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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Morning Before a Murder

A while back, late last summer I think it was, Kaye George and I tried creating a Miss Marple type character. Mildred Morning's background is a bit sketchy. Kaye's story ran here for a while. Now I'm putting up mine. I invite anyone who reads these to contribute his or her own story about Mildred. Keep it around 1,000 words. Send it to me at jacktheauthor@gmail.com

The heroine is Mildred Morning.
The stories take place between 1935-1945, making her 60-70.
Mildred was born in 1875. By 1940, she was an on set tutor to child actors. Let's
imagine her as a tenacious, hardened Betty White.
Her fiancé disappeared after the 1895 invasion of Panama. She was 20, he was 23.
Name: Martin Adler. Navy.
She lives alone in a West Hollywood bungalow surrounded by aspiring stars.


The crazy red head was at it again.

Mildred Morning, the consummate nosy neighbor, was also at it again. Sitting  off to the side of the  window that looked out on the red head’s bungalow, Mildred cupped her Pall Mall inside her hand and listened to the leggy dancer go at it with her latest date. She was going to be the next Myrna Loy, the gal had told Mildred.  That was a summer ago. A year later, she was still entertaining midlevel studio execs.
If what she did was entertaining.

“Harry, don’t. Not that.”

Mildred laughed. There she went being the innocent ingénue. ‘Don’t’ wasn’t in that gal’s vocabulary. Mildred knew. Sometimes from her bungalow’s upstairs bedroom she could look down into the red head’s bedroom window and see all the things she said ‘don’t’ to but did do anyhow.

Mildred took a final drag on her cigarette. She flicked the butt out the window. The clock on the mantle chimed nine. It was just about time for Jack Benny on the radio.

 She passed the mantle to the stairs, stopping to pick up the La Brea Tar Pits ashtray she kept there.  The glass dish sat between the nautical chime clock from Santa Monica and the Carlsbad Caverns paper weight. They were her personal treasures given to her by Marty. When she looked at the knick knacks she remembered him in his parade uniform, shipping out with those other brave boys to go to the far away land of Panama. Marty never came back. The trinkets were all she had to remember him by.  To anyone else the souvenirs were tchotsky, odds and ends not worth locking her doors to protect.

Mildred went upstairs to her bedroom where she settled down on her mattress. She put her teeth on a glass of water on the nightstand and lifted the La Brea Tar Pits ash tray onto her stomach. She lit a cigarette and settled down for the Benny show.  An hour later she slept peacefully, the lit cigarette burning safely on the face of a woolly mammoth.

The slamming of car doors and the wail of sirens startled her awake. The world wasn’t its normal, peaceful self. Why?  Fire. She remembered lighting a cigarette. Had she fallen asleep smoking again?
She sat up in bed knocking the ashtray to the oval hook rug. Ash spilled. Mildred got out of bed and ground the cooled ash into the carpet. She’d heard ash was good for the carpet. Her heel twisted back and forth. She yawned, not feeling like she’d slept at all.  It took her a moment to realize it was still dark outside, that her house wasn't on fire, and that all the commotion was coming from that crazy red head’s house next door.

Mildred grabbed her housecoat from the back of a chair near the bedroom window. Below her uniformed police officers stood on the sidewalk and the concrete steps cut into the neighbor’s raised lawn. Detectives in trench coats moved in and out of the house.  The red head’s blonde roommate, also a studio dancer but with lower expectations than the red head’s, sat on the porch swing having a cigarette and crying.  A handsome, younger detective sat next to her, a Fedora tipped back on his head. Evert few moments his hand went to the blonde’s knee.  Mildred leaned over the sill of the open window. It was too difficult hear from the loft.

Mildred went back downstairs to her rocker. Skipping the cigarette for the moment, she pulled the chair closer to the window and strained her ears to pick up the conversation.

“She wanted the place to herself tonight,” the blonde was saying.

“Where were you?” the detective asked.

“I was out.”

“It would help if you told me where. And if you were with anyone.”
“Is that important?”

“It would establish your alibi and eliminate you as a suspect.”

“You think I did that to Lulu?”

“No. Of course not.”

She couldn’t see it, but Mildred was certain the detective’s hand was back on the blonde’s knee. Maybe it was on her hand now. Mildred wanted to look but it was best she stayed where she was, unseen, and out of the attention zone.

 ‘Alibi my ass,’ Mildred thought. That young dick was crafty. Most murders weren’t as random as people would believe. Mildred knew that from reading Detective Magazine.  It wasn’t like a well thought out Agatha Christie. Most of the time murders were spur of the moment, crimes of passion.

Maybe Blondie came home to find Red and her date having a go at it and the guy—what was his name? Mildred searched for it. Harry. Maybe Harry was Blondie’s sawhorse. Maybe she didn’t like the idea of her Harry sharing his pine with that dirty Red. Harry beats a path and the two gals go at it like kittens over a saucer of milk.

That detective knew what he was doing, all right.

“When you say out,” the detective said “were you with anyone else?”

“A bunch of girls went over to the Trocadero. We had just wrapped one of those water dance scenes for Mr. Berkley’s latest project.”

“So there were other people who witnessed you at the Trocadero.”

“Yeah. There’s Shelly Martin and Sylvie Abbott and Henrietta Barrymore. Oh, she’s not related to the Barrymores. She just has the same last name.”

“That’s good. Did you all have fun?”

“Who doesn't have fun at Café Trocadero?”

“Well, I wouldn't really know. I've never been.”

Smooth, Mildred thought.

“How long have you lived in Los Angeles?” Blondie asked.

“Born here,” the detective said.

“And you never been?”

The conversation had taken a decidedly boring turn for Mildred. The red head was dead. The blonde had found her. And some time in between when Mildred went upstairs to fall asleep to Jack Benny and the blonde had come home, red had been murdered and Harry had skipped out.

The clock on her mantle chimed. Mildred squinted at its dial in the dark. A little light spilled in from the porch light next store. She walked over to check the time.  It was only a little after eleven. Benny had been on at nine. That meant the crime scene was less than two hours old. Harry could be anywhere.

Only Harry hadn’t gone anywhere at all. It took her a moment to realize someone stood in the alcove between her front door and mantle.  Harry stepped out of the shadows and cupped a hand over Mildred’s mouth.

“Don’t say anything, lady,” Harry said. “You gotta help me.”

Mildred didn't move.

“You gotta understand, it was an accident. That Lulu, she liked it rough. Everyone said she did. It was just playing. I gave her a push. She fell against the mantle. Hit her head. That’s all. You believe me, don’t you?”
Mildred shook her head. Harry got a little rougher with her.

“What do you know?”

Mildred put a hand on his wrist to pull his hand away. He pushed harder.  Even in the dark she could see the anger in his eyes. Outside the window the blonde laughed at something the young detective said. Both she and Harry looked at the drift of the curtains as a breeze wafted through. When she looked back at him, Harry was glaring at her.

“You heard it all, didn’t ya, you old crow?” He clamped a hand against her throat.  “Look, you gotta understand me. I’m not real good with broads. Everyone in the mailroom says I want to get my cherry popped, all I gotta do is tell Lulu Barel I’m some hotshot junior movie executive.  What do I know about how to make movies? I’m just a Joe looking for a job and a dame, right?”

Mildred shrugged. What did she know, after all? To her, it was just a typical Saturday night for the red head. Harry pleaded his case.

“So Lulu, she keeps asking me questions. What’s my next project? Who’s going to be in it? Do I think there’s a part for her? All these questions and me, hell, I just want to get down to the real business. I try giving her answers but I don’t know what to say. Lulu catches on and she wants me to leave but I ain’t leaving till I get what I came for. All she had to do was go along with it and I would have left.”
Harry’s voice cracked. The gravity of what he’d done weighed on him.

Mildred reached to the mantle. The clock was too heavy for her to use but the paper weight was just right. It fit comfortably in her hand. At first she thought about hitting him in the temple with it but then she had a better idea.  She summoned her will to survive and heaved the globe at the window. Her plan had been to toss it through the opening but her aim was off and it shattered through the raised panes of glass.
A uniformed officer stuck his head in the window and shined a flashlight across the room. It lit up Harry and Mildred.

“Detective, in here!” the officer said.

Harry shoved Mildred backwards. Years of teaching primary school before becoming an on set tutor had given her legs of steel. She barely moved. Harry broke for the door. Mildred raised a foot and snagged his ankle. Harry tumbled forward and fell face first into the diamond shaped glass doorknob. When he tried to get up, she crowned him with her fireplace poker.

The front door flew open. The young detective and another uniformed officer stood inside the alcove, their guns trained on a dazed and moaning Harry.

“Ma’am, are you all right?” the young detective asked.

“Oh, I’m fine,” Mildred said. “But I think the next date this poor bastard has is with a chair at San Quentin.” 


  1. Nice job, taking us back to what weren't really the good old days, were they? Thanks!

  2. Nicely done. Mildred is such a good choice for the name - so quaintly old-fashioned.