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Looking for Nannette Sullivan and Finding a Fifth Date
The story of Marybeth Cooley is wrapping up. Only one more episode left after this!
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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.
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.
“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.
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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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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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!
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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!
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.”
“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.”
Christabelle looked at her curiously. “Haven’t you ever been to Dillman’s?”
Rena glanced at Christabelle, blushing as she shook her head.
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?”
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.”
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.
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 am totally finished with Murderville. The last two seasons are written, revised, polished, scheduled, ebooked, teased, promo-ed, everything. I am done with it. All that’s left is to manage the little details as the rest of this Patreon project plays out.
As happy as I am to be done with this project that I’ve been working on for years, I feel a little lost without it. I spent half of August trying to decide what to work on next.
I’ve decided to go back to the Outskirts. That’s right. I’m revising (Vampires) Made in America. Again.
Last year when my goal was to submit the book to agents, I realized after the first few rejections that it needed more work, but I wasn’t sure what it needed.
Earlier this year, I realized that I was starting the book in the wrong place. I needed to get rid of the first chapter and start with the second. Which is easy enough to do. Yes, I lose some stuff I really love, but that’s the nature of the writing beast. You can’t keep everything you love if it doesn’t serve the story. The first chapter really doesn’t serve it.
But that didn’t feel like the only change that I needed to make. There was something else that I just couldn’t put my finger on yet.
I had my epiphany about two weeks ago. In an after-shower moment (all of those best ideas happening while I shower, after my shower, or while I do laundry), the theme of the novel fully clarified itself to me and I realized I needed to add another viewpoint. That’s what’s been missing this whole time.
So, that’s what I’ll be doing this month.
Maybe I can finally get this book right.
Episode 3 of Book ’em, Danno is out. Also worth noting that the podcast is now on iTunes, though I don’t officially say anything about that until the fifth episode because that’s what happens when I try to stay an episode or two ahead. But you don’t have to wait until then to subscribe and listen.
Episode 4 should be coming out shortly.
Murderville patrons, brace yourselves. The ebook of Murderville: Rounds of Luck will be going live on September 10th.
Yes, I might be done with the project on my end, but the goodies will keep on coming for quite a while.