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A short murder mystery from Virginia's hunt country

By Diane HelentjarisPublished 2 years ago 10 min read
Photo by Jason Wolf on Unsplash

The murder had been easy, surprisingly so. Adam whistled tunelessly as he puttered around the shop. He refilled the brass holder with business cards and straightened out the stack of “Visit Middleburg” brochures. Outside the antique shop, the light was starting to fail. The days were so short in November. They’d be short in Puerto Rico, too, but they’d also be warm. He hated the cold.

His mother had always said the best times were the unplanned ones. He chuckled. The best murders seemed to be the unplanned ones as well. “Crimes are always of opportunity” was the old saw. And it was true. One minute his wife was standing on the Metro platform, thrilled with the prospect of a Saturday browsing DC art galleries and the next minute she was dead on the tracks. The platform had been crowded; no one saw his little shove. Actually, now that he thought about it, it was an accident. He hadn’t meant to, but somehow it happened. Adam had only intended to touch her back and shepherd her in the right direction.

That was last winter. He’d played the grieving spouse to perfection. Only one of the investigators had ever looked at him with a tad of suspicion and that was just once. Police are so lacking in creative thinking.

Photo by author.

A late afternoon shopper peered in the large front window. Oh, crap, thought Adam. He’d been looking forward to getting home early. Sure enough, the man came in. He was average height and age and, well, average everything. He wore the ubiquitous plaid Irish driving cap all the men around Middleburg sported this time of year. Tortoise shell glasses hid his eyes. A grey wool coat made it difficult to know if his bulk was muscle or fat. What am I thinking? Everyone’s fat around here. Too much wine and cheese or is it the aged whiskey?

The man poked around a collection of Japanese cloisonné. Well, at least he has taste. Maybe he’ll buy a piece. Adam polished a pair of sterling silver grape scissors. The man moved on to the back of the shop. This was where Adam displayed the high-dollar items. Flame mahogany dressers and a Baltimore cornucopia-embellished Empire sofa sat upon a Chinese knock-off Aubusson carpet. Adam liked to mix his metaphors. Absorbed in his task, Adam missed the visitor’s move. That is, until he looked up into the barrel of a huge shiny gun.

“Got your attention? Keep your hands on the silver and don’t move. Just listen,” snarled the man in the grey coat. Adam knew now — it was muscle and not fat under that coat. His eyes darted to the front door. “Forget it, moron. I flipped the sign to ‘Closed’ when I came in. You’re not very observant.”

Adam barely kept his pants dry. The shop owner had always worried about being robbed. He had prepared a short speech for such occurrences which he rehearsed at least once a month. It went along the lines of “Help yourself… I can never remember faces… I’ll do whatever you want.” But this evening, mesmerized by the round hole of eternity at the tip of the gun, the words would not come to mind. He was embarrassed by the way his hands shook. A little slobber rolled out the corner of his mouth. Maybe the police chief would walk by…anything.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” said the man. “I was on that platform last year. I saw what you did and now you and I are going to be friends, or at least partners. Business partners. Comprenez? I know you speak French.”

“Oui. I mean, yes,” croaked Adam.

“I’m a good researcher. I know what this shop is worth and I know what you got from your wife’s insurance. Don’t worry —I don’t want it all —merely a fair share. So, I think nine thousand dollars a month should be fair. You’ll need to get it in bitcoin and put it in this account.” His leather-gloved hand slid a little slip of paper across the counter. The man had been careful and printed the information on a computer.

“I see you have a camera in here. You’re such a cheapskate, I’m betting it’s not recording but if it is, you’d better destroy it. Forget about the police – remember, I know what you did to your wife.” And with that, the man walked out.

Adam rushed over, locked the front door and made sure the “Closed” sign was up. His heart raced and his breath came in gulps. The thought of calling an ambulance briefly floated in the air. Instead, he went into the cramped room at the back of the shop where he kept a desk, microwave, coffee pot, and supplies. For the next hour, he sat at the desk and stared out the door into the darkened shop. The antiques took on an ominous, even evil, atmosphere. Long-dead people in ornate gold frames looked at him with scorn. Even the hunting dogs in a 18th-century British print had changed their opinion of him. Adam did his best to ignore them.

A small smirk crept across his face. Yes — that son of a bitch! Adam, contrary to his rehearsed robbery speech, remembered most faces. It was one of his special talents and he definitely had seen the man before. He was one of the investigators into Adam’s wife’s death. In fact, he was the one who had appeared suspicious. That jerk! There is no way I’m giving my money to a crooked cop. He wasn’t at the Metro. He’s blowing smoke, hoping for a payoff. But what to do? I’ll sleep on it. He’s not expecting any money till next week anyway. And with that, Adam drove home.

Photo by author.

Home was in a rented dependency on one of Loudoun’s large historic properties. Originally it had been an outbuilding, used to store farm wagons and tools. Small but cozy, it was chock full of antiques, most of them imperfect specimens a wee bit short of being suitable to sell in the shop. Dings and cracks were turned to the wall, rips were placed under furniture and chipped veneers were filled with dark putty. Overall the effect was one of old money — just as long as the visitor didn’t look too closely. At heart, Adam was a skinflint and, except for his excellent memory, had few to no good qualities. Which is probably why he had few to no friends. His wife had been a fluke — drawn to him by his aura of class and desperate to escape spinsterhood, if there is such a thing nowadays.

Since the shop didn’t open until ten, Adam had a few hours each morning to while away as he wished. The next day he savored his usual breakfast of Earl Grey tea and a crumpet which he thawed and toasted, buttered and honeyed. Then, instead of reading the New York Times online, he sat and pondered his problem.

Certainly, the investigator would not have shared his blackmail plans with anyone else. Adam could relax about that. And certainly, murder had been easy. But the cop would not be a pushover like his wife, if one could excuse that expression. As an investigator and based on his skills so far, he was a good researcher so fleeing to Puerto Rico would be unwise. What about Samoa? Or the south of France? There seemed to be a lot of disruption over there right now. A man could probably easily get lost in the shuffle.

Adam felt jumpy all day in the shop. He dropped and broke a Victorian vase when a departing customer accidentally slammed the door. But by day’s end, he had a plan.

Spirals of morning mist rose from the property’s pond the next day as Adam sped off in his apple-red BMW. He needed to get into his safe deposit box before opening up the shop. Thinking about the bank made his blood boil. He hated his bank. Once it was so cozy when locals owned it. There had always been a box of donut holes and free coffee just inside the front door. Now, some absentee conglomerate in North Carolina was in charge. Oh well. Soon enough these picayune people and places would all be behind him. Driving away from the bank, Adam noticed a nondescript gray sedan when it cut off an SUV behind him. These northern Virginia drivers are all so rude. I’m sick of dealing them and their vanity license plates. I can’t wait to get on that jet…

The hours crawled by at the shop. Finally, Adam checked his smart phone for the hundredth time. The time was quarter till three. Two minutes later, his neighbor Emmy breezed in and filled the air with the scent of patchouli. He’d arranged for Emmy to come in at three to cover him while he “went to the dentist.” Emmy was an entrepreneur wannabe who adored his shop. Maybe she’d take over the shop after he was gone. But really, he didn’t care what happened to it. “Byeeeee, Emmy. Just put the key under the boot scraper ‘round back. Thanks so much.”

Adam hurried home, packed, and headed east. He was driving against the commuter traffic so wasn’t worried about the time. He wasn’t worried about anything. He’d registered with the TSA months ago so he could slide through security at the airport. After all, he wasn’t wanted as a criminal. Adam was just another tourist as far as anyone knew. He’d wake up as they landed in Heathrow, then take ground transportation to France. Puerto Rico would have been nice, but France would do just fine. Provence. Jaunts to Italy, Spain. He’d never lack for funds. Wonderful!

Traffic was light. Weekdays were a snap at Dulles. He followed the signs to the long-term parking lot and parked the BMW. He would miss the car. Adam hoisted his large rolling suitcase out of the trunk and trundled off to the shelter to wait for the next bus to the terminal. Far off towards the front of the lot he saw two other travelers, but no one else. They were soon picked up and gone. The lot seemed deserted. After a quarter hour, a bus finally approached from the distance. He greeted the driver with a chirpy “Hiya,” but the capped stocky man stared straight ahead with only a guttural grunt. The bus was empty. Adam thought how lucky he was. That is, until the driver stopped the bus by a gray sedan, sprang up and pulled a gun out of his jacket.

“Did you really think you’d get away with double crossing me, Adam?” barked the blackmailing investigator, for Adam now recognized him as such. “You are so cocky.” The gun zipped out three silenced shots. Adam tipped over, dead.

Swiftly and with laudable grace, the cop grabbed Adam’s rolling suitcase and fled from the bus to the nearby gray sedan, the same one he had used to tail Adam in the morning. He put the luggage in his trunk. Unable to resist a peek at the money he knew Adam had in his bag, he popped open the suitcase. The investigator rooted around for the bills and came up empty. Puzzled, he cut open the lining. Nothing — except Adam’s clothes and toiletries. “What the hell? Where’d he put the money? It must be at his house. I need to get rid of this junk and go get it pronto.”

Keeping his driving gloves on, the cop drove off to the Potomac River. He parked above the rapids. There, before heading back to Middleburg, he tossed out Adam’s belongings and watched them hit the swirling water, one by one. The three vintage Hermes silk scarves, the two rare medieval books including the one with the four Rembrandt drawings tucked between pages fifty and fifty-one, the Dopp bag with the tin box of Edwardian mine-cut diamonds mixed in the talcum powder, the ivory shaving set and the exquisite little Japanese Meiji period cloisonné brush pot. With a grunt, he hoisted the rolling suitcase and tossed it after Adam’s treasures.

Murder was easy.

Photo by author.


About the Creator

Diane Helentjaris

Diane Helentjaris uncovers the overlooked. Her latest book Diaspora is a poetry chapbook of the aftermath of immigration.

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