Miranda Solves the Case
Mary Brunini McArdle
Cece finished with the blue and silver wrapping paper and topped the package off with a silver bow and bells. I'd better get dressed, she thought. It'll take twenty minutes to get to the restaurant.
"How do I look, Miranda?" she asked. The black, long-haired cat on Cece's bed curled into a ball and tucked her nose under her front paw.
"Okay, I know I buy too much pink, but I promise not to get tired of it. Even if Marcia's wedding does have a pink theme. I'm off to the bridal shower and luncheon."
Cece started her Honda Civic, the shower gift in the trunk. Marcia's sister Ellen would be matron-of-honor, her husband Andy best man; the rest of the wedding party (including Cece) were single. Slender with fair skin, blue eyes, and black hair, Cece was partial to pastels. She was wearing a pink silk suit with embroidered cuffs and tiny pearl earrings. Looking her best would help her through the parties and wedding; she had once been engaged to Marcia's groom. The parting had not been amicable. At least he won't be at the showers, Cece thought, but at the rehearsal dinner and wedding -- there's no way to avoid him.
Arriving at the restaurant, she greeted the other guests and found her place card. She was seated next to Jeanine, another bridesmaid. Jeanine was a sweet girl, short and plump with blonde hair. "Hi, Cece. Marcia isn't here yet."
"No, but here comes her mother. I guess they weren't riding together."
"Jeanine, maybe I shouldn't have worn this pink suit. Marcia might be wearing pink since it's her wedding color."
"Just wear something else for the rehearsal dinner. Ellen told me Marcia has a lime green linen sheath for today."
The young women, along with assorted mothers and aunts, began to fidget as thirty minutes passed and Marcia's place was still empty.
Ellen leaned over and whispered to her mother, "Mom, maybe you should call her."
Mrs. Gillespie nodded and left the room. She returned shaking her head. "No answer at the house or on her cell phone."
"Was James driving her?"
"I don't think so -- she said she'd be right along behind me -- do you know his cell number, Ellen?"
"Uh-huh. I'll call him."
"No luck there?" Mrs. Gillespie asked, a few minutes later.
"No answer," Ellen replied. "He's not at work either."
"It's been forty-five minutes. Ellen, do you think you could drive back to the house?"
"I'm glad the wedding's not too large," Mrs. Gillespie remarked. "The restaurant will be cooperative about the delay, since their staff is catering the reception and taking care of the wedding cakes."
Mrs. Gillespie's cell rang, startling the guests out of their nervous chatter.
"Hello? Ellen? Oh! Oh, my God!" Mrs. Gillespie's hand began to shake; the cell phone clattered to the floor.
She took a deep breath. "Cece, could you do me a favor?"
"Certainly, Mrs. Gillespie."
"Tell everyone an emergency's come up. The shower's cancelled. I've got to go."
Mrs. Gillespie arrived at home to find a white-faced and shaken Ellen. Police were everywhere; the front door was wide open.
"Don't go back there, Mother, you don't want to see --"
"The victim's sister's already identified the body, ma'am. Why don't you sit down here in the living room? Someone will get you a glass of water."
"Do what the officer says, Mother. I'm going to call Andy. Maybe he knows where James is."
"All right, Ellen," Mrs. Gillespie said weakly.
Jeanine phoned Cece an hour later. "Cece, Marcia was stabbed to death. The police are over there. They're searching the house inch by inch."
"But who -- who would kill Marcia?"
"They don't know. Ellen got in touch with Andy -- he was at work but James wasn't. He showed up at the house. They're both with Ellen and Mrs. Gillespie now."
Cece, like the other guests, had gone on home. She hung up and sat down on her bed. The pale yellow eyelet dress she had been planning to wear to the rehearsal dinner lay there waiting for her to shorten the hem; the garment would soon be covered with black fur. Miranda was ensconced on the skirt.
"Miranda, no. Not on that dress. Oh, what difference does it make! There won't be any rehearsal dinner."
Don't cry, Cece.
"I can't help it, Miranda. Marcia's dead. Although--we never were that close -- I thought she was really stupid to be going out with James."
Then why are you crying?
"The shock, I suppose. I never knew anyone who was murdered. Actually, to tell the truth, I think her mother wanted her to ask me to be a bridesmaid because it would be the gracious thing to do since I was once engaged to the groom. But, who in the world could have done this?
You'll find out.
"What do you mean?"
Miranda blinked complacently. "O brave new world, that has such people in't!"
"Miranda, don't do that! You know how it gets on my nerves, that quoting."
You're the one that named me...
"Well, does Shakespeare have anything to do with Marcia's murder?"
"Then why the quote?"
Just felt like it. I am beautiful, like the original Miranda.
"Uh, huh, and you sure do tell me about it."
"Mrs. Gillespie, we're going to need you to go over the contents of the house and make sure nothing's missing. We've not found the murder weapon -- all that's turned up so far is a single earring. It was on the bedroom floor. Was it Marcia's?"
Mrs. Gillespie fingered the glittering crimson and royal blue earring in the silver setting. "I don't recognize it -- do you, Ellen?"
"No. And she certainly wouldn't be wearing earrings like that with a lime green dress."
Mrs. Gillespie shuddered. The dress was stained with blood the color of the crimson stones in the earring.
The detective questioning Mrs. Gillespie put the earring in a plastic bag. "We'll be in touch."
A knock sounded on Cece's door. When she opened it, two solemn policemen were standing there.
"Miss Cecelia Hardin?"
"We'd like to ask you some questions."
"Come in, please."
"Miss Hardin, could you tell us about your relationship with a James Perry?"
Cece gasped. "James? Marcia's fiancée? We had a relationship in the past, but it's long over."
"Well, yes. We were briefly engaged."
"Were there bad feelings about it -- on your part?"
"I-I'm not sure how to answer that. I suppose so -- I don't think too highly of James now, but I don't say anything because of Marcia."
"Could you explain that?"
"There's not much to explain. He was deceitful and I broke off the engagement. That's all there was to it."
"So there is no current relationship with him?"
"Of course not."
Cece felt a twinge of fear when the policemen left. Good Lord, am I a suspect? she wondered.
Unknown to Cece, the police were also interested in James. They interviewed him the same day. Having left work, he had no alibi.
"What did I do with my Target receipt?" Cece said. Miranda offered no input. "I'd better go through my purse; I can't remember the amount."
Cece emptied the contents of her purse on the bed. "What's this?" she murmured, picking up an earring with red and blue stones. "It's not mine. How'd it get in my purse?"
She didn't know there was a mate to the earring in the hands of the police which by the next day would increase their suspicion of her. They came back that evening and inquired about the piece of jewelry. Cece gave it to them, stammering that she didn't know how it had gotten in her purse.
When the officers left, a frantic Cece called Jeanine. "The police came here for an earring, but it isn't mine, Jeanine. I found it in my purse after the cancelled shower."
"Ellen said they found an odd earring near the body. She wasn't supposed to tell me, but --"
"My God, Jeanine! I don't know how that thing got in my purse! I told them that."
"Did you change purses before the shower?"
"Yes, I did. And now I remember I got up from the table to go to the restroom and left my purse on my chair. Could someone --"
"I'll try to think back. Waiters came in and out with water and tea. Don't worry about the earring too much, Cece. Ellen made it clear to the police that you would never wear those colors."
"I had to tell them about the fight, Jeanine. I couldn't hold it back," Ellen said tearfully.
"Marcia and James had a screaming knockdown two nights ago while Mother was out."
"Don't fret about it, Ellen. You had to tell the truth."
Cece petted Miranda, who purred appreciatively. "I wish I could figure this out, Miranda."
Make a list.
"Huh? Oh, a list of suspects! Well, I didn't do it. But James is a jerk and a liar. Jeanine is a sweetheart; so is Andy. Ellen would inherit -- but surely she wouldn't -- and her mother didn't like James very much."
No. Not even close.
"Sergeant Collier? You asked me to call if I discovered anything missing. Well, I did."
"And what was that, Mrs. Gillespie?"
"One of the wedding gifts. We have a display table. There was a sterling silver cake knife I hadn't had time to put in the right place. It was on the edge of the table, still in its open box."
"Who was it from?"
"A Mr. and Mrs. Franelli. The Franellis own a jewelry store downtown. A prominent family here."
"I've heard of them. And that's all? Nothing else?"
"A cake knife? Could it be the murder weapon?"
Jeanine and Ellen were on the phone again.
"It's possible, I guess. Oh, Jeanine, I don't know if Mother is ever going to get over this."
"None of us are."
"Ellen talks an awful lot, doesn't she?" Cece commented. "I'm sure she was told not to. But at least this way, I know something, thanks to you, Jeanine. So a cake knife is missing?"
"A wedding present. Guess I shouldn't be running my mouth either. Ellen seems to need to babble on. Nerves, you know?"
"Do I! What do you think, Miranda?"
The black cat declined to answer.
Soon after Jeanine called, Cece's phone rang again. "Cece? It's me, James."
"Oh." Cece frowned. "James, why would you be calling me?"
"Just wanted to talk. Marcia and I had a fight and Ellen told the cops about it."
"James -- your relationship with Marcia has nothing to do with me."
"I'm scared, Cece. I left work to take a ride and I don't have an alibi."
"But, James, how can I help with that? I was at the shower."
"I thought maybe you could say you saw me outside the building."
"That's plain ridiculous. I'm not going to lie for you. Do you understand? And don't call me back."
Mother Goose, Mother Goose.
"Miranda? What's this nonsense? That was James wanting me to cover for him. Do you think he did it?"
Mother Goose, Mother Goose. Or Ma'am Goose, if you prefer.
"Is this a clue?"
Who were the men in the tub with the maids?
"I have no idea."
Yes, you do, Cece . "Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub --"
"Three men -- the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker! All people who would have something to do with a wedding or a reception!"
Again the phone rang. "Cece, it's Jeanine. I remember a couple of people who were around the table while you were gone. The restaurant owner welcomed us; then his baker came out and said he hoped we would enjoy the dessert. And guess what! He was also responsible for the wedding cakes!"
"Bingo! Jeanine, would you ride downtown with me? I want to pay a visit to the police. They might want to talk to you too."
You see, Cece? Good girl. Miranda purred loudly.
"Come over for coffee," Cece suggested the next afternoon. "We hit pay dirt."
"Smells good," Jeanine said as she entered Cece's front door.
"Fresh brewed. Sit down and I'll bring you some."
"Do you think we would have gotten anywhere with the police if they hadn't already collected DNA samples?"
"It sure helped," Cece replied. "Because they had some they couldn't identify. If we hadn't told them where to look, they may not have made a match."
"I can't believe Marcia and the cake man were having an affair. Why didn't she just call off the wedding, Cece?"
"I guess because she wanted to have her 'cake and eat it too.'"
"Oh, Cece. For heavens sake!"
"So Mr. Cake Man decided if he couldn't have Marcia, neither would James."
"He killed her with the cake knife?"
"Sure did. He went in the living room, picked up the cake knife off the display table, and confronted Marcia in her dressing room. Those earrings were a gift from him."
"And he had plenty of time to get back to the restaurant while we were sitting there waiting."
Cece grinned. "Then, while he was making his little speech, he planted that earring in my purse. Miranda knew."
"Miranda, my cat. She knew."
"Oh, come off it, Cece."
© 2006 by Mary Brunini McArdle
Bio: Mary Brunini McArdle has published extensively in small journals and has won awards in fiction, poetry, essays, and short plays. Recently she has been publishing online in GATE WAY SCI-FI, THE TRUTH MAGAZINE, COMBAT MAGAZINE, SACRED TWILIGHT, and BEWILDERING STORIES. One hard sci fi story and four poems were editors' choices in the latter online magazine.
E-mail: Mary Brunini McArdle
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