Miranda Spaghetti woke up. It was a cold, dark night in the Early Bronze Age and her phone was ringing. She picked it up and held it next to her face, which had not left its warm spot on the pillow.
“Smiranda,” she said, slurring the word “it’s” and her name together. “Whahappen?”
“Miranda, it’s Donnie. We got a bad one. You should come see this.”
Miranda dressed and drove and was at the scene of the crime in ten minutes. It was the blacksmith’s shop down on the main street. New Scranso was a port city and the main street began at the piers and ended at the entrance in the town walls, hitting every tavern, whorehouse, and miniature bear statue shop along the way. Even at this time of day there was traffic and that meant a crowd. Miranda picked her way through, scanning faces as she went. A fresh faced young officer saluted as he lifted the crime scene tape and Miranda passed under. She ignored him.
“What’ve we got?” she asked as strode up to Donnie, who was poking things with his cane. In the middle of the shop was a white sheet that covered up the bloody details of the crime. Most of Donnie’s poking was directed at this.
“It’s Hamish the Blacksmith’s Assistant. He’s been murdered. Pretty bad. Like all the way.”
“Lemme have a look,” Miranda said and she pulled back the sheet to see the corpse of Hamish the Blacksmith’s Assistant. He was deader than she’d ever seen him, the knife stuck in his face saw to that. There was a lot of blood, dried enough to give Miranda a clue that this body had been here for a while. “When did they find him?”
“The Blacksmith found him last night after spending the weekend at the King’s Mandatory Ski Trip.” The King made twenty citizens go skiing with him once a month. If the Blacksmith was there, his alibi was air tight. Miranda had no other suspects.
“Well,” she said. “I guess this is another one we burn a witch for.”
Miranda was already trying to decide if she should blame and burn a fat witch or an ugly witch this time. Burning one of the ugly witches would make the town look nicer, but a fat one would last longer and her nieces could roast marshmallows. She was walking toward the exit, deep in these thoughts, when she noticed a reflection of the fire glinting from some glass thing on the floor by the door. “What’s that?”
Donnie hobbled over to her side and followed her gaze. “It’s probably Hamish’s soul making its way to Hell,” he said. Miranda did not respond as he raised his hand for a high five, instead she knelt for a closer look.
“It’s some kind of glass thing. Shaped like a bulb.”
“Should we plant it? Grow a tree so Hamish gets to Hell quicker?”
“And look at this,” Miranda continued, “this socket in the wall is just big enough for it to…” she stuck the bulb in the wall and the bulb let forth a glow brighter than any Miranda or Donnie had ever seen. Donnie dropped his cane, fell to his knees, and wept.
“It’s a portal to Hell,” he said, sobbing. “It’s so beautiful.”
“No,” said Miranda. “It’s just making light from electricity.”
“Oh,” said Donnie as he picked up his cane and stood back up.
“We’ve got a mystery, Donwald. Whoever created this strange ‘Lightened Bulb’ must be the same person as the one who created that Hamish Corpse over there. If we can find out who that is, we won’t have to burn a witch after all!”
“That’s a relief. We’re running out.”
Miranda formulated a plan in her head and spoke it in her mouth so Donnie could hear it in his ears and it would be in his head too. Then they put their plan into action.
At a press conference that afternoon, Miranda gave what details she could about the murder of Hamish, saying that it looked like it was the work of a witch and that they’d get around to burning one pretty soon, if she could just get caught up on her paperwork. “You see,” she said casually as she winked at her own reflection in a nearby mirror, “it gets too dark in my office and I have to stop doing my paperwork as soon the sun sets.” She looked at all the reporters to make sure they were writing down what she’d said.
“In fact,” she said, “if someone could help me get to get my paperwork done at night, so I could officially close this case once and for all, I’d probably give them a great big reward. Money style.” She winked at her reflection again. “But it’s dark, y’see.”
After the conference had ended Miranda walked off stage, dusting her hands, and approached Donnie. “I think they bought it,” he said.
That night Donnie stood outside Miranda’s office. An old man came by after a while and offered to let Miranda borrow his candles.
“Shove off, Pops,” said Donnie. “Miranda’s office ain’t properly ventilated and the smoke could cause permanent damage. Can’t have that.”
As the old man walked back down the hall wondering where his tax dollars went and making plans to bring down the government, another man came along and offered to dig Miranda’s eyeballs out with a spoon and sew some bat’s eyes in there, make her see in the dark. Donnie sent him away too, but kept his business card because his anniversary was coming up and thought his wife might like some new eyes.
Hours passed like this and Miranda’s office really was getting pretty dark, she noticed. She’d never actually stayed here this late, since there was actually not very much paperwork involved when all unsolved crimes are blamed on witches. She was starting to think the plan might not pay off. Maybe she should just head down to Gino’s Miniature Bear Statue Shoppe and beat up some drunks until someone spilled some info. She lit a cigarette and looked out the window at New Scranso. Her town. Someone in her town had killed Hamish and gotten away with it. Her breath was fogging up the glass when she heard the door open.
Donnie peeked in. “This gentleman says he can help with your darkness problem, boss,” he said.
He was a tall man. Head like a square and fists like bricks shaped like fists. His knuckles had scars that indicated to Miranda that this was a guy who thought with violence. She hadn’t seen his face in the crowd on Main Street, but he would have been long gone by then anyway.
“Hi,” he said. “My name is Robert J. Lightbulb. It’s funny that you mentioned your problem with darkness. I just invented this the other day.” he held up a glass bulb identical to the one found at the scene of the murder. “I call it a lightbulb. You plant it in an electricity hole and it creates a figurative tree of light. Actually, I would have been here sooner, but I left my prototype in the vicinity of a place I didn’t want to go back to because I stabbed something I shouldn’t have. You know how it is. Anyway, you said something about giving me money and closing some case, right?”
“That’s right,” Miranda said. She tossed a pouch of gold coins at the man and he caught it, but in doing so dropped the lightbulb. It shattered at his feet.
Then Miranda shot him in the face. “I officially close this case. Once and for all.”
The Blacksmith found the prototype lightbulb that had been left at the crime scene and made millions.
Patrick D Ryall, the D is for Qualms