Story Excerpts

TheCaseTruculentAvocado_Kelly-Denato
Art by Kelly Denato

The Case of the Truculent Avocado

by Mark Thielman

“Why don’t you just tell me why you killed the turtle?” The deputy asked, giving me the practiced stare he had undoubtedly learned in Intimidation 101.

I shook my head. “He is . . . was,” I corrected myself, “an avocado, not a turtle.”

The deputy paused, momentarily taken aback. The dead guy looked like a turtle: round, dark green shell, mostly smooth, pressed against the floor; light green underside facing up to the fluorescent lights arrayed along the ceiling of Uncle Bob’s Natural Food Emporium. All four green limbs splayed to the sides. Undoubtedly, whenever the deputy pictured a dead turtle, or passed one patrolling some county backroad, he always saw it belly to heaven, shell hard against the farm-to-market. Legs straining till death, trying to right itself. Likely, he had never run across a murdered avocado. Certain of his own rightness, the deputy tried again.

“What’s a man dressed like a turtle doing dead in the produce section of my little town’s fanciest grocery store?”

I rolled my eyes and looked around the employee break room of the Food Emporium. It was going to be a long day.

“Charles wasn’t a turtle. The produce manager was wearing an avocado costume. It is California Avocado Month here at the store. Though,” I added, “I can see how it might look that way.”

“What I see,” said the deputy. He slapped the table for emphasis, nearly knocking over his small digital recorder, “what I see is that you’re evading the real question I’m asking . . . And why can’t you sit still without squirming? Are you nervous?”

I wanted to ask whether the deputy had ever sat through an interview wearing a Russian Banana fingerling potato costume. It digs into your backside. If, however, you’re a potato and try to complain about a wedgie, no one takes you seriously. So, I thought better and decided to just answer the question I’d been asked. “No, I’m not nervous.”

“How did you end up in the same grocery store as a dead trick-or-treater?”

Now that was a question I had asked myself. I explained that I made my living as a private investigator. I liked the work, got to set my own hours and be my own boss. The job gave me the free time to work out at the gym regularly and I felt in the best shape of my life. The problem was that the work was sporadic and the clients’ checks didn’t always clear. A while back, I had helped a woman get divorced from her cheating husband. The woman had been some public relations flack who knew somebody who knew somebody at the Potato Advisory Board. One day, she made the introductions. I didn’t feel the need to mention that she had gotten the idea when she had seen me coming out of her shower. Anyway, my tanned and recently enhanced biceps paired well with the Idaho Russet costume they had me try on. Now, I had a part-time gig as the Special Assistant in Potato Promotions. The women at the Board called me simply, the Spud Stud.

“So the tur— avocado,” the deputy corrected himself, “he was your boss.”

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BeaconHillSuicide_Tim-Foley
Art by Tim Foley

The Beacon Hill Suicide

by Shelly Dickson Carr

Could he do it?

Orchestrate his own death?

Having purchased the rope at the hardware store, British-born actor Nigel FitzGibbons wondered if he could hang himself. The exposed beams in the old brownstone he and Felicity were renovating might not hold his weight and, like a magician pulling off a conjuring trick, he only had one chance to make this work.

Hesitating on the cobbled walkway, gas lamps flickering through the early evening fog, Nigel pondered (as he had for weeks) his best options. Poison wouldn’t do. He might get the dosage wrong. If found writhing on the floor of the brownstone clutching his abdomen, he’d be rushed to Mass General Hospital, a tube threaded down his throat attached to a stomach pump. He’d be back at square one. And he didn’t own a gun.

So a rope it would be.

Tucking the coiled cord under one arm, Nigel trudged along Charles Street where the neon lights of a pastry shop stabbed through the swirling mist. Brass bells tinkled above the doors of an artisanal cheese shop as they swung open, giving off the pungent odor of Stilton mingled with the acrid smell of fermented marmalade.

Present-day Beacon Hill, with its brick sidewalks, quaint shops, and gaslight—Boston’s eternal flames—reminded Nigel of London in a bygone era. The cobbled streets, so Dickensian. And how apropos to hang himself here, where Mary Dyer went to the gallows in 1660 for her religious beliefs. Dyer’s grim statue, carved in dark granite, anchors the sweep of lawn in front of the State House at the crest of Beacon Hill.

At the thought of Mary Dyer swinging from a noose, Nigel jerked to a stop. His own reflection peered back at him in the glistening window of a liquor store: sunken eyes, distended cheekbones, wild, disheveled hair. But it wasn’t the image of his gaunt face staring back at him that gave Nigel pause, it was the sudden vision of a rope tightening round his neck, harnessing his dangling body.

One of the nastier aftermaths of death by hanging (Nigel had done his research) was loss of bladder control. To this end, Nigel had taken pains to be extra careful about what he ate and drank at his AA meeting an hour ago where, in the mildewed basement of King’s Chapel, coffee flowed in abundance. Not that Nigel was standing on his dignity (no, he’d be standing on a wooden crate, which he’d kick to the side). Rather, he pitied the poor sod who lowered him down.

After the AA meeting, Nigel drifted across the street to the Old Granary Burying Ground, where he meandered down pebbled pathways under a canopy of autumn leaves to his favorite gravesite. Wedged between Paul Revere’s final resting place and Samuel Adams’s headstone stands a moss-crusted marker with the inscription: “I told you I was sick.”

Perhaps his own epitaph should read: I told you I was unhappy.

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