by Guy Belleranti
Finger of Suspicion was first published by Woman’s World Magazine in their February 5, 2002 issue.
Sally Pierson gave the dead man on her bedroom floor one final glance and then hurried to the front door to let in the police.
“I was in bed, almost asleep, when I heard a noise at the window,” she told the two plain-clothes officers as she led them down the hall. “He cut the screen and came over the sill toward me. If not for the gun in my nightstand…”
Detective Dawson picked up the weapon from the bed with the end of a pencil. “You always keep a loaded gun in your bedroom?”
“Recently, yes. Ever since those threatening phone calls started.”
Threatening phone calls?” Detective Molly Mulroy, the second officer, looked up from the body.
“Yes. Of course, I notified you… the police… but it didn’t help.”
“I don’t know.” Sally laced her fingers together. Darn! One of her new synthetic nails had broken off. She glanced at the scruffy, bearded dead man and shivered. “I’ve never seen him before. At first, I blamed the calls on my ex-boyfriend. We separated several weeks ago. I caught him with another woman one too many times and, well, I kicked him out. He threatened me, and a few days later the calls began.
Dawson, examining the window and then flashing his light onto the outside grass, turned back. “Do you normally leave your windows open at night?”
“No, but there was a wonderful breeze blowing in tonight.”
“Uh-oh.” Mulroy, once more crouching over the body, had suddenly stiffened. “You say you don’t recognize the dead man?”
“No. That bushy beard and shaggy hair… I don’t know anyone…” Sally broke off as the lieutenant lifted the man’s head, and the shaggy hair slid to one side.
“It’s a wig,” Mulroy said. “And…” She tugged at the beard, and rose, holding it in her hand. “Fake. Now do you recognize him?”
Sally moved closer and gasped. “Oh, no! It’s… It’s Dan—my ex-boyfriend! She turned away, sobbing.
Sally sat on the living-room sofa, eyes shut, trying to remain calm as the authorities came and went about their jobs. Did any of them suspect the truth about Dan’s death, that he hadn’t come in by the window, that she had only made it look that way?
Ever since Dan had dumped her she’d been plotting her revenge. First, the story about the threatening calls. Yes, there had been several such calls to her landline, but she’d made them herself with a throwaway cell phone.
And now, tonight, the final act: Dan’s murder.
Sally snapped her eyes open and saw the woman police officer, that Detective Mulroy, standing in the doorway staring at her. “Are… are you all almost finished?”
“Soon.” The detective’s dark eyes bored into her own, and after a moment, Sally glanced away.
Why was the officer looking at her that way? Did she suspect something? Sally took a deep breath and turned back, but Mulroy was gone.
Okay, Sally told herself. Calm down. Luck’s still with you. Dan had come tonight, hadn’t he? She’d called him about a couple DVDs he’d left here, and the greedy fool had come for them, had even followed her into the bedroom, never suspecting a thing until it was too late, until she’d squeezed the gun’s trigger twice in rapid succession.
No, the police could never believe there was more here than met the eye. Self-defense. They’d have to see it that way.
She had bought the wig and beard the week before at a thrift shop, then tonight had put them on Dan’s still form to make him look like a poorly disguised maniac. The kind of maniac who would make threatening phone calls.
Oh, no. That woman detective again. Sally forced a weak smile. “Tonight’s been so long, so awful.”
“Yes, Ms. Pierson. It has.”
Sally didn’t like the detective’s frosty tone, nor the fact that her partner, Detective Dawson, was suddenly also hovering nearby.
“Is… is anything the matter?” Almost as soon as the words left her mouth Sally bit her lip. Careful. Watch what you say.
“As a matter of fact, yes, there is something the matter. If you’d rejoin us in your bedroom…”
“Oh, but must I? I mean, I don’t know if I can stand to go in there ever again.”
“Just this one last time.”
Sally rose, her sense of dread increasing with each step, rising to a peak when she saw that Dan’s body was still in the room.
“I’ll get right to the point, Ms. Pierson,” Detective Mulroy said. “You lied to us. It didn’t happen the way you said. Your ex-boyfriend didn’t come in by the window, and you didn’t shoot him in self-defense.”
“How can you say that? How can you—”
“Oh, you set up a good scene, but not good enough. First, he was shot twice.”
“So? He was coming at me. I wanted to be sure I stopped him.”
“You stopped him all right. Both shots were bull’s-eyes. Very unlikely in a dark room.”
“But not impossible,” Sally snapped.
“Perhaps not. But there’s your other mistake. The big one. You put the wig and beard on him after shooting him.”
“I… Why, that’s not true.”
Detective Mulroy held the wig close, and Sally gasped as she saw the pink object caught on the inside lining. “Yes, Ms. Pierson, a synthetic fingernail like the one missing from your left pinkie. I guess you could say that when it broke off it pointed the finger of suspicion right at you.”
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.