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Fiction Fantastic 2019 Winning Story: “The Mystery of the Missing Violin” by Natasha Dracobly

The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.

You can purchase this story in the 2019 Winners Anthology, Portals here.

“The Mystery of the Missing Violin” by Natasha Dracobly, Roosevelt Middle School

Second Place, Middle School Level, 2019


The Mystery of the Missing Violin

By Natasha Dracobly

Roosevelt Middle School 

It was a gray morning in late January, and I was awaiting a client who had called the day before for an appointment. The appointment was to be at nine o’clock, and it was two minutes before when my assistant let in Mr. Nate Allen.

I could immediately tell that he was nervous. His left leg shook erratically, and his eyes darted about the area of my apartment that served as an office. The heavy bags under his eyes made it clear that he had not been sleeping well.

Nina and I took seats on either side of the desk on one wall, and Mr. Allen sat in the chair across.

“Good morning,” he said. “I do hope I’m not intruding.”

“You are not. So long as your story is interesting, of course.” He seemed slightly shocked by my hijab, but quickly recovered.

“I trust you’ve heard about Lucy Kent?” he asked.

“Hmm, yes. Nina, could you bring up the article?” I concentrated on Mr. Allen as my assistant grabbed the newspaper. The case had been there that morning. I could not recall the particulars, but I did remember that Lucy Kent, a visiting violin soloist, had seemingly committed suicide upon arriving in her motel room.

“The police ruled it a suicide.”

He leaned forward, as if to convey something of great importance. His leg was shaking furiously. “It was murder.”

I was intrigued, but still wary. “How do you know this?” I inquired. “And why didn’t you go to the police?”

Mr. Allen shifted uncomfortably, clearing his throat. I noticed his nostrils flare slightly, as if itching. “Lucy was my girlfriend. I know her. I know that she wouldn’t have committed suicide.”

“Is there anything else, any other information you have?”

He shook his head. I attempted to question him further, but he resisted all attempts for further information. Still, the case had some interesting points, not the least of which was, of course, the client. It was very odd that he would come to us, seemingly so sure it was a murder, and yet appear to lie and be resistant to giving us information. After an unproductive half-hour, I decided that I would take the case.

“Very well, Mr. Allen, I think we have enough information to be going on for now.” 

He stood up, looking hopeful yet apprehensive. “Does that mean you’ll take the case?”

I stood up as well. “I will. This problem seems intriguing.”

He appeared grateful, thanking me profusely, but showed himself out very quickly, much more so than most clients, who tended to want to stay around and chat.

“Seemed pretty standard.” Nina had apparently come back to the room sometime during the meeting, for she was seated in her usual spot on the other side of the desk. “Here’s the article if you want it.”

I took the proffered paper. “Standard . . . ?”

She shrugged. “He misses his girlfriend, doesn’t want to believe she killed herself. Seems fairly normal to me. He couldn’t even explain why.”

“Yes, I suppose so. Except for two things, which you are either ignoring or did not notice.”

“And those would be?” The expression Nina wore told me she was confused. Apparently, she really hadn’t noticed anything.

“For one thing, he was remarkably resistant to questioning. There was no apparent explanation why he would not be willing to talk about his girlfriend, or the circumstances, or anything.”

“Well, maybe he was sad. Didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Nonsense. He came here to talk about it.”

She rolled her eyes. Nina was sometimes annoyed at my lack of sympathy for clients. “What’s the second thing?”

“He was lying. When I asked him why he thought it wasn’t a suicide. Clearing his throat, shifting in his seat, flaring his nostrils. Did you know that your nose itches when you lie?” I paced back and forth, the paper in my hand, as Nina watched from the desk. “Not a very good liar, either. He’s hiding something.” She startled as I turned towards her suddenly. “Did you read the article?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent. It can be good to have an outside eye. Of course, they won’t say much in a public newspaper, but did anything seem out of place? Anything that would have labelled it as odd?”

I set the paper down in front of her, and she smoothed it out, her brow furrowed. I sat down myself, looking at her across the table. “I don’t think there was anything. She’d shot herself in the head, it seemed—the gun was next to her. She’d just gotten in from the airport. None of her things were unpacked; the only thing with her besides the gun was her suitcase.”

My head, which had been bowed as my assistant spoke, shot up. My brain scrambled through the possibilities. “She had just gotten back from the airport.” I stood up, realizing the impossible. “Text Mr. Allen. Ask him when her flight got in.”

“It came in at 5:05.”

“Interesting.”

“What is it?” She stood and walked around, looking over my shoulder as I pointed at a single line in the article.

“According to the original motel staff accounts, she died around 5:45.” I turned around to her. “You need to get us to the crime scene. This requires some close-up examination.”

I stayed awake for quite a while after that, thinking; imagining some possibilities, and ruling out others. I have long believed that imagination is truly the only way to go about in finding the truth. The blind spot of the police had always been that they did not rule out the impossible and did not consider the improbable. In this case, they had failed to pay notice to one impossible thing.

When at last we were granted access to the scene, Nina and I left immediately.

“Why was the flight time important?” she asked as we strolled down to the motel.

Seeing as I was engrossed in a scenario taking place in my head, I did not pay attention. She waved one hand in front of my face, snapping her fingers. “At home you can zone out all you want, but you’re going to walk into a car out here.” Nina is a very safety-minded person.

Not wanting to worry her, I concentrated, or at least appeared to, on her. “The times don’t match up. Not for a suicide.” What if… no, scratch that. We walked in companionable silence for the rest of the way. The fresh air was doing wonders for my head. I had three feasible theories worked out by the end of the walk.

The motel was an average one, at least as far as I could see from the front counter. The girl behind the desk looked like she needed some sleep; the wallpaper was slightly shabby, the air smelled slightly of detergent. We approached the girl, who was close to nodding off. “Hello,” Nina ventured carefully (she’s very careful), “We’re Detective Sadie Ahmad and her assistant.”

She straightened up, obviously trying to hide a yawn. “Do you have a reservation?”

“No, no, we’re not guests. We’re here to see the crime scene.”

She looked a bit more awake at that. Good gossip, I supposed. “It’s hardly a crime, but if you want to call it that . . . I’ll call the manager.”

Several tedious minutes later, we were ushered through the halls to the room where Lucy Kent was supposed to stay. The body had, of course, been moved, but white chalk marked where it had lain, and the evidence was all neatly marked, as was usual in police investigations. I turned to the manager who had brought us here. “When did she arrive?”

She shrugged. “Around 5:30.”

“And did she have anything other than her suitcase with her?”

“I don’t know.”

Nina had been looking about every inch of the room and taking notes while I asked the manager questions. The police had already done this, of course, but there was no harm in looking again. As for myself, there was only one thing to check. 

Crouching down and taking out my magnifying glass, wearing plastic gloves, I lifted the gun from its place beside the body chalk. It was certainly somewhere it could have fallen after the violinist shot herself, but it also could have been left purposefully. Looking closely at the floor underneath where it landed, I had my answer. I had noticed upon walking into the room how easily dented the wooden floor seemed to be, from the many scratches and indentations in its surface. A gun dropped from a hand would have most certainly made a mark. A placed one, of course, would not. I put the gun back and pulled off my gloves.

“Very well. I think I have all I need. We’ll be going now.” Nina nodded to the manager as we left. “Actually,” I said, spinning back around, “Might my assistant stay and interview some of your staff?”

The manager smiled briefly. “Sure.”

“Excellent. I’ll just have a quick word with her.” 

Back in the hall, I quickly conveyed my instructions to Nina. “Are you sure I should be the one questioning them?” she asked worriedly.

I assured her it was fine. “But be certain to ask about the violin.”

“What violin? There was none.”

“And that is the heart of this entire investigation. Where could the violin have gone?”

“I don’t know. Do you?”

I sighed. “I have my suspicions, but nothing final. One thing is clear; the police were incorrect.”

“What are you doing while I interview the staff?”

Smiling cheerfully, I bid her goodbye. “I have my own interview to make.”

I really did have some questions to ask. I had earlier suspected that our client was not quite telling the truth, and even if I was wrong, there were facts which he must have been aware of. He was surprisingly willing to talk, offering to come by the apartment in ten minutes.

He didn’t wait when he got there, just knocked and walked in when no one answered. I was thinking, sitting cross-legged in the corner. I hoped Nina would be back soon with further information, but for now I would make do with what I had.

He walked carefully, scanning the apartment—for threats, it seemed, from the slowness of his walk. Most people don’t do that. I watched him with half-closed eyes, adding tidbits to my ever-growing file. Mr. Allen, as it turned out, was a fascinating character, one of the more interesting people I’d met in my lifetime.

“Hello?” he called into the apartment. “Anyone here?”

“Tell me about her violin.” It was a special pleasure of mine, startling people. With my dark clothes and my hair covered, often I went unnoticed until I made my presence obvious. While it was clear Mr. Allen took pride in his smarts, observing, like lying, was not one of his strengths.

“Ah! There you are. Nice to see you again, Miss Ahmad.” He laid his coat on a chair, then sat down in it.

I frowned. “Detective Ahmad.”

“Yes, yes, of course. Ah, what were you saying?”

“The violin. Tell me about it.”

“Lucy’s violin?”

“No, Nina’s. Yes of course Lucy’s violin. Tell me everything about it.”

“Well, there wasn’t much special about it. She was too good for the instrument. We were saving to buy a new one when she — when she died.”

“It wasn’t very valuable.”

He shook his head vehemently. “Not worth very much at all.”

“Interesting. She brought it with her, I presume?”

“Of course. She was here to perform.”

He seemed to be telling the truth so far. I leaned forward. “Only one more question, and then you may go. Can you think of any reason, any at all, why someone might have wanted to steal Lucy’s violin?”

His nostrils flared as he answered, and he stared straight past my shoulder as if trying to fake eye contact. “No reasons, Detective Ahmad.”

Nodding, I gestured towards the door. “Thank you.”

Once again, he was eager to leave.

Apparently I fell asleep then, because the next thing I knew, I was opening my eyes and Nina was in the other chair, holding the coat that Mr. Allen had apparently left behind. My sleeping patterns are highly irregular, as Nina loves to tease me about, and now more than ever I was annoyed at my body’s functions.

“How long was I out? Did you find anything?” I took off my hijab and ran my finger through my hair.

Nina looked up as soon as I spoke. “Sadie, you’re awake. Guess what; I found the murderer!”

At this, I sat up. While Nina was capable of mistakes, she was an excellent assistant, far better than she gave herself credit for. “Explain.”

“It was the maid. I was going through, asking everyone all the usual questions and about the violin. You were right, by the way, she did bring it into the hotel with her. Well, I got to the maid, and she answered pretty well to most of the questions, but then I asked whether she knew anything about Kent’s violin, and she went white as a sheet. I prodded her a bit more, and pretty soon she’d confessed.”

“And she had the violin?”

“Well, that’s the odd thing. Turns out, she was hired for the murder. She killed Lucy Kent, made it look like a suicide, but the terms were to hand over the violin.” Nina shook her head and combed her short hair out of her face. “Why, Sadie? Why would anyone go to such lengths for that violin?”

“I have a few guesses. Nina, I see you have that coat. Could you look in the pockets? Just in case.”

She did so. I knew it was unlikely, but our client was definitely hiding something, and perhaps we could shed some light on it. 

“All that’s here is this note,” Nina said, handing me a folded paper. It looked a few days old; the paper was softer than usual, and a bit crumpled. The crease had been refolded many times. I opened it and read the following message aloud:

GIVE US THE JEWEL. YOU KNOW THE CONSEQUENCES.

–J

We were both silent for a moment. “This changes things,” I said, “and gives us some much needed clues.”

“Sadie,” Nina asked nervously, “whose coat was that?”

“Our client’s. I had suspected he was involved in some illegal affairs, but this note sheds light on them. I trust you remember the Fairview Ruby?”

“Yes. You don’t think he stole it?”

“That’s exactly what I think. We can see from the note that he stole a jewel, and also that he knew the person writing it. Probably, they were some organization he was working for. But he got greedy, and saved this one for himself. The question is, how is it connected to the violin?” I closed my eyes to think.

“Maybe he hid the ruby in it?”

My eyes shot open, and I stared at Nina. “That’s brilliant!”

“Is it?”

“Yes! Of course; this note is several days old, from before when Lucy left. He knew they were after him, and hid the ruby in the case, hoping to get it far away. But he’s a terrible liar. They were a step ahead. They put a hitman on Lucy, who framed it as a suicide, and got the ruby back.” I pointed at the phone. “Call him.”

“Mr. Allen? Why not the police?”

“It’s the only thing I don’t understand.”

Nina had picked up her phone. “What?”

“Why he came to us when he was guilty.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Do you really need to know?”

“Yes. Tell him to come pick up his coat.”

“Okay.” She typed something. “He’s coming.”

I rewrapped my hijab as we waited. Soon the knock came. 

“Hello?”

I held his coat under one arm and ushered him inside, closing the door and leaning back against it. “Why did you do it?”

He looked like a trapped bird, eyes darting every which way. “Do what?”

“Come to us. You were guilty; why bring attention to it?”

“I don’t know—”

“Yes, you do. Tell me.”

He spoke in a low tone. “Because I was mad. They killed her. I didn’t care about myself anymore; I just wanted to see them in jail.”

So it was sentiment after all. Perhaps everyone was ruled by feelings in the end. I smiled. “The police will be here shortly.”

“What?”

“Yes, very soon, seeing as my assistant called them fifteen minutes ago.” There was another knock. “Goodbye, Mr. Allen. Your case was very fun.”