Authors: Cindy Sample
"Please sit down, Ms. McKay,” he said in a gravelly voice, as he lowered his oversized frame back into the chair. I tried not to wince as it creaked in response.
I walked over to my outdated blue flowered sofa and perched on one corner. Detective Hunter looked at the remaining delicate wing chair and wisely decided to join me on the more comfortable couch. He settled into the cushions, uncapped a pen and pulled a small navy note pad from his sport coat pocket. “We have some questions about a friend of yours."
"Of course, oh, before we start, would you like some coffee, brownies, fudge?"
"Not now, perhaps later,” Hunter said.
As I settled against the sofa cushions, my skirt slid up my thighs. Hunter's gaze briefly drifted to my bare legs then quickly returned to his notes.
"We understand you dined with Garrett Lindstrom yesterday evening. Evidently you and he are members of a matchmaking agency called the, uh, Love Club.” A smile briefly flickered across his normally impassive face but he quickly stifled it behind his hand.
I glared at the younger detective. “Garrett was my first encounter with someone from the Love Club. Our date didn't go that well."
"Would you care to elaborate?” Hunter sat poised with his notebook and pen, probably waiting for some sizzling comments.
I could talk all night about that evening, but that wasn't the point. Wasn't he going to inform me Garrett was murdered? Was Sunny not supposed to tell me? Was he trying to trip me up with trick questions?
"Are you are aware Lindstrom was found dead in his car Saturday morning?” he asked.
"Yes, I am.” I slumped against the cushions. “One of the Love Club staff told me when I stopped in today. You don't think I had anything to do with it, do you?"
"That's why we're here asking questions. How about you tell us more about your not so great date."
I proceeded to give the detectives all of the gory details. When I mentioned I Nokia-ed Garrett's nose, Detective Bradford grunted, his only input into the conversation so far.
"That was the extent of our time together. His car was gone when I returned to the parking lot and met the AAA driver. I was back home before ten. Garrett couldn't have died from me hitting him with the cell, could he?"
"We haven't seen the full autopsy report yet but I can tell you the examiner discovered a significant contusion on the back of his head as well as a broken nose. Do you remember anything else about your, um...altercation?” Hunter asked.
All I remembered was rolling around the front seat of Garrett's car while I tried to extract myself from his unwanted embraces. My fingerprints must be plastered all over the seat and the windshield.
A strange expression flitted across Hunter's face. I could feel the heat rising up my face then working its way down to another zone.
"How did you find out about our date?"
"His laptop. He used Outlook to manage his appointments. The time and the name of the restaurant. And the initials—LM. It might have taken us awhile to figure out whom he met with but we received a call from one of the Love Club employees a few hours ago. She confirmed you went out with him last night."
Gee thanks, Sunny.
"Did Lindstrom mention anything during dinner that could help our investigation?"
I tried to recall if Garrett had said anything revealing during his monologue on depreciation. All I could remember was blah, blah, blah.
"How about anything suspicious inside Leonardo's?” Detective Hunter asked. “Or maybe later when you walked through the parking lot?"
I crinkled my nose at him, puzzled. “Suspicious, like what?"
"Someone observing you while you were eating. Following you outside.” He shot a questioning look at me. “You do realize you could have been attacked as well."
My stomach did a back-flip cartwheel combination. It never once crossed my mind that I could also have been in danger. “What time was Garrett killed?"
"The medical examiner said it was sometime between ten and midnight."
I didn't like the sound of this at all.
"Can you account for your whereabouts after leaving the restaurant, Ms. McKay?” boomed Tall and Bald.
I jumped. “Whereabouts? Like where I was, uh...about?"
Hunter snorted but maintained his deadpan expression. “Yes. Did you stop anywhere on your way home? Can your children confirm what time you arrived?"
"They were in bed by the time I got here. After I drove out of the parking lot I went through the McDonald's drive-through and bought a coffee because I felt kind of shook up. I don't know if anyone would remember me."
They exchanged glances, which must have been some type of secret signal because Detective Hunter stood up, slipping the tiny notepad into his pocket. Detective Bradford unfurled himself from my chair, lumbering out the door without a goodbye.
The younger detective followed, pausing to shake my hand.
"Thank you, Ms. McKay. Perhaps the next time we see each other it will be under more pleasant circumstances—like another soccer game."
I wouldn't describe meeting over Ben's prostrate body as pleasant, but it was preferable to being involved in a murder.
"Please call if you have any more questions. I'm anxious for you to solve this crime. And I promise not to injure any more dates."
I thought my comment might get a laugh out of the detective, but his expression remained blank. This guy had absolutely no sense of humor.
I leaned against the door. “Goodbye, Detective Hunter."
He paused on the sidewalk and looked back over his shoulder, a slight smile briefly flitting across his face. His response filled the chilly night air.
"Don't you mean Detective Hunk?"
The thump of the heavy oak door slamming shut couldn't mask the thuds of two children pounding down the stairs. Ben landed first, Jenna close on his heels.
"What happened? Why were those detectives here?"
I curled an arm around each child's waist. It was time for full disclosure.
"Okay kids. My dinner date Saturday night turned into a disaster. I locked my keys and my cell in the Prius and my date offered to let me sit in his car and use his phone to call AAA. He got a little too friendly, so I hit him in the nose with his cell phone. It turns out someone murdered him in his car later that night and the police wanted some details from me."
Ben bounced up and down. “Murder. Sweet."
"Mother, that is so gross,” Jenna said. “How could you do this to me? What if my friends hear about it?"
"Hey Mom, can I tell Jimmy?"
"No. Let's forget about this incident. I had nothing to do with the murder and we don't need to share this information with any of our friends. Now go upstairs and get ready for bed."
The best advice I could give myself was to forget about Garrett. If he could attack me on a first date, imagine what other nasty things he was involved in. He probably had a drug habit and his supplier did him in. That theory worked for me.
My thoughts turned to Detective Hunter's parting remark but the shrill sound of the phone interrupted my reverie. I peeked at Caller ID. Mother.
"Laurel, dear, how was your weekend?” I visualized my mother, from the top of her frosted blonde flawlessly cut hair, to her frosted pink pedicured toenails.
"Hectic.” Talk about the understatement of the year.
"Honey, you have no idea how hectic life can be unless you're in the real estate business. It's non-stop twenty-four/seven. I sold two of my listings this weekend but of course they were priced realistically. Something the other agents need to learn in this kind of market."
I sighed with relief. I would receive a short lecture on the foibles of the real estate industry from the thirty-five year veteran on the other end of the line and hopefully escape any maternal nagging.
She paused for a second. Uh oh.
"Laurel, I heard the strangest rumor tonight. Since the rumor included
name and the term ‘corpse’ I thought there might be something you wanted to share with me."
Not really, but in a small town like ours who knew what kind of stories would be flying around. I gave her a brief update on the demise of my date. She was quiet for a few seconds before she let me have it. “I told you signing up for that Love Club would be a huge mistake. It's undoubtedly full of psychopaths and con men."
My mother. The optimist.
"Mother, I keep telling you the agency is designed for professionals. It's too difficult for single working people to meet each other, especially here in the foothills. You wouldn't believe the horror stories my friends have shared about on-line dating.” I grabbed one of the glossy agency brochures and read the verbiage out loud. “The Love Club is a highly intellectual process for discovering your future mate."
"Hmmph. Well, I wish you would forget about that stupid club. I don't think it's safe. You know, there's a new agent in my office you should meet. Peter is about your age, single and highly successful. He recently transferred from the Folsom office. Wouldn't you rather go out with someone I can vouch for?"
Would I rather go out with someone my mother worked with every day? No, not really. We wrangled over the merits of the dating agency for a few more minutes. I finally told her it was late and time to say goodnight to the kids. I hung up the phone and trudged up the stairs to Ben's room. At his age he didn't need me to tuck him in bed, but it's part of our nightly regimen and something we both look forward to each evening.
I crossed the threshold into Ben's unique fantasy world. Posters of a prehistoric Triceratops and a Brontosaurus hung between glossy prints of Chewbacca and Batman. He was already in bed, his blue and gray light saber resting on top of his Spiderman bedspread.
"Honey, you know you're not supposed to sleep with your toys.” I held out my hand for the plastic sword.
"No. Mom. I need it.” He grabbed the saber and hid it under his Batman sheets.
He sat upright against crumpled pillows. “I need it...to protect you. What if the murderer comes here?” A tear rolled down his cheek and he quickly swiped at it. “I'm the man of the house now."
Tiny droplets welled up in my eyes. What kind of mother was I, subjecting my impressionable young son to murder? When you're raising children, it sometimes feels like you make one bad decision after another. I sure didn't remember Dr. Spock covering a situation like this one.
I climbed in the twin bed and wrapped my arms around my son. I held him close as I explained it was a coincidence that I had gone on a date with Garrett and he died the same evening. The murder had nothing to do with me. And absolutely nothing to do with the kids. The detectives were merely hoping I would have some information to share.
Ben seemed satisfied with my explanation. We nestled together, his shaggy brown mane that was so overdue for a haircut, tickling my chin. I made sure Ben was sound asleep before I slipped out from under the covers. He could sleep with his sword tonight. Not a battle worth fighting right now.
As I closed his bedroom door I once again pondered my decision to start dating. Maybe my daughter was right and I should hold off until both kids were out of the house. Of course that meant by the time I started the search for eligible men I would also be eligible for early bird dinners.
Considering what happened the previous night that would be just fine with me.
The next day was Monday, the start of a fresh new week. Unfortunately it looked like everyone had woken up on the wrong side of their respective beds.
"Mom, there's no bread for my sandwich,” Ben whined. He waved the empty plastic bag in front of my face. My son is not a morning person, another gene we shared.
Drat. “You can have cheese and crackers. Won't that be a treat?"
He crossed his arms and frowned. “Jimmy's mother would never run out of bread."
Okay, so I'm not the West Coast's answer to Martha Stewart. “I'll bet Jimmy's mom would never let him have four cookies for lunch.” The bribe produced a beaming smile. Sometimes working moms have to compromise to save their sanity.
Jenna had misplaced her homework, which she finally located under the kitchen phone, so we left five minutes late. The kids jumped into the car and I zoomed down our street. I turned right on Wagon Wheel Lane and glimpsed the canary yellow bus pulling away.
That bus driver and I have a love-hate relationship. I'm positive she waits at the bus stop until she sees my car fly around the corner. Then she shifts gears and hauls you-know-what, forcing me to follow her to the next stop.
I stomped on the gas pedal with a vengeance, and all four cylinders responded with a resounding “ping” as we caught up to my nemesis. Ben's pals waved at us from the back window of the bus. At the next stop Ben flew out of the car and jumped on board. One kid down. One to go.
My daughter refused to ride in a school bus filled with freshmen and sophomores so our next stop was the high school.
"I'm probably the only kid in the junior class who doesn't have her own car,” Jenna complained as I pulled up to the loading and unloading area in front of the high school.
"Great. That means there are three hundred sixty one kids who can give you a ride.” I chuckled, silently patting myself on the back.
"Very funny.” She grabbed her forest green backpack and slogged up the sidewalk towards the Ponderosa pined campus. I watched as two of her friends joined her. Within seconds they were giggling, heads close together.
I would have loved to provide my daughter with her own transportation. Jenna was a straight A student and other than her penchant for playing Texas hold ‘em, a good kid. But a car, even a junker, was not in our budget. I made a left turn out of the school parking lot and headed to the office. My job might not be a cash cow but it was the only cash coming in right now.
My employer is Hangtown Bank, established one hundred fifty years ago, and located only a few doors down from the infamous hanging tree in Placerville. Before Ben was born, I was employed as a manager for one of the bank's local branches. Someone had to bring home the bacon and eggs since my ex kept getting involved in one idiotic get-rich scheme after another.