by Angie Sherwood
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story and watch for another Easter related mystery short story next week.
Of all the mornings to oversleep, why did it have to be this morning? Lorraine asked her reflection in the mirror as she smeared a generous dollop of moisturizing cream over her crepey skin. The sunrise Easter service started in less than half an hour. Oh, she didn’t want to disappoint the handsome choir director, Ezekiel, who preoccupied her thoughts. Despite what that hateful Bertie McAllister said, she was not old enough to be his mother. She was only fifty-four. He was at least forty.
Birdsong began to fill the predawn darkness, prompting Lorraine to glance at the clock. Oh, it’s so late, she fretted as she threw her choir robe on and rushed out the door. Her robe billowing behind her, she spryly dashed down the stairs of her apartment building and turned for the next flight of steps.
Humph. She puffed at the sight of one of the sorority girls from the apartment below her laying at the base of the stairs. Passed out—again. Oh, how she fervently prayed for those girls’ salvation, but she was afraid at the end of four years they would have STDs and babies instead of degrees and jobs. Their raucousness had kept her up again last night and caused her to oversleep this morning. She gingerly stepped over the girl they called Bitzy, noticing that her body was unusually still.
Lorraine jumped, startled by the familiar male voice. “Ed!” she shouted. “You scared the Dickens out of me!”
“I see she passed out again.” He walked up the last few steps of the basement stairs and over to where Lorraine stood.
“I don’t know, Ed. Does she seem okay to you?”
In unison, they bowed over the girl, looking down at her. Her cool blue eyes stared emptily, and her tongue slightly protruded from between her teeth. Upon closer inspection, Lorraine noticed that the girl’s purple polka dot scarf indented her neck. She wasn’t breathing.
“I think she’s dead,” Lorraine said. A cold chill washed over her. She put her hand to her mouth to hold in the nausea that bubbled up from her stomach.
“Jesus Christ!” Ed exclaimed.
“Watch your mouth on Easter morning!” Lorraine scolded. “And quit standing there. Call the police.”
“You should call them. You found her!”
Ten minutes later, Lorraine filed into line just as the tenors entered the choir loft. Bertie gave her a reproving look, but it was nothing compared to the reproach in her steel gray eyes when the state police showed up during the congregation’s Easter breakfast and asked Lorraine to accompany them to their Richmond headquarters for questioning.
In the interrogation room, the detectives had endless questions. Why had she left the scene of a crime before the police came? What did she do last night? Why was she up so early this morning? Did she have any complaints about the deceased? Did she complain to the landlord? How often? Finally, the police released her with a warning not to leave town since she was a person of interest. A person of interest! In a murder case! Lorraine was indignant. How could they suspect her of such a thing? As they pulled into her apartment’s parking lot, she slunk in the back seat of the police cruiser that drove her home from the city, hoping that no one saw her.
When she opened her apartment door, her cat greeted her with a meow. “Oh, Faye! What a day!” She said as she picked the calico up and snuggled the feline under her chin. “What are we going to do?” She paced her living room, scratching the cat’s head, until Faye, bored of the attention, dug her back claws into Lorraine’s stomach and wrenched herself free. “Ouch!” Lorraine rubbed the scratches on her belly. Walking into her kitchen, she found trash scattered across the floor. “Bad kitty!” She yelled as she grabbed a plastic bag from the cupboard. After she shoveled empty food cartons and dirty Kleenex into it, she tied the bag and went to the trash compactor in the basement, thankful that she didn’t see anyone on the way. She swung the compactor door open and saw a brown leather handbag partially hidden under a pile of waste. Lorraine always enjoyed a good dumpster find. Looking around to make sure no one saw her, she hurled the garbage inside, snatched the purse, and ran upstairs.
Once inside her apartment, she opened the bag to find car keys, a wallet, a cell phone, and a spiral notebook with a whimsical owl on the cover. Bitzy’s driver’s license confirmed that these were her belongings.
To her relief, the phone didn’t have a dead battery or passcode when she swiped her finger across the screen. Thank you Jesus, she whispered a soft prayer. She touched the text message app and scanned the text history. Bitzy’s last conversation was between her and someone named Jeffrey, who Lorraine assumed was her boyfriend. The brief exchange started after midnight when Bitzy wrote: Old guy won’t let it drop. Hanging around outside again. Scared. Jeffrey replied: Ezekiel?
The name grabbed Lorraine’s attention. It was a small college town. Ezekiel had to be her Ezekiel. No one else in town had that name. But how did Bitzy know the choir director? Lorraine hadn’t seen her in church. And why would he hang around Bitzy’s apartment? He didn’t live in the complex.
Bitzy didn’t answer Jeffrey’s last text. At a dead end, Lorraine scrolled through older text messages between Jeffrey and Bitzy, but they were mostly pornographic pictures of each other that they had swapped back and forth. She shook her head. Kids today had no morals.
She went to the cupboard and pulled out the brandy she used to spike her hot toddies when her throat was sore from singing. Tonight, it would calm her nerves. The warm liquid burned her tongue as she took a healthy swig and flipped open the notebook. It was a handwritten journal.
“I didn’t know kids kept diaries anymore.” Lorraine said to Faye, who sat on the table studying the contents of Bitzy’s purse. “Are you helping me solve this murder?” The black tip of Faye’s tail flicked in response.
The journal started on August 20, which was the first day of school, and was full of a young woman’s usually ramblings: who was dating whom; the professors were mean; she had too much homework to do; the old biddy upstairs always complained about the noise from her apartment. Lorraine rolled her eyes and sipped her drink. In October, Bitzy gushed over her new boyfriend, Jeffrey, the quarterback. Around Thanksgiving, she wrote of her roommate Mindy’s jealousy of her relationship with Jeffrey and the resultant spats between the two girls.
Then, Ezekiel’s name appeared in the narrative. Bitzy met him the week before Christmas break at Izzie’s—the local bar, of all places. Lorraine sighed heavily and gulped the brandy before she continued reading. Smitten with Bitzy, he followed her home that night and, in the subsequent months, randomly appeared outside her apartment until a couple of weeks ago when Jeffrey confronted him and told him to stay away from her. He hadn’t come to her apartment since the confrontation, but she thought she had seen his car a few times in the parking lot, which unnerved the girl.
In the final entry on Friday night, a distraught Bitzy described how she had backed over Freddie, Ed’s beloved toy poodle, in the parking lot. The dog didn’t survive. She wrote that Ed called her a dumb bitch and said she would be sorry.
“She sure had enemies, didn’t she Faye?” Lorraine asked the calico, who now was cleaning the pads of her right paw. “Let’s make a list of who they were.”
On the top line of a legal pad, she wrote the names of her potential suspects, and under each name, she wrote a motive. When she was done, the list looked like this:
boyfriends are always a suspect
furious about dog
Now, was there anyone she could eliminate? She remembered a text that said Jeffrey was home for the holiday. Double checking the phone confirmed that he was in Atlanta, over ten hours away; with an alibi and sans a real motive, she drew a big X over his name. Three suspects remained. “Do you have any thoughts?” She asked Faye. The cat meowed, jumped off the table, and went into the bedroom. Seems like a good idea, Lorraine thought to herself. She drained the rest of her sniffer, recapped her Sharpie marker, and followed her feline companion.
The next morning, Lorraine went to work at the college’s library. She tried not to think of her predicament, but the phrase person of interest wouldn’t leave her mind. Distracted from her tasks, she misfiled a few tomes. Finally, the clock struck five, and she fled the building. Back at home, she perused her list of suspects in the hopes of discovering the true culprit.
A knock at the door interrupted her investigation. She opened it to find one of the young detectives who had interrogated her the previous day. “Ms. Babbitt, I have a few more questions for you. Do you mind if I come in?”
“Not at all. I have something I want to show you.”
“Oh really. What’s that?”
“I’ve made a list of possible suspects. I thought it might be helpful to you.” She showed her list to the officer. He glanced at it then back at her.
“How’d you come up with these names?”
“Well, I found Bitzy’s purse in the trash compactor, and it had her journal and phone in it. I went through them and found these names.”
“When did you find her purse?”
“Why didn’t you call us?”
Lorraine wasn’t sure how to answer. After she stammered for a few seconds, he said, “I think you should come with me.”
“Don’t you want to look at these names?” She asked. “Bitzy and her roommate Mindy constantly fought over Bitzy’s boyfriend. Mindy could have killed her in a jealous rage.”
“Mindy spent Saturday night with her own boyfriend. A neighbor saw her go in his house late that night. Besides, it doesn’t make sense that Mindy would strangle Bitzy in the stairwell, where someone could see her, when she could do it in their apartment.” Lorraine hadn’t thought of that.
“Well, what about Ezekiel Morris? Did you know he was stalking her? Maybe he did it.” Words spewed out of her mouth as she tried to convince the detective that someone else had murdered Bitzy.
“He was at Izzie’s last night. Had too much to drink. Joe, the bartender, drove him home after the bar closed.”
“What about Ed Shelton? She killed his dog. He loved that dog, and she said he threatened her!” She desperately screamed. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears, and her mouth felt like it was full of cotton.
“Ms. Babbitt, that’s enough. Let’s go to the station.” He roughly grabbed her arm and pulled her out the door.
Lorraine’s loud protests, as she was dragged down the stairs, caused neighbors to stick their heads out of their doors. From the back seat of the police car, she saw Ed standing on the sidewalk. He looked like he just got away with murder.
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