We challenged the folks attending the 14th annual New England Crime Bake to write a compelling crime story in 150 words or less, using at least ten of twenty title words from novels by our Guest of Honor, Elizabeth George..
We received 35 official entries displaying a wide variety of styles and a depth of talent and creativity.
The winning stories were selected with great difficulty in blind judging, with four winners because of a tie. In no particular order, they are:
Title Words: ashes, blood, body, careless, consequences, death, deception, edge, enemy, evil, hiding, memory, missing, murder, payment, pursuit, shadows, traitor, vengeance, witness.
A blood moon hung like an evil omen over the murder scene. Clouds scudded across its surface, casting ever- changing shadows onto a naked body spread-eagled on a bed of ashes. Slashed into its chest: four Chinese characters.
“Poor bastard,” Rookie Detective Mona Squires whispered through her stench-deadening handkerchief. She fought back tears.
“Could have been worse,” Medical Examiner Lee said. “No bleeding. They cut him after death.”
“Can you read it?” Squires asked.
Lee ran gloved fingers over each symbol. “Traitor. Consequences. Vengeance. Payment.”
“Damn.” Detective Chan flipped through his notebook. “Must have got careless.”
Lee’s eyebrows rose. “You knew him?”
“Jimmy Fong. Headed for witness protection soon’s he nailed the head of his tong. Went missing three weeks ago.”
“So you know who did this.” Mona wanted to wring the monster’s neck—personally.
“Know, yes. Prove?” Chan sighed. “Some day. Today, we start over.
“Welcome to Chinatown, Detective Squires.”
Our first Thanksgiving my mother-in-law placed a Post-it note with streak-free cleaning instructions on the bathroom mirror. The next year, 58 yellow menaces outed my careless housekeeping and culinary practices. It snowballed from there.
As I made my way to the kitchen through this morning’s predawn shadows, I heard her scurrying with a vengeance from one domestic faux pas to the next like a meddlesome mouse on the edge of madness. I ripped down the crime scene tape regardless of the consequences. I needed coffee. Inside there was no body, blood, or ransom note demanding payment. Just dozens of Post-its.
The lights flickered, followed by a thud. I grinned and hit BREW ignoring the sticky note ensuring death from mold hiding in the Keurig. Despite the STILL FROZEN memo on the turkey, I’d give thanks for her obsession with dusty bulbs and my forethought to strip our chandelier’s wires bare.
Lois gnawed another fingernail, tasting blood for the tenth time. Shadows now blanketed her car. The traitorous bastard had upheld his promise to leave his wife. Except, he’d left Lois too.
The funeral home closed in minutes. Just one glimpse, and Lois could move on, utilizing the new memory of Shane’s lifeless body to negate all of her sensuous ones. Damn the consequences, she was going in.
Pictures of Shane, flowers for Shane, and people mourning Shane crowded the room. The only thing missing… was Shane. Where was the coffin?
Shane’s dry-eyed widow accepted condolences near a pedestal topped with an ornate urn. The evil bitch had reduced Shane to a mantel decoration, guaranteeing Lois could never visit him again.
No. Effin’. Way.
Lois edged closer to the pedestal. Her enemy had owned Shane in life; Lois would own him in death. She snatched his ashes, and ran.
I was at the River’s Edge Café when he spoke to me— the same chilling words that dogged my nightmares, “Hey there, sweet thing.”
Memories flooded my mind. I was thirteen years old, hiding to spy on my sister and her date. She’d always been careless about boys, and Mom had warned her of the consequences. That night, payment came due, and I was the witness. From the shadows, I’d listened. I’d listened as she laughed. I’d listened as she died. Since her death, I’d thirsted for vengeance.
I blinked and looked at him. The fire in his eyes almost undid me. His honeyed tongue dripped evil. “I was just headed outside for a smoke. Care to join me?”
I sucked back the fear and followed him. Tonight would be different. Tonight I was the one with the gun and the badge to back it up.
I’d been in pursuit of elShaheen halfway across Europe and I was soon to exact payment from the evil traitor for the blood and ashes left behind in my country. I was missing the enemy’s description, but my information was solid that he was traveling by train and was in compartment 12B. We were nearing Sofia and it was time. I watched as he returned from the lavatory. Before he could shut and lock the door I pulled it open, put my left hand to his mouth and drove my stiletto deep into his chest. I eased his body to the edge of his seat. Then I noticed a woman hiding in the shadows.
“I’m sorry you had to witness his death,” I said, “revenge of a country for his deception.”
“Vengeance is mine,” said the woman pointing a pistol at my face. “I am elShaheen. I am the Falcon.”
Carelessness got Jack killed. That’s what the cops said. Standing too close to the edge. Probably a damn selfie. They’d located his pack; his phone was missing.
A hiker had found the body—bloody and broken at the base of the cliff. Death had been quick.
Yesterday, they’d come to collect payment. Twenty- four hours. Jack packed, and left me there.
A witness saw him leave. No one had been in pursuit.
Jack felt safe in the mountains. That’s what I told them when they came back.
I provided a map. Circled where I knew he’d be. Then I drove myself to the hospital. Collapsed inside the door.
He’d been hiding when they found him, blending into the shadows of the forest.
For the last time.
I sipped water through a straw. Watched the white coats pass my room.
My phone rang. His number. It went to voicemail.
“As God is my witness, son, I never felt she committed murder,” Pop’s deathbed confession. “You were a year old when all this happened. We’d been married six months. It’s why your mama went missing.”
I looked to his yellowed bloodshot eyes. On the edge of death, he was done with deceptions. “As sheriff in 1954, I was called to three bodies at Motel Six. Their room windows were tightly covered in plastic, against the January cold; careless, since the gas heater was blasting. I found our beach towels, with her fingerprints on them, blocking the air vents. Hiding that evidence made me a traitor to my badge. But, her pursuit of vengeance never stopped her pain: you were a living memory of rape by those yahoos, she saw you as reincarnated evil. She left us.”
Pop died. At 62, I quit looking for Mom.
Tangiers’s pre-dawn fog cloaked its alleyways; scurrying shadows hinted evil. Mohammed drew his jambiya and pressed it to Mylock’s throat. “Infidel, give them all to me.” With vengeance, the Arab searched the coat pocket memory told him hid the Pasha’s emeralds. “Nothing,” he cursed.
A pistol’s bark made Mohammed jerk, gasp, and crumble. His motionless body lay in a cobblestone oasis of blood.
Mylock’s voice lacked emotion. “So careless, these mocha blighters.”
Shrill whistles confirmed, the gun’s report alerted constabulary pursuit. “Deception, then murder. Rather a good cure for witnesses.”
The consequence of his guide’s premature death, Mylock was a lone rat in the old quarter’s maze.
“Games on.” He straightened his bowler, hid his handgun, and leaned on the ivory handle of his cane- sword. He’d play the Brit on holiday, out and about. “No worries.” Shortly, one wealthy traitor would escape to Gibraltar.
Ashes drifted through the shadows. Evil hid behind
the veil of the blood moon. The scent of smoke and death
hung in the chill air.
The charred body lay is if careless hands had tossed it
away—one of the consequences of vengeance interrupted.
The traitor lurked nearby, a witness to the conclusion of
the pursuit. Deception had always been a talent of the
enemy. This murder would linger on the edges of her
memory, payment for the jealousy hiding in her heart.
No doubt, she would be missing him once the anger
Would he recognize Clare? She wasn’t like her sister, who’d been so pretty.
Though her sister hadn’t looked pretty the night she came home with a torn dress and bloodied face.
The memory made Clare’s head spin. Only a few words from the theater’s newsreel reached her: “President Roosevelt… Washington… payment…”
Her sister had paid a careless stranger a lot of money so she could undergo an illegal procedure in a rundown hotel room.
As the film’s opening music crescendoed, Clare edged her way up the aisle.
Her sister’s weakened, fever-wracked body had moved this slowly.
Clare reached his seat, her hand clenching a knife.
Her sister’s hand had clenched hers before death had taken her.
All eyes were on the screen, so there were no witnesses when the knife came down.
Her missing sister would have understood. “This isn’t murder. It’s justice.”
The smell of burnt flesh hangs in the shadows between the buildings. The blackened log could be mistaken for an abandoned bonfire, but for the singed red shoe among the ashes. Her shoes…he smiles at the memory as he dials.
A phone rings somewhere on the edge of town. His single word bears witness to the evil done.
It will be over, he knows, before she is discovered missing. His name, his story, everything, gone. Burned, they call it. Not even a charred body left for anyone to weep over.
She, at least, has that.
He lights a cigarette and considers the nature of death. By this time tomorrow The Burners will have conjured out of bits and bytes, smoke and mirrors, his new self. Burned it all into the temporary memory of cyberspace, as if it had been there all along.
Life is the ultimate deception.
I lie in wait, as is so often my routine these days, and there, as the setting sun casts long shadows in the park, the young woman comes into view. She rounds the corner by the old elm tree and I watch, the edge of my weapon gleaming in the dusk. She checks her watch, takes a sip of water and continues jogging, unaware that she is being watched, that her life is about to end. Sometimes I like to count down to the last second and commit the murder on zero. Other times I like to make it last while the blood pools around her, but I must not be careless, for the consequences will be death. So, without further delay, I’ll collect my payment and she’ll take her place with the other bodies, whose ashes lie beneath the monument.
The body lay on the kitchen floor between the back door and the table. Blood slowly seeped from underneath the body to the edge of the door threshold. A careless cigarette burned on the top of the stove, its rising smoke spiral staining the walls with its shadows, its long ashes about to fall. Evil had been in that room just a moment ago. An evil so repugnant, so malevolent, so filled with horror that its only consequence was death. This was no simple murder, a result of hatred, deception, jealousy or revenge. This was evil incarnate, the enemy of the human race, hiding in God’s memory—the missing fallen angel, who pursues us unremittingly. A traitor to heaven whose only goal is payment of our souls to the Evil One. This is the story I must tell, as God is my witness.
Mike the traitor and Naomi the skank. The memory of their bodies writhing together brings my breakfast back up to the edge of my throat even a week later. Now Mike’s dead.
OK. Here’s what happened.
Mike closed last night and had the morning shift today. That schedule’s murder so I was glad he had agreed to it while I traced some missing payments.
However, when I got to the shop, he hadn’t opened yet. I unlocked the door and went inside.
Sometimes he was careless and never considered the consequences, but at least he had emptied the register and, I assumed, dropped the bag in the night deposit.
I went into the back room to check the safe. That’s when I saw the blood.
I rehearse my story one last time as I dial 911. Vengeance is a dish best served with a side of well- rehearsed deception.
“Actions have consequences,” says Mother. Constantly. “Only if you’re careless,” says my brother Micky. He should know. Micky has more blood on his hands than the corner butcher, but not a single witness to any of his crimes.
So, I took Micky’s lessons to heart when I planned my vengeance. No, not vengeance. Justice. Payment for the bitch—my “best friend” who stole my boyfriend.
Hiding in the shadows, waiting for my chance, I rehearsed my plan. I would knock out my enemy, drag her body to the backyard fireplace, and watch her go up in flames. I’d flush her ashes, erasing the traitor from memory. My heart raced as I went over the plan in my head, my breathing shallow. Euphoria!
Suddenly, a hand on my shoulder. I turned. The bitch and the boyfriend. And a baseball bat.
Last thoughts before the lights went out: Consequences.
Small dogs, and toddlers at a playground—both
awesome on their own, but not always a great mix.
Jumping, barking, racing in hot pursuit, all things these
careless, tumble-prone tipsy toddlers don’t need. But
Biscuit was different. All white with ashes brushed across
his small, regal brow, he was a tiny protector quelling
fear with his very presence. Resting in the shadows,
hiding in plain sight, body motionless but alert, missing
nothing and witness to everything. He seemed to enjoy
watching the kids as much as I did. A scraped knee, a
small cry, a line of blood on a tiny white knuckle.
“Hi Bisquiz!” Tiny voices. Hands wave, mothers
smile. They mind their own business and move about
unselfconsciously. On my stage. No deception, only
assumption. Twelve different playgrounds. Eventually it
“Can you and Biscuit watch Johnny for two minutes
while I run to the bathroom?”
I’m the only witness to the murder of my master.
His body, covered with blood, stains his prized Persian rug.
The silver tea set strewn across the room now lies by the edge of the grand piano.
Across from me, just a bare wall; gone is the Rembrandt.
She came exactly at noon, seeking payment for a stolen Monet.
My master caller her evil, a traitor to the arts, and escorted her out.
This morning, at four-twelve, she returned seeking vengeance.
He found her stealing his beloved Rembrandt. She reached for the painting.
He reached for his gun.
He was careless.
She was strong.
The gun went off. She got up, he didn’t.
When they find my master, I will tick and chime continuously till they find his missing gun she placed inside me.
The “Quiet” sign was a deception.
The sun blinked behind the edge of the horizon, wreaking vengeance on time, and this guy just kept talking. Hiding in shadows of tomes, I was witness to the death of silence.
Late fees? Ha. That would be easy payment. No. No blood, no body, just the ashes of peace and quiet contemplation.
Memory is an enemy that can murder a moment. I recalled happy, careless hours, nested in the dry scent of plush cushions, in pursuit of random inklings. For example, evil spelled backwards is live, as in give. As in, give it a rest.
Consequences of a trimmed, clipped society are the high-pitch humming of weed-whackers, bellowing leaf blowers, and this guy who can’t seem to shut up.
Next visit, as though silence was the traitor, the “Quiet” sign was gone. No one seemed to notice it missing.
Andrew and Abby’s bodies lay carelessly arranged on a sofa and a bed in their sleep of death. Their murders were the consequences paid for a lifetime of evil memories their heartlessness had inspired. No deception was necessary, since her presence was expected. She needed merely to hide in the shadows and wait for the perfect moments. The murders completed, it was time to tidy up. The shirt, now a witness to her bloody acts, would reside in a heap of ashes in the furnace, and the axe, its edge wiped clean and returned to the basement wall, would no longer bear witness to the crime. “Now for a cup of tea,” Lizzie thought.
“Ashes to ashes,” I muttered. I stepped to the edge of the grave and tossed a handful of dirt onto the casket as the traitor’s body was lowered into the grave. Death by poison was his final payment, the consequence of one careless lapse of memory in his pursuit of pleasure, unusual for one adept at operating in the shadows and hiding evidence of his evil deeds.
Missing from the crowd of mourners behind me was my erstwhile enemy, now my most valued accomplice, another who had borne witness to his cruel deception.
No fuss, no blood. I didn’t even need to murder him— his mistress had done it for me. Never understand the vengeance of women scorned.
Waves crashed with vengeance against the rocks. Her foot slipped. She lunged at a slimy stone, throwing herself flat before she slid further. She cursed Kieran and his violent edge. She hadn’t meant the words.
She heard the shot while trying to stand. Kieran balanced on the rocks ahead. A body lay below him, blood painting red shadows in the water.
Kieran turned from his enemy. Their eyes met. He scrambled up the promontory.
Patrick tumbled against the stones, turning with the water. This was murder. She hadn’t meant it, words spoken in anger, seared on her memory. Theirs had been crimes of subtlety, not of violence.
One final tug of the gray ocean pulled the corpse off the rocks, tossed it in a macabre dance that led only downward.
Patrick shouldn’t have turned state witness. But she hadn’t meant the words: “Who will get rid of that traitor?”
So I missed a payment. That weasel Madigan knows my memory ain’t so good. I forget and I’m careless.
The dirty rat followed me everywhere. The night I strangled that bloody traitor, Knuckles Gooliley, who blew the gang’s racetrack scam, the weasel was hiding in the shadows, watching. Yeah, he watched me kill the guy so now I got a witness.
Like I said, I’m careless.
Course, the weasel starts right in blackmailing me. He’s been doggin’ me with a vengeance and I got fed up. He’s become my enemy and the consequence for that is death. I just he wish he hadn’t been such a pizza freak. It’s not going to be easy dragging that baby elephant to the cliff’s edge and shoving him over.
He shouldda waited. I wouldda had the payment after the next race.
Darling Mitch died today, his body drooping over the edge of our bed, blood puddling onto our pink satin sheets. My guy didn’t deserve a brutal death. He was my sweetie, my lover.
It’s sad he was careless about vital stuff like missing a few payments when his hedge fund tanked. Investors get crazed when deception happens. They want their cash. And they want vengeance. He could have worked it out. He was smart. He could have avoided consequences like a few months behind bars. He should have spilled the beans on the other crooks. Together we’d have gone into hiding in witness protection.
So easy. And I’d still be with my sweetie.
But he was stupid about babes. Sex made his memory fail. He forgot today’s the day I come home early. There he was―snuggling with a blonde.
In our bed.
I had to stab him.
DI Declan Barnes examined the crime scene again. His chief was ready to call this death natural, but Declan knew it was down to him to make a case for murder.
His instincts told him Sir Vic Timms hadn’t died sleeping in front of the fire, despite Lady Timms’ assurances he’d dozed off and slipped quietly away.
“Merciful,” the only witness said, her significant cleavage heaving with her sobs. A grieving youthful widow or hiding an enemy?
Certain of deception, Declan searched in frustration in pursuit of a missing edge to prove murder. His eyes lit on the fireplace; he used the poker to stir the ashes. A careless scrap of unburned fabric caught his eye—was that blood?
Analysis proved it was Sir Vic’s blood; the fabric matched the Timms’ pillowcases. Smothered by his traitor of a wife! The Lady confessed when confronted. Declan merely smiled.
“How careless of you two to make complete ashes of yourselves,” I whispered.
I’d been watching from the shadows, missing nothing, ignoring the blood-chilling cold. My wife, Lura, and the best man at our wedding had thought hiding their deception was child’s play, but I’d caught onto their traitorous act shortly after Labor Day when I discovered evidence around the edge of her cigarette holder. Smoking crack soon led to her memory becoming unreliable.
I’d been in pursuit since November, pretending to be out of town frequently on business but, in reality, planning a suitable vengeance on this former love who was now an enemy and a traitor.
Funny how easy it was to seed their clothing with an undetectable flammable compound while lacing their stash with something even more combustible.
I left the alley’s edge, sniffing the evil scent of payment well deserved before vanishing into the night.
My memory has degraded to the level of unreliable witness, but deception? When did that evil start? My living room was bare—missing the designer furniture accumulated by my traitorous ex-wife. All had gone into a moving van. All but the bizarre five-foot lamp of corrugated paper in the shape of an Egyptian princess. An expensive artwork, it stood beside the crackling fireplace awaiting a specialty packing company— consequences of a careless payment.
The vivid dream pursued the edge of my consciousness with the promise of satisfying vengeance. The knife in my hand threw whipping shadows on the wall flinging the blood from my enemy’s body in a quest for death. The fire surged in welcome as the fuel fed its hunger.
I woke to the TV blasting a murder mystery. My eyes turned to the fireplace. The fire had burned to lumpy ashes. The lamp was missing.
Today, a large sum of money at our bank mysteriously slid off the desk edge and went missing. Unfortunately, my nosy co-worker was a witness to my deception. I caught her slyly watching me, and I gave her the evil eye. She went on to pretend that everything was normal. She hasn’t reported on me yet; I’ve managed to dog her every step so far.
In the hours since then, I’ve been pondering the dire consequences of her knowledge. I mustn’t make her my enemy. My embezzlement will be a lifelong memory for her that she can wield against me anytime. I could make a payment to her to buy her silence. But then, I think not. I think it best that I simply murder her….
The bank is closing for the day. Now to shut down the bank cameras….
“Look, you traitor, your payment is due today. You can’t keep hiding forever.” The voice sounded like death. “You’ve been careless, and you have to deal with the consequences.”
The line went dead. Hank knew the gang was evil and would hunt him down to the edges of the earth. There was no escape; they would have their vengeance. He had ratted them out to the cops and they were in hot pursuit, looking for him in every shadow and every corner. Pretty soon his body would be found floating in the river, or his ashes would be in some furnace.
In desperation, he made a run for it and headed for the train station. Blackie was waiting for him. He realized this was the bloody end of it.
Suddenly, someone said, “Put it down, Blackie. You’re surrounded.”
Thank God. The cops had followed him after all.
Detective Inspector Tessie Lynette, 8th Duchess of Pemberton, checked her lipstick in the mirror of the blood-colored Bentley. Good, no crumbs. Swerving on the road’s edge through shadows, she drove with a vengeance in pursuit, arriving at the Scarlet Ashes Inn expecting to see her partner, Detective Sergeant Bartley Hinkles, interrogating a witness.
But Hinkles was missing. Tessie eyeballed the body. The death of the traitor could wait. Careless Bartley was the enemy now; there would be consequences, payment for his deception. Behind a door, Hinkles was hiding, red-fingered from the evil jam-filled scones he had stolen from her desk, leaving her a memory of measly crumbs.
Bartley handed over the bakery bag.
And Tessie grabbed. “I’ve got the scones, case solved.”
“Aren’t we missing something?” Hinkles licked a
Before Tessie could say clotted-cream they raced to
the body. Tessie had a taste for murder…and scones.
Inspector Arthur Bellows stumbled upon the body quite by accident. He knelt, and felt for a pulse. Nothing. Blood oozed from a wound on the back of the woman’s head, and after turning her over, he couldn’t believe he had found the missing witness.
If his memory was correct, she had been in pursuit of payment for her testimony so that she could go into hiding. It would do her no good now.
Bellows looked around. Everything seemed normal except for a single glint of light in the shadows. A cell phone. He picked it up, turned it on, and was startled when the victim’s photo appeared with Traitor scrawled across it in blood.
Even in death the girl was beautiful.
Bellows never felt the blow to his head. He only saw the flash of light and heard the fading word, “Smile.”
The bloody ashes told the story: the traitor was dead as was his witness. Or were they, Eva mused. And whose blood, she wondered?
She had trailed them this far, but it was unnerving that being so close to her father’s executioner, and yet for them to seemingly slip from her grasp—disturbing. Death was a cold enemy she knew too well, her father had taught her that from his years at Auschwitz as an OSS undercover guard and witness to the evil that the new world order was formulating.
Her memory of the war was faint as she was only six when the war ended. She only knew of her father’s shadows, of an enemy she had heard about on the radio and of a vengeance for a war that she knew only from history.
“Walk away,” he said.
I touched my rounded belly. “The baby.” “I’m no good for you.”
It was the truest thing he’d said in years.
My bruises ached like a painful memory. Contusions the doctor called them, formality hiding reality. They were his vengeance over feeling slighted. Funny, I thought, how that goes both ways.
“You’re going to be a daddy,” I said, and my heart broke when he took another swallow; Jack, his closest friend, the only witness to the death of us. He teetered at the edge of awareness, turning away, missing my resigned smile.
I walked into the darkness and lit a cigarette. I took a guilty drag, feeling like a traitor to our—my—unborn child. I studied the dried grass near the door, the plastic cans from his truck.
A careless cigarette arced into the shadows.
I walked away as ashes began falling like snowflakes.
With the toe of her blue suede shoe, now covered in ashes, Charity nudged what was left of a body nearly covered with autumn leaves. The charred blood could barely be distinguished from the sugar maple castoffs.
This couldn’t possibly be happening…again.
Charity had been so careless, and now she’d have to face the consequences. Another death, and right here in her back yard.
The deception had been so thorough, so clever, that Charity had been pushed to the edge by her evil nemesis hiding in plain sight, ready to pounce with the memory of her missing brother, presumed dead after three years. How could that bitch think Charity was capable of murder?
Payment for the crime would be due soon, and the woman’s pursuit from the shadows knew no boundaries.
Who was the real traitor? Who had sought vengeance? Only a witness could reveal the culprit’s name.
She stared and tried to resolve the puzzle. She could envision the murder being committed, blood spatter, and the body. She was witness to an insidious deception, and the answer was right in front of her, hiding in the shadows. What clue was she missing? Most of the evidence was there but somehow not connected, just random information failing to tell the story. The pieces were random, but not careless. She knew that she was on the edge of revealing the secret. If she could put it together, give it a context, step back from it, she could bring her pursuit to a successful conclusion. Maybe her focus was too intense. She looked around the room.
Then she saw the open box. It had a blood red label—Murder Jigsaw Puzzle—1000 pieces. Put it together. Solve the murder.
“Oh yes, dear jury, we agree it was murder. Her father’s body was found on the couch, his face butchered. Her stepmother, in a bedroom upstairs. A careless act? Definitely not. An act of evil vengeance? We agree.
“And yes, the police did find ashes from a dress. The defendant’s dress. Most definitely. But a blood stained dress as the prosecutor alleges? No. Merely a dress spattered with paint and therefore without fault or consequences.
“Gentlemen of the jury, I ask you, which witness will sway your honorable opinion? Poor Brigit Sullivan, a confused Irish housemaid who testified that the front and side doors were locked when the deaths occurred? Or one of Fall River’s most honest and gentle citizens, Alice Russell, whose memory recalls an earlier break-in on Second Ave, a mere shadow length from our immigrant- filled mills. For these reasons, I strongly urge you to set Lizzie free.”
Blood everywhere. A careless witness. An enemy hiding in the shadows. It wasn’t the children’s birthday party I’d hoped for. But as I hauled off the perp and the murder victim got packed in the body bag, the possibility for creating a good memory rose from the ashes. Was that pride as well as petulance I saw in my little girl’s eyes?
“Now can we have ice cream?” she asked. “Yes, baby. Now.”
“You never know what evil the ashes are hiding.” The graybeard’s pipe glowed against the dark.
“Or what memories.” I dragged the iron rake through the edges of the fire.
“Good men were lost, in pursuit of that girl.”
That girl my heart-twin, nursed with me after her mother’s death. Closer than skin, we were.
He stepped into the clearing, one hand dropping from view. “Some girls think they’re better than they are.”
My rake drew the bone-white chunks of wood closer.
“Happen she got careless. Happen they never find her.”
The shadows grew chill.
“Some girls play with fire.”
My hands knew before my eyes. I spun half-way, slammed the rake down on his neck. His dagger glinted and fell.
Happen old men get careless, too.
I raked the coals red. Cut branches to cover his body. Some girls understand vengeance.
Only the flames kept witness.
When Uncle Giles got me the job at his crematorium, he said, “Consider this the last payment on the debt I owe your dad’s memory. I’m not your enemy, lad, but when you’re so bloody careless with our family’s name, you’ve got to accept the consequences.”
“Weren’t nothing evil, just a little deception,” I grumbled. “Not like I did murder.”
“You’re missing the point, lad.” He rubbed at the shadows under his eyes. “Passing counterfeit notes is almost as bad as being a traitor. You undermine the Queen’s currency. Engage in some gainful pursuit and your parole stands. Lose this job and the law will come after you with a vengeance.”
“Right then.” I shoved the trolley to the edge of the furnace. The body reeked of death. “What happens to the ashes?”
Uncle Giles shrugged. “The sewer. The dust bin. Our job is hiding all trace of the witness.”