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Cynara

That wiseacre Tennyson once said, "Better to have loved and lost ..." What the hell did he know?

Patti Abbott rings in the new year with an old fashioned mystery. Only at FFO ...

Cynara by Patti Abbott




"I have been faithful to you, Cynara, in my fashion."

This declaration was printed on cheap copier paper, but the language dated from another era.

The elderly female at my feet was a scrub woman, and the note had been found crumbled in her uniform pocket. I looked around the spacious foyer where three of my men were collecting evidence—or what there was of it. A chic nineteenth century house with marble floors and walnut wainscoting had been turned into a half-dozen mid-sized apartments. The victim probably cleaned the common areas. An empty bucket lay overturned, but the water had mostly dried up.

“What do you think?” I asked the medical examiner. “Heart attack? Tripped and took a tumble?’

“Only if she fell after she was shot,” she said, lifting the body high enough for me to spot the hole.

“Who called it in?”

She nodded toward a young woman perched on the top step. “Lily Ferguson. She takes a run on her lunch hour, usually getting back here to shower about one-thirty. But today it was almost three because she ran some errands. The cleaning woman hadn’t arrived when Lily left at one, but the floor was clean and dry when she returned.”

I looked at the note again. “Vic’s name’s Cynara?”

She shook her head. “Runner says it’s Margaret. Doesn’t know much beyond her name and the fact Margaret cleans twice a week.”

The Super arrived a few minutes later. He thought Margaret’s last name was Parkins or Perkins. “Everyone just calls her Margaret. Nice lady.”

“How long she been working here?”

He shrugged. “Since well before the rehab.”

“Anyone else likely to have seen Margaret today?”

He shook his head. “They all take off pretty early.”

“Front door locked?”

He looked embarrassed. “Only at night. It’s inconvenient to have it locked with no doorman to take packages or the mail. It’s a pretty safe neighborhood.”

“Until today. Does Margaret stow her stuff somewhere?”

He led us to the basement where her coat, handbag, and umbrella were neatly stored in a battered locker.

“Margaret Parker.” I read the name on an I.D card aloud. No license.

Her apartment, miles away, gave up no clues to the detectives sent there. A ginger cat complained loudly until someone found food in the fridge. “There’s hundreds of romance novels though,” the detective said, stretching for evidence. “Hey, what should we do with the car?”

Did some maniac come in and plug her? Or could this elderly woman have inspired such a note? After seeing photos of her modest apartment (and the cat) via phone, I doubted it.

“She ever clean the tenants’ places?” I asked the Super.

“Nope. But she used to clean for the Waverly family before the son divided it. We inherited Margaret.” He paused. “Not to be insensitive here, but a few tenants have asked to return to their flats.”

“Let’s give their apartments a look first.” Perhaps Margaret caught someone burglarizing one?

Super didn’t ask for a warrant. He opened each door although I tried Margaret’s keys first.

The last apartment was on the third floor. The tarnished silver key on her ring opened this door easily. Maybe Margaret lived here once? I could see the body from the foyer. A man, about forty-five, lay on a worn Persian rug.

“Ralph Chesterfield. An actor when there’s work,” the Super said. A dozen versions of the note in Margaret’s pocket lay face down in a neat pile on the desk. In the bedroom, the bed was rumpled but made. The imprint of a squat body lingered on the spread.

“Looks like our Margaret was taking a nap.”

“A little snooze between jobs.” The Super started to laugh but remembering stopped. “A woman her age shouldn’t have to scrub floors,” he said piously.

“Probably asleep when they came in. Woke when Cynara fired the gun in the next room, grabbing the note as she try to run to leave us a clue.”

“Maybe she stuck the note in her pocket before she fell asleep,” the Super said. “Pretending it was for her. Better to be a spurned woman than no one at all.”

“Either way, it makes our case,” I said, pulling out my phone to call headquarters.

Patti Abbott is the author of the ebook, Monkey Justice (Snubnose Press) and the soon to be released novel in stories, Home Invasion. More than 100 of her stories have appeared in various venues. You can find her here: http://pattinase.blogspot.com