Saturday, February 4, 2023

"Broken Hearted Killers" - Chapter Three

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 Shari Randall

Helen’s head swam with shock and indignation. The term “thrown under the bus” surfaced. Why would Iris say such a thing, and to Renee Peabody, the worst gossip in Oak Haven?

Moments later, there was a knock and Helen opened the door to the handsome detective.

“I’m Detective Torres, Granite Falls Police. I understand you knew Iris Vermillion. May I ask you a few questions?”

Knew. Past tense. Helen took a steadying breath. “Come in.” As he entered, Renee tailgated behind the officer. He turned and said firmly, “That will be all, Ms. Peabody,” before closing the door in her face.

Helen indicated a chair and took a seat next to Nella on the loveseat. The detective’s tone was businesslike, but his distractingly warm brown eyes radiated concern. “I’m afraid I have bad news. Iris Vermillion is dead.”

Helen was surprised by the tears that sprang to her eyes. She hadn’t considered Iris a good friend, exactly. But after they’d both moved into Oak Haven, book club had bonded them, and she felt a keen sting of loss. Nella squeezed her hand.

“When did you see Ms. Vermillion last?”

Helen gathered her thoughts. “At about 9 o’clock we walked back from book club at A Likely Story. We said good night and then she went home to the Anderson Tower, and I came here.”

“Did you see anyone waiting for Ms. Vermillion? Perhaps a car parked near the entrance?”

Helen racked her brain. Had someone been lurking in the darkness, watching for Iris? “No. No one.”

“Did anyone see you return to your condo?”

“No. I don’t think so. Not that I know of.”

“Iris told another resident if something happened to her, tell the police to look to Helen Hornsby first. Do you have any idea why she’d say that?”

Helen shook her head.

“Maybe you’re looking at that statement the wrong way,” Nella said. “Maybe Iris said to look to Helen if anything happened to her because she knew Helen was perceptive and would notice something that would help point to her killer.”

Helen twisted her hands. But what did I know? What did I see?

Detective Torres’ brows raised, and his eyes met Nella’s for a moment too long. Helen thought, well, well

The detective cleared his throat. “You think Ms. Vermillion had a premonition of danger?”

Nella glanced at Helen, who shook her head. “The last time I saw her she looked, not happy exactly, but pleased with herself.”

Detective Torres’ phone buzzed, and Helen glimpsed the message: MEDICAL EXAMINERS HERE.

“I have to go.” He handed his card to Helen and stood. “Please call me if you remember anything.” Helen and Nella followed him to the door. As Helen opened it, Renee sprang back.

The detective sighed. “Mrs. Peabody, is there anything else you’d like to share?”

“Well, er….”

“You have my card.” He walked to the elevator, his phone to his ear. Helen felt more than heard Nella’s sigh as the doors dinged closed on the handsome officer.

Renee scuttled toward her door.

“Just a second.” Helen tugged Renee’s arm. Not that she’d ordinarily want Renee in her condo, but she had to know what Renee had seen.

Renee pressed her thin lips together. They were painted red, vermillion, Helen thought, and realized that Renee had tried to emulate Iris’s look, right down to her red lipstick. But Renee lacked Iris’s presence, and the red lipstick was garish against Renee’s pale skin and creased lips. Helen also recognized in Renee’s erratic breathing a woman who’d had a shock.

“Come in, Renee,” Helen said. “I’ll make you a cup of tea,”

Helen gently escorted Renee to the table in the cozy breakfast nook off her galley kitchen as Nella brewed a mug of chamomile tea and set it before her. Renee plucked at the collar of her golf jacket.

“Renee, what happened to Iris?”

Renee wrapped her hands around the mug. “Iris and I always met for breakfast on Fridays.” Her lips quivered. “I called when she didn’t show at the Acorn Dining Room. She didn’t answer so I went to her condo. The door was ajar. I knocked and said, “Hello, Iris?” There was no answer, so I stepped inside.…”

Helen realized she was holding her breath as Renee continued.

 “I didn’t see her at first. She has that grand entryway with the chandelier and the marble table with the floral arrangement on it, right? There was a card and envelope on it. Red, like a valentine.”

“Did you see what was written on it?” Nella said.

Guilt flashed in Renee’s eyes. She took a sip of tea, then shook her head. “Of course, I didn’t read it!”

Nella and Helen shared a glance. Renee was lying.

“But then,” Renee swallowed. “I saw her in the living room, lying on her white shag rug, wearing her green silk kimono. Her head,” she whispered, “was bashed in.”

“Did she fall?”

“That’s what I thought. I ran to her.” Helen remembered that Renee was a retired nurse. “She was cold, nothing I could do. I called 911. I knew it was murder, right away.”


Renee leaned forward. “I saw the murder weapon! Remember when she won the Citizen of the Year Award for the community garden?”

Helen exchanged a glance with Nella. Helen had pasted a smile on her face at the banquet where the award, shaped like a pine tree on a base of granite, was presented to Iris. Helen and the rest of the ten-person committee had worked for months while Iris was snowbirding in Florida, but Iris hogged all the credit.

“The heavy granite base was bloody,” Renee said. “Someone hit her with it.”

The women sat in silence for a moment, the only sound the hum of Helen’s refrigerator. Helen pictured the awards banquet—Iris wearing a revealing black dress and flirting madly with the award presenter, an older gentleman with still-broad shoulders and a military bearing. But then Iris flirted with anything in long pants.

Nella said, “They’ll get fingerprints off the award trophy.”

Renee scoffed. “Everyone knows to wear gloves. I’ve got to go.” As she stood, she jammed her hand in her jacket pocket and gasped. “I was so shocked I forgot to tell the detective….”

“What is it?” Helen said.

 “When I was leaving Iris’s condo, I stepped on this.” Renee’s trembling fingers unfolded to reveal a miniature train.

# # #

Shari Randall: Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack Mystery series from St. Martin's Press. The first book in the series, CURSES, BOILED AGAIN, won an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. As Meri Allen, she also writes the new Ice Cream Shop mystery series featuring a former CIA librarian who uses her unusual skill set to solve murders in Connecticut's Quiet Corner. Shari lives on the Connecticut shore and delights in sharing that part of the world with her readers. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and has published several short stories, the most recent of which is "A Touch of Magic" in the new Chesapeake Crimes: Magic Is Murder anthology. When she’s not cooking up a devious plot twist, Shari enjoys vintage shops, dancing, and visiting her globe-trotting children.



  1. BHK is gathering steam. I can feel the tension rising!

  2. Shocking developments! Anything else Renee "forgot" to tell the detective?

  3. Another fabulous chapter! I'm loving this so much!

  4. Another great chapter. I especially like Nella's take on Iris' statement. So clever. Can't wait till tomorrow.

  5. Torres and trophies and trains, oh my!