We were enjoying a few moments of silence. I was out of cake and Lena had poured all the wine and slapped a handwritten Bar closed sign up we were eating cake when her phone buzzed. She pulled it from her pocket looked at it and the next words out of her mouth? Yep.
“What the fuck?”
And Goddess help me, I was sick to death of what the fucks. I was up to my eyeballs in what the fucks. Point of fact, I was about one what the fuck away from hunting down a circus tent.
I could pull off palm reader.
Lena must have seen something of what I was feeling on my face because she put her hand up and tried to assume a reassuring expression. Trouble was, Lena couldn’t lie worth a damn.
“Just give it to me straight.”
“Uh okay. Alllie says The ADA got along with his brother. Hated Nadia. Doesn’t know anything about guns. Uh, hold on there’s more coming and okay… uh… well shit that doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.”
“Lena what does it say.”
“According to Allie the ADA is unconscious in that urn she loves so much.
“And he’s cheap.”
“What the hell?”
“And a lousy tipper.”
“Lena what are you going on about?”
Lena held up her phone.
Yep. That was what it said. “Is she using a metaphor?”
“How the hell should I know… oh….oh shit.”
I did not care for the look of utter horror on my sister’s face as she raised a hand and pointed to the dance floor. I turned and searched and there, whirling around and causing quite a stir was her twin with… “Oh no.”
“What the hell is Andre doing here?” Lena asked like she expected me to have an answer. Sis, needed to lower that bar a bit. “And what the hell did he do to Jackass Jackson?”
That I could answer, “Nothing good.”
“Should we go check on him?”
“I’m not doing another thing until I have a drink.” I went behind the bar, searching for ingredients.
“Oh God,” Lena’s nose wrinkled in disgust, “You’re making that thing.”
“That stuff is going to kill you.”
Lena stood by while I put three ice-cubes in a glass filled it half-way to the top with ginger-ale. Splashed it with triple sec, grabbed a small jar of maraschino cherries, took the lid off, and dumped the entire thing – syrup, cherries, and stems into the glass.
“That is so gross.”
I drained the glass in under a minute. Then it was a matter of digging out cherries.
Lena grabbed my shoulder and started shaking. “Sis, you need to do something.”
I dug a cherry out of the glass, popped it into my mouth, paused for the sugar rush, “I’m doing plenty.” I had a dozen or so cherries to dig out of that glass. That was why I liked the cherries with stems. Much easier to dig out of the glass.
“Look, I have no idea what’s happening here.” I said between chomps and rushes, “Every lead we follow dries up to nothing.” Dig, chomp, pause, rush. “Goddess only knows what I don’t know.” Chomp pause rush. “I don’t usually work these cases in real time “Usually I have piles and piles of evidence to go through. But we have no idea what else is out there.” I tilted the glass to get a cherry hiding under the ice, “I’m not omniscient.”
“No, I’m serious.” I dug the last cherry out of the glass, “Just what the hell do you expect me to do?”
Lena threw out a full arm-extension, pointer-finger point, “Save the Assistant District Attorney’s miserable little life.”
I followed that finger to see Jackson searching the dancers. It wasn’t difficult to spot the most stunning couple ever to have graced a fundraiser dance floor. Allie and Andre were breathtaking. Half the room was openly staring, the other half was sneaking glances. Only one of them had murder in his eyes. Dang it Selfishly, I was hoping he’d be out for a while. I snagged a piece of cake, raced past the star-struck crowd, and jumped in front of the ADA. “Don’t.”
“Get out of my way.”
“No. Have some cake.”
“The guy assaulted me.”
“And did you put your hands on my sister?”
The ADA shut his mouth.
Thought so. Andre was…. economical. He wouldn’t waste time tossing a guy in an ancient urn without a reason.
“May I make a suggestion?”
“Sure, why the hell not.”
“Go home. Get some sleep. Grieve. Bury your brother.”
“I think I’d rather see the guns.”
ADA Jackson needed a ride. His limo driver having taken the rest of the night off to whirl Allie around the dance floor. We loaded him into the back seat of the station wagon. He was full of questions about Andre, about Allie, about the guns. Questions I had no interest in answering. It was on the fourth round of questions I pointed out the obvious, “Lars was your brother, if anyone ought to know why he had a storage unit full of handguns, it’s you.”
That threw him for all of three seconds, “You should have contacted the police.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Lena grabbed a pink box from the floorboard and threw it behind her. It bopped Jackson in the face and fell into his lap, “Eat some fucking cake and stop spouting stupid shit, before I throw your stupid ass out.”
He opened his mouth to argue. Dear Goddess, that man was hardheaded.
“You should eat the cake. It’s gluten-free.” Damn if he didn’t open his mouth again, “You are our guest in this car, Jackson.”
And finally, understanding, all be it grudging and grumpy, dawned. Jackson fell back in the seat. In the silence that followed I heard the unmistakable sound of a happy person eating cake.
By the time we turned onto our street, Jackson had consumed all his cake, a shame, that as now he had nothing to occupy his mouth and had decided to go on a tirade about Allie’s questionable taste in men, describing Andre as reckless, dangerous, criminal…
“Jackson,” I interrupted, pulling into the alley that served as our driveway, “There is nothing you can say about Andre that I don’t already know. He’s an old family friend.”
That earned me a snort, “Why does that not surprise me. Your family is the most…”
What our family was would remain a mystery, Jackson had jumped out of the car, slamming the door behind him.
Lena sat forward, “Dammit, did he get a look at our beauty queen?”
“I don’t think so.”
We could see the ADA quite clearly as my headlights were still on. He walked from one side of our driveway to the other and back again once twice three times. Then just stood there in the middle hands on hips staring down at. … what? I had no clue.
“Just what the hell is he doing?”
“Fuck if I know. Dude ain’t right.”
muttering to himself. He got to one side of the driveway turned and paced all the way back. He then stood hands on hips staring at…. I had no clue.
It wasn’t until he walked back to the left edge of the drive started across in deliberate measured steps that I figured it out. Not insanity – jealousy. What we had here was a ginormous case of parking envy – off street, that is.
Lena and I exited the car Lena calling out, “It’s forty feet across. Runs the length of the alley. Pretty awesome, huh?
He stopped pacing to spin in a circle, arms rolling in big round arcs. “What the hell? How? Is this even legal?”
“We own the block.”
The Assistant District Attorney made some rather unprofessional sputtering grunts. The spinning and waving double-timing. He looked a little crazy and a lot drunk off his ass. The neighbors would be loving this.
The Fan, while technically urban, had a real neighborhood vibe. It’s the south after all. We love talking about those crazy girls down the street.
“Dude, stop waving your arms around.” Lena jumped on it before I could think of a tactful way to say stop acting like an idiot. Tact not being a concern for her. “You’re spooking the neighbors.” She started towards the house and stopped – short, coming in behind her dodged right, barely avoiding the sister pile-on, plow-down.
She pointed towards the house, “The front porch light is doing that Studio 54 thing again.”
“Oh.” It sure was. Our entire front porch was flickering like an old black and white. My shoulders slumped. Damn, but I was tired.
“And dammit,” Lena smacked her forehead, “I forgot we’re out of coffee.
“I bought coffee two days ago.”
“You got a half-pounder and it’s been a rough couple of days, Sis.”
“I’ll go grab some from Gavin’s.” Lena darted in the opposite direction, “It’s kind of shitty but it’s better than nothing.”
I led ADA Jackson the porch and paused to unlock the door.
“Replacing the bulb won’t fix it.” Jackson followed me onto the porch. “You’ve got a short in the wiring.”
“Thank you, yes.” I said, unlocking the deadbolt. “It’s on the list.”
“How old is this house?”
“Built in 1918.”
“Does it have landmark status?”
“Oh yes.” I threw the door open.
“Is that a good or bad …. what the hell?”
Jackson’s what the hell could have been due to any number of things. One possibility, I had shoved him in the door. Two – there was a gun in his face. Three – I dropped to the ground. Four- – the lights went out. Five – in the fleeting moment before darkness fell, he had to have seen the other two masked and well-armed figures in my living room.
I had no time to reassure the Assistant District Attorney. I was already moving. Reaching up and out, I dragged the Hall tree over, hooked my elbow around a leg and pulled. There was a pained grunt and the sounds of a body toppling. This was closely followed by the crash of china from somewhere deeper in the house. I’d crawled across the living room and into the hall before our intruders realized they had failed to take us by surprise. Someone grabbed the back of my shirt. I was jerked up, an arm around my throat cold metal at my temple. The lights came back up.
Oh man, was there ever a mess in my living room.
The hall tree was on the floor. That hall tree had belonged to my Granny Rose. It was old. It was irreplaceable. It was broken. One of the brass hooks snapped at the base. This was especially painful since I was the one who’d sent it crashing to the floor for the gunman to fall over.
Thing is, a professional knows how to take a fall. If all I’d done was trip him, he’d have gotten right back up. But no matter how well trained you are, falling on a big lumpy furnishing with brass arms sticking out had to hurt like a bitch and from the way he was holding himself that brass arm snapped off when it connected with a rib or two. The shock and pain caused him to do the thing his kind never does. He dropped his gun.
Jackson was now holding it, his back against the wall by the door – face pale, eyes wide and staring at the weapon as if he wasn’t sure how it got there. At least he was pointing it in the right direction. Advantage-Jackson.
Down our dim hall in the open doorway leading to the library, a man lay on the floor holding, his head bleeding all over a hand-woven needlepoint rug. Also, ancient. Also, irreplaceable. Christy stood over him, a doorknob in one hand and the guy’s gun in the other.
“That door-knob in the library came loose again?”
“I was trying to fix it, but got interrupted.” And true to form, my youngest sister had stuffed it one of those pockets. Advantage – Christy by way of cargo pants and turn of the century engineering.
The last intruder must have been the brains of the operation. He must have switched to night vision when the lights went out and had me up off the floor and a gun in my face when they came back up. Advantage? That was a tricky one. While our Lone Gunman Standing did have a gun on me, I was pissed as hell about the rug and hall tree, and sick to death of idiots breaking into my home.
And then there was the wild card. Halfway up the stairs, gun in hand and sighted, was Lena. Gavin’s sort of shitty coffee nowhere to be seen.
Metal tapped my temple. “Tell your sister to drop the gun.”
Lone Gunman, let’s call him LG, got a number of responses.
My “Oh, shut up.” just kind of slipped out.
Lena’s belly laugh shot up and out like geyser spewing forthmirth.
Christy’s genuinely perplexed, “You’re not very smart, are you?” Summed it all up rather nicely.
Based on LG’s, lack of response to our responses, they were not the ones he’d been expecting.
Christy filled the silence, squinting at the blood pooling on the rug, “Do you think we should try to get the stain out before it dries?”
“I don’t know. We don’t want to push the blood into the fibers.”
“I could get a spatula and scoop up the excess.” Christy offered, miming a scoop with the door-knob.
“I think you can lay a paper towel on it and soak up the excess.” I’d read that somewhere.
Tap tap tap.
Ignore. Ignore. Ignore.
“Google it.” Lena suggested from behind her sighted gun.
“Good idea.” Christy shoved the door-knob into one pocket and pulled her phone out of another, poked around on it a bit, “It says we have to blot the stain and make a solution of water, dish soap, and ammonia….”
“No ammonia.” I said. The fumes were a signed guarantee for a migraine, “Will vinegar work?”
Christy did more poking, “I don’t think so.”
“Hey!” L.G. shouted, grabbing me and spinning us in a full circle, assuring all parties involved understood he had a gun to my head. Guess he didn’t care for being ignored. Idiot didn’t know how good he had it. What I wouldn’t give to be ignored for a couple of days. The gun was shoved into my temple, “Tell your sister to drop the gun.”
Oh, hell’s nine bells. Who was this moron?
Getting no response from me, other than a disgusted snort, our Gunman tried bossing Lena around. “You, on the stairs. Drop your gun.”
Disappointment builds character.
“For fuck’s sake, you idiot,” Lena began her character-building session, with a saunter down the stairs. keeping her gun firmly sighted on L.G.’s head. “You came here to kill us. No one is dropping their fucking gun.”
“What she said.” I said… oh shit.
It happened so very fast. The shadows in the hallway shifted, a giant emerged, and before I could close my eyes, I did not want to see what was coming, something took hold of the gunman’s head and to be honest, I’m not sure what happened after that. There was twisting, tearing, and some god-awful cracking and then that man was on the floor and all kinds of dead.
There went his chance to build on his character-building moment.
“Ah that is so gross.” Lena’s two hand grip was compromised when she lifted one hand to cover her mouth.
And yes, it really was.
Gross. That is.
The giant shadow was almost to Jackson, when I got myself together enough for one word. “Stop.”
Did Gavin McIntyre stop?
No, he did not.
“Gavin, that is ADA Jackson holding the gun. You can’t….” Oh well yeah, I guess he could. If he punched Jackson in the face and took his gun, he could do as he damn well pleased. Jackson was still staring at the mess that had been the guy holding the gun on me when Gavin’s fist sailed out and caught him on the jaw.
Poor Jackson was having a really bad night.