Authors: Melanie Jackson
Murder on Parade
Version 1.2 – January 2011
Published by Brian Jackson at Smashwords
Copyright © 2011 by Melanie Jackson
Discover other titles by Melanie Jackson at
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
The first domino fell on the day of the Christmas Parade when Grand Marshall Dillon keeled over in the passenger seat of the Rolls Royce Silver Cloud that the parade organizers had borrowed from Claremont Restorations. It was a heart attack, the first doctor on the scene proclaimed, a natural if unfortunate death which most of the town laid at a surfeit of early morning eggnog and a rousing fight with Mrs. Dillon about his alleged affair with his secretary, Chelsea Tower. But the law of unexpected and unintended consequences was in effect and the very public death ended up flushing out a murderer that might have gotten away if they had been less of a showoff.
I, in the unenviable position of maid of honor at my cousin Althea’s wedding, was paying very little attention to Christmas festivities, though someone dying in front of me and the rest of the town was enough to penetrate even my stunted awareness. Fortunately, the chief of police was riding with the Marshall when it happened and there was a doctor on the route, so matters were taken care of swiftly and relatively discretely. It helped with the logistics that the snow storm, which had been threatening all week, decided to lollygag at the coast long enough for the parade to get started on time and no side roads were closed by snow when everyone decided to leave. Bad storms are infrequent here and almost always lead to traffic fatalities.
The parade route began as it always does at the parking lot of the Episcopal Church. It continues downward at a gentle six degree slope until it passes by Saint Patrick’s (the Catholic Church) and then wends by the houses of worship where the Baptists, the Methodists and the Unitarians go, picking up choirs as it progresses. In the spirit of the season, we have an interfaith sing-along and the sheep and goats walk side by side if not hand in hand.
There were a few changes from previous years. The line-up of the bands and floats had been changed—again—in an effort to improve on past efforts and disasters. This made for some annoyance for the elves on horseback who were bringing up the rear and being pushed ever further behind by the added choirs, but the parade organizers had taken a vote and no one wanted to be marching after the horses who tended to leave messes that steamed unattractively in the cold weather, when they could be seen at all. Parts of the old town do not have street lights and though the candlelight procession was very beautiful, it did not help those on foot who wished to avoid piles of things that should be, well, avoided. Especially since one needed a pretty good lungful of clean air to sing
Glory to God In The Highest
and mean it. My dad, the former chief of police, was somewhere back there riding on Old Luke. Actually he was probably bringing up the very rear because Luke is evil-tempered to both man and beast and the ornery equine hadn’t seemed overly impressed with the battery operated twinkle lights when I had helped Dad groom him earlier.
Out in front was the high school band, heralding the arrival of the Grand Marshall, chosen each year because of some remarkable civic endeavor (like fixing the leaking roof of the opera hall). Following behind were the dogs from the animal shelter, decked out in more battery-powered twinkle lights, then the nursery school kids dressed as angels with new and experimental solar powered halos that tended to slip when they looked down. They were singing
Angels We Have Heard On High
— not carrying the tune particularly very well but they were so adorable that no one cared.
Santa and Mrs. Claus came next, riding in a hay wagon from Border’s Christmas Tree Farm and pulled by a shaggy mule team. The Clauses tossed out candy, carefully wrapped in hygienic plastic and seasonally appropriate. The suggestion that Santa give out the popular gummi boogers and wax fangs was booed down at the committee level, even though the Kandy Kounter offered them for free since they had lots left over from Halloween.
There was some concern about the mule team leaving a mess for the other marchers, but experts were consulted and apparently mules are politer than horses about answering bodily functions so they got a pass. There were also some Boy Scouts dressed as Christmas trees detailed to emergency clean-up and general litter control.
Service groups were next. They rode in various fun vehicles, though the most popular was an old fire truck that got taken out of the museum twice a year for the 4
of July and Christmas parades. The Ukulele band rode with the firemen, though the Shriners had wanted them since they seemed a natural match for the clown costumes and silly cars. The band had refused though, citing the small space in the mini-roasters and the necessity of hearing one another when they played. I think they just hated being near those obnoxious horns that the Shriners just couldn’t resist.
The mayor, maybe being on Santa’s naughty list, had to ride alone in his own car— an MG convertible. People were too polite to hiss at him, but the applause was conspicuously light. It was general consensus that this was the mayor’s last Christmas parade. The video of him on Youtube cussing a blue streak and yanking down my dad’s campaign posters had made him unpopular. The temper tantrum surprised and shocked a lot of people who didn’t work with him. Sympathy had swung to my father who was well-liked anyway. Inefficiency triumphed over bad sportsmanship any day. It’s the Hope Falls way.
Frankly, my Dad has all the subtlety of a brickbat when roused to anger, but it took a lot to get him there. Mainly cruelty to those who are weaker, so almost no one ever saw him being anything but amiable on the job or off. Certainly he would never be caught shrieking profanities and ripping down a rival’s campaign posters. Social decorum would be maintained. And he would probably be the only mayor in history who got called when a cat was up a tree—and answered with ladder in hand. It was the favorite service he had offered as police chief and I didn’t doubt that he would carry on as always.
Alex and Blue were with me, both of them enjoying the parade with an enthusiasm that would have made the average kindergartener seem jaded. Their frosty, candy cane breath filled the air as they awed and sniffed (just to be clear, Blue was sniffing for dropped hotdogs and fallen candy and Alex had the candy cane breath). Neither of them was feeling stressed because they weren’t bothered by the daily phone calls from my cousin who somehow expected me to stop all the publicity about her groom’s batty mother. Dale’s mother, it turns out, is a serial murderess and therefore a rather large blot on the Gordon family escutcheon. That she is staying at a funny farm while awaiting trial and not in prison is source of much interest to the local media who were weary of happy, holiday headlines and looking for something to bleed on the news at ten, the only time slot where they were allowed to cut loose in December.
Alex, though near the height of holiday jollification, was not unaware of my stress and had promised me an overnight New Year’s Eve Party at a historic hotel as a consolation prize for my less than festive holiday season.
This was assuming that I wasn’t also having a rest in a special hospital by then. Being a maid of honor is no easy task. Just watch Bridezilla some time. Leaving aside the whole murderess for a mother-in-law problem, there were a lot of other duties to attend to because my cousin couldn’t or wouldn’t do them. I had hosted an engagement party and then strong-armed friends into attending when they failed to RSVP in a timely manner. Althea had actually been on her best behavior that day, too busy reveling in the attention and presents to do anything more obnoxious than read a commemorative poem to her captive audience. That should have been the end of my pre-rehearsal obligations, but I had also had to go along with Dale and my cousin while they registered for gifts, tasted wedding cakes and ordered flowers. Theoretically I was the tie-breaker in their constant spats, but I give you one guess which way I voted every time I was asked for an opinion. Frankly, I don’t know why Dale was there. He never won an argument.
Althea wasn’t in the parade though, which was cause for rejoicing. She is the town’s official poet laureate, but the committee had listened to her dreadful ode commemorating Mitzi Gordon’s murder victims and refused to let her read it over the public address system. Althea meant well, but she has no sense of the appropriate. She is also vengeful and carries a grudge, and wouldn’t even consider writing a nice Christmas poem about gumdrops and Christmas fairies like the committee suggested. She was insulted and enraged at their rejection. How did Captain Ahab put it?
To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee
. That was Althea. She was boycotting the parade and especially the Grand Marshall, who was also on the committee and who had been especially vocal about not reading the murder poem. If I had to guess, I would have put good odds on Althea sitting at home, stuffing pins in the Marshall’s effigy while everyone else was downtown having fun. No one cared about this boycott, except maybe Gordon and her mother, my Aunt Dorothy, who had to boycott with her, but I wasn’t going to ruin her snit by telling her that she wasn’t missed at the festivities.
Alex, Blue and I had prime viewing places since we had arrived early and staked a claim with folded car blankets. We were standing in the park in front of the courthouse at the edge of the green just down from Santa’s toy shop and the live nativity. The courthouse had been built for impressiveness rather than efficiency and there is no nearby parking to ruin the view, which made it a bane most days. But the building was beautiful and old, sitting majestically in its ancient lawn, and I find its dignity weighs on me when I think about all the people who have been brought there to face justice. Or at least to be judged. One day soon, Mitzi Gordon would be there too. Its builders were dead and forgotten now but the building remained, rising strong and tall out of turf that surrounds it. But since this was a frivolous celebration and no place for sober thoughts, I kept my back turned to its stone walls and stared at the crowd’s flickering candle lights.
Steam was rising off the marching band enveloping them in an icy cloud that seemed as much eerie as festive, and I was grateful for my own candle that warmed my hands through my mittens.
The temperature was dropping quickly and the sudden cold made the tires of the heavier vehicles moan as they rolled along, adding a strange undertone to the choirs. The recent extreme cold weather had taken a toll on my official vehicle too. The batteries that power my cart can’t hold a charge as long as they do in summer and they needed most of the night to recharge. Neither of the parking enforcement vehicles were being used in the parade for this reason though they were of a nice size, non-polluting and wonderfully quiet.
I was glad that night for my new boots. They were really rubber rain boots, but they were a leopard print and had a two inch heel which gave me some added height and complete water-tightness. It was because of this that I was able to see over the pack of giggling fifth graders and witnessed the Marshall’s collapse. I saw the chief pull the slumped body upright and check for a pulse. I couldn’t hear what he said to the driver, but the car pulled over about sixty feet up from us, tucked in as close to the curb as pedestrians would allow. I was already moving by then with Alex and Blue right behind.
It took a few moments to make a hole in the crowd, but the chief and driver pulled Herbert Dillon out of the car and laid him on the sidewalk. I dropped down beside the chief and he handed me his phone.
“Call for an amb—” he said and then we were joined by Dr. Potter who checked for a pulse. He unbuttoned the Marshall’s shirt and felt for his heart. The body steamed, but there was no breath fogging the air. I caught a whiff of gardenia and wondered who was wearing the overpowering perfume.
“An ambulance will never get through this crowd,” the doctor said. “Not that there is any point in hurrying.” This was added softly.
I wanted to protest this obscenity, to demand that someone try CPR, but I didn’t. It helped that Alex had a sympathetic hand on my shoulder and Blue was pressed against my side.
“My cart could go down the alley,” I said, pointing to the space between Mundorf’s Sundries and Hottie’s Dogs. “And I can come the back way from the station and avoid the crowds.” I looked into Herb Dillon’s staring eyes and grimacing mouth and felt ill. It was a face frozen in pain. The doctor was right. The time for hurry was past, so past that my stomach rolled in protest. But virtue and duty triumphed over sloshing cider and popcorn and I did not disgrace myself.