By Gratia Serpento
“Oh, Officer Ketterling, what can I do for you?” Vera Likely leans up against her door, her brows perfectly arched with just the right amount of concern, her mouth open in a red ‘o’ and her brown hair perfectly coiffed. A stunning red dress, reminiscent of a 50’s style, was draped over her curved body. A lot of pretty women lived or visited Narya Cove, but no one would ever be as beautiful as Vera. She was a modern-day Marilyn Monroe, that’s what all the Narya Cove men said.
“I just wanted to have a chat,” says Officer Ketterling. He adjusts his raincoat, shaking water off it, and rubs his boots against her welcome mat. “Is it alright if I come in?”
“Of course, Officer,” Vera steps aside and pulls the door wider, offering him a sweet smile. “Would you like something to drink? I have tea, coffee, or maybe I could find something a little stronger?”
“Oh, no,” Ketterling chuckles, stepping into her house. The walls are white and narrow, and he hangs his coat on a coat rack as she disappears into the kitchen. Women’s coats of all sizes and colors hang against the rack, along with a different coat, a heavy male one. “I can’t—my wife wouldn’t be happy if I was caught drinking with you. Coffee’ll be just fine.”
Vera calls from the kitchen, “Would she be happy if it was any other woman in the cove?”
“Miss Likely, you do have a bit of a reputation.” Ketterling touches the masculine coat, the heavy material a deep almond. “Who’s coat is this?”
There’s a sound of a cup clinking against the counter, then a long pause of silence, before Vera calls out, “What coat?”
“This Carhart coat,” Ketterling asks, pulling on the tag. “It looks much too big for your meager frame.”
Vera comes back out from the kitchen, her nose scrunched up as she holds two steaming mugs—one with coffee, and one with tea. She tilts her head as she stares at the coat, her face a little peeved, before she smooths her expression. “That’s my coat,” she says as she hands the cop his cup of coffee.
He takes a drink, giving her a guarded look. “This is a man’s coat.”
“And it’s very, very warm,” Vera sips her tea with the elegance of a noblewoman, her bronze, swan-thin throat bobbing with the motion. She motions to the window, which overviews the beach—or, at least, it would, if the fog wasn’t so thick. “And Narya Cove is very, very cold.”
“Would a woman’s coat not do you any good?”
“I have a lot of women’s coats, all for different purposes,” Vera says. “This coat has it’s purpose, too. But I doubt you came here to ask questions about my clothing.” She looks him up and down, her gingerbread sweet eyes growing darker. “Or did you?”
Ketterling chokes on his coffee, sputtering, banging his chest as he coughs. “No, no!” He says hurriedly, flashing his wedding band. “I’m married!”
“Such a shame,” she whispers, before laughing at his mortified expression. “I’m jesting, Officer. I would never throw such dirt on Laura’s name, no, I love the woman all too much! And you’re not my type.”
Despite his insistence on not being seduced by the beautiful woman in front of him, he was still stung by her blatant rejection. It didn’t make his masculine ego feel any better to know that the most beautiful girl in the town, the one all men loved and lusted over, did not find him fancy.
“Perhaps we should sit?” Vera prompts, curling into a giant armchair, the navy velvet so straight it would’ve looked greatly uncomfortable had anyone else sat there. But she lowered herself like a queen, the move so graceful and elegant.
Ketterling sat down on the blue sofa, tracing over the white flower pattern. “I’m sure you’ve heard about Markus Vanders and Lewis Peters?”
Her nose scrunches before her face drops in a frown. “Of course I do, everyone in this town knows everyone and their cousin. Poor Lewis and Markus. May those two souls rest in peace.” She pauses, a thought dawning on her. “Wasn’t Markus in the force as well? Did you know him well?”
“He was, and I know that he was in charge of the investigation of Lewis’ murder.”
“Murder?” gasps Vera, her hand resting against her heart. “Everett told Nancy who told me that Lewis died on a beach run, and had a heart attack from overexertion.”
“Lewis’ body was beaten up, but only in areas his clothes concealed,” Ketterling explained, looking at Vera’s arms. “It also appeared that he went running without a coat—Lewis was a man who never exercised, whyever would he run on the beach? In winter, when the gloom is most dark?”
“I suppose this town is all talk without any fact,” Vera says solemnly, sipping her tea. “I hadn’t quite heard anything about his injuries.”
“Only the police and the medical examiners knew—the wounds were tactfully placed, clearly no accident, a strategy. Say, Miss Likely, whatever happened to your arms?”
Vera glances down, and sighs. Her arms are torn up, long scratches down the sides, red and raised. “I visited my aunt, and she had baby kittens, they were simply adorable, and ever so sweet,” she coos. “However, mother cat didn’t like me all too much.”
“How could anyone not like you?”
Vera laughs the sound a musical symphony, which prompts a smile onto Ketterling’s face. He nearly forgets why he’s there.
Clearing his throat, he focuses on the facts at hand. “Everyone knows you and Lewis didn’t get along, which is why Markus questioned you, isn’t that what happened?”
“Yes,” Vera confirms, nodding her head. “Markus visited me two weeks ago, asked a bunch of questions. And I didn’t like Lewis that much is true—he was married, but flirted and touched like none of us could see his ring. He was slimy, and I hated him. But I also hate Mondays, and I hate Mrs. Becks, and I hate the president, the governor, and I hate plastic bottles. I hate a lot of things, Officer Ketterling, but not enough to be driven to murder.”
Her nose scrunches, bouncing up and down. “That’s why Officer Vanders visited me, and he insinuated I killed Lewis. I convinced him I didn’t do it, a fly I could off but a rabbit I could not, and that was that. I haven’t seen him since.” Her gaze turns pensive. “Was Markus murdered, too?”
“What do you think he died of?” Ketterling’s body is getting sucked into the couch, so he straightens. Immediately after, his muscles relax, and he snuggles deeper into the couch. It was a very comfortable couch.
“I heard from Lucille, who heard from Arie, that Markus was…” her voice quivers. In a low voice, so quiet in the open room it feels like an echo, she asks, “Was Markus…poisoned?”
Ketterling takes a long drink from his cup, stalling. His next words were heavy, and he hated speaking so tactlessly about his fallen coworker. “Markus was murdered, much like Lewis, but Markus was murdered after he started poking around Lewis’ death. In the force, we call this a pattern.”
Vera nods, and the cop continues, “And Lewis was murdered after going to the bar. The bartender—”
“During the off season, Jamie works Monday through Thursday, and Lula Friday through Sunday. I’m trying to imagine what day this occurred.” Vera smiles, her nose scrunches.
“Ah, well, it was a Friday,” Ketterling says, eyeing Vera carefully. His eyes feel dry and droopy, but he presses on. “Well, Lula reports that Lewis drank more than usual, and was fed up with you. Said you were a tease, and not as beautiful as everyone thought you were. He wanted to show that you were fallible, and made plans to visit you. Next morning, he turns up dead. Without a coat on.”
“My grandmother died without anything but her underwear on, I don’t see what clothes have to do with this—”
“Lula also described what Lewis was wearing. Sometime between the bar and morning, he lost his jacket. A brown Carhart coat, with a whiskey stain on the left pocket.” Slowly, he stands up, and grabs the coat, his knees locking up as he sits back on the sofa. He sets his cup on the coffee table, and turns the coat over, showing the jacket’s left pocket. A deep brown stain swallows the pocket, and one sniff reveals that it is whiskey.
“Did Lewis visit you?”
“He wanted me, he was drunk and handsy, so I took him downstairs.” Vera stands, and sets her mug down. “Would you like to see where I took him?”
“Yes,” Ketterling says, following Vera as she takes him down a hall and opens a door, leading him down to a basement. His body feels heavy, hard, and he’s reminded of the Tin Man from The Wizard Of Oz, before Dorothy oils his joints. “What did you do with him?”
Vera switches on a light, and the basement is bland. It’s gray, with a rough floor, a bunch of boxes and crates stacked around. Each box is marked with sharpie, reading, “CHRISTMAS,” “EASTER,” “EXTRA BEDDING.”
The lady shrugs and says, “He was tired, too, really tired, and with a little push, he fell asleep. I took my knife and I sliced his back wide open, and pressed a pillow against his face to keep him knocked out. I let him bleed out—had to remove his coat to make things work. It took way too long, by the way, and he reeked of alcohol.”
Ketterling spins to look at her, but it takes forever for his head to turn. “What?”
“Shocked I’m admitting?” Vera chuckles. “Yes, well, Markus was, too. Here’s the thing.” She pushes a box stack over, and reveals a door, with two snow sleds stacked against it. She smiles so prettily, despite her words. “This door has direct access to the beach, and the fog never lets anyone see anything. I slid them out, and dropped them on the beach. You found Lewis immediately, but Markus sat out for two whole days before anyone found him. I gave Markus a high dosage of a sleep medication—one of the best parts of working at a nursing home is having access to so much medication. I gave him so much, his heart went too slow, it just…stopped. You’re having a similar experience, too. You’ll be found out on the beach soon, just like Markus, just like Lewis.”
Ketterling tried to rush back up the stairs, but he couldn’t go fast, and he couldn’t stay stable. He ended up slipping, and fell back down.
“Why?” He asked.
“I killed Lewis because he was disrespectful, and came to make a case out of me. I flipped the switch, made a case out of him, and I’m the bad guy? Markus wanted to be police chief, and would’ve used me as a case, so I killed him, too. You’re trying to uncover the truth, and I don’t like that, not at all. You put me at risk.”
Vera tsks, her smile stretching wide on her face. “I moved to Narya Cove to put my past behind me, but you all want to cause me drama! Newsflash! If you bring a knife, I bring a gun. If you put me behind bars, I put you six feet under.”
She laughs, like the whole thing is funny. Ketterling lay against the ground, imobile, his eyes drooping shut.
“I made yours a bit different,” Vera coos. “I mixed a few concoctions up, you’re paralyzed for the next twenty-four hours. You won’t be able to move. And I’ll move you so close to the ocean, you’ll be swept out, and you’ll drown. I am a bit disappointed—you knew I poisoned Markus and you still drank the coffee. What a shame.”
She disappears upstairs, and retrieves Lewis’ coat. She drapes it over Ketterling’s face, knowing it was time to get rid of all items that tied her to Lewis’ murder.
“Poor Laura,” she mutters. “If you didn’t poke around in a business that is not your own, you’d be at your house, having dinner with her. Hopefully, in your next life, you learn from this mistake, you busybody.”
Ketterling makes an estranged sound, and Vera simply slides over her sleds, and starts pushing the cop on top of it.
“You should be impressed,” she huffs, pushing against his shoulders. “I’m doing this in four inch heels!”
Bio: Gratia Serpento is an Oregonian poet/journalist/writer who spends who days researching criminals for fun. She’s had works published with Havik, The Graveyard Zine, Wild Greens Magazine, Blue Things Zine, The Yard: Crime Blog among others. Her works on The Yard, are as follows, “The Canary, The Shadow and The Knife”, “Loraine“, “The Hitman and His Wife”, “The Robinsons“ and “The Dead Girlfriends“
Check out her Instagram (@poet_serpento) for more.