The Tic Tac Toe Murders


Forever Empress E
Here are the first few pages of a short story I'm working on for a mystery writing class. The working title is "The Tic Tac Toe Murders."


The grass was green, the water was green, the sky was green, even her dress was green. The swath of red across the hood of the green 1972 Dodge Challenger parked on the grass clashed.

Eloise Porter, mouth open, her red lips pursed in the shape of a perfect O, stood in the center of her white porch.

“Jeanie,” she yelled. “Jeanie Lynn Porter, get over here now!”

A gangly girl of 10, scraped knees and elbows, scraggly brown hair stuck to her dirt-streaked face, a big yellow dog at her heels, ran around the corner of the white framed house. “Yes, mama?”

“What on earth have you been doing out here?”

“Nothing, mama. Me and Buster are digging a root cellar.”

Eloise brushed Jeanie’s hair away from her face, leaned over and looked the girl in the eye. With the corner of her apron, she wiped at the dirt on Jeanie’s cheek and mouth. “What are you digging it with? Your head?”

Jeanie giggled. “No.”

“Well, digging a root cellar is hard work. Give that dog some water and go inside and wash up. It’ll be supper time soon.”

The screen door slammed shut behind Jeanie as Eloise walked down the stone path to the driveway. Closer investigation of the hood of her car confirmed her suspicions. The slick stain was thick red paint. For the life of her, she couldn’t imagine why anyone would paint a red X on the hood of Morgan’s car, the one he’d spent every Saturday for the last year restoring and every Sunday washing. But it couldn’t have been there long. She’d been sitting on the front porch shelling peas only half an hour before and she would have noticed it then.

Eloise went into the house and turned off the gas burners under the boiling pots on the stove. She filled a plastic bucket with warm soapy water and took a cleaning rag from a kitchen drawer. With any luck, the paint hadn’t dried yet and would wash off. If not, Morgan would be furious when he got home.

Jeanie appeared at her elbow. “You washing daddy’s car?” she asked, wide-eyed with surprise since her father had just washed it that morning before he went into town. She’d heard her father say time after time, “Nobody is to touch my car. Ever.” And she had made sure to stay as far away from that car. She didn’t so much as look at it if possible so it wouldn’t even enter her mind to touch it.

“Well, some red paint got on your father’s car. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

“Oh, no, mama. Daddy said he’d skin me alive if I so much as scratched his car.”

“I didn’t think you did, Sweet Pea. I don’t think we even have any red paint. But, your father is going to be mighty upset if I don’t get it off before he gets back.”

Most of the paint came off but a few flecks still marred the surface. Eloise scraped at the flecks carefully with her fingernail. It wouldn’t do to get the red off if she chipped the green underneath. Displeased with her efforts, she tucked dark tendrils of curly hair behind her ears, settled her hands on her hips and sighed. “Sweet Pea, go inside and set the table, please.”

“With the good Sunday dishes?”

“Yes, the good Sunday dishes. You’re getting to be a big girl now. Be extra careful and don’t break anything.”

Jeanie felt special. Her mother never let her get the good Sunday dishes out of the china cabinet by herself, afraid she might break one of her special plates. She ran back up the stone path and bounded up the steps.

“And, don’t slam the screen door!” Eloise turned and yelled after her daughter just as the screen door slammed shut.

Eloise remembered seeing a can of paint thinner in the shed out back. On the way to the back yard, she stopped on the side of the house and inspected the hole Jeanie and Buster had been working on. Remembering her own tomboy days, she laughed. In just a few short years, this little girl would disappear under curling irons and makeup and she’d forget all about the days she dug root cellars with the dog in the yard.

She frowned as she approached the shed and saw the door hanging open a few inches, the combination lock lying on the ground. Morgan was always careful to close up and lock the shed to keep Jeanie from accidentally getting into the poisons he used on the moles digging holes of their own in the yard. If there was red paint in there and Jeanie had gotten into it, Morgan would have no one to blame but himself.

The interior of the shed was a mess, also unlike Morgan who insisted everything had a place and everything should be in its place. Eloise pulled the lawnmower out into the yard so she could get into the shed. She found the paint thinner on the bottom shelf in front of a used can of red spray paint. She picked up the can and shook it. It was nearly half empty but wouldn’t have made the patch on the car. Red drops of glistening wet paint stuck to her fingers when she put the can back on the shelf. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the brown loafer sticking out from under the edge of the blue plastic tarp spread out and slung against the back of the shed. Morgan had been wearing his only pair of brown shoes this afternoon when he’d cleaned up and dressed to go into town to have a drink with his father.

Her heart pounding in her chest, Eloise leaned over and grabbed hold of the tarp. She yanked it toward her, pushing the bulk of it behind her, uncovering Morgan. His eyes closed, duct tape over his mouth and nose, a big red O spray painted on his chest, she knew he was dead even before she knelt beside him and put her finger to the pulse point on his neck.


New Member
Very good so far! I like it! :)

I can't wait to see what's comming next.


Forever Empress E
I'll write more on this story this weekend. I'm taking class in Civil Litigation and working on my trilogy - the first story is about a time traveler, the second one is about a werewolf, and the third one will be where the two meet.


Forever Empress E
It had been a perfect Sunday, in the 70s with a mild breeze, and lots of sun. Spring was starting early and El hadn’t even started the seeds for her garden yet. A quick trip to the store and a few hours in the potting shed changed that. Pleased with that day’s work behind her, she was looking forward to a nice quite evening curled up with a new book, a mystery of murder most foul, and a pot of hot tea.

Then the phone rang. “Aunt El?”

The voice on the other end of the line was shaky and barely more than a whisper but only one person called her Aunt El. “Eloise?”

“Oh, Aunt El,” the caller moaned.

“Eloise, what’s wrong, dear?” El asked after thirty-seconds had passed and Eloise hadn’t said anything more.

“It’s Morgan,” Eloise blurted out before breaking down in sobs.

“Are you at home?”


“I’m on my way. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” El cradled the phone between her chin and shoulder as she grabbed her purse on the desk and dug through it for her car keys.

“Okay,” Eloise said. The connection broke with the receiver dropping into the cradle with a thud.

Eloise was the kind of person other people thought of as a “salt of the earth” type. What ever had reduced her to tears on a Sunday night had to be serious and had to be bad. Worse, it involved Morgan. Morgan was a bit of hard man to take because he had to have things his own way all the time, but he was the love of Eloise’s life.

The drive to Eloise’s house was a pleasant one through a small forest of lush pines and then along the lake. Normally, El enjoyed the half-hour trip but her niece’s call had her stomach twisted in knots. With her eyesight not what it used to be, she’d long since given up driving at night, which added to her anxiety as she raced through the dark.

She turned off the lake road and pulled into Eloise’s drive twenty minutes after she’d run down the front steps of her own house.

Morgan’s car, parked on the grass, was cordoned off with yellow police tape. A county forensics team van, the back doors open wide, was parked on the grass, too, off to the side of the house. El surmised the car parked on the road, a plain brown sedan, was more than likely a detective’s car. A large uniformed officer, his bulk blocking the entrance to the house, stood guard at the front door.

“Evening, officer,” El said as she reached the bottom step of the stairs leading up onto the covered porch. “I’m Mrs. Porter’s aunt. She called me.”

“May I see some identification, ma’am?” he asked, not moving from his position in front of the door.

“Just a moment and I’ll take my wallet from my purse,” she said as she climbed the stairs and stepped squarely underneath the porch light before reaching into her purse. She wanted to be certain her actions were not mistaken for anything threatening.

The brawny officer towering over her carefully compared the picture of the woman on the driver’s license to the woman before him. Satisfied she was who she claimed, he handed her back her license and stepped to the side to let her pass. “They are expecting you,” he said as he held the screen door open for her.

El inwardly frowned. She wondered how many women claiming to be Eloise’s aunt this officer expected to show up on this doorstep tonight. “Thick as a brick,” she thought.

Buster, the big yellow dog, greeted her in the foyer. “Evening, my little friend,” she said as she reached down and scratched him behind the ears and patted his head.

At the sound of little feet scurrying down the stairs inside the house, she bent down to catch the whirl of girl that spun up against her and flung her arms around her neck.

“Oh, my, my. It’ll be all right, dear,” she said hugging the child.

Jeanie pulled away and stood beside Buster. “I don’t think it will be,” she said. “Mother is crying. All those men look so grim and no one will tell me what is wrong. I think I’m in trouble for the hole me and Buster dug today. They’ve sent me to bed without dinner.”

El took in the little girl standing before her. She was clean as a whistle. Her hair was still damp, her face bright pink and freshly washed, and she was in her pajamas. “Let me tell your mother I’m here then we’ll go into the kitchen and get you some supper. Alright?”

Jeanie nodded her head and dug her fingers into the fur on Buster’s neck.

“Okay, then. You stay right here and I’ll be back in a minute.”

El turned the knob on the living room door off the entry hall and looked inside. Eloise sat on the sofa, her face pale and tear stained, wiping at her nose and eyes with a tissue. She was listening to a man in a suit sitting next to her. Another man in a suit was looking at the family photos and Morgan’s trophies on the mantle above the fireplace. Jeanie hadn’t exaggerated when she said they all looked so grim.

El stepped into the room, looked back at Jeanie fidgeting in the hallway, and then closed the door quietly behind her.

“Aunt El,” Eloise cried, as she jumped up from her seat and rushed across the room.

El embraced the taller woman. “What has happened, dear?” she asked.

“It’s Morgan. He’s been murdered!” she sobbed into El’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry dear.” She’d figured as much from what she’d seen outside and from what little Eloise had told her over the phone earlier. El stroked Eloise’s hair and held her tightly.

When she stopped shuddering, Eloise let go of El and stepped back. “These men are detectives. They are here about Morgan.”

The younger man with dark brown curly hair sitting on the sofa was Detective Thompson. The older man with graying hair at his temples who had been surveying the room until El interrupted was Detective Knight. They weren’t pleased to meet, as people in this kind of situation never were.

“I’m going to take Jeanie into the kitchen and get her some supper. Then I’ll make tea and come back in here with you,” El said.

“She doesn’t know about her father yet. I don’t know how to tell her,” Eloise said as she rejoined Detective Thompson.

“We’ll figure that out later. Now she’s feeling like she is being punished and I want to take care of that first.”

“Thank you, Aunt El. Tell her I’ll be in to tuck her in before long.”

El put her hand on the knob. “I will, dear.”

The detectives watched somberly as El left the room.

She took Jeanie’s hand and looked down at Buster. “Now, let’s get you two darlings something to eat.”

Jeanie grinned and tugged on El’s hand, pulling her down the hall towards the kitchen at the back of the house. Buster, his tail wagging, danced along beside them.

El looked in the pots on the stove. Peas had been cooking earlier but now the pot was cold, the peas still hard. The family’s good china was set on the table in the dining room off the kitchen. She looked at her watch. It was 8 o’clock. She imagined all of this had started just before suppertime. Knowing her niece, suppertime was 5:00 sharp, and three hours overdue. “I bet you’re starving. What are you hungry for?” she asked Jeanie.

“A grilled cheese sandwich. I like mine with tomatoes too,” she answered.

“Alright then, a grilled cheese sandwich with tomatoes for you it is.” El found the sliced cheese and a stick of butter in the refrigerator, a loaf of wheat bread in a box on the counter and a ripe tomato on the kitchen’s windowsill. Within a few minutes, she’d melted the butter in a frying pan, laid two slices of bread, each covered with a slice of cheese, on top of the butter, and was washing the tomato.

Jeanie sat at the kitchen table, swinging her legs back and forth under the seat, petting and humming to Buster.

“Buster sure is a lucky dog to have a good friend like you,” El said as she assembled Jeanie’s sandwich and poured a glass of milk.

“He’s my best friend. That is next to Melinda Tucker. She isn’t a dog, though, and she doesn’t like Buster.”

El opened a can of dog food and put it in Buster’s bowl beside the refrigerator. “How can anyone not like Buster?”

“I don’t know,” Jeanie answered, rolling her eyes back in her head and twirling her fingers in the air as if punctuating her inability to understand. “Just Melinda Tucker likes cats and she says cats and dogs don’t get along. I don’t think Buster doesn’t like cats but Melinda Tucker thinks so.”

With Buster busy with his own dinner, El put Jeanie’s dinner on the table in front of her. It was met with wide eyes then a yawn. “It must be way past your bedtime, too, young lady. You’d best eat up.”

El looked up at a rap on the kitchen door. Detective Knight, the older detective with the graying temples, was leaning through the doorway.

“Mind if I join you,” he asked.

El’s bright green eyes met Knight’s. “Please do. This young lady and her dog, Buster, are worried you are here to investigate a hole they are responsible for digging.”

Jeanie nodded her head, yawned then took another bite of her sandwich.

Knight rested his folded arms on the table and leaned down to Jeanie’s level. “Well, then, it is a good thing I decided to join you ladies in the kitchen. I did investigate your hole, Miss Jeanie. You and Buster have done a wonderful job of digging what I think will make a very fine root cellar.”

Jeanie smiled at the praise while she wiped at her sleepy eyes. She took a small bite of her sandwich then laid it back on the plate. “Can I go to bed, now?” she asked when she’d finished with the bite and wiped her mouth with a napkin.

“Certainly. Brush your teeth first. Your mother will be up soon to tuck you in.”