“Red Pants Take Warning” 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, Jean Wolfersteig lays out on the beach in East Hampton, observing fellow sunbathers.
Red Pants Take Warning
by Jean Wolfersteig
East Hampton, New York
This morning, the front page of the East Hampton Star headlined the robbery and spectacular murder of a local resident in her home. Strangled with fishing line. The photo looked strikingly like the young woman sitting a few yards from me on the beach yesterday. Her family is offering a tidy reward for information leading to an arrest.
I noticed her after a crimson sunrise, when daybreak was transformed into one of those sparkling blue mornings that only come to pass in early spring. Two fishermen were surf casting at the edge of the ocean, their lures ricocheting off the waves and glinting in the sunlight, yards from where the young woman sunbathed. I have to admit, she was remarkably lovely—a real femme fatale. Curly blonde hair, blue eyes, one eyebrow slightly higher than the other, velvet skin, a fetchingly dimpled smile a smidge crooked. The kind of young woman who is clad in the latest swimwear and drenched in the scent of money, her face a mask of innocence.
I remember the young woman so well because of the lad who occupied the square of beach between the solitary islands formed by her high-backed canvas chair and my towel. His hair was too longish for my taste, and he wore a pair of fire engine red Bermuda shorts. He parked himself a few feet from me, casting sidelong glances at her, all the while working on a small object in his hands. At first, I thought it was a video game, but soon enough, I realized he was making something, like a fishing lure.
You can get away with almost anything if you look like you belong, and this young man had bought himself a piece of the beach just by standing there, doing his handiwork. I had no desire to get caught up in whatever he was fishing for, so I buried myself in the New York Times crossword puzzle, peeking out from under my hat through a generous pair of sunglasses every now and then. He eased his way toward her, and, sure enough, within a few minutes time, he snagged her hook, line, and sinker. She leaned over his handiwork, chatting away.
I’m not sure whether he was looking to sell his wares, make an acquaintance, or something worse, but after a while, he reeled her in, and they walked up the hill to the lot where her fancy Mercedes was parked next to his Jag. He might have glanced inside the car and noticed an envelope with her address on it lying on the seat. Or taken the numbers on the license plate to a friend in the DMV. Maybe she told him. I don’t know what transpired, but surely there was opportunity enough to learn she lived in that gated mansion on Georgica Pond near Steven Spielberg’s property.
I was still working on my crossword puzzle, searching for a word to complete the mariner’s phrase “red sky in the morning, sailor take _______,” when I noticed they’d finished talking. She went back to sunbathing. He set off down the beach and stood watching the fishermen, doing his handiwork again.
About this time, two police officers pulled into the parking lot. They checked the cars for proof of East Hampton residence, and one of them recorded the numbers from the beach permits in a little notebook. Then they took their coffees to the edge of the sand, scanning the beach and exchanging greetings with the fishermen. The young man seemed unconcerned about having his sticker number recorded. Personally, I like the privacy of stashing my bicycle in the dunes and walking the rest of the way to the beach—and it sure beats putting up four hundred bucks for a Non-Resident Beach Parking Permit.
After about half an hour, the young woman packed up and left the beach. Soon “red pants” was gone, too.
Like I said, it’s easy to get away with almost anything if you look like you belong. If you carve out a reason to be in a place, like handiwork—or a crossword puzzle—you can take your space and hold on to it until you get what you came for. But it’s best not to be too flashy. I’m sure those police and fishermen will remember that red-panted lad. It should be easy to tighten the net of suspicion around him.
Instead of me.
JEAN WOLFERSTEIG retired as CEO of a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York and turned to writing fiction and teaching yoga. She is currently looking for a home for her novel, The Room Where the Elephants Go to Die, and working on a new novel, The Dead Man’s Taxi Service. She lives in the Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband and has spent many summers on a sailboat in East Hampton.
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 [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jan 9, 2017