Murderville: The Coldest Case–Episode 4

Connections to the Past Lead to a Third Date

On lunch the next day, Rena went to the old Kiwanis Rotary Park, now called the Morgan Michael Memorial Park. Since Christabelle had been nice enough to offer to talk to her neighbor Vernee Dean, Rena figured that the least she could do was check out the park where Marybeth Cooley was last seen.

The day wasn’t too bad. It was overcast, but without any threat of snow. The wind was calm, so it was cold, but bearable, and Rena found the chill to be quite invigorating as she traipsed across the park towards the woods.

Jerry Cooley had been right when he said that park was the same except for the playground equipment. There was no sign of expansion or contraction of the space, and there was also no way that any kid before about 1990 went down any of the plastic slides on display. Rena figured that the kids had been loitering at the picnic tables on the far end of the park, though probably much older models compared to the sleek-looking new ones that sat there now. The teens were teasing Marybeth Cooley, the teasing got out of hand and she got upset, and then Nannette Sullivan walked her across the park to the woods, never to be seen again.

The woods weren’t much more than a fat copse of trees that separated the park from some neighboring houses. Hidden in it was a creek that was fenced off on the house side, but open from the park side. Rena found the worn path that Marybeth and Nannette, and probably decades of kids, had taken into the trees and she followed it. Even with all of the leaves gone, the trees still grew close enough together, thin and competitive, to affect a sort of shield from prying eyes. Rena hadn’t been able to see anything from the road or the park. Marybeth had disappeared in late spring when the leaves were well on their way in and any kind of scraggly bush that could get hold would be growing. Even walking along the path, it would difficult to see too far ahead.

The path ran to the vicinity of the creek and then split off, going left and right, running parallel to the creek. Left ran further into the trees, most likely ending at the next street. Right led to the road the park sat on, where the creek ran underneath the street through a drainage tunnel.

Rena ignored both of these options and instead walked straight to the bank of the creek, stepping carefully in her winter boots. The creek had shrunk in the cold weather, contracting into a narrow sheet of ice, but Rena could see the faint markings of where it usually ran. In the spring, with the rain and the snowmelt, that bank would easily overflow by several feet. She had no idea where it might have been when Marybeth and Nannette had been here.

Daring to get a little closer, Rena took a few tentative steps towards the frozen sheet of water. The third step was nearly her undoing. The ground practically collapsed under her weight, swallowing her foot up to the ankle, and leaving Rena flailing for balance. She kept her feet, or at least kept the one that wasn’t sunk in the mud, and managed to prevent her fall, which would have been a nasty one between the mud and the broken off saplings. Grabbing onto a nearby tree for balance and leverage, Rena pulled her foot out of the mud, feeling lucky that she didn’t leave her boot behind.

Rena stood there for a moment, breath coming out in quick, tiny puffs of steam, her heart thudding a little in her chest. The creek was frozen, but the bank wasn’t. Bizarre. Rena would have bet money that the ground would have been frozen, too, but apparently not. The whole place was tricky.

Tricky and secluded.

No wonder Marybeth Cooley disappeared without a trace.

#

Christabelle sat in Miss Vernee Dean’s living room, waiting for her to bring in the two cups of coffee she’d gone to the fetch. Once Christabelle had finished her rudimentary investigation into the possibly drug-dealing neighbors (who were not dealing drugs) for her clients, Christabelle grabbed a bit for lunch and then headed over to Miss Vernee’s house. The woman answered the door within seconds of Christabelle ringing the bell, adding credence to her reputation for being the hawk eyes of the neighborhood.

She only hoped Miss Vernee had that reputation when she lived across from the park, too.

“Here we go,” Miss Vernee said loudly as she came into the living room. She handed one of the coffee cups to Christabelle, who took it and gave it a test sip. She nodded to show that the coffee was just fine, which she probably would have done even if it tasted like distilled antifreeze. She wasn’t there for coffee and Miss Vernee knew it. “Now. What is it that you wanted to jaw about?”

Christabelle set her coffee mug down on the table in front of her, mindful not to spill, and pulled the papers that Rena had printed out from her coat pocket. She opened them up and handed them to Miss Vernee, pointing to the place where she’d highlighted her name.

“I was hoping you could tell me about Marybeth Cooley,” Christabelle said, keeping her voice just south of a shout.

“Oh, yes,” Miss Vernee said, nodding. “Poor girl. Just up and vanished.”

She looked at Christabelle with sad eyes.

“Paper said you were a witness, Miss Vernee,” Christabelle said, trying to nudge her into talking. “What did you see that day? Can you remember?”

“I’m old, but I still have my faculties,” Miss Vernee said and Christabelle chuckled. “You never forget something like this.” She rattled the papers in her hand.

***

Want to know what Miss Vernee remembered? And there’s also another date to be had. Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and get the whole story.

Murderville: The Coldest Case–Episode 3

An Intriguing Second Date

Christabelle stood outside Walley’s Cove wondering if this was how she’d spend her time if she ended up dating Rena on a regular basis, always waiting for her. When Pam called to tell her that Rena was open to seeing her again, Christabelle jumped at the chance to ask her to dinner. She felt like she needed another shot at impressing the woman after lunch getting derailed by Jerry Cooley. Pam had shamed Christabelle good for not knowing his story, but Christabelle had grown up and gone to school just outside of town; and her trips to Dillman’s were usually at the window. Her nosiness had also been confined to the what the living were doing currently, not so much what they’d done before she was born. The past didn’t concern her. She didn’t really have much interest in cold cases.

Rena arrived at Walley’s Cove, Christabelle spotting her little car as it sped into the parking lot and found a spot. Like a replay of that afternoon, Christabelle watched Rena hurry across the parking lot to the door, saying sorry as soon as she got within earshot of Christabelle, though this time her coat was buttoned up.

“I promise you I’m not usually late,” Rena swore, a little out of breath, as Christabelle opened the door for her. “Today has just been a day for last minute things.”

“It’s okay,” Christabelle said. “I’m used to waiting. It’s what I’m usually getting paid to do. Wait for a cheating husband to show up. Wait for him to kiss his mistress so I can snap a picture. Wait, wait, wait.”

“Is that what you’re most often hired to do? Follow cheating husbands?” Rena asked, sounding a little disappointed.

Christabelle shrugged. “Sometimes I follow cheating wives.”

“Oh.”

The hostess met them and escorted the two of them to a booth. Walley’s Cove was a typical seafood place. Decked out in blue and white with nautical everything, it was warm and cozy. Their booth ended up underneath some kind of ceramic fish that looked like it was jumping out of the wall, simultaneously quaint and gaudy.

The two of them sat and slipped out of their coats.

“I told you that private investigation isn’t very glamorous,” Christabelle said, picking up where they left off. “It’s a lot of sitting in my car at night and watching buildings. It’s really dull, actually.”

“Why do I have the feeling that you’re trying to put me off asking about it?” Rena said, smirking a little. “Making it out to be less than what it is.”

“Because you can’t believe that my job could possibly be so boring,” Christabelle said. “TV has corrupted you all. We’re not all Thomas Magnum or Jim Rockford or Frank Cannon.”

“Frank Cannon?”

“See. You have to learn all the great TV private investigators before you can judge.”

Rena laughed and opened her menu.

The two of them fell into the same easy chat that they’d established when they first sat down to lunch. It was like they were picking up where they left off, which Christabelle was thrilled about. Now maybe the two of them could make a little progress and see if this might be worth pursuing.

“I feel like I’m putting a disclaimer on everything I do, but I’m going to throw out another one here,” Rena said, glancing up from her menu at Christabelle. “I’m going to pick up the check tonight because I’m about to order a whole bunch of food. I am starving.”

Christabelle chuckled.

“Okay. So, what’s the disclaimer? That you don’t usually pick up the check or that you don’t usually order a whole bunch of food?”

Rena hesitated. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment when she realized what she’d just said.

“The second one. The second one,” she said with a nervous laugh. Christabelle thought it was cute. “Of course, I pick up checks. I was going to pick up the check tonight anyway because you were nice enough to buy lunch and this place was my suggestion. But, no, I normally don’t eat so much in one sitting. Like I said, I am starving.”

“Well, we didn’t have a very good lunch,” Christabelle said apologetically. “I ended up eating the rest of my burger when I got home.”

“Yeah, I forgot about mine in my car. It’s still in the passenger seat, probably frozen solid,” Rena said, making a face.

“You can always thaw it out and eat it later,” Christabelle said. “Trust me when I say that Dillman’s burgers are just as good leftover. Even when left to freeze in a car. Believe me. I know.”

“I will trust you on that. You haven’t steered me wrong about the food so far.”

Their waitress appeared, a pert young woman with big brown eyes and dark hair pulled up in pig tails. Christabelle ordered the shrimp tacos and a Coke. Rena got a seafood sampler appetizer, a bowl of Walley’s chowder, and the Surf ‘n’ Turf special which came with steak (Rena asked for medium rare), popcorn shrimp, a lobster tail, and hush puppies. It wasn’t the most that Christabelle had ever seen a woman order for a meal, but it was still more than she thought Rena could feasibly eat.

“We can share the appetizers,” Rena said, reading the look of doubt on Christabelle’s face. “But I’m craving calamari and you can only get it in the sampler. It’s a scam.”

“It’s worth it, though,” Christabelle said, thinking of that fried calamari, probably the best you could get in a landlocked state.

“Which is why I put up with ordering the whole sampler.”

“At least everything on the sampler is worth eating.”

“True.”

They fell back into easy conversation once again, talking about Rena’s work for a change. Christabelle never thought much about what a librarian did, but it turned out that they did a lot. Rena did more than shelve books and send out letters about late returns. She was in charge of fundraising and ordering and reading programs and everything else.

“We are a little short-staffed right now,” Rena admitted with a shrug. “We just don’t have the money to hire anyone else at the moment. So, I take on the bulk of the work. It’s not fair to dump it on everyone else when they already have a ton to do.”

“It’s not exactly fair to you, either.”

“It’s why I get paid the big bucks.”

“That’s what I think when I’m sitting in my car, freezing my ass off while waiting for Mr. Stick-Your-Dick-Elsewhere to show up.”

Rena laughed loudly as the waitress arrived at their table with her tray loaded with appetizers and their drinks. She laid it all out for them, asking the customary questions of whether or not it all looked good and if they needed anything else. As soon as she turned to leave, Rena snatched a mozzarella stick from the plate, dunked it in marinara, and took a healthy bite.

“Oh. Hot,” she said around the boiling cheese in her mouth.

Christabelle laughed and shook her head. “You are hungry, aren’t you?”

“I told you so.” Rena nudge the mozzarella sticks closer to Christabelle. “Here. Help yourself.”

“And burn my mouth? No, thanks.” She instead grabbed a pita chip and scooped some of the spinach artichoke dip. It wasn’t nearly as hot as the cheese stick that Rena barely swallowed.

“So,” Rena said, grabbing a piece of friend calamari, the rest of her mozzarella stick left on a plate to cool. “How was work today?”

She grinned as she asked it and Christabelle couldn’t help but grin back. There was something infectious about the woman, more like giggles and less like the flu.

“The only thing I had to do today was meet with a couple of clients this morning,” Christabelle said. “Winter is kind of dead for me until Valentine’s Day when everyone wants to know whether or not their other half is cheating so they know if they should buy a gift.”

Rena snorted.

“The couple that I met this morning, though, is asking me to investigate their neighbors,” she continued, grabbing her own bite of calamari. “They believe that they’re involved with drugs, like selling them, but they don’t want to go to the police about it until they have some kind of evidence.”

“Ah. That sounds…slightly paranoid.”

“Looks it, too,” Christabelle said, thinking about the dark glasses and furtive looks.

“You don’t mind taking a job like that?” Rena asked.

“So long as the check clears. It’ll probably end up being nothing, but at least the clients will leave their neighbors alone.” Christabelle finally gave in and took a mozzarella stick. She broke it in half and left on her plate to cool for a minute. “How was your day?”

Rena giggled. “Slow this afternoon, thankfully. I got all of my work done in a couple of hours.”

“Oh yeah? Is that how the library business goes?”

“Some days,” Rena said with a shrug. “Even short-staffed we have those slow days where we get all caught up and then have nothing to do.”

“So, what do you do to entertain yourself on those days?”

Rena laughed nervously and looked at the remaining mozzarella stick on her plate. She scooped it up and quickly jammed it in her mouth. Christabelle raised an eyebrow. The interpretive dance of avoidance was obvious.

“Don’t tell me you were looking at porn on the library computers,” Christabelle said with a smirk.

Rena nearly choked on her mozzarella stick.

“Oh my God, don’t say things like that when I’m eating!” she gasped after having safely swallowed her food. She took a drink of water. “You’re going to kill me doing that.”

“Sorry,” Christabelle said with a laugh. “It wasn’t my intention. I couldn’t resist a library porn joke.”

“You wouldn’t think it was so funny if you were the one that had to police those computers. I have seen things.”

“Yeah? What kind of things?”

“This is not first date talk.”

“Technically it’s our second date.”

“So it is.”

They smiled at each other, letting a little silence infiltrate the conversation. Christabelle looked down at her plate after a moment. Oh, it would be so easy to fall for Rena. So very easy. But the distrust from her divorce lingered. There had to be something else going on here, something she was missing. Why was it that she could be so observant about everyone else’s lives, but not her own?

“So, anyway, to kill time today I ended up spending the rest of my shift looking into the Marybeth Cooley case,” Rena said.

###

Will Christabelle help Rena look into the Marybeth Cooley case? And will that derail their budding relationship? Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and find out!

Murderville: The Coldest Case–Episode 2

Cracking Open a Cold One

Rena Neri’s morning had been hectic, her lunch had been odd, and her afternoon was looking to be boring. It was practically dead in the library and after the day she’d already had, Rena couldn’t bear it. It was the perfect excuse to call Pam Bendixen and tell her all about her lunch date with Christabelle Calder.

The first time Rena checked out Pam’s books, they instantly recognized each other as a kindred spirit. Pam was checking out a few true crime books and Rena’s obsession with that genre, particularly in regard to cold cases (there was something fascinating about going over clues in cases that hadn’t been solved), prevented her from keeping her mouth shut. From that first exchange, a friendship had been born and it was through that friendship that Pam decided Rena needed a romantic relationship. Rena had told her that it was the curse of married people, always looking to recruit single people into the cult, but really, Rena was ready for a nice, stable relationship. She’d tired of casual dating and relationships filled with drama and no promise.

Sequestered in her office, pretending to be going over next month’s new releases, Rena called her friend. Pam had been insistent about Rena going out with Christabelle, thinking Rena’s cold case hobby and Christabelle’s profession would provide a decent starting place. She’d warned Rena that Christabelle would be reluctant, citing her painful divorce, and asked Rena to be patient, which she was. Pam assured her that Christabelle was a woman worth waiting for. When Pam finally sent word that Christabelle had agreed to a lunch date, Rena jumped at the opportunity before the woman changed her mind. Maybe this wouldn’t be a match made in Heaven, but the mystery of the woman had Rena so intrigued she didn’t want to miss out on the chance to get to know her.

“Rena! I didn’t think I’d hear from you until later tonight,” Pam exclaimed. “How did it go?”

“Hello to you too, Pam,” Rena said, shaking her head at her friend’s excitement.

“Yes, yes, hello,” Pam said. “I hope that you calling me in the middle of the afternoon doesn’t mean that the date was a disaster and you hate me.”

Rena laughed.

“No, the library is dead right now, so I thought I’d kill time by calling you.”

“Thanks.” Pam paused, but only for a quick breath before she prompted, “So?”

“It wasn’t a disaster,” Rena said. “But it was interesting.”

“Interesting,” Pam repeated, sounding disappointed. “That doesn’t sound good.”

“No, it was fine. The date was fine. I guess,” Rena said, failing at conveying her mixed emotions. The date was fine, just really odd. She felt like she hadn’t gotten a chance to make any kind of impression on Christabelle, other than rude. As soon as Jerry Cooley sat down, Rena paid more attention to him than her date and she felt awful about that.

“Yeah, this is sounding anything but fine,” Pam said, and Rena could picture her frowning. “This sounds like it was terrible and you’re trying to soften the blow.”

“It wasn’t terrible! It was just…” She floundered for a second. “To be perfectly honest, I kind of want a do over,” Rena said with a sigh, sitting back in her chair and staring at her favorite water stain on her office ceiling. She thought it looked like a dragon most of the time.

“Oh no. What happened?”

Rena recounted the events of the lunch date, explaining how everything had been going smoothly and then got derailed by the man with the newspaper.

Pam let out a loud sigh.

“Oh, you met Jerry Cooley.”

“You know him?”

“If you go to Dillman’s and eat at the counter enough, you know him,” Pam said. And then she added, “I can’t believe Christabelle didn’t know the details of his story.”

“She said she didn’t. Do you?”

“Of course I know about Marybeth Cooley,” Pam said. “I grew up over by the park where she disappeared. Parents used that story as a way to keep us out of the woods and away from that creek back there. It never worked. If anything, the curiosity made us more keen to go back there. We used to spend afternoons in those woods looking for her bones or her ghost.”

“Her ghost?”

“Oh, you know how kids are. Every town has a Bloody Mary. Usually more than one. Marybeth Cooley became one of ours. The kids in our neighborhood believed that if you went in the woods and said her name three times, she’d appear behind you and slit your throat.”

Rena laughed, and it sounded more nervous than she liked. She knew the kind of story Pam was talking about. The kids in the neighborhood she lived in had something similar, but it involved an old woman, an abandoned building, and a being stabbed in the heart with a large nail.

“Nobody I knew ever had the guts to say her name three times while we were in there and I never heard of any kids getting their throats cut, so I’m pretty sure it was all just a rumor.”

“Yeah, seems like,” Rena said with a chuckle.

“So, aside from a special guest appearance by Jerry Cooley, what did you think of Christabelle?”

Rena thought about it for a second.

“At a glance, I like her,” she said. “She seems interesting. She’s funny. I love her hair. She’s…I wouldn’t call her pretty, but she’s got a style, a look that I find very attractive.”

Pam giggled, sounding like a teenager.

“I would like to get to know her better,” Rena said slowly, considering. “Even if she doesn’t want to pursue anything romantic with me, which after today’s lunch date I wouldn’t blame her, it was so weird. But even if it were only as friends, I could live with that. She seems like a fun person to hang around with.”

“That’s the kind of optimism I like to hear,” Pam said. “I’m expecting her to call me with her feedback on the date. And I’m going to make sure I ask how her nosy, private investigator self doesn’t know Jerry Cooley’s story. But if she’s on the same page as you, wanting to get to know you better, can I give her your phone number?”

“Absolutely,” Rena said without hesitation, hoping she sounded more excited than desperate.

“Yay!” Pam giggled again and Rena laughed along with her. “I’m so excited about this. Okay. I’ll let her know and hopefully, she’ll be giving you a call.”

“Hopefully.”

The two women said their goodbyes and Rena set about actually doing her work for the afternoon, all the while both Christabelle Calder and Marybeth Cooley bounced around in the back of her mind. Both people intrigued her.

Come four o’clock, Rena’s work was finished, but her day was not. She still had an hour left of her shift and nothing much to do. Sticking her cell phone in her pocket (in case Pam or Christabelle decided to get in touch), Rena left her office and made her way down to the periodicals room. Years ago, the back issues of the Munsterville Courier were on microfiche. An extensive fundraising campaign led to the digitalization of all of the back issues of the newspaper, an involved project that took over a year to do.  It was worth it, though. It was so much easier to find and read old newspaper articles this way.

Only Penny LaGrand, the daytime periodicals clerk, was there. The older gentlemen who filled the room in the morning to read the daily copies of the various papers the library subscribed to were long gone, off to spend their afternoon at cafes and coffee shops and restaurants all over town, drinking coffee, eating pie, and talking about how right they were and how things were better back in their day. People looking to borrow movies in the afternoons weren’t as regular and this particular afternoon, it seemed no one was in the mood. Penny glanced up from the entertainment gossip magazine she was reading and when she realized that Rena wasn’t there on official business (or at least any business that involved her), she went right back to it. Penny was forty-four going on twenty-two and while she was good at her job, she wasn’t exactly invested in it. She got her work done to get it done because as soon as she got it done, she was free to do whatever she wanted, which was usually reading romance novels or trashy magazines.

Rena went to the digital newspaper archive and quickly found the issues from around the time Marybeth Cooley disappeared, including a copy of the one that Jerry Cooley carried with him. The details in that first article were much the same as what Mr. Cooley had told them: Marybeth had been with friends in the park, had gotten upset at being teased, was taken into the woods, and then never seen again. The police were conducting a search, but it was hampered by the parents reporting Marybeth’s disappearance late in the evening and a series of severe storms coming through the area at the same time. Due to the weather and lack of light, the police couldn’t begin their search of the woods until the following morning and by then, any potential evidence had all been washed away. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the creek that cut through those woods on its way to Lake Munster, already swollen from snowmelt, had flooded out from the rain. The spot where Nannette Sullivan had said the two of them had been standing didn’t exist when the police conducted their search.

Subsequent articles highlighted the fruitless search for Marybeth Cooley as well as floated speculation all over the place. Rumors swirled as to what had happened to the good girl who lived on Violet Way with her parents and her younger brother Jerry. She was a model student, attended church with her family every Sunday, was never in trouble, the teenager every parent wished they had. The newspaper articles made the girl out to be a saint. That was something Rena noticed about missing persons: an asshole never went missing.

Naturally, suspicion fell on the friends that Marybeth had been with that day. Two of them, Dwight Harmon and Butch Taylor, were from well-to-do families, considered to be a bit rowdy, but boys would be boys, especially when they have money. Nannette Sullivan was also from a good family but had a reputation in school as being rather mean. One unnamed classmate was quoted in the paper as saying, “You never want to cross Nan. You don’t want to get on her bad side. You won’t like it there, for sure.” The fourth friend, Jimmie DuPage, was a known troublemaker, always in trouble at school and with the local police. Nannette, Butch, and Dwight all defended him, saying they were trying to help Jimmie stay straight, that’s why they were hanging out together, and that Jimmie had nothing to do with Marybeth going missing. Still, there was strong speculation that either one, two, or all of the four friends, either accidentally or on purpose, killed Marybeth Cooley in the woods and buried her body there.

And then there wasn’t.

***

Rena digs deeper into the Marybeth Cooley case while waiting for Christabelle to call. Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode to get all the details!

Murderville: The Coldest Case–Episode 1

An Interesting First Date

January was a dead time in Munsterville. Figuratively speaking, of course. Once the chaos of the holidays had subsided, the capitalistic boom of Christmas and the drunken celebration of the new year passing in a colorful blur, folks settled in for the lull before the blip that was Valentine’s Day and then the eventual spring thaw or Easter, whichever came first. The last three weeks of January, the 70,000 odd citizens of the industrial city went about their daily lives like ants accustomed to freezing windchills, perpetually slushy streets, random slick spots, and a blanket of snow that had covered the ground for so long that grass was only a memory.

In other words, it was boring, and no one was immune to it.

Christabelle Calder definitely wasn’t. As a private investigator, those three weeks in January never failed to be the worst of her employment. The post-holiday haze that faded into a return to normalcy typically left her with little to do until just before Valentine’s Day, when suddenly everyone thought their significant other was unfaithful. She was lucky to land a job during these weeks and that’s what she told herself over and over after her late breakfast meeting with her newest clients, a couple by the name of Windom, who were convinced that their neighbors were running a drug den. They wanted Christabelle to get proof they could go to the cops with because they didn’t want to look nosy or crazy. That’s why they had to meet at a diner instead of at their house; they didn’t want to their neighbors to know that they suspected anything. Which was perfectly understandable. What wasn’t understandable was that the couple both called in late to work to have this meeting with her and both wore dark sunglasses and constantly looked around the diner like they were expecting to be outed as spies or something. Christabelle took the job because she needed the job, both for the money and for the entertainment.

When the Windoms finished giving her all of the details (more than Christabelle could ever want or need) and left, Christabelle finished her pancake breakfast in leisure and then drove out to their neighborhood to check out the digs. It was an upscale neighborhood, not quite as ritzy as the communities out by Lake Munster and the golf course, but money enough to have a swath of McMansions running along neatly plowed streets, not a sign of slush or of a pothole. No doubt expertly manicured lawns and maintained flowerbeds lurked under the inches of snow. At a glance, she very much doubted these neighbors were drug dealers, but if they were, it’d be a nice twist. If they weren’t, well, she couldn’t wait to find out what they really did. In Munsterville, it could be anything.

Driving back to her own lower middle class, slightly unkempt neighborhood, Christabelle pulled into her driveway to find her own neighbor, Pam Bendixen, waiting on her doorstep. The woman was bundled up against the winter wind, pacing on the small slab of concrete to keep warm, her blonde hair peeking out from underneath her cap, the puffy coat she wore adding to her already curvy figure. Christabelle shook her head. The woman had the tenacity of a small dog.

“Where have you been?” Pam exclaimed as Christabelle got out of her car. She bounced in place on the doorstep. “It’s almost noon.”

“I had to meet a client,” Christabelle said, tromping through the yard along the path she’d made to the front door from repeated trips and a laziness that prevented her from using her shoveled walks. Pam scooched over on the stoop so Christabelle had room and stood right behind her as she unlocked the door.

“You’re going to be late,” Pam said.

Christabelle opened her front door and Pam followed right behind her, giving her no chance to brush her off.

“I’m not supposed to meet her until one,” Christabelle said. She took off her coat and hung it up on the rack next to the door. Pam did likewise but left her scarf and beanie on.

“Yes, but you’ll want to freshen up, maybe change your clothes.”

Christabelle stopped in the middle of the living room and looked down at her outfit: jeans, boots, and a blue and green flannel shirt.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“You can’t meet Rena wearing that.”

Christabelle looked at Pam, confused. “Why not?”

“It’s a lunch date, Christabelle,” Pam said, exasperated. “You need to put some effort into it.”

“I’ll show up and be my charming self,” Christabelle said.

“You’d be more charming in a different shirt.”

Christabelle sighed. “I was working this morning. If I can meet a client wearing this, then I can meet Rena wearing this. And if I’m not mistaken, you said that she’s working today, too, that’s why this is a lunch date.”

“Rena is a librarian,” Pam said. “She’ll already be looking nice. It’s part of their dress code.”

“It’s not my fault private investigators have a different dress code.”

“Ugh!” Pam threw up her hands. Christabelle couldn’t hide her smirk.

Ever since Pam had decided to set Christabelle up on a blind date with her friend Rena Neri, Pam had been insistent, pestering, and all around bothersome about playing matchmaker. Christabelle had successfully put off meeting the woman until after the holidays, but when Pam threatened to make a Valentine’s Day mission out of it, Christabelle relented. She decided that if Pam wasn’t going to give up, then the least Christabelle could do for herself was minimize her embarrassment. No doubt any idea Pam would have cooked up for Valentine’s Day would have been a humiliating ordeal, even if that wasn’t her intention.

“Pam, I feel like it’s important to present myself exactly as I am,” Christabelle said. “The women I date need to know exactly what they’re getting into up front. I’m a private investigator. I keep weird hours. I sometimes do less than admirable things. And I’m usually in jeans and whatever clean shirt I can find. It’s who I am.”

“Yes, I know that. And I appreciate that. But,” Pam made a helpless gesture, “can’t you at least be you in a slightly dressier shirt?”

Pam looked at her with pleading eyes. It was pitiful and hit Christabelle in the stupid soft spot usually reserved for animals and Girl Scouts selling cookies. Christabelle sighed.

“Yeah, I suppose.”

Pam grinned broadly, bouncing a little on her feet. Anyone else might think she was the one going on the date. Or had money on its success.

“Okay. I’ll wait right here while you change.”

Christabelle was going to argue, but she knew it wouldn’t do her any good. Instead, she retreated to her bedroom. Opening the closet, she looked inside for something that might get Pam off her back. Christabelle wasn’t one for fashion. Considering her figure was to the boyish side, most clothes that she did like ended up looking wrong on her, hanging where they should have hugged. As a result, she stuck to the simplest jeans, shorts, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and flannels, resorting to power suits or slacks with a nice blouse when she absolutely had to be dressy. Christabelle liked make-up better. She noticed that Pam didn’t make any comments about that. Since her meeting with a client was early this morning, Christabelle opted for a quick, neutral face, but she was just as inclined to go for bright lipstick and wildly-colored eye shadow. She liked to be creative and sometimes that meant adding a little extra flare. The pink stripes in her blonde hair could vouch for that.

Digging through her closet, Christabelle finally settled on a red v-neck sweater. It was nice, but not too nice for a lunch. It looked casual enough that it wouldn’t look like she was trying, but it would also fit Pam’s requirement to look like she was making an effort.

Or at least she hoped it would. She was in no mood to put on a fashion show and Pam could be quite difficult to please sometimes.

Christabelle quickly changed into the sweater and regarded herself in the mirror. Her make-up was still intact and the ponytail she’d pulled her hair into this morning was still in good shape, the escaped pieces looking casual and artfully messy instead of looking like her hair rebelling, which was what it was actually doing. She left the bedroom feeling pretty good about herself.

“Okay, what do you think?” Christabelle asked as she walked back into the living room.

Pam regarded her critically and then looked at her watch.

“Well, it’ll have to do,” she said. “You’re going to be late.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“You really need to take me shopping with you one day,” Pam said.

“I think I disappoint you enough as it is,” Christabelle said.

“Oh, nonsense.” Pam grabbed Christabelle’s coat from the rack and handed it to her. “Here. You better get going.”

“Pam, I’m not meeting her until one.”

“And with the lunchtime traffic it will take you twenty minutes to get across town and that will get you there,” Pam checked her watch again, “about twenty minutes early. Which is good.”

“I’m not sitting in the parking lot of Dillman’s for twenty minutes like a weirdo.”

“Why not?” Pam asked, grabbing her coat from the rack and putting it on. “Isn’t that what you do for a living?”

“Ha ha. I’m getting paid then.”

“You’ll be getting paid for this, too,” Pam said. “You’ll be starting a wonderful new relationship today.”

Christabelle didn’t argue; that really would make her late. It would also be pointless because Pam wasn’t backing down from this. She was certain that Christabelle and Rena would make the perfect couple and she wasn’t about to change her mind. Christabelle wondered how Drew dealt with his wife when she got an idea in her head.

But then she remembered that Drew was very much the same way. Arguments in that house (if those two ever did argue) had to have been epic.

Christabelle followed Pam out of the house, locking the door behind herself. As Pam trudged across Christabelle’s and Mr. Santos’s yards to her own house, Christabelle obediently got in her car. Pam stood on her stoop and watched as she pulled out of her driveway. She didn’t go inside until after Christabelle started down the street. If Christabelle had any idea of circling the block and coming back home (which she did), that put an end to it. Pam would be back at her house before she shut off the car.

Dillman’s was a popular lunch counter in Munsterville. It started in the ‘50s as a real lunch counter with no indoor option, only a walk-up window. It became a popular place for workers and high school students (they had open campus back then) to grab a quick burger and a lemonade, both signatures of the counter, their recipes highly guarded secrets. After a fire in the ‘70s, Old Man Dillman, then very old, decided to add an indoor seating area that featured a counter with stools and a line of booths against the wall, though the walk-up window remained the more popular option.

Christabelle wasn’t surprised to find the small lot still nearly full and the line for the walk-up window stretching down the shoveled sidewalk. The dead of winter had no effect on Dillman’s. She found a spot and parked, noting that, as she had told Pam, she had about twenty minutes to wait until she met her…date. It had been a while since she’d had one, keeping busy through work and hanging out with friends. After her divorce, Christabelle hadn’t been too inclined to hop back into the social scene. The divorce was rough; healing took a while. A long while. When she finally felt like she was ready, she realized that she didn’t know what the hell she was doing anymore.

Of course, that didn’t deter Pam. She decided that all Christabelle needed was a push and then she shoved.

Christabelle watched the door as she waited, looking for Rena Neri. Pam had showed Christabelle a picture of her date and she had no doubt that she’d recognize her. Christabelle’s gift with faces aside, Rena was a beautiful woman with a face hard to forget. Christabelle at least had to hand it to Pam for attempting to matchmake her with a lovely looking woman.

A couple of minutes before one, with no Rena in sight, Christabelle got out of her car and started walking to the front door. She was tired of waiting and ruminating. If Rena was late, she could find Christabelle inside. And if Rena no-showed, she’d still get lunch.

A little roller skate of a car pulled into the lot, cruising slowly between Christabelle and the front door. Just the glimpse through the driver’s side window was enough to tell her that her date had arrived. She made her way to the door to wait while Rena parked.

Christabelle watched as Rena Neri got out of her car and hustled across the parking lot, her long coat hanging open and flapping in the wind. She looked taller than Christabelle and she was definitely curvier, her hips filling out her black slacks and her bosom stretching the blue and cream striped shirt she wore. A bold gold necklace bounced with every step.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” Rena said as she met Christabelle at the door. Her beautiful smile was only rivaled by her gorgeous dark eyes. Her black hair was swept up in a bun, putting her gold hoop earrings on full display. “Sorry I’m late. Somebody just had to check out twenty books before I left, and my other clerk was running late.” She held out her hand to Christabelle. “I’m Rena Neri.”

“Christabelle Calder.” Rena’s hand was cold, but soft. Christabelle was starting to wish that she’d taken some of Pam’s advice and put a little more effort into her appearance. Rena was stunning and Christabelle couldn’t compete with an old shoe. “Aren’t you cold?”

“You’d think that,” Rena said with a little laugh. “But my anxiety has me sweating. Shall we go in?”

Christabelle stumbled under the influence of Rena’s beaming smile, but still managed to get the door and hold it open for Rena. The diner was fairly crowded, but the two of them managed to find a couple of stools together at the counter. In seconds, menus were tossed in front of them by a waitress who was busy but didn’t look stressed. She’d probably been doing this for twenty years; busy was the norm for her. The menus were a single sheet of laminated paper with the offerings on only one side. Christabelle didn’t even bother to look at it; Rena, however, looked it over carefully.

“What are you getting?” Rena asked.

“My usual. A burger and a lemonade.”

“Hmm.”

Christabelle looked at her curiously. “Haven’t you ever been to Dillman’s?”

Rena glanced at Christabelle, blushing as she shook her head.

“No.”

Christabelle could only stare at her date for a moment. She’d never known anyone from Munsterville who hadn’t been to Dillman’s. Even vegans showed up for the lemonade.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” she finally said.

“No,” Rena said, sounding like she was admitting a most horrible truth. “I moved here about three years ago. I grew up in Chicago, actually.”

“I’m still baffled,” Christabelle said with a laugh, shaking her head. “First that someone from Chicago would move to Munsterville and second that you’ve been here three years and still haven’t been to Dillman’s. The people you know here have done you a disservice.”

“Oh, people have been telling me to come here since I first got here,” Rena said. “I kept putting it off and forgetting about it.”

“Well, you’re going to find out how badly you’ve cheated yourself these past three years,” Christabelle said. “You like burgers?”

“Yeah.”

Christabelle took the menu from her and Rena gave her a curious look. The waitress working the counter came back their way and Christabelle ordered for both of them, a burger and a lemonade apiece.

“Trust me,” Christabelle said to Rena’s inquiring look. “I’m not normally this forward about food, but if you want the traditional Dillman’s experience, this is how you do it.”

“I’ll trust you on that.”

The two of them chatted as they waited for their food, Rena explaining that it was a lack of librarian jobs around Chicago that led her to Munsterville (“I go where the work is”) and Christabelle explaining that her natural nosiness led her to being a private investigator.

“It’s pretty boring work, really,” she said. “I don’t get shot at nearly as much as the TV shows would have you believe. I’ve also never been tangled up in any spy stuff or complicated drug running plots.”

Rena giggled and then went serious.

“Wait. What do you mean you haven’t been shot at nearly as much?”

Christabelle laughed. “Only about once a year and usually by some guy I’m busting for cheating who’s such a lousy shot that he couldn’t hit the side of the world. I’ve never come close to actually being shot. It’s a little scary having a few rounds go over your head, though.”

“You know,” Rena said after a second, “I used to think that being a librarian could be a little dull. I’m going to remember that nobody is shooting at me while I’m shelving books the next time I wish for a little excitement.”

“Hey, it’s Murderville. Anything can happen.”

Rena laughed.

The man sitting on the other side of Rena cleared off his stool just as the waitress brought them their food and the two women dug in. Christabelle ate at Dillman’s at least once a week, usually using the window instead of sitting inside. Her odd hours and late nights made her less of a cook and more of a takeout guru. Dillman’s was a quick and tasty burger to grab on the run.

“You’re right,” Rena said after sampling her burger and lemonade. “I regret waiting this long to come here. I’m going to have to work overtime to make up for it.”

Christabelle chuckled. “Told ya.”

An older gentleman came in and sat on the stool a couple of places down from Rena. It was hard not to notice him. He looked like he hadn’t slept in years, his face haggard, the circles under his eyes permanent. If he told Christabelle that he was pushing eighty, she’d believe it. Going by the yellow newspaper he placed carefully on the counter when he sat down, he might have been around ninety. But he wasn’t. He was only around sixty, if Christabelle remembered right.

Rena looked quizzically at Christabelle as he ordered nothing more than a coffee.

“You know him?” Rena asked Christabelle in a low voice.

“Yeah,” Christabelle said. “Well, I know of him. It’s Jerry Cooley.”

“That newspaper must be fifty years old, if it’s a day,” Rena said. “Why does he carry it around?”

Christabelle sighed. Anyone who ever ate inside Dillman’s knew Jerry Cooley’s story because he told it to anyone who’d listen. Since Christabelle usually used the window, she only had the basic gist of it, which she relayed to Rena.

“His sister went missing years ago. He carries that newspaper around as a conversation starter, trying to keep her memory alive, hoping to get new information.”

“Well, what happened?” Rena asked, clearly intrigued.

Christabelle could only shrug. “She disappeared from a park or something. Never seen again.”

“That’s it?” Rena asked, disappointed.

Again, Christabelle shrugged. “It’s all I know. You’d have to ask him.”

Before Christabelle knew what was happening, Rena nodded, turned, leaned over to Jerry Cooley, and tapped him gently on the arm.

“Excuse me.”

***

Want to find out the details of Marybeth Cooley’s disappearance? Become a patron and get the whole story for as little as $1 an episode!

I Think I’m Okay

Back in May, I wrote a post admitting that I was in a pretty serious depressive episode. Admitting it out loud was an important step for me to start to work on getting myself back to normal.

Or as normal as I can be.

I’m writing this post to say that I think I’m okay. I say “I think” because I don’t want to jinx it. It hasn’t been an easy climb out of the ol’ depression well. I’ve slipped a few times, including a major meltdown at the beginning of June. But I bounced back from it pretty quickly, which is a sign that I’m doing better. Another sign I’m doing better? PMS isn’t a doom trigger anymore. Adding a shit ton of hormones to a fucked up brain chemistry somehow doesn’t mix well. Who knew? And while PMS still isn’t pleasant, it’s back to what I consider normal.

Functioning has gotten easier, too. It’s easier to stick to my sleep schedule. I’m making better food choices. I’m exercising regularly and it’s easier for me to exercise (except for whatever the hell is going on with my right knee; it needs to accept that we’re doing this and stop being a pain). I’ve kept my work goals reasonable so I’m not frustrating myself on the days when I do struggle. But getting my work done has gotten easier. I feel like I can finally THINK now. I have the energy to deal with things in a reasonable time frame; I’m not always putting them off. Leaving the house no longer overwhelms me. And I’m more forgiving of myself on the days when things don’t go as planned.

Overall, I feel better.

How did I do this? The hard way, of course. I went back to the very basics of dealing with depression that my therapist taught me ages ago when I was first diagnosed. Exercising regularly, keeping my sleep schedule, doing something creative, going through my day the best I could, and journaling.

When I first went to therapy when I was 21 (holy shit that was like 18 years ago), my therapist correctly dragged my ass by saying that I haven a terrible tendency of keeping everything inside. I do not vent. I stress myself and don’t release the stress. I do not express my emotions well or enough. Now, this is because I’m not a very expressive person when it comes to the “negative” emotions, but it was also reinforced by my parents who didn’t tolerate expression of “negative” emotions well, particularly anger. Both of them have wicked tempers, but got real pissy if their kids were ever mad, particularly with them. Wild.

Anyway, my therapist encouraged journaling because it was a safe way to express my emotions. No one else would have to deal with what I was feeling so I wouldn’t have to deal with their reactions to what I was feeling and subsequently their feelings. Journaling is a one-on-one feelings things. It’s a way for me to examine my emotional mess without splattering anyone else.

I’ve been journaling on the reg since I was 22. I’ve put a lot of crazy on a lot of pages. And a lot of it has been anger and frustration and irritation that I would otherwise turn inward on myself. Shit that pissed me off that I was in no position to confront or change. Obsessive thoughts that I would otherwise ruminate about until they drove me mad. Journaling took that all out of my head, put it on the page, and let me look at it and deal with it.

There’s been a lot of picking things apart in those pages lately. A lot of facing up to some nasty truths and a lot of looking at things I’d rather not look at it.

But it’s been for the best. And the years of practice I’ve had of dealing with my hellscape of a brain this way has actually made doing it comforting. I feel like I’ve expressed some of the puss of an infection that was rotting away my insides. The abscess is healing.

Now all I gotta do is not pick at the scab.

Murderville: Rounds of Luck- Episode 7

The Phantom Returns

Velvet and Otis jumped to their feet at the same time, chairs shrieking and clattering.

The man just stood there, wearing all black, his face uncovered, framed by dark hair and shining pale white in the glare of the light. He stared right at the camera. Daring them.

Velvet had no doubt in her mind who it was or what he was doing. He’d come back to get them, pure and simple. She knew that the papers speculated the killer might have been looking for something the night before, and maybe he had been. But right now, all he was looking at was them.

At least it felt that way. Velvet felt his stare right through the screen even though she knew he couldn’t see her.

“I think we’re getting fired tonight,” Otis said, reaching for the phone on the desk, keeping an eye on the figure on the monitor.

“I’m good with that,” Velvet said, sounding as breathless as she felt, eyes fixated on the man on the screen.

Velvet heard him punch the numbers on the phone over her heartbeat pounding in her ears. This was the most terrifying stare down she’d ever been part of and that was saying something considering the guy wasn’t even in the building with her, let alone the same room. Worse, the longer Velvet stared, the more the man looked vaguely familiar, and that only added to her terror. She was barely aware of the click of the phone’s cutoff.

“The phone’s dead,” Otis told Velvet as he gently replaced the receiver.

A noise escaped her, something like a low, keening moan, and she leaned forward, bracing herself on the desk, eyes never leaving the monitor. This wasn’t happening. Trapped in a warehouse by a murderer and no phone or gun. Not that she knew how to shoot a gun, but Otis probably did. She would have felt a little bit better if Otis were armed. This was like a horror movie.

Velvet shook her head. If she got murdered in this warehouse, she’d never hear the end of it from her parents.

“I just wanted a normal night at work,” she complained. “This week is shit.”

“Where’s your cell phone?” Otis asked, businesslike as always. It should have been more comforting, but Velvet’s fear was whipping through her like an out of control roller coaster and it was taking everything for her not to burst into tears or laugh hysterically.

“In my car,” Velvet whispered, like the guy standing in the parking lot might hear her. “Mr. Kobel doesn’t let us have our cell phones in the building, remember? That son of a bitch. He probably just doomed us both. Probably did it on purpose, that asshole. That stupid mother-”

“Okay,” Otis said, cutting her off. Probably for the best. Velvet was working her way up to one hell of a rant. He took a deep breath and held out his hand. “Give me your keys.”

For the first time since the man appeared, Velvet looked away from the monitor long enough to look at Otis like he was crazy. He didn’t look like he’d lost his mind, but she was pretty sure he had.

“Do what?”

“Give me your keys,” Otis repeated. “I’ll go down there and get your phone.”

“Otis, the killer is standing right there,” Velvet said. She reached over to tap on the monitor to emphasize her point. The man moved just as she did, and Velvet jerked her hand away like he tried to grab her through the screen.

The two of them watched as he walked along the backside of the building and disappeared around the southwest corner.

“He’s going back to the crime scene,” Otis muttered and then louder, “Quick, Velvet, your keys. Now’s the time.”

###

Now IS the time! Only one more episode left after this. Don’t be caught unaware! Check out Murderville or Patreon and get in the know!

Murderville: Rounds of Luck- Episode 6

Speculation

Otis Gorski sat at his kitchen table, eating a peanut butter sandwich, drinking a glass of chocolate milk, looking at that morning’s paper, and stewing in his own juices.

He should have quit last night when Kobel threatened to fire him. He should have just walked away right then, left that pompous twit holding the bag with the two detectives standing right there. Boy, how would that have looked? Not so pretty. Especially since Kobel would have been left scrambling for someone to fill in for him. Velvet couldn’t work alone. Wouldn’t work alone. She’d raise a holy fit if Kobel tried to make her, probably get herself fired for her mouth. Otis didn’t want to put her in that position.

Velvet wasn’t what stopped him from quitting, though she did factor in some. Otis could never leave her hanging high and dry like that. But mostly, it was his pride that kept him from quitting right there. It felt like losing and Otis never liked to lose. There was dignity in retiring that he’d be denied if he quit in a huff. Kobel would probably take a victory lap if he did that.

On page four of the paper was a short blurb about the crime scene being disturbed. The same speculation the detectives had put forth the night before, about the crime scene either having been ransacked by souvenir hunters or perhaps the killer coming back to look for something, was mentioned, as well as a recap of Simon Sidney’s murder, though not much was added. In conclusion, the whole incident was downplayed quite spectacularly.

For some reason, this disappointed Otis.

Probably because he’d so enjoyed Kobel’s name showing up multiple times in the initial newspaper report of the murder. This little blurb didn’t do enough to reflect badly on a man who threatened to fire Otis and Velvet for doing their job and calling the police. He couldn’t help but take that personally even though he knew on a logical level that the paper wasn’t there to serve his personal vendettas.

Velvet should think about leaving, too, Otis thought. She’s got a degree. She can get a good job with it. No need for her to hang around that warehouse rotting for that disrespectful jerk.

Otis flipped the page and reached for his glass of chocolate milk. Empty. He stood up to get a refill. The change in his pocket jingled and Otis remembered the coin he’d found on his rounds the night of the murder. The one he was going to show the detectives because he thought one of them might have lost it. The one he was going to keep if one of them didn’t lose it. The one that was still in his pocket, mingled with his ordinary quarters and nickels. The one he’d forgotten all about.

Otis glanced down at the paper.

The police speculated that maybe the killer had returned to the scene to look for something.

Otis took the coin out of his pocket and looked it over. He frowned and shook his head.

“No. That’s not right. I found this inside the warehouse. The killer wasn’t in there.”

Still.

Otis’s fingers closed around the coin.

“It belongs to somebody.”

###

Who does it belong to? Check out Murderville or Patreon to read along and find out.

Murderville: Rounds of Luck- Episode 5

Back to the Dumpsters

Velvet arrived at work that night toting bits and pieces of gossip in her head, all of it juicy, but none of it definitive. She put her cell phone and her purse in her glove box, locked her car, and hurried against the whipping autumn wind to the backdoor. Once inside The Kobel Warehouse Off Rockrine Road, Velvet quickly navigated the maze to the security room, not pausing to think about what might be lurking in or around that new crate (or the other side of that wall). She found the atmosphere in the security room an odd mix of boiling and icy.

Cami and Trey sat hunched in their chairs while Otis stood behind them, arms folded across his thin chest, absolutely fuming.

“Hey, guys, how’s it going?” Velvet asked hesitantly, looking around the room as she spoke, trying to figure out what the hell had happened.

“Otis is in a mood,” Trey said, getting to his feet.

“He’s always in a mood,” Velvet said, casting a glance at Otis, who was definitely in a mood.

Cami stood up, too.

“Where are you going?” Otis asked, his voice gruffer than usual. “You still got ten minutes.”

“I’ll take the cut,” Trey said, scooching past Velvet to get out of the door. Cami followed right behind him.

Velvet stared at Otis, who stared back. She listened for Trey and Cami to clock out, gave them a second to flee, and then walked back out of the security room to clock in. Otis followed her. The two of them clocked in and went back in the security room to start their shift.

“What did you do?” Velvet asked.

“I didn’t do anything. It’s what Kobel did,” Otis said, sitting heavily in his chair, the damn thing screaming like an overacting victim in a cheap horror movie.

“What did Mr. Kobel do?” Velvet asked, sitting down in her own chair a little more delicately. It still squeaked horrendously.

“Left a message for us.”

Otis sat back in his chair, ignoring the noise, and glared at the monitors. Velvet stared at him for a moment, waiting. With a roll of her eyes, she prompted him, speaking slowly, enunciating every word.

“What is the message, Otis?”

“He said that the next time we need to call the police, we’re supposed to call him first,” Otis said.

Velvet waited and when Otis said nothing more, she picked apart the sentence, looking for the insult.

“So?” she said.

“So?” Otis scoffed. “I’m not deferring my judgment and my responsibilities to that man.”

“It’s his warehouse, Otis,” Velvet said, shaking her head at Otis’s wounded pride.

“And it’s my job.”

“I thought you were retiring.”

“And until I do, this is still my job.”

Otis shut down, going into full pout mode, his whole posture a frown. Velvet sighed, and leaned back in her chair, looking up at the monitors. Why did men have to be so impossible?

Normally, Otis would have walked the first round, but he was in such a fiercely foul mope over his job and retirement that he didn’t even make an attempt to get out of the chair when Velvet told him it was time. So, she walked the first round, her own mood souring over Otis’s behavior and his impending retirement (which she was still not sure he’d actually be able to go through with, but was afraid that he would), her brain rolling over the bits of gossip she’d acquired during the day in an attempt to keep the dark shadow of fear at bay. Because against all logic, Velvet was a little afraid. The killer was long gone. Those shadows were just shadows and those noises were just noises. There was nothing to be afraid of. Yet she was. Just a little.

Velvet completed that round in record time, coming back to the security room to find that Otis’s mood hadn’t improved

“It’s going to be a long night,” she said as she sat down.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you’re in full grump,” Velvet said. “You’re no fun when you’re in full grump.”

Otis grumped loudly in reply. “I’m not here to have fun.”

“Yeah, but it’s only when you’re in full grump that it makes it impossible for me to have fun.”

Otis ignored her. Velvet reached over and gave him a nudge.

“You’re not really going to retire, Otis. Right?”

“My mind is made up, Velvet, and there’s nothing you can do to change it.”

Velvet crossed her arms in a huff. “You’re a real pain, Otis.”

“Well, you won’t have to put up with me for much longer.”

“But I want to put up with you.” Velvet paused. “Except when you’re being a grump.”

Otis didn’t respond.

Velvet left him be for a bit. Her eyes drifted over the monitors in a pattern, starting at the top and working across, then down and across again, back and forth. It was a soothing sort of thing, even if she did end up suffering from eyestrain after a couple of hours. But it was also an easy way to pass the time. It didn’t require much thought.

“I’m going to walk rounds.”

Velvet jumped, her chair squeaking loudly and preventing her from pretending that she hadn’t. Otis looked over at her with a raised eyebrow before his own chair squealed as he got up.

“So nice of you to participate,” Velvet said. “I was wondering since you were retiring if you were going to walk rounds at all.”

“I always do my job,” Otis said, deadly serious.

“Really? You didn’t walk the first round.”

“You didn’t ask.”

“I never have to!”

“I’ll be back.”

Otis stalked out of the security room, flashlight in hand and radio on his belt.

“Maybe it would be better if that old grouch did retire,” Velvet muttered to herself, knowing full well she didn’t really mean it.

She went back to the monitors, watching Otis disappear and reappear as he walked through the maze. Something on another monitor caught her eye. It moved quickly, but Velvet was a little quicker, seeing it before it vanished.

A shadow in the parking lot.

###

Trouble has returned. Or has it? The only way to know is to read. Check out Murderville or Patreon to find out how.

Murderville: Rounds of Luck- Episode 4

Official Gossip

The Munsterville Courier was a marvel of a modern newspaper. No matter how late a story broke, they always seemed to have it first thing in the morning, usually on the front page. And not just online. In the physical copy, too.

Simon Sidney’s murder was no different.

Otis sat at his kitchen table, eating a peanut butter sandwich, drinking a glass of chocolate milk, and reading about what he’d already experienced, which was splashed in glorious fashion all over the front page. He was somewhat relieved that his and Velvet’s names were kept out of the press and a little more than tickled that Manfred Kobel’s was splattered all over it. Just out of spite, he hoped some rumors about the man started.

And judging by the way the article was written, they would.

The article highlighted that the body was found at The Kobel Warehouse Off Rockrine Road, a warehouse that Mr. Kobel was thinking of selling, possibly to the victim, something that Otis didn’t know. He reckoned that none of the other security guards knew it either. And none of them probably would have known until the day the warehouse was sold and they were all fired. Otis realized it was very likely that Simon Sidney’s death saved all of their jobs, at least until Kobel could find another buyer. Not that it mattered much to Otis. He was retiring.

The paper also went into great detail about the business deals and steals of the two men. There was also something else about Simon Sidney’s estranged wife and his connection to a dead woman found at The End Of and the late Winchester Harmon, but that didn’t interest him. He preferred the parts that drug Manfred Kobel through the mud.

It served the man right. Otis didn’t believe in Karma, but in this case, he was willing to make an exception. If Kobel was going to insult Otis’s work, then he could be insulted, too. Being seen as a shady businessman and a murder suspect in the court of public opinion was much better than any name Otis could think to call the man.

Otis finished the paper and his peanut butter sandwich, only pausing here and there to read a few shorter blurbs of other stories that caught his eye. When he got up to get another peanut butter sandwich, he got his checkbook, too.

As he ate, Otis looked over his finances. Growing up poor had taught him two things: be frugal and be meticulous with money. Otis only bought things when he was sure he could afford them, which was why he drove a car nearly twenty years old; he wasn’t sure that he could afford any of those pricey new ones. He bought a house, the one he still lived in, but it was an investment when he bought it all those years ago and he’d been good about taking care of it, even if it wasn’t as up-to-date and fancy as some of the others in the neighborhood. Take the kitchen for example. The stove was over twenty years old and one of the knobs was gone and sometimes it shocked you if you were touching the sink at the same time, but it still worked just as well as when he’d bought it from a rummage sale about fifteen years ago. The table came from his grandmother’s basement and despite a couple of nicks was still in good shape. The wood paneling and the floor were new-ish; he’d redone them both about five years ago. The place might be well-worn and lived-in, but it was a good house.

He’d tried to pass on some of his wisdom to Velvet, though she seemed to have a pretty good head on her shoulders when it came to money. She didn’t wait to get married to buy a house and she was in no hurry to buy a new car even though the one she drove was paid for. He couldn’t convince her to spend less on clothes or make-up, though.

Otis had one hundred thousand dollars in his checking account. He also had savings accounts pushing two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, thanks to steady deposits and interest. Otis frowned. He wasn’t sure that’d be enough. He probably should have started investing in CDs or bonds or something, but Otis didn’t really trust that sort of thing. He wasn’t even sure about the savings account, but the bank had proven solid over the decades he’d used them. He still kept about ten thousand dollars in cash in the house, though. Just for emergencies. Thinking critically about his money situation, Otis decided that he could afford to retire if he really had to, though he might have to splurge on fewer name brands during grocery shopping trips just to be safe.

When he stood up to return his checkbook to its proper place and to get another glass of chocolate milk, the jingling in his pocket caught his attention. It wasn’t an unusual sound by any means, but it reminded Otis of what was actually in there.

Digging into his pocket, Otis found the coin and pulled it out. He sat down at the table again, checkbook and milk forgotten as he examined the coin, turning it over and over in his hands. It wasn’t any American or Canadian currency he knew. Didn’t look like the English money he’d seen either. There was a bird on one side, sort of like an eagle, and there was star and crescent on the other side. It was strange. And it didn’t look like it’d ever been used, like most currency, nor did it have that look of being a forgotten lucky charm. This had been cared for, the silver gleamed in the morning sunlight spilling into the kitchen. This was important.

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