Kathleen Delaney
Author of the Mary McGill and the Ellen McKenzie cozy mystery series

      

 

My story in the April issue of
Mystery Weekly Magazine

 

Dressed to Kill

Dressed to Kill
Severn House Publishers
UK: July 31, 2019
US: November 1, 2019

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Mary McGill and her cocker spaniel Millie get the fright of their lives on Halloween when they hear gunshots coming from the bank and the robber, dressed in a clown costume, points his gun at them before fleeing the scene. Mary is horrified when she discovers Police Chief Dan Dunham has been shot in the shoulder and a woman has been killed. Why would the clown shoot an ordinary citizen? Mary soon learns that the victim is Victoria Witherspoon, a local woman who owned a sewing shop and must have recognised the clown costume – because she made it herself. With Dan in hospital and unable to investigate, can Mary and Millie unmask the savage killer clown before he strikes again?

 

Excerpt:

The man lurched toward Mary, hands outstretched, white hair encrusted with mud and gore. The slash from his left ear to his jaw was raw and bright red. His eyeball seemed to dangle from his left eye socket and moaning sounds escaped from his lips with each step.

Mary didn’t move. She stared as he got nearer and nearer. Millie, Mary’s not-so-brave cocker spaniel, peered at him from behind Mary’s legs and made a few moaning sounds.

‘Your wig is slipping and your moans sound like stomach trouble. Other than that, you look pretty good,’ Mary told the apparition, who frowned.

‘I told Mom it slipped. It was Grams’s when she got breast cancer, and I guess she wanted it big. Mom gave me some hairpins, but they don’t work very well.’ The apparition sighed. ‘Other than that, what do you think?’

‘I think it will be dark in the House of Horrors and you’ll scare the daylights out of all the girls and some of the boys. Just try to groan a little louder. Think of how you’d feel after eating eight hot dogs.’

A wide grin appeared. ‘I’d feel great, but I’ll try to make it louder. How’s this?’

He let loose with a groan that made Millie howl. Mary laughed. ‘I think that will do just fine.’

The apparition nodded and lurched off, practicing as he went.

‘Was that Bobby Connors?’ Joy Maguire stood beside Mary, watching the retreating figure. ‘I hope that’s his House of Horrors costume. He’ll have all the littles in hysterics if he keeps wandering around the park like that.’

Mary turned to look at Joy. Millie wagged her stump of a tail.

‘Yes, that’s Bobby and he’ll be in his position in the House of Horrors before people start arriving. Thank goodness the little ones have their own fun house.’ She took another look at Joy and nodded. ‘You look great. Where’d you get your costume?’

She assumed Joy had whipped it up somehow, but the colonial dress she had on looked authentic. So did the mop cap she wore and the voluminous apron. White stockings and black shoes with buckles completed her ensemble.

‘I got the cap and apron when we went to Williamsburg last summer, and I had Victoria Witherspoon make the dress. I showed her a picture, and this is what she came up with. She’s pretty good.’

High praise from Joy, who was no stranger to the sewing machine. Mary was surprised, though, that Joy had entrusted the task to someone else, especially someone she had to pay. Joy was notorious for having a tight grip on her family budget. However, the money had been well spent. Joy looked just like the interpreters Mary had seen on her one and only trip to Williamsburg. If she’d known what Joy had in mind, she might have been tempted to try something like that herself. All the other volunteers on Mary’s Halloween in the Park committee were dressing up in some way, but Mary had demurred. As chairman she had the right to refuse, she’d said, and, besides, she’d be too busy to be bothered with long black witches’ skirts, clown pants, or any of the other silly looking things her committee people were wearing. She’d come as herself, a woman of a certain age, a widowed retired school teacher with a dog who wasn’t wearing a costume either. Speaking of which . . .

‘Is the stage in the gazebo ready for the costume parade? I don’t want anyone to trip over the sound equipment the band’s going to have, but I do want the music.’

‘All taken care of. They know they have to play sort of soft music while the costume contest is going on, especially when it’s the little kids, but then they’re going to let it rip. I’ve never heard of even one of the songs they’re going to play.’

Mary didn’t doubt that for a minute. Joy wouldn’t be up on the music the kids of today listened to. She hadn’t much liked the music of her own era. Joy had disapproved of Elvis Presley, and he was tame, compared to today’s performers. ‘Good. I’ll stop by and check on them later. Right now, I want to make sure the fun house for the babies is actually fun and safe.’

‘It will be. The preschool fathers from St. Marks put it together under the watchful eyes of the preschool mothers. I’d better check on the trick and treat bags.’

Mary watched her retreating back with the familiar mix of feelings she always had about Joy, admiration for her competency in organizing just about everything and slight irritation with her joyless attitude at doing it. Joy’s mother’s optimism about her future attitude toward life when she gave her that name hadn’t born fruit.

‘Come on, Millie. Let’s make sure the little’s fun area is finished.’

They headed toward the end of the town park that faced the library and the local bank. The other side faced the auto parts store and a newer building filled with attorneys and accountants. That they needed a building for that many still amazed Mary. The town had grown a lot in the last few years, mostly due to the wineries that had appeared and the tourists that visited them. There wouldn’t be tourists tonight, however. Halloween was for the children of Santa Louisa and there would be no wine involved. She pulled her sweater closer around her. It was a chilly afternoon, but the sky was clear. It would be a cold night but a beautiful one. It was quiet at this end of the park, which was why Mary had chosen it for the events slated for the six and under crowd. The only people on the street were going in and out of the bank. She recognized one of them. Her nephew-in-law, Dan Dunham, entered the bank, followed by someone dressed as a clown. The red, white, and blue suit had a high ruff around the neck, long sleeves with exaggerated ruffles that hid the hands, baggy pants, and oversized shoes. Whoever was under all that had completed the look with the customary red nose and one of those awful rubber masks you pulled on over your head. Once again, she was glad she’d refused to wear anything like that but had to admit it was a well-done costume.

She walked back to view the events. The small slide was decorated with cutouts of black cats, black and orange crepe paper, and a laughing ghost made from a bedsheet and stuffed with pillows at the bottom. The children would slide down almost into its arms. There were small tables holding spray chalk for decorating the sidewalk and big boards set up for painting the witches, goblins, and ghosts that were outlined on them. Small tubs held apples for bobbing, but the rules and safety precautions were different from the ones for the older kids, and so was the fun house. Nothing scary here. Just some fun and surprises, at least Mary hoped so. She stared at it, trying to decide how she felt about it when a loud blast distracted her. It distracted Millie, too, who yelped as if she’d been hit. A firecracker? Then another sounded, and another. They seemed to be coming from around the bank. Some teenager trying to get things started early?

Beyond irritated, she grabbed Millie into her arms and headed for the street at a brisk trot. It seemed empty. The door of the bank flew open and the clown appeared. He had a tote bag in one hand and a large gun in the other.

Mary gasped and tightened her grip on Millie, who yelped again. The clown turned to look at them and raised the gun. He was going to shoot them. Horror and disbelief filled Mary as she stared at the clown. Should she try to shove Millie behind her? Or drop to the grass? She could do neither. Her body seemed frozen in place. Except for her heart. It was beating so hard she thought it might escape. But the clown didn’t shoot. He dropped his hand and, with surprising speed, ran down the street and turned the corner toward the parking lot behind the library and disappeared.
What had just happened? She took a deep breath, only now aware she had been holding it. Her brain started functioning again. Had she really seen what she thought she’d seen? A clown with a gun? One who had almost shot them? Oh, dear God. Those weren’t firecrackers she’d heard. They were gunshots. What had that man been doing? Robbing the bank, the unfrozen part of her brain answered. Had he shot someone? Before she could react, sirens screamed, and a lone police car careened to a stop in front of the bank. Gary, a policeman she knew well, jumped out, gun drawn.

‘Mrs McGill, get down. Get out of the way. Move!’ He looked around somewhat wildly, gun drawn.

‘He went into the library parking lot,’ she yelled back. ‘He’s dressed as a clown.’

Gary paused to stare at her, mouth agape. ‘He’s what?’

‘Dressed like a clown. In a Halloween costume. He’s in the library or in the parking lot.’

‘Stay there,’ Gary yelled back and started for the parking lot.

Mary watched, but only for a second. Shots. Gun. Someone might be hurt. She dropped Millie on the grass and, keeping a tight grip on her leash, dashed with her at her side across to the bank. The door seemed unusually heavy, but she finally got it open and rushed in – but immediately stopped.

A woman lay on the floor, a pool of blood slowly expanding around her, one of the tellers kneeling at her side, crying. Little old Minnie Myers stood by the table that held the banking supplies, holding onto it as if she let go, she’d fall to the floor as well. Glen Manning, the bank president and Mary’s good friend, stood in the doorway of his office, staring at the floor. There was no sign of the other two bank employees. Behind the counter? But that thought was fleeting. Mary had caught sight of what Minnie, Glen, and now Millie stared at. The woman wasn’t the only body on the floor. There was another one. A man. Aghast, Mary stopped. She didn’t feel Millie crash into her legs. The policemen and EMTs who rushed in barely registered.

It was Dan. Lying on the floor outside Glen’s office, blood slowly stained the shoulder of his blue shirt. Dan, who had practically grown up in her kitchen, who had married her beloved niece, Ellen, who . . . Cold enveloped her and, for the first time in her life, Mary felt her knees give out.

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