The Chopsticks Clue: Mystery Short Story

Dec 3, 2016 | 2016 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Terrific Tales

by Earl Staggs

This story was originally published in Crime and Suspense Magazine July 2006 and included in collection titled Short Stories of Earl Staggs, April 2011.

“What are you doing here?” Lieutenant Sue Townes was shocked to see her former partner. They’d been the closest friends until that thing with Harry three years ago. “And you’re in uniform. What gives?”

Millie Walker chuckled. “If you’d remembered what I taught you about observation, you’d see I’m a Meter Maid now.”

“Well, forgive me for not remembering, but we’re not all blessed with a photographic memory and total recall like you.” notebook

Millie held out her hand. “Good to see you, Sue.”

Sue didn’t want to shake hands with a slut, even one she’d worked side-by-side with for ten years. To avoid it, she stepped aside to allow the Medical Examiner and a Crime Scene Tech to squeeze past her. “I thought you took that early retirement package.”

Millie looked at her hand, shrugged, and lowered it. “I did, but I got bored. I do this part-time to keep active. What’re you doing here? This is a homicide call, not vice.”

“I transferred to Homicide a month ago.”

“Well, it’s great to see you again. There’s something I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time. Maybe while you’re here, we could talk for a few minutes.”

Sue shook her head. “You have nothing to say that I want to hear except why you’re here at my crime scene.”

“I was working this street when the restaurant owner saw me and waved me down. I thought I’d secure the scene until someone got here.”

“Well, I’m here now, so you can go back out there and write some more parking tickets.”

“My shift just ended, but I could stick around and help.” Millie waved an arm around the room. In addition to the table where the victim had eaten dinner, six other tables in the small Chinese restaurant were occupied with two to four people each. “You have a lot of witnesses to interview.”

“Whatever.” Sue really didn’t want help from the woman who slept with her fiancee a week before the wedding date, but no one was better than Millie at working a crime scene. She had that incredible ability to remember every detail.rings

Sue located the owner of the restaurant, and learned that Martin Ballister stumbled out of the men’s room at approximately 6:15 p.m. and fell where he now lay beside an overturned table.

Sue walked over and watched the ME pull a black-handled knife with a six-inch blade out of the victim’s back. Mr. Ballister lay flat on his stomach. His arms were extended forward and in each hand, he gripped a chopstick, one lying across the other. Shattered plates, white rice, and Egg Foo Yung from the overturned table decorated the floor around him.

“Whattaya got?” Sue asked.

The ME dropped the murder weapon into a plastic bag. “From the blood patterns, it looks like he was stabbed in the men’s room but managed to walk out here.”knife

“Where he knocked over the table when he went down,” Sue added. “I wonder why he grabbed the chopsticks.”

“Not hard to imagine,” the ME said. “A victim is falling, knowing he’s going to die, he grabs onto anything, a reflexive survival instinct.”

Sue sighed. “Too bad it didn’t work for him.” She turned to walk away and almost bumped into Millie.

“Sorry,” Millie said. “The man at the table in front wants to go home.”

“Someone followed this man into the men’s room and stuck a knife in his back. No one leaves.”

Millie grinned. “I knew you’d say that. That’s what I told him.”

“You didn’t let anyone leave before I got here, did you?”

Millie shook her head. “No one left after I came in. So how’ve you been, Sue? I heard you married a great guy.”

“Yes, I did. Mike is a terrific guy, and I couldn’t be happier.”

“I’m glad.” Millie placed a hand on Sue’s arm and squeezed gently. “You deserve the best. I hope we can talk for a few minutes before you go. There’s something I want to…”

Sue pulled her arm away. “Let’s just get to work.” She turned and walked away. She’d enjoyed telling Millie about Mike, letting the woman who double-crossed her know she’d picked up the pieces and found happiness with a good man

Sue took statements from the owner, two waiters, and the patrons at two tables. By then, the ME and the Crime Scene Tech had finished their work and left with Mr. Ballister’s remains.

All the witnesses told the same story. Mr. Ballister had dinner alone at a table near the front door, and no one noticed anyone else entering or leaving the men’s room while he was in there. When Millie reported back, her results at the other tables were the same.

Sue rubbed her temples. “No one saw anything, and we’ve talked to everyone who was here when it happened.”

“Not everyone.”

Sue looked at Millie. “What do you mean? You said you made sure no one left.”

“I said no one left after I came in, but there’s one customer not accounted for.”

Sue looked around the room. “Who?”

Millie pointed at the table the victim overturned when he fell. It was the closest one to the men’s room door at the back of the restaurant. “Someone had dinner at that table. Their food is all over the floor.”

Sue perked up. “Let’s find out who was sitting there.”

The owner slapped his forehead when he learned why he and his employees had been gathered. “I am so sorry. I should have told you. That nice young pastor had to get to the church for their weekly Bible service, so he left before this lady officer came in. I was sure it would be all right since he was a pastor and was wearing a white collar and everything.”cross

Sue said, “Don’t worry about it, Mr. Lee, but I still have to talk to him. Do you know which church?”

“Yes, he said the All Faith Church over on Third Avenue.”

Sue checked her watch. “Okay, if they’re holding Bible service tonight, I’m sure it’s still
going on. I’ll head right over there.”

“Don’t waste your time,” Millie said. “He won’t be there.”

“How do you know that?”

“That church is part of my area, and their Bible service is on Tuesday night. There’s never anyone there on Wednesdays.”

“So? Maybe they changed their schedule.”

“There’s something else. Did you notice how the victim was holding those chopsticks in his hands with one crossed over the other?”

“Yes, like an X.”chopsticks

“Or,” Millie said, “it could have been a cross. Maybe he was trying to tell us his killer was a man of the church.”

Sue thought about it for a moment. “All right, let’s get a description of our fake pastor. Someone here must have noticed him.”

Millie eased out of her chair and headed for the front door. “I have a better idea.”

Millie was back within two minutes. “There were seven cars in the restaurant parking lot earlier. I had some free time, so I checked them all for priors and outstandings. There are only six cars now, so there’s a good chance the missing car is the killer’s. The fake pastor might have been driving a 2014 dark blue Caprice, license plate number FKG 726.”

Sue wrote the information on her notepad and didn’t question it. She’d seen Millie’s powers of recall in action before. She knew Millie could tell her every car she’d seen that day, right down to the color of the upholstery. She pulled a cell phone from her jacket pocket. “I’ll call this in and get the owner’s name and address.”

After releasing the other patrons of the restaurant, Sue accepted a cup of tea from the restaurant owner and sat at a table to wait for the call back. Millie joined her after a while, but Sue ignored her. After the call came and Sue wrote on her note pad, she spoke but did not look at her former partner. tea

“The car belongs to Anthony Fabruzzi, an enforcer for a drug mob. They also checked out our victim. He was from a rival gang. Looks like we stepped into the middle of a drug war. They’re putting out a BOLO for Fabruzzi. You nailed it, Millie, so I suppose I should thank you.”

Millie took a deep breath. “I don’t want your thanks, Sue. All I want is for you to listen to me for a minute. Nothing happened between Harry and me that night or any other night.”

Sue snorted. “He was seen leaving your apartment the next morning. Tell me another fairy tale.”

“Harry came to my apartment, uninvited, and, yes, he stayed the night. He’d been drinking, and he hit on me. He got rough and I knocked him on his ass. I must have hit him harder than I thought because he was out cold. I didn’t feel like fooling with him, so I dragged him into the bathroom and cuffed him to a plumbing pipe. That’s where he spent the night. He was a lying, cheating piece of crap, Sue.” beer

Sue glared at Millie. “Then why didn’t you deny it when I accused you of sleeping with him?”

“Oh, come on, Sue. You were a pushover for that scumbag and his lies. I was afraid if you knew nothing happened, you’d take him back and marry him. Like I said, you deserved the best, and Harry was the worst.”

Sue leapt from her chair and paced back and forth. “Damnit, MiIllie! You expect me to believe that after all this time?”

Millie stood up and headed for the door. “I guess you’ll have to believe what you want, but at least now you know the truth. I’m just glad you found a really good man and are happy now. Good-bye, Sue.”

Before Millie reached the door, Sue called out. “Millie, wait.”

Millie turned.

“Have you had dinner?”

Millie shook her head.

“Neither have I. Come back here and let’s have some Chinese.”

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways, & mystery short stories in our mystery section.

Earl Staggs earned all Five Star reviews for his novels Memory Of a Murder and Justified Action and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars. He invites any comments via email at earlstaggs@sbcglobal[dot]net. He also invites you to visit his blog site at to learn more about his novels and stories.


  1. Earl,

    A fine story! It held my interest throughout. I love the character interaction between Sue and Millie.

  2. Earl,

    Enjoyed the story. Especially loved the character of Millie and was cheering when she was redeemed in the end. Good twist! Will we see more of these characters? I hope so.

    Christmas spoof by Gail: She Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus…And She Whipped Into Action!

  3. Good story, Earl, as always. You are a master of the form.

  4. I like the story.

  5. Good story, and, of course, a nice twist at the end.

  6. My thanks to everyone who stopped by and left a comment. I’m glad you liked this story. This one was different for me. It’s the only time I ever worked from a “prompt” or “story starter.” Tony Burton, publisher of Crime and Suspense Magazine, gave me this:

    “A crime mystery where a pair of chopsticks plays an important part. One of the main characters must be a meter maid, and most of the activity takes place in a restaurant.”

    It was a challenge for a die hard pantser like me, but I was happy the way it turned out.

  7. Really enjoyed reading this story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  8. Good stuff, Earl. Never look down on those Meted Maids. They’re observant.

  9. Thanks, John. You’re right. They don’t miss much. Glad you liked the story. Happy Holidays to ya!


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