1 comment

Mystery Funny

There was no doubt that she had been beautiful. Now her young corpse lay impossibly contorted among the refuse in the alley. I took a deep drag of my cigarette and pitched it as I blew a thick plume of smoke into the cold night air, whisps curling through the hard edges of the streetlight. 

My partner, McGuffin, leaned over her body in a crouch, looking her over. He huffed a breath of regret and stood with a grunt. We weren’t exactly in our prime these days. “You hate to see it,” he said, shaking his head.

“Sure do,” I agreed, lighting a new smoke. I blew another thick plume. The cloud engulfed McGuffin.

He coughed and waved it away. “If those things don’t get you, they’re gonna get me.”

“Just ‘cus your old lady’s on your case doesn’t mean I have to listen to it.” I gave him a side-eyed sneer. 

“Yeah. yeah.”

Captain Callahan finished murmuring instructions to his men and waved them off. They jumped to and darted off. He turned and marched toward us, flipping through the pages of his notebook and chewing his old, unlit cigar. He sidled up next to us, closed his notebook and tucked it into his breast pocket. He plucked his cigar from the corner of his mouth and pointed with it as he frowned down at the victim. “Damn shame, this.”

”You hate to see it,” McGuffin repeated, pulling back his coat and putting his hands on his hips.

I grunted in agreement and tilted the brim of my hat back.

“Well, we’re calling it a mugging,” the captain said, through gritted teeth as he ground down on his stogie. “Waddaya think, Cliche?”

I tucked the brim of my hat down with a tug and shoved my hands into my coat pockets. “I think she’s gonna be late for the dance.”

“Jesus, Jack,” McGuffin protested. “That’s someone’s daughter, right there.”

“Not anymore,” I took a drag.

“I’m sorry, Captain,” McGuffin apologized to Captain Callahan for me. 

The captain pulled his cigar from his iron jaw, spit, and popped the stub back in. “Think nothing of it, Mac.” He turned to me with a one-eyed glare. “What dance?”

“Can’t say,” I answered, volunteering nothing more.

Callahan and McGuffin gave her another appraisal before turning back to me.

“She’s a stripper?” Callahan asked, trying to keep up. He had always been smarter than my partner. I guess that’s how he became Captain.

“Ballerina,” I said, cooly, and pitched my smoke.

McGuffin pushed his hat back and scratched his forehead. It was one of his tells that had always bugged me. A weak link in our outfit. 

I beat him to his question before he could ask it. “Her toes.”

McGuffin, squinted at me before hunching and examining the poor girl's toes. “Yeah, she’s got a bulge here.” He pointed at her right big toe.

“A ballerina’s bunion.” I ashed my cigarette.

Mac scratched at his temple as he stood, staring at the dancer’s dead toe. “Gee, Jack. How’d you spot that?”

“I’ve performed my share of pirouettes.” 

Mac and the captain shared a glance of confusion.

I put my smoke in my mouth and both hands in my pockets and stepped back. 

Mac settled a tilted squint on me. “You used to be a dancer?”

“Five years,” I lamented through a deep exhale.

Mac squinted deeper; a stare of disbelief painted on his big face.

“Alright. So, we’re looking for a ballerina.” The captain reproduced his notebook. “That should narrow it down some.” He flipped a page open and scribbled.

“That was just by day,” I added.

“Eh?” The captain turned an impatient eye. 

“She’s got a wad of bills, and she ain’t rich, so they’re singles. Tips.”

The captain dismissed me with a shrug, his giant mit waving that chewed cheroot. “Missed this time, Cliche. We already searched her. No money. That's why we were thinking robbery.”

“You forgot to search her brassiere.” I waved my smoke at the obvious miss.

“Dammit, Jack.” Mac pulled his hat off. “That’s just indecent.”

The captain turned to me and sneered. “How could you know that, Jack?”

“Left breast is usually bigger. Not hers.” I looked past my hand, framing them. “You can see the outline of the bills, too.” I looked away. 

Mac blushed.

The captain grumbled and then groaned as he took a knee and bent over her body. He pushed her blouse aside and saw the impression. “Well, I’ll be—” We averted our eyes as the captain retrieved the money. He turned the bills over and held them up with a shake as he grunted to stand. “She was a stripper.”

“Bartender,” I corrected.


“All bartenders have a stash spot for their tips, and they all seem to leave the same impression.”

“Geez, Jack. How’d you spot that?” Mac continued to scratch his head. 

“I’ve dealt my share of daiquiris.”

Mac wrinkled his brow. “You were a bartender?”

I shook my head down at the victim and sighed. “Six long years.”


“Ok.” The captain scribbled again. “We’ve got a ballerina bartender and it’s lookin’ less like a robbery.” He flipped his book closed and tucked into his coat pocket. “That’s plenty to go on for now. Thanks for coming out, fellas.”

“You might want to head down to the local college, talk to the dean.”

The captain ground the end of his cigar and raised a tired eyebrow. “Come again?”

“What do you see now, Jack?” Mac slapped his hat back on his head and leaned in.

“Her nails.”

They both gave her hands a glance and then turned back to me.

“What about ‘em,” the captain grumbled.

Mac crouched to examine them. “They’re long.”

“That doesn’t mean anything, plenty of girls have long nails,” the captain commented.

“Yeah, but they’re short on her other hand.”

Mac lifted her left hand. “What do you know? He’s right.” He laid her hand down gently and stood, scratching his head again. “What kind of wacky way to wear your nails is that?”

“Can’t never tell with these kids these days," the captain said. 

“She’s a guitar player.” I punctuated the observation with a point of my cigarette and left a dollop of smoke floating in the night air. “Classical.”

“How the heck can you tell that?” Mac asked.

“Short on the left, long on the right.”

“How do you know that? Did you used to play?”

I pushed my hat back, took a long drag of my cigarette and pitched it. “Eight long years.”

“Yeah, yeah.” The captain seemed to care less. “How does that tie her to the college?” The captain lifted his hat and ran a hand along his brow before tucking it back down tight. He pulled his notebook out again and turned to me, pen poised. 

“Well,” I pulled out another smoke and twirled it as I explained. “There’re only two musical outfits in town that have a demand for a classical guitar player. The city orchestra and the University. She’s still bartending so she hasn’t made it to the big show yet.” I cupped my smoke and lit it, blew a plume, and shook the match. “That just leaves the college.”

“Alright,” the captain scribbled as he spoke, “we’ve got a ballerina bartender who tickles the strings to Stravinsky.” He raised his chin impatiently, the signal to wrap it up. “Anything else?”

Mac squinted down at the body hoping to glean something I hadn’t seen as he scratched at his forehead.

I spotted a handful of other clues. The dirt on the heels of her shoes was the red clay only found in the outer boroughs of the east side. The charms on her bracelet were from the tourist trap at the piers, almost two hours' drive from here, and the fact that she had at least five of them suggested she made frequent trips that way, most likely to visit family. I could’ve gone on, but I figured the captain had enough to start. “Nope.”

The captain snapped his notebook closed, buried it into his frumpled suit and tipped his hat to us. “Alright, fellas, I’ll see you down at the station.”

“Right behind you, captain.” Mac waved after him.

“Yep.” I ashed my cigarette.

The captain marched up the alley and huddled with the waiting officers, grumbling instructions.

I shook my head down at the girl. 

Mac noticed and turned an appraisal down to her as well. “You hate to see it.”

“Sure do,” I agreed.

We stood there in the early twilight breeze, the wind picking up and wiping at our coats.

“Say, Jack.”


“You really play classical guitar?” He stared down at her with a perplexed glare like he was trying to crack a puzzle.


He turned an appraisal toward me. “And you were a bartender?”


He reached for my cigarette. “Let me get a drag of that.” 

I huffed and handed it to him. 

He took a drag and coughed. He had quit long enough to let his lungs get pink. He cleared his throat into his elbow and handed the smoke back. 

I waved it away. “It’s all yours, buddy.”

He frowned down at it before tossing it away, wiped his mouth and turned to me with a tap on the shoulder from the back of his hand. “What about the dancing thing?” He turned up his hands and shrugged at the idea. “Were you really a dancer?”

I turned to him with a flat, even stare. “Yep.”

He laughed and slapped me on my shoulder. “Man, it feels like there’s so much about you I don’t know.” He shook his head and tucked his hands into his coat pockets, chuckling. “You must have had a million jobs.”

I shrugged, pulled out a new smoke, cupped the match as I lit it and blew a blue-gray cloud. “Nope. Just those three.”

September 29, 2023 23:14

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Andrea Corwin
03:30 Oct 06, 2023

I like it! Dragnet style.


Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.