by Guy Belleranti
Originally published in the Autumn 2002 issue of Crimestalker Casebook.
Detective Macy paced beside my aunt’s bedside. “Did you see your assailant? His face…Anything?”
“No.” Aunt Grace shakily wiped several tears from her pale wrinkled cheeks. “I was asleep. It wasn’t until I felt my pillow being pressed over my face that I knew someone else was in the room.” She turned her gaze on me, and reached out to squeeze my hands with her own cold ones. “Amy, if it hadn’t been for you…You saved my life.”
I nodded feeling relieved everyone seemed to be thinking that. Even my nerdy half-brother, Randy, the third member of our household. His irritating habit of whistling while he walked had proven useful for once, had warned me he was coming. I’d let go of the pillow and leapt back from Aunt Grace’s bed, falling to the floor as if I, too, were a victim.
“How about you, Ms. Wistern?” Macy prodded me. “Think hard. Surely there’s more you can tell us.”
“Just what I told that other policeman.”
“Yeah, well, he’s outside right now, checking to see if the neighbors saw anything. So why don’t you tell it again – to me.”
I stared out Aunt Grace’s bedside window at the bright morning sun streaming in, and chose my words carefully, trying to sound like a young woman who had barely survived a terrifying situation. Which actually wasn’t so far from the truth. “I was passing by in the hallway when I heard Aunt Grace cry out. I knocked, called to her, and when she didn’t answer, I entered.
“And I saw her bed, and her form, and—” I shivered, “and that pillow with Aunt Grace’s head beneath it. I rushed forward, but before I could reach her a shadow fell over my shoulder and someone – a man – yes, I’m sure it was a man… he had such a strong grip… he grabbed me from behind and shoved me to the floor.”
“You never saw his face?”
“No. He held my head to the floor. And even when he let go and ran from the room I was afraid to look.”
“Great, just great,” Macy growled. He swung on Randy. “How come you didn’t see anything?”
“Me?” Randy’s big eyes opened wide behind his thick glasses, and he shook his head, mouth hanging half open.
“Yeah. Didn’t you tell me you came into this room just afterwards? While your sister was still on the floor, in fact?”
“Well, yes, that’s right.”
“So, why didn’t you see the man cutting out as you came down the hall?”
“I guess I must have just missed him.”
“Or you were the man!” I burst out, before quickly covering my mouth with a gasp. A good job of acting if I did say so myself.
“Me?” Randy’s face turned gray. “Amy, what are you saying?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I’m sorry. Of course, I’m wrong, but…” I let the rest of my sentence trail off. I’d set the hook. Both Aunt Grace and Detective Macy were now regarding Randy with just the suspicion I had hoped.
“It was you, wasn’t it, Randy,” Aunt Grace said. “Wasn’t it?”
“Of course not! How could you even think—”
“This is crazy.” Randy wiped some beads of sweat from his forehead and looked from Aunt Grace, to me, to Macy. He backed toward the doorway, freezing when he found it blocked by a second cop.
“So you wanted some money from your aunt, and she wouldn’t give it to you, eh?” Macy’s voice was triumphant. So triumphant I had trouble holding back a grin.
Randy’s money problems were well known. And now he had more problems. Attempted murder carried a long prison sentence.
The two cops left with Randy ten minutes later. For “further questioning down at headquarters” was how Macy had put it, but I had no doubt Randy wouldn’t be coming back. He’d acted so guilty no one would ever believe he wasn’t.
“Amy, dear,” asked Aunt Grace, “could you please bring me a cup of tea? And perhaps two pieces of toast with marmalade. This has been such an upsetting morning.”
“Yes, Aunt Grace.” I walked out to the kitchen, set a kettle on the stove, and dropped two pieces of bread in the toaster. I’d have to play the poor, sad half-sister and niece for a time, but I could handle it. A little more acting, that was all that was necessary. Randy would be locked away, I’d be Aunt Grace’s sole heir, and then soon after…
I smiled. Old people passed away in their sleep all the time. And this time Randy wouldn’t be able to interrupt me. This time I wouldn’t hear him coming down the hall, whistling.
What was keeping that water from boiling?
I looked at the burner. Stupid. I’d switched the wrong one on. I righted my mistake, then turned as Aunt Grace and three other people filed into the kitchen. Macy, the second cop and Randy.
“Bet, you didn’t think I’d be back, eh, Amy?” Randy asked.
Careful. Watch what you say. “Well, not so quickly.” I controlled myself with an effort. “But I’m glad the police have apparently changed their minds—”
“Oh, that we have,” Macy said. “Thanks in no small part to your brother. He pointed out something you’d said. Your lie about how the assailant’s shadow fell over your shoulder as you approached your aunt’s bed.”
“That wasn’t a lie!”
“Sure it was, ma’am. The morning sunlight shining in from the bedside window would have cast the assailant’s shadow behind him – not to the front and over your shoulder. However, you had to come up with some sort of story, didn’t you. After all, you were caught right on the scene and were the obvious suspect.”
“You—” I bit off the rest of the sentence and glared at Randy as he began to whistle, as Detective Macy began to read me my rights.
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