This story is by Trey Reed and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Joseph Hartford will FALL tonight. Detective Hammond Stansfield read the words inked on a pressed sycamore leaf, a watered-down scotch in his hand. This was the fifth leaf delivered to his office in three months. “It’s too early for this,” he sighed, rereading the other names: Thomas Kennedy, Pauline Redmond, Charlie Walker, and Charlotte Maccabee, all with the same message.
“Another leaf?” asked Obley Haynes replying to his partner. His badge gleamed as he entered the office, placing his hat and coat on the rack beside him.
“Unfortunately. Joseph Hartford this time,” responded Stansfield.
Obley turned the desk corner, “let me review the others.” This was the first to arrive since his partnering with Stansfield.
“Be my guest,” the older detective huffed; sipping more of his diluted liquor and resting his boots on the desk corner opposite the evidence. Hammond Stansfield was a short, stocky, gruff of a man, intelligent too but a man of few words.
Obley was sent to partner with Stansfield on the Inked Leaf murders two weeks back. Being the prodigy that he was, Obley was admired by his Captain and would regularly be dispatched to other cities when extreme cases like this arose. When Obley had arrived to the town of Simsbury, he sat with Stansfield for the shortest briefing he’d ever observed. Obley remembered everything. As the succinct briefing occurred, clues began to reveal themselves in his mind.
Each murder was consistent. The leaves that came to Stansfield’s office were sycamore, the soon-to-be victim’s names were pressed in ink and each morning they arrived, the victim was found dead that night. Each night, an anonymous telegraph message arrived at 8:00pm divulging the corpses’ various locations. According to the coroner, each corpse revealed that it was drugged with chloroform and suffocated by strangulation shortly after.
Obley looked up to the two officers stationed by the door, “You two! Get to Joseph Hartford’s place! He needs protective custody, now!” The two officers scrambled away realizing the urgency of the matter. The door shut behind them. Getting to the threshold himself, Obley hastily redressed himself in his belongings.
“Going somewhere?” said Stansfield lazily.
“Yes, get up. It’s time to meet Albert.”
Stansfield lifted his boots from the desk, downed the last of the previous night’s scotch and rose to his feet. A knock rapped the door. Both sets of hands whipped to their holsters where each had a revolver. Obley creaked the door open and in walked a woman in a beautiful blue dress, white gloved hands holding a purse of the same color. Her face was covered by a large, circular hat with a white feather tufted outward. The woman raised her head, looking at Officer Hayne’s nametag. “I’m here to talk to Hammond Stansfield.”
Stansfield’s jaw dropped.
Man of few words indeed, thought Obley.
Stansfield cleared his throat. “I am he. How can I help you?”
“I have some information about the murders,” the woman said quietly.
“Yes!” Stansfield said with much more enthusiasm than normal. “Please come in. Here, sit. What was it that you had to say, Miss…?”
“Coleen Riley.” Obley closed the door behind her. Stansfield frantically rummaged through a drawer to find a notebook and pencil. “I believe I may be the next to be murdered. You see, I was quite involved with Thomas Kennedy. We’d been dating for months and he’d even proposed to me the night before…” she broke off. Coleen dabbed her eyes, and straightened, refusing to cry. “When I found out about his death, I was very put out. I have some family in Maine who offered me to stay there while I recouped. I have only just returned, but I read in the paper that there were more murdered like my Thomas. I realized then that I recognized every name. Pauline Redmond was my best friend. We went to dances together. She even introduced Thomas and I. Charlie Walker was the librarian. I would regularly stop by to hear Charlie’s most recent find. He always had the best suggestions, you know. I probably spoke with him more than any person there. Charlotte Maccabee was practically my mother. Mine passed when I was young and my father would be absent weeks at a time. Charlotte taught me to read, cook and dance.”
“I see. You’re a mighty strong lady, Ms. Riley,” blubbered Stansfield, “and Joseph Hartford?”
“My neighbor,” Coleen responded, “but I…”
Obley cut in. “We received word this morning. Joseph is next. We’ve sent two officers to ensure his protection.”
Another knock sounded. Obley opened the door and a few whispers were exchanged with the stranger. Obley turned to Stansfield, “Albert has him,” then said to Coleen, “Stay here, Ms. Riley. We must go.”
Stansfield followed and Obley closed the door behind him. “Thank you for coming, Albert.”
* * *
“You sure this is the place?” Obley petitioned his informant.
“Yes sir,” said Albert.
Obley freed his revolver and stepped back, Stansfield and Albert giving him room. With a tremendous kick, the door burst open. “Freeze!”
The man inside jumped from his seat positioned on the left side of the living area. “You can’t just…!”
Obley interrupted, ignoring the man. “Felix Alexander Livingston, you are under arrest for the Inked Leaf murders.”
Felix composed himself and smiled. “Congratulations! How did you do it?” he asked mockingly.
“Your ego exposed you, Felix.” Obley explained, “I know the leaves used come from a specific sycamore tree, the Pinchot. Also, I had my informant check the census for anyone with the initials F.A.L.L. since you capitalize them when they are inked. Though that yielded no results, I commend my informant Albert for his tenacity. He suggested your name, being that Alexander starts with the letters A.L. completing my original hypothesis. It was a stretch, I knew, but one that we felt we should follow. I sent Albert to tail you last night and when you left here then plucked a leaf from the Pinchot and returned home, we knew.”
“I am in love with her, you know.” Felix started, “I have been since the day I saw her. Coleen was wearing a gorgeous pink dress, her face like pure sunshine. She brightened my day instantly. It was my first time at Whitman’s Coffee Shop. We were sitting at different tables, but reading the same section of the same newspaper. Our waiters brought us the same drink: black coffee with two sugars.” Felix smiled at the thought, then continued: “I was about to go over to her when that Thomas came along,” saying his name with disgust. “I would follow them, as much as I hated Thomas, I would always get to see Coleen when he was around. We had the same interests, Coleen and I, the same humor, laughing together, reading together, but not together. I am a gentleman though. I waited. But things did not end. One night he proposed!” Then something snapped inside Felix. “I do NOT tolerate things stolen from me! Coleen is mine! I love her! Fate put us there but Thomas stole it from us!” Felix calmed himself once more. “Once Thomas was out of the way, I realized there were more threats to my fate with Coleen. The best friend could introduce her to another, the librarian, her “mother”, her neighbor. If I truly was to be Coleen’s one and only, these threats had to go.”
“You’re one sick son of a bitch, Felix. You know that?” asked Obley. Another shadow flickered behind them. The three men turned and saw Coleen in the doorway. “Ms Riley, what are you doing here?!?”
“I followed you. Once I overheard you say you were arresting the person who murdered my loves, I came closer. I needed to see the monster’s face.” Coleen said defiantly.
“Coleen!” Felix exclaimed, take a step forward, then another, “how I’ve longed for this day!” He continued conversing, ignoring the officers by her side.
“Not another step!” yelled Obley.
Stansfield caught a gleam off the mirror on the left side wall. A knife. Felix was reaching for it with his right hand, slowly stepping forward.
“I said don’t move!” Obley shouted again.
Stansfield realized Obley was distracted with Felix’s pandering to Coleen.
Felix’s eyes, firmly on Coleen, glanced quickly to Obley. Realizing he was now within arms distance, the knife flashed from his belt.
In the blink of an eye, a gunshot sounded. The knife rattled to the floor and Felix followed, blood dripping down his face from the bullet hole in his forehead. Obley, dazed from the recent events, looked over at Stansfield. He lowered his still smoking gun.
“Need to be more careful, Obley,” Stansfield said then turned to Coleen. “Sorry about that Miss. Let’s get you home.”
Stansfield walked Coleen down the steps of the threshold. “I heard it all,” whispering her confession, “He stalked me, overheard every conversation, knew everything about me…”
Stansfield remained silent.
“I hate him,” she concluded, a tear rolling down her cheek.