This Wednesday begins the first installment of the Jump Rope Murder. This was a finalist in the "Murder, You Write" short story contest sponsored by Family Circle magazine. The contestants were given a list of "clues" (a jump rope, a map, a surgical mask, a parrot, a pine scent, a Bruce Springsteen CD, a weather forecast, a tennis racquet, lipstick, a hearing aid, a fireplace poker, a license plate) and I had to include three of them in my story. The Jump Rope Murder was selected by editors of the magazine as one of the top 10 stories and went on to the final judging by Mary Higgins Clark. Hope you enjoy it!
THE JUMP ROPE MURDER
Sam Westin had been the sheriff of Carlton, Texas for over a month. He replaced Jud Rawlings after his stroke. Jud was respected in the town, so his shoes were going to be hard to fill.
Carlton was a quiet community for 1968. They still held holiday events and festivals in the town square. Mayor Jenkins gave rousing speeches from the white gazebo right in the middle. There was one school, one bank, one grocery store, one beauty parlor, one ice cream parlor, one pizza parlor and one dry cleaners. The only thing they didn't have one of was a church. They had two of them: The Baptist Church and the Catholic Church. They faced each other on the square like opposing teams on a football field, the gazebo acting as referee.
What had been the gas station years ago was now Mother's Kitchen, the only diner in town. It was owned by Mother, a woman made mean and hard by spending years in front of a deep fat fryer. Everyone called her Mother but it wasn't meant in a maternal way.
It was 6 a.m. when Sam got the call from Mother to come at once. When he arrived, a small crowd had gathered around a new-looking white Buick station wagon in the parking lot. The priest from the Catholic Church, Father Pendleton, was in the driver's seat. His hands were gripping the steering wheel and his eyes were closed. Tied tightly around his neck and around the headrest was a child's jump rope with red wooden handles on the ends.
Sam ran to his car to call Carlton Community Hospital for the coroner. Feeling the adrenalin from investigating a murder he thought, "Finally, something to do other than round up a cow on the highway or ticket the new home builders for dumping trash."
He jogged back to check the body for any other visible marks. One thing out of the ordinary was Father Pendleton's bare feet. Also, a brightly colored parrot in an antique-looking cage sat in the passenger seat. As the sheriff approached, the bird flapped his wings frantically, spreading feathers and bird seed everywhere.
"Sister," squawked the bird. "Sister! Sister!"
The crowd grew bigger and as they recognized who the victim was the cries grew louder. About that time Bob Bilkley, the coroner, pulled up. When Bob realized it was Father Pendleton he wept openly. He removed the rope from around the priest's neck and handed it to Sam.
"That's my jump rope, Mister," said a scrawny 6-year-old with blonde, stringy hair hanging in her face. "But I didn't kill the Father."
She looked up at Sam, her blue innocent eyes shining despite the smudges on her face. Hand extended, she waited for the sheriff to give her the rope.
"Of course you didn't." Sam squatted next to her and put his arm on her shoulder. "I'll have to keep this, though. It's what we call evidence. But I'll take real good care of it. I promise."
Sam realized the girl had make-up on--eye shadow, blush, lipstick. And she was wearing a grown-up's fancy dress and plastic toy high-heels.
"Sissy! You get over here NOW!" shouted a man on the porch of the house next door.
The little girl clomped across the parking lot, holding her dress up to keep from tripping on it.
"I'm comin', Daddy."
"Sister," screeched the parrot.
GO HERE for INSTALLMENT II OF
The Jump Rope Murder