Light reflected off the bluish-silver scales of the piranha as he swam the perfect rectangle of his aquarium for the umpteenth time today. His name was Rommel, and he made a quick move to his attacking place when Detective Walt Simpson came too close. Even when he was to be fed, he hid so he could devour his food as if he were in the wild.

“You three were the only ones in the house today,” the detective said to the people standing in front of him. “One of you has to be the killer of the General.” The General was still sitting in his wheel chair, but slumped over with his head on his chest. His frail body looked like a skeleton.

“Who wants to start with their activities of today?”

The three looked at each other. “I guess I will. I’m Joe Abbey.”

“What is your position here?”

“I’m a gardener. Grounds keeper, actually.”

“And where were you today?”

“I was mowing down by the guest house. A belt broke on the mower, so I went into town about noon to replace it. Before I left I came up to the house to grab an early lunch.”

“You actually chose to come up here and eat her food?” Anna said while pointing at Helga.

“Yeah, she cooks a pretty good meal if you’d ever stay around long enough to enjoy it,” Joe said. He then looked at the detective. “I didn’t get back until a little after four.”

“What took you so long?”

“The John Deere dealer in town didn’t have the belt. They had to send over to Halleyville for the right part.”

“And what did you do while you waited?”

“First, I went over to the Dixie Dawn Café and got a cup of coffee and a piece of pie.”

“Didn’t get enough food here to fill you up?” Anna said. She looked at the detective. “Told you the stuff was bad.”

“Just wanted some dessert,” Joe said. “After that, I went to see an aunt of mine I haven’t visited in a long time.”

“No alibi problems there,” Simpson said. He then looked at the two women. He chose the younger one. “What do you do here?”

“Most everything,” she said in a haughty tone. “I’m Anna, the General’s personal assistant.”

“And where were you today?”

“I was gone all day. I left a little before nine this morning and didn’t get back until four-thirty. One of the things I had to do was drive into St. Louis for some books the General wanted.”

“Couldn’t they be shipped to him?”

“The General was an impatient man. He didn’t want to wait for the mail or UPS to do their job.”

“You have any other errands?”

“Sure. He never let me get away without doing several things for him. I picked one of his old dress uniforms at the cleaners and a pair of shoes from the repair shop.”

Simpson looked at the older woman. “And who are you?”

“Helga, the cook. I have cooked for the general for sixteen years now.”

Anna chuckled.

“And what did you do today?”

“I served the General lunch at twelve-thirty, just like every day. I picked up the dishes around two, as always, and figured he was sleeping. He only ate about half his lunch. It was only when I came back at three to feed the fish I realized something was wrong. We feed that fish at three every day,” she said with a curled lip. “That thing gives me the willies.”

“It was probably her crappy vegetable-beef soup that killed the General.”

“My soup is very healthy.”

“You wouldn’t know healthy if you were to trip over it.”

“Okay, one of you strangled the General, and I’m arresting you, Anna, for this crime.”

“What? I was gone all day. How could I have done it?”

“How could you have known Helga served the General vegetable-beef soup if you hadn’t come back before she removed the dishes? You had a perfect time window to commit the crime because of their daily schedule.”

Gary R. Hoffman has published over two-hundred and sixty-five short stories, non-fiction articles, poetry, and essays in various publications.  He has placed over one-hundred and ten items in contests.  He taught school for twenty-five years and lived on the road in a motor home for fourteen years.  He now resides in Okeechobee, Florida.

Copyright © 2016 Gary R. Hoffman. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.

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