by Guy Belleranti
This story was originally published in March 2005 by Orchard Press Mysteries.
Ross Clark took care to park near Alice Morton’s front door, out of sight of the bedroom window through which he had entered earlier.
Clark’s fiancée, Brittany, pressed the doorbell, but of course, no one came. “I don’t understand it,” she said. “Aunt Alice’s phone message said she needed to see me at once, but she didn’t answer my return calls, and now she’s not answering the door either.”
Clark bit back a grin. Thank goodness, Brittany had been in a work meeting when Alice Morton phoned her. Thank goodness, the old lady would never talk again.
Still, Clark still had one worry. On the drive over, Brittany had commented on the tear in his jacket’s right sleeve, a sleeve that, he suddenly realized, was also missing a button. The old lady must have ripped the button loose when she’d fought back, Clark thought. Meaning she might have it gripped in one of her lifeless hands at this very moment. Somehow, he must get inside the house before Brittany.
“Maybe I should go around the side of the house and knock on her bedroom window,” Brittany said.
“No,” Clark said sharply. “I mean it’s really dark. You wait here in case your aunt is just slow getting to the door. I’ll go and check with my flashlight.” He took off around the side before Brittany could protest.
Alice Morton had confronted Clark with a private investigator’s report a few hours earlier. She’d always disliked him, and when she waved the pages detailing his criminal history, he’d seen red. No way could he allow her to pass on this report to his wealthy fiancée.
Clark reached the broken window and shined his flashlight over the sill and into the room. Yes, there was her body, just as he’d left it. However, her hands and his lost button…he couldn’t see either from here.
Brittany’s voice came from out of the dark.
“Ross, why have you broken the window?”
Clark spun around. “I had to. Your aunt…she’s inside and…” He swung the beam of his flashlight into the room .
Brittany gasped. “Why is she on the floor like that?” she cried. “Ross, I need to get inside and help her!”
Brittany sat beside Clark in the kitchen, weeping, while the authorities did their work. Before letting Brittany in, Clark had checked Alice Morton’s hands and found no button, so he was in the clear. If the cops did find the button and link it to the one missing from his jacket he’d just say it must have been loosened when he’d smashed in the window and climbed over the sill to “help” Alice Morton.
“Mr. Clark…Ms. Ennis,” said a voice.
Clark snapped his head up. So did Brittany. The detective in charge, a woman detective named Martinez, stood there.
“I‘ve a few more questions,” Detective Martinez said.
“Oh,” Clark said. “Certainly.” He put a comforting hand over Brittany’s knotted ones, and tried to look properly sad.
Clark clenched his jaw. “That’s correct. I shined my flashlight into the room, and when I–we–saw Brittany’s poor aunt I broke the glass to get inside, while Brittany called 911. Unfortunately, we were too late.” Clark shook his head and Brittany sobbed.
Detective Martinez nodded and once more left the room.
Clark silently congratulated himself. Good thing he’d destroyed that PI report. Good thing he’d also set up a convincing burglary scene by pulling out drawers and swiping jewelry.
Clark blinked. Martinez was back already. “Yes?”
“It’s really most confusing. Could you come with me please?”
Brittany rose to accompany him, but Detective Martinez shook her head. “Just Mr. Clark for now, ma’am.” The steel in her voice was unmistakable.
Clark followed her down the hall to the bedroom, feeling a sudden sense of unease.
“But what?” he asked, his uneasiness increasing.
“But then how did the burglar get into house?” Detective Martinez stared at him. “Both the front and back doors were locked, and so were all of the windows.”
Clark didn’t reply.
Detective Martinez continued. “You messed up, Mr. Clark. If you’d told Ms. Ennis you’d found the window glass broken, the burglary story might have made sense. However, you slipped and told her the truth–told her you’d broken it. What you didn’t say was that you’d broken it earlier – when you came to murder Alice Morton.”
“That’s crazy,” Clark said.
Detective Martinez’ eyes hardened. “That phone message Ms. Morton left her niece–I think she wanted to talk to her about you, Mr. Clark.”
Clark stared at her stonily, but said nothing.
Martinez shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. I’m sure we’ll connect it up. We already have evidence to put you on the scene earlier today.”
“What evidence?” Clark sneered.
Detective Martinez signaled to a couple of men, and they carefully lifted Alice Morton’s body. “There, Mr. Clark, on the carpet, beneath the body–several pieces of window glass. That proves the window was broken before Ms. Morton was murdered, not after. And there, next to the glass pieces, and also beneath the body–a button, Mr. Clark, a button that looks like a perfect match for the one missing from your right jacket sleeve. Quite a body of evidence, don’t you agree?”
Another one of Guy’s short stories was featured in an episode of Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast. You can click here to listen to that episode, or use the player below:
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