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The Sutton Project
About the Author: A former journalist, Nupur Tustin now divides her time between composing and writing mysteries. Prior publications include work for Reuters, CNBC, diverse freelance articles, short stories, and academic research. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and the SinC Guppies. She is currently working on Aria to Death, the second in her Joseph Hadyn series, while her agent finds a home for A Minor Deception, the first book in the series. Visit her web site at

“It’s downright shameful is what it is!” A petulant note had crept into Martha Sutton’s voice. The corners of her small mouth puckered in discontent as she shook her head of tightly permed graying chestnut curls at Bethany Davis, the police officer who had responded to the robbery Mrs. Sutton had called in an hour ago.

“I wouldn’t have let my John spend a penny on this place if I’d known we’d be dealing with a robbery every third day.” Mrs. Sutton glared at Bethany as though she held the officer personally responsible for the theft of her jewelry.

More like every three or four weeks, if that. But Bethany didn’t think the fact would appease the middle-aged Mrs. Sutton. The thefts in this partially gentrified section of Venice had grown at an alarming rate this past year, and the Robbery-Homicide division of the LAPD had yet to make an arrest or recover any of the goods stolen.

Bethany shifted slightly, and sucked in her stomach. “Was anything else stolen?” she asked. Mrs. Sutton’s beady-eyed gaze was making her uncomfortably self-conscious of the baby belly she still carried.

You try keeping fit, she thought resentfully. With this job and two toddlers. She looked pointedly at the sagging folds of skin under Martha Sutton’s chin. “Anything apart from the blue diamond necklace you reported missing.”

Mrs. Sutton frowned. “Wouldn’t I have told you if anything else was missing?”

You sure would have. The words flashed across Bethany’s brain, but she showed no signs of having noticed the other woman’s question or her peevish tone. “Did you hear anything? See anything?”

“I wasn’t here to see or hear anything, was I?” Mrs. Sutton snapped. “John and I went for our usual constitutional to the beach. And when I returned, I found the house had been broken into.”

“Broken into?” Bethany raised an eyebrow. The wood-paneled door at the bottom of the steep narrow staircase that wound its way up to the spacious kitchen in which they were standing had shown no signs of forced entry.

“There!” Mrs. Sutton pointed an accusing forefinger at the round brass rosette on her front door. She frowned impatiently up at Bethany who, wincing from the sharp twinge of pain starting up her lower back, was still making her way down the narrow staircase.

“You can tell the lock’s been forced.” She continued when Bethany reached her side.

Bethany, bending down to peer at the rosette, saw innumerable barely visible hairline cracks around the lock on the doorknob and on the round door plate. Nothing more sinister than the normal wear and tear associated with a house this old.

“I don’t think—” she began.

“The brass was in pristine condition when John and I left for our walk this morning.”

Bethany sighed. “When did you buy this doorknob set, Ma’am?”

Buy it! Why, it came with the house, of course.” Martha Sutton looked at Bethany as though wondering how anyone could be so daft. “When we bought it last year,” she added. “We changed very little of the original Spanish architecture.”

She considered the light green adobe structure and the red clay tiles on the gable roof with a faint smile of pride before turning to Bethany.

“Shouldn’t you take a picture?” she asked. “As evidence?”

Bethany shrugged, bringing out her iPhone to click a snap of the offending doorknob.

“An iPhone!” Martha Sutton frowned in displeasure. “Surely, you have better equipment than that, Officer?”

“Trust me, Ma’am, this will suffice.” Bethany began rapidly tapping the camera button on her phone.

The house must have been built in the fifties like most of the other houses on this street. The doorknob was in remarkably good condition if the fittings really went back that far. Now, if the perps had used a bump key or a lock pick to force the cylinder to rotate, there would be no visible signs of a break-in. But a forensic locksmith might still be able to find marks on the pins. Of course, the lockset would have to be dismantled.

Bethany was about to suggest this, but Mrs. Sutton was already leading the way up the stairs.

This story appears in our DEC 2015 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Love this story! Very original with a surprise ending.
By J Newman

Thoroughly enjoyable. Never thought I'd see a crocodile have a prominent part to play in a story!
By Micki Browning

So glad you enjoyed the story. I had great fun writing it and walking around the neighborhood to map out where things were.
By Nupur Tustin

Never saw that coming! Well done.
By Dee Overduin

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