Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Mystery and Suspense

#39



What would you do, gentle reader, if you had plotted the perfect murder? Write it up? Sell it as a story? Ah, yes, and the moola would role in...unless you felt you weren't going to get your shot at the literary brass ring. What then? Heh! Then you just might use your perfect plot...as a rough draft for revenge!


First Draft for a Murder

By Belinda Anne Ferrymen


"W HAT CAN I DO YOU FOR, ERNIE?" asked Walter Beeker from behind his desk, motioning for his brother to sit.

"That story I sent you? The murder mystery, remember? I was wondering if you'd gotten around to reading it," Ernie said, squinting at the silhouette of his brother before the large picture window.

"The mystery, oh yes." Walter smiled his thin, irritating smile. The one he seemed to reserve specifically for visits by his brother. "Still writing are we? Well, you know what I always say: practice, practice, practice. Practice is why I am where I am today."

Ernie nodded, not allowing himself to be baited. Not this time. "Did you read it?"

"Yes."

He was going to make Ernie drag it out of him. Ernie decided not to give him the pleasure and so they sat there in an awkward silence as his brother grinned his stupid grin. Walter's fingers played out a tempo on the top of his desk. Ernie crossed his legs.

"Do you want to know what I thought of it?"

"That'd be nice," Ernie agreed.

"Well," Walter pursed his lips, "it had potential."

Potential. God how Ernie despised that word. It seemed none of the stories Ernie brought to his big shot brother were any good, but they did have potential. Potential that somehow found its way into Walter's next story.

Walter called it bouncing ideas.

And if Ernie had known anyone else in the business, had any other in-roads, he would have told his brother to shove his 'potential' up his back-side and simply walked away. But, of course, Walter was it. And Walter knew it.

"I thought the way the murderer had set up his alibi was particularly interesting, however," here Walter paused for a moment, to build effect, "there were structural problems. Quite a few. But-"

"Mr. Beeker?" Walter's doughy-faced secretary poked her head around the door.

"Yes, Clare?"

"Your agent is on line two. Should I tell him you're busy?"

"Nonsense, I'm just with my brother." Walter stood. "I'll take it out there. You don't mind do you Ernie? I won't be a minute." The door shut behind him before Ernie could even open his mouth.

Ernie sat where he was, fuming, feeling vaguely uncomfortable, as if his brother's eyes were fixed on him still though a wall separated them. Maybe that was why Walter lined his office walls with photographs of himself, so the two dimensional replicas of the man would keep a constant vigil in his absence. There was one of Walter standing in front of an oil well -- his oil well; there was another of him officially opening one of his grocery stores; there was even one of him standing outside this particular building, the Beeker Publishing House.

All, Walter would insist, as a result of his writing and, of course, some wise investments.

Ernie took some small comfort in knowing that the portrait of Walter shaking hands with former Prime Minister Mulroney was a mock-up that Walter had had done in a novelty shop in Niagra Falls. It made the famous writer seem just a little pathetic. More like a real person.

Close to two minutes had passed before Ernie grew impatient. After all, he did have a regular nine-to-five job to get back to -- unlike some people. He could not wait forever.

He stood up to leave when the sight of all the papers on his brother's desk caught his eye. Maybe, he thought, Walter had his story somewhere on the desk. He began shuffling through the loose papers, looking for his story. Perhaps Walter had scribbled some suggestions in the margins or...

Sure enough, there was a completed story on the desk, at least mostly completed. He could not find the first two pages.

But it was enough.

It was his story -- there was no mistaking that -- and yet, it wasn't.

Walter had made slight changes to the wording, even changed the name of one of the characters -- Mike to Merian. What the hell kind of name was Merian? he wondered. But it was not what the name had been changed to that dug inside, that made his stomach do flip-flops. It was the change, period. That bastard has done it again, thought Ernie. Only this time it was his prize story, the one he knew could make it.

"Well now, sorry that took so long." Walter came waltzing back into the room, like nothing had changed.

Ernie turned glaring eyes on his brother. "You plagiarizing sonuvabitch!" He held up the crumpled manuscript in his clenched fist.

"Oh, you found it, did you?" Walter blinked, looking just for a moment off his guard.

"Every story I've ever written, every idea I've ever had, you've always stolen before I've had a chance to do anything with them!"

"It's not my fault if you can't be bothered to work on your first drafts," Walter protested, indignantly. "But I think you're blowing this out of proportion, if you'll-"

"Not any longer!" he roared. "I'm going to kill you! I'm going to make you die, you greasy little, little...!" But a suitable invective eluded his grasp and so, with an unintelligible snarl, Ernie threw the story on the office floor and stormed out.

Four minutes and thirty-three seconds later, out on the street, Ernie realized it had been stupid to threaten Walter where his secretary might have heard. The reason being that two minutes before that, Ernie Beeker decided he really would kill his brother.

~~~

"And so the lady says, 'Hey, where's my onion?' and I..."

Ernie was paying no attention to the lunch time chatter of his girl friend. He was thinking about the timely demise of his brother.

The secretary might have heard him threaten Walter. This meant he would be the prime suspect, even if he was not Walter's only surviving relative.

He could kill the secretary too.

Nyah. Too risky.

What he had to do was to kill Walter in such a way as to make it look like someone else. Or have an airtight alibi. Or both.

"You listening, hon?"

"What? Yeah, sure. You were saying?" As soon as she resumed her droning narrative his mind began drifting again.

What had Walter said? 'I thought the way the murderer had set up his alibi was particularly interesting.' Maybe that was how it should be done. Maybe he should use his story. Writing it was the first draft; carrying it out would be that niggling second draft Walter was always saying he never got around to doing.

Yeah.

Thanks, Walter, he thought wryly, your constructive criticism is always the best, man.

"Say, Belinda," he interrupted whatever it was she was saying. "What say we catch a movie tonight?"

"Uh, sure. What one?"

Keep it matter-of-fact, he thought. Don't make her suspicious. "Give me a call at seven and we'll discuss it, O.K.? I gotta run for now." He stood up and dropped a few dollars on the table. "Now remember: seven precisely."

He went.

~~~

Ernie did not go back to work that afternoon. Instead he went to a department store and bought a telephone answering machine. With that, his alibi was assured.

He took the machine home and, after carefully reading the instructions twice, he went to work.

"Hello?" he said into the recorder. Then he waited a couple of seconds. "Hey, look, I'm just about to take a shower, what say I call you back in a little while? Great, 'bye."

That was it. No "leave a message at the sound of the beep". No "I'm not home right now". Just a simple "I'll call you back".

It was risky of course. If Belinda tried to start a conversation, something he could not predict, then she would realize she was talking to a machine and his alibi would be blown. But he figured he knew her well enough after fourteen months to anticipate her actions. When he said "bye", she would hang up, and anyone investigating would find that Ernie Beeker could be accounted for at seven o'clock.

Providing, of course, that he could make sure Walter would be alone at that time. A simple phone call would see to that.

"Hello?"

"May I speak to Mr. Beeker please? It's his brother Ernie."

There was a long pause on the other end of the line before Walter's voice came on. "Ernie. Good to hear from you. I was afraid that after this morning you'd never speak to me again." Walter chuckled.

Any doubts Ernie might have had vanished on hearing that laugh. "About this morning, what say we talk about it. Maybe this evening, at seven." If Walter had other plans Ernie would have to change his. It would be dangerous to be too insistent.

"Sure, that sounds fine."

"You'll be alone?"

"Naturally. And, Ernie, I'm glad you called. If you hadn't, I would have called you. You see, this is easy to explain."

"Tonight, Walt. Tonight." Ernie hung up.

~~~

It would take close to forty minutes to drive to Walter's house just outside the city, and another forty back, plus give ten minutes for the murder. That was a total of ninety minutes.

At six-twenty, Ernie Beeker left his apartment, his answering machine carefully plugged in.

At seven precisely he knocked on the door of his brother's house.

"Come in." Walter ushered him into the house. As he was guided to the study that he had seen a million times before, Ernie could picture the scene back at his apartment.

BRRINNGGG!

"Hello?" His voice.

"Hi, Ernie, it's me, Belinda."

"Hey, look, I'm just about to take a shower, what say I call you back in a little while? Great, 'bye."

"Uh, well, O.K. 'Bye."

Click.

Maybe not right now, he decided, maybe in a moment or two.

"You want a drink?" Walter stepped over to the bar.

"No."

Ernie looked around in horror. Where had Walter moved his heavy golf trophy? Then he spotted it against the far wall. He walked slowly over to it and picked it up in his gloved hands.

"I'm going to kill you, Walter," he told his brother as he moved toward him. Walter smiled condescendingly at his joke and was still smiling when the trophy came down on his head.

Once, twice, three times and it was over.

Ernie spent the next few minutes throwing papers and furniture around, finding a perverse pleasure in wrecking his brother's house, in desecrating this shrine to the man's life-style. Then he gathered some obvious valuables and made a pile of them on the floor. After that there was simply the problem of making sure there was no mistake about the time of death; after all, the longer the body went undiscovered, the less accurate the police could be. And accuracy was rather crucial.

Ernie dialed the home number of Walter's secretary. "Clare?" He put a cloth over the mouthpiece. "Walter Beeker here."

"Mr. Beeker? I didn't recognize your voice."

"Bad connection. Listen, Clare, I -- what the Hell was that?"

"What was what-?"

"Not you. Look, I have to check something. Call me back in five or ten minutes. It's important."

"If you want, sir, but-"

Ernie hung up and grinned. Then he opened a window on the first floor, locked the front door behind him and drove away. He could almost hear Walter's phone ringing plaintively behind him.

When he got home, he phoned Belinda, apologised for putting her off before and made arrangements for the late show.

~~~

All that week the papers were full of the terrible murder of author, Walter Beeker. Interrupted by a burglar while on the phone to his secretary, it was believed. The poor woman was just sick. Such a tragedy. Shows why you should keep your windows locked. Tsk, tsk.

Ernie was visited by police the day after the murder.

Yes, he had threatened Walter, but they were just words. No, of course he hadn't killed him. Walter had been killed by a burglar, hadn't he? Oh, you're just exploring possibilities. Very well, go on.

Yes, he had called Walter at his office that afternoon. Why? Well, that's an easy one, yes sir. Obvious in fact. He'd called to, uh, he'd called to apologise. That's it. Apologise for losing his temper.

Where was he between six-thirty and seven-thirty? Why at home, alone. However he did get a call around seven from a lady friend. No, he didn't know the exact time. Why don't they ask her? Oh, they would. Good.

And so on.

Ernie tried to act as helpful as possible even though he felt like laughing his head off the whole time.

~~~

Two days later two men, detectives from earlier, knocked on his door.

"May we come in for a minute, Mr. Beeker?" the tall one asked when Ernie opened the door. Ernie motioned them in.

"I'm leaving for work, so if you'll be quick..."

"Of course. You are aware, Mr. Beeker, that you inherit your brother's entire estate? And it's no secret that the two of you did not get along."

"Not this again? Didn't you check with Belinda Meyers? I was under the impression that I was speaking to her while my brother was being murdered."

"Yes," he agreed. "Yes, so it would appear. Tell me, Mr. Beeker, do you own an answering machine?"

"No," he said too quickly.

The detective raised an eyebrow. "Do you mind if we look around ourselves?"

"Yes! I do." Ernie's heart began pounding. He had not actually gotten around to disposing of the thing. After all, it had cost him forty-one dollars and twenty-seven cents.

"I see," the detective continued, calmly. "You write, don't you, Mr. Beeker?"

Ernie tried grinning sheepishly. "This and that."

"I'll be straight with you, Mr. Beeker. We found a story among Walter Beeker's papers. A story about a man who murders his business partner using an answering machine to create the illusion of his being elsewhere."

"I see." Ernie had not considered the possibility that anyone would actually bother looking through Walter's stuff. Let alone that they would come upon the story Walter plagiarized from him. But he was still all right, it was still just guess work. "That explains your questions. You think, maybe, that -- what do you think?"

The second detective spoke for the first time. "Well, sir, since you have such an obvious motive we thought maybe, hypothetically of course, that you might have used that method, and, well..." He did not finish.

"Quite a coincidence, if I had."

"How's that, sir?"

"Well, Walter using a plot that I should just happen to think of simultaneously."

"We rather figured, hypothetically, that you might have gotten the idea from the story," the first detective said.

"Good Lord, officer. Surely Walter's secretary told you that the only one who sees -- sorry, saw -- his stuff before it was published was his agent."

"Are you saying that you are unfamiliar with the story 'Murder In July'?" The detectives exchanged glances.

Ernie shook his head. "Never even heard of it."

"In that case, sir, I'm going to have to arrest you on suspicion of murder. At least until we can get a search warrant to check this place for a machine and tape."

"But, I, uh, I don't understand. Why?"

"Because, sir, you have the perfect motive and you lied on a point that is very suspicious." The detective drew a piece of paper from inside his jacket. It was the front page that had been missing when Ernie had discovered his plagiarized story. It said:

"Murder In July"

By Ernie and Walter Beeker

Ernie found that rather funny.

The End





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First Draft for a Murder is copyright 1997 by the author.  It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)