Monday, July 29, 2013

Beach Tale: "When We Were Middle Aged and Foolish", Fourth Installment

          This is the fourth installment of my serialized short mystery, “When We Were Middle Aged and Foolish.”  A new chapter will be posted every Monday for the next four weeks.  If you missed the first installments, click here to be taken to the page of what’s been posted so far.
          For those of you returning, a quick reminder when last we left our middle-aged amateur sleuths, they were at the Sagucci Bay police station trying to explain how’d they’d come to find a dead body in a trash can... 

When We Were Middle Aged and Foolish
Installment Four of Eight
        Since it was determined that Kitty Kline had been dead for a couple of days and I had an airtight alibi working at my job at a cotton merchant more than 1,000 miles away in Memphis, Tennessee, I was off the hook for murder. Charges for Accessory After the Fact, Breaking and Entering, and Urinating in Public were still pending, but the attorney I found in the Yellow Pages had me sprung on my own recognizance by suppertime. And just like in a bad movie, I’d been warned not to leave town.
          Monica Lyn wasn’t so lucky. With means, motive, opportunity, and the trail of blood down Fisher Street, she was a slam dunk for the prosecution. But the judge took into account her twelve-year stint as a city council person, nine years as Girl Scout Troop 83 leader, six years as PTA President, and current fundraising chair for the local no-kill animal shelter, and deemed her a low-flight risk. Bail was set at an amount easily covered via a cash advance on her VISA.
          A smart woman would let the police take it from here. A really smart woman would hire a private investigator to help things along. And then there’s Monica Lyn. She decided to take things into her own hands.
          “I need your help,” she said the next afternoon. I’d just returned from picking up my favorite lunch from my favorite local restaurant—spring rolls from Maya Moons Chinese Restaurant—which I placed on the table. I had lived on Maya Moon’s spring rolls back in high school. Literally. A fad diet I’d read about in a teen magazine had suggested the best way to lose weight was pick one favorite food and eat it exclusively for one month and the pounds would just melt away. (The theory being, I guess, is that you get tired of the food and don’t eat as much of it.) I had picked spring rolls, because I loved them, and I figured they were filled with vegetables, therefore, a healthy option. But I hadn’t counted the carbs in the flaky wrapper or the fat grams from deep frying the egg roll-like food. Nor had I tired of eating them. Thus I ended up gaining weight—and picking up the nickname Spring Roll—by the end of the month.
          I hadn’t had any near as good since I’d left town. My mouth watered at the aroma, but my stomach churned into overdrive at the look on Monica Lyn’s face. I wasn’t sure what kind of “help” she needed, but this didn’t bode well.
          Monica Lyn was already unwrapping the first spring roll from its waxed paper bag. So my choice, as I saw it, was either to abandon my all-time favorite food that I hadn’t tasted in over a quarter of a century and run screaming for the hills, or I could sit down at the table and share them with her and then run screaming for the hills.  At least Plan B would allow me to run on a full stomach.
          I slid my backside along the mahogany bench seat the way I had at least a million times in my youth. So may memories. Especially the one where I’d been an accomplice when Monica Lyn had used her brother’s wood burning set to engrave ML+JJ=4EVER in the corner. I let my fingers trace the letters and contemplated how sometimes mathematical equations don’t always prove out.
          “Whadaya have in mind?” I asked, my voice revealing the hesitation I felt. Monica Lyn had changed since being released from what she now referred to as her two-day vacation in cell block number 13. Her eyes, once dancing with mischief and merriment, were now iced-over with misery and fear. I had a bad feeling about this.
          She took a long draw on her Earl Gray tea then thumped her mug down on the table. “When the police questioned J.J. about the trashcan we found in his garage, he made up a crazy-ass story about how I was not taking the divorce well and had cooked up this scheme to pin the murder rap on him, when really I had been the one who’d killed Kitty. So time for us to flip the tables back around and we’re going to do whatever is necessary to make sure J.J. is accused of Kitty Kline’s murder. That way he gets to spend a few days rotting in jail. Then we’ll do our civic duty and find the real killer, since the cops don’t seem too keen on examining the evidence. It’s a win-win, don’t you agree?”
          “We? As in you and me?”
          Monica Lyn nodded.
          “No way. Not me. I’m washing my hands of this whole thing. I already regret helping you steal the trash can in the first place. ‘What could go wrong?’ you’d said. Turns out, everything could go wrong. And then your stupid plan of planting the evidence at Kitty’s house almost got me ten years to life. No way. Not me. Find yourself another partner in crime.” I scooched towards the end of the bench, dragging a spring roll through the sweet dipping sauce en route.
          But Monica Lyn put her size ten bunny slipper on the edge of the bench and stopped me from leaving.
          “Are we or are we not sandbox sisters?” she asked.
          I stared right back into her baby blues. “We are. BFFs since age two.”
          “Did I or did I not beg my family to take you in last semester of senior year so you didn’t have to move to Reykjavik, Iceland with your mother when she married that crazy sailor?”
          “You did.” A marriage that had lasted 179 days, at which point Mom became a global vagabond. I’d seen her twice since.
          “Did I or did I not stop, drop and roll you when your veil caught on fire at your wedding reception?”
          “You won money from America’s Funniest Home Videos with it.”
          She wagged her pointer finger at me in a tick-tock motion. “But that hadn’t been my motivation. I did it to keep you from flaming up like a Roman Candle and having that beautiful face of yours disfigured for life. Risking my own beautiful face in the process, I might add.”
          I let my gaze drop to my fingernails, which I’d scrubbed to bleeding nubbins in an attempt to remove every last molecule of Kitty Kline’s blood.
           “And who was it that rushed to your side to hold your hand while Lucas drew his last breath?” she asked.
          “You.” My mother had been MIA somewhere in Thailand while my husband battled pancreatic cancer.
          “And did I or did I not lend you my last dime to help cover the funeral expenses?”
          This could go on forever. “Okay, I get the point,” I said.
          Monica Lyn settled back on her stool. “Have I ever once asked for anything in return?”
          “No.” And she hadn’t. Ever. Not one single time in over 40 years.
          “I’m calling in all my BFF chits right now.”
          “Now?” I re-tallied the friendship account. I owed her. Big time.
          “Now. Go get dressed. Something you don’t mind getting dirty.” She lowered her slipper to the floor.
           I could leave. I could get up and walk out of this house and trot down to Gillian’s Wharf Road where I could hail a pedi-cab and have him take me to the nearest bus station where I could board a Greyhound and ride off into the sunset.
          Or I could stay and help my best friend exact revenge on her dirt bag of a husband who had tried to convince the police this kind, gentle soul was capable of murder.
          I knew what she would do if I asked her.
          “We’re going back to the house…”
          And she did speak the house in italics, even though it was where she and J.J. had lived for seventeen years and raised two kids. But ever since she’d returned early from her meeting to find J.J. and Kitty, it had ceased to be her “home” and was now merely the house.
          “…where we’ll wait for him to get home from work. Then we’ll get him so schnockered that when we tell the police he confessed to the murder, he won’t remember if he did or not. Ready?”
          “I guess.”

<<Uh oh.  I fear there is trouble afoot for our middle-aged amateur sleuths.  Be sure and check back next Monday to see how Monica Lyn’s plan plays out! J >>

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