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An Honorable Man: An Original Mystery Short Story

IN THE April 28 ISSUE

FROM THE 2012 Articles,
andDiana Hockley,
andMysteryrat's Maze,
andRodent Ramblings
SECTIONS

by Diana Hockley

This week we have an original mystery short story by author Diana Hockley from Australia (hence the more European spelling you may notice below). And within this story is a treat for those of us who love our pet rats.

Christopher “Christy” Fallon was terrified of the smiling primary school teacher who watched as she supervised the school crossing in the mornings and again in the afternoons. He parked his car a couple of streets away, having no other direction from which to approach his lover who lived down the street from the school. He knew that if Jeanne’s husband, Robert Delaney, or his associates caught them they’d make sure Christy was history. What would happen to Jeanne didn’t bear thinking about.

Genevieve noticed the big, good-looking man the first time he’d come past, slipped a key into the lock of the big iron gates and went inside. He regularly appeared three days during the week and Genevieve seized an opportunity to ask him if he worked at the big white house.

“I’m the gardener,” he’d muttered, flashing a tight smile. He tried not to get caught again, but inevitably she would find time to speak to him as he sidled through the crowd of shrieking, over-excited children.

The days he didn’t appear stretched endlessly. He became the dream-man of her lonely heart, never to be disclosed for fear her family and friends would laugh at her. She imagined what it would be like to be held in his strong arms, his warm breath on her cheek, his mouth seeking hers. Her fantasy even involved Christy knocking on her door one night saying he couldn’t stay away from her a moment longer.

“Mrs. Fallon…Mrs. Genevieve Fallon” she’d whisper in front of the mirror and then flush because of her foolishness. She couldn’t allow herself to speculate why people looked thoughtful when she inquired about Christy, thrusting any doubts into the back of her mind to focus on to the good things instead–his smile and undoubted good looks. He replied to her shy efforts to make light conversation and occasionally smiled at her, but one day he began to ignore her. Genevieve agonised over his change of attitude. Surely, “Good morning, how are you today?” would not have offended him?

She could never have guessed the truth. “You’d better be careful, mate,” Christy’s best friend, George, warned one day in the pub. “Delaney’s putting feelers out for who’s been sniffing around his missus.” Christy heart almost stopped beating. Who could have talked out of turn? No one knew about Jeanne and himself, except–his thoughts pounced on the school teacher, the one person who knew he went to the big house.

The kids didn’t count, but what about the parents who picked them up and dropped them off? He had never caught any of them even looking in his direction. Nah, the teacher must have opened her big mouth. Perhaps she was a spy for Delaney? How did she know his name? Suspicion buzzed through Christy’s mind until fear consumed him.

During the next few days, Christy kept away from his lover and made a few discreet enquiries. It wasn’t long before he knew Genevieve’s address. Fix Genevieve, fix Genevieve…his mind wouldn’t let go. For a mad moment, the thought crossed his mind to romance the woman. She was mad about him so she’d never give him away, but the image of Jeanne came to mind. There was only one way around the problem. He’d have to silence Genevieve once and for all. They’d never catch him because there was no possible motive. After all, who’d want to kill the Grade One primary school teacher?

. . .

Christy left his vehicle behind a pub a few streets from Genevieve’s house and set off, trying to look as though he belonged in the neighbourhood. The crew of a passing night patrol car, knowing Detective Sergeant Evan Taylor would be interested, radioed the information that Christy Fallon, small time drug dealer and thief, was well away from his comfort zone and walking along a suburban street. Evan requested surveillance; they might catch him indulging in a spot of burglary, if nothing else. He closed his computer, struck by unexpected loneliness. Not for the first time, he wished he had a wife and family waiting for him at home. He sighed. Better see what that idiot, Fallon was up to. He consulted his partner who was finishing a report and they headed for their unmarked car.

Christy couldn’t stop fiddling with the loop of twine in his pocket. Instinct told him to turn back, to take a chance on Delaney finding out about his affair with Jeanne, but his fear of the drug lord was greater than his abhorrence of actually killing someone. It was the teacher’s fault he had to do this. He stoked his rage to keep courage high, as rain started to fall. Icy drops splashed up from the pavement, soaking the legs of his jeans. Tightening the hood of his navy anorak around his face, he kept in the shadow of the trees lining the footpath. The watchers in the nondescript car parked with its lights out, smiled, quietly pulled out from the kerb and coasted down the hill after him. They could get him as he walked along the street, but curiosity made them wait to see where their prey was going.

Genevieve’s plate and empty wine glass looked pathetic on the draining board. There had been occasions when there was two of everything, but that had been longer ago than she cared to think about. Her lips thinned as she remembered the joy of a new relationship, the hope that this might be ‘the one,’ followed by the ‘I’m too good for you’ or the “It’s me, not you” speech.

She owned her own home and had a good career, but her old-fashioned mother remained unimpressed. “A job is just a stop-gap, until you get married and have a family, Gen, so you’d better smarten yourself up and get someone decent. You’re no chicken.” She had complacently crossed her sturdy nylon-clad legs and folded her arms across her considerable bosom, enjoying her bitter disappointment in Genevieve’s misfortune. Her younger sisters had obediently married wealthy men who controlled them with iron wallets in velvet hip pockets. At only thirty-two, Genevieve felt she had not only the right to have her career, but also to expect a happy marriage and children, perhaps with someone like Christy.

She sat at the table in the lounge room encouraging her two pet rats to scuttle around, tickling their backs and tummies as they darted happily in and out of the cardboard playhouse and plastic tunnels she set out for them. When she finished with their night time games, marking exercise books and a pile of ironing awaited.

Christy stepped over the low side fence and peered through the minute gap in the curtains. Coloured images on the television claimed his attention before his gaze travelled over the potted plants and family photos. Genevieve sat at the table playing with small black and white furry things. His mouth dropped open as they scrambled up her arms onto her shoulders like epaulettes. Kittens? No, rats!

He shuddered, thinking that perhaps he could change his strategy. Surely a woman who kept rats as pets couldn’t be “all there,” and anything she said wouldn’t be believed…then he remembered what Delaney would do to him if this woman talked. He jumped back and spat into the garden bed. “I’ll do them, too.” He edged his way carefully along the wall, took a deep breath and rapped on the front door. Nothing happened for a few moments, then the sound on the television faded and footsteps approached the other side of the door.

“Yes? Who is it?”

He swallowed, trying to control his churning stomach. “It’s Christy Fallon,” he managed to reply softly. “You know me from the school crossing.” Come on, hurry up you stupid cow. Behind the side fence, the dog next door growled. “Let me in! I want to talk to you,” he hissed.

She couldn’t believe it; her dream was coming true! She undid the deadbolt and took the chain off the latch with shaking fingers. Christy pushed his way past her, stalked down the hallway and into the lounge. To his relief, there was no sign of the rodents on the table, but movement attracted his attention. The two rats eyed him beadily, whiskers moving in time with their noses, little hands and feet grasping the bars. Their steady—seemingly disdainful—regard made him uncomfortable.

Genevieve’s warm, brown hair dangled in a careless knot from the top of her head. The pulse in her throat throbbed and a flush swept from the opening of her blouse to her cheeks. For a moment, she looked almost beautiful and Christy’s heart sank. Confronted with the enormity of his plan, it all seemed too much. He took a step toward her and threw the hood of his coat back. Dark eyes gleaming, sporting designer stubble with hair tumbling around his face, he was a medieval knight. Now that he was here, she didn’t know what to say or do. She had forgotten to lock the door and put the chain back on.

“Would you like some coffee?” He nodded and swallowed hard. She slid past him and walked into the kitchen, Christy following silently, feeling the rodents’ accusing gaze boring into his back.

The two men sneaking along the outside wall were overjoyed by the unlocked door. When Christy and his woman came back into the lounge and got settled, they’d go in; sitting targets were easiest. They froze as the dog next door started barking. The neighbour stuck his head out of the window, shouted at it and slammed the window shut. The dog continued growling.

Genevieve’s hands trembled with excitement as she switched on the electric jug and set a small tray with two mugs, milk, sugar and chocolate biscuits. Her hair fell out of its clasp and tumbled around her face as she bent her head, too shy to turn around and look directly at him. He stared at the back of her neck, so soft and white. Her vulnerability enraged him, but left him unexpectedly helpless. Somehow he needed to get the courage to grab her from behind.

He took the loop of twine out of his pocket, looped it in his fingers and stretched out his arms, but Genevieve, perhaps sensing his movement, turned. Christy hastily slid the twine over his wrist and flipped it back into the sleeve of his jacket. For a moment, Genevieve felt a twinge of uncertainty, but then his face creased into a warm smile as he ran his hands down her arms. “You feel nice and warm.”

She could smell Christy’s pungent aftershave; the maleness of him took her breath away. He cleared his throat. “I’ve wanted to get to know you for a long time, Genevieve,” he lied, “but there’s always too many kids around. It took quite awhile to find out where you live.”

She blushed and laughed. Christy’s heart rate slowed fractionally. The moment had passed but there was plenty of time so he made desultory conversation until she picked up the tray and smiled up at him. “It’s more comfortable in the lounge.”

Christy took off his coat and sat on the sofa beside Genevieve, feeling as though the top of his head was coming off. Now the time had come, he was terrified. Perhaps he could just take a chance–have coffee and go–but then he thought of what Delaney would do to his wife if he discovered their affair. He strengthened his resolve, for Christy loved Jeanne with all that his shallow heart had to offer.

Genevieve put milk and sugar into the mugs and held one out to Christy. “Have a biscuit, Christy.” Then, greatly daring, she took the initiative. “Why did you come to see me?”

“Err, just wondered–if you–”

The front door burst open, Delaney’s bodyguards stormed down the hallway and into the room, guns drawn. Genevieve screamed and jumped to her feet, dropping the mug of coffee, oblivious of the hot liquid burning her legs. Christy needed to create a diversion. Trapped, he didn’t care what happened to Genevieve. Why hadn’t he strangled her in the kitchen? It would have been over by now…

“Sit down, you!” snarled one of the men at Genevieve.

She froze.

He looked at Christy. “How long did you think you were going to get away with it? Delaney’s known about you and Jeanne for a long time. He was always gunna get ya when it suited him.”

Christy’s insides turned to water. He dropped his hands to grip the hard edge of the seat, unaware the circle of twine had slipped off his wrist and fallen to the floor. Behind him, the terrified rats shot into their hammock. “Where’s Jeanne?” he croaked. If I jump Roger, Mike will get me. Perhaps I can sic ‘em onto Genevieve.

“Where do you think?” Roger gestured at Genevieve with his gun, silenced and deadly. “We’ll have to do both of you now, an’ that’s gunna make things messy.” His eyes raked Genevieve’s body. “Pity about the bird, but that’s life. That’s what ya get if ya play with the likes of Fallon, darlin’.”

Mike moved to the china cabinet, picked up an ornament with a gloved hand and dropped it. “Oops! Butter fingers!” he sniggered, as he moved back to stand next to his mate and aimed his weapon at Genevieve.

Christy leapt to his feet and hurled himself past her in the direction of the kitchen, but then he tripped, his body inadvertently shielding Genevieve. A small ‘phut’ and he went down without a sound.

Genevieve screamed and threw herself over Christy. Her hair tumbled around her face, covering them in a curtain as she shared his dying world. Racked by grief, she didn’t feel the bullet plow into her flesh.

. . .

Exhausted and irritable, DSC Evan Taylor plodded into the hospital. They had watched the car following Christy and observed two men going to the front of the house. Curious, they parked nearby and sneaked close enough to hear a woman scream moments later. In the ensuing melee of the arrest and the ambulance carting off the victims, he hadn’t actually seen the woman’s face.

Identifying himself to the officer sitting outside the door of her ward, he stepped inside, walked over to the bed and looked at its occupant. There must be some mistake; this was not the usual type of woman Christy went for! His partner had given him information about her, but Evan placed into his notebook without reading it and drove straight to the hospital. He scanned the piece of paper in astonishment. Genevieve Holloway, a primary school teacher? Fallon’s tastes were flamboyant, like Jeanne Delaney, the cause of his downfall. In Evan’s less than humble opinion, Christy Fallon got what was coming to him.

Genevieve’s hair swirled across the pillow. Tiny freckles scattered themselves lightly across her nose; Evan wanted to kiss every one and see the colour of her eyes, framed in the long dark lashes resting on her cheeks. The edge of the dressing on her shoulder peeped from the neck of the hospital gown she wore.

Entranced, he couldn’t stop staring. Could she be the one for whom he had been waiting all his life?
Genevieve’s hazel eyes opened and she gazed at the great bear of a man through a haze of pain-killing drugs. He seemed familiar, but there had been so many people at her house when Christy was shot…

When Evan introduced himself, the horror of the night before flooded back and her eyes filled with tears. She reached out to fumble at the tissue box on the side locker. The bear pulled out a handful and passed them to her. She forced a grateful smile and wiped her eyes.

“I’d like to ask you a few questions if you feel up to it.” With a shaky smile, Genevieve assured him that she was and forced herself to concentrate.

“How did you come to meet Christy Fallon?”

She explained the circumstances which tied in with what they now knew, but Evan wondered if Christy had also romanced the school teacher?

“How often did he come to your house?”

“Last night was the first time. I didn’t know him very well, but Christy is…was…I liked him!” Anxious to make her point she struggled to sit up, but Evan got quickly to his feet to ease her gently back onto the pillows.

“Take your time and tell me what happened.” He couldn’t take his eyes off her soft generous mouth, forgetting to make notes as she recounted how she had forgotten to secure the front door and what occurred after that.

“It’s my fault. Christy flung himself in front of me and saved my life! How can I ever forgive myself?” she wailed.

Evan couldn’t bring himself to destroy her fantasy. Far from protecting Genevieve, Christy tried to escape, tripped on a circle of twine lying between the sofa and the coffee table and been catapulted between her and the gunmen. Evan had a pretty fair idea Fallon visited Genevieve to make sure she didn’t talk about his visits to Jeanne Delaney, and that may well have involved the loop of twine. His heart filled with relief and happiness, for she hadn’t been one of Fallon’s women. Evan resolved that, come hell or high water, he would get to know Genevieve and find out if she was the woman of his dreams.

Delaney and his bodyguards, with no choice but to plead guilty, were immortalised in print hiding their faces under blankets as they were marched off to prison. Genevieve attended Christy’s funeral in dignified silence, oblivious to the long-range cameras of the press and the suspicious stares of his relatives. She was grateful for the kindness of Detective Sergeant Taylor for escorting her. To her amazement, there didn’t seem to be anything he wouldn’t do to help her get through the aftermath of the crime. He even liked her unusual pets!

Genevieve glowed with confidence and self-respect; Christy Fallon saved her life at the expense of his own. Now she would be worthy of her soul-mate when he appeared in her life, for had she not been loved by an honourable man?

You can find other short stories and articles by Diana involving rats/mice in our Rodent Ramblings section.

All of the pieces of rat art in this story were done by Drusilla Kehl of The Illustrated Rat. To see more of her work go to her website and check out KRL’s article about Drusilla.

Diana Hockley is an Australian mystery author who lives in a southeast Queensland country town. She is the devoted slave of five ratties & usually finds an excuse to mention them in her writing, including her recent novel, The Naked Room. Since retiring from running a traveling mouse circus for 10 years, she is now the mouse judge for the Queensland Rat & Mouse Club shows. To learn more, check out her website.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Gail FarrellyNo Gravatar
Twitter: @gailfarrelly
April 22, 2012 at 11:01pm

Loved Diana’s story and also Drusilla’s illustrations.

I read Diana’s book, “The Naked Room,” on my Kindle and enjoyed it.

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