F. Haywood Glenn's Short Stories
Updated: Apr 6
It had been a really long day. To say that I was tired would be an understatement. I was bone-weary. On the way home I stopped to get a few groceries. A homeless young man was loitering outside of the apartment building. He offered to carry my groceries but he looked a little sketchy, so I declined. All I wanted to do was heat my lean cuisine, pour a glass of red wine, and relax. My briefcase was full of briefs that I knew I should read but the chances of them being read tonight were slim.
With my arms ladened with shopping bags, I let myself into my center city apartment building. I waited impatiently for the outdated elevator to arrive. On the fifth floor, I moved slowly down the narrow corridor toward my apartment. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that the door of the apartment a few doors down from my own was slightly ajar. The tenant was a young college student who I had seen only a few times since she moved into the building. I had noticed her right away because she and I were the only black tenants in the building.
I stood in front of my own door for a few minutes listening but there was no sound. I opened my door and dragged my groceries into the apartment, leaving the door open. Still, there was no sound. I tried to ignore the urge to peek into that apartment. I put my few groceries away and waited another five minutes before looking down the hall again. Still, there was no sound. I finally gave into my curiosity and slowly crept down the hall to the open door. "Jennifer," I called out. There was no answer. I slowly pushed the door open. "Jennifer," I called again. One step inside the door and there she was lying face-up on the floor in a pool of blood. She had been stabbed to death. I didn't really know her but tears welled in my eyes as I looked down at this once beautiful young woman. I couldn't believe my eyes and I wiped a tear away as I dialed the police on my cell.
It was at least twenty minutes before three squad cars pulled up outside our building. The coroner came next. The homicide detective interviewed me in my apartment and again at the police station. I heard one of the detectives say that Jennifer wasn't her real name. Her name was Avery Harris. "What is your name?" Asked a portly white detective who identified himself as Detective Curtis.
"Lydia James," I answered
"How did you know our victim?' Do you know what kind of work she did?"
"I didn't really know her. She moved into the building about a month ago. We may have shared the elevator once or twice but, that's all. I think she was a college student."
"Did she have many visitors that you know of?"
"I don't know."
"Did she have a boyfriend?"
"As I said, I didn't really know her."
This line of questioning went on until well after midnight. They offered no information to me and I didn't have any information I could give them. It struck me that they didn't seem too eager to find out who could have murdered this young woman.
I hadn't eaten anything all day and I thought that I was hungry but once I was at home, the thought of food made me nauseous. I fell into bed and was asleep in minutes. Not surprisingly, I overslept the next morning and decided to call out that day. My plan was to rest a little and spend the afternoon reading over the briefs for the office, but I just couldn't get the image of Jennifer, now Avery, out of my mind. I opened my door and peeped down the hall. The detectives had put that yellow crime scene tape across the door which was a message for the inquisitive to stay out.
I decided to see what I could find out about Avery Harris on-line. Not surprisingly, she had an internet presence. Most young people do. Her Facebook page was easily found. There were loads of pictures and the one thing that stood out for me was that in every picture, Avery wore a gold and diamond heart pendant around her neck. I didn't remember seeing such a piece of jewelry around her neck as she lay in a pool of blood in her apartment. I wondered if the jewelry was stolen. Certainly, no one would kill for such an inexpensive trinket. It couldn't be worth more than a couple of hundred dollars.
All that day I tried to focus on my work. I was just six months out of law school and working as an associate lawyer for a small firm. I needed to keep my work up to par if I expected to advance to a junior partner someday. I didn't need this distraction, but as hard as I tried, I just could not put it away. I finally decided that this was information I should share with Detective Curtis as soon as possible. I fished his card from my bag and dialed the number. There was no answer. I went to work the next morning and during the day I tried to reach Detective Curtis several times. It was close to three in the afternoon when someone finally answered the phone.
"Detective Curtis, Homicide," a timid voice said.
"Hello," I said. "Is Detective Curtis available?"
"No, I'm sorry. The Detective is in the field. How can I help you?"
I briefly thought about telling this person what I'd found but quickly changed my mind. I decided to dig a little deeper into exactly who was Avery Harris and why had she changed her name. With just a little internet research, I found that Avery had moved to Philadelphia from the Lehigh Valley to attend The Philadelphia College of Art. She was enrolled as Jennifer Harris and was in her last year. Jennifer was an artist and her page was covered with her works of art. She had a boyfriend, Joshua Saunders. I wondered if the detectives had spoken to this young man yet. I left work early to stop by the police station and speak with Detective Curtis. He looked genuinely surprised to see me standing in the doorway of his office. "Ms. James, right?"
"How can I help you?"
"I just want to share some things that I've found out about your victim." His eyebrows shot up in arcs and then down again in a frown. I didn't wait for him to tell me to butt out, I surged ahead. "Her Facebook page shows her wearing a gold and diamond heart pendant in almost every photo. I don't remember seeing it on the body."
The detective leaned back in his chair and scratched at the day-old stubble on his chin. “That is very observant, Miss James," he said slowly. "Why are you so interested in my case?"
"I don't exactly know," I said as I moved into his office without invitation. I sat down across from him. "That was my first time seeing a dead body and I just can't get it out of my head. I have to know what brought this beautiful and talented young woman to such an end."
He studied me for a moment. "May I ask what you do Miss James?"
"I am an associate attorney at a small law firm but what does that have to do with anything?"
"Ah," he said with a knowing air while lifting his chin and nodding his head a couple of times. "Are you planning to be a detective someday?"
The question surprised me for a moment. "Well, I hadn't given that any thought. Look detective, I know that I am butting in where I don't belong but I just want to find out who killed this woman and why."
“That, my dear, is exactly what I want but this is my job. It is not your job." He stopped as if to make sure that I understood. "Now, I will promise you that I will keep you informed but you have got to let me do my job. Don't call my office again. I will call you when I have something to tell you. Understood?"
"Yes, perfectly." He was annoyed with me but I decided to push my luck just a little further. "One more thing."
"Have you spoken with her boyfriend?"
"I wasn't aware that she had a boyfriend"
"She did. His name is Joshua Saunders."
"Thank you," he said slowly as he scribbled the name onto a pad on his desk. "Have a good day, Miss James."
I nodded my head and rose to leave. Once I opened the door, I turned to face the detective again. I smiled at him. "Have a good evening Detective Curtis." Our eyes met and held each other for a moment. He knew just as I knew that I would not leave this case alone until my curiosity was assuaged.
It was a bright fall morning with the crispness of the coming winter. The Art School was only a couple of blocks from my office and I used my lunch hour to pay the registrar's office a visit. There I learned that Joshua Saunders dropped out of school a couple weeks ago. He was no longer a student there and they could give me no more information without a warrant. Maybe this was a dead-end but I doubted if the Philly detective spoke with Joshua.
It wasn't as easy to learn anything about Joshua Saunders as it had been to learn about Avery Harris. Other than the pictures he took with Avery, there didn't seem to be an internet presence for him. I did find an address in a small town in the Lehigh Valley and decided to spend my Saturday looking for this young man.
It wasn't hard to find. My GPS took me right to the door. The problem was that as I turned into the driveway, I realized that I was right behind the black SUV of Philadelphia Detectives. Detective Curtis, along with another detective stood on the front porch talking to the resident. It looked to be an older woman, probably Joshua's grandmother. I tried to back out but he saw me and put a hand up to tell me to stop.
He slowly came to my window. "Well, well," he said. "I can't say that I'm surprised to see you, Miss James. You know, at first, I thought that you were a very smart young woman. Now, I'm thinking you must be daft. If you keep sticking your nose in this case, I'm going to be forced to arrest you for interfering in a police investigation. I really don't think your law firm would be very pleased with your arrest."
"You are right and I am so sorry, Detective." I sat there looking caught and stupid for a few moments. His partner came up to my car. "Oh, so this is the busy body you've been talking about?"
"Miss Lydia James, meet Detective Carl Williams."
I smiled and he shook my hand with a sweaty palm. "We passed a diner a couple miles down this road. What do you say we meet you there for lunch and we can talk about the case?"
I perked up at that invitation. "Can we?" I asked.
Detective Williams was tall with a dark complexion, and was more than a little suave. He walked with a swagger that was common in tall black men. If I had a type, he would fit the profile. "We shouldn't," he said. "But I got the feeling that you're going to keep putting your nose where it doesn't belong if we don't give you something."
Detective Curtis seemed thoughtful for a moment before he agreed. I pulled out of the driveway and they followed. At the diner we sat in a booth, Curtis beside me and Williams in front of me. I had never been nervous in the presence of a man before but Detective Williams made me nervous. I ordered a salad and a glass of raspberry lemonade. They both ordered big meals, steak, baked potatoes, asparagus, and big sodas. I remembered wondering how they could continue to work after eating such large meals.
I was quiet for a while, watching these two detectives interact with each other. They seemed easy. I got the impression that they had been working together for quite a long time. They talked on, bouncing ideas off each other while I just listened. Williams seemed to think that Avery was into some secret activity that got her killed. There was no evidence of drug use and her apartment looked as if she was hardly ever there. Curtis felt like it could have been a jealous lover. I took both ideas in and kept my thoughts to myself.
Finally, I said, "What did you learn at that house? Was that Joshua’s grandmother?"
"No," Curtis said. "That was an Aunt. She said that she got a call from Joshua about two weeks ago saying that he and Avery had broken up. We learned that he had dropped out of school but he did not tell his Aunt that he had dropped out of school or that he would not be coming back home. She hasn't seen him or been able to speak with him since that phone call."
"Now," Detective Williams said. "You know all you need to know at this point. Apparently, my partner likes you. That's the only reason he hasn't arrested you for interfering in a police investigation. I kind of like you, too."
"You need to butt out Miss James. Go back to your law firm and after this case has been solved, if you still have the detective bug, you can get a detective license and become a private investigator or join the force."
I was quiet, thinking about everything they said before I agreed. I promised that I would butt out if they promised to keep me informed. They did. Lunch over, we all headed back to Philadelphia.
I tried with everything in me to take my mind off of that case. I spent Saturday night with some friends from school. We watched movies, ate popcorn, and talked about the life we gave up for law school. I spent Sunday in church and then dinner with my parents and my brother.
Monday morning I needed to take my trash out to the dumpster in the back of my building. I took the back steps and went straight to the dumpster. Stray cats scattered when the back door crept open. As I threw my bag of trash on top of the others in the dumpster, I saw something glitter in the sunlight. I pushed a couple of bags aside and there it was, the pendant. The morning sun was hitting the jewel at an awkward angle, making the diamonds twinkle. I took a tissue from my pocket and retrieved the necklace from the dumpster. Dried blood was caked between the links of the chain and the diamonds. I put it in an envelope and took it back up to my apartment. Although I had promised not to interfere anymore, I knew that I had to tell the detectives about this new finding. As soon as I got to the office, I called Detective Curtis. As usual, there was no answer or call back for quite a while.
When I got home that evening, I was struck by the crime tape that still covered the door. Though I knew that I shouldn't, I let myself into the apartment. The giant bloodstain was still there on the floor in front of the kitchen counter. I stepped over the stain and went into the bedroom. I looked through her drawers and found nothing unusual. One side of her closet was full of clothes that I considered conservative but the other end was a different story. Those clothes were more than a little risqué. They were tight, low-cut dresses and tops. These were the clothes of someone in the sex industry, I thought. I can only assume that the detectives saw these clothes also. There was nothing here that would help in the investigation so I thought it best to leave. I closed the door and replaced the tape the best that I could. Just before I opened my apartment door, a man emerged from the back staircase, which was right by Avery's door. I stood in front of my own door and fumbled with my keys trying to get a better look at the young man. He did not seem surprised to see crime tape covering the door. He stood there a minute, looked both ways before he removed the tape and went into the apartment.
Since I knew that Detective Curtis was screening my calls, I called Detective Williams. He answered right away and I told him of the young man inside the apartment. The two detectives were there in a matter of minutes. The man claimed Jennifer had something of his and he just wanted to retrieve his property from the apartment. He was arrested and police officers took him away.
After all the police left, Detective Williams came to my door. "Hello, Miss James. How are you doing?"
"I'm fine. You?"
"I'm doing well." He paused and just watched me for a moment. "I've been thinking about you."
"I hope only good thoughts."
He smiled again, the most sensual and bright smile I had ever seen. Uncomfortable moments passed. I broke the moment of attraction. "I have something for you,” I said.
I stepped inside the door and he followed. I retrieved the envelope with the pendant and handed it to him. He peeped inside. "How did you come by this?"
"I found it in the dumpster out back."
He looked skeptical. "Thank you," he said. "I better be on my way."
"Yes, I guess you had better."
He made no move to leave and more uncomfortable moments passed. "You know Miss James, I cannot deny that I am attracted to you."
I wanted to acknowledge my own attraction but I thought it best to keep quiet, at least for now.
"I wanted you to know but I’m sure you already know that a relationship with you at this time would be unethical."
"I understand," I said as I placed my hand over his. "Hopefully, this pendant will help solve the case and we can see just where this attraction takes us."
He smiled, bent down, and kissed me on the cheek. "I'll let you know what we find. Goodnight Lydia." That was the first time he used my first name.
When I closed my door I was flooded with emotion. I was happy that Detective Carl Williams felt the same attraction for me that I was feeling for him. I also couldn't help feeling that finding that pendant may lead to a break in the case. I should have gone to bed happy and satisfied but that was too much like right. I poured a glass of wine and set down to my computer.
I began searching social media and any connections I could find to Jennifer Harris or Avery Harris. Those clothes I found in her closet had to lead to something. However, what I was learning was that Avery was able to keep the lives of Jennifer and Avery completely separate. Then I found a website called, 'Delicious Delights.' The graphics were all baked goods like cupcakes, pies, and danish. If you weren't really looking for something you wouldn't see it for what the site was really selling. Click on one of the bakery items and what appeared was a live stream to a young woman whose name matched the photo. They were Lemon Meringue, Chocolate Eclair, or Pecan. It didn't take long to find Avery Harris' profile.
Apparently, this was how she made her money for school, though her live stream was no longer available.
I wondered if I could get a list of the men who frequented this site without a warrant. I couldn't call the detectives again. They made it very clear that they were not pleased with my meddling in their investigation. I liked Detective Williams and I thought he liked me. I really didn't want to do anything that would stop this budding relationship in its tracks. All I could do at this point was hope the detectives were thinking the same as my own thoughts. I decided to adopt a hands-off approach. I'd keep my thoughts to myself and hope that they could solve the case without my help. That thought made me laugh a little. Seasoned detectives hardly needed my help, I knew.
Days passed and I didn't call the police station and no one called me, but I still had this burning curiosity. I felt as if I needed to know why that young woman lost her life before I could move on with my own life. Then one evening, something amazing happened. As I parked my car in the small lot beside my building, I saw the same guy that I had seen entering Jennifer's apartment. He seemed to be loitering outside my building as if he were waiting for someone. I thought he had been arrested but the police obviously let him go. He didn't seem to notice me so I sat in my car pretending to read over some papers. A few minutes later another car pulled up and the guy that jumped out was definitely Joshua Saunders. They exchanged words and Joshua handed him a small brown paper bag. The man nodded and quickly walked away. Joshua got into his car and pulled away. The entire scene was suspicious, to say the least. My mind conjured all sorts of nefarious reasons for that exchange. Maybe the bag contained money, a payoff for an illegal deed; or evidence of something more sinister. I kept it all to myself.
A week later I got a call from Detective Williams asking me out to dinner. "I thought you wanted to wait until the case was settled before we met socially?" I asked
There was no answer for several seconds. He cleared his throat."I did, but . . . ," he paused. "Miss. James, are you going to make this hard for me?'
"Not at all," I said, smiling to myself.
"Let us just say that you made quite an impression on me and I really want to get to know you better."
We were both silent for a moment. "I would love to have dinner with you, Detective Williams."
"Call me Carl, Please."
"Can I pick you up in an hour?"
"Yes, I'll be ready."
He was prompt and thoughtfully brought a single white rose. He chose an Italian Restaurant in Olde City. Carl Williams was polite and we went through the normal questions and answers one would expect in a new relationship. He was thirty-six, married to the job, and had no children. I saw that as promising. The food was delicious and the wine was expensive. As soon as there was a lull in the conversation, I couldn't help asking about the murder case.
"You know that I shouldn't tell you anything. My partner sees you as an amateur sleuth with a law degree."
I laughed. "Your partner may be on to something. Jennifer Harris, aka Avery, was my first time seeing a murder victim and I'm just having a hard time letting it go."
He eyed me suspiciously for a moment. "All right," he said. "The pendant that you found proved to be a very helpful piece of evidence. There was more than one blood type found on a necklace. Jennifer's blood was caked between the links of the gold chain. That, along with the coroner's report proved that the markings found on her neck could only be from that chain being tightened around her throat before being yanked away. Even more valuable, was the blood specks found on the heart. Whoever handled the heart, did so with hands that were bloodied, either with their own or someone else's. It turned out that the blood sample belonged to an unknown male. We also found some things in the apartment that belonged to a fellow classmate, Susanne Grimes. We are still trying identify the person whose blood was on the pendant and to locate Ms. Grimes." That was all the detective could tell me.
I thanked him for the information and did not tell him about the two men that I saw a couple of weeks ago. Our dinner continued and we talked about music, movies, and literature. He was the perfect gentleman and I hoped that he would want to see me again.
We said goodnight at my apartment door and he made no attempt to come inside. He kissed me on the forehead and said that he would call me soon.
As soon as I closed the door, I went straight to my computer to search the internet to see what I could find out about Susanne Grimes. Based on the pictures I found on social media, she and Joshua were apparently, more than friends. One site lead me to another and another and on and on, but I still didn't know the name of the other man in those photos. I started looking for their names in public records and soon found out that the name of the other man was Russell Grimes, Susanne's husband. They had been married for five years. Russell was a pharmacist and his young bride owned an Art Gallery. I don't know why but just knowing that little bit of information, gave me some satisfaction. I went to bed with that satisfying feeling. Tomorrow, I promised myself that I would visit the Art Gallery.
The gallery wasn't far from my office, an easy walk during my lunch hour. It was on a quiet street, tucked in between a bistro and a vintage record store. I stood outside for a few moments, peering through the window. The young woman I saw was short and plump with rosy cheeks and a happy smile. She didn't look like a murderer. A bell on the top of the door jingled when I went inside. "Hello," the woman said.
"Can I help you with something?"
"Just browsing," I said. At that moment, her husband entered the gallery. I recognized him immediately and turned away, as if he would recognized me. While browsing I listened to their whispered conversation.
"I still can't believe that she is gone," Susanne said.
"I know. Josh is having a hard time knowing that someone murdered her. I've been trying to persuade him to see someone to help him with his grief."
I realized at that point that I was wrong about everything. The police were probably just as wrong. These young people were all friends, good friends. So, who murdered Jennifer/Avery?
I walked slowly back to my office. My mind went over every detail of the case again and again. What did I miss? What did the detectives miss? I knew I should tell them that they're on the wrong track and made up my mind to do exactly that as soon as I got home that evening.
As usual, I stopped at the grocery store on my way home and didn't get in until six o'clock that evening. When I parked my car in the small lot behind my building, I noticed a homeless man going through the dumpster. At first, I thought nothing of it. Then he noticed me and came rushing toward my car. "Carry your bags, Ma'am?" He asked.
“No, thank you," I said.
Then it struck me. What if Jennifer didn't know her attacker at all? I called Carl right away. "Hello, Carl."
"Hello," he said.
"I have something important to tell you."
"I have something just as important to tell you." He paused and cleared his throat before continuing. "Looks like we are free to see each other. The case is over. It has been solved.”
"Yeah, I was going to call you. Jennifer Harris was stabbed to death by a homeless man with mental health issues. Apparently, he was already robbing the apartment when she came home."
"How did you learn all of this?"
"He was robbing an apartment a couple of blocks away. Neighbors called the police and he was caught in the act. With just a little interrogation and he confessed to everything."
"Really?" I was stunned.
"Yeah, the young man is a pretty sick guy."
"Why did he kill her?"
"He said he just wanted to rob the place but she came home and started screaming. He heard a voice telling him to shut her up. He grabbed a knife out of her kitchen and began to stab her. He didn't even know that she was dead. Said he just wanted her to stop screaming."
This was all so hard to believe. "Did you find out why she changed her name to Avery?"
"Yes," he chuckled a little. "We got that wrong. She didn't change her name. Her name is Jennifer Avery Harris.
Apparently, she signs all of her paintings, Avery. She’s got quite a collection. They will probably be worth a lot more now that she has passed."
"Yeah," I said, still a little surprised at the whole outcome.
"How about dinner and a movie?" He asked
"Sure," I said.
"You're not sounding too excited to go out with me."
"It isn't that. I'm almost sad that the case has ended. I've been so consumed with solving the mystery of it all that I think I'm said that its over. What will I do now?"
"May I make a suggestion?"
"You already have a law degree. If you are really interested in investigation, take the Private Investigator Exam and become a P.I... I really think you have the nose for investigation." We were both quiet for a few moments. “Or you could do as Detective Curtis suggested and join the force. I will take time to move up to detective but if that is what you want, it will happen."
"Well, it is worth thinking about. Thank you."
"What time shall I pick you up?"
"As soon as possible, I can use a night out.”
Well, that was my first attempt at investigation. Carl was right. I think I do have a nose for investigation. It could be because I’m just naturally curious. It felt sort of like putting a puzzle together without all the pieces. You have to find the pieces and then make them all fit. I think that I can do that. No. I’m sure I can do that.