Descending the Spiral Staircase

18-05-2019 00:05

5e9195c5ccb2b214cb671783551992ea

Secrets

“I’ll take that,” Detective Benjamin Knowles said, gently removing the freshly discharged revolver from Maria’s hands. She had an utter look of confusion on her face as her eyes rolled back in her head and her knees buckled.

“Catch her!” Benjamin said to Officer Roberts. He caught her and laid her on the sofa.

“Well this is quite the mess,” Benjamin said looking over the crime scene that they had walked in on.

~ ~ ~ ~

Maria Olson had worked for Mr. and Mrs. Miller for almost ten years. She kept their single level ranch style home in order, cooking and cleaning. The house was nicely situated at the end of a cul de sac in the Highlines suburb. Mr. Jonathan Miller worked in real estate, specializing in commercial properties found around the city.

He had fallen in love with the ranch style home with large backyard and quiet neighbors, it was his little piece of the American dream. A home that he saw as an investment in his family’s future. He had meet Christine shortly after receiving his real estate licence, there had been a singles mixer put on by some friends of his, and he was introduced to Christine.

She was confident, beautiful and took his attention immediately. After a short courtship and engagement they were married and ready to start their future together. Christine spent her days in the city with her longtime friend Candice. They ran C&C’s Antiques and Collectables in the art district downtown. Christine and Candice were roommate in college, becoming fast friends and then business partners, shortly after graduation. Christine had a head for business, and Candice had an eye for design making them a balanced pair.

Dinner Party     

Christine answered the door.

“Welcome, come in,” she greeted her dinner guests. Candice and her husband Gary had a standing invitation to the Miller’s weekly dinner party.

“Are the Kellers not coming this week?” Candice asked as she hung up her coat.

“No, Stacy has a migraine, or at least that’s her excuse this week,” Christine grinned taking Candice’s arm and leading her into the living room. Gary followed, making a beeline for the bar.

“Hey, Gary what can I get you?” Jonathan asked.

“Scotch, please,”

“So how’s the used car business treating you these days?” Jonathan asked sitting the glass down in front of him.

Gary downed the Scotch, and nodded for another one.

“That good, then,” Jonathan said pouring him another.

“It’s been a slow quarter,” Gary said.

This week’s dinner was a traditional pot roast with carrots and potatoes Along with a tossed green salad and french bread, paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon.

“Your table is gorgeous, and it smells amazing, as usual,” Candice said as she took her seat.

“Thank you, Maria has outdone herself this time,”

About half way through their meal, Candice leaned over towards Gary who was pouring his third glass of wine.

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?” she said under her breath.

“No I don’t,” he said at full volume, making her sit back abruptly.

Idle chit chat was made about the real estate and used car businesses along with some gossiping about their mutual friends.

“Join me out on the patio?” Jonathan asked Gary as he got up from the table.

“Sure,”

They headed out onto the back patio, Jonathan took out a pack of cigarettes and handed one to Gary, he flipped open his silver Zippo, lighting Gary then himself. Gary took a long drag, exhaling slowly.

“What a fucking week,”

Jonathan nodded in agreement. They stood in silence for a few, enjoying the cool night air, then Jonathan asked a question.

“Do you know Bryce Davis?”

“I don’t think so,”

“He has a…let’s call her a friend, that specialises in stress relief, she’ll cost you a little but she’s worth it,”

“Stress relief sounds like a good idea,” Gary said finishing off his cigarette.

As Christine and Candice were saying their goodbyes Jonathan slipped a piece of paper into Gary’s hand.

“Stress relief?” he asked giving him a smile. Jonathan gave him a nod and smiled back.

~ ~ ~ ~

Stress Relief

At 2:15pm there was a knock on Holly’s door.

“Are you Holly?” Gary asked.

“Yes, I am, who are you?”

“I am Gary, I talked to you last night,”

“Come in,” Holly said letting Gary in and closing the door behind him.

“Who gave you my name?” she asked as she laid two white towels across a massage table.

“Um…Jonathan Miller,” he answered clearing his throat.

“Well this is the table,” she said patting the massage table.

“Undress and get comfortable, I will be right with you,” she instructed as she walked into the other room.

“Ok,” Gary said as he took off his tie and unbuttoned his shirt.

“Are you allergic to Peppermint?” Holly asked from the other room.

“Um…I don’t think so,”

Holly came back into the room, with a bottle of peppermint oil. Gary was laying on his back with one of the towles draped over his hips.
“Comfortable?”

“Yeah,”

She stood at the top of the table, leaning over looking into his eyes, she rubbed his temples. Moving her fingers in small circles, then moving her hands down the sides of his face, and around his chin. She splashed a little bit of peppermint oil on her hands and rubbed his shoulders, working her thumbs into the tense muscles.

“Breath Gary,”

Gary took a deep breath.

“Again, deep breath, and slowly exhale,”

Holly’s voice was soft and soothing, Gary took another deep breath closing his eyes. She moved down his arm working her fingers into his muscles, when she got to his hand she rubbed her thumb into the palm of his hand, and spoke.

“You are relaxed, each breath is getting lighter, each time you exhale you feel lighter,”

Gary took another deep breath and exhaled slowly, a shudder ran through his body.

“Good, now taste the peppermint,” she leaned over and lightly kissed his lips. He licked them, tasting the peppermint oil.

Holly moved to the bottom of the table and rubbed his foot, working her thumbs into the arch of his foot. She rubbed his feet, and legs working her way up to his chest.

“How are you feeling Gary?”

“Relaxed,”

“What do you want?”

“To taste more peppermint,”

“Sit up,” she said. Gary sat up hanging his legs over the side of the massage table.

Holly took a peppermint candy, put it into her mouth and sucked on it. She stood in front of him, ran her fingers through his hair, put her hand on the back of his neck and kissed him. Opening her mouth and letting his tongue find the peppermint. She pushed the candy into his mouth.

“Mmm,”

“Good?”

“Yes, very good, thank you,”

~ ~ ~ ~

Laundry

Candice picked up the pair of dark slacks that were thrown over the chair in the bedroom. Like she does every Thursday afternoon. She slid her hand into the pocket expecting the usual receipt or business card. This time it was a small folded piece of paper, with a name and number on it, she looked at the paper mouthing the name.

Holly.

“Who the hell is Holly,” she said to the empty room.

~ ~ ~ ~

It was Friday afternoon and Candice still couldn’t shake the paper with Holly’s name on it.

“Do we know a Holly?” she asked Christine.

“What?” Christine said, being pulled out of the antiques magazine she had been reading.

“Do we know a Holly?”

“I don’t think so, why?”

“No reason, it’s just that I found this in Gary’s pocket,” she said holding up the slip of paper. Christine got up from her desk, walking over to the counter where Candice was standing. She looked at the paper.

“Well that’s definitely Jonathan’s handwriting, maybe she’s in the market for a used car,”

“Maybe,” Candice said, putting the paper into her handbag.

~ ~ ~ ~

Detective Andrews lit a cigarette as he approached the building that was being decorated with crime scene tape.

“James! James, I didn’t do this,” Holly said as soon as she caught sight of him. James quickly walked over to her, grabbing her upper arm and looking into her deep green eyes.

“Don’t say anything, nothing, do you understand?”

“Yes,”

“Good, call Stella when you get downtown, don’t talk to anyone,”

She nodded as the officer escorted her out of the building.

“What do we have?”

“Gary Webb, 38 years old, 5’8” 245 lbs, according to his ID found in his clothes on the floor. Deceased, found on the massage table, by the resident Holly Henderson,”

James made his way over to the table, lifting the corner of the sheet and looking over the naked body.

“Make sure we get a tox screen, and get a photo of his mouth,”

~ ~ ~ ~

Two months earlier

Candice unlocked the door to apartment 21 on the second floor of the Laurence Street Apartments.

“You’re late,”

“Well coming up with believable excuses for your wife is getting difficult,” she said setting down her keys and purse on the bar.

“So what’s the excuses for today?” Jonathan asked walking towards her and putting his arms around her waist.

“Doctors appointment, I even had to fake a phone conversation with a nurse,” Candice answered kissing him.

“Well then we should play doctor then,” he said picking her up and carrying her into the bedroom.

He laid her on the bed, pulled her ankle boots off, slid his hands up her legs and unbuttoned her jeans.

“So where is the pain Miss?” he asked playfully.

“Right here,” she answered pulling him onto her and kissing him deeply.

~ ~ ~ ~

“You know what would make this easier?” Candice asked while she pulled her ankle boots back on and tucked in her blouse.

“What?” Jonathan asked.

“If we could just get rid of Gary and Christine,”

Jonathan stopped tucking in his shirt and looked at her.

“Do you have something in mind or are you just venting?”

“I have a plan,” she said giving him a devilish smile.

~ ~ ~ ~

Caffeine and Nicotine

James let himself in to Stella’s, taking his jacket off and joining Stella and Holly in the kitchen.

“How are we all doing?” he asked grabbing a cup of coffee.

“About as good as can be expected,” Stella answered.

“Holly, do you feel up to telling me what happened?” James asked taking a seat across from them.

“Yeah, are you going to take notes?”

“Sure, just a sec,”

James went back into the sitting room, grabbing his notepad and ballpoint pen out of his jacket pocket.

“Ok, go ahead,” he said sitting back down.

“I went to grab some food from Dentz’s Deli on 5th, I was gone for maybe twenty minutes,” Holly cleared her throat and took a sip of her coffee.

“What did you order?” James asked.

“Is that really important?”

“Not really, just curious,” James smiled at her.

“Pastrami on rye, with extra mustard, a garlic dill pickle, with a bag of chips on the side and a tall iced tea with a wedge of lemon, satisfied,”

“Yeah, go on, please,”

“I came back with my food, unlocked the door and there he was, just laying on the table naked, so I went over to him, he was dead,” Holly reached for Stella’s pack of cigarettes taking one out and lighting it with her shaking hand.

“Did you recognize him?”

“Yeah, he had come in a few weeks ago as a new client, Gary, but I hadn’t seen him since his first visit, and he was very much alive when he left,”

“Since you don’t exactly advertise, how did he get your name?”

“He said he got it from Jonathan Miller, he has a standing appointment twice a month, he can get a little freaky but I don’t think he’s dangerous,” Holly took another drag and smashed the cigarette out in the ashtray.

Stella got up and poured another round of coffee, James pulled a cigarette from the pack on the table, lit it, took a long drag and sat back in his chair.

“Ok, now seriously, how are you doing?” he asked taking her hand and giving it a gentle squeeze.

Holly smiled at him. “I’ll be fine, the bigger question is what do you and Stella have going on?”

“What makes you think something is going on?”

“Well considering you didn’t even knock, I assume your what, staying here?”

James looked at Stella who was trying not to laugh.

“Yes, for the moment I guess I am, staying here,” he answered.

“Good,” Holly said getting up and kissing James on the cheek.

“You know your good for her,” she whispered into his ear as she left the kitchen.

~ ~ ~ ~

James blinked trying to focus on the red numbers glowing on the alarm clock.

5:45 am

He mumbled to himself, he went to sit up realizing that there was an arm draped over his side. Picking up the arm gently he moved it off of him, expecting to see Stella next to him, he was surprised when he came face to face with a sleeping Holly. James got up quietly, crept to the other side of the bed and kissed Stella on the cheek. He looked at the two sisters sleeping soundly and headed into the bathroom to shower.

~ ~ ~ ~

“Background and autopsy on Gary Webb,” Officer Williams said handing the file to James.

“Thanks,”

James thumbed through the report.

Gary Webb

No arrests, no warrants

Works for Affordable Motors

Married to Candice Webb – co-owner of C&C Antiques and Collectables

Cause of death:

Arsenic Poisoning  

“Interesting and little old school,” he said to himself.

He checked to see who the other C is in C&C Antiques, Christine Miller.

“I wonder if she is related to Mr. Jonathan Miller,”

He pulled up Jonathan Miller’s info.

“Oh look at that she is, what a small, small world it is,”

~ ~ ~ ~

The Housekeeper

“Here you go Miss Olson,” Detective Benjamin Knowles said as he handed her a bottle of water.

“Are you feeling better now?”

“Si..yes sir,” Maria answered.

“So why did you shoot Mrs. Christine Miller?”

Maria opened the bottle of water and took a long drink.

“I hear Mrs. Christine and Mrs. Candice talking about hurting Mr. Jonathan, I like Mr. Jonathan he has been very good to me since I came here,”

“Did you tell Mr. Miller what you overheard?” Detective Knowles asked.

“I tried, to tell Mr. Jonathan but Mrs. Christine kept interrupting me, I was worried about Mr. Jonathan, so I took the gun from the office closet and I shoot Mrs. Christine, is Mr. Jonathan ok?”

“Yes, Mr. Miller is fine, Christine on the other hand is quiet dead,”

~ ~ ~ ~

Laurence Street Apartments

Candice’s hands shook she fumbled the keys, dropping them in front of apartment 21’s door. As she bent down to pick them up the door opened.

“Aww Mrs. Candice Webb I presume, won’t you join us,” Detective James Andrews held the door open for her.

“What, who are you and what are you doing here?” Candice asked surprised and caught off guard. Jonathan was sitting on the couch and Detective Benjamin Knowles started talking as Candice entered the apartment.

“Well your boyfriend here has told us an interesting story, about how it was all your idea to get rid of Gary and Christine,”

“What, no that’s not true, Jonathan, tell them it was that woman, that Holly,” Candice pleaded.

“Too late, he’s already signed a statement that puts you as the mastermind of the whole thing, how you poisoned Gary with arsenic, and then staged the scene at Holly’s, the only thing you didn’t count on was Maria shooting Christine, or was that part of the set up as well?” Detective Andrews asked as he cuffed Candice.

“Candice Webb you are under arrest for the murder of Gary Webb…” Officer Roberts continued as he escorted her down the hallway.

“So can I buy you a drink?” Benjamin asked James.

“Fuck yes,” James answered.

“I know this place, I think you’ll like it, it’s called ‘The Royal Flesh’,” Benjamin said as they left the Laurence Street Apartments.

 

Ginger and Spice    

The light drizzle was now a full blown downpour as Detective Benjamin Knowles pulled into the parking lot of The Royal Flesh. Detective James Andrews pulled up beside him. They made their way into the strip club.

“Hey Bruce how’s it going?” Benjamin asked the ex-body builder that was watching the door.

“It’s all good Detective,” Bruce answered holding the door open for them.

“No cover tonight?”

“Let’s call it Detective’s night,” Bruce smiled as they passed into the warm air of the club.

“Come here often?” James asked as they took a seat facing the main stage.

“Once in a while, helps to wash away the day,” Benjamin raised two fingers in the air, and the bartender nodded.

“Once in a while,” James scoffed as he lit a cigarette.

“Hey Ben, how’s it going?” the waitress asked as she set down two glasses of Jim Beam.

“Oh you know it’s going, your looking good Tammy,”
“Thanks hun, let me know if you need anything else,”

“Who’s on tonight?” Benjamin asked as he took a sip of his bourbon.

“Your in for a treat, we have a new act going on tonight, they call themselves Ginger and Spice,”

“How festive,” James chimed in picking up his glass and drinking it down.

James gave the club the once over as he sipped on his second Jim Beam. A guy sitting at a table, chatting up a long legged blonde, next to the stage caught his attention.

“Fuck, I’ll be right back,” James said getting up and heading towards the guy.

“Hey Bryce, we need to talk,”

Bryce looked up from his chat with the blonde.

“Get lost blondy,” James said as he took a seat next to Bryce.

The tall blonde gave James the once over, shook her head and headed over towards the bar.

“What’s up Detective?” Bryce said lighting a cigarette.

“You need to lose our mutual friends number,”

“How is Holly these days?” Bryce said grinning.

James grabbed Bryce by the forearm, and looked him in the eye.

“Lose her number, she needs a break, your last client referral almost got her time,”

“Ok, fine,” Bryce said pulling his arm away from James.

As James returned to Benjamin’s table, the announcer came on.

“Let’s give a warm welcome to our newest duo Ginger and Spice,”

Two women walked out on stage, their stilettos clicking on the stage. Ginger had fiery red hair, she was wearing a burgundy button down cardigan and thigh high white stockings. Spice had long dark hair and was wearing a dark green button down cardigan and black thigh high stockings. The two of them strutted around the stage, taking turns spinning around the center poll. Then they stood side by side and slowly unbuttoned their cardigan’s. Swinging their hips seductively as they discard the cardigans. Ginger wearing a white lace bra and g-string, Spice wearing a black lace bra and g-string. They turned to face each other, Ginger put her hand on the back of Spice’s neck and pulled her in for a long, deep kiss. As they continued their striptease and time on stage James asked.

“I wonder if they’re sisters?”

Benjamin shot him a look.

“We can find out,” he said putting his hand in the air and motioning to Tammy.

“What can I get you?” Tammy asked as she approached the table.

“Ginger and Spice, please,” Benjamin said.

“Ok, give me a minute,”

Ginger and Spice came over to the table wearing their cardigan’s.

“Hello,” Ginger said.

“My colleague here has a question for you,” Benjamin said getting up and offering his seat.

“Where are you going?” James asked.

“Home, to my wife, have a good night,” Benjamin said leaving.

James smiled.

“So ladies, nice show by the way,”

“Thanks,” Spice said.

“You had a question?” Ginger asked.

“Yes I did,” James said lighting another cigarette and leaning back in his chair.

“Are the two of you sisters?”

Ginger laughed. “No, we’re not,”

“So how much for the night?” James asked.

“Aren’t you a cop?” Spice asked.

“I’m a Detective and I am off duty, so how much for the two of you?”

Ginger gave Spice a look then answered.

“Six,”

“Deal,” James said getting up.

“I’ll meet you two outside,”

~ ~ ~ ~

Jame stood in the parking lot of The Royal Flesh and lit a cigarette.

At least it stopped raining

Ginger and Spice exited the club by the side door waking from the alley to the parking lot.

Ginger had added a red and gold plaid skirt to her burgundy cardigan, Spice was wearing a blue plaid skirt with her green cardigan.

“Ladies,” James said opening the passenger door of his car. Spice sat in back and Ginger sat up front, James pulled out of the parking lot and headed towards his apartment.

~ ~ ~ ~

James unlocked the door to his modest one bedroom apartment, the ladies entered, giving it a quick look around and setting their bags down on the small kitchen table next to the door.

“Quaint,” Ginger said.

“Thanks,” James said heading into the bedroom. He returned holding six crisp one hundred dollar bills.

“Mad money?” Ginger asked taking the money and putting it in her bag.

“Something like that, drink?” James flipped the kitchen light on and grabbed the bottle of Jack Daniels out of the freezer.

“Sure,” Spice said standing in front of the counter. James poured three shots.

“Bottoms up,”

They each downed the shots.

“Smooth,” Ginger said sitting the glass back down on the counter.

James wandered into the living room, and over to the stereo. He pushed the power button and flipped the CD player on.

I’m so addicted to all the things you do

When you’re rollin’ round with me in between the sheets

Oh the sounds you make, with every breath you take…

Started playing, filling the apartment. James made his way over to Ginger he kissed her, she kissed him back and removed her cardigan and skirt. She took his hand and they headed into the bedroom, Spice took another pull from the bottle of Jack and followed them.

~ ~ ~ ~

James was startled awake by the front door falling closed. He sat up finding himself naked, laid out in the middle of his bed, the comforter and sheets pushed to the floor.

“Fuck,”

The room spun, he blinked trying to focus on the blurry red light of the alarm clock. It was flashing 12:00 am.

“Well that’s helpful,” he mumbled getting up to find out what time it was.

He stumbled into the living room, turning on the floor lamp, then rolling the knob back to dim. Letting his eyes adjust. He found his pants crumpled up on the floor and searched the pockets for his phone. Finding his phone he checked the time, 3:45 am.

As he got a bottle of water out of the fridge he noticed a small glass vile laying on the counter. He ran his finger through the fine white powder that was left on the countertop, he rubbed his finger onto the inside of his lower lip.

“Fuck, when did we do coke,”

James downed the bottle of water, took his phone with him back into the bedroom, picked up his comforter and passed back out.

The phone vibrated across the nightstand, James reached out from under the comforter and picked it up, Stella, he pushed ignore and put the phone back down.

~ ~ ~ ~

The phone vibrated again sliding around on the nightstand. James picked it up, Benjamin, he answered it.

“Yeah,”

“You alive, if so we caught a body,” Benjamin said.

“What time is it?” James asked.

“6:30,”

“AM, PM and what day is it?”

“Jesus James, it’s Sunday 6:30 pm, are you sure your ok?”

“Yeah, I am up, send me the address,”

James got up showered, dressed, made coffee, popped some aspirin and headed out.

~ ~ ~ ~

James pulled up to the taped off alley. The raindrops stung against his skin and the chilly wind cut through him leaving him chilled.

“What do we have?” he asked approaching Detective Benjamin Knowles.

“Bethany Johnson, 22, 115, 5’4” found here in the alley,”

James went to look over the body, Officer Roberts pulled back the sheet that was covering her. James quickly turned away, managing a few steps before doubling over, losing the water, coffee and aspirin.

“Fuck,” Benjamin said walking over to him.

“Go home James,”

James made it into his apartment, kicked off his shoes, dropped his jacket and collapsed onto the couch.

~ ~ ~ ~

James awoke to someone rattling around in his kitchen, he moved to sit up.

“Relax it’s just me,” a female voice said.

“Holly, what are you doing here,”

“Bryce called me, said you had left with the floor show,” Holly said handing him a cup of hot tea.

James sat up taking the tea.

“Drink that and try to eat,” Holly sat a plate with a piece of toast with peanut butter on it and a banana down on the coffee table in front of him. James sipped the tea and slowly ate the toast and banana.

“What time is it?”

“It’s 10:30 am, Monday,” she answered taking a seat next to him on the couch.

She handed him a bottle of water and two aspirin.

“Those ladies party hard, rumor is that they lace their coke with Fentanyl,”

“Fuck, I don’t even remember doing any coke,” he said taking the two aspirin and downing the bottle of water.

James laid down, putting his head on Holly’s lap, she ran her fingers through his hair.

“Holly,”

“Yes, James,”

“I am sorry, I let the job, Stella, you, and all of it get to me,”

“It will be ok, we all have mis-steps,”

“Thank you,”

“You’re welcome, sweetie,”

James fell into a deep sleep, as Holly sat with him, running her fingers through his hair and humming quietly.

~ ~ ~ ~

“James, Jaammess,”

James opened his eyes.

“Feeling better?”

“Yeah, a bit,”

“Good, I need you to get up, take a shower and eat dinner,”

“Is that what that smell is?” he asked. Holly gave him a look.

“It smells good, what is it?”

“Beef stew with lots of veggies,”

James got up and made his way to the bathroom. Holly started the shower, helped James undress and then joined him in the shower. James let the hot water run over him, as his headache was letting up and he was starting to feel like himself. Holly lathered up a washcloth, ran it across his shoulders and down his back. He closed his eyes enjoying the feeling. She worked down his body, he turned around to face her and she worked the washcloth back up his body.

“Rinse,” she said.

James rinsed off the soap and faced her.

“Holly,”

“James,”

“Can I hold you for a minute?”

She smiled at him and moved into him, he wrapped his arms around her naked body. He let out a sigh and she gave him a squeeze.

~ ~ ~ ~

James stepped out of the shower, Holly handed him a towel.

“There are some clothes on the bed for you,” she said leaving the bathroom.

“Ok, thanks,”

As he got dressed he looked around and realized that she had cleaned up his apartment while he was incapacitated.

Damn Holly  

James took a seat at the table, she set a bowl of stew, along with some rolls down in front of him, along with another bottle of water. She dished up a bowl for herself and joined him.

“Thank you for everything,” he said reaching across the table and giving her hand a squeeze. She gave him a smile.

“You’re welcome, now eat, back to work tomorrow,”

~ ~ ~ ~

“Holly,” he said turning over to face her, as they laid on the bed.

“James,”

He ran his hand over her belly.

“Are you pregnant?”

Holly moved her hand over his.

“Yes,”

“Does Stella know?”

“Yes she does,”

“Are you…happy?”

“That is not the question you wanted to ask, but yes I am,”

James gave her a sideways look.

“You want to know who,”

“Well yeah,”

“Don’t you remember coming to my place during the summer solstices?” she asked.

“What?”

“Oh my God, the look on your face,” Holly laughed giving him a kiss on the cheek.

“Relax it’s not yours,”

He laughed with her and gave her a hug.

“You know it wouldn’t matter if it was,” he whispered to her as he held her.

She kissed him on the cheek and whispered back.

“I know,”

 

Autumn Equinox

“Bless me father for I have sinned, it’s been three days since my last confession,” Sister Teresa said kneeling in the confessional at St. Anthony’s.

“Confess your sin my child and cleanse your soul,”

“I was weak father, the sins of the flesh over took my chastity,”

Sister Teresa pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of her skirt, she turned it over in her hands. Looking at the proof of her indiscretion. The white, lace embroidered handkerchief that had been given to her by her grandmother the day she took her vows was spotted with the blood of her sin.

~ ~ ~ ~

The clock clicked over to 7:00 am and started playing,

Do you remember the 21st night of September?

Love was changing the minds of pretenders

While chasing the clouds away

Our hearts were ringing

In the key that our souls were singing

As we danced in the night

Remember how the stars stole the night away

James reached out from under the comforter, giving the snooze button a smack.

“Ugh,” he moaned as he turned over to face the day.

~ ~ ~ ~

Detective James Andrews entered the downtown precinct with his coffee in hand.

“Morning Sir,” Officer Roberts said as James signed in for the day.

“Yes it is, what is that?” James asked pointing at Officer Roberts drink.

“This is a pumpkin spice latte, to mark the first day of autumn,” he said holding up the cup and smiling.

“You are aware that pumpkin spice anything doesn’t actually have pumpkin in it,”

“Yes Sir,” Officer Roberts said buzzing James in.

James sat his desk sipping on his coffee and flipping through an old case file.

Marco Bishop 47 years old, 6’5” 250 lbs

Cause of death myocardial infarction most likely caused by a stun gun or taser.

“Sir?” Officer Roberts interrupted.

“I hate loose ends,” James muttered.

“What is it Roberts?”

Officer Roberts handed James a slip of paper.

“Incident out at St. Anthony’s, Sister Teresa asked for you specifically,”

James took the slip of paper, his notepad, and a ballpoint pen.

~ ~ ~ ~

As Detective James Andrews made his way up to the front of St. Anthony’s a gust of wind scattered leaves from the tall oaks that surrounded the grounds of the church.

“Sister Teresa?” James asked as he approached the young woman who was being attended to by the responding officers.

“Yes, are you Detective Andrews?”

“I am, do I know you?” James asked taking a seat in the pew next to her.

The EMT was finishing up bandaging her right hand.

“In a way,” she said giving him a smile, and removing her habit.

James looked at her, trying to place the familiarity of her face and voice.

“Kimberly? Kimberly Williams, from Madison High School?”

“Wow you are good, yes, it’s been a while,”

“Yeah, you could say that, so why am I here?”

“Quick version is that I screwed up and now I have, for lack of a better term a stocker,”

“Maybe you should start at the beginning,”

“I will but can we do it somewhere else,”

“Sure, how about Mac’s Diner?” James asked.

“Sounds good, let me get changed and I’ll meet you out front,”

~ ~ ~ ~

James leaned against his car, smoking a cigarette and enjoying the cool but comfortable breeze. Kimberly exited St. Anthony’s wearing blue jeans, a white long sleeve t-shirt and navy blue kicks.

James looked her over as she approached.

“What?”

“Nothing, you look like you were just released from a correctional facility,”

“In a way I suppose I have been, so lunch?”

James opened the passenger door for Kimberly.

“Thanks, still a gentleman I see,” she said getting into the car.

“Always,” James muttered walking around the car.

~ ~ ~ ~

“Ok story time,” James said as he finished off his BLT and steak fries.

“I’ve been restless lately, struggling with my vows and trying to decide if the ‘Sisterhood’ is the right fit for me,”

“Understandable,” James said taking a sip of his vanilla coke.

“About a week ago I went out to a club, I had a drink, and meet a guy, short version we spent the night together,” Kimberly took a deep breath and sipped on her soda.

“He wanted to see me again and I explained to him where I am in my life, that I am Sister Teresa that the night we spent together was wrong and that I wanted to move past it,”

“I take it that he didn’t feel the same way?”

“Not in the least, he was at the church this morning, he threatened me with a knife, which is how this happened,” Kimberly held out her bandaged hand. James pulled the bandage to one side, exposing the shallow laceration across her right palm.

“He lunged, I grabbed,” she said moving her hand back.

“Do you want to file a restraining order against him?”

“I think so, I’m afraid he’s not going to stop,”

~ ~ ~ ~

James and Kimberly entered the downtown precinct.

“You still working on that?” James asked pointing to Officer Roberts coffee cup.

“No Sir,”

“Good,” James said signing himself and Kimberly in.

“Take a seat,”

James pulled out a form.

“Simple your name, his name and reason for the requested restraining order,” James said handing Kimberly a pen.

She read over the form, filling in the information needed and handed it back to James.

“Ok, Kimberly Williams, filing against Anthony Costello, for threatening violent behavior,”

“I’ll get this filed and he will be notified, do you feel comfortable going home?” James asked.

“I think so,”

“If anything else happens, call,”

“Got it, thanks,” Kimberly said leaving the precinct.

~ ~ ~ ~

James filed a restraining order, but couldn’t shake the name Anthony Costello, like he’d seen it somewhere lately.

Fuck    

James pulled the Marco Bishop file back out and skimmed through the report from Marco’s apartment.

Prints found

Anthony Costello, known associate of Marco Bishop

James made a call to Detective Josephine Marks.

 

Seasons of Change

“The report on Bethany Johnson,” Officer Roberts said handing Detective Benjamin Knowles the folder.

“Thanks,” Benjamin said.

He took a sip of his coffee as he opened the report.

Bethany Johnson, age 22, weight 115, height 5’4”

Trace amounts of Fentanyl

Trace amounts of Cocaine

Cause of death asphyxiation

Blood Alcohol Content 0.10%   

Benjamin closed the report and took a deep breath. He picked up the phone and called Detective James Andrews.

“Detective Andrews speaking,”

“Are you back to yourself?” Benjamin asked.

James smirked. “Yeah I am good, what do you have?”

“Bethany Johnson, I think she may lead to something,”

“You have my attention, what are we looking at?”

“I have a guy from vice, who’s been undercover for a while, he may have a connection to Miss Johnson,”

“Sounds promising,”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The desk phone buzzed, “Sir you have a visitor up front,”

“Thanks, I’ll be right up,”

James entered the front of the downtown precinct, Officer Roberts pointed to a tall fit guy, with shoulder length hair, wearing a leather jacket, and jeans.

“Can I help you?” James asked.

“Well actually I am here to help you, Detective Daniel Hayes, vice,” Detective Hayes extended his hand towards James.

“You’re Detective Knowles’ undercover guy,”

“Guess that’s one way to put it,”

“Come on back, lets see if we can’t connect some dots,”

“We’ll use this one,” James said as he held the door open to conference room C.

“The doughnuts are stale but the coffee is hot,”

“I’m good thanks,” Daniel said taking a seat at the conference table.

“So what do you have?” James asked sitting across from Detective Hayes.

“After Marco Bishop turned up dead, a low level thug named Tony Boy started running drugs through the strippers at The Royal Flesh, I was already in with Bishop so when he disappeared I got chummy with Tony, I’ve been his runner for the last six months,”

“The drugs being pushed by the strippers are laced with Fentanyl?”

“Yeah, nasty stuff, how’d you know that?”

“Had some first hand experience with Ginger and Spice,”

“Damn, those two party hard, Bethany was my CI, she was in tight with Katie, the woman that hires the strippers at the club, after my run the other night I lost track of her,”

“How close are you to making a case?”

“Close, I’d like to set a raid on The Royal Flesh at the end of the month, especially with Bethany turning up dead, I am afraid Anthony Costello is about to jump,”

“Wait who?”

“Anthony Costello, he’s Tony Boy, I think he’s about to bounce,”

“Fuck, I just filed a restraining order against him, he attacked a nun at St. Anthony’s,”

“Damn, that may change a few things, if anything does come up give me a call,” Daniel said handing James his card.

~ ~ ~ ~

James pulled up outside of Stella’s house, he put the car in park and wondered who the Harley parked in the driveway belonged to. He got out and lit a cigarette, taking a deep drag he walked by the bike.

Fuck, looks like a  Dyna Wide Glide.

James let himself in, took off his coat and made his way towards the kitchen, where a chorus of voices were chatting away.

Stella was making a fresh pot of coffee, Holly and her guest were sitting at the kitchen table.

“Small world,” James said as he recognized Detective Daniel Hayes.

“Hey, apparently,” Daniel said slightly caught off guard.

“I see introductions aren’t needed,” Holly said getting up from the table and walking past James.

James caught her eye and mouthed, him? On her way back to the table with the fresh pot of coffee she whispered.

“Yes, him,”

James cleared his throat and took a seat at the kitchen table.

“Nice Harley it is a Dyna Wide?”

“Yes, actually it is,”

“Well dinner should be interesting,” Stella said taking a seat next to James, placing her hand on his thigh and rubbing her thumb back and forth. Jame gave her a smile.

“Yes it should be,”

~ ~ ~ ~

James brought the rest of the dinner dishes to the kitchen sink.

“Dinner was good,” he said giving Stella a kiss on the cheek as she was wiping down the countertop.

“Thanks, and thank you for being civil with Daniel,”

“He’s ok, just not who I pictured Holly with,”

“They’ve known each other since school and she’s happy, so I am happy for her,”

James wrapped his arms around Stella and pulled her into him, he kissed her.

“Aww…but are you happy?” he asked giving her another kiss.

“Yes, James, I am happy,” she answered kissing him back.

His phone buzzed, James let out a sigh and looked to see who was calling.

Restricted

He gave Stella another kiss on the cheek and walked out to the paito to answer the phone.

“Hello?”

“James,” the voice was faint and broken up.

“Yes,”

James tried to hear the voice on the other end, but couldn’t make out what was being said.

Damnit

He came back inside and joined the others in the living room.

“Who was it?” Stella asked.

“Don’t know I couldn’t hear them,”

Daniel’s phone rang, he answered it getting up and walking towards the front door.

“Hello,”

“Yes Sir, I understand,”

“Actually he’s here with me,”

“Just a minute,”

Daniel handed James the phone.

“It’s Benjamin,”

James took the phone.

“Yes,”

“The two of you need to get over to St. Anthony’s now,” Benjamin said.

“Yes, Sir,”

James hung up the phone, and handed it back to Daniel.

~ ~ ~ ~

Detective Daniel Hayes and Detective James Andrews arrived at St. Anthony’s shortly after 9 pm, as an Officer was taping off the front of the church.

“What happened?” James asked approaching the church.

“Dead body, in the kitchen, all the way back and to the left,”

Daniel and James entered St. Anthony’s walked down the corridor and took a left.

“James…I had no choice,” Kimberly said tears welling up in her eyes as she pointed over to the body slumped over in the corner.

“Is that Tony Boy?” James asked Daniel.

Daniel walked over to the body and looked it over.

“Yep, and he is most definitely dead,”

James took a seat across from Kimberly, she reached for his hand and he gave hers a light squeeze.

“Whenever your ready?” James said.

Kimberly cleared her throat and began.

“I was in here making some tea when he came up behind me,” She kept looking over to the body.

“Hey, look at me,” James said. Kimberly looked up at him, he gave her a slight smile.

“Ok, just tell me what happened,”

“He grabbed my habit and pulled it off of my head, then he pushed me up against the counter and was saying things, not good things, nasty things,” Kimberly’s hands started to shake as she spoke, James held her hands in his and rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand.

“You’re doing good, take a deep breath,” James watched her as she inhaled and then exhaled slowly.

“I threw my head back and I hit him in the face, he took a few steps back, the knife was just there on the counter, I picked it up and turned to face him,” She looked at James.

“What did I do?”

“It’s ok, what happened after you turned around?”

“He screamed and lunged towards me, I don’t think he even saw the knife, he grabbed my neck and was squeezing, the knife sunk into him when he came towards me, his hands fell away and he stumbled back, he looked down and pulled the knife out, he dropped it and fell back, I tried to call you,”

“I know, it’s ok we’re here now, are you ready to go to the hospital?”

“I think so, James, what did I do?”

“It will be ok, let’s go,” James said helping her stand up and walk out to the waiting ambulance.

~ ~ ~ ~

“Fuck,” James said coming back into the kitchen.

“Quite the mess,” Daniel said.

Photographs were taken, evidence was bagged and Anthony Costello’s body was taken away.

“What time is it?” James asked as they headed towards the car.

“Half past midnight,” Daniel answered.

They drove back to Stella’s in silence, the house was quiet when they entered.

“Drink?” James asked.

“Sure,”

They made there way into the living room, James turned on the lamp in the corner and headed to the bar. He poured two glasses of Jameson, he handed one to Daniel, they both downed the first drink and poured a second.

“So how long have you know Holly?” James asked lighting a cigarette.

“A while, I went to school with her and Stella, do you mind?” Daniel asked pointing to the pack of cigarettes on the bar. Jame handed him the pack, Daniel took one out and James held out his lit Zippo.

“One more for the road?” James asked holding up the bottle of Jameson. Daniel slid his glass over and James poured.

~ ~ ~ ~

James crawled into bed and wrapped his arms around Stella, kissing the back of her neck. She let out a moan and pushed into him.

“I love you,” he whispered.

“I love you too,” she muttered in her sleep, he held her tight and went to sleep.

~ ~ ~ ~

Detective James Andrews looked down at the slip of paper, that he held in his hand. He took a drag of his cigarette and mumbled to himself.

Why am I out here

The wind screamed through the surrounding trees, causing a cascade of yellow and orange leaves. James glanced at the clock on the dash, 8:05 PM, he turned the key back and stepped out into the chilly air.

It had better not snow

He thought as he pulled his coat tight and flipped up his collar. He made his way to the tall rod iron gate and found that it was slightly ajar. Pushing the gate open just enough for him to enter the Stony Hill Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in the area, the last of its residence were buried in the late seventies.

“Detective,” a male voice said from behind James.

James turned around and faced the strangers voice.

“I assume you are the one that left me this rather cryptic note,” James said.

The man moved closer his face pale, with dark circles under his eyes. When he spoke James got a whiff of the alcohol on his breath.

“I need to tell someone…I haven’t been able to sleep since that night,”

“Since what night?” James asked keeping his distance.

“Since the night…we killed Marco Bishop,”

“Would you like to explain that statement, maybe somewhere warmer, how about Mac’s Diner?”

“Sure but not Mac’s do you know Henry’s?”

“Yeah that’s the one out on Riverside right?”

“Yep,”

They made their way back to the main gate of Sony Hill Cemetery and drove out to Henry’s Bar & Grill.

~ ~ ~ ~

“So do you have a name?” James asked as they walked into Henry’s.

“Huh…oh yeah,” he cleared his throat then answered.

“Detective John Keen,” John extended his hand and James gave him a quick shake.

James rubbed his hands together, as they took a seat at a booth towards the back of the restaurant.

“At least it’s warm in here,”

“Welcome to Henry’s, what can I get you to drink?” a perky young brunette with curly hair asked as she set down two menus.

“Two coffee’s to start, thanks,” James said.

~ ~ ~ ~

“Ok, explain yourself, Detective Keen,” Jame said finishing off his bacon cheeseburger, taking a sip of his coffee and leaning back.

John finished his burger, cleared his throat and took a sip of his coffee.

“Detective Josephine Marks and I had been watching Marco for a few weeks, the plan was to gain access to his apartment and arrest him, but it didn’t work out that way,” John sat back and took another sip of coffee.

“So what went wrong?’

“Fucker had a heart condition, I tased him and he died,”

“Who’s idea was it to move him?”

“Fucking, Special Agent Thomas Ridge’s” John replied.

“The FBI was in on this?”

“Apparently Detective Marks and Agent Ridge had plans that I was unaware of at the time,”

“Two things, why bring this up now and what do you want out of it?”

“Josephine and Thomas are in the wind, they were having an affair before all this went down with Marco, all I want is to clear my name officially and get back to work,”

“So you want to make a formal statement to the DA?”

“Yes, I wasn’t sure who was handling Marco’s case, hence the anonymous tip, can you help me?”

“I can make a few calls, but I suggest that you give up the bottle and go to a meeting, before you sit down with the DA,” James said flipping over the tab and tossing a twenty on the table.

“Can I drop you off somewhere?” James asked as they left Henry’s.

“No, I am going to walk this off, maybe hit the 10pm meeting out at the community center,”

James fished out his card from his coat pocket and handed it to John.

“Give me a call on Tuesday, we’ll see what we can figure out,”

John nodded and started walking back towards the center of town.

~ ~ ~ ~

John lit a cigarette as he left the community center. He had finished his third consecutive AA meeting in two days. He was heading towards the downtown precinct to catch up with James when he heard the squealing of tires from behind him. John instinctively turned towards the sound, the speeding black SUV struck him tossing him into the air. His limp body fell back, onto the cold asphalt as onlookers called 911.

~ ~ ~ ~

“Mail call,” Officer Roberts said as he handed James a large manila envelope.

“Thanks,”

James opened the envelope and pulled out a police file with a note attached on top.

 

James,

As a precaution this is my statement and all the info I have on the Marco case.

I know Josephine and Thomas screwed me over in all of this.

I’m trying to do the right thing.

John                             

 

“Detective Andrews you have a call on line 2,”

James picked up the phone.

“This is Detective Andrews,”

“Hello, this is nurse Rebecca Miller from the Community Hospital, we have a Mr. John Keen in ICU, he had your card on him,”

“So you figured you would find out why,”

“Yes, Sir, we can’t find any listing of next of kin,”

“How is he?”

“He’s in a coma Sir,”

“Thank you for the call, I’ll see if I can find any family in the area and get back to you,”

James hung up the phone and took a deep breath.

Fuck

~ ~ ~ ~

“Are you going to the hospital?” Stella asked turning over and watching James get ready for work.

“Yeah, going to stop by before going in, see how John is doing,”

“Still nothing from his family?”

“Nope best I could find was a distant cousin that didn’t have a clue,”

“Well take a scarf it’s going to snow today,”

James leaned over the bed and kissed Stella on the cheek. On his way out the door he grabbed the navy blue scarf from the front closet and tossed it around his neck. The air had a definite bite to it this morning, even with the sun shining and the sky a bright blue. James could feel the approaching snowstorm in the distance, as he got into his car and drove to the hospital.

“Back again Detective?” Nurse Miller asked as James signed into the ICU.

“Yep, any change with him?”

“Nope, he’s still the same,”

James walked down the hallway to room 5, he lightly knocked on the door and then entered. Detective John Keen laid on the bed, lost in a coma since being hit by a speeding SUV three weeks ago. James pulled a chair up to John’s bedside and took a seat.
“How’s it going John, you know it’s almost Thanksgiving, and Stella says it will finally snow today,”

James took a deep breath and looked at John.

“I see they finally got around to shaving that sad excuse of a beard for you, Oh John I do hope that you wake up soon, I hate seeing you this way,”

James patted John’s arm as he got up to leave, he put the chair back against the wall and left room 5.

~ ~ ~ ~

James entered the downtown precinct around 9am.

“Morning Sir,” Officer Roberts said.

“Morning,” James said reaching for the pen to sign in for the day.

“Sir,” Officer Roberts held out a slip of paper.

“Already?”

“Yes Sir, just came in,”

James took the slip of paper, glanced at it, turned and headed back out the door. James sat in his car looking at the slip of paper.

It’s to fucking early for this.

As James pulled up in front of The Downtown Outreach Center, snowflakes started to lightly cover his windshield.

“Of course,” he mumbled getting out of the car. As he made his way up to the entrance of the building someone caught his eye.

“What are you doing out here?” he asked, Detective Daniel Hayes who was in the middle of a conversation with a distraught looking older lady wearing a pink cardigan.

“Excuse me, for a moment,” Daniel told the lady.

“Morning to you to James, I got a call from an old buddy of mine,” Daniel said walking over to James.

“So what’s the deal?” James asked lighting a cigarette and offering Daniel one.

“The Outreach Center serves breakfast to the homeless folks in the area at 8am,” he said taking a cigarette and lighting it.

“When the volunteer staff came in this morning to set up they found one Special Agent Thomas Ridge dead in the lobby,”

“Fuck,” James said taking a long drag of his cigarette.

“Figured I would get some info before the feds take over,”

“How long till they get here?”

“They will be here by 11am,”

James finished his cigarette and headed up to the doors. Thomas Ridge’s body was laying in the middle of the lobby. James walked around it looking over the area, he slipped a pair of gloves on and looked over the body.

No visible gunshots, or stab wounds, nothing on or around the neck or back of the head.

James ran his finger in between the bodies lips, they were a slight shade of blue with some light bleeding of the gums.

“Hey, get a photo of this,” James asked the crime scene photographer.

“And his hands, especially his nails,” James instructed getting up, taking off his gloves and heading back out to the entrance.

“Well that’s a mess, have fun with the feds,” James said heading back out to his car.

“Where are you going?” Daniel asked.

“To the office, need to find someone,”

~ ~ ~ ~

“Fuck,” James mumbled to himself as he continued digging into Detective Josephine Marks life. Deceased parents, not married, no children. But one older sibling a Barbara Marks of 2137 Old Riverside Drive.

I wonder…

Detective James Andrews grabbed his notepad, ballpoint pen and his jacket. He brushed the accumulated snow from his windshield, got in and turned over the engine.

Walking in a winter wonderland.

In the meadow we can build a snowman…

Played on the radio, James switched it off.

It’s way too early for that.

James pulled up outside of a small single level house, he flipped open his notepad and double checked the address.

Barbara Marks

2137 Old Riverside Drive

James made his way through the freshly fallen snow to the front door, and rang the bell.

A tall shapely blonde woman answered the door.

“Yes, can I help you?”

James held up his badge as he introduced himself.

“Detective James Andrews, Ms. Josephine Marks, we need to discuss a few things. May I come in?”

Josephine let out a sigh and held the door open for James.

“Have a seat Detective…”

“Andrews,” James said taking a seat on the rust colored sofa with a faded gold floral print. The small living room had a musty aroma to it, the dark wood paneling and green shag carpet made the room darker than it was. Josephine flipped the light switch and an old brass floor lamp came on in the corner, she took a seat in the well worn easy chair across from the sofa.  

“So what do you want to discuss?”

“Detective John Keen and Special Agent Thomas Ridge,” James said looking her over.

“What about them?” She asked lighting a cigarette.

“There’s a rumor that the three of you disposed of Marco Bishop’s body, any comment on that?”

Josephine took a deep drag and looked James in the eye.

“Nope,”

An older lady with frizzy gray hair, wearing a white cotton nightgown came wandering into the living room from the hallway.

“Bobby is that you, did you remember to get the milk?”

Josephine quickly put out her cigarette and rushed over to the woman.

“Bobby?’

“That’s not Bobby,” Josephine said taking her confused sister by the arm and leading her back towards the hallway.

“Bobby?’ James asked as Josephine returned to the living room a few minutes later.

“Her son, he’s 35, married and lives about 2000 miles away,”

“And she is?”

“She is my older sister Barbara, she’s suffering from early onset alzheimer’s, she has good days and bad days, today is a bad day,”

“All I know is that Special Agent Thomas Ridge is a hard man to say no to, he hit John with his SUV after he found out that John was talking to you, how is John?”

“In a coma,” James answered.

Josephine blinked back tears, trying to keep her emotions in check.

“Do you know what happened to Thomas?” James asked.

Josephine gave James a sly look.

“I am done talking Detective,” Josephine said moving towards the door.

“I’ll be back, by the way blonde suites you,” James said as he headed out the door.

~ ~ ~ ~

“You ok?” Stella asked James as they got ready for bed.

“What, yeah, just thinking,” James answered heading over to the bed.

He pulled the comforter and sheet back and laid down. Stella moved over next to him, she laid her head on his chest.

“Anything you want to share?”

“Been thinking about getting out, maybe going the private route,”

“That may not be a bad idea,”

James kissed the top of Stella’s head.

“I’m glad you think so, as soon as I can wrap up this mess with John and Special Agent Ridge, I am going to give notice,”

~ ~ ~ ~

“Morning Sir,” Officer Roberts said as James signed in.

“Yes it is, do you have anything for me?” James asked.

“Yes Sir, the report on Special Agent Thomas Ridge,” Officer Roberts handed James the file.

“Thanks,”

James sat at his desk reading over the findings.

Thomas Ridge cause of death poisoning by Rodenticide ‘Rat Poison’ lethal amounts found in the bloodstream. Forensic findings from under fingernails to be human skin, DNA match to one Josephine Marks.

~ ~ ~ ~

Two Weeks Later

“Detective Andrew you have a call on line two,” Officer Roberts said over the intercom.

James picked up the phone.

“This is Detective James Andrews,”

“Hello, it’s Nurse Miller, John Keen is awake Detective,”

“Good, how’s he doing?”

“He’s asking for you Sir,”

“Ok, tell him I am on my way over, and thank you,”

“You’re welcome, I’ll let him know,”

~ ~ ~ ~

James knocked on the door to room 5 and opened the door.

“So did I miss Thanksgiving?” John asked sitting up and looking much better.

“Yeah, I am afraid so,” James said pulling the chair to the bedside.

“Oh well, I don’t really like turkey anyways, what’s the date?”

“December 7th,”

“At least I didn’t miss Christmas, so what’s been happening?”

James gave John a smile and started filling him in on everything that he had missed.

 

Embrace

As we stroll down fourth avenue, with a light breeze to our backs and the smell of oncoming snow. We arrive at a neatly decorated storefront picture window, with white twinkling lights, silver garland and a sprig of mistletoe. The wooden sled propped up in the corner, with a knitted hat and scarf draped over it reads Flexible Flyer. A ceramic Christmas tree painted forest green with hints of white is lit by a single bulb in its base, it illuminates the multi colored bulbs scattered along its bows. A simple little nightstand holds a collection of classic tales, A Christmas Carol, Little Women, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Wind in the Willows. A small wooden rocking chair is adorned with a Raggedy Ann doll, her red mop hair, blue dress and white apron looking crisp. On the glass painted in ornate lettering is ‘Russell’s Family Thrift Store ~ Find Your Hidden Treasure’

Natalie had worked for the small family owned thrift store for two years and on this Christmas Eve she was selling her heart out, pushing the jewelry boxes and other little trinkets that the thrift store had an abundance.

“I need something simple, for my wife.” the man said, as he glanced over the jewelry counter.

“How about a jewelry box that plays music, this one plays  Shostakovich – Waltz No. 2.” Natalie said as she opened the top to demonstrate.

The man listened for a moment and then asked.

“Do you  have anything to put in it?”

“Let’s see, here, how about this one?” Natalie pulled out a silver necklace with a snowflake pendant.

“Hey, that’s not bad, what are the blue stones on it?”

“Those are sapphires, so will this be all then?”

“Yes.” he said giving her a smile as she rang him up.  

“How’s it going out there?” Richard asked as Natalie entered the backroom to get more gift bags.

“It’s steady, although people don’t seem to be spending as much this year.” she answered grabbing the bags and heading back out to the front.

Richard had been managing the thrift store for the last three years, ever since Mr. Russell had had his heart attack and decided to hand over the daily reigns.

At five past nine Natalie showed the last customer out and turned the lock on the front door. She flipped the main lights off, closed her till and headed into the backroom.

“All closed up?” Richard asked sitting at the desk going over some paperwork.

“Yeah.” she answered as she put the till down on the desk.

“Ok, then have a good night.” he said not looking up from the papers.

“Night.” Natalie said leaving the backroom.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

At 1am on Christmas morning Ann Thompson put the red leather leash on her aging irish setter Maggie and set out on her nightly stroll through downtown. Ann doesn’t sleep much anymore since her Lawrence passed away five years ago. She fills her days watching the Hallmark channel, reading mystery novels and taking Maggie out for walks. As the snow began falling in light soft flakes, Ann took notice of two figures dressed in black quickly leaving by the back entrance of Russell’s Family Thrift Store.

~ ~ ~ ~

Christmas Morning

“Morning.” James said wrapping his arms around Stella, as she scrambled the eggs on the stove.

“Morning.” She answered leaning her head back, kissing him.

From the kitchen table Daniel spoke up.

“Since we’re all here, I have something to say.” He got up from his seat and stood in front of Holly, taking her hand in his.

“Holly.”

“Daniel.” Holly said trying not to laugh.

He smiled at her.

“Holly, I want to ask you to be my wife.” Daniel took out a little black box from his bathrobe pocket and held it out to her.

“Did you know about this?” James whispered to Stella. She shook her head.

“Nope, total surprise.”

Holly took the box and opened it, she glanced at the emerald cut diamond engagement ring, and then at Daniel who had dropped to his knees in front of her.

“Yes.”

He leaned in and kissed her, as she wrapped her arms around him. There was a quick movement against them.

“I guess that’s also a yes.” Daniel said holding his hand against Holly’s expanding belly.

“I guess so.” She said putting her hand over his as it rested on her.

“Congratulations.” Stella said heading over to the table and hugging the couple.

After a celebratory breakfast James returned to the bedroom stood in front of the dresser and pulled out  a little blue box from his bathrobe pocket. He let out a sigh and placed it back into the top drawer where it had been living for the last three months.

Maybe for New Years.

~ ~ ~ ~

Natalie’s hands shook as she drove, she reached over picking up the Christmas card envelope that was on the passenger seat. She glanced at the return address confirming that she had entered it into the GPS correctly. Light snowflakes began to fall as she drove further out of town, she flipped on the wipers as the day’s occurrences played over in her mind like a broken record. They had pulled it off, Richard met her back at her apartment after closing up Russell’s Family Thrift Store and taking all the cash from the safe. A tidy little sum of ten thousand dollars, Richard hadn’t made a bank deposit for the store in two weeks. The plan being to leave town on Christmas day before anyone noticed.

“I’ve been thinking maybe we need to stick around and play dumb, report the robbery the day after Christmas.” Richard announced while grabbing himself a beer from Natalie’s fridge.

“Why? We have the cash we got away with it, we need to leave tonight,”

“Look, I need to keep my name clean, maybe disappear after the New Year,” he said taking a long drink.

Natalie stood looking Richard over, he was calm and determined. He had changed the plan and made up his mind.

“Is this because of HER?”

Richard put the beer bottle down on the kitchen counter and moved towards Natalie. Grabbing her by the arm and pulling her into him.

“Christine is absolutely none of your business,” he said as his grip tightened around her arm.

“Fine, whatever you want to do, I’ll do,” she said moving closer to him and kissing him, he let go of her arm and she went to the fridge to grab herself a beer.

~ ~ ~ ~

The sun streaked through the lace curtains that hung on the bedroom window, awakening Natalie.

“Richard?” she asked the empty apartment.

Fuck. She mumbled getting up and finding some sweets and a t-shirt to slip into.

Natalie knocked on the door to the ranch style home that sat in the middle of a cul-de-sac.

Christine opened the door.

“Yes?’

“Is he here?”

“Is who here?”

“Richard, is he here?”

“No, and you have some nerve coming to the house.”

“Well you know if you unlocked your legs once in a while, he wouldn’t have to get it from somewhere else.”

Natalie turned and walked down the driveway to her car. She drove out of the cul-de-sac and headed towards the mall. She sat in the parking lot of the Riverside Mall and flipped through the stack of mail that she had grabbed along with her already packed suitcase.

 

She stopped at an off white envelope and opened the Christmas card.

Season’s Greetings

Wishing you and yours a wonderful Holiday Season

Love, Stella and Holly

~ ~ ~ ~

December 27th

The sky had cleared to a crisp blue as Natalie pulled up to Stella’s house. She took a deep breath readying herself to explain her unplanned visit. As she closed her car door and headed up to the porch the front door opened and two men in trench coats exited the house.

“Morning, can we help you?” James asked.

“Is Stella home?”

“Sure, and you are?”

“Natalie, I went to school with Stella and Holly. I was in the area and though I would come by and see how they are doing,” Natalie said standing at the foot of the stairs.

James opened the front door. “Stella you have a visitor,” he yelled into the house.

“What?” Stella asked emerging from the kitchen wiping her hands on a dish towel.

“You have a visitor,” James said showing Natalie into the house.

“Natalie? What are you doing out here?”

“It’s a long story, I hope you don’t mind me dropping in, I needed a place to get myself together,”

Stella gave James a look. James shrugged his shoulders.

“We’re going to be late,” Daniel said from the porch.

James gave Stella a kiss on the cheek and headed out.

“What was all that about?” Daniel asked as he finished his cigarette.

“I have no idea. But I’m sure we’ll hear all about it later,” James said getting into the car.

~ ~ ~ ~

Detective James Andrews and Detective Daniel Hayes entered the downtown precinct.

“How was your Holiday Sirs?” Officer Roberts asked as they signed in.

“It was fine, what’s in the cup?”

“A peppermint mocha,” Officer Roberts answered.

James scoffed as they were buzzed in.

“Have a good day officer,” Daniel said following James to his desk.

James hung up his coat and poured himself a cup of coffee with two sugars and a splash of cream. He sat at his desk sipping on his coffee and rearranging papers.

“You do know that you’re going to have to go in there and tell him,” Daniel said sitting across from him.

James let out a sigh. “I know, not sure how he’s going to take it,”

“It will be fine, just like ripping of a bandage, do it quick and it will only sting for a moment,” Daniel said giving James a smile.

“Well that’s not helpful,”

James stood in front of Lieutenant Peyton Brooks door and knocked.

“Enter,”

James opened the door and entered the office.

“Detective what can I do for you?”

“Well Sir, I feel that it’s time to move on, so I am here to give notice,”

“Hum,”

Lieutenant Brooks reached over and flipped a few pages over on his desk calendar, he then pulled out a form and wrote a few things on it.

“Here you go, make sure Pam in HR gets a copy for payroll,”

“Yes, Sir, is that all Sir?” James asked taking the form.

“That’s all Detective, close the door on your way out,”

James left Lieutenant Brook’s office closing the door behind him.

He wandered over to his desk and sat down.

“You Ok there?” Daniel asked.

“I think so,”

James read over the form, signing and dating the bottom. He got up taking the form with him.

“Where are you going?”

“To see Pam in HR,”

~ ~ ~ ~

“Pam?” James asked as he entered the little office that was downstairs.

“Yes,”

“I’m supposed to give this to you,” James said holding out the form.

Pam took the form and read it over.

“So you’re leaving us, Detective Andrews,”

James nodded.

“Well it all looks in order, Sir, thank you,” Pam said as she went back to her typing.

James wandered back upstairs slightly lost in how matter of fact his leaving was being taken. As he came around the corner back towards his desk, he was met with a rousing rendition of ‘For he’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ being sung by everyone in the precinct.

~ ~ ~ ~

“What a day, care for a drink?” Daniel asked as they entered the house.

“Sure,” James answered hanging up his coat.

They made their way to the bar in the living room, Daniel pulled two glasses and filled them with Jack.

“Cheers,”

James picked up the glass and tipped it towards Daniel, then downed it.

“One more,”

Daniel poured another one.

James put down the empty glass on the bar.

“I suppose we should go see what the story is with the Natalie lady,”

“Lead the way,” Daniel said motioning towards the kitchen.

“So how are we doing lady’s?” James said taking a seat next to Stella at the kitchen table.

“Well Natalie has had quite the holiday, and I’m going up to bed.” Holly said getting up and taking Daniel’s hand.

They wished everyone a good night and headed up stairs.

James lit a cigarette and leaned back sitting across from Natalie.

“Natalie the floor is yours if you feel like sharing.”

“Can I have one of those?” She asked pointing to the pack. James slid her the pack and his lighter. She took one out and lit it, taking a deep drag and exhaling slowly.

“It’s like this, I was having an affair with one of my co-workers, he had come up with a plan to rob the store that we worked in and leave town. Get a fresh start with the take.” Natalie took another long drag.

“OK, my curiosity is peaked. Can I get you a drink?”

“Sure, whatever you’re having.”

James got up and grabbed a bottle of Jameson and three glasses, he sat the glasses down on the kitchen table and poured. Natalie took hers and downed it, then sat the glass back down in front of James. He poured her another one.

“He emptied the safe on Christmas Eve, ten thousand in small bills. We were set, till he changed the plan. Decided that he didn’t want to leave.”

“So you did what?” James asked finishing off his drink.

Natalie looked at Stella.

“I told you, you can trust James.” Stella said taking Natalie’s hand in hers and rubbing her thumb back and forth across her palm.

“After he changed the plan I took three thousand from his bag while he was asleep. I put it into my suitcase and after he was gone the next morning I left.”

“Do you think he knows where you went?”

“I don’t think so, but I’m not sure, I can’t remember everything that we talked about over the last two years.”

“Natalie is going to stay here, in the guest room for a few day. Then she’ll decide where she wants to go.” Stella said giving Natalie a smile and squeezing her hand.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“You know that I know right?” Stella said as James got into bed.

“You know what?”

“That you have been sitting on that ring for almost three months now.” Stella answered giving James a smile.

James got up and retrieved the little blue box from the top dresser drawer. He sat on the bed next to Stella and held it out to her. She picked up the ring box from his palm and opened it, she glanced at it and then closed the box, sitting it on the nightstand. James gave her a sideways look.

Stella moved towards him, kissing him.

“You know that all I need is you.” she whispered into his ear as she pushed him onto his back.

She kissed down his neck and across his chest, laying down next to him.

“I know.” he said running his fingers through her hair and kissing her forehead.

 

Lily

Holly stepped out of the shower, wrapping the oversized dark green bath towel around her. Standing in front of the mirror she ran a comb through her long red hair, she pulled it back into a loose braid. Holly made her way down the hallway and into her bedroom. She dried of, pulled the comforter back from the smooth, cool sheets and laid down across the bed.

“Comfortable?” Daniel asked taking a seat next to her on the bed.

“As comfortable as I can be.” She answered rolling over onto her side and running her hand over her expanding belly. Daniel put his hand over hers, leaned down and kissed her.

“Turn over.” He said.

Holly turned onto her belly, Daniel massaged her shoulders, working his thumbs into her muscles.

“Mmmm.”

He moved his hands down her back caressing her soft skin, running his fingers over her hips and down her legs. Holly turned onto her sided and smiled.

“That’s much better.”

Daniel worked his way back up her body, pausing to kiss her belly.

“Get some rest.” He said giving her a kiss and covering her with the sheet.

Holly let out a deep sigh, it had been a day. At least the weather had cooperated during the ceremony. Always a risk when you try to pull off an outdoor wedding in mid March. The morning had started out overcast but by the time of the ceremony the sun had come out and everything was calm and peaceful. Such a simple little gathering out at the park next to the lake, Stella, James, Daniel and Father Joseph. Vows said, rings exchanged and now she was Mrs. Holly Hayes. She drifted off thinking about how lucky she was to have Daniel in her life. How she felt complete with him by her side.

~ ~ ~ ~    

A sudden sharp stabbing pain shot through Holly’s lower back, ripping her from dreamland. She inhaled sharply, extending her arm over to the other side of the bed. She found it cold and empty. She attempted to sit up as another bolt of pain made her middle contract. Her sight became blurry as she realized her eyes had began to water from the pain. Holly closed her eyes and took a deep breath, she exhaled slowly and sat up dropping her legs over the side of the bed. She leaned forward, placing her bare feet onto the floor, she took another deep breath and stood up. She took a step, another contraction shot through her body, her legs buckled and she feel to the floor. Holly tried to scream but no sound emerged from her throat. She reached up, knocking the lamp off of the nightstand. It shattered when it hit the floor.

“Holly?” Daniel said as he entered the bedroom. He dove to her side as soon as he saw her struggling to get off the floor.

“James!” He yelled.

James and Stella came rushing into the room.

“Look at me Holly.” James said kneeling in front of her. They wrapped her robe around her and helped her up to the bed.

“Holly, take a deep breath.” James said looking into her eyes. Holly inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly.

“Are you ready to go to the hospital?”

“Yes.” she answered slightly louder than a whisper.

James and Daniel helped Holly to her feet, walked her down the stairs and out to the car. Daniel sat in back with Holly, holding her against his chest. James drove and Stella talked to Holly, trying to get her to relax and breath.

James pulled up outside of the emergency room doors, Stella ran into the hospital, returning quickly with an attendant pushing a wheelchair. They helped Holly into the chair Daniel and Stella went with Holly as James drove the car into the parking garage. He put the car in park, lit a cigarette and took a deep drag.

Fuck

He swiped his card and took the slip of paper, B4.

“Good to know.” he mumbled as he stuck the slip into his pocket. He finished his cigarette as he walked up to the main entrance of the hospital.

“Holly Hayes’ room?” James asked the front desk attendant.

“Maternity Ward 6th floor, room 614.”

“Thanks.” James said as he made his way to the elevators.

James knocked lightly on the door to room 614. Stella opened it.

“How’s she doing?”

“She’s doing good, they put her on oxygen and gave her a mild painkiller.”

James walked over to the side of the bed, and gave her hand a squeeze. Holly looked up and gave him a smile.

He looked over at Daniel who was standing towards the corner of the room looking very pale. James made his way over to him.

“Let’s get some air, she’ll be fine. Stella will call if anything changes.”

Daniel kissed Holly on the forehead and headed out of the room with James.

They took the elevator down to the main entrance and stood outside in the cool air. James lit a cigarette, then held out the pack to Daniel.

“Thanks.” Daniel said taking one, as James held out his Zippo.

Daniel took a deep drag and exhales slowly.

“What do you think?” Daniel asked James.

“I think that Holly is a strong remarkable woman that will come out of this on top.”

Daniel smirked. “Yeah she is.”

~ ~ ~ ~

After a long night and many bad cups of vending machine coffee, Holly was taken into the delivery room where she gave birth to a little girl. Daniel was allowed to accompany her and he held her hand throughout the birth.

“So what are we calling this bundle of joy?” James asked as he watched Holly hold her daughter.

Holly looked over at Daniel and smiled.

“Go ahead.” She said.

“World this is Lily, Lily this is the world.” Daniel said leaning over and kissing her gently on the head.

“It’s perfect.” Stella said sliding her arms around James.

~ ~ ~ ~

As Stella and James pulled up to the house the next morning Stella asked.

“Did we leave the front door open?”

James looked at the front of the house, the front door was wide open.

“Stay here.” He told Stella as he pulled his revolver from the glovebox.

James exited the car and slowly made his way up to the stairs, he moved to the side of the open door and glanced into the entryway.

“I’m sorry James.” Natalie said in a cold flat tone.

“Natalie, are you ok?”

“I am, but he’s not.”

James moved into the house and looked over at what she was sitting in front of. Richard’s body was laying on the floor, the blood from where Natalie had shot him had soaked into the braided area rug. James moved towards Natalie, taking the gun out of her hand and backing up.

Fuck

 

Misstep

“James?” Stella asked from the doorway.

“Stella, call Detective Benjamin Knowles, please.”

James sat Natalie’s gun along with his revolver over on the bar.

“Drink Natalie?” He asked.

“Yes.” She answered.

James poured two glasses of bourbon and took them over to where Natalie was sitting.

“Would you like to go sit in the kitchen till Detective Knowles gets here?”

Natalie looked up at James and nodded. They made their way into the kitchen, James sat the glasses down on the kitchen table and opened the patio door. Natalie took a seat at the kitchen table, James joined her. He lifted his glass. “Cheers.” He said downing the bourbon, Natalie downed her drink. James put his hand out and she laid her hand across his open palm. James gave a light squeezed and rubbed his thumb in between her thumb and finger. “When Detective Benjamin Knowles gets here just tell him what happened.” He smiled at Natalie. “OK.” She answered still in a state of shock.

~ ~ ~ ~

There was a knock at the door, Stella answered it.

“Stella.” Benjamin said entering the house.

“Benjamin, they are in the kitchen.”

Detective Benjamin Knowles made his way to the kitchen.

“Morning James, and who’s this?”

“Morning, this is Natalie. Natalie is a friend of Stella and Holly’s.” James said getting up and letting Benjamin take his seat.

“Coffee?” Stella asked coming into the kitchen. Benjamin nodded. James’ phone rang. “Excuse me for a minute.” He said stepping out on the patio to take the call.

“Hello.”

“James, I know I’m not supposed to call, but I haven’t heard from you and…”

“Kate, this is not a good time, I’m in the middle of something.”

“I know, it’s just…”

“What is it Kate?”

“I miss you.”

James looked through the sliding glass door at Stella pouring coffee and Benjamin taking Natalie’s statement.

“I miss you too.” James said ending the call.

Fuck

James walked over to Stella and poured himself a cup of coffee, he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Everything OK?” She asked.

“Yeah, just have to take care of some loose ends at work later.” He answered making his way over to the kitchen table.

“So how are we doing?” James asked.

“I think we’re done for now. I just need to see the living room and then we will get everything sorted out.” Benjamin said giving Natalie a smile.

~ ~ ~ ~

James walked Benjamin into the living room.

“Looks like a straightforward case of self defense.” Benjamin said looking over Richard’s body.

“We’ll get this taken care of James. How’s Holly doing?”

“She’s doing good. Daniel, her and the baby will be home tomorrow.”

“Sir.” Officer Roberts said.

“Yes.” Benjamin answered.

“The Crime Scene Unit is ready, Sir.”

“Good, can you escort Natalie down to the station. She’s in the kitchen with Stella.”

“Yes, Sir.” Officer Roberts said making his way towards the kitchen. A few minutes later he walked out with Natalie.

“James, I am going to go with her. Make sure she gets what she needs.” Stella said grabbing her coat and keys.

“OK, good.” James said kissing Stella goodbye.

Photos were taken, Natalie’s gun was bagged and the connor signed off on Richard’s body. After everyone had gone James poured himself a shot of Jack, downed it and left the house.

~ ~ ~ ~

Kate turned down the music, she thought she had heard a knock on the door. She stood in front of the door and peered out the peephole. She smiled and opened the door. “You know James, considering this is still technically your apartment, you don’t need to knock.”

James smiled at her. “Well I wouldn’t want to interrupt you entertaining guests.”

Kate laughed as she closed the door behind James. She flung her arms around him pulling him into a hug. She kissed him, James let out a sigh and kissed her back. “I missed you.” She breathed kissing him again. James let go and made his way over to the couch. He watched her in her black sheer yoga pants and oversized white tee shirt, as she made her way over to him, she straddled his lap. “Oh James.” Kate said kissing him. James ran his hands over her legs to her ass, giving a light squeeze as he kissed her back. He ran his hands up the back of her shirt and around to her bare chest, caressing her breasts. James sat back from her for a second, looking at her. “What?” She finally said. “Did you cut your hair?” He asked. She grinned shaking her head. “Yeah, you like it?”

James reached up and ran his fingers through her shoulder length, dirty blond hair. “Yeah.” He said kissing her.

Kate put her head on James’ shoulder and whispered. “James I want you…I want to feel you in me.”

James closed his eyes listening to her sweet, seductive words. As she spoke her hands ran down his chest to his throbbing cock. “Please James…take me.”

James looked into her dark green eyes, that sweet devilish smile on her pretty little mouth. “Please…fuck me.” James covered her mouth with his hand. “Shh…” He said picking her up and carrying her into the bedroom.

James put her down on the bed. He slipped off his shoes, pulled off his socks, unfastened his jeans sliding them down along with his boxers and took off his shirt. Kate sat up kneeling on the bed, she pulled her tee shirt off over her head, tossing it to the floor. She stood up on the bed and James hooked his thumbs into the waistband of her yoga pants pulling them down to her ankles. She stepped out of them, flipping them to the floor with her foot.

James pulled Kate to him, laying her down on her back as he spread her leg apart. He ran his hands up her legs, as he moved in between her legs, kissing her inner thigh. He ran his thumb over her pussy, she let out a moan as he slid his tongue inside her.

~ ~ ~ ~

James turned over grabbing for the alarm clock. He blinked trying to read the blurry red illuminated numbers. 4:45 pm glared back at him. “Fuck!” He said sitting up. “Yes we did.” Kate said from behind him. He turned to face her. “Cigarette?” She asked holding a lit one out to him. James took it sat it in between his lips and headed towards the shower.

“Kate I have to go.” James said from the front door.

“Just a minute.”

Kate came out of the bedroom wearing a red silk robe, she wrapped her arms around James and kissed him. She smelled like sex and vanilla.

~ ~ ~ ~

By the time James got back to Stella’s his head was pounding. He made his way over to the bar and poured a tall Scotch. He found some aspirin in the downstairs guest bathroom and chased them with the Scotch. As he was pouring another Stella came downstairs. “James, are you OK?” She asked. “Yeah, just have a bad headache.” Stella stood behind him and rubbed his shoulders, moving her hands down his back and wrapping them around his waist. James closed his eyes and leaned into her. “James?” She asked. “Yes Stella.” He answered. “Did you really think that I couldn’t smell her on you?” Stella asked still holding James. James finished his drink, put the glass down on the bar and faced Stella. “I’ve got nothing, no excuse, no remorse, nothing. Except this splitting headache and a desperate need for sleep. The only question is am I sleeping here or there?” James asked looking into her eyes. Stella took his hand and led him upstairs.

 

Dice

The sunlight pierced through the gap where the curtain doesn’t quite cover the bedroom window. James moaned and turned over to get away from the light. “James.” Stella said coldly. “Yeah?” He answered still not ready to open his eyes. “There’s aspirin, water and coffee for you on the nightstand. When you’re ready we need to talk.” Stella walked out of the room as James said “Thank you.”

James turned over onto his back and stared at the ceiling. Fuck  He sat up and took the aspirin and drank the coffee. He shaved, showered, dressed and made his way downstairs. Stella was sitting at the kitchen table with a small notepad, ballpoint pen and a set of dice. James poured himself another cup of coffee and took the seat across from her.

“What’s with the dice?” James asked lighting a cigarette. “We’re going to play a little game. I’m going to roll the dice and if it’s an odd number you have to answer my question. If it’s even then you get to ask me a question. Got it?” James took another long drag off of his cigarette. “Yeah I got it.” Stella picked up the translucent red dice, closing her hands around them, giving them a quick shank and dropping them onto the kitchen table. “Three and four makes seven, my question.” Stella announced. “Shoot.” James said sitting back and drinking his coffee.

“Who is she and where did you meet her?” Stella asked. James looked at her. “That’s two questions.” “Don’t be a smart ass, James.” Stella said her voice cold. “Fine, her name is Kate. We meet at a coffee shop and she is subletting my apartment.” Stella picked up the dice, shook them and tossed them back onto the table. “Five and two still seven. How long have you been fucking her?” Stella said taking a cigarette from the pack on the table. “Awhile.” James answered lighting another cigarette. Stella got up, walking over to the kitchen sink. “Why?” She asked.

“I don’t know, Stella.” James said getting up from the table. He walked over to her. “I don’t have a reason or an excuse. She was there, it was a distraction from everything.” He said putting his hand on the back of her shoulder. She moved away from him. “Really?” He asked. “Really, I need you to leave.” She said.

~ ~ ~ ~

James unlocked the door to his apartment and let himself in. “James?” Kate said slightly startled that he let himself in. “Kate.” He said setting down his two samsonite suitcases. Kate got up from the couch and walked over to him, she gave him a hug and kissed him on the cheek. “Coffee?” She asked making her way into the kitchen. “Sure.” He answered taking his suitcases into the bedroom, as Kate started a fresh pot.

~ ~ ~ ~

John Summers

“Fuck, where is my tie, I am late for the 1:30 pm meeting,” John said.

“Relax, they will wait for you,” Jenny said, as she picked up his navy blue neck tie off the floor of the hotel room and put it around his neck.

“See there you go all dressed,” she said.

“Thank you, I love you,” he kissed her.

“Love you too,”

John gathered his wallet, keys, phone, and briefcase and left the hotel room. He took the elevator down to the parking garage and got into his car. His phone beeped while he was exiting the garage, one missed call, from Grace. John sighed

“Suppose I should call the wife back,” he mumbled to himself.

After his meeting, Jenny his assistant, came into his office.

“How did it go?”

“Good, they will send over a contract next week,” he answered.

His phone rang it was Grace, he pushed ignore call, and looked at Jenny.

“When are you going to tell her?”

“Soon,”

He sat at his desk looking at the portrait of Grace, thinking about how they had fallen out of love years ago and now just tolerated each other.

John and his assistant Jenny had been sleeping together for two years now. He had started out by saying he would never indulge with someone at work, but over the time spent together they had fallen in love. He had tried to ignore the butterflies he felt in his gut when she had first started working for him, the stolen glances across the room, the accidental touches in passing.

He ignored it till that one day, he had started his morning having an argument with Grace about never spending any time together. He had stormed out of the house and gone to the office.

Jenny was there looking so pretty, with her long legs, bright blue eyes and bouncy blonde hair, there to listen. He had broke down in front of her and they ended up in a hotel room together during lunch. He talked, she comforted and listened. Jenny made the first move, kissing him on the cheek, it turned into a make out session followed by an afternoon fling.

John tried to push her away and not feel the warmth and comfort of her. Telling himself it was just once, a moment of weakness. But it was there a connection between them. That hole in his heart that he had been carrying around for years was now filled with her. Her passion for life, her understanding, her love.

He had started to prepare what he needed to say to Grace. How he needed to be let go, that they both needed to move on. That they were just suffocating each other by staying in a stalled relationship. It always sounded good in his head, but every time he started to get ready to confront her he chickened out.

“You know instead of hotel rooms at noon we could be together in our own home,” Jenny said, after yet another lunch hour spent in a hotel room.

“I know, I want to tell her,”

Jenny stood in front of him, slid her arms around his waist and kissed him.

“Please do it tonight, I can’t wait any longer, I want to be home with you,”

“Ok, tonight,” he said.

John had a stop to make before going home to confront Grace. He drove out to the mall and went into The Jewelry Palace and picked up the engagement ring he had ordered for Jenny. He looked it over in the car and put it in the glove box.

He drove around for a while rehearsing in his head what he was going to say to Grace. He decided to stop and grab a drink hoping that it would help settle his nerves. He entered the Bar & Grill on main, ordered a hamburger with fries, a beer and a shot of Jameson.

About four shots and two beers later he felt ready to go talk to Grace. He parked his car in the garage and entered the house. Grace was standing in the kitchen and he just started talking.  Wanting to get it all out and over with quickly, so that he could go back to Jenny.

“Grace, we’re done, I am leaving, I want a divorce. You are suffocating me, we need to move on. Jenny and I want to get married,” It all came out quickly, his heart was racing and he was shaking.

He walked through the kitchen to the stairs to go up and grab a few things, before leaving. His shoes were wet from the rain, he misjudged the step and slipped. Unable to regain his balance, his head hit the marble tile that surrounded the base of the staircase.

“Missing John Summers age 45, wt. 215 lbs, eyes brown, hair short, dark brown with streaks of grey,” Jenny read to herself, as she hung up another flyer.

“I wish I knew where you were,” Jenny brushed a tear away and continued hanging up missing person flyers.

Jenny

Jenny continued to hand out flyers on her way back to her apartment. She slowly climbed up the steps to her studio apartment on the third floor of an older historical building downtown. As she stood in the center of the room a small navy blue gym bag in the closet caught her eye, John’s ‘gym’ bag she smiled to herself, John going to the gym was there cover for the past year. Every Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon John would come here and for the first while he carried the gym bag back and forth, then it just ended up in the closet.

Jenny let out a sigh and sat on the bed.

“I just want to know where you are,” she said to the empty room.

She scrolled through her contacts on her phone, stopped, “I wonder,” she said and pushed call contact name James.

“Hello this is James Andrews, how can I help you?

“James it’s Jenny,”

“Hey, sis what’s up?” he answered.

She explained her relationship with John and that he was now missing. She didn’t know what else she could do. James took all this in and thought it over.

“Let me see if my friend from the academy is still around, last I remember he was out your way he should be a detective by now,”

“Ok, thank you James, anything to help me find him. I just don’t understand what could have happened to him,” she said.

James sat his desk and thumbed through a stack of business cards till he found the one he was looking for.

“Thought so,” he said and dialed the phone.

“Hello, this is Detective Eric Stone,”

“Hey, detective this is Private Investigator James Andrews,”

“Wow, hi James, long time, so what’s up?” Eric asked.

James explained his sister’s predicament. It didn’t take long for Eric to put it all together. James hung up with Eric and packed his bag for a quick road trip. He was not only curious about what had happened to John but also felt it was past time to catch up with his sister and old friend.

Detective Stone sat at his desk in the downtown police station taking in that his old friend from the academy, was now involved. All because John Summers assistant was Jenny Andrews. “Small world,” he muttered to himself. Trying to figure out if Grace needed to be brought in on any of this.

Grace Summers

James and Jenny arrived at Eric’s apartment. James knocked.

Eric answered the door.

“Hey, come in, take a seat. Can I get either of you a drink?” Eric asked.

“Sure I’ll take a scotch,” James said.

“No thanks,” Jenny answered.

Grace came into the living room, Eric started to make the introductions but was cut off by James.

“Grace?” James asked.

“James? From Seaside? It’s been a while,” she answered moving forward to shake his hand.

Grace had picked up James in a bar in downtown Portland about thirteen years ago.

“Seriously, Grace is there anyone you haven’t slept with? I’ll take that drink now,” Jenny said.

Eric handed her a shot of Jack and she downed it.        

               

 

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