Retired schoolteacher Frances Valentine appeared in the hallway just as one of her former students, 25-year-old Trish Morgan, was lugging a suitcase toward her second-floor apartment. Trish looked up, door key in hand. “Ms. Valentine,” she said. “What brings you here?”
“Mind if I come in?” Fran asked.
Trish’s living room was time-worn but cozy. Couch, armchair, TV, framed pictures on one wall and a huge, ancient clock on another. It was almost noon. She shut the door, parked her suitcase, and turned to face her visitor. “I’m really beat. Will this take long?”
“Only a minute.” Fran took a seat on the couch. “I happened to see you arrive, and–well, I have some questions.”
“For me? I’ve been out of town for five weeks.”
“My mother’s house, in Dallas.”
“A scheduled visit?”
Trish frowned. “Why would you ask that?”
“Because of when you left. It was the same day Buzz Kindall robbed Dolan’s Hardware.”
Trish swallowed. Behind her on the wall, an old pendulum-style clock chimed the hour. Outside the window, oak leaves fluttered in the wind.
“Did they catch him?” she asked.
“So you’ve heard about the robbery,” Fran said.
“I couldn’t believe it. My cousin Jan called me the other day.”
“Your cousin’s not the only one.” Fran opened her purse and read from a slip of paper. “Phone company records show Buzz called you three times, the week before it happened.”
Trish shrugged. “So? Buzz Kindall’s dated everybody in town, Ms. Valentine. He probably called a dozen young ladies that week.”
“Only you, actually.”
“So what is this? You think I can help find him?”
“I thought you might. Buzz only stole two hundred dollars, and it’s been more than a month now. Everybody’s stopped looking for him.”
Fran smiled. “I’m curious.”
“Well, I’m sorry, Ms. Valentine, but I didn’t know anything about the robbery until Jan phoned me.”
Fran nodded, then studied the room a moment. “Anybody stop in to take care of the place while you were gone?”
“No. I have no pets to feed, no plants to water, no housekeeper.”
“How about boyfriends?”
Fran stared at her. “This apartment’s a block from the crime scene, Trish, and two doors down from the sheriff’s office. Nobody would think to look for him this close by–especially with you gone.”
Trish’s eyes widened. “What?”
“I didn’t think of it myself, until now. But it’s perfect. All your neighbors are elderly–they probably wouldn’t hear an occasional footstep or flushing toilet from your apartment. And with enough canned goods and your lights on a timer, Buzz could hole up here until the robbery was old news. That’s what he called you about, wasn’t it?”
Trish’s expression hardened. “You’re wrong, Ms. Valentine. I never–”
“Buzz?” Fran called. “Come on out.”
Trish gaped at her.
“Buzz!” Fran shouted.
“I’m here,” a voice said. Both women turned to stare at Buzz Kindall.
“Well, well,” Fran said, standing up. “The fugitive appears.”
Trish, her face pale, blurted, “I’m sorry, Buzz. I don’t know how she knew.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “We were leaving anyhow, right?” He was holding a length of cord and masking tape. “Sorry, Ms. Valentine, we need a head start–I’m gonna have to tie you up.”
“I don’t think so,” Fran said. She took a cell phone from her purse. “Did you hear all that, Lucy?” she said into the phone.
“I heard it.” The voice of Sheriff Lucy Valentine–Fran’s daughter–was clear in the quiet room. “We’re on our way.”
Buzz gulped; his face fell. “You speed-dialed her, didn’t you. When you reached into your purse for the phone records…”
Trish was in tears now. “Let him go, Ms. Valentine. It was only two hundred dollars–”
“He broke the law, Trish. Both of you did.”
Buzz said dully, “If you knew–why didn’t you make the call earlier?”
“I didn’t know, for sure,” Fran said. “All I knew was that the apartment was occupied.”
“But how’d you know that?”
As he spoke, the wall clock chimed again: twelve-fifteen. All three of them turned to look at it.
Trish closed her eyes. “The clock,” she said dully.
Fran nodded. “In a month’s time, if someone hadn’t wound it, it would have run down and stopped.”
Trish’s shoulders sagged. Buzz looked blank.
“What a way to get caught,” he murmured.
“Look at it this way,” Fran said. “It was just a matter of time.”
John M. Floyd’s short fiction has appeared in AHMM, EQMM, Strand Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, The Best American Mystery Stories, and many other publications. John is also a three-time Derringer Award winner and an Edgar nominee. His seventh book, The Barrens, is scheduled for summer 2018.
Copyright © 2018 John M. Floyd. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.