No one noticed when she disappeared. Incredibly, the villagers insisted that that was the truth.
Inspector Cuzack sighed and leaned back on his chair. It was a puzzling situation. In a village of fifty people, how could no one notice a person had been missing for two weeks? In the end, it was her sister who had alerted the police that Miss Jane Dunmore had not called since her visit three weeks earlier as planned. Jane’s sister, Miss Harriet Dunmore, had refused to tell the police why Jane had paid her a visit a week before her disappearance, even though everyone knew they were not on speaking terms. It was all so odd.
Mrs. Stephanie Chester was the town gossip. She was an old woman with bright blue eyes and an infinite curiosity about everyone else’s life. She was quite happy to help the Inspector.
“She was such a lovely girl. So polite and kind. I remember that she brought soup for Mr. Avery when he was sick. Nowadays the younger generation gets sick every week. Now me, I’m nearly 90 and still have more energy than they. The trick is to have one spoon full of cod liver oil with every meal. . .” The inspector coughed. Taking the hint the old woman’s rambling came to a halt.
“She was so kind. You know none of those modern ideas. The model citizen.”
“Did her behavior change at all before she disappeared?”
The old woman’s brow furrowed. “Now that you mentioned it. . . .’’ The woman muttered to herself so softly that the inspector had to step forward to catch the words.
“But no, she wouldn’t have unless she knew . . .” Looking up, the woman stopped.
“I think I’m tired now. You’d better go.”
“Ma’am, if you’ve just thought of something . . .”
“I’ve nothing more to add to what I’ve said.” Mrs. Chester shooed him off her porch. The Inspector jotted down a few notes in his notebook. He would have to question her tomorrow.
The next day Mrs. Chester was dead.
Everyone said it was old age that killed her. Her heart had just given out in the middle of the night. Cuzack frowned. There were no suspicious circumstances. After all, she was old. But – she’d known something. Yesterday she had known something. And today she was dead.
Cuzack visited each of the villager’s homes. Everyone said “old age.” They claimed she was so frail – nearly 90. Men shut the door in his face. At one home though, Cuzack was greeted by an angry man.
“I can’t help you. I’ve told you all I know.”
Inspector Cuzack hastily stuck his foot between the door frame before Mr. Avery closed the door. Barton Avery, a man in his late fifties, was slightly hunched with peppered colored hair that hung like spaghetti past his shoulders. Cuzack detected a strong body odor emanating from his person.
“Mr. Avery, I came to talk to you about the death of Mrs. Chester and the disappearance of Miss Jane Dunmore.”
“Do you think they’re related? They couldn’t be.”
Mr. Avery’s face widened with fear. Fear or anger, Cuzack decided.
“Fine.” Mr. Avery beckoned Cuzack to enter his home.
Cuzack glanced around. Mr. Avery’s home was meticulously neat; it semed as if he had a place for everything. There weren’t any suspicious items, at least nothing peculiar enough to
call for a search warrant.
“Sir, I have to ask you again if you know anything about the death of Mrs. Chester and disappearance of Miss Dunmore.”
Mr. Avery’s face was inscrutable. “I honestly have nothing I can add to your account.’’ His voice sounded different as if he had decided something.
Cuzack tried repeatedly to get Mr. Avery to talk, but to no avail. He finally gave up and left.
Mr. Avery was missing the next day. His once neat house was in disarray, and there were blood spatters everywhere. Cuzack sent samples of the blood to the lab, but was unable to find other clues. He returned to his office to review the case.
It was odd that the murderer would leave evidence behind. Why not make it a suicide? The murderer would not leave behind so much potential evidence, if indeed that was his blood. Cuzack sighed and leaned back.
Just then the phone rang. “Cuzack, this is the Chief of Police. I’ve appointed a more senior detective to your case. I’ll assign you to a new case tomorrow. Don’t feel bad about your failure.” The phone clicked. The Chief had hung up.
Cuzack stared at the phone. It started to ring. He reached out and grabbed it.
It was a raspy sort of voice. It sounded vaguely familiar, as if he had heard it before. But where?
He or she whispered something. It was definitely a he. Cuzack had to strain to hear the words. “I killed Jane Dunmore and Stephanie Chester.”
Cuzack sat bolt upright. “Who are you? Why did you kill them?”
The man laughed mirthlessly. “Do you need a reason? They were so scared, the both of them when they knew they were about to die. Jane got so scared that she even warned her sister, whom she detested and had not seen in years. Of course, her sister didn’t believe her. They were just like my mother who got what she deserved after all those years of abuse. ‘Tie your shoes, fix your collar. You’re disgusting - so untidy and unkempt. The least you could do is take a shower. You are so ugly and pitiful. Only your mother could love you. What a disgrace. No woman could look at you.’ And then there were the beatings. Well mother dearest got what she deserved and so have all of them.” The voice sneered and then sounded vaguely amused.
“Who are you? Why are you telling me this?” Cuzack could feel his heart thumping in his chest.
“Don’t you already know? It’s a privilege few living people have. Knowledge is a powerful weapon. I’m Mr. Avery, of course.” The phone clicked.
Cuzack sat frozen, the phone cradled in his hands.
There was a knock at his door.