Authors: Monica Ferris
And they had been wrong. Worse, they were two weeks behind in investigating the real crime.
The phone rang. Omernic groaned as he reached for it. What fresh hell was this? He didn’t know it was salvation in the person of a woman with a broken leg and a secret crow.
drove to Excelsior, about thirty minutes away from downtown Minneapolis. The sky was clear overhead, though clouds were approaching from the northwest, dark gray ones that promised rain, sleet, or snow in a couple of hours. Temps were in the middle thirties, and the wind shoved his car around a bit as he came up Highway 7. The trees, he noted, were mostly bare, though some bushes still glowed a deep red, and the oaks held onto their brown leaves. Here and there, a shrub that hadn’t gotten the word at all was still defiantly green.
Excelsior had redesigned the exit so it no longer lunged to the left and crossed to the right up and over the highway and some old streetcar tracks. Instead, it contented itself with leaning right and crossing up and over some restored streetcar tracks, coming down alongside a nursing home. The street came to a halt at an intersection that had five corners instead of four, and he picked the one that went off to the upper right and curved around past a tall clapboard condo building that overlooked the lake. On the other side of the street was a dark redbrick building, two stories, whose ground floor held three businesses. The upper story was apartments. The first business was a deli, the third business was a used-book store with the clever name ISBNs, and the middle store was Crewel World.
As he pulled to the curb, he saw a young man standing in the big front window, hanging miniature tree lights across the top. The window itself had clear plastic suction cups stuck all over it and hanging from them were elaborately colored Christmas stockings ranging in size from too big for Omernic’s own outsize feet to small enough for his brand-new granddaughter to wear.
Omernic got out and crossed the street. As he drew near, he could see that the stockings weren’t printed in colors, but embroidered. Some had simple designs—one was two leafless trees standing in snow—and some were very complex, featuring Santa Claus and reindeer or Santa and a Christmas tree or Santa and young children. Two were religious, one with the Three Kings in gorgeous apparel stacked up the leg of the stocking and the other with an angel whose wings had very detailed feathers hovering over a sleeping babe. Another stocking, middle size, had chickadees and cardinals resting on branches of holly. Another…Omernic looked up and saw the young man looking back at him, a smile playing around his mouth. Omernic raised a disapproving eyebrow at him to show he was here on serious business and went into the shop. A two-note electronic alarm sounded as he opened the door.
The store was carpeted and there was a lot of yarn around, some hanging from pegs on a wall, some piled in baskets. The effect of all that fiber was very restful, as if God had said, “Hush a minute,” and put a stop to the cacophony of the world. There were a few sweaters and shawls, so few they were probably examples of what customers could make themselves from the yarn. And there were pictures of Santa Claus and castles and game fish painted on unframed canvases. Some were pinned to a strange contraption comprised of thin canvas doors on a single hinge fastened to the wall. There was a good-size table in the middle of the room with a tall lazy Susan holding scissors and knitting needles and rulers and crochet hooks in its center. Track lighting on the ceiling. Classical music playing softly. An attractive place.
A young woman with red hair—a deep, rich auburn not like that Kool-Aid color the young affected—and Harry Potter glasses came out from behind a glass-fronted counter. “May I help you?” she asked.
Omernic dug for his ID folder. “I’m Sergeant Stan Omernic, Minneapolis Police.”
Her face went from friendly-helpful to dismayed surprise. “Is something wrong?” she asked.
“Not in here, as far as I know,” said Omernic.
“It’s all right,” said the young man from behind them, climbing off the step stool. He wasn’t quite as young as he’d looked through the window, Omernic could see he was probably twenty-six or-seven. “I think Sergeant Omernic wants to talk to me,” he said. “I’m Godwin DuLac.” He held out his hand.
Omernic shook it. “Is there someplace we can talk?” he asked.
“Certainly. Follow me.” Mr. DuLac sashayed—there was no other word for it—toward the back of the shop. Ceiling-high box shelves displayed books with titles as varied as
Stitch ’N Bitch, Helen M. Stevens’ Embroidered Animals,
Needlecrafters’ Travel Companion
. There were pyramidal stacks of knitting yarn and gadgets he could not guess the use of. The box shelves divided the front from the back, with an opening in the middle. Omernic followed DuLac through the opening, where he stopped to take in the scene. There was a second store back here, with specially designed upright-angling shelves holding thin booklets, and spinner racks dripping scissors, packets of needles, and lots of embroidery floss. The walls were covered with framed examples of embroidery that were, in some instances, elaborate and startlingly beautiful.
“What is this, a kind of museum?” asked Omernic, looking up and around.
“No, these are models of patterns we sell. The patterns themselves don’t look like much, so models inspire our customers or help them decide what they want to stitch next. The front of the shop is for needlepoint and knitting, mostly; back here is for counted cross-stitch and punch needle, mostly.”
Omernic nodded, not too surprised that all this might be called something other than embroidery, there being subgenres in everything. But there was no need to have it clarified; he was not here to interview Mr. DuLac about the intricacies of needlework. “I received a very interesting phone call from a Ms. Betsy Devonshire this afternoon,” he said. “She told me you have been interviewing people who might have helpful information about the death of Robert Germaine.”
Godwin gave a pleased smile. “She told me she was going to call Mike. But you talked to her, not him?”
“Mike Malloy, he’s our own investigator, with the Excelsior Police Department. Betsy has helped him before, lots of times. He didn’t like it at first, but I hear he’s come to accept that he can use her help with some of his cases.”
Omernic had, in fact, spoken to Sergeant Malloy and was amused at this glib put-down of a very competent investigator, though he was careful to hide it. He got out his notebook and took Godwin through an examination of all his actions in finding out about and locating Stoney Durand, also known as Tony Milan. His first impression of Mr. DuLac as light not only in the loafers but in intellect underwent some revisions along the way. He was no airhead.
DuLac insisted that the real credit for all he’d discovered lay with his boss, Betsy Devonshire, owner of the store. Ms. Devonshire, he said, normally did her own sleuthing in addition to working in her shop, but she was currently confined to her apartment upstairs, having suffered a badly broken leg a few weeks ago.
It was Ms. Devonshire who had phoned Omernic earlier, and he closed the interview with DuLac by saying he would go up and see her now. Mr. DuLac asked if he might warn Betsy she had company coming, sweetening the request by saying he’d show Omernic a back way up the stairs so he wouldn’t have to go back outside and ring the bell.
Omernic agreed and two minutes later was upstairs knocking on Ms. Devonshire’s door.
“Just a minute!” came a call from well back in the apartment, and it was just about that long before the door opened and a moderately plump woman with streaky-blond hair and nervous blue eyes stood there on crutches looking up at him. She was wearing a loose-fitting dark blue dress and using two crutches to stand up. Her lower right leg was encased in a buff-colored hard-plastic boot with a rolled-down bright blue sock covering her toes. The other foot was sensibly shod in a walking shoe.
“I’m Sergeant Stan Omernic, Minneapolis Police,” he said. “We talked earlier on the phone. Is something wrong?”
“Wrong?” she said, trying to quell her nervous look by opening her eyes wide and smiling falsely. “No, nothing’s wrong.”
“What you said on the phone to me earlier, do you now want to revise that in some way?” he persisted.
“Oh, gosh, no!” she said. “Not at all. Come in, come in, Sergeant.” She stepped back, turned and moved away, and he came into the narrow little hall. A door to his left opened into a galley kitchen, but straight ahead was a spacious, low-ceilinged living room done in lots of red. She led the way into there, moving well on the crutches.
The red was mostly in the carpet, but the chintz curtains on the windows had red as well as cream flowers on them. The walls were cream colored, and the room’s cozy look was completed by the knitting left on the seat of an upholstered chair and a large, fluffy cat staring complacently from her basket under the window.
Omernic knew the cat was a female because she was three colors: mostly white with gray and red-tan blotches down her back and up her tail. Tomcats can never be more than two colors. Omernic liked collecting esoteric little facts like that.
“Here, won’t you sit down?” Betsy said, gesturing at the couch, which was gray with bright red in the embroidered cushions, moving to take the upholstered chair for herself. “Can I get you some coffee?” she asked, turning without sitting down. “Or tea? The water’s hot, it won’t take a minute.”
“No, thank you,” he said, sitting down, his cop antennae vibrating toward her.
“I’ve got some cookies, too,” she continued. “I’m glad you came out so promptly, it was good of you to take me seriously.”
She was anxious about something, but trying to conceal it by talking a little bit too much, nodding at him on the couch while she took the chair, ostentatiously putting the knitting into a carpetbag beside the chair, then smoothing the skirt of her dress with both hands. They were shapely hands and the curve of her cheek, while mature, was sweet. She looked at him with a direct stare out of keen blue eyes.
And while she was worried, she seemed to want his attention on her, which was odd. Normally, people nervous about having a cop in their apartment wished to become one with the furniture. Unless they were dope dealers with a pound of something illegal hidden on the premises. But dope dealers were only very rarely middle-aged women who owned small businesses. What was it she didn’t want him to see?
He looked around the apartment, which was tidy and nicely furnished. The couch looked freshly upholstered, the chair was done in a gray, red, and white chintz that echoed the drapes. Across the room, near the kitchen was a dining nook with two chairs and a round table that held a small vase of silk flowers. In the other direction—
“What is it you wanted to ask me, Sergeant?” Betsy said abruptly.
So whatever it was, was back there, in a bedroom or bathroom.
“May I wash my hands?” he asked, rising and heading that way.
“Certainly—it’s the door on your
she said, so he went straight ahead and opened that door.
He found himself in a bedroom—a big, beautiful, iron-framed four-poster bed stood to the right, with a lacy comforter and lacy pillows on it and on the left a small but businesslike desk with a computer on it. Crowded between the bed and desk with a computer was something very large and cube-shaped, covered with a hastily tossed dark blue blanket. There was a smell of chicken coop in the air. He hooked two fingers in the edge of the blanket to lift it upwards and was immediately rewarded with a sharp pain.
“Ow!” he shouted and dropped the blanket.
the bathroom was the door on your left,” came a chilly voice from the door.
do you have in that cage?” he said, turning on her, pointing a hand at her—that he suddenly realized was bleeding. “Oh, Christ, look at my hand!”
“It’s a crow. And he bites.” She turned away. “This way.”
He bent for a look into the cage—for it was in fact a heavy-duty cage on a sturdy stand—and caught a movement in the dim interior that suddenly morphed into a large, black bird, whose sharp beak was reaching for his eyes. He jerked backward, dropping the blanket.
Betsy had opened the bathroom door, and stood aside as he went in. There was a dispenser of liquid soap, the orange kind that meant it was antibacterial. He scrubbed thoroughly, wincing as the soap stung the two small wounds in his middle and ring fingers.
“What kind of a pet is it that bites when you get anywhere near it?” he demanded.
“He’s not a pet, he’s not even mine. He’s a wild bird, and he’s going to go live in Iowa in a day or two.”
“If he wants to live in Iowa, why doesn’t he fly there his own damn self?”
“Because he can’t fly. He broke a wing and avian wings rarely heal properly. He’s otherwise perfectly healthy, so he’s going to live in a great big cage in a state that doesn’t demand that damaged wild animals be destroyed.”
She said it defiantly, and suddenly a light went on inside Omernic’s head. “So you’re sneaking him out of Minnesota.”
“And you’re stuck with him until your own broken bone heals and you can drive.” He smiled, and grabbed a towel to dry his hands.
“Something like that.” She was lying again, he was sure of it. Protecting others in the chain of this scheme, he thought.
“Well, good for you,” he said, because he’d heard of that law and disapproved of it, and thought it commendable that a group of outraged Minnesota citizens had organized a sneaky way around it.