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An Understudy In Scarlet
About the Author: Mark S Bailen has published in the High Plains Literary Review, the Sonora Review, and Little Blue Marble.

At first it was a fabulous job. Elaine had little to do except stock the liquor cabinet. Occasionally she was sent out to buy cigarettes or fancy cheeses. And she got to wear sultry red dresses and boas. But then one afternoon Miss Scarlet asked her to kill Colonel Mustard in the billiard room with a revolver.

"You have the safety off?" asked the Colonel from across the snooker table. He was a jaundiced man with a paunch.

"I think so," said Elaine. The gun was awfully heavy.

"Then pull the trigger, dear. Let me have it." He tapped his foot impatiently.

"It won't hurt?"


"And you won't die?"

"Of course not." The Colonel belched. "I'll be back in a jiffy, ready for the next match."

Elaine shut her eyes and fired the revolver. She missed badly. The shot created an explosion of lath and plaster, knocking a dart board from the wall.

The second time Miss Scarlet asked Elaine to kill somebody it was Mrs. Peacock in the hall with a dagger.

"Just poke the knife in, dear. Between the ribs." Mrs. Peacock was a frail woman with fluttering eyes. She lifted a blue shawl, providing an easy target.

"I can't," said Elaine.

"Come now. Just shove it in and twist."

"Twist?" Elaine retreated a few squares, limply holding the knife.

"Oh, dear." Mrs. Peacock lifted her chained spectacles. "You'll never kill me that way. Find a good grip on the thing." She revealed a bird-like neck. "Or if you prefer, slice my throat?"

"No!" Elaine tossed down the dagger. "I can't! I just can't!"

The third time Miss Scarlet asked Elaine to kill somebody it was Professor Plum in the lounge with a wrench.

Miss Scarlet was in attendance, observing from a chaise while sipping a dry martini. "No more hiding in the library, Elaine. It's time to earn your keep." She had sleepy eyes and slurred her words. "Now give him a good whack."

The professor stood a few squares from Elaine, stroking his goatee. "Yes, don't be shy. I suggest a high velocity swing with an acute angle."

Elaine hefted the wrench and swung for the professor's head but at the last moment caught herself and tumbled onto the rug.

Professor Plum giggled.

"Hopeless." Miss Scarlet leapt from the chaise, spilling her drink and lifting the wrench. "Like this, Elaine. Watch." She swung the wrench upward, using both hands. It was a master stroke, worthy of a tennis pro. The wrench hit the professor's skull with a crack and the man crumpled.

"See?" Miss Scarlet grinned.

The fourth time Miss Scarlet asked Elaine to kill somebody it was Mrs. White in the conservatory with a rope. Elaine sat cross legged on a rug among a tangle of rope. Mrs. White sat nearby drinking tea.

"I'm not sure either, child," Mrs. White said. "Perhaps I'm meant to hang from it?" She was a plump woman who reminded Elaine of her mom. Mrs. White patted a chair. "Why don't you come sit. We'll worry about the rope later."

Elaine sat down, resigned. "I suppose Miss Scarlet will let me go."

"It's a mystery why you even accepted the job."


"With what?" asked Mrs. White.

"Murder scenes. I hope to be a mystery writer. I thought being Miss Scarlet's understudy would help, but I keep bungling the murders. Maybe I'm not cut out for this?"

"She can be a beast."

Elaine nodded.

Mrs. White sipped her tea. "If you will permit some advice, child. Most folks who wish to succeed at murder require a little something called motive."

The fifth time Miss Scarlet asked Elaine to kill somebody it was Mr. Green in the study with a candlestick. Mr. Green coached her from a leather chair. "Hold it lightly, girl. There you go. Let your mind drift. It's almost a Zen thing."

Elaine charged forward but once again, halted in mid swing.

"Better!" said Mr. Green.

"No. It's useless." Elaine shook her head. "I can't do it. I'm no murderer."

Mr. Green patted her shoulder. "A solid effort."

This story appears in our OCT 2022 Issue
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