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Catching a Thief: Mystery Short Story

IN THE February 8 ISSUE

FROM THE 2020 Articles,
andMysteryrat's Maze,
andTerrific Tales
SECTIONS

by Guy Belleranti

This story was originally published by Woman’s World magazine in January 2003.

I finished ringing up a purchase by an off-season tourist, and was watching the woman pass out the door when my boss dropped her bombshell.

“Marsha,” Trudy Bracken told me, “I believe I know who is responsible for the shop’s recent rash of thefts.”

“You do?” I tried to sound calm, but my heart was racing. Could she have figured out that it was me?

Actually, I’d begun my stealing spree on impulse. Six months in this boring suburban enclave waiting on well-to-do customers at Trudy’s Treasure Trove had made me want my own share of treasure. I’d taken some pricey miniatures first, then followed up with a gleaming brass Buddha and two charming hand-painted porcelain plates, small-sized items that would be passed easily through the shop’s lax security. buddah

“Yes,” Trudy was saying as I focused back on the present. “I know who’s guilty, and it’s quite upsetting.” She moved closer until she was looking right up into my eyes, and I drew in a sharp breath. “It’s Emily,” she said.

I exhaled slowly. “Um, what? Our Emily?”

Trudy ran a bejeweled hand through her silver-streaked hair and nodded. “Isn’t it awful?”

“It is quite a shock,” I admitted, laughing inside.

“The theft of those two nineteenth-century dancer figurines are what opened my eyes,” Trudy said.

Nineteenth-century dancer figurines… What was she talking about?

“When I unlocked the shop yesterday, that’s when I found them missing. Yet, just the previous afternoon when Emily and I closed, they were still here, right on that shelf beside the front window. In other words, Emily must have slipped them under her coat as we headed out the door.”

I processed this information slowly. I hadn’t taken any dancer figurines, so apparently, Emily, Trudy’s right hand assistant, shared more with me than a love for Scrabble. Apparently, she’d also decided to take advantage of Trudy’s simple, too-trusting nature.

“What do you plan to do?” I asked.

“That’s just it. I don’t know.”

I rolled my eyes. “You should have her arrested.” I spoke harshly, hoping to spur Trudy on. Let Emily take the fall for all the thefts. That would let me step in as Trudy’s new second in command. Maybe then I’d get to make a few of the decisions and collect a larger paycheck as well.

Trudy regarded me timidly. “You’re probably right, Marsha, perhaps Emily should be arrested. But I’ve no real proof. Unless…”

I pounced. “Unless what?”

She shrugged. “Unless we can find the figurines in her apartment.” She hesitated, then went on. “Didn’t you say the two of you were having another Scrabble match at her place tonight?”

“Yes, but—oh, you want me search her place while I’m there, is that it?”

Trudy looked guilty. “I know you won’t be able to do much, but you might spot something. That bronze Buddha, perhaps, or maybe those hand-painted plates.”

“Well,” I feigned reluctance. “Okay.”

I chuckled inwardly. Trudy had taken the bait. Now I’d set the hook by planting some of the stolen goods. And if I stumbled across the figurines, heck, the more evidence the better.

#

I excused myself from the game table immediately after Emily played a triple point word, saying, “I need to use the ladies room.”

Emily just nodded, shoved her glasses back up the bridge of her nose, and added forty-five new points to her already substantial lead.

I scooted down the hall, gave a backward glance, then slipped into Emily’s bedroom, digging the stolen miniatures out of my purse. The closet door was open a fraction. Perhaps in there on an upper shelf? I started across the room, then an empty space on an otherwise cluttered bookshelf caught my eye, and I changed my mind. Yes! Even better than the closet—in the open, but not too obvious.

Minutes later I was back at the table making a twenty point word. Not nearly enough points for me to catch up, but so what? I’d accomplished what I wanted. Although I hadn’t found the figurines, two other stolen pieces were in place shouting Emily’s guilt. We’d finish the game, then I’d leave and call Trudy, telling her to bring the cops.

#

Emily took her turn with pursed lips, moving her tiles around in her rack before laying out all seven with an exaggerated air. Youlose, she spelled.

“You lose? That’s two words,” I said. “And you also haven’t attached them to any of the current words.”

“No,” Emily said, “I haven’t. But I think it sums up things just fine.” She glared across the table. “I saw you put those stolen things in my bedroom.”

I stared at her, then sneered, “So what? Who’ll believe the thief of two nineteenth century figurines?”

“Everyone. Especially since I’m not a thief. The figurines weren’t stolen. Trudy lied.”

“Lied?” My confidence faltered for a moment, then I steadied myself. “No way. Trudy wouldn’t do that.”

“On the contrary, Marsha,” Trudy said from behind me, “I’m afraid this time I did.”

I jumped from my chair and spun around.

“I’ve suspected you since the Buddha disappeared,” Trudy continued. “When additional thefts occurred, my suspicions increased, coming to a head the other day when I thought I saw you stuff one of those plates into your purse.”

“You saw—”

“Yes,” Trudy said, “but I wasn’t sure. So I enlisted Emily’s aid, and together we came up with the stolen figurine story. We figured if you were guilty, you would try to shift the blame. Tonight was your perfect opportunity.”

“Why you old—” I took an angry step toward her, but Emily was already opening the door to two broad-shouldered cops.

“I’m not as simple-minded as you thought, Marsha,” Trudy purred. “I called the police on my cell phone the moment you left Emily’s bedroom. You see, I was in the bedroom closet, watching, and like Emily I saw you plant those miniatures.”

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & more Halloween mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also check our our new mystery podcast!

Guy Belleranti lives in Tucson, Arizona. He writes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, puzzles and humor for both adults and children. He’s been published in over 200 different publications including Woman’s World, Bards and Sages Quarterly, Liquid Imagination, Big Pulp, The Saturday Evening Post, Scifaikuest, Highlights for Children, Jack and Jill Magazine, MysteryNet, Crimestalker Casebook. Two of his flash mysteries were nominated for Derringer awards and he has won cash awards in many writing contests. When he’s not writing he works in a school library & volunteers as a docent educator at the local zoo. His author’s website is www.guybelleranti.com/

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