In this, my third round for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest, I was given the following premise to write my 1,000-word maximum story:
Object: Fake I. D.
Penny for the Guy
T’was supposed to be just a normal effigy…same as every year...a stuffed guy atop a bonfire heap...but when Sean Marshall came bashing down Thelma Wiggins’ door the morning after bonfire night, he told her to grab her coat and dog and hurry with him to a murder investigation down at Golden Acre Park where the Yorkshire Constabulary were sifting through a heap of burned rubble, surrounding a charred body.
“So what’s the commotion?” Thelma Wiggins asked as she flung her walking stick into the boot of her ‘65 Mini Cooper and hobbled into the driver’s seat with Letti, her shihtzu with a fine nose for guilt.
“Dead body at the bonfire.” Sean Marshall spoke softly as always but this time with more intensity than his normal steady tone.
“Funny, I didn’t hear a thing on Harvey’s old scanner last night. Just a couple of drunken revelers stirring up trouble.”
“Wasn’t discovered till this morning when a dog was seen draggin’ off a piece of the chap’s leg.”
“Bloody hell.” Thelma gave Sean a glance he’d known since childhood. “Any suspects?”
“Nothing but a report of an odd man seen watching the bonfire from a distance.”
“As in pale white face, oddly raised eyebrows, and a blank, morbid stare.”
“Sounds lovely.” Thelma pulled up to the park and moaned as she saw the growing team of officials and media arriving at the scene. “Should have put on me lipstick,” she said, patting down her unsorted hair. She waited for Sean to come around to her door to help her get out of the car.
“You up for this?” Sean said as Thelma struggled to pull herself out of the car.
“Is the Pope holy?”
“Now grab me knittin’ bag and let’s bash on.”
The drizzle had let up just enough to make the crime scene more accessible for a 72 year-old woman with titanium kneecaps to approach. Letti sniffed her way in front of the two private detectives and stopped abruptly in front of a large constable who uncomfortably bent down to pat her on the head. Thelma yawned and Sean cleared his throat--something they had established as a confirming awareness when they used to work on the late Harvey Wiggins’ cases.
“No wonder there was no activity on the scanner last night,” Thelma murmured under her breath.
Sean had reached the scene before Thelma. He flashed his badge at the primary investigator, a thick man with flaming red hair. They exchanged basic information as Sean scribbled notes and glanced back and forth from the covered remains to his notepad. Letti, in the meantime, meandered between the bustling people at the scene, sniffing vigorously, but not stopping at anyone else.
When Thelma reached the commotion, she used her walking stick to forcefully nudge people out of her way. Standing at the edge of the smouldering bonfire, she reached into her knitting bag and pulled out her metal knitting needles and a pair of surgical gloves. Sean joined her and handed over his notepad.
“No evidence?” Her head tilted subtly. “Really?” She handed the gloves to Sean and while he was putting them on, she used her walking stick to clear a small pathway into the charred remains of wood. “Now take these needles and poke around under the body until you hear something.”
“What exactly am I listening for this time?” Sean asked, knowing her answer.
“Every sound matters, love.”
Using both hands, Sean tapped the knitting needles through the ashes and rubble, not hearing anything until he hit something that made a metal-on-metal sound. He reached in and pulled out a scorched silver cigarette case.
“I’ll take that,” Thelma said. “Now go back and poke around just to the left of where you found this.”
She opened the case and found an Italian driver’s license still intact. The man’s name was Guido Fox. He had a typical Italian face but with intently guilty eyes. With Sean still tapping around in the heap, Thelma set the opened case on the ground and called Letti over. As expected, Letti sniffed at the case then sat in front of it, head atilt.
Sean, crouching low, held up a knitting needle with a gold ring on it. “This what you were hopin’ for?” he said, handing over the ring.
“Bingo!” Thelma took the ring and using her high-powered magnifying glass around her neck, she squinted to read the inscription:
John & Maria Johnson...5-11-05
“Hey Sean, can you use your facebook thingie to look for a John Johnson from Leeds with a wife named Maria?”
“Sure, but did you notice this insignia on the inside of the cigarette case?”
Thelma held it up to the light then gave Sean the look.
Thelma noticed Letti had dug up something next to the heap. A charred credit card, a handful of Euros, and a penny. An English penny belonging to an English man named Guy, AKA Guido, Fox.
Handing her his iPhone, Sean says, “Our victim. John Johnson. An archaeologist, specialising in early church history. Spent last summer with his Italian wife, Maria, in Rome, where he apparently stumbled upon some controversial theological stuff.”
“See, all roads do lead to Rome,” Thelma smirked.
“So how do we find him?”
Pointing over at Letti, sitting diligently in front of the redheaded imposter, Thelma assured Sean, “We already have.”
Sean nodded. “Maybe there’s more than a penny for this guy?”