My inbox runneth over. This was my first go-around with the Bohemian's annual fiction contest, and I didn't know what to expect. What would the turnout be? Would we get many good submissions? Well, I needn't have worried. I was overwhelmed by both the number and quality of the stories I got—141 in all.
My goal was to pick one winner and four runners up. It wasn't easy. There are some really talented writers out there, and it was a lot of fun to read about all those vampires, avenging cats, murderers, talking fish, wistful lovers and extraterrestrial gigolos.
We chose the winning stories based on how well the writers incorporated the opening and closing sentence prompts ("Suddenly, it all made sense"; "And she had the corpse to prove it"). We looked for good reads that entertained us with well-told stories or the surprise ending. And I'm a sucker for any story that involves the death of Justin Bieber.
The winners here reflect a range of genres and styles. The winning story was by Jeff Cox, who happens to be the Press Democrat's restaurant critic. He didn't write about food, but rather spun an old fashioned who dunnit in the spirit of Agatha Christie. The other winning stories were variously fun, surprising and just plain ol' weird.
Enjoy and thanks to everyone who took the time to submit a story. We'll do it again!—Stett Holbrook
THE GOD'S EYE
By Jeff Cox
Suddenly, it all made sense. Of all the people at the party where the diamond disappeared, Colonel Murray would have been the least likely thief. He was a decorated Vietnam War veteran who had lost his sight in that conflict.
The party was given by Jim and Tootie McTavish for the graduation of their daughter, Sara. On the night of the party, Tootie wore her prized diamond brooch pinned to her sequined jacket. No one noticed that the central diamond, a magnificent five-carat flawless stone, was missing until Tootie's friend Grace asked about it. "Do you keep it somewhere for safekeeping?" Grace asked.
Tootie looked down and, panicked, realized that the diamond was gone. "No. It was there when I put on the brooch." She looked quickly around the room. "Jim!" she called to her husband. He rushed over. "The God's Eye is gone!"
Jim, a practical man, immediately had two thoughts. First, the diamond must have somehow dislodged from the brooch and was somewhere on the floor. Or—someone had found it and pocketed it.
He called for quiet, explained to the guests what had happened, and asked them to search the floor for the stone. For 15 minutes, 18 guests crawled and stooped, examining every inch of the hardwood flooring and the Chinese rug, even looking under the cushions on the chairs and couches. Nothing.
Jim told the guests he was going to lock the doors and call the police. Every pocket of every guest would be searched before anyone could leave. Later, after the police searches were fruitlessly completed, Colonel Murray threw up his hands. "Enough," he said. "I'm leaving."
"Not so fast," a detective said. Colonel Murray drew a pistol and moved toward the door: "I said I'm leaving!" The detective drew his firearm and fired. Colonel Murray slumped to the floor.
"I'm afraid Colonel Murray took the diamond," Jim said.
"How do you know that?" the detective asked. Jim pulled a glass eye from his pocket and showed it to the guests. "Colonel Murray had taken out his glass eye and hidden the diamond in the empty socket. No one could see behind his glasses. My wife told me who must have taken it when she found the glass eye under the couch."
Tootie had the smarts to see that. And she had the corpse to prove it.