That’s right. I’m back. As always the payment is $5 and the product is the same… your death. In a short story or flash fiction, of course! I’m not some kind of mild mannered person by day and serial killer by night, stalking his victims via Fiverr. No!
Or am I?
The next submission in the I Will Kill You for $5 project is a former colleague of mine, Polly Scott-Showalter. I actually can’t recall if I ever worked directly with Polly in all those nine years I was at Missouri University of Science and Technology. But my memory is pretty bad. What I do remember is she was a regular in our online program and well-loved by our staff who did work with her regularly.
For the submission, she poured a lot of info onto me, but the keys I took away had to do with her engineering background, her fashion sense, and the fact she wanted a mystery. Being as I was in the mood for something a little old fashioned, I went with a bit of an Agatha Christie inspired short story. A dinner theatre mystery without the dinner. I hope you enjoy it.
But enough is enough…
At the Dropbox link you’ll find all the orders, but Polly is Order 8. Inside her folder you’ll find three file formats, choose the one that best suits your device. The available files are epub and mobi (common eBook formats) and PDF. All the files are free for download for all stories.
You can also read her story, here, right below the line. Enjoy!
Polly Scott-Showalter and the Engineer’s Method
Polly Scott-Showalter crumpled the invitation in her gloved hand and tossed it out the window of the carriage. It sputtered around in the wind and rain, lightning struck nearby and she heard the ripping of a tree somewhere from the bolt. The horses spooked, but the driver quickly corrected and calmed their nerves. They were back on their course.
One more job.
That was what she had told her. Just one more job. She recalled how Ethel Lancaster had not taken the news well, and was quick to remind her of her place in the organization.
“An Engineer will never tell me how to run things,” Ethel had spouted at her and tossed her bouncy hair out of her face. Her ridiculous locks always went their own way during her diva fits. Polly was thankful she stuck with a short cut. “I say no. And that’s all there is to that. Now get out of my face.”
But six months later, and here Polly was on her way to a dinner party at the Lancaster Mansion. She wasn’t sure what to expect. It wasn’t like Ethel to invite any of the engineers to her fancy get togethers. It smelt of a double-cross.
The carriage pulled to a stop outside the entrance to the godawful Lancaster Mansion. A warm, orange glow emanated from the torches outside the doors. She stared into the orange glow and considered some options. Run, and she will always be running. Enter, she may die. None of the options sounded too appealing.
“Out!” The driver shouted to her from his seat. That was signal enough.
She pulled her overcoat tight and fastened the buttons. She pulled her scarf over her hair and wrapped it tight about her neck. She stepped out into the rain and quickly made her way up stairs and into the doors. A servant nodded and welcomed her.
The glow turned to warmth inside. It was too much, as was customary anywhere Ethel abided. She always kept it hot enough to appease Lucifer.
“Coat and scarf, ma’am,” an elderly butler said to her with his arm extended.
Polly took off her drenched overcoat and laid it across the butler’s arm. “The scarf stays.” She said. She took it down from her head, and wrapped it around her neck.
“As you wish, ma’am.”
A young woman showed her down a long hallway to the dining hall. She opened the door and let her enter. The young woman closed the door gently and vanished. Polly looked around and while it appeared the first course had been served, no one was eating it. Most were standing about and whispering to each other. Another stood by a large fireplace, his eyes darting to-and-fro. She noticed a group of women looking her up-and-down.
A large man in a white suit, despite it being past Labor Day, came over and took the cigar from his mouth and unkempt mustache. His hair was balding and greasy. He raised an eyebrow and spit as he talked. “Who might you be, then?”
“You’re late, aren’t ya now?” He asked.
“You know I am.” She replied. “What’s going on?”
“You tell me, yeah?” He said and stuck his cigar back into his mouth violently, he took two puffs into her face. He grinned a yellow smile.
“I just arrived, I wouldn’t know.” She said.
“Convenient.” He said. “Come here, yeah.” He motioned to her with his cigar as he turned and took her over to the fireplace. Near it was an entrance into an office, elaborate in decor. She had seen it a few times, when Ethel had called her out for a meeting. Inside the office were a host of police officers in uniform. Some were bent over examining evidence on the rug, others were in a corner speculating.
“Personal, I say,” one officer argued, “What with all the blood.”
“You always say that,” the other said.
The large man took her to Ethel’s mahogany desk. She was sitting behind it, her head rested on it in a pool of blood that was still dripping over the sides of the desk. Polly spotted a fresh bullet wound in the back of her head. Her lush hair had lost all of its life against the blood and violence. She noticed a bullet entry in the top of the desk, blood poured into it from all sides. It was an indication she was shot from behind, likely while sitting in her current chair, based on the angle of entry in her head and the desk. An assassination. Professional.
Of all the scenarios she imagined since she had received the invitation from Ethel, this was not one of them.
“See what we’re dealing with tonight?” The large man said. He extended his hand, “I’m Detective McCully. And we got a murder investigation goings on here, yeah. Hate to rain on your party and all.” He took two puffs of the cigar, ash sprinkled in his mustache. “Where’s were you about an hour ago?”
“In the carriage, obviously.” She said.
“Not necessarily,” he chided. “You could’ve arrived early, put a slug through your host, left and rode in late to make it looks like you wasn’t here, yeah?”
“I suppose so,” she said, “If I was the murderer.”
“Ain’t ya?” He asked.
“No.” She said. “But I could use the bathroom, it’s been a long ride.”
McCully looked annoyed. He shook his head and said, “Walk with me.”
He took her out a back entrance to the office, likely the one the killer would have used to get a jump on Ethel. They walked a long and dark hallway, it was colder than the rest of the house she’d been in.
“How do you know the late Ethel Lancaster?” He asked her.
“I’m an Engineer.” She said.
“Ah, work for her company, do ya?” He said. “And what does she do exactly, again?”
“I don’t know what she does,” Polly said. “I’m just an Engineer. I’ve worked on several of her projects about the city.”
“Yeah?” McCully said. “They put in a riggedy little bridge by my place a few months back, off Killsworth and Manchester, was that one of your projects?”
“No.” Polly said. She was trying to play the possible scenarios that could have led to the murder of Ethel, but McCully’s nonstop dialogue was unbearable.
“Here, the loo.” He said and gestured mockingly with his arm as a servant might, cigar wiggling in hand. “Hurry it up, or I’ll think you’ve flown the coop. And nobody leaves until I gives the say-so, yeah?”
She sat atop a marble countertop, next to the sink. She just needed some time alone to try and think. She also needed something. Something sharp, or blunt. She crossed her feet, and looked around the bathroom. Immaculate. But most of it was set in place, or too big to be of use for her needs.
A golden toilet.
She shook her head. But then, she got down from the countertop and examined it. The handle was also made of gold. She took her scarf and wrapped it up, to help dampen the sound. She flushed it, and then tore the handle off. She looked back at the door, half expecting McCully to burst in with gun drawn had he heard something.
She set the handle in the center of her scarf, and then wrapped it back around her neck. She could feel the presence of the handle in the back of her neck. She washed her hands and stepped out to find McCully leaning against the wall, he had started a new cigar.
“That was quick.” He said.
“Isn’t that what you wanted?” Polly reminded him.
“Sure, sure.” He said and gestured with the cigar. Ashes fell all over the floor and he didn’t bat an eye. He just turned and headed back down the hallway. “I’ve been trying to put it all together, see, like she’s rich. She’s obviously sitting on a fortune with the family business. But she has no heir apparent, so who gains by her death, yeah? Like maybe the shareholders chop it all up and roll in it, yeah? What do you think?”
“I’m just an Engineer.” Polly said.
McCully put out his arm and stopped her. Candlelight was glowing from an open door to the left of the hallway. “Nobody is supposed to be back here,” he whispered. He shushed her with his cigar between his fingers. “Not a peep, yeah?”
She wanted to hit him over the head.
They slowly crept down the hallway, the candlelight continued to bounce around. Someone was moving about frantically. Just outside the door, he peeked in. She slipped around him and to the other side of the doorway. He gave her a dirty look. She rolled her eyes at him. She looked inside and there was someone with a candle rummaging through some files. On the floor beside the intruder was the lifeless body of the young servant who had shown her to the dining room.
Poor thing. Wrong place, wrong time.
She looked over at McCully who drew a small revolver from within his jacket. He gave her a look that told her he was about to do something stupid. Before she could stop him, he abruptly stepped into the room.
“Alright, hands up with you now. Come on.” He said.
Polly turned out into the hallway, hiding her presence. She took her scarf off. She wrapped it up tight as a rope and placed the toilet handle in it. It was her one shot at getting an upper-hand. A makeshift slingshot. It would have to do.
She listened as McCully continued to give commands to the intruder. But somewhere in the noise she heard a single shot from a gun, dampened likely by a muzzle. She heard the large thud of McCully’s body hit the floor. She glanced up the hallway to the back entrance of the office, none of the officers had heard a thing. They were likely still arguing over motive and nitpicking over an old coffee stain on the rug. She was on her own. A slingshot against a gun.
She swung her scarf in a round motion and spun around into the room, she made quick stock of the intruder’s new position and let the golden toilet handle fly. It struck the intruder on the left temple and ricochet across the room. The intruder doubled backwards with gun in hand. Polly charged, and with one foot on McCully’s stomach, took a leap and tackled the intruder to the ground in front of a file cabinet.
A single shot was fired in the commotion.
Polly felt the bullet’s sting in her ribs. She knew she was the recipient of the gunshot.
The intruder rolled her off onto the floor. The intruder stood up and looked down at her. She pulled back a hood and revealed herself to be none other than Ethel Lancaster.
Her hair wasn’t lush.
Polly shook her head. “I should have known.”
“It was the hair, wasn’t it?” Ethel asked.
“It wasn’t lush.” They both said unanimously.
“Everything else was spot on,” Ethel explained, “But we never could get her hair lush.”
“What’s going on here?” McCully said from across the room. He had picked himself up enough to lean against a chair. “I thought you were dead, Miss Lancaster?”
“Oh please,” Ethel said.
“And you,” McCully pointed to Polly, “I thought you were just an engineer?”
“An engineer in the mechanic sense, idiot.” Ethel scolded his ignorance.
“What?” McCully said, still confused.
“Did you ever watch ‘The Mechanic’ movie?” Ethel said.
“With Jason Statham?” McCully said. He looked around for his cigar on the floor.
“You do know there was an original movie of that with Charles Bronson, right? Uncultured swine.” Ethel said to him. She loved to ridicule people who didn’t know all the same trivia she did.
“I don’t see what that’s got to do with…” it took a moment, but it finally sunk in for McCully. “She’s a hitman? Um, I mean, hitwoman?”
“You are slow.” Ethel said and gave him one shot to the head to finish what she had started. McCully slumped over dead onto the floor. “And as for you, Polly, this is where we say our goodbyes.” She rubbed blood from her eye and forehead. “What did you hit me with?”
“Your toilet seat handle.” Polly said and smiled.
Ethel’s eyes got big. “You broke my golden handle on my golden toilet? Do you know how much… nevermind, it doesn’t matter.” She knelt down to Polly and held the barrel of the gun aimed at her face.
Polly was bleeding out fast, and she began to shiver. She knew she didn’t have long before death set in. She could feel something digging into her back, and she thought for a moment what it could be causing her such discomfort with a bullet in the front.
That wretched toilet handle, no doubt.
But then she remembered McCully’s little revolver. She thought about the shape and size of the object gouging her in the back. It could be the gun. She made a show of a cough and positioned herself as if to get comfortable, and slid her hand around her back and gripped the object.
“You see, Polly,” Ethel started, “I couldn’t let you retire, because I had already begun my plans for retirement and they involved you killing me at a dinner party. But, here’s the thing, you weren’t supposed to walk in on me like this while I was making my escape. You’ve really put a damper in my plot.” She sighed and rolled her eyes as she thought about the situation. “I guess we’ll just have to tell a different story, though only slightly.” Ethel stood up and walked over to McCully’s body. “You did kill me, but this lowly detective found you out, and you panicked. You fired and he fired. And well, you both died. He’ll be regarded as a hero; pity, since he seemed like a moron the few seconds I knew him. But at least, I still get my retirement from The Organization. What do you think? Is it a good ending, Polly?”
“I got a better idea.”
Finally, some peace and quiet.