Bang! Bang! Bang!

Mary looked up from her mystery novel. Almost midnight. Too late for anyone reputable to be pounding a front door.

She’d grown up in a family where late-night poundings happened too often: cops with warrants, thugs with threats. Her parents and brothers were all stashed in prisons. Mary was the family’s only law-abider, her only crime sometimes inflating her bowling scores.

Tonight, though, she hadn’t needed to cheat to catapult her team to first place. She’d bowled a perfect 300. Her first perfect game. She’d had to skip celebrating with her team afterwards and rush straight from the bowling alley to her caregiving shift.

Another first. Her first client for her brand-new business, Elegant Elder Care.

“Who’s at the door?” shrilled the old lady from her bedroom suite.

Damn. The banging must’ve woken the old gal up.

“I’ll check, darling!” Mary called out. “No worries!”

Mary peeked through the curtains. Snow had finally stopped falling. The first thing she saw was a square box at the edge of the wide veranda, wrapped in pink and ribboned in purple. Affixed to the box’s top was a cigar-sized candle, its electric bulb glowing orange. The second thing she saw were footprints, marring the fresh snow on the walkway to the veranda.

Mary opened the door. Stepped outside. Cold cut through her bowling shirt, goosebumping her skin. Now she could see a tag on the box: Happy Birthday, Grandmama!

She listened. A ticking. Tick-tick-tick. From the box.

Okay. Maybe a clock. But maybe a bomb. No time to call Jack, the guy who’d hired her to watch his old auntie while he spent a few days in Vegas. No time to call and wait for cops to show with a bomb-sniffer dog.

Mary hurried inside, grabbed her bowling ball from its bag by the door.

Back on the veranda, she lifted the ball, aimed, and launched.

Smoothly, the ball rolled down the veranda. It rolled right where she’d aimed, kissing the edge of the box, nudging it off the veranda. Mary watched the box fall down the three steps to the walkway.

The candle toppled off. Mary waited. Ten seconds later a fog of white hissed from the box, dissipating into the air.

Then silence. No explosion.

A day later, Mary sat at the old lady’s kitchen table across from Detective Burnley.

“Smart instincts, you,” Burnley said. “That gas woulda poisoned the old gal, maybe you too. Bomb squad figured it was set to release right after the candle was removed.”

“Her nephew? Jack?”

“He’s our person of interest, lawyering up in Vegas as we speak. Old gal’s got money going to him when she croaks. He’s got gambling debt.”

“My money’s on him,” Mary said. “He didn’t do a background check on me or check references. All he cared was that I was available. What a way to start my new business!”

“We’re interviewing for law enforcement aides. I think you got potential, young lady. Interested?”

Mary nodded and laughed. “This’ll be a first in my family, working for the right side of the law.”

~ fin ~

Marie Anderson photo

Marie Anderson is a Chicago area married mother of three millennials. She is the author of two collections of stories—“What Good Moms Do and Other Stories” and “Sharp Curves Ahead”— and the editor of “The Wrong Coat,” a themed, multi-author anthology of stories and poems. Her stories have appeared in about 70 publications, including Bethlehem Wood’s Roundtable, The Saturday Evening Post, Mystery Magazine, Shotgun Honey, and After Dinner Conversation. Since 2009 she has led and learned so much good stuff from a writing critique group at a public library in La Grange, IL.