Friday, October 11, 2013

Appearing in issue #42, October 21, 2013

Title: Paint by numbers
By Author: Clare Mishica 
Tag line:  Dell Meese was sure he’d committed the perfect crime – until something tipped off the sheriff.
Police characters:  Sheriff Henson 

The gist: Mr. Sharp, owner of Sharp’s Interiors, had had a good year business-wise.  He was in the process of repainting his office.  It was going to be cream on the bottom with a yellow border at the ceiling.  The author tells us that he could have easily afforded to hire the house painter he had used before but he didn’t want to spend the money.  The author informs us that the house painter had a son with health issues that required surgery, and could have used the extra money, but Sharp’s opinion was that the man should have had better health insurance.  Sharp hired his accountant from a firm that had gone bust, and he congratulated himself for getting a talented employee for a bargain-basement salary.  That is until Sharp realized the man was skimming money.  He had called the accountant in this morning to go over the books.  Sharp finished painting the cream walls, sealed the paint can, and laid his wet brush on the top.  He checked his watch; the accountant was 30 minutes late.

The next part of the story switches to the accountant’s POV.  His name is Dell Meese.  Meese had purposely come late hoping to arrive after Sharp’s assistant had left.  When he entered the office, Sharp brought him over to the computer and pointed at the screen, demanding an explanation.  Meese walked behind Sharp, grabbed a heavy statue that he had stashed earlier, and struck Sharp from behind, killing him.  The author states at this point Meese is in shock and staring at the body. Then he thinks, “Lots of people get away with murder” and he half drags/half carries the body to the floor beneath the paint ladder and places it in a position consistent with a fall.  He then opens a can of paint, climbs the ladder, and lets it fall to the floor, splashing yellow paint all over everything, including the body.  Then Meese puts the paint brush near Sharp’s hand.  He wipes out the records on the computer, cleans the floor around the desk where he had hit the victim, stashes the statue in the trunk of his car, and changes into the clean clothes that he had brought with him.  He calls 911 at this point, claiming to have found his employer dead from a terrible fall. 

When the sheriff arrived, he viewed the scene and declared “This was no accident.”  What clue gave Meese away?

Crime scene:  The victim’s office.
Clues:  Paint. 

Suspects:   This story did not have a suspect.   We know whodunit.

Red herrings:  None.

Solution:  Meese had opened and spilled the can of yellow paint, but the paintbrush was tipped with cream paint.  

My two cents:  Couldn’t it be just as likely that Sharp had finished the cream walls and was ready to paint the border, so he opened the yellow paint and brought it to the top of the ladder, realized he hadn’t cleaned the brush, and as made his way back down (and now he’s aggravated) missed a step and fell hard to the floor, to his death.  It seems logical that the motion of his fall, him grabbing the ladder to try to steady himself, could knock the paint can off.   Also why did the sheriff think it was Meese?  Finding a dead body and calling 911 doesn’t make him a killer.  There was an assistant there not too long before. 

There was extra information that the reader doesn’t need, which to me is a waste of words in these little stories.  For example the stuff about the house painter’s kid needing surgery.  Maybe it was intended to show us how unlikeable Sharp was, but that’s not germane to the motive.  Also the bit about Meese being in shock and staring at the body?  He wasn’t in shock at all.  He was cold and calculating.  Poor choice of word there.


Chris said...

I just re-read the story, Jody, and the Sheriff doesn't actually name Meese as the murderer. The story ends when he says, "This was no accident" and the reveal is made in the Solution Box. I know it's a moot point but the reader is left to draw the conclusion that Meese's guilt will be discovered in the subsequent investigation, which is fair enough given what went before.

What I was more dubious about was the ME straight away telling the officer that falling onto a tile floor had killed Sharp, totally ignoring the statue-shaped dent in his skull. And what was the point of the tape-measure resting on top of another paint tin? If it was meant to be a red herring, well, I didn't see the relevance.

I thought the inclusion of the nasty touches concerning Sharp were useful in painting (ahem) the picture of his character. You couldn't like him, so presumably nor would his employees. It provided a motive of sorts. The fact that he got a professional accountant for a bargain-basement salary also doesn't endear him to the reader so that, even though skimming money from the firm was a criminal act, you sort of had a smidgeon of sympathy for Meese.

To my mind, the use of the word 'shock' meant that, even as he was trying to save his own skin, Meese did feel upset at what he'd done. It's one thing to plot to murder someone, quite another to carry it out. He'd acted out of desperation, that's how I read it.

All in all, a pretty solid little story in my opinion.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Chris. RE: Meese as the killer. The solution asked: What clue gave Dell Meese away? It was a little ambiguous but it alluded to the sheriff thinking it was him.

I forgot about the tape measure. Another little detail that was not needed.

The author did 'paint' a picture of a very unlikable character, so much so that we wanted to kill him ourselves... or at the very least didn't mind that he was dead. I guess you're right in that regard, in that that was the author's intention.

I'm thinking the statue might have had some kind of solid flat part that did the skull crushing. Sort of like a solid floor hit. The story didn't say that, and that would have been a better use of the 700 words then telling us about a tape measure.

I still don't like the shock sentence. One second he's in a "state of shock", one second later he's shaking it off and dragging the body around. This might have been a place where something got cut.

Mary Jo said...

Maybe I read this story too quickly, but when I saw that the clue was a different shade of paint on the brush, my reaction was, "So what?" I liked the character sketch of Sharp, and I thought it set him up for someone to do him in. So it was no surprise that Meese had good reason to clobber him. In my opinion, he should have got away with it, though.

The description of the murderous act got a little complicated. My view of such a short short story is, keep it simple. Maybe the same is true of a murder.