Saturday, March 14, 2015

Appearing in issue #11, March 16, 2015

Title:  Sore loser

By Author:  Phyllis Whitfield


Tag line:   Who had been to tee’d off at  Birdie Harris the he’d used the golf pro’s own club to kill him?

Police characters:   Detective Bea Smart

The gist:    The ME pronounced Birdie dead at the victim’s home.  Cause of death was a blow to the head.  Time of death was about one hour ago.  It appeared that Birdie, a golf pro, had come outside to practice on his putting green when someone struck him.  Birdie’s expensive golf bag and clubs were beside the body.  Birdie’s caddy Frank, found the body.  Frank called Russell, Birdie’s manager, and Russell called 911. 

A neighbor told police she had heard Birdie and Russell arguing loudly yesterday over a contract.   Russell told police he had been at Birdie’s the day before but it was to try out  the new club Birdie had purchased two days ago, which he thought was overpriced and overrated.   He claims they did have a loud discussion about Birdie buying a golf course that Russell thought was in such a bad location he figured it must be a scam.

The caddy, Frank, said he had been tending to his sick father all week and just got back.  He claimed that Birdie had e-mailed him last night and invited him to drop by this morning to see a new swing he had developed with his new club.  When he arrived, Frank claimed he found Birdie dead.  He told police the only enemy he knew of was a newcomer to the golf world named JR Wright who was jealous of the prize money Birdie often won.

A heavy-set man interrupted the police investigation by stomping across the lawn and demanding to know why the police were there and where was Birdie?  The man, Peter, claimed he and Birdie golfed almost daily and that he and Birdie had a game scheduled at the club this morning.   When told Birdie was dead, Lang said they had just played yesterday and he had tried out the new golf club, which he didn’t like very much. 

The police took the golf bag and clubs back to the lab for fingerprint analysis.   All three men told police they would find their fingerprints on those clubs.   The golf club was determined to indeed be the murder weapon.  When the FP analysis was done crime scene found four sets of prints: the victim’s, manager Russell, golf buddy Lang, and caddy Frank.

Detective Bea knew who the killer was.

Crime scene:    Golf pro’s yard.

Clues:    The new golf club, who had touched it and when.

Suspects:  Russell, Lang, or Frank.

Red herrings:    This so-called enemy JR Wright.  In fact the title of this story alludes to him.

Solution:  Frank, the caddy, was the killer.  If he had been away for a week, how could his fingerprints be on the club unless he used it to kill Birdie.  When questioned, Frank told police Birdie had planned on firing him and hiring a new caddy.  Frank became enraged and struck his employer with the fatal blow.

My two cents:    Bea Smart?  ((groans))

Okay, let’s see.  Police work, my favorite thing, first.   Most of it was very good.  The only slip was when Lang came stomping across the yard.  A murder crime scene is taped off, security officers are stationed at the door, and people can’t come walking into a crime scene. The ME is there, crime scene is there.  Realistically Lang wouldn’t have made it past the front door.  But that’s pretty minor.  I won’t deduct the police-work star for that little slip because the rest was properly executed, but I wish an officer had brought the man back.

There was motive.  There was a good clue. 

The story mostly read well and the pacing was good.  The only clumsy spot for me was when Lang was told about his friend being dead he carried on about trying out that new golf club and now much he didn’t like it.  It doesn’t seem likely that it would be the first few things out of his mouth.  I wish the author had slipped in how his fingerprints could have been on that club in a more realistic way.  I have to deduct one star for character work.  Lang’s reaction was not believable nor was that section well written.

The other characters were well defined and developed.  Except the detective’s name.  That was a little corny, but that’s a matter of taste.

I have to give this story 4 stars. 


Chris said...

Pretty good m-m, I thought. The clue about the caddie's fingerprints was well hidden, slipped straight past me that they wouldn't have been on the new club because he'd been away all week and only just returned. The man 'stomping across the yard' and into a crime scene, Jody... not sure they were still at the actual scene by then. Neff and Smart are by the body when he points towards a bench, saying 'that's the caddie and the manager sitting over there'. Smart then questions them. I saw that as her going to them, not the other way around. We've already been told the victim lives on a 'sprawling estate', which implies space, so I immediately pictured rolling lawns and a big house. It would have to be to accommodate a putting green. They aren't standing over the body having a chat, though I take your point about any new arrival being accompanied by an officer as he was brought in to be questioned. But there are only so many details a writer can get into 700 words.

The part about it that jarred for me was the neighbour who'd heard the manager and Birdie in a loud disagreement the previous day and was able to say it was about a contract. That might work in a cramped community where everyone lives on top of one another, but on a sprawling estate your neighbours would only hear raised voices, not the content of the argument. Small point though. Otherwise, an okay story.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Chris.

"But there are only so many details a writer can get into 700 words." I see this excuse time and again, but as writers we have to make sure the right 700 words tell the story accurately.

Instead of: They were interrupted by a loud voice. A heavyset man strode across the lawn.
Use: An officer escorted a disgruntled heavyset man across lawn to where the detectives stood.

Same word count. Correct procedure.

Okay, maybe he came from the side somewhere and sidestepped the police. It could happen. I was thinking that in order to get to the lawn that he stomped across, this man had to park his car in the driveway (he was traveling with Birdie that day to a golf game) and walk back to where the police were. An officer would have been in the front of the house to prevent just such a thing happening. When a person is killed the police don't just tape off around the body, they look at the entire scene, the house, the bushes around the house, the garage... looking to see if perhaps something else took place before the murder where they might pick up a fingerprint or a clue. Birdie's property would be off limits until crime scene was finished.
No one in. No one out.

You've got a point about the neighbor. It probably should have read that the neighbor heard loud arguing... period.

Mary Jo said...

Jody, I think your first paragraph in Comments should be hung on every WW writer's wall. I know when I go back after a time and look at a story I have submitted, I see all kinds of tweeks that would improve it.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Mary Jo. I'm a very impatient person. I like to get things done and off my list, and that includes sending stories out. Sometimes before they're ready. I have learned I MUST let the story sit and simmer. When I go back a week or so later, I almost always find places that need work. Like I will have used the same word three times in one paragraph. How could I not have seen that before? Don't know, but distance is a good thing. So it's now a part of my process. In fact I got the edits from a story I sold to an anthology last year (finally) and I was unhappy to see spots that weren't smooth. Too many 'was' moments. So I'm still getting that lesson. I hope that piece is the last one.