Authors: Diane Fanning
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Health; Fitness & Dieting, #Diseases & Physical Ailments, #Alzheimer's Disease, #Crime Fiction
A Lucinda Pierce Mystery
Copyright © 2010 Diane Fanning
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Pierce, Lucinda (Fictitious character) – Fiction
Women detectives – Fiction
Dementia – Patients – Crimes against - Fiction
Detective and mystery stories
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6945-6 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-278-9 (trade paper)
In loving memory of two irreplaceable men:
J. Leon Butcher
September 15, 1927 – August 29, 2005
William ‘Bill’ Fanning
July 17, 1924 – June 13, 2009
Eric Humphries stepped out of the shower, inhaling the aroma of brewing coffee drifting up from the kitchen downstairs. As a young man, his list of necessary attributes for the perfect woman never included a requirement for her to be an early riser but he never forgot how lucky he was to have married a woman that was. Every morning, she eased out of bed while he lay there drifting in and out of sleep, half-listening to the small sounds she made as she dressed and got going.
He couldn’t imagine starting a day with her energy and enthusiasm. No matter how well he slept or how long, he was always reluctant to break through the inertia and stumble into the shower. His only motivation was the knowledge that Vicki waited downstairs with a smile on her face, a cup of coffee at the ready and the daily newspaper folded beside his place mat.
He put the towel on his head, tousling the dark brown hair that was losing the battle with the conquering strands of gray. He wiped off the rest of his body and tossed the damp towel on the bottom of the bed. He pulled a T-shirt over his head and stuck one foot into his boxers. Before he could lift the other leg, a scream and the slam of a door echoed through the house.
“Vicki! Vicki!” he shouted as he pulled his underwear up to his waist. “Are you okay? Vicki?” he yelled as he took the turn on the stair landing, grabbing the newel post for balance. In two more steps, he came to an abrupt stop, staring at his wife.
Her back was plastered flat against the door, her arms stretched from side to side. Her warm brown eyes had lost all signs of their usual calmness, darting about like mice in an overcrowded cage. They widened, shrunk and widened again. Her lips provided the only touch of color in a pale white face. “Your dad . . .”
“What about my dad?”
“He – he is here,” she wailed.
“Why don’t you let him in?” Eric asked as he came down the remaining steps to the foyer.
Vicki sobbed and hiccuped.
“Vicki, please let me open the door.”
She shook her head making her dark curls slap her face, as she straightened her spine and braced against the entryway.
Eric wanted to shove her out of the way and get to his dad. He hadn’t seen his father in months. The dementia had robbed the older man of so much and Eric knew he must have wandered to a strange place where he could not remember the way home or even how to ask for help. Eric worried his dad was injured – or worse. What was wrong with Vicki? “Get out the way,” he insisted, fighting the urge to force her.
Vicki looked up at her husband’s fierce eyes and her shoulders slumped. “I don’t want you to see this,” she sobbed before stepping aside.
Eric pulled open the door ready to wrap his arms around his father, but where his dad should have been standing, there was an empty space. Eric looked down and to the right at a pair of feet in freshly shined black dress shoes. He followed the dark grey legs of the pants up to a belt, moved up the length of a red tie and into the face. His father. Eric dropped to his knees beside him.
He reached out to his dad’s neck, desperately seeking a pulse. He pulled at the old man’s tie, tore open the shirt with enough force to send little white buttons dancing onto the wooden floorboards. He counted each chest compression as he pushed down with force.
Vicki kneeled, wrapping her arms around her husband. “Don’t,” she sobbed. “Don’t, Eric. It’s too late. He’s cold.”
Eric shrugged her off and breathed air into the dead man’s slack mouth. Eric sat up and resumed the chest compressions.
“Eric, please?” Vicki wailed.
“Either help me or leave me alone.”
Vicki sat back on her heels and pulled a cell phone out of the pocket of her robe, pressing 9-1-1. “My father-in-law has been missing for five months,” her voice quavered. “Now, his body is on our front porch. Please send the police.”
“He’s not dead!” Eric shouted and bent over to expend more useless breaths into the shell that once was his father.
Vicki sighed. “Please send an ambulance, too.”
Sherry stood in the doorway of a room looking out at familiar faces but unable to recall any of their names. “I want . . . I want . . .” She couldn’t remember the word. She could picture it when she closed her eyes: the clear, tall glass with droplets of water clinging on all sides forming little streams as gravity pulled them downward, a light brown liquid with a foamy top, a straw poking out of the glass. Eddie always gave her one of those bendy straws because she was too short to drink it otherwise. She could taste rich flavor of the cold concoction slipping down her throat as she sipped. She had to be careful, though. If she drank too fast, the icicle would pierce her head bringing a measure of pain with her pleasure.
But what was that word?
Most times Betsy would go with her to the lunch counter at Drumfelder’s Drug Store and Eddie would put two straws in one glass and they’d share. And sometimes when it was really hot outside, if they could scrape up the extra quarter, they’d split a second one on the same afternoon. “I want . . .” she said again.
All of the eyes that had turned toward her now shifted back to what they were doing when she entered the room: watching a soap on the television, playing cards with a friend or just staring into space. Sherry was angry with herself for not knowing the word and even madder at those people for not trying to help her find it.
She spun around and walked back outside. She’d go find Betsy. Betsy would know the word. And even if she didn’t they could go to Drumfelder’s and get one together. She walked away from the building past a row of interconnected one-room bungalows to the path leading into a copse of trees. She walked past oaks, pines and maples, but in their place, she saw the bricks on the street where she spent her childhood. Instead of walking on a dirt trail, as she set her feet down she saw concrete beneath each one and she stretched her stride to avoid the cracks that would break her mother’s back.
When she saw Betsy’s house, she waited on the sidewalk looking up at the window box filled with bright red geraniums. Betsy’s mom planted them there every spring; there was no way on this line of lookalike homes that you could miss the bright color on her friend’s house in the warm weather time. Betsy popped out of the front door with a grin and skipped down the marble stoop.
They walked side-by-side toward Drumfelder’s close enough to hold hands but not touching. Betsy sang, “Maresie doates and dosey doats and little lambsy edivey, a kiddle edivey, too, wouldn’t you?”
Sherry never sang that part with Betsy – she just couldn’t get it straight no matter how hard Betsy tried to teach her. But she could get the slower verse right and was ready to sing along when a high chain-link fence appeared blocking her way forward. “Where did this come from, Betsy?” When Sherry didn’t get a response, she turned and looked for her friend but couldn’t find her.
Sherry put both palms against the fence; it bowed from the pressure but did not give. She stuck her fingers through and grabbed on and shook as hard as she could to no avail.
“Betsy, are you playing a trick on me? And where did you go? Where did this fence come from? We don’t have fences this high in our neighborhood. And we certainly don’t have one across the sidewalk. I don’t know what you did, Betsy, but I’m really mad now!”
Sherry started down the length of the fence looking for where it ended. She was weary long before she reached any sign of it. Now, she did not recognize anything in her surroundings. Her anger morphed into fear. She was lost and didn’t know where to find help. Was she in prison? Like maybe one of those works farms? Had she been arrested? She didn’t know. Or maybe they put her on a remote island to fend for herself like Dustin Hoffman? She couldn’t jump off that cliff like he did to get away. But why did they put her here? She must’ve have done something really bad. But what?”
Sherry startled with a jump so intense, it nearly knocked her off her feet. She cringed back against the fence.
“Miss Sherry, honey, it’s all right. Look at me, sweetheart. Look at my face. You remember me, right? You remember me. I’m your good friend Don. Remember? I make sure you get a chocolate dessert every night with dinner. And tonight, I’m going to get you a big, fat piece of Black Forest cake. How’s that sound?”
Some of the tension slid from Sherry’s shoulders. She did recognize his face. She didn’t know who he was. She didn’t understand why he was here. But she did remember that she did get chocolate when she did what he asked. She peeled her body off the chain-link fence and took two timid steps forward.
“That’s it, Miss Sherry. Come on now,” he said reaching out his hand.
Sherry wrapped her fingers around it and looked up at him.
“That’s a good girl. Come on now. Let’s get on down to the dining room. Before you get your cake, you need to eat your supper and, um, um, it’s a good one. We’ve got some of Brenda’s yummy meat loaf and her creamy mashed potatoes and some fresh picked string beans. It’s some real good stuff, Miss Sherry, you’ll smell it and your mouth is gonna water like crazy. So let’s get a move on, old girl.”
Sherry didn’t understand all that he said but the sound of his voice was nice and maybe she’d get one of those things she wanted – whatever they were called.
Lieutenant Lucinda Pierce was pulling into her assigned parking space at work when her cell phone rang. She grabbed it, leaving the car idle as she answered. “Pierce.”
“Hey, Lieutenant. This is Jumbo Butler in Missing Persons. Your captain said I could call you for help.”
“In a missing person’s case?”
“He’s not missing any more. His body’s been found.”
“I can’t say I know, Lieutenant. I just know he’s dead and laying on his son’s front porch at 834 Jefferson Street. It looks kinda suspicious but I could be overreacting.”
“On my way. And, Butler, call in a forensic team until we know it’s not a homicide, we need to treat it as if it is,” she said, disconnecting the call and backing out of her parking slot. On the short drive over, she thought about what she was neglecting that morning. She had a major paperwork back-up on her desk but avoiding that task suited her just fine. She’d planned to try to chase down her drive-by shooting suspect again today. She had follow-up work to do on the bar shooting from Saturday night. And, of course, there was the pile of cold cases she needed to review. She wished the captain would start up a cold case unit and put specialists on these old murders, but with the recent drop in the homicide stats, she didn’t think that would happen any time soon.