Murderville: So Long, Neighbor–Episode 4

Mountains and Molehills

Vince probably shouldn’t have slammed DeMarte’s car door like that, but his frustration had peaked. DeMarte’s behavior at Revolutionary Medicines was disgraceful. Instead of informing Revolution Dude about his cousin’s death and asking a few questions, he’d practically grilled the man on the spot. Vince had been a little offended when Revolution Dude had said he might need a lawyer to talk to them, but it turned out that he was right. That DeMarte was held up as an exemplary detective ate away at the lining of Vince’s stomach. Following up on Otis Gorski and Revolution Dude was pointless busywork, but Vince was glad for it because it got him away from DeMarte for a while.

Vince understood the principle of DeMarte’s insistence that they investigate this case thoroughly, but in practice, it made no sense. The more people they talked to, the more it looked like the man had been drunk and had an accident. Maybe he wasn’t looking for the zebras when he heard the stampede, but there was no reason not to expect horses here. Yes, Revolution Dude was clearly not telling all, but that didn’t mean anything. Families have secrets and not everything needs to be said, especially to a couple of police detectives. Guilt wouldn’t necessarily be a motivation not to talk.

What worried Vince was that DeMarte hadn’t yet figured out a motive, though he was certain the cousins were at the center of a crime. He was fishing and Vince didn’t like that. He might catch something that he didn’t intend.

Worse, he might catch something that he turned into a fish story to save his own face.

And Vince had an idea of what that could be.

***

Is Vince right? Or is DeMarte really on to something? Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and decide for yourself.

Murderville: So Long, Neighbor–Episode 3

Next of Kin

Otis Gorski was Velvet’s partner in security at The Kobel Warehouse Off Rockrine Road. Vince had already met the man during their investigation into Simon Sidney’s death there. Gruff and professional, Vince couldn’t say he relished the idea of waking him up to inform him of his cousin’s death.

The car ride was silent, DeMarte with his laser sharp focus fixated on the road and Vince stewing about what DeMarte might have thought about that comment from Miss Vernee Dean and how to broach the fact that he was somewhat familiar with Otis Gorski as well. There was nothing conflicting about it, as far as Vince was concerned, but DeMarte might think otherwise. He might remove him from the case.

At that thought, Vince cleared his throat.

“I think you should know, Detective, that I met Mr. Gorski previously on another case,” he said, and then he waited.

DeMarte said nothing, just stared straight ahead as he smoothly navigated Sunday afternoon traffic.

“He was a witness in the Simon Sidney murder case,” Vince went on.

Nothing.

“He’s also works with Mr. McKinney’s neighbor, Velvet Li.”

DeMarte huffed.

“Carthos, I don’t need to know your whole life.”

Vince sat there dumbfounded for a few seconds before nodding.

“Okay.”

The rest of the ride was silent, for which Vince was both grateful and apprehensive. DeMarte’s face was unreadable.

They arrived at Otis Gorski’s house and Vince was all too happy to let DeMarte lead the charge to the front door, knocking hard. Otis Gorski wasn’t exactly pleasant when he was awake; Vince couldn’t imagine he’d be much better after being woken up.

The front door opened within a minute, and Otis Gorski stood there, fully dressed and looking wide awake, catching Vince by surprise. He thought for sure that the man would have been sleeping for his impending shift. But then, Velvet did say that Otis was a little weird.

“Mr. Gorski?” DeMarte inquired and he nodded. “My name is Detective DeAndre DeMarte. This is Detective Carthos. Is it all right if we come inside and talk for a minute?”

Mr. Gorski cast a glance past DeMarte to Vince and frowned.

“Don’t tell me they found another body out at the warehouse,” he said.

“No, sir,” DeMarte said with a smile as Vince shook his head. Seemed Mr. Gorski remembered him. “Can we talk?”

“Sure.”

Mr. Gorski led them inside, leaving Vince to shut the front door behind him, and into a living room that featured furniture that was probably bought used twenty years ago.

“Have a seat,” Mr. Gorski instructed. He sat in a well-worn, almost broken-down recliner and Vince sat on the couch. DeMarte looked like he didn’t want to sit anywhere, but he did after a second, on the edge of the couch leaving a respectable distance between himself and Vince. “What can I do for you?”

“Are you related to a man named Lister McKinney?” DeMarte asked.

“Yeah,” Mr. Gorski said, guarded, and for the first time, the resemblance between the living man and the dead man dawned on Vince. Same thin build, same bald head, same set of the mouth. They could have easily passed for brothers. “He’s my cousin. Why? What’s he done now?”

Vince looked over at DeMarte, expecting him to exchange a look with him, but DeMarte kept his focus on Mr. Gorski.

“I regret to inform you that your cousin has been found deceased earlier this afternoon,” DeMarte said, totally professional.

Mr. Gorski stared at him for a moment, almost in disbelief, and then slumped back into his chair, a soft sadness clouding his face.

“Well, damn. That’s a shame. How did it happen?”

“We’re not sure right now, Mr. Gorski. At the moment, we’re investigating it as a suspicious death,” DeMarte said.

Mr. Gorski raised his eyebrows. “Really? Why? I figured he just drank himself to death. That’s what he’s been doing. Pretty dedicated to it, in fact.”

“Maybe so, but he was found dead in his garage with a significant head injury,” DeMarte said. “It’s important the we investigate all angles of this case. We don’t want anything overlooked.”

Now DeMarte glanced over at Vince and Vince ignored him. It was a dig at him and at Detective Carpenter, he knew it. He’d suffered through a lot of those in the last year, though as the newbie he hadn’t been subjected to as many as Carpenter. Unsurprisingly, many of those digs had been made by Detective DeMarte.

“I suppose that’s smart,” Mr. Gorski said. He sat up straighter in his recliner. “I doubt he did anything much more than get drunk and fall over, though.”

“Be that as it may, I’d appreciate it if you bear with us and answer a few questions,” DeMarte said.

“Okay.”

“Have you heard from your cousin lately?” DeMarte asked.

“Not lately,” he said, shaking his head. “Think I might have talked to him on the phone a couple of weeks ago. Haven’t seen him since February, I think. But that’s not unusual. We were real close as kids, but we grew apart as adults. I got a job working overnight and he got to drinking. Those schedules don’t work out so well.”

“So, you hadn’t seen him lately,” DeMarte said, jotting it down in his notebook.

“Not since February.”

“But you talked to him a couple of weeks ago.”

“Yes.”

“Anything unusual about that conversation? Did he sound upset or out of sorts?”

“Nope, just half-lit like usual.”

“Would you know of anyone who’d want to hurt your cousin or any reason someone might want to hurt your cousin?” DeMarte asked.

“No. Not since he stopped drinking bars,” Mr. Gorski said.

***

Can the remaining two Wyliss boys shed any light on what might have happened to Lister? Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and find out what they have to say.

Murderville: So Long, Neighbor–Episode 2

Talking to the Neighbors

Lister McKinney’s house was something like his garage, organized chaos. It was easy to see that nothing had been disturbed or taken. Nothing had probably been moved in months.

The door from the garage led into the kitchen and Vince was greeted with a familiar sight: a pile of miscellaneous detritus on the kitchen table. His own looked quite a bit like this, only not piled so high. Where he might have a few months, this looked like years. Vince opted to do a walk-through of the house looking for any important papers that might lead him to a next-of-kin, knowing that he was probably going to end up sifting through that kitchen table in the end.

There was a lot of stuff everywhere, no rhyme or reason or filing system, but it seemed like anything Lister McKinney considered important was probably on the kitchen table. He couldn’t find it anywhere else.

Vince carefully sorted through the contents of the table, noting the bills, a few old past-due notices, and the junk mail that never made it to the garbage can. Under one messy pile, he found Mr. McKinney’s checkbook. A quick glance as his finances painted an interesting picture. First of all, the handwriting was incredibly neat, small, block-print, something Vince wasn’t expecting. Secondly, he lived mostly off of social security, the deposit noted consistently during the first week of every month. However, at some point during the middle of the month, there might be one or two other deposits, nothing overly large, never more than a few hundred dollars, and each deposit was noted with either “Otis” or “Virgil”. He set the checkbook aside.

A little more sifting and he dug up an old picture of three boys about ten years old. On the back was the year and the names of the boys. They were identified as the Wyliss boys, but none of them bore that name. Instead, the names Lister McKinney, Otis Gorski, and Virgil Clapp were listed in the pristine handwriting common to women back in the day when penmanship was a valued thing. In parenthesis under the names was the word “cousins”.

Putting together the pieces, it seemed likely to Vince that the Otis and Virgil in the checkbook were the same Otis and Virgil in the picture.

And once again he found himself in bit of a dilemma.

Because the name Otis Gorski was familiar to him.

With a sigh, Vince left the kitchen and went back into the garage. He’d ask Officer Jensen if he could borrow her squad’s computer.

He might know the name, but he didn’t know the address.

#

The neighborhood was pretty lively for a Sunday afternoon in late spring. People were probably out doing yard work, running errands, oblivious to the crime committed on their block. Or so they thought. Detective DeAndre DeMarte was confident that he was going to find a witness or two from the clump standing on the lawn opposite Lister McKinney’s house. No doubt one of them saw something; they just didn’t realize they saw it yet.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” he said as he approached the group, which fell silent as he spoke. He had that way with people. “I’m Detective DeAndre DeMarte. I was hoping to ask you folks a few questions about what’s going on across the street.”

***

Whatever will the neighbors say? Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and find out.

Murderville: So Long, Neighbor–Episode 1

A Dead Neighbor on Sunday

Spring thaw in Munsterville thawed more than just the ground, creeks, streams, and patches of Lake Munster. It thawed the population, too. After several months of snow, ice, and freezing temperatures, the citizens of Munsterville welcomed the first warmish, sunny day, emerging from their winter hibernation with no intention of returning until the end of autumn. No false spring giving way to winter temperatures could convince them to put on their heavy coats again.

Flip flops and shorts weren’t the only things that emerged in spring. So did the criminal activity. Committing and/or solving crimes is more difficult in a parka, so at the first hint of warm weather, the pace of both picked up, plateauing during the summer.

The Munsterville Police Department was known for their dedicated officers, particularly their detectives, as they were charged with solving some of the toughest cases in the city. Those cases usually involved a suspicious death. And to be honest, most deaths in Munsterville were suspicious. After all, it’s not called Murderville for nothing.

Detective DeAndre DeMarte walked into work every day with that thought on his mind. He took nothing for granted on his cases, investigating every aspect and every angle. Some cops thought it was overkill, but he had the record to back up his methods. He was the best detective in the whole precinct, and he didn’t get that by being the best looking (which he was) or the best dressed (ditto). He got that through hard work and because he never let a theory go unchecked.

DeMarte didn’t work with a regular partner. He didn’t really need to. He worked best alone. But sometimes he found himself partnered with the newer detectives when their regular partners were unavailable, either sick or on vacation or whatever. DeMarte didn’t take sick days (he had an incredible constitution) and he didn’t like to take vacations, but Chief Del Marco insisted. She said the city was tired of paying him out on both sick days and vacation, so she made him take his vacation days. And he did. He respected his Chief, even if he didn’t always agree with her.

When DeMarte worked with the newbie detectives, he did his best to impart his wisdom on them. Sure, their partners were probably fine showing them the ropes, but he was the best. Who couldn’t benefit from some knowledge bestowed upon them by the best detective in the city?

Detective Josh Carpenter was on vacation with his husband and kids, so Detective DeAndre DeMarte was paired up with Carpenter’s usual partner, Detective Vince Carthos. Carpenter was a competent enough of a detective, but even his best wasn’t as good as DeMarte’s average. And Carpenter wasn’t even at his best most of the time, especially in the last year. Carthos was practically starved for some decent guidance.

So far, though, DeMarte’s guidance had only be theoretical and offered up as advice; they hadn’t had a single death case that week for practical application and he only had a week left to educate the young detective. There was only so much one could learn doing follow-ups and filing.

“You see,” DeMarte went on, determined to cram as much learning as possible into the short time he had with Carthos, “it’s important to keep an open mind during your investigations. You can’t get tied into one theory. That’s how you get yourself in trouble. If you only focus on one possibility, you miss the evidence you need that leads you to the truth.”

Detective Vince Carthos sat at his desk and nodded. He was focused on reading the report in front of him, but DeMarte knew he was listening. He was too hard to ignore.

DeMarte sat on the corner of Carthos’s messy desk and looked down at him.

“You know, you might benefit from better organization,” he said, looking over the disarray, trying not to judge the young man too harshly.

Carthos looked up at him. “How’s that?”

The man would look forever young with that round cherub face. He looked a little soft, too, but DeMarte thought that might be deceptive. Anyone would look soft wearing a rumpled, slightly too-big suit. DeMarte preferred to look pressed and well-tailored, preferably in something expensive and with a hat. He felt suspects and witnesses alike responded better to that impression. Besides, he’d never been able to pull off anything off-the-rack. It all hung wrong on him. His body wasn’t made for such average clothing.

“Look at your desk, son,” DeMarte said, gesturing to it. “It’s a mess. Do you even know what you have on it?”

“Yeah. Most of it.”

DeMarte clucked his tongue and shook his head.

“See, that’s not good enough. You need to know what every scrap of paper is. You have to keep all of that in your head and at your fingertips. Valuable seconds are wasted if you’re looking for something and you can’t tell one case from another, one lead from another. When you’re working on multiple cases, organization is the key.”

“Carpenter always tells me there’s no real right way,” Carthos said. “Though he did tell me I needed to keep my notebook in better order. And I agreed with him on that. I can get a little sloppy there. But I know the system of my desk.”

DeMarte looked at the detritus covering the used wooden surface. He shook his head in disbelief. There was no way this was a system or any way to be a detective. It pained him to think that this detective was lost before he had a chance to save him. But DeMarte wasn’t one to quit, not even when it all seemed lost. He’d still put in his best effort with Carthos. It was possible that he might be able to salvage something out of the man and make him into at least a competent detective.

“Detective Carpenter is a decent detective. Very…knowledgeable,” DeMarte said. “He must have told you the importance of organization. There’s no way he could let something like this fly.”

“It gives him anxiety to look at my desk sometimes, yeah,” Carthos said with a grin. “But I can always find what he needs, so he doesn’t say too much about it. Besides, his desk can get just as unruly when we’re busy.” Carthos quickly added, “But he can always find what he needs, too. I think it’s important that the system work for the person. Not everyone can handle being so neat.”

“And what do you call this system?” DeMarte asked, wrinkling his nose.

Carthos surveyed his desk.

“It doesn’t have a name,” he said. “I’m not going to patent it.”

DeMarte laughed. “For the best, I think. You’d never be able to sell it.”

Carthos gave a strained smiled. One thing DeMarte had noticed about him was that he didn’t have the keenest sense of humor. Which was a shame. Carpenter could be quite a funny guy. He must have felt suffocated working with Carthos all the time.

“You know, you should really come over and check out my desk,” DeMarte said. They’d gone over a lot in the short time they’d been together. It’s not like DeMarte had run out of things to teach Carthos, but there was something demoralizing about needing to go over something as simple as how to properly keep a desk. “Not only do I have the patented ‘DeMarte System’, but it’s also so good that anyone can work it. Because you can’t overlook the importance of other people being able to find what they need on your desk. When someone is covering for you and needs to follow up on one of your cases-”

“DeMarte!”

DeMarte turned at the sound of his name and saw a uniform approaching at a hustle. He had a slip of paper in his hand.

“That’s Detective to you, Officer,” he said as he stood up, straightening his jacket.

“Sorry, sir,” the uniform said, not sounding very sorry. He handed the slip of paper to DeMarte. “Call from dispatch. Body in a garage over on Hollyhock Road. Lieutenant told me to give it to you.”

“Thank you, Officer,” DeMarte said, dismissing him. He looked at the slip of paper. Scribbled on it were some quick details: male, sixties, head wound, and the address. “Let’s go, Carthos.”

Detective DeMarte led his protégé out of the station and to his unmarked car, parked right up front. He had his game face on, his game attitude in place. It was all relaxed, easy-going DeMarte before; now he was serious.

Hollyhock Road had become notorious in the detectives’ room. The Winchester Harmon case the year before had earned them all (even DeMarte, much to his chagrin) a sound tongue lashing from Chief Del Marco about their credibility and their responsibility to the public and being made fools of because they weren’t observant enough or smart enough. She chewed out all of the detectives, but it had been Carpenter’s case. He was the one who botched it, looking at a suicide (an obvious suicide, if anyone asked DeMarte) like a homicide and wasting resources to investigate it like one. There was being thorough, and then there was being oblivious, and in the Winchester Harmon case, Carpenter had definitely been the latter. To his credit, Carpenter did solve a challenging suspicious death a few months later (a homicide staged to look like a suicide), but the damage to his reputation had already been done. DeMarte valued his own reputation more than Carpenter valued his, it seemed. And the example he set for his inexperienced partner during that case was pitiful. No wonder Chief Del Marco pulled Carthos to work on other cases whenever she got the chance. Trying to save the poor guy from further corruption.

He glanced over at Carthos as they pulled out of the police lot.

The Winchester Harmon case had been a disaster for the young detective. This one would be different.

Detective DeAndre DeMarte wouldn’t be fooled.

***

It’s the last season of Murderville and we’re going back to where it all began. Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and see how the whole thing wraps up.

Murderville: The Coldest Case–Episode 6

Conclusions, Dead Ends, and a Fourth Date

Christabelle couldn’t sleep.

It wasn’t unusual. Keeping odd hours for so many years had firmly disrupted her circadian rhythms. The nights when she wasn’t required to stay up until the wee hours of the morning following some creep cheating on his wife or some floozy cheating on her husband (how she’d never been hired for a cheating case for a same-sex couple, she didn’t know), Christabelle found herself either struggling to make herself go to sleep or to entertain herself until she was tired enough to go to bed.

Tonight, it wasn’t only her inconsistent schedule keeping her awake. It was also Rena. More specifically, Rena’s kiss. Even more specifically, Christabelle was performing great feats of mental strength trying NOT to think about it. Because to think about it was to ruminate about it and to ruminate about it was pointless and would no doubt lead her to getting her hopes up, and that was already a losing battle. She didn’t need to lose that battle faster. Christabelle had already made up her mind that the kiss was part of Rena’s gag with the love stone she’d given her, and it ultimately meant nothing.

To keep her mind off of her inevitable heartbreak, Christabelle researched the four teenagers last seen with Marybeth Cooley. The internet being the wonderful thing that it was, she found the fates of the three boys without much trouble.

They were all dead.

Dwight Harmon, successful businessman, died a few years back, apparently suffering from a heart attack and drowning in his hot tub. The insinuation was he had become overstimulated during a “party”. That seemed a little tame for Murderville and a little suspicious that someone could so easily drown with so many people in proximity. It was a hot tub, not the ocean. A little research into this “party” dug up rumors that Dwight Harmon was a multi-millionaire known for his orgies featuring the biggest names in the higher social circles, including his younger brother Winchester Harmon, the man found dead on Pam and Drew Bendixen’s front step the previous year. Dwight Harmon’s heart attack occurred while he was having sex with a woman in his hot tub and he drowned when she left to get help from someone inside. Christabelle supposed it wasn’t easy to attract attention at an orgy, people being very involved in their activities and all. That sounded closer to the truth than what was printed in the paper.

Butch Taylor, another successful Munsterville businessman, died the same year as Winchester Harmon in a bizarre electrocution incident. In a fight with this fourth wife, Butch decided to cut her off from everything. Literally. After she stormed out in a dramatic huff, Butch proceeded to go down to the basement intent on cutting the power. Instead of turning it off with the switch, he took a pair of gardening sheer and cut into the wires. Instant fried millionaire. It was only pure luck that the house didn’t catch on fire. His wife came home hours later and found him, his corpse still smoking a little. Christabelle could only imagine the smell.

In another familial twist, Butch Taylor’s nephew Simon Sidney had recently been murdered by his second wife and a business rival. And in another neighborhood twist, Christabelle’s neighbor across the street, Velvet Li, found the body, along with her fellow security guard Otis Gorski, who, along with his cousins, also found Marybeth Cooley.

Christabelle was beginning to suspect that everyone in town was connected to this case in some way.

Jimmie DuPage died out at the End Of. He shot himself in the head when he was twenty-one. A routine sweep of the area found his body. No foul play was suspected. Like many of the suicides that happen out there, he didn’t leave a note. The speculation, though, was that he killed himself to avoid a prison sentence for manslaughter after killing a man in a bar fight. Christabelle had some doubts. It all felt a little too neat. But there was nothing that overtly suggested that his death connected to Marybeth Cooley’s murder, either.

So, Christabelle pressed on and ran straight into a brick wall.

Nannette Sullivan seemed to have disappeared.

***

It turns out the coldest case in Munsterville is the coldest for a reason. It’s a tough one to crack. Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and read all about it.

Murderville: The Coldest Case–Episode 5

Talking to the Wyliss Boys

Christabelle met the Windoms in the same diner she’d met them before and ordered the same breakfast plate. They wore the same sunglasses and cast the same furtive glances.

Things changed after Christabelle gave them her findings.

“They’re swingers,” she said bluntly.

Mr. Windom stared at her, his dark sunglasses masking some of his reaction. Mrs. Windom, though, whipped off her sunglasses in shock, revealing wide, blue eyes.

“Excuse me?”

“Swingers, not drug dealers,” Christabelle said, adding a little salt to her hash browns. “The people coming and going? Are doing it in the literal sense. They’re all folks that are part of the lifestyle.”

“Oh my God,” Mr. Windom said, sounding like a married couple having an open sexual relationship with other married couples was somehow worse than running a drug den.

Mrs. Windom nearly poked her own eye out in her haste to put her sunglasses on.

“I see,” she said. “Well. That’s very…um…yes, well…I…” She elbowed her husband. “Pay Ms. Calder, so we can go.”

Mr. Windom scrambled for his checkbook and quickly dashed off Christabelle’s fee.

“Thank you so much for your help, Ms. Calder,” Mrs. Windom said. She stood up too fast and hit the table, jostling it and nearly upsetting Christabelle’s orange juice.

Christabelle took the offered check, thanked them, and watched the couple all but run out of the diner having learned a valuable lesson about being nosy.

After finishing her leisurely late breakfast and running to the bank, she arrived home just before noon. She pulled into her driveway and sat there for a minute, debating. It was probably late enough that Lister McKinney was awake, but early enough that he couldn’t have gotten too deep into the day’s dirty thirty. Christabelle decided that now was as good as time as any to talk to him.

Even though it was January, even though there was snow, even though that day there was a windchill in the teens, Lister McKinney was still sitting in a lawn chair in his garage with the door wide open. Christabelle walked down the plowed street and up Lister’s shoveled driveway, a fact that tickled Christabelle considering Lister probably hadn’t his license in two decades, if not more.

“Lister,” Christabelle called about halfway up the driveway.

Lister, sitting in his lawn chair, contemplating his can of beer, looked up, recognized Christabelle, and gave her a wave.

“Whatcha doin’ over here, mystery neighbor?” Lister asked with a grin. Christabelle smiled and shook her head. She’d lived in her house on the other side of Raul Santos for quite a while before a block party encouraged her to meet her neighbors (even though she knew who they all were, being naturally nosy on top of being a private investigator). It was only then that she realized just how familiar everyone in the neighborhood was with each other and how she stood out as a mysterious presence because she’d never introduced herself, a fact that until then she hadn’t regarded as strange since her previous neighborhoods hadn’t been so well-connected.

“Come to chew a little fat with you, Lister,” Christabelle said, surprised at how warm the garage was even with the door wide open. She spotted two space heaters going full blast, one of which was a few feet behind Lister’s chair, and realized that’s how Lister was able to drink out here in the dead of winter without suffering from frostbite.

“Yeah, what kind of fat you want to chew?” He reached into the bright orange cooler beside him and pulled out a can of beer, holding it out to Christabelle. She took it but didn’t open it.

“I wanted to talk to you about Marybeth Cooley,” she said.

Lister froze, the air temperature in the garage dropping lower than the windchill outside.

“Now, why would you want to be talking about that?” he asked.

***

Turns out only one of the Wyliss boys does much talking. But which one? Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode and find out.

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.

***

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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!