My Father is a Lesbian
The Second Coming of K'Miel
The Old Woman
Excerpt from Into the Yellow
My client had lost four windshields in as many weeks and she didn't want to lose a fifth. She worked days, couldn't afford to stay up all night with a flashlight waiting for the perpetrator to strike. Me, that's just one of the ways I made my living as the brain, brawn, and beauty of Fran Rivers Investigations.
Some people were meant to be cops but it turned out I wasn't one of them. I didn't like consenting to the constraints of scheduled shifts, working details directing cinema traffic to make ends meet, bowing to a political bureaucracy that favored the boys in blue. After five years on the job I went private and had been that way ever since, no regrets.
Even after three long, boring nights of this surveillance, sitting in my car watching my client's as if it might perform some trick, I loved working for myself.
Frankly, if someone else had assigned me this task, kept me sitting out here night after night while sleeping at home in a comfortable bed, I'd probably resent the duty. As it was, this was my choice, my case, and--eventually--my collar.
Then I sensed rather than saw movement across the street. A baseball bat glowed pale in the moonlight. Someone slight dressed in black approached Vanessa's car from the opposite direction, glanced back and forth between the car and her bedroom window.
I raised my flashlight as the perpetrator lifted the bat.
Then she screamed.
Some of my best friends were women. My life-partner was a woman. I was a woman myself. You'd think with all that experience that I would have somehow come to terms with the sound of a woman screaming but it still went right through me like a blast of raw electricity. Midwife material I was not.
By the time I picked the flashlight off the floor and peeled my feet off the ceiling, the perpetrator was long gone. I listened for an engine start but heard nothing.
I could see the bat glowing from a spot along the curb and jogged over to claim my prize. Even if the bat didn't prove to hold fingerprints, at least I'd saved the windshield and perhaps convinced the perpetrator to find another hobby.
I wasn't quite certain, come to think of it, whether I'd actually turned on the light before the perpetrator screamed. Maybe I had or maybe she saw me and thought I was aiming a gun at her or something.
Patting the windshield as I reached Vanessa's car, I stopped when I saw what made the perpetrator scream.
There was a dead man in the driver's seat.
At least I assumed he was dead. I wasn't usually quick to make medical judgements, especially by moonlight, but I could see that the right side of his head was missing. I didn't feel it necessary to check for a pulse.
Whoever he was, he was sitting in the front seat of my client's car which unfortunately made him my business. I carefully leaned through the window he probably broke to gain entrance and shined my flashlight around the interior looking for a gun. Broken glass sparkled back at me but there was no sign of a weapon which probably ruled out suicide.
I straightened and took a deep breath. Suicide was bad enough but murder meant the car would be impounded. That was even more inconvenient than needing a new windshield.
A slow scan of the neighborhood didn't turn up any faces pressed against windows. I didn't see lights popping on or hear sirens in the distance. Not even dogs barked. Could all living things have actually slept through the perpetrator's scream?
I glanced at my client's bedroom. Vanessa was expecting trouble and even she hadn't stirred.
Gambling that no one had called the police yet, I walked up to my client's door and rang the bell until my finger developed symptoms of carpel tunnel and Vanessa finally appeared.
My client was rubbing her eyes and wearing pajamas that were so nauseatingly cute that I could feel myself turning asexual as she squinted at me. "Fran. You woke me up. What?"
"Can I come in?"
"Sure." She backed away to let me enter, closed the door, and collapsed against it. "I was sleeping."
"Didn't you hear the scream?"
"What scream?" Vanessa blinked, slowly.
"Your friend with the baseball bat came back to see if your new windshield was any stronger than the previous ones."
"She didn't have a chance to find out."
"Good work." Vanessa used both hands to cover a yawn but failed to contain it. "So which of you screamed?"
"What happened? I thought you were just going to talk to my late-night visitor." She yawned again.
It was no wonder my client hired me to stay up all night for her. I had the sudden impression that she could have been sitting in her car while the perpetrator bashed the windshield and Vanessa might have slept through the whole thing. "I wasn't the reason she screamed. It was the man in your car who made her test her vocal cords."
Vanessa scrubbed her face with her fingertips. "What man?"
I stared at her. "For a client with something to explain, you ask a lot of questions."
"Do I?" Vanessa coughed, ran her tongue over her teeth. "You woke me up."
"That's the one thing you've told me."
"Well, it's true."
"No kidding." I turned and marched through her living room to the kitchen. After finding the switch and flipping on the lights, I began going through cupboards.
"Can I help you? What are you looking for?" Vanessa had joined me and was draping a hand towel over her head to shield her eyes.
"It's right there, next to the pot."
I sniffed. "That's right, you live alone."
"What do you mean?"
"Whenever two people live together, one usually develops an unexplainable aversion to leaving everyday items out in the open. It seems to be a law of human nature." I hefted the can. "If you had a partner this would be behind closed doors. Maybe even the coffee pot."
"I don't understand." Vanessa staggered across the kitchen and dropped into a chair.
"Frankly, neither do I." I scooped coffee into the filter and added water before joining Vanessa at the table. "When did you last use your car?"
"That's a start." I peeked under the towel. "Could you be a little more specific?"
She shrugged. "I probably got home at five thirty or so and I've been in ever since. I worked on the computer some, read, watched a little television."
I'd arrived at ten to begin the windshield watch and apparently I should have taken the time to check Vanessa's car before beginning my surveillance. "Do you have any idea why a man would be sitting in the front seat of your car?"
Vanessa shook her head. "Who's this man you keep talking about?"
"There's a man in your front seat. He's dead." I gave her a thumbnail sketch, guessing height and weight, extrapolating the right side of his head.
"He doesn't sound familiar." Vanessa closed her eyes. "I must still be dreaming although I've never been this tired in a dream before. Can you sleep in a dream? Would it be twice as refreshing? Do you think you could dream while dreaming you were asleep?"
"Vanessa. Listen to me. There's a dead man in your car. I have to call the police. If there's anything I should know, you should tell me now."
"Did I mention you woke me up?"
I poured us both a cup of coffee before calling it in.
Some six hours later, I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed, a glass of white wine in my hand, Cindy kneeling behind me so she could massage my shoulders.
"So then what happened?"
I waved the glass through the air, watching the wine roll up and down the sides. "Then the police arrived."
"Anybody you knew?"
Cindy smacked the top of my head. "That's for being fresh."
"I knew both detectives, about half of the uniforms." I felt safe smiling since Cindy couldn't see my face.
"Did Vanessa recognize the dead man?"
"Not so she said." I took a sip of the chablis, closed my eyes, tried to relax and let Cindy's fingers do their magic.
"Do you believe her?"
"She's my client."
Cindy harrumphed. "Any ID on the stiff?"
"Thomas Terrence. He was a small time hood with a dozen priors, mostly drug-related. Vanessa doesn't take drugs, doesn't have any close friends who do. I couldn't find a connection between the two of them."
My lover sighed. "I hate alliterative names. I bet his hood- friends called him TT. So what do you think happened, that TT tried to steal Vanessa's car before you showed up?"
I nodded. "That's the only scenario that explains everything. TT tried to steal the car and the steering wheel shot him. I'm told the brake pedal has cut a deal and is willing to testify."
Cindy cuffed me again. "I don't know why I bother helping you solve your cases."
"Yes, help. I'm sure Watson never had to listen to such lip as I get from you."
I rubbed my head with my free hand. "And the odds are long that Sherlock Holmes wasn't smacked around by the good Dr. Watson either. Perhaps that's one of the benefits of being a fictional character."
"Do you think they were lovers?"
"Vanessa swore she never saw him before."
"I meant Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson."
"Watson was married if I remember correctly."
"Oh, I guess that settles it then. It's not like he could be gay if he was married. Silly me."
I laughed. "You just keep working those shoulders and leave the literary analysis to students desperate for a thesis." I sipped my wine.
Cindy shifted. "Speaking of work, I have to leave in forty minutes and I haven't even showered yet."
"You've got plenty of time."
Cindy must have agreed since she continued to rub my shoulders. "So, what do the cops think about TT trying to steal Vanessa's car while you were waiting for a different crime to occur?"
"I don't know. I'm not a mind reader."
"What do you think?"
"I think I love you."
Frankly, I didn't want to finish the story because I knew it would mean the end of my massage.
On the other hand, Cindy's fingers were inches from my neck and she wouldn't hesitate to use them if she felt I was stalling. "In his left coat pocket, Thomas Terrence had a wad of cash. In his right, he had a bag of cocaine."
"Meaning what, oh great detective?"
I finished my wine. "Meaning he just might have skipped out halfway through a drug deal with both the product and the dough. That's no way to make friends."
"How do you know that the money and cocaine weren't his?"
"They could be. But then why would someone have killed him? What was he doing in Vanessa's car?"
"And how else would we explain the smudge of coal dust in the seams behind his left knee and the spot of blue paint on his shoe?"
"Are you making fun of me?"
"Yes." Cindy laughed. "And you figured that one out all by yourself. If you weren't already settled on being a private investigator, I'd suggest a career in psychic forecasting."
"I'll keep it in mind."
"So you think TT double-crossed a baddie, ran, and randomly decided to hide in Vanessa's car?"
I nodded. "He punched out the driver's window. There was glass all over the seat and floor."
"And then the guy TT tried to rip off caught up with him before he could get her car started, however it is that they do that. It always looks so easy in the movies."
"Bang. Blood and brains splattered all over the interior, bullet lodged in the passenger door."
"You have to admit, it's kind of ironic. Vanessa hired you to protect her windshield and look what happened. Her car was just about wrecked. Who would want to drive a vehicle with somebody else's brains all over it?"
"I don't imagine it would be pleasant."
"Who cleans that up? I'm sure the police don't."
"A cleaning service I suppose."
"So what did Vanessa say about all this? A drug dealer was killed in her car."
"She said she was too tired to process everything. She just wanted to go back to bed."
"And what did you say?"
"I suggested she move to a better neighborhood. In the space of one evening, nobody responded to either a gunshot or the sound of a woman screaming. Even the shooter didn't expect such indifference or he would have taken the time to empty the dead man's pockets."
"So what does this do to your case?"
"What do you mean?"
"You're being paid to watch Vanessa's car. Is it even going to be parked there tonight?"
"Oh that. It's solved."
"What? You're kidding. You said the perpetrator was long gone by the time you got out of your car."
I reached up and patted Cindy's hand. "After the police were done with us, I took Vanessa's address book and called each person listed, opening the conversation with the statement that I had her baseball bat."
"Thank you." I placed the empty wine glass on the floor. "Took me all the way into the G's. Paula Grant was a three-night stand two months ago. When Vanessa broke if off, Paula went from carrying a torch to carrying a bat. The woman simply did not take rejection well."
"So you're going to be home tonight then."
"I'm going to be home."
"Well that's a relief." Cindy hugged me from behind. "You know how much I miss you sometimes."
She kissed the top of my head and then climbed down from the bed. "I need to get ready. Congratulations on solving your case."
"Thanks. And thanks for the great massage." I watched Cindy cross into the bathroom to start the water running.
She called back over her shoulder, "What about the guy who shot TT?"
"What about him?"
"Do the cops have any leads?"
I shrugged. "Someone will talk or the killer will be killed himself during a future deal gone bad. The cops will keep the file open but they aren't holding their breath."
Cindy turned to face me. "So broken-heart pays her debt to society and the cold-blooded killer goes scot free."
"Justice can be that way sometimes, intermittent."
Cindy slipped out of her clothes and through the shower curtains. "Hey, what did you do with the shampoo?"
"I put it away."
Deciding I felt a little grubby myself, I stood. "Don't worry, I'll bring it in to you."
(c) 2007 Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company