A Fistful of Cozy
By JA Konrath
J.A. Konrath recently signed a three book deal with Hyperion Books. His first novel, WHISKEY SOUR, introduces series heroine Lt. Jacqueline Daniels of the Chicago Police Department. His short stories have appeared at Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Cemetery Dance, and Horror Garage Magazine. Joe has one wife, three kids (that he knows of), a dog, and a house in the suburbs, where he's recently finished BLOODY MARY, the second book in the Lt. Jacqueline Daniels thriller series. Visit him at www.jakonrath.com.
“This is simply dreadful!”
Mrs. Agnes Victoria Mugilicuddy blanched under a thick layer of rouge. Her oversized beach hat, adorned with plastic grapes and lemons, perched askew atop her pink-hued quaff.
Barlow, her graying manservant, placed a hand on her pointy elbow to steady her.
“Indeed, Madam. I’ll call the police.”
“The police? Why, Barlow, think of the scandal! Imagine what Imogene Rumbottom, that busy-body who writes the Society Column, will say in her muck-raking rag when she discovers the Viscount de Pouissant dead on my foyer floor.”
“I understand, Madam. Will you be solving this murder yourself, then?”
“I have no other choice, Barlow! Though I’m a simple dowager of advancing years and high social standing, my feisty determination and keen eye for detail will no doubt flush out this dastardly murderer. Where is Miss Foo-Foo, the Mystery Cat?”
“She’s in her litter box, burying some evidence.”
“Miss Foo-Foo!” Agnes’s voice had the pitch and timbre of an opera soprano. “Come immediately and help Mumsy solve this heinous crime!”
Miss Foo-Foo trotted into the foyer, her pendulous belly dragging along the oriental rug. Bits of smoked salmon clung to her whiskers.
“Barlow!” Agnes commanded, clapping her liver-spotted hands together.
He bent down and picked up the cat. Barlow was five years Mrs. Agnes’s senior, and his back cracked like kindling from the weight of Miss Foo-Foo.
Agnes patted the cat on the head as Barlow held it. Miss Foo-Foo purred, a sound not unlike a belch.
“We have a mystery to solve, my dearest puss-puss. If we’re to catch the scoudrel, we must be quick of mind and fleet of foot. Barlow!”
“Fetch the Mystery Kit!”
“Right away, Madam.”
Barlow turned on his heels.
Barlow turned back.
“First release Miss Foo-Foo.”
“Of course, Madam.”
Barlow bent at the waist, his spine making Rice Krispie sounds. Miss Foo-Foo padded over to Agnes and allowed herself to be patted on the head.
Straightening up was a painful affair, but Barlow managed without a grunt. He nodded at Mrs. Agnes and left the room.
“To think,” Agnes mused, “Only ten minutes ago the Viscount was sipping tawny port and regaling us with ribald tales of the gooseberry industry. Just a waste, Miss Foo-Foo.”
Agnes’s eyes remained dry, but she removed a handkerchief from the side pocket on her jacket and dabbed at them nonetheless.
Barlow returned lugging a satchel, its black leather cracked with age. He undid the tarnished clasps and held it open for Mrs. Agnes. She removed a large, Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass.
“The first order of business is to establish the cause of death.” Mrs. Agnes spoke to the cat, not to Barlow. “It’s merely a hunch, but I’m compelled to suggest that perhaps the lovely port the Viscount had been sipping may have been tampered with.”
“An interesting hypothesis, Madam, but perhaps instead it has something to do with that letter opener?”
“The letter opener, Barlow?”
“The one sticking in the Viscount’s chest, Madam.”
Agnes squinted one heavily mascara-ed eye and peered through the glass with the other.
“Miss Foo-Foo, your hunch proved incorrect. The poor, dear Viscount appears to be impaled through the heart with some kind of silver object. But what can it be, puss-puss?”
“A letter opener, Madam?”
“Could it be a knife, Miss Foo-Foo? Perchance some rapscallion gained entry to the den though the window, intent on robbing the rich Viscount? Perhaps a fight ensued, resulting in the bloodthirsty criminal tragically ending the Viscount’s life with this vaguely Freudian symbol of male power?”
Barlow peered at the body.
“It appears to be the letter opener you bought me for my anniversary, Madam. The gift you presented to me for fifty years of loyal service.”
“Miss Foo-Foo!” Agnes bent over the fallen Viscount and lightly touched the handle of the protruding object. “Why, this is no knife! It’s Barlow’s letter opener! I can see the engraving.”
“‘How lucky you must feel to have served me for so many years.’” Barlow intoned.
“This changes everything!” Mrs. Agnes placed the magnifying glass back into the satchel, her gnarled fingers latching onto a tin of fingerprint powder. “Some heathen must have stolen Barlow’s lovely gift-”
“Sterling silver plated,” Barlow said.
“-with the intent to frame our loyal manservant! Barlow!”
“Open this tin so I must dust the offending weapon!”
Mrs. Agnes used the tiny brush to liberally apply a basecoat of powder to the letter opener’s handle.
“Why, look, puss-puss! There’s nary a print to be found! The handle has been wiped clean!”
“Perhaps the murderer wore gloves, Madam?” Barlow reached for the powder tin with a gloved-hand.
“Or perhaps, Miss Foo-Foo, the killer wore gloves! This fiend is no mere street malcontent. This seems premeditated, the result of a careful and calculating plot. But why the Viscount?”
“Perhaps he was a witness, Madam? To another murder?”
Mrs. Agnes squinted at her manservant.
“That’s daft, Barlow. Even for a lowly servant such as yourself. Do you see another victim in this room?”
“Indeed I do, Madam.”
Barlow removed the cheese grater from his vest pocket, a gift from Mrs. Agnes for his forty year anniversary, and spent forty minutes grating off the old dowager’s face.
The old bat still had some life left in her after that, so he worked on her a bit with his thirtieth-year-anniversary nutcracker, his twentieth-year-anniversary potato peeler, and finally the fireplace poker, which wasn’t a gift, but was handy.
When she finally expired, he flipped the gory side face-down and spent a leisurely hour violating her corpse-something he couldn't have managed if she were alive and yapping. Sated, Barlow stood on creaky knees and picked up the bored Miss Foo-Foo.
“You have a date with the microwave, puss-puss. And then I’m the sole heir to Madam’s fortune.”
Miss Foo-Foo purred, making a sound like a belch.
Three minutes and thirteen seconds later, she made a different kind of sound. More like a pop.
JA Konrath ©2004
|Webmaster: Tony 'Grog' Roberts [Contact]|