Absent Murder Chaser
By Damaris Chanza
"Ghost Writer Wanted
I want to write an autobiographical piece that my grandchildren can someday read and learn about my life.
Contact Mildred A. Besent"
"It's frustrating," said Denise as she opened her front door.
"I know, but I promise something will come up; you'll get more writing jobs."
"Jim, if I don't start writing something soon, I won't make rent. Freelance writing was supposed to give me the freedom to write my novel, but now, I have writer's block and no money."
"You complain too much; it'll work itself out," Jim said as he entered his car and drove away.
The gust of wind from Jim's car caused the autumn leaves to ruffle, exposing a crumpled newspaper.
"It's 2022; I can't believe people still buy newspapers," Denise muttered to herself as she picked up the newspaper intending to throw it in the recycling bin. Then she noticed a Ghost Writer Wanted ad. Excited and desperate to make rent, she quickly called the number on the ad and prayed someone would pick up.
Denise was beginning to lose hope, but after four rings, an older woman with a whisper-like voice answered.
"Hello, is this Mildred Besent?"
The phone fumbles a bit.
"I'm Denise Short. I'm inquiring about the ghostwriter job; I saw an ad in the newspaper."
"Oh yes, I'm Mildred. Are you a writer, hun?"
Denise explains her qualifications and charms her way into a meeting with Mildred.
"My granddaughter and I will meet you at the Starbucks on Main at 3 pm tomorrow."
"Sounds great! I'll see you then."
After yet another restless night of staring at blank Word documents, unable to continue her novel, Denise rushes to her car with the newspaper and a notepad in hand.
After a stressful parking situation, she enters Starbucks. The Starbucks on Main is usually packed on a Sunday afternoon, with the local church's congregation grabbing a snack after mass. However, this time it was much more crowded. Everyone was wearing black, a woman in the corner was getting consoled, and tissues were getting passed around like candy.
Denise awkwardly made her way to a corner by the door, hoping to catch Mildred and ask to change their meeting to the diner across the street. She hid her face behind her newspaper and frequently checked her phone, wondering where Mildred and her granddaughter were. After ten minutes, she was bored and distracted herself by reading the newspaper.
She silently giggled at the comics, tried and gave up on the crossword puzzle, and skimmed through the economics section, pretending to care. Soon enough, she hit the obituaries. Thinking she might find whose funeral she was crashing, she read through the obituaries.
Suddenly her stomach sank.
"Mildred A. Besent, 62, from Dispa, Connecticut, has sadly passed away. She leaves behind her loving granddaughter, Ingrid. Mildred loved mystery novels, her cats, and playing Bingo at the local Senior Center. She will be greatly missed."
Before she could even process what she had read, a man walked up to Denise, handing her a pamphlet. It was a funeral program for Mildred A. Besent. Denise frantically flipped through the program. Mildred was a curly-haired blonde woman with a KISS tattoo on her neck and purple lipstick. Astonished and confused, Denise looked around for someone who could answer all the questions racing through her mind. The woman who had been crying in the corner and getting consoled earlier walked up to Denise.
While holding back sobs, she said, "Hi, I'm Ingrid; how did you know my grandmother?"
Baffled and fumbling with her words, Denise frantically flips through the newspaper, looking for the ghostwriter ad.
"I . . .I spoke to her yesterday; she told me to meet her here for a meeting," she said, handing the newspaper to Ingrid.
"Who are you? That's not funny. Who put you up to this? My grandmother passed almost a week ago. How could this ad make it in the paper at the same time as her obituary? She didn't do this."
With tears further staining her cheeks as they rolls down her face, Ingrid crumples up the newspaper, shoves it in Denise's hands, and demands she leave. Denise scurries out the door without a word and rushes to her car.
"What the . . ." she mumbles to herself.
She dials Jim, but he doesn't pick up.
"God, what do I do now? This was my last chance. What am I supposed to do? How is this even possible? Who did I talk to yesterday?"
Countless questions rapidly ran through her mind.
"This can't be real."
She pinched herself, rubbed her eyes, and even reread the obituary; nothing reassured her that it was all a dream.
"She goes to the senior center?"
She drove to the senior center thinking she could get some information. She parked in the almost vacant parking lot and hesitantly took the keys out of the ignition. She opened the door, ready to get out, then changed her mind and turned the car back on.
Startled, Denise looks over and sees someone she was hoping to avoid.
"Denise, it's so nice to see you; my goodness, it's been so long."
"Hi, Margaret. How are you?" she awkwardly turned off the car and stepped out.
"Me? How have you been? Haven't we seen you around in a while? We miss you around here."
"Yeah, well, life happened. I'm here looking for someone, actually. Do you know Mildred Besent?
"Mildred. Oh, what a nice lady. She has the coolest stories; she was a groupie, you know. Sorry to say she passed recently, though. It was sad; she didn't have much family. She was a lonely woman, but wow, she had a crazy life. She loved telling us all about it."
"Doesn't she have a granddaughter?" Denise interrupted
"Ugh, her granddaughter. The one time she came to visit was a disaster. She and Mildred didn't get along. Wait. How do you know Mildred?"
"Um, she uh . . ."
"Where are my manners? I just sprung all this on you. That someone you know is dead, and I am asking you all these questions. I'm sorry. Look, why don't we go inside and grab a cup of coffee, and maybe you can call out the bingo numbers like old times."
"No, that's okay. I actually have to go." Denise stepped back in her car and drove off before Margaret could say another word.
Denise drove around for a while, contemplating what to do next but ultimately returned home.
She put the newspaper and pamphlet on her desk, sprawled across her couch, and started mindlessly scrolling through Netflix. But, questions about Mildred wouldn't escape her mind. Suddenly she found herself googling Mildred.
"Mildred A. Besent Obituary
Local Woman Collapsed At the Park, Police Say
Ingrid Besent, Set to Inherit Musical Empire"
Startled by the phone's sudden vibration and the shock of discovering Mildred's musical fortune, Denise drops the phone and scrambles to catch it. She manages to answer the phone right before it stops ringing.
"Jim, why didn't you pick up the phone? I've had the craziest day. I thought I was going to a job interview for this old lady, and when I got there, a whole funeral was happening; it was super awkward; then I found out it was the old lady's funeral, and her granddaughter completely freaked out on me."
"I can't just breathe. I spoke to her yesterday, and today I was at her funeral. That doesn't even make sense funerals take time to plan. Her granddaughter said she's been dead a week. Margaret said they didn't even get along, but she was bawling when I saw her," Denise said, frantically waving her hands and pacing through the room.
"Wait, wait, wait, you went to see Margaret? Why was she crying?"
"No, not Margaret, her granddaughter was crying when I saw her, but she supposedly hated her grandma. But why would Mildred want a story for her grandchildren if she didn't even like them?"
"Because grandmas are nice like that?" Jim guessed.
"Grandmas are bake you cookies nice, not pay a writer to write their entire life's story nice. Oh my goodness, and she is a billionaire. Mildred, the grandma, was a whole billionaire for running a musical empire, but she was hanging out with Margaret at the Senior Center, telling her groupie stories. The crazy part is that her granddaughter is set to inherit everything, but they don't even like each other. Who the hell did I talk to yesterday?"
"You sound a little crazy right now. How could you have talked to a dead woman? Are you okay? I know you said you've been having a hard time with your book, but this is a lot. You know what; I'm coming over."
"Stop. I promise I'm not making this up. Some crazy stuff is going on, but it's all real."
"Okay, Denise. Tell me all about it when I get there."
Jim hangs up. After a few deep breaths, Denise angrily tosses a throw pillow across the room. She then googles Ingrid Besent.
"Ingrid Besent, Mourns Loss of Grandmother, Mildred
Ingrid Besent Organizes Public Memorial for Grandmother, Mildred Besent
Heiress Ingrid Besent Arrested for Petty Theft
Besent Family Conspiracy Theory"
Completely entranced by the never-ending information on her phone, Denise jumps at the doorbell sound.
Denise answers the door and, before even letting him in the house, blurts, "Jim, there's a public memorial for Mildred tomorrow."
"Hi Jim, thank you for coming to help me. Come in and make yourself comfortable." Jim says sarcastically, taking off his jacket.
"Yeah yeah. I think we should go to the memorial."
Jim guides Denise into the dining room and sits at the table across from her, hanging his jacket on the back of the chair.
"Denise, you can't just crash a memorial; what do you think will happen?"
"I don't know, but I need to talk to Ingrid. Something weird is happening, and I need to find out what's going on."
"Are you sure about this?"
Denise nods, and they start to discuss dinner. Jim agrees to pick up some takeout and heads to his car. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and texts Margaret.
Denise texts Jim as she sits in her parked car across the street from Mildred Besant's memorial, trying to find the nerve to enter.
When the autumn breeze makes the car a bit too chilly, she steps out and makes her way toward the entrance of the Besent Musical Museum. Upon entering the museum a man takes her jacket and hands her a pamphlet. She maneuvers around people staring at music memorabilia collected throughout Mildred's life. She moved past the signed Beetles album, the collage of photos of Mildred with dozens of famous bands from her time as a groupie, and a guitar pick used and signed by Led Zepplin's guitarist while searching for Ingrid.
Denise turns around to see Margaret heading her way.
"Margaret, I didn't know you were going to be here."
"Of course, honey, we loved Mildred at the Senior Center. All of us are here. Come on; I'm sure everyone would love to see you again."
Margaret grabbed Denise's arm and guided her toward a large group of women. They instantly ambushed Denise asking about her writing career, her life, her lack of a relationship, and Jim's presence in her life.
"Has anyone seen Ingrid?"
Denise interrupted awkwardly, trying to dodge all of their questions and focus on her mission.
"Ugh, you know her?"
"I bet it wasn't even her who organized this."
"I can't believe she gets to take Mildred's fortune!"
Before Denise even acknowledges the plethora of responses, Jim taps her on the shoulder.
"Denise, I've been looking for you everywhere! Why don't you show me around?"
After a few groans and begs for her to stay, Denise squirms away from the group.
"Thank god! I was drowning. I don't know how I'm going to tell them I quit then accomplished nothing as a writer."
"Don't worry about them. Have you found Ingrid?"
Denise shook her head. They walked around looking for Ingrid but paused to take in all of the interesting artifacts of Mildred's life.
"These displays are kind of funny. Mildred really drunkenly jumped on stage at an ACDC concert and was escorted out." Denise holding back a chuckle.
"Pfft, I'm more impressed that she got matching tattoos with the lead singer of Pink Floyd."
Jim and Denise laugh, thinking about all of the absurd and badass things Mildred's done throughout her life. Suddenly, the large doors blocking off the museum's paid portion open, drummers walk out, and Ingrid follows.
"A grand entrance for her grandmother's memorial?" Denise whispers to Jim. He shrugs his shoulders.
The same man who took Denise's jacket sets up a podium, with a microphone for Ingrid. She walks up and sniffles, using a tissue to wipe away a nonexistent tear.
"I want to thank you all for coming to my grandmother's memorial. Mildred A. Besent was a powerhouse. She made being a trashy band following groupie into a successful historian and memorabilia business. I'm glad that her business has documented music history and her life. Thank you."
Coughs, random shuffling, and whispers of disapproval overshadowed the eulogy. Without a second thought, Denise called out for Ingrid before she could disappear behind the doors again.
Stumbling and awkwardly excusing herself past strangers, and bumps right into Ingrid.
"What are you. . . YOU!" Pushing away from Denise, Ingrid keeps walking toward the doors, but Denise follows.
"Stop; who do you think you are? Get away from me!"
"I need to talk to you."
The two of them crash into the large doors and burst through.
Denise's voice echoed through the empty room.
Jim and Margaret ran through the doors together, shooting a disappointing look at Ingrid.
"You were supposed to avoid her for longer," Jim tells Ingrid.
"You were supposed to stop her from following me."
"She just ran. I couldn't catch up."
"Well, Margaret was supposed to body block her if she did follow me."
"I was in the bathroom!"
"Oh crap, am I early?" an old woman says as she walks out from a distant hallway.
Everyone shouts in unison. Mildred, Jim, Margaret, and Ingrid start talking over each other making their entire conversation incomprehensible.
"I know you guys aren't about to ignore me like some crazy shit didn't just happen. What is going on? How do you all know each other? Someone better start talking."
Ingrid, Margaret, and Mildred look over at Jim waiting for him to speak. He takes a deep breath.
"I did this. Ingrid is a friend of mine from work, and she does a lot of graphic design and made all the web articles, the newspaper, and most of the fake memorabilia outside."
"And Mildred visits the Senior Center for Bingo every week." Magaret interrupts.
Denise, still not understanding, gestures for them to continue.
"I was worried about you. You were getting all in your head about the book, and you wouldn't stop complaining about your writer's block. I thought you needed something else to focus on."
"So you orchestrated a fake death?" Denise shouts.
"It had to be real; it was Ingrid's idea, actually. She needed something for her art school portfolio."
Denise starts yelling so fast her word jumble together, and she quickly runs out of breath.
"Jim, you told me I was crazy. Margaret, you bombarded me in the parking lot. Ingrid, you embarrassed me at Starbucks."
Guilty expressions briefly cross their faces.
"We know how suspicious you get. If it didn't feel real, you wound't have believed it." Jim places his hand on Denise's shoulder to comfort her.
"I thought Mildred was murdered! I was going to pretend to be a reporter from Rolling Stone to interview Ingrid and get her to admit she
did something shady."
They all burst out laughing as Denise pulls an obviously fake press pass out of her purse. Mildred goes on to explain she really was a groupie but never made a fortune from it. They all started to reveal the silly things they did not to get caught and make sure the plan worked.
"Wait, who are all those people outside and the people at Starbucks?"
"Oh, they're from my improv group." Mildred answers.
They all kept talking until an alarm set on Jim's phone went off.
"We have to start cleaning up. My mom has to do an open house here tomorrow and I promised I'd give her the keys back by 8."
Everyone starts going through the double doors, but Denise stops Jim, the two of them staying behind.
"This was absolutely crazy and there was no reason for something so elaborate, but thank you. It's the thought that counts, I guess."