Thursday, February 9, 2023

"Broken Hearted Killers" - Chapter Eight

The following blog entry is one chapter in “Broken Hearted Killers,” a serial novella written by 16 Writers Who Kill. To read the complete story, please begin with Chapter One, published on the WWK blog on February 2, 2023.

By Martha Reed

Gripping a teacup between her hands, Helen Hornsby sat in her kitchen, still feeling rattled. Charles might pull through. Will he remember his attacker?

Careful not to scorch her tongue, she sipped her second cup of steaming brew, finding solace in her personal blend of peppermint and eleuthero tea. Peppermint will calm my nerves. Eleuthero to stimulate my resistance to emotional stressors. She enjoyed another core warming sip. Thank goodness for those recipes from the Wildflowers book the Garden Club recommended. I need every bit of guidance I can get.

Her brain fog cleared as the herbal influence took hold. The EMTs showed up in eight minutes. Detective Torres arrived in less than fifteen. I didn’t expect such a speedy response.

They had watched the EMTs apply a pressure bandage to the wound, insert an IV, fit Charles with a neck collar, and roll him away. Once the first responders were clear, Detective Torres had turned the crime scene over to Forensics and escorted Helen to the lobby.

“Ms. Hornsby, are you warm enough? You’re probably feeling shocked,” he had gently suggested. “You did exactly the right thing. The first few minutes are critical with any TBI.”

Helen had felt confused. “TBI?”

“Traumatic Brain Injury.” The handsome detective had shared a warm smile. “I know, we use too many acronyms. Are you up to answering questions?”

“Ask away.”

“Thank you. When you found Charles Fairweather, what did you see?”

“Just what you saw, Detective Torres. I didn’t touch anything other than his desk phone to call 911. I didn’t think to use my own. I snatched it up.”

“So, the crime scene is untouched, other than that and the disorder left by the EMTs,” he had noted. “Witnesses don’t often think of using all five senses. Did you hear anything? Smell anything?”

“I heard a door close as I came in. Do you think I heard … the killer leaving?”

“It’s possible.”

“Detective Torres, these attacks must be related. Model trains were left at both places.”

“Both places? That’s news to me.”

“We should have told you before. Renee Peabody took a toy train from the condo when she found Iris’s body.”

“I’ll need to speak with Ms. Peabody.” He’d smoothed his uniform. “The trains are suggestive, but they might be a plant to throw suspicion on an innocent person.”

“Both attacks were blunt force trauma.” She’d persisted. “That suggests either strength or Iris and Charles trusted the assailant—or assailants—enough to turn their backs.”

“You’ve been watching cop shows.” He’d chuckled. “Both victims could have been doped. It’s easy enough to clobber someone when they’re feeling drowsy.”

“If they’re unrelated, we could have two murderers in Granite Falls.”

“Ms. Hornsby, please leave this to me.” He had rested his elbows on his knees. “If you keep sticking your nose in this business, it might refocus the killer’s attention on you.”

“Really?” Helen had felt affronted. “I never stick my nose in other people’s business.”

“Look. Let’s give you time to recover. I’ll have an officer drive you home.”

“I’d appreciate that,” Helen had stiffly replied. It’s not shameful to accept an offer of help. I need to stop pulling Nella away from her job for moral support. I used to teach twenty-six eighth grade Biology: Science for Life students. If I can handle that mob, I can certainly take care of this.

Was I too harsh with him? She’d wondered on the short ride home. He’s a nice enough fellow. Is Nella really interested? Wouldn’t it be sweet to have something positive and maybe even romantic come out of this?

Speaking of marriage, that real estate woman said Iris was a newlywed. If it’s true, who is her second husband? We have three gray haired good-looking men in our circle. Philip Seaforth, Charles Fairweather, and Gus O’Boyle.

Whoever he is, they’d need to apply for a marriage license. Once they had it, they’d have sixty days to get hitched. After our book club meeting, Iris hinted at a future happy event. She died that night. Did she have the time to remarry?

She toyed with her teacup. Marriage licenses are public information. I could walk to the courthouse and buy a copy. She withered with shame. Such bitter knowledge, even after all these years. I swore I’d never enter the courthouse again after Lionel jilted me. I was so young, only twenty-six years old. He was the only man I ever loved.

Shifting uncomfortably, she remembered how Lionel’s parents had forbidden their relationship, saying Helen wasn’t good enough for their darling golden boy. Stung and furious, she’d cut off all communication and decamped to SUNY North Reading where she’d scrimped through six years of school to earn a master’s degree in biological science and a New York State Teacher Certificate. She all too vividly recalled her triumphant return to Granite Falls to show them all, only to find Lionel Vermillion married to Iris Pratt.

Love is such a losing game. Helen shrugged off her self-pity. Detective Torres will request the marriage records. That shouldn’t take long. She felt the need to know the answer now like an itch. She walked to the sink. Iris had a secret pash for Gus when he was the captain of our football team. Gus was always so athletic. Claimed it was a gift from his indigenous heritage, and that Jim Thorpe was his second cousin. He also said he’d rejected her advances, but Iris could be fiercely determined once she made up her mind. Was Gus O’Boyle her second husband? Had Iris finally scored?

Drying her hands, Helen reached for her phone. I know one quick way to find out.

His phone rolled to voicemail. “Gus? Give me a call. We need to talk.”

I won’t be able to sleep until I know who Husband #2 is. She impatiently drummed her fingers. Is there a marriage license upstairs in the red envelope? Renee might know because she peeked. But she went to the movies with her sister, and I know she turns off her phone.

What should I do? Should I go check the envelope?

Reaching under the sink, Helen pulled out her serviceable yellow rubber gloves.

I can sneak by the security cameras using the freight elevator. We’ve done it before.

# # #

Martha Reed is a multi-award-winning crime fiction author. Her short story, “The Honor Thief,” was included in the Bouchercon 2022 Anthony Award-winning anthology, “This Time For Sure,” edited by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Martha’s Crescent City NOLA Mystery, “Love Power” won a 2021 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award and features Gigi Pascoe, a transgender sleuth. She is the author of the IPPY Book Award-winning John and Sarah Jarad Nantucket Mystery series. Visit her website for more.


  1. Ah, a way around the security cameras. Opens up all kinds of possibilities.

  2. Yes! I thought the yellow rubber gloves was a nice touch. Waa-haa-haa. (Evil laugh)

  3. Oh my, Helen's mind is working 100 miles a second. She needs to slow down or she'll get caught. Good thinking on the gloves.

  4. I'm loving it! Enjoyed getting a little backstory. Now I wish I could skim ahead!

  5. Another wonderful installment! But now I need a cup of tea.

  6. Martha, I’m so happy you and Rosalie have guided us to this journey. And, yes, the yellow gloves make the scene!