Chapter 36

Don’t let the girl out of your sight‘, the text from Lt Giancarlo came up as I checked my phone, in the hope that I would find new instructions. 8 hours on stakeout, when the suspect goes into a house and doesn’t leave, is not the most challenging of police work.

Paying your dues’, I thought as I tried to stretch out my legs, the sun just beginning to show on the horizon, visible between the houses that lined the beach. Still in uniform after 3 years on the force, I didn’t ask questions when I got the text last night in the last hour of my shift. Competition for the next opening in the plainclothes squad was way too stiff to pass up on a chance to make the Chief of Detectives happy. So what if the guys in the squad room joked about,  ‘conflict of interest’ or ‘compromised jurisdiction’,  if he wanted this girl followed, I wasn’t gonna ask questions. I sat in my car and tried to figure how I was going to get some sleep before reporting for the 12 to 8 shift. At least she had a visitor show up at… 6:17 am, (checking my notes), that’ll give me something to report and maybe make an impression. Lt. Giancarlo’s reputation for rewarding those that helped him was almost as impressive as the stories about what he does to those that disappoint him. All the more reason to spend the night in a car, my full surveillance report in 7 characters. Maybe there’ll be a fire or a tidal wave.

The phone vibrated  on the dashboard….I caught it as it tried to hop onto the console. Another text. ‘Come in… G

I almost hit the A7 that appeared out of nowhere  as I pulled out into the lane of travel, heading back to the Station House.

Published in: on August 9, 2015 at 1:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Chapter 35

(Thursday Afternoon September 13, 2015 2:40 pm)

“I don’t care if it’s the Queen of fuckin England, no calls means no calls. You know better than that, Hazel!”

Dr Clark Arthur turned in his desk chair, to face the telephone on his desk, the better to project his displeasure at the proximate source of the interruption. Feeling the unstable pleasure that follows an outburst of self-indulgence, the newest full professor at Harvard Law swiveled his chair in the opposite direction, to face his laptop, which was sitting on a TV dinner stand in front and to the right of the ceiling-to-floor window overlooking the courtyard.
‘Shit’, he muttered, ‘this day keeps getting better and better. Now I have one pissed-off secretary and, of the few women who remain a factor in my life, Hazel I can least afford to push away.’

“So. That would be, ‘Dr Arthur is currently unavailable, please feel free to call in about an hour, or, if you would prefer I can take your name and number and he will return the call.’ Correct?”, clearly and without a hint of sarcasm, came the voice of his secretary of 20 years.
Smiling now, Clark wondered for the 100th time how he managed to get so lucky with certain women in his life. Hazel has been his admin since his days with the Public Defender’s Office in Providence. She chose to move north when her marriage began to go south. His wife Catherine, who liked Hazel from the first day she was assigned to her husband’s staff, often referred to her as his work spouse.
Leaning forward in the desk chair, he replied, “That does seem to capture some of the nuance of my preferred message. Thank you, Hazel

You’re entirely welcome, Dr. Arthur, will you be needing me for anything further this afternoon? I’ve a doctor’s appointment at 3:30 and would like to leave a little early.”

“By all means, Hazel. The only reason I came in today was to get a headstart on the mail that’s been piling up during the last 2 weeks, you take off, I’ll manage just fine.”

With a barely noticeable hesitation, Clark, caught his good humor fading, looked around at his office, noting the paper glacier of un-opened un-answered and, for most part, un-solicited correspondence that, although contained by the In-tray on the right edge of his desk, was clearly beginning to scour the surrounding area, pushing on the photos scattered along the top edge of the desk blotter. Hearing the outer office door open, called out, “No problem at all. If I get into trouble with the Department Chair, I know your cell number, that and I can refuse to answer the door.” Her brief laughter was his reward.
Fine. You have a 4 o’clock appointment with your newest grad student and don’t forget, pick up Una at the dog groomers and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Clark could hear the outer office door shut, even as he leaned back in his chair, hoping that something in the Quadrangle below his office would provide a delay in tackling the pile of mail on his desk. Life outside went on un-eventfully, students walked into buildings, couples leaned together in earnest conversation and a squirrel sat on a limb, unimpressed.

Fifteen minutes later… Clark leaned back in his chair. On his desk were three stacks of mail. To the right side of the desk were packages and the larger envelopes that included: a galley proof from his editor, a bound galley of a new book by a friend that he promised to write a review, a FedEx box that he hoped contained the Seth Thomas Ship’s Clock that he ordered as a gift for his son’s 33rd birthday next week and among the periodicals were copies of the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Law Review. On the left side, not coincidently the side nearest the door to the Outer Office and Hazel, was the stack of obvious junk and/or solicitation mail and packages. In front of him were 3 letters (two were typed and one handwritten, looking all the world like a quill pen written address) and 2 square greeting card looking envelopes.

Glancing at the clock and seeing that he had only an hour before his last appointment of the day, Clark decided to have one last cup of coffee before opening his personal mail. There being only the 5 pieces, there should leave plenty of time to prepare for his meeting with Lisa, his newest Grad student.
Hazel? Where do you keep the…” Clark stepped through the door to the outer office speaking but caught himself, remembering that she was taking the afternoon off.

The Outer Office, decorated in early Ivy League had the requisite leather sofa and two wingback chairs on the right side of the rectangular space, separated from the reception/administrative area in the middle of the room by a fish tank. The fish tank (sans fish) was in the office on the day that Dean Crombey gave Clark the tour of the faculty office suites. Thinking back, Clark recalls commenting on the fish tank and getting a reply to the effect that ‘most people find fish tanks relaxing’. Other than Grad Students, visitors and occasional alumnae, the seating area saw little traffic and even less demand for a relaxing aquarium. On the opposite end of the room was a door that opened onto a small kitchen, bath and storage room, which is where Clark kept the coffee maker. Hazel brought in a Keurig machine but left the Mr Coffee coffee maker, with off-white flowers, embossed on the handle alone. She never used it, but always keeping the coffee filter full of coffee, needing only to have water added.
Pouring the water into the opening in the top of the coffee maker, Clark smiled at the thought of Hazel. A very attractive woman, with eyes that possessed an alertness that, were you the object of scrutiny, could be make you feel very uncomfortable or very very good.

She began working as Clark’s secretary 15 years prior, during his time at the Public Defender’s Office in Providence. His decision to leave and accept the faculty position was not made easier given the move up to Cambridge, leaving Hazel behind in Providence was not something Clark liked to think about, however, her marriage, never overly sound, broke up and she surprised him by asking, on the day that he was packing to leave, if there was a place for her in his faculty position. His reply, ‘yes’ and she moved to Cambridge to work for him. Hazel expressed a very rare feeling of uncertainty, when she asked if he thought she would be of any value in a faculty administration position, Clark responded, “Well, you’ll be managing the office of newest tenured Law professor at a well respected university, given the intensity of the Departmental politics and the background of the students, nary a parent willing to tolerate anything but the highest of grades for their offspring. I believe you’ll be every bit as valued as you have been here among the out-of-work drug dealers, politicians and working girls, at Harvard University.

They both laughed.

Waiting for the water-into-coffee miracle to occur, (“this is my blood, drink of it, good to the last drop, hey boys?!), Clark glanced over at Hazel’s desk and immediately wished he had stayed staring at the Mr Coffee. Stuck in the triangular corner of the desk blotter, a half of a business card was visible ‘ …D. Freidman MD and (below that) …ncology’
Resisting the urge to look closer, Clark poured his favorite cup (“the Winner of the Ugliest Mug of the Year a record 3 Decades running” Hazel would remark at every opportunity), and returned to his desk. The day outside remained preternaturally clear, colors of the turning leaves almost garish in the afternoon light.

Sitting back down at his desk, Clark pulled the 5 pieces of ‘not-junk, not-business’ pile of vacation mail closer and using his favorite ‘letter opener’ (a steak knife that somehow ended up on his desk when he becoming managing attorney at the Public Defender’s office. Despite the best efforts of nearly everyone in the office to convince him that it really was not an appropriate choice for a practicing attorney. Well, everyone with the exception of Hazel, who would smile and say nothing), he opened the first letter.

‘Clark,
Much as I would rather tell you this in person, I find that writing a letter not only helps me expresses myself better, it vastly increases the chances of my saying this to you….’

Without a thought, Clark folded the sheet of paper, put it back in the envelope, spun in his chair and flipped the switch on his shredder and, without thought, reflection or anything that might anchor an emotional response, slipped the envelop in and turned back to his desk.

The hand written letter was next. On closer examination it did, in fact, have the look of a old-fashioned quill pen. The return address was, Rumford RI. Opening the letter, he read,

Mr. Arthur,
It’s been at least 10 years since we met, I was the detective on the case where the Brown University co-ed was charged with manslaughter. You were successful in preventing an innocent young women from going to jail and I would like to think I played a role in justice being served. (I found ways of electing testimony from the victim’s friend.) Politics and the influence of politicians on the police and judicial system in a small State like Rhode Island are not always best dealt with inside the Court rooms.
I have a case that I would ask for your help.
Please call me.
401-555-12344

(Thursday Late Afternoon September 13 2015 3:50pm)

“Hello? Dr Arthur?

Lisa Stromley, 2nd year graduate student, (concentration in Corporate Law), requested Clark as her Faculty Advisor against the advice not only of her Father ( Harvard ’85 ) but her on-again, off-again fiancee Stephen (Yale ’14), both of whom were of the opinion that Clark Arthur had lost something with the death of his wife that extended beyond his personal life and into his professional life. His decision to leave his position as General Counsel at a Fortune 500 to work for the Public Defender’s Office in Providence RI was cited as proof that he was not the best choice for her Faculty Advisor. She felt otherwise, but would not give voice to her reasons, judging it better to simply not discuss her decision, this both from respect for the imposing personality of her father and the tendency towards insecurity on the part of her fiancee.

Published in: on May 17, 2015 at 6:04 pm  Comments (1)  

Behind the veil?…

$5.28.

That’s what it always comes to.

I work for a very large security company. I occasionally have to work extra shifts to fill in for some of my fellow officers who are…let’s just say…somewhat less than responsible.

And when I ‘m driving in to cover someone’s grandmother being abducted by aliens..again…third time this week…

I generally stop at a local donut shop called Honeydew Donuts. ( This is Rhode Island, and every other storefront on any given street is now, or soon will be, a donut shop.)

I’m awfully predictable. I always glance through the donut case with every intention of trying something new, but, alas…

A large dark roast ( cream, one sugar), corn muffin, newspaper. Every time.

Life is short, goddammit. Take a walk on the wild side for once, maybe try a jelly donut, or a Boston Cream.

Anyway. It comes to $5.28.

Except this last time…

My employer supplies uniforms for all employees. For most of us it’s a requirement. And those who work outdoor patrols are issued a very serviceable winter coat, the same issue that police officers use. Ours has only a company logo on the right sleeve, but are otherwise unmarked. I don’t do any outdoor patrols, being just far enough up the food chain to be exempt; but am also the apple of the account manager’s eye, and get all the cool uniform stuff anyway, including the state police coat.

So. The other day, I’m going to cover another Saturday afternoon abduction call-out, and glancing at the donut case again. And wearing the spiffy new coat.

As usual, the total is $5.28, and I offer my ATM card to the ridiculously helpful counter girl.

She doesn’t take it. She wishes me a good day and goes back to work.

I stand politely waiting for someone to take my ATM. I catch her eye… she smiles, and steps up to take the next order. I’m now in the way. My transaction is apparently complete.

I take my stuff, and somewhat sheepishly move towards the door, and out. Wondering if this is an example of early- onset Alzheimers’? Can you actually forget stuff as it is still happening?

No. In the car and leaving, and I realize that it had to be the coat. Because I looked like a cop at a glance?

I feel as if I’ve seen a glimpse of something that mere citizens can only suspect. Free stuff in donut shops. This probably dates back to pre- Revolutionary days. There were donuts back then, right? ( Note to self- Google ” donut history” for possible new post )

And how far does this go? Does this only apply to donuts? We can only guess at the repercussions. Hamburgers? Pizza? With any toppings you want? Except anchovies… small salted fish floating in tomato sauce…revolting. I should use my new coat for the forces of good, and arrest people who get anchovies on pizza. Or have them removed and held as evidence in an ongoing investigation. ( Note to self- Google ” anchovy history” as part of ongoing investigation ) And… if they’re not on pizza, what the hell else can you do with anchovies?

And purely as part of the ongoing investigation, I’ll next wear my new coat to go pick up some Chinese…after all, they’re only two doors down from Honeydew.

Call it Investigative Journalism. I suppose that’s what Cranston PD calls it.

 

 

 

Chapter 32…

In the annals of romantic imagery, I’m sure many a poet has made reference to that most seldom- seen and  yet most highly coveted of all; the classically sculpted feminine hand cast against a field of azure blue, flipping the bird out of a car window as it drives off into the sunset… was it Sandburg, or Robert Frost? Not exactly Venus on the clamshell, but pretty damned romantic for North Smithfield.

Actually, I have always aligned myself with the lunatic fringe that claims it to have been a scallop shell, and not a clamshell at all. What Greco- Roman female would be seen arising from a clam, or given the local fauna, a quahog, for God’s sake. Any respectable chowder chef would attest to the inherent difficulties, and to several pertinent related facts; clam chowder is made from quahogs, not clams; Venus insisted on a scallop shell, being much lighter, easier to work with, and much more iridescent. Many lesser-known Greco- Roman models conceded to working with quahogs, mainly because Venus’ lawyer quickly filed a patent on the use of the scallop shell image.

He is also part owner of George’s and a few day boats out of Galilee. This is widely known as synchronicity.

I had the place to myself. My client and the investigating detective both drove off in different directions, swept up in what appeared to be truly spectacular hissy fits. He almost forgot that he had a couple of uniform guys with him, and they barely made it back to the cruiser before Fucking Bobby pulled away. Too bad. I might have shared a cab with them, maybe found out some about Bobby’s recent activities. But for now… I stood in the middle of Jenn’s house, wondering if this were actually a crime scene or not.

I decided to take another look for cameras, and hopefully find what I really needed…a computer that would have the IP address that I needed to access the playback software.

I found a desktop in her daughter’s bedroom, and spent a nervous half-hour trying commonly used passwords. Jenn12345 did the trick. I got the IP address, and called a cab. I locked the front door behind me, hoping that whoever came along next had a key. There had already been more people in and out of here today than Port Authority. I had found a total of six cameras, strategically placed so that most of the house traffic would be accounted for. I considered wiping some prints on the way out, but thought it would be better to have to explain why I was there rather than lose all the other prints that would be found along with mine.

And finally, back to the office, after paying for the cabbie’s kids’ first year of Brown University. We don’t need no stinking scholarships. Roland had apparently taken no messages, opting instead to sleep the morning away with his head stuck under his forepaw. I wished again that I could do that myself, but anatomy simply does not allow for it.

I had time in the cab to ponder some extremely odd phenomena, like why my client had bolted, where she may have gone, and why the local cop was acting so very strangely. And where the hell had he gone, leaving someone unattended in Jenn’s house?

He had really shown little interest in the missing sister, and I realized after the fact… he had not shown any interest in the physical setting whatsoever, as if he already knew the layout of the premises. Second nature. I had obviously wandered into the middle of some ugly, messy road- kill personal stuff… but I was invited. Actually, hired is the correct term. But again…who hires a PD and then takes off like that? I often quip that I’ve seen everything, but this was just weird. And she did have Jenn’s phone… I would really liked to have seen the call records. Why didn’t she show me that first?

Maybe I’ll ask her about that, once I ever find her again.

From my perspective, I suddenly realized that maybe I had two missing sisters on my hands?

The software loaded slowly, as it always does. Several error messages about bad addresses per usual, and then…voila. Not just six… ten cameras. Jenn had this place covered like it really was Port Authority.

Three weeks of back footage, and the only area that didn’t have any coverage was the bathroom. Thank God for small favors.

Time to put on the tea kettle and make a call to see if Caserta’s delivers. I hoped that this would turn out to be a very boring movie. For the most part.

Roland the Professional Lap Cat assumed the position, Caserta’s was twenty minutes out, and I pitched in to it.

 

 

Chapter 30…

I’m too old for this.

And getting older by the second. While the ranting continues from downstairs, I stand here desperately trying to determine how I can trace these cameras back to their source, and getting a little panicky about it. They have to be wondering what the hell I’m doing up here by now.

And then realize that I’m literally standing right in front of the damned answer. Hiding right in plain sight, as they say.

 There’s a 24- in. LED screen in the corner of the room, as a lot of bedrooms have, with a cable box on the shelf underneath it. And another cable box underneath that. Most people wouldn’t give this a second glance. It’s just another gizmo plugged into somebody’s TV.

Except this gizmo is an old GE Triplex DVR designed for security use. I’ve spent years wrestling with the damned thing, being widely used in general security applications. An operator’s manual obviously written by three blind, drunken Chinese engineers locked in a closet. I  can now clearly remember Jenn telling me years ago that she wanted to get one from her dad’s PI company to be able to track Aunt Mary’s nocturnal weirdness. She was  apparently busy hoarding canned goods, almost filling the garage with them. We joked at Aunt Mary’s expense, too, that she would be fully prepared for the Apocalypse. Because one needs to be able to offer the Four Horsemen a decent home-cooked meal, and Del Monte Creamed Corn is the perfect sidedish.

If only I could remember to follow the bread crumb trail. No, no…I stand here staring at a piece of equipment that I’m quite familiar with, wondering why it’s here at all. In the home of an ex- security account manager… who’s father ran a PI agency… that she got licensed through…

The bread crumbs are the size of golf balls nowadays. I am too damned old for this.

Next  row of crumbs… get the TV remote, get to the GE submenu, get the IP address to the DVR, and get the freak out of Dodge. Because I’ve still got the GE software suite on my laptop back at the office, from six years ago. Once a packrat…applies to software, too.

Thank you, Jesus. A breakthrough, finally. I just knew there would be one around here somewhere.

With a bit more luck, I’ll be able to watch this whole thing unfold in relative comfort back at the office. Just grab a six-pack of Guiness Blonde and some Orville Redenbacher on the way. This ‘ll be over in no time. And no, I will not share this information with the police presence downstairs. I have a strong hunch that ol’ Bobby is going to be all over this DVR.

And now to get back to Providence. Problematic, having ridden up here with someone who could still well prove to be up to her knees in this.

Way, way too old. Need rest. Need computer. Need faithful cat in attendance.

And, next time, try not to rely on possible suspects for transportation, dumbass.

 

Chapter 28…

“Gee, no I didn’t, Sherlock. I was just asking her why her bag was ringing when I called Jenn’s cell.’ Course, that could totally be a coincidence. Maybe you didn’t hear that while you were upstairs destroying the integrity of a potential crime scene. And you want to know what, now? About her love life? Really, Bob? There’s a direct threat to Jenn written on Jenn’s own bedroom wall, and you’re going to focus on what? How about this, Bob…you stay here and harass her little sister, and I’ll just go have a look upstairs. Maybe take a photo or two. Be back in a flash.”

The message had been scrawled in what looked like a sort of hurried fashion. Well, yeah…what did I expect? Calligraphy? In some sort of reddish lipstick…the letters all slanted upwards to the right, so almost certainly right- handed. So possibly there’s a tube-like container around, and it just might have a good fingerprint on it.

“Hey, guys, anyone spot something like a lipstick tube around the floor here, maybe? This doesn’t look like a marker or a Sharpie or anything.”

” Yeah, there was a tube of lipstick under the bed table. Bobby picked it up.”

Of course he did.

“Is it in evidence now?”

” No, we’ve just been poking around. Don’t really know what to call this yet.”

So someone scrawls the message, and drops the tube when they’re done? Maybe they were upset or agitated, and didn’t realize how dumb that was. Or maybe just the opposite. Or maybe just a big diversion. I would bet that the hoodie guy probably wrote this, which means he’s very directly involved…and if he had been interrupted when we pulled up, what the hell else had been going on?

” Has anyone checked the rest of the house? This may not be all there is.”

” Yeah, we’re just going to. Kind of a strange morning here.”

They went down the hallway toward the other upstairs rooms.

I stood looking at the message, and shot five or six photos on the phone. By stepping back, I realized that the guy who wrote this was probably about my height. There was a kind of evenness to the color of the lettering. He didn’t have to reach too far up or down to do it. A little frantic, but effortless.

I could hear voices coming up from the stairwell. Bobby was being aggressive again, and Janice’s voice seemed strained. Whatever was going on there…it sounded like it was completely between them. It didn’t have a tone that was about this missing sister thing at all. It was miles away from this…but could still be part of it. But the detective wasn’t acting much like one, and the concerned sister wasn’t acting all that concerned. Or, closer to the truth…very overly concerned…about something.

And Bobby probably grabbed the lipstick tube. Some kind of detective there.

I walked towards the top of the stairs, and the conversation changed from diffracted tonality to actual words.

And as I stood there deciding if I would give in to eavesdrop or not ( yes I would ), I  noticed something up in the corner of the living room.

Son of a bitch. A  tiny little security camera.

I had to smile. Even though I hadn’t talked to her in years, leopards don’t ever change their spots. Jenn was a tequila- drinking ninety- mile-an- hour rock and roll girl, but also a dedicated mom and absolute stone cold professional. And she might be in trouble right now, maybe in real danger, maybe even dead.

But she would leave a trail of bread crumbs. Hell, Jenn would leave a trail of club sandwich quarters by comparison. You just had to learn where to look. And if I had accidentally discovered one camera, there were almost certainly others.

I decided that I would certainly not mention this to Bobby. He showed every sign of being a terminal idiot, and did not deserve to know. I just couldn’t trust him. And he obviously didn’t know they were there, or he wouldn’t be downstairs right know trying to beat the stuffing out of Jenn’s sister. Figuratively, I hoped. Be she sounded like she was getting mad.

I found another camera discretely hidden behind two pair of sunglasses hanging on the corner of the dresser mirror. And I knew that I didn’t necessarily have to find all of them; I just had to trace one back to where they recorded to.

And yes, that was definitely an agitated and angry female voice wafting up the stairs.

 

 

 

Chapter 21…

In this kind of work, it sometimes becomes difficult to keep a professional perspective and a personal one at a proper distance. Because once they become entwined, you’ve lost your necessary control.

Terrific, Sherlock. Too late for that now. That’s what happens when a fool rushes in. Spenser and Hawk would have snagged that guy before he even cleared the bottom of the stairs, Jenn would have been home inside an hour. Susan would have met them for brunch on Boylston Street,  and they’d be walking the dog around the Clamshell.

But because I knew Jenn, I thought I could cut through some of those always- necessary qualifying steps. And because I was approached by her sister, I presumed that she was being straightforward.

And now, stood in a huge mess and could safely presume that I was being played by someone. But not sure by who, or why, where, what, when, or how.

Nice . Glad to be of help. I should have stayed in contract security, where I could be taking a nap in the corner of a public library somewhere.

Well, anyway… back to the problem at hand.

*****

Tuesday night, she said. So now we have a time-frame to work from- the ” when.”  And very shortly, all the others would fall into place. Because I’m sure that the plainclothes guy would get to all that rather quickly.

Like I should have.

We could have covered all this in my office over a nice cup of Eight O’Clock and a cruller. That’s why one has  an office to begin with…provided that one doesn’t rush ahead and lose all semblance of order.

She wanted me to trust her. She had that deer- in -the- headlights look about her that meant she really needed time. If I had set this up right, she would have had it.

I decided to go with it. If she was playing me, then I could fill in a few blanks just by watching how she responded to the plainclothes guy. But I would back her up if I could. After all, she hadn’t done anything wrong, and neither had I.

We were just trying to find Jenn.

The door opened…and I knew that I had seen this guy somewhere. And he looked like he was thinking the same.

He said hello to Janice, as if he knew her too. The uniforms went upstairs.

Such a small town, Rhode Island…

This guy had come to take Jenn out to lunch once, back in the day. Old friends, she had said.

And what the hell did that mean? Would that factor in to this, too?

When one has lost control, one needs to retrieve it. And the best thing to do right now would be to shut the hell up and let this thing unfold a little bit.

I nodded…and waited.

 

 

 

Chapter 19…

” Janice, there are a few things I have to  know before the cavalry arrives. We only have a few minutes. You said that you were here earlier, and that Jenn’s car was here…exactly what time was that? And, did you see or talk to anyone then? You really have to start giving me something to work with.”

From the look in her eyes, you could fairly watch the calculations running through her mind.

She had gone into the house by herself. I shouldn’t have let that happen. And before I had a chance to react, she moved towards the threat, not away from it.

” Did you know the guy who ran outside, Janice? Were you expecting someone to be here?”

No response. Still calculating.

But why?

I had come across something like this once before…people need  quick help, but don’t want to involve the police. So they try a private detective first. It’s a good cover, especially if there’s a deeper motive that they want to conceal.

Should have run to at least get a glance at that guy. Should have checked the upper floor, too. I don’t have any idea what might be going on there.

But then again…this girl is acting very… suspicious?

Police en route…girl not talking…suspect got clean away…stupid errors.

Should have waited to call them, give the girl time to gather herself. Now I need to know things, and there’s no time.

This adorable film-noir starlet was going to have to start filling in some gaps…right about now.

” Janice, they’re going to be here any minute. You can tell me, or tell them. You’ll have to anyway, so give me a clue here.”

The North Smithfield guys weren’t exactly the cast of Criminal Minds, but they’d put this together quick enough. Hell, the Boy Scouts could see this coming.

Nothing. Still calculating. Figuring, as an old friend would have said. Her actions right now seemed so similar, you’d think they were related. Figure that, Spenser.

“Janice, for Christ’s sake, give me something. You were here earlier, OK…did you go inside? Do you have keys? Was the house locked? Who else has access to Jenn’s car? Was the car even here? ”

Nothing.

What the hell was this? What had I walked myself into?

I initially had two suspects to ponder… the guy who took Jenn’s car ( providing that it was actually ever here) and the guy who just ran out. And now… I realized that I had better add one more. This girl wasn’t really acting overwhelmed…she was beginning to act involved.

So the list quickly flushes out to three…and was about to go to four, including me. Dammit.

The North Smithfield guys would have to put me in the mix too, if they were on their game. So they would be asking me a lot of the questions that I had already been asking her.

I wondered now what she would  actually tell those guys. And hoped that she didn’t necessarily expect me to cover for her. Not that that was out of the question, but I really couldn’t see any connection to that right now. She simply hadn’t told me anything yet. But regardless, I certainly wouldn’t throw her under the bus without good cause.

And…I knew that Jenn’s daughter Kendra lived here too. Where was she in all this?

School had gotten out a week ago, so we could be looking at a missing mother- and possibly a missing fifteen-year old to boot. And Janice hadn’t yet mentioned a word about any of that.

Of course, she was still calculating. Figuring.

Even as the two cruisers pulled up. One with two uniform guys, and a black Crown Victoria.

The first order of business would be to get them to check the rest of the house first. At least secure that perimeter… and try not to make any more rookie bonehead mistakes.

Like having a drawn weapon when they came in. I holstered it. Prudent. And thought again that I called them too soon. I wasn’t much better prepared for this than she was.

And Janice? Something huge going on in there. I wondered again who she might decide to share it with.

She was startled when they knocked loudly at the door.

So was I.

 

Chapter 16…

Geez. There goes another pair of 40- dollar JC Penney Jordans. I just can’t have anything nice, as my mom used to say. But I don’t recall anyone throwing up on her shoes. Probably me, I suppose. Oh, well.

” You know, I was totally buying the whole ‘ Lana Turner- film noir’ thing, but I think it’s safe to say you just shot that whole thing in the ass.  Given your delicate constitution, you probably keep  cleaning supplies and contractor bags in the trunk, so I’ll just grab one of those and cut some arm holes in it. Can I get you one too?”

” Sorry, I’m having a rough morning. You may very well have noticed. Many people might have, if they could only see past their donut obsession.”

Wryness…gone straight to unabashed sarcasm.

I have often had that effect on women. They just can’t help themselves, the poor things. Seething resentment was likely only a few minutes away.

” That is a perfectly healthy obsession, little miss. Not just donuts…Allie’s. Allie’s Donuts. Certainly, you’ ve had them. You weren’t raised in a cave, were you?”

” Please stop talking about food. Please.”

” Allie’s donuts are not food. Broccoli is food. Cauliflower is food. Cauliflower in the wrong hands could easily be a weapon. Allie’s donuts, by comparison, are the glue that holds Western society together. Chocolate crullers with a delicate whipped German chocolate filling…made by angelic creatures who only aspire to provide nutrients to mere mortals in a form they might recognize. And the icing is only to keep them from floating away altogether.”

” Well, you stay right here and use up all the oxygen you want, then. I’m going inside. I need to freshen up. And don’t you dare to come into Jenn’s house with those shoes on… sorry about that, by the way.”

” If there’s a garden hose around, I can make do with that.”

” Just around to the right there.”

I followed her in a few minutes later. She hadn’t seemed to react to my question about the car until I asked it…odd. Maybe she was lying about the car being there to begin with…or maybe had forgotten that she had said that it was there.

But if it had been here earlier…then someone had been here in the meantime.

Thinking that I shouldn’t have let her go in alone, I saw her standing in the middle of the living room. It had been completely trashed…shattered TV on the floor, framed photos broken, and sofa cushions that had been cut open.

She turned and started to speak, and I quickly motioned for her not to. Whoever did this might have taken the car if it was ever here, or might still be in the house. There may be more than one person involved in this, too.

I kept her attention while I slowly took my Springfield XDS .45 out of the shoulder holster- the only reason to wear a bulky jacket on a warm day. Released the safety and pointed it at the floor.

She didn’t even flinch.

Pretty damned ‘ film noir’, I thought to myself. Bogart would have liked this girl.

I was beginning to like her a little, too.

A phone rang, and she made a high- pitched panicky noise. My heart slammed into the top of my throat, finally dislodging that little bit of Allie’s cruller that had been stuck there for two hours now.

The phone call went to the cover message. It was the first time I had heard Jenn’s voice in over two years. And felt a touch of vertigo… it sounded so normal, so Jenn…

As I stood in her trashed house, with a drawn weapon, eyes locked on her panic- stricken sister.

Yes. She was definitely, absolutely having a rough morning.

 

 

Chapter 9…

Smug satisfaction, beamed straight from the office window.
Slyly, I reached up to adjust my seat belt, and brushed the sugar off with my sleeve. Smooth. It takes a few years on the planet to be able to effortlessly extract oneself from a potentially embarrassing spot, and we consultants are uncannily resourceful.
” Hey, there’s a box of Kleenex in the glove compartment if you want to get that off your jacket.”
A wry smile, and a not particularly small measure of smug satisfaction from the driver’s seat. Maybe Roland had more of a foothold here than I thought.
I considered possibly switching to plain crullers, but only for a moment. Besides, I thought the sugar might go nicely with the Thai hot sauce stain that was already there. I got a tissue and dabbed a little, not being sure which one she was referring to.
” Thanks…I wouldn’t want to get powdered sugar on the carpeting. Or hot sauce…or barbecue…or weiner sauce from Haven Brothers…and look, on this arm I’ve got marinara from Marchetti’s.”
I got what I wanted. The wry smile turned into a laugh. A deep, comfortable, confident laugh that surprised me by sounding so much like her sister’s.
” What, nothing from Outback?”
” Girl, please. That’s a franchise. We consultants hold to a higher calling. ”
Actually not true at all. Outback serves an excellent broiled T-Bone with bleu cheese that I was quite fond of. But one should never reveal all to a potential client.
Another of those intoxicating laughs, and I couldn’t help but joining in.
And then, uncomfortable silence.
” We shouldn’t be having this much fun, I suppose.”
” No, that’s OK. No harm done. Feels good to relax a little. But I’m getting scared now. I’ve got to find her.”
“We will. Can I ask you a few things while we drive?”
” Yes, of course. I just don’t know where to begin.”
It was time to start piecing this thing together.
We took a right onto Dorrance and headed for 95 North.