Friday, February 3, 2023

"Broken Hearted Killers" - Chapter Two

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 Sarah E. Burr 

The clanging chimes from her electronic doorbell nearly gave Helen a heart attack. “Why did I let Nella convince me to install that dreadful robot?” she grumbled as she set her coffee mug down on the spotless kitchen counter.

Helen then glanced at her watch and smiled. Seven-thirty on the dot. She should have been expecting the bell to ring. Nella was punctual, as always.

Helen hurried to the small entry hall of her one-bedroom condo and gave her shoulder-length auburn hair a quick once-over in the wall mirror before opening the front door. “Good morning, Nella.”

An impeccably dressed Nella Williams scurried inside the condo without a word. She noiselessly closed the door behind her, slid the lock into place and centered her pricey Louis Vuitton handbag on Helen’s coffee table.

Nella loves her designer labels, Helen thought. She was about to joke about Nella’s 007 entrance when she noted Nella’s demeanor. Her arresting brown eyes pinched with worry, and Nella’s dark bronze skin had lost its usual luster. But the most troubling of all? Nella’s inviting smile was missing. “Everything all right?”

Nella held up a finger to her lips. “Listen,” she mouthed and pointed at the door.

Helen copied Nella’s stance and pressed herself against the fire-resistant material. While the walls of her condo were thick, the door and its frame were not soundproof. Luckily, most Oak Haven residents were in bed by nine, so noise was never really an issue. However, the tense conversation taking place on the other side of Helen’s front door was as clear as if it were streaming from the fancy AirPods Nella had gifted her last Christmas.

“Mrs. Peabody, yes?” A gruff voice commanded authority. “Mrs. Peabody, did you enter the deceased’s condo before or after you called nine-one-one?”

“Before. I already told this information to the first officer I spoke with,” Renee Peabody snapped, sounding nothing like her confident, composed self.

“Please, ma’am, bear with me. I’m the detective assigned to this case. I need to hear everything directly from you.”

Helen glanced at Nella with raised eyebrows. “What’s going on?” she mouthed.

Nella shrugged. “I was hoping you could tell me.” She whispered. “I saw a ton of cop cars parked in front of the south tower. Something’s up.” She shivered, rubbing her toned arms for effect. “I rode in the elevator with the guy questioning Renee. I totally didn’t peg him for a detective.”

Helen’s attention returned to the puzzling conversation continuing outside her front door. Renee was her neighbor across the hall.

“Mrs. Peabody, I realize you’ve had a terrible shock, but I need to get some additional details from you. Unless you’d like to continue this chat down at the station?”

“I don’t know what more I can tell you, Detective Torres.” Renee was beginning to sound hysterical. “I was supposed to meet Iris for breakfast. When she didn’t show up at the club restaurant, I walked over to her condo to check on her. Her front door was slightly ajar. I let myself in, and…f-f-found her like that!” An onslaught of sobs prevented Renee from speaking further.

A gasp whistled through Helen’s fingertips as she brought her hand to her mouth. “Iris? She can’t mean Iris Vermillion, can she?”

Nella chewed on her lower lip. “Iris does live in the south tower. Right?”

“Oh my.” Helen backed away from the doorway, feeling lightheaded. Iris was dead? How could that be? She’d just seen the gregarious woman last night.

Nella sprang into action and looped her left arm around Helen’s slim waist. “You okay, Helen?”

Helen studied the concern written all over her friend’s youthful face. When Nella had first interned as a school psychologist at the local junior high six years ago, Helen had assumed a failing school system would break the then-twenty-five-year-old’s enthusiastic spirit. But instead, Nella had seen the lack of district funding given to mental health services and decided to do something about it. Within a year, the enterprising young woman had launched an exceptional nonprofit service. MindU provided stellar psychologists to New York’s adolescent communities at no cost to the school, parents, or taxpayer. At thirty-one, Nella served as MindU’s CEO and was now working on expanding the mental health program to other states. Yet, despite all she had going on, Nella still came by every Friday morning to have coffee with her dear friend and mentor. Some Oak Haven residents thought it odd when Helen told them that her closest girlfriend was a thirty-one-year-old, but Helen treasured Nella’s steadfast friendship above all else.

Helen swallowed the growing lump in her throat as she finally answered Nella. “Yes, I’m fine. Just stunned, that’s all.” She wrung her trembling hands. “I wonder how Iris died. A fall?”

Nella gave Helen a gentle squeeze before releasing her. “I don’t know.” She pressed her ear against the door once again. “But between all the cops outside and this detective’s questions, it doesn’t sound like an accident.”

Helen took a cleansing breath and rejoined Nella, eager to hear more of the conversation between Renee and Detective Torres.

“All right, Mrs. Peabody,” Detective Torres said with clipped authority. “You get some rest. Do you have anyone you can call to stay with you?”

“Give me your phone.” Nella nudged Helen softly in the side.

Helen reached into her pocket and obediently handed her friend the new phone they’d bought together last week. As a tech-savvy millennial, Nella knew how to use Helen’s phone better than she did, although Helen had promised herself she would become more proficient in her retirement.

With deft fingers, Nella unlocked the device with Helen’s not-so-secret passcode and tapped on the screen. A moment later, Nella tilted the smartphone to horizontal mode, a live video feed of the hallway captured in the palm of her hand.

“This is coming from your doorbell app,” Nella explained in a hush.

While not the best quality, the video gave Helen a face to put with Detective Torres’s husky voice. He was about a foot taller than Renee with tan skin, a chiseled jawline, and inky black hair.

“Yummy,” Nella murmured, clearly appreciating the detective’s handsome appearance.

Helen agreed he was quite attractive, although Torres was about three decades too young to really be her type.

Nella’s technical wizardry had distracted Helen from hearing Renee’s reply, but whatever she’d said to Torres seemed to satisfy him. “All right, ma’am. If I have any more questions, I’ll be in touch. Thank you for your time, Mrs. Peabody.”

Helen and Nella watched as the detective turned around and walked out of the doorbell camera’s line of sight.

“Wait!” Renee held up her hand, her expression ashen. “Detective, don’t you want to know who killed Iris?”

Although Helen couldn’t see his face on the live feed, she could picture a dubious expression, purely based on Torres’s tone. “You know who attacked her? How? Did you see someone leave Mrs. Vermillion’s condo?”

Renee’s lips pressed in a thin line. “No, I didn’t see anyone. But last night, Iris called me before she went to bed. She said that she didn’t feel safe in her own home anymore. At first, I thought she was being paranoid, but now….”

“Why didn’t she feel safe?” Detective Torres walked back into the frame, his arms folded. “Was someone bothering her?”

Renee’s expression became wary, and her gaze flicked toward Helen. Well, at Helen’s door.

Helen and Nella exchanged confused looks. Did Renee know they were watching her through the doorbell app?

Renee cleared her throat before continuing, “Iris didn’t say why, but before she hung up, she said, ‘if something happens to me, tell the police to look to Helen Hornsby first.’”

# # #

Sarah E. Burr is the award-winning author of the Glenmyre Whim Mysteries, Trending Topic Mysteries, and Court of Mystery series. She currently serves as the social media manager for the New York/Tri-State chapter of Sisters in Crime and is the creative mind behind BookstaBundles, a content creation service for authors. Sarah is the co-host of The Bookish Hour, a live-streamed YouTube series featuring author interviews and book discussions. When she's not spinning up stories, Sarah is singing show tunes, reading everything from mystery to manga, and enjoying walks with her dog, Eevee.


  1. Great chapter! Did not see that comment at the end coming. Wow. Great use of the doorbell camera app :) Very clever. Bring on chapter 3!!

  2. So Helen's our first suspect. Right now, it looks unlikely that she's the culprit. But that's the whole point behind mysteries.

  3.'s so hard to wait until tomorrow!

  4. Technology, the bane of our existence. But, what it can reveal!