Crime Drama Fiction


My knees were shaking when I walked into the dining room of the Prince Charles hotel. What had possessed me to ask Gerald to meet me here? I had imagined that an initial meeting in a public place would be easier, forcing us to chat about the weather instead of tearing our guts out. Now, room service seemed much more sensible. No curious eyes would stare at me if I lost control behind my locked door.

A server escorted me towards a table for two by the window. A hauntingly familiar stranger was seated there, sipping on a glass of water and staring at the eight-page lunch menu.  He didn’t look up when the server pulled out a chair to seat me.

“Gerald,” I said. A lump gathered in my throat, choking off further words.

He looked up, made eye contact, then looked down at the menu again. “Hello, Amanda.”

“I’m Brandi now, remember?” I said, and immediately cursed myself for being so picky. My parents were going through some sort of romantic phase when I was born, and named me Brianne Amanda, a name I was determined to change as soon as possible. Gerald had persisted in calling me Amanda as I morphed through Mandy and Bree and finally Brandi. This was not a good time to re-open that old battle.

Gerald ignored my sally, squinted at the menu and shook his head. “I was expecting burgers and fries, not French poetry.”

I chuckled. Some things never changed, even after six years of separation. “I wanted this to be special. But there is a greasy spoon a couple of blocks from here, if you prefer that.”

“This is fine. I need to upgrade my dining skills.”

A gastronomic crisis! I could handle that. I focused all my attention on a game of Twenty Questions to choose the perfect meal for my long-lost brother.

The past six years had not been kind to him. He could easily pass for thirty or older, even though he had not yet reached his twenty-fourth birthday. A deep furrow had developed between his eyebrows, banishing all hint of his relaxed teen-age charm. I wondered whether we would ever be able to laugh at a shared joke again.

We decided on a hunter’s stew with mashed potatoes. I chose a designer salad with strawberries, avocadoes, two cheeses, and a cornucopia of nuts and seeds.  I asked if he wanted some wine or beer, and he said a Shirley Temple would be nice. That was our favourite libation in the days before our lives were destroyed by a twist of fate. If he could remember that, maybe there was hope. 

We clinked glasses before we started eating. He had not forgotten how to smile, but his eyes were clouded with doubt.

Gerald said that the stew was excellent, but he shoveled it into his mouth as if he barely tasted it. I pushed my salad around, nibbling here and there, and asked for a take-out box. There was no way I was going to abandon a salad that cost almost thirty dollars.

I wanted to linger over dessert and special coffee, but I could see he was restless. I charged the bill to my room without looking at it, and asked him if he wanted to talk in private.

“That’s what we’re here for,” he said. “To see what, if anything, is worth saving.”

I wanted to take his hand and tell him that nothing could separate us because we shared the same birthday, June 10, two years apart. But I was afraid that he would pull away. I walked towards the elevator, chattering mindlessly about my studio apartment in the town of Cleeves, a pleasant bedroom community with a commuter bus that stopped in front of the office building where I worked. I hoped he would tell me where he was living now, but he said nothing.

I sat on my bed with my back against the headboard. He sat on the upholstered chair beside the bed. I stared at his profile and wondered if it would be easier to talk without looking at each other. I wished that I had brought along some lavender tea to help me relax.

I was hoping that he would start the conversation, but he just sat there, moving his legs gently back and forth. I closed my eyes and tried to remember the speeches I had rehearsed, struggling to assemble magic words that would make everything all right.

When I opened my eyes, Gerald was looking at me.

“Amanda – are you okay?” he asked. His voice was so gentle that I burst into tears. 

“This is all my fault!” I sobbed. “If I hadn’t gone to that party, you would have been at chess club, with an ironclad alibi!”

I rushed to the bathroom for some tissues. After I had pulled myself together and blown my nose a half dozen times, I sat on the side of the bed and faced him.

“If you want to lay blame,” Gerald said, “you could start with the person who murdered Charlotte. What happened to us was just collateral damage.”

I started sobbing again. “Don’t you dare try to forgive me! I don’t deserve it!”

He leaned forward and reached out to me. “You are my sister. Nothing will change that.”

I desperately wanted the comfort of his hand in mine, but I couldn’t bear the thought of him touching my snotty fingers. I jumped up, washed my hands and face in the bathroom, and grabbed another handful of tissues.

It was time to stare down the elephant in the room. If we didn’t, my only brother would disappear from my life and we might never see each other again.

I stood in front of him, remembering how it was when he was five and I was three. “Hugs?” I asked.

He stood up and enveloped me in his arms. “I love you,” he said. “That never changed.”

“I love you, love you, love you to the moon and back,” I said in a sing-song voice, like my three-year-old self. Maybe this could work out after all.

We sat down again, holding hands for a long minute.

“It’s good to see you,” Gerald said. “It will take me some time to get used to the grown-up version.”

“Same here,” I said. 

“Thank you for all those cards and letters. I read them over and over again. The prison censor told me he looked forward to my mail every week, because you were so upbeat.” He paused. “I knew you were lying, but I loved you for making the effort.”

“I didn’t want to drag you down any further,” I said. “Things were pretty awful. The whole damn town of Starlight was convinced that you were guilty.”

“What about those kids at the party?” Gerald asked. “They knew where I was.”

I sighed. “By the time I realized that the whole thing wasn’t just a sick joke, Josh Masterson had created a united front. He claimed that you were the one who called the police and got the party raided, so you deserved whatever happened to you. Everyone I talked to about it just stared at me and said nothing. They told the police neither of us was at the party. Nobody believed me, not even Mom and Dad. Dad said it was very kind of me to want to protect you, but truth was truth and we had to live with it.”

“He thought I was guilty,” Gerald said. “When he and Mom visited, he just stared straight ahead and said absolutely nothing. I wish he had said something, something I could respond to. But it was like he didn’t even know I was there.”

The lump in my throat started to hurt again. “Mom told me. I wanted to visit you too, but I could never get enough money together for the trip. I had nobody to turn to. Even Aunt Phyllis, who was generous in every other way, refused to help. She said it would make things worse for everyone.” 

After Mom and Dad came home from their visit to the penitentiary, Dad refused to leave the house. He just sat and stared at the TV, mostly the weather channel. Dr. Jen wanted to send him to the psych hospital, but Mom refused. She just kept on going, pretending nothing was wrong. When Aunt Phyllis offered to let me stay with her and finish high school in Toronto, I jumped at it. Our house was like a morgue, offering no relief from the pollution of condemnation that was choking us.

“Are things in any better in Starlight now?” Gerald asked.

I shook my head. “Their minds are made up.”

The re-opened investigation and the overturned verdict were not headline news. Many people in town didn’t even know about Gerald’s release yet. The ones that did know refused to believe the story about the “mishandling of DNA evidence”. Gerald fit the rejected suitor stereotype perfectly. He had taken the breakup badly. Several people had heard him shout “You’ll regret this!” at Charlotte before he stormed away.

The night of the murder, I told Mom that I was going for a sleep-over with my bestie Laurel, but I went to Josh’s party instead. His parents were away overnight and he had the place to himself. As soon as I walked in, Josh handed me a beer, dragged me over to a table with a bowlful of random pills, and ordered me to take a handful and wash them down. He was drunk as a skunk and in a foul mood because Charlotte had not come to the party as she promised. 

Even at the best of times, Josh was not one to take no for an answer.  When I realized I was in over my head, I tried to leave, but people kept grabbing me and pulling me back. 

Gerald passed Laurel’s house on the way to his chess club meeting and saw her sitting on the porch alone. It didn’t take him long to deduce where I was. I don’t know what would have happened to me if he hadn’t charged in to rescue me. There was a bit of a scuffle, but Gerald was well-muscled and stone cold sober, so he got away with a few scratches and bruises.

We went for a long drive and stayed up all night talking. I was incredibly grateful and furious at the same time.  I told him that I already had a father, and didn’t need another one. He offered to drive me back to the party if that was what I really wanted. After a while, I realized that I wasn’t angry with him for wanting to protect me. I was angry with myself for needing protection. I was sixteen and should have been able to stand on my own two feet and solve my own problems. I didn’t tell him that, but he knew. He said everybody needs help sooner or later, no matter how old and competent they are.

The next day, Gerald was arrested for the murder of Charlotte Miller, his estranged girlfriend. What other explanation could there be for the scratches on his arms?

And now it was six years later. A serial killer had disclosed the details of his string of trophies, and Charlotte was on the list. He knew a lot of details about Charlotte, and the stored DNA evidence matched. After a lot of double-talk and paperwork, Gerald was released from prison with a token apology.

That should have been the end of the story. When Laurel phoned me to tell me about her engagement, I thought she was going to ask me to be her maid of honour, the way we planned from the time we were nine years old. Instead, she rambled on about how sorry she was about the miscarriage of justice, but her life wouldn’t be worth living if she said anything about it in public. I congratulated her and said that I would understand if she didn’t invite me to her wedding. I doubt that I will ever hear from her again.  Our years of shared homework and secrets have been erased by convenient lies masquerading as Gospel truth, engraved on an altar of timeless stone, articles of faith welding the community together.

We are the sacrificial lambs. Gerald, me, Mom, Dad, and all the people we once called friends. The Masterson family owns the town of Starlight, and no one will ever dare to tell them that they cannot make up their own version of reality.

Gerald interrupted my thoughts. “I’m Gerald Berger now. At least I’ve got the same initials.”

“Berger,” I said, tasting the word. “B-E-R-G-E-R? If I ever go through with a legal name change, I want to have the same name as you.”

When I started my job in the city, I didn’t expect anyone to recognize my surname. But two days after I started, one of the men asked me if I was related to “that Binstock creep who murdered his girlfriend.” I should have said no, but I got my back up and said, “He’s my brother, and he didn’t murder anyone.” After that, my fellow employees kept their distance as much as possible. No one has ever invited me for coffee or an after-work gathering.

“So – now what?” Gerald asked. “Will we ever be a family again?”

“Mom wants you to come home for Christmas. She’s hoping to have a big party, show people that she’s not holding a grudge. But I don’t know if anyone will show up.”

“They might,” Gerald said. “Out of morbid curiosity, if nothing else.”

“Do you really want to put yourself through that?” I asked.

Gerald’s phone tinkled.  He checked his texts and typed a few words. His body language changed subtly.

“There’s someone I want you to meet,” he said. “She’s on her way up.”

“A girl friend?” I asked, feeling irrationally jealous.

“I wish. It’s Annette London, the journalist.”

The Annette London, author of Dark Passages and Paranoid Poltergeists?” I squeaked. “My God, is she going to write a book about you?”

“That’s the plan. Will you help?”

“Me? How?”

“Just tell the truth. The whole truth.”

“People won’t like it.”

“I don’t like what happened to me. I don’t want it to happen to anyone else. This is the only way I know to fight back.”

“Count me in,” I said, without pausing to consider my options. I rushed to the door and opened it. 

The legendary Ms. London was marching down the hall towards me. I felt like cheering and doing cartwheels.

My season of silence and isolation was over. No matter what happened, the world was going to know how proud I was of my brother. 

September 30, 2022 02:43

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Michał Przywara
02:24 Oct 06, 2022

There's a good opening here. Pretty much right off the hop, we have the questions, who is he to her? And why all the trepidation? When she says it's all her fault, we get a picture of the conflict. I found this to be a twist, because prior to this it almost sounded like he wronged her. And then the murder is mentioned, and that really twists things again. It turns out neither of the wronged the other, their meeting is just tense because of a horrible series of events, and being estranged by a miscarriage of justice. So, that's understanda...


07:20 Oct 06, 2022

Thank you, Michal, for your thoughtful comments. I was trying to keep things tantalizing by revealing the facts a bit at a time. Maybe I should have put the "long-lost brother" tidbit earlier than paragraph 9. I had a huge backstory in my head while I was writing, and would gladly have dragged the narrative out to 5,000 words or more, as the separated siblings got to know each other again. I wanted them to have some conversation about his prison experience, how he managed to survive, and how it changed him. It was very difficult to find...


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Eliza Troy
00:10 Oct 06, 2022

Great story, Christine. You kept me wondering from the beginning who this man was and why Brandi was nervous about meeting him. I would’ve traded something of the details about the menu in the beginning for some physical details about the characters. I found myself wondering what they looked like. Great ending. I walked away feeling proud of Gerald of too.


07:29 Oct 06, 2022

Thank you, Eliza. Keeping you wondering was part of my agenda. I think you're right that it would have been helpful to have a clearer physical picture of the characters. I'm glad you liked the ending. It surprised me -- I had no idea where this was going when I started. My whole focus was on Brandi's guilt for attending the party, and trying to resolve that.


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Tommy Goround
14:37 Oct 03, 2022

Hmmm.... It's funny to hate a story and then go back and say why do I hate this? Spend 22 minutes reading or listening to the thing.... And it's kind of interesting that it's so serious and subtle.. I mean the villains should be dealt more serious... Some family that owns a town and we don't know why. I kind of like this story because it's just so serious and true. Like one of those candies that you put in your mouth and it is all lemon and then you suck and suck and suck on the lemon until you like it. Clapping. I cannot think of a way to...


19:34 Oct 03, 2022

Thank you for sharing your reaction. I found the story difficult to write, because it is based on reality. It was hard to find anything positive to work with. Thank you for reading to the end. Most small communities are owned by someone. They often work behind the scenes, and profoundly influence job opportunities, governance, and social status. I was thinking that perhaps the Mastersons were protecting the real murderer, but decided that simple malice was motivation enough. When Lynn Harper was murdered in Clinton, Ontario, I liv...


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