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String Theory
About the Author: M.E. BROWNING served twenty-two years in law enforcement and retired as a captain before turning to a life of crime fiction. Writing as Micki Browning, she penned the Agatha-nominated and award-winning Mer Cavallo mysteries, and her short stories and nonfiction have appeared in anthologies, magazines, and textbooks. As M.E. Browning, she recently began a new series of Jo Wyatt mysteries with Shadow Ridge. Visit to learn more.

I’ve done bad things in my life. Not serial killer bad, but my entry into heaven is by no means guaranteed. My father died last night. Murdered. I hadn’t spoken to the man for twelve years. But thirteen years ago, I did threaten to kill him.

For the record, I had nothing to do with it.

This morning, a trio of officers arrived on my doorstep. One lamented my loss; one asked if I would mind speaking to a detective at the station; and the last one remained silent, his thoughtful gaze darting across the detritus of my apartment, dallying on the knives in my butcher block, perusing the titles in my bookshelf, lingering on my harp as if bemused.

The second officer cleared his throat and offered me a ride.

I glanced at the clock, lamented the time. “I was just on my way to my mother’s.”

He held open the door. “It’s important.”

Now, the hum of the air conditioner annoys me as I strain to hear beyond it. I’ve been in the interview room for nearly an hour. Initially, I paced the confines. Four steps of grimy linoleum separate the door from the dingy rear wall. Six steps mark the width. A plain table divides the room with two chairs in opposition.

The door is unlocked. I know because I tested it, nearly hitting an officer escorting a prisoner as he marched down the crowded hallway. I had considered leaving, but my mother would think this is more important than my visit to her. She respects the law.

Peering through the square window, I deconstruct the cacophony just beyond the door, matching sound to action. When I tire of the spectacle, I resume pacing.

Each step, I think of my father. I’d always disappointed the man. Turns out we had an uncanny knack for falling for the same girl, and they were nothing like mom. But I was— small breasted, dark haired, cerebral. Mom had one other thing I lacked. Money. Years ago, that had been enough for my father, then I came along, a girl-child who reminded him of all the things he’d given up.

Mom stuck it out. She ignored the subtle signs of my father’s philandering and dove deeper into her own passions. She earned a law degree, but never practiced.

Her money and my talent opened doors, and I marked time at Juilliard. I play the harp. Good enough that I now sit first chair five nights a week on Broadway, cloaked in black and providing nuance in quiet measure.

I’m facing the rear wall when I hear the snick of the door handle. I turn. A female detective stands momentarily silhouetted in the doorway. She is a study of blues—tailored suit, silky blouse, inquisitive eyes, all accessorized by the officer in navy standing at her shoulder.

“Molly Capriccioso?” She thrusts her hand forward. “I’m Detective Ward.”

I shake her hand. Her grip is confident without trying to prove dominance like so many men’s handshakes. The weight of her scrutiny immobilizes me as she takes my measure. She dismisses her partner and I feel like I just aced an unexpected test.

“Thank you for coming to the station,” she says.

Her voice is an arresting combination of sultry efficiency. I flush, look down. She turns slightly, enough to display athletic calves, sculpted ankles. The heel of her right pump is scuffed, as if she frequently drives in stop-and-go traffic.

The detective indicates a chair and waits for me to settle into it before she sits. She places a file in front of her, but doesn’t open it. Her blouse gapes where it stretches across her breasts, revealing a flash of midnight satin against pale skin. Father would approve.

“Losing a parent is difficult. I’m sorry for your loss,” Detective Ward says.

It is a meaningless nicety. A social convention. Expected, yet I have no response. She waits for me to speak. Polite. Finally, I nod.

She places her pen atop the file. “Tell me about your father.”

I don’t know how to begin. So I don’t.

Her eyebrows draw together in a mélange of concern and encouragement. “This must be difficult for you. I appreciate you speaking with me. You are not under arrest, I’m just trying to understand what happened. You may have insight that you don’t realize.”

I take a deep breath, inhale a hint of her perfume, taste it before I speak. “He polarized people.” The scent reduces me to cliché. “You either loved him or hated him.”

“And you?”

This story appears in our NOV 2015 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Nice work!
By Terry James

I really enjoyed this story. Very clever and entertaining.
By Dee Overduin

I really enjoyed this story. The pacing was spot-on and the ending was terrific! Well done, Micki!
By Judy Penz Sheluk

Superbly plotted mystery, and I loved the musical references.
By Nupur Tustin

Thank you all for the kind words. They are more encouraging than you may realize.
By MIcki Browning

"cloaked in black and providing nuance in quiet measure" is a perfect phrase.
By Fred Krampe

I really enjoy stories that teach me new things. Well done!
By Peter Frahm

An inspired powerhouse of a story. Life-like characters and strong dialogue make it a real pleasure.
By Mike Tuggle

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