by Lida Bushloper
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
Walt trudged from the bus stop toward his brother’s house in the chill of an early autumn evening. The sack of bagels swung annoyingly against his leg. His face was puckered in a scowl. I should have given this all up months ago. It never did get me anywhere, not when Dad was alive and certainly not since. Walt’s brother Ted had remained adamant about maintaining the terms of their father’s will.
Walt remembered the ugly scene between him and his father when the family found out the cancer had come back. “You’re a bum and you’ll never amount to anything,” his father had grumbled. “Normally, since you’re the oldest, I would have left everything to you, the way my father did to me, but you’d just gamble and drink it away. I’ve made a new will, leaving it all to Ted.”
Walt had been bitterly angry, but he hadn’t given up. He had used the last few months of his father’s life to try and change the old man’s mind. He’d actually gotten a job and even held it for eight months, a real record for him. He’d cut back on his drinking, at least when anyone else was around and made more of an effort to hide his gambling. The habit of bringing home bagels every Friday evening had been one more ploy in his act of playing the steady, loving
brother and son.
It had all started when Ted’s wife, Rachel, had learned that Walt’s new job was on the janitorial staff of a large office building in town. She had approached him timidly. She had always seemed a little afraid of him, although Walt couldn’t imagine why. Sure he yelled and screamed sometimes, but that was just a method for getting his own way.
“Gee, Walt, you’ll be working only ten blocks from the Best Bagel Bakery, the one that supplies all the little stores around here. It would be great if we could get our bagels for our Saturday breakfast right from the bakery from now on, at least while you’re still working in that area. Think how much fresher they’d be.”
Rachel came from a Jewish family that had long since stopped practicing their religion, but as a child visiting her grandmother she had learned to love bagels and had introduced Ted to the doughnut shaped rolls. They had always simply bought them at the corner market—that is until Walt had agreed to start bringing them home.
As soon as he’d done it a few times, he mentally kicked himself for having said he would. Now, every Friday, he was stuck, giving up his half hour lunch break to trudge the ten blocks to the Best Bagel Bakery, stand in line with the rest of the public at the old-fashioned front counter, and wait to be served. The sale would be rung up on an antique cash register, the kind that issued only a simple receipt with no date or other details, and the bread put into the famous blue-and-white striped Best Bagel Bakery waxed paper bag. Then, after work, instead of heading to his favorite bar, he had to get on a bus going in the opposite direction and drop the bread off at his brother’s house. And not once had they ever invited him to join them for Saturday breakfast.
He had regretted agreeing to this favor right away, but he regretted it even more after his father died and Ted told him about their father’s will. Their father had relented—but only a little. Ted had sat him down and explained the terms. “I convinced Dad it wasn’t really fair to leave everything to me, Walt.” Walt had perked up with joy and relief on hearing this, but Ted had held up his hand. “Wait, you need to hear the rest. Dad agreed to include you in the inheritance only if your share was put into a trust, with me as the trustee.”
Walt was uncomprehending. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that I control your share, at least as long as I’m alive. You’ll get a monthly check and a monthly statement, so you’ll know I’m not cheating or holding anything back, but you can’t touch the bulk of the money. When I die, the trust is dissolved and you’ll get what’s left. Dad and I knew you’d spend every dime as soon as you got your hands on it, but once I’m gone, we can’t do any more to protect you from yourself.”
Walt had been enraged–and scared. He pounded the table. “But, Ted, I need that money now.” Walt hoped his brother didn’t know about the bookies and loan sharks that were after him, but he couldn’t think of any good reason to make his brother cough up more money. When yelling didn’t work, all he could think of to do was keep being nice to him and his mousy, timid wife. At least until he could think of a better plan.
Walt thought bitterly about his brother’s luck. Ted had used part of his inheritance to realize his long held dream of starting his own web design business. Now there he was, his own boss. He could sleep late, work when he felt like it without leaving the comfort of his own home, while Walt himself, who should have had the same opportunity, was working at a job that was clearly beneath him. It was true Rachel still went out to teach school, but she liked her work and wasn’t the type to give it up, no matter how rich she and Ted were now. But this was it. This was the last time he was going to run all over town bringing those stupid bagels to his selfish brother and his ungrateful sister-in-law. It had all been a wasted effort.
He reached his brother’s home and slowed his pace. Something was wrong. The street in front of the house was blocked with police cars, an ambulance and a crowd of on-lookers. Walt felt a chill dart up his spine that had nothing to with the crisp air of early fall. He clutched the waxed paper bag more tightly in his fist, paused for a moment to gather his wits and pushed through the crowd. He reached the front door and identified himself to the police officer stationed there, who let him inside.
The living room, too, was crowded with officers in uniform and others in suits or white coveralls. He made his way to Rachel, sunk into a chair, with a policewoman standing nearby. His sister-in-law looked up at him with a blank stare.
“Rachel, what in hell is going on here? Did you get robbed?” Rachel pointed to one of the plain clothes officers.
“Ask him,” she croaked. Walt turned to him and explained who he was.
“What’s going on here? What’s happened?” Walt asked.
The officer pulled him aside. “Your brother’s been murdered,” he explained softly. “His wife found him at 4:00 PM when she arrived home.”
Walt slumped against the wall. “But when…how?”
“We think around noon. The victim, your brother, hadn’t touched the grilled cheese sandwich he’d made for his lunch. It may have been someone he knew, since there’s no sign of forced entry. Whoever it was, that someone waited till your brother’s back was turned, hefted the iron skillet and…well, you get the picture. We won’t know for sure until after the autopsy, but it looks like the blow to the back of the head was fatal.”
“But aren’t there any clues to who did it?” Walt seemed genuinely anxious.
“We’re still looking. The murderer was smart enough to slip on an oven mitt before grabbing the pan. No fingerprints.” Walt relaxed a little against the smooth plaster.
The detective paused then said, “I don’t mean to get personal, but your sister-in-law mentioned that you and your brother didn’t get along so well. Is that so?”
Walt straightened up and waved the bag of bagels in front of the detective. “Don’t be ridiculous. Look, I just came by to bring them the bagels I always buy for them every Friday. Would I do that if I didn’t care about them?”
Suddenly Rachel jumped up and tugged at the policeman’s arm. “Come with me, please. I have something important to tell you.”
“Go ahead, Ma’am. I’m listening,” he said, gently.
“No, no. I must tell you in private. Please,” she begged, her eyes imploring.
“Sure,” he agreed with a sigh, and gave Walt a sympathetic glance as he escorted Rachel into the dining room. When they returned a few minutes later, the officer no longer looked sympathetic, but stern. He strode directly over to Walt and said, “You’re under arrest for the murder of your brother.”
Walt thrust his head forward, an angry snarl on his face. “Don’t be ridiculous. I couldn’t have been here at noon. I was out buying bagels, just like I do every Friday. Look, I just showed them to you. My employer will swear I was at work every minute of the day, except at lunch time. I would never have time to get to the bakery, rush over here, attack my brother and make it back to work in half an hour.”
“You could have bought those bagels on the way here, this afternoon, at any one of the little markets on the way,” the detective said.
“But they’re in the original bag,” Walt protested vehemently.
“Maybe, or in a bag that you happened to save from last week–or maybe even saved for just such an occasion.”
“But here’s the receipt.” A pleading tone had crept into Walt’s voice.
“A receipt that has no date or time. Not much good for establishing where you were at the time of the murder.”
“I see what you’re implying,” Walt said coldly, “but you can never prove I did any of that.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” the detective answered. “But I can prove you didn’t buy those bagels at the Best Bagel Bakery today at noon.”
Walt’s look challenged him to go on. “Your sister-in-law just explained it to me. Today is Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year. On this day of all days, that bakery would have been closed. So, I’m placing you under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. . . “
Once again, Walt was outraged. But this time, even he knew his yelling and screaming wouldn’t get him anywhere.
More mystery reviews, short stories, articles and giveaways can be found in the current issue, and those and others can be found in our mystery section, including another July 4th mystery short story.