Ultraviolet

Jane Kelly Mysteries: Book 3

 

Kensington, Genre: Suspense (October 2007)
ISBN-10: 0758209096 ISBN-13: 978-0758209092


Read an Excerpt

I had mere seconds to get out of the bedroom.  There was no bolt for the door and no escape back the way I’d entered.  I stood frozen, my hands useless appendages in front of me, my frantic heartbeats a roaring surf in my ears.

Three strong strides and I was at the sliding glass door that led to the bedroom balcony.  The door opened soundlessly to an itsy-bitsy, terra-cotta tiled area wrapped by a wrought-iron rail.  I looked down two floors.  For a dizzying moment I considered jumping but the patio below was cold, unforgiving stone.

I whirled back to stare across the room.  Twelve feet of carpet led toward the bedroom door, the only other exit.  My pursuer was not far behind.  From my peripheral vision I caught sight of the maple tree.  I glanced over.  Too far from the balcony, but just outside the bathroom window.

I could hear his approaching footsteps from the exterior hall.  Quickly, I scurried into the bathroom and threw open the window.  One branch was close enough to reach.  For an instant I considered climbing down as I was: gowned, bejeweled, wearing the most expensive shoes I ever planned to purchase.

Kicking off the shoes I threw them out the window.  I ripped the zipper of the dress downward, yanked the slinky lavender silk dress over my head, sent it flying after the shoes.  As I pulled myself through the window, cursing the space which was scarcely large enough for me to wriggle my shoulders through, I heard the door open.  A mewling sound entered my throat but I held it back.  I reached for the branch, missed, reached again, arms shaking, fingers splayed.

I heard his breathing.

My fingers connected and I hauled myself out with adrenalin-laced strength.  I swung my legs upward to catch the limb with my ankles and hung like a lemur.  Then I shimmied toward the tree trunk and carefully eased myself down the bole.  I lost swatches of skin.  My pulse hammered in my ears.  My face was wet with tears.

When my toe hit the ground I drew a breath and silently thanked my lucky stars.  I glanced upward.  He was on the balcony looking down at me.  In that strange, heightened moment between quarry and prey, I was very, very glad I stood where I was.

“Ms. Kellogg?”

The voice came from somewhere to my right, near the front of the house, as Istooped to pick up the gown Violet Purcell had given me.  I shivered, glad Violet had talked me into the padded, lacy bra, equally glad I’d held out for bikini underwear rather than a thong.

The newcomer was my other admirer, Martin.

I smiled at him as he approached, hoping my lips didn’t quiver.  I could feel the gaze from the man on the balcony boring into the back of my head.  I shook out the gown.  Stepping into it, I said with forced nonchalance, “Would you mind helping me zip up?”

I thanked the fates Martin liked me enough to obey without question.

EARLIER...

There’s a weird-oh in every neighborhood.

The old lady with 49 cats.  The man who’s formed art pieces out of painted car parts and littered them across his front yard.  The couple who’ve carved mysterious symbols in the bark of a tree and hung a plaque on the limbs declaring themselves lovers of evergreens, while fir needles blanket their dilapidated roof and hang in a shroud of spider webs from the sagging eaves.

I fear that Dwayne Durbin is becoming the latest neighborhood weird-oh.

Ever since the accident that broke his leg and somewhat incapacitated him, he’s taken to spying on the properties across Lakewood Bay, his leg wrapped in a cast from ankle to thigh, his eyes glued to a pair of binoculars.  A strange chortling sound issues from his throat.  He can tell you more about the Pilarmo’s dog and the Wilson’s new alarm system than you should ever want to know.

I’ve sort of been trying to avoid him these last few weeks.  He’s drawn me into watching the sexcapades of a nameless couple whose energetic and inventive forms of copulation both impress and shock me, which is saying a lot.  Dwayne has named all the houses/families he spies on; these two he calls Tab A and Slot B.  Their stamina and vitality while inserting said Tab A into Slot B makes me wonder about my own tepid sex life.  A few random kisses is all I can measure in the plus column.

Which is the main reason I’ve been avoiding Dwayne: my newly refined awareness of him.  Yes, he’s an attractive member of the male gender, but so what?  Dwayne is still my boss/business partner and that is IT.  Thinking about him in any romantic context is just plain trouble.

I reminded myself of this as I parked my Volvo wagon next to his truck which sat on the concrete pad outside his cabana.  I’d told him I would bring lunch and so I had.  The white bag containing a stack of plastic containers lay on the passenger seat.

Before I climbed out of the car I took a deep breath.  I’d been using the excuse that, as temporary lead investigator for Dwayne Durbin Investigations (of which only Dwayne and I make up the company employees), I’m too busy digging into the death of one Roland Hatchmere, the third and most beloved ex-husband of our client, Violet Purcell, to hang around much.  I’d gone so far as to call from my cell phone near heavy freeway interchanges and scream over the roar of the traffic that I would report in when I’m closer to Lake Chinook, the town in which we both reside.  It’s a testament to Dwayne’s interest in his friends across the bay that he hasn’t been calling me on my bullshit.  He knows me too well to seriously believe me.  Honestly, I don’t think he notices that I’m having such a hard time with the current form of our relationship which should piss me off but worries me more than anything else.

But when Dwayne asked me to bring him a burger from Standish’s I broke down and agreed.   What can I say?  I want to see him.  Still, I couldn’t just be little miss fetch-all so, in a moment of pure orneriness, I drove to a new deli neither of us had tried before and bought an array of items in little white boxes that looked great but might be more healthy than either of us would normally choose.  Why do I do this?  I don’t want to even speculate.

As I let myself inside his cabana I put my feelings for Dwayne aside as best I could and instead scolded myself for not being further along on the Violet Purcell matter.  The problem for me is Violet herself.  Before Dwayne’s accident, she’d made a strong play for him and they looked to be heading into that “you woman, me man” thing with the speed of a freight train.

I hadn’t liked it one bit.  And so I was having trouble treating Violet as a paying client who needed rescuing.  To be fair, Violet is currently so distracted by her own problems that she appears to have no interest in Dwayne whatsoever.  I’m not going to be fooled, however, because these things have a habit of resurfacing just when you’re sure it’s safe to go back in the water.

Not that Dwayne’s for me.  I’m just saying. . .

I was juggling my laptop in its smart, gray wool case, a cup of black coffee from the Coffee Nook, the white bag containing our lunch and a copy of the Lake Chinook Review and I dropped everything in a heap on Dwayne’s kitchen counter.  Dwayne, as ever, was on his back dock.  He heard me arrive and from where he was stretched out on his longue, he half-turned his head in greeting.  I could see his profile in front of the green waters of Lakewood Bay.  It arrested me for a moment, as the sky had darkened in that eerie way that foretells of a thunderstorm, something that rarely happens in Oregon.  I looked through the window at the gray-green sky just as a shot of lightning sizzled across it, leaving a bright after-image against my retina.  Dwayne picked up his binoculars and scanned the heavens.  It was November and unseasonably warm.  As I off-loaded my items, thunder rumbled and then a horrendous blast of rain poured down.  Loud rain.  I looked up sharply.  Hail, actually.

I squeezed through the twelve-inch opening – all that Dwayne’s sliding glass door allows as his desk is shoved up against it – and rushed outside to the dock.  Dwayne was struggling up from his chair.  I grabbed his arm and together we managed to knock over his small side table as we squeezed back through the door to safety.  In those few seconds we both got soaked to the skin.  After that we stood just inside and stared at the black sky and silvery, bouncing hail.

I felt the warmth of Dwayne’s skin through the damp.  I could smell him.  Something faintly citrusy today that spoke of last summer.  I’ve never been one of those women who wants to ‘drink in a man’ but I felt that desire now so strongly I could scarcely think.  It took serious willpower to move away from him.

Abruptly the hail stopped.

“Cool,” Dwayne said thoughtfully, brushing at his shoulders.  Bright drops of water melted into the light blue cotton before my eyes.

I said, “Lunch is on the counter.”

“Standishes?”

“This is from that new gourmet catering shop on B Street.”

Hope died in his face.  “Tell me there’s nothing with raisins.”

“There’s nothing with raisins.”

Beets, though.  I knew better than to mention them as I opened the white bags and pulled out clear, plastic containers of dishes that had made my mouth water as I stood in front of the counter.  Dwayne eyed the Szechuan noodles suspiciously and actually sniffed the container of chicken, arugula, corn and rice.  The purple red beets swimming in their own juice he studiously avoided.  I didn’t blame him.  I’d thrown them in mainly for the shock value.  I don’t mind a beet but their tendency to dye clothing with one ill-placed drop kind of puts me off.

“I suffered a moment of worry about my health.”

Dwayne grunted as he swept some plates and silverware from his drawers.  He moved with surprising grace on his crutches, dishing up heaping helpings onto two plates.  He stuck a serving spoon in the beets but didn’t partake.  I felt duty-bound to have some and left a spray of magenta beet juice in a semi-circle on Dwayne’s counter.  I found a paper towel and swiped it up.  I didn’t tell him about the drops that landed on his dish towel.  I was pretty sure no amount of washing was going to get those suckers out.  He gestured at me to ask if I wanted something to drink but I lifted my Coffee Nook cup in response.

I sank onto his couch, which doubles as my work station, and Dwayne perched on one of his kitchen stools.  He’s transformed his jeans to accommodate his cast, in effect making one pant leg only about twelve inches long.  His cast takes over from there and it has various writings on it.  I wondered about the sweet little red heart with initials.

“Anything new?” he asked, scooping up the Szechuan noodles and eyeing me.

“Roland Hatchmere’s family doesn’t think much of Violet.  They’d like to see her go down for this.”

“She didn’t kill him.”

“So you say.  And so says Violet.  But somebody hit him with the tray she gave as a wedding gift.”  I forked in some rice and pea mixture that had a hint of saffron.

Dwayne swept an arm toward my laptop case.  “You got a report for me?”

“There’s nothing to report.”

“Give me a list of the players: Hatchmere’s family members, the wedding guests, people from work.  There’s a reason somebody killed him.”

I fought back a natural obstinance, finished my salads, then switched on my laptop.  Dwayne loves hard copy.  He’s always yammering about how I should spend more time logging data and generating pages and pages of information to impress the client, and he likes to look at information on paper himself.  Seeing facts on paper helps him think.  Unfortunately I wasn’t kidding: I had nothing to report.  Since Violet had announced to me and Dwayne that she was suspected in Roland Hatchmere’s death, I’d barely learned anything of note.  Certainly nothing worth writing up and printing off.

We finished our meals and Dwayne was nice enough to thank me and even pay for the food.  I tried to demur but he smiled faintly and ignored me, so I pocketed the bills.  I’m pretty sure I should be embarrassed by my cheapness, but I can’t stop looking at it as a good thing.

I pretended disinterest as he picked up the Review and started reading.  Perversely, as soon as I was clearly dropped from his consciousness I wanted to be right back in there.

I said, “I’m having trouble getting the Hatchmere clan to talk to me.  I’ve left messages...I even dropped by the house, once, but I got the door slammed in my face.”

“Who slammed it on you?”

“The daughter.  Gigi Hatchmere.   Or, wait. .Popparockskill. . .”

“It’s still Hatchmere.  Ceremony never came off when Roland didn’t show.”  He shook the paper and opened to another page as he headed back outside.

“Have you got any bright ideas on what I should do next?” I called but Dwayne was outside and either he couldn’t hear me or he didn’t care.

Annoyed, I pulled up my file on Violet and wirelessly sent its meager contents to the printer as I slid another look Dwayne’s way.

He’d put down the paper and was standing in the strange darkness created by the storm, staring up at the sky.  I followed his gaze and saw a crack between clouds where sunlight spilled through, looking like a sheer, glowing curtain of white and yellow, the kind of odd illumination that as Dwayne moved in front of it, surrounded him with a brilliant aura.

“Saint Dwayne,” I muttered.

“What?” he hollered.

Oh, yeah, sure.  Now, he hears me?  “Nothing.”

I headed to the printer which is currently set up in Dwayne’s spare bedroom and looked at the pages.  It was disheartening how little progress I’d made.  Nobody, but nobody, wanted to talk to anyone associated with Violet.  I’d placed a few calls and gotten a few polite “noes” and a few more “you’ve got to be kiddings”.  One guy, some Hatchmere family friend known as Big Jim, just laughed like a hyena and hung up on me.

Gathering up the two pages of potential interviewees, I sensed a nub of anxiety tightened in the pit of my stomach.  For all his inattention, Dwayne was going to want some hard answers.  But Violet was anathema.  And no one wanted to talk to a friend of Violet’s – friend being a stretch of the truth of our relationship – but I suspected Dwayne wasn’t going to see it that way.

“Come on out here, Jane,” Dwayne called, apparently sensing I’d returned to the living room as his eyes were once again glued to his binoculars.

He was back on the longue, though I suspected there might be some moisture soaking into the seat of his jeans.  The outdoor furniture and dock were still wet from the hail blast.

Squeezing back outside, I felt a frigid huff of wind whip beneath my black suede vest, press my shirt to my skin and generally bring me to goose bumps.  Dwayne’s cowboy hat, never far from his side, was now scrunched on his head.  His long, light blue denim-clad left leg, and casted right one, stretched toward the small, slatted-wood table we’d knocked over on our scramble to get back inside.  I righted the table and put it beside his chair.  Apart from his shirt, there was no protection against the elements but it didn’t look like he cared much.

My eyes followed the line of his legs and I felt a twist of sexual interest.  I gritted my teeth.  And him being a semi-invalid.  What did that say about me?

“Take a look here,” he said, handing me the binoculars.  “Straight over there is Rebel Yell...”  He pointed at a white two-story house across the bay and a little to our left.  I looked through the lenses.  “Parents, two teenage girls, lots of drama.”

“You’ve named another one?”

“Named ‘em all.  It’s next to Tab A and Slot B, just to the west side.”

I gazed at Tab A and Slot B where the man and woman had been cavorting into every sexual position known to humankind all fall and tried to keep my mind off Dwayne.  But it was difficult not to notice the tautness of skin across his bared chest, the feel of hard upper arm muscles.  Dwayne and I had done a bit of that mating dance, nothing too serious, and then Violet had entered our world.  Sometimes, late at night, when my mind whirled on a repetitive track, I remembered those moments with uncomfortable inner jolts that seemed to hit my heart and parts down south as well.  “We’ve watched them before,” I said neutrally.

“Mm,” he agreed.  “Tab A’ll be home in a couple hours.  Lately they’ve been turning on their outdoor fire pit and then heading just inside the slider door and getting to work.  Lovemaking by the fire.  Guess it’s what you do when you don’t have an indoor fireplace.”

“Can’t wait for that.”

“Next to them is Plastic Pet Cemetery, where old lawn ornaments go to die.”

“The Pilarmos.  With the dog.”

Dwayne nodded.  “Thing howls and looks like a wolf.”

I centered my binoculars on the Pilarmo’s tired, dark blue bungalow.  Kinda looked like my cottage only worse, if that was possible.  Probably worth a small fortune.  I could make out gnomes and plastic pink flamingos and faux cement bird baths decorating a large portion of the back yard.  A grayish wolf-dog cruised around the corner and disappeared from view.

“Then there’s Do Not Enter.”

I moved my glasses to aim toward a shell of a house where the beams and a skin of plywood comprised the walls.  The roof was half on.  “Why is it Do Not Enter?”

“It’s where the high school kids party.  They try to keep their flashlights dimmed, but every Friday and Saturday night there’s something going on.  And that last house before the road curves toward North Shore is Social Security.  He’s deaf and she’s bedridden and neither of ‘em is too worried about Do Not Enter.”

Hearing he’d named more houses worried me anew.  I had to remind myself that this too would pass.  It was a harmless pursuit on Dwayne’s part.  Something to entertain him while he recovered.  If it smacked a little too much of Jimmy Stewart’s character in REAR WINDOW, well, it wasn’t like he was going to ask me to solve a murder over there.

I handed him back the binoculars, murmured something about getting back to my job, then squeezed back inside the cabana and headed to my laptop.  My job – the job I was getting paid for – was to prove Violet Purcell’s innocence.  Besides the fact that no one will talk to me, the bigger problem is I kinda think Violet might be guilty.  She’s sensed this and has yelled,  “Things aren’t always what they seem, Jane!” more times than I like to recall.  And actually, I think that’s a crock anyway.  Most of the time things are exactly what they seem.  We just can’t accept them as they are.  We want to make them better, or different, or meaningful.

But. . . .I must remember innocent until proven guilty.  It’s difficult with Violet.  She’s fifty-ish, appears and acts over a decade younger, possesses more good looks than good sense, and has a family who took the ‘health’ out of ‘mental health’ in a big way.  I would like to forget that she made a play for Dwayne but I can’t.  It’s only been a few weeks since I met Violet – basically a little over a month – but it feels like the proverbial eternity.  FirstI thought she was breath of fresh air.  Then, I decided she was a femme fatale.  Now, I’m thinking she might be a murderer.

I mean, why couldn’t she have killed Ex-Husband #3?  Why does Dwayne find it so impossible?

I shook my head and stared up at the fir beams that line Dwayne’s cabana’s ceiling and thought back.  Upon first meeting I’d been intrigued with Violet’s tell-it-like-it-is, take-no-prisoner’s attitude.  But, she was a Purcell and I had learned, by then, that they were a secretive, squirrelly bunch, so I wasn’t sure what to think of her.  It had been refreshing to be faced with a family member who initially exhibited none of their odd family traits.  Key word here, being initially.  Violet’s definitely got her own issues.

Luckily, since Dwayne’s accident, things seem to have cooled off a bit between him and Violet, but that doesn’t mean it’s over.  And okay, they haven’t progressed to much more than friends but I know she hauled off and kissed him once.  I got to witness that.  Dwayne is my mentor, boss, partner and friend.  I cannot have him mean anything more to me and stay sane.  I know this, but I have to keep reminding myself anyway because there’s a part of me that just can’t quite leave the whole possible romance thing alone.  I would like to be disgusted with myself for being so nauseatingly hopeless.  I mean, why can’t I just get over it?  It’s interfering with my job and my life and I don’t even think I really like Dwayne.

That memory of Violet pulling him into a kiss crossed the screen of my mind again and I had to clench my teeth.

I waited for the moment to pass. 

“Are you growling?”

I jumped.  Dwayne’s voice was loud.  Glancing back I saw he’d stuck his head inside the slider door.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I like to.”

We looked at each other.  I would rather suck on dirty socks than admit my feelings for Dwayne.

He let it go.  “Violet’s on her way over, right?”

“Yep.”  I congratulated myself on my disinterested tone.

“She wanted to see me?  Why?  You’re the one on the case.”

I swivelled to give Dwayne a long look.  “She doesn’t trust me.  I’m not the one with experience.  She wants you.”  Those last three words seemed to hang in the air.

“I’m not exactly mobile,” Dwayne pointed out in his drawl.  “She wants to talk, fine.  But if she wants someone to get ‘er done, it’s going to be you.”

“She’d like us to talk to the police.  Find out if they’re going to indict her.”

“Like they’d tell us.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying, but I’m a mere lackey.  She wants it from the big dog.”

Dwayne snorted and returned to the dock.  He sank into the hail and rain soaked chair again without comment. 

It had been a lot sunnier the day Violet walked out on Dwayne’s dock and announced that she might have killed her ex-husband.  I’d been so giddily happy that Dwayne’s and her interest in each other had been curtailed by Dwayne’s accident, that I’d let myself be talked into helping her.  It’s not like I hate her, or anything.  I just don’t trust her. 

She’d showed up in true Violet fashion: looking beautiful, and.....well, lusty.  Her hair is blonde and shoulder-length, her eyes that crazy electric blue color most of the Purcells seem to share.  My own hair is a little longer than shoulder length, light brown, straight and wouldn’t let itself be styled if I bought a truckload of Vidal Sasson products.  I don’t possess Violet’s curves, but my eyes are hazel and sane-looking.  I’m thirty and Dwayne’s about thirty-five.  I figure that evens the score.

But that day Violet hadn’t been thinking about Dwayne, not in any romantic capacity.  She’d needed help.

She plopped down in one of the dock chairs and announced numbly, “My ex-husband’s dead.”  I’d questioned which ex-husband, since she had a few, and learned it was Roland Hatchmere, Ex Number 3, the only one who lived in the Portland area.

“He was killed yesterday,” she went on.  “On his daughter’s wedding day.  Roland was still at the house, and these robbers showed up thinking he was gone, I guess, and he wasn’t, and they killed him.”

“Wedding robbers?” I asked, looking at Dwayne, whose focus had sharpened on Violet.  Dwayne had been investigating a series of robberies by a group he’d dubbed the Wedding Bandits.  They apparently scoped out weddings of the rich and locally famous and burgled the families while they were enjoying the nuptials and other wedding festivities.

“The police came to see me today,” Violet said, her eyes huge.  “God, I don’t believe this.  They seem to think I did it.”

“You said the robbers killed him,” I reminded.

Dwayne asked, “Why do the police think you’re responsible?”, and then Violet finally tossed out a nugget of truth.

“Because he was killed with a heavy metal platter that has my fingerprints on it.”

“Did you kill him?” Dwayne asked.

“I don’t think so,” she responded in a small voice.

And that’s when Dwayne checked out completely, picked up his binoculars and returned to his perusal of other Lakewood Bay denizens.  If I’d known then he was going to make a serious job out of it, I might have been more concerned, but instead after he told Violet I was the lead investigator, I started thinking about how much money I could make and I agreed to take the case.

Since then my job had been mostly about keeping Violet calm and focused.  She lived in a certain amount of fear the authorities were going to swoop down on her and haul her criminal ass to justice.  I soothed with words about needing real evidence and motive and whatever else I could draw from the criminology classes I’d taken and my own vast repertoire of bullshit that I like to dress up as fact.

 

I’d managed to piece together the events of the wedding day from Violet’s scattered recollection and disjointed recitation.  Apparently Roland’s daughter Gigi was getting married to Emmett Popparockskill at the Cahill Winery in Dundee, Oregon, which was about an hour’s drive from Roland’s house in Portland’s West Hills District.

The wedding was scheduled to be outdoors with the requisite, flowers, arches, ring bearer and flower girl – two additions I always cheer for since they pretty much rip focus away from the bride by screwing up somehow.  I swear to God they are the best part of any wedding, beyond the champagne, alcohol and food. 

Apparently Violet never made it to the ceremony.  She stopped by Roland’s house to drop off her gift for Gigi and Emmett – the metal platter – but ran into Roland himself who was running really, really late himself.  Violet and Roland then got into some kind of fight and she whacked him alongside the head with the platter.

Since then Violet’s convinced herself that she’s innocent.  “But everything was fine!” she insists now.  “He was perfectly fine when I left him.  He was moving.  Breathing.  Swearing at me.  I didn’t kill him.  Those robbers must have.  After I left,  they came in and killed him.”

But he died from head trauma.  That much is fact.  And who hit him with the tray?  Violet.  That also is fact.

Now I heard the loud purr of a sports car and figured Violet had arrived.  She gave a perfunctory knock on Dwayne’s door then pushed in, calling loudly, “I’m letting myself in!”

“Dwayne’s on the dock,” I greeted her as she burst inside loaded with packages from several major department stores.   A cloud of perfume wafted into the room, trailing in her wake.

She caught my look and held the bags higher.  “I just couldn’t stop.  Am I spending all my funds to fill a need?  I’d bet on it, hon.  I have too much money and not enough friends.  Look, I bought you something.”

I tried hard not to react as Violet dug inside one of the bags.  Scary, scary thought.  I don’t want to owe Violet ANYTHING.  Working for her is one thing, but this. . .?  Hell, I don’t even want to know what this is.

To my consternation she pulled out a dress.  “Purple,” I said faintly.  I didn’t want to be ungrateful but the thought of Violet buying me clothes. . .ugh.  I just know it’s not going to work somehow.

“It’s my signature color,” she said unnecessarily.  “It’s more amethyst, don’t you think?”   When I didn’t respond, she swept on, “It’s like voile, really sheer in that sort of netty way?  I just love it.  I could just see you in it.  Here, try it on.”  She held it out to me.

I instantly turned back to my screen.  “In a minute, I need to finish this.”

“Oh, come on, Jane.”

I finally really looked at Violet.  I’d been spending so much time on the dress and dealing with my internal horror that I hadn’t given much thought to Violet herself.  Now I saw clearly that this was important to her.  Even worse.  There was no polite way out.

“Sure,” I said, taking the proffered garment and heading toward Dwayne’s bathroom.

The dress, actually gown, hung to my ankles and hugged like a second skin.  I’d been wearing jeans and boots and had left dark socks on.  Taking them off, I gave myself a studied look, turning to capture a view of the side and back.

I looked. . .well. . .good.

I’m not a clothes shopper.  It’s just so darn much trouble.  I get irritated at sales people and nothing ever seems to work the way I think it should.  How could Violet pick out something like this just by deciding it would be right? 

“Okay, I like it,” I admitted as I returned to the living room.  “How much do I owe you?”

Violet’s gaze was out the sliding door to the back of Dwayne’s cowboy hat.  Her face was wistful.  “It’s a gift,” she said distractedly.

“No,” I argued without much strength.  I was afraid to look at the price tag.

“Just wear it some time when we’re out together,” she said, turning back to me and smiling.

Here’s the thing – I think she really likes me.  Not in a weird way, just as a friend.  Which makes me feel like a heel because I don’t want to like her.

She didn’t wait for more arguments but headed outside.  I glanced toward the sky but the clouds were holding back further precipitation.  As she moved into Dwayne’s line of vision she smiled at him even more warmly than she’d smiled at me.

My cell phone buzzed.

“Hello,” I answered, my gaze zeroed on the two of them.

“This Jane Kelly?” a flat male voice asked.

“Yes.”

“Hey, it’s Sean Hatchmere.  You called?”

I sat up straighter.  Sean was Roland’s son.  I’d left a message on his cell phone explaining who I was – just like I’d left messages on Gigi’s phone and Roland’s wife Melinda and many others – but I’d assumed Sean wasn’t interested in me any more than any of the rest of them were.  “I sure did.”

“You’re trying to help Violet, right?  My sister said you were.”

He didn’t bring up Gigi slamming the door in my face, so maybe he didn’t know.

“More like I’m trying to figure out what happened.”

“Isn’t that what the police are doing?”

There was noise in the background.  Some kind of unidentifiable music?  Techno-rock?  I couldn’t tell.  But it was loud and Sean’s flat voice was mere micro-decibels above it, just enough for me to make out what he was saying.

“Yes.”  One thing I’ve learned in my brief foray into the p.i. business, answer as truthfully as you dare but don’t offer up any more information than necessary.  Let whomever you’re talking with develop their own conclusions.  Those conclusions might surprise you, more often than not.

“Yeah, well, if you wanna see me you can come down to the Crock pretty much any night.”

“The Crock?” I repeated, surprised.

“You know it?”

“Sure do.  How about I stop by tonight?  What time will you be there?”

“We start about midnight and go till two or three.”

I paused a beat before saying, “Okay.”

I hung up, my momentary excitement at finally breaking through the Hatchmere wall taking a nosedive.  The idea of starting anything at midnight made me inwardly groan.  I’d been a bartender for a number of years, but I’d lived a different lifestyle then, becoming by necessity a “night person” and sleeping during the day.  I’d effectively switched fully to the daylight hours in the time since, so I knew I would struggle to stay awake tonight.  Napping always sounds like a good alternative, but I’d never been able to master it except for that bartending era when I’d completely flipped my days and nights.

But Sean Hatchmere had given me a gift.

As I squeezed my way to the dock, I was just in time to hear Violet say, “What is it with you and those binoculars?” in a peeved voice.

For the first time I saw Dwayne’s obsession in a positive light.  Especially when he answered, “Darlin’, you have no idea what you can learn.  See that house over there?  The one under construction?  Do Not Enter’s got some serious teen parties happening every Friday and Saturday nights.”

“Teenagers,” Violet responded derisively.

“Can’t decide whether to report ‘em to our local law enforcement, or head over there myself and score whatever they’re sharin’ amongst their secretive, little selves.”

Dwayne grinned up at Violet from beneath the brim of his cowboy hat.

Violet threw a look my way.  “I can’t get him to take me seriously.”

“Jane’s your lead investigator.”

“I know, I know.”  Violet sighed.

I broke in, “I just got a call from Sean Hatchmere.  I’m meeting him at The Crock tonight.”

 

“Good,” Violet said with feeling, giving me her full attention.  “Still no luck with Gigi?”  I shook my head.  “Well, maybe Sean can help you there.  He doesn’t like his sister much, though.  Nobody does – did – except Roland.  Technically, Gigi’s still a Hatchmere though she’s living with Popparockskill.  Maybe she just didn’t want to change her name.  I went back to Purcell after my second marriage ended.  Too hard to keep changing.  And since the Patriot Act and all the identity theft and all, it’s just a nightmare of forms and red tape.  Never again.”

Violet and I left Dwayne on the dock as we headed through his cabana and out to our cars.  A brisk breeze whipped past, running like a ribbon through the tree boughs.  I paused to look around me, waiting for Violet to get into her car, a white Mercedes convertible, which she did after searching in her purse for her cell phone.  I watched her remote unlock the thing as she connected to her housekeeper, outlining what she wanted done with the red wine stains on the carpet.  As she drove away I had a mental picture of her alone in her mansion, drinking wine, worrying about whether she would be indicted for murder.

She’d married a series of husbands and never improved her financial situation with each divorce.  She’d married for love, I guess.  Or, the hope of love and companionship.

It was ironic that the wealth had come to her from the family whom she’d been separated from for years.  She might be facing a murder trial in her future, but at least she could pay for it with Purcell funds.

Since some of that payment would be coming my way I jumped in the Volvo and headed home, ready to start earning it.  Another blast of hail came at me like a round of artillery.  It made me wonder what I was going to wear to my midnight rendezvous with Sean at the Crock.  I found myself beginning to look forward to the event, now that I’d mentally conditioned myself.

And there was always the chance that I might see Megan Adair, one of the Crock’s bartenders and the woman who’d dropped The Binkster, my newly adopted pug, on my doorstep.

Who knew.  I might learn something if I wasn’t careful.