A Rose is a Rose is a Clue Unless its a Red Herring by Phillip T Stephens 

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“When I saw the bouquet of 7 roses, I knew exactly who had murdered Mrs. O’Connell.” Bob kneeled next to the octogenarian’s body and jotted notes into his spiral bound pocket book with his Bic pen. One of the Bic pens he ordered 50 at a time from Amazon because (he swears), the other detectives steal them.

“Every detective but you takes notes on his smart phone. They don’t need your pens,” Captain Hardassty reminds him every time he denies Bob’s request to order another bulk lot of a thousand. “Nobody uses those pens but you, son.” His voice that sounds like a walrus’ mating call. “They’re cheap, they’re crap, and you’ll lose them all within a week anyway.”

Mrs. O’Connell’s corpse sprawled across the coral plush polyester rug in her mini-van sized living room. She’d never removed the Dollar Store price tag. Three more rugs were scattered about the room, identical except for the colors (canary by the couch, carrot inside the front door and cherry beneath the litter box).

Cobwebs stretched from the ceiling to the window sills to the bent bunny aerial on her TV.

Her neighbors agreed Mrs. O’Connell would never win Homemaker of the Year. If she ever planned to knock down the cobwebs, they would have to wait until she swept away the dust bunnies that menaced guests from the corners of the couch with mattress stuffing bursting through the seams, the Finger Hut entertainment center with analog twelve-inch TV, sun faded photos that predated disco and chipped veneer.


Bob’s partner, Sergeant Duffy, leaned against the doorframe. He checked his nails. Checking nails was item one in Duffy’s Standard Operating Procedure:

  1. Check nails.

  2. Check emails on iPhone.

  3. Jingle keys in pocket.

Investigation was pointless while Duffy partnered with Bob, as useful as following a herd of guinea pigs with his vacuum. Half an hour later and their shit would cover the rug again. “Plan to share the killer’s name?” 

The patrol officers backed from the room to avoid the brewing storm. The two detectives accomplished more with verbal abuse and malediction than the rest of the department accomplished with their weapons and gadgets. Unfortunately, none of their accomplishments solved crimes.


Detective Bob had never solved a case during his twelve years as a detective. His row on the case board? All red. 

Called to the scene of a ten-car pile-up behind a sixteen-wheeler transporting illegals, Bob suspected the husband driving the last car to crash. Once, after he examined the charred corpse of a man who lit his butane grill with whiskey and a flip case lighter, he declared ‘It was the wife.’ Two weeks before Bob arrested the mailman for murdering a suburban housewife. The husband confessed and six witnesses saw him pull the trigger, but Bob knew, in his gut, the mailman killed her. The phrase “going postal” didn’t come from nowhere. 


Bob brushed the detritus of his career with the dandruff on his coat sleeve. “Her daughter killed her. The blonde in the picture.” He pointed to a photograph of the victim with five teenaged girls. All blonde. “She knew her mother would accept the roses and poisoned them. When she stuck her nose in the bouquet to savor the aroma, she inhaled the poison and…,” he sucked his breath through his teeth, “…here’s the body.”

He held his hand, palm upward, above the corpse which had bled out onto her nylon carpet from the six bullet wounds in her chest. Wounds from bullets that had shredded the bouquet of roses she’d been holding.

Duffy jingled his car keys in his jacket pocket. Duffy’s one goal, his overwhelming desire, was to make Captain before forty. When Hardassty made him Bob’s partner he was ten years from his goal. Three years later he would be lucky to make Captain by fifty. One more year with Bob and he would be lucky to retire with his pension, if not wind up with a life sentence for particepide (or murder of one’s partner). “What would be her motive?”

Bob raised to one knee and tapped his notebook with his pen. “Her mother’s fortune. Isn’t it obvious?”

Duffy raised his finger and circled it. “This is an eight hundred square foot house filled with moth-eaten furniture. She drove a 1990 Honda. What fortune?”

Bob rolled his eyes, a slow and sweeping roll so exaggerated his pupil brushed the hairs from his eyebrow. They might have brushed the hair on his liver-spotted dome if he had any. Instead, he settled for combing the three rust gray hairs sprouting from his left ear over to his right. “Insurance policy.” The word “dummy” implied by the prolonged stress on the “y” in policy.

Duffy propped his heel against the doorframe and leaned against the door. He raised his phone to eye level and scrolled through his notes. “Oh, look at this. Spade and Archer tracked down the daughter. Spoke to her by phone from her home in Ohio.” He tapped his nose with the screen. “Ohio. That’s how far from California?” 

“She flew. How long does that take? Four hours?”

The coroner raised his head. “She’s been dead for three.” He nodded to the paramedics who pushed Bob aside and lifted the body onto their gurney. The move revealed three slugs that penetrated her corpse and dug into the carpet.

Duffy collected the bullets and inspected them in his gloved hand. He whistled. “These are police issue. Revolver. Forty-fives.”

Bob shoved his nose into Duffy’s palm, as though proximity would turn his vision into a microscope. “There’s no way to tell if those bullets are police issue.”

Duffy stepped back, dropped them into a plastic envelope. “I can tell by the thumb twist barrel grooves. Which means they’re not only police issue but a revolver.” He dropped the envelope into his pocket. “Do you know any detectives on the force who use a revolver?”

Bob returned to the carpet and probed the bullet grooves with his finger. “Other than me, no.” 

“Are you wearing gloves, detective?” Ice edged Duffy’s voice—the frigid tone of an interrogation.

Bob glanced at his bare hands and said, “No, but…”

Just like that Duffy hovered behind him, his cuffs cupped in his right hand. “Interfering with the crime scene too.”

Bob tried to rise but two members of the patrol appeared at Duffy’s side to restrain him. Duffy snapped the cuffs to his wrists. “Congratulations, Detective, this is the first case we’ve solved since we became partners. Too bad you weren’t more careful when you shot her.”


Captain Hardassty mixed his usual cocktail—two fingers of Johnny Walker and two of Pepto-Bismol. He never named it, but the detectives called it the “Morning Bob.” They called his second favorite cocktail—four parts Johnny Walker and one Pepto Bismol—“Bob in the afternoon.”

Duffy laid the report on the table. “Bullets are a match to Bob’s revolver.”

“How do I know you didn’t plant them?” Hardassty stirred the cocktail with his pen.

Duffy sat on the edge of the Captain’s desk, pushed a pile of reports to the side. He lifted the cocktail and took a sip. “Like you never wanted to?”

Hardassty leaned as far back in his chair as the springs would allow and massaged his temple with all ten fingers. 

Duffy laid the cocktail on the desk and nudged it toward the Captain’s elbow. “You adopted him, right? There’s no way you shared your genes with him.”

“His mother was on birth control. It must have strained out the good genes when it let my sperm get through.”

Duffy balanced the report in the palm of his hand. “I can bury the ballistics test. Or have them test the bullets in the other bag.”

Hardassty sat straight and filled his glass with scotch. “No. Send it to the DA. What the hell, Bob’s too incompetent for a jury to believe he killed her.”

When Duffy reached the door, Hardassty asked, “Do we have any idea who did it?”

“For once, I agree with the moron. Odds on the daughter. She got tired of flying from Ohio to check the old bat in and out of rehab, poisoned her with the roses and shot her to make it look like a robbery.”