by Gary R. Hoffman
Gary R. Hoffman shares with KRL a fun Christmas mystery short story that was first published in Minute Mysterys in December, 2008.
“I’m tellin’ ya something is seriously wrong with this whole deal,” Officer O’Malley said.
“Why? It’s a piece of cake,” his rookie partner Officer Thomas said.
“That’s the problem—it’s too easy. Look at this. Footprints in the snow for three blocks now. An ‘X’ cut into the left heel of the shoe. The perp doesn’t even make any attempt to walk where the snow has been shoveled. When they crossed the streets, they went straight from one lawn to another. It’s like they want us to follow them.”
“Maybe they do.”
O’Malley scowled at his partner. “Yeah, right. A guy robs a house and then wants to get caught. What is he, some homeless guy who wants to spend Christmas in jail?”
“Hey, weirder things have happened,” Thomas said.
“Well, not on my watch, they haven’t. Look, you can even see the number 13 imprinted in the snow. A guy with a hoof this size couldn’t have crawled through that little space when he opened the window to break into the house. Then look at how shallow these prints are. Again, a guy who wears a size 13 has to have some weight to him. Something’s just wrong!”
“Now you start singin’,” O’Malley said “and you and I are gonna tangle.”
The officers were now cutting through a walkway between two houses. “If I’m seeing things right, these footprints go right up to the back door of that house behind this one,” Thomas said.
“I think you’re right. We better get some back-up down here before we do anything.” O’Malley watched the house while Thomas called in to dispatch to tell them what they knew. Within ten minutes, Detectives Louis and Frazier arrived at the front of the house. Two squad cars covered the rear. Detective Louis knocked on the door. A boy of about eight answered.
“Your mother home, son?”
“Not yet. She should be home in a few minutes, though. She’s just gettin’ off work at the market.”
“Which market would that be?”
“Quarrels, just down the street.”
“Can we come in?”
“Mama told me not to let anyone in unless she was here.”
Louis smiled at him. “We’re policemen. It’s okay.”
“Not with my mama. She said no one.” The boy stood firmly behind a locked storm door.
A woman carrying a bag of groceries came running up the sidewalk. “What’s going on here?”
“You live here?”
“We need to talk to you, ma’am.” Louis flashed his badge at her.
“Can we go inside, please? There’s no need to do this on a public street.”
“Cecil, open the door.”
Cecil opened the door, took the groceries from his mother, and headed for the kitchen. The woman and the police went into the living room. The first thing Louis noticed was the sparse furniture, and with only two days to go until Christmas, no decorations of any kind.
“Please, have a seat, gentlemen.” The woman pointed to the sofa.
“Now, ma’am, what is your name?”
“Nancy Clark. What’s going on here?”
A little girl came from a side room and crawled up into her mother’s lap.
“Mrs. Clark, there was a robbery a few blocks over, and the footprints led directly to your back door.”
Mrs. Clark took a deep breath and let it out slowly through compressed lips. “What happened?”
“Does anyone who lives here wear a size 13 shoe?”
“Not hardly.” She took a tissue from her pocket. “Jeremy did, but he’s no longer here.”
“Where’s Jeremy?” Frazier asked.
“He was killed in a gang war, almost three years ago.” She dabbed her eyes.
“Does your husband still live here?”
“He was killed in a robbery attempt after our daughter was born. He worked as a clerk at Grab-n-Go right down the street.”
There was a knock on the door. Officer O’Malley handed Louis a search warrant. “I’m sorry to hear about Jeremy, Mrs. Clark, but someone wearing size 13 shoes came into this house today. Do you still have anything of Jeremy’s around?”
Cecil came into the living room.
“You need to show these policemen the things you have that belonged to Jeremy.”
Cecil hung his head. “Yes, ma’am.” He looked at Louis. “They’re in my room.”
“Cecil has always been a very bright child,” Mrs. Clark told Officer O’Malley. “And he’s never been in any trouble.”
“Yes, ma’am,” was all O’Malley could think of to say.
Frazier, Louis and Cecil returned within five minutes. Louis was carrying a pair of combat boots with an “X” cut in the left heel. Frazier was holding Cecil’s hand and carrying two packages–one of mistletoe and one of holly.
“These boots are still wet from the snow, Mrs. Clark. Apparently Cecil put them on over his own shoes. Anybody know why there’s an “X” in the heel?”
“It’s some sort of mark for the gang he belonged to,” Mrs. Clark said. “Try as I might, I couldn’t control him. But working two jobs didn’t give me much chance.”
“Did you try to get help for him?” Louis asked.
“Oh, yeah, I tried, but he hadn’t done anything wrong. People have to do something wrong before the law wants to listen.”
“Sorry, Mrs. Clark,” Frazier said.
“Cecil, you come right over here in front of me!” Mrs. Clark ordered. “Now what is going on here?” She rocked back and forth still clutching the young girl.
“I did what they say I did.”
“Want to tell us why, Cecil?” Louis asked.
Cecil turned to face him. His voice got a little higher and his face was getting red. “Yes, sir, I’ll tell you why. I been to my teachers and other people at school. I went to city hall. I went any place I thought someone might give us some help. Nobody would listen to me. I’m just a kid. It’s almost Christmas, and my mama and little sister don’t have a winter coat. I guess our Christmas dinner will be hot dogs and beans, just like most of our meals around here. We don’t even have a Christmas tree!” Cecil sank to the floor and started crying.
“Cecil, I don’t like your tone of voice,” his mama said.
“I’m sorry, mama,” he sobbed out. “I was just trying to help!”
Louis and Frazier glanced at each other. “And just how was this going to help?” Frazier asked.
“I figured if I got the police here, someone might listen.”
The money, mistletoe and holly were returned to the Wilsons. “Someone” listened because Louis, Frazier, O’Malley, and Thomas spoke—loudly. Besides a Christmas tree, mounds of decorations including mistletoe and holly, and food for a traditional Christmas dinner, each member of the Clark family got new winter coats, lots of other clothing, and special gifts from every charitable organization in town.
Check out another Christmas mystery here are KRL and watch for more over the next week!