Family Matters: A Mystery Short Story

Jun 3, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Terrific Tales

by Mary Jo Robertiello

In honor of Pride month we have an LGBTQ+ mystery short story for you this week! Family Matters was published in Level Best Books Justice for All Anthology. The publication date was September 15, 2021. This story does have some strong language.

Young and old, gay and straight, black, brown and white streamed through Smith Memorial’s doors. It was a perfect fall day.

Standing at the church door, Tom Reed, Smith Memorial’s senior minister, held Malcolm, his new husband, with one arm and shook hands with the other. Tom had a shaved head and an open and welcoming facial expression. Malcolm was about 5’8”, trim, black hair with a part on the left as straight as U.S. Route 20.

As part of the wedding celebration, blue and yellow balloons were tied along the fence surrounding the Greenwich Village church. A yellow one came loose and floated upwards.

Across Washington Square South a man crouched behind a plane tree. He watched the ascending balloon and raised his right arm, cocked an imaginary shotgun, and shot. Underneath his Mets cap, his face was lit up with fury. Hank Simpson, husband of Wendy Reed, turned back to the lively scene at the church entrance. He watched his wife kiss her gay son before she joined another group. She wants AIDS? Divorce? No can do, he said under his breath.

A neighborhood Dachshund woofed up at Hank. Hank tore his eyes away from the happy mother, son, and his husband, glared at the dog, put his navy running shoe on the dog’s right front paw and rammed it into the sidewalk. The Dachshund yelped and sunk his sharp little teeth into Hank’s slightly soiled khakis until he reached hairy skin. Hank’s yelp was much louder than the dog’s, drawing attention from across the street.

Malcolm glanced over Tom’s shoulder. “Holy shit,” he muttered. “Sorry.”

Tom laughed. “Fed up already?”

Malcolm jerked his head toward the street. Tom looked across at the angry man bouncing on one leg and holding on to the tree trunk. “Holy shit is right.”

The newly married couple’s youth and good looks added to the charm of their well-cut, flashy suits. Even so, they both realized that their approaching guest’s outfit cost more than the two of theirs together. The extremely tall man and his extremely short wife mirrored the general happiness.

“That guy across the street?” Lorenzo smothered them with his sexy Italian-English accent.

Tom: “The one who’s attacking a dog?”

Lorenzo: “I know him.”

Tom: “You know him?”

“He saw me at a fundraiser. He stalked us, waited outside our place. Remember, darling?”

Monique, his wife, laughed knowingly. “Brrr.” Her sculpted shoulders shuddered theatrically. “He hustled us down 70th Street.”

They all laughed, keeping an eye on the scene across the street.

Hank hid behind the tree and shook his baseball cap at the yapping dog. A woman in pajama bottoms and a Disney Princess T-shirt yelled in chorus with her dog.

“He’s my father-in-law.” One of Tom’s unusual traits was revealing what most people would keep secret.

Malcolm blurted, “He hates gays. Wouldn’t come to the wedding.”

The laughter stopped. Embarrassed, Lorenzo and Monique gave Tom and Malcolm a quick hug and melted into a nearby group.

“Be right back,” Tom said. Malcolm gave him a look. Tom held up his hands in surrender before heading through the loving crowd and down the stairs to the all-gender restrooms. He was following his mother. They had to talk.

All-gender in theory. In practice, the older members followed childhood rules: boys in one, girls in another. Tom wondered for the millionth time why women took so long.

The minute she came out of one of the restrooms, Tom said, “Mom, Hank’s across the street.”

Wendy Reed was in her early sixties. She was plump with reddish-brown and white hair, giving her the look of a pretty fox. She said quietly, “I saw him.”

Tom: “Why did you marry him, Mom?”

“The usual. Lonely. Alone.”

A few days ago was the first time her son had seen her in months. He and Malcolm had driven out to Benson Avenue to introduce Malcolm to Mom. But today, under the happy, hopeful atmosphere of Tom’s wedding, Wendy’s lips drooped when they weren’t propped up in a smile.

“Tom, you’ve got a life. I do too. I’m divorcing him.”

“He knows?”

“But isn’t accepting it. It’s our elephant in the bedroom.”

“Mom, we have to talk.”

The restroom door opened. Hank Simpson stepped out. The three of them stood and stared for a few seconds that seemed like hours.

Wendy said in a feeble, cordial attempt, “You’re joining us?”

“I’m using the men’s room. Not against the law, right?” Hank growled and headed up the back stairs to an open door.

Son and mother kept their mouths shut until Hank was out of sight. Even then, they whispered. Tom pulled his mom into a deserted corner. He studied her wounded face, in contrast to her meticulous appearance. She adjusted his shirt collar.

“Just so,” he teased her as he placed his hands on hers.

She blurted, “I was a fool. I fell for his line. He had a good one, especially if you’re lonely.”

“You’ve been married two years?”

“Two hundred years, it seems like.”

“He’s giving you a hard time?”

“That’s putting it mildly.”

“We’re discussing this tomorrow.” Very much the minister in charge, Tom tapped on his cell and checked his busy schedule. He read on his iPhone calendar: 10/31: Halloween – Stonewall.”

“Make that the day after tomorrow, November 1. Okay, Mom?”

Wendy stared at her son’s phone. She saw the ubiquitous sexy girl image on Tom’s cell, the logo of an Atlantic City gambling casino. “Tom?”

Tom caught her glance. “Just checking, Mom. They’re always advertising.”

“Promise me you’re over that.”

“I promise,” he said gently if not truthfully. “So, dear Mom, I’ll see you the day after Halloween.”

“I made a batch of pumpernickel. I’ll wrap some up for you and Malcolm.”

Tom raised his mom’s hand and kissed it.


November 1, 4 p.m.

Tom pulled up to the curb at Benson Avenue, relieved his eight-year-old clunker made it. I’ll get it fixed as soon as I’m paid off … right now, I’ve got to find out what’s going on with Mom.

Tom swept bagel crumbs off Mom’s birthday present, a black and tan plaid shirt. He was back in the Brooklyn neighborhood, light years from his Manhattan life. He inhaled deeply the ocean breezes from nearby Coney Island. The neighborhood looked sleepy, worn out from Halloween. He studied his childhood home, a single-family house built in the 1930s. Mom and Dad bought it for peanuts about thirty years ago. He thought it looked good with its fresh coat of white paint and royal blue trimmed shutters. There was the large Halloween bowl still near the front door at the top of the steps. Mom forgot about it, he figured.candy

He gripped the steering wheel. He had to ask her point blank: did she tell Hank before they married that she had a gay son?

“Mom?” Tom called as he lugged the bowl through the living room and parked it in the eat-in kitchen. On the sill of the east window, he saw the purple African violets they’d brought Mom a few days before. Her kitchen was so spacious. So tidy compared to their West Village nest.

Tom’s inner nine-year-old pawed through the bowl’s remaining candy on a Snickers search. Out of habit, he opened the refrigerator. He smiled at his mom’s meticulousness: clean jam jars, Ketchup containers, salad dressing bottles lined up according to brand. On the top shelf was a loaf of homemade pumpernickel wrapped in Saran Wrap. His name and Malcolm’s were written across it.

fireplaceWhen he had passed through the living room, he’d noticed a drawer in the TV bureau was pulled out. Concerned, he circled back and poked around in the drawer. He assumed Mom had found his old gambling receipts. That was in the past, for the most part. He looked around the darkened, familiar room. The silk drapes were closed. The room was a study in books, cozy armchairs, and oriental rugs. A fireplace, once welcoming with a warming glow, was swept clean. Where was the MacBook Air? Four days ago, it was on a desk near the fifty-inch TV.

Tom was flooded with memories. Ten years ago, Dad had a heart attack and died in his favorite armchair. This is where he told Mom he was gay.

“Please be careful. I love you,” were the first words out of her mouth.

Tom shook himself out of his thoughts. “Mom?”

No sound. He headed for the backyard recalling she often took an afternoon nap. Where’s Hank, he wondered.

Tom saw his mom’s curly ginger hair peeking over the top of an Adirondack chair. He walked around to the front of the chair, not wanting to startle her. Her eyes were closed. Her face was red as if lit from within. She was still. Too still. Tom noticed her wedding band was missing. He touched her left hand. It was cold. He grabbed the chair for support.

“Mom,” he said softly, then louder. The tears rolled down his cheeks. He yanked out a handkerchief and wiped his face. He lightly touched her bruised neck. The first call was to 911. The second call was to Malcolm. Tom folded himself into the cell, sobbing. “She’s dead. She’s dead.”

Malcolm said he’d be with Tom within the hour. “I love you,” were his last words.

Within thirty minutes, the Emergency Medical Services, cops—including an inspector—and lastly, the coroner arrived. Officers had Tom sit in the living room. They wandered in and out asking him questions. When was the last time you saw your mother? What time did you get here today? Have you talked to anyone in the neighborhood this afternoon? She lived alone? Was she married? Was she in good health?

Tom had often faced death. Many a midnight call from a parishioner begging him for help. Why were they keeping him away from his mom’s body? She’d had a minor stroke a few years ago but the bruises told another story. The EMS crew treated him like a kid or a moron.

“Where’s Hank?” he said to an officer.

“On his way,” was the noncommittal answer. After a half hour, Tom stood up and walked briskly into the backyard. A young cop stopped him. Tom wished he’d worn his collar. He curled his fingers, noticing the cop staring at his purple nail polish.

An older official joined them. “I’ll take care of this.”

Tom glanced at the woman’s ID on her lapel. “You’re a detective?”

“Detective Judy Yelvington and the inspector assigned to this …” The detective gestured to the Adirondack chair, surrounded by her team. “You’re the Smith Memorial minister, Reverend Reed?”

“That’s right. What’s going on?” He eyed the older woman whose face had spent too much time on the beach but whose hazel eyes were large and clear.

“Your mother didn’t die a natural death,” Detective Yelvington said.

Tom put one foot behind him, steadying himself, waiting for the next words. Things were about to get worse.

“There is evidence she was strangled.”

Tom covered his face with his hands.

Detective Yelvington led him to a picnic table and some chairs. After questioning him about his relationship with his mother, she said, “Do you have access to your mother’s legal documents?”

Tom nodded. “I’m gay. She was completely supportive.” He sensed the detective was ill at ease, so the words spilled out of his mouth. “Loves, loved my husband.” The detective flinched but remained steady. “We were married two days ago. She was there.”

Was he a suspect? Suspected of killing Mom? Tom’s innards did push-ups. He slouched over from the thought. First person to find the victim.

“What’s your husband’s name?”

“Malcolm Babian. He should be here by now. …” He looked across the lawn at the young man running toward him.

“At last,” Tom cried. After a tight embrace, he introduced Malcolm to the detective. “Mom made us pumpernickel,” Tom whispered. “Strangled.”

“What?” Malcolm yelled and jumped back from Tom. A look of confusion spread across his face.

Tom looked down at his empty, outstretched hands. He glared at his husband. Does he suspect me too?

Malcolm grabbed Tom’s hands. “Sorry, sorry, sorry.”

The detective studied the two men. “Reverend Reed, I’m requesting you not to leave the neighborhood.”

“I’m not going anywhere. I want to be close to Mom.” Tom still glared at Malcolm. “I have to call the church.” He opened the kitchen door.

“Those legal papers, Reverend,” Yelvington called after Tom.

Tom ducked into the house.

When Malcolm started to follow him, Detective Yelvington blocked his way. “Take a seat, Mr. Babian.” She pointed at the nearby chairs.

Malcolm followed her.

“Tom’s a wonderful man. He’s loved, admired at the church.” Malcolm put his head in his hands.

“Take your time. I need your assistance,” Yelvington’s rambling talk calmed people, usually. “Tell me about Reverend Reed. Where did you and Tom meet?”

Malcolm’s lawyerly instincts snapped to attention. He figured he’d tell the truth but not the whole truth.

“Atlantic City. We were both into weekend gambling. Not seriously,” he added.

“What’s your profession?”

“I’m a lawyer.”

“You were married a few days ago?”

Malcolm nodded.

“Was Mrs. Reed at the wedding?’

“Of course. She and Tom were close. She knew he was gay.”

“What about Tom’s father?”

“He died about ten years ago.”

“She’s remarried?”

“Yeah. A guy who hates gays.”

“Was he at the wedding?”

“Hank Simpson stood across the street and gawked at us. You know the Village? The church is on Thompson & Washington Square.”

Detective Yelvington nodded. “Beautiful.”

Is this lady playing sensitive or being truthful, Malcolm wondered.

“Tom and I were here a few days ago before the wedding.”


“Tom hadn’t seen his mother very much. Combination of guilt trip and introducing me to Wendy.”

“Here’s the hard part.” Yelvington studied Malcolm who was clamping his shaking hands together. “Any reason why Tom would kill his mom?”

Malcolm held on to his outrage. She was doing her job. “He loved and respected her. I wish I had a mom like Wendy.”

Yelvington looked up from tapping on her cell. “Financial problems?”

“No, of course not.”

“You met in Atlantic City?”


The detective stood up. “Show me the house.”

“Okay. I’ve been in it once four days ago,” Malcolm said.

They walked up the back steps and into the kitchen.

Sitting at the round table, Tom had his ear to his cell and papers in front of him. He pointed to some documents. “I dug these out.”kitchen

Yelvington sat down and examined the power of attorney, health care proxy, and a two-year-old will. Malcolm peered over the detective’s shoulder.

“She told me about the will, but this is the first time I’ve seen it,” Tom said.

“What about you?” Yelvington turned her head toward Malcolm.

“Same goes for me,” Malcolm said as he noticed that Wendy Reed had left her estate equally divided to her husband and her son.

“She married him on August 10th two years ago and the will was drawn up August 15th,” Tom said.

Yelvington read a name from the will. “Her lawyer?”

Tom sent the lawyer’s cell number to Yelvington. “She told me that she was divorcing him.”

“Did she say his reaction?”

Tom thought a minute. “She said it was the elephant in the bedroom.”


“Hank is usually on the verge of a temper tantrum,” Tom said. “Where is he?”

“He’s talking to my team downtown.” Tom figured she meant the police station. “Tom, let’s walk through your home.”

He figured being called by his first name was a plus. He shoved papers into his briefcase and locked it in the pantry.

Yelvington watched but didn’t say anything.

“How many floors?” she said.

“Two and there’s an attic.”

“We’ll start at the top.” At the second floor, Yelvington pulled in air.

Tom and Malcolm looked out the window, giving Yelvington time to breathe easy. Tom texted Malcolm: Tell everything? Malcolm: Wait.

Yelvington’s eyes roamed over the clean, quiet space. Three doors were open. “What have we got?”

“My mom and her husband’s room,” Tom pointed to the room closest to the backyard. “That second door leads to my dad’s office. Now, it’s a junk room.” Tom pointed to the door nearest the stairs. “That’s my old room. Now, our room.” He smiled at Malcolm.

“Let’s hit the attic.” The detective pulled the hatch in the ceiling.

“We didn’t go there the other day,” Malcolm said.

Yelvington had already started a slow climb up the steep stairs.

She yanked on the light. It cast a dull glow to the dark attic.

Shades were pulled down on the four windows.

“Welcome to my childhood.” Tom’s hearty tone didn’t hide his anxiety. He stared at the shady heap of bikes, trikes, wagons, and scooters. Puzzled, he walked closer and ran his hand over a cut bike tire. He eyed the mangled mass of wheels.

“How does your attic usually look?” Detective Yelvington said, thinking of her own jumble heap. “I never assume a neat attic.”

“Mom was a neat freak.” Tom fingered the bikes’ tires. “They’ve been slashed.”

Yelvington tripped over a cloth. She yanked away the shredded remnants of a Boy Scout uniform. “When was the last time you were up here?”

“A few years ago.”

The detective pulled out a compact flashlight, then got on her phone, telling the team to send some guys to the attic. She ran the strongest lighting mode over the labels adorning the jumbled boxes, many ripped open. Boy Scout uniforms. Camping stuff. Hot Wheels.

“Your stuff?” she asked.

“Yeah. I was a spoiled kid.”

“Hot Wheels?” Malcolm said in a tone of wonder.

Yelvington directed her light at the guys’ feet so she didn’t blind them. “Where’s the stuff?”

In double shock, Tom shook his head, his mom’s murder and now this, his childhood destroyed and missing.

They heard stomping up the stairs. “My team’s going over this.” Yelvington yanked open the attic’s stuck door. “We’re looking at your room now.”

Down on the second floor, Tom swung open the door. Dated posters of David Bowie and Brad Pitt faced the single bed. On the wooden floor was smashed glass and a man’s portrait ripped in two.

Tom banged his fist on the nearby bureau. He bent over to pick up the torn pieces.

Yelvington blocked him. “Don’t touch it.”

Tom gave her a dirty look but stepped back while Malcolm videoed the ripped photo, using his phone.

“Who’s he?” Yelvington looked down at the destroyed photo.

“Dag Hammarskjöld. A gay social rights activist.” Tom propped his arms on the bureau and hid his face.

Malcolm slid behind him and put one arm around his waist. With his right hand he showed Yelvington a recent selfie. “Taken four days ago.”

The guys, smiling deliriously, were holding Hammarskjöld’s photo between them.

“Send me that photo.” She contacted her attic team. “Second floor, Tom’s bedroom.”

“We’re out of here.” She pointed her thumb toward the corridor. “Your mom’s bedroom.”

Tom remembered his parents’ bedroom as being comfy and lavish. His mom had splurged on cashmere spreads, linen sheets, and creamy pillowcases piled on an ivory canopied bed. His dad had teased her about their royal suite, but Tom had figured Dad liked it, too.

The bed now resembled a neglected orphan. Rough white sheets and pillows squirming out of too-tight covers. Tom hadn’t been in the room in a few years, ever since Hank and Wendy married. He and Malcolm looked out the window down at the backyard.

Yelvington circled the room, yanking open bureau drawers, examining a desk’s contents, exploring the bedside tables. At the back of a drawer in Wendy’s bedside table, she found a container labeled Xanax. She looked up to see Tom staring at her.

“Your mom took tranquilizers?”

Tom shook his head. “I can’t say. She was anxious at our wedding.”

Yelvington slipped the Xanax into an evidence bag. She opened the mahogany closet. One side had dresses, slacks, nightgowns. The other side had only a dirty T-shirt on the floor.

The bathroom medicine cabinet was empty except for a toothbrush. After calling the team, she joined the guys at the window, staring down at Hank being escorted by an officer into the backyard. At that moment, Hank saw them. He clenched his fists.

“We’re going downstairs.”

When they reached the kitchen, Yelvington gestured at the large table. “Sit here.”

The backdoor opened and a young officer came in. He nodded at Detective Yelvington, Tom, and Malcolm.

“Reverend Reed, Mr. Babian, this is Detective Brinkly,” said Yelvington. “Reverend Reed, you are not to leave the premises. We need a few days to collect information. Mr. Babian, you’re free to go.”

“I’m staying,” Malcolm said.

“Today is the first of the month. We’ll meet on the third.”

“What about Hank?” Tom said.

“Mr. Simpson is not staying on the premises.”

“So, where’s he staying?”

“I’m not at liberty to say. I’ll see you in two days.” Detective Yelvington opened the back door and was gone.

“You’re a lawyer, Mr. Babian?” Detective Brinkly said.

“Yes. Call me Malcolm.”

“Here’s my cell number and email address,” the detective added.

Malcolm reached into his hip pocket for his.

“Already got it.” Detective Brinkly said. “We’ve sealed off the second floor, the attic, the cellar and the backyard. The rest of the house is yours. We’ll be coming in and out. Ignore us.” Detective Brinkly looked at Tom. “Reverend Reed, someone needs to identify your mother.”

Tom knew this was coming, but it was still nerve wracking.

“Of course, I’ll do it.”

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow around three.”

“I’m coming,” Malcolm said.

“Mr. Babian, that won’t be necessary,” Brinkly said with finality.

Tom clutched his cell. “I need my laptop and iPad.”

Malcolm held up his hand like the teacher’s pet. “They’re in the car.”

“Thank God,” Tom said quietly.

beerTwo hours later, most of the take-out pepperoni pizza eaten and a few beers drunk, Tom said, “One hell of a honeymoon.” The brave tone slipped away, and tears started rolling down his cheeks. Malcolm got up and folded Tom in his arms. They pulled out the living room’s sofa bed.

The next morning, they toasted Wendy’s pumpernickel and heated up coffee. Neither guy had slept well.

Tom turned the kitchen into his makeshift workspace while Malcolm chose a living room corner. Unlike Tom who was used to lots of parish activity and wouldn’t be bothered by the law enforcement walkthroughs, he liked working in privacy.

Around nine, the backdoor opened. Detective Brinkly escorted an older woman into the kitchen. She glanced at Tom and Malcolm before following the detective.

Tom addressed his church’s daily meditation group on Zoom. Malcolm heard the congregants offering their condolences. Detective Brinkly had told Tom not to go into details about Wendy’s death.

For lunch, they had their choice of Kraft cheese, more pumpernickel, and leftover pizza. Malcolm ate his sandwich with one hand and held his cell with the other as he argued about licensing. Tom had no appetite.

Working on his laptop, Tom heard the law’s footsteps on the second floor. He checked his cell: 2:50. “Porch?” he texted Malcolm.

On the porch steps they whispered about the house being wired. Had Tom’s car been wiretapped? Or Malcolm’s rental car?

“I didn’t recognize that woman,” Tom said.

“Then she probably didn’t recognize you,” Malcolm said with more love than logic.

Detective Brinkly poked his head out the front door. “Hi, you ready to head downtown?”

“Sure.” Tom stood up, all business.

Brinkly drove into town. He stopped at the one traffic light. “Tom, you want to talk about anything?”

Everything. “I’m okay,” he said. “Who was that woman you brought through the house?”

“A neighbor.” Brinkly kept his eyes on the traffic light.

“You wanted her to identify me? I didn’t recognize her.”

“We’re here.” Brinkly opened the main door of a nondescript three-story building. He showed the desk officer his ID and led Tom down a corridor, stopping outside a metal door.

Once inside, the smell reminded Tom of other morgues where he had accompanied parishioners. He stared at the rows of drawers. An attendant pulled out a refrigerated drawer with a covered body on it.

Tom and Brinkly stood on one side and the attendant on the other. Brinkly nodded and the attendant lifted the gray-green covering. Only the head showed.

Tom looked at his mom’s still face. “That’s my mom, Wendy Reed.”

“I’ll wait outside,” the detective said.

Pulling into the Reed driveway, Brinkly said, “Detective Yelvington will call to set up our Wednesday appointment.”

“Thanks, Detective. These tasks must be hard on you, too.”

“You said it.” Brinkly drove away.


November 3rd, 8 a.m.

Tom’s cell phone rang. He held it so Malcolm could hear. “We’ll be at your place in an hour. Meet us at the kitchen table. Any questions?”

Aside from asking if you’ll be arresting me for murdering my mom? he thought. “I’ll save my questions for later.”

Yelvington clicked off.

At nine, Detective Yelvington opened the back door. She was accompanied by two younger associates. Their biceps and hands clasped behind their backs beamed ex-military.

“Tom and Malcolm, let’s sit down.” Yelvington pulled out a folder. Ignoring Tom’s and Malcolm’s stares, she sorted the contents like solitaire cards. Her two associates stood behind her.

Tom’s and Malcolm’s eyes were glued to the stacks of gambling debts.

“Tell me about the gambling.”money

Tom took a deep breath. “I had a problem, but that’s almost in the past.”

Tom recalled the open drawer in the living room. “Hank have anything to do with this?”

“He’s claiming you killed your mom for her money.”

Tom gritted his teeth. “My poor mom.” His voice broke.

Lawyer Malcolm countered, “Hank gets half her money.”

Yelvington placed a document in front of Tom and Malcolm. “This is a copy of a new will signed and sealed a week ago.”

Everything was left to Tom. Nothing to Hank.

“Your church knows about the gambling?”

“Not yet.” Tom took a deep breath.

“My call. My fault.” Malcolm held up his right hand to stop Tom objecting.

“No, God damn it. I was wrong.” Tom sat very straight. “I was out to get hired. A man of God who hid his faults and lied to get the job.”

Yelvington studied Malcolm’s expression of protectiveness, surprised by her own reaction to the normalcy of their closeness.

“Stop. Your problem with your church is your problem. Whether or not you killed your mother is my problem.”

“Do I need a lawyer?” Tom said.

“You’ve got one,” Malcolm answered.

“We’re taking Hank Simpson on a walk through the house.” Yelvington put a recorder and the new will on the table, the latter placed so it could be easily spotted by anyone who might pass by.

Someone knocked on the back door before swinging it open and a moment later, Hank shuffled in. To each side, was an officer. They were replaced by the two officers behind Yelvington. A sickening scent, a mixture of booze and unwashed body parts, filled the kitchen. Scratches lined Hank’s face. He stumbled and placed his large right hand flat on the table for balance.

Tom’s insides turned to water as he studied his dead mother’s husband. To redeem any past failings, he asked, “Can I help you, Hank? Maybe we got off to a bad start.”

Malcolm itched to text Tom: Are you crazy?

Hank held on to the table. He ran his eyes over the new will. “They forced her. She told me.”

“What did Wendy Reed tell you?”

“He hates me. Lots of times,” Hank mumbled and glared at Tom.


“Yeah, the afternoon they killed her. She told me her faggot son wanted everything.” He shook his head, agreeing with himself.

“Did anyone overhear you?” Detective Yelvington said. She expected a demand for a lawyer.

Instead, she got “Bullshit.”

She tapped on the recorder. The first sound was Hank screaming, “You bitch!”

“Get out. I’m divorcing …” Wendy Reed cried. No more words. Grunting sounds. Silence.

“That’s a neighbor’s recording,” Yelvington said.

“The woman Detective Brinkly escorted through the kitchen the other day?” Tom interrupted.

Yelvington nodded and continued, “Mr. Simpson ran into the house at 2:58. The neighbor remembered because she checked her watch. Then she approached Mrs. Reed, who was shaking and crying. She told the neighbor she was expecting her son.”

The detective looked at Hank. “Where were you, Hank?”

His blood-shot eyes focused on Tom. “He’s a minister who gambles with the church’s money,” he ranted. “Question him. Ask him why he scavenged through his old belongings so he could hawk the contents for cash. When that didn’t cover the debts, he killed her.”money

“Were you in the house that day?”

“So, it’s still my house.”

“On the landline, there’s a 3:05 call to the family lawyer. Why?”

No answer.

“Checking on the will!” Tom yelled. His voice rose an octave as he stood up and moved toward a sweating and cringing Hank, who was shielded by the officers.

“Sit down, Tom,” Yelvington ordered.

Tom sat down.

Yelvington gave a signal to the officers. One of them showed a photo of Hank in a Thompson Street pawn shop.

The cop swiped to the next photos. In each one Hank was selling attic toys and using an old Tom Reed license for ID.

“What’s the date on that photo, Officer?” Yelvington asked.

“October 30.”

“Our wedding,” Malcolm said. “Using a false ID and pawning stolen stuff to frame us for a murder we never committed.”

Tom jumped out of his seat.

“You strangled my mom?” He grabbed Hank’s arm as the officers moved in.

“Don’t touch me,” Hank screamed.

“Mrs. Reed recorded her own death on her cell,” Yelvington switched on the recorder.

Tom froze, hearing mom’s voice.

Wendy Reed panted. Hank cursed. For five long minutes, Wendy fought to live, gasping slower and slower.

“Take your final breath, Mom.” Tears and sweat poured down Tom’s face.

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Family Matters centers around the gay marriage of Minister Tom Reed and Attorney Malcolm Babian. I’ve published other short stories in Kings River Life Magazine as well as in other publications such as Level Best Books anthology, Justice for All and Purple Wall Publishing. My weekly blog is NYMYSTERIES.COM. I’m an active member of the Short Fiction Mystery Society, Sisters in Crime and MWA.

1 Comment

  1. Love that story…


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