils, but the further on she walked into the building they were replaced by wafts of bacon.
Both men rose as she entered the dining room.
She sat down, her body like a sack of ferrets squirming to be set free.
When Robinson asked if she wanted breakfast she swallowed hard before deciding that if she was going to throw up it was better to do so with food in her stomach.
She ordered scrambled eggs and toast, the two men ordered the full highland breakfast.
Robinson balanced his elbows on the table his hands folded together as if in prayer. “The results are in. Our killer is a female.”
As she sipped on coffee the shock of his words made her cough. Her thoughts scrambled around while she felt water fill her eyes.
“Aye, it’s a shock to us too. Especially in this tiny village. However, it doesn’t give us the identity, but I’ve a plan that just might flush them out.”
As she listened to Robinson’s plan their breakfasts came and went.
The eggs sat on top of the nerves, and a touch of excitement as upon finishing his explanation he rose and looked at his watch. “Time to go.”
* * * * *
The electric buzz as she opened the door of the post office grated in her ears.
Martha looked up from the counter. She was surrounded by newspapers which would be delivered to the correct addresses before the school bell rang. “Alice? You’re early. Is everything alright?”
She approached the woman with slow measured steps, keeping her head downward, and as she reached the counter she gazed at her. “We found DNA. The results are back.”
“Oh God,” Martha said. Her hand held over her mouth.
“The killer is a woman.” Alice kept her voice low she didn’t need to pretend shock, she was still reeling from it.
“No.” Martha`s face paled and she almost collapsed backwards but managed to find a stool and sit on it. “I can’t believe it.”
Alice nodded. “Don’t tell anyone, you might alert the killer. I’ll just take McKay’s paper and a packet of those indigestion mints please.”
Martha acquired them and the paper as if she were a zombie and only muttered a goodbye as she heard the buzzer.
* * * * *
MacKay and Alice were manning the station, waiting for Robinson’s plan to work.
By telling Martha, he hoped that she would pass it on, and then it would be passed on again until it reached the ears of the killer. Then, they hoped, the killer would make a mistake. It was a risky plan, but they had nothing else to go on at the moment.
General MacLeod and his wife’s alibi was iron cast, and so far no other suspects had been found.
Alice had just got up to ask if he wanted coffee when the noisy conversation from outside drifted in with the arrival of Robinson and Alan.
“What’s going on outside?” MacKay asked.
Alice and MacKay went to the door to investigate the noise.
Outside it appeared as if the entire village had descended en mass. The crowd were milling around the post office, and one man had cupped his hands around his eyes as he peered in through the glass door.
Alice made her way with care through the people. She couldn’t stop nausea from sitting in her stomach like the echo of a nightmare.
The man looking through the glass stepped aside so she could take his place.
Darkness greeted her scrutiny, she frowned. At this time of day, the post office should’ve been open for at least two hours.
She wrapped her hand around the doorknob and turned it. It rattled and wouldn’t let her inside. She turned her head to tell someone to get MacKay, but he was beside her.
“We’ve got a spare key. Here, lass let me.” He took over from her and unlocked the door. Before opening it he turned to the throng of people. “Stand back. Don’t come in.”
His words produced conversations of surprise and fear. The word “killer” floated above the hub, and Alice’s stomach turned over on itself.
Once inside MacKay shut the door, and locked it again. He took a deep breath and stared at Alice. “Whatever we see. Stay sharp.”
She nodded, licking her dry lips and trying to swallow but-no saliva was forthcoming.
She followed MacLean through the door to the back room where they’d had tea with Martha just the other day.
The room was cold, no teapot stood on the table, and the cups were sitting on the draining board as if they were accusing witnesses.
MacKay stood at the foot of the stairs, the hand that held onto the wooden rail was bunched, the knuckles white.
With slow steady steps, they climbed up to Martha`s private quarters.
The hush inside the building was thick and words stuck in Alice’s throat.
The door of the bedroom loomed before them.
MacKay wiped his hand over his face, and as he folded his fingers around the silver knob they shook. The door swung inward and the scent of violets rushed out to greet them.
A small room with mementoes of a life lived in this village surrounded them as they entered.
At first, Alice thought Martha was asleep. She looked so peaceful, eyes closed, a faint smile turned her lips upward. Her name was on Alice’s lips when MacKay let out a sound of grief. “Oh, Martha.” He shuffled over to the bedside.
Alice gripped her hands together as she waited where she was.
“Call for an ambulance, Alice. She’s dead.”
* * * * *
Alice sat at her desk, hands wrapped around a cold cup of coffee. In front of her lay the shards of someone’s life. Martha.
Robinson sat beside her while Alan perched on the edge of her desk.
They were her shield, protecting her from the most horrific truths.
Martha was a murderer. She had slit the throat of the victim then driven her to the moor and dumped her body.
Love for the man now in the interview room with MacKay.
General MacLeod had once been in love with Martha until the marriage to Marianne robbed them of a future.
Martha had continued to love him from afar, always there, forever faithful and helping.
The affair which might have taken him away forever was halted and she had shed grateful tears. He would stay, forever in her sights.
The girl had come to the post office as most strangers do. Martha`s kindness had softened the shield around the girl, and she had confided in her.
Rage, bitterness, and regrets had taken over Martha. Building into a blackness which was unusual for her. Without hesitation she had asked the girl in for a cup of tea and had slit her throat, ready with a tea towel to stem the flow of blood. The body had been heavy but, Martha was used to hauling mail sacks, and had managed to drag her to the car.
Martha`s patience with her situation had snapped that day. Years of waiting, taking care of her love, and wasting away had driven a demon into her.
It was all written in the letter which was addressed to General MacLean, including where to find the bloody tea towel.
Alice’s hand trembled as she picked up the letter again. Reading through it once more she was surprised as moisture dripped on the plastic evidence bag, then realised it was her own tears.
What did I like about this story?
What spoke to me?
DAN ALATORRE: I was engaged by the voice of the author, via the story of the main character, and the almost-under dog status she was working against. The need to assert ones’s self, to not be pushed down, is an important one, and not in regards to sexism, but for new employees, or young people just starting their career.
Lots of places that can happen.
The new kid at school. Getting picked last for the softball game. A PTA meeting. A volunteer board. You name it.
So we feel for her, and we want her to succeed, but meanwhile we are wondering the same things she is wondering. We want to find out what happened just like she does, and can we figure it out before the end of the story? That’s part of the game – part of the allure – of mysteries, after all.
I think she did a good job.
JOHN WINSTON: Show not tell: Excellent blend of show and tell = 10. Authentic Dialogue: Flowed well in a classical sense with nothing distracting going on = 10. Beginning, middle, and end: Excellent beginning with the murder committed and setting established = 9. Character development: Great job of character development with all characters through their dialogue and actions, especially with the agents, Alice, Mackay, and Martha. = 10. Clear goal: The goal was clear early on; who was the murderer, and we discovered it at the very end= 10. Setting and description: Great job with the description of setting, scenes, and characters, wasn’t too much or too little.
This was a terrific story, as I’m sure you agree.
Join us tomorrow for the second of our three 4th place winners, Normal Things by Barbara Anne Helberg
and come back the rest of this week for more winning stories and profiles of the authors.
- Also maybe a special announcement about our next writing contest.
Right now, please join me in congratulating our first of three 4th place winners, Adele Marie Park.
See you tomorrow!