I decided to try writing a murder mystery in one day again. The first one is here.
2 Victims, 1 Shot
©2020, Joseph L. Thornburg. All Rights Reserved.
“Champagne?” Mr. Campbell didn’t wait for a response and handed the glass to the man who’d just entered.
“Thank you. I’m Collops Pancetta. I run the deli about three doors down from you.”
“I’m Mr. Campbell. Glad you could make it!”
“I’ve been meaning to stop in but we’ve been so busy lately, what with the holidays upon us.”
“We? Mrs. Pancetta?”
“Well, no, it’s my daughter Peccari. Mrs. Pancetta died eleven years ago of the swine flu.”
“Oh, I am sorry.”
Mr. Pancetta looked around. “I’m glad this is a coffeeshop. We haven’t had any place nearby to get coffee since Koffee-normous …” Mr. Campbell choked on his quad, five-and-a-half pumps vanilla, sugar free syrup, extra hot, extra whip, extra large soy latte. “… shut down.”
A young woman half-skipped through the door. “Oh, what a mess you’ve made!” she cried out. She reached for a couple of napkins on the counter. She handed one to Mr. Campbell so he could wipe his face and used the other to clean the mess on his vest. “I’m Licoricia McTaffy. You must be Mr. Campbell. I met your partner Mr. Baxter this morning. Hello, Collops! How’s business?”
“Busy, busy.” he said. “But not nearly as busy as yours.”
“Isn’t it wonderful? I can’t believe it.”
“She opened her candy store six months ago and ever since there are lines around the block.” said Mr. Pancetta.
“Oh!” giggled Ms. McTaffy. “You’re exaggerating.”
“Not at all. Licoricia is the sweetest woman on earth, full of love, and that love comes through in her candies. How many varieties now?”
“I’ve lost count.” Turning to Mr. Campbell, she said, “My little store offers candies in any flavor imaginable, and everything can be customized. The kids just love it.”
“She’s also the queen of social media.” said Mr. Pancetta.
“And commercials on local TV! Well, I just want everyone to come down and try some candy. Sometimes the world can be such an awful place, but if I can make someone smile with my treats, then at least I’ve made a little difference. And speaking of treats …”
She gestured towards the door where another man with an apron was entering. “They can’t compete with yours, Licoricia!” he said. He held out a hand to Mr. Campbell. “I’m Kneady O’Dough. I run ‘The Yeast Infection’.”
“Ah, the bakery.” said Mr. Campbell.
“Except for yourself, Licoricia is the newest member of our happy family.” said Mr. O’Dough. “Most of us have been here for several years on Merchant Road.” He gave Ms. McTaffy a little hug. “I just can’t compete with her.”
“Oh really!” blushed Licoricia. “Candies and pastries are two different animals.” She looked around. “Where is Mr. Baxter?”
“Right here.” Mr. Baxter walked in from the backroom with a plate of cocktail wienies.
“Maybe a vegan snack exists?” said a voice. They turned around to see a woman in an enormous rainbow colored poncho. “Jewels Trinkette.” she said. “I’m from a gift store five doors down.”
“I do have some vegan food,” said Mr. Baxter. He handed the plate to Mr. Pancetta and returned to the backroom.
“I’m Mr. Campbell. That’s my partner Mr. Baxter.”
“It’s so bracing to see LGBT community members opening a business nearby.” said Ms. Trinkette.
“Oh no, he’s only my business partner. I’m gay, he’s not.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” said another voice from the doorway. Everyone turned to look. Long legs carried a tall woman across the floor; she moved like the most elegant of spiders. She might have stepped off the pages of Vogue. It was as if the air around her held its breath for fear of disturbing her royal promenade. Her golden earrings shimmered and the people upon whom the reflections fell imagined they could feel an invigorating warmth.
She held out a hand to Mr. Campbell. “Paige Byndyng. I’m the owner of Kente Books and Crafts.”
Even Mr. Campbell found her bewitching. “Very … very nice to meet you. I’m Mr. Campbell.”
“Yes, I know. I met Mr. Baxter earlier. I hope he is here.”
Lucky dog, thought Mr. Campbell.
Lucky dog, thought everyone else.
“Here I am.” said Mr. Baxter as he returned with a silver platter of almond coconut brittle. He handed it without looking to Ms. Trinkette. “Welcome to BaxCam Coffees!” He gave a little bow.
“You seem familiar.” She paused. “You owned a coffeeshop here in East Kingsley before.”
“Yes, indeed but it didn’t succeed, but my friend Mr. Campbell and I decided to go into business together and try again.”
“You won’t have any competition, now that Koffee-normous is gone.” said Mr. Pancetta. This time Mr. Campbell managed not to choke on his quad, five-and-a-half pumps vanilla, sugar free syrup, extra hot, extra whip, extra large soy latte.
“The less competition, the better.” said Mr. O’Dough.
“Well, everyone,” began Mr. Baxter. “Thank you so much for coming this evening. We’d been here about a week and have been too busy to meet our neighbors, so we sent an email to all the local shop owners for an impromptu housewarming …” He heard a gasp and saw a glint of light from the corner of his eye. Ms. Trinkette had dropped the tray. But Mr. O’Dough’s right hand, faster than humanly possible, caught the tray and the almond coconut brittle, all without spilling the champagne in the glass in his left.
“My goodness!” said Ms. McTaffy. “How did you do that?”
“I could say I was in the circus as a much younger man—a tumbler—but that sounds too far-fetched.”
“Yet it’s true.” said Ms. Trinkette. “In an office in back of Yeast Infection is suspended on a wall a print of Kneady juggling and doing a somersault.”
“You should do that for a MeTube video!” exclaimed Ms. McTaffy.
Another man stepped into the coffeehouse as Mr. O’Dough reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. “Am I late?” asked the newcomer. Ms. Trinkette rolled her eyes at him. Mr. O’Dough mouthed “text message” to the group and stepped away, moving to behind the counter.
The man didn’t seem sure whom he should address, so he just smiled and said, “I’m Ammo von Rikochet.” and waved at everyone.
“Gun store owner.” muttered Ms. Trinkette to Mr. Campbell, who stepped forward to shake hands with him. They were all lined up along the counter now, sampling the various hors d’oeuvres. Ms. Trinkette was standing alone, giving Mr. von Rikochet dirty looks. She could overhear snippets of conversation. “Do you play golf, Mr. Campbell?” said Mr. Pancetta. “Kneady and I play about twice a month. “May I refresh your drink?” said Mr. Baxter to Ms. Byndyng. Foolish man, thought Ms. Trinkette. She’s way out of his league and he’s acting like some horny schoolboy. “You should join us sometime.” continued Mr. Pancetta. “We aren’t very good, it’s just an excuse to shoot the breeze and gossip.” “You didn’t come by this afternoon.” said Ms. McTaffy. “I wanted you to try my new kimchee cheesecake truffle bombs.” “Was I supposed to?” said Mr. von Rikochet. “I forget so many things these days. My son Melee—he usually runs the store—keeps wanting to put an app on my phone to remind me of things but I tell him it’s a waste of time. I can hardly figure out how to make a call.” “There’s a nice golf course not far from here, with a good clubhouse.” “I forget to make receipts, forget to take my pills. I’d forget my head if it weren’t screwed on!” Ms. Trinkette downed her champagne in one gulp and rolled her eyes again. Stupid gun nut, she thought. Stupid meat vendor. Stupid everyone!
Before she could stupid anyone else, the door crashed open and a man stepped through, wielding a gun. “Smoky?” cried out Ms. Trinkette. The man took two steps in and pointed the gun at Mr. Pancetta. “Screw around with my Nicotina, will you?” He pulled the trigger. There was a bang. Mr. Pancetta let out a loud wail and fell to the floor, clutching his right shoulder.
And Ms. McTaffy also fell to the floor. A red stain spread across her chest.
The gunman looked shocked, though it was hard to tell whether it was because he had shot Mr. Pancetta or from seeing Ms. McTaffy fall unexpectedly. Everyone else stood paralyzed and silent, except for Ms. Byndyng, who knelt beside Ms. McTaffy. Ms. Byndyng picked up her arm and felt for a pulse in her wrist. She looked at the group. “Dead.” Mr. von Rikochet said, “She can’t be.” He grabbed Ms. McTaffy by the shoulders and shook her. “Licoricia! Wake up!” Ms. Byndyng finally took his hands in hers and pulled him gently away from Ms. McTaffy.
“Someone call 911!” said Ms. Trinkette. Mr. O’Dough was breathing hard but dialed on his cell. Ms. Byndyng looked towards Mr. Pancetta, who was also breathing hard. Mr. Baxter and Mr. Campbell were kneeling beside him. Mr. Baxter had grabbed a towel from the counter and was wrapping it around Mr. Pancetta’s shoulder. “Just lie back.” said Mr. Campbell. “The ambulance is on its way.”
Ms. Byndyng then looked at the gunman. “Smoky, put down that gun.” The man looked at the gun in his hand, as if he hadn’t seen it before. He threw it on the ground and stared at Mr. Pancetta. “Collops … I’m sorry! I … I didn’t mean to.”
Mr. Baxter left Mr. Pancetta to stand next to Ms. Byndyng. “Who is he?” he whispered.
“Smoky Laudlikoff. He owns the little tobacco shop at the end of the block.”
“Oh yes, he was on the invite list. But why did he shoot Collops?”
Ms. Byndyng faced Mr. Laudlikoff. “Tell us why you did it, Smoky.” she said.
Mr. Laudlikoff swallowed hard. “He … he was fooling around with Nicotina.” “Wife.” whispered Ms. Byndyng to Mr. Baxter.
“I didn’t know you owned a gun, Smoky.”
“I … I don’t. I found it, just now.” He looked at the gun, as did Mr. von Rikochet, who said, “That’s a 900 Bolt Andalusian. We had one just like that in my shop.”
“Had?” said Mr. Baxter. “Someone bought it? When?”
Mr. von Rikochet suddenly frowned. “You know, I don’t know now. I seem to remember selling it recently. But when was that?”
Mr. von Rikochet studied Mr. Laudlikoff. “No, I don’t think so. A different man.”
“Excuse me, but aren’t we missing the big question?” said Mr. Campbell. “How does one bullet shoot two people?”
“Maybe it went through Collops and into Licoricia?” said Mr. O’Dough.
“No, she was standing beside him, not behind him.”
“It bounced off Collops’ bone and altered its trajectory.” ventured Ms. Trinkette.
“No, no,” said Mr. von Rikochet. “Not a 900 Bolt Andalusian. Look at the wall behind where Collops was standing.” And sure enough, there was a hole in the wall.
“But who would want to shoot Licoricia?”
They continued to ponder this silently as the sound of sirens drew nearer.
= = = = =
“I see business did not suffer.” said Ms. Trinkette, bypassing the line of customers and stepping towards the counter where Mr. Baxter was finishing with a woman buying tea. Mr. Campbell was manning the espresso machine with cups lined up like soldiers on parade.
“Hi Jewels. Yes, surprisingly. I thought we were doomed. Who wants to have coffee where a murder took place? But—here’s your change—it seems to have had the opposite effect. We had to hire an extra clerk.” He gestured towards the other register, where a young woman in a BaxCam Coffees vest was handing a plate of cookies to a father with three young boys.
“Fiends. Vampires. It’s just a circus. Anyway. Is Collops doing okay?”
“He said the doctor said he’ll be fine eventually but it’s going to take a while. Peccari is doing most of the work in the deli now, but he tries to help out the best he can.”
“And Mr. Laudlikoff?”
“Arrested. I visited him in jail. I asked how he found out his wife and Collops were fooling around. He said something funny. He got a text that told him, and it also said ‘look by your back door’. And that’s where he found the gun. He picked it up and rushed over, and the rest you know.”
“Well, Mr. Laudlikoff was always very easily upset. But I don’t believe Collops was Nicotina’s first illicit lover.”
“So,” said Mr. Campbell from the machine. “The question is, who told Smoky? Who knew about this?”
“Collops knew.” said Mr. Baxter.
“Yeah, right. He’s going to go tell a hot-tempered guy, ‘Hey, I’m fooling around with your wife.’”
“Maybe Collops told someone else.” said Ms. Trinkette. “Are any of Collops’ associates also a trusted confidant?”
“And if so,” said Mr. Baxter. “that person then told Smoky. But who? The same person who left that gun for him to use, probably. But why?”
“Mr. X didn’t want to take any rap for murder, so Mr. X got Mr. Laudlikoff to do it.” said Ms. Trinkette.
“But Smoky didn’t succeed in killing him. Does that mean Mr. X will try to kill Collops again? And how does this tie in with poor Licoricia? And how did one bullet strike two people?”
Mr. O’Dough came in. “Any news?” They shared their musings with him. “We’re guessing there’s a Mr. X behind all this.” said Mr. Campbell. “That he wanted Collops dead and got someone else to do it, unwittingly. But we can’t figure out Licoricia’s death in all this. Who shot her?”
“Someone else in the room.” said Mr. Baxter.
“But East Kingsley Police examined and frisked everyone. Nobody was in possession of a gun.” said Ms. Trinkette.
“It did take a few minutes before the police came. Someone had time to get rid of the gun.”
“But nobody left the room until the police arrived.” said Mr. O’Dough. He looked out the window. “I need to get back to my shop. Mind if I use the back way?” He headed into the kitchen without waiting for a reply.
“If only Ammo’s gun’s buyer’s identity was known.” said Ms. Trinkette. As if on cue, Mr. von Rikochet burst into the coffeeshop, excitedly. He shoved his way through the line of customers, his eyes almost bulging from their sockets.
“I think I remember who bought that gun! It was two weeks ago, right after the local merchants meeting. Melee stopped by to say he had to deal with an emergency at home. The customer had on dark glasses and damn it, Melee is always telling me to get their IDs, but I keep forgetting. I was so confused, but I think I know who it was! It was …”
His expression changed abruptly to that of surprise. It coincided with a gunshot. Mr. von Rikochet keeled over onto the counter. Ms. Trinkette screamed. Mr. Campbell tried to roll him over while Mr. Baxter looked around for the killer. All he saw were the shocked faces of the customers. The new clerk was already dialing 911.
Ms. Byndyng ran in. “I heard a shot.” She saw Mr. von Rikochet slumped over the counter.
“He remembered who bought the gun!” said Mr. Campbell. “He came to tell us.”
“Fiends again!” cried out Ms. Trinkette. The customers were all talking loudy and pointing and staring at Mr. von Rikochet, and several were taking pictures with their phones. “A man is killed before your eyes and it’s just a circus!” she sobbed. “Don’t you care? Any distraction from your boring lives!” Ms. Byndyng looked behind the counter and found a large towel, with which she covered the body. She thought for a moment. “The whole business of Smoky trying to kill Collops was a distraction.”
Mr. Baxter saw where Ms. Byndyng was heading. “To distract us from Licoricia’s murder! The whole thing was a set up! Someone told Smoky about Collops and provided a gun, which he bought from Ammo.”
Ms. Trinkette had recovered a little. She blew her nose, and added, “Ammo said it was sold at meeting’s end.”
“I remember that meeting.” said Ms. Byndyng. “We were comparing notes. We were congratulating Licoricia for another great month.”
“Do you think someone there wanted to kill Licoricia?” said Mr. Baxter. “Mr. Campbell and I missed that meeting. Who else was there?”
“Well, all of us.” said Ms. Trinkette. “Everyone at your party, I mean.”
“There must be a motive.” said Ms. Byndyng.
Mr. Campbell suddenly stiffened. “Who would benefit from Licoricia’s death?” He paused for effect. “Mr. O’Dough.”
Only Ms. Trinkette looked surprised. “Impossible. Kneady wouldn’t kill Licoricia.” A pause. “Explain Kneady’s motive!”
Mr. Baxter began. “Licoricia was the new kid on the block, but she had both a good product and a knack for salesmanship. Her business took off unexpectedly like hotcakes. And who would be her biggest competition for sweets? The bakery.”
“Mr. O’Dough made that comment about not needing competition.” added Ms. Byndyng.
“So Kneady talked Mr. Laudlikoff into killing Licoricia?” asked Ms. Trinkette.
“Not at all.” said Mr. Campbell. “He was going to do the dirty work himself, but he needed a cover. He knew Collops was having an affair with Nicotina; obviously Collops confided in him while they were playing golf.”
“But describe Licoricia’s killing’s procedure.” said Ms. Trinkette. “Did Collops fake being injured?”
Mr. Baxter continued: “Obviously, after the merchants meeting, he made up his mind to do away with Licoricia. He knew Ammo had a foggy memory, and that Melee wouldn’t be in the shop. He left the meeting and bought the gun. He already had one of his own.”
“Then when the time was right,” said Mr. Campbell, “He left the gun by Smoky’s shop’s back door. Remember when he stepped behind the counter to answer a text? He was probably texting Smoky right then: ‘Collops is cheating with your wife. Look by your back door.’ Smoky found the gun and rushed over to shoot Collops.”
“Don’t forget, Kneady had lightning fast reflexes. With everyone watching Smoky, and Kneady behind the counter and behind everyone, it was easy to shoot Licoricia at the same time Smoky shot Collops. We were so distracted we didn’t think to look behind us. Collops had just enough time to run out, hide his gun somewhere, and hurry back.”
“He was out of breath when he called the police.” said Ms. Byndyng.
“And just now,” said Mr. Baxter. “He looked out the window and took off in a hurry. He must’ve seen Ammo coming in a rush and guessed Ammo had remembered who bought the gun. He hid somewhere and shot Ammo.”
“So terrible!” said Ms. Trinkette. “Kneady killed Licoricia for being joyful and successful? And Ammo too? I didn’t like Ammo or guns but nobody deserves to die. And Collops’ demise nearly was a possibility, too.” She walked over to a chair and sat down.
“She’ll be okay.” said Ms. Byndyng, and went to join her.
“Well,” said Mr. Campbell looking outside. “Here are the police. We can tell them to look for Kneady. But there’s just one thing still puzzling me.”
“What’s that?” said Mr. Baxter.
“Why does Jewels never use words containing the letter H?”