2019 Third Place Winner, “Words on Paper” Contest

Clueless
By Sue Stewart Ade

Penelope Peacock strutted up the sidewalk of the Pinehurst Public Library. Her pink polka-dot dress swished back and forth and her high heels tap, tap, tapped on the concrete. She adjusted her hornrimmed glasses and started to enter the security code for the front door. The lock was unarmed.

Her cherry red lips puckered. She checked her wristwatch. Eight-thirty a.m. As head librarian, she wanted to be the first to arrive for the nine o’clock meeting.

She opened the door and flounced in. “Yoo-hoo.”

No one answered. She switched on the lights and proceeded to the conference room where the library board and the city council would meet to decide the fate of the library. The long table in the middle of the room was empty. Stacked at the head of the table were file folders with statistics she’d accumulated to convince the council to appropriate the money to repair the library roof.

Some members thought the library was an antiquated institution, one the city no longer needed. They even suggested closing it, sending the books to the prison, and using the money for a dog park.

A dog park! Penelope shuddered. Dogs were good companions. But so were books—and they didn’t piddle on you.

She hurried to the drop box to check in the overnight returns. Two of the books were by Stephen King, the master of the macabre, but his writing was too graphic. She liked those sweet cozy mysteries by Carol Higgins Clark, daughter of Mary Higgins Clark, the queen of suspense.

Cradling Stephen’s thick books, It and The Stand, she headed for the fiction section and turned at the bookcase labeled ‘J,K,L.’ As she started down the aisle, her pointed-toe shoe hit something. She tripped. The books flew into the air and thudded to the floor next to a dead body.

At least the gray face and staring eyes made him appear to be dead. His suit was rumpled and his bowler hat had tumbled off, revealing shocks of red hair.

Penelope recognized Mr. Heinz, the banker. Because of his name and hair, she called him Colonel Ketchup, not to his face, of course.

Apart from wakes, Penelope had only once seen a dead body. To find one in the aisle of her library was horrible. Terrible. But, oh so exciting.

As a young girl, she’d devoured Nancy Drew mysteries. Now she could do her own sleuthing to see what the police might uncover.

She should call the police—and she would. First, she reached into the side pocket of her polka-dot dress and pulled out a pair of white gloves that she used to make sure no dust gathered on her bookcases. Of course, Stephen’s books moved in and out too fast for his shelves to be dusty. She slipped on the gloves, bent down, and retrieved the cell phone lying a few inches in front of Colonel Ketchup’s hat. Her heart raced as the phone lit up. It wasn’t locked. She checked the call history. Nothing today and yesterday’s calls seemed routine—his wife, the bank, the library, plus several calls to ‘S.’

Penelope pursed her lips. She had her own name for that hussy, Miss Scarlet. Everyone in town, except maybe his wife, knew Mr. Heinz was carrying on with his new teller. Henrietta Heinz was a pleasant woman with plump rosy cheeks as red as apples. As shiny as she was on the outside, she might be a little too soft on the inside. Maybe the killer had done Henrietta a favor.

Of course, the police needed to know Ketchup had been killed. Penelope decided to help them along. She pressed delete and erased the business calls, leaving only the ones from his wife and Miss Scarlet. Now there would be evidence of the love triangle.
The police, however, might suspect the death was from a heart attack. Penelope knew differently. Mr. Heinz had no heart, but he did have a small pinprick on the side of his neck. A poison dart. Agatha Christie often used poison in her plots.

To make the puncture wound more visible, Penelope pushed down the collar of Colonel Ketchup’s white shirt.

If the city council had approved the security camera Penelope requested, the murder would have been recorded. But the majority of council members couldn’t believe anyone would actually steal books from the library.

Penelope spent the next five minutes going through Colonel Ketchup’s pockets and wallet. Then she dialed 911.

Within minutes the sirens were screeching toward the library. The first to arrive was Chief Bradley, a tall, thin man in a starched, blue police uniform that made him look stiff as a board. Penelope secretly called him Milton. Then the paramedics and firefighters rushed in, followed by Mrs. Black. She took one look at Colonel Ketchup, put her hand on her forehead, and fainted.

Penelope couldn’t tell if Betty Black’s reaction was genuine or feigned, since she had been the leading lady in many of the town’s theater productions, including Arsenic and Old Lace. Also Mrs. Black rarely showed her true colors.

Penelope had hired Black as a library assistant and had befriended her until Black applied for the job of head librarian. Then Penelope dubbed the turncoat Mrs. White.

Mrs. White was also very irresponsible. Several weeks ago she lost her keys to the library. Penelope refused to issue new ones. To Mrs. White’s credit, she solved the problem by replacing the lock on the front door with the up-to-date key pad and paid for it herself.

Now members of the city council and library board began arriving. Captain Bradley ordered the crime scene taped off and the meeting postponed until the following Saturday.

Professor Plumtree, wringing his hands, hurried over to Penelope. “This death is horrible, but I can’t attend next week’s meeting. Mrs. Plumtree and I will be on a cruise for our anniversary.”

Penelope put her hand over her chest. Without the professor, the vote for the roof would fail. “You must cancel. If you don’t, the library will be history.”

“If I do cancel, I’ll be history.”

The following Saturday Penelope strutted up the sidewalk to the library, her dress swishing, her heels tapping. She started to punch in the security code. The lock was again unarmed.

“Yoo-hoo!” she called.

This time she was answered by Mrs. White who had beat her to the conference room.

At nine o’clock, all of the members were seated around the table. Penelope was delighted that Colonel Ketchup’s seat was filled by his wife, Henrietta, a voracious reader who secretly checked out stacks of steamy romances. She would definitely vote in favor of the roof.

The door to the conference room flew open. Captain Bradley marched in. “I’m here to gather more information about Mr. Heinz’s murder.”

Penelope wished Miss Scarlet was in the room, but she wasn’t, so Penelope rose and slinked over to Milton. In a loud whisper, she announced, “No need. I have already solved the murder. It was Miss Scarlet in the library with a poison dart.”

“Wrong.” Mrs. White popped up from her chair.

“The murder was in the library with a poison dart by Penelope Peacock.”

Penelope pointed to Mrs. White. “Preposterous. What evidence do you have?”

“See for yourself.” Mrs. White tapped the remote and turned on the wall-mounted TV.

“The keypad I installed has a small security camera that records the people entering and leaving the library.” On the TV appeared a video of Mr. Heinz entering the library late Friday. Half an hour later, Penelope was leaving the library. No one entered or left until the following morning when Penelope returned.

Mrs. Heinz came to Penelope’s defense. “Someone could have entered through the back door.”

Mrs. White shook her head. “I also lost my key to the back door. It’s locked and unlocked from inside with a deadbolt.”

Penelope fumed. “What motive would I have?”

“You were furious when Mr. Heinz wanted to give the money to the dog park and donate the books to the prison.”

“Yes, he’s an idiot. But how would his death benefit me?”

“With Mrs. Heinz replacing him, the vote to repair the library roof would pass.”

“True, but that doesn’t prove I killed him.”

“I checked the computer records for the Saturday morning returns. You were the person who checked out and returned the two Stephen King books.”

Everyone in the room gasped. Mrs. White pointed her finger at Penelope. “You don’t read Stephen King books. You think they’re too graphic. You just needed them for an excuse to go down that aisle and discover Mr. Heinz’s body.”

“Correct.” Chief Bradley walked over to Penelope and snapped the handcuffs on her wrists.

“I’ll need to review the evidence, but it looks like you’ll be going to prison for a long time.”

Penelope held her head erect. She had one consolation. If the library did close, her books would be sent to prison, right along with her.

About the Author

Sue Stewart Ade has published two novels, Friends Forever, a Nancy Pearl Finalist, and Friends Together. “Pumpkin Blossoms,” her novella, is included in the anthology Food and Romance Go Together, Vol. 1.

Sue has received writing awards from Indiana University, Midwest Writers Association, Illinois Arts Council, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. Her current novel, Displaced, is historical fiction based on the life of Irena McCray. The book is about a Lithuanian family who lives in Germany during WWII. After the war, the United Nations labels the family as displaced people and places them in German concentration camps where they live for six years. In January 2020, Displaced won first place in the Writer Advice “Scintillating Starts” contest.

Sue enjoys friends, reading anything, even cereal boxes, and traveling, particularly in the winter to Gulf Shores, Alabama. She is a former English teacher. While living in Indiana, she supervised student teachers for Franklin College.

Sue presently resides with her husband Larry at Oak Terrace Resort in Pana, Illinois. You can follow Sue on her webpage at www.sueade.net.