Authors: Christy Barritt
I didn't have to search for very long.
Right in front of me was a very big something that I'm sure the police hadn't seen.
Another dead body.
I SCREAMED so loudly that even my nemesis decided I needed help. I felt a jerk on my legs, and before I knew what was happening, my elbows collapsed. My face hit the coarse lawn.
I tried to gain some control, only to end up with a mouthful of grass and dirt and who knows what else. Yummy.
"What's wrong?" Chad Davis sounded truly concerned.
I spit out some gritty blades of grass before flopping over onto my back. "There's a dead person under there" My words collided with each other as I pointed to the house.
"You mean, there was a dead person under there" He said it slowly, as if I had a mental problem of some sort.
I pulled myself to a sitting position and rubbed my elbows. "Look for yourself."
He eyed me another moment before rubbing his hands across his 17th Street Surf Shop shirt and taking tentative steps toward the house. He bent down and a moment later I heard, "What the ... ?"
I already had my cell phone out and dialed Detective Adams, whose number I knew by heart. He recognized my voice.
"Gabby, can I call you back? I'm in the middle of something"
"You can call me back, but I thought you might want to know that there's another dead body under the house where you found Elvis"
Silence. Then, "Say again?"
I repeated what I'd told him.
"Are you there now?"
He sighed. "Stay where you are. I'll be right there"
I flipped my phone shut and looked at Chad. "They're on their way."
"So ... we're supposed to wait here?" Chad snapped his fingers and then clapped, as if nervous.
"You should be used to dead bodies. You used to work in a morgue, right?"
"I'm used to dead bodies that come into a funeral home. I'm not used to finding them under houses."
"Well, I'm just going to make myself comfortable" I nodded toward the dirty picnic table beneath a massive oak tree. Chad followed me to the green table. It had once looked like wood, but now various fungi grew all over it. It didn't matter to me anymore. I plopped on top. Chad plopped beside me, and we sat in silence for several minutes.
Another dead body. Chad had seen it too, so I wasn't imagining things. I could only guess that Chad was thinking the same thing.
"Maybe it's haunted," I finally offered.
"I don't believe in ghosts"
"Me, neither. Maybe it's cursed"
"I don't believe in curses"
I sighed. "Yeah, neither do I"
"You've got a grass stain on your cheek"
Great, I smell like rot. I look like the jolly Green Giant's starter wife. I was perfect fodder for a comic book. A superhero comic book, for that matter. Maybe people could call me Septic Woman. It had a nice ring to it. My secret power? Cleaning stains. I'd have to approach Stan Lee with my idea. I'm sure he'd jump right on it.
I rubbed my cheek.
"I guess I should thank you for pulling me out"
Chad looked at me for the first time since we'd seated ourselves on the table. He must have known about the grass stain from memory. "Oh, and you've got some black stuff between your teeth"
It was a good thing I didn't try to look perfect all the time. I would be severely depressed if that were the case. I was a walking train wreck.
"Here" He handed me a tissue from his pocket.
"Is it clean?"
His lip curled. "Of course"
Silence stretched. Sometimes I hated silence and babbled to fill the space. Not always the smartest thing to do, I know.
"You ready for summer so you can surf again?"
"Yeah, you could say that. Next winter, I plan on going to West Virginia for some skiing. I figured I'd stick around here this year, just to get myself, like, established"
Just to steal my business, in other words.
"My dad used to be a professional surfer;' I volunteered. It actually sounded like I was bragging on my dad. I'd never done that before. It left me feeling off balance.
Chad seemed to perk. "Really? What's his name?"
"Tommy St. Claire."
Chad's eyes widened. "Your dad is Tommy St. Claire? He's, like, a legend"
"That's what I've, like, heard." I kept my words crisp, wishing I hadn't brought the subject up. What had I been thinking?
Thankfully, I saw a police car pull to the front of the house. Now it was time for the real fun to begin.
The coroner took the body away as Chad and I watched in the distance.
"So, it looks like the homeowner decided not to use either of us;' Chad said.
"What do you mean?"
"That man was wearing coveralls. It had the name of a mold remediation company on it"
My mouth dropped open. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I just talked to some guys from that company yesterday, letting them know about my services."
"You were trying to drum up business like that?" Great idea. Why hadn't I thought of it?
"Anyway, their logo is pretty distinctive. I'm pretty sure I saw it on that guy's suit"
"How could he not pick one of us? He said the other people were too expensive.
"Good question" Chad shrugged and pushed himself off the table. "I guess we're not needed anymore, so I'm going to take off." His eyes caught mine. "It was good sparring with you, Gabby. Maybe we'll get to do it again sometime"
"May the best cleaner win"
"I'd say the same, but I know you need the money to pay your bills. I'd hate to see you obliterated"
I scowled at his figure as he walked away. How dare he?
I told Detective Adams goodbye. I was ready to go home. The day had been long, and I wanted to take a shower and crawl into bed. As my van bounced along the road, I replayed the scene in my head.
I remembered walking up just as Chad was bending over the crawlspace door. I remembered the way he'd goaded me-
Chad had been bending over the crawl-space door. What if he hadn't just gotten there, as I'd assumed? What if he was putting the door back on after he had deposited the body under the house?
I shivered. Had I been face-to-face with a killer?
"MAYBE HE'S one of those killers who come back and see how people are reacting to the death. I've read about people like that. What if Chad Davis is one of them?" In my excitement, I smacked the table with my palm. My coffee leaped out of its ceramic mug and pooled on the table. I ignored it for the time being and decided to clean it up before I left the coffeehouse.
Parker narrowed his eyes and leaned back in the chair, like I was annoying him. What was new? It's what our entire relationship had been built on at first. Every case lead I'd come up against, Parker had been there chiding me for getting involved. Rolling his eyes. Calling me Nancy Drew.
Were the two of us really supposed to be together, or did I just want a boyfriend? The painful question had to be addressed. Every woman should ask herself that question, lest she end up in an awful relationship ... like my mom. I'm sure she and Dad had loved each other at some point, but their marriage probably had more to do with the fact that they conceived me out of wedlock than it had to do with true love.
Parker shook his head, his expression void of a smile. "Gabby, please don't make me an embarrassment to my colleagues"
I jerked my head back. "Excuse me?"
He leaned closer and brought his voice down low, as if doing so might take the emotional smack out of his words. "If you stick your nose into another investigation, it's going to get around. Then I'll be known as the guy who's dating the nosy redhead"
Blood rushed to my ears. Probably to my cheeks too. "Is that right? I thought you might be proud of me. After all, I did help solve that last murder investigation." I started to stand, but he grabbed my wrist.
"Sit back down, and don't get your feathers ruffled" He looked from side to side, and I knew he didn't want me to make a scene. Most of the people in the coffeehouse were regulars, so I didn't care if they knew what a jerk my boyfriend was acting like.
Nonetheless, I hesitantly lowered myself back into the chair and listened for a moment to a singer on a stage in the corner singing Lisa Loeb's "Stay" I tried to let the song speak some wisdom-or not-to me.
Parker grabbed my hand. "That didn't come out completely right"
I kept my gaze focused on the singer in the distance. "Then, as someone once said to another nosy redhead, you have some 'splaining to do"
"Gabby, respect is hard to find"
I thrust my jaw out and took the opportunity to scowl at him. "This isn't getting better, Parker."
He sighed. "I just want you to stay out of trouble"
That was just a cover for how he really felt. What he really meant was that I embarrassed him.
"I need to go" I stood.
I stepped away. "I don't want to talk right now."
"Gabby, I'm tired. I'm not thinking straight."
"Well, don't call me until you get some sleep and decide just how you really feel"
I stormed out of the coffeehouse and into my apartment building. Sierra's door opened as I passed, and my cute Asian friend with the trendy glasses and pierced eyebrow stuck her head out. "Gabby-"
"Not now. I'm not in the mood." I shouldn't have been short with her. I really did love her like a sister. I'd apologize profusely later and beg for forgiveness.
Right now, I charged upstairs and slammed the door to my apartment.
I would never, ever date someone who was embarrassed to be with me.
Was I really this hopeless? I couldn't get my mind off Riley, a man who had led me on, all the while having a fiancee ... off and on. I was dating Parker, a man who was ashamed of me. And I felt strangely attracted to a man who just might be a killer.
First thing in the morning, I was going to find myself a shrink. I obviously had problems. Maybe I should just call off dating altogether until I got my head on straight.
But would my head ever be on straight? Being born into my messedup family, I had serious doubts. Maybe my screwed-up emotions were hereditary.
I fell into the couch and buried my head in a pillow.
Did I want so desperately to be loved that I'd date a man who treated me poorly? I'd always prided myself that I was stronger than that. On second thought, maybe I did need to talk to Sierra. She'd be straight with me.
I stood and stepped toward the door. The phone rang.
I stopped and stared at it. I really wished I had caller ID. What if it was Parker? Was I ready to speak to him yet? No.
I picked up the phone anyway, being sure to keep my voice even and emotionless. "Hello."
Parker. Go figure. "What do you want?"
I just talked to a colleague of mine in Norfolk, and I found out something I thought you might want to know."
I sucked my cheeks in and nibbled on them, trying to control my tongue. "Did you?"
"The homeowner had just hired this man to do the mold remediation"
"I knew that."
"The mold guy was shot"