The Winning Loser by Joan S Peck


I became captivated the first time I saw her step out of the limo, one long, curved leg at a time. I smiled at the way she tilted her head to acknowledge the chauffeur who stood by as she reluctantly reached for his hand to help her out. As she stood tall, she was striking with long blond hair that she’d pulled back into a simple bun, low on her neck. After helping her, the chauffeur easily reached behind her and pushed the door closed before he went around to the back of the limo. He unloaded her bags and lifted them onto the sidewalk. Then, he stood beside them, waiting for a tip. She plowed through her purse and pulled out a few bills and handed them to him. He said something to her, and she waved him away. He walked to the front of the limo, got into the driver’s seat, and drove away.

She looked to the house and squared her shoulders as if to brace herself for what lay ahead. She stepped forward onto the shared walkway that joined my half of the duplex to the empty one next door. Determined, she moved ahead, lugging her suitcases behind her, their wheels making a high-pitched squealing noise.

I stayed in the shadows of my living room, sure that she couldn’t see me. Besides, I reassured myself, no one pays much attention to anyone my age. At 82, you can easily be overlooked. That had proved to be the case only days before.

I waited to see if she’d need my help for I knew the lock to open her side of the duplex was difficult—always sticking. Sure enough, I heard her muttering and banging at the door as she turned the knob to no avail.  I decided it was time for me to step outside and assist her. “Here,” I said. “There’s a trick to it. Let me do it.”

She stepped back and the look of annoyance on her face changed to amusement as she watched me pound on the door just left of the lock. Then the door swung open. “You certainly made that look easy,” she said with admiration.

“Practice,” I said. Aren’t you Eleanor’s daughter?”

“Yes,” she said as her eyes watered. “I just learned of my mother’s accident. I live overseas, and I got here as soon as I could. I can’t believe that she is dead.”  

I patted her back soothingly and said, “I’d like to talk to you about that. What have the police told you?”

“Not much. Why?”

At 82, you don’t pull any punches. “I don’t believe it was an accident.”

“What are you saying? Are you saying she was murdered?”

I simply nodded my head.

“Who would want to murder her? Everyone liked her …”

“I know. It’s hard to believe, but …”

“Hold on there! Are you Tiffany?” came a gruff voice, startling the two of us. A rather large man puffed his way up the walk. “I’m Walter … Walter Williams … your mom’s boyfriend,” he announced as he held his hand out in greeting.

It was an awkward moment, and I feared how his faux pas might upset her. My face flushed and my stomach roiled at the sight of him. There was something about him that left me feeling dirty, if that were possible. Eleanor had fallen madly in love with him, but I had a hard time reconciling her kind thoughts about him to the bully I’d witnessed on occasion. Eleanor had been widowed for many years and had been unused to dating until he had come into her life. She had an old-fashioned sense of the man being the boss—something she and I had occasionally argued about.

Walter stepped closer, pushing me aside, and in an oily voice said to Tiffany, “My dear, I’m so sorry for your mother’s death. I’m here to help you in any way I can.”

Tiffany looked from him to me. “Thank you for your kindness, Mrs. Bennett. We’ll talk later.”

I stepped back and watched as Walter shuffled his way into Eleanor’s house, his hand placed much too low on Tiffany’s back. I shivered and called out, “I’m right next door if you need anything, Tiffany.”

She nodded, and Walter quickly shut the door behind him. I stood where I was for a moment, lost in thought. Then, I let myself into my house and headed to the kitchen. I made myself a cup of Moroccan Mint tea and sat at the kitchen table.

Before Eleanor had died, she’d shown me a lottery ticket that she had purchased, and together we had removed the silver overlays to discover, that unbelievably she had won $1 million. She was in shock. She explained to me that she kept getting the thought to buy a lottery ticket, something she’d never done before. Since her daughter was due for a visit soon, she wanted to surprise her with the ticket. She told me she was going to head to the bank the next morning and put the ticket in her safety deposit box until Tiffany arrived. That never happened. By the next morning Eleanor was discovered dead.

When I heard the police arrive that morning, I was curious to see who had called them and why. “Who called you to come?” I asked.

“Is your name Mrs. Bennett?” one of the policemen asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Why you called us. Don’t you remember?”

“But, it wasn’t me!” I sputtered. But again, who is interested in what an 82 year-old woman has to say? I was angry, and I pulled the younger cop to the side and said in a school teacher tone, “Listen, young man. There is something wrong about all of this. Yesterday, Eleanor won $1million on a scratch ticket, and now she’s dead? Have you found the ticket yet?”

The policeman stared at me intently. I thought I’d gotten his attention when the older cop called out, “Stop wasting your time. C’mon here, and help me with this.”

I called after the cop’s back, “Find the lottery ticket, and you’ll find the murderer.”

“It was an accident, ma’am, nothing more,” he replied as if to assure us both.

Sure enough, Eleanor’s death was declared an accident, which meant that only the murderer and I knew it wasn’t. It was interesting to watch Walter play the bereaved boyfriend the day before the wake. I thought it was obvious to anyone who listened to him that he overacted his part. Truth be told, he hadn’t known Eleanor that long.

The following day, a wake was scheduled for Eleanor at the local funeral home, and I planned on spending most of my time there. I wanted to support Tiffany, and I wanted to see who would attend. I knew that many times a murderer would weasel his way back into the scene of his victim to gloat and for his own satisfaction.  

Tiffany looked beautiful and acted queen-like in her demeanor and generous with her comments. I sat in a corner chair and spoke with many who walked through the door. After all, Eleanor had been my neighbor for many years, and I would miss her terribly.

Later, I watched as Walter entered the room and placed a vase of flowers near the coffin. When I saw the bouquet of 7 roses, I knew exactly who had murdered Mrs. O’Connell. I slid my cell phone out of my purse and placed a 911 call saying there was an emergency at the funeral home. I then placed my phone on record and stepped forward toward Walter. “Gotcha!” I whispered.

“What are you talking about?” he snarled at me. “Get away from me.”

“You couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you? You wanted to flaunt your success of getting away with killing Eleanor, but I’ve got you now.”

“Get away from me, you old bag,” he roared as he shoved me from him.

Several male visitors came to my defense, grabbed Walter, and held him away from me. “What’s going on?” they asked.

Just then the same two policemen who were there the morning Eleanor was discovered dead came through the door. “Where’s the emergency?”

“Right there,” I said as I pointed to Walter. “Arrest this man for murdering Eleanor O’Connell.”

There was dead silence, and then everyone started to talk at once. The older policeman looked puzzled. He asked me, “Why are you accusing Walter of murdering Mrs. O’Connell?”

“The day before she was killed, Eleanor showed me her winning scratch ticket. It was called Lucky Sevens and on the front of the ticket was a picture of a vase with seven red roses. Only someone who had seen her winning ticket would know that. The bouquet over there is what Walter brought here.”

“It was my way of thanking her for the money, is all …” mumbled Walter.

The younger policeman looked at me with renewed respect. “I followed up on what you told me about the winning lottery ticket. I’m expecting a call from the lottery commission to confirm any newly-reported winnings.”

Upon hearing this and debating whether to say anything, Walter hung his head. “I didn’t mean to hurt her … I was just teasing her because she said she wasn’t going to share the money with me. I pushed her away when she tried to grab the ticket back from me, and she fell and hit her head. It wasn’t my fault.”

I looked directly at Walter and shook my head. At 82, you can say pretty much what you want. “Screw you, Walter.”

Days later, I stood in my living room and watched Tiffany elegantly climb into the back of the limo that looked the same as the one she had arrived in. She must have sensed my presence through the window. She waved and blew me a kiss. That was the last time I saw her.