Can you solve this mini-mystery?


A NEAT MURDER


By Herschel Cozine



Kate stood in the middle of the living room and looked around appreciatively. The room was spotless. Every piece of furniture was in its place, and not a trace of dirt or dust. The carpet had been freshly vacuumed. A scent of room freshener hung in the air.

The woman responsible for the tidiness lay sprawled on the floor in front of the couch. She had been strangled. Mel, Kate's associate, was taking pictures of the body with a digital camera.

"My wife, Lucille," Harry King said. "Someone broke into the house and killed her." His eyes darted around the room and he wrung his hands. He had on a bathrobe over his pajamas, and socks and slippers. His late wife, on the other hand, was fully dressed.

"Where were you at the time?" Kate asked.

"I was upstairs in bed," he said. "I go to bed early. Lucille is — er — was a nightowl. She seldom retired before midnight."

Kate turned her attention from the body to the surroundings. The lady's impeccable housekeeping made it easy for Kate to determine that there had been no struggle by the victim.

Turning to King, she said. "What made you come downstairs? Did you hear anything? A cry, perhaps? Or a noise of any kind?"

"Yes," King said. "I heard Lucille cry out. It was a muffled sound, but loud enough to waken me. I immediately came down to investigate."

"And you saw no one?"

"No. Whoever did this must have heard me and ran out the back door."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because the front door was still locked and deadbolted."

"I see," Kate said. She went into the kitchen. The back door was slightly ajar.

"Was the door unlocked?"

"Not as a rule," King said. "But Lucille probably opened it to let the cat out and whoever did this had to have been waiting."

"Enemies?"

"None that I know of," King said.

"How would the killer know to come through the back door?" Kate asked, as much to herself as to King.

"He could have been watching the house for some time and was familiar with her routine." He smiled ruefully. "It never varied."

Kate grunted as she inspected the door. No sign of forced entry. She stepped back into the kitchen. It, too, was spotless.

"Your wife kept a neat house," she said.

King nodded agreement. "She was compulsive about it."

Kate looked toward the stairs. "Was the bedroom door open? It would be difficult to hear someone down here if it were closed."

"I always keep it open. Lucille would close it when she came to bed."

"May we see it?" Kate said.

King led Kate and Mel up the stairs. The bedroom was at the end of the hall beyond the bathroom. The door to the bedroom was open fully. King stepped back and let them pass.

Kate wasn't surprised to find that the room was as immaculate as the rest of the house. King's trousers were draped over the back of the chair and his shoes underneath. They looked out of place in the otherwise spotless room. The closet door, slightly open, showed clothes hung in a neat row on matching hangers.

The oversized bed, Kate noted, gave the appearance of being neat and tidy even though the bedspread and blankets had been thrown back where Mr. King had been sleeping.

"Did you come back up after finding your wife's body?"

King shook his head. "No. Of course not. I wanted to stay with her until you arrived."

Kate shook her head. Pulling Mel aside, she said, "There was no intruder."

"How do you know that?" Mel asked.


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Copyright 2013 Herschel Cozine. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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