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Mystery Suspense Drama

Author’s Note: This is the last (planned) installment of the Cracked Cases! Thank you so much for reading this far!

           Alma could barely bear to look at Abigail. It was like watching a streetlight fizzle and pop out: Abigail was filled with that final burst of light before darkening forever. Abigail was the last candle on the birthday cake, the last ember of the campfire, and Alma had full intentions of extinguishing her.

           But Alma knew that that required just a bit more time. Abigail had dug her grave, but Alma was going to let her build the coffin as well. Let Abigail think she was burying Debbie LaBrown; Abigail would hammer the last nail on Abigail in the final moments.

           Officer Sandra and Franny—Detective Francis Muller, getting Abigail’s names out of Alma’s head was going to be a process—did not seem to know that.

           “What in the name of the patriarchy’s oppression do you think that you’re talking about?” Sandra questioned, urgently. Kidnapping accusations were serious business.

           “I just told you.” Abigail looked annoyed, crossing her arms and tapping her feet. “Debbie LaBrown has a band of people that kidnap for her own selfish benefits-“

           “Debbie LaBrown does not have a coven of people!” Sandra argued. “Those things don’t even exist in real life!”

           “That’s what they want you to think,” Abigail spat. “That means it’s working.”

           Sandra quieted for a moment, thinking. She looked like a boiling can with the lid still on, which meant she would be exploding shortly.

           When she did talk, though, it wasn’t as explosive as Alma would have thought.

           “You’re a petulant child!” Sandra hissed. “You have no idea what you’re talking about; you’re just causing chaos for the sake of causing chaos-“

           “I am not!” Abigail interrupted, sounding an awful lot like a petulant child. Alma resisted the urge to roll her eyes. The longer Abigail stood here arguing with Sandra, the longer it would be until she did something drastically wrong. It was time to drive this train off the tracks. Alma tapped Fran—Detective Francis Muller’s—arm. It was not a planned signal but he seemed to get the point.

           “Dear, I think our efforts are better spent somewhere else.” He gently guided Sandra’s shoulders away from Abigail.

           “Fine,” Abigail huffed. “You go and investigate some silly bakery. I’ll be busy actually detecting an actual murder.” She scowled with her nose in the air. “Come on, Alma.”

           “No!” Alma yelped. Wait, that was too loud. Alma quieted. “I mean, I need to stay here. I’m a witness! I need to give evidence!”

           “Yes!” Fr—Detective Francis Muller—caught onto Alma’s play. “She must stay here. I must interview her.”

           Abigail grumbled something indiscernible, probably about her superiority and how they were all going to regret not helping her, and stomped off. It would have been comical if Alma didn’t know the icy consequences an angry Abigail could invoke.

           “Okay,” Sandra said once Abigail had crossed the street, “who are you and why are you calling me dear?”

           “I am so sorry to have done this to you without context, ma’am,” Detective Francis Muller apologized, “but thank you very much for your cooperation.” He slapped 20 dollars in her hand.

           “You still haven’t explained what you’re doing here.”

           “He’s…here for an experiment!” Alma lied.

           “So you’re not actually a detective?” Sandra clarified.

           “I can be,” Detective Francis Muller explained elusively, “depending on how much you pay me.”

           “Like right now, I’m paying him 40 dollars.” 40 dollars that I stole from Abigail while she was unconscious underneath the QuickShop, Alma silently added as she passed the money. “20 dollars for being a detective and 20 dollars for paying you.”

           “And now that I have been payed,” Detective Francis Muller grasped the money, “I am no longer Detective, I am just Francis Muller, at your service.”

           Sandra’s eyes flicked between the two of them. “I don’t think I understand.”

           “It’s okay.” Alma nodded reassuringly. “You don’t need to. Now that Mr. Muller has been payed, he and I will be on our merry ways, and you can proceed with your investigation per normal.”

           Sandra threw her hands up in the air and walked off. “I don’t know why every single detective in New York is lying all the time,” she mumbled.

           “Great.” Alma smiled up at Francis Muller. “Thank you so much for your help. Now I must leave.”

           “It was my pleasure.” Francis Muller mimed tipping his hat and bowing dramatically. “If you need anything else, you know who to pay!”

           “That I do!” Alma tipped her invisible hat back and turned around.

           “Wait,” Francis Muller said softly. Alma turned back. His eyes were heavy. “Alma, are you okay?”

           Hey, it was the first time Alma had been asked that in a good long while. Score for Alma! She smiled and nodded. “Yes, I am completely fine.”

           “You’re sure that you’re okay with-“

           Alma held up her hand. “Yes, Mr. Muller. Though I might not say it, and you might not say it, and we might need to testify against that very idea, I absolutely, thoroughly promise you that I will be—you know what you can do?’

           “Yes?”

           “Take those two.” Alma pointed at the two slumbering Lindenhuis relatives. “Take them to the United News Station in about ten minutes. To Debbie LaBrown’s dressing room, most likely.” Alma dug into her pockets. “I’ll…I’ll pay you, but it might not be that much-“

           “Alma.” Francis Muller’s voice was strong and firm but not dangerous or sharp, like dark chocolate. “I’ll always work for free when it’s for a good pause.”

           “You sweet, incorruptible little man.” Alma waved. “Goodbye, now!”

           It was not difficult to locate the United News headquarters, primarily because it had a giant flashing sign that read “United News!” with Debbie LaBrown’s smiling face broadcasted next to it. Alma saw Abigail’s eyes linger just a bit too long on Debbie’s face then was healthy.

           “Abigail!” Alma ran to Abigail with both arms waving.

           “Alma,” Abigail lectured, “don’t be so obvious!”

           “But Abigail, you’re being stupid!” Alma pleaded. “Don’t just run in there and accuse Debbie; poison her!”

           “Poison her?” Abigail looked up into the darkened, lightly-starred sky. “That’s arson.”

           “Heroic arson.”

           “It’s still arson, and to get any credit I’d be admitting to murder.” Abigail patted Alma condescendingly on the head. “That’s the difference between me and you, Alma. You’ll murder for no credit. I won’t do anything unless it means credit.”

           Oh, you’ll be getting a ton of credit now, Alma thought. “Well, Abigail, I’ve got a nice vial of poison right here, and it would be a shame to waste.” Alma reached into her inward-most pocket, the secret one she had sewn on with mesh and buttons, and pulled out a small tube-shaped glass of cyanide. She held it out innocently to Abigail.

           “Well,” Abigail thought, “this could work.” Alma could practically see the gear’s in Abigail’s head turning, mechanically winding up her concerningly-growing smile. “Yes, this could work really well. Debbie LaBrown: fraudster, kidnapper, and poisoner. Yes, that’s brilliant.” Abigail put the vial in her own pocket. “Come on now, Alma; I need somebody to keep watch.”

           “You’re welcome,” Alma whispered. As much as he despised Abigail, she would have appreciated some amount of thanks. Perhaps that was why she had hesitated so much to frame Abigail—no, that was pathetic. Alma’s parents always told her she was clever and strong and didn’t need anybody’s thanks. Alma tried her best to listen.

           “I’m here to see Debbie LaBrown,” Abigail practically shouted at a receptionist. Abigail was getting too cocky. That was her problem, Alma realized: there's a difference between confident, bossy, and cocky, and Abigail did not know that difference.

           “You’ve got an appointment?” The receptionist sounded as if she had retired fifteen years ago and was only just realizing that she had never truly gone home.

           “Yes,” Abigail decided, briskly walking off. A helpful, strobe-light sign read “Debbie LaBrown’s Dressing Room” and Abigail strode off in that direction as if she owned the building. Alma shrugged apologetically at the receptionist who went right back to filling in her crossword.

           As Abigail’s shoes clicked ominously against the stark white tile of the station, Alma realized the pure lack of doors. There were no doors at all, only one stray elevator and a bunch of promotional posters. No doors. Absolutely no doors. Not even a window. It was a fire-hazard nightmare and looked like the inside of a jail.

           Abigail didn’t say anything when she reached one fateful cursive pink “Debbie LaBrown.” She simply pushed open the disgracefully unlocked door and burst in.

           “Debbie LaBrown, I have caught you!” Abigail hollered, her whole being elevated with the prospect of a rightful framing before promptly drooping. “She’s not in here.”

           That was an entirely accurate statement.

           “Alma,” Abigail instructed, “please go back into the hallway and alert me of when Debbie’s here.”

           Alma smiled sweetly and ran off, all the way back to the receptionist. She supposed that it was good there were no doors, because going back to the nearest telephone was a simple, straight line.

           “Call the police!” Alma whispered hurriedly.

           “Why?” The receptionist raised one eyebrow and reached for the telephone in a motion that could not have been slower.

           “There’s a murderer in this building.”

           “There’s murderers everywhere. You walk near approximately 36 serial killers in your life-“

           “Yeah, and one’s going to walk right past us if we don’t get on it.” Alma grabbed the phone and dialed the police herself.

           “There’s a murderer at the United News Station!” Alma instructed. “Come now!”

           “Again?” It sounded like Sandra had answered. She sighed. “I thought this job would be exciting. It’s just tiring!”

           “Great. Come now.” Alma hung up the phone and paced in a box of three steps.

           It didn’t take long for the police to arrive, likely because they were just stationed a few blocks away. The Break-In took a backseat to the murder and a small army of officers marched into the Unite News headquarters.

           Sandra came to Alma first. “Am I going to be payed personally for this?”

           “In a way,” Alma confirmed. She beckoned for everybody to follow her and led them down the hall. Alma couldn’t help feeling triumphant, like a rebel leading the whole rebellion. Alma never could have imagined that she would be the one with the police on her side—she couldn’t imagine having such a large group of anybody on her side, let alone the law enforcement—but there they were, much to Abigail’s confusion.

           Abigail picked herself up quickly, and her confusion flipped to pleasure. “Oh, thank your incompetence for being here, because I’ve got evidence-“

           “She’s the murderer.” Alma pointed monotonously. She was, in short, conflicted. On one hand, all she could think of when accusing Abigail was Abigail accusing her right back, and them both going to jail, being locked in the same cell—that would be terrible, worse than Abigail blackmailing her, worse than Abigail gripping her shoulder and commanding her every move.

           But, on the other hand, it sure was fun to see Abigail crumble.

           “I’m not the murderer!” Abigail shrieked. Alma chuckled slightly. Abigail always said that only the worst murderers outright claimed to not be the murderer.

           “She is,” Alma nodded. As Abigail was losing confidence, Alma was gaining it. “Look at that poison.”

           “This isn’t mine; it’s Debbie’s!” Abigail gripped the cyanide tighter.

           “You’re the only one holding it, so I’m going to guess it’s yours,” Sandra deduced.

           Abigail looked around furiously, her eyes strangely alive. They weren’t cold, empty, fishy eyes like she normally had; they looked like they had fire behind them. It was as if she had alarm bells flashing in her head and they were shining out of her eyes.

           “Why are you trusting her?” was all she could come up with. “Alma’s a murderer herself!”

           Alma was prepared for that reverse-accusation. “Actually, I’m not. Abigail will just make you think that because she’s abusive.”

           “I’m not abusive!” Wow, Abigail’s comeback game was really off-point.

           Alma had come across some New York City protocol regarding abuse between adults and minors while she was finalizing her plan last night, and she had found that the law enforcement would always trust the child. That was about to come to her advantage.

           “What kind of abuse?” Sandra asked delicately. “Physical, emotional, psychological?”

           “The one where she lies and threatens to you and convinces you that you’re a murderer.”

           “You can’t just go off of one accusation!” Abigail cried.

           “You can’t, but you can go off of three.”

           Alma felt like cheering. Francis Muller and the two Lindenhuises had delivered. The trio stood defensively in the door frame where Richard, despite his mousiness, was delivering his own accusation. “This woman and her carelessness were directly why myself and my nephew ended up in a QuickShop basement, unconscious and in the dark.”

           “Plus she made fun of our intelligence,” Victor, or Vincent, or whatever his name was. Alma hadn’t bothered to learn it either. “Just so that you know. She wasn’t entirely pleasant to deal with.”

           “Well,” Sandra remarked, “three abuse accusations and you’re standing here frazzled with a bottle of cyanide. Got anything to counter with, Ms. Hartford?”

           Abigail didn’t, judging by how she was flapping her mouth open and shut, to stunned with failure to react. But a final key component did.

           “What’s going on in my dressing room?” Debbie LaBrown, clad in pink and excessive makeup—Alma wondered if they changed the sign on her door to match with her outfit—flounced in. “This is not where I conduct segments.” She noticed Abigail. “Hey, that’s the iffy-looking woman! She always seemed threatening.”

           “Why is basic competence considered threatening?” Abigail shrieked.

           “Basic competence is not,” Alma retorted, “but murder is.” She clapped her hands and moved to the center of the room. “As can clearly be seen, Abigail Hartford over here tried to murder Debbie LaBrown based on her own personal suspicions and attempts at selfish gain. This is on top of lots of lying, threatening, and abuses.” Alma slowed down and enunciated each syllable, just like Abigail did when delivering a story. “And this is the woman that you all trusted to investigate your murder.”

           “Alma.” Abigail’s voice was the hissiest Alma had ever heard it; it sounded like honey moving through the air, suffocating them all. “If you continue with this nonsense-“

           “Absolutely nothing will happen to her.” Sandra popped open shiny handcuffs, gleaming brighter than a trophy. “We’ve got all the evidence we need, Ms. Hartford.” Abigail didn’t even struggle as Sandra locked the cuffs around her. Abigail was a different Abigail. She was cracked and broken, regretful and wrong, beginning to realize her mistake but unable to recover from it.

           Alma had never felt so free.

(Another) Author’s Note: If you like happy endings then please stop reading.

           Abigail hated jails. They reminded her of the closets her parents used to lock her in when she misbehaved. Abigail had made it her life’s goal to never go to jail, ever—on top of many other things she intended on achieving. It looked like none of that would be happening anytime soon. 45 deaths linked to one's name doesn't really help a person.

           She had lost to a 14-year-old; how terrible was that?

           The bail to her parents had been sent, but mail took at least a few days to reach California, and Abigail’s court hearing was the next day, to which she could be granted some shadow of a public law student to defend her, but in the meantime all she could do was wait and star between the cracks of the bars.

           Was this was being deported felt like? The corner of Abigail’s mind was going crazy as she noticed the lack of any doors or windows, just concrete and metals blocks surrounding her. No. Deportation would be better. At least then she would be going somewhere. Here she was, stagnant and waiting, just waiting.

           Abigail thought it was awfully unfair that nobody listened to her. It just proved the police’s incompetence: they listened to and believed the first person they heard from! Abigail spun a very detailed story about how Alma and Debbie LaBrown were plotting against her, but nobody listened; they all just believed Alma and dumped Abigail in the jail cell like a pile of moldy leaves.

           “Yes, I’d like to speak with Ms. Hartford,” a faint voice instructed. It sounded grossly unfamiliar. Abigail hoped beyond hope that it was not the news station. She had already been photographed once; she was not in an ideal state to be interviewed.

           The woman came without cameramen or a notepad: so far so good. She looked like a Real Estate agent—fake blonde hair and clothes fit for a librarian from the 1960s—but her lackluster appearance was brightened up by shockingly green eyes.

           Green-eyed people are jealous, Abigail thought. This would be interesting. But who could be jealous of Abigail—she was literally in a jail!

           “Ms. Hartford.” The woman stuck out her hand almost mockingly, then realized that there were bars separating them and Abigail couldn’t shake back. The woman dropped her hand limply to her side. “My name is Marsha Graham and I’m here from Wayward Criminals Anonymous.”

           “That can’t be a real thing,” Abigail scoffed.

           “I assure you it is,” Marsha Graham replied coldly, “and we can get you out of here.”

           “So I leave jail to go to a rehabilitation center,” Abigail considered. “And what are you going to do there, give me therapy? Shatter me then glue me back together? Fix me up?”

           “No, none of that.” Marsha shook her head, her hair staying firmly in place, hanging like straws, a slight smile growing faintly on her lips.

           Abigail felt her own smile growing. “You’re going to let me-“

           “No.” Marsha held up one hand, glancing around. There were cameras and guards nearby. Abigail new Marsha would have to speak in assumptions and innuendos.

           Marsha lowered her voice, her smile now obvious. “We’re going to make you better.”

December 12, 2020 16:53

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7 comments

Ijeoma Okoli
12:29 Feb 12, 2021

I love this

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Kate Ashton
15:39 Jan 23, 2021

That last line gave me chills!

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Meggy House
15:38 Jan 28, 2021

Thank you! I'm happy you enjoyed it.

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Regina Perry
15:27 Jan 22, 2021

What a fabulous end to a wonderful serial! I'm really glad that Abigail was offered a way out. Even though I was rooting for Alma, seeing Abigail's world fall out from under her was enough to make me pity Abigail and want her back in the game. I know you said this is the end, but it doesn't feel like the end. It makes a great end, don't get me wrong. But it really feels like a beginning, too. Maybe you could write a spin-off serial or something. All I know is I want more!

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Meggy House
20:55 Jan 29, 2021

Thank you so much! This is the end...for now (ha ha ha; I'm quite terrible at doing evil laughs). Anyway, I'm happy you enjoyed it! As for what's actually happening, I'm probably going to write more about these two but not for a little while. But I promise I will update you when they come back!

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Ray Dyer
01:37 Dec 14, 2020

Wow, Meggy! You finished it! And I love the ending. It shifts from the conclusion of your story to the last chapter of Abigail's origin story. This definitely has the feel of where an agent came from. I like the glimpses of "reality" with Sandra, and the humor from Francis. I very much enjoyed another installment from Alma's perspective, and the different voice she brings to the series. Congratulations! You've been piecing this together for a lot of weeks, and taking inspiration from a lot of prompts to fit each part into place. Y...

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Meggy House
15:52 Dec 14, 2020

Thank you so much for reading and your wonderful commentary! I am very happy you enjoyed this installment and the whole series and general!

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