by Denise Johnson
Enjoy this never before published Halloween mystery short story. Check out more Halloween short stories, with more still to come, in our Terrific Tales section.
“I hate working this shift.” Kim snapped the gum in her mouth as she slammed the door on the SUV.
“Quite the parking job,” Nick always busted her chops, especially when it came to driving.
The two plain clothes detectives made their way across the quiet, suburban street to where a dead body lay.
“Who put the sheet on the Vic?” Kim’s blond ponytail swung left, then right as she looked around and set her sight on one uniform who mistakenly made eye contact with her.
She scanned him up and down. He was young, probably first year, Kim thought. “Well?”
“Ma’am, he was like that when I arrived.” His hands rested on his hips in that familiar ‘I’m a cop, I’m in control stance’. “From the looks of it, I’d say it’s a costume.”
Kim shook her head. How cheesy, she thought. A freaking ghost. She surveyed the yard where the body lay. The grass and newly fallen leaves around the Vic showed no signs of a struggle.
“Check this out.” Nick motioned Kim over to a hedge surrounding the house. “There’s something sticking out of that bush.”
“We can’t move it,” Kim pulled her cell phone out and the selfie stick from her backpack. The phone flashed as she took a picture.
“Can you tell what it is?” Nick pushed a swath of his unruly brown hair behind his ear and walked over.
Kim dragged her fingers across the phone to magnify the object. “It’s a candlestick, for Pete’s sake!” She pushed the phone toward Nick.
Nick looked at the phone and shook his head affirmatively.
Kim shook her head, “Just fruit.”
The group walked by and both Nick and Kim heard one of the kids say what a realistic display it was.
“See, there is a benefit to working the Halloween night shift—no gawkers.” Nick knelt by the body and lifted the edge of the sheet with a gloved hand, “Vic’s a male, maybe late 20s, early 30s. He’s got a pretty nasty contusion on the left temple. Some bleeding.” He dropped the sheet abruptly and stood up.
The uniformed officer Kim had scared earlier was busy placing tape around the crime scene. Kim walked over to him. “Any idea when CSI will be here?”
The officer shook his head, “It’s a busy weekend.”
“He’s got ID.” Nick waved a wallet in the air and placed it in an evidence bag. “Rob Stanton, 29 years old.”
Kim glanced up at him for a second. “I know it’s not optimal conditions to examine a scene, but something doesn’t feel right.”
Kim nodded, “Exactly. None of the decorations appear to have been damaged in a struggle. The only thing out of place is his body and that candlestick.”
As she swung the mag light back and forth across the body, she noticed something sticking out from under the sheet. “Do you see that?” The object had a shiny, reflective appearance.
Nick headed back toward the body. “Keep the light on it.” He bent down and pulled a candy wrapper out from under the corpse. “Guess someone in the neighborhood is a cheapskate. It’s a Southwest Airlines wrapper.”
A car approached the house, it’s headlights momentarily blinded Kim. With an arm up to block the bright light, she watched it as it rolled to stop. “It’s the coroner.”
Nick and Kim nodded to the doctor and stepped aside while he examined the body.
“Could you shine the light over his face, please?” The coroner had lifted the sheet and folded it to one side.
Kim pointed the mag light to where the coroner requested, illuminating not only the victim’s face but also the coroner’s bald head.
“Well, he hasn’t been dead long. Maybe an hour or two. Rigor has just begun.” With some force he yanked the victim’s mouth open. “He’s got some food here.”
The coroner stood up.
“What do you think? Blunt force trauma?” Nick seemed certain the Vic was murdered.
The coroner let out a laugh, “Oh, goodness, no.” He continued to laugh as he walked toward his car. “Did you think that was blood on his forehead? Movie makeup. It’s pretty realistic, isn’t it.”
Kim tried to make sense of what the doctor was telling her. “So, you’re saying he didn’t die from a blow to the head?”
The doctor opened his car door and paused. “Right. More than likely cause of death was due to a peanut allergy.”
Kim noticed First Year walking up to her. “Sorry to interrupt, CSI is on their way.”
Her gaze returned to the coroner already in his car. “Let me know when you’re through, and I’ll arrange transport for the body,” he called out through his open window.
Nick waved him off as more trick or treaters passed by. “Okay, so murder is still on the table.” He looked back at the body. “I mean it can’t be suicide or an accident.”
Kim nodded. She could tell he was flustered. She was too. After all, they were both seasoned investigators tripped up by Halloween makeup. It was a good thing CSI hadn’t witnessed their mistake.
“Let’s start at the—” Kim’s train of thought was interrupted by the owner of the house where the body lay.
“The judges are coming! Can you three pose next to the body?” The heavyset woman, dressed like a gypsy, waited for them to pose.
“You do know this is an active crime scene, don’t you?” Kim couldn’t believe this woman.
Nick stepped out onto the driveway to block the three women walking towards the crime scene. “I’m sorry, ladies. This is an active crime scene.”
One of the ladies nodded approvingly. “Delores, you’ve really stepped up your game this year.”
Delores smiled. “I remembered what you said last year, ‘only a live crime scene could take the title away from Mr. Sloan.’ ”
“The actors are very realistic.” One of the other judges placed a blue ribbon on Delores porch railing. “You did it, Delores. We’ll be back in 15 minutes to take photos of your yard.”
The three judges walked off.
“Oh, darn.” Delores opened her hand. “I was hoping I could revive him by now.”
Nick and Kim glanced at one another.
“I’m sorry, did you say you wanted to revive him?” Kim moved closer to see what Delores had in her hand.
“Yes, Rob’s my handyman. He was helping me decorate for our neighborhood’s annual Scary Home Contest. Competition is fierce, and I’ve come in second several years in a row.”
Delores began walking toward the body, but Nick stopped her. “What’s that in your hand?”
Kim pulled her handcuffs out. “It’s an epi pen.”
“Yes, that’s right. I knew he was allergic to peanuts, and I thought if he was in shock, he’d be more realistic. I shoved a bunch in his mouth right as he was going to lie down, and I grabbed his epi pen.”
“You mean you thought it would look better if he stopped breathing?” Kim couldn’t believe what some people would do to win a contest.
Nick read Delores her rights and explained she was being arrested for Rob’s murder as Kim handcuffed her.
“He’s really dead?” Delores eyes widened with the realization of what she’d done.
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