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Mystery Fiction Crime

Carol Lyndon found the man who called himself Miles to be a charming gentleman. She’d enjoyed a dark stroll at Waterfront Park after a negroni and a plural of pink ladies before she realized his marital status. She hadn’t asked outright, and he hadn’t admitted anything, per se. This was Charleston after all, modern or not, and she wouldn’t be any man’s low-hanging fruit. Besides, it had started to rain.

“I thought we were having a nice time,” he said.

Carol let another kiss sink into her neck, but her eyes slowly rolled back into place and her lungs refilled with chilly, salty night air.

“Come on,” he said. “I’ll take you home.”

“I know where I live,” Carol told him.

“It’s about to rain,” he said. “My car is over there. I can’t let you walk home.”

“You can and you will,” she said, but he had that kind of face that you just can’t slam a door in. “I’ve seen you at the Cosmo before,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll see you again.”

Carol tried to find her keys in her pocket before she realized that she hadn’t worn the blue dress with the front pockets. She’d worn the red dress that complemented her loose red locks, the dress that lacked pockets and caution. As she walked beside Miles, she opened her small purse that’d been tucked under her arm. She found her keys in the purse, and she looked up to explain to Miles that she would be going home. The trees, his face, and the shadows all danced in her vision. Her head lightened as her shoulders dragged her down.

Miles Jackson grabbed Carol Lyndon, exposing her right shoulder and causing Carol to squeeze the pepper spray canister she used as a key chain. He let go, and she fell to the ground, smacking her head on the gray stones so hard that she nearly passed out.

She stood and, instinctively, kicked off her heels before she started to run. Even barefoot, she fell again on the increasingly wet gray stones under the shadows of some oaks and palmettos. A dizzying array of light streaked through thin rain clouds augmented the drinks, adrenaline, and what-have-you as Carol stood and made her way back to the pineapple fountain where their stroll had begun.

She reached Cumberland Street, two blocks north of Waterfront. Something in the need to catch her breath helped Carol realize that no one was chasing her. She was definitely a victim, and she’d, without a doubt, fought off a strange man—a strange married man—who attacked women every weekend. Carol had a full sense of bravery in her heart and a quarter bottle of gin back at her place. A transcendental sense of normalcy suddenly washed over her body stronger than the moist mist from the sky, allowing the alcohol to settle in and calm her down.

Until she saw the cop leaning over his squad car in the spotlight of a streetlight. She stopped. Stock still. He stood straight up and turned full on. A large man, she could tell, even fifty or so yards away. A concerned man who’d been expecting something but not exactly this.

She started walking again. She’d done nothing wrong. Miles had attacked her. And she was vulnerable. And—

And she ducked between the houses on Philadelphia Alley, a narrow brick-laid path that runs between Cumberland and Queen. The houses and crooked bushes on each side of the path blocked the moonlight better than the thin rain clouds, and the path grew quickly darker. The corners of the bricks hurt her bare feet, and she tried to look ahead while listening for the cop’s feet behind her.

As she approached what she thought had to be near the end of Philadelphia Alley, she saw someone standing near a house but not where a door would be.

As she took a few more steps, she realized this person was looking the other direction wearing a green dress, designed much like her own red one. She had green shoes, Carol thought. Fifty yards away, maybe. Maybe less. She wondered if this woman would ask about her bare feet as she walked by. Maybe she would offer to take Carol home.

Carol stepped a little livelier—Did she feel impaired?—hoping to reach the woman before the cop reached her. People aren’t suspects in pairs.

As Carol progressed down the alley, she could see that, on the other side of the alley, a man in a black fedora and tan-maybe trench coat stood behind a staircase. The pair held each other’s attention until two quick shots sent the woman in the green dress against the wall. The shots weren’t loud, but they certainly weren’t silent. Carol stepped back quickly, afraid that the man would see her. Her movement earned the woman’s attention, and her head had turned while Carol tried backing away, back down Philadelphia Alley.

Carol considered running to the green dress woman, but her expression was so emotionless, so painless as she leaned against and began to slide along the plaster wall of an old Charleston home. Carol, again, thought about running to the woman, but, again, the man…. Instead, Carol ran back down the alley toward Cumberland Street.

She would tell the cop. She realized that she wasn’t leaving a woman to die in the streets. Carol was running to get help.

When she reached the edge of the alley, she turned to the left, slamming straight into a big man’s chest. The cop.

“You heard it? Down there,” Carol said, but she didn’t let go. She had put her arms around the officer that she had been running from earlier for reasons she couldn’t define. The officer’s right hand secured his pistol.

“Ma’am, my name is Dodson. Sherrod Dodson. I’m with the Charleston City Police Department and—“

“He shot her.”

The officer pulled the woman from him. “He? Who?”

“A man in a black fedora and a—”

“Stay here,” Officer Dodson said. He sprinted down Philadelphia Alley.

From the sidewalk on Cumberland Street, Carol Lyndon could see that Officer Dodson had turned on his flashlight and was searching on both sides of the alley. He traded the big light for a small one. A phone?

The mist turned into a drizzle, enough to make Carol feel actually wet. She found an awning in front of a nondescript shop. The streets were lit more from the man-made fixtures than the moon that hid behind the thickening, darkening clouds.

Officer Dodson returned with much less haste.

“OK,” he said, “I’m going to take you home, and—”

“Did you find the body? Her body?”

“There was no body, ma’am, and no sign of any altercation of any kind.”

“But I saw—”

“You saw the moon, ma’am. We all do, from time to time.”

“But I know what I saw.”

“Did you happen to see your shoes, ma’am?

“I…. No. I left them. Down at Waterfront. An accident.” She realized how that sounded. “I mean, I accidentally left them. At Waterfront.”

Officer Dodson helped her into the passenger seat of the squad car. He was careful not to let her fall and just as helpful not to touch her in any way.

He asked Carol what she’d seen, and she started to tell him, but then he remembered to ask her how to get to her apartment.

“It’s just right up here,” she said. “Two more blocks on the other side of Colonial Lake.”

Dodson asked Carol to finish her story. She tells him exactly what she saw—the woman, the shadows, the man with the gun—

“Wait. The man had a gun. You saw the man with a gun.”

“Yeah, and then I heard the shot. Two or three shots. He shot her, and she fell against the wall. She is dead. I saw her eyes.”

“Closed?”

“Open,” she said, “but lifeless.”

“You saw all of that from…you said, seventy-five yards away? Almost a football field.”

“I don’t know. I’m not a good judge of distance. You gotta believe me. You believe me, don’t you?”

“Miss Lyndon, you say you saw a man with a gun, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then, ma’am, you saw a man with a gun.”

She asked Officer Dodson if he plans to have someone look over the alley in the morning.

“Absolutely.”

“Can I call you tomorrow,” she asked, “to find out what you found?”

“Ma’am, you are always welcome to call on me if you need anything, but I would put this incident behind you.”

“I know what I saw.”

“I know you do,” he said.

Her head started to lean toward the window.

“After any great trauma,” he continued, “there are two types of people: those who drive themselves crazy and those who feel the gratitude of another sun rise. The important thing tonight, Miss Lyndon, is that you are safe and you’re home.”

“I’m home,” she said.

He walked around and opened the door. He looked up the side of the building and said, “I would walk you up, but I don’t want your neighbors to start rumors.”

“Thank you, sir.”

She walked through the entrance way and across the small lobby to the stairs, which she always used because the elevator was slow and she lived on the second floor. Apparently, she believed, she had been so relieved about a night out—Finally!—that she’d forgotten to lock the door.

Carol didn’t wonder long. And she didn’t change. She just stretched out on the couch. Uncomfortable. She realized she still held her purse tucked under her arm. She wrestled it away from herself and tossed it to the empty coffee table.

***

Potentially, Carol Lyndon would have awakened to the gratitude of sunrise, like Officer Dodson recommended, but she awakened, instead, to a series of ever-loudening knocks on her apartment door. She tripped over a throw pillow that had thrown itself on the floor before straightening her hair and dress.

“Charleston City Police Department. We have a few questions.”

They introduced themselves by holding a shield through the cracked-open door. Detectives Dunn and Akira.

Carol opened the door and invited them in. She tried to re-imagine what she saw in the alley as the officers made their way into the apartment. Dunn walked in and stood with a notepad in his hand. Akira walked around the perimeter of the main room as if she were inspecting the real estate.

“Please sit down. Let me move some things.”

She straitened the cushions on the couch before picking up her purse and a single red high heel shoe that stood proudly on top of the small clutch purse.

“We just need to ask a few questions,” Dunn said.

“Oh good,” she said. “That’s good.”

Akira sat on the far end of the couch as Carol looked briefly for her other shoe. Then, she remembered walking home barefoot. She held up the one red shoe that she’d found on the table.

“Good?” Akira asked. “Why is it good?”

“Why is what good?” Carol asked.

“Why is it good that we’ve come to ask you some questions?”

Carol took her time sitting in the recliner next to the couch. “I mean,” she said, “it’s good that you have just a few questions. I should probably clean up.”

“Absolutely, ma’am. We’re in a hurry ourselves,” Dunn said. “Did you meet or spend time with a man last night named Miles Jackson?”

Akira showed a picture of the man that Carol had been drinking and strolling with last night.

“Yes,” Carol Lyndon said, “I guess I did. I wasn’t sure of his name.”

“Did you know he was a married man?” Akira asked.

“I figured it out.”

“And then, what did you do?”

“I…I left him in the park.”

“What park?” Dunn asked.

“Waterfront Park on the parking lot side. Just down from the pineapple fountain.”

“Waterfront Park?” Dunn asked as he wrote. “About what time?

“Eleven. Eleven thirty maybe.”

“So you just said, ‘Goodbye’?” Akira asked. “You slapped him? You phoned a friend?”

“My phone was dead. Can I ask what this is about?”

The detectives looked at each other before Akira answered, “He’s unofficially a missing person. It’s unofficial because there hasn’t been sufficient time. How did you find out he was married? Did he tell you?”

“He didn’t try to press me into going back to his place,” Carol answered.

Akira asked “Do you have that offer made often? I mean, woman to woman here, couldn’t he have just wanted quick fun without letting you knowing where he lives? That’s a fancy dress for this time of the morning.”

“Thanks,” Carol said, “but, woman to woman, it wouldn’t look right on you. I met a man. I left him in the park. I never want to see him again.”

By that time, Carol Lyndon had made her way to the door.

“And the same goes for the two of you. If you think I’m involved, arrest me. Whoever said they saw me with him probably also saw me leave the park without him. Am I right?”

Carol Lyndon had regained sober wits, and she definitely wouldn’t be talked down to, especially woman to woman.

“So unless you’re going to arrest me for taking a walk,” she opened the door and hid angry tears, “I suggest you take a walk.”

“Miss Carol,” said the voice in the opened door. “We have to stop meeting like this.”

Officer Dodson. She almost embraced him the way she had the night before. He wore his own clothes, but just his voice revealed his identity quickly to Carol. His voice had a Barry White’s depth with Dean Martin’s vibrato.

The detectives, though higher ranked, were smaller statured.

“Did you get the answers you were looking for, detectives?” he asked.

“Not really,” Dunn said, “but she’s not really a suspect. So…um…we’re going to keep looking. Elsewhere.”

“Sure won’t hold you up from your duties, detectives,” Sherrod said. “I’m going to stay and comfort Miss Carol. Presently, she doesn’t look like a satisfied tax payer.”

He helped her to the couch and offered to get some water. He had to open several cabinets. He’d never been in her kitchen before.

“When you realized Mr. Jackson was married,” he said from the kitchen, “what kept you from just bringing him back to your place?”

“I’m not like that, Officer….”

“Sherrod. Sherrod Dodson. Call me Sherrod,” he said, returning with two glasses of water. “And I’m glad to hear that. A lot of women used to just take him right into their homes. Can you believe that?”

Carol drank the entire glass. Sherrod handed her the other one.

“I can believe that. Not me. Other women.”

“Yeah, you are right, Carol. Can I call you Carol?”

“Yes. Yes, of course.”

“You are a rare and upstanding woman. I appreciate that. Mrs. Jackson appreciates that, too.”

“Who’s that?”

“Mrs. Jackson? Why, that’s Mr. Jackson’s wife. My daughter.”

“Your daughter?”

“Yeah. Small world, ain’t it? Here, let me show you a picture.”

Sherrod pulled out his wallet and shuffled through a few. “That’s a good one,” he said.

Even if Mrs. Jackson had not been wearing the green dress, Carol would have recognized the face.

“Your daughter. She’s the one. She’s dead. And the man—”

“Oh, no ma’am. My daughter is doing good. Unfortunately, her husband is missing. Even though he’s terribly wealthy, he seems to have just run off. His car is still in the lot, but his favorite raincoat and hat are suspiciously missing.”

“So he didn’t shoot….? I heard shots. Three or four.”

“You heard two. And then, you made a little noise that made the woman in the green dress panic. Let’s just say she kind of threw herself against the wall.”

“So she killed her husband? She made the shot?”

“That’s not what’s important, Miss Carol. Accidents happen, and my daughter wasn’t there to shoot her husband.”

“I saw it. I heard it. That couldn’t be an accident.”

“As it turns out, it was a fortunate coincidence. You have lucky stars. Be grateful for those. Let’s just call it a happy accident, especially for you.”

“For me?”

“See, she’d had some people watching her husband, and when they called to say he was at it again, she went to get rid of her husband’s mistress. People had already seen you in the bar. They knew who you were. Then, we knew where you lived. It was a quick operation. You see. Sort of rushed. I had my reservations.”

“Then, you saw me on the street,” Carol said, realizing. “You’re a cop, and you’re on the lookout while you daughter….”

“One man in his time plays many parts,” quoted Sherrod. “So Mrs. Jackson—the former Mrs. Jackson—realizes now that you are not the regular girl. She also realizes that you refused to betray her. That’s really nice, Miss Lyndon. Costanza appreciates the bond the two of you share.”

Carol Lyndon said nothing, but Sherrod didn’t believe this nothing to be deep enough.

“Besides,” he continued, “there’s that right red shoe. We haven’t found any evidence of any kind in Philadelphia Alley or at Waterfront Park for that matter, but someone might find that red shoe behind the plant.”

“The plant?” she said.

Sherrod found the bottle of gin and poured a finger measure into each of the now-empty water glasses.

“Oh,” she realized. “The plant.”

“Carol Lyndon, you’re an honorable lady with honorable morals. Quite rare these days.” He picked up his glass and clinked it to hers. He emptied his glass and said, “Are you sure of what you saw last night, Miss Lyndon?”

Carol Lyndon emptied her glass. “Yes, sir. I saw the moonlight fight its way through a dark, rainy sky, only to create shadows with the dancing palmettos.”

***End***

November 14, 2020 01:48

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