Christmas Mystery Short Story: Home for Christmas

Dec 17, 2022 | 2022 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Terrific Tales

by C.B Peterson

Enjoy this never before published Christmas mystery short story. Note there is a tiny bit of strong language in this one.

The iron taste of blood filled Lyndsey’s mouth. The hit to her jaw must have been harder than she thought. She couldn’t see much more than large shapes out of her right eye. It was closing fast due to the swelling. The eye throbbed and burned at the same time. She held her arm across her abdomen where her ribs stabbed with pain. It hurt to breathe. She hoped they weren’t broken. Probably just severely bruised.

Christmas Eve and Lyndsey held her body still as she sat on the sofa and looked at the Christmas coffee mug on the floor. She’d given it to Jack last year in his stocking. “Santa, I’ve been nice this year,” it proclaimed. Only the nice was crossed out and the word naughty written above it. Jack had laughed when he gave it to her.Christmas tree

Their Christmas tree stood forlornly in the corner. Lyndsey hadn’t the heart to get out all of the boxes of ornaments from the attic this year. She and Jack had gotten the tree early, the day before Thanksgiving, at Home Depot, a mistake for many reasons. It had been cut too early, and the needles shed everywhere. It didn’t give off the seasonal scent of fir like a recently alive tree did, but smelled like a dead one left on the sidewalk weeks after Christmas.

Lyndsey had decorated it with one string of white lights, hardly enough, and a few ornaments from the Christmas box that was easiest to reach in the attic. She couldn’t make any more of an effort this year.

She watched the coffee from the broken mug pool on the hard wood floor. The police had stepped in the liquid, tracked coffee around the room. She didn’t care. She got what she’d wanted. Jack had been arrested.

“I didn’t do this,” he kept shouting over and over as the police handcuffed him. “Lynn, tell them I didn’t hit you. This is bullshit.”

Bullshit it was, but the police didn’t know that.

“The EMTs are on their way,” Officer Orsini had told her gently. “You may want to go to the hospital and get checked out here.”

Lyndsey shook her head. “I’ll be alright,” she said. Her green eyes looked up at his dark brown ones. Despite her pain, Lyndsey couldn’t help but notice the officer was handsome. He was well over six feet tall with an intelligent, caring look in his eyes. His jet-black hair was cut military style, short on the sides. He had olive skin. Probably Italian, Lydnsey thought. She looked at his thin, long fingers as he took notes about her story. She had to stop herself from smiling when she saw his lack of wedding ring.

But he wasn’t her type. Not only was he a policeman, but also, he was probably a straight up guy, and would be horrified by what she’d done.

“At least let the EMTs assess your bruises,” he’d said. Lyndsey nodded and looked down at her lap demurely.

She let the EMT worker, whose name was Bill or Will, she couldn’t remember, take her vital signs and examine her abdomen. Lyndsey was shocked to see how quickly the bruises had blossomed on her ribs. Bright purple and blue, as if a painter had squirted tubes of paint across her sides. He thought she should get an X-ray. Lyndsey declined. But, she accepted the multiple ice packs for her eyes and ribs.

“I just want to rest,” she told Officer Orsini and the EMT workers.

“Do you have someone who you can call to stay with you?” Officer Orsini asked. His voice was deep and gentle.

In a different lifetime, Lyndsey might have fallen for a guy like this. They’d be settled in a house in the suburbs where the crime rate was lower than it was in Oakland, California. They’d have barbeques with the neighbors, and belong to the local swimming pool where they’d take their 2.5 children on the weekends.

bikeWhy did that vision feel like hell to her? Lindsey wished it didn’t feel so claustrophobic to think of a future like that, but it did. She grew up in the suburbs in Long Island, where she lived in a house with her sister that had a white picket fence. But the fence had turned gray and was broken where her father drove his car through one night in a drunken rage and had parked on the lawn rather than the driveway because she’d left her bicycle there. He’d stormed into the house looking for her.

“Lyndsey!” she could still hear him screaming at her. “You have no common sense.” That was his assessment of her. He needed to beat it into her so she’d learn not to leave her bicycle in the driveway where he parked his car. Not to eat the snacks he liked while he watched football and drank beer. Not to put use the wrong dishwashing liquid in the dishwasher (they were out of powder) and cause a mess in the kitchen.

Lyndsey got straight A’s in school which only reinforced her father’s opinion that she was book smart, which counted for nothing, but not street smart, which he could instill in her by force using his fists and his belt.

“I’ll call my sister, and she’ll come right over,” Lindsey lied to Officer Orsini. Her sister was two thousand miles away in Ohio with her husband and two girls. She still talked to Kristen every Sunday, mostly about the weather and what her girls were into at the moment. Never about their upbringing. Or how they’d each left home at eighteen, never to return to Long Island except for their mother’s funeral.

“I can wait a few minutes with you.” Officer Orsini looked at his watch. He wore a real one on his left wrist, with a silver band, which Lyndsey found sexy and old-fashioned.

Careful, she said to herself. Don’t get any ideas about him.

Lyndsey picked up her phone which was face down next to her on the couch. The last call she made was to 911, where she screamed that she was being attacked by her husband.

She pretended to text her sister and waited a few seconds before telling the officer that he could go. Her sister would be over soon.

Officer Orisini looked satisfied. His partner was waiting in the patrol car with Jack. Lindsey knew they’d have to take him to the Santa Rita County Jail and process him. It would be a few hours at least to do all of that.

“If you need anything, you can leave a message on my cell,” Officer Orisini said, handing her his card.

Were police officers allowed to give out their cell phone numbers? Lindsey wondered.

She took it and thanked him again for coming out so soon and helping her.

“That’s what we do,” he said.

Now that she was alone, Lyndsey allowed herself a few minutes to fantasize about the officer before getting up slowly from the couch. She needed to get a towel to mop up the coffee.

She’d done a pretty good job of staging the scene. She’d broken a few ornaments (her least favorite ones) and the coffee cup, and she’d overturned two chairs to make it look like there’d been a struggle. But she hadn’t meant to hit herself so hard. She’d used Jack’s socks and stuffed them with rocks and rice and then turned it on herself. She gritted her teeth and refused to give in to the pain, just like she used to do when her father beat her.

It was only Jack’s word against hers, and his word counted for less. That wasn’t being sexist. Jack was on parole. Who were the police and courts going to believe? A thirty-something young woman who was fairly pretty (she was just being objective) whose face was swollen and black and blue? Or a twice convicted felon out on parole who’d been drinking?

Timing was everything, and Lyndsey made sure that Jack would come home drunk by scheduling the ordeal on his poker night. She didn’t think he and his friends actually played poker. That was what they called it when they were up to something like planning another robbery or going to a strip club. She didn’t care what he was up to.

Lyndsey had followed Jack’s movements on his cell phone using Find My Friends. He was hardly a friend, she thought every time she clicked on the icon.

With Jack out of the way, Lyndsey’s possibilities expanded. She’d file for divorce, sell the house, take the money from the last heist he’d done, and maybe go up north. Portland or Seattle, even though it rained a lot up there. Change her name again.

She didn’t have to worry about Jack tracking her down. It was three strikes for him, and though California had changed the law about locking someone up for life, Jack would be in San Quentin for a long time.

She’d have to stay in Oakland to see his case through and testify about the beatings: frequent, she was too scared to make a complaint before, he said he’d kill her, etc. A more elaborate version of what she’d told Officer Orisini.

Maybe she’d fly to Ohio to see her sister first. Then begin her new life.

In the weeks that followed, Lyndsey’s bruises healed. Her ribs took about a month longer and were still sometimes painful if she bent over or slept on her side. Jack’s trial was set for June, and she was looking forward to getting it over with. Her lawyer had told her he’d probably plead guilty and it would never make it to trial, even though Jack kept telling his appointed attorney that he never hit Lyndsey.

“The guy’s a real baby,” her lawyer told Lyndsey over the phone.

Yes, Lyndsey agreed, though she’d never once thought of him that way. She’d known Jack for years before they got married. She met him at the Blue Note in San Francisco, a divey place where she was bartending. He was charming and funny. He told her that she dazzled him, the night he met her, and she went home with him after her shift, just because of his verb choice. No one had ever said that she dazzled them before. Lyndsey read a lot, and even she had never used it in a sentence.

“He’s desperate,” Lindsey said. “He’ll say anything to get out of serving more time.”

Lyndsey didn’t hate Jack at all. The truth was, he’d never hit her. He’d never even cheated on her. She had cheated on him plenty of times. He wasn’t the smartest tool in the shed, though, and never suspected. Or if he did, he never interrogated her about it.

moneyBut Jack was sitting on some assets, and Lyndsey was tired of his schemes and of the road she saw ahead with him. She needed him safely locked up to retrieve the money he’d accumulated. He’d said they were going to go to Europe, India he’d told her and start a new life.

India wasn’t in Europe, Lindsey wanted to say but didn’t. She’d fallen out of love, if she ever had been, with Jack years ago. She felt somewhat sisterly towards him, but not sisterly enough not to frame him.

Christmas treeRyan Orisini couldn’t get the image of the forlorn Christmas tree, the messy house, the very pretty woman who’d been beaten up out of his head. He hated domestics. They were dangerous for one. People’s emotions ran high. You never knew whether someone had a gun and was going to turn it on him. And nine times out of ten, there was nothing the police could really do. The woman – usually it was a woman – would recant her story. And they’d leave knowing there was a powder keg inside that house that would explode again.

He’d always call for backup when he went to a DV. There were about a hundred too few police officers to keep the city of Oakland safe, so he didn’t always get timely backup. That Christmas Eve he’d gone to Lyndsey’s house – he’d remembered her name and her mesmerizing green eyes – the extra help didn’t come until they were pulling away to book Jack Sorensen.

Though he knew Sorensen was in jail, he still found himself driving by Lyndsey’s house to keep an eye out. She lived in East Oakland off International Boulevard, a side of town known for gang violence and sideshows. Her house was one of those tiny California-style bungalows that all looked the same: chain link fences enclosed tiny yards where guard dogs stood watch or cars were parked everywhere. Lindsey’s yard had neither, nor did it have grass or flowers.

Sometimes he saw lights on when he drove by at night. Other times, the windows were dark. He imagined Lyndsey sitting on the sofa, watching TV or reading; he’d noticed there were lots of books, not on bookshelves but piled everywhere, and they were scattered across the floor from the assault. He didn’t call it a fight, but named it for what it was, an assault on a victim. How any man could hit a woman, he didn’t know. It was revolting.

Ryan was driving home from his shift. He lived in Rockridge, a nice neighborhood of Oakland, in the house that his aunt had left him when she died. He took out-of-the-way side streets, just so he could see if Lyndsey were home.

She was. Or at least someone was, as the lights were on. Ryan slowed and noticed a familiar car parked slightly down the street. It belonged to one of the detectives, Cutty. He had his partner with him, Gonzalez. They were clearly on a stakeout. Was there something going on near Lyndsey’s house?

He wanted to ask, but knew he could tip off the suspects. He’d ask them tomorrow, bring it up casually.

At the captain’s department meeting two days later, Ryan got the chance to ask Cutty what he was working on. He mentioned he’d driven home and saw his car on a stake out.

“Got her under surveillance,” Cutty said.

“Who?”

“Lyndsey Monahan. Your DV.”

“Lyndsey? For what?”

“Show me the money. Show me the money.” Gonzalez danced around, imitating Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire.

“That guy you arrested,” said Cutty. “Not your average DV case.”

Ryan knew Jack Sorensen was a bank robber and all around criminal. What he didn’t know was that the detectives suspected Lyndsey of being about to move the money and was working with Jack’s crew. It had been five years since they’d robbed a Wells Fargo, and though Jack and his two friends were wearing masks and weren’t clearly identifiable, Jack’s name had come up in connection with the case.

Now it seems, Lyndsey was in on it as well.

“You’re watching her to see what she does next?” Ryan asked, though the answer was obvious.

“Bingo,” Gonzalez said. “Bet you didn’t have that on your dance card.”

Ryan had been a patrol officer for six years. He wasn’t one of the detectives, yet, though he strove to prove himself so that he could be. He actually liked being a patrol officer, and felt he was doing good. But there was a hierarchy in the precinct. Until he made detective, he was lower than Curry and Gonzalez, and not in on all the information on cases that didn’t involve him.

What did Gonzalez mean about the dance card business? The man talked in clichés and sound bites. Often, they didn’t even make sense. And Ryan wasn’t fond of him. Curry, on the other hand, was tight-lipped. He was suspicious of everyone and kept his thoughts to himself.

After that Christmas Eve DV and arrest, Ryan’s partner, Henry Jackson, had teased him for his solicitousness about Lyndsey. For a few days, it had become a joke around the precinct that Ryan had fallen in love on Christmas Eve.

Ryan had played along. It was worse to get angry or deny it, and there was some truth to the fact that he felt a connection to Lyndsey. He’d even invented a few reasons to call her for a report that had already been written.

Now he wasn’t so sure what to think about her. It was like one of those kaleidoscopes he’d had as a kid, where you twist the tube and the image changes. Part of him got defensive about Lyndsey. Maybe she didn’t know the money was stolen? Maybe she was just trying to get herself out of a bad situation? Surely, she didn’t look as if she were living high on the hog.

On the other hand, what if she did know about the money and was actively trying to move it? That would make her a criminal, a bad guy, or gal, and Ryan had always been clear which side of the law he was on.

Another thought, dawned on Ryan, one he tried to push away. Sorensen had claimed he never touched Lyndsey. He refused to plea out and was going ahead with a trial. Ryan had it on his calendar to testify. Maybe he hadn’t hit Lyndsey? Maybe someone else had? One of his pals? Had they beaten her up over the money?

It didn’t quite add up. It was probably Sorensen just trying to save his sorry ass.

“You check out her financials?” Ryan asked Curry.

“Been there. Done that,” Gonzalez said. “She’s got about $600 before her next unemployment check.”

Ryan didn’t know Lyndsey was unemployed. He didn’t know what she did for employment. What he knew of Lyndsey was what he thought he saw: a typical battered woman in fear of the man she lived with.

Lyndsey reviewed her ring doorbell footage every night. She was aware of a certain patrol car that cruised past her house at two or sometimes three in the morning. She was fairly certain Officer Orisini was driving it.

She also saw another car, a black Ford Escort, anonymous, indistinctive, but with the same license plate and the same two people in it. She knew she was being surveilled. She wasn’t stupid.

moneyAfter Jack’s trial, she still planned to move up to Seattle. She’d borrow money from Kristen. A few thousand dollars to help her get settled in a new apartment. Kristen had married well. Her husband was an engineer. She’d already asked her, and her sister was sending her a check.

It would take a little longer to get the money, but Lyndsey was patient. After all, she’d stuck it out with Jack for ten years when she’d really only felt anything like love for him for the first few months at most.

Lyndsey was looking forward to the trial. Having Jack put away for a long time would certainly make her feel better, but it was mostly about seeing Detective Orisini. Or Ryan, as he’d told her to call him the first time he’d contacted her after the Christmas Eve incident. She could see his bogus reason for what it was. He was interested in her. That might come in handy.

The detectives who were watching her, digging through her financial history, didn’t have anything on her. Lyndsey was sure of that. Jack had been the mastermind behind the heists – at least to his friends. As if. The real mastermind was Lyndsey. She was the one who’d done the research. Plotted the most vulnerable banks and knew the schedules of the guards, employees, as well as the angles of the cameras, the most promising times to rob a bank.

Would Jack trade information about her involvement for a lighter sentence? No. First of all, he’d have to admit he robbed the banks. Second, even if he was that stupid – and she didn’t put it past him – it was a she said/he said kind of thing. Just like beating her to a pulp which was actually part of her plan.

Lyndsey did give Jack’s lawyer a suit for him to wear at his trial. He only had one, and it was wrinkled. Lyndsey didn’t bother to iron it.

She felt her heart beat faster when Detective Ryan Orisini took the stand and recalled the Christmas Eve night he’d answered a 911 call. Lyndsey had taken photos of her bruises, which were introduced as evidence. The EMT worker, Bill, was also called to testify to her bruises.

Jack’s attorney had nothing but the timeline of Jack’s whereabouts that night. He claimed to come home and find Lyndsey already beaten up. True, Lindsey knew. But no one else did. Jack’s a lawyer, a woman who looked barely old enough to have graduated high school, never mind law school, tried to prove he was innocent with a rather convoluted and confusing timeline of Jack’s whereabouts that Christmas Eve night. A bartender testified that Jack had been doing shots with his friends until at least midnight. That didn’t seem to help his case.

The trial, if it could be called that, was swift, and the judge presiding seemed about to call it off several times. He frowned repeatedly and glanced at Jack’s lawyer as if signaling that she should end the charade.

Lyndsey avoided looking at Jack. She’d seen him be led into the court, and noticed he’d put on weight, as he did last time he was incarcerated. His face was puffy, his sand brown hair looked thin, and he had an angry energy to him that wouldn’t serve him well. But she kept her eyes in her lap to signify her fear. She’d worn a somewhat frilly shirt and skirt, and hunched her shoulders as if frightened that Jack might leap up and attack her.

He was found guilty of assault, which was another felony, and of violating parole. The judge gave Jack the minimum sentence of twenty-five years.

In the hallway, outside of the courtroom, Lyndsey approached Ryan to thank him for his testimony and for all he’d done for her.

“It’s my job,” he said, with a tone that wasn’t quite as warm and friendly as she’d hoped.

Ryan knew about the stakeout, of course. But Lyndsey acted as if she hadn’t noticed his tone or the way he shifted his eyes away from her. Instead, she put her hand on his forearm.

“Is it against the law to buy you a cup of coffee, officer?” Lyndsey said in her sweetest voice.

Ryan declined, as she figured he would, but surprisingly he agreed to a raincheck for later on in the week. The coffee turned into drinks after work – Lindsey didn’t drink coffee – and then that turned into dinner the next week. Ryan told himself he was doing research on the case, and he met Lyndsey only after keeping Curry and Gonzalez informed.

Lyndsey revealed herself in these meetings. Cautiously, calculatingly, she told him about growing up and about her father who drank and beat her.

“And then I married a man just like him, go figure,” she tried to joke with Ryan. He acted protectively, putting his hand on hers.

The first time they slept together, Ryan had most of the bottle of wine at dinner. But that was no excuse. He didn’t mention it to Curry.

The second time he slept with Lyndsey, he found himself almost confessing that he’d relayed all of their conversations to his detective colleagues. Lyndsey had said nothing incriminating, though she had said she was moving to Seattle, starting over, and doing it with a loan from her sister.

Ryan didn’t tell Curry he was sleeping with Lyndsey but he didn’t have to. The detective knew. Though he didn’t say anything, Gonzalez did, and asked him about how it was playing hide the salami with their suspect.

Ryan supposed he could have gotten reprimanded for his actions, but he didn’t care. He’d fallen in love with Lyndsey, and didn’t believe she knew anything about Sorensen’s crimes or his money. She was just an easy and obvious target.

Ryan’s last meeting with Lyndsey was tearful. She cried about how much she would miss him, and he asked her to reconsider her plans and to stay in the Bay Area. Lyndsey shook her head no.

“Too many bad memories here. Though good ones, too,” she said, looking at him with the green eyes that had first caught Ryan’s attention. “I need a fresh start.”

Lyndsey didn’t ask and Ryan didn’t either about the possibility of moving to Seattle with her. Not yet. He wanted to. But he also wanted to be asked, and he wasn’t.

snowAnother Christmas Eve. A white one, this time. Through the window of her apartment, Lyndsey watched the fat white flakes hit the dirty glass. Some turned to liquid and melted away. Others stuck to the window and built up in little piles of snow.

How long ago last December 24 seemed. She was in a new city with a new job and sitting on a big pile of money. Not literally. The money was somewhere safe. She couldn’t spend it, of course. But she liked the security of having it.

She smiled when she budgeted knowing full well she didn’t have to. She could be living in a nice condo on the good part of town, rather than in a studio apartment with no elevator.

Waiting was Lyndsey’s super power. She’d waited out the blows her father dealt her without crying or running away, both of which would make the beatings worse. She waited with Jack for ten years while thinking little of him as a romantic or business partner. She was waiting to spend the money first in tiny increments, then in bigger ways when she’d leave the country.

wineShe had Nat King Cole on her Spotify and she’d made mulled red wine with spices she bought at the store – and a cheap bottle of red because she was poor. The doorbell buzzed. Right on time.

There was nothing that said that while she was waiting, she couldn’t have a little fun or entertain herself.

When she opened the door, she saw Ryan. His jacket was wet with snow.

“Merry Christmas,” he said, handing her a small wrapped present.

“I thought we weren’t exchanging,” Lyndsay said.

Ryan was still standing in the doorway. “Open it,” he said.

“Now? Do you want to have a glass of wine first?”

“No. I can’t wait,” Ryan said.

Lyndsey hoped it wasn’t a ring. She’d have to say no. She wasn’t going to marry Ryan. Just pass the time with him.

“Alright,” Lyndsey said, tearing the red foil paper.

It was a mug. The same one she’d given Jack, with the word, nice, crossed out, and the word naughty written above.

Lyndsey wasn’t sure what to say but she didn’t have time to say anything. Suddenly, a crowd of uniformed officers, federal and local, swarmed in. At the head of the pack were Curry and Gonzalez.

“What the hell?” Lyndsey looked at Ryan.

A federal agent handcuffed her and advised of her rights.

As she was led away, Lyndsey wanted to ask Ryan how he knew. How did they find out about the money laundering when she was so careful? How did he know she’d beaten herself up?

It started with the Christmas mug. Lyndsey had claimed Jack had thrown it at her. She also didn’t drink coffee, which triggered Ryan’s memory to that night and the way the cup hadn’t shattered. He remembered putting it on the table.

The stories about her father and the beatings. Why if she’d endured beatings before would the one on Christmas Eve have been different, the one where finally she called 911?

Then there was the financial evidence that Curry and Gonzalez had found. Lyndsey had been investing in her brother-in-law’s solar engineering company through a third party. She was laundering the money from the robberies that way.

They’d talked to Jack in jail, and he’d given up Lyndsey and his partners as well as leading them to the money. He wasn’t as dumb as Lyndsey had thought for he didn’t get any additional time on his sentence.

“If this is what we’re doing for Christmas,” Gonzalez said to Detectives Ryan and Curry, as they got into their car to head back to the airport. “I can’t wait what to see what we’re doing for New Year’s.”

Die Hard?” Ryan asked.

“Something like that,” Gonzalez said. Ryan was beginning to like his new partner.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories including more Christmas short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new Christmas episode went up this week.

C. B. Peterson is a Bay-Area writer whose short fiction has recently appeared in Pulphouse Fiction Magazine. A nonfiction writer by day, her essays and articles have appeared in dozens of publications from Glamour to WebMD. I Want Him Dead is her first published novel. Find her at cbpeterson.com.

2 Comments

  1. Great story. Really well drawn and interesting characters.

    Reply
  2. Great story. Loved all the characters and the twist ending.

    Reply

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