Why Was Old Honora Goodbody Lying Dead?

By Helen Grochmal


Why, oh why, was old Honora Goodbody lying dead with a large hatpin between her eyes?

Everyone at the retirement home was asking the same thing, even those hardest of heart had tears in their eyes.  Honora was well named.  She was good of heart, body, and soul and not just self-righteously good.  Honora had a humble spirit, ministering to the sinful gambler or prostitute, if she was ever to come upon any, with the same reverence that she visited innocent orphans with toys and loving hugs.  It can honestly be said that no one had a harsh word to say about her.  St. Francis of Assisi would have been proud to call her a friend.

So why, oh why, was Honora dead, wailed her friends in the retirement home where she had had no enemies?  At least some of them wailed.  The rest looked sad.  But most unusual, no one shrugged or congratulated themselves on living longer than the dear departed.

Police detective Alice Sibley was in the nursing part of the Home for rehab from an injury acquired in the line of duty, actually from tripping over a microphone cord at a recent police benefit. Her injury was to her upper body and left shoulder, lucky since she was right handed.  Being about 63 and interested in retiring to the community, she thought she would try the place out with rehab without having to rent or buy into a unit until she was sure.  All in all, the injury had served her quite well.

She was about ready for discharge when the news of Honora’s death reached her.  She felt very sad, having come to know Honora from her volunteer work.  Honora had come every day to feed the sicker residents of the Home who ordinarily might have been rushed through their lunches by busy staff.  Honora had taken the time to know the residents, especially the failing ones, although she could have spent her time in the fun activities the Home provided.  Honora was one of the reasons why Alice had about decided to move to the independent living part of the Home when the time came.  Still needing the daily rehab sessions, but alert and functioning on the whole, Alice was ready to use her skills to find the person or persons who could treat her saintly new friend like that.  Wearing casual clothes of the sort to blend in with the permanent residents, Alice decided to find out where the investigation stood.

Taking the elevator to the first floor, she went to the front desk to hear what the receptionist on duty had to say and to see if any residents were hanging around.  Going to the desk, she was glad someone she knew was there.

“Hello, Jennifer, what is going on?”

“It’s awful, Ms. Sibley.  Our precious Honora is gone.  Why?”

“So where are the police?

“They roped off the whole basement and then only the wing with the sewing room and little staff lounge.  The rest of the floor had been shut off for construction so only those two rooms near the exit were being used.  If Miss Goodbody had waited only one more day, the sewing room where she died would have been off limits too.”

“Are the police still here?”

“I think they are finished.  The bod, uh, Miss Goodbody, has been taken away.  The police tape is still up and they come in using the back exit.  I think they don’t want to upset the residents.  Excuse me,” said Jennifer, her phone ringing.

Alice drifted over to a group seated around the little sitting room near the lobby.  She casually took the remaining chair near them.  They were apparently friends of Honora; it seemed from the sewing circle.

“I saw her today at 8,” cried Elsa Doughty.  We were working on a project making hats for a hat show next week.  I remember Honora trying on a straw hat using the big hat pin with a ruby colored end.  She looked so beautiful.  She asked if I could pin up the fancy ribbon on the hem to make a ruffle.  I couldn’t.  She said something about looking it up on some computer thing.  I left after about a half hour since I had a medical appointment.  We meet on Mondays from 8 to 10 to work on the project.  But you know Honora.  She stayed until it was time to feed the residents lunch.  You know how hard she worked for everyone.”

Loretta Hosta said, “We do know.  I passed by the door and saw her working through the doorway and was about to help with the hats when I remembered that my fiancé had said he would meet me at 8:45 for breakfast in the lunch room so I didn’t stop.  It turned out he didn’t show up so I went to his apartment to question him about it even though I didn’t have a chaperone.  He was still asleep, poor dear.  That Sunday golfing can really tire one out.  He was playing on a course the President had played at, you know.”  Suddenly Loretta broke down crying.  The others comforted poor Loretta over Honora.

The third woman, Clara Howgill, told her story.  “I was going to work on the hats when I saw the floor closed down for construction.  I didn’t know we could still sew.  I went down the corridor and turned and went out the back way.  No doors were open when I went by.  Honora could have been sewing in there or she could have been, you know…”

The women did not remember seeing anyone else in the area when Alice asked.  That seemed to narrow things down a bit but not much.

Still able to walk and take stairs, Alice made her way to the far stairs across from the sewing room.  She walked around the killing area.  No one was around.  She pulled gloves out of her pocket and put them on.

She found that the sewing room was locked.  The door had no window.  She must look in the window from outside later.  She looked at the room at a right angle to the sewing room in the corner of the hall that led to the outside exit.  She tried the door to that room that read “Staff Lounge” that she later found out was for visiting nurses and not much used.  It was open.  Alice looked around.  The room had a little table for eating or writing notes and some chairs and an ancient computer in the far corner.  Hearing noises outside of people coming, Alice took a chance on slipping unseen out of the room and up the stairs where she went to her rehab appointment.

Lying on the massage table, Alice thought of what she could do in her situation, not being in the same police district as the murder.  Suddenly she tensed sharply.  She had figured out a way to get herself involved.

“Did I hurt you?” asked the therapist quickly.

“No, no, it is nothing.”

After what seemed to be an interminable session, Alice escaped back to her room.  With difficulty, since she was sore after her treatment, she changed into a neat skirt and blouse, her usual working clothes.  She decided against her suit coat.  First she made a phone call to her friend and current supervisor.

“Tony, could you do me a favor?  Ask the Detective in charge of this case to talk to me.  Tell him I am trustworthy and might be helpful about the crime scene and how the institution works.”

Detective Jacobs showed up not long after, having been one of the people coming in when Alice had hurried from the basement earlier in the day.  He introduced himself.

Alice replied, “How do you do, Detective?  That was quick.”

“Cell phones, you know, and professional courtesy.  Did you know Miss Goodbody?”

“Oh, yes.  Everyone loved her.  Really.  I am sure she had no dark past.  She was a saint.”

The cynical Detective Jacobs’ comment on that was “Yes, well.  You know what they say about the good ones.  And she didn’t die young.”

Alice suppressed a desire to tell him that was not funny.

He added, choosing to be abrasive, “Or something like being a whitened sepulcher.  It’s in the Bible.”

“Honora Goodbody was not a whitened sepulcher.  One felt goodness around her.”

“Well, what can you tell me?  What about the sewing circle members?”

“I met them this morning.  The one called Loretta Hosta seemed the most distraught and claims to have seen Honora alive after Elsa Doughty.  Do you want me to talk to them again?”

“No, thanks.  Our jurisdiction and all of that.”

“Why were you asking about those particular women?”

Detective Jacobs hesitated but reluctantly told her.

“There was a camera near the exit that showed the area almost to the sewing room.  You couldn’t see into the rooms or even around the doors, but we are pretty sure only three women went to that area of the basement at the hours in question.  The outside window screens were not disturbed so no one came in that way.  Please don’t repeat that Ms. Sibley.”  To him, she was just another old woman in a nursing home.

“Of course not.”

The detective left thinking what a waste of time that had been, but he had done what was requested of him.  As far as he was concerned, he was the saint here.

Alice thought.  If only she could see that film but knew there was no way that would be allowed.  She wanted to talk to more of Honora’s friends.  Unfortunately, the memorial service where they would congregate together was put off until the family had more answers.

Suddenly, Alice had an inspiration.  She had to get down to the basement again and look around.  Just maybe…

Taking the stairs, she made her way to the sewing area.  There she was aghast to see the camera hidden in the exit area running.  She would get caught if they looked at the new tape.  This detective would probably think she was the killer returning to the scene of the crime or something.  She had better make this intrusion pay off or this was her last hurrah as far as this case was concerned.

Alice tried the door to the little lounge.  It was still unlocked.  She hurried in and turned on the old computer.  It was lucky she knew how to use old equipment.  Good, the internet was connected.  Searching several databases, including ones that sold used items, she said to herself “Ah, Ha!  Unmistakable.”  She knew who had killed old Honora Goodbody and why.   Against all odds, the printer worked.  She printed the page.

Noises of men talking disturbed Alice.  She peeked out of the room to see workers coming to block off the rest of the basement for more construction.  Alice left the room as if she belonged there and walked past them to the elevator down the corridor.

She made it to her room thinking about how she could bring the culprit to justice.  She saw on her bed that she had received a notice that there was a meeting to discuss Miss Goodbody’s death that night.  Most of the people who knew Honora would be there, certainly the sewing committee would be there.

Alice got ready for the meeting wishing she had her revolver.  This perpetrator had been ruthless, a real whitened sepulcher as Detective Jacobs had unknowingly predicted.

Waiting until the audience was seated, Alice planned on surprising the killer in front of everyone.  That was the safest way.  The time had come.  Everyone waited expectantly for the detectives and the Home’s head and the pastor to speak, to inform them and to set their spirits at peace.

Alice walked to the front of the room where the three sewing circle women were seated facing the speakers.  Alice stood in front of one of them and was ready to confront her with the incriminating paper she held as if it were a sacred scroll.

Just as she opened her mouth, she heard a voice of command.  “Stop that woman.  She is impeding our investigation!” Detective Jacobs then said to her, “You were on the tape we looked at today!”   Two police officers in regular clothes came forward from the back of the room.  Detective Jacobs ran to help restrain her.

“Wait, please, I have proof here that Loretta Hosta killed poor Miss Goodbody with a hatpin she got from the sewing room when Miss Goodbody asked if she needed help praying about her past or something like that.”

“Honora had been having trouble pinning up a hem on a ribbon for a hat.  She told Elsa Doughty about it who had been in the room first.  Elsa left.  Then Honora went to the staff lounge to use the computer.  I looked on the history of recent searches, although I suspected what she had looked up from what she had told Elsa.  Honora had looked up words like “pinning up”  and “pin ups” on one of those selling sites to find some sort of tool to help with her hat.  Instead she found pictures of pin-up girls, many of them vintage.  She saw this picture of Loretta Hosta who wished to be the doyen of society here. She feigned goodness while Honora was the real thing.  Honora would never have told anyone Loretta’s secret.  She recognized Loretta in the old “art” picture at once since Loretta pays so much to be well-preserved.  Alice showed the picture to Detective Jacobs who was suddenly knocked over like a bowling pin.

The bowling ball that was Loretta had gotten up to run but was detained by the two police officers.  Loretta’s fiancé picked up the paper that had fallen to the floor from the detective’s hands.  His heart was broken as he saw his beautiful future wife naked in the sun holding onto the mast of a sailboat.  Alas, this beauty would never be his unless they allowed conjugal visits in the place she was going to.  But no, he was too respectable for marriage to a woman like that.  He wondered if they allowed old boyfriends to have those kinds of visits.

Detective Jacobs looked Detective Sibley in the face and simply said “Thank you” with respect.

Suddenly, pushed to her emotional limit, hard of hearing old Mrs. Plumphrey got up from her wheel chair to loudly exclaim, “Tell me please, why, oh why, is dear Honora dead?”

Helen Grochmal started writing fiction in her 60s when she moved to a retirement community with her cat. Cozy Cat Press has published two of her mysteries, the latest being DINNER AND DEATHShe has recently been experimenting with writing shorter pieces in different genres with some success. Currently, she is trying to figure out Erasure Poetry and thinking there must be a motive for murder in it.

Copyright © 2014 Helen Grochmal. 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!

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