A MUSICAL CLUE by John M. Floyd

Retired schoolteacher Fran Valentine knew something was wrong when she saw Leona Welch’s Mercedes parked in front of the sheriff’s office. Leona never drove anywhere except to the country club.

Sure enough, Fran stomped in to find her daughter Lucy–who was also the county sheriff–on the phone while Leona sat facing the desk.

“Frances,” Leona blurted–she was one of the few people who called Fran Frances–“my Terri’s been kidnapped! From her apartment, during the night.”

“What? How do you know?”

Sheriff Valentine was still on the phone, and jotting notes.

“Because he called me, at home.” Leona’s face was deathly pale. “Twenty minutes ago.”

“Who called you?”

“Don’t know. It was a man’s voice. I asked to talk to Terri, and he let me, and–”

“What did he say?”

“He told me he wanted half a million dollars or I’d never see my daughter again.” Leona choked back a sob. “I don’t have that kind of money. Everybody thinks I’m rich because my husband was, but–”

Fran squeezed her hand. “You said the guy let you talk to Terri? What’d she say?”           

“Something strange. She said, ‘I love you, Mom. When I get home we’re gonna watch that movie again, like we used to. The Sound of Music.’ Then the man took the phone back and said, ‘Ten a.m., Heritage Park Fountain. No cops.’” Leona wiped her eyes. “That was all. But I gave the sheriff the number that called me.”

Lucy finally hung up and said, “Must’ve been a throwaway cell phone, Ms. Welch. But we got a break–the manager at Terri’s apartments saw an unfamiliar car parked at the curb beside the building late last night. A man in sunglasses sat at the wheel, watching.”

“Sunglasses at night?” Leona said.

“Yep. Manager wrote down the make and model, and the last few numbers on the license plate. Deputy Malone’ll call the Department of Motor Vehicles for possible matches while I go check out your daughter’s apartment.”

After Lucy left, Fran asked Leona, “Any idea why Terri said that, about The Sound of Music?”

“No,” she said, sniffling. “We own some movies, but not that one. And Terri and I have never watched it together.”

An hour later the sheriff, Fran, and Malone compared notes. Terri Welch’s apartment had yielded no clues, but the DMV list had given them the names of eighteen possible car owners, based on the partial reading of the plate. Eleven of the names were male, and five of those were known to Leona and therefore possibly known to her daughter:

  1. John Robert Hogan, 40, agent, Stateside Insurance
  2. Alton Wayne Maxwell, 37, auto mechanic, Bryant’s Garage
  3. David Isaac McBride, 23, orderly, County General Hospital
  4. Christopher Terrell Bennett, 31, employee, Graison Plumbing
  5. Rodney Allan Hayes, 52, desk clerk, Hankins Inn Hotel

Malone sighed. “We also have the addresses. Guess we better check each one.”

“No time for that,” Lucy said. “It’s already 9:30.”

“You might not have to try all the addresses,” Fran said.

Both the sheriff and deputy looked at her. “What?”

“Terri’s smart,” Fran said. “I think she used her time on the phone to give her mother a clue, something that could tip us off to the name of the kidnapper.”

“The movie, you mean?”

“Yep. I think one of these people has a connection to The Sound of Music.”

All of them studied the list.

“There’s an Edelweiss Room at the Hankins Inn,” Lucy said.

Malone squinted and shook his head. So did Fran.

“I think Dave McBride plays the guitar,” Malone said. “You know, like Maria.”

This time he got the skeptical looks.

“One of the characters is named Max,” Lucy suggested.

More head-shaking.

After a long moment Fran brightened, looked up at the two lawmen–and pointed to a name. “That’s him.”

Fifteen minutes later, the sheriff and Malone surprised the suspect at his home, arrested him, and delivered a shaken but unharmed Terri Welch to her frantic mother.

Afterward Terri turned to the sheriff and asked, “Who figured it out?”

“Detective Valentine,” Lucy said, smiling.

“You mean you did?”

“I’m Sheriff Valentine,” Lucy said. She pointed to Fran. “This is Detective Valentine.”

“Unpaid and untitled,” Fran added.

Leona released her daughter long enough to give Fran a tearful hug. Then she said, “So who was the kidnapper?”

Fran looked at all the others. “Y’all ready for this?”

Leona nodded. “Tell us.”

“Christopher the Plumber,” Fran said.

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 fall 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.