Chapter 38

Traffic on 95 North was not in my favor, but with a little luck and healthy disregard for the rules of the road, I figure I can just make roll call. Normally I kinda hate being late, especially to a meeting where I can’t get in un-noticed.  Even though Lt Giancarlo’s text said to report directly to him, (…at least I think that’s what it meant!),  I’m still an everyday patrol cop and that means be in the Squad Room  7:00 am sharp and listen to Sgt Flerherty tell all of us how to do our jobs safely and how it’s our duty to the citizens of the city of Providence and blah, blah.

I glanced at my phone and the text still showed: ‘Come in… G’    I started to grin,  goddamn! this just might be my shot at trading in my same olds for some real police work! Just gots to get to the station, and make that transition.

The Providence Police Department is located directly over the Providence Fire Station. Combining essential city services into one location seemed like a great idea in the late 1950s, when the biggest public safety issues were:  a) the next hurricane and b) keeping up with the dead gangster calls from Federal Hill. Square grey granite, the front of the building had an unlikely  splash of red  from the four overhead doors for the various  trucks and fire engines.  The police department was on the 2nd and 3rd floors. The Squad Room was on the 2nd floor, a 12 x 14 (probably big enough for the entire Department when the place was built) room furnished in ‘Elementary Modern’ school desks, (the kind with the solid plastic desk top that looked kinda like an apostrophe? )… now that I think about it, the room looks like most 1950s classrooms, right down to the greenish floor tile. Every day, before each shift, special assignments, notes, new APBs and general schedule bullshit was announced, gripes were solicited and we were all sent out on the street.  I’ve only been on the force 3 years, but my least favorite part of the job was these daily meetings, mostly because the old veteran cops, who for the most part thrived on the shift meeting, it gave ’em a chance to be ‘wise old timers’…  always plenty of advice for rookies, which to them was anyone who joined the force after Carter was President. Sgt Flerherty seemed to encourage this, sort of a ‘bad cop, worse cop‘ approach to management. He’d stand at the front of the room and listen to some of the most arrant nonsense come from these guys and would only interrupt if it looked like someone was getting pissed off enough to start something, then he’d say, ‘gentlemen!! save that shit for the street!’  At least until the ladies started to show up in uniform. Then even he had to change. And, while most cops hate change, a career Shift Supervisor like Flerherty abhorred change. He knew that women are totally suited to police work… in administration or, if especially gifted, maybe back-up Dispatcher. Beat cop? With a gun? On patrol? no, no and ‘faith ‘n begorra’ no!!  Story has it that it was a young cop on the rise back in the late 80s who managed to help Flerherty to accept modern police work.  That kind of help is as likely to breed resentment as it is gratitude.

“Campbell! it says here that  you’re off today’s roster, you’ve been re-assigned to Lt Giancarlo up in the Detective Division.” Sgt. Flerherty seemed more put out by the change to his patrol  schedule than anything else.  He ran the pre-shift meetings like a male nun, eyes glinting behind wire-rimmed glasses, looking for any deviation from ‘the right way to start a shift’.

Your uniform looks like you slept in it!  I’ll not be having any of my men disgracing the uniform, so get yourself a little more presentable before you go up to see them plainclothes,” the scorn in his voice when saying ‘plainclothes‘, spoke volumes about the career that Flerherty had worked to achieve. ‘The real cops,‘ as he always concluded the pre-shift meetings, ‘…are them out there not hiding behind fancy clothes and un-marked cars. Get out there and do your duty.

Flerherty made a check mark on his clipboard and without another word, started passing out the day’s shift assignments. The laughing started at the back of the squad room, where the old timers always sat.  I figured I had just enough time to change back to my civies and be only moderately late, so I ignored them.  As I walked up to the front of the room, Henries leaned over and whispered to his partner, Jacobson, “What do they call a 3 year patrol cop in plainclothes?” I stopped, the muscles tightening in my shoulders, which for me is never a good sign unless I’m about to subdue a prisoner or bust up a bar fight. As I started to turn, I felt a hand grab my right wrist.  Jackie Carleone, a 7 year veteran, and my training supervisor when I started,  looked up and shook her head. I smiled at her and continued up to the front of the room, past Flerherty, who was so engrossed in something on his podium that he didn’t look up.  As I got to the door, I  looked back, flipped off the back of the room, in the general direction of Henries and Jacobson.  Jackie was studying something on the desk in front of her, the movement of her shoulders the only give-away to her laughter.

A quick change into my comfortable dress clothes and I was heading up the staircase to the 3rd floor.

 

Where the fuck have you been?!” the voice came out of an open office door at the far end of the room. From where I stood, I could see the open work space with the standard green metal desks, made even older looking by the computer monitors on each of the six desks, four of which were occupied. The Chief of Detective’s office was clearly marked by the wall of frosted glass windows that divided his office from the rest of the room. It’s occupant, Lt Robert Giancarlo didn’t bother getting up from his desk, “My note to your Sargent said to send you up here as soon as you got in!

Sorry, I stopped to change out of my uniform” I projected my voice so he’d hear me in the his office,  but was more interested in the 4 Detectives at their desks in the main office area. Not sleeping for 24 hours tended to simulate my throw-shit-at-people reflex and so, I figured a little of the humble-new-guy apology might not be such a bad thing.  But no one seemed interested and so I kept walking past them and into the private office of Lt Robert Giancarlo, Head of the Providence Police Department Detective Division.

 

 

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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 31

It felt like someone was holding me under water. My lungs screamed wildly for air, my last breath washed away under a wave of emotional turbulance. I felt the panic rising. Reaching desperately for the front door, I grabbed the handle. One turn, one push… returned to the banks of of the sane. Or so I hoped.

It felt good to get out of the house. Away from a crime scene, the crime scene. Did I really just say that? Life sure can get fucked up fast. Bobby… arrogant, secretive and at times, God help me, scary. How could I forget so quickly?

Half running, half walking, I got into the car just as Bobby swung open the front door. Please don’t let him follow me! Fumbling in my purse, I pulled the keys out and had the engine running just as he came sprinting down the driveway. I gave him the finger, as a visual to go with the sound of screeching tires.

Shifting gears, my brain fixated on the odds, that of all the cops on the N. Smithfield police force, Bobby would answer Roger’s 911 call. Did one of his cop buddies at the station recognize the address and call him?

They say good habits die hard. I feel bad I left Roger stranded, but it’s better to be the driver than the driven. Delia, tells me I’m a control freak. Maybe she’s right, but there’s nothing wrong with being able to leave a place when you want to leave. And right now, I was in a hurry to hit the highway.

The sky was quickly turning a toasty, burnt orange. If traffic’s not too heavy, I can make it to Narragansett in an hour. All I want right now is to… oh man, haven’t heard this song in forever… “gonna take a freight train down to the station, don’t care where it goes… gonna climb a mountain, jump off nobody gonna know, … can’t you see”…  I reached over, turned it up.

295 South stretched out before me. The right music, open road – better than all the hooch in the world. I’m always grateful when I get the opportunity to drive to business meetings. It doesn’t happen often. Record labels, their attorneys, their clients, not the most patient people when it comes to negotiating and signing contracts.

Feeling the home stretch. Just a few more miles. Instead of taking the highway, I decided to take the scenic, coastal route. Hanging a left at the Tower, the Hannah Robinson Tower, I shifted the car into neutral and let gravity wind me down Bridgetown Road.

Less than five minutes later I was on Rt. 1A. Driving parallel to the coast, it was now a straight shot to Narragansett and Ocean Road. The sun had long since set when I pulled in to the crushed shell driveway. I parked around back. In this neighborhood, appearances are everything. Opening the car door, the smell of ocean and salt and seaweed filled my nostrils. I breathed in deeply. The tide was going out.

 

Chapter 29

Really, Bobby? What is wrong with you?”

“I need to know. Who was she seeing? I know she was seeing someone.”

“And how do you know that? And why do you want to know? Tell me Bobby”

“Uh, gee, Miss “my shit don’t stink”, I happen to be conducting an investigation. As part of that investigation, I ask questions. Just trying to put a picture together. It wouldn’t be the first time an ex-lover went over the edge.”

“Then you’d better not take yourself out of the running”.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what it means Bobby. It means you never got over Jenn. You couldn’t stand that she shot you down. Not once but twice! Then, to put a little icing on the cake, her little sister turned around one day and did the same thing.”

“Don’t flatter yourself Jan. I got over you faster than a one night stand.”

“Classy, Bobby. Real classy. Should we take it outside? Huh? Away from curious co-workers, my private detective? Who, by the way, is upstairs no doubt doing all the things you should be doing.”

“I get it. Now I’m the total loser, bad guy. Watch many romance movies Janice? What’s next? You fall in love with the private dick, go off into the sunset and live happily ever after?”

“Get over yourself Bobby. I just want to find out what happened to my sister. I want to find Jenn. I want everything back to the way it was. You and me….we can do this some other time. How “bout you man up and we figure this shit out?”

“God, you could always piss me off Jan!”

“And stop calling me “Jan”. You know I never liked you calling me “Jan”.”

“Fine. Let’s call it a truce. I just want to go over it one more time. Give me the timeline from when you last saw Jenn to when you discovered her missing, her car in the driveway, the guy in the grey hoodie…the whole kittenkaboodle. Tell me when and how you contacted Roger and what the two of you have come up with so far. Anything and everything. I have to know it all.”

“You always were a tenacious son of a bitch Bobby. Got to give you that.”

Chapter 25

Like the sound of a fog horn in the distance, I could hear Bobby barking orders to his men – “dammit O’Malley! don’t be movin’ the furniture until DiMartini’s taken all his pictures!” And just like the swell of sea fog spreading over deserted beach, his voice receded as I realized I was being gently led downstairs.

“If memory serves me correctly young lady, your sister has a fairly decent stash of hooch somewhere in…bingo!”

Still lingering and lost in a haze of shock and disbelief at the scene upstairs, I watched PI Guy reach into a cabinet in the corner of Jenn’s dining room and pull out a silver bottle. I found my way to the couch in the living room, sat down. Feeling the oversized cushions reaching for my back, I suddenly felt really tired. The kind of tired you feel after driving an 800 mile marathon road trip with only one stop. No. No resistance. I gave in to the comfort of those cushions and let my body ease back into their soft embrace, eyes closing.

“This will do quite nicely.” Reluctantly, I opened my eyes. Roger was standing over me, silver bottle in one hand, shot glass in the other. “Nothing like a good shot of tequila to clear the cobwebs, right? Am I right?”

Was he doing his best to lighten the mood? Distract me? Prisoner to the moment, I semi-smiled and said “Sure”.

Noticing the bottle he was holding and watching him expertly fill the glass, my smile grew a little bigger. Jenn’s parties were legendary. Everything top shelf, liquor not withstanding. It was all or nothing with my sister. “Live for today!” she’d say. “It’s all that matters!”

This day was getting way too surreal. I hadn’t even noticed Roger was still talking. “…and did you know Patrón has nine different lines of tequila? They’ve even got a tequila-chocolate-coffee blend, Patrón XO Cafe Dark Cocoa. Wild, isn’t it?” I shook my head slowly, side to side, up and down, as if I’d already had a few shots under my belt.

“Hm….think I’ve heard something about it….”

The first one went down without protest. A little surprising considering it was early afternoon and the “any time is a good time” days are long time residents in the “memory motel” of my youth. Who in God’s name invited Mr. Dali to this party….

Roger’s voice was a buzzing in the background. What was really keeping my attention was the rumble and commotion upstairs. Of policmen looking for clues and tagging evidence. As much as I tried, I couldn’t pretend it was the sound of pre-teen girls practicing the latest dance moves. In spite of impending and certain inebriation, hell, maybe because of it, my brain went to my niece Kendra’s 13th birthday party.

My niece had begged her mom to let her do something big.  “You only turn 13 once Mom!”, she’d say. Jenn had feigned serious contemplation over her daughter’s request for weeks. In the end? Kendra invited 20 of her “closest friends” to a weekend long slumber/dance party. Damn. I never had a party even come close to that. Hell, never even had a 13th birthday party.

(this is some kinda smooth tequila) My private revery continued…I’d been working in London the 3 months prior to Kendra’s birthday. Business being business, it became pretty clear it wouldn’t be concluded before the big day. Contracts and negotiations don’t recognize milestone life events. Publicity appearances don’t wait for a more convenient time. But I didn’t want to, nor would I, miss my niece celebrate her official first day as a teenager. I took the red eye out of London, surprised the crap out of everyone and had the best time I can remember with Jenn, Kendra and 20 of Kendra’s “closest friends”.

“Hey, History Man. I love that you’re so knowledgable about what we’re drinking and all, but can you give me a minute? You know. To chill?”

I extended my arm. “Hit me again big man. Hit me again”.

 

 

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 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 20

Shit! He called the North Smithfield cops already? What private eye goes and calls the cops that fast?! I’m not prepared for that. I’m not prepared for anything right now. I need time. To think. I just need a little more time to put some things together. Sort…things out.

A half turn, I looked up. “Roger?” His eyes were fixed on mine with a look that was…new. A look that said “Honey, I want to believe you but – I’m having second thoughts”. I knew at that moment, could tell just by looking at him, that I was now standing in the shadow of doubt. Doubt cast by a man who, only a few short hours ago, was making me laugh extolling the virtues and raison d’etre of Allie’s donuts.

“Have you seen The Maltese Falcon?”, I asked suddenly.

Without the blink of an eye, he answered, “What decent private eye hasn’t? It’s a classic. I know all the classics”. Strangely, I believed him. Believed he did. Know the classics. It’s not often I quote lines from movies but at that exact moment I was feeling every bit an anguished Brigid O’Shaughnessy. It’s not as if I set out to memorize lines from movies but sometimes words just stick. Stick to your brain like fuzz on velcro. Like a songbite you can’t stop humming.

As his gaze became more intent, I heard my own voice, Brigid’s voice say, “The lie was in the way I said it, not at all in what I said.”

Wtf! I don’t know why I said that. It’s not as if we were on the set of The Maltese Falcon Redux. For sure, the man looking at me now like suspect numero uno, is no Sam Spade. In spite of that? I half expected him to reply“There’s not time for that school girl act…both of us sitting under the gallows…why did you…if you get a good break you’ll be out of the Tehachapi in 20 years and you can come back to me then”. This tall, private detective, looking all Colombo, acting Spenser for Hire, was waiting for me to cough up some answers.

Through a thickening fog of puzzlement, I heard him say “You’ll have to face the cops alone Janice. Tell them your story. Unless you talk to me. Give me something.”

I needed to make a decision. And quickly. I looked into brown eyes. I knew, from the moment I walked through the door of Spade, Spenser and Coyne, I could trust this guy. The question is, can I make him feel the same way about me?

“There are things I haven’t told you. Will you trust me Roger? Will you cover for me when the police get here?” The moment of truth. Will the PI “send me over” or will he trust his gut?

“Well?”, he asked.

“I talked to Jenn on Tuesday night.”

 

     

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.