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Mystery inspired by a mysterious photo

"One Bad Actor" by Lesle Maxwell

Flash #238 - July 2014

Orig. appeared June 1996

Flash 033: mystery inspired by a mysterious photo


DETECTIVE DARRELL MARTIN followed the steaming cup of coffee through the city crowds even as it worked overtime as a prop, while the suspect sweet-talked an attractive woman waiting for a cab. Finally, in the instant before the suspect himself hailed a taxi, he flipped the empty styrofoam cup into trash bin.

On the detective's way back to headquarters with the unassuming white cup, he reflected on the prior day's events.

"He was just awful -- a horrible young man," said the elderly woman. Her voice trembled with fear, or anger, or both. "Luckily, neither of us was hurt or killed."

The dapper old gentleman piped in, "Of all the luck, this son of a gun breaks into our home and finds the safe in Esther's closet -- we keep it hidden behind some old clothes -- then he holds a gun to my sweet wife's head and demands the combination. Thank the good lord I didn't forget the numbers under pressure or we'd have been killed."

"Can you tell me anything about the intruder?" Martin asked, pen at the ready.

Esther seemed to really want to help. "Our eyesight isn't what it used to be," she said. "But he was a big man. He wore a ski mask, oh, and he had a southern accent."

"Maybe from Texas or somewhere," William added. "It's a darn shame that this happened. Our lives were in there -- everything valuable that our children would have had to remember us by plus a little extra money for each of them."

Esther got a gleam in her eye as she spoke proudly of the children. "Jane was Miss Pennsylvania, you know -- oh, that was some years ago. And Bill junior, he's an actor. Not quite famous yet, but he's in an off-Broadway production of 'Oklahoma.'"

"We really should call the kids and break the bad news," William reminded.

The next morning, the forensics expert told Martin that the fingerprints from the safe didn't match any criminal records. "You know what that means?" said Martin, "Either we've got one smart intruder who's managed to outwit the system up until now, or we have a first-time offender."

On a strong hunch, Detective Martin took the next train to the Big Apple, and from Grand Central took a cab to the theatre district. He'd always wanted to see "Oklahoma" anyway. Afterward, he stood outside a coffee shop where he had a clear view of the stage exit. It was a stroke of luck that The Rancher, played by William Welles, had ordered a black coffee just 15 feet from him. After a brief visit to the trash bin, the empty coffee cup was now in the forensics expert's gloved hand. The white styrofoam was dusted gray and up came a perfect fingerprint that matched the one from the safe.

"He fooled his own parents. What's that guy still doing on off-Broadway?" Martin said with a laugh.

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