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Auditions Can be Murder
About the Author: Alan Orloff’s writing has won an ITW Thriller Award and a Derringer Award, and has been nominated for an Agatha Award. His stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES.

Layla Harrington removed the stiletto from her purse.

She used the slim, sharp knife—a treasured gift from one of her mystery-writer friends—to slice open the letter she held. It wasn’t often she got to use her self-defense weapon as a letter-opener—most of her regular mail consisted of bills and junk, and those she either ripped open with her fingers or threw in the recycling bin, respectively.

But this was a hand-addressed, lavender-colored envelope from her Great Aunt Greta. With two Forever LOVE stamps in the corner. It deserved to be handled with care.

She plucked the pieces of paper from inside the envelope and unfolded them. On top, a single sheet of matching lavender stationery, covered with flowery script. Beneath, five or six pages of handwritten—hand scratched—notes on lined paper ripped from a spiral notebook.

Layla started with the letter.


Dear Layla, my favorite niece (Yes, you’re my only niece, but if I had five nieces, you’d still be my favorite, I just know!).

While cleaning out our attic, I found some papers from my older sister, Doris. You remember her, don’t you? She was a character, all right! A real renaissance woman—an actress, playwright, musician, and she baked a mean chocolate chip cookie (now do you remember her??).

Anyway, I’ve enclosed some of her work that looks right up your alley (you do still write those charming murder mystery stories, don’t you?). It appears to be some notes for a play she wanted to write, something she’d been working on right around the time of her unfortunate death. Can that be just four years ago? My how time flies! I gave it a read, and I have to say, it seems very similar to what she went through, from what she told me. One of the characters even has her name!

As you’ll see, the writing is pretty rough and the “story” does not seem completed. To make matters worse, her tale is interrupted by many notes she made to herself, so it’s a bit difficult to make sense of it all. Her mind worked in strange (but wonderful) ways! You both share a creativity gene, for sure!

But if there’s anyone who can figure things out, it’s you, dear. I think it would be wonderful if you were to take her notes and turn this into one of your little stories—maybe you could even get it published somewhere! I know that Doris, looking down from her perch in Heaven, would be very pleased to know that her niece created something from her idea. Family was so important to her!

Anyway, I hope you are doing well, and you really should come and visit sometime soon. We can have tea at the Wilmont Hotel and then go for a nice stroll along the riverbank! Maybe even feed the ducks like we did when you were a little girl. You used to call them quackers, remember? And all those fantastical stories you told about them making friends with geese and squirrels? What an imaginative child you were!



Aunt Greta


Layla set the letter aside and flipped through the pages of notes, reading bits and pieces, trying to get a feel for Doris’s story. Aunt Greta wasn’t kidding; everything—format, prose, style, tense—was wildly inconsistent. The whole thing was really just a glorified outline, peppered with all sorts of notes to herself in brackets. Layla wrote her first drafts the same way—maybe she and her great aunt were more alike than she realized.

She didn’t recall when she’d last seen Doris. Maybe at some cousin’s wedding many years ago, when Layla was still a teen and living in New York, before she’d gone to college and moved to Atlanta after graduating. Twelve years later—a few years ago—she’d returned to the city, but sadly, Doris had already passed away.

From what she remembered, Aunt Greta was right, at least about one thing: Doris’s cookies were scrumptious. Funny what stuck in a person’s memory.

Layla turned to the first page of Doris’s notes and dug in.


This story appears in our JAN 2021 Issue
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Reader Discussion

Creative ... interesting ... wonderful
By Carl Seltz

It is awesome. I really enjoyed it.
By Madeline

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