If you missed the first chapter, start here!
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!)