Sheriff Charles Jones had never seen a battleship before. He was here because his bossy former schoolteacher, Angela Potts, had bummed a ride with him to Biloxi for a sheriff’s conference so she could visit a friend nearby, and afterward had talked him into driving another hour to Mobile Bay to tour the USS Alabama. They were now strolling back to the parking lot.
“I liked the sub better than the battleship,” the sheriff said. Docked beside the Alabama was a submarine, the USS Drum; they’d spent half an hour touring it as well.
“I’m surprised you made it through those little passageways,” she said.
“Look who’s talking. Besides, I’ve been exercising.”
“Lifting forks and beer bottles?”
“How’d you know?”
“I’m an amateur detective.”
He was about to reply when they heard an alarm sound, and saw a security guard running toward the submarine.
Angela told him to go see what happened. Whatever it was, she probably wouldn’t be permitted access.
“Even though you’re an amateur detective?” he said.
“Get going. Call me on your cell phone, okay? And leave it turned on, so I can hear.”
Sheriff Jones jogged to the scene and showed his badge. Unexpectedly, the two guards there allowed him to stay. At the last minute he remembered to call Angela, push the SPEAKER button, and tuck his phone into his shirt pocket.
The situation was strange: According to the guard, a young woman’s purse had been snatched while she was looking through the periscope, and she’d fallen in the tight quarters and struck her head. Just before passing out, she’d phoned her husband, who was in the gift shop, and told him she’d glimpsed her attacker running away at full speed through the sub, ducking through the tiny doors with a small pistol tucked into his belt. The husband contacted security, who sounded the alarm and took down his information. The unconscious woman was now being transported to a hospital.
There were only three suspects, and they were found standing around topside–two short young men in jeans and a tall middle-aged man. One of the young guys wore a red T-shirt, the other a plaid shirt and suspenders. None of the three had noticed the others, they said, and none–when searched–was carrying either a gun or a stolen purse.
While the sheriff was quietly relaying their descriptions to Angela, one of the security guards pointed to the tall man and the plaid-shirted guy and said, “You two come with me.” To the other young man he said, “Jimmy, you can go home.”
“Who’s Jimmy?” Angela’s voice said, on the phone.
The sheriff passed her question along to the guard, who replied that Jimmy Burton was employed here, part-time.
“The one you told me was wearing the T-shirt?” Angela asked.
“Yeah,” the sheriff said.
“Don’t let him go!” she blurted.
This was so loud the others heard it too. The sheriff took the phone from his pocket and asked her, “Why not?”
“Because he’s the thief.”
The sheriff announced that opinion to the guard.
The young man in the red T-shirt went pale, then turned to flee. The guard grabbed him. In stammering sobs the kid confessed to the mugging, and to dropping the gun and purse over the railing into the waters of the bay when he heard the alarm.
Later, in the parking lot, the sheriff and one of the security guards asked Angela how she’d known.
“Process of elimination,” she said. “Three suspects, and two couldn’t have done it.”
“You told me the older guy was tall. No one his size could’ve been seen running full tilt through the cramped quarters of a submarine. That only happens in the movies.”
The sheriff nodded, remembering the trouble he himself had had, ducking through the little oval doors. “But what about the other one?”
She shook her head. “The victim said the attacker had a gun in his belt. The guy in the plaid shirt wasn’t wearing a belt.”
“How do you know that? You never saw him.”
“Besides,” the guard said, “he could’ve thrown the belt overboard, with the gun and purse.”
“He didn’t,” Angela said.
“How do you know?” the sheriff asked again.
“Because you said he was wearing suspenders. He wouldn’t need a belt. No one wears both at the same time.”
The security guard nodded thoughtfully, then studied her a moment. “Who are you, anyway?”
She smiled. “I’m a detective,” she said.
John M. Floyd’s stories have recently appeared in AHMM, EQMM, The Strand, Woman’s World, The Saturday Evening Post, and The Best American Mystery Stories 2015. A former Air Force captain and IBM systems engineer, John won a Derringer Award in 2007 and was nominated for an Edgar in 2015.
Copyright © 2016 John M. Floyd. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.