The Usual Suspects: A Mystery Short Story

Jan 18, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Terrific Tales

by Rekha Ambardar

This story was first published published in November 2010 in Orchard Press Mysteries.

“Who’d be in such a hurry that they’d neglect to put the cap back properly on a bottle of Digitoxin pills?”

Detective Delaney poked his head into the medicine cabinet in the bathroom of The Kavanaugh residence, where old Andrew Cavanaugh was found dead that morning. Time of death was set at between seven-thirty and eight last night.

“The same person who took the milk in to him last night,” his assistant, Harry Minor, said.

The small bottle of capsules was found on its side in the cabinet, together with bottles of other medication. Delaney made some notes on a small notepad and went back into the bedroom. The victim’s body had been removed for an autopsy. The bedroom light was found to be on in the morning, according to the nurse. He examined the nightstand that had held the glass of milk in which two Digitoxin capsules had been emptied. “Have you seen any of the family members yet?” he asked Minor.

“No, but the housekeeper, Hester Warren, is waiting in the study.”

Delaney went into the study. Hester, a portly woman in her sixties, was crying into her apron. She wiped her eyes on her apron when she saw them. “I can’t believe he’s gone.”

“How long have you worked here?”

“Ten years. I took care of him until she came a year ago.”


“The nurse.”

“Don’t you like her?”

“Oh, she’s okay. Just that things are not the same around here.”

“Did Mr. Kavanaugh eat with the family or in his room?” Delaney said.

“Sometimes he’d eat with the family, but he wanted his meals exactly on time, so it was brought to him.”

“Any special diet?” Delaney had his pencil poised over the pad.

“He ate light. He had surgery last year for heart trouble.”

“Who brought the milk to him last night?”

“The nurse usually does. Sometimes, it’s his wife.”

“What are your duties?”

“I do the cooking and the housework. Mr. Kavanaugh liked me because I’m careful and don’t tolerate waste.”

After Hester left, a young, pretty blonde came in. “I’m Clarisse Kavanaugh.”

Delaney pointed to one of the antique chairs. “Please have a seat. Who found your husband this morning?”

“Mack–that’s Andrew’s son. He usually sees Andrew in the morning since he’s out late every night.” A laced handkerchief hovered near her mouth.

“I have to ask you this–were you and Mr. Kavanaugh happy?”

“Look–you’re going to hear this, it might as well be from me. I was seeing somebody, but I broke it off. I loved my husband.”

“Who usually gave him his medication?”

“The nurse did.”

“Did you ever give him his medications?”

“No, Detective. I didn’t have any talent in that department, and I’ll be quite frank about it,” Clarisse said with a wry smile. Obviously she wasn’t interested in the seamier side of things.

“Who brought him the milk?”

“The nurse. He had supper at six and then dozed off. But he liked a small glass of warm milk later.” She looked up at the detective.

“Nurse Collins usually leaves it on the night stand and then turns off the light. When the drapes are left open, there’s enough outside light if he wakes up and wants to drink the milk.”

The nurse, Jane Collins, a pleasantly plump woman with soft brown hair, came in looking stoic.

“You took in his supper last night, right?” the detective asked.

“Yes, at about six.”

Delaney consulted his notes. “Later you took a glass of milk to him.”


“What time was that?”

“About a quarter to eight.”

“Was he awake?” Delaney asked her.

“No. He was dozing, which was good because the power went out soon after,” Nurse Collins replied. “So I turned off the switch.”

The detective made a note of that. “When did you start working for him?”

“Last year, after he had the surgery. He was on Digitoxin for arrhythmia and had to be watched closely.”

“Was he easy to work for?”

She inclined her head. “He would have been, if he hadn’t married a woman young enough to be his daughter. Someone who played around behind his back.”

“The glass had enough Digitoxin to kill off a horse, Miss Collins. Do you know why anyone would do that?” the detective said.

She shook her head slowly, apparently overcome with grief. Then she looked up. “If that’s all, I have a lot to see to.”

“That’s quite a lady,” Minor said. “Couldn’t be easy working for this family.”

Kavanaugh’s son, Mack, was in his late thirties. He had been at the casinos and heard the news in the morning when he got home. “I’m not such a bad guy, detective,” he said. “Just misunderstood.”

“When did you last see your father?”

“I looked in on him when he was having his supper. But the sight of me seemed to give him indigestion, so I didn’t stay more than a few minutes.”

After Mack left the room, Delaney shook his head and jotted down a few more notes. Just then, his cell phone rang and he answered it. It was the autopsy report. After a few minutes, he punched out of the call. “Are you ready for this?” he said to Minor. “Kavanaugh’s death was from natural causes – heart failure.”

“What? So no crime has been committed, right?”

“Yes and no,” Delaney said. “If the milk had been drunk, it would have been murder. Right now, we have only the intent to implicate somebody in a potential murder. Somebody who didn’t know that Digitoxin dissolves entirely only in alcohol. Still if even a few sips of milk had been ingested, it would have been curtains for Delaney.”

“So who was trying to implicate whom?” Minor said, looking puzzled.

“My theory? Hester, the housekeeper was trying to implicate the nurse, who’d know that Digitoxin would dissolve only in alcohol. Moreover, the nurse had turned off the switch when she left the room,” Detective Delaney said.

“How did it get turned on again?” Minor asked

“My guess is that when the housekeeper came in to ‘fix’ the glass of milk, she turned on the switch from force of habit, forgetting that the power was out and then emptied the capsules into the milk.” Delaney shut his notebook. “Shall we go in and talk to the family?”

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Rekha Ambardar has over one hundred short genre and mainstream stories published in print and electronic magazines. She is also the author of two romance novels, His Harbor Girl, and Maid to Order. Visit Rekha’s website to learn more.

1 Comment

  1. Cute story. I loved the insertions of pictures, making the reader feel immersed in the story as it evolved.


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