by Christian Carvajal
Published in C is for Collection
Introduction by the author
In January of 2015, Joshua Swainston of Creative Colloquy got the idea for a CD presentation of radio-drama-style readings of noir stories. I’d never written a noir detective story, nor, for that matter, a mystery story of any kind. Further complicating the task was Josh’s need for each story to max out at 700 words. I was happy to see this story accepted and, when it came time to record the production, I gave myself the lead role of Dylan Wainwright. Nicole Lockett lent her sexy voice to Vera.
Dylan Wainwright, incidentally, was the name of a student in my freshman English class at Fortuna Union High School in California. I told Dylan I’d use it in a story someday. It took me only thirty-four years. I’m efficient that way.
Ashes to Ashes
She arrived when my office gal Margie was out to lunch, as if that narrows it down. I welcomed my latest possible client with an enthusiasm I usually reserve for good brandy. “Mr. Wainwright?” she asked, her voice perfect for radio.
“I answer to that moniker. Dylan, too,” I said, smiling. I ushered her into the office and gave her the twice over. She had a figure like Beethoven in Braille and a mug you could use to sell lipstick. Helen of Troy would’ve asked for her autograph. I should’ve known she was trouble before her rump left that valentine-shaped impression in my office chair. She wore black — short black dress, high black heels, fishnet stockings over eye-grabbing getaway sticks. She left contrails of lavender behind.
“Mr. Dylan Wainwright,” she announced. “My attorney says you’re the finest private detective in all of Los Angeles.”
“Why, I’m blushing. And you are?”
“Vera. Vera Sharp. Perhaps you’ve heard of my husband.”
“I’m afraid I have, Mrs. Sharp. You’re the widow, I believe, of Dr. J. Howard Sharp, heart surgeon. Pronounced dead just last weekend. I read about it in the Times. You have my sincere condolences.”
“It’s a very great loss. He passed away from an epileptic seizure.”
I leaned back, avoiding the allure of her baby blues. “This is awkward,” I replied, “but the paper seemed certain foul play was suspected.”
“Yes, the police believe I, oh, how do the movies put it, did him in. Isn’t that funny? They think I poisoned my own husband. But you weren’t there that awful night, Mr. Wainwright. My poor Johnny. Those horrible convulsions, all that writhing about on the floor. It was hideous. Of course, I’ve seen him go through fits like that before. I knew about his condition when I married him. He was never in good health, the poor dear.”
“The Times implied he was remarkably fit for a man of seventy-eight. He must’ve had quite a time keeping up with you. You look barely out of school.”
“Oh, you’re very kind. I am – was — rather younger than he. But don’t let that fool you, Mr. Wainwright. I loved Johnny deeply. He was my sweetie — so very gentle. A good man. My hero! To see him pass on like that, crawling on the floor like a beast of the field. He went mad. Scuttled into the fireplace, he did. Started eating the ashes. Do you believe it?”
“I have no reason to doubt you. The cops say you poisoned his supper, is that it?”
“Have you ever heard of such a thing? Oh, I suppose you have. But I’m telling you, we were dining with friends, Mr. Wainwright. I have witnesses. I hired a chef who cooked beefsteak. Johnny chose his own from half a dozen on a tray. Then I cut the steak and served it to him myself, a few bites, anyway.
Johnny wasn’t much of an eater at his age. But I ate the other half of his dinner, and I feel fine. So do our guests. Less than five minutes later, Johnny was gone from this earth. So you tell me, Mr. Wainwright.
How could I possibly have killed him?”
I sighed. “Borneo,” I replied.
“Beg your pardon?”
“Mrs. Sharp, are you much of a traveler?”
“No, that was Johnny’s area of expertise. He spent years sailing the ocean blue on his family’s yacht.”
“The South Pacific.”
“Why, yes,” she acknowledged, startled. “How did you know?”
“I’ve read Malay islanders poison each other by smearing venom on one side of a knife, which they use to slice their victims’ food. They poison only one side of the meal, you understand? Ah, but I guess that’s not a story Dr. Sharp would’ve told over the dinner table, not to someone as young and pretty and innocent as you.”
“Why, I never,” Vera spat, her face darkening. “As I told you, my husband died of an epileptic fit. He went mad — ”
“And ate charcoal,” I interrupted. “Which can neutralize strychnine, if ingested in time. Still: beefsteak. As last meals go, he could do a lot worse. Good to meet you, Mrs. Sharp.”