Authors: Judy Alter
Tags: #Mystery & Crime
No Neighborhood for Old Women
A Kelly O’Connell Mystery
No Neighborhood for Old Women
Copyright © 2012, Judy Alter
Digital ISBN: 9781622370016
Editor, Ayla O’Donovan
Cover Art Design by KJ Jacobs
Electronic release, April 2012
Trade Paperback release, April 2012
Turquoise Morning, LLC
P.O. Box 43958
Louisville, KY 40253-0958
Warning: All rights reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work, in whole or part, in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, is illegal and forbidden, without the written permission of the publisher, Turquoise Morning Press.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, settings, names, and occurrences are a product of the author’s imagination and bear no resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, places or settings, and/or occurrences. Any incidences of resemblance are purely coincidental.
This edition is published by agreement with Turquoise Morning Press, a division of Turquoise Morning, LLC.
Thanks to Peter at the Old Neighborhood Grill and Caryl at Old Home Supply for their enthusiastic support of this series, and to the staff at Turquoise Morning Press—KJ Jacobs, Ayla O’Donovan, and Wendy Williams—for their patient and careful guidance. I am most grateful. A laughing thank-you to Marcia Daudistel for suggesting the title, and, as always, deep thanks to Fred Erisman for reading and making the perfect suggestions.
No Neighborhood for Old Women
Claire Guthrie shoots and wounds her husband the same night that Florence Dodson, Kelly O’Connell’s former neighbor, supposedly falls down her back steps, hits her head, and dies, Kelly knows it’s murder, but she has a hard time convincing Mike Shandy. She also has a hard time explaining why she gave Claire refuge in her guest apartment. Mike is adamant that she stay out of police matters. But then, with another murder, it’s clear someone is targeting elderly women in Fairmount, and panic invades the neighborhood.
Jim Guthrie dies in an automobile accident—or was it an accident? Kelly’s real estate business plunges. Who buys a house in a neighborhood with a serial killer? And in the midst of it all, Kelly’s mom decides to move to Fort Worth from Chicago.
Will Kelly solve her differences with Mike? Will Claire be convicted of murder? Will Kelly’s mom be safe and yet not dependent on her? And most important, will Kelly be able to identify the serial killer and restore peace to her Fairmount neighborhood.
No Neighborhood for Old Women holds some real surprises.
Florence Dodson was murdered the same night Claire Guthrie shot her husband. For me, the story began with Claire, but Mrs. Dodson soon got most of my attention. After all, Claire was alive, and knowing her, I was sure she’d sail out of her trouble. Florence Dodson was quite dead and nothing could change that.
I answered the doorbell a little after 8:30 that late June night to find Claire standing there holding a gun. She didn’t have it pointed at me, which was a relief. No, Claire held the gun limply at her side. I only saw it because the light from the front porch glinted off it.
“Claire?” Tentative, amazed, uncertain? All of the above.
She didn’t answer, didn’t move. She seemed to be in a trance.
“Claire?” I repeated.
She stared at me, and yet I felt invisible. “I just shot Jim,” she said.
“Shot him? Is he dead?” For a moment I was paralyzed. I should do something, anything, but what? Call 911? Rush to Jim’s aid? The irreverent thought flitted through my mind that nobody deserved shooting more than Jim Guthrie, to whom I’d taken an instant dislike on our first meeting. I’m sure it was mutual.
“Claire!” I spoke sharply. “Answer me. Does he need help?” Please, God, let her have shot him in the foot or something.
She just stared at me. Slowly she said, “No. Someone told me I should shoot his sorry ass. And that’s what I did. I shot him in the butt.”
I almost put a hand over my mouth to keep from hooting in laughter fueled by relief. “So he’s okay?”
She shrugged. “I called 911 before I left. Can I come in?”
“Of course,” I said, stepping back. I’d been so flabbergasted by her story, that I left her standing outside, still holding that blasted gun.
“What should I do with the gun?” she asked, as dependent as a child. As always, Claire Guthrie was perfectly groomed, in beige linen pants and a large pink linen shirt worn open over a white cami. Her pink sandals gave her clothes the finished touch of a completed outfit. I wore stretch cotton pants that were beyond stretched and a T-shirt and was barefoot. Therein you have the difference between me and Claire.
Claire is tall, thin, and always dressed in an “outfit,” her thick blonde hair loose in an incredibly flattering cut, her make-up perfect. I on the other hand tend toward tall, without the thin applying quite so much, though I do watch my weight. My brown hair is curly, and I wear it short or it would look like a bush on my head. At thirty-seven, I swear I already see age spots on my skin, along with a sprinkling of freckles on my nose. And while Claire is graceful and always poised, I tend to stumble through life, bumping into chairs that I know perfectly well are there. Mom once said she wished I took ballet lessons because it might have made me graceful.
Gee, thanks, Mom.
I’d seen enough TV shows to know what to do with the gun. “Stay right there. Don’t move.” I left her still holding the gun at her side and bolted for the kitchen, where I grabbed a ball-point pen and a baggie. When I returned, she still held the gun, so I didn’t need the pen to pick it up—didn’t I see them do that on
Law and Order?
I opened the baggie and said, “Drop it in here.” She did, I sealed the baggie, and, for some idiotic reason now beyond me, wrapped it in a kitchen towel. Then I put it on a high shelf in the kitchen, mindful of my girls, even though they were sound asleep.
“Claire, sit down. What can I get you? Coffee? Water? Wine?”
Her eyes were still blank, without emotion. “White wine would be lovely,” she said.
Knowing that the police would be here sooner rather than later, I asked, “Claire, how much have you had to drink tonight?”
She shook her head. “Nothing. But I’d like a glass now.”
What could it hurt?
I fetched a glass of pinot grigio and came back—with two glasses, one for her and one for me. I didn’t know about her, but I needed a little soothing.
I’d met Claire Guthrie almost a year earlier when I’d sold her a house on Sixth Street in Fort Worth’s Fairmount neighborhood. My daughters and I lived in that house at the time, but I had just bought a wonderful Craftsman home a few blocks over. My ex-husband, Tim, did the Sixth Street house as a realtor’s showcase, but I was never comfortable in it. With its spacious rooms and over-the-top entertaining kitchen, it was a cinch to sell quickly. And it did.
Claire was several steps above me in social class and wealth—or at least so I thought—but we became friends, sharing lunches and even an occasional dinner when her husband was tied up with business. We talked about our girls—hers were almost grown and mine were still in pre-and grade-school. But I didn’t know her well.
I’m Kelly O’Connell of O’Connell and Spencer Realtors in the Fairmount neighborhood of Fort Worth. I am the O’Connell part and my ex-husband, Tim Spencer, was the Spencer part. Though he’d been gone for three years and is now dead, I didn’t change the name. O’Connell Realtors sounded ordinary to me. I liked having the business to myself—well, most of the time.
Fairmount is an inner-city neighborhood of homes mostly built in the in the early twentieth century, lots of bungalows but also some spacious two-story homes and some architectural gems, especially original Craftsman houses. My own house is one of those gems, a bungalow built around 1916. The original owners let me buy their furniture, huge overstuffed leather chairs with broad cherry arm rests, a matching couch and ottoman, cherry end tables and a coffee table almost Spartan in its clean, spare lines.
Claire sank into one of the overstuffed leather chairs, staring at her hands, her expression beyond reading.
I perched in the other chair, close enough to hers to encourage comfortable conversation.
“Why did you shoot Jim?” I asked, trying to keep my tone conversational.
“He told me he is leaving me for his latest mistress. She’s the last in a long line of sluts I’ve put up with.”
“Was that enough reason to shoot him in…ah, in the derriere?” I asked. It struck me as a pretty damn good reason, but I didn’t feel it appropriate to say that.
“I probably wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t detailed, carefully and precisely, everything that was wrong with me, from the bedroom to the kitchen to the schoolroom. To hear him talk, I should be locked up in that place in Wichita Falls for people who can’t cope with reality.”
I watched her. She twisted the glass in her hands but never took a sip. And her face still had no expression—not triumph, not revenge, not regret. I decided, based on what knowledge I don’t know, that she was in shock.
“Claire, I have to call the police Do you mind if I call Mike? You’ve met him, haven’t you?” Mike Shandy is the patrol officer assigned to the Fairmount addition. I’d known him for a couple of years. I’d run into him at the Old Neighborhood Grill at supper or at a neighborhood association meeting, but in the past year Mike morphed from patrol officer to protector and finally to companion. At this point, neither of us wanted to talk about how deep the connection went, but I knew the attraction was there. And besides, he was someone I could count on.
“Sure, Kelly, call Mike.” She said it without emotion, as though the idea of police interrogation and the inevitable night in the jail cell didn’t bother her.
I punched the button on my cell for his phone and in seconds I heard, “Shandy.”
“Mike, I need you over here,” I said.
I could hear an exasperated sigh from the usually-patient Officer Shandy. “Kelly, it’s got to wait. I’ve already had one fatal accident, and now I have a shooting victim, and I’m dealing with the EMT folks, and….What the hell happened on your old street anyway?”
That startled me, so I asked, “What fatal accident?”
“That old lady who always thought your girls were picking her flowers. Mrs. Dodson, down the street from where you used to live.”
“Mrs. Dodson is dead?” Florence Dodson was my nemesis in several ways, always complaining about something, calling my mother in Chicago if she thought things were not quite right at my house, which was often. One of the less important reasons I was glad to leave Sixth Street was to get away from her. “She can’t be,” I said. No matter how much she bothered me, I wouldn’t have wanted any trouble to come to her. She was just a harmless old lady. Okay, an annoying harmless old lady.
“Looks like she fell down her back stairs and hit her head. Anyway, she’s dead. Listen, I can’t talk. I’ve got to get Jim Guthrie—you know, your old house—into the ambulance and settled.”
“His wife shot him. She’s sitting in my living room.”
“Whaaaat? Oh, yeah, you’re friends. Kelly, can you keep her from going anywhere? I’ll be there right away.”
“Mike, she’s not going anywhere. Don’t break the speed limit.” I didn’t even hear an appreciative chuckle. So much for my sense of humor.
Claire perked up a bit. “Did I hear you say Florence Dodson is dead?”
I nodded. “Apparently fell down her back stairs and hit her head.”
Claire turned almost vehement. “Nasty old lady. Called me poor white trash. Said I didn’t deserve to live in a neighborhood as nice as this.” I swear her eyes flashed with life for the first time since she’d rung the doorbell.
But her passivity returned when Mike arrived. He was there within three minutes, bursting into the living room, gun not drawn but at the ready.
“Put the gun away,” I murmured, as he looked at Claire.
He took his hand off it and then approached Claire.
Claire Guthrie looked blankly at him and took her first sip of wine. I finished my glass and headed for the kitchen for more. Without asking, I brought Mike a cup of black coffee. He accepted it without looking at me, his attention fixed on Claire.
“Mrs. Guthrie, how are you?”
“I shot Jim,” she said with a slight smile, “in the ass, just like my friend told me to.”
She just shook her head.
Oh, Lord, I hope he doesn’t think it was me.
Mike kept talking to her, and she told him that she was fine, knew what she’d done, knew she’d have to go to jail. She told him why she’d done it, and he just stared.
“Can you give me the gun?” His hand went to his own gun again, just in case.
Claire nodded at me, and I said, “I have it.” When I retrieved it from the kitchen, Mike looked at the dish towel, then at me, but didn’t say a thing.
“Mrs. Guthrie, I’m going to have to take you downtown,” he said. “Do you want to call your lawyer?”
She looked at me, and I nodded, so she said, “Yes. Kelly, will you call him for me?”
I looked heavenward. Did she think I was psychic and knew who he was? “Yes, if you’ll tell me who it is.”
“Mitchell, Angus Mitchell,” she said.
“I’ll ask him to meet you at the jail.” That word didn’t seem to faze her.
Mike got out his handcuffs, but I reached to stop his arm. “I don’t think you have to do that,” I said.
“Kelly, I have to. If I don’t cuff her, and something happens, I’ll be in bigger trouble than you can imagine. I’ll cuff her hands in front, not in back.” And that’s what he did. And then helped Claire down the walk to his patrol car.
As I turned to go to the phone, I saw Maggie and Em peeking around the doorway, like stair steps, Maggie’s taller head over Em’s little one. Maggie is eight, and Em is five. They are the lights of my life, and I would do anything to protect them. Maggie is an effervescent child, ebullient when she’s happy and dramatic when she’s not. Em is my will-o’-the-wisp, sometimes amazing me with the solemn pronouncements she makes.
“What happened to Mrs. Guthrie?” Maggie asked, echoed by Em’s “What happened?” I didn’t want to explain about Claire shooting her husband. My idea of protecting my children was sometimes denial of reality.
“Oh,” I said, “Mrs. Guthrie went to help Mike with something.”
“In handcuffs?” Maggie gave me a look that asked how dumb I thought she was, and I knew that I shouldn’t try to fool the girls.
“Okay.” Spreading my hands in a placating gesture, I said, “There was some trouble at the Guthrie’s’ tonight….”
“At our house?” Em demanded.
“It’s not our house any more, Em. We sold it to the Guthries.”
“I don’t care,” she said in a stubborn voice, “it’s still our house.
“Em,” Maggie ordered, “let Mom tell us what happened.”