This is a continuation. To start at the beginning of the series click here.

By Nancy Carlton

     As soon as Lena hung up from her conversation with Audrey, she had to grab a Kleenex from the box on the kitchen table. What had started as a little sniffle was quickly turning into a drip, and her throat was starting to feel a little scratchy, too.

     “I am too busy to be sick right now!” she said, aloud, but to nobody there but herself.

     Today, of all days, when Lena’s husband would be gone all day with the local target practice group, giving her a perfect uninterrupted stretch of about eight hours to do her crime-snooping with her friends, was certainly not a good time to be sidelined with a virus.

     Determined to beat the symptoms into submission, Lena chewed four tablets of Vitamin C, downed a couple of Vitamin D3 pills with orange juice, and took a teaspoon of liquid Tylenol. Thinking a nice, steamy shower might clear her sinuses, she proceeded to the bathroom. As the mirrors and window began to fog up from the ninety-nine-degree stream pulsating from her adjustable shower head, she began to relax a bit and felt like singing, as she customarily did when showering. 

     The first dynamic blast from her vocal cords as she attempted to belt out, “Summertime! And the living is easy…” gave her a quick, raw searing pain, stopping her performance before it could get off the ground.

     “Rats!” cried Lena. “I do not want to be sick!”

     Rinsing off and stepping out of the shower with a sigh, she quickly ran through the scenario in her head of what she now had to do.  A runny nose and sore throat in the old days, pre-pandemic, wouldn’t have made a hill of bean’s difference in her plans. However, ever since cotton-pickin’ COVID had reared its ugly head in the world, people had to be a lot more careful. Now, she had to call Audrey back and postpone their clue-gathering mission for at least a few days, to see whether she just had allergies, a cold, or perhaps something worse. “Rats!” she said, again.

     Opting for a pair of soft fleece workout pants and an over-sized t-shirt to maximize her comfort, she finished her ensemble with a pair of pink, fluffy house shoes. She padded into the kitchen to make a pitcher of iced tea.  As she passed the alcove from the kitchen to the door, something caught her eye. 

     Of all the times her husband had gone shooting with his buddies, he had never overlooked one of his prized pistols and left it home, let alone lying on top of the clothes dryer. Yet, there it was. That meant he only had three guns with him to compete with his buddies. 

     Lena had never been one to appreciate firearms, but she had hesitantly learned how to fire one and do it safely and accurately, to make her husband feel better about sometimes leaving her to own devices for the better part of a day while he went out and did “manly stuff.”

     She knew that the pistol lying on her clothes dryer would certainly be fully loaded, with a round in the chamber, because “otherwise, it’d be no more use than a brick,” he had told her. “You gotta keep it “Hot and Ready like Little Caesar’s Pizza!” he always said.

     Lena made a delicious pitcher of sweet tea, poured herself a glass, and took her tea and her cell phone to the living room, where she reverted to her practice from two decades earlier – whenever she was sick, she would curl up on the couch and watch game shows.

     As the theme music for The Price is Right played, she punched in Audrey’s phone number on her cell phone and gave her the bad news. Sleuthing would be put on hold. 

     Audrey didn’t sound quite as disappointed as Lena thought she should have, but there was no time to dwell on that right now, as a sneeze was working its way up Lena’s nose. It would be the first of many that day.

     As Lena’s body began to grasp the opportunity before it, to laze around and do pretty much nothing all day, she drifted off to nap-land, as Contestant number three spun the big wheel on the television.

     Norman Wrigley was having a most unusual day. Of all the petty crimes he had committed over the years, he had never crossed the line, to the “Big M” before. Murder would be a giant leap beyond any line he had ever approached. His brain was aswirl with every kind of emotion.

     He could scarcely keep his heartrate down to a normal pace, at times. For brief periods, he would feel utterly repulsed at the thought of killing a human being. Especially one who was an old lady, like his mother. But, then…”No, she is NOT like my mother!” he would scream, internally. “She is not like my mother at all!”

     After the jerky he had eaten for breakfast, Norman wasn’t able to stomach another bite of food all that day. He had plans to concentrate on. Choices to make.

     With the stub of a pencil, he began numbering a page in his notebook. At the top of the page, he wrote: POSSIBLE METHODS OF KILLING THE OLD MEDDLER

     Approximately every five minutes, he had to rehash an argument between what seemed to be two sides of his brain. One side would ask, “Why must you kill her?”

     The other side would stubbornly reply, “Because she is threatening to derail the whole plan! If she exposes me, Mom will never have anything!”

     Then he wrote:

  1.  One shot to the head with my .22.

     The only rifle Norman’s dad had left behind at his death was a Remington Nylon Model 66. It was the gun Norman loved more than any other.

  1.  Poison  (Lots of caustic and toxic substances can be found in the maintenance warehouses)
  2. Cut her car’s brake line.
  3. Slit her throat if I can catch her alone.

     At this point, Norman had no idea that his intended victim was snoozing in oblivion on her couch. When his fount of ideas seemed to run dry, he decided to take a walk and maybe clear the cobwebs from his mind. As a matter of fact, a little reconnaissance trip to Lena’s house might help clarify and organize his thoughts. He patted the sheath of his razor-sharp Bowie knife that he had strapped to his jeans leg, and then, just to beef up his machismo, he slung his rifle in its open leather sling-case over his back. As he took off toward Lena’s cozy abode, he began to swagger a little, as if the essences of John Wayne and John Dillinger were coursing through his veins.

     The day had become overcast, with light rain showers off and on, and not many folks were out and about as he wove his way through the unused trails and leaf-covered shortcuts to the destination of his scheme. Today, he would watch, learn, and plan. Tonight, he would execute – both his plan, and Lena. He smiled at this pitiful wordplay.

     Sliding behind the hydrangea bush was easy and quiet, and absolutely no nosy neighbors were in sight. He could hear the faint applause and bell-ringing sounds of a game show on the tv inside the house. Then, he picked up another sound. An unexpected bonus – snoring!

     Someone was sleeping inside! Could it be her?

     Norman carefully worked his way around the house to the garage window and looked inside to see how many vehicles were there. Only one! The husband was gone!

     His skin fairly prickled with overwhelming excitement and impulses that flooded into his brain. “Don’t wait until tonight, Norman! Do it now!”

     In breath-taking confusion, he sprang to his feet. When he did, his .22 rifle slipped forward in its sling, and slammed against the garage window, breaking it. “Oh, my God!”, Norman wheezed. Never had one little window breaking seemed to make so much noise! 

     Fearing that someone may have heard the glass shattering, he clutched the rifle and looked around, wildly. Sure enough, the door of Stanley Barnard’s house next door flew open, and Stanley stepped outside. Norman tore around the corner of the house as fast as he could, trying to make his escape.

     Then, horror of horrors, Lena stepped around the corner of her house, sloppy clothes, fluffy house shoes and all, and planted her feet in a shooter’s stance, aiming her husband’s gun dead at Norman’s midsection. “Freeze!” she screamed, from the top of her lungs, and from the depths of her poor, sore throat.

     Norman did NOT freeze. He harnessed all the adrenaline that he was fairly swimming in, and escalated into passing gear. He tore past Lena and she spun around to follow him, just as Stanley Barnard closed in from the rear. Norman managed to make it to a place of cover behind Stanley’s tool shed where he could hunker down. He decided to take the offensive, because he knew he would never be able to make himself be still while Lena and Stanley were within a distance where they were a real threat to him. 

     As far as he had seen, Stanley wasn’t carrying a weapon, but Lena darn sure was. If he could take her down, then he could either flee, or eliminate Stanley at a little more leisure.  He couldn’t get a look at Lena from where he was, though, nor Stanley, for that matter. He gasped for a breath, trying to will his brain to think intelligently. He had to make a run to a better spot of cover, where he could get a clear shot at Lena, or be assured that they couldn’t see him if he chose to just disappear into the woods.

     He lunged to his feet and took his first step, when a piercing voice stabbed his ear. “Stop where you are! I have called the police!” It was Audrey. She had arrived on the scene amidst the chaos, and had found a secure spot at the edge of Stanley’s garden wall, where she had dialed 9-1-1 and whispered all the jumbled bits of information she had managed to piece together. Her only possible weapon was the cell phone in her hand, but she was not about to abandon the friend that she had come to check on, in her time of illness.

     The distraction Audrey had provided to Norman, gave Lena and Stanley a chance to advance their positions, and Lena could now see Norman. The trouble was, he could see her, too. However, with the odds now at three against one, Norman didn’t feel the least bit macho.

     He set his rifle down and raised his hands, as if to give up. Before Lena could breathe a sigh of relief, Norman yelled, “Psych!” and took off at a dead run, heading to the heart of the woods. Lena was incensed. It couldn’t end like this, after all this punk had put her through. She decided to at least give him one more good scare, so she shot into the ground a few feet from where she stood, knowing that the fleeing criminal wouldn’t be able to tell whether she had aimed at him or not.

     Sure enough, the resounding bang of the “Hot and Ready” pistol in Lena’s hand sends a terrifying wave through Norman’s brain. He didn’t even slow down until he had run so far and so fast that he was assured that nobody was anywhere near him. He slipped into his most remote hideaway and began sobbing like a baby. He was mortified. He was embarrassed at his failure, devastated at losing his dad’s rifle, and still shaking at the thought that he had just been mere seconds from death, and had barely escaped.


* * *

Chapter 1 – Click here.

Chapter 2 – Click here.

Chapter 3 – Click here.

Chapter 4 – Click here.

Chapter 5 – Click here.