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Stories 2 Fall 2021



Slip of a Finger

     by Tom Sheehan


Wherever a mutilated body of a young lady was found in a Pennsylvania forest, six of them so far in four years, a bottle was found, in the grave or in the area, as if the bottle was a sign or signal to police or others.

And whenever a bottle was found, a young lady's body was found, interred, mutilated, victim of rape, savagery, under a cover of earth, rocks, or a hastily-arranged cover of dense leafy branches that hurry might have demanded. What came first mattered little; here a body, there a bottle; here a bottle, there a body.

Repeatedly saying six bodies in four years, in Pennsylvania.


In each case, the bottle was an empty Dom Perignon champagne launched in 2010 via (The Finest Bubble) and praised by a quotable advertisement saying, "I'm free to be as bold and brave as I wish. I let the land speak to me in its precise and harmonious voice. I am on this eternal quest. I am this emotion, this vibration, this inspiration. I am and always will be Dom Perignon." At $170.00 a whack.

This began not the lesson, but the launching of 2010 Dom Perignon, a lone voice to a musical background that with words sounding more inviting in French to any listener. And obviously to this killer with a taste for wine and murder put together, leaving the body with a signal attached, or a signal with a body attached.

All the empties, after futile laboratory examinations for any leads or clues, sat on a shelf in the office of Detective Lieutenant Glenn Slattery,whose day began and ended with a quick look at the collection as though he expected a kick-start to put them or him in motion, the case driving him into minor frenzies, trying to kick-start his brain. His liquor was a cold beer in the middle of the day, and was pleased that he had no expensive taste pushing him, like the damned Dom Perignon; he'd be broken by now, which instantly brought him back to the case he desperately needed to break.


The phone call came from a subordinate; "We got another one, Glenn. A Boy Scout troop, on a camping exercise, found a body in the woods near Fernville. The local chief wanted me to tell you it's the body of a young woman, half interred, as if done in a hurry, and an empty bottle nearby. Dom Perignon, same as before. I'll hold the site closed for you."

It took Slattery a full hour to drive to Fernville, and a local cop said follow me in my cruiser, Lieutenant. I'll take you as close as I can and then lead you to the spot. Sounds as creepy as all the others, her dead and never getting a taste of that Dom Perignon. But I never had any of that stuff either. Not at my pay grade." His laugh was not a serious complaint, as Slattery considered the differences, his mind already running over the collection of bottles on his shelf.

The signal was there again, and again adding a nothing, most likely, to his shelf.

The blank face of the killer was seeking entrance into his mind. He could feel him scratching his way into his thinking, into his pride, into his professional achievements, already punctured by insistent failure in the case.

At the site, a Scout Leader introduced a young scout to him. "Lieutenant, this is Greg Woodrow, who found the site, He did a little digging on his own on the matter."

Slattery shook the scout's hand. "Tell me, Greg, just what happened. Go slow. I want to hear every word you have to say, and thank you even before you start."

"It was the bottle, sir. I swear to that. I heard about it before and my Mom and Dad get a bottle of it every year from my grandfather in Texas. He owns a big ranch and a lot of cows."

"That's great, Greg. Please go on."

"I was just messing around, looking for things and saw the empty bottle, recognized it right away and began to really look around. I saw a pile of dirt and started scraping it away and saw a face, just like she was only sleeping and trying to kid me, but she wasn't kidding me any, sir. I knew she was dead as a doornail, like my grandfather says. I yelled for Jerry, he's our group leader, and he finally heard me, and we called it in to the police."

"Where'd you find the bottle, Greg?"

"I'll show you, right where my kerchief is tied to a bush, over this way," at which he pointed, and continued, "I read about it in the paper, so I kept looking and found this pile back there, like the bottle was tossed there."

"Did you touch the bottle, Greg?"

"No, sir, I did not. That's a clue, isn't it?"

Slattery didn't answer that question, though he could readily imagine the bottle being placed on his shelf with the other bottles after a laboratory examination.

"It made me think, sir. That's a long way to toss a bottle even if it's empty. Her dead down here in this hollow and the bottle tossed up there near the path, like someone has to find it. That's strange to me, sir."


The bottle ended up on Slattery's shelf. Just another souvenir of a young girl's murder, the count still growing one by one.

All the next day, it ravaged his thinking, blind spots on top of brilliant entries, leading to nothing new, no direction, no clues.

He pulled his noon beer from the office cooler, held the bottle up, lighting him up, screamed for his lab man, said, "Examine the inside of the bottle tip, for one fingerprint even if you have to break it.

The lab man, in a few minutes, yelled back at him, screaming: "We got him, Glenn! We got him! Dead to rights!"



Bio:: Tom Sheehan, (30 years retired), now in his 94th year, (31st Infantry, Korea 1950-52; Boston College 1952-56), has published 52 books, the last three with Taj Mahal Press in India, He has multiple works in Rosebud, The Linnet’s Wings (Ireland-100), Copperfield Review, Literally Stories (UK-137), Frontier Tales, Green Silk Journal, Rope & Wire Magazine. He has 18 Pushcart nominations, 6 Best of Net nominations (one winner). Several books are in submission status. His story, “The Tale of Trot and Dim Johnny,” recently won the Ageless Writers contest.