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The Gutted Gallery

A. C. Spahn wanted to be an interstellar starship captain when she grew up. Since nobody was hiring, she became a writer instead. She enjoys training in martial arts, organizing messy rooms, and researching a hobby-of-the-month. When not commanding imaginary starships, she lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, son, and feline overlord. She is the author of the Endurance series of comedic sci-fi novellas and short stories appearing in Outposts of Beyond, Disturbed Digest, and other publications.

"Look at the mess!" Sam Thompson the art dealer yelled as Cara pulled open the door to his shop. "This will ruin me!"
Cara Watt, paranormal investigator, surveyed the blackened walls and burnt frames. Bits of charred canvas clung here and there, but there wasn't enough left to make out what the paintings' subjects had been. Sam himself had a bandaged arm and walked with a slight limp. Apparently the fire had been out for a while, and Sam had just been released from the hospital.
"I can see you're busy," Cara said, backing toward the door. "I'll come again later."
She bumped into Detective Faraday on his way in. "Oh, hello, Professor," he said. "I mean, Ms. Watt. Did Mr. Thompson call you in, too?"
"No, actually," said Cara. "I was just looking for a still life for my kitchen."
"Finally you're here, Detective," said Sam, stumbling over some broken boards as he crossed to them. "I know you're new in town, but you're the only one I trust. I need you to arrest the man who did this."
Faraday's eyebrows rose. "You think this was arson?"
"I know it was! I was just about to open for the day when that mailman walked by. You know, the one who's... different."
"You mean Rax?" Cara asked.
Faraday blanched. "The dragon?"
"Yeah," said Sam. "Him. He was almost past my shop when he turned toward me, and then blew a big jet of fire right at my roof! The whole place went up in seconds. I tried to save the most expensive paintings, but I couldn't carry them and pull the door at the same time. I had to leave them to save myself, and now my whole stock is lost." He jabbed an angry finger toward the smoke-stained windows and the street beyond them. "I want you to arrest him right away!"
Faraday shared a smile with Cara before answering Sam. "I don't think that'll be necessary, Mr. Thompson."
"Why not?"
"Because," said Cara, folding her arms, "you're obviously lying."
Cara continued, "You said you couldn't save the paintings because you had to pull open the door." She walked to the shop's front door and pushed it open. "But your door opens outward, as the Detective and I both saw when we came in. Since you have to push the door when leaving, you could have backed out, leaving your hands free to save some of your supposedly precious stock."
Faraday smirked. "You probably thought you could dupe me into suspecting Rax, since I'm not used to the paranormal people in this town, but no such luck. Your insurance provider will be interested to hear about this attempted fraud. Oh, by the way, you're under arrest for arson."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Author Comments

The Cara Watt stories were inspired by the two-minute mysteries by Donald J. Sobol, featuring Dr. Haledijan the sleuth solving various cases alongside the reader. My husband and I enjoyed reading Dr. Haledjian's adventures aloud together, and the pairing of the interactive mystery style with a paranormal setting seemed like a perfect fit.

- A. C. Spahn
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