This story is by Gabrielle Lamontagne and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The cop car pulled up to a small green house with a red door. The detective pulled a hand across his tired eyes, then grabbed his notebook out of the front passenger seat and shut the car door behind him.
“Hey!” Nobody heard the grumble of frustration that followed.
Dugald Semple’s ghost had been trying to read the detective’s notes about his murder. Someone had mentioned the issues between him and the owner of the house. Nemesis. Dugald crinkled his nose – at least, what he imagined to be his nose – since it was no longer connected to his body. It was probably Marnie. She was nosy when I was alive, too.
A tanned man with salt and pepper hair answered the cop’s knock on the front door. He seemed surprised to hear about Dugald’s death. Probably an act.
“It was you, wasn’t it? Of course it would be you. Turn yourself in, you mangy coward!” Dugald imagined shaking his cane at the man, though he no longer needed one.
“How did Dug die?” Paul H. Foulkes ran a hand through his styled hair.
“I can’t disclose that information at this time. What was the cause of the feud between you and Mr. Semple?” The detective made eye contact while his pen scribbled on his notepad. Nifty skill.
“Who told you about that?” Paul asked.
“Does it matter?” The detective raised an eyebrow.
“No.” Paul hesitated. Dugald could almost see the wheels turning in his brain. “Do you know who is organizing the funeral?”
He’s definitely hiding something, Dugald grimaced at Paul. “What are you waiting for? Take him downtown! Read him his rights! Throw the book at ‘im!” He knew that neither Paul nor the detective could hear him, but it felt cathartic.
“I can’t say during an open investigation. After the inquest, I’m sure someone will reach out to you.”
The cop soon left, because Paul had an alibi and the detective had no further questions, but he’d told Paul not to leave town. Dugald decided to stay behind and see if he could find any clues about how Paul got him killed. Too much of a coward to do the deed himself.
As he followed Paul inside and began to survey his space, Dugald realized that this was the first time he was really seeing the place – even though he’d been there before. He’d been so angry, all those years ago, about the citation on such a stupid Homeowner’s Association policy, that he hadn’t registered his surroundings. Paul had been polite, but firm, which frustrated Dugald to the extent that he’d avoided speaking to the younger man for the following eighteen years. Actually, he quite enjoyed the simplistic and peaceful books-and-plants décor of Paul’s front room.
He followed Paul into a little office towards the back of the house. Everything seemed neat – a little too tidy. The man’s house felt empty. Even though spending the night home alone on the phone with a sister wasn’t a great alibi, it was solid if the sister backed him up. Dugald had to find evidence that Paul was lying about his whereabouts. Then he would have to figure out how to get that information to the police, considering that he had not yet been able to move any objects in his incorporeal state. Seeing the way Paul lived reminded him a bit of himself at Paul’s age. He almost felt sorry for the man – home alone on a weekend evening.
Dugald pulled his head into the present moment. He watched over Paul’s shoulder as he logged into his computer and began researching Dugald Semple. Himself. Why would Paul want to know more about me? He looked up a list of known relations and articles in the local gossip column about Dugald back when he was a featured celebrity. Thinks he can pawn suspicion off on someone who stalked me back in the day, eh?
As soon as Paul entered the field behind the SPCA for his volunteer job as a trainer, several dogs ran up to him and he squatted down to pet them, one at a time, and let them lick under his chin, as he grinned and cooed kind words to them. Dugald watched in wonder.
He was surprised to see his niece walk up from across the field with a clipboard. He knew she volunteered, but she’d never told him what she did.
After she introduced Paul to the dog he’d be working with that day and helped get the other dogs back to their volunteers, he reached out to pat her shoulder.
“I’m sorry to hear about your uncle.”
She seemed confused at first, but then her eyes lit with recognition and a wry smile, before fading to a melancholy expression.
“Oh. Thanks. He was a cranky old miser. I mean, I’ll miss him a bit, always wanted me to quit smoking you know? But I’m still kind of pissed that he cut me out of his will because of it. What a douche, right?”
“Oh. Uh. I don’t know. I’m sure it was his way of showing he loved you, you know, so you’d quit,” Paul replied hesitantly.
“It’s only recreational. Besides, what right does he have to tell me how to live? What a tyrant!” She breathed deeply to calm her nerves, then started speaking in a more pensive way, “I guess it wouldn’t be such a big deal if I didn’t need the money right now. I mean, I even went to talk to him about it the other day, but he still wouldn’t change it back. Now he’s gone and I’ve got nothing. How am I supposed to feed my kids?” Sarah grimaced, letting the wave of her turbulent thoughts pull her under a dark cloud.
Dugald pursed his lips and eyebrows in thought. He was sad that Sarah held such anger towards him. Apparently, he’d passed on his gift for holding grudges.
“I didn’t know it was that bad. But what about Jessie and Parker? Your smoking is worse. It takes precedence over money in my will. You’ve got family that could help you right now. Then again, I did die, so my money could have helped you right now, too,” Dugald wondered aloud.
“Don’t you have other family who could help you out?” Paul asked.
“Not really. Mom and Dad are dead. Siblings are raising their own kids. I just can’t ask them to have a lean Christmas so my kids can eat,” said Sarah.
“Oh. Gee. I’m sorry. Why don’t you go to the foodbank. They could probably help you out.”
“That’s what my uncle said, too. But it’s too embarrassing. I should be able to provide, you know?” Sarah Semple shrugged her shoulders and headed off to help one of the new volunteer trainers at the other end of the field.
Paul returned to working with his assigned dog for the day. Dugald watched his tender approach with admiration.
“Marnie told me you do this. I told her you must get some monetary benefit from it. She scoffed. Look how your eyes shimmer and your face lights up when those dogs run up to you. I owe you and Marnie an apology.”
When Paul returned home, the cops were waiting for him. He willingly got in their car to go “downtown”.
Dugald followed them into a small gray room. Even I feel cold in here, he thought.
“Look here, young man, he clearly did not kill me. He seems more sad than relieved that I’m dead. I suppose our feud was one-sided after all.”
No one could hear his frustrated testimony. Dugald scowled.
“I have an alibi, remember? You said you checked it out,” Paul protested.
The detective turned to his partner, whispering as he flipped through his notes, “Well, who else had a motive to kill this guy?”
Paul raised his hand to get the guy’s attention.
“Actually, I have an idea who might really have had that kind of anger towards him.”
“Dug was… a character, to say the least.” More than a few of the mourners chuckled. “He was kind to children and dogs, and he knew how to hold a grudge. He was also a bit of Silver Fox in his hay-day.” Paul smiled wistfully down at the speech he’d written.
Dugald was a little surprised to hear himself described in such a way. Paul’s speech continued, but Dugald’s mind was caught up in the aftermath of the cops catching his murderer. He was astonished that his niece was angry enough that night to hit him over the head. Was she truly so desperate for his money? He knew Sarah was having money problems, but he never suspected it was so bad. He had expected her to give up smoking, at which point he would have added her back in. His own uncle had died from Emphysema. Why hadn’t Sarah respected his wishes? They could have all lived happily ever after.