Hanging at the End Of
It was a typical day in Munsterville, the industrial city of 70,000 (give or take), with people on lunch break or hurrying to start second shift somewhere or running errands, the general business of a typical city running at its typical hum. The sky was blue and the day was warm without being oppressively hot like late summer had a tendency to be. And since this was a typical day in Munsterville, that meant that the city was living up to its jaunty nickname: Murderville. Weird deaths abound in Munsterville. And weird deaths require creative clean-ups, which was why the family business of Jones Cleaners had steady work.
Lu Jones sat in her parents’ office, eating a roast beef sandwich. Lu had agreed to “mind the store” during her lunch hour while her parents picked up some cleaning supplies. Her older siblings, Dru and Nico, were cleaning up the death scene of an elderly gentleman who’d died in his home and had gone undiscovered for over a week. Her younger siblings, twins Dash and Tag, were cleaning up the scene of a suicide by shotgun in an apartment. So, Lu was left to sit in the office and answer the phones as she ate her lunch while everyone else was out. It was purely as a favor; Lu was the only one in the family that didn’t work the family business, a bone of contention picked at every family gathering in which there were more than two Joneses, which happened multiple times a week, so that bone was cleaned of meat years ago. Instead of cleaning up death scenes, Lu investigated them. She worked as a death investigator out of the city’s coroner’s office. Same general area of the family business, but different line of work. Horseshoes and hand grenades, her family said.
Kicked back at the reception desk in the tiny front area of the office, feet up, sandwich in the process of being devoured, Lu nearly choked in her scramble to right herself when the door opened. They didn’t get many walk-in customers (she was really just there to answer the phone), but people did come in to pay their bills and Lu didn’t want to hear it from her mother that she was being unprofessional when someone did.
In strolled her brother-in-law, Detective Josh Carpenter, looking dashing and handsome as always. Truly, the man looked like he should be playing the lead in some big budget Hollywood action movie that called for a good looking, tough, but charming and sensitive African-American man instead of investigating curious deaths in a no-name city like Munsterville. How her goofy-looking white boy brother Nico ever landed him, Lu would never know, but the couple had been together for fifteen years, married for close to six of them.
“What are you doing here, Lu?” Josh asked with a grin as the door swung shut behind him.
There was no sense in Lu trying to recover her cool now. She picked up her discarded sandwich.
“Watching the phones for Mom and Dad while I eat,” Lu said, sitting back and kicking her feet up on the desk again. She took another bite of her sandwich and asked her question around it. “What are you doing here?”
“Hoping to catch Nico while I had a minute,” Josh said with a bit of a wistful sigh.
He sat down in one of the chairs on the opposite side of the desk.
“He’s cleaning an undiscovered scene.”
Josh made a disgusted face. Lu didn’t need to give him any details.
“Been busy?” Lu asked him, this time without a mouthful of sandwich.
“After that whole thing with the Harmon case, I feel like I’ve been on garbage detail.”
Winchester Harmon was a rich guy with a warped sense of humor who decided when he received a terminal cancer diagnosis to kill himself, make it look like a murder, and send a whole bunch of poor people on a wild goose chase. Josh had been lead detective on that case and took the whole thing very personally. Lu couldn’t quite blame him; she would have clocked Harmon for what he’d done if he hadn’t already been dead.
“You’re imagining things,” Lu said. “Your ego is bruised because that big murder case turned out to be a weird suicide practical joke thing. You really think the chief is going to hold that bizzaro twist against you?”
Josh looked at Lu like she must have been out of her mind.
“Have you met this woman?” he asked. “She does not take failure lightly and to her, this looked like a huge, public failure because we didn’t immediately conclude it was a suicide, not a homicide.”
“Oh, please,” Lu said with a roll of her eyes. She sat up, leaning on the desk with one elbow. “It was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. The gun was found half a block away under some bushes. It was staged to look like a murder and it was pretty convincing. It took an anonymous tip to sort it out. That’s how convincing it was.”
“That’s not how the chief sees it.”
“Well, she needs glasses. You did good work, you did it by the book, and anyone would say so. It was a weird case to crack.”
Lu ate the last bite of her sandwich and chewed it in a determined fashion. Josh shook his head, entirely unconvinced.
The tone of a pipe organ, mournful and funeral-like, emanated from Lu’s back pocket. She pulled out her cell phone. Before she could look at it, Josh’s cell chirped from the depths of his suit jacket. He fished around for it.
“Dead body at End Of,” Lu said, reading her text.