Detective Inspector Warren was frustrated at every turn in the investigation into the murder of the Joan Bookish, the chief librarian at the town’s public library in Quigsby. He and Detective Sargent Charles Manners had followed every lead, but to no avail. Ms. Bookish’ body had been discovered in book return depository, and there wasn’t any forensic evidence found that would help solve the case.
The only clue was a small patch of ground tinged with scarlet dust on the outside of the depository. Not knowing the source of the dust was a major impediment to finding the killer. Also, the victim had caused so many people trouble that the list of suspects included nearly all of the adult residents of Quigsby, but there were three main suspects. All DI Warren needed was to decipher which of them had access to dust found at the scene of the crime.
The first suspect was Mr. Kent, the local gardener, an old flame whom Ms, Bookish had publicly dumped at a community tea. He was so embarrassed, and as he left the event he had been heard to yell at her, “You will be sorry, my dear, that you ever knew me.” A threat of that magnitude was taken very seriously by the local constabulary, and Mr. Kent had been interviewed extensively, with his solicitor present. But his alibi for the night in question was solid. He had been at the pub drinking his sorrows away, and he had been seen by many people.
The second suspect was Ms. Lilly Gorner, the former junior high English teacher, whose tendency to not return Jane Austen’s books had led Ms. Bookish to file a complain of thievery, which costs Ms. Gorner her job. When she was escorted out of the school building, she screamed, “I could kill her for this!”
So, she was brought into the police station to be questioned. She admitted that she was not sad that Ms. Bookish was dead, but that she had not killed her, as much as she hated her. And her alibi that she was at the historical society in Netherfield Park conducting research on Jane Austen was verified by three archivists at the Netherfield Park Library. So, they had to let her go.
The last suspect was Dr. Leonard Sweeten, the local dentist, an orchid enthusiast, who lost to Ms. Bookish each year for the top award at the local orchid show. Last year, Dr. Sweeten’s entry had been deemed the one to beat, but on the night before the competition, his prize orchid was somehow destroyed in a locked greenhouse. Ms. Bookish won the award again.
As she was receiving the coveted Blue Orchid Award, she smirked at him, and he knew at that moment that she had somehow got into the greenhouse and destroyed his prize orchid. He screamed at her, “Enjoy your victory today. It will be your last!” Naturally, he was hauled in for questioning, but he swore that he was at a local exhibition on new strains of orchids in the next village, and there were many people who attested to his presence, so the police had to release him, as well.
DI Warren was sure that one of the three suspects was the killer, but try as they might, neither he nor DS Manners could not determine which person was guilty of the crime. What they needed was to break one of the alibis and then connect that person to the scarlet dust found at the scene, or vice verse. It was pure serendipity that finally broke the case!
DI Warren took a day off to visit his favorite seaside resort, hoping that a little rest would help settle his mind. He went to the local library for a book to read. As he sat by the ocean reading the book, he became aware of a patch of sand tinged with scarlet dust at his feet. The book cover was so old that it was disintegrating as he handled it, leaving a fine patch of sand tinged with scarlet dust. He looked in the back of the book at the list of past readers, and, all of a sudden, he knew who the killer was. But how to get past that blasted alibi?
After reinterviewing one of the persons who had given the suspect an alibi, he discovered that there was a period of time when the suspect was absent, obstensibly to go to the restroom, and DI Warren was able to show that the suspect had had plenty of time to leave and kill Ms. Bookish, dispose of her body, and return, without anyone being the wiser.
He called DS Manners to get a warrant for the arrest of Dr. Sweeten, as the book that DI Warren had been reading was an old book on the history of unusual plants in England, the same book that Dr. Sweeten had checked out during the week when Dr. Bookish died. Dr. Sweeten did not know notice the scarlet dust that was on his clothes and shoes, and which were left near the return book depository as he disposed of the body of his victim.
My first try at a murder mystery for the August Writing Prompts: tinged with scarlet dust.