by Angie Sherwood
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
Lorraine’s head pounded to the beat of the blaring music. What a way to end this horrible year. How had Patsy Duggar convinced her to come to the New Year’s Eve party at Izzie’s? She felt as out of place in the local bar as she would on Mars. Now, she was hiding in the dirty bathroom—how embarrassing! The champagne she drank earlier made the tile floor swirl; the motion, coupled with the wine, made her queasy. Gagging, she bent over the commode. The cardboard New Year’s tiara perched on her head fell off and plopped into the bowl, splashing cold toilet water on her face. That’s it! She huffed as she wiped her cheeks. With as much dignity as she could muster, Lorraine retrieved her purse from the floor, pulled her sweater down, marched the few paces to the window, yanked it open, and crawled through it. Tentatively, her feet found the pavement below the outside sill. Frigid air welcomed her. She had left her coat inside, but she didn’t care; she was free of that unsavory place.
Her heels clicked along the cement as she rushed through the dark alleyway towards the street. A motion light, mounted on the side of the building near the dumpster, snapped on when she approached it, illuminating a conspicuous white object laying on top of a trash pile. Intrigued, Lorraine walked towards it. Upon closer examination, she gasped; the white object was Bertie McAllister’s faux mink coat, and she was still wearing it.
“Bertie,” Lorraine called, but there was no answer. “Bertie!” She said louder, shaking her former choral rival until the body rolled over. Blood streamed from Bertie’s hairline to her chin and pooled on the garbage bag below her face. Her steel grey eyes stared lifelessly back at Lorraine. Not again! Lorraine fumed. This was the second dead body she had found this year. The last time, she left the scene before the police arrived, making her a person of interest in the case, and subsequently, she spent a night in jail. Of course, there was no evidence tying her to the murder, and the police released her, but nevertheless, her reputation had been irrevocably damaged by the insinuation. She felt compelled to quit her beloved church choir, and now, she seldom attended worship because she was too ashamed. Well, she wouldn’t be accused this time. After she surveyed the alley to ensure no one saw her, she returned to the window, climbed back into the bathroom, and rejoined the party.
The sight of the corpse and the acrid smell of cigarette smoke exacerbated her nausea, and the blue strobe light and pulsating music worsened her headache, but she had to keep her wits about her. Bertie was at the party, so the police would question everyone in attendance as a possible suspect. Lorraine wanted as little interaction with them as possible. She had to have an airtight alibi and someone to point a finger at. The alibi was easy; she would make sure partygoers noticed her; a suspect would be more difficult to find. Usually, victims are murdered by people they know, so in a small college town, such as this one, where there are no strangers, almost anyone could be guilty. Lorraine had to find a person with a cause to murder Bertie.
“Another glass of champagne?” Patsy appeared in front of her, bringing her out of her reverie by dangling a cheap glass flute filled with golden bubbles in her face. More alcohol was the last thing she wanted.
“No thanks,” Lorraine said, forcing a smile.
“What happened to your tiara?”
Lorraine touched her mussed dyed-brown hair. She tried to finger-comb it back in place. “I’m not sure. I must have lost it.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll find you another one. Have you seen Bertie?”
Lorraine paused as if she were thinking. “No, I haven’t seen her for a while,” she lied.
“Huh. Well if you do, tell her I’m looking for her,” Patsy said and hurried off.
Hoping that she would forget to bring her a ridiculous tiara, Lorraine watched her friend disappear into the crowd. She seemed relaxed and unagitated, not as if she had just conked someone. Unless Patsy was a very good actress, Lorraine doubted that she was responsible.
She scanned the crowd for other culprits and found Ezekiel Morris, the choir director, whom she had once thought charming and handsome, dancing with a much younger woman. Lorraine rolled her eyes and congratulated herself that he was not her beau. Through the rumor mill, she had heard that Bertie had complained about Ezekiel’s unscrupulous behavior to the pastor in the hopes of getting him fired. Lorraine had her first suspect.
But of course, she needed more names. She also needed water to quench her sudden thirst. She pushed her way through the throng to the bar. Joe, the bartender and Patsy’s husband, asked, “Another glass of champagne?”
“Water, please,” Lorraine shouted over the noise. People loved Joe for his kind heart and fun-loving spirit, but she thought he was smug and condescending. Though tempted to accuse him, she honestly couldn’t see him hurting Bertie.
“Of course,” he said. “So, have you found yourself a fellow to kiss at midnight?” He asked and winked.
She scoffed, took her glass, and made her way to an empty booth towards the front of the building, which gave her a vantage point of the dance floor that was overflowing with familiar faces. Oh, who would want to do this to Bertie? She wondered. Lorraine knew better than most how judgmental Bertie could be, but even she didn’t wish her harm.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone enter through the back door. She looked in that direction to see the creepy guy that went by the name, Weezer. She didn’t know his last name, but he had a reputation for troublemaking on campus. Since the back door led into the alley, he had come from the scene of the crime, but Lorraine hadn’t seen him when she found the body. Perhaps, he hid when he saw her come out the window, waited a reasonable amount of time to avoid suspicion, and then slipped back into the building. She couldn’t think of a motive for why he would do it, but did someone like Weezer need a reason to commit mayhem? He looked in her direction, and she instinctively slid down in her booth and ducked her head, avoiding eye contact.
“Trying to avoid someone?” The question startled Lorraine, and she immediately straightened herself in her seat.
“Oh, Ed. When did you sneak in?” She asked her neighbor, Ed Shelton, her prime suspect in the first murder. He was in the apartment building’s breezeway the morning she had found the victim, Bitzy, and Lorraine later learned that Bitzy had accidentally killed his precious dog. He had the means, opportunity, and motive, which proved his guilt to her, but apparently, the police required more evidence—they never questioned him. Come to think of it, she remembered overhearing an argument between Ed and Bertie, who happened to be their landlord, just a couple of days ago. Ed was behind on his rent, and Bertie threatened to evict him if he didn’t pay his debt. If he had killed once, surely, he could kill again.
“I could ask the same of you,” he retorted. “What’re you drinking? Vodka tonic?”
“Of course not!” Lorraine snapped, scowling at him. “I’m drinking water. You know I don’t partake of intoxicants.”
“You always were holier-than-thou, just like your friend, Bertie McAllister.”
“She’s not my friend. Besides, what does she have to do with anything?”
Ed, glaring at her, didn’t respond. She glowered back. Finally, Ed broke the stalemate when he rambled away. Lorraine exhaled sharply and swigged her water. A blast of freezing air signaled someone was coming in the front door. When she turned to see who it was, she shrieked and then fainted.
The shock of cold water sloshing her face revived her. She opened her eyes to see Joe squatting in front of her. “Welcome back.” He laughed. Everyone in the bar stood behind him, peering at her. Across the table, Patsy was applying pressure to a gash in Bertie’s head.
“Really, darling, do I look that bad?” A very alive Bertie asked.
“No, you just startled me. What happened to you?”
“I’m not sure. I took some trash out for Joe, and the next thing I knew, I woke up on a trash bag in the alley. You know how clumsy I am. I guess I tripped, hit my head on the dumpster, and knocked myself out, but truthfully, I don’t remember what happened. Thank goodness Patsy came looking for me. I could have froze to death!”
“Well, I think you should go to the hospital,” Patsy said. “That cut may need stitches. I’ll call an ambulance.”
“No, I really don’t want that,” Bertie protested.
“I’ll take you,” Lorraine offered.
“I don’t know that you should,” Joe interjected. “You’re not well yourself,”
“Nonsense, I’m fine. Besides, I’m the only one here who hasn’t been drinking,” Lorraine fibbed.
Lorraine’s face burned despite the water that dripped from her bangs. She grabbed a paper cocktail napkin and tried to dry her hair. “It’s been at least an hour since I had any champagne,” she sputtered. “You know yourself, I switched to water a while ago. I’m perfectly capable of driving Bertie to the hospital.” The splash of water had sobered her. As she stood up, the room didn’t spin.
“If you don’t want me to call an ambulance, I’m calling a cab,” Joe told Bertie. “And, it probably is a good idea to let Lorraine go with you so you’re not alone,” he continued, smirking over his shoulder at Lorraine.
“If you insist,” Bertie agreed.
“Good.” Joe pulled his cell phone from his pocket and called the taxi company. Within minutes, the revelers were back on the dance floor, gyrating to the thumping music.
After twenty long minutes, the cab pulled up in front of Izzie’s. “Are you ready?” Lorraine asked Bertie.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Bertie answered. Both women hung their purses on their forearms. Lorraine put her free arm behind Bertie’s back to steady her and said, “Off we go then.” She called, “Happy New Year,” to the merrymakers and finally left the lousy party.
You can read a previous mystery short story by Angie here in KRL, also featuring Lorraine.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.