Thursday, February 16, 2023

"Broken Hearted Killers" - Chapter Fifteen

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 Grace Topping

After a restless night, Helen met Nella the next morning at the small coffee bar Melody had recently added to her bookstore. It had become an immediate success and people met there frequently for coffee and pastries.

“You look like you didn’t get much sleep last night,” Nella said, stirring sugar into her cappuccino.

Helen sighed. “I didn’t. I kept thinking about poor Gus. Also, something is nagging at my subconscious and keeps me awake. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get whatever it is to surface.”

“Give it a rest. It will come to you,” Nella said. “Do you think Gus killed Jared and that caused his heart attack?”

“Absolutely not. Gus was my friend. I can’t believe he’d kill anyone. If anything, he could have been trailing Jared, or someone lured Gus to that spot—someone who knew about his dicky heart. But why?”

Nella leaned forward and whispered. “Don’t look now, but Ashley just came in with Philip. Since she wanted to keep Jared out of her life, perhaps she stabbed him.”

Helen frowned. “That’s a drastic way to keep him away.”

“Yes, but we don’t know how desperate Ashley was to protect herself.”

Helen eyed her now empty cup, wanting a refill. “It makes you wonder who besides Ashley wanted Jared out of the picture? If we could solve his murder, we might be able to unravel the string of murders.”

“Jared probably crossed some dangerous people in his time. One of them could have stabbed him.”

“Not when you remember he was stabbed with my letter opener.” Helen grimaced. “Makes me wonder if I’m on Detective Torres’ radar.”

“Here you go, ladies. The Danish pastries you ordered.” Melody set two plates on the table and turned to walk away.

“Melody, wait,” Helen said. “If your assistant can handle things, why don’t you join us? We’re trying to figure out what’s going on with all of these murders, and we could use some additional insight.”

Melody sank into a chair. “I don’t know what I can contribute, but sure.”

“You heard about Gus’s death yesterday?” Nella asked, reaching for her pastry.

Melody nodded. “So sad. Gus was such a nice man. Any idea why he was in that alley?”

“Gus gave police the red envelope found at Iris’s place,” Helen said. “I wonder if he opened it before handing it over and what he read caused him to follow Jared. I’ll have to ask Torres if Gus opened the envelope and about its contents.”

“You should have opened it when you had the chance.” Nella said.

Helen shrugged. “Too late now.”

“You know, the red envelope could just be a MacGuffin,” Melody said. Seeing their puzzled looks, she explained. “Something that drives the plot but serves no further purpose. It could simply contain a birthday card Philip sent to Iris.”

“It could also contain the clue that unravels the whole mystery,” Nella said. “Maybe we should just ask Philip what he sent to Iris and be done with it.”

“What about the miniature train cars left near Iris and the others?” Melody asked. “Do you think somebody is trying to cast suspicion on Philip? He’s the only train enthusiast in the book group.”

Before she could respond, Helen looked up to see Renee approaching, precariously balancing a coffee cup, two muffins, a stack of books, and her purse. “Mind if I join you?” Renee asked, dropping her things on the table. “I just heard the news about Gus. Unbelievable.” 

As Renee began to chatter, Helen blocked her out, absorbed in her thoughts about the murders. Four deaths so far: Iris, Betty, Jared, and now Gus. What did they have in common, if anything, that could have contributed to their deaths?

She thought about how the sleuths in the mysteries she read looked at motive, means, and opportunity. What had been the motive in all of the deaths, revenge, financial gain, jealousy, passion? Could the birth parent search have been a motive—one of the adoptees looking for financial gain or even revenge for being given away?

If it had been for financial gain, wouldn’t the killer have waited until Iris’s new will had been drawn up? But then, also important, who would have inherited Iris’s money under her current will? Could that person have killed Iris to prevent her from signing a new one? What about Iris’s supposed new husband, whoever he was?

She then thought about means and opportunity. Who had Iris let into her condo? Or met up with Betty? And why would someone kill Jared using her HHH letter opener. To cast suspicion on her? Only a limited number of people had been to her condo and had access to the letter opener. That narrowed the list of suspects considerably.

Helen glanced around the coffee bar at Ashley, Philip, Renee, Melody, and Nella. It was as though Hercule Poirot had summoned together all of those involved in the case. She wondered what he would make of it. Plans to change a will, the purchase of an expensive home and death of the real estate agent, a possible new husband for Iris, Ashley’s felon husband, train clues, a murder weapon with her initials on it, mixed up twins, a heart attack.

Suddenly her eyes widened. “I’ve got to go.” She grabbed her purse and headed for the door without explanation or farewells. She needed to see Detective Torres right away.

Quickly exiting the building and heading to the nearby police station, Helen decided to take a shortcut through the park. She walked as fast as she could, her pace causing her to lean over to catch her breath.  

A voice sounded behind her. “You just couldn’t leave it alone, could you, Helen?”

# # #

Grace Topping is a USA Today bestselling author and Agatha Award finalist. A recovering technical writer and IT project manager, she was accustomed to writing lean, boring documents. Let loose to write fiction, she is now creating murder mysteries and killing off characters who remind her of some of the people she dealt with during her career. Grace is the former vice president of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime (SINC), a member of the SINC Guppy Chapter steering committee, and a member of Mystery Writers of America. She lives with her husband in Northern Virginia.



  1. Are we about to finally find out who was behind all this?

  2. Wow, so many question. Poor Helen. Can't wait to find out what she figured out.

  3. Fabulous cliffhanger! Can't wait for tomorrow, and beyond

  4. This was a fun chapter to write, but also a challenge after all of the twists and turns from the previous chapters. The last chapter by Debra is going to have to pull it all together. Quite a challenge, Debra.

  5. I loved the way you sifted through the clues here. You folks with the later chapters had such a challenge tying up all the threads, and you did an awesome job.

  6. This is fabulous, Grace. How you and Debra wrap it all up is amazing.

  7. I'm glad I red this one late in the day, because I can hardly wait to see how this wraps up. Great job!