Friday, October 31, 2014

CHAPTER EIGHT Did I Say That Out Loud? Full length rom suspense



I finished my breakfast with no further interruptions, hurrying so I could get a call in to Purdy’s secretary before touching bases with Casey. Would she talk with me? I’d hoped Theresa Hatch might indulge me and accidentally share a tidbit of information about Purdy’s connection to The Glazed Carb. But she responded as tight-lipped as a persimmon. At least, at first.
Regrouping, I worked another angle. “I’d merely like to ask you a few questions so I can explain to his wife she’s wrong.” The words sounded lame, even to my own ears.
“Just what do you expect me to say?” Hatch asked. “I’m loyal to Mr. Purdy. Not to you, to his wife, or to anyone else for that matter.”
I didn’t anticipate any kind of helpful information. Another of Purdy’s lady friends? “The misses could make it very hard on him. She’s convinced he’s been having an affair.”
“I have work to do.”
“You want to help your boss, don’t you? I mean, he’s important to you.”
“Enough!”
“Wait, please. If you could just—“
Then, the geyser unexpectedly erupted, “Listen, I think I understand what she’s imagined for years, and believe me, she has reason to worry. He’s a terrific guy. But, he’s never leaned in my direction nor I in his, if that’s what you’re getting at. He’s a faithful man who treats folks with compassion.”
“Well, I—” 
“He doesn’t deserve the type of garbage that woman dishes out.”

Just keep the person talking. “Is there any chance he’s been…well, at all indiscreet? I mean, maybe with a client or another female from the office.”
“That’s none of my business and,” she stated with a firm voice, “certainly none of yours, Ms. Bassett. I have to go.”
“Have a good day, then.” Have a good day? The woman wanted to have me drawn and quartered, and I was wishing her a good day. He apparently instilled loyalty with his employees. At least this one.
Now what? Secretaries were generally the one’s closest to their bosses. But oftentimes as tough as burly bodyguards to get through. Chalk that one up and move on.
I donned my jacket and boots, stabled the Pony, and headed for the door when my phone rang again.
“Well, Suse. You can lay off Purdy.”
“What?”
“You no longer have to find dirt on Purdy.”
“She doesn’t think he’s guilty anymore? Wow. I must be really good. Solved it all with one phone call.”
Greg lowered his voice. “The lady just called and said no more investigation, no matter what. And she’s the boss, Susan. Of course, you can always fill me in on what you uncovered. I’m up for a tasty piece of gossip, especially when the rumors involve the nobility and not yours truly.”
“You’re bad. And you shouldn’t be happy when someone else falls on his face.”
“Hey, I’m a guy. Only human.”
I loved Greg; always humorous in spite of a few of the typical menisms. “Greg, what might cause her to stop an investigation that could have netted her maybe millions more in a divorce settlement?”
“I’m not sure, but she’ll be paying us anyway, and that’s all we care about. Bottomline,” he said. “Always remember that. A healthy bottomline is all that matters in a business like ours.”
The memory of the greenbacks swished in my face. “Sure. McCracken would never let me forget the philosophy even if I wanted to. And since there’s no longer a rush on Purdy, I’ll roll in this afternoon instead of this morning. That okay?”
“Sure.”
I concluded from the conversation I wasn’t to have anything more to do with Mrs. Purdy, but I often do what I shouldn’t. One visit to the lady in order to orchestrate closure of the investigation read like a logical step in my unusual book of operating procedures. That and I admit to wanting details, especially now there was a chance Elliott could be involved in some scam perpetuated against him and Purdy. Maybe others.
After the second glass of iced mocha Frappuccino, and since I didn’t have to show up at the office early, I settled at the dining room table and spread my work out. Like a puzzle without all the pieces in place, the drawings and observations didn’t mean a whole lot, but in time, I’d hopefully have information that would shed light on the girl’s murder at End Point.
Eyeing my Civil War period clock on the mantle, I shuddered. Time mocked me as if it were running out. Evil fairly jumped off the sketches I’d finished. With almost no consideration for the victim, my mind drifted to Leigh and Rebecca. Were they safe? Did they take care when they went out at night? Could they understand the consequences of irrational behavior? I trusted them, but a mother’s worry troubled me anyway. College influences often overwhelmed an inexperienced mind. Especially at sixteen. And while I couldn’t completely stop the concerns, I could rely on the fact they’d received strong foundations before moving away. They were, after all, smarter than the average kid. I’d seen to that. They also had amazing street smarts.
But they were so young.
Even viewing the murdered girl in death, I recognized her beauty. Beautiful and amazingly toned. Just how badly had she needed a fitness center? Or, maybe that’s how she stayed so toned.
I, on the other hand, had at least two or three reasons to pull on sweats a couple times a week and punish myself. My work demanded my being conditioned whether I had a few extra pounds or not, and I figured a couple miles on the bike would clear my troubled brain as well as do the body good. So before I could talk myself out of the session, I put aside the sketches, filled my travel mug with fresh coffee, packed my gym bag, and strolled out the door for End Point.
#
Gasping for breath after the equivalent of only four miles, I questioned this gnawing to always be the best at whatever I did. A failing since childhood, but one I didn’t think would magically disappear with time. I was competitive by nature.
Out of the corner of my eye a minute or two later, I sneaked a glance at the woman preparing to mount the bike perpendicular to mine. Jacqueline Stewart?
Perfect eyes—sans circles and pouty lips that belonged on a twenty-year old rather than a middle-aged diva, contrasted far too much with my Quasimodo grasp on the handlebars. I sucked air; she exhaled softly. I wheezed; she gently sighed.
My body stiffened and I rolled my neck from side to side, brushing the long hair away from my face.
If she birthed a baby nineteen years ago, then I’m a runway model. Time had ravaged nothing at all on the tall, svelte body next to me.
As is my nature, I picked up a competitive pace and, at last, I guess she detected through the lines and creases who panted next to her. She cried, “Susan Bassett? The Salem-witch Susan?”
Hiding now would do no good. I groaned, “So, you remember my infamous disaster in The Crucible? My, my. That was a very long time ago, Jacqueline. We were kids.”
 “How could I forget? My goodness, we shared some fun times then, didn’t we?” She referred to our mutual sixteen-year-old love of the stage, but fooled no one. We had not considered ourselves friends in any sense of the word. Jacqueline had run with the wealthy crowd at Port Wagner while I attended blue collar high in Camden. There, I’d encountered friends more akin to my taste.
With memories, good and bad, flitting through my brain I mumbled, “Wench.” Oops! Did I say that out loud?
Her immediate flesh side allowed me to conjure depraved sentiments of botched face-lifts, but remorse overcame me as I remembered Elliott’s words that I harbored a propensity to act “bitter” about women who managed to maintain through the years. Well shucks, I was maintaining. I just maintained more than most. But in all sincerity, he was right. I did envy women whose good looks never seemed to fade.
Oh, would I ever be the person I wanted to be?
“Did we, Jacqueline? Did we have fun?” I’d make conversation and feel better about myself. Be friendly. Nice.
With the slightest lift of my hand, I patted some perspiration from my face and smiled. My efforts didn’t last long as I mused. Gorgeous and wealthy women always perspire a bit — the rest of us sweat rings the size of Saturn’s. Okay, nice wasn’t working. I’d shoot for tolerant and be happy about it.
“Are you kidding, Susan? And I’d recognize you anywhere. You haven’t . . . changed at all.” She licked her upper lip as if moisture would stop the lies. “Are you married?”
“I have kids,” I responded too quickly, as if excusing my body because of what “they” had done to the slim, fit deputy’s body.
“You are the lucky one.”
That was the truth. If I had to live my life with Elliott over again just to have Rebecca and Leigh, I’d do it with all the bitterness and unfaithfulness. Yes, I’d still do it. “I am truly blessed. Did you and Doug have any more children?” The question seemed innocent enough in light of their history, but the face pull made me wonder what I’d said wrong.
“I lost my baby right after Doug and I married. And we couldn’t . . . well . . . I found I was unable to get pregnant after that. Complications and all.”

Okay, Lord. I put my foot in it. Do I look like Dear Abbey or something? Help me out here. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.” Again, too much information from someone I had not made contact with in a couple of decades.
“How about you, Susan. Boys? Girls?”
Good, let’s talk about the girls. I don’t plant my foot in my mouth as often when discussing them. And there’s so much to be proud of. “Two girls. They both attend State.”
“You must have had them young.”
Bragging helped me feel above her. “They skipped a grade. Smart little stinkers.”
Not wanting to repeat my earlier blunder, I vacillated before asking, “Are you and Doug still married?” My lips tightened.
“Absolutely. Together forever,” she sighed and I sighed. Then, dangling her fingers, she flaunted a rock the size of my last dental crown.
After about a half hour of idle talk, I spied Bobby Buckner positioned with his back to us. Opposite Bobby, an entire wall of mirror offered him a birds-eye view of Jacqueline’s reflection.

Thirty minutes passed with no further chitchat and when at last the bike spun to a halt—I couldn’t have done another cycle if bloodsucking bats had been chasing me—I trudged to the sauna. I’d depleted my attempts at reminiscing during mile six and the next four had been pure murder. Yipes! Bad analogy.
Draped in white terrycloth and full of memories, I was suffocating in the sauna: steam, heat, sweat and flushed cheeks. Just a cleansing shower remained to strip away the last of the gym smells. Even The Glazed Carb wouldn’t want me in this condition.
Lukewarm water eased the toxins from my skin and I allowed my thoughts, however reluctantly, to drift back to the reporter’s words. “Murdered at a fitness center. Strangled.” Only a male voice, louder than the pelting water, could have forced me to hop back to reality with such a start.
“Man entering. It’s Bobby,” he cried. Now I can say for a fact he watched us go in, because he had been gawking at Jacqueline as if she were the maraschino cherry on a thick slice of hot fudge ice cream cake. So he had no reason to be entering the locker room.

“Bobby, women are in here. Stay out until we’re finished.” I bellowed around the shower curtain. Scuffling footsteps drew me out of the stall. Only a grungy cleaning rag lay on the floor next to a set of wet footprints in Bobby’s unmistakable size sixteen. I donned a robe again and peaked out the door. Bobby shuffled toward the office with a glance over his shoulder followed by a timid wave.
Jacqueline had already started to dry her hair. I did the same and then we painted on new faces. In spite of Bobby’s absence, I had the impression we still shared the locker room with another person. “Bobby,” I shouted but no one answered.
“There was another tube of lipstick in here.” Jacqueline searched my bag. “I’m sure I put it with my make-up yesterday.”
Like she needed make-up. Impressed by her near perfection, I told her as much.
“It’s the only color I use. Peaches and cream,” she said. “And just look at you. I must say, learning you’re a private investigator surprised me at first, but then, you always were the daring one. You’ve actually done something meaningful with your life. And you’ve balanced all that with a family. I understand from friends that’s no easy task.” she applied blush and eye shadow like an artist lifting colors off a palette.

Now I know insincerity when I hear it, but there are those days when a compliment, however shallow, hits the spot; none of my spots had enjoyed many hits recently, so I sucked up the words and smiled.
“I don’t imagine I’d get Elliott’s vote.”
“Well, I think you’ve done a remarkable job. Your daughters sound like lovely girls. And who cares what your ex has to say about anything, right?”
“Right.”
“Puh-lease! Enough with the mutual admiration society. Much more of that and I’ll lose my breakfast right here.”
Still reeling from the morning news, I spun around, expecting the Strangler to pounce from the toilet stall. One of the doors grated metal on metal and flew open to reveal one of those va-va-voom bodies Elliott liked.

“Get a life, you two. You,” the woman said, pointing at me with a finger tipped in cherry red polish, “need a few more hours on the treadmill. As for Jacqueline, she shelled out plenty for all that perfection. Why should she get the credit? Give her plastic surgeons and trust fund the kudos.”
Jacqueline raised a brow. “Monica Prinz, my-my.”
Quite by its own will, my jaw scraped the floor when this Prinz woman strutted into our midst. Must I describe her? In a much too tight leopard print leotard and heavy make-up, she presented a pathetic caricature of an athlete, though I cannot imagine any man in the gym complaining.
Antsy from the day’s events, my eyes darted from one woman to the other and I surmised in an instant bad blood didn’t simmer, but boiled. They glowered over my head, five foot eight versus five foot ten. Five-five officiating.
Monica struck a calendar pose after loosening her blond hair from a teal clip. Yuck!
Not a second passed before Jacqueline challenged her. “Why don’t you leave? Getting a little close in here, don’t you think?” All the while she sneered at the heaving leopard spots.

I gulped at the amount of estrogen circulating in the room. Even with all I’d been taught on the force, I hadn’t prepared herself for the spectacle of two women marking their territory like felines. The leopard print helped make it a vision of reality.
Monica’s eye twitched under thick gooped lashes. “Close in here? Don’t be so hard on yourself, Jacquie. We can’t all be petite forever.”
Waiting for the bell to ring and the two to attack, I held up my hands. “Ladies, ladies, this is not junior high school,” I said it with as much authority as I could muster. They ignored me. They were bent on confrontation, while I foolishly experimented with peer mediation.
Maybe ten more seconds elapsed without another spit or hiss. Monica momentarily let down her guard, but then bristled with another threat after Jacqueline mouthed an inappropriate expletive. “I told you to stay out of my way. I don’t offer the same advice twice."
Jacqueline didn’t shudder, didn’t back down. “You were the one eavesdropping from a toilet. The toilet!”

Regression therapy continued to roil over my head. Not that I actually cared, but I finally understood what a psychologist must go through on bad days. Once the last nasty word screeched to a halt, Jacqueline snatched up a hair dryer and Monica formed fists at her sides. Neither of them offered me a moment’s notice in the middle.
“Listen to me, Jacqueline. I’ll make you sorry one day. Put that dryer down or I’ll wrap the cord around your neck and before I’m done—“
“Can the threats, ladies,” I piped in. “You won’t get anywhere this way. This isn’t the time or place. Why don’t we all just calm down and see if we can settle this quietly and sensibly like adults. Let’s face facts, we’re—“
“Butt out!” They shrieked in unison.
“Fine with me.”         
Monica stuck another pose. “Really taken with ourselves, are we, Jacqueline? But then, you always were. The whole world had to revolve around Jacqueline Butler and what she wanted. I’m sorry. That’s Jacqueline Stewart. Or has that changed? Did Doug finally figure out what a nasty person you are? A lying, conniving witch.”
Edging my way around Jacqueline, Monica snapped the strap on her designer bag. Then, she slung the bag over her shoulder and caught me smack across the bridge of my nose.
A truckload of horrendous pain fanned over my face and I reached up to be sure the cartilage was still in one piece. She didn’t break her stride as blood streamed out of my nose and all over the floor. The most I could make out between the tears was the backside of her leotard as it exited the room. She screeched a few final comments, more colorful vocabulary than a drunken sailor on leave in Dubai. I think I blushed somewhere under the blood.
“Wait and see what I can do, Missy. You just wait, Jacqueline Stewart.”

Following two loud thunks, we heard her grumbling. “Moron! Why are you snooping around the women’s locker room, anyway? Get lost, you pervert!”
After I plugged the dam in my nose with a sanitary item plucked from the bottom of my purse, I made my way to the office for a bit of first aid. Dek stood behind the counter with his mouth wide open as I did my best to appear nonchalant holding a towel under my chin.
“Susan, are you aware there’s a—“
“Id by dose? Of course. Get be sub help.”
Jacqueline kept apologizing and finally left after questioning me about our plans for some tennis the next day. If I could see, we were still on.
 I still had to put a call in concerning my new defense class which would be meeting for the first time tonight and I had to finalize the number of students with Jason Li, owner of the studio, but the call had to wait for me to see my doctor who tends to be on speed dial.
Following a quick trip to the emergency room, where doc sent me, I whizzed past the Detroit office where I lingered less than an hour. I could feel the eyes swelling and knew I should head for home.
After picking up some industrial-size ice packs for my face, I arrived home around five to find three messages on my deluxe do-everything-but-the-dishes answering machine. If only I could figure out how to operate more than the on and off switch, I would be in electronic Paradise. After a frustrating few moments, I decided I’d start giving my cell number out instead of my home phone.
“Please, Susan. Call me. This is Jacqueline. I received a couple strange messages while I was out. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but they were . . . threatening. I realize we haven’t been in touch in a long time, and there’s no reason for you to believe me, but I’m a little shook here. This kind of thing is what you do, right? Could you call if you get a chance?” And she left her number. Twice.
The last message was from Jason, the friend who owns the karate studio where I teach. He had the information I’d asked for concerning the new class and passed the details along. Fifteen women had called, willing and anxious to learn how to protect themselves. Fifteen. A good-sized class. Not a surprise when you think of the recent murder. I figured a lot of women would suddenly be interested in learning how to defend themselves.
“Listen Susan, I know from past experience the first night will be little more than introducing yourself, registering the women, and giving them an overall view of the class objectives, but offer them a little extra TLC. Not your usual caustic self, okay? A lot of them are very afraid, what with this murder and—” beep.
I would be home shortly after nine and in bed right after the news if all went well. Of course, I had every intention of giving the women all the time they needed to unload any concerns. Defense classes can be a bit intimidating at first, particularly in light of the killer still at large.
After a snack, I slung my gym bag over my shoulder. It reminded me of Monica and I almost ducked. What was it she’d said to Jacqueline? “Wait and see what I can do Missy!”
Could Monica have put in the calls to Jacqueline in order to frighten her? And was Monica’s past with Jacqueline really so intense Monica would wish her physical harm? When I thought of the two of them fighting that morning, I thought maybe Elliott was right after all. Maybe I was in over my head.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

CHAPTER SEVEN Full Length Romantic Suspense



Taylor Hanlon was beautiful and rich, just like Abigail Brutowski. And so obsessed with the fitness center the killer could roam freely until just the right moment. She’d never be the wiser. No clue. Taylor would be too busy preening in the mirror, adjusting her leotard for the men to watch. A pretty girl. No one would notice the cord in the baggy sweatpant pocket. Any second now she’d enter the women’s locker room unaware of being followed. Then with a jerk of the line, she could kiss her thong bye bye.
#
In the a.m. with the leftover breeze of an autumn night coming through my kitchen window, but before I could expunge the morning breath, the doorbell rang. A key jingled in the front lock creating the sound of rust scraping against rust. And an oddly familiar noise. Then the door creaked.
I dropped my hand towel and instinctively reached toward the kitchen cupboard. However, last night I’d stabled the Pony in the bedroom nightstand as I’d recently experienced a strong need to keep protection as close as possible. I couldn’t very well deck an intruder with a can of peas, or could I? With a swipe of my hand, I grabbed a knife from the chopping block and spin on my heel to see down the hallway.
Believe it or not, Elliott’s footsteps strummed the floor as if he were returning home from a rough day at work.
I dropped the knife in spite of being tempted. With my hands wiped haphazardly on my nightshirt, I stared at him in disbelief and marched through the hallway toward the front of the house.
Elliott James Gray, all six feet of him, swooped through the formal foyer. Jake, the doggone traitor, with head butting and tail swirling like a helicopter stopped long enough to leap into Elliott’s arms. I could have strangled him, taking another of his lives, but instead, I swallowed hard and glanced away until I could steady my emotions. They were still uncomfortably raw where Elliott was concerned. Did a wife ever truly forgive a philandering husband?
When I turned around, I raked him head to toe. “Nice suit.” He’d dropped at least twenty pounds since our last encounter and obviously allowed his hair to return to a salt and pepper brown and with a little gray—a look called distinguished on a man, frumpy on a woman. The charcoal suit must have cost him at least a thou and the soft brown loafers, I’d bet my life, had Italian leather stamped on the soles.
“Pricey.” I nodded, taking in the whole ensemble.
He remained in the foyer, though he released Jake, no doubt to protect the threads. “Hey, Susan.”
“Something I can help you with?”
“You look awful. What’s that goop stuck in your hair? Is that the way you always looked in the morning? I guess I forgot,” he said, matter-of-factly and flicked a piece of lint off his sleeve.
I shot him a look that should have shriveled…well…things…to dried plums, but he managed to dodge the worst of the stare.
“Elliott,” my foot tapped furiously, “is there a reason for your being here?”
“You think there has to be a reason?” He did his poor little boy, lookit me face that used to load me with guilt. “I just stopped by, that’s all.”
My mouth opened and closed twice before I finally said, “You’ve never once just stopped by. What’s going on?”
A mountain of dead space punctuated the air as he fingered the antique oak tree. “I’m in trouble. Can I come in and sit down?”
Oh no. Soap saps. I refused to transform myself into an ex-soap-style spouse, the kind that shares little tidbits of their personal lives with each other, artificial smiles plastered on their faces.
How do they do that on TV? Always remaining friends—intimate friends.
“From the look of things, you’re already in. And by the way, where did you get that key?”
“I never got rid of my key. You never said to. It’s my house, too. Or, was. What’s your problem? Suse, are you PMSing? You do look a little thick around the middle.” Almost immediately, he looked away as air sucked through his teeth. From the expression, he knew he’d said the wrong thing.
“Listen, I really need your help. With all of my contacts, I can’t trust anyone else with this.”
“With what?” I could hear my girls telling me, “he might be your ex-husband, but he’s still our dad,” and I softened ever so slightly.
“You see. There’s this girl.”
The magic word. Remembering why the good times no longer rolled, I bulleted my hands to my hips. “You’re a piece of work. All right, what girl and why should I care this time?”
“There’s this woman . . .”
“We’ve established that.Move on.” When we’d been young and just married, I’d suspected him of so many things, but it had taken years of heartache to face the reality of an unfaithful husband. To look inside and see the dark, self-centered soul who had slept with another woman two weeks after our honeymoon.
“She’s blackmailing me. Took some photos of . . . well. Suffice it to say she is definitely blackmailing me.”
“Gee, she sounds like a little multi-tasker.”
“Cut me some slack, Susan. It’s just that I trust you, and you’re still concerned about what happens to me, aren’t you?”
He had no idea how bad that comment ate into my heart. I would always have feelings for him. He was the father of my children. But distance was the best medicine.
“Like I’d care,” I said, recovering a bit. Pride in the wrong hands could be a wonderful thing.
“You don’t?” He fidgeted with his watch band.
“Oh, Elliott. You know I’ll always care. I pray every night for you.” I saw the look of disdain on his face; he wasn’t ready for truth. So I waited—again.
“And well you should.”
My feet started moving to steer him to the door before he say one more stupid word. “I think our conversation’s over. I don’t want details of your private life. Blackmail? Nuh-uh. Not like you have money to burn.”
“Susan, I’m an accountant, not an investigator, and I need help here. If I…” He gulped, but the curling lip gave away his true feelings. “If I were to pay you, would you check into this for me?  She said I’d be sorry if I didn’t pay up.”
Instinctively, I rubbed the finger on my left hand where my platinum wedding band had been. “Oh, Lord help us both. How do you get yourself into these situations? You were supposed to get custody of all your problems in the settlement, not me.” I slumped onto the bench in the hallway and air whooshed from my chest. “Okay, how did you meet her?”
He dashed to my side and sat down next to me. His shoulder pressed into mine, warm and far too close. I moved away. “Over coffee.”
“What?”
“She’s a waitress at the donut shop next to the City Best Gas station in Barrington. You know, the Glazed Carb.”
My best friend following the divorce. “Oh yeah. They’ve got great chocolate donuts.” Then, my mind started swirling with bits of information and I smelled a connection stronger than honey and buns. I snapped my fingers. James Purdy and City Best Gas.
“What?”
If he’d leave, I could get to work on it. “Nothing. Okay, so you had this thing and she managed to photograph you. And then what?”
“And then I guess I’m not the only guy she’s . . . paid attention to.”
With my face wrinkled and my arms crossed, I couldn’t resist. “I guess that means you’re not as special as you thought.” I immediately choked back an apology. “I’m sorry. That was unkind.” All that came out was a squawk a couple octaves higher than normal.
Just when I thought I could show a little compassion, Elliott raked well-manicured fingers through a haircut that must have cost more than John Edwards’ famous do. “An apology from Susan Bassett. This is a red letter day.”
“Okay, we need to wrap up the conversation, I’m sure you have things to get done. I know I do.”
“You really are in a bad mood today, aren’t you? How about not taking that out on me anymore? I’ve had a rough few days. You don’t have a clue.”
Really? He didn’t have an inkling. I was putting two girls through school that he’d promised to finance, and I dealt with the everyday grind of trying to keep my own head above water on the puny salary from my job. I suddenly remembered why I’d been sad and glad when he finally left. Elliott had been like a toothache—a miserable part of my life, painful at the time of extraction, but once gone, a source of relief.
He glanced at his feet. “I think there may be more men involved than only me.” He looked up. “Please check on this, Susan.” Then without warning, his attitude shifted from humble to presumptuous and he snapped his fingers at me as he had done so many times in the past when he wanted a potpourri of things done in a hurry.
“I beg your pardon?” My finger rose and with the slightest quiver pointed to the door. There was a day, not so long ago, I would have liked to raise the Pony instead. Pow! But my common sense had won out and he lived.
He remained planted in the foyer, but the tip of his loafers drew psychotic circles on the wooden floor. I’d never known this Elliott, one who begged for my help.
“If you won’t do it for me, help me because it’s the right thing. Please, Susan. There’s this friend from work. We’ve met for a couple matches of tennis and the waitress came up as a topic.”
City Best Gas. The Glazed Carb. Purdy’s wife had given Greg receipts from that place. First Purdy. Now Elliott. Was I being overly presumptuous?
“You need to leave. I’ve got to talk with someone.”
“She’s a blackmailer, Susan. This is blackmail, pure and simple and herein lies the problem, neither one of us can prove she is responsible for the photos. I’m freaked, but mostly I didn’t care to have you hurt if you received any of the pictures. And I think I mean that.”
Oh, brother. He needed to hone his social skills.
“Time for you to go.” My brow shot up. “Wait, wait, wait, wait!” I fired. “The key.”
“You’ve changed. You were never so cold and uncaring before.” He handed the key to me.
“No copies, I presume.”
His eyes narrowed as his hand brushed the doorknob. “No, Susan. No copies. Man, you are as harsh as—”
I held my hand up. “Ah-ah. Nope.”
Such a piece of work. I’d lived through years of functioning as a parent alone while he was running around. And he had the audacity to think I was harsh. “It’s the job. The one I’m working on right now is very important.” I couldn’t resist bragging a little. No reason why he couldn’t see I was a strong woman with determination to succeed. Without him. “Not sure the sheriff could do without me.” There. Now he’d be impressed.
After a second, he spun back with a quizzical expression. “Susan, what case are you working on that’s so important? Not that murder at the gym, I hope.” His face held a mixture of anger, fear, and uncertainty all rolled into one pained expression directed at me.
“Don’t you worry about my affairs. You have enough of your own to keep you busy.”
“If that’s the one.” His face darkened further. “You don’t have a clue what you’re getting into, Susan.” And he left.
#
I wondered what his association with might Purdy be. Was this all just a huge coincidence? As his ‘Vette rolled out of the drive, I stopped peeking through the glass door and made for the rest of my breakfast.
Twenty seconds into my re-warmed coffee, the phone rang. “Susan, this is Greg Cumby. I have a little message from Mrs. Purdy.  She said her mister’s been spending a lot of time in Barrington. She palmed a few credit card receipts.”
“You mentioned all that yesterday, Greg. City Best Gas, right next to the Glazed Carb, right? What if that station just happens to be on his way to work? Or it could be his cigarettes are cheaper there. He gets donut that makes him happy.”
Greg snickered. “We figure something there makes him happy. I think that’s Mrs. Purdy’s point.”
“You know what I—”
“I know what you meant. Lighten up. You take offense so often lately. Ahh well, that’s another couple hundred dollars an hour on some shrink’s couch and our medical package doesn’t include mental.”
Ugh.
“Can you cut out a little early this morning? I’d like you to swing by that station in Barrington.”
Skip sugarplums; chocolate donuts danced in my head. “Sure. Give me a few minutes. I have to call sheriff Casey.” Jake rubbed against my toes to persuade me to top off his food dish one last time.
“Anything important?” Greg asked.
“Nothing that will help us track down Purdy’s love nest and that comes first. I’ll be in as soon as I can. Just cover for me if I’m late, okay?”
He chuckled. I knew from past conversations that Greg understood better than anyone else how McCracken’s idiosyncrasies affected the firm; they’d worked as associates for years developing the thriving business. “I thought he agreed to the days off.”
“He did, but I sort of promised I’d be back and forth like the energized yo-yo. That way if anything comes up I can address it on my time. Must be part of his new money-saving plan.”
No laugh. No comment. A pregnant pause big enough for triplets. “I always cover your back, Susan. You don’t ever have to worry. I’m always there for you. You know that, don’t you?”
Yes. I knew. He was almost oppressively protective.

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