by Guy Belleranti
This story was originally published in the March 2003 issue of T-Zero: The Writer’s E-zine.
The writer’s dinner was in full swing when I leaned close to Chelsea Yates and told her I felt ill and had to leave.
“Oh, Amanda, must you?” Chelsea’s hazel eyes fastened on me, disappointment clouding her face.
Afraid so, Ms. Perfect Mystery Writer, I wanted to say, but didn’t. I had something better planned for her, something that would put a little crimp in her pocketbook, and a bulge in mine.
Chelsea lay a heavily jeweled hand on my arm. “Would you like me to drive you home?”
I gave her a fake look of gratitude. “Thanks, but there’s no sense our both leaving early.” Indeed, my plan depended on her staying and collecting all the accolades people were bound to heap on her.
“Well…all right. See you at home later, then.”
The unfairness of Chelsea’s writing successes ate at me as I drove the dozen miles to the house we rented together. Now that she was in the dough Chelsea planned to buy a more upscale place of her own. This meant I’d also have to move, but in my case it would have be to some place smaller. My crummy day job and few lousy writing sales wouldn’t cover anything else.
I left my old Ford in the back driveway and got to work. First, I slit the screen on Chelsea’s bedroom window. Then I carefully smashed in the glass with a cloth-covered hammer. I might not be the mystery writing success Chelsea Yates was, but I sure knew enough to make a break-in look like an outside job.
Entering through the back door I pulled out drawers throughout the house, scattering things about as a drug addict might in a desperate search for cash. Then I stuffed every piece of Chelsea’s valuable jewelry into a drawstring bag, added my own puny collection, and headed for my car.
I’d hide the haul beneath the spare in the trunk, then return to the house and phone the police about the “burglary.”
Headlights lit the alley and swung into the driveway as I stepped outside. I quickly ducked back into the house.
Chelsea had returned early. What was I going to do?
The bag of jewelry felt heavy in my hand as I ran through the kitchen and into the living room. The large, stone fireplace caught my eye and I hurried to it. I yanked the fire screens apart and leaned in, jamming the bag behind the fresh pile of logs and kindling just as I heard the back door open.
“Amanda!” Chelsea cried.
“Burglar,” I mumbled. “I…surprised him. He hit me. My head…”
“It’s bleeding,” Chelsea said. “Lie still. I’m going to call 911.”
I acted the part of victim to the hilt, giving a statement to the cops, then having my wound dressed by a handsome paramedic.
“The lead detective, that Detective Mackey, is down the hall checking with the forensic team,” Chelsea told me when I joined her in the living room.
And finding just what I want him to find, I thought confidently. Things may not have gone quite according to plan, but Perfect Mystery Writer Chelsea Yates and overweight, round-faced Mackey hadn’t a clue. My story and the evidence—smashed-in window, riffled drawers and emptied jewelry boxes—were airtight perfect.
“You must have arrived only moments after he escaped out the back door,” I said. “Thank goodness you weren’t in your bedroom when—” I broke off, as the open fireplace screens caught my eye. When I’d hit my head I’d never had a chance to close them! If Chelsea or anyone should look too closely…
“Amanda, what’s wrong?” Chelsea started to turn in the direction of my stare, and I gave a hurried yelp of pain. “Ouch! My head’s throbbing,” I said. “Chelsea, could you please get me some aspirin?”
“Of course.” She left, and I rushed across the room to slide both screens shut.
When Chelsea returned with a glass of water and aspirin Mackey was with her. “How are you holding up, ma’am?” he asked, as I swallowed the pills.
“Okay I guess,” I said, shivering for effect just the same.
“Oh, you’re cold,” Chelsea said. “I’ll start up a fire to take out the chill.” She lifted a box of fireplace matches down from the mantel and parted the fire screens.
“No!” I blurted. “I mean, that’s not necessary, Chelsea. I’m not cold, just aching and—”
She lit up the kindling as if not hearing me, and the rest of the words died in my throat. I gazed at the licking flames. The jewelry. I’d counted on cashing it in for a tidy sum, but now…. It wasn’t fair! I never caught a break.
“Something wrong?” Detective Mackey asked me.
“Wrong?” I swung on him. “What kind of question is that? We’ve been burglarized. I‘ve been assaulted.”
“I think not, ma’am. You told a good tale, but neither myself nor Ms. Yates buy it.”
“What?” I swung to Chelsea, and didn’t like what I saw.
“Why’d you do it, Amanda?” Chelsea asked, her eyes sad. “Was it jealousy of my writing? Did you need the jewelry for money?” She reached behind the couch and held up the stuffed drawstring bag. “I removed this while you were having your head tended to. I saw the fireplace screens open, and knowing they’d been closed this afternoon
I got a little curious. Put together with that staged broken window—“
“Staged?” I choked out.
Chelsea nodded grimly. “None of the broken glass was trampled into the carpet which meant no one had entered that way. Isn’t that right, Detective Mackey?”
The big cop beamed. “Sure is.” He looked at me as he pulled out his handcuffs. “Ma’am, looks like there’s going to be a slight change in your evening’s plans.”
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