Some did it for money, others for kicks. Charlene did it for both. She reached into the tarnished brass mailbox next to the Carson Mansion’s front door – one of the few homes that still had a letter box on the front porch, rather than a community box at the street corner for mail-carrier efficiency. Laziness, thought Charlene, but then she never sent snail mail, anyway. She felt around at the bottom of the box and chose one of about five folded slips of paper.
That was the rule: Pick one, only one. Don’t look at the others. Don’t loiter at the old mansion. Move along. Charlene leaned up against the wall, well-hidden by a tangle of ivy that had dug its claws deep into the mortar and now threatened to pull down the brick facade of the house. She unfolded the paper and read: “Mrs. Elsa Claridge, 95 Willow Ct. R, D, I +10”
Charlene memorized the note, stuck it into her mouth, and chewed till it was soggy. She took a swig from her water bottle and swallowed. No evidence. She’d read enough spy novels to know that much. She clipped the bottle back onto her belt, shoved her hands into her pockets, and slowly sauntered straight down the front walk, sparing only the most casual backward glance over her shoulder. She counted slowly to ten, and imagined the house exploding behind her, like in that scene from “The Little Drummer Girl.”
Charlene loved dawn. She usually had it to herself. By dusk, the town was full of weary working stiffs. The air was dusty, redolent with sweat and roasting meat. Morning smelled of coffee and croissants, punctuated with the sizzle of smoked bacon. Charlene stopped by Java Lynn’s for two Black Mambas, a Cinnamon Hypnodisc, and a Zombie scone. Call her a suck up, but she couldn’t afford to flunk Calculus. Cinnamon Hypnodiscs and strong coffee were Mr. Altamont’s weakness.
“Morning, Mr. Altamont!” Charlene laid one of the two Black Mambas and a paper bag on Mr. Altamont’s desk. “Mmmmm…love the smell of Calculus in the morning!” she chirped, opening the bag containing the Cinnamon Hypnodisc so that its warm, cinnamon and vanilla scents wafted straight up Mr. Altamont’s nose.
“You are too good to me, Charlene,” said Mr. Altamont, barely looking up from his lesson plan. He knew better. All the 10th grade girls were incorrigible flirts; this one actually actually had negotiating skills. “Ready for the test?”
“Of course,” she lied.
Mr. Altamont looked up sharply, one eyebrow raised. “Glad to hear that.” Mr. Altamont went back to ignoring her. Charlene hoped his name showed up on a slip of paper, one day. Till then, she’d practice smiling. It really was the ‘little things,’ she thought to herself. Anne Bancroft would have been proud.
After school, Charlene strolled home. She pushed open the front door, grabbed a cookie from the counter, yelled, “Hi, Mom!” and headed up the stairs without waiting for an answer. Same routine, every day. She threw herself onto the bed and closed her eyes, willing herself to sleep for an hour – one hour, no more, no less. Homework, dinner, more homework, bed… Darkness settled over the town.
Charlene folded back the comforter, pulled on her black leggings, black t-shirt, and black athletic shoes. She pulled her hair back with an elastic band and slipped out the window. 95 Willow Ct. was only eight blocks away; Charlene welcomed the chance to stretch her legs a bit before accepting the challenge she’d found in the mailbox.
She crept around the side yard and tested the windows. Locked. She jumped into the window well and pushed against the cellar windows. Her neighbors never thought about those; half the time, they were buried in leaves and debris or half-hidden behind overgrown bushes. Charlene wasn’t fond of creepy old cellars, but this would do. Mrs. Elsa Claridge kept hers quite neat, almost habitable. The laundry was down here, and Charlene noticed that the dryer was still running. She could just wait till the old lady came down the stairs, make it look like an accident.
A sharp buzz from the dryer startled Charlene. She heard footsteps and darted behind the wooden staircase. Mrs. Claridge made her way down; Charlene had only to reach out between the slats and grab her by the ankle–
“Ooof!” The old woman went flying forward, arms outstretched. She grabbed at the railing, just before landing, and spun around – too quickly to notice Charlene pressed against the wall behind the steps, even if the movement of her taking one step back registered as a brief flicker in her brain. “Oh, God–” Mrs. Claridge tumbled backwards and struck her head on the bottom step before landing in a crumpled heap on the rough, concrete floor. Her eyes fluttered, then closed. Charlene darted up the stairs. She smashed the figurines in the China cabinet and swept books from their shelves. She darted through the house quickly, checking for what looked like the old woman’s bedroom. There, on the dresser–
“Jackpot,” murmured Charlene. She opened the jewelry box with a gloved hand. She dumped the contents on the bed, chose what looked like a good piece for herself, and left the rest. R for robbery – check. D for death – Charlene went back down the cellar steps and watched the old woman for any signs of breathing. Check. She pulled out a Sharpie marker, using it to write the initials “M.A.” – Murder Anonymous – on Mrs. Claridge’s arm. Check. Finished with her grisly quest, assured of her ten points, Charlene climbed back out the window well and sprinted home. That would put her in the lead, for sure.
Come morning, it was back to the usual routine. Charlene wouldn’t buy Mr. Altamont another coffee till she knew she’d scored an A on yesterday’s test. “Just one, today, Lynne,” she said, ordering a Zombie scone to go with her strong Black Mamba.
Class was abuzz by the time she got there. “Oh my God, Charlene – did you hear?”
“Marc Altamont was arrested this morning. They think he killed his mother.”
“WHAT? Mr. Altamont?” She was as surprised to hear he had a mother as she was to hear about the arrest.
“Yeah. Elsa Claridge showed back up in town with husband number five, and now she’s dead.”
Elsa Claridge? Charlene went white as a sheet.
Ricky walked into the room, watching a newscast on his smartphone. “He’s been implicated in a string of murders around town, now, too. Looks like he enjoys signing his work–” Ricky shuddered and looked around at his classmates. “M.A. Marc Altamont. He’s the M.A. Killer. They’ve finally caught him!”
Well, so much for that game, thought Charlene with a sigh. She’d just have to come up with another. She pulled a disposable lighter from her pocket and contemplated her options.
Story #7 – today’s Story is based on the prompt at Sept 07 – Mystery Monday. Sometimes it’s tougher following the very specific prompts; this was one of those times. But “Charlene” came to my rescue. As much as “Charlene” comes to anyone’s rescue… ::shudder::
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