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Mark of Shame
About the Author: Roxanne Dent lives in Massachusetts and has sold nine novels and dozens of short stories in a variety of genres, including Paranormal Fantasy, Regency, Mystery, Horror, Steampunk, Drabbles, Middle Grade and YA. She has also co-authored short stories and plays with her sister, Karen Dent, written screenplays and wrote and directed her own three-minute thriller which won the “Audience Choice Awards in the Bare Bones International Film Festival.

Much to her neighbors’ chagrin, Bettina Wilson celebrated every holiday no matter how insignificant, with unbridled enthusiasm. It was a childhood tradition she followed faithfully every year. Unfortunately, the decorations were always of the cheap variety. The tasteful community of Winchester, Massachusetts shuddered and tried to ignore the obvious bad taste.

Despite her lack of taste, everyone liked Bettina, who was always the first to come to the aid of a neighbor. She cheerfully walked dogs, fed cats and offered her services as a babysitter.

But when October rolled around, no one could ignore the revolting display of cackling witches, ax-wielding monsters, ten-foot plastic pumpkins and howling ghosts displayed on her cramped, front lawn. The neighbors felt it was an outrage and cheapened the upscale neighborhood. They tactfully suggested she cut back, but Bettina loved to see the children’s reactions. She had no intention of eliminating any of the decorations she’d collected over the years.

On Halloween night, an excited Bettina filled bowls shaped like skulls with massive amounts of candy and plugged in the garish, orange bulbs around her windows blissfully unaware she was about to be murdered. The crackling current raced through her fragile body, delivering a fatal jolt of electricity to an already weak heart. She was dead before she hit the beige, wall-to-wall carpet.

Everyone expressed surprise that faulty, Halloween lights could kill you. They double-checked their own wiring, and all agreed it was awful and terribly sad. No one suspected murder.

A few days after the inquest, two policemen questioned Bettina’s neighbors.

“Can I help you?” Jenna Mason asked, her blonde, shoulder-length hair mussed, still in an oversize Red Socks T-shirt and socks.

“Sorry if we woke you, Miss,” the tall, pockmarked one said, not sounding sorry at all. It was eight o’clock in the morning. He’d been up since five. They showed their badges. “Detectives Martinez and Cooper. We’d like to speak to you about your neighbor, Bettina Wilson.”

“Such an awful tragedy. Come in. I was just making coffee. Would you like some?”

“We won’t be long,” Martinez said.

“I could use a cup,” the more sociable Cooper agreed, earning an impatient frown from his partner.

Jenna disappeared into the kitchen. The two cops looked around. The furnishings were good quality but showed no imprint of personality or interest. The walls were beige and held a smattering of innocuous prints.

“It’s not likely she’ll be able to tell us much,” Cooper remarked as he glanced at his notes. “She’s a sublet. Only been here for three weeks. She is a looker though,” he added.

“And that helps us how?” Martinez muttered as he strolled into the dining room surveying empty boxes and luggage.

Cooper sighed as he sat on the sofa. Lieutenant Martinez was a royal pain in the ass.

“She’s taking a long time,” Martinez grumbled.

As Jenna returned Cooper’s spirits brightened. She’d thrown on a pair of jeans, a burnt orange sweater, and flip flops. Her face was still bare of makeup, but she brushed her shiny, golden hair back and wore it in a high ponytail that bobbed when she walked. She held a tray with three white mugs, cream, sugar, napkins, teaspoons, and a pot of black coffee.

“I warn you,” she said smiling, “it’s a bold brew and has a kick.”

“Just the way I like it,” Cooper said with an answering smile. He took the tray from her and set it down on the table. Martinez sat on the edge of the sofa. His black eyes watched Jenna as she poured.

“Poor Bettina! I still can’t believe she’s gone,” Jenna said as she sat opposite them in a flowered print chair. “When I moved in, she brought over a home-made coffee cake and told me to call if I ever felt lonely. Later, she introduced me to the neighbors.”

“You were friends?” Cooper asked.

“Not really.” She looked embarrassed. “I mean I liked Bettina, but we didn’t have much in common.”

Martinez stirred his unwanted coffee. “Why sublet?”

Jenna looked surprised. “My fiancé and I sold our condo in Boston. The buyer wanted to move in immediately and Rob had family business abroad.”

Martinez glanced in the direction of the dining room. “Still unpacking?”

Jenna glowed. “Repacking. Rob is returning at the end of the month and we’re getting married.”

This story appears in our OCT 2020 Issue
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