“Allie’s good with stray people.” Christy noted.
Thank the Goddess, “Get that dress in a plastic bag.”
“On it.” Lena said and followed them upstairs.
I had no idea what had transpired in that back room, but I knew what didn’t. Sachet Cabrolet did not stab Lars some twenty-something times. The blood pattern on the dress would prove that. I hoped to hell we wouldn’t need it.
A half-hour and some creative drink mixing later. We were back in our tiny kitchen. The five of us scrunched around our small round table. We all held big margarita glasses filled with green liquid that was nothing close to a margarita. All we’d had on hand was vodka, scotch, and gin. Lena mixed the vodka with sugar and lemonade and threw some lime jell-o for color. They sat in front of us congealing as we tried to get anything coherent of our beauty queen.
“Sweetheart,” Allie began, voice gentle as a lamb’s on Sunday, “Your dress is going to need cleaning.”
Lena opened her mouth. No doubt to question Allie’s line of questioning. I pinched her arm to keep her quiet. She slapped my hand.
Allie kept talking, “Can you tell me how it got so dirty? Ms. Fong may need to know.”
Ha! I sent Lena my triumphant See there, elevated eyebrow. She sent me an eyeroll that stopped halfway to the ceiling when our Beauty Queen said, “Blood.”
“You got blood on your dress.” Allie coached.
“Blood.” Our beauty queenrepeated, “Everywhere.”
“Yeah, we saw that.”
Dammit Lena! I kicked her under the table. Christy jumped and ow’d.
Oops. Like I said we were scrunched. I settled for sending Lena the stink-eye and left the encouragement to Allie.
“Go on sweetheart.”
“Blood.” Our beauty Queen shivered, “So much.”
Damn if Lena didn’t open her mouth. Stubborn thing.
Got her. I made a zipping motion across my mouth.
Lena humphed and rubbed her shin.
Allie carried on. “Honey, why were you at Svelte?”
“Lars had some shoes.”
“Sweetie, it was after midnight.”
Right on, Allie.
“I have a party tomorrow. Said he’d be there late.”
“Oh. Okay. So you went in the front door?”
Sachet shook her head, “The back.”
“Did you knock?”
Damn, Allie is good. If she knocked. Someone had to let her in…
“Door was open. Blood.”
“Honey, was Lars already on the floor.”
“Floor.” Sachet’s eyes glazed over.
“We’re losing her.” Lena hissed.
Patience or no, Lena was right.
I looked to Christie, “Is she going into shock?” If Sachet even started slipping, we’d have to abandon our half-baked plan and call 911. Shock was more serious than most people understood. It could kill you and didn’t take it’s time doing it.
“I don’t think so.” Christie shook her head, she’d been holding Sachet’s wrist the entire time.” Her pulse is steady. Her color is good, uh considering.” One eye on the clock on the wall. “I think it’s more like Post Traumatic Stress.
“Sachet, honey, look at me.” Allie placed both her hands on Sachet’s cheeks, “You’re safe. It’s okay. I’m right here. Can you tell me if Lars was alone when you found him?”
Damn, Allie was good at this. All those depositions were paying off.
Lena came out of her slump, “Shit, she saw….”
“No no no.” Sachet’s head shaking spread all over, her no’s degrading to animalistic wails.
Yep, we’d lost her.
Things moved along after that, mainly due to the syringe Christy whipped out and shot into our Beauty Queen’s arm. Lena having hacked Sachet’s medical history right after she located the lime jell-o.
We ended up dumping her in my bed since it was closest and we barely got Sachet up the stairs before she passed out.
An unconscious beauty queen is heavier than you’d think.
I bunked with Christie on one of the inflatable mattresses we kept on hand for unexpected guests. “What the hell are we going to do?” Lena asked, as we pulled the inflatable from under Christie’s bed.
“The only thing we can do.” I secured one end of the mattress by flopping down on it. “Find the killer before the police find her.”
“How long do you think we have?” Lena asked, doing the work of unrolling and hitting the auto-inflate
“Two days, maybe.” I mumbled into inflating plastic, “And that’s with us hiding a suspect and lying our asses off.”
CaryTown was a thriving business community there were surveillance cameras everywhere. The chances that not one of them caught our drop out stumbling around covered in blood and holding a bloody box cutter? Bad.
Last horse out of the starting gate – bad.
Lose the house in Vegas – bad.
Lena going an hour without cursing – bad.
It wasn’t a matter of if, it wasn’t even a matter of when, it was how much obstruction we could get away with before we were hauled off to the slammer.
“Uh” Lena’s voice came from above me, “You want me to help you put some sheets on that?”
I wasn’t about to move, “Just toss me a pillow and a blanket.”
“Gotcha.” Lena went to fetch the items from the linen closet. I have no memory of her return.
Mere minutes after I konked, some idiot with a death-wish flashed a light in my face. I blinked, cursed, and shoved at the jack-ass only to encounter… nothing. I squinted so I could find the little fucker and…
Oh hell, that was the sun.
Cause it was morning.
Now why did that fill me with dread?
Oh right. I had a Beauty Queen to clear of the fatal stabbing of her shoe salesman. I muttered the words aloud to see if they sounded less insane than they did in my head and no, no they did not.
Sweet Goddess, I needed a vacation from my life.
Dragging my weary, aching body off the air mattress, up, and vertical, I listened for groaning pipes. Nothin.
Four sisters growing up in a house with ancient plumbing, hot water in the morning was a premium. The trouble started with the pre-teen years. While normal and McGovern rarely intersect, when it came to the teen-age aversion to rolling out of bed before the absolute last minute, we were as normal as you could get. The first set of feet hitting the floor was the starting gun and it was an all-out stampede to claim hot water. To this day, there’s a rumor about Allie’s two front teeth and the heel of Lena’s right foot.
I can neither confirm nor deny.
Stumbling with as much speed as I could gather, I hit the dinky hall bath, shut the door behind me and got the shower going. The pipes groaned. HA! Score! Groaning pipes were the flag on the Marble Arch. Once the pipes started groaning you got a ten-minutes of shower time. All inhabitants respected ten-minute claim. It was sacred. I took care of my morning needs, stripped and dove under lovely, blistering hot….
In hindsight, the lack of steam should have alerted me. But I’d only had five hours of sleep and zero caffeine. I wasn’t at my best. The ice-cold deluge did a great job of shocking me to fully alert and fully cursing status.
Jumping out into the relative warmth of empty air, I grabbed a thick towel that was thrust at me, winding it around my shivering body.
“Oh uh. sorry about that.” Christy was there in her usual cargo pants and a long sleeve t shirt, and holding out a steaming mug. I took it. Coffee with cream. I sipped. And sugar. I gulped.
Christy talked. “Sachet really wanted a shower and Trudy had to have a bath. She had some uh stains from last night and then I got filthy dumping her doggy water.”
“It’s fine. How is she?”
“Uh well” were not good words. Nobody ever started good news with “uh well.” “Uh well, you won the lottery.” “Uh well, it’s a boy!” Nope. Nothing good was coming out of Christy’s mouth and I wasn’t even half-way into my coffee. I held up a hand, “You know what, I’ll be down in a minute.”
“Good idea.” My baby sister looked… relieved. “You should probably talk to her yourself.”
I settled for a brisk freshening up in the sink, trekked to my room and checked the temp on my phone. 56 degrees. Granny Rose would call that airish, but for me that was cold. I pulled on jeans, a turtleneck, and a thick cotton sweater and headed for the insanity. It was a homey scene I found in the kitchen. Allie, charmingly bead-headed in juicy couture, sipped coffee and flicked through the style section of the New York Times. Lena sat across from her, hair sticking up, bleary eyed, and still in a baggy tee and shorts was refilling her giant mug with coffee… from the pot…. she’d stolen from the brew system. The hog. Christie was standing by the stove sipping what I knew to be coffee from a mug and waiting for the tea kettle to sing. She drank coffee then tea. Weirdo. And Sachet sat in the corner between Lena and Allie fresh-faced, hair poofed, and face puzzled
Not traumatized. Puzzled.
Seems our Beauty Queen was a little confused.
She didn’t remember much – as in anything.
She didn’t remember visiting Svelte. She didn’t remember Lars on the floor. She didn’t remember sitting in our kitchen. Sachet had no memory of blood, alley, body, or box-cutter, hell she didn’t even remember the lime jell-o margarita and, having taken one sip, I can tell you, that thing made an impression. Sachet Cabrolet was One. Big. Blank. Slate.
“Did I drink too much to drive home?” Our beauty Queen’s brow crinkled not one bit in her confusion. She’d gotten on board with botox a while back.
“Uh…” Lena sild me a look.
“Well…” Christy got very involved in dumping tea into her cup.
Allie hid behind her New York Times.
Okay, looked like Big Sis was going in, “Sachet, what’s the last thing you remember about last night?”
“Your beautiful song. Oh, that reminds me,” Sachet’s eyes lit up, “The dresses for the wedding. I think pastel pink or lavender in a chiffon, maybe off the shoulder with hoops. Like the Celtic women, they wear such beautiful ball gowns.”
“You don’t say.” My voice was an Oscar-worthy portrayal of neutrality.
“Oh, how lovely.” Allie’s manners were impeccable as usual.
Christie’s nose wrinkled, “You mean like Cinderella wore?”
“Yes, yes exactly.” Sachet’s head bobbed enthusiastically. Her poofed hair didn’t budge.
And then Lena set her coffee down. By that, I mean she released the mug. By that, I mean she fully disengaged hand from handle.
Thank the Goddess for our cozy kitchen dimensions. I made it to Lena in two leaping bounds, slapping my hand over her mouth in time to catch the cataclysm of cursing issuing forth, successfully reducing it to a muffled string of warbles. Christie distracted Sachet by stepping between us and offering her tea with a very involved and somewhat loud explanation of the carefully blended herbal brew and all its properties.
I gave Lena my evil eye.
She warbled a” fucking fuck no.”
I hissed a “shut it.”
She grumped a “fucking fine”.
I waited until she fully re-engaged her coffee cup before pulling my hand down and returned my attention to the immediate problem. We could worry about the possible burning of ball gowns in effigy at a later date. “So, you don’t remember how you got here?”
“No…” Sachet pressed her French manicure to her cheeks, “Oh my god, was I slipped a mickey?”
And here’s where my quirky brain can get me into trouble. My mouth was flopping before I knew what the hell I was saying. “YES! We think you could have been drugged somehow… by… someone or other. Maybe… yes. It’s definitely possible. Yeah. Maybe.”
Allie was turning the page of the flair section. Christie was adding honey to her tea. Lena was busy guzzling. All three froze. It was a stop motion camera moment.
Fortunately, Sachet was too distressed to notice.
Allie recovered first, patting our Beauty Queen’s hand and making sympathetic sounds.
Christy was right behind her, grabbing a glass and filling it with water from the Brita pitcher, “Right uh, those drugs dehydrate you.
She set the glass in front of Sachet, “And you need protein. How about some almond butter and apple slices?”
Atta Girls. Way to pick up that ball and run blindly into the void.
Lena lowered her mug, kept hold of the handle, and caught my arm with her free hand, “Uh, Sis, Can I talk to you a sec?”
Lena dragged me into what in 1910 was called a Gentleman’s study. An octagonal room with nine foot ceilings, it had the obligatory dark wood desk and chair, a bay window and window seat, and a small hearth and above the hearth was a portrait of my mother, one of the few items we’d brought with us when we relocated over twenty years ago. And everywhere else, books, lots of books – hundreds. Everything from leather bound classics to tatty paperbacks. Cookbooks. History books. Textbooks and fiction. It was my favorite room in the house. It was also the most sound-proof. All those books were excellent insulation.
Lena shut the door behind us, “Just what the ever-lovin hell are you doing?”
“Have no idea, but she can’t leave this house.”
“We’re in crazy brain territory, aren’t we?”
Before I could confirm, the door was shoved open, “Ow dammit..” And into Lena’s hip.
“Sorry.” Allie ducked in the room.
Wincing, Lena massaged her hip.
My back throbbed in empathy. The door knobs in our house were lethal. Original and made from iron, they were heavy and solid and when they caught you in just the right spot, weapons of bone bruising destruction.
“What’s going on?” Allie asked.
“Brain fart.” Lena said and hopped and plopped on the desk.
“Oh.” Allie gave me a sage nod and crossed the room, settling herself on the window seat to wait it out.
Me? I went to work unraveling my backwards brain. Intuitive reasoning is odd. And I’ve got it to the tenth power. Think of me as Sherlock Holmes’ weird, one-eyed cousin. Sherlock registers the clues in a neat line of facts that lead him to the solution. Intuition doesn’t work that way. It jumps ahead and spits out an answer without the equation. The facts leading to it are gobbled up by the sub-conscious in one big mish-mashing gulp. I had to go on a scavenger hunt in my own head.
Special note: I always hated scavenger hunts. Trudging through the woods looking for other people’s trash while mosquitos feast on your blood, who thinks this is fun? Who?
Anyhow, the mental version could take a minute. Or an hour. A day. Sometimes weeks. Could be months. And in a couple of rare instances, years.
Well, nothing for it but to put on the” Backwoods Off” and head down that trail, “The police will ID Sachet soon. They will look for her.”
“Right.” Lena agreed.
“Okay.” Allie nodded.
“We need to keep her out of sight.” I continued.
“Right.” Lena prompted. “We went over this last night.”
“We did. Problem is, if Sachet’s blocked out everything, there’s a reason.” I looked under a moldy old log, “If we tell her how we found her, it could trigger the memories before she’s ready to deal with them.”
“Yeah, yeah, and once she remembers. She’ll want to do the right thing.” Lena said, mentally running down the trail. I saw the exact moment she caught on. Mainly cause she smacked her forehead and leaped off the desk with an, “oh shit.”
“What?” Allie’s gaze flicked between us.
“She’ll run to the police.” Lena said.
Boom. “Got it in one.” Sachet was a mother. Mothers protected their young. She’d turn herself in to keep from negatively affecting her son’s practice, believing her innocence would protect her.
“She was covered in blood.” Lena ran ahead, kicking stones and heaving rocks aside, “She had the murder weapon. They’ll arrest her. She’ll go to jail. Even if we get bail… shit that girl won’t last an hour in prison.”
“No. No she would not.” It would be locking up the Easter Bunny.
“Oh. Oh no. We can’t let her do that.” Allie gasped, jumping up. She was well acquainted with the D.A. Thaddias Jackson was efficient. He liked clean cases and quick convictions. “We have to keep her out of sight until you can prove she didn’t do it.” Straightening to her full five feet three inches, Allie smoothed her bedhead, and made for the door, determination in every graceful, charmingly-bare footfall, “I’ll get Christie to put a little something in her tea. Poor thing. She could use the rest.” And with that our sister slipped out the door to go slip our house guest the mickey.”
Oh. The irony.
Lena watched her go, “And they say we’re the scary ones.”
They were wrong. Lena and I might be a tad destructive, and on occasion somewhat lethal, but Allie and Christie? They could be standing over you with the rope and chloroform in their hands, deny all knowledge, bat their baby blues, and have you convinced you’d somehow drugged and dragged yourself to a second location. That is danger on a whole other level.
Our Beauty Queen was well taken care of. Now all I had to do was clear her.
“Safe to say Lars was killed by someone he knew.” You don’t stab a stranger twenty-something times. “We need to get the local gossip.” I scanned the sweet treats wall calendar. Yes, I still have wall calendars. You can write stuff on them and they come with pictures. It was October fifth. More importantly the first Saturday in of the month.
“Jackpot.” I tapped the date.
Lena noted the date, inhaled. I covered my ears.
“OH HELL NO! No uh-uh. Nope. Negative. Not on your life, sister!”
“Lena, I need you.”
“Uh-uh… No way. No how…” My sister, the yellow-bellied, bad-ass backed away, lifted her hands, and…. made a cross with her two index fingers.
Oh boy. “That’s for vampires.”
“Works on witches.”
“You’re a witch.”
“You’re a bigger one.”
“Lena, I can’t question and observe at the same time.”
The cross didn’t budge, “Sure you can. You’re a genius and shit.”
What a chicken. “It’s the best way and you know it.”
Head still shaking, fingers still crossed.
Fine, I could play dirty, “Lena, Lars deserves to rest in peace.”
“Ah damn.” Shoulders slumped. The cross came down, “Sis, that’s low.”
Lena stomped to the door, grabbed the bone bruiser and yanked, “I’m getting my gun.”
“Don’t you think that’s overreacting. ….”
“Fuck no. I’m not going in there unarmed.
It was one of those perfect fall days – sunshine, crisp air, the spice of dry leaves on the wind. When I was a little girl in Scotland, mornings like this I’d close my eyes and spin and spin, head thrown back arms stretched out in reckless childhood joy….
My fully grown, self, trudged along dragging my supposedly fully-grown sister down the street dodging the Saturday morning crush.
We looped around ladies in designer duds, peeking in windows and whispering over their Starbucks cups, veered around college students hefting backpacks, and barely avoided a collision with one bleary-eyed neighbor sleepwalking to the coffee shop. We dodged them all, all while Lena slumped and grumped and muttered dire predictions of certain doom.
Bad ass bitches are such drama queens.
Our destination was “Toast”, a locally owned wine bar and this month’s location for the CaryTown Business Association’s monthly meeting. It was a very varied group. Very. Varied. And each of them had their own ideas about how CaryTown should, could, and would function. They voiced these ideas with the enthusiasm of Zealots and took on any and all opposition with great prejudice.
Which leads me back to the slumping grump. The last time Lena attended one of these meetings also happened to be the day the long standing cold war between Genie Barnes of Daisy May Flowers and Gil Pratchet of Gil’s Flowers and Gifts heated up. Way up. Five alarm fire – UP.
What started as a shouting match over Gil hiring away Genie’s best floral designer right before the Christmas holidays quickly escalated into a brawl worthy WWF. Genie May landed some solid hand slapping to Gil’s chest. Gil, in trying to defend himself, ripped off Genie’s genuine, fake, luscious curl, Tony-Pony pony-tail and baby, it was on. Lena managed to pull Genie’s hands from Gil’s throat, but Gil rallied to his own defense by wielding a pitcher of juice, a clay pitcher, made by a local potter and sold exclusively at Gil’s Giftshop. Long story short, Lena ended up in the ER, blood pouring from a ten-inch gash in her head and smelling like Sunny-D. Turns out, Gil had a heck of an arm and that pitcher was potted to last. It made it through the ordeal without so much as a scratch. Sadly, the same could not be said for the Tony Pony.
Lena was not eager to return to the scene of the crime. She balked at the entrance of Toast like Trudy on bath night. It was only by promising her a treat, in the form of a Bloody Mary, that I got her through the door.
Toast was a wine bar, but Sara Norton, the owner was a friend and kept some quality vodkas on hand for Lena. We’re not alcoholics, but with all the crazy crap we deal with sometimes a girl needed a good stiff drink. I loved this place. Sara had a true love of wine and it showed. The bar was all glossy dark wood, the walls covered with wine racks and bottles. Bistro tables were spread around and photos from Sarah’s extensive travels papered the walls. It was elegant, quiet, and low-key. On especially trying days, I’d slip in, enjoy the quiet, good wine, and the best crusty bread I’ve ever shoved voraciously in my mouth.
There was nothing quiet about it now.
Thirty or so people gathered at the far end of the bar. The range went from designer suits and sleek blond bobs to vintage tee shirts and rainbow dyed mohawks. Officially, we met to discuss community and business concerns, but mostly it was one huge gossip-fest. If there was anything hinky going on we’d smell it floating in the air.
A woman peeled off the hoard and headed our way. Mid-fifties, graying ash-brown hair, average height and kind of boxy, possibly due to her obsession with ponchos. Ms. Millie Pilansky, owner of Knick-Knack Gifts. The woman had the oddest walk. Slightly stooped, elbows bent, and arms swinging, she charged through empty air like it was solid and enemy territory. Put me in mind of a freight train chuggin’. And she was heading straight for us, gold poncho wafting with her swinging arms. She chugged right past Lena, and kept coming until she was mere inches away from me and with not so much as a hail, hello, or howdy, “You didn’t bring scones.”
Okay, so I’m guessing it was our turn to provide munchies.
I met Millie’s non-blinking stare. “I’m so sorry. We had an emergency this morning.”
Not so much of a flicker of an eyelash, “You were down for refreshments.”
Right. Yeah. I’d guessed correctly. But it wasn’t like I could magically make them appear. So why wasn’t Millie moving on to a plan b. Or hell, just moving on. I looked at Lena. Her shrug was a work of art. That minimal movement clearly said. “Don’t ask me. I told you this was a bad idea. And that bitch be crazy.”
No help there. Maybe Millie was hard of hearing, I increased my volume and slowed my words, “See, we had an emergency this morning, sorry.”
No movement. None. Not a blink or a wink or a nod. “We don’t have any snacks.”
Wow, I would admire her focus, but I was busy being creeped out.
I looked to Lena again. She just shook her head mouthed, a combination of fucks, hells, and nos, and pulled out the sign of the cross.
I hunched down and met the eyes behind the glasses. Third time’s the charm and all that. “Millie, can I call you Millie….” Aaaaand nothing. I carried on. “We had an emergency this morning, big emergency. Huge catastrophic stuff. GLOBAL.” There. That ought to do it. At this point any normal person would forget about snacks…
“We need snacks.”
And we have a winner. Millie wasn’t normal. Not that I was one to cast aspersions.
“Hell’s Bell’s, sister.”
And finally, Lena’s infamous lack of patience comes to the rescue.
Shouldering me aside, she reached into the back pocket of her jeans, produced her wallet, and snatched out a couple of twenties, “There’s a pastry shop one block over. Knock yourself out.”
Millie didn’t move. I’d stopped waiting for her to blink. But damn, usually Lena got some kind of reaction, offended, many times violent, but something. But hell Millie might not have been breathing. My whack-o meter was red zoning. I may have taken a step back. Lena, though, she grabbed Millie by the hand and shoved the bills at her. “Look, we’ve had a rough morning. If you want refreshments, you’re going to have to go buy ‘em yourself.”
We got movement. Millie blinked. Once. “I could get some donuts from Hot-Town.”
“Oh, that place one block over?” Sarcasm flash-flooded from Lena’s mouth, “Yeah, I hear they have pastries and shit.”
It rushed right by Millie. “Yes, they’re very good.” She nodded, and holy Moses, cracked a smile, before chugging away.
Lena watched her freight-train it out the door, “What do you wanna bet she spends her nights knitting sweaters for her two dozen cats?”
“Nah, Millie’s cool. She’s just a little intense.”
Lena and I turned away from the door to see tall, lean muscle in black mesh over black tank, worn faded denim and lace up boots. And tattoos. Lots of tattoos. Seth Riker. He was a tattoo artist and he looked the part. Until you got to his face, the kid had bone structure that could make angels weep, dusty brown hair with that careless messy look young guys liked to pretend they didn’t work for. In this case, he really didn’t. If you looked carefully, you could always find a paint color or two in Seth’s hair. When he wasn’t working in ink, he worked oils, acrylics, multimedia, even clay. Remember the pitcher? That was Seth’s construction. Twenty-two years old and he’d never had an art class, Seth was a true prodigy.
Soulful brown eyes searched the counter and then my person. His crestfallen “No scones?” was ridiculously adorable. Yes, so I found the bad boy with the artist’s soul cute when disappointed. Sue me.
Seth volunteered at Christie’s shelter. Last year she’d gotten a dog out of a burning building. Used for dog fighting, he was feral and had burns over thirty percent of his body. Even she had admitted his chances weren’t good. Seth sat by him for two days. He simply would not allow that dog to give up. And now Rufus, the pit bull with the heart of gold and the face of ugly, sat in Seth’s shop all day and followed him home at night. Anyone who could bring an animal back from the brink like that was special. The kid was special.
He wasn’t much of a gossip though, but Venice was. The twenty-something girl worked at Street, a used clothing shop next door to Seth’s place where you’d find such things as mesh tanks, she was a sucker for the gossip and she was always watching Seth. I searched the room and found a blond head with a bubble gum pink smile. There she was, and yep, she was watching.
“Sorry Seth, we had a late night what with Lars and Nadia and,” I lowered my voice, “You know…everything.”
Seth’s response was a wrinkled forehead and nonplused, bafflement. Still adorable.
Venice plowed through the crowd, her face eager, “What was that about Lars and Nadia?”
“Oh,” I paused and tried Millie’s slow blink, “Nothing. Never mind. It’s only a rumor. I just hope they don’t split the business.”
That ought to get me something.
Something. And it didn’t come from Venice. I studied Seth’s beautifully dismayed face. What the heck?
“Well, it was only a matter of time,” Venice patted his sculpted bicep, “He and Brian were… you know,” She went on tiptoe so her mouth was at Seth’s ear when she whispered, “Doing the deed.”
Seth’s melting brown eyes froze over. He twisted away from Venice so suddenly she stumbled, catching herself on the bar. Good thing, because Seth wasn’t around to do it. He’d turned his back and was striding away.
And I got my second what the heck moment in as many minutes.
Venice watched him go, a mix frustration and determination darkening her pretty face and perky vibe, but even Seth couldn’t complete with juicy gossip or maybe it was that look he’d given her. In any case, she hustled back to the group, mouth flapping.
Blood in the water.
I elbowed Lena, “Phone. Video. Go.”
“Got it.” She yanked her phone out. Lena was master of The Kinnear. She could make a full-length feature on her phone, you’d swear she was texting.
And the blab-fest was rockin right along.
“Pssst!” The hiss came from behind the bar. I peeked over to see the owner. Some people were beautiful, some people were cute. Some were geeky and adorable. Sara had style. Miles of it. Today she was in a black tee and jeans, the standard of many shop owners in CaryTown. Sara made the look worthy of Vogue. Have no idea how she did this. Maybe it’s the hair. A truly spectacular, deep mahogany brown, she wore it in a sleek vintage Hollywood wave and she could rock red lips like a siren. And by the by, making squatting behind a bar look Vogue worthy? I took a moment to be impressed.
The red lips tilted in a rueful smile, “I was hiding from Millie.”
In one fluid move, Sara popped up, pulled a glass down from over her head, grabbed a blue bottle and poured a sparkling water, adding a dash of bitters and a lime wedge before sliding my standard non-alcoholic beverage before me. “She thought you were a no-show and you guys were down for the refreshments. She was disturbed.”
Another skill of Sara’s was her ability to inflect an entire paragraph of hidden meaning into a single simple word.
“I didn’t notice.” I took a long sip, “Perfect. Thanks.
“I know you’d probably prefer alcohol as these things aren’t your bag.”
My “Not while I’m working,” got all tangled up with Sara’s “But I figured you’d be working.”
I set my Tonic down, “Wait. What?”
Sara leaned in, “You’re working on Lars’ case, right?”
“How did you know…” I glanced over Sara’s shoulder to the crowd around Venice. I’d been counting on surprise, but if Sara knew…then I remembered. “Jonna.” Sara’s partner was an assistant medical examiner.
“She got the body in last night.” Sara said, “I don’t think any of them know yet. I didn’t say anything.”
“She said he was…” She brought her fist down in a stabbing motion.
“You’re going to figure this out, right?”
“I’m going to do my best.”
Yes, Sara knew about my consulting. Everyone did. See, the problem with secrets is people loved them. Allow me to clarify: people love knowing them. So instead, we made what I do mundane. I was home schooled due to a learning disability, but had graduated from college with a degree in criminal psychology and consulted locally. It was a great cover and if anybody got curious enough to check, they’d find everything they needed. All my school records, grades even notes from teachers. Lena had been very thorough in creating my collegiate achievements.
“I wonder if you could do a little something for me.” And when people knew, you could more easily enlist their help.
“Anything. Lars was a sweetheart.”
I lowered my voice and pitched my plan.
“Uh…” Sara blinked a few times, “I don’t think they’ll buy it.”
“I don’t need them to believe it. I just need chum in the water.”
“Okay,” Sara walked to the end of the bar, poured a cup of coffee from the carafe and tossed the fish head, “I heard Lars and Sachet were having an affair.”
“I told you that was drag.”
Thus commenced a feeding frenzy of half-truths, rumor, and innuendo.
“Sachet is a woman, moron.”
“No straight man is that interested in ladies’ shoes.”
“No, no he was doing the deed with Brian.”
“Brian? Tommy’s ex, that Brian?”
“Holy shit! Brian’s cheating on Stephen.”
“You know, Stephen. Ox’s partner.”
“Brian is poaching on Ox? Is he crazy? Ox is an ox.”
“No no, not partner partner. Partner in the bakery.”
“Whose partner in the bakery?”
“Oh my God, Nigel. Nigel is sleeping with Brian?”
“Don’t be stupid. He’s sleeping with Lars.”
“I thought Sachet was sleeping with Lars.”
“Are they menage-a-trios-ing?”
“Brian and Lars and Sachet.”
“I thought he was sleeping with Nigel.”
Sara, who’d been stealthily backing away until she was back to me, closed her mouth with a click only to open it. “I’ll never doubt you again.”
Then Venice’s hisses grew to excited muttering and then squealing. Here it was, I shifted on my seat so I could get the best view. Lena was filming, but real-time reactions can’t be beat. So I was focused when Venice jumped straight up in the air, waved her phone over her head, and released her gold nugget in a gossip-girl slam-dunk, “Oh my God. Lars was stabbed dead!”
I was peering at the crowd. I got shock, awe, a lot of Nos and No ways. A few went straight to horror…
“They were out of donuts.”
“Mother Fucker!” I swear to you, my body flew right out of my skin. The barstool disappeared from under my butt and I slithered to the floor.
Fun fact. I’m five feet eight inches and short waisted, meaning I am all arms and legs. When I fall, it’s a sprawling, arm-waving, leg-flying Scorsese-worthy hot-mess. Grappling with the barstools, I flipper-flopped my feet back under me until I was back to standing and turned to see Millie. Right. There. Like right the hell there. So close I could see she had a clogged pore nose issue. And was that ever a TMI moment.
She seemed like a literal kind of girl. “Millie, I need three feet of personal space at all times. This isn’t three feet. You need to back up, please.”
Damn, if she didn’t take four full steps back.
My heart returned to its normal rhythm.
“Millie, you got, honey-buns. That’s great.” Sara smiled. She might have been hiding a snicker. I didn’t hold it against her.
“They were out of donuts.” Millie repeated.
“Could you take them to the end of the bar, for me.”
Millie chugged off.
“Sweet Mother Mary.” I breathed, realizing I was clutching my chest. I let go. Geez, how cliché can you get?
Without a word, Sara grabbed a bottle of Beefeater and poured a splash into my tonic water.