Monday, February 20, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 20

An explanation of what I'm doing is here.
If you missed the first chapter, start here!



Chapter Twenty

Ordered chaos reigned in the lobby of the police station when Penelope entered after noon, a man and a woman shouting at each other from opposite corners, a pair of young Mormon missionaries seated in between filling out theft reports. Three small children sat on the floor playing with the toys in front of the reception desk, playing with the toys that were normally stored in a basket under the bench, ignoring everything around them. She held up a plastic food container and mouthed “Is he in?” to the unflappable clerk. After a quick phone call she was waved through.

Jake met her in the hallway, tension lines wrinkling his forehead. “You didn’t have to come all the way down here.” He kept his hand on the small of her back and guided her to his office. “I don’t really have time for lunch. This day…”

Penelope pushed the door closed behind her. “Five minutes.” The noise from the rest of the station receded although she could still hear a phone ringing. She handed him the container, ammunition from a late night confession when he’d finally admitted his secret comfort food. “Peanut butter and banana on white bread with the crusts cut off. And I won’t tell anyone.” She stood on her toes to kiss the grey hairs at his temple before sitting on the edge of his desk. “You should take something for that headache.”

Jake took a deep breath and slowly let it out, then sat down in his squeaky chair and opened the container. The scent of peanuts filled the office. “I had to put one of my best patrol officers on administrative leave until I can either prove that he printed out that page you took from Jezza’s house or prove that he didn’t.” He took a bite and kept talking. “And with that scene this morning… We have to go back and re-interview everyone because naturally before we had photos every single person claimed that the extortion rumors were baseless lies.” He closed his eyes. “I hate politicians.”

Penelope cleared her throat.

Jake opened one eye. “Present company excepted, of course.”

“Of course.” Penelope opened the top drawer of his desk and took out the bottle of ibuprofen that lived next to a pile of pens, staples, and rubber bands. Shaking two out into her palm, she held them out and winced as he dry-swallowed them. “Should I make plans for a candle lit dinner with Brutus or do you think you’ll make it home?”

“I’ll try, but no promises.” He closed both eyes again.

Penelope pushed off the desk. “Understood, but if Brutus eats all the candles in the house you only have yourself to blame.” She decided the slight twitch of his mouth counted as a response. “I’m off to see a dog about a run. I’ll see you whenever you make it home. Don’t forget to drink something other than coffee.” She opened the door and headed toward the exit.

Jake's raised voice followed her down the hall. “I love you!”

One of the officers in the hallway, a burly veteran with a buzz cut winked at her. “We love you, too, Chief!”

Penelope left the station to the sounds of laughter.

*** 
 (Comments, requests, and suggestions all welcome!)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 19

An explanation of what I'm doing is here.
If you missed the first chapter, start here!



Chapter Nineteen

As anyone with half a brain had expected, Jezza’s memorial service was packed, all the seats filled even with the partition between the two “slumber rooms” taken down. Curiosity ruled the day, the gossipers watched over by the Morley brothers and their assistant who had to refill the cookie trays twice before the service started. Conspicuously missing was anyone truly mourning, at least outwardly, although a few people in the front rows had the glassy-eyed look of bewilderment that sudden death of someone younger than they are brings.

As the finder of the body Penelope generated a few whispers. “I guess I should have expected this,” she whispered to Esther as she maneuvered the older woman’s wheelchair into the room.

“Human nature is the only thing that has remained unchanged since I was a girl. Murder creates a spectacle. ” She gestured to an open spot near the exit. “Over there. We can duck out if it all gets too pompous. I wonder if any of these people knew Jezza.”

“Not all of them, I imagine.” Penelope wondered if she should include herself in that group. Prim mayor’s wife, brazen bank robber, Hooters waitress, mother, femme fatale, Daisy or Jezza, had she known anything at all of the woman before she died? Mostly Penelope had known that Jezza had a large dog that needed exercise and her checks didn’t bounce. It hardly seemed like a fitting testimonial.

Casper Morley, the older and paler of the two brothers, dimmed the lights and walked to the podium. “Per the instructions of the deceased, there will be no eulogy. Instead, we have a presentation that she left to be played during her memorial service.” He nodded and the spotlight on the podium faded and a slideshow began playing on two large screens with the sounds of a pan flute filling the room.

Jezza and her husband at their wedding, both bride and groom smiling; Brutus as a puppy, Jezza holding him in the air; Jezza with her husband at a ribbon cutting ceremony, fashionable pantsuit immaculate.

“Hmph,” Esther said, nearly shouting to be heard over the music. “When I go I want people crying or laughing, not bored to tears watching my vacation pictures. Remember that.”

Penelope swallowed her disappointment. When the presentation had started she’d been hoping Jezza would somehow reveal more of herself after death than she had in life, but it looked like they would only be seeing the carefully crafted image Jezza had constructed during life. “Do you want any of those cookies before they’re gone?” She glanced toward the tray that was almost down to crumbs again.

Facing the back of the room she missed the first image but a collective intake of breath from the room snapped her attention back to the screen in time to see the mayor’s naked backside fade out.
Esther’s laughter rang out in the suddenly hushed room. “Now it’s getting interesting.”

Penelope watched, mouth open, as the vacation pictures switched to relatively tame boudoir photos, and then… “Is that Councilman Tanner?” The buzz around the room got louder, drowning out the music, as the images continued. A shriek rang through the room and a woman in the second row jumped to her feet and started bashing the man next to her with her purse.

Penelope got out her phone and dialed as Casper Morley ran to the front of the room to stop the presentation, all decorum stripped from him in his panic as he punched buttons on the podium, changing the lights but not stopping the projector.

When Jake answered Penelope raised her voice to be heard over the pandemonium. “You might want to get down to the funeral home. I think I know where all those blackmail photos are.”


*** 
 (Comments, requests, and suggestions all welcome!)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 18

An explanation of what I'm doing is here.
If you missed the first chapter, start here!



Chapter Eighteen

Penelope looked up from the untidy stack of paper in front of her on the kitchen table when Jake came through the front door. “There’s spaghetti casserole in the oven if you’re still hungry.”

Jake dropped a kiss on her cheek as he passed her on the way to the oven. “I forgot I had ‘Coffee with a Cop’ this evening. Next time I swear we’re going to have it someplace I can get something to eat.”
“How’d it go?”

“Not too bad.” His voice was muffled as he leaned into the refrigerator. “Everyone wanted to know when we were going to arrest someone in Jezza’s murder.” He sat down across from her with a plate of food and a beer.

Penelope scribbled a date on one invoice and moved it to another pile. “This is me not asking how it’s going.”

“Such admirable self-restraint. Because even if we had made progress I wouldn’t be able to tell you.” From the tone of his voice the case hadn’t progressed.

“Where’s Brian?”

“Anne came by to see him this afternoon. She wants to get back together.” He put his fork down and took a large swallow of beer. “They went out to dinner to talk.”

Penelope put her pen down and looked at him. “Did she make that decision before or after she found out the mayor isn’t coming back?” The depth of her irritation surprised her. She’d thought of Anne as a friend, but the other woman had carried on an affair for months and hurt Brian deeply in the process.

“I didn’t ask.” Jake leaned across the table to touch her hand. “He’s a bright guy. It won’t be lost on him. We need to stay out of it.”

Penelope took a deep breath and blew a strand of hair out of her face. Even if the couple got back together, she and Anne were never going to be going out to lunch again. She flipped another piece of paper into the “done” pile and picked up a check. “Do you think it’s safe to cash Jezza’s check? They won’t have closed her accounts, will they?”

Jake pushed Brutus’ nose away from his plate. “Send it in. It’s a debt on the estate. If there isn’t money in the checking account you’ll need to contact her executors.” He shook his head. “You know you could put all that on the computer and not have to kill so many trees.”

“You sound like my son.” She flipped another page. “Ha, you’re a good one to talk. This is yours.” She slid him a printout with the police department header across the top. “Don’t be throwing stones in your glass house, buddy.”

Jake frowned at it briefly and pushed it to the corner of the table. “Not guilty. Must be Brian’s.” He took another bite and pulled the paper back to look at it.

Penelope neatened her stack of checks and put her pen down. “So… I was thinking about something today but I wanted to run it by you first.” She waited.

Jake looked up from what he was reading. “This sounds serious.”

“His Honor is not coming back. At some point he’ll need to be replaced.” Penelope picked up the pen again and toyed with it.

Jake’s eyebrows went up. “You’re thinking of running?”

“Well, with all the time I’ve spent trying to fight that bastard, I’ve learned a lot about how the city works. And I think I’d actually be pretty good at it, if I can get elected.” She looked up from the pen and met his eyes. “What do you think?”

“I think you’d be good at it.” Jake looked down at the paper again.

“Yes, but what do you think about the idea?”

He looked up and cocked his head. “You aren’t really asking me for my permission, are you?” His eyebrows went up. “Who are you and what have you done with my girlfriend?”

Penelope flushed. “I’m not asking permission. I’m just… it’s never come up with us before and some guys have a hard time with their partner getting all the press. I just don’t want to mess up what we have.”

“Ah.” Jake got up and took his dishes to the sink, then came back around to stand next to her. “I would be honored to be known as the mayor’s boytoy.”

“Well, you’ll have some time to get a name plaque made with that title on it. I still need to get elected.” She reached back and hugged him without getting up. “Now are you going to tell me what was on that paper that is so important?”

“It has the status on an open investigation that shouldn’t be public knowledge. Something that might have implicated Jezza and her husband. And it was printed out the day before the murder.”

Penelope stared up at him. “So how did it end up here?”

Jake put his hands on her shoulders. “Are you absolutely sure you didn’t take anything from Jezza’s that morning?”

“Of course I’m sure!” Penelope shrugged his hands off her. “You think I went through her papers after finding her body?” A thought struck her and she closed her mouth. “Oh…”

“Yes?”

Penelope winced. “The invoice and check. They were paperclipped together on the counter like they always were and I think I shoved them in my bag before I started cleaning up the mess Brutus made.” She rubbed her face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even think about it before now. I must have grabbed the other paper without noticing it.”

Jake nodded. “I thought it might be something like that.”

Penelope stared at the paper on the other side of te table. “But how did Jezza end up with it?”

Jake’s voice was grave. “I’d like to know the answer to that as well.”

*** 
 (Comments, requests, and suggestions all welcome!)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 17

An explanation of what I'm doing is here.
If you missed the first chapter, start here!



Chapter Seventeen

A knock on the back door of the rectory roused Penelope from her spot on the floor next to CJ’s Dalmatian. The dog lifted his grey muzzle to glance at the door, then flopped back down. Penelope went over and opened the door to find Jake waiting. She backed up a little to let him by. “Hey handsome stranger.”

That earned her a smile. “CJ’s not back yet?” Jake wiped his feet on the doormat on the way in.

Penelope got a coffee cup out and poured from the nearly empty pot. After being there nearly every day for years, she was as familiar with the rectory kitchen as she was with Jake’s. “He had a meeting with the bake sale committee. Or maybe it was the used clothing roundup committee. Something anyhow. He should be done in ten minutes or so.” She snagged the carton of milk out of the refrigerator on her way to the table and added it to the mug before handing it to him. “Have a seat.”

“I still can’t believe he pays you to come over almost every day.”

Penelope put the milk away and sat at the table, tangling her legs with his under the table. “I cut him a deal. He keeps me in coffee and the occasional pastry and I keep his dog company. It’s not as if it’s a real hardship.” She took a sip of his coffee. “Besides, don’t you remember what happened the last time I wasn’t here?”

A slow smile spread across Jake’s face. “As a matter of fact, I do. Quite well.”

Penelope laughed. “Not that. I mean here. Poor Spotty barked and howled the entire time and distracted everyone at the service.” One of parishioners happened to be a filing clerk at the station and put two and two together when Jake had walked into his office whistling. It had taken weeks for the jokes to stop.

“I was fairly distracted myself.”

Heavy steps outside the door kept Penelope from responding.

“Jake, how are you?” CJ went straight to the coffee. “Bless you, my child, for leaving me a cup. I thought we’d never get everyone to agree on how to cater the next movie night.” He sank down into a chair at the table. “And then of course we finally decided on a potluck because we always make it potluck.” He took a long drink from my mug. “Now is this a personal or professional visit?”

“Professional, my profession.” Jake put a hand over Penelope’s to keep her from getting up. “Nothing private, just a quick followup. Brian said that Spotty woke you up at five thirty as usual on the day Jezza was killed.”

“On the dot, same as every morning.” CJ explained how his dog could see when Brutus was let out. “Is it important?”

“Well, we arrested two men for drunk and disorderly out at the motel last night, and one of them was once arrested with Jezza back when she was still Daisy. I’m fairly certain they’re the ones who broke into the mayor’s house last week.”

Penelope prodded him. “But?”

“But we have them on a security tape at a convenience store at five forty-five twenty miles away. They had time to kill Jezza after four thirty, but I can’t see that they had time to kill her and clean up like they did if she was still alive at five thirty.”

The priest put his mug down. “Couldn’t they have let the dog out after she was dead? Brutus barked at people coming up to the house, but I think once someone was inside he would have gone into the backyard for them without a problem.” CJ winced. “He’s not really a very good guard dog.”

“Yes, but then they would have to have known Jezza’s early morning routine. And they would have had to know it was important.” Jake shook his head. “We’ll keep looking at them, but I think the killer is still out there.”
*** 
 (Comments, requests, and suggestions all welcome!)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 16

An explanation of what I'm doing is here.
If you missed the first chapter, start here!



Chapter Sixteen

A sunset picnic in the park with the man you loved was something to enjoy, Penelope thought, even if it did involve a ridiculously large dog and some really cold burgers and fries.

“Sorry,” Jake apologized again as he looked at the food in the bag. “I thought I was done for the day and then I got another call.”

Penelope put her feet up on the bench and leaned back against him to get a better view of the setting sun. “I knew what I was getting into when you called a timeout on our first date so you could arrest a pickpocket.” She reached in the bag for another soggy French fry.

“We’re suddenly on every law enforcement agency’s radar. It turns out that the money in the box is from a bank holdup seven years ago.” He threw the rest of his burger to Brutus who swallowed it in one gulp.

“Ugh, you’re going to teach him bad habits.”

“Do you really think there are any bad habits left to teach him?” He draped his arm around her and pulled her closer.

“Good point.” Penelope tilted her head back to look at him. “I bet you’re really hoping I didn’t skim a stack of that cash and spend it today. Imagine the scandal if you had to arrest me for possession of stolen money.”

Jake smiled. “I know you.”

“Yeah.” She thought about it. “I already have everything I need and I’m pretty content.” They watched the red sky for a minute. “Of course, if you arrested the mayor for something I’d be even more content.”

“You might be doomed to disappointment on that front. Somehow he found out about our extortion investigation and I think he might have decided to take a permanent vacation. He’s abandoned his itinerary and I got a tip that his bank accounts have been emptied. My guess is that he’s settling in somewhere on a beach in a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with us.”

“What?” Penelope sat up, sunset forgotten. “Can’t you go find him? He should go to prison.”

Jake tugged her back down. “I don’t think he had nearly as much money as he wanted people to believe, and now he won’t be able to come home. Maybe that’s punishment enough.”

“What kind of attitude is that for the chief of police?”

“Acting chief. And I must be mellowing in my old age.”

Penelope threaded her fingers through his. “Next thing you know you’ll have to get a light bar installed on your walker.” She looked down at Brutus who had given up on getting any more food and was sprawled on the grass. “He left his dog behind.”

“Mmm. The man is a monster.”

They watched as the last of the sun’s rays glimmered on the horizon to the soundtrack of the Mastiff’s snores.


*** 
 (Comments, requests, and suggestions all welcome!)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 15

An explanation of what I'm doing is here.
If you missed the first chapter, start here!



Chapter Fifteen

Penelope was walking across the parking lot after the service when one of the regular churchgoers stopped her. “Ms. Standing?” The woman stood next to a new BMW, her hair and clothing immaculate, as if she were heading to a black-tie event and not leaving a small town weekday service. “Can I talk to you a moment?”

Penelope tried to figure out where she knew the woman. She wasn’t a client, and Penelope was fairly certain she wasn’t one of the hundreds that she’d met at various events as part of Jake’s job, but her face was familiar. It finally clicked. Not a client, but a friend of her son, one of the girls that had orbited and then spun away during his high school years. There was something important her son had said about her home life that she couldn’t quite remember. “Katie?” At the woman’s slight nod she smiled. “How are you?”

“I’m fine. Can I give you a ride home?”

Penelope got in the car and gave directions to Jake’s house and they pulled up to the driveway in a few minutes.

Katie turned off the engine and waited as Penelope got out. “I have to be somewhere in a few minutes, but… Are you still dating that policeman?”

Penelope nodded. With some people she would have had to bite her tongue to stop herself from giving a lecture about how a woman’s worth wasn’t defined by the man she was tied to, but she’d seen Katie’s expression before. It was her “I really need to talk to someone, but I can’t” look. Penelope remembered seeing it the day before a whole group of teenagers had been caught passing out pot brownies to the teachers at school. “I can give you his number if you want to call him.”

The woman opened her door and got out. “No, no.” She hit a button on her keys and the trunk popped open. “Jezza gave me something to hold for her a couple of years ago. I don’t know what’s in it, but she didn’t want her husband to have it. I don’t know what else to do with it.” Her eyes darted down, as if she were ashamed and that triggered a fuzzy connection in Penelope’s memory. Katie’s family had belonged to some anti-government group that viewed all authority figures as the enemy. “Can I just give it to you?”

“To give to Jake?”

Katie gave half a shrug that turned into a nod. “If you think that’s best.” She went to the back of the car and pulled out a hefty box wrapped in a black plastic bag secured with old packing tape. Once Penelope had taken it she backed away. “I have to go. Tell your son I said hello.” She hopped back in her car and drove away.

Penelope watched her car disappear around the corner, then went into the house, heaving the box onto the counter to keep it away from Brutus.

“The right thing to do would be to just give it to Jake the way it is right now,” she explained to the dog as she scratched behind his ears.

Brutus stared at her.

“You’re right, we wouldn’t want to waste his time. He’s a busy guy. What if it’s just Christmas ornaments?” Penelope got out scissors and cut the plastic off.

Under the bag the odor of stale cardboard made her sneeze. She snipped the layer of tape holding the lid on and nudged it up. Her breath caught.

Definitely not Christmas ornaments.

Bundles of hundred dollar bills arranged in a neat layer met her gaze. Penelope used one finger to push the top layer of cash out of the way and saw another layer beneath it.

Penelope let the lid fall down and stepped back. “That looks like a whole lot of motive.”

*** 
 (Comments, requests, and suggestions all welcome!)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 14

An explanation of what I'm doing is here.
If you missed the first chapter, start here!



Chapter Fourteen

At three o’clock in the morning, with the streets quiet and no moon to light the backyard, Penelope was having second thoughts about her decision to stay alone in the house. Part of the agreement she had with all of her clients was that she wouldn’t invite strangers into their homes while they were gone. That rule had to include her boyfriend, even if he was the acting chief of police. Or possibly especially because he was the acting chief, given the paraphernalia that some clients left casually strewn around the house. Still, this was the first night she had ever really regretted that rule.

She could hear Chewy’s tags jingling somewhere in the bushes, but an entire army of burglars could be hiding in the darkness and she would never know.

“Come on, Chewy,” she hissed. “Let’s go!”

The chihuahua bounded past her into the house and she locked the door and headed upstairs to go back to bed. Now that the house was empty of people, her brain imagined masked intruders around every corner She had just turned out the light and slid between the sheets when Jake called. Penelope pulled the phone under the covers with her. “What’s wrong?”

“You weren’t kidding when you said that dog needed to go out every two hours, were you?”

Penelope sat up and looked out the window. “Where are you?”

Headlights flashed across the street. “I should have brought Brutus to keep me company.”

“You left him at home?” Penelope flopped back down on her pillow. “You’ll be lucky if there’s anything left of your house when you get back.”

“He’s and Brian were snoring and drooling on each other when I left.”

A comfortable silence stretched between them.

“You could go home, you know,” Penelope finally said. “I’ll be fine.”

“I know.” His yawn came across the line. “What are you wearing?”

Penelope snorted. “You know exactly what I’m wearing because those idiots stood and took a few hundred pictures of all the clothes I have with me a few hours ago.” Safe in the darkness, she smiled. “Oh sorry, were you trying to set the mood?” She was quiet for a minute while her mind wandered. “Why are there so many pineapple fixtures in this house? It’s weird.”

“Pineapples used to be some sort of symbol of good luck. A lot of the older houses have them.” There was a creak of fabric on leather as he settled into another position. “You didn’t take anything from Jezza’s house that day, did you? I keep thinking of why someone would go through your things and ignore all the obvious spots people store valuables.”

“I guess technically I did sort of take the murder weapon from the scene when I put the leash on Brutus, but I didn’t keep it. And I suppose someone might have thought that I took all the stuff Brutus ate.” She yawned, warm and comfortable in the bed.

“Get some sleep. If you have any problems throw something through the window and I’ll be there in seconds.” Jake cleared his throat. “It would be a good use for that hammer you stashed under the bed.”

Penelope opened her eyes. “How did you…?”

“Good night.” Jake was still laughing when he hung up.

*** 
 (Comments, requests, and suggestions all welcome!)