Previously published in Classic Pulp Fiction Stories ©1997
There had seemed to be no hope. When they had first found her on the floor, beaten, pummulted, and jumped up and down on—shattered to within an inch of her life—the small but proud world of Tindenford had hung on the edge of its collective seats. Surely, they thought with one mind, hoped with one heart—prayed with one voice—fate would not be so capricious, could not rob them of their sainted protector.
In every corner of the tiny northern Worshire fishing village—reknowned throughout the country for its incredibly high
percentage of murderers—not a day went by that every person in it did not stare upward toward the stark, white brick hospital nestled atop Dutch Water Hill. Sooner or later, each of them would find their heads turning toward the solomn building, curious at what the latest word was on their beloved Granny Gumption.
They had good reason.
Who would watch over her town if she were to die, they wondered. Who would protect them? Alone in her bed, she herself thought, who would shield her friends and family—what was left of them, of course. So many of them, over the years, bludgeoned and drowned and stabbed and posioned—especially posioned. Sometimes it seemed the realtors of Tindenford could only sell or lease to murderers. It was as if killers of every type were attracted to her home town by some force of nature, like salmon to the streams of their birth, or iron filings to the true magnetic pole.
The kindly sherrif, Dexter Farrell, a nice enough man for organizing community picnics or getting enough good souls together to give the library a fresh coat of paint, could never hope to keep the rampant, weekly murders of their town in check ... not without Granny. Which is why she had hung onto life, stubbornly, refusing to die and leave her remaining kith and kin in the hands of the villianous population of Tindenford.
Gumption, of course, was not her real name, not was she anyone’s grandmother. But gumption was what she had—enough to hang onto life after the savage beating which would have caused any ten lesser tea society amateur investigators to simply give in to the resulting ruptured kidneys, pierced lungs, broken spine, cracked skull, complete loss of motor function and blindness and just pass on. But not her.
She had started solving murder mysteries the police could not handle years earlier, more as a lark than anything else. She would stand patiently outside of a crime scene, biding her time, waiting while the sheriff, or some local or county or state police finished looking things over ... waiting for the somber F.B.I. agents or their striking Interpol or Scotland Yard counterparts, or whomever else might be in town that week to try and solve a Tindenford murder before her to finish their investigations so she could begin hers. It had always been a friendly game, her matching of wits with the criminals and those who stalked them. Always, that is, until the last time.
How she remembered her last minutes before the beating that had nearly killed her. Under her bandages, behind the restraits holding her to her bed, beneath the layers of monitor wires and tubes and other modern falderal, she could do nothing but remember the moment—her standing tall and proud, smug with delight over having solved another head-scratching baffler. Although, as usual, none of the other investigators could figure out what had happened, it had all been last-page clear to her. But then, when she had confronted the villain with his deed, instead of swallowing his medicine like any decent chap when the jig was up, he had struck her down with her own cane—beat her to within an inch of her life and then left her for dead.
Since then, Granny had waited for any line of communication to be opened to her. Despite her inability to talk, raise her arms or even move her fingers, her razor-sharp mind was still intact, waiting for the day when she could finally denounce the young bounder who had so incapacitated her.
Young master Wayne.
The cad, the bounder who had ignored the subtle splender of how she had trampled the brilliance of his scheme into the mud with her Holmesian abilities, who had actually attack her, like some kind of ... of ... criminal, bashing her relentlessly until she had crumpled into the barely living bundle of flesh he had left on his drawing room floor.
But she had held on. Through the pain and seering agony that had sometimes made her wish she could just give up and die, the image of young master Wayne’s coldly handsome but sneering face had driven her on, giving her the will to live just so she could see his self-assured cockiness disolve as he was dragged off to prison. Where he belonged, where all those who preyed on the gentle people of Tindenford belonged.
But then, suddenly she felt the cool edge of a blade slipping under her bandages. They were removing the face mask. At last, she thought, at last she would be able to denounce the young lord’s perfidity—at long last, justice would be done—and she would have triumphed again.
Snip—she heard, seeing young master Wayne’s face in her head as he was told of her recovery. Snip—she heard again, seeing him recoil from her denunciation, watching his tears flow as Farrell and his men took the young lord away. Snip, snip, snip followed, until suddenly her bandages fell away, and suddenly, she was free—free to blink her eyes and see again, free to speak, to finally say—
“Wayne. Young master Wayne ... it was ...”
“Shhhhhhh,” came kindly sherrif Farrell’s voice. “Don’t you worry now, Granny. We know he did it. We got him long ago.”
The old woman in the bed looked up in confused shock. She was happy, of course, she supposed, to know that her assailant had been captured. But how? How? And by who? Farrell laughed, turning to the woman beside him.
“Look,” he said, smiling. Pointing at Granny’s face, he repeated, “Look. I told you she’d go into shock. No no, don’t worry. I didn’t figure it out. We all know that’s impossible. It was Melissa here.”
Granny focused her swollen eyes as best she could, zeroing in on the sweet-faced, middle aged woman in the brocaded jacket. The red of her hair was just beginning to silver at its edges and the height of her collar and length of her sleeves told Granny that she was past her prime. But, the swell in Farrell’s voice told her other things.
“Melissa moved here right after you were hospitalized. She picked up on young master Wayne ... oh, like that,” he said with a snap of his fingers for emphasis. “In fact, in the four months you’ve been laid up, she’s solved sixteen murders.”
“Imagine that,” croaked Granny. She might have said more, but the attending physicial interrupted, letting everyone know that enough was enough. His patient, he said, had suffered terrible shocks, massive damage, and if she were to recover fully, she was going to need a great deal of rest, free from anxiety over murderers.
“Don’t worry about that,” promised the sherrif. “With Melissa here, why Granny will never have to worry about such things again. Will she, Melissa?” The woman next to the sherrif put her hand over Granny’s, telling the old woman,
“Don’t you worry. You just get better. Dexter and I will take care of Tindenford for you.”
Granny nodded, even that effort weakening her. And then, as the sherrif and Melissa made to leave, the old woman noted her beloved cane standing in the corner of the room. She marvelled at the fact that its magnificent obsidian head had not been shattered in the attack on her. And, as she continued to stare, she also marvelled at how wonderful the thought of it crashing against the skull of Dexter’s Melissa seemed.
Giving a feeble wave, Granny Gumption put what energy she had into sending the pair off, smiling as she thought to herself, Time to rest. Time to get strong. Then we’ll see who protects Tindenford. Closing her eyes, she whispered,
“Then, we’ll see.”
Suddenly, young master Wayne didn’t seem like such a bad boy after all.