Solving the mystery of a small town crime.
July 19, 2015
I DROVE INTO THE LITTLE TOWN about sundown.
It was in the heart of the South. It looked like the South.
The street was empty around the downtown courthouse square.
Night was coming early in the shade of Magnolias.
Old glory swayed in the wind.
Flowers lay at the foot of a stone monument, a tribute to fallen soldiers, victims of World Wars and a Civil War.
It was a place where friends remained friends for life unless, of course, the lady on the sunny side of the street got mad at the lady walking the shady side, and the town did have its shady side.
One of the ladies had, unless, God forbid, the murderer happened to be a gentleman.
No one knew for sure, but everyone had a suspect in mind.
The headlines in the weekly ink-stained newspaper were large, black, and straight to the point.
Woman shot to death, they said.
Monday night, the story said.
Doris Johnson. That was her name.
She was forty-two.
She was everyone’s friend, which was a lie.
Everyone loved her, which was a lie.
She will be missed, which was a lie.
Someone wouldn’t miss her.
Someone had killed her.
I had spent the night at a motel on the edge of town.
I would be gone by morning.
Outside the city limits, no one knew who had been shot, who killed her, why she died, and I doubted if anyone cared.
Inside town, her death was all anyone could talk about, at least that’s all anyone wanted to talk about over eggs, bacon, and boysenberry jam for breakfast at the downtown square cafe.
There were more rumors than coffee, more gossip than buttered toast, more theories than grease, more accusations than indigestion.
“Anybody seen Karen Sue this morning?”
“She’s out of town?”
“When did she leave?”
“Bet she still had gunpowder on her breath when she passed the city limit sign.”
Some looked shock.
“Karen Sue is a good woman,” someone said.
“She didn’t like Doris.”
“Karen Sue runs Meals on Wheels.”
“Doris wasn’t hungry.”
“Karen Sue thought she was.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Doris spent a lot of time with Karen Sue’s husband.”
“They were both on the same church board,” said the farmer in the gimme cap. “I’m on the same board.”
“Does the board meet on Thursday night?”
“Doris and Alfred met on Thursday.”
“Let’s put this way,” the businessman said. He smiled. “They didn’t go to pray.”
“Maybe somebody should be looking for Alfred.”
“Maybe he knows where his wife is.”
I ordered more coffee. I was already late. I didn’t dare leave.
At twelve minutes before seven, a police officer walked into the café.
He was young. He was grim. He had something on his mind.
He didn’t even wait for his coffee.
“We found Alfred,” he said.
“What was Alfred doing out there?”
“Laying dead in the bed.”
No one spoke. Everyone waited for more coffee.
“Gunshot to the head,” the officer said.
“He kill himself?”
“If he did, he was a damn good magician.”
“What do you mean?”
“He didn’t have a gun.”
Someone snickered. “Got a suspect?” he asked.
“We want to talk to her.”
“Some jury’s gonna have a chance to find out.”
“You think they’ll convict her?”
The officer shrugged. “I wouldn’t,” he said.
I paid my check and walked out.
That’s the problem with small towns. I can’t write a mystery about them. There are suspects but no suspense. You have a crime, and it’s solved by the time you butter your second piece of toast.
I had spent the night at the crime scene.
Good bed, I guess.
Not even the gunshot woke me up.
Caleb Pirtle III is the author of Little Lies, which is set in Vicksburg, Mississippi.