Nightstand // Short Story

She sat outside the Les Deux Magots in Paris. A glass of rich coffee stewed next to her burning cigarette that had been resting on the edge of the ashtray. The evening had set in, and Maria was keenly observing the passers-by.

The roaring chorus of joy rang out across the entirety of the city. The scene was brushed with a delicate shade of blue, leaving a soft glow on one half of Maria’s cheek. An elderly man stopped underneath a streetlamp for a brief moment. Reaching into his coat pocket, he took out a large gold coin. At first, Maria thought it was a chocolate coin. It was not until he bit down on it that she realised it was real. Just as he had been fiddling with it, another man walked by with a large briefcase. Suddenly, the elderly gentleman collapsed onto the puddle of oil beneath him.

Before she could do anything, a large crowd had formed around him. People were frantically calling the emergency services. Maria could only assume that the man with the briefcase had been an assassin who had been concealing a weapon within it. She wondered if she should divulge what she witnessed to the police. If Maria spoke about what she saw, they would dig further into her personal life. This was something she vehemently wanted to avoid.

She put her cigarette out and took her coffee inside. The distinct warmth of the café rose to her face, leaving them looking like cherries. The manager came out from the bar.

“There’s trouble in Paris… how quaint,” she says.

“This doesn’t occur very often, then?”

She shook her head.

“Not like this. There are average murders, robberies, espionage and domestic disturbances, but this is different.”

She started to clean glasses, taking the odd moment to check on customers.

“If this is unusual,” Maria thought, “then something must be awry.”

The ruckus dissipated relatively quickly once the police had started to shoo people away. Maria remained in the café, choosing to read a book while waiting for everything to calm down. Two men who appeared to be half-drunk yelled at each other across their small table.

“I’d had too much curry, right?! I got terrible wind, just awful.”

Both men started to bang their hands on the table, erupting into laughter.

“Yeah, man! I get that when I overeat escargot!”

Maria stared at them in disbelief.

“You can’t taint such a beautiful city with wind,” she thought.

The rain began to pour, which brought the policemen inside the café. Maria snook out the front door with an expert subtleness. Bypassing the ambulance and police cars, she made her way to the river. She had been using her phone as a flashlight when something caught her attention. There was a single die resting on the wall, and the number presented was three.

She looked left and right, but nobody appeared to be running from the scene or lurking in the shadows. What does this mean? Maria has read enough crime fiction to know that this could be the killer’s signature. Perhaps this is their third murder? The die wasn’t typical. It appeared to be made of moonstone.

Maria put the die in her pocket and returned to her apartment. She left it on her nightstand and retired for the evening. The next day, Maria returned to work at the publishing house.

***

There was a knock at Maria’s office door.

“Maria, a policeman is here to see you. He wants to speak to you about an incident,” her boss said.

She rose slowly from her seat and followed her boss to the kitchen where the policeman was waiting.

“Maria, take a seat.”

He opened his notebook.

“A man was murdered outside Les Deux Magots last night. We have been investigating, and we believe that you were in the area, is that correct?”

Maria swallowed hard.

“I was passing through. I needed something to do before I went home,” she mumbled.

“And, where is home, Marissa?”

“I live in the 11th arrondissement.”

The policeman nodded.

“Did you see anything suspicious when you visited the café?”

“Two men were sitting in the café, and both appeared to be drunk. They were discussing their bad bouts of wind.”

The policeman raised an eyebrow.

“They were discussing passing wind?”

Maria nodded and laughed.

“I am serious, officer. It is true.”

Maria remembered the die sitting on her nightstand.

“There was something else. I went for a walk near the Seine, and I found a die on the ground. It was made of moonstone, and the number three was presented. I brought it home because it’s unique. It’s on my nightstand.”

Maria thought that if she gave the police a little bit of what she knew, they would be less likely to delve into her personal life. If they knew, they would be less likely to believe her story.

“We believe the man died of arsenic poisoning. There was a gold coin on his person that had been laced with the chemical. From the bite marks, we can only assume he tried to eat it for some reason.”

“Isn’t that supposed to be confidential?”

“Normally, yes. However, I think divulging such information might help us solve this murder.”

Maria looked at the clock, watching the hand move.

“You mentioned a moonstone die. We’re going to need to escort you to your home while we collect it. Does that sound ok?”

Maria started to shift in her seat.

“I guess. You’ll have to let my boss know.”

The policeman got up and started to walk towards the door, and Maria followed close behind. As he spoke to Maria’s boss, she grabbed her things.

In the back of the police car, Maria thought about jumping out. She didn’t know where she could have hidden, but she’d do anything to avoid someone visiting her home. After what felt like hours, they arrived outside her apartment.

Maria led the way up the stairs to her humble abode, and the policeman followed close behind.

“I’ll just wait here while you go and get it,” he said.

She walked briskly to her bedroom, took the die off the nightstand and promptly returned to the living room.

“Here you go.”

He examined it in his hand.

“How unusual! It’s charming!”

“It does seem oddly familiar to me, despite never having seen it before. Maybe I’m just thinking of a regular die,” Maria contemplates.

He cleared his throat and put it in a clear plastic bag.

“Haven’t we just put our fingerprints all over it?”

“Yours were already there, but we might be able to find something.”

“Right, I will take this to the station for investigation. Do you have a contact number?”

Maria took an envelope from the side and wrote down her phone number. She showed the policeman out and locked her doors.

***

Later that evening, as Maria made herself something to eat, she heard a loud noise coming from outside. She thought nothing of it at first, but as the yelling started to sound more human, she peered out of her window.

She saw a man lying in the street. He clutched his stomach and made pained sounds.

“Another murder!” she gasped.

A figure appeared out of the darkness. Maria soon realised that the mysterious figure was herself but formed bizarrely. Her head was where her stomach should be, and her legs were where her arms should have been. Her body looked to have been mixed up.

Maria watched as her doppelgänger placed a shiny object close to the scene of the crime. She ran out of her apartment, flew down the stairs and hurried out the front door. Her double had vanished, and she was left standing by the dying man. Flashing blue lights lit up Maria’s face, the sound of sirens piercing her ears.

“Stay where you are! Put your hands where I can see them!”

With a gun pointed at her vitals, Maria stared in bewilderment at the glimmering object opposite her.

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