It was the first day after the 17-Day Plague, and my brain cells were starting to function again. Well, not completely. I still had trouble thinking of words like "telephone" and "sandwich" and "hello." The previous two weeks were a blur. I'm not convinced I wasn't in some kind of Twilight Zone - a dimension where I was sustained by strawberry flavored cough drops and 98 percent fat free chicken broth. Apparently, even other dimensions are weight-conscious. Quarantined in the Zone, I wondered what life was like outside my 10 by 13 box called the Guest Room. My only guests were our two dogs who risk life and limb to breathe the same air as I, and Mary Tyler Moore. That was nice of her to come all the way from heaven to visit me. Or maybe she was a hallucination. Or maybe she was on the DVDs I was watching. Since nobody else was there, I guess we'll never know.
On my first day out of the Zone, I needed to catch up around the house, but I wanted to write. So after my obligatory laundry folding and a phone appointment with Cowboy's doctor, I sat down at my trusty laptop.
I started a story about our summer events. But all that came out of the ends of my fingers were facts – a reporting story. It wasn't creative. It wasn't funny. It wasn’t what I wanted to write. I walked away from it for a little while, then tried again. Still, no zing. I switched gears and worked on a different story, but it was zingless, too. My writing was beyond resuscitation; I threw a white sheet over my laptop and wheeled it out of the room via an office chair.
In my darkest hour, inspiration was AWOL. Normally, with deadline stress, I dig into whatever candy is in the house. But, in my virus-induced delirium, I'd resolved to take a month off from sugar after indulging for the previous 21 days. Hence, there was no candy to be found.
And so, dear reader, it was in this state of sugar starvation and malnourished creativity that I wondered what to do about my upcoming deadline. Anytime I skip a week of posting on my website, it's because somebody died. Or I'm sick. Or Cowboy's sick, and I have too much guilt to pound away on my keyboard while he's going through three boxes of tissues per hour and looking miserable. Or I may take a week off for spring break or the beginning of summer, to spend time with family. But never, ever, do I skip publishing because my lazy, no good, let-me-down-when-I-need you-the-most Muse is a no-show.
"What is wrong?" Flash asked, as I dragged my weary self across the living room floor.
"My writing. It sucks. I guess my Muse has bronchitis, too."
"Oh sure. You laugh. I'm all washed up. A failure. And my despair is your entertainment."
I walked to the kitchen, staring into space. I left the room with nothing. "I think I need chicken broth. And a cold drink. Maybe some strawberry cough drops." I wasn’t even hungry, but I wanted to eat. My favorite line from Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl kept swirling in my mind: Starve a cold, feed a failure, eh? I was longing for the Zone - the only place where I'd had no expectations of myself other than raising a spoon to my mouth with my feeble, listless hand.
I knew I was awful company, so I went back to my bedroom. On the nightstand was a gripping mystery I'd read earlier in the week.
Eureka, I thought. All is not lost.
Lethargically skipping into the living room, I asked, "Flash, what if I publish this story this week? She could be my Guest Author."
It was the answer I'd been looking for. Getting permission from the author to publish her work took no longer than a mere thought, so all was ready to go.
And so, this week, I present to you my Guest Author: My Younger Self.
I hand wrote this thrilling mystery in 1976, as an assignment in my eighth grade creative writing class. Eat your heart out, Agatha Christie. And you, dear reader, grab yourself a cup of coffee, get cozy, and hang onto the edge of your seat.
Me, a Murderer?!
For ages 12 to 14
My roommate and I were living in a small, upstairs apartment in Kansas. At the time, about two years ago, we were in our third year of college, both planning on becoming eye doctors. My roommate, Katy, was working part-time as a teller at a bank. I was working part-time at a jewelers.
The accommodations were growing worse at our tiny “shack.” The rent for our apartment was going up and up and up. The faucet on the kitchen sink was constantly dripping with irregular rhythm, and the air conditioner didn’t cooperate with us. When it wasn’t as cold as an iceberg, it was as hot as the equator. Also, we had a stubborn door, which refused to stay shut. One Thursday afternoon, I called and said I wouldn’t be coming to work at Best Jewelers that day. I then quickly called Katy at the bank. The phone rang twice, and then it was answered.
A soft voice asked, “Townsend Memorial Bank, teller twenty-four, may I help you?”
I laughed, then replied, “This is Barbara. Can you come home early? I need to talk to you.”
Katy replied, “Sure, I’ll be home in about fifteen minutes.”
Katy and I had been friends since our junior year in high school. She was about 5’4”, dark complexioned, long black hair which was feathered. She was quite pretty. After about twenty minutes passed, Katy opened our squeaky apartment door and walked into our “shack.”
“Hi!” Katy exclaimed happily.
“Hi!” I cried. I went to the refrigerator, got us each a Pepsi and some Doritos, and joined Katy at our table (the only one we had, except for a coffee table).
“Well, whatdidcha want, Barb?” Katy inquired.
I replied, “It’s about this ‘shack’! I really hate it! You know all its faults. Don’t you feel the same way about it?”
Katy shouted, “Of course I do!”
“Well, why don’t we move, tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow! We would have to pack tonight! There would be much to do!”
“That won’t be much trouble, we don’t have that much to pack!” I replied.
“Well, what about money?” Katy asked.
“I’ve been saving up, and I have $100,000.82. My great uncle put ten thousand dollars in my savings!” I replied with much delight.
“Wow! I have about $80,000! Let’s go!”
“Wait, not so hurriedly. We have to decide where we are going, see when a plane leaves to go there, get our tickets, pack, make reservations in a hotel at our destination, pay our recent rent, give the apartment manager our key, pick up our savings money, and pick up our last paychecks.” I told her these numerous deeds as I jotted them down on a note pad. “First, where are we going?!” I asked.
Katy quickly replied, “How ‘bout a country farm in the suburbs of a city in Wisconsin?! I lived there for eight years.”
“Sounds great, but I don’t know if we will find a house in the country. But we can sure try! I love Wisconsin!”
“Great! I’ll see when a plane leaves, make hotel reservations, and pick up my money!”
“Yea, and I’ll pack and take care of the “shack” key and rent. Then I will gladly receive my paycheck and pick up my savings,” I said.
We quickly went our separate ways and did our deeds. At about three forty-five, Katy walked into our almost empty ex-apartment. I was at the dining table counting my glorious money.
Katy walked up to me and said, quite happily, “Here’s your ticket! The plane leaves at seven twenty-one tonight!”
“Great! We have plenty of time. I’m through with everything. Are you?” I asked.
“Yea, I’m starved! Let’s go eat!”
“I’m hungry too!”
Since our means of transportation was by subway, carpool, walking, or taxi, we didn’t have a car to get rid of. We strolled to a neighborhood café and had a big, late launch. After about forty-five minutes, Katy and I were stuffed.
“Oh, that was super! I don’t even have room for dessert!” I exclaimed.
“Me either!” Katy cried.
We walked up to the cashier and paid for our lunch.
“Ready to go?” Katy inquired.
“Yea! Let’s go,” I replied.
At a moderate pace, we walked back to our ex-“shack.”
“Why don’t we call up some friends and say goodbye?” Katy suggested.
“O. K.,” I said.
Because we had two separate phones, the job was done faster. I could hear Katy dialing her friend’s number on her bright green push-button style phone. I went to our bedroom. It was furnished with two single beds, two nightstands, a large closet, and a quite large dresser with a mirror above it. I went to my lavender colored phone and dialed my friend, Carol’s, number. After about fifty-five minutes, Katy and I had finished our brief conversations with most of our friends.
“I’m through! How ‘bout you?” I asked.
“Just a sec!” Katy answered. I could hear Katy ending her last conversation. “Well, you write to me! O. K. Bye!” Katy said, then hung up the phone.
It was then five fifteen p.m. Katy walked into the main room and joined me at our dining table. I started reading a book, and Katy was thumbing through a newspaper.
In about twenty minutes, I asked, “Well, are you ready to call a cab to take us to the airport?”
“Yea! I can’t wait to see Wisconsin again! I wonder if my friends still live there,” Katy replied.
“O. K.” I dialed the number of Al’s Cab Service.
The phone of the cab service rang twice, then was answered by a man who asked me if he could help me. I told him I needed a cab, and gave him our address. In about ten minutes there was a knock on the door. I opened the door and to my surprise, saw a policeman.
“Miss Barbara Kirpatrick?” the officer inquired of me.
“Yes, I’m Barbara Kirpatrick.”
“I’m Brock McMarley of the Junction City Police Department,” he said as he showed me his badge. “I have a warrant for your arrest.”
“My arrest! What for?!” I asked, screaming.
“Suspicion of murder.”
“Murder?! Who was murdered?!”
“Mr. Wembly. Now if you will come with me…”
“Mr. Wembly?! He’s my boss at the jewelers. You’re out of your mind! Katy…help!”
“Mr. Wembly was your boss,” the officer said. The officer read me my rights.
Katy walked over to me. “The best thing you can do is go with the officer. Let’s forget about the trip. This is serious. Would you like me to go with you?” Katy inquired of me.
“Oh, yes. Please come with me!” I replied.
“Is it O.K., officer?” Katy asked.
“Sure,” the officer replied.
Katy left a note to the cab driver on the door, telling him thanks anyway. She left an envelope on the door with a few bucks for the driver in it.
Officer McMarley escorted Katy and me to the police car. In about twenty minutes, we arrived at the Junction City Police Station. The officer took me into the station, while Katy followed close behind. At seven-thirty, Katy was told to leave.
I was held by the police until the day of my trial. I already had a lawyer, by the name of Mr. Kenneth Hanley. My trial was held at the Junction City Court House at two o’clock p.m., on February 9, 1962.
Everyone stood up as Judge Parlime entered the room, and sat when he sat. I was sitting beside my attorney. The judge called the court to order, then asked the prosecuting attorney if he had an opening statement.
The attorney stood up, faced the jury, and said, “I intend to prove that the defendant, Barbara Kirpatrick, murdered her employer, Mr. Johnathan Wembly.”
The judge asked the defense attorney if he had an opening statement.
My attorney, Mr. Hanley, stood and stated, “I will prove that the defendant did not murder Mr. Wembly.”
The judge then asked the prosecuting attorney if he had any witnesses he wished to call to the witness stand. He called several witnesses of whom some were cross-examined by my attorney.
Mr. Hanley then called a few witnesses to the stand. A couple of ladies testified that they saw me at a local drug store on the day of the crime (the day before Katy and I were going to move) at approximately four fifteen p.m.
Some people who worked with me testified that I was of sound mind, and that they didn’t know of any reason why I would want to kill Mr. Wembly. Mr. Wembly’s secretary stated that nothing out the ordinary had happened the day of the crime.
Of the prosecuting witnesses, the one who harmed me most was Mrs. Wembly. Mrs. Wembly stated, “Johnathan talked much of how he and Miss Kirpatrick argued frequently over salary matters. He said she had been very rude to him lately.”
When all of the defense witnesses and prosecuting witnesses had testified, it was my turn. I, quite nervously, walked up to the stand, swore to tell the truth, and sat down.
The prosecuting attorney started questioning me.
“Were you, at any time, at Best Jewelers on the day of the crime?” asked the attorney.
“Yes, I was,” I replied.
“At what time?”
“I arrived there at four twenty-five.”
“What are your regular work hours?”
“Four to nine.”
“Did you not go to the drug store between four and four twenty-five and purchase a large container of roach poison?”
“For what purpose did you buy the product?”
“To use in my apartment to kill roaches.”
“What did you do with the poison when you arrived at the jewelers?”
“I had, by habit, put it in my purse, and placed my purse on a shelf in the back room, where I always put my belongings.”
“I see. Miss Kirpatrick, did you kill Mr. Wembly?”
“Do you know who did?”
“No further questions.”
My attorney then came up to the stand to question me. He had the container of poison marked as exhibit A.
“Is this the poison you bought on the day of the crime?” my attorney asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“How do you know? Is it the exact container?”
“It is the exact container. I know because it had the price stamped on it backwards, just as that one does.”
“Did the container come full?”
“How much have you used?”
“Do you know what the poison looks like?”
“Would you say the poison looked like cornmeal?”
“Very much so,” I answered.
“Could you tell the difference?”
Mr. Hanley faced the jury and explained, “Here I have a new container of the same brand of poison that Miss Kirpatrick bought, and here is the poison the defendant bought.” He pointed to the two containers as he said this. “When the poison purchased by Miss Kirpatrick was given to the police as evidence, I had it tested. The top layer of substance in the jar of poison was cornmeal. When the cornmeal was removed from the jar, the poison reached the ½ mark on the jar. The company who makes the poison didn’t put cornmeal in one particular jar. Evidently, someone used the poison to kill Mr. Wembly. Who was in the back room where they could get the poison?” he asked me.
“Well, there were several workers there that day, but Mr. Wembly’s secretary and I were the only girls.”
“What does that have to do with the person who is the killer?” he asked.
“Well, the back room is a women’s lounge.”
My attorney was astounded. Murmuring filled the court.
The judge announced, “I find the defendant, not guilty! Court is adjourned!”
The secretary, Kathy Wilson, was held for questioning and was found guilty of murder in the first degree. She was sentenced to life in prison.
The secretary had seen me come into work, and asked me why I was late. I told her I stopped by the store to get some roach poison. She went into the lounge, got the poison from my purse, then poisoned Mr. Wembly by slipping some poison into his daily afternoon snack. Miss Wilson then filled the jar with as much cornmeal as the amount of poison she had taken out. Since I was the last one to leave the jewelers, it made me look like the murderer. I thought Mr. Wembly had gone home early.
In a few days, Katy and I are going to move to Wisconsin and look for that country house, and get out of our “shack.” I still shudder to think how close I came to being sentenced to life imprisonment, and think to myself, “Me, a murderer?!”