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Clarice by Virginia Winters
Gumshoe Review Short Story  ISBN/ITEM#: SS201001
Date: 01 January 2010

Links: Virginia Winters /

This is a nice piece of atmospheric writing where things don't turn out to be as they seem, which is often the case in mysteries. Is it a whodunnit? Or a police procedural? Or just a fine narrative. The lines, like the truth, blur here, but I hope you find Virginia Winters' short piece about the death of a friend engaging and satisfying as I did. - Ernest Lilley Sr. Editor, Gumshoe Review.

Clarice

Her blood no longer dripped from the blonde oak table onto the worn green carpet. We watched it change from a liquid pool of scarlet to a sticky, muddy brown. The police searched the dining area, tiny powerful flashlights in gloved hands, ready to pick out the slightest piece of evidence that might contradict the story we had told them. A young woman stood nearby, barely old enough, I thought, to go to police college, much less guard a group of hardened criminals such as ourselves.

They had taken Clarice away an hour ago, but still we sat, determined to say what needed to be said: Monica, tall, too thin to sit comfortably on the hard chair she had chosen; Andrea, her opposite in most ways, especially in her inability to restrain herself, even now, from loading a plate with food from the buffet; Denise, practical, hardened Denise, sobbing quietly but fervently in the corner by the window; and me, Althea, originator of our writing group. Clarice had booked the room and had called us to come on this day and time. I tried to remember if I had somehow betrayed her.

"How did he find us?" Denise choked out the words.

"Who knows? She probably took a call from him," Monica spat at her.

"How can you say that? She was terrified of him." This was from Andrea, opposing Monica as usual.

"Did any of you tell anyone we were meeting today?" A chorus of angry no's answered me.

The policewoman wrote in her little notebook each time one of us spoke as her colleagues examined the gun, which had been found by Clarice's body. We knew it was covered with her husband's prints.

We had seen him in the lobby, we told the police, while we were on our way up. I wondered if he had an alibi, a friend or someone who owed him a favour. Clarice would have known.

Clarice, sad, determined, trapped in that unholy marriage to a man who couldn't distinguish his wife from some other possession, his Porsche, say, or his collection of hunting rifles. I think he felt we were safe enough for her to spend one evening a week with us. Clarice wrote stories for children; she told him all of us did.

But Clarice wrote other stories and left them with us. Angry, hurt, revenge-filled fantasies of what she wanted to do to controlling, abusive men lay in the depths of my computer, locked into a file named Someday. The newest disk had been on the couch when we entered the room. I knew it was wrong, but I loaded it into my computer and wiped the disk clean and copied one of my own files onto it. Clarice deserved some privacy.

"What else do you know about the husband?" asked the detective, as he sat down across from us.

"What more do you want to know? He made her life hell and now he has killed her." Monica was determined to keep the detective focussed on Robert, whom she had loathed since she had fallen in love with Clarice.

"Perhaps you could tell me where I might find him?"

"He's a lawyer with O'Brien and O'Brien. Try their office." Denise had stopped sobbing and was now ready in her take-charge way to answer the questions for all of us.

"Why do you think he left the gun?"

"Maybe he was startled when we called?"

"When did you call?"

"We called from the cab, and then went to get some paper at the shop. Clarice said she had forgotten paper." Now Monica cried, as she had to say Clarice's name.

"Where is it?"

"Where is what?"

"The paper."

The paper was in my briefcase, in a bag from the newsstand in the lobby. I hauled it out for him to see.

"I think you ladies can go now. We have your statements, and your addresses. We will have to speak to you later."

Did he believe us, I wondered, as I gathered my belongings, including my computer with its secret, and pulled small gloves onto my hands. At the lobby door we hesitated, looking out onto the rainy Sunday morning.

"Let's walk down by the river," I suggested.

"What if the police follow us?" Monica asked me. "How will we get rid of them?"

"Let's turn down here," I suggested, ignoring her, as I took a route that led to the Bow River. The street was empty except for one homeless person, hunched in a doorway, and another trudging aimlessly along, clutching her bag of belongings.

Our footsteps echoed in the strange silence, peculiar for a big city, which bemused me when I moved here from Toronto, where downtown is never, ever quiet. At least we would hear if anyone was following us.

At the river's edge, we stood in the cold mist and watched the brown water flow slowly under the bridge. I pulled off the gloves and turned them over in my hands as we spoke a goodbye to Clarice. They fluttered away in the wind, down to the river and disappeared. They hadn't fit me anyway.

"Do you think we can go through with this," Andrea blurted.

"He tortured her. He's responsible for her death," Monica pleaded.

"But we know..." Andrea tried to reply but her words were lost in tears.

"Andrea's right," Denise said. "We can't do this, even though she wanted us to."

"Let's go back."

Silently we walked towards the hotel. When we turned the corner at the bookstore, we saw the detective standing, one hand holding the coffee he had been drinking while he waited for us to come back. We put our arms around each other as we came up to him.

©Virginia Winters, January 2010.

About the author:

Virginia Winters lives in Lindsay, Ontario Canada. She has had several short stories published, including: The End of the Day, published in Confabulation2, Wynterblue Publishing in May, 2009; Fire of Love, published online by Wynterblue Publishing in May, 200; and A Superior Train, published online at Pine Tree Mysteries, September, 2009.

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