The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5

BOOK: The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5
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THE SCUM OF ALL FEARS

By Christy Barritt

 

The Scum of All Fears: A Novel

Copyright 2013
by Christy Barritt

 

Published by River Heights Press

 

Cover design by The Killion Group

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

The persons and events portrayed in this work are the creation of the author, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

CHAPTER 1

“You really think your niece Clarice can handle cleaning crime scenes?” As I waited for my friend Sharon’s answer, I leaned against the cool, granite counter of my favorite hang out, The Grounds coffeehouse, and took a sip of my iced latte. Warm drinks were my preference, but today was sweltering. Besides, the sugary, dairy delight was free, so who was I to complain?

Sharon
averted her gaze from me and continued to clean amidst a mid-afternoon lull. “I think she’ll be great, Gabby. She’s desperate for a job.”

Desperate for a job? Something didn’t settle well in my gut about
Sharon’s statement—or her body language. Expertly averted gaze. Amazingly preoccupied at doing nothing. Suspiciously lacking in details.

I
was about to ask Sharon exactly what her niece was like. Before I could, the bell over the door jangled, and Sharon nodded behind her. “Speak of the devil—I mean, the angel—here she comes now.”

I turned, fully expecting to see someone who wasn’t afraid to get dirty.
Someone who could dress down. Who could pull their hair into a ponytail, slap on some rubber gloves, and scrub for hours on their hands and knees.

Instead, I saw a twenty-something girl wearing designer jeans, a
ruffled shirt with glittery strands running through it, and high-heels. My mouth gaped open, and my hands went to my hips.

This could not be Sharon’s niece.
Not Sharon, the grungy woman with pink hair, uncountable piercings, and ripped jeans. Not Sharon, the woman who worked so hard at running her business that she almost never went home. Or the Sharon who did everything herself—fixed plumbing, changed light bulbs, gave herself tattoos—at least, that was Sharon’s
I Am Legend
rumor about the town.

The woman
who’d just walked in—more like a girl, if you asked me—extended her hand and flashed a wide smile that screamed “not-in-touch-with-reality.” Not in touch with
my
reality, at least.

“I’m Clarice
Wilkenson, and I’m so excited to be working for you.” Her words came out high-pitched and fast, like she’d had too much sugar or caffeine—or maybe both.


I’m Gabby.” I
think
I extended my hand back to her.

She grinned, her teeth sparkling and white.
I wondered if she could get my crime scenes that clean.

“So nice to finally meet you,” she gushed, not letting go of my hand. She still pumped it up and down. “I love reading crime novels. This is going to b
e just like that. So cool. My friends won’t believe me when I get back and tell them my stories. I’ll be the talk of my sorority.”

I
pulled my hand away in an effort to stop my bones from vibrating. “You do know what I do, don’t you?”

She nodded, her face the essence of happy-go-lucky
, airhead utopia. “Auntie Sharon told me all about it. Crime scene clean up. Fascinating. I saw it once in
Pulp Fiction
. This is the perfect way to end my already epic summer.”

I glanced back at Sharon and scowled.
What had she been thinking? Sharon knew me better than this. I took my job seriously. And I seriously needed help thanks to a killing spree in my hometown of Norfolk, Virginia this past weekend. If this girl was with me, I’d practically be babysitting.

My so-called friend
stole a sheepish glance at me and continued to wipe the counter. Suddenly, I got a better picture of how this whole deal had played out. Sharon’s sister had probably pushed her to give Clarice a job here at The Grounds. Sharon had then probably insisted she had no openings, and that’s when the coffee bartender—that’s what I called her—had thought of me.

I’d been at the wrong place at the wrong time.

I was desperate for help. My business partner, Chad Davis, was on his honeymoon. I’d called all of my usual fillins, and they were all busy. My fiancé, Riley Thomas, was catching up at his law firm after a week of being away. My brother believed in living off the land—the trash of the land, at least. Long story. I’d even called my old assistant, Harold, but he was driving up to Pennsylvania to visit one of his kids.

I’d been on the verge of placing an online ad when Sharon had mentioned her niece.

She’d be great, Sharon had insisted.
She has a lot of energy. Enthusiasm. Drive.

Liar.

My first clue should have been the fact that Sharon’s eyes had lit, her shoulders had straightened, and her voice had lilted as she’d talked about the possibility. The thought of Clarice working for me had obviously lifted the burden off of Sharon. She’d seen a way out of her own dilemma. Brilliant on her part. Sadly naïve on mine.

Clarice
smoothed her dark brown hair with her manicured fingers. “Is it okay if I run to the restroom before we leave? I just need to tinkle real quick.”

“Absolutely.
Tinkle away.” Her temporary absence would give me a moment to not only fume but also to ponder the reality of working with someone who used the word “tinkle” without any shame.

As soon as
Clarice disappeared from sight, I turned to Sharon and narrowed my eyes. I pressed my palms into the cool countertop. Nothing could make this better. Not even one of Sharon’s homemade blueberry muffins . . . although, I wouldn’t turn one down if she offered. It would be a start.

I put on my best game face.
“Really?”

Sharon shrugged, suddenly busy making an
espresso for . . . well, no one apparently since I was the only other person here. As the machine stopped screeching, Sharon took the hot coffee and downed it like a shot of alcohol.

Ouch. That had to hurt.
Sharon hardly flinched.

“I don’t know what to say,” she muttered, squeezing the skin between her eyes.
She lowered her voice and leaned toward me. “You don’t understand, Gabby. Clarice drives me crazy. I couldn’t work with her all summer. After I killed Clarice—and all it would take is one hour working with her and I’d want to strangle her—my sister would never speak to me again, and all the relationships in my family would suddenly be in shambles. I couldn’t let that happen. My sister is all I’ve got left in this world.”

“You’ve got a brother
, multiple cousins, and both of your parents are still alive.” I tapped my finger on the countertop.

Sharon frowned. “You’ve got a better memory than I
thought. You’ve got to understand, Gabby. No one would hire her. She’s—” Sharon stopped abruptly when the bathroom door opened.

Clarice
emerged with freshly applied lipstick and powdered cheeks. She pulled her Coach bag up higher on her shoulder. I half expected to see glitter sparkling in the air around her as she glided back into the room.

Why hadn’
t Clarice been able to get a job anywhere else? She was attractive and perky and young. Certainly there were jobs out there for her. You know, restaurants that specialized in hot wings. Car shows with smiley women who drew attention to their vehicles. Reality dating shows where drama was king.

“I’m ready,” she announced.

My hometown of Norfolk, Virginia was a nice mix of Southern quaintness and Mid-Atlantic briskness. Right now, I was tapping into my genteel, I-like-grits-and-sweet-tea side. “Sugar, where we’re going, no one’s going to see that lipstick.”

She shrugged. “My mom says not to wear makeup for other people
, but to wear it for yourself so you can feel good about how you look.” She pointed to her lips. “Crimson Apple. Isn’t is fabulous?”

I gave Sharon one more dirty look before forcing a smile. “Of course.”

Clarice ran her hand down the length of her outfit. “Auntie Sharon said that you have a Hazmat suit I can wear over my clothes. Is that right?”

I
pointed at her heels. “The shoes might be a problem. They could pierce the suit and render it ineffective.”

She glanced down and frowned.
She tapped her heels together like she was Dorothy from
The Wizard of Oz
. “But they’re so cute.”

“Bloo
d born pathogens aren’t so cute. They can really
tinkle
on your plans. But if you want to be exposed to them, then be my guest. Since you’re part-time, I’m under no obligation to pay your medical bills, however. I don’t care what the government says.”

Clarice frowned. “Auntie Sharon, do you have something I could borrow?”

Sharon nodded toward the back of the store. She downed another shot of something. I had a feeling it wasn’t coffee this time. “I have some tennis shoes in the office. Why don’t you grab them?”

I almost hissed at Sharon, but I sto
pped myself. Clarice wouldn’t last a day on the job. I wouldn’t have to fire her. She’d quit before we finished the first crime scene. As soon as I got home, I’d place that classified ad.

I did not have time to trai
n Miss Priss on cleaning basics—starting with how to dress when going to a crime scene. This job required a certain measure of common sense. Sense didn’t seem all that common with Clarice, at least in the small amount of time since I’d met the girl.

Five
minutes later, Clarice was wearing Sharon’s fluorescent orange Converse sneakers, and we were bouncing down the road in my business van. I tried not to let a cranky mood settle over me, but I felt like I’d had the proverbial wool pulled over my eyes. I needed help. What I had instead was Clarice Wilkenson.

“We
re you just humming ‘You’re So Vain’?” Clarice asked.

“Uh . . . I don’t know. Was I?”
Note to self: Must keep singing in check.

“I love that song.” Clarice began her own off-key rendition of the piece. “You remember when
Kate Hudson sings it on
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
? Totally loved that movie.”

She continued rambling about all the other rom-coms she loved. Finally, she took a breath, so I decided to change the subject.

“So,” I ventured, trying to sound chatty instead of irritated. “Is the job market pretty tough right now?”

The job market had been
brutal for me, with budget cuts across the state. I’d lost my dream career with the Medical Examiner’s Office and was now back to cleaning crime scenes. At least, for a while. I did have an interview coming up this week that might turn things back around.

But certainly there was a clot
hing store
somewhere
that was hiring bright young college students. Maybe a perfume counter?

“I have this bad habit of getting fired.”
Clarice shrugged and examined her manicured fingernails. At least the blood-red color would blend in at our crime scenes.

My muscles
tightened as I turned my thoughts from her nails to what she’d just said. A bad habit of getting fired? “Oh really?”

She waved a hand in the air. “Oh, don’t worry. I promise you I’m going to give one-hundred percent to Trauma Care.”

“Why were you fired?”

She
shrugged again, back to examining her nail polish. “Various reasons. Being late. Being bad with numbers. Being a space cadet. Destroying a display of expensive crystal.”

I shouldn’t have asked.
I knew it.

“Speaking of which, o
nly touch what I tell you to touch when we get to the crime scene.” The last thing I needed Clarice to do was destroy something in a person’s home. The people whose houses I cleaned had already been through enough. I didn’t need to add a disaster named “Clarice” to their list of tragedies.

I needed to find something safe to talk about. “So, what’s your major a
nyway? What do you want to do after graduation?”

“I’m studying business. But I really want to move to L.A. and find some acting jobs. I don’t know. I’d even be happy to work on one of those
game shows or to start as an extra on a soap opera.”

Someone who lived for fame. Perfect.

We pulled up at the crime scene. A woman had been shot here four days ago, and the crime scene had just been released. The police had already come and collected all of their forensic evidence. That’s when the family called me and asked me to take care of cleaning up what they couldn’t bear to think about.

The house was two stories,
covered in baby blue vinyl siding, and had a well-kept lawn. This wasn’t the typical neighborhood where you expected to find someone shot. Must have been a domestic case, I figured. A boyfriend? Ex-husband? I wasn’t sure. Normally I looked into the background of my crime scenes before I arrived, but I’d been out of town last week and hadn’t had the chance.

I parked my van. It was unmarked, white, and plain. Most people didn’t want their neighbors knowing their business, so I tried to give people their privacy. It was the least I could do.

“I need your help grabbing the equipment from the back,” I told Clarice.

Was it a coincidence that her name was the same as the young FBI agent from
The
Silence of the Lambs
? It had to be.

BOOK: The Scum of All Fears: Squeaky Clean Mysteries, Book 5
5.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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