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A Red Herring Murder: Flash Fiction by cam

Updated on December 16, 2017
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Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

Author's Note

I am preparing for the upcoming NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge which will begin on Friday, July 31. I'm pumping out a few flash fiction stories in various genres as practice for the competition. This story, in the mystery genre, takes place in a train station which was the location of a murder. Private Investigator, Owen Darby, skillfully unravels the tangled web of evidence and shows, beyond a doubt, whodunnit.


“My name is Owen Darby. I have invited the four of you here because each of you is a suspect in the murder of a booth clerk by the name of Harrison Burke who worked at the train station in which we now sit.” Owen Darby was a very large man, connoisseur of food and abstainer from anything that resembled exercise.

“What do you have to do with the investigation? You don’t look like a cop to me.” said Louis Palmer, one of the suspects.

“I am a private investigator, hired by the victim’s family to find his murderer or murderers. No more questions, please. We have business to attend to, and I have a dinner engagement with a charming lady which I do not intend to miss. My assistant, Jacob Feingold, will review the details of the crime. Jake, if you will proceed.”

“Okay, here’s what we’ve got so far,” said Jake. “On the afternoon of August 2, a large crowd of people headed home from work in the city was milling about at this station, waiting for the 5pm connector. At 4:58 pm, just after the train had pulled into the station, gun shots were heard and Harrison Burke lay dead on the floor of the ticket booth. Surveillance cameras have shown each of you in the depot at the time, so save your alibis for another occasion.

“But you said there was a crowd in the station. How did you narrow the search down to us? I had nothing to do with that murder,” said Malcolm Smith.

“You are telling only part of the truth,” said Darby. “You did not pull the trigger of the gun that killed Harry, but you were involved. Jake, please continue."


“Which one of you is Robert Licht?”

“Yeah, that’s me,” said one of the suspects, “What do you want?”

“You’ve got quite a collection of marksmanship awards, don’t you?” said Jake.

“Just because I’ve been competing in shooting sports for a few years, doesn’t mean I’m a murderer,” said Licht.

“No, it doesn’t,” said Darby. “But the gun has been retrieved from a dumpster right here on the station property. No fingerprints were found on the weapon which was registered to a woman who lives in Northeast Philly.”

“Of course my prints weren’t on the gun, cause I never touched it,” said Licht.

“While you did apparently use gloves during the murder, you failed to use them during the robbery of the apartment when you stole the gun,” said Darby.


“So you’ve got your murderer,” said Hillary Miller, another of the suspects. What do you need the rest of us here for?”

“Because three of you are accomplices to the murder,” said Darby. “There were two crimes committed that afternoon, not just one. I discovered the other while reading the August 3 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Buried in the back pages was a story describing how the 5:00 pm train to Philly was robbed at precisely the same time that Mr. Burke was murdered. I find that to be quite coincidental.”

“What could possibly have been on that train worth stealing?” said Miller as she applied lipstick to her already red lips.

“You know the answer to that question, Ms. Miller,” said Darby. “You must have been the brains behind the robbery, since you work at the Art Museum and would have known about the valuable paintings being transported on the train which were destined for the museum.”


Malcolm Smith and Louis Palmer made a dash for the exit, but a police officer appeared, blocking their escape.

“Sit down,” said Darby. “It’s too late for that. Both of you, Mr. Smith and Mr. Palmer, have extensive criminal records which include trafficking in stolen art.”

“But stealing a few paintings is not murder.”

“I’ll accept that as a confession to the theft, Mr. Palmer,” said Darby. “I also know that there were not just four involved in this crime, but five. At the same time that Mr. Licht was pulling the trigger of the murder weapon, armed guards were in one of the train cars watching over the paintings. Ms. Miller, one of those guards is your fiancé. When they heard the sound of gun shots coming from the depot, your fiancé told the others to go investigate. That’s when you, Palmer and Smith entered the car, maced your boyfriend who volunteered for that experience, and stole the paintings.”

“How could you possibly be certain of any of that,” said Miller.

“Because,” said Darby, “you’re boyfriend, who is now in the custody of law enforcement, told the whole story to the police.”

“So the murder of Harry Burke was nothing more than a red herring to get the guards out of the train car?” said Jake.

“That is correct, Jacob. Burke was considered by these co-conspirators to be collateral damage in the heist of the paintings. Because of the testimony of Ms. Miller’s fiancé, we can link the two crimes so that the police can charge Licht with murder and the other four as accessories to murder.


The door opened and four officers, accompanied by the Chief of Police who was still wearing a set of headphones, entered the room. Rights were read and the four suspects were escorted toward the door.

“I hope you miss your damned dinner date,” said Hillary Miller as her hands were being cuffed behind her back.

“Oh, can’t you tell, Ms. Miller,” said Darby, patting his considerable belly, “I never miss a meal, and I always get the woman I’m pursuing.”

This Story Was Inspired by Rex Stout's Character, Nero Wolfe

 Illustration from The American Magazine printing of Too Many Cooks (1938), a Nero Wolfe novel by Rex Stout, serialized in six installments (March–August 1938)
Illustration from The American Magazine printing of Too Many Cooks (1938), a Nero Wolfe novel by Rex Stout, serialized in six installments (March–August 1938) | Source


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    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Eric, No, it wasn't just you. I'm a fan of Rex Stout and his Nero Wolfe stories. If you haven't read any of those, give one a try. He ends all of his mystery stories with Nero Wolfe in a room full of prime suspects of the crime he is solving. The police chief is normally at hand as well. I wanted to try to tell the whole story in that setting. It does leave you with the feeling you missed something. It was fun trying to pack everything into a flash fiction format. I certainly wouldn't try this in the upcoming challenge. Thanks for reading and for that comment. It helps to have feedback like that.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      6 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Great read. For some reason this one left me feeling like it was a chapter out of a book instead of a stand alone short story. But maybe I was just distracted with life and did not concentrate.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Thanks Deb. This was fun to write since I am a fan of Rex Stout and his Nero Wolfe series. I'm glad you liked the story.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Good work! All's well that ends well, and this was definitely a great story that intrigued me from start to finish.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Ann, thanks for your input. This story is obviously part of a much bigger one that involves all the real investigative work, but I felt the single scene, with all the revelations, presented a complete story. I don't think I would take this approach in the competition though. Thanks for reading.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Good story, Chris, well-crafted. It pulls together well at the end. Like the character of Owen too!


    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Michael, thank you for the vote of confidence. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. Nice to see you here.

    • Michael-Milec profile image


      6 years ago

      Seems you have a winner here, Chris. Your story is great, an enjoyable read.Thanks.

      Voted up and beautiful.

      Have a great weekend.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      6 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Good story. Interesting how it was all worked out.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Thanks, Colin. I am a fan of Nero Wolfe mysteries and thought I'd do a little scene along that line. Rex Stout was a master storyteller.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      John, yes it is quite different for me. When the competition gets here, I'll have at least two opportunities to write and possibly three or four depending on how I place. I could get any of a dozen or so genres. I'm working on a comedy at the moment. I hope to post it before the day is through. Good to see you today, John.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Shauna, Thanks for stopping by and reading. The poor booth attendant got in the way of some pretty aggressive criminals. But that's fiction for you. :)

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Ruby, Thanks for reading and for the vote up. It is fun messing around with the various genres. Thanks for visiting.

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 

      6 years ago from Inverbervie, Scotland

      I like your characters here, Chris, and the 'Columbo' style of revealing the mystery. Good one.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      6 years ago from Gondwana Land

      This murder mystery is a slightly different genre to what we are used to from you Cam, but you did well. your character, Owen Darby is larger than life (sorry couldn't help that) and could be someone to successfully build a series around. Well constructed and interesting. Good luck in the contest.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Darby certainly is good at his job - and quick, too. Too bad the booth attendant had to be an unsuspecting pawn in the scheme.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Of course I liked your story. Reminded me of Matlock. The picture of Wolfe added recognition to the character Darby Voted up..Well done..

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Larry, I appreciate that comment. I hope the judges in the competition say something similar. Thanks for reading.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma

      You execute the genre well.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Hi Becky, I wouldn't write a mystery for the competition in this format, but it's what stuck in my mind when a friend gave me the prompts. Thanks for jumping in so quickly and reading the story. Glad you liked it.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 

      6 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      Good story. I was wondering how this was all going to be connected.


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