Third Thursday Shorts

This one’s a little different. I went to a mystery genre class a while back, and the teacher had us do an exercise where we looked up a headline and started a mystery story from it. So, because it’s Nano, I thought I’d show you a bit of my rough work.

Headline: “Mother Steals Stroller, Leaves Child Behind”

“You called me in because I’m The Girl, didn’t you,” Martha Carlebach said over the infant’s screams.

It probably wasn’t an infant, she thought, eyeing the creature. It hadn’t stopped the piercing shrieks since she had come into the tiny boutique. It can walk. Infant’s are usually smaller, right?

This place was her worst nightmare, and her Grandma Hannah’s idea of a perfect place to meet men. Strollers hung from the ceiling, and racks upon racks of tiny clothes marched in perfect symmetry down the sides. Do mothers really need this many clothes for one tiny human?

“No, ma’am,” the officer-on-duty said.

Martha blinked, then remembered. She’d asked why she was called in.

“You’re the detective, ma’am. This is a key witness.”

She squinted at the man. Was that sarcasm? The child clung to a display of violently colored stuffed animals like they were it’s only hope of survival. Its wails were reaching the realm of the trusty dog whistle. Had it even stopped to breathe? 

“Can it even talk?” she said.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Martha got the impression that she was Being Judged. It was a feeling she knew well.

“Larson got his age from the store clerk.” The cop glanced down at his notebook. “Apparently, before the mother allegedly ran off with the stroller, he was very talkative.”

Martha eyed her partner, not more interested in the size of the clerk’s t-shirt than the location of the missing stroller. Was the girl even 25? She turned away from the giggles and back to the problem at hand. It was…leaking…from multiple places now.

The cop cleared his throat. “MIght start with a hug. Or at least tell him who you are.”

“Yes, thank you.” She glanced over the cop’s name tag. “Rodriguez. Go find me a witness that’s been to kindergarten, at least.”

“Actually, ma’am, he’s five. Should be in school already.”

“Awe, Roddie, you’re not giving kid duty to Detective Carlebach, are you? The rough, honey-and-coffee voice called out over the banshee.

Martha closed her eyes against the rush of warmth and coursed through her. Thank God. Mathews, with his aw-shucks smile and approximately a gazillion siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews, was perfect for this. She waved a hand at the thing.

“It doesn’t have an off switch.”

“First off, ‘it’ is a he, and he’s just a bit scared, that’s all. Isn’t that right, little man?”

Martha stepped back to admire the view as Mathews knelt before the terror. She’d have to figure out who designed the latest beat cop uniforms and thank them. With his light brown hair and wide innocent eyes, Mathews was the picture of boy-next-door. Martha prayed that he never met Grandma Hannah. The old girl would have him in kippah and hiring a matchmaker before he could show off his cross. 

Her ears rang in the sudden silence as Mathew finally got the kid to stop screaming. She jerked her gaze up to his face and felt her ears burn at the mischief in his eye. She fumbled for her notebook. 

“Name?”

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