by Claire A. Murray
Here is another entry from our Halloween mystery short story contest! Grave Development made it to our top 4! Several more will be going up between now and Halloween so keep checking back!
“Hi Honey, I’m home.” George placed his briefcase on a chair and his keys and driving glasses on the kitchen table.
“In here, dear. Bring me that crepe paper on the counter, would you?”
George stopped short when he saw Grace on a ladder in front of the living room window. “Gracie, your arm. You know the doctor said to take it easy.”
“Oh, pooh. That old fart! He’d have me in bed doing nothing all day. My arm has healed fine. See?” She held up her arm and then continued to drape crepe paper below the top edge of the window. “And the rest of me recovered even more quickly.”
“Well…all right. But you don’t want to overdo it.”
She looked down at him and burst into laughter at his doubtful look. “Worry wart. If it’s fine for me to clean and cook, a little ladder isn’t going to break me.”
“George Arthur Fulton. Please don’t tell me you’ve forgotten that we’re hosting the Halloween block party this year. After all the begging and pleading you did to get me to agree last year.” She shook her finger at him but he knew from her smile that she was teasing.
“I lost track of how late in the month it is. Boy, I must be more wound up about work than I thought. Want a drink?” He began pouring one for himself and looked up from the wet bar when she didn’t answer.
She was staring at him. “George, is everything all right at work? You said last night that it was. But now you don’t sound so sure.” She stepped down from the ladder and took his drink. He poured himself another and they settled in easy chairs.
“Honey, everything is fine, or, at least it will be.”
“What do you mean it will be? Either it is or it isn’t, isn’t it?”
“Not exactly. Peter, the new manager, has been riding me pretty hard. I was afraid he was going to fire me. I think
I’m in the clear, though. He left for Chicago this afternoon. Everything should be fine when he gets back.” He rubbed his forehead and took a gulp, letting the liquor burn its way to his stomach.
“Are you sure? I know it’s been rough, what with Frank disappearing and this new sales manager taking his place. But honey, if you lose this job, I can go back to work somewhere. I miss working. Wish I’d never let them make me retire.” She put her drink down and gave George her full attention.
“There’s been a development…about Frank’s disappearance. The police have been questioning everyone. They even brought in a forensic accountant. Grace, a lot of money went missing when Frank disappeared.”
George refilled his drink and paced the living room. “What I never told you, honey, was that Frank had been stealing most of my good accounts – for years. At first it was only one or two. He turned them into house accounts, so he said. Every time I had a good account going strong and it looked like we could put money aside to take a trip – boom! Frank would take it. I’m the best salesman on the team but my commissions keep dropping. When Frank bought that new boat last summer and had all that work done on his house a few months ago, I got suspicious and started looking into the books. I discovered that each time he’d wait a few months, and then transfer the account to himself.”
“Oh, you poor dear, no wonder you’ve been so distracted. Here I thought Frank was such a nice man, so thoughtful to send me flowers after my stroke. He even visited me in the hospital once…you never really know people, do you?”
“I wish you’d told me this sooner. I could have cut expenses on our end.”
“Oh, no, we’re all right. It’s just that we never moved ahead. I should’ve been able to buy a boat or redo the house. Heck, with what he’s made off me, we could’ve bought a bigger house and still put money aside for trips.” He moved back to the bar to prepare another drink.
“George, do you really want a third one? I know you’re upset, but we have so much to do…”
“No, I guess not. I’m on autopilot right now.” He bent down and kissed her cheek. “I’ll change my clothes and get the grill ready. Steak tonight?”
“Chops. All defrosted and salad’s ready, too. We can eat out on the deck if you’d like.”
“Yes, that would be nice.” He left to change and Grace got up and put the ladder away.
Grace was asleep when George slipped out of bed at 3 a.m. He padded into the bathroom and dressed in the workout clothes he’d set aside before going to bed, put on his running shoes, and sneaked down the stairs and out to the garage. Good thing I oiled this door last week. He slipped inside and grabbed the flashlight by the door. The shovel was on the other side, hung neatly beside the rake and other tools. The spare tarp was folded on a shelf beneath the pegboard that held hand tools. Grabbing the shovel and tarp, George moved around to the back of the house, paced off twenty feet toward the fence, and began digging.
Grace stuck her head out further. “It is you. Honey, what are you doing?”
“Shush, you’ll wake the neighbors. I’ll be up in a minute.”
George returned his tools to the garage and joined Grace, who’d come down to the kitchen. “What were you doing out there at 3 a.m.?”
“I couldn’t sleep. Thought I’d get a head start on planting hidden items for the block party. The theme still is pirate’s booty, isn’t it?”
“Yes, dear. But we don’t have to bury things in the middle of the night. I’ve told a few of the neighbors that we’re digging up the yard to plant new trees and bushes and you’re going to build a brick patio. Nothing we do in daylight will surprise them. Rachel is sending over her two teens on Thursday to dig holes to loosen the soil. Don’t worry. By Friday everything will be ready.”
George only grunted in acknowledgment. His stomach, however, did a quick rollover as they returned to bed. He laid awake the rest of the night.
The morning paper splashed Frank’s photo across page one. The top of the fold article and photo sensationalized the story. Grace finished reading the article. “George, dear, the article says Frank embezzled a lot of money. Was that from your accounts?”
“Oh no, stealing our accounts would give him commissions. He must have also stolen from company accounts. I guess someone leaked the auditor’s report, ’cause we weren’t told about that.” George gulped the last of his coffee and took the paper Grace handed him.
He skimmed the article and whistled. “Wow, over a million bucks. Guess they’ll look real hard for him now.”
“The article said he bought a plane ticket to Europe, with final destination Kazakhstan.”
“Huh. Good luck getting him back. No extradition with the US. I guess Peter won’t have any trouble believing me now.” George felt the relief in his stomach as he relaxed for the first time in weeks. Only one more thing to take care of.
That night, Grace woke each time George tried to sneak out of bed. “George, settle down. I’ll never get any sleep with you tossing and turning.”
Wednesday after dinner, George crushed a sleeping pill and slipped it into her drink. She declined the drink. “I think the nightcap is what’s making me a light sleeper. I’m going to bed without one tonight.”
He silently cursed her but smiled and sent her off to bed. “I’ll sleep on the couch, Gracie. Maybe I’m what’s keeping you up.”
She returned minutes later with pillows, a sheet, and blanket. “You’re so thoughtful, dear. It’s what I love about you.” She kissed him goodnight and went to bed.
George repeated his trip to the garage for his tools and again paced off twenty feet before digging. Soon he struck the hard plastic of a tarp and carefully dug around the outline. He pulled the wrapped tarp onto the spare one, dragged the heavy load into the garage, and hid it beneath the tool shelves. Whew, that’s done. I can rebury it after the party.
George took Friday afternoon off to help Grace with last-minute preparations. He helped her bury the last of the party treasures in the yard, pleased with how much work the twins had done the day before. No one would think anything of the large patch of freshly dug earth near the fence. They planted clues in the house and yard and set up signs that could help or confuse the treasure seekers. Their last preparation was to hide items inside the house for party goers who didn’t want to dig for their treasure.
That evening, food and drinks flowed as neighbors brought various dishes and more drinks. At midnight, Grace distributed the clues to each couple or single and told them to, “Go find the pirate’s booty.” George had borrowed enough shovels so everyone who wanted to dig outside could play along. He stayed in the kitchen talking to friends while Grace went outside to observe the treasure hunt.
George nearly spit out his drink when, minutes later, he heard someone shout, “Hey, everyone, look. I think I found Blackbeard’s body! Somebody help me pull this thing out.”
Grace laughed when she saw the tarp. “Congratulations. Yes, that’s supposed to be Blackbeard. You get the grand prize tonight.”
Several people rushed over and began pulling on the tarp, while others cleared away dirt from the hole. George was too late to stop them and nearly fainted when he saw the tarp unfold to reveal, not a party skeleton, but the face of his former boss.
Grace turned to George as he grabbed her arm and swayed. “George, are you all right. You don’t look well.”
The police had released the party goers to their homes. Two officers were outside with George and two others were questioning Grace in the living room.
“I didn’t even know what was in the tarp. The twins found it in the garage. I let them in on the party secret and had them bury it. Thought I’d surprise George, too.”
“And you’re sure no one else has been in your yard lately…even late at night?”
“Oh, no. George is the only one who’s been out there late – oh, my! That means…”
“Yes, Mrs. Fulton, we believe your husband killed his boss and fixed the books to make it look like he had embezzled corporate accounts. We planted that story in the paper to give us time to prove it.”
Grace looked at the officer. “You never really know people, do you?”
After the police arrested George, Grace went to bed, first checking her jewelry box where she’d hidden the key to a locker at an out-of-town gym. She’d registered under a false name and paid in cash for a six-month trial. She kept some workout clothes there, along with a large gym bag holding more than a million dollars cash she’d found when she first discovered the tarp in the garage. George would have a hard time describing how the money disappeared from the tarp that had still held Frank’s body.
She fell sleep repeating, “You never really know people…do you?”
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