Saturday, September 2, 2017

Spirit of Whoredom!

So there's some idiot picketing in front of DragonCon (which I'm not actually at) harassing women, and his sign contains the phrase "Spirit of Whoredom". Anyhow, I think it would make a great band name.

So here we go, the t-shirt design for the first tour:


(Yes, it's good I don't have to rely on my artwork to pay my bills!)

And yes, I do amuse myself. All the time!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

This Art Is As Modern As It Gets

I call this series "Running With The Big Dog".

 Note the extreme vibrancy.
 Such passion!
 A touch of melancholy.
And resolution.

(Subtitled: "When your phone does its own thing while in your pocket")

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Rural Juror

I got summoned to jury service on Monday. I know everyone always gets the notice in the mail and groans, but I've never been called in before, so I was looking forward to a new experience. Also, the Yolo County Superior Courthouse is within easy walking distance from my house and on a normal Monday I have to drive 65 miles each direction in crappy traffic. So I'll just admit that it was not a bad thing to call in the night before and find out that I needed to go to court on Monday morning.

When I got there, it was just like going to Home Depot, except without the smell of lumber or the feeling that I have more DIY abilities than I really have. No, what I mean is that there was an automated check-in kiosk that scanned the barcode on the summons. Actually, there were three kiosks but one wasn't working according to the employee whose job it was to stand there and help people get the scanner to work properly. So you see, it was exactly like Home Depot except the kiosk didn't keep beeping because the item hadn't been put in the bag.

The good news is that the new courthouse is nice and spacious and the jury room is gigantic so I was able to snag a comfy chair next to the window without anyone next to me. There were probably around eighty people in the room by the time another employee came in and took roll. When she started at the top of the alphabet I was still rolling my eyes because we had just checked in and they already knew who was there, but -- someone had already skipped out. Theodore, you naughty boy, you can expect to get another summons in the mail soon.

Then we watched a quick video which reminded us that we were doing a great service to our country by showing up for jury duty (unlike Theodore!) and then we had a half hour recess. At this point I was trying to figure out how to switch my career to "professional juror" and I got half a page of my current novel written.

After recess, they sent all of us up to department eleven on the fifth floor.

Side note -- I hate elevators. I'm not really claustrophobic, but if I'm not in a hurry and it's only a few floors I'll usually find the stairs.

So seventy people lined up for the three elevators, and me and another ten people wandered around until we found the stairs and then started climbing. Only five floors, right? Piece of cake. Except each story in the new courthouse has high ceilings, so this was more like ten stories. After three flights of stairs I think all of us were regretting the decision. Silently regretting it because we didn't have the breath to speak. Then we finally made it to the fifth floor, walked down the hall to department eleven, and found out that all those bastards who used the elevator had taken all the seats.

When we walked into the room there were three high school students facing us. Then the bailiff -- who might have celebrated his eighteenth birthday at least two weeks before -- introduced them as the prosecutor, the public defender, and the defendant.

Some days I feel really old.

Then the bailiff took roll again. Theodore still wasn't there.

When the judge came in I was relieved to find he was at least my age so there was an adult in charge. The first thing he did was call out thirty names and send those people back downstairs again. I was starting to see some inefficiencies in the process but at least I had a seat.

The judge briefly explained that the case was for DUI, and that he expected it to be done by Thursday at the latest although he couldn't promise anything. Then he asked if anyone had a hardship that would make it impossible for them to serve.

About fifteen people raised their hands and we went through each one of them. In the end I think the judge let them all go, but most of them he sent downstairs to reschedule. I was secretly giggling as he grilled the first college student on whether he had talked to his professors about making up the absences. Of course he hadn't. I wouldn't have either when I was in college. It wouldn't have occurred to me that being in college wasn't a valid excuse for getting out of jury duty. But now that I'm older and see what entitled little snots college kids are, it was fun to watch the judge explain that college is a job like any other and that nobody wanted to go to jury duty. The students had to go reschedule. A few other people were primary caretakers who claimed they couldn't get anyone else to do what they did (and had to go reschedule). Three people didn't speak English well enough to serve (although the third one seemed comfortable enough to use slang, so I have my doubts). They didn't have to reschedule but I think the first two didn't understand what was going on so they might have rescheduled anyhow.

Finally eighteen random names were called (not mine!) and those people were seated in or in front of the jury box, and the fun began. The judge read off the list of people expected to testify and asked if any of the eighteen knew them.

How many people had been arrested or convicted of a DUI? (Clearly the whole designated driver thing hasn't caught on because fully a third of the potential jurors had a DUI in the past...)

Did anyone have any background in chemistry? (Apparently the defense was planning on challenging the blood alcohol results.) Woodland is only ten miles from Davis. We had three retired professors in the first group who were in fields that had some use for chemistry.

Did anyone have relatives in law enforcement? Turns out almost everyone does.

Every time someone answered in the positive the judge went through it with them and asked questions to see if the person could be fair to both sides.

Finally every person had to give their full name, what town they lived in, their occupation, and the occupation of any other adults that lived in the house. By the time we got to the fifth person this was going pretty quickly because everyone was ready for the question. And yet... the last guy, who'd listened to seventeen people answer the exact same questions before him... no. He gave his name. Then he had to be prompted on the rest. "Where are you from?" "Yolo." "The city of Yolo?" "No, Yolo County." "What city do you live in?" "Woodland." I'm really not sure how people like that go through life. He said he built buildings. "What kind of buildings?" "Big buildings, little buildings." Everybody who has dealt with contractors is nodding right now. This guy had found his tribe.

Then the judge turned it over to the attorneys. The defense and prosecution were pretty evenly matched, by which I mean that neither one could ask a clear question. The public defender was particularly bad about that, often starting the question in one direction and ending in another so that if someone answered "yes" it wasn't clear what they were agreeing to. The judge stepped in a few times and reworded the question after the potential juror became hopelessly lost.

Then we stopped for lunch. I took the stairs down to the first floor, walked home, let the dogs out, ate lunch, then walked back. I took the elevator back to the courtroom.

The attorneys finished confusing everyone with their questions. The defense attempted to remove a juror for cause, but the judge denied it. Then they alternated picking people. "The Defense would like to thank and excuse juror number..." "The People would like to thank and excuse juror number..." It was just like P.E. during grade school, but in reverse and a lot more polite.

Nobody was surprised when the village idiot was the first to be excused.

They freed up seven seats before they stopped, so another seven names were called out. I wasn't one of them.

Then the whole thing started again with the new people. The public defender looked like he thought the woman was pulling his leg when she said she was part of the Sheriff's Posse during the law enforcement questions. (We have a mounted group that does search and rescue operations in rural areas and also does PR at events.) The judge had to explain it to him. The public defender still couldn't say "posse" without looking confused and finally switched to calling it "that group". I started to feel sorry for him.

More confusing questions from the defense and prosecution. Most of the seven people just gave up on yes and no and talked about what they thought might be related to the answer. The judge stepped in and told the defense that he wasn't allowed to ask if anyone was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, but gave him an alternate wording that would be okay. The public defender repeated the revised question word for word.

I continued to feel old.

The attorneys took turns getting rid of the new people and stopped when they had twelve people total -- which meant they had to do it all over again because they still needed an alternate.

My name was the first to be called.

This time there were four of us. We knew all the questions. We had quick answers. We weren't members of the posse, but at least the public defender knew what a posse was now anyhow. I had to explain that my brother being the chief of lifeguards actually made him law enforcement but that didn't particularly bias me one way or the other. I had to say that I had been a veterinarian, so I had sent blood out to be analyzed, but that wouldn't keep me from going with the facts as presented. One woman, probably in her sixties, said that she didn't drive because she'd gotten her license when she was young, had three accidents, and decided the world was a safer place if she wasn't behind the wheel. The entire courtroom laughed.

At this point they only needed one person, and I was in the first seat. I didn't have any obvious bias one way or the other. I was pretty sure I was going to have to tell my boss that I'd be out until Thursday, especially when there was a long silence as both attorneys stared at their post-it notes.

Then... "The People would like to thank and excuse..."

Yep. I'd been rejected by a guy in a cheap suit. Story of my life.

I did the walk of shame through the room into the empty corridor, then took the elevator down to the first floor and walked home again.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 28

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


Chapter Twenty-Eight
Four months later...
From the Newtown Gazette:

Former Police Officer Sentenced To Seven Years

Former patrolman Alan Dolan was pled guilty and was sentenced to seven years for second degree murder under a plea deal worked out by the prosecutor on Friday.

Under the terms of the plea deal Dolan read a statement in court expressing his regret for his actions. At the time of the murder he was in a relationship with the deceased, the wife of the former mayor. The victim’s husband fled the country to escape prosecution in an unrelated matter.

The son of the victim was in court for the sentencing. He had no comment.



Standing-Colby Marriage

Penelope Standing, age not given, married Jacob Colby, age not given, in the backyard of the Colby residence on Saturday. The Reverend CJ Miller, a long-time friend of the couple, presided.

The bride wore a vintage purple silk dress with a bouquet of wildflowers picked from the yard by her grown son who also walked her down the aisle.

The bride promised to love and honor the groom and “try to not argue with armed people”. The groom promised to “love and honor Her Honor”, a nod to the bride’s status as the newly sworn-in mayor.

The reception was held in the house immediately after the ceremony. The couple did not disclose their honeymoon plans.


THE END

Monday, February 27, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 27

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

Chapter Twenty-Seven

With the shot ringing in the ear already deafened by the smoke alarm Penelope threw her hands up to protect her head, one arm knocking the gun out of Dolan’s hand. She felt more than heard the gun clatter on the hardwood floor and dove to the ground to cover it with her body. With it safely digging into her stomach she looked over to where Jake had been standing, but he wasn’t there. She scrambled forward with the gun cradled against her body to check the floor where he’d been.

Only when she saw the empty space did she notice the commotion behind her, and by then Jake already had Dolan on the ground, using the younger man’s own handcuffs to restrain him. She sagged to the floor in relief, only then realizing that blood was dripping onto the floor from her head. Indignation overwhelmed her. “He shot me.”

Jake was already on the phone calling for backup and an ambulance, yelling to be heard over the alarm and trying to fend off the excited Brutus with one arm. He finished restraining Dolan and crouched down next to her, reaching out to touch her head as if she were delicate porcelain. “You okay?”

“I think so.” She lifted the hand pressed against her wound. “How bad is it?”

His relieved smile told her everything she needed to know. “Just a scratch.”

They didn’t even have time to silence the smoke alarm before the first police car arrived.



A little while later Penelope sat on the couch, snuggled into Jake while a paramedic finished putting a butterfly band-aid on her head. Through the front window she could see the fire truck backing out into the street, threading a careful path between almost every police car the city owned and a gaggle of pedestrians. Brutus howled his displeasure at being locked in the back yard, Dolan was sobbing in the back of a squad car, and the whole living room was being documented as a crime scene. The room smelled of overheated oil and burned bread, but at least the smoke alarm was no longer blaring.

“This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind,” she said and winced from the additional pressure as gauze was applied. “But if you were looking for a big production, I’m not sure I could have managed anything bigger. So… Will you marry me?” She snuck a glance back at him and found him staring at her in disbelief.

“Really? You want to do this now?”

“Well, I was going to ask earlier but I didn’t want you to try to wiggle out later and claim that it wasn’t fair because someone was holding a gun to your head. Even though technically the gun was to my head not yours.” She tapped the bandage.

“You’re insane.”

“Is that a ‘you’re insane, yes’ or a ‘you’re insane, no’?”

“That’s an ‘I love you, yes’, but I swear if you ever start arguing with someone holding a gun to your head again I may kill you myself.” His arms tightening around her belied his words.

With a contented smile Penelope relaxed into his embrace and watched the chaos around her.

*** 
 (Comments, requests, and suggestions all welcome, but you'd better make it quick because tomorrow is the end...)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 26

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



Chapter Twenty-Six

Penelope froze, watching the blood drain from Jake’s face across the room.

“Put your hands where I can see them!” the officer growled at her ear.

She lifted her hands to eye level before realizing he was talking to Jake. “Oh, sorry,” she said as the man behind her moved his head to see around her arm.

Jake held his hands out to the side. “Take a deep breath and think about what you’re doing.”

“Why do you always screw up everything?”

“Well, you said to put my hands…” She trailed off as Dolan’s breathing got harsher. “Oh, you mean the other stuff. That was mostly on accident”

“I spent hours making sure that everything about that scene pointed to her husband, and you went and cleaned it up.”

“Put the gun down and we’ll talk,” Jake said, his voice perfectly level.

“In my defense, that was mostly Brutus who messed it up.”

Dolan kept talking, the gun unmoving at her head. “I even made footprints with an old pair of his shoes that she kept for gardening. And then you destroyed it all.”

Penelope took a breath to defend herself and closed her mouth when Jake looked at her. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time to force him to accept her point of view. “You didn’t mean to kill her, though, did you?” she said. At least if he was talking he wasn’t shooting her. “I mean, strangling someone with a leash doesn’t scream premeditation.”

“She laughed at me.”

The whirr of the kitchen fan was the only sound for a few seconds.

Penelope reached up to pat the arm restraining her. “I’m sorry. That must have hurt.”

“I thought she loved me. I did things that would have ruined my career for her. It started out with just fixing a few tickets, and then she wanted me to find out things about people and cases, but that was okay because we were going to go away and start again somewhere else where nobody knew us.” He choked out the last few words.

Penelope tried to read the signs from Jake’s face. Was he encouraging her to continue, or was that a look telling her not to make the guy with the gun start crying? While they’d worked out a signal that they needed to be rescued from a conversation at a party, they’d never worked out a hostage strategy which seemed like a grave oversight at the moment. “What’s your plan now? Too many people know you came over here tonight. Jezza was an accident and a good lawyer will be able to work something out. Why don’t you put down the gun and we’ll talk about it.” The smell of overdone bread wafted out of the kitchen.

His voice took on a dreamy quality. “There’s nothing left for me anymore. Everything’s ruined.”

“Don’t talk like that,” Penelope said, calling on what her son called her “mom tone”. “We’ll get you a lawyer and everyone will sit down and talk and you’ll get a good night’s sleep and things will look better in the morning.”

She could feel him wavering. His arm loosened and the hand with the gun moved slightly away from her head. “Do you really—”

At the sudden blast of sound from the smoke detector above his head, Dolan started and Penelope felt a pain in her forehead as the gun went off.

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

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 25

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



Chapter Twenty-Five

Penelope looked around at the kitchen and ran through her mental list. Table set with the nice tablecloth, candles, and flowers — check. Wine open — check. Chicken breasts pounded, rolled up with butter, breaded and in the refrigerator awaiting frying — check. Broccoli (to magically counteract the hardening of their arteries from the Chicken Kiev) washed and ready to be steamed — check. Dog fed and bribed to stay in the other room with treats — check. Bread in the oven, waiting to be warmed — check. Only evening dress she owned, black velvet with an apron pulled over it to keep it clean until she was done cooking — check. No Jake yet, but it was still ten to seven and he hadn’t called or texted to say he’d be late so she had started heating the oil.

Her phone rang, an unknown number. “Hello?”

“Pen, it’s Brian. Sorry to bug you but Jake went to go work out a while ago and his admin needs him to sign something tonight for the payroll so it can get faxed before midnight. If I call him he’ll come back here and then we both know he’ll never get home on time, so I’m just going to send it over with one of the patrolmen. Don’t panic if a uniform knocks on the door before he gets there.”

That last sentence explained the call.  “No panic, I promise. And thank you.” She hung up and caught a glimpse of her reflection in the window. Her hair was all over the place and there was something on the shoulder of her dress where the apron didn’t cover it. She dashed to the mirror and found that she’d managed to get butter smeared on one spot while the left elbow had been breaded. So much for the evening dress.

Penelope jogged upstairs, yanking the dress off along the way, slipped into a skirt and pulled on a blouse, buttoning it as she went down the stairs. It wasn’t until she was at the bottom of the stairs that she saw the patrolman standing on the other side of the clear glass panes of the front door. His frozen deer in the headlights stare made her wonder how much of that journey he’d been present for.

Penelope decided she’d just have to brazen her way through the awkwardness. She opened the door. “Officer Dolan, isn’t it? Come on in. You have some papers for Jake to sign?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He took off his hat and came through the door, hugging the wall the furthest from her. Brutus came out from the spare room, sniffed the policeman’s shoes for a second, then trotted back to his treats. “If the chief’s not here I can go wait out in the car.”

“Nonsense, have a seat. Would you like something to drink?” Penelope didn’t really want to entertain someone when she was trying to get everything ready, but she didn’t want to be rude. That thought reminded her of their conversation a few days ago. “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you who I was when you took all my information after Jezza was killed. I hope it didn’t cause too many problems when you called the chief to confirm my whereabouts that morning.”

“No, ma’am. Everyone thought it was funny.”

She might have believed his even tone, but a muscle twitched on the side of his mouth. And if he didn’t stop kneading his hat with those beefy fingers he was going to destroy it. “Well, I apologize anyway.” A silence strained the room as he sat gingerly on the couch.

The front door opened, saving her from further awkwardness. Jake came in, scratched the dog’s ears when he trotted over, and put down his bag. Penelope leaned into his embrace, enjoying the smell of soap and sunshine. “You forgot to sign some papers before you left the office.”

“So I see.” He looked her up and down. “Looks like I should have hurried straight home.”

Penelope left the two men in the living room and turned the oven on. “At least now we know how to keep Brutus calm,” she called back to the living room. “He was more interested in his Kong than he was about a stranger coming into the house. I thought he was going to tear down the door to get to the UPS guy yesterday.” The oil bubbled slowly when she dropped a cube of bread in. Another few minutes and it would be at the right temperature.

She wandered back out to the living room where Jake was handing over the freshly signed papers. Penelope moved to the door, hoping to hurry the officer on his way. She thought he’d likely leave quickly anyhow. Clearly she made him nervous, although at least he’d stopped mangling his hat. Those fingers reminded her of something though…

Dolan got up and picked up the sofa cushion that had tipped over and she had it. The picture from Jezza’s service, the only one taken in the new house, with a man’s face covered by a pillow. The man in the picture had those hands. Brutus hadn’t reacted to a stranger because Dolan wasn’t a stranger.

Penelope’s eyes widened and she accidentally made eye contact with Dolan as he walked toward her. With just a slight catch in her movements she plastered a smile on her face. “Thanks for bringing —”

The breath was knocked out of her as he grabbed her and spun her around, pulling her against his chest. Penelope saw Jake freeze at the same time she felt a cold metal barrel touch her temple.

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

Friday, February 24, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 24

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

Chapter Twenty-Four

The more she thought about it, the more Penelope liked Esther’s idea, at least the dinner and candles part. True, the department was in the middle of a homicide investigation that had snowballed to include bank robbery, extortion, and possibly an involved policeman, but if it wasn’t that there would be something else. There were always reasons to procrastinate if one looked for them.

First things first — if she was planning a romantic dinner for two she had to make sure both people would be there and nobody else. Penelope scrolled through the contacts on her phone and frowned. She had Anne’s number but not Brian’s. Given her last conversation with Anne, she didn’t want to go through her, even if the couple was back together, which wasn’t a given. The guest bedroom door had been closed when she’d left in the morning.

Luck was with her. Brian was at his desk typing on the computer when she went to the station. “I have a big favor to ask,” she said when he looked up.

“I’ll warn you right now, I don’t have the key to the evidence locker,” he said. “But anything other than that is yours.”

Penelope sat down at the chair next to his desk. “I need a couple hours alone with Jake this evening,” she said in a voice low enough that it wouldn’t be overheard. Nothing secret ever stayed hidden long in the station.

“No problem. I’ll go out for a drink with the guys. You can text me when it’s safe to come over.”

“And I need you to make sure that Jake makes it out of here on time.” She saw his doubtful expression. “I know, but can you at least try to make it happen? I’ll leave you some Chicken Kiev and cherry cobbler if you come through.”

Brian leaned back in his chair and played with a rubber band. “Bribing a cop has some serious penalties, but if you promise to make lasagna some day soon, I’ll overlook it. What time do you want him home by?”

“Seven.” She stood up.

“I’ll do my best.”

“Thanks.”

Knowing that Jake would wonder about her visit if she didn’t stop in, she went back the hall to his office where she found him on the phone. He covered the lower portion with one hand. “Do you need me?”

She shook her head. “Just passing by. Dinner at seven?”

He glanced at the chaos on his desk. “I’ll try. I’ll text you if I’m running late.”

Penelope blew him a kiss and left.




Jezza’s son, Steven, was in line in front of her in the grocery store, buying a sandwich and chips. He glanced at her when she got in line and grinned. “Penelope! I’m glad I ran into you before I left.”

“Heading back to school?”

He nodded. “Yes, but I’ll be back when they release my mom’s things. I guess it might be a while, with…” he waved with the arm not holding his items, “well, everything.”

Moved by the impulse to be a better friend to Jezza in death than she had in life, Penelope gave him her phone number. “Let me know when you’re coming back and I’ll arrange things on this end.”
They chatted until he had paid and left.

“That was her son, wasn’t it?” The cashier paused with the package of chicken breasts in one hand as she watched Steven walk out of the store. “I still can’t believe everything his mother was getting up to. She made a joke a few weeks ago about having a get-out-of-jail-free card, but I thought that meant she was dating a cop. I didn’t realize it meant she was blackmailing half the men in town.” She started scanning Penelope’s purchases. “Big night with the chief, hm? Can’t go wrong with candles and wine.”

Penelope smiled and nodded and hoped that Jake would be the last person in town to find out about their dinner.

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

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 23

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



Chapter Twenty-Three

Penelope straightened up after cleaning the last litter box, maneuvering around Esther’s chair to get to the kitchen sink without interrupting Esther’s story. Things at the service had gone from bad to worse at the service after Penelope had left, with one couple screaming at each other and another having to be separated by the younger Morley brother.

“Did anyone ever figure out who the man in her bedroom was in that one picture?” she asked when Esther paused. “I’m pretty sure I recognized the rest of them.”

“I thought almost all of them were in her bedroom.”

Penelope grabbed a paper towel to dry her hands. “No, not the house she shared with the mayor. The house she was living in when she died.” Belatedly she realized that Esther might never have been inside since it hadn’t been retrofitted to accommodate a wheelchair. “The one with the twining ivy wallpaper.”

“Ah, the one with the very young man with his face hidden by the pillow. No, I didn’t hear anything about who he might be.” Esther wheeled over to the kettle. “Maybe he was an actual boyfriend. He certainly couldn’t have been old enough to be worth blackmailing.”

Penelope made a face as she accepted the mug of chamomile tea and sat down at the tiny formica table. “Can you imagine? You’d have nothing to talk about.”

Esther settled in across the table with her own drink. “Perhaps she didn’t talk to him much. But I agree. It takes half a century to civilize them to the point of being good company.” She blew across her mug and raised her eyebrows as she looked at Penelope.

“Jake’s excellent company, yes.” Penelope tried for a look of innocence as she looked up at the ceiling.

Esther sighed and shook her head. “Rumor has it he’s waiting for you to propose to him. I suppose it’s a sign he’s enlightened or something.”

A few drops of tea splashed onto the table when Penelope put her mug down. “Since when do you and CJ gossip about people?”

“Since the two of you need a swift kick in the pants to make it official. What are you waiting for? You’re crazy about each other and the finances would work out better for both of you.”

“He wants a big production. I’m trying to figure out what that means.” Penelope sipped her tea. “On a budget,” she added as Esther opened her mouth.

“What’s wrong with dinner, candles, wine, and wandering hands?” Esther’s laugh was drowned out by the roar of a car racing down the street.

Penelope hid a smile as she glanced over to the window facing the street. “These older houses really let the noise in, don’t they?”

“That’s one thing I won’t miss about Jezza. She used to race her Mustang out of the neighborhood like a bat out of hell. She must have had a stack of tickets.”

Penelope finished her tea and got up to wash out her mug. “Do you need anything else before I go?”
“No, but if you don’t have a good plan for this big production by tomorrow, I swear I’m going to arrange something myself.”

Penelope choked back a laugh. “I’ll figure it out, don’t worry.” She let herself out the side door and walked to her next client, watching the cars as they drove by.

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 22

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



Chapter Twenty-Two

Penelope had her third cup of hot cocoa in front of her as she sat on the couch, Brutus asleep on her feet, when Jake opened the front door. He left the lights off and removed his shoes before he noticed her sitting there.

“You’re still up?” He came into the living room. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

Jake pushed the dog out of the way and sat down next to her. “Eleven o’clock at night, fire in the fireplace, and hot chocolate with marshmallows. You’re brooding.” He eased an arm around her. “I know you.”

Penelope leaned into him and rested her head against his neck, breathing in the scent of him that reminded her of everything good in the world. “I was sitting here hoping that Jezza’s son didn’t have anything to do with her death even though it means that it was probably someone who lives here. And Brian went to have dinner with Anne again this evening and didn’t come back and it’s none of my business, but…” She made a noise between a groan and a growl.

“With you on that one.” Jake picked out a marshmallow and ate it. “But I have good news for you. Steven was still in Georgia when his mother died. We checked the flights and there’s no way he could have done it.”

“That’s something, anyway.” She sighed. “I’m beginning to think Jezza just wasn’t a very nice person. She used her son in her cons while he was growing up, abandoned him, took advantage of anyone who stood in her way, stole, cheated, blackmailed… I think the wonder of it is that nobody killed her before now.”

“I’ve certainly had to ask a whole lot of people where they were that morning.” He stole another marshmallow. “A surprising number of them were not where they should have been.”

Penelope raised her head to look at him, interest in her eyes. “Anything interesting?”

“Did you know that there’s a swingers group in town that meets once a month?”

A laugh escaped her. “I know there used to be one that met at Sondra Gillespie’s house, but that was years and years ago. I can’t imagine that’s still going on.” She looked at his impassive face. “It is? What, do they have a Costco bottle of Viagra next to the bowl of keys?”

Jake raised his eyebrows. “You seem to know an awful lot about this.”

Still smiling, Penelope shook her head. “Only second-hand. Sondra used to sit in the back row of the PTA meetings and whisper with one of her friends. I learned more than I ever wanted to know.” She drained the rest of the cocoa in the mug.

“Are you done brooding, or should I make you another cup?” Jake stood up and held out his hand.
Penelope let him draw her to her feet. “I think the only thing left on my brooding agenda was how many circus animals I could afford to import.” She smiled at his confused expression and twisted to bump him lightly with her shoulder. “I want to make sure the production is big enough.”

“Oh, I see.” He nudged her backward toward the stairs to the bedroom. “I might have some notes on that I could give you if you’re interested.”

“Really? Well, if it’s not too much trouble…” She took his hand and led him up the stairs.

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 21

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



Chapter Twenty-One

Having run three miles and safely delivered Heidi back to her house, Penelope decided to enjoy her snack of oatmeal cookies on the library lawn. The heritage rose gardens were in full bloom and the low walls separating the property from the street blocked the wind, making it quite pleasant to sit on the grass and stare up at the sky. Despite the pleasant scene only one other person shared the spot, a thin young man in a grey Georgia Bulldogs sweatshirt. He sat ten feet away ad had the look of a little boy lost in a store, trying to tough it out but on the verge of tears. Penelope was fairly certain she’d never met him, but he looked familiar. It wasn’t until he turned his head and a ray of light turned his hair a bright copper color that she remembered what Esther had said.

“Excuse me, but are you Jezza’s — sorry, I mean Daisy’s son?”

For a moment she could see him gathering himself to run, but then he nodded. “Yes, ma’am. Did you know her?”

“A bit.” Remembering what her son was like at that age she moved closer and offered him one of the cookies. “Not as well as I thought I did, I’m afraid.”

The corners of his mouth turned up at her last comment. “That just proves she hadn’t changed any since the last time I saw her.”

“It had been a while?”

“Three years.” He wiped the edge of his eye and lifted his head up. “I got here one day too late.”

While they slowly ate the cookies Penelope extracted his story. He and his mother had worked as a team, fleecing wealthy men as they traveled from one resort town to the next. When he’d secretly applied and been accepted into college they’d had a huge argument that culminated in Daisy leaving.
“I always thought she might get in touch with me at some point, but I never heard from her. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. She always taught me to walk away and not look back.”

The stylized bulldog on his sweatshirt caught Penelope’s eye. “I think she might have looked back a bit,” she said slowly. “One time when I came to walk her dog she had a UGA football game paused on the television. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but she never struck me as big football fan.”
“Not at all.”

Penelope nodded. “I don’t know if she was looking for you in the crowd or just watching the game because she thought you would be, but I’m pretty sure she was thinking of you.”

“Maybe.”

They watched a scrubjay land and dig in the grass. “How did you find her?”

“I saw her picture on a website for Mastiff owners and the location was encoded in the picture. She always talked about finding some rich guy and settling down and buying a Mastiff puppy. That was her dream.” He gave a weak smile. “I guess she was living her dream. That’s good, right?” His smile faded. “But I thought I’d have time, so I waited until I had a week off for spring break. And I was a day too late.” He moved restlessly. “I don’t even know why I’m still here. I should have moved my return ticket, but I thought maybe I’d learn more about her if I stayed.”

Penelope winced. “You weren’t at the memorial service this morning, were you?” She tried to imagine how horrified her own son would be by seeing photos like that.

For the first time he smiled. “I’m not surprised she arranged something like that. That was my mom. She loved to shock people.”

Penelope held out her hand and introduced herself.

He took it, his long fingers wrapping around her entire hand. “Steven. Or, at least, that’s the name I’ve been using for the last three years. It’s not my original name.”

Penelope settled into a more comfortable position and pulled out her phone to send a text. “There’s someone I think you should talk to, but while we wait, tell me about your mother. What was she really like?”

“She was the most selfish person I’ve ever met, but she could also be really fun.”

As they waited for Jake to show up they lounged on the grass and watched clouds float by while Steven told her stories about growing up on the run with the beautiful manipulative con artist who also happened to be his mother.


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

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!)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 13

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


Chapter Thirteen

Stopping at the home to let Chewy the Chihuahua out before heading over to Jake’s for dinner, Penelope opened the door and heard muffled barking. “Chewy, how did you manage to close yourself in here?” she asked as she opened the bathroom door. The ability of certain animals to get themselves into trouble never ceased to amaze her. Case in point, Chewy had managed to get up on the vanity and knock over his owner’s aspirin bottle. Luckily the cap was still in place. “Fine, next time you get crated, even if I’m only leaving for a bit.”

Chewy had raced past her to the kitchen, and only when she followed him down the hall did she notice that the glass on the back door was broken, shards of glass littering the kitchen floor. Penelope felt her blood pressure rising. Losing one client in a week was bad enough. Losing another because someone broke in while she was house-sitting was unacceptable.

Armed with a hammer from the junk drawer in one hand and Chewy in the other, Penelope stomped around the house. “If you’re still in here you’d better drop whatever you have and hustle out the door!”

Everything downstairs looked untouched. She went up the stairs, Chewy wagging his tail and trying to lick her face. The air in the master bedroom tasted stale, as if nobody had been inside in a couple of days, and nobody was lurking in the closet. The only evidence Penelope could find that someone had been upstairs was the contents of her duffel bag upended on the canopy bed in the spare bedroom. She’d left it neatly packed as she always did. All her belongings looked like they were still there, not that there’s been anything worth stealing. Her wallet and phone had been with her.

She doubted the burglar had been after a glimpse of her decidedly unsexy clothing, which meant she was going to have to call her client and find out what might have been taken. Gritting her teeth she called Jake first. “Can you bring one of those property damage forms home with you?” She explained about the broken window.

“The responding officers should have it with them,” he said. When she didn’t say anything his voice sharpened. “You did call the police, didn’t you?”

“What are you, chopped liver? Whoever it is was gone before I got back here.” Penelope looked at the hammer she’d set down on the arm of the couch and decided it might be better if she didn’t mention how she knew there wasn’t anybody in the house.

“Go straight out the front door and wait by the curb. I’m on my way.”

“Jake, don’t make a huge…” Penelope stopped talking as she realized he’d hung up on her.




One hour later, after two patrol cars had arrived with sirens blaring, scaring the dog and alerting the neighbors, Penelope was fuming. Four officers with guns had confirmed what she already knew — the house was empty and the only sign of a break-in other than the glass on the kitchen floor was her underthings strewn around the guest bedroom. When she’d reached the owners by phone they’d described the location of the valuables in the house, and everything was still there.

Since there’d been nothing else to document and the acting chief of police was still present and waiting, the officers had decided that they needed to take pictures of the mess. The longer Jake stood and watched without comment, the more nervous his officers got, and subsequently the more pictures they took, until Penelope took a swing at Jake’s Kevlar-protected stomach. “I know you think this is funny, but if you don’t stop this soon Brutus is going to be the only one snoring in your bed for a long, long time.” A policeman putting the hammer in an evidence bag distracted her. “Stop. Where are you going with that? It belongs here.”

“We might be able to get prints off it. It was probably what the perp used to break the window.”

Penelope recognized the voice and looked closer to see Dolan, the same one whose attitudes had irritated her so much after she’d found Jezza’s body. “If so, he was considerate enough to put it away afterward. I was the one who got that out.”

Jake coughed. “So… you didn’t call 911 but you were going to, what, do a little home repair before calling me to get the forms?”

Penelope decided anything else she added would just be digging the hole deeper. “Yes.” She crossed her arms and waited for him to comment.

Jake took a deep breath. “You’re going to be the death of me.” He turned. “Dolan, don’t worry about the hammer. The glazier should be here to fix the back door in a few minutes. I need you to stick around until he’s done. If there are any problems, call me. I’m going to take Ms. Standing to dinner before there’s a second homicide this week.”

Penelope let Jake take her arm and lead her out the door.


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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 12

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



Chapter Twelve

“Daisy Smith.” Jake sat down on the bench next to Penelope, reaching over to scratch Brutus behind the ears. A breeze carried the scent of heirloom roses from the library garden.

Penelope frowned. “I’m gone one night and you’ve already forgotten my name? This doesn’t bode well for thirty years from now. How will I know when your dementia has set in?”

“We finally got a hit on Jezza’s prints. From Interpol of all places. Daisy Smith was accused of extortion in the south of France seven years ago, but fled the country before she went to trial. Did she ever mention anything about France or old friends to you? And why would it matter when my dementia sets in?”

“Because that’s when I’m planning on getting power of attorney and stealing all your money. And no. I don’t think she ever said anything at all about her past.” Penelope handed him Brutus’ leash. “I have a present for you,” she said as she unzipped her bag.

“If it’s more dog crap, can you give it to Brian yourself? I’ve just repaired our friendship and I’m worried that giving him a bag of poop might lead to a setback.”

“I’d never be that predictable. This is lemons and oranges. You need to eat more fruit during the day.” She handed him a plastic bag, the fruit making lumps against the sides. “Brian’s working the case again?”

“Investigating Jezza’s murder didn’t seem like a conflict. If it had been her husband… Brian would recuse himself, and I would, too, since I’d hate to arrest you myself. We’d probably have to call in an outside agency.”

“I think your suspect pool is about to get wider.” She told him what she’d learned about the couple’s dinner, drinks, and blackmail scheme.

Jake sighed. “Did I ever tell you why I haven’t applied for the permanent chief position?”

“Because you don’t want to deal with the politics,” Penelope responded promptly.

“Because I don’t want to deal with the politics. So now we have to go interview every past and present member of the city council and ask if there are incriminating pictures of them floating around.” He shook his head. “I might kill the mayor myself when he gets back.”

“It’s probably good that he already approved your budget.”

Jake brightened. “There’s that.”

“Anything interesting in the reverend’s disaster room?” Penelope closed her bag and took Brutus’ leash back.

“You know I can’t talk about the case but I’m sure the next time you run into CJ he’ll tell you that there was an empty box with the lock cut off.” He stood up and held out a hand to help her up. “Dinner tonight? Brian offered to grill something.”

“Do you promise not to let the dog eat it?”

“Of course. This is going to be good food, not the kind that would accidentally fall on the floor.” Jake smiled at her and walked away.


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

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 11

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



Chapter Eleven

Penelope stumbled to a walk at the end of three miles, the German Shepherd on the other end of the leash glancing up at her and then reluctantly settling down to the slower pace. “Sorry Heidi, we’ll go faster tomorrow,” Penelope said, massaging the stitch in her side.

“Rough day?” a gruff voice questioned from the other side of the picket fence on the right, startling both woman and dog.

Penelope looked over, then down, finally seeing the elderly man on his knees digging around the base of the lavender. “Some days are a little harder than others,” she admitted. She stopped and looked at his face under the wide-brimmed hat. “Mr. Kinsey?” She hadn’t seen him in almost five years, ever since he resigned from the city council. “How are you doing?”

“The damned grub beetles are going to kill everything, but other than that I can’t complain.” He struggled to his feet. “Can I interest you in some lemons? You can take some home to that young man you’re seeing.”

Penelope smiled at the thought to letting Jake know he was her “young man”. “Thank you, I’ll take a few if you have extra.” She headed back along the fence to the gate and walked Heidi through, shortening up on the leash to keep her off the pristine lawn. “I didn’t realize you lived here,” she said as she followed the old man to the back yard where a small orchard of fruit trees provided shade.

“We moved here a few months ago. Had a place in the country but it was getting too much for us.” He ducked under a low branch from a fig tree. “Heard you were the one that found that Jezebel woman dead.”

Penelope waited a moment, then decided his last sentence had been a question. “Yes. Did you know her?” He was the first person to use her full name, or at least her full alias.

“Knew her enough to know I didn’t want to know her. Knew her a whole lot less than others.” He made a strange choking noise and it was only when Penelope caught up to him on the far side of a heavily laden Meyer lemon tree that she realized he was laughing.
“I think I missed the joke.”

He shook his head. “Didn’t you ever wonder why everyone on the council agrees to everything he proposes?”

Penelope folded her arms across her chest. “I assumed it was because he was paying them off, but I could never prove anything.”

He paused in snipping lemons off the tree. “That’s right. You lost your house through that eminent domain scam he cooked up a few years ago. I heard about that.”

“What did Jezza have to do with all that?” Penelope folded the bottom of her t-shirt into a pouch and took the lemon he handed her. Whenever the topic of the mayor had come up, Jezza had always made it clear that she’d had nothing to do with his business deals.

“Right after she came to town with her new husband, they made a point of going out to drinks with each of the councilmen. Dinner, drinks, a few more drinks, then a hotel room and then later ‘we have some pictures that your wife might find interesting if you don’t vote yes on this motion.’”

Penelope stared at him, automatically adding another lemon to the growing pile. “Blackmail?” She’d spent months looking for financial motives, but blackmail had never crossed her mind.

“Oh, they were careful enough to use it rarely, but there it was. I didn’t find out about it until last year or I might have tried to stop him.” He looked over at her. “Before you decide I’m some paragon of virtue you should know that his wife’s charms were lost on me and the mayor wasn’t committed enough to try for me himself.”

Penelope thought about the current makeup of the city council and how the mayor’s power had waned since the last election. “Having two unmarried women voted in must have really been a blow.”

The gasping laughter returned. “I wish I’d seen his face on election night. Now can I interest you in a few oranges while you’re here?”

By the time Penelope walked Heidi home, her shirt was stretched out by so much produce it resembled a lumpy pregnancy, but it wasn’t until she opened the door and unclipped the dog’s leash that she wondered where all the pictures were.

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

Death Walks A Dog: Chapter 10

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



Chapter Ten

Jake and Brutus were waiting on the sidewalk in front of the church in the morning. Penelope took in Jake’s freshly-shaved face and neatly combed hair. “You’re looking better than I thought you would after a hard night of drinking,” she said after she kissed him.

“Brutus wagged his tail and knocked over the drinks on the coffee table at about ten and we decided to call it a night.” He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear that had come loose from her ponytail. “How’d you sleep?”

“I have a pink canopy bed with ruffles in the room where I’m staying, the chihuahua cried to go outside every two hours, and at three in the morning there were cats fighting outside under the window.”  She rubbed her eyes. “And maybe I missed you just a little.”

Jake nodded. “Luckily I had Brutus to fill your position of snoring and accidentally kicking me in the back in the middle of the night.”

“I don’t snore! And you’ll be lucky if the kicking is accidental after today.”

“Good morning!” The Reverend Miller had walked down the steps from the rectory while they were talking. “The two of you look very chipper this morning.”

Jake shook hands with the reverend and they exchanged pleasantries. “Brutus and I were just out for a walk, but I was wondering if I could come by later to talk to you.”

CJ beamed. “Finally making an honest woman of Penelope then? Congratulations! I’d be honored to officiate.”

Penelope snorted. “I’m already the most honest woman he knows.”

“Of course you are, and that’s why I love you.” Jake turned back. “But no, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. It’s a work thing. About your neighbor Jezza.”

CJ colored. “Oh dear. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

Jake waved away his apology. “If I can ever get her to say yes, you’ll be the first person we talk to.”
Penelope leaned back to look up at his face. “I can’t very well give you an answer if you don’t ask a question.”

Jake held up a finger. “Excuse me for a moment, Father.” He turned his whole body to face Penelope. “November 22nd. Two-thirty in the afternoon.”

She brought out her phone to check her schedule and thought back to where she’d been on that day. “The Cubs game? Wait, you were serious? You were kidding. Weren’t you?”

“Is this the face of a man who kids about the Cubs or getting married?”

“I might have to take a Mulligan then.”

Jake shook his head. “No points for mixing sports. And I’ve already done my part. It’s your turn.” He put a finger on her lips as she opened her mouth. “And none of this ‘oh, by the way’ business because clearly a big production is needed.” He turned back to CJ. “But really I came by to ask if Jezza kept anything in your disaster room.”

After one of the Victorian houses had burned down with all the copies of one family’s pictures, CJ had opened up one room of the stone church to anyone who wanted to store pictures or documents there for safekeeping. The priest furrowed his brow. “I think she might have left a lockbox there a while back. I can check…” He turned, then stopped. “That is, I can check after the service.” He gestured toward the church.

“Of course. I’ll give you a call later and set up a time to come by.” He took off his scarf and snugged it around Penelope’s neck. “I’ll see you later.” He tugged on Brutus’ leash and they started walking away. “Big production,” he repeated over his shoulder.

Penelope shook her head and went inside the rectory to take care of the needy Dalmatian while CJ went to lead the service.


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