Creativity: A Mystery Short Story

Mar 26, 2016 | 2016 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Terrific Tales

by John M. Floyd

Creativity was originally published in the Spring/Summer 1999 issue of Mystery Time.

After the tall dark-haired woman lifted the carry-on bag into the overhead compartment, the younger blonde in the aisle seat moved her knees so the tall lady could squeeze past to sit by the window. The seat between them was empty. Outside, the tarmac baked in the noonday sun.airplane

“Thanks for helping me with my bag,” the blond woman said. She held a matching leather briefcase on her lap.

“Glad to.” The tall brunette glanced at the case. “I see your husband is a physician.”

The young woman looked down. DR. STUART FREEMAN III, the laminated tag announced. The accompanying photograph showed a bald, plump man of about fifty.

“He was,” she said.

She offered no further explanation. Instead, she leaned back, closed her eyes and rubbed them with the back of her hand. The diamond on her ring finger could have choked a horse.

When they were airborne, the older woman turned to her and said, “I’m Olivia Smith Banks, by the way.”

“Suzie Freeman,” the blonde said.

“What do you do, Ms. Freeman?”

“I’m a designer.”

“Of course. A creative mind. Dresses? Kitchens? Software?”


“And your office is … ?”

“Here, in L.A. I’m going to Dallas for a seminar.”

A silence passed. “I’m sorry,” Olivia Banks said. “About your husband, I mean.”

Suzie Freeman stared at her. “You know my husband?”

“No, but you said ?”

Freeman looked uneasy. “I’m afraid I misled you. My husband is fine. At least he was when I kissed him goodbye this morning.” She leaned back again and shut her eyes.

“So he’s been visiting you?” Banks asked.

Freeman regarded her a moment. “I beg your pardon?”

“Visiting you. Here in Los Angeles.”

“If that were true, why would I have his luggage?”suitcase

Instead of answering, Banks gave her a smug look. “May I ask you a personal question?” she said.

Suzie Freeman paused. “I suppose so.”

“How old are you?”


“And your husband. Is he a tall man?”

“Not very. Why?”

“How tall?”

“About my height. Maybe a little shorter.”

“I see.” Banks turned to stare out the window at the passing clouds, then asked, “How do you feel, Ms. Freeman, about what you’re doing and what you’ve done?”

“Excuse me?”

“Is there anything you want to tell me?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about …”

Banks turned to face her. “Your luggage tags say your husband Stuart lives in Ontario.”

“That’s right.”

“And you’ve lost a button off the front of your blouse.”

Freeman glanced down at it, surprised. “So?”

Another smug look. “Ontario is two thousand miles from L.A., Ms. Freeman. And any husband you kissed goodbye this morning would have told you, before you went out in public–unless he was too blind or too tall to notice it–that you have a missing button. Especially if you were young enough to be his daughter.”

Suzie Freeman made no reply.

“What I think,” Banks continued, “is that you and your rich-doctor husband were here on vacation. And frankly, I think you might have left him in no condition to critique your outfit or anything else.”

Freeman blinked. “What are you saying? You think I killed him?”

Banks just stared at her.

“You do,” Freeman said. “Don’t you.”

“Did you?”

A silence dragged by. As they sat there watching each other, a flight attendant stopped his service cart in the aisle beside Suzie Freeman’s seat. “Would you like a drink?” he asked.

Very calmly, she ordered coffee, with sugar. So did Banks. When the steward had placed the cups and two white packets on Freeman’s lowered tray, she opened her purse and fiddled with her compact. “Who are you?” she said to Banks. “The police?”coffee

“Please. Give me some credit.”

“Who, then? A lawyer? A reporter?”

“A psychologist. I was here to present a paper.”

“Of course.” Freeman’s hands were steady as she dusted sugar into their coffees and passed Banks’s cup to her. “A creative mind.”

“I like to think so.”

“But what you’ve created,” Freeman said, “is a fantasy.”

“In what way?” Olivia Banks took a swallow of coffee.

“Well, for one thing, Ontario isn’t two thousand miles from L.A., it’s twenty miles.”

“Ontario, Canada?”

“Ontario, California.”

“There is no such place.”

“Really? I’ll tell that to our mayor, when I get home.”

Banks raised her chin. “I don’t believe you.”

Suzie Freeman shrugged and sipped her coffee. “Why should you? After all, I’m a murderer.”

Both of them stayed quiet for a

Finally Freeman asked, “How do you think I killed him?”

Banks studied her a moment, looking pleased with herself. “Any of a dozen ways. A pillow over his face, possibly. You look strong and if he’s short–”

“Short doesn’t mean weak, Ms. Banks.”

“Maybe a blow to the head then, as he was putting on his shoes, or brushing his teeth.”

“This is disappointing,” Freeman said sadly. “And you’re a psychologist?”

Banks’ face reddened. “All right then, how did you kill him?”

“Poison,” Freeman said. “Arsenic trioxide. A white powder. I sprinkled it into his coffee, instead of sugar.”

It took a moment for that to register. Suddenly Banks tensed and stared into her cup.

“It’s very effective,” Freeman said, with a smile.

Banks looked wide-eyed at Freeman’s tray, at the two packets of sugar. A third opened packet, also white, lay beside them.

“My God–” Dropping her cup, Banks struggled to her feet. Freeman barely had time to raise her tray-table before Banks blustered past her and into the aisle. Once there, she ran gagging and green-faced toward a group of flight attendants at the rear of the plane.

Still smiling, Suzie Freeman took a cell phone from her purse and punched in a number. After a pause, she said,
“Stuart? It’s me. How was your first morning as a retiree?” Her grin widened. “Yes, I’m fine. I’m just calling to tell you I found your glasses after I left, in the briefcase. I’ll FedEx them to you from the hotel. And by the way, you know that headache powder you sent with me today?”

She turned and looked back down the aisle at the commotion.

“It works wonders,” she said.

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John M. Floyd is an active member of the Mystery Writer’s of America. His short stories appeared last year in The Strand Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Woman’s World, The Saturday Evening Post, and The Best American Mystery Stories 2015. A former Air Force captain and IBM systems engineer, John won a Derringer Award in 2007 and was nominated for an Edgar Award in 2015. He is also the author of six collections of short stories: Rainbow’s End, Midnight, Clockwork, Deception, Fifty Mysteries, and (coming in 2016) Dreamland.


  1. My first day of retirement wasn’t as exciting. I woke up to my regularly scheduled summer break, so it was a bit uneventful. However, when colleagues and friends were posting on Facebook deals for school supplies, pre-opening meetings and workshops, anxieties setting up classrooms for a new crop of students, I relaxed. And on the first day of school? My husband and I went out to lunch relaxing over a glass of wine in the middle of the day. Now, my friends still working? They would have needed the ‘headache powder.’ Cheers to retirement!

  2. John is as consistently reliable an entertainer as any writer I can think of.

  3. A fun story, John. And a great way to stifle a know-it-all busybody.

  4. Loved this story. Thanks for sharing it.


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