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