Elise Lemons and the Quarantine Murder (A Solve-It-Yourself Mystery)

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While we're all on quarantine, and to celebrate the upcoming release of my new novel, A Dark and Stormy Night, I created this fun little short story featuring my favorite characters, that YOU can help solve!

Submitted: March 30, 2020

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 30, 2020

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A A A


Elise Lemons and the Quarantine Murder

 

 

  Quarantine Day Number: Honestly, I’ve lost all track. As if winters here weren’t bad enough, now we literally can’t go anywhere. I don’t know how much family you have under one roof, but I’ve got four boys, and yes, one of them is my husband, who is currently parading around the house shirtless while singing glam rock songs he makes up about what he’s doing at that exact moment, in a tone so off-key I’m almost willing to risk exposure to the virus just to get away. 

  Almost.

  I can’t say I blame him. I’ve been doing some rather strange things myself, this lockdown seems to bring out parts of your personality that have never seen the light of day before, parts that you would have been humiliated to display just a few short weeks ago, like the awful cockney accent I use from time to time now. For absolutely no reason at all... Or the New Kids on the Block songs I’ll just start randomly singing.

  But, desperate times call for desperate measures. 

  The kids have rearranged the furniture in the living room to make their own wrestling ring, and Eric and Elliot are both, just like Archie, shirtless.

  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why.

  God-like bodies, these guys don’t have.

  Gary, the only one dressed, is sitting in his car seat in the corner of the room, sipping on some juice and enjoying this homemade WrestleMania, although it’s late and his eyes are slits. He refuses to stay in his crib, though. 

  When the doorbell rings, it’s such a foreign concept now that none of us know what to do. Everyone stops in their tracks and just stares at the door.

  The doorbell rings again. 

  “What the hell is that?” Archie says.

  “The doorbell...”

  “Well, Sassypants, I know it’s the doorbell, but who is it?”

  I squint really hard at the door, really concentrating. “Nope, my X-ray vision doesn’t seem to be working.”

  Archie laughs. “You’ve developed quite the acid tongue lately.”

  My turn to laugh.

  Archie joins me in the kitchen and we walk to the door together. He peeks through the peephole. “Who dat?” he says.

  The man on the other side of the door says, “Is this Archie and Elise Lemons. From the TV?”

  From the TV. We’ve been on the TV a lot lately, it seems.

  “Yeah,” Archie says. “Why?”

  “Look, my name is Nick Sinclair, I live up the street from you, actually.”

  In a hillbilly accent, Archie says, “I don’t know no Nick Sinclair.”

  “I live up the street from you, I just told you that. Around the bend.”

  “What do you want?” I ask as politely as I can. “It’s late.”

  “I have a problem. A real problem.” 

  In the distance, sirens howl. 

  “I don’t know if you know this or not, dude,” Archie says, “but there is a quarantine goin’ on right now and I’m not bouta’ catch this shit.”

  “I’m not sick. I’m in trouble. There’s been a murder.”

  “Back up ten feet,” Archie says, reaching for the can of Lysol by the door.

  He pops the lock open and begins spraying the air around both of us as we step out and close the door behind. The last thing we need is the dogs running out. 

  Standing a safe distance from us, Nick thanks us for opening the door. The sirens are getting louder. “I need your help. I have no faith in the local sheriff’s department.”

  Archie shrugs. Still shirtless.

  “What do you need?” I ask while checking my watch. It’s ten minutes after midnight. Archie keeps spraying random shots of Lysol at our guest. “Who got murdered?”

  “The owner of the house around the corner.”

  “I thought you were the owner of the house around the corner.”

  “No,” he says, “I lied. I’m sorry. I just needed you to open the door. I went over there for a...”

  “Start at the beginning,” I say, trying to calm him down. 

  “And don’t cough,” Archie says, spraying another shot in the direction of Nick’s face.

  Nick takes a deep breath and restarts. “I have business dealings with Chuck. Chuck Tierney, that’s the... that’s the guy that’s dead.”

  I’ve heard the name but don’t think I’ve ever met him before. He walks his dog in the forestland between our properties; his dog always buries a big bone under the same oak tree. I feel sad that he is dead, regardless of not knowing him.

  Archie says, “How’d he die?”

  “Someone shot him in the face.”

  “Oh no,” I say, surprised. 

  The siren sound grows to a crescendo then stops.

  “They’re at the house. Please, come with me over there.”

  “Why?” I ask. “Did you shoot him?” 

  “Of course not. But that’s the thing. I heard him yell my name before the gunshot went off.”

  Archie snorts. “And you didn’t do it?”

  “No. You have to believe me. I was walking up to his house. I don’t even think he saw me yet.”

  “It’s past midnight,” I say. “Why were you there?”

  “Gotta admit,” Archie says, “seems a little odd.”

  From inside, a loud crash, followed by Elliot yelling, “Hulk Hoooooogannnnnnn!”

  The dogs are going crazy.

  I close my eyes and try to regain my composure before I explode. This quarantine was supposed to only last two weeks.

  Sigh.

  Headlights turn into our driveway. A sheriff’s car. 

  “Shit,” Nick says. “Please, you’ve got to help me. I didn’t do this. I’ll pay you whatever you want.”

  “Nick Sinclair.” The sheriff’s deputy is standing next to his car, not moving.

  “Please,” Nick pleads. 

  “Come on up, Sheriff,” Archie says, “but social distance! Social distance!” He puffs more Lysol into thin air. 

  The deputy approaches. “Nick Sinclair. You need to come with me, sir.”

  Nick stays perfectly still.

  “Don’t make me tell you twice.”

  A long, tense moment passes before I say, “Mr. Sinclair is our client.

 

  We have a friendly working relationship with the local sheriff’s office. We’ve helped them solve a few cases and taken zero credit for it, so they never mind having us around. 

  We put Eric in charge of babysitting, figuring it wouldn’t be too much of a risk since Gary had assed out already in his seat, and we were only going to be about two hundred yards away. 

  We drove ourselves around the corner to the Tierney house, because Archie said there was no way in hell he was getting in someone else’s disease-ridden car. 

  After getting dressed, and strapped with masks, gloves, and cans of Lysol, we step out of the car, past the crime scene tape, which seemed to get put up rather quickly, and into the house through some French doors that were already open, despite the cold. 

  I’m glad to see we’re not the only ones who look ridiculous in these stupid masks. 

  A dog, in some other room perhaps, is barking and going crazy. Feels just like home.

  In the living room, lying in a puddle of his own blood, is the man I’ve seen walk his dog a hundred times since moving here. He seemed so happy and full of life the last time I saw him. Not so much now.

  The sheriff, a large man named Winslow, walks over to us, a confused look on his face. Through his mask, he says, “What the hell are you guys doing here?”

  Archie shrugs and blasts a puff of Lysol on him.

  “What the hell?!” Winslow barks.

  “Better safe than sorry,” Archie says.

  “You got that shit right in my eyes.”

  Archie shrugs. Couldn’t care less. 

  “Can you tell us what happened?” I say with a smile, despite the fact it’s covered in this stupid mask.

  Winslow looks around a bit, deciding if he should tell us. When he realizes he has nothing to lose, he begins to speak. 

  “This guy here,” he checks his notebook, “Chuck Tierney, is asleep up in his room, hears something downstairs, comes to check it out, sees someone, then gets shot point-blank in the head.”

  “Point-blank?” Archie says.

  “Yeah. Well, not barrel to the forehead point-blank, but close enough. We estimate the gun was held about two feet from Tierney’s face, judging by the size of the hole and the lack of burns on his face.”

  “Why, though?” I ask. “Any idea?”

  “We’ve got a few theories.” 

  To the right of Winslow, Nick is being placed into cuffs. 

  “We’ve never met him before,” I say. “He just showed up at our house twenty minutes ago.”

  “Don’t worry, he’s just being detained for now. But, we’ve definitely got some questions for him. Starting with, what the hell is he doing here?”

  “What else have you got so far?”

  “There are three other people in the house, and all their stories mesh. His wife says they were asleep upstairs when Chuck came down. She says she heard him yell Sinclair’s name. The other two people back that up.”

  “Who are the two other people?” Archie says.

  “Tierney’s in-laws.”

  “Poor bastard,” Archie says.

  “They were awoken a few seconds before the gunshot. Tierney said something loud enough to wake everyone up, then he yells Sinclair’s name and Bam! They go running into their daughter’s room, and she’s there, so it couldn’t have been her that pulled the trigger.”

  “According to her own parents,” I say.

  “Yeah. According to her parents.”

  “Sheriff?” Another deputy approaches followed by an older woman wearing a nightgown a few sizes smaller than necessary.

  Winslow turns.

  “Sheriff,” the deputy says again, “this is Kathy Connelly, she lives next door. Says she heard the whole thing.”

  “Really?” Winslow says in a tone perhaps a little too cheery for the situation.

  “It’s true,” Kathy says, pulling a cigarette from her nightgown and lighting it without permission. “Heard the whole thing. Hell yea, wanted a smoke. Have one every night out on the balcony at midnight before bed. Peaceful. Quiet.”

  Archie takes a few steps back, blasting the Lysol the whole time. “Can we get this woman a mask, please?”

  “I don’t need one of them silly masks! This whole thing is blown out of proportion.”

  I groan.

  “You want to know what happened or what?”

  “Yes,” Winslow says, taking a few steps back himself. 

  Kathy takes another drag of his cigarette and coughs. Archie jumps back, the Lysol going full blast.

  “Are you kidding me?! I don’t think we want to know that badly!”

  “It’s a cigarette cough! For Pete’s sake. Bunch of scaredy cats.”

  Archie grabs my arm and pulls me back towards him.

  Kathy speaks. “I went outside for some fresh air and a smoke, I heard ol’ Chucky yelling at someone so I got real curious-like. Yells out the name Sinclair, then Bam! Gunshot! I hear those French doors slam open a few seconds later and someone running off into the night.”

  Things don’t look too good for my new client as of now. He takes off running towards the direction of my house, then shows up at my house, possibly ditching the gun anywhere between here and there. Hmm.

  But wait. 

  “Nick,” I yell across the room. 

  Nick is seated on the hearth of the fireplace, his hands cuffed behind him. He looks up.

  “Where is your car?”

  “It’s at your house.”

  I turn back to Winslow. “That doesn’t make any sense. If he went running out into the night, how did he get his car to our house?”

  “Maybe he parked his car far away so he wouldn’t be seen,” Winslow says.

  “Then why go to our house, unless... Kathy. Did you see him pull up?”

  Kathy shakes her head no. “I can’t see the driveway from my room.”

  Somebody isn’t telling the whole story here.

  “Sheriff,” I say, “can we get everyone together and try to get this whole story?”

  Winslow nods and a few minutes later everyone is sitting in the living room, spaced at least six feet apart, Archie being the exception. He’s standing outside the French doors taking no chances. 

  I’m surveying the room. Nothing screams ‘out of the ordinary.’ There is dog hair on the sofa, and empty water and food bowls near the kitchen. 

I make a mental note to fill the bowl with water.

  The French doors Archie’s standing by, open outward and lead to the side yard. It’s not where the normal person would come in if they were a guest.

  On the coffee table sits an ashtray. It’s empty. I have no idea where Kathy is dropping her ash. 

  “Everyone just be cool for a second while I take a quick look around.”

  Winslow laughs. “We’ve already looked around. Who do you think you are?”

  “I know you have. I didn’t mean anything by it. Just... please. Two minutes.”

  Winslow grunts. I nod to Archie to come with me. He sprays a few puffs of Lysol and enters the house, joining me on the far side of the living room.

  “Whattaya think?” he says.

  “Not sure. We’ve got two minutes to look around.”

  The layout of the house is completely different than ours. This is in a neighborhood with houses that were probably all made by the same person, whereas our house is around the bend and was custom built for it. I have no idea which doors lead to what.

  Archie picks one at random, sprays the knob with Lysol, then tucks his hand into his hoodie pocket and opens the door - the kitchen. We walk in and do a quick look around. There are a few pans in the sink, but everything else seems to be cleaned. On the counter is a ball of twine. No idea what it’s for. Next to that is a block of steak knives and a toaster. The toaster is unplugged; all the steak knives are in the proper slot.

  One of the drawers is opened slightly. I use a knuckle to open it fully. A pair of scissors and some masking tape.

  Our two minutes are up. Archie goes back outside and I stay a safe distance from everyone in the living room. We haven’t touched a single unnecessary thing since arriving.

  “Nick,” I say, “we need to know every single thing you know about this. Starting from the time you even decided to make the trek over here in the middle of the night.”

  Nick nods. “That was all Chuck. He said he needed to see me and it couldn’t wait. Told me to come over here at midnight on the dot. He wouldn’t tell me what it was about, but I... I have a feeling.”

  “And what’s your feeling?” Archie yells from outside.

  “Well... Nadia... Chuck’s wife... We’ve been... Well, you know.”

  “So you think Chuck found out and wanted to... what?”

  “I don’t know exactly. I’m not even positive that is what he wanted to discuss. We’ve had business dealings for years and he’s often invited me over to discuss them. That’s how I met...”

  “At midnight?” I ask.

  “No. Not at midnight.”

  “And in the middle of a quarantine?”

  Nick shakes his head.

  “You didn’t think that was a little odd.”

  “Of course I did. But Chuck was a little odd to begin with. And, I mean, if he wanted to talk about what I think he wanted to talk about, then it makes sense, right?”

  “Was he always punctual? You said midnight on the dot.”

  Nick nods yes. “Always.”

  “So you think he found out about you two?”

  “It’s... possible. I... well... I snuck over here the other morning while Chuck was gone.”

  “Where in the world would Chuck go long enough for you to sneak over here?”

  “He walks his dog, in the woods over there. I just... This quarantine, man...”

  “So,” Archie yells, “you were hornier than a rhinoceros brass band and snuck over to this dude’s house to boink his old lady while he was fifty yards away, and now he’s dead?”

  Nick slumps his shoulders.

  “I gotta tell ya,” Archie says, “this isn’t looking too great for you guys. Elise, we really need to start taking payment upfront.” He laughs. 

  I look to Nadia, the officers seem more than happy to let us take the lead on this, which is pretty funny, I guess.

  “Nadia, is this true?”

  A clearly ashamed Nadia nods yes. “But we didn’t kill him. Never.”

  “Where’s the gun?” I ask.

  “Oh shit,” Archie yells. “That’s long gone.”

  “There was no gun when I came down,” Nadia says. “I swear.”

  “And I didn’t do it,” Nick says. “I know that much.”

  “Can you run a paraffin test on him?” I ask Sheriff Winslow. 

  The deputy that showed up at our house says, “We don’t have the tools to do that in the field, but it’ll hold until we get him to the station. But if he wore gloves, then...” He shrugs.

  “So now we have a missing gun and possibly missing gloves.”

  “There was no gun,” Nadia’s father says. “I can promise you that.”

  “What is your name, sir?” I ask.

  “Richard. And this is my wife Natalia. We were all upstairs when the gunshot rang out. I do not approve of my daughter’s antics with this man, but she did not kill him. We came into her room and met her just as she was running out, and we all came down the stairs together. No gun.”

  “What happened to your finger there?”

  There is a small cut on Richard’s middle finger. It’s small, but noticeable, even from a quarantine distance away. 

  “What?” Richard says, looking at his finger. “Oh. I don’t know. I must have cut it during all the commotion. I’m an old man. It happens.”

  I roll my eyes. He’s like sixty-five. 

  “Look,” Richard says. “Someone shot Chuck, that much is for sure, but it wasn’t my daughter.”

  Everyone looks at Nick.

  “I swear. I swear to God, I didn’t do it.”

  “He did it,” Nadia says. 

  “What?” Nick yells. “She’s lying!”

  “Why are you here?! Who the hell else did it?!”

  “You! You could have! All of you!”

  “Bullshit!”

  “Calm down!” Winslow yells. “Everyone shut up! Ms. Connely,” he says calmer now, “you are positive you heard Mr. Tierney yell out Sinclair’s name just before the gunshot.”

  “One hundred goddamn percent positive!” Kathy grunts, lighting one cigarette off another. 

  Winslow stands. “Then consider this case closed. Nick Sinclair, you are under arrest for the murder of Chuck Tierney. And you, Mrs. Tierney, I think you out to come downtown with us. I think you two were in this together.”

  “Not so fast,” Archie yells.

  Winslow groans. “What now, Lemons?”

  “This guy drove to our house to ask for help.”

  “So what?”

  “Would a guilty man do that? Or would he get as far away from this place as possible and hope no one saw him? Why stick around?”

  “And,” I say, “why come to us? If Nick heard the shot like he said he did, and he knew who we were and where we lived, coming to us might make sense. More since than coming to us right after he murdered someone, at least.”

  “Because he knew who you were and thought he could trick you into thinking he was innocent. Looks like it worked, too.”

  “Kathy,” I say, “do you come over here often?”

  Taking a drag of her cigarette, she says, “Sometimes. I dunno.”

  Nadia says, “Kathy is here all the time. She’s always asking Chuck to do stuff for her.”

  Kathy shrugs. “My husband died, ya know. He always did housework. Sometimes I need help. Who gives a screw?” Another long puff.

  “Mrs. Tierney,” I say to Nadia, “did you know your husband had come downstairs?”

  “Yes,” Nadia says. “He said he thought he heard a burglar. Since Frisco wasn’t barking, that’s our dog, I told him he was just imagining things. As you can hear, Frisco goes crazy when there are strangers in the house. If Chuck heard something, I just assumed it was one of my parents downstairs. Chuck insisted it wasn’t and went down. I stayed in bed. I take a pill at night and I had no desire to get up and look around.”

  “So,” I say, “the noise didn’t wake you up?”

  “No, Chuck woke me up. He shook me. With the pill I take, I could sleep through a hurricane, honestly.”

  “And you heard him yell Sinclair’s name.”

  She’s crying now. “Yes. I know it looks bad for me, but I swear I had nothing to do with this. You have to believe me. This wasn’t some plan to get rid of my husband. You have to believe me.”

  Chuck could have been tricked into saying Sinclair’s name. I mean, with a gun to your head, you’d say almost anything, right?

  From the French doors, Archie yells, “You said the dog didn’t bark?”

  “That’s right,” Nadia says.

  “The same dog that hasn’t shut up since I got here?”

  Nadia nods. “Sorry about that, she is very protective.”

  “Where does she normally sleep at night?”

  “Right here on the sofa. We got her a bed, but she refused to use it. We just gave up. She used to sleep with us but she took up the whole bed. This was a compromise.”

  “I have an idea,” Archie says. “I need everyone to come outside.”

  Nobody seems to be listening. 

  “Come on,” I say, “let’s go outside. I think I know what is going on.”

  It takes some more convincing, but eventually, everyone is outside, still keeping their distance, especially from Archie who is on his second economy-sized can of Lysol since arriving. 

  “Nadia,” Archie says, “I need you to go inside and let the dog out, then come back out here. Can you handle that?”

  Nadia gives Archie a dirty look. “Yeah, I think I can manage that.”

  Nadia steps back into the house, closing the French doors behind her, and lets the dog out. We all move out of sight. The dog has stopped barking and Nadia comes back outside. The dog sniffs the blanket now covering her dead owner and falls to his side, lying next to him.

  “Nick,” Archie says, “I need you to walk into the living room. Don’t do anything. Just walk in.”

  Nick, looking rather nervous, steps to the French doors, opens them and steps in.

  Frisco goes wild.

  I look to Archie. We both smile.

  “Come on back, Nick.”

  Nick returns, closing the doors behind him.

  “Kathy,” I say, “would you be so kind as to go next?”

  Kathy shrugs and enters the house. Frisco remains calm.

  We run this test with everyone, including ourselves. The dog barked at me, Archie, all the officers, and of course, Nick. For everyone else he remained silent and calm.

  “I think we need to have a look around the house,” I say. “If you don’t mind.”

  Winslow grunts, obviously annoyed he allowed us to get so close to this case. 

  “Let’s retrace the exact steps Mr. Tierney took up until he was shot,” I say. 

  “I don’t want everyone following me around,” Archie says. “How about you let us just go take a look and we’ll report back. Y’all nasty.”

  I laugh. He has such a way with words. 

  Winslow laughs, but for a different reason. “There is no way I’m letting you walk around a crime scene.”

  “Fine,” Archie says, “you can come with us. But just you.”

  “Well shitgoddamn, Lemons. That’s mighty nice of you to let me search my crime scene!”

  “Yeah,” Archie says, “I’m a hell of a guy. Come on. Nadia, you too.”

  The four of us enter the house, Archie spraying a force field of aerosol around him and me, leaving Winslow and Nadia to fend for themselves. 

  We make our way up the stairs and into Chuck and Nadia’s bedroom. The dog is barking.

  “Which side is yours?” I ask Nadia. Nadia points to the left side.

  Archie walks to the right side of the bed and examines the nightstand. He blasts a spray of Lysol then holds up an iPhone that is plugged into the wall. “Is this Chuck’s?”

  Nadia nods yes.

  He looks it over then sets it back down and continues snooping. I do the same on Nadia’s side. Not much of anything.

  “Do you know your husband’s passcode?” Archie asks?

  Nadia shakes her head no.

  “Seriously?”

  Nadia shrugs. Archie drops the phone into his sweatshirt pocket. “Show us your parents’ bedroom.”

  We walk to another room. The TV is on a home shopping channel that apparently didn’t get the memo about not going to work. 

  Interesting that they heard Tierney talk from downstairs while sleeping, and with the TV on.

  “Everybody stay here,” Archie says. “Do your parents sleep with the door closed, Nadia?”

  Nadia nods yes. 

  “Then close the door behind me. I don’t want to touch the doorknob. I’m going to go downstairs and say Sinclair’s name, soft at first, then louder. You yell down when you can hear it.”

  Archie leaves and Winslow shuts the door.

  A minute passes before I hear Archie’s voice. Winslow opens the door and yells down.

  Archie appears at the top of the stairs a few seconds later and says, “Follow me.” We all go back down to the living room.

  “That was a pretty good yell,” Archie says. “I said it softly a few times, then in a normal voice, then quite loud.”

  “Well, it makes sense he would have yelled it if Sinclair was pointing a gun at him.” 

  “Yeah,” I say, “but everyone said they heard him talking before he yelled out.”

  Winslow looks intrigued.

  “Let’s all take another look at ol’ Chuckyboy,” Archie says, “and see what we can see. But please, keep your distance.” 

  Archie grabs Chuck’s lifeless hand and holds his dead thumb to the phone he took from the nightstand, unlocking it.

  “Well looky here,” Archie says, showing us the phone. It’s the alarm screen. There is one alarm showing and it’s set for 11:50pm.

  “Let me see that, babe,” I say. Archie squirts the phone with Lysol and chucks it to me. I check the volume. It’s turned down rather low.

  “What time do you guys normally go to bed,” I ask Nadia. “We go to bed early and wake up early.”

  I nod.

  So, the alarm set for 11:50 makes sense if he really was meeting Sinclair at midnight sharp. 

  “Do you recall what time you heard all this happening? I mean, exactly?”

  Nadia shakes her head. “I didn’t think to check the exact time...”

  “Just a thought. But you definitely didn’t go downstairs until after the gunshot?”

  “Yes, that’s right.”

  “And then Kathy heard someone burst through the French doors and run off into the night. Interesting.”

  I kneel down to get a better look at Chuck’s body, peeling the blanket covering him all the way off. He’s flat on his back, the pool of blood around his head had dried and turned to a sticky syrup on the carpet. Something catches my eye, on the ground next to him. I look at it closer.

  “Is this a piece of... meat?”

  Archie kneels beside me. “Interesting.”

  “Yes,” I say. “Very interesting.” 

  “Sheriff Winslow. We know who killed Chuck Tierney.”

  “And we know where the gun is hidden.”

 

 

  -Who killed Chuck Tierney?

 

  -How was it done?

 

  -Where is the gun hidden?

 

  If you are stumped, email me at RantWithGrant@gmail.com! If you've cracked the case, or have anything to add, please leave a comment below! If you enjoyed this story, you can see Archie and Elise in my novel, Another Ridiculous Week in Bakersfield, which is available now for FREE on iBooks and Kindle, or in paperback from your favorite bookseller!

  Archie and Elise will return in Spring 2020 in A Dark and Stormy Night. Be sure to check it out!


Check out Grant Fieldgrove's Book


Another Ridiculous Week in Bakersfield

Elise convinces Archie to attend his high school reunion, completely against his will. Things or going well until the Vice Principal vanishes without a trace!

© Copyright 2020 Grant Fieldgrove. All rights reserved.

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