PRESENT COMPANY • by Michael Haynes

Detective Collins straightened his jacket before entering the residence. He’d pulled Maple Hill’s first homicide in years and wasn’t about to walk in looking like a slob. He took one more swipe at his hair and stepped inside.

“What have you got for me?” he asked those already at work.

“Deceased is Margot Harris,” an officer named Hoffman said. “She lived here with her husband and two children.”

That children lived here was apparent. Toys were scattered on the floor — here a plastic dinosaur, there several random building bricks.

Collins looked at the corpse. Dressed for a day at the office but blood stained her clothing. A purse was on the floor and yet another toy, a stuffed animal, sat by her left hand. It, too, was blood-stained.

“A maid comes in once a week,” Hoffman continued. “She found Mrs. Harris like that and called 911. We had to have her taken down to St. Paul’s, she was awful shook up.”

Hoffman gestured at the body. “The techs say she was stabbed multiple times. She either moved herself or was moved before she died, but not far.”

Collins crouched, thought. “Where was Mr. Harris when this happened?” he asked.

“We’re still trying to get in touch with him. A neighbor says he takes the kids in to school before going to work.”

A tech stepped between Collins and Hoffman, bagged up the purse and bloodied toy, took them away as evidence.

“So, hubby and kids leave,” Collins said. “And sometime between then and when the maid shows up, Mrs. Harris is killed.”

“That’s what we’ve got so far.”

“Not much, is it?” Collins stood up. “Call me when you have something new. And get me the address of where Mr. Harris works. I’m going to pay him a visit.”


Collins entered the offices of Harris & Parker Accounting shortly after ten. In the reception area a well-dressed man talked with the woman behind the desk.

“Pardon me,” Collins said, showing his identification. “Could I speak with Mr. Harris?”

“He’s out for coffee,” the man said. “Can I help you?”

“Actually, he just came back, Mr. Parker,” said the receptionist. She spoke quietly into her phone then directed Collins to Harris’s office.

Half an hour later, Collins left, certain that Arnold Harris wasn’t their guy. He seemed stunned when told his wife was dead. Naturally. Anyone who’d watched a TV knew to act that way. But he also had people who could vouch for his movements all morning.

Collins also met with the maid when she came into the station to give her statement. A tiny middle-aged woman with thin hair and a premature stoop to her shoulders. No chance she overpowered Mrs. Harris.

He went home feeling like he’d gotten nowhere. That evening he spread the case file contents on the dining table. His wife Claire walked by. She muttered something he didn’t catch.

“Hmm?” he asked.

She gave a nervous laugh. “Oh, it was just… A joke in poor taste.”

“What about?”

“That photograph.”

Normally Claire avoided talking about his work. She said she preferred not knowing.

“What about it?”

Her face flushed. “I said you could rule out Yak Yak Bird kidnapping as the motive.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The doll there. It’s a Yak Yak Bird. They were hot last Christmas.”

“Never heard of them.”

She smiled crookedly. “Maybe if you’d helped me shop for your nieces and nephews you would have.”

“Huh. So, what was the big deal?”

“Oh. They talk.”

Collins shrugged. “Haven’t there been talking toys since we were kids?”

“No. I mean they talk back to you, repeat what you say.”

Claire kept talking, but Collins didn’t hear. He looked at the photo again. The bird sat by Harris’s hand. And the techs said they thought she’d tried to move herself…

He called the station. Frank Butcher took the call.

“Frank,” he said, “Could you sign out one of the pieces of evidence for the Harris case? I want you to check something. It’s the toy, a stuffed animal.”

Collins waited while Frank was away.

“I’ve got it. Ugly thing, ain’t it?” Frank said.

“Yeah, listen… What I need you to do is…” He realized he had no idea and put his hand over the mouthpiece.

“Claire, how do you get the thing to talk back to you?”

She thought about it for a moment. “Squeeze the wing.”

“You’re sure that won’t erase the recording?”

Claire nodded brightly. “Oh yeah, you have to push in its tummy to do that.”

Collins shook his head. This was nuts. Still, he uncovered the mouthpiece. “You got gloves, Frank?”


“Get ’em on. Then squeeze the bird’s wing.”

There was a long silence. Butcher finally answered, “It’s got two wings, Detective Collins. Which one do you want me to, um, squeeze?”

“I don’t know. Try one, then the other. Let me know what happens.”

There were some rustling sounds as Butcher followed his directions. Moments later, Collins heard everything he needed to hear.

“Whoa. Is that…” Frank said.


The recorded voice of a woman making her dying declaration echoed through Collins’s head.

“Get it back to the locker right away,” he told Butcher. “And whatever you do, don’t press on its tummy… its stomach. I need to get some warrants.”


Collins went down to the holding cell.

“Want to tell me about it, Parker?”

“There’s nothing to tell because I didn’t do anything.” Parker picked at his shirt cuffs. “I’ll be out before lunchtime, Detective,” Parker said. “What makes you think you can arrest me for this?”

“Because I know you killed her. Because she wouldn’t help you cheat your partner, her husband, out of the partnership’s profits. And because she wouldn’t leave him for you.”

Parker’s eyes gave his fear away, but he still snorted a laugh. “Right. And where’d you get that idea?”

Collins smiled as he turned to leave. “A little birdie told me, Parker. A little birdie.”

Michael Haynes is a writer and database administrator from the Central Ohio area. He has had stories published previously by Dark Fire and Everyday Weirdness. He regularly blogs about fiction and writing related topics on his website.

This story is sponsored by
Molotov Max: Poetry and pictures that whap you upside the head. Inspirational, but not saccharine, these poems want you to get out and take a stand. “Molotov Max: Gotta Match?” by Max Stockinger.

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