Sheriff Lucy Valentine stomped down the steps of her office building to find her minister chatting with Lucy’s mother Fran on the sidewalk. Reverend Boyle turned and said, “Afternoon, Sheriff. I hope to see you at church tomorrow night. We’ll be talking about miracles.”
Lucy pointed to her left ear and kept walking. “Sorry, Reverend–can’t hear you.”
Fran nodded goodbye to Boyle, fell into step beside the sheriff, and gave her a look.
“Don’t squint at me,” Lucy said. “It’s the truth—I didn’t use earmuffs this morning at the firing range, and I’m having trouble hearing.”
“Especially hearing about Wednesday night church services, right?”
“Look, I’ll probably be working. I’m going now to question a witness.”
Fran’s eyes widened. “The letter-to-the-mayor case? I’ll come with you.”
“I don’t need any help, Mother.”
Fran pointed to her ear. “Sorry–can’t hear you either.”
“Age problem,” Fran said.
Once inside the cruiser, she pestered the sheriff for the latest details. Everyone knew by now that Malcolm Perkins, an incumbent mayor up for re-election, had received an envelope in his mailbox yesterday filled with a mysterious white powder. Tests revealed only smudged and inconclusive fingerprints, and the powder had been sent to the state crime lab. But two things, according to Sheriff Valentine, had occurred only minutes ago: she’d received a call from a guy named Warren Dean, saying he had vital information, then the lab had phoned to tell her the suspicious substance was not dangerous–it was ordinary talcum powder.
“But it’s still a crime,” Lucy said to her mother. “Like a false bomb threat.” She parked in Dean’s driveway and added, “You stay in the car.”
“Still can’t hear you,” Fran replied.
Moments later she and Lucy were seated in Warren Dean’s living room. Immediately he said, “Sam Calvin sent the envelope. I saw him with it at the post office.”
The sheriff frowned. “Calvin? The candidate for mayor?”
“Right. The guy running against Perkins.”
“How do you know it was the same envelope?”
“It was bulky-looking, like something–lumpy–was inside. And there was white powdery stuff on the flap.”
“When did you see this?”
“Two days ago. Around noon.”
“Why’d you wait until now to call me?”
“I just heard about it today,” he said.
“You weren’t alarmed when you saw the white stuff?”
“No. Guess I shoulda been. I didn’t know then that it was just talcum powder.”
“Did you also hear that the envelope wasn’t postmarked?”
“No,” Dean said, “but I didn’t actually see Calvin mail it, neither.”
“If he was at the post office with it, why wouldn’t he mail it?”
“Who knows? Maybe he changed his mind, decided to deliver it by hand.” Suddenly Dean stood up. “’Scuse me. I need a glass of water.”
When he’d left the room, Fran whispered to her daughter, “He’s lying.”
Louder, Fran hissed, “I think he’s the one who put that envelope in Mayor Perkins’s box.”
“Don’t know. Maybe he’s a Perkins supporter.”
“But the contents were harmless.”
“An attempt like this, even a hoax, generates sympathy–and votes–for the victim.”
“Why’re you so certain?” Lucy asked.
“Two reasons. Remember what Reverend Boyle said to you, about tomorrow night?”
“What about it?”
“Tomorrow’s Wednesday. Dean says he saw Calvin two days ago.”
“‘Two days ago’ was Sunday,” Fran said. “The post office was closed.”
“Maybe he just got the days mixed up. What’s the second reas–”
“Mr. Dean?” Fran interrupted, as he reentered the room. “We know you did it.”
He gasped. Unnoticed by him, so did Lucy. Both of them stared open-mouthed at Fran.
“We found your fingerprints on the envelope,” Fran added.
Warren Dean’s face crumpled; his body sagged. “I was afraid of this,” he moaned.
“Why’d you do it?” Fran asked him.
A tired shrug. “Mayor Perkins is my cousin. This would’ve won the race for him.”
Afterward, a still-stunned Lucy asked, when she and Fran were alone, “What fingerprints?”
“I fibbed a little, there,” Fran admitted.
“Why does that not surprise me?” Lucy said. Then: “But–how’d you know, for sure, that Dean did it?”
“Because he mentioned that the substance was talcum powder–and unless he was guilty he couldn’t have known that. You had only just found out, yourself.”
Lucy thought that over, then nodded. “I’m impressed, Mother,” she murmured.
“You should be.”
Lucy’s eyes narrowed. “Your hearing seems to have improved.”
“You’re right,” Fran said. “It’s a miracle.”
John M. Floyd’s short fiction has appeared in AHMM, EQMM, Strand Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Mississippi Noir, The Best American Mystery Stories 2015, and many other publications. John is also a three-time Derringer Award winner, an Edgar finalist, and the author of six books. Visit him at www.johnmfloyd.com.
Copyright © 2017 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.