By Richard Ciciarelli

The screaming of police sirens woke Mildred Bagshaw from her afternoon nap. Pushing her eighty-plus year old body out of her rocking chair, Mildred shuffled to her living room window and looked out.

Several police black-and-whites were already in front of the house across the street as an unmarked black car pulled to a stop and police sergeant Tom Farley stepped out.

Mildred checked her hair in a hall mirror, went out her front door, and walked to the scene of the commotion as fast as her old legs would carry her.

"Something happen to Emma, Sergeant?" She called to her old friend.

Farley turned. "Oh, hi, Mrs. B. I'm afraid so. It appears Mrs. Lathrop was strangled."

Mildred's right hand went to her throat.

"Oh, my. Who discovered her?"

"Her paperboy. Seems like she forgot to pay him last Friday, so he came to collect today. He found the back door open, walked in, and saw her body on the floor. He called 911 on his cell phone."

"Poor Sammy," Mildred said. "He's such a nice boy. It must have been quite a shock for him."

"Yeh," Farley agreed. "The responding officers sent him home as soon as they could."

"I knew Emma very well, you know," Mildred said. "She was two or three years younger than I. Her husband passed away several years ago and she lived all alone. Her family visited only on holidays."

The two friends had been making their way around Emma Lathrop's house to the back door. Farley held it open and let Mildred enter first.

A medical assistant was just zipping up the black body bag containing Mrs. Lathrop and preparing to place it on a gurney. Forensics people were busy dusting for fingerprints and snapping photographs.

"Oh," Mildred said, and she pointed to a shattered ceramic Teddy bear that lay on the floor.

"What?" Farley asked.

"Emma had a terrible fear of banks," Mildred said. "Her father lost a lot of money in the Great Depression. She kept all her Social Security money in that cookie jar."

"She didn't have direct deposit?"

Mildred shook her head. "She didn't trust computers to do things right. She got a check every month and took the bus into town to cash it. Every penny went into that Teddy bear."

"And how do you know this?" Farley asked.

"Emma told me. She told just about everybody. All the neighbors knew, at least."

As the medical assistant was about to wheel the late Emma Lathrop out the door, Farley asked, "Do you have an approximate time of death?"

"Rough guess: about two this afternoon."

Farley nodded and the medical man went on his way,

"That was about the time I sat down for my nap," Mildred said. "I don't remember seeing any cars in Emma's driveway or in front of the house."

"So whoever did this must have walked here," Farley said. "Maybe we should talk to Mrs. Lathrop's neighbors. I assume you know them, too?"

Mildred nodded. "Let's start with Todd Baxter. He lives in that brick house." She pointed to a house on the left.

* * *

A man with salt-and-pepper hair and a bulging stomach answered the doorbell at the brick house.

"Yes? Oh, hello, Mildred. What's going on? What are all the police doing at Emma's place? Is she all right?"

"I'm afraid not, Todd. She's been murdered. Someone killed her and took her cookie jar money."

Baxter shook his head. "Poor old lady. I told her more than once she was asking for trouble keeping all that money in the house — and telling people where it was."

"Mr. Baxter," Farley said, "I have to ask everyone who knew about that money jar where they were at about two this afternoon."

"You think one of us did this? Well, I suppose that makes sense. I was downtown at the movie theater, taking in a matinee. It costs less then, you know."

"Can you tell me the name of the movie?"

"Yes. It was one of the classics — Hitchcock's Suspicion."

"Was anyone with you?"

"No," Baxter said. "I'm a widower. I went there alone." Then, after a second's thought, he snapped his fingers.

Reaching into his pocket he brought out two scraps of paper. Farley recognized them as ticket stubs.

"Will this help?" Baxter asked.

Farley nodded. "Thank you for your help, sir."

As he and Mildred headed for the sidewalk, he asked, "Where to next, Mrs. B?"

"Let's go to Rene White's house. She lives in the ranch on the other side of Emma's."

* * *

Rene White was a woman in her early sixties. When Mildred told her what had happened, she clutched at the neckline of her blouse.

"How horrible. I just knew something bad would happen, what with her keeping all that money in the house. She was so old fashioned. But you know that, Mildred."

"Yes," Mildred agreed. "I tried several times to get her to start a checking account and have her Social Security deposited directly there, but she wouldn't hear of it."

"May I ask where you were at two this afternoon?" Farley asked.

"Do you think I could do something so horrible?" Rene White was aghast.

"Not really, ma'am," Farley said, "but I have to ask everyone."

"Two o'clock?" White thought a moment. "That was about an hour before it started to rain, right? I was in my back yard, dead-heading my climbing rose bush. The television news said it was going to rain all afternoon, and I wanted to get that done before it poured. Turned out, all it did was sprinkle for fifteen minutes or so."

"Can you prove what you said?" Farley asked.

White extended her arms to show her hands and forearms covered with scratches.

"I was hurrying to beat the rain and got scratched up pretty well. All for nothing, as it turned out."

Farley thanked Rene White and he and Mildred left.

"Where to now, Mrs. B?"

"The only other neighbor here is George Marlow. His back yard bumps up against Emma's back yard. The other neighbors are all on vacation out of state."

Farley and Mildred walked around the block to the Marlow house. Farley was careful not to go too fast so Mildred could keep up.

"I heard the sirens and wondered what all the noise was about," the balding man said as he scratched at his day-old beard. "Poor Emma. But I suppose she brought this on herself by keeping that much money in the house and then telling people about it. You'd think after all the crime you hear about on television and read in the newspapers she'd know better."

"Everyone has their own little quirks," Farley said. "Since you knew about Mrs. Lathrop's money, I have to ask where you were at about two o'clock this afternoon."

"I probably should be upset at your inference," Marlow said, "but I guess you're just doing your job. I'm afraid my alibi is pretty mundane. I was right here watching my favorite movie on television."

"And what movie would that be?"

"A comedy — It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

"I didn't see that in the television listings," Mildred said. "It's one of my favorites, too. I'd have foregone my afternoon nap to watch it."

"Oh, it wasn't on any television channel," Marlow said, "I rented a DVD of it. No commercials that way."

"Can anyone verify that you were here?" Farley asked.

"I'm afraid not. My wife is on a ladies' day out with her sisters. She left early this morning and won't be home until later this evening."

Farley thanked Marlow for his time and he and Mildred began the slow walk back towards Emma Lathrop's house.

"What do you think, Sergeant?" Mildred asked.

"In cases like this, the guilty person is seldom a stranger. It's almost always someone the victim knew. If I were a betting man, I'd give you two to one Mrs. Lathrop knew her assailant."

"Two to one," Mildred mumbled. And her eyes lit up. "Yes, that's it, Sergeant. Two to one."

Farley stopped in his tracks, then started again as Mildred kept walking.

"The person who did this certainly wasn't a professional criminal," Mildred said, "so I'll bet your forensics people found fingerprints on Emma's cookie jar — and not just Emma's. And I think I can tell you who those prints belong to."

* * *

Later that evening Sergeant Farley sat at Mildred's kitchen table, munching on her homemade cookies and sipping coffee.

"You did it again, Mrs. B. When we confronted Todd Baxter with our fingerprint evidence, he confessed. How did you know?"

"When was the last time you went to a movie theater, Sergeant?" Mildred asked. "Never mind. It's not important. What is important is that when you attend a theater, the ticket taker tears your ticket in half. He keeps half and gives you the other half. But Baxter showed us both halves of his ticket. A mistake.

"He probably had two stubs from two different movies he attended before. When you said something about 'two to one.' I realized his error in trying to be clever about his alibi."

"Mrs. B," Farley said, "I pity any criminal who tries to put one over on you."

Richard Ciciarelli is a member of Mystery Writers of America and since 1982 has published numerous short stories in some of the country's top magazines and on-line mystery sites. The author has published over 80 short stories.

This is the author's 3rd Mildred Bagshaw story published on the omdb! website. The first was "In Vino Veritas" which was published in August, 2011. The second was "Mildred Bagshaw and the Jewelry Store Murder" published in August, 2012.

Mr. Ciciarelli is the author of the popular Charles Blake III series of short stories first introduced to omdb! readers in "A Private Murder" followed by "Ghost of a Chance" and "Scent of Murder." He also writes the Sheriff Sam Hartnet series. "Murder in the Crystal Palace" and "Sheriff Sam's Triumph" both feature Sheriff Sam Hartnet. "A Rose by Any Other Name," is a non-series short story also previously published on omdb!.

Copyright 2012 Richard Ciciarelli. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

Return to Over My Dead Body! Online.