Maybe it was something Fry had said. Maybe it was her burgeoning conscience urging her into action. Whatever it was it had landed her face first in a potted fern, spitting dirt. It was dark and she hadnt seen it when shed heaved herself through the window.
She stood up and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. What the hell was she doing in a dead womans house? Shed figured it was as good a place to start as any, but now that she was here, she was beginning to doubt it.
She turned on her flashlight for a second to glance around. Shed entered into the kitchen from the alleyway between the houses. The place was a mess. She walked around, trying to keep the flashlight to a minimum and navigate by the dim light coming in off the street. At first she thought the police must have trashed the place, but this looked more like a toss. Someone looking for something.
She was on her way upstairs when she heard a muffled thump in the kitchen. She went flat against a wall and moved toward the door. A figure emerged a few feet away. She could just make out an outline in the darkness.
French? It whispered.
Youve got to be kidding me?! She hissed back.
Fry jumped and let out a yelp.
Shhh! Are you nuts? What are you doing here? This was not happening. But there she was, in all of her diminutive glory, confounding reality and all common sense. French nearly bit through her own tongue in an effort to control herself.
Following you. What are you doing here?
The logic was simple enough. But with Fry, simple was deceptive. I dont have time to play twenty questions with you. Now buzz off. Do you have any idea what could happen to you if you were caught in here with me?
Lets not get caught okay? Are you looking for clues?
French was about to give Fry the business when there was another thump in the kitchen, followed by a lot of noise and some muted exclamations. Then quiet. French pulled Fry behind her and pushed her against the wall. She signaled her to keep quiet.
Fry wondered if French realized that the universal quiet sign was not drawing the finger across the throat.
But French... she was cut off by Frenchs hand over her mouth.
Another figure appeared in the doorway. In a blink French was behind it, there was a thud as they hit the floor, a few grunts, a painful sounding crunch, then a whiney, Ow!
French stop, its Dil! Fry had been busy dodging the rolling bodies before getting out the warning.
What!? This was too much. Here she was pinning Dil to the floor, possibly having just busted one of his fingers, and hed been invited to the party all along.
At the risk of sounding redundant, are you kidding me?!
Violet, are you okay? Umph! French shoved Dil into the floor again as she stood up.
Im fine, why are you in here Dil?
I saw you go through the window. You know Violet, you really shouldnt be in here. Especially not with her, you couldve been hurt.
Youre the only one in danger of being hurt. French warned. I hate to break up this reunion, but what the hell are you two doing here anyway?
I was going to meet Dil tonight. When I saw you heading here, I called and asked him to come too.
Should I even bother trying to make sense of this, or should I just let him arrest me now? I wouldnt have to put up with this lunacy in jail. Very rules based people there, very practical.
I thought Dil might be able to give us more information. You know, an inside source.
Whose us? Youve got another screw loose if you think Im letting you get involved in this!
Im going to ignore both of those remarks, because you always exaggerate when you get anxious. Ive noticed that about you. And us is you and me because I can help. Dil, why dont you show us where the body was?
Im standing on my own two feet, going right out of my mind. Did you just call me anxious?
I dont know Violet, we could get in a lot of trouble for being in here. I only came in to see if you were okay. And she could be here covering up her tracks...
Didnt you say you thought thered been a crime? Fry asked. Youre a detective Dil, this is your job. Your duty. French came to try to find clues, she thinks youre right, she thinks Louisa was murdered too.
It was the M word, whispered into the shadowed half-light, that made them uncomfortably aware of their surroundings. And what may have taken place there. They were silent for a moment.
Where was the body? French figured they might as well do this if they were all there, so cozy and all. But this wasnt over with Fry, not by a long shot.
Dil hesitated, then gave in. No one had listened to him at the station. Hed been laughed off by his co-workers and ignored by the rest. It was in here...
They looked around the dining room. Dil showed them where shed been and how theyd found her. Fry had to stop him from getting on the floor to mimic the pose.
I came in from that door and walked around the table. Thats when I saw the letters in the carpet. Pete came in after me and we looked around, then I went out to call back to the station. It got pretty busy in there and I was off duty after that so I had to do the paperwork the next day.
Is that Pete Lennox, the Fisher Kings nephew? Fry smiled as she asked it. Everyone loved the Fisher King.
Yeah. Sometimes his Uncle comes by the station. Every now and again he brings lunch for everybody. Dil said.
I used to love when hed come to school! Hed do the whole story of fishing on Ningunquit and then wed get fishsticks for lunch.
Excuse me. French interrupted. But Im not from these parts and as amazing as it may seem to you both, your local celebrity has escaped my notice. Who is, I hesitate to ask, the Fisher King?
Bernie Gleck! She was answered in stereo.
Hes always doing great stuff in the schools for the kids. One year we went out on one of his boats...
Fry, could we stick to the topic of the moment here? Like, for instance, that Bernie Glecks nephew was in a room alone with the body of a woman, who may or may not have tried to scrawl the word murder into a rug. And that everyone, even someone who spends as little time as possible getting to know the people on this island, knows that hes been frustrated in every attempt he ever made to woo the fair Louisa. Could we assume that someone might, say, try to protect such a beloved figure by smoothing over the carpet when no one else was looking?
Pete would never do that! Dil was adamant in his friends defense. Pete was a great guy. Sure he was a practical joker and sometimes Dils feelings got a hurt, but he always made up for it by buying a round after work.
Yeah, probably not. You saw nothing in the carpet and that photo proves it. End of story. Her death was an accident. Lets get out of here and get some sleep. I have no idea why Im wasting my time sitting around here with you two anyway.
I did see something in that carpet. If Dil was sure of anything, this was it.
No, you didnt. I saw that photo. Unless you have a really skilled artist tucked away at the station, airbrushing evidence away, you saw nothing and no one touched that carpet.
Fry didnt care for Frenchs approach, but it was effective. Dil was wrestling disparate truths, and coming to grips with the fact that French might be right. Pete had laughed too.
They spent another hour going through the house. After nearly strangling him, French convinced Dil she hadnt tossed the house herself in the short time she had before they showed up. She wasnt sure he believed that she hadnt killed Louisa though. Fry took him aside and explained that French couldnt have done it. He couldnt get past the fact that that woman was so clearly capable of it. But hed give French the benefit of the doubt if Violet was convinced. After all, the Sparks spent a lot of their free time with the criminal element and if anyone knew them, itd be a Spark.
French had checked out most of the rooms on the second floor. Louisas office was a pile of books and papers. She hadnt seen anything promising. She walked into the bedroom where Fry was peering at something through the light of a window.
Fry jumped and swatted at the chef. Did you have to sneak up on me like that? This place is creepy enough without you lurking in the shadows.
Ill try not to take that personally. Whats that? French made a grab for the small book in Frys hand.
Hey! Fry moved it out of range. Im looking at it.
Oh come on, let me see it. French reached for it again.
Go find your own clues!
Dont be such a pain. Just give it over. French didnt know why Fry had to question her at every turn, and she was getting tired of being polite. Her version of polite anyway. Fry had stepped away, and was holding the book behind her back.
Dont make me come over there and get it, because I will if I have to.
Oh yeah, you and what army?
You obviously overestimate your size Fry. French emphasized the nickname, reviving its original meaning. Hardly need an army for a squirt like you. She closed the space between them in a flash, reached over Frys shoulder and snatched the book.
Piece of cake, short stack. French turned away to look at the book with her flashlight.
Fry was still recovering from the swoon shed suffered when French had swooped down on her in the darkness. Youd think that after 15 hours of hard labor and sweat shed have the decency to smell bad. But she should have known by now that French was anything but decent. If she smelled more than rosy, it was a wonderfully rich more. It had entirely interrupted Frys defensive response. French could have walked off with a lot more than her clue just then.
Hey! I found that you brute! Emerging from her swoon she had the strongest urge. And for some reason, she gave into it. Shed had it once before at a protest, when she saw a cop holding a friend by the hair and spraying his eyes with pepper spray. It wasnt a good idea then, and it probably wasnt now. Shed gotten a concussion when shed been trampled by several people in the ensuing riot. She ran the couple of steps to where French was looking at the book and jumped.
French was busily re-routing every message from her central nervous system that dictated she dislodge and seriously injure the assailant whod just landed on her back. What are you doing!?
Fry was making a grab for the book over Frenchs shoulder. She struggled to reach the small volume that the chef held at arms length. What does it look like? Give me that back!
Youre hardly in a position to make demands you gnat. Get off me!
Oh yeah, what are you gonna do about it? You know, youre such a bully. I think...Ooof! She grunted as French stepped backward crushing her into the wall. Hey! She smacked French on the shoulder as she wriggled and pushed to free herself. Cut that out.
Well then stop squirming around or Ill mash you, like the pest you are.
Fry calmed down and took in her new position. No fair, your arms are longer! She reached along the length of Frenchs arm, her own coming up short of its intended mark. Not to mention this. What do you eat for breakfast anyway? She made the mistake of squeezing Frenchs bicep. She resurfaced from this latest distraction to the feeling of a staccato vibration at her midsection. Was French laughing?
You can let me down now. Ive decided to let you look at my clue. That vibration had become disconcerting.
Thats gracious of you, but I think Ill keep you back there. That way Ill know youre out of my way.
Fry hitched herself up further on Frenchs back to look at the book in the light. If she was going to have to stay here, she might as well get comfortable. Not too comfortable though, feeling French in close proximity was definitely testing her resolve to stay so over her. Its a diary. Maybe theres something in here thatll tell us what happened.
Whered you find it?
In the pile of books and stuff dumped out of the nightstand.
French tucked the book in her belt, hitched Frys legs up and carried her over to the pile. She half turned and let go, dumping Fry on the bed. She knelt to sift through the the debris.
Thanks, that was graceful. When she realized where she was sitting, she hopped off the bed as though itd bit her. There was something morbid about it. What is it? What are you looking for?
Take a look at the inside cover of the book. Not that she wanted Fry to have any more information than necessary, but she wanted her occupied while she searched. As soon as they were out of here shed make it clear that she wasnt in the market for a sidekick.
In light from the window Fry saw that the journal wasnt Louisas at all. I dont get it. Whats she doing with Sean Makelinss diary? Do you think they were having an affair?
Doubt it. French was still preoccupied when Dil came into the room.
I cant find anything, how about you guys? He asked.
I found something, look. Its Sean Makelinss diary.
Whats that doing here?
Dont know. Maybe she was keeping it for him. Seems like there are a lot of things that dont make sense about this whole thing. She saw French tuck in her shirt, and wouldnt have thought twice about it if it hadnt made a soft crinkling noise.
French flicked off her light and stood up. Just because they dont make sense to us, doesnt mean theyre proof of anything much. Lots of things seem complicated at first glance, but theres usually a simple explanation. Say Dils friend Pete smoothed those letters out of the carpet. Does that mean he killed anyone? Does that mean his Uncle killed anyone? No. As far as I can tell theres nothing here thatll tell us anything. Im leaving, I suggest you all do the same.
But we cant just give up! Fry was convinced Louisa had been murdered, and letting it drop was not an option.
Yes we can. Dil, tell her this isnt a game. That she could get in big trouble for messing around like this and she should leave it to the police.
Shes right Violet. You should let me take care of it. Ill tell the Chief about the house and maybe hell reopen the case. Anyhow, someone should tell her family that theres been a break-in before they have to see it like this. And you two shouldnt be doing this kind of stuff. You could get into trouble, and hurt.
Youre right Dil. We have work tomorrow Fry. I dont want you falling asleep in my Rouget au Safran.
Oooh, youre having that again! I love that sauce. Theyd left the room and were headed downstairs.
What is it with you and sauce anyway? Something I should know about? She was enjoying teasing Fry. She was so earnest and silly at the same time. She was an excitable loon, but French decided it wasnt the worst personality trait shed ever encountered.
I dont know. Something about it being the essence of so many flavors I guess. Its a compliment, but an entity unto itself. I can almost feel the ingredients come together and spark. A good sauce is really colorful that way, you know?
You dont say. French smiled.
Theyd gotten out without incident. Dil had left when Fry insisted that shed walked home alone at night for years and wasnt accepting an escort now.
When Dil was out of sight she turned to French. It was odd to be with her out of their usual context. French had worn all black and blended in with the shadows of the dimly lit street corner where they stood. She still had her hair braided and loomed large, even in the shadows. So I guess Ill see you at work then?
Yeah, you sure you dont want company? French asked.
Not you too! Any anyway, who would walk you home? Should I wake up my Dad and have him give you a lift?
You live with your parents? This was news.
Yes. Fry couldnt suppress the defensive tone that crept into her voice. Is that a problem? Do you have a rule against it?
No problem. I just didnt picture it, thats all. Fry did seem old to be shacked up with Mom and Dad. What was it with the people who lived on this island? Didnt they ever leave home?
I get along with my parents, and I like living with them. Why is that so impossible for people to understand? I figure as long as Im here for the summer, why waste the money. I can waste it on rent at school.
Ah right, the old starving grad student/waitress gig. What are you an English major or what? Writing the all important doctoral thesis on Emily Brontes lost cats?
Oh forget it. Im going home and getting some sleep. One knock to her ego at this hour was doable, but two was more than she wanted to deal with. Fry didnt usually worry about impressing people, but for some unfathomable reason Frenchs opinion of her mattered.
What!? Hey, wait a sec! French caught up to Fry, whod started off. It was just a question, you dont have to go off in a huff. Im just asking. Someone was getting awfully cranky. She wondered what this soft spot was that shed hit upon.
Im not a grad student. Im finishing my undergraduate degree. And yes, as it happens I am an English major, sort of. Im majoring in Public Policy with a minor in English Lit. So there, are you happy?
Sure, if you are. Whats the big deal? It wasnt a crime to finish up late. Sure, it seemed odd that someone like Fry wasnt onto bigger and better things, but hey, there were lots of people who seemed promising who just couldnt cut it. She didnt have to be so defensive about it.
The big deal is that Im twenty-six, I live with my parents, Im a waitress, and I dont even have a bachelors degree. And even though I know theres nothing wrong with any of those things, sometimes I feel like it isnt enough. And sometimes people make me feel less than stellar because of it too.
Yeah, oh. Good night French.
The people who make you feel less than stellar. Screw em. People will do just about anything to make themselves feel better than someone else. Theyre rarely nice about it. I ought to know. So screw em, they dont know squat. Youre a good person. Youre a good worker. Youre smart. A little excitable maybe, but not bad company. I dont think you need to worry too much about what other people think.
The irony that she happened to be one of those people was not entirely lost on French. Nor was the fact that shed just admitted to liking someones company, and meant it. She considered that they should stick a milestone on the street corner where they stood.
Thanks French. I just get insecure about it sometimes. Most people I know, my age, have started careers, families, or are on a path of some kind. And I know it isnt a linear progression kind of thing and I wouldnt change what Ive done, but I feel like Im always catching up. I get tired of that.
So, why is it youre catching up? Are you a really slow reader? Did you drop out of society for a while? Join a cult? What? Not that she cared that much, but since they were on the subject she figured shed ask.
No, no and no! And thanks for the tact. My mother had breast cancer. I stayed home and helped my parents while she was ill. It took a while. Shes been doing great for a couple of years now. Its amazing really.
Yeah, amazing how small and stupid you can feel in such a short span of time. French considered the woman before her. By twenty-six French had already been a chef for four years, travelled a good part of the world and begun to enter the social circles that would ensure her a glittering career. But shed never, ever sacrificed any of her time to someone else. Nothing had come between her and her over-riding ambition to be top of the food heap. And for as long as she could remember, thats all that had mattered to her. She felt the smallest release of pressure in her chest. Subtle, but undeniably significant. She felt as though she was coming up for air.
French waved her hand back and forth just above Frys head.
What are you doing? Fry asked.
Looking for the halo.
Stop it, I am not an angel!
I havent met such a goody two shoes in my entire life. You must be.
If I was such an angel I wouldnt have lied to Dil. Fry was still feeling guilty about that.
About whatever that was I saw you tuck into your pants.
Oh that, nothing much. Just wanted a better look at it in the light.
Just like the diary you pocketed on the way out?
What are you, a spy or something? Not that she hadnt considered it before. Fry did seem out of place as a waitress. She wouldnt have put it past those bastards at Le Quick to be after her new menu again. And Fry would be the perfect cover. Who would suspect the girl next door type to be up to anything so rotten.
I left it to see if youd pick it up. I didnt think you were really dropping the whole thing. So what did you find?
Just some papers. If they amount to anything Ill let you know. Yeah, like when hell froze over and they were giving out free Snow Cones. No way was she getting Fry messed up in her problems.
Okay, but Ill keep you to that you know. Lying to me is easy, getting away with it is always harder than people think.
They parted ways and French walked the ten blocks to her house. The neighbors cat, Buddy, was perched on her porch railing again, waiting patiently. For whom, French never knew.
She went inside, flipped on the lights and walked through to the kitchen. Shed peeled an orange and picked at the membrane as she examined the papers and diary. Louisa had been more enterprising than your average city hall bureaucrat. Either she was hoarding incriminating materials out of the goodness of her heart, or she was a blackmailer pure and simple. Not that anything shed found was earth shattering. There was possibly proof of affairs, some minor tax evasion, and real estate fraud. It might not look like much to French, but it probably rubbed someones nose the wrong way.
Maybe Louisa had pushed the wrong someone too far.
She shook her head. Why on Earth was she bothering with this? Shed hardly known the woman and fell far short of liking her.
How do you find a killer anyway?
Continued in Chapter 9.