Chapter 33

What the…I wriggled out from under the New England Patriots blanket I kept on the back of the couch. Hmm…soft, warm. I could lay here for…oh shit! What time is it? What day is it? I’m asking like there’s someone here to answer me. G zus.

Ow! How many times do I have to stub my toe on that damned coffee table! Coffee. Need it. There’d better be some in the cupboard. Bingo! Laughing, I couldn’t help myself. I started singing the old commercial – “Maxwell House, Good to the last…” oh shit! Roger! I forgot about him completely!

Where’d I put my phone? I hate when I leave stuff in strange places…where?…found it. Under the couch pillow. Exactly where I intentionally put it. Yeah, right. I really need to spend more time here. Then, I’d have some routines and I’d automatically know where I might have put stuff.

I stared at the phone. Thought for sure there would be at least one message from Roger. I gave him my number before we left his office. I’m certain of it….

And why do I think he should be calling me? Who hires a PD, takes him to her sister’s house, the scene of an apparent kidnapping, has a knock down, drag out with the cop dispatched to the scene and then runs out of the house, effectively stranding the guy without warning?! Wow. Saying it out loud, it does sound bad. Rude. And…odd. Better call him.

How am I going to explain why Bobby showing up yesterday was kind of weird? How do I tell him what I didn’t tell him but should have? How do I tell him I found Jenn’s journal. By accident. I found it, read it and…well, there’s stuff in there I’m still digesting. Stuff about Bobby. Her Bobby. My Bobby. Nope, he’s not going to like this one bit. Withholding evidence. Brilliant. What was I thinking?

Come on Roger. Pick up. ring, ring, ring… I know this guy didn’t have a hot date last night. Come on, pick up the damn phone! Do not make me leave a voice mail.

“Hello?”

“Roger. It’s Janice. We need to talk. Now. Take down this address.”

“Uh, Janice? You know what time it is? Wait! Not really asking you. It’s freaking 6:00 am!”

“Duh, Rog. I know. I told you. We need to talk. Stop off on your way, pick up some eggs, milk and bread and I’ll tell you over breakfast. And butter. I need some butter.”

“You’re kidding, right? Tell me I’m dreaming. Tell me my latest client didn’t just order me to do her grocery shopping and make a home delivery all before 7:00 am the morning after she ditched me at her missing sister’s house.”

“See you in an hour big guy.”

Just as I looked at the clock, I heard the sound of a car pulling into the driveway around back. Not 5 minutes later, a knock on the door.

“A little after 7:00 am. Pretty good PI Guy. You made it in just over an hour. And you got real butter! Wait…what are these?”

“Like we say in the biz, it’s your dime payin’ for the time. These, my dear, are scones. Surprised you don’t know that. You being a fancy, jet setting attorney and all.”

“Hmph. They look different from the ones I’ve had. In England.” I grinned widely.

Roger looked up, smiled. He can take it like he can dish it. Good. He’s going to get an earful as soon as breakfast gets underway. Hell, why wait…”Listen, Roger. I mentioned there was something I needed to tell you.”

“And you will, but not before you tell me where you keep your cooking utensils – saute pans and…plates. Plates would be good.”

“You’re cooking breakfast?” I asked incredulously.

“I didn’t buy this fancy spread hoping you knew how to cook Ms. DiFranco. I know I can cook. So yeah, in answer to your question, I’m cooking breakfast. Now step aside before I put you aside.”

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The Winter People…

Apologies for being so late on the next chapter, but I have a viable excuse.

I’ve been reading. A lot.

I’ve been reading for the enjoyment, of course. Just for that sense of immersion into someone else’s universe.

But nowadays, I read so as to observe the way other writers seem to assemble stuff. If I can see into their process with a little more depth, I’m thinking it would help me with mine.

It could happen…

And just finished reading ” The Winter People” by Jennifer McMahon. It’s a classic- flavored ghost story, intertwined with a murder mystery. If I had it in mind, I would probably try writing the one, and then the other… never considering that the two could be done at once. But there you have it. A two-dimensional guy sees in two dimensions. He’s heard about a possible third dimension, but it’s seems very remote to him. He struggles with the concept continually, and may yet achieve a breakthrough. But we must be patient.

Another analogy… as a kid, I remember learning to write in school. Everything was done with yellow lined paper to keep the lines and size of the letters in general order, all written with impossibly oversized pencils. But somewhere in the 5th- 6th grade, you graduated to an ink pen. They were black with a silver band in the center and wrote in blue ink. Kids were charged with not losing/ breaking/ eating them, or using them as weapons. Although we could just as well  have used the pencils as weapons, but that never occurred to us…because the idea was never presented as such. But apparently the pens were considered lethal.

Of course, most kids in the class were stained with blue ink most of the time.

That’s seems like where I am as a writer. Blue ink is everywhere, and I don’t yet know how it happens, or what can ever be done about it.

So reading stuff like” The Winter People” illuminates the blue ink, but doesn’t help much overall. A ghost story, and a murder mystery, told from three different character perspectives at once. By the time you figure that much out, you’re so far in that you can’t read fast enough. And the ending takes a completely unexpected turn. Masterful. Superb.

There’s no blue ink on Jennifer McMahon. At all.

Next chapter will be along shortly, as soon as I can get the taste of blue ink out of my mouth.

Thanks…

Good morning.

Finally…a September morning that genuinely feels like a September morning. The heat and humidity have left the premises, the sky is a perfect blue, and we can shut off the AC unit(s) that consume (s) most of my meager income. At least for now.

August here in New England was actually quite mild. No one’s complaining, but the Big Global Weather Pattern did circle back around for a last- minute reminder. I’m a Fall guy, not a Summer guy. The leaves are showing the first signs of turning.

I think I might acknowledge this weather shift  today with a drive out to River Bend Farm in Uxbridge, Mass. Miles and miles of hiking trails in and around the beautifully repurposed Blackstone River canal. A site once extensively used by the local re-enactment community, I’ve spent many a fall morning playing an elaborate military chess game in these woods. A great many fond memories.

I’d also like to take a moment to offer a few words of appreciation to the ( to date ) 41 subscribers to the Rag. I have never purposefully done anything to increase or garner additional readership, which means that all of you are here of your own accord. I tremendously honor and appeciate that, and would not have it any other way. Thank you for taking the time, especially in a world that offers so very many distractions.

The detective novel is going a bit slowly at the moment. I hope to have it revived and proceeding forward again shortly. At last look, a third active character had been introduced,  a police detective with possibly ulterior motives. If any of you 41 readers feel so inclined, you are invited to offer something of your own to the project. Just post your entry as a comment to the current chapter. If it works in the context, I’ll post it as is. If not, I’ll explain why it didn’t quite get there. It’s fun, in a uniquely terrifying way.

And special thanks also to Girlieontheedge for her excellent development of Janice. Hope there’s more to follow.

And once again, thanks for checking in.

I’m off to the hiking trails, hopefully.

 

 

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 15

It was a good question. When last I’d been there, when I realized Jenn was missing, her red BMW Z4, her “baby”, had been sitting in the driveway. Like normal. Only I knew for a fact my sister would never have left the keys to “baby” dangling from the ignition.

“Maybe someone stole it?…wait! maybe she’s back and she ran an errand!” I turned to the man who was a cross between Columbo and Spenser for Hire, saw the look of “yeah, sure, that’s it” on his face, and quickly came back to reality. To the sick dread that had been steadily creeping and crawling all over my body since this mess began. Roger was staring at me, with that “oh you poor girl” look on his face.

When I’d gotten up this morning and looked out the window, I confirmed Bob Mitchum’s (no, really, that’s his name) weather forecast for most of the state. Sunny today with unseasonably warm temps and higher than normal humidity levels for this time of year. Damn if Bob hadn’t hit the bull’s eye.

Fall in New England usually appears gradually, slowly. It lessons it’s grip on the heat of summer little by little right up until the first week of October or so. That’s when you can sense the seasonal shift. Each day reluctantly relinquishing it’s hold until you find yourself switching out of shorts for long pants and the camisole for a sweater.

Glancing over to where Jenn’s car had been parked less than 24 hrs ago, I felt sweat forming tiny little beads at my hairline. I had that clammy feeling. The hot/cold sweat feeling that washes over you when you realize you have food poisoning. God, don’t let me throw up.

Why the hell did I put on stockings this morning. Really? Fool. Not so steady in the heels today huh sister? I walked over to the spot where Jenn’s car had been parked, did a slow 360 and said “how the fuck do I know?”

“Whoah, little lady! Calm down. Time out. You asked me for help, remember? Retainer or not, if you don’t want to go through with this tell me now. It won’t be the first time someone’s turned tail ‘cuz they didn’t have the stomach for it.”

That did it. No sooner had Roger finished his little speech and I was hurling. My new shoe god Guiseppe Zanotti would be happy to know I didn’t puke all over his glorious creation. Columbo for Hire wasn’t so lucky. At least replacing his shoes won’t cost a week’s salary.

 

Chapter 13

Man, my head was starting to pound that slow, dull, throbbing pound. The one that comes from having had one too many expressos (as if anyone needs more than one). Extreme caffeine jolt. Like the man at the carnival barks: “Belted in? The ride down is gonna get bumpy!”

I know it’s his job, but Roger’s questions were starting to bug me. They shouldn’t. I mean, I was the one who went to him. It’s his job. And he knows Jenn. Well, a little anyway. Enough to know that me waiting a couple of days to check up on her shouldn’t appear “suspicious”. Whatever. I was prepared to be put on the suspect list before I walked into his office. Right. Like “sister” sounds better than “butler”.

Damn! Almost missed the exit. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to get to Aunt Mary’s/Jenn’s house. The car was now getting claustrophobic. Two people in a small metal box on wheels, looming questions and absolutely no answers. Thankfully, Aunt Mary didn’t live too far off Rt. 44. She was big on having access to the main arteries. “In case of emergencies” she’d say. Couldn’t argue with that. Here, one more turn…

I pulled into the driveway at 735 Leona Drive half expecting to see Jenn walk out the front door on her way somewhere. I smiled wryly to myself. She was always going somewhere. But not ever getting anywhere. I turned to Roger, looked him straight in the eye and said: “You. It’s your job. Tell me what’s happened to my sister. I’ve put down a healthy deposit. Give me my money’s worth”.

Chapter 12…

” So when did you see Jenn last?”

I felt a hesitancy, as if she had to take a deep breath to begin.

” Saw her on Tuesday afternoon. She asked if I could run Kendra over to her dad’s early because the chef guy was coming over to make her dinner.”

” Chef guy?”

” Vinnacio, Vincento, Vinnie-something. One of the guys she’s seen a lot of lately.”

” And now it’s Thursday. Why the wait?”

‘Tuesday’s a normal night out for her, then home with Kendra on Wednesdays. You don’t want to intrude, you know? But Kendra called me when she didn’t pick her up on time last night.”

That made sense. Jenn and Kendra’s dad still doing the every-other night thing with custody.

” So that’s three, then. People who know something’s not right. And no one’s called the cavalry in yet…have they?”

” Not yet, as far as I know. Still kind of hoping she just shows up. Maybe she’s already back.”

” Her phone?”

Not on, and that’s the weirdest thing right there. That’s how I know something’s wrong. Her phone is never off.”

” Have you spoken to anyone else at all about this? ”

” Just Kendra, and her dad. I just expect Jenn to be in control of it, whatever it is. I asked them to wait through the morning to see if she’d show up, and we’d go from there.”

” Do you think she might have gone straight to work?”

” No. She would check in with Kendra, at the least. And me. And I stopped there just before I found your office this morning. She works just a few blocks away, on Kennedy Plaza.”

” They must have found that odd. That you’d be there, looking for her.”

” The two owners weren’t even there, just the receptionist.”

” You must have found that odd.”

‘”Very. Jenn always said that those guys practically live there. ”

I found that to be somewhat odd.

Home health care. Jenn did payroll and scheduling for them, and left the security field thinking that managing nutjob visiting nurses would be an improvement over nutjob security guys. I had always hoped so, for her sake. But I doubted it.

We consultants tend to lean towards the cynical view. And are sometimes known to drown our disappointments in crullers, even the coconut-covered ones if need be.

Dark days indeed.

The Rt.44 exit off 295 was coming up fast. Next stop, North Smithfield.

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.