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News & Features » July 2020 » “Cold Case Superstar” by Jean Wolfersteig

“Cold Case Superstar” by Jean Wolfersteig

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, an old house is the scene of an old cold case.

Cold Case Superstar
by Jean Wolfersteig
Clinton Corners, New York

Steps creak and strange knocking sounds float to my apartment from the basement, and the cat refuses to go downstairs after dark. You can’t blame him, given what happened here. A shoddy job of flipping the stair treads upside down hides the bloodstains. I wouldn’t be surprised if ghosts roam the center hall.

But, honestly, I felt a rush the first time I stepped through the foyer. Google Earl Clarke and you’ll see I’m the superstar of cracking cold cases. I’ve built my reputation on “no case left unsolved.” So, when the chance for action on the biggest case in my own backyard came along, I struck while the iron was hot.

Timothy “Jonesy” Jones—my “second” at Empire Dry Cleaners and the second-best amateur crime solver—told me about the upstairs rental in the old Germond house. He was saving up to lease the place himself and should know I’d snatch it. But Jonesy’s the sort who doesn’t see things coming.

The story went like this. The day before Thanksgiving in 1930, James Husted Germond, a decent hard-working dairy farmer, and his whole family—wife, son, daughter—were brutally stabbed to death. A local found their bodies the next day when milk deliveries weren’t made. The first suspect was a “foreigner” who’d purchased a “pig shaver” like the bloody knife discovered at the crime scene and fled to New York City. But the cops compromised the evidence and bungled the investigation. They made no arrest. Then, in 1933, they charged a neighbor who’d argued with Germond over money and land with the crime. His arrest proved to be another dead-end, and they dismissed the allegations.

Investigators also speculated the slayings might be related to an illegal still run by Jack “Legs” Diamond, a Prohibition gangster. Other notions included a romantic connection with the daughter or a “mysterious stranger” with robbery as a motive. None of the theories panned out, and the case went cold.

I’m getting to know the Germond’s, being in this house, reflecting on their lives cut short.

My guess? A friend or distant relative survived the slayings. Maybe the killer spared her, and she’s scared to speak out. Maybe she’s the killer. I say “she” because I’m convinced the old lady who’s lived on the first floor for decades knows more than she’s letting on.

Today is the anniversary. I waited for the sun to slip behind the mountain, listening for signals from the basement. There was no moon, and the sky was inky black. At first, I noticed country sounds—a dog barking, an owl screeching, the rustling of branches. Then, scraping on wooden planks, thumping against walls. I jammed a torch into my cargo pants pocket and tiptoed downstairs to the basement door. Something rubbed at the other side, and I froze before my hand reached the doorknob.

My chest tightened, but the thought of solving the crime and outsmarting Jonesy stirred my courage. I opened the door, and the cat flew at me, mewling and clawing. I tossed him aside and stepped into darkness.

The light switch was within reach, and the glow illuminated the bloody bottoms of the stair treads. Then the power went off stranding me.

I groped for the torch, but it slid from my grip, tumbling down the stairs. There was nothing to do except inch toward the circuit breaker box in the gloom.

A low cackle turned into a belly laugh.

The power came on, and I tried to make sense of what I was seeing. The old lady from the first floor was propped against an ancient refrigerator, stabbed in the chest. Her eyelids fluttered, and she teetered on a hand buried in the folds of her skirt.

Jonesy appeared from the shadows, brandishing the knife. “You lose this time, Earl,” he said. “They’ll be sorting this out for generations. And I’ll never be second-best again. How does it feel to be the perfect fall guy?”

He ran at me.

They say your life flashes before you, but the only thought I had was how arrogant I’d been.

I didn’t see it coming.

Metal glinted from across the room, and the old lady fired two shots.

Jonesy collapsed.

While we awaited the ambulance, she told me about that day in 1930. It might’ve been another win for me, but her secret is safe. It was a hard lesson, but some cases are meant to stay cold.

***

JEAN WOLFERSTEIG retired as CEO of a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York and turned to writing fiction and teaching yoga. A number of her flash fiction stories have appeared in Akashic Books’ online series and in Flash Fiction Magazine. She lived in the Germond house for several years and continues to reside in the Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband.

***

Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Jul 27, 2020

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder, Original Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , ,



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