Their back yard wasn’t big, but Trudy’s poop sure was. Christy pulled the little blue plastic bag out of the lower left pocket of her cargo pants, wrapped it around her hand and “Scooped the poop.”
“We’ll go ahead and put this in the outside garbage.” She told the happy canine trotting at her side and headed for the trash cans in the alley/driveway. With the tight neighborhoods in The Fan allies were multi-funtional. “Multi-functional.” She sounded out the word. “That’s a mouthful. Kind of awkward, isn’t it?” Trudy yipped in agreement. She had the best yip. Such a happy sound. “I’ll bet we can find a better word.” She flipped the top of the can off and dropped the very full bag inside. “We need to get you some larger poop bags. You’re so healthy.” She scratched Trudy behind the ears and shifted the leash, getting her notepad and pencil out of her top left pocket. Cargo pants were the best. So many pockets. “Let’s see…” She wrote down multi-functional and below that x-tra large poop bags.
“See, multi-functional even looks funky on paper.” She held the pad up for Trudy to see, but Trudy was looking down the alley in the direction of Mckenna’s bakery, her body tense. “What is it, girl?” The answer was whimper and a tug on the leash. “You smell something? You think it’s a raccoon?” Raccoons were everywhere these days. “We better check it out, huh?”
Trudy made small sound between a whimper and a yip. It sounded exactly like “Yes.” to Christy so she loosened the leash and let Trudy lead.
“It might just be a squirrel or a possum. Oh hey, maybe even a possum with babies.” That would be so cool.
But on the other side of the large dumpster that sat behind Mckenna’s bakery…
“Oh… oh holy baloney.” That wasn’t a possum.
“Hi there.” Christy approached slowly, keeping her voice soft. The poor creature uttered a terrified squeak and hid her face.
“Hey, it’s okay.” She took the final few steps that put her within reach, “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Trudy followed, sitting down on her haunches, big eyes worried. Animals were so much smarter than people sometimes – most times. “Do you think we can get her to the house?”
Trudy yipped a yes.
“That’s good enough for me.”
“You know, we should get out of here.” Lena suggested.
And I was all for it, but “We can’t leave Nadia alone with the body.” Nadia was in the restroom with her assistant, while I didn’t believe she’d done this. Things would go a lot more smoothly if we stayed on scene until the first responders showed up.
“Yeah. Good point. Hey, James.” Lena waved at Officer James as he entered the stockroom, “You made good time. Okay let’s roll.”
“Wasn’t five minutes out. You girls sang real pretty.”
“Thanks.” Yeah, getting out sounded like a good idea. James was a good guy and we were on his regular beat. He knew us, liked, and better yet, understood us, but those warm fuzzy feelings weren’t universally spread throughout RPD. And there was no way to know which homicide team would show up.
James got a better look at the body, “Aw man, Lars. He was a good guy.”
“I know.” Sadness spread over me like a cloak, heavy and dark. Yeah, time to go.
We left the scene in James more than capable hands, but as soon as we cleared the stockroom Lena hissed in my ear, “We are going to figure this out, right?”
“They may not ask.”
“Ask shmask. The guy could whistle The Overture and some jack-ass killed him before he could share it with the world. This crime must be avenged.”
Valid point, but it was late and I was dead tired. It had been a helluva week and I’m not one of those people who can get by on no sleep and keep rolling along. For me, no sleep equals pain. Have no idea why, but I’ll ache from the roots of my hair to my toes. One specialist said it was fibro-myalgia, another looked at me like I was making it up, another said, “Eh, the human body is a funny thing.” Seriously, that’s what a guy with eight years of medicine sand four years of residency told me. He charged me for it, too. Jack-ass.
I can struggle through it with the assistance of copious amounts of caffeine and painkillers. I’d done it plenty of times, but the recovery time was a bitch. In this case, Lars was already dead and they weren’t going to solve this overnight.
My bed was a mere block and a couple of allies away. Sleep.
We were half-way through the Svelte showroom when our luck, such as it was, ran out.
“What are you two doing here?”
A man blocked the entrance that was our exit. Medium height, medium build, medium brown hair, medium quality suit in a medium gray. The thirty-something guy was mediocre all over. If you saw him on the street you’d pass him by. Carter Jenkins, detective. Homicide. If he was interviewing you, you’d think he wasn’t all that. You’d be wrong. All that mediocre on the outside hid a mind that was perfectly suited to figuring stuff out. Carter was dogged, determined, stubborn, and nosed through every scrap of evidence. He closed more cases than everyone else in his department combined and that was without my occasional help that was occasionally forced on him by the occasional higher-up. Carter was therefore understandably crabby about seeing me at his crime scene
“Should we make a break for the back?” Lena faux whispered in my ear.
“Funny.” Carter said without even the shadow of a smile.
“Hey Carter, bakery’s across the street. We were cleaning up from Friday Night Lights. Heard the screaming. Exactly thirty-six minutes ago now. James is inside we’ll just be heading home.” I shoved Lena in her back to get her moving. Maybe if we kept walking…
“Nice try. Come with me.”
“It wasn’t him you heard screaming.” Carter observed. While we couldn’t tell time of death, rigor had set in. That took a body longer than thirty-six minutes.
I kept telling myself that’s what it was – a body. Whatever it was that had made Lars Lars was gone. “No, he’s been dead a while.” I agreed without looking. The body line of thinking was a lot easier if I didn’t look, “The screaming was Nadia.”
“Got a pair of lungs on her.” Lena said, swigging the diet coke she’d found in the tiny refrigerator. Carter had given her a dirty look, technically that was frowned upon. She’d used gloves, sliced open the case and grabbed it from the back with a “Scene’s preserved!” like that guy in soccer who screams “Goal.” Lena gets excited about scoring Diet Cokes.
Carter’s frown still firmly in place, he sidled up to me, “Do you think she did it?”
Lena snorted, “Hell, no.” before I could get my “Not a chance,” out.
Carter’s frown deepened. It’s always easier if the wife’s guilty. “Why not?”
I tilted my head in the woman’s direction, “Look at her.”
Nadia had made it out of the bathroom. We could see her through the open door leading from the stockroom to the sales floor. She was seated on sleek Danish version of a chaise lounge, her dark blue suit stark against the white leather. The sweaters that had been showcased down the length of it, now stacked neatly at one end. She’d done that. I’d watched her meticulously move each one. Then, just as meticulously, take her seat and sip from the steaming cup her assistant handed her. Pale, shaken, but not a hair out of place. She answered the Carter’s partner slowly and with care. Haunted eyes determinedly not looking towards the open door providing the line of sight to her husband’s corpse.
“She’s not sloppy.” Carter admitted.
“Nope.” And this, this was sloppy.
“So, who did it?”
“How the hell should I know?”
Carter blinked a couple times, “But, uh… what about, you know, the thing.”
The Thing. That was a new one.
People who knew about me fell into one of two categories. The ones who insist I’m a fruitcake shyster and every time I solve the unsolvable it’s dumb luck and the ones who think I show up, breathe the air, and spit out answers. Oh, and there are a few who think I’m Monk with breasts, probably the closest to the truth. But for my freaky brain to do it’s freaky thing I have to have data, lots and lots of data.
Carter’s aware of this, so likely it was a temporary brain-fart, but “the thing?”
“Dude,” Lena’s eyes rolled, “She’s not a magic 8-ball.”
“And special note:” I snapped, a mite irritated. “A parasite that eats people from the inside out is not going to help you solve this case.”
“Oh, right, sorry.” He cast me a smile, rueful, a little self-depricating.
I knew that smile well. “Don’t worry about it. Gather the evidence and I’ll take a look.”
Shoulders were Carter’s tell. He wasn’t unique. They are one of the most expressive parts of the human body. His dropped. Relief.
Lars was well known and well-liked by the people who mattered. This was going to freak people’s freak. And there’s a 99.99999999999% chance the wife did not do it. Carter would be getting pressure.
All he said was, “We’ll see.”
And that was my exit. With a “see ya’” we made for the door.
“We’ll see.” Lena’s lip curle, as we hit the retail floor, “He’ll have you task-forced on board before they finish zipping the body bag.”
I noted Nadia still on that chaise, her assistant at her side. Carter’s partner standing over her. James was on door duty. He held it open, gave us a wink and a nod and a “Night Ladies.”
We hit the sidewalk and ran right into chaos of blue and red swirling lights. Law enforcement arriving at the scene. We got a couple of nods from various techs, gathering gear. I nodded back, cut left and kept walking. The flurry of activity quickly faded to the ghostly silence of deserted shops and a deserted street. This part of CaryTown shut down at midnight due to the residential neighborhoods surrounding it. At one thirty eight in the morning, Heather’s Tea and Cakes was a beacon of warm light in the drakness. We’d left the bakery in a hurry in the rush to get to the hysterical woman screaming in the street. It’s warm light beckoned my weary body. All we had to do was cross the street, close down the bakery, exit out the back, and hop the alley into our back yard. As the crow flies, my bed was less than half a football field away, but I was bone tired and my feet felt like lead trudging through quicksand. I’d kill for a Segway right now. I tried distracting myself with small talk. “I never did understand your issue with Carter.” Lena had never liked the guy.
“He uses you and takes the glory.” Lena humphed, her steps light. Lena had the energy of ten baby goats on a case of Red Bull.
“No, he brings me in to consult and we keep it on the down low to keep us all safe.”
Consult wasn’t technically accurate. Police departments were highly structured. Assembling a task force was the best way to cut through reams of red tape. He could bring me on as a consultant, but that came with restrictions. Restrictions that don’t jive well with my backwards brain. So they usually went for it and made me a task force of one. Which got me a lot of raised brows – thus consult.
“What-the-fuck-ever. He’s not right for you.” Lena dismissed my logic, grabbed a lamp post and swung around it like Gene Kelley in the rain, dismounting with a leap that carried her to the middle of the thankfully deserted street. Lena never just walked anywhere, said it was boring.
“You do know we are no longer together. We weren’t together even then. It wasn’t like that. He’s a friend.” I stepped off the curb like a normal human because… normal I took my victories in the little things,
“Exactly. You need a luvuh, baby.” She proclaimed, pulling the same lamppost stunt to go from street onto the opposite sidewalk.
I took a sedate step up. “Excuse me, Miss Hit it and Quit it. You claiming to be a romantic?”
“Hey, I don’t sleep around. I’m particular.” Lena made it to the entrance first, what with all her skipping and leaping, and pulled out her key. Good to know she’d had the presence of mind to lock it behind us. I’d been distracted by Nadia’s brain shriveling wails.“I check out all partners thoroughly and I’d be perfectly willing to continue relations.” Throwing the door open she spun through it and ran a hand down her lean form, “It’s not my fault they can’t handle the steam.”
Me and my lead feet plodded in and started flicking out lights, “Telling men we used to kill our lovers in bi-annual blood-sacrifices tends to send them running.” It was over seven hundred years ago, but still.
Lena locked the door behind me and passed through the swinging doors to the kitchen. Usually, I like to set things up for the morning. Tonight, I stumbled by with not so much as a bleary blink at the prep tables and stand mixers. Saturdays were slower. We’d make do.
“That was one time…” Lena said, pausing by the back door to set the alarm system, “Twice… maybe. Three…okay, okay so sometimes when they get clingy, I have to get creative, but we’re talking about you and hell yes, I’m romantic.” She shut the door behind us and checked the lock, “When it comes to my sister and her happily ever after I’m Nora the fuck Robards.”
“I think you mean Roberts.” I corrected. My weary heart leaping for joy at seeing the light of my back porch.
“Huh?” Lena took a running leap and vaulted over the picket fence surrounding our back yard.
“Nora-the fuck-Roberts.” I clarified, opening the gate, walking through it, and closing it behind me all normal-like as Lena sprinted across the yard. “You know, if you spent half a minute training, you could nail that Parkour stuff.” And maybe work off that excess energy.
Lena’s snort as she launched herself onto the back porch without hitting a single of the four steps, could be heard two states over, “Like I have time to be hopping all over the city when there’s hot wings to eat.”
Christy met us at the back door, her cargo pants stained with dirt and grass and her face smeared with what looked and smelled like motor oil. Nothing new. Christy got dirty walking across the room. But her tiny hands wringing? That gave me a shiver. Then she started talking. “Guys, we have…oh I don’t know.. I found her in the alley.”
The shiver grew to a bone deep chill. Oh no. No no no.
“No.” Lena left no room for argument.
I avoided Christy’s eyes and backed her up, “I’m sorry Christy, but one new stray a week is the limit.”
Lena took the lead, striding out of quaint utility/mud/laundry/storage room and into the “charming” kitchen, “I don’t care how sweet or cuddly or precious or…fuck.”
Goddess as my witness, I almost walked out of the house. I did not want to know what that fuck was about so I was shocked to hear my own voice asking, “What? Did it pee on the floor?” It was a warm night.
“Oh Goddess, is it giving birth? No birthing of any kind in the kitchen.” I could sleep on the back porch.
“Dammit, is it dog vomit?” Maybe make a nest out of the dirty laundry. “Dog vomit is disgusting.”
No, the back porch would never work – too close and if I tried to make a run for it, Lena would be on me and my plodding lead weights in one leap. No, the only way to do this was to walk right through it and keep going till I hit my bed. Whatever it was, could wait until the morning. With that fortifying goal I turned the corner and….
Oh, holy hell. “That’s not vomit.”
It was blood. A whole lot of blood all over a whole lot of pink and teal cotton and blond hair you could see from space. Oh, this was bad. Bad. Bad. Bad.
“I found her in the alley. She had this beside her.” Christy held up a zip-lock bag. Inside it, was a box cutter coated with what I was guessing was Lars’ blood.
“Holy… I started
“Shit.” Lena stole my finish.
“What…The…” I started again only to have Lena steal again, “Fuck.”
Probably for the best. My ability to complete sentences was on hiatus.
Lena had no such problems, “Holy shit! It was Miss Sachet in the alley with the box cutter!”
Like a said, this was bad. This was so bad.
“I can’t believe Lars is gone.” Christy whispered.
“I know, sweetheart.”
I gave her a moment. She sniffed and wiped the tears from her cheeks smearing the grease. When I saw her shoulders go back I ventured a question, tossing my head to our problem, “Shock?”
“Yes, mild I think,” She sniffed a couple more times, “But her vitals are good.”
“Do you think she…” Christy made a fist annd brought in down in a stabbing motion.
“No way in hell.” I didn’t care how much blood she was covered with or how many weapons were by her side, no way Sachet killed Lars.
So she didn’t say annything when you found her?”
“Nothing.” Christy shook her head, then a crinkle formed in her brow, “Why are we whispering?”
“Why are we hiding?” Lena hissed.
“You want to go back in there?” I whispered dback.
“Hell no.” Lena shook her head, vigorously.
The three of us were tucked around the corner in the mud room, sneaking furtive glances at our traumatized Southern Belle. Hey, don’t judge. A mascara-smeared, blood covered, neon-pink dress wearing Sachet Cabrolet and her big blond do sitting at our kitchen table and staring at the wall? Well, it was freaky is all I’m saying, and believe me, as a McGovern, I don’t use that word lightly.
“We need to get her out of the kitchen.” I said.
“And take her where?” Lena asked.
“Shit, I don’t know.” And I meant that. I did not have any idea what to do. I mean, I’ve dealt with victims before, but she wasn’t responding. At all. To anything.
I tried asking her straight out what happened – nothing.
Christy tried tea – nothing.
Lena tried a casual, “Hey Sachet, how’s it hanging?” Nothing.
Not a sound. Not a sip. Not a blink. Not a nod. Nothing.
“Should we call Mark?” Christy asked.
“NO!” Lena and I both hissed.
Mark would be in a horrible position. As a lawyer, he had a responsibility, if he failed to notify the police he could be disbarred. We needed to keep him out of the loop as long as possible.
“Jesus!” Lena snaked both hands through her hair, “This is so bad.”
Shit! She was so freaked out, she was jumping Deities.
“Call Allie.” Had no idea what she could do, but we were at zero.
“Yeah, yeah, Allie.” Lena whipped her phone out of her pocket, “Allie. Damn, why didn’t I think of that? She wears stilettos and shit. She’ll know what to do.”
The three of us sprinted to the front door when we heard Allie pull up.
“Has she said anything, yet?” Allie asked, worry clouding her eyes. Lena had filled her in on the phone. Her story riddled with so many different variations of fuck any outsider would have sworn she was babbling in tongues.
“Not a fucking word.” Lena said.
“She wouldn’t even drink her tea.” Christy held up the cup.
“Hmmm…” Allie set her Fendi bag down on the hall-tree, unwrapped her thin shimmery scarf and shrugged off her little black blousy jacket, hanging them on the hook above. It left her in a celery green camisole and black jeans and the standard mile high stilettos, her hair a shimmer of gold silk. Sheesh. I was used to Allie, but sometimes, when the light hit her just right, I found myself looking for the wings. Her date couldn’t be happy their evening was cut short. But man, was I glad she was here.
Allie fluffed her hair and bobbed her head in one of those little nods that meant she’d come to a decision.
A course of action. Good. Great. Fantastic.
“We should make cosmos.”
What. Wait. Full stop. “Huh?”
“No, on second thought,” Allie breezed by us, heading for the kitchen, “Margaritas, you know, fun girl drinks.”
Fun drinks? I was beginning to think Allie didn’t understand the situation. I looked to Lena, “What the hell did you tell her?” Lena couldn’t hear me over the babbling, “Fucking fun marga-fucking-ritas? What the fuck, Fluffly-butt?”
But Allie was already down the hall and entering the kitchen. Not good.
“Blood!” I shouted over the residual babbling, racing back down the hall, Lena and Christy pounding alongside. The last thing we needed was two unresponsive blondes. That kitchen would barely hold one.
Remember when I said our house was charming? The front door led to two tiny parlors, then a half-bath, then a tiny room they called a gentleman’s study, a dining room, and all the way at the back was the kitchen and mud room. The stairs to the second floor were the last thing before you got to the kitchen. All of this charm was connected by a hallway, a hallway that was none too wide and narrowed considerably when the stairs came into play. Yep, we got stuck, and for fuck’s sake, when did we sign up for the Three Stooges remake. I twisted, Christy fell back, Lena shot out, we tumbled into the kitchen, and…
“Sachet, sweetheart,” Allie leaned down to meet the other woman’s blank stare, taking Sachet’s blood-crusted hand in her milky-white one, “Your hair is a sight. Come with me and we’ll get you cleaned up. I’ve got a lovely new collection of shower gels from Fresh. Come on now.”
Miracle of miracles, Sachet Cabrolet got up and out of that chair. Allie wrapped an arm around her and walked her right out of the kitchen and down the hall, heading for the stairs.
Well, that was anti-climactic. I should have expected it, though. There had been times before when Allie’s problem with blood had evaporated. Every one of them involved a person she cared about in distress.
“While we’re doing that, Mckenna will make margaritas.” Allie cast a us a significant look over her shoulder, “We’ll get chips and some white queso-dip and have Margarita night. Just us girls.”
And damn if I didn’t hear a hoarse, scratchy, and unmistakable, “Us girls.”
We three sisters watched Allie and her Beauty Queen Drop-out climb the stairs in awed silence finally broken by her head-scratching twin, “Okay, I’ll say it. Miss fluffy-butt got mad skills.”