Mystery Fest Short Story Winners Announced in “Solares Hill” (Mark Howell)

MISTERY LOVES COMPANY

Realize the Horror: ‘What Do We Do Now?’

Editor’s Note: More than 40 writers from around the U.S. entered the first Mystery Short Story Contest sponsored by the Key West Mystery Fest and Waterfront Playhouse. The two winning entries, announced May 13, are published in this issue of Solares Hill. Both stories begin with the same eight-paragraph cliff-hanger intro written by Hy Conrad, author o fthe Waterfront hit, “Home Exchange.” Contestants then completed the story in 500 words or less.

“Check Out Time”

Winner: Best Overall Mystery

By Rusty Hodgdon

Alan sat on the bed, biting his nails.  He had checked in using a fake I.D. and hoped the clerk wouldn’t remember his face.  A minute later, Jordan arrived in sunglasses, hair tucked under a baseball cap.  They closed the motel room door and exchanged quick, nervous smiles.  “Did you bring…  you know?”  Alan pointed to the bag in Jordan’s hand.

“It’s in there.  What did you tell your boss?”

“I said I had a doctor’s appointment.  Your family?”  It seems that Jordan, too, had used the excuse of a doctor’s appointment.  They chuckled at the coincidence.  “You still want to do this?”

“Of course.  We’ve been planning it for weeks.  But if anyone finds out…”

“They won’t find out.” Alan said.  He eyed Jordan’s bag, thinking about what was inside.  “I need to use the bathroom.”

Jordan stood by the bed and was startled a moment later by Alan’s cry of shock.  “What the…”  Alan was at the bathroom door, staring inside, his mouth hanging open.

Jordan joined him and looked inside the bathroom.  “Oh, no.”

It took them a second to fully realize the horror of their situation.  “What do we do now?”

************************************************************************

Her body looked as if it had been arranged – on its side, arms tucked underneath, legs slightly crooked, head just under the pedestal sink. No blood, no gore. But clearly dead.

Jordan spoke first, albeit haltingly: “Do you know her?”

“Of course not. I just got here.” Alan was adamant.

“We’ve got to call 911,” said Jordan.

Alan’s hesitation was unnerving. “But what about the stuff?” Pointing to the bag.

“What about it?” Jordan almost screeched. “This woman looks dead. We’ve got to help her.”

The blow came swiftly and without warning. Jordan’s head exploded against the force of the steel rod, delivered with incredible strength from the side. His body quickly joined the unknown woman’s, but not so tidily this time: he lay sprawled, almost disheveled, across her. Not quite as dead, but almost. That was rectified by a second blow to the front of his skull, the force parallel to the first, accomplishing the intended consequence.

Jordan shouldn’t have been so trusting, Alan mused. His first . . . and last mistake.

He quickly placed the rod in Jordan’s hand, clenching his lifeless fingers firmly around it.  Crossing the room, he grabbed the bag and exited to his car. No need for clean-up – he had been careful to cover his tracks before arriving at the motel. In his car, he had the solitude and time to finalize his plans.

It had been easy to get the escort service to send a girl to the room. He didn’t like the process of killing – it was a bit odious to his sensitive nature. But he focused on the goal at hand, and completed the act – short and swift. The police would only know that Jordan’s phone had dialed the service, and only Jordan was seen entering the room.  The rest was an easy connection. Now the ten pounds of pure Heroin in the bag was his, and his alone. Well worth ridding himself of a pesty acquaintance and immoral woman.

He hadn’t had a chance yet to see – to feel – the sealed white powder. It’s presence in the bag was a siren song of attraction. He was compelled to pull into a rest area and look inside.

The pain in his hand was sudden and momentarily debilitating. When he did pull it out of the bag, the small lime green snake was still attached to his thumb. He shook his arm violently, and the tiny reptile dislodged and quickly scurried under the passenger seat. Alan’s life did not then pass before his eyes – that moment would come – but the vision of the same snake in Jordan’s aquarium did – together with his warning that it was one of the most lethal serpents in North America.

As Alan’s vision blurred, and his hand swelled, he espied the post-it note that had fluttered out when he extracted his hand from the bag.  “Jordan – if you can read this – it’s already too late. Your first . . . and last mistake.

The End

 

 

“Check Out Time”

Winner: Most Creative Interpretation

By:  Greg Charleston and Rodney Ross

Alan sat on the bed, biting his nails. He had checked in using a fake I.D. and hoped the clerk wouldn’t remember his face. A minute later, Jordan arrived in sunglasses, hair tucked under a baseball cap. They closed the motel room door and exchanged quick, nervous smiles. “Did you bring… you know?” Alan pointed to the bag in Jordan’s hand.

“It’s in there. What did you tell your boss?”

“I said I had a doctor’s appointment. Your family?” It seems that Jordan, too, had used the excuse of a doctor’s appointment. They chuckled at the coincidence. “You still want to do this?”

“Of course. We’ve been planning it for weeks. But if anyone finds out…”

“They won’t find out.” Alan said. He eyed Jordan’s bag, thinking about what was inside. “I need to use the bathroom.”

Jordan stood by the bed and was startled a moment later by Alan’s cry of shock.  “What the…” Alan was at the bathroom door, staring inside, his mouth hanging open.

Jordan joined him and looked inside the bathroom. “Oh, no.”

It took them a second to fully realize the horror of their situation. “What do we do now?”

********************************************************************************************

The mirror had been forcefully ripped from above the cream, shell-shaped basin.  What remained was pocked drywall, an attempt at spackle, penciled mounting marks, and a hand-lettered sign reading Apologies, New Mirror To Be Installed Before Check-Out Time, the mgmt.

Jordan’s chest puffed out. “A hotel room without a bathroom mirror is downright defective! What would a man needing a shave do, or contact lenses, or …THIS!” He pointed to the bag.

Alan finally breathed. “Like I can go down and demand a refund. I forgot the alias I used!”

Jordan surrendered the bag to his anxious reach. Alan withdrew a showgirl wig, a ravishing red so complicated that replicating it would take a team of Bravo TV rejects. He lowered it onto his head as if to the manor born.

Jordan cooed. “You’re displaying some Miss Kitty Gunsmoke realness.” In

preparation, he removed his own ballcap. Crimped hair in shades of lavender cascaded down to graze his shoulders. Hence, his own subterfuge. He rummaged for the palette of artifice: eyeshadow, lip and cheek rouge, foundation, and pressed powder. “So no one suspects you’re running next week for Queen Mother?”

This was the annual gender-bending competition, always held the day after Mother’s Day. The winner rules for one year, a Key West ambassador of diversity and Max Factor.

Alan loosened his tie and unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a waist cincher. “Alan Woodswift, straight dad of three, county commissioner, VP at the most trusted bank in the Keys, they’d accuse me of terrorism before cross-dressing. All I had to do was submit a name on the application. Everyone’s speculating about this unknown dark horse, Miss A.T. Emm. This was my one chance to see how this whole look works before the big night.” He puckered his lips. “Just transform me. I’ll take your word on if I’m runway-ready.”

Jordan worked swiftly. Hair and cosmetic artistry was, after all, his vocation, one coveted by the doyennes of Key West society. Yet, oddly enough, he’d never painted a man since he, his partner, and their daughter had moved to the island. He was filling in a beauty mark and Alan was finessing a bra cutlet when they both froze at the timid knock at the door.

“Get it!” they hissed at one another.

Alan gestured at his barrel curls wig and Kabuki-like countenance, so Jordan recapped the eyelash glue as Alan hurriedly secreted himself in the closet. The clerk was sheepish.

“These were dropped in the elevator. Security camera caught it.” He extended a packet of loose press-on nails and, as he backed away, whispered, “Please wish Mr. Woodswift good luck. Dying to see A.T. Emm’s number. Everyone in town is rooting for him.”

Alan, still stowed in the closet, cleared his throat. When he finally spoke, his muffled voice was bemused. “Yes, I heard. No secrets on this island. But here’s the good news: I found a full-length mirror on the inside of this door. I already look like royalty.”

The End