A Reason to Laugh: Mystery Short Story

Mar 28, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Terrific Tales

by Gary Hoffman

Sadly Gary Hoffman passed away earlier this year, but his family asked if we would help them fulfill his goal of having 500 stories published so we will be publishing several of his stories over the next few months. This story has never before been published.

Five minutes had passed.

Detective Winston Elliot Browne, nicknamed WEB, admired the brass door knocker. He raised the ring being held in the lion’s mouth and let it fall. He smiled, picked it up again, and tapped it three times on the knocker plate. Several seconds passed before he heard a mousy voice from inside the mansion. He couldn’t understand it, but figured it was telling him to wait a few minutes or maybe to just hold his damned horses. His past experiences with Miss Ida Mae Gibbons guessed the horses ‘thing’ would win out.

He didn’t hear footsteps, but heard the tapping of a cane on the tile in the foyer. In his mind he had tried to memorize as much of the inside of the house as possible during his past visits. You just never knew. Miss Ida was the only witness in a major case he was working on, so he had spent a lot to time with her.

The door swung open with the vitality of a much younger person. “Yes?” Miss Ida said.

“Need to talk.”

“I thought we had talked everything to death. If you’re here again to try and convince me to move, forget it. Now get in here before we have a houseful of flies. Close the door please.” She took a couple of steps into the house, before turning back toward him. “I guess swatting flies would give me something to do.” She let out a small chuckle as she headed inward. “Care for coffee?”

“Never pass it up.”

“Good. I hate to drink alone. I might become a coffeeholic.” She stopped walking. “Guess I’m there now. Doctor tells me to cut down, but the damned doctors keep telling me what’s right for me in their opinion. But opinions are just like assholes. Everybody got one.” She chuckled again. “I need to find a doctor who drinks coffee by the gallon and smokes at least two packs of cigs a day.”

“Good luck.”

“You remember where the coffee urn is, don’t you?”


“Good. Bring me a cup too, will you please. Thick and black. I’ll be in the den.”

“Glad to, but where’s your maid, Rosa?”

“Off to the store at the moment. Now hurry. I feel a jerkin’ spell coming on from lack of caffeine.”

“Coming right up, ma’am.”

The kitchen was huge. He admired all the windows surrounding it, but knew they would provide perfect viewing for someone outside to shoot someone inside. He picked up an insulated carafe and filled it with coffee. With two mugs in one hand and the carafe in the other, he headed back to the den.

Twelve minutes had passed.

After getting Miss Ida’s medicine to prevent an attack from lack of the needed caffeine and nicotine, he pulled a chair in front of the one she usually used. She spent a great deal of time in that chair. As far as he was concerned, it was probably the best room in the house to protect her. It was in the middle of the house with no outside windows. Sunlight came in through skylights at the top of the two-story shafts.

After a long pull of coffee, he started his story. “Right before I came over here today, I got a call from Caesar. From the man himself, mind you”

“I thought he was still in jail.”

“He was up until about an hour ago when he was released on some technicality.”

“He have his usual message about killing me?”

“All he said was ‘six before eighty’.”

Miss Ida took a drink of coffee and a puff from her cigarette. “What the hell does that mean?”

“Not really sure, but I think I narrowed it down to six minutes to eighty minutes, or seventy four minutes. I’m just not really sure. That’s what I want to talk to you about.”

The man who called himself Caesar was reported to be the leader of a drug cartel out of Central America. His real name was thought to be Carlos Miguel. It was speculated he started calling himself Caesar because it sounded more important. He was very egotistical. His Spanish brothers also thought he was more than a little loco. Caesar was moving a truck load of his product when the vehicle broke down far out in the country where they could get no cell phone service.

Miss Ida had a habit of sometimes going on long drives at night just because she was bored or couldn’t sleep. Her car of choice was a huge, boat-sized 1955 Cadillac, nicknamed The Aunt Sadie, after Miss Ida’s favorite aunt. On this night, she got lost and came across these three men way out on a country road. Seeing the three of them in this situation, she panicked. She leaned over in the seat and floored the Caddy. At first she was headed for the men, but then she went into a ditch, and then a cornfield. She might have done nothing about the incident except the men had started shooting at her, and this really made her mad. They didn’t fire at first because they didn’t know if she was going to come after them with this monster car. They were busy trying to save their own hides. As soon as she got into a place where her cell phone worked, she called the sheriff.barn

Of course, by the time the sheriff arrived, the men had disappeared, but the dope-loaded truck was still there, and Miss Ida was able to identify Caesar as being one of the men. A few other people had volunteered to testify against him in the past, but they had mysteriously disappeared or passed away from various causes. Miss Ida insisted she would testify Caesar was with the truck when she saw it. Besides, they had put a bullet hole through her rear fender of the Aunt Sadie.

Twenty-one minutes had passed.

“Right now, I want you to sit exactly where you are while I go check out the rest of the house. I want to see if everything is locked tight. Do you have a basement?”


“Is there an outside entrance to it?”


“Is there a lock on that door?”

“Actually, two locks. One on the outside and one on the inside. Kind of a pain sometimes, but my late husband insisted it was much safer that way.”

“Well, he was right. Now you sit right here while I go check over the rest of the house.” He checked his watch.

Twenty-five minutes had passed.

Less than an hour now to whatever was going to happen.

The house had a total of twelve rooms. There was a parlor—as Miss Ida called it—the den, the kitchen, a formal dining room, a small kitchen eating area, six bedrooms, and four bathrooms. At the time it was built, it was considered to be huge.

Two of the bedrooms had doors opening through dormers onto small balconies. There were eight panes of glass in each door.

The glass was covered with sheer curtains. As Winston stood there surveying the land in front of the house, he thought he saw the sun reflecting off something bright. It looked like it was coming from a tree across the street.

He immediately ran down to the den.

“I need your help,” he told Miss Ida. “I’m going back upstairs. In exactly two minutes, I want you to go into the parlor and stand between the window and door. Take your cane and push the curtains back, like someone would do if they wanted to look out. If I’m right, a shot will come through that window. You just close your eyes and cover you head as much as possible. There’s going to be some slivers of glass flying.”

“What are you going to do?” she said.

“I’m going back upstairs. There’s a good shot angle from one of those dormers.”

“Oh, my.”

“Well, oh my or not, I’m pretty sure we are under attack. Let’s change the odds in our favor.”

“Whatever you say,” Miss Ida said.

“Okay, exactly two minutes.”

WEB unlocked the dormer door and peered through the thin curtains. He heard a shot and saw smoke coming halfway up a large tree. He opened the door and emptied all sixteen rounds of his extended clip into the general direction of the figure in the tree. He knew his short-barreled Glock wouldn’t be very accurate at that distance. gun

The shooter fell forward, dropped to a branch about three feet down, bounced off that, and crashed the rest of the way to the ground through smaller limbs. The rifle got hung up on a branch close to where they had been hiding.
Twenty-nine minutes had passed.

He took out his cell phone and called the station. He got a squad car on the road to find Rosa and stop her from coming back to the house. He also talked to his partner, Rick Upshaw, and told him to come to Ida’s house. He needed reinforcements.

When he got back downstairs, Ida was sitting in a chair in the foyer. “Had to rest after that one,” she said. “Not many glass pieces; just a nice clean hole through my parlor window.”

WEB helped her back into the den and refilled her coffee. He explained who Rick was to Ida. “He’s a rookie detective out of Detroit. He just passed his grade three detective’s test and came here because he feels he can advance quicker in a smaller department. He’s probably right.”

Rick got there in three minutes. WEB told Ida, “There’s a forensic team working across the street. I’m going over to see what they find. ” Then he turned to Rick. “You answer the door if anyone knocks. Only let me in, understood? Only me. I don’t care who they say they are. Even if it’s the chief and you know him. Just me.”

“Got it. How long you gonna be?”

“Not long. I want to get back to this house.”

Forty-one minutes had passed.

Rick and Ida sat in the den and more or less tried to avoid each other’s eyes. When they did speak, it was small, generic talk. But they did come out of the conversation knowing each other’s favorite color.

The forensic team had little to report. As Winston suspected, there were no numbers on the rifle and nothing on the dead person to indicate who he was or where he had come from. They did get a name from his fingerprints. They only found those in the system because he had been in the Navy. Dishonorable discharge.

His name was Ken Howard. Nickname: ‘Ice.’ ‘Ice:’ The mob name for killing someone.

As soon as he got back to the house, WEB checked his watch. He had spent more time across the street than he wanted to.

Fifty-four minutes had passed.

Twenty minutes until seventy-four minutes, if that was what was what the short message meant. clock

Solving puzzles was WEB’s delight in life, but not if he didn’t know whether the clues were correct. Of course, in the police business, many of the puzzles were just that way.

He sat down with the conversation group and entered in with them not saying anything. A lot of leg crossing and fingernail examining went on. After ten minutes of silence he told Ida and Rick he was going to do a recheck of all the doors and windows.

Everything looked in place. He shook all the locks. No one had come in through any of those places. He scanned the area out a back window. Nothing. He went to the front and looked out through one of the dormer windows. He could see nothing. He stood there thinking to himself. “No one is in this house. What the hell is this guy going to do? Use a plane to drop a bomb on…” He stopped his own thinking and said out loud, “Upshaw.”

He slipped off his shoes to be silent while running downstairs.

When he rounded the doorway into the den, Upshaw had his pistol leveled at Ida’s head. “She dies, you die,” WEB told him.

Rick dropped the pistol to his side. He grinned. “I wasn’t going to shoot her. I was just showing her what it would be like and convince her to move.” Here he jerked his pistol up. WEB’s shot went off a micro-second before Rick’s did. The shot went through Rick’s heart, and Rick’s shot went into the ceiling as he folded up onto the floor.

WEB went over to the body, kicked the gun out of his reach, and checked Rick’s neck for a pulse. There was none. He looked at Ida. Her hands and mouth were still quivering, but she managed to struggle out, “I’m ready to move.”

“‘Bout time.”

“Where will we go?”

“Right now, I don’t know myself. You and I will drive until we find someplace that looks good to both of us and stop.
We’ll move the next day. I’m telling no one where we are. The two of us will be the only ones who know where we are. After six days I’ll drive you back here for the start of the trial. I’ve arranged for you to testify first. That sound okay?”

“Give me ten minutes to grab some stuff. I’m more than ready.” She started out the door, but stopped and turned. “You know the Irish have a saying for this.”

“Oh? What’s that?

“There’s always one more son-of-a-bitch than you counted on.”

For the first time that day, he had a reason to laugh.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & 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 listen to our mystery podcast!

Gary R. Hoffman has published nearly 500 short stories, non-fiction articles, poetry, and essays in various publications. He has placed over one-hundred and fifty items in contests. He taught school for twenty-five years and lived on the road in a motor home for fourteen years.


  1. Thank you. It’s means so much and Gary would be so thankful. He spoke often and highly of King’s River Life, and if you knew Gary, you knew his praise didn’t come lightly. Again thank you so much.

    • Thank you for the kind words we really enjoyed working with him and we are happy to be able to do this.

  2. I am Gary’s wife, Sandy. I am so honored that you are going to publish his stories. He is smiling down from Heaven.
    5 more to go to reach his 500.
    Thank you

    • You are very welcome, we really enjoyed working with him and we are happy to be able to do this.

  3. Just an absolutely enjoyable read.


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