This story is by Rochelle Herman and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Hadst thou’ no poison mixed?”
Faye sulked, reading the note on the theatre door. The manifesto decreed Romeo and Juliet was canceled. Three weeks before opening night. Their theatre budget had been allotted to the town’s cherished football team instead.
For a bus.
1973 bore another Indian Summer for Mystery, Kansas, where we lay our scene. The stifling humidity was causing the small town to go selfishly insane.
Faye wiped her cold pop bottle across her forehead for sanctuary. Her golden hair was sticking to her face like molasses.
The following week Faye was called into the Principals office via intercom. It rang like a death toll as she trudged past rows of classmates staring with pity while she walked the plank towards Principal Crispino’s office. The 4”11 man could intimidate you like Goliath. Just one cross look would make a freshman cower with fear.
She was dumbstruck to find him watching General Hospitalas she cautiously sat across from him. He was surrounded by a cloud of smoke and made her wait for a commercial break before he began. The anticipation was cruel. He was smirking to himself. He knew.
“Faye, I hear you like a good mystery…” She let out a gasp of air. She wasn’t in trouble. He wanted her help. Faye and her dog Kansas were a known detective duo. “ Mrs. Butler says you cracked the case of her stolen coupons. That true?”
“Well, I’ve got a real doozy for you, someone broke into the office a few nights back and swiped the team’s better bus money for playoffs.The town can’t know it’s lost or it’ll be pandemonium. “
“Were any clues left behind?”
“No…” he peered at her, “… but Fr. Patrick delivered this anonymous donation for the school this morning.” Not breaking eye contact, he took out a check and handwritten letter from his desk. “It seems a parishioner really wants to see your play.”
he said, gauging her reaction.
“I want you to solve if this mysterious donor is our thief. The town wants that better bus, Faye. Can you do it?”
She nodded taking the letter.
“Good. Now scram, my story’s back on.” He waved her off with a puff of smoke.
Faye walked Kansas, her Basset Hound, to school that evening for assistance. Maybe Kansas could track the scent of the owner. She sniffed the note, then hightailed it across the quad.
“Get em, Kansas!”
Kansas dashed past the gym, towards the Church, and onto the Rectory. She bolted towards the Rectory door and started baying. Faye sighed. Fr.Patrick had delivered the donation. The culprit definitely wasn’t a priest.
Walking back towards the gym, Faye spotted Mrs. Kelly, the costumer, carrying their costumes en-route to the theatre.
“Principal Crispino hasn’t told anyone yet. What’s she doing Kansas?”
They shadowed her against the brick sided gym, following her inside the theatre, observing her in the costume room.
“She’s holding my Juliet gown up to the mirror,” Faye whispered.
“Curiouser and curiouser…” She said to Kansas. “… and now we have a lead.”
A few days and dead ends later, Faye had a group of far-fetched clues spread across the theatre floor. The suspects were weak. Thankfully, Crispino never harped for updates. Mrs. Kelly, the school secretary, and costumer was at the top. Gene, the quarterback, whom normally she thought was a total fry, offered his condolences.
Was it a clue?
Michael, playing Romeo, and Mr.Mckibben, the director, were suspects by proxy. She twirled her blonde hair. No one’s handwriting had matched up so far.
Faye was stapling up posters a fortnight later when something on the bulletin board caught her eye. A handwritten flyer for a weekly prayer group. She froze. It was signed Fr.Patrick and it strikingly resembled the handwriting from the donation letter. She pulled out the beautifully written note in Iambic Pentameter.
Flashes of Fr. Patrick carrying “The Complete Works of Shakespeare” around campus whipped through her head like flipping through a comic book. She must really be out to lunch if she was going to accuse Fr.Patrick of stealing. She fell back against the board. But the clues were adding up, Kansas had led them to his door.
Fr. Patrick, the team’s spiritual figurehead, had swiped their better bus money.
“Right on…” she thought smiling, “…but Principal Crispino is right. It will be pandemonium if the town knows. If I keep this to myself, the play will go on. Which is what my cast mates want. But I’ll be breaking my own moral code of a bipartisan detective. If I tell, I’ll be tarnishing the name of a Holy Man. It’s possible no one will believe me anyways and my family could be ostracized…”
This was a devoutly Catholic Community.
“Will the play be re-canceled if I turn Fr. Patrick in?” thought Faye.
This was heavy. She didn’t want to accuse Fr.Patrick. She needed more clues to lead her elsewhere. Playoffs were that weekend and Principal Crispino would want resolution.
Maybe there’s something more to Mrs. Kelly?
The handwriting could be hers. She was gonna break into the office. It was Mass. It’d be deserted.
The lights were off when she entered and she kept them that way. Sitting down at Mrs. Kelly’s desk, she fervently began looking for evidence. Faye discovered an old yearbook in the bottom drawer with a page marked. She opened it. It was the theatre troupe from 49’, and in the corner was a picture of a girl adorned in medieval garb. Below it was a description.
Mrs.Kelly had played Juliet when she went to high school here!
“But I need to match your handwriting still.”
Caught, like a deer in headlights. Faye lifted her doe-eyes up to see Coach Smith looming over her.
“Laps for a month.” He decreed while carting her off to Mass.
“Mass, the perfect place to brainstorm another break-in, “ she thought.
“I’ll sneak back in during the pep-rally and bring Kansas! “
That was her mistake before. She forgot a lookout.
The office was easy to break into with a nail file. With Kansas standing guard, she turned on her flashlight and entered. The announcements were still on the desk. She placed Fr.Patrick’s flyer and the donation letter side by side. Two of them had the same writing. “Bummer…” This was not the answer she was hoping for.
“Looking for me?”
Faye froze like T-Rex. She’d thought everyone would be at the pep rally. She slowly turned and saw Principle Crispino silhouetted in smokey light by his office door.
“Get in here…”
These violent delights have violent ends.
Disquieted, Faye entered and found Fr. Patrick was already there. They were watching General Hospital together. Was this what faculty did all day?
“Well, Sherlock, did you crack it?” Crispino chuckled.
She was still clutching the evidence. This felt like a trap. They were side-eyeing each other.
“Uh oh, stage fright?” Crispino said to Fr.Patrick, commencing their laughter.
She began to sweat profusely. Fr.Patrick baptized her. How could she accuse him?
“Well?” scoffed Crispino.
She was gonna barf from anxiety. She wanted to be Juliet, but she also wanted to be a good detective.
“Umm…there have been some new developments…” she trailed off avoiding eye contact.
“Lots of in’s..lots of outs…it’s confusing…”
They stared blankly at her.
“Look, Faye, we know you know,” said Fr.Patrick.
Bewildered, she kept flashing her gaze between them, then her eyes locked. There, situated perfectly between the two men, were various copies of “The Complete Works of Shakespeare” on the shelf.
The clues finally made sense.
That was why Crispino never wanted updates.
“You were in on this together?” Faye asked in disbelief.
“You took the money…” she said pointing to Crispino, then to Fr.Patrick “…and you hid it behind the church.” She was shaking inside, but she told the truth.
“I was Mercutio once,” said Crispino nostalgically.
“Then why hire me?”
“I had to appear bipartisan, of course! I also didn’t think you’d figure it out.”
“The team doesn’t need a better bus…” interjected Fr.Patrick “…but the theatre needed that money. The School Council was wrong. So we devised this plan.”
“We trust we’re on the same team here?”
Faye knew what Principal Crispino was implying. She held her pinky out to them. A sacred oath.
“Benjamin Franklin once said ‘ The only way three people can keep a secret is if two of them are dead.’ Let’s prove him wrong,” said Crispino.
“You’ll be a magnificent Juliet, Faye…” Fr.Patrick said. “Break-a-leg”
“Now scram, our story’s back on.”
That night in their room, Kansas slept at Faye’s feet while she logged the evidence with the rest of their case files.
‘The Case Of The Missing Bus Money’, was closed.