Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Autumn 2017 Results




Murder Most Foul

Copyright © Heather MacKenzie 2017


At the time it crossed my mind that the only way out of my foul predicament was to commit murder. Sounds drastic I know. Especially for a vegetarian who doesn’t like to kill things – spiders, ants, people etc.

Well mostly vegetarian. For some reason I can never say no to a lamb roast down at the local RSL Club. Though I do have terrible dreams after I succumb. It’s always the same, a lamb dressed in a blue romper suit comes to dinner and asks “What’s this delicious food I’m eating?” and when everyone yells “Lamb Roast!!” the lamb looks horrified and explodes like a balloon and little bits of blue balloon and wool rain down on everyone seated at the table.

Perhaps I should have gone to see a Psychiatrist. Or do I mean Psychologist? But whether to talk about the exploding lamb or the murder? Besides whichever P it is they’re expensive and I don’t have much money. Although technically speaking is it a murder before its actually accomplished? You can’t be called a murderer before the fact. Only after. Before surely it’s just, well, a bad thought.

No, perhaps it should be called something more impressive. Bad thought sounds like something you might have had when you were seven years old about stealing lollies. Perhaps “wicked intention”. Now I just had to work out the rest of it. The How, What and When.

Probably you’d like to know the Who, as in the victim-to-be, as clearly I have set myself up as the Whodunnit and you might also be interested in the Why. The Who was one of my neighbours in the Housing Commission flats where I live. I didn’t have the money to move and really I like it here and that’s part of the Why. There are six floors altogether with three flats on each floor and the folk in the flats are lovely. Except my next door neighbour. The Who! I don’t mean Miss Peabody in 2A, I mean the neighbour on the other side, Mr Zuckerman in 2C. Though maybe I shouldn’t say his name. I should give him a codename. That’s it, a codename. I’ll only refer to him from now on as X.

Now to the How. This was to be the hardest bit. Though the What and the When and the Where presented their own set of problems too.

If I did it at home then I’d be bound to be a suspect. I’ve made dozens of complaints about X to the Police (….no, madam it doesn’t sound like a meth lab even if your neighbour does look like he could be a geriatric Drug Fiend). The Housing Commission (…yes, madam, even Drug Fiends have to live somewhere). No one was helpful but they all had my name and where I lived. So if the Where was in the block of flats I might be an instant suspect mightn’t I?

So I decided maybe it would be best if “it” happened away from where we all live here at number 25. If only X caught trains I could have sneaked up behind him on the platform and pushed him under one. Though that would be rather horrible for the train driver, wouldn’t it? I couldn’t do that.

Anyway X doesn’t catch trains. He always drives that infernal little white car of his that belches smoke and seems to be held together with bits of wire and black tape. He’s never learned to drive properly either, always revving the motor and bunny-hopping down the street. The car backfires so regularly that no one in the neighbourhood would know they were the victim of a drive by shooting until they noticed the blood pooling at their feet.

X was a real menace. He went out every day but we got no peace in our block of flats when he did because he left his radio blaring at full volume so that his dog, Mr Poodle, had company. This did not stop Mr Poodle from howling and moaning all the time X was away. The combination of moaning from both talk back radio and dog was beginning to drive me mad. Then there was the smell. That’s the last part of the Why.

Mr Poodle went regularly to the Poodle Pamper Parlour for a wash and trim but X himself was apparently averse to water taken any way other than internally mixed with hops judging by the number of beer bottles sneaked into my recycling bin. The way to his front door was past mine and when X passed by certain bodily odours seeped under the door and through the keyhole inserting a smell like old boiled cabbage which wafted all through my flat. I did not wish to have the smell of boiled cabbage inserted through the keyhole into my flat which, before X moved in, smelled only of lemon toilet freshener.

X had taken to backfiring like his car, expelling noxious cabbage fumes at paint cracking volume as he went up and down the corridor. Which brings me to the real problem. The sauerkraut. I’m all for the health benefits of vegetables being a (very nearly) vegetarian but every year X brought home dozens of cabbages to transform into jars and jars of sauerkraut. Sauerkraut!!

There’s no lift in the building and flats 2A, 2B and 2C are on the second floor. When X staggered up the stairs with a fresh load of cabbages he seemed to take perverse pleasure in bowling them along the corridor to his flat at the end making a dreadful noise. Poor old Miss Peabody was mowed down by a fast bowled cabbage last year when she stepped out of her front door. By way of apology X screamed “Watch out, don’t damage my cabbage” as Miss P lay in a flutter of skirts, beads and headscarves.

The smell of cabbage marinating in vats of vinegar for months has to be experienced to be believed though I must say the possums in the roof did move out suddenly after X moved in. He was always trying to press bottles of the stuff on us but wisely we all said no. Except for Miss P who one time mistakenly ate a whole jar thinking it was caramel sauce. Ended up in hospital for five days.

Then there’s our little communal garden. Just a small patch down the back where residents grow tomatoes etc. Miss P also grew a spindly bush of that mary-juana but no one complained as she’s a sweet soul much given to baking chocolate brownies which everyone in the block of flats really enjoys eating. But one horrendous day I came down to hang out my washing only to find every last tomato bush ripped out. Even the mary-juana lay in a wilting pile. In their place X had planted tiny cabbage seedlings. That was the end of it for me. X had to go. As the authorities wouldn’t listen I had to act.

X’s planned demise would have to be somewhere public where I could melt into the crowd afterwards. Though melting is not easy when you have to toddle around pushing a walking frame. Damned arthritic knees! A legacy from my younger days when the nuns at our school were very hot on both praying and netball.

I wasn’t even sure where he went every day when he drove off. I myself can no longer drive since they took my licence off me for accidentally mowing down Father O’Connor in the church parking lot. Such a fuss over nothing. It was just a little bump and he was hardly hurt at all and the plaster cast on his arm didn’t stop him from giving another of his deadly boring sermons the next Sunday.

The man must be at least 90 years old and refused to retire He often fell asleep mid-sermon along with half the congregation which just made the services that much longer. One particularly hot Sunday those of us still awake just got up, handed around the communion wine, crossed ourselves and left them to their slumbers. More than one devout churchgoer whispered in my ear after my little accident with the car that it was a pity I’d only half done the job. Or it could have been just one person as I sometimes get repeating echoes in my left hearing aid.

Anyway I am now reduced to public transport or the rather more expensive use of a taxi. Having made the decision to act I ordered a taxi for the very next day. When it arrived I got the lovely driver, such a nice shade of pink turban, to put my wheelie-walker in the boot and settled myself in the front seat.

I pretended to be searching for something in my bag until I saw X’s car pull out of the driveway. Then I said – and I must say I’ve always wanted to say this – “Follow that car!!!!” As though this was an everyday occurrence the driver merely murmured “Yes, madam” and pulled away from the kerb to follow X bunny-hopping down the street.

First we stopped at a row of shops down on the main street. X parked his car in the Disabled Only parking spot (typical of the man) and sprightly hopped out of the car. When a passing shopper stopped and stared pointedly first at him and then the sign he suddenly developed a dreadful limp which lasted only until the shopper continued on her way. The limp quickly discarded X marched full steam into the fruit shop.

The Taxi Driver had quietly entered into the spirit of things and parked so that we could keep X under observation. Or keeping ‘obo’ as they say on the police shows on TV.

We weren’t there long before X staggered out carrying a box piled with cabbages. X got into his car then backed out suddenly nearly running into a car being driven slowly through the carpark. His arm came out the window and his finger made a very rude gesture which I cannot possibly describe to you.

The Taxi Driver, who by now had introduced himself as Pav, smoothly engaged his gears and proceeded to follow X down the road. X drove on for another five minutes or so. Pav kept his eye on X and I kept an eye on the meter. Really this spy stuff was going to put a dent in my fortnightly pension payment.

Then X suddenly pulled across a line of traffic coming the other way and into the local park. Horns blared and insults were hurled in his direction. Did he know he was being followed and had taken evasive action? Probably not. This was just another example of the X School of Demented Driving.

Pav calmly drove to the next set of lights, made a smooth U-turn then turned into the same carpark. X had already parked across two parking spots and I could see him over by the duck pond with a large bag of bread. I thought maybe this was my opportunity. I could sneak up and push him in the pond but realized I should have got my wheelie-walker serviced first as it had developed an awful creaking noise that sounded like a coffin lid opening slowly in a bad vampire movie as I shoved it along.

Pav suggested that, as it was an appropriate time for his morning break, he would turn the meter off if I wanted to just sit and enjoy the view for a while. What a gentleman. So we sat in the front seat of the taxi, sharing Pav’s morning tea. When he offered me his plastic lunchbox I thought it might be some sort of exotic rice ball fragrant with Indian spices but it turned out to be a packet of Scotch Finger biscuits and some slices of apple. Disappointing but nourishing.

From where we were parked it was difficult to see exactly where X was going after the duck pond at which he had amassed quite a quacking following as he distributed bread all around. Pav and I moved to a seat under a nice shady tree. The complete gentleman he offered his arm so I did not need to use the coffin-screeching wheelie-walker which would have been, if you will pardon an old woman’s pun, a dead giveaway.

X continued to walk down the pathway. He stopped under a tree and gave a sort of low chucking sound as he pulled an apple out of his coat pocket. X bit a piece of apple off and a small possum paw reached down from the leaves and daintily took the offering. The paw reached down a few times until all that was left was the apple core which was just as delicately accepted by the tiny possum paw.

This was dreadful. Not at all what I had expected. It got worse. From his other pocket X pulled a large paper packet of something and walked on. He then began scattering seed and a flock of galahs began hoovering up his offering. X was sadly not quite the monster I had believed him to be. If I cured my sauerkraut problem I would be robbing these delightful creatures of their daily food. There was nothing for it. I turned to Pav and said sorrowfully “Take me home”.

And that’s where you will find me today. But this morning I am minding Mr Poodle so he doesn’t have to moan and I don’t have to listen to the bleating of talkback radio. I offered to mind the dog when X went on his daily trips and he surprised me by accepting with a shy smile. Also watching so many police dramas has paid off as I remembered the trick of putting a little Vicks under your nose when attending autopsies so the smell of sauerkraut is now not quite so noticeable and I haven’t had any sinus problems for weeks which was an unexpected bonus.

Miss P has a new crop of mary-juana growing, for medicinal reasons only you understand, and we’ve interplanted the cabbages with tomatoes. I’ve given X lessons in making nice fresh coleslaw and neighbours have contributed several bars of soap.

Old Father O’Connor retired last month and a lovely new priest called Ooblewonka, or something like that, has joined us and started up a wonderful choir accompanied by a guitar where we clap, sing hymns from all around the world and eat the most interesting food afterwards. And no one falls asleep in the services anymore! So things are looking up at number 25 and the money I saved on going to a psychiatrist I can now spend on little outings with Pav driving me to the shopping centre or the movies.

Just as long as I stay away from the lamb roasts at the RSL club everything is just fine now.