Authors: Ava Collins
Tags: #Thriller, #Romance, #Cozy, #Witch, #Mystery, #Paranormal
“You’ve got a girlfriend?” I asked, slightly jealous.
I told Jake about the fingerprints and bloody clothes the police found in his apartment.
“Somebody is trying to set me up,” Jake said. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t like Mrs. DuMond. But I sure as hell didn’t kill her.”
“I believe you.”
“You’ve got to help me,” Jake said.
“I need something to go on. If you didn’t kill her, who did?”
“Where were you between 10:00 and 10:40 last night?”
“I was in my apartment. Look, I took Isabella up to her place, we talked for a bit, then I left,” Jake said.
“Do you think Isabella could have done it?”
“No. If Isabella did kill Mrs. DuMond, she wouldn’t make it look like I did it.”
“Why?” I asked. “Is there something going on between you two?”
An officer pushed open the door. “Alright, conversation’s over.” He glared at me. “You’re no attorney. Get out of here.” He yanked me up by the arm and pulled me out of the room. “I ought to arrest you for impersonating a lawyer.”
“I don’t think that’s illegal,” I said.
“How about practicing law without a license?”
“Technically, I wasn’t practicing law. I was just having a conversation.”
“Don’t get wise with me, missy. You wouldn’t last five minutes in lockup.” The officer escorted me out to the street. “You pull a stunt like that again, I’ll find something to arrest you for.”
I headed back to the DuMond to start my investigation. Jake was doomed to go down for murder, and I was the only one who could help him.
I SAW MRS. Abbott in the lobby of the DuMond. She was about to take her poodle for a walk. Mr. DuMond had always been fond of animals, but once he passed, Mrs. DuMond instigated a no pets policy. Existing residents could keep their pets. But they would have to pay an exorbitant pet deposit. New residents would not be allowed to have pets at all.
“Thank you so much for the cupcakes, Mrs. Abbott,” I said.
“It’s my pleasure. I’m glad you enjoyed them,” Mrs. Abbott said.
“Have you heard the news?”
“Yes, it’s such a tragedy. To think, we’ve had a murderer living among us all along,” she said. “I always liked Jake. It just goes to show you.”
I shrugged and smiled.
“If you’ll excuse me, dear, Mr. Biggs needs to get his exercise,” Mrs. Abbott said. She started toward the door.
“Do you mind if I walk with you?”
Mrs. Abbott looked annoyed for a microsecond, then smiled. “No, not at all. I’d love the company.” She was lying.
We walked several blocks, with Mr. Biggs leading the way on his leash. His name tag jingled with each step. The sidewalk was filled with the sounds of the city. Traffic and car horns. The occasional messenger bike whizzed by us. And the air was filled with diesel exhaust from the city buses.
Mrs. Abbott was guarded. She knew I was up to something and didn’t much want to talk about the situation at hand.
“That was very nice of you to give Mrs. DuMond cupcakes,” I said.
“Well, as they say, kill them with kindness,” Mrs. Abbott said. Then she instantly corrected herself. “I guess that was a bad thing to say, given the circumstances.”
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Abbot,” I said. “I don’t think you killed Mrs. DuMond.” Now I was the one who was lying. I didn’t really think she killed Mrs. DuMond. But I couldn’t rule it out as a possibility.
She laughed. The kind of desperate laugh that’s a little overly enthusiastic. “Well, of course not. The notion that I would kill anyone is preposterous. I’m just a little old lady who likes to bake,” she said, innocently.
“So, you liked Mrs. DuMond?”
Mrs. Abbott stammered. “Um, of course I liked her. We didn’t always see eye to eye. But that’s no reason to kill her,” she said.
“I’m not saying you killed her, Mrs. Abbott. I mean, I think it’s pretty open and shut against Jake.” She seemed to relax a bit after I said that. “They found bloodstains on his clothes and boots. His fingerprints were on the murder weapon. And he doesn’t have an alibi. What more do you want?” I said, playing devil’s advocate.
“Exactly. Open and shut,” Mrs. Abbott said.
you last night at the time of the murder?”
Mrs. Abbott seem to get a little flustered at the question. “To tell you the truth, I was with Zoe Alexander,” she stammered.
“But I thought Zoe was passed out in her apartment?”
“Well, she was. But I got worried about her. You hear all those awful stories about people getting drunk and dying from choking on their own vomit. I just had to go and check on her. I think I was knocking on her door for 15 minutes before she answered. She let me inside, and we had a long conversation about all kinds of things.”
Never in all my life have I seen Mrs. Abbott and Zoe Alexander have a conversation. This struck me as very odd.
“What did you guys talk about?” I asked.
“Oh, you know. Girl stuff. Life, love. Hopes and dreams.”
“How long did you two talk for?”
“I’d say a good hour, or so,” Mrs. Abbott said. “I went down to check on her about 10 o’clock.”
I could tell she was totally lying. She must have talked to someone and learned about the time of the murder. Her alibi seemed just a little too convenient. I needed to talk to Zoe Alexander and get her story.
We walked several blocks, circling back around to the DuMond. In the lobby, Otto was hanging a new painting. I said goodbye to Mrs. Abbott and took a closer look at the painting. It was a modern cubist type work.
“What do you think?” Otto asked.
“I like it,” I said. “I’ve always been a fan of cubism. Who is the artist?”
Otto smiled. “This is one of mine.”
“I didn’t know you were a painter. I thought you just dealt in art.”
“I’m afraid I’m not very good, but I love to paint. It’s relaxing.”
“Your work looks good to me,” I said.
“You are very kind,” Otto said. “But it is nothing compared to the great masters.”
“I’d like to see more of your work sometime.”
“I’d be happy to show you.”
Otto finished hanging the painting, then we strolled to his apartment. I was a bit nervous going to his apartment alone. But it was the middle of the day, and I figured Otto was relatively harmless. Still, I was milling over the timeline from the night of the murder.
It was almost 10:30pm when I spoke with Otto in the hallway. He was retrieving his coat from the lobby. He could have easily slipped down to the basement and whacked Mrs. DuMond.
What if he escorted Isabella up to her apartment with Charlotte? Then dashed back down to the lobby and changed in the maintenance closet? He could have put on Jake’s overalls and shoes, gone to the parking garage, and killed Mrs. DuMond. Then returned to the lobby and changed. That would definitely cause him to appear flushed and out of breath when I saw him. He wouldn’t have wanted to put on his coat—he’d have been too hot.
All these thoughts were racing through my mind, but they seemed a little far fetched. Besides, I couldn’t think of a good reason that Otto would want to kill Mrs. DuMond. A rent increase just didn’t seem to warrant that dramatic of an action.
Otto’s apartment was like a small museum. Priceless works of art were everywhere. Paintings, sculptures, and artifacts. He had a work-in-progress on an easel. The painting was muted blues, greens, and grays. It was very reminiscent of Picasso.
My eyes kept darting around the room looking for signs of the real Picasso that Otto was rumored to own. Otto asked me what I thought of his work-in-progress.
“I like it,” I said. “But then again, Picasso is one of my favorites.” I was hoping to inspire more conversation on the subject. But he seemed to gloss over my statement.
“Do you think it’s finished?” he asked.
“I don’t know. That’s not really for me to say, now is it?”
“I think it needs something more.” Otto picked up a paintbrush with his left hand and loaded the brush from a pallet. He painted a few strokes onto the canvas. “Ah, there. I think that does it.”
My heart fluttered. I had never noticed before that Otto was left-handed. According to the medical examiner, the fatal blow to Mrs. DuMond appeared to be from a left-hander.
I began to panic a little. I could feel a thin mist of sweat forming in the small of my back. My legs went a little shaky. Was I alone in an apartment with a murderer?
“WELL, I GUESS I should be going,” I said.
“Nonsense,” Otto said. “We’ve only scratched the surface of my collection. And I’m afraid I’ve been a terrible host. I haven’t offered you anything to eat or drink. I’ll fix lunch, and we can chat.”
“Thank you. That’s so kind of you to offer. I’d love to stay, but I’ve got class.
“I’ll show you some of my prized masterworks,” he said, dangling the offer like bait. “A far better education than any classroom.”
“How about a raincheck?” I asked.
Otto smiled to cover his disappointment. “Absolutely. Stop by and visit anytime.”
I left Otto’s apartment and felt a wave of relief wash over me as I stepped into the hallway. Then I instantly felt silly. Like I had overreacted, panicking over nothing. Why would Otto want to kill Mrs. DuMond? It seemed ridiculous.
Down the hall, Isabella was fumbling for the key to her apartment. I called out to her and dashed over before she could step inside.
“Do you have a minute?” I asked.
“I’m really busy right now. Perhaps later,” Isabella said, trying to rush inside. She didn’t want to talk to me at all.
“Jake is going to spend the rest of his life in prison if someone doesn’t help him.” That seemed to get her attention, but she was still hesitant.
“I don’t really know how I can help,” she said. “If he did it, there’s nothing that can be done.” She had already stepped inside her apartment at this point and was attempting to close the door.
“You don’t really think that, do you?”
“I don’t know what to think,” Isabella said.
“But you know Jake. He wouldn’t do something like this.”
Isabella’s face tensed and she looked conflicted.
I knew she and Jake were close. Possibly even dating. If they were, they kept it a secret. Mrs. DuMond had a policy that forbid dating among employees. I couldn’t figure out why Isabella was so hesitant to talk. I would have thought she would be the first person who would want to see Jake exonerated.
“I just have a few questions. It won’t take long,” I said.
Isabella nodded and let me inside. I sat on the sofa in the living room, and she offered me something to drink. I declined. At this point, I wasn’t about to eat or drink anything anyone gave me. Call me paranoid, but when people start dropping dead around you, it’s best to be cautious.
Isabella went into the kitchen. She returned a moment later with a glass of water and a tray of cupcakes. My eyes grew wide. They looked just like Mrs. Abbot’s cupcakes.
“Do you want one?” she asked, as she sat across from me.
“No, thank you,” I said. “Where did you get those?”
“From the old lady’s office. I wasn’t going to let them go to waste.”
“But that’s evidence.”
“Nonsense,” Isabella said. “She was bludgeoned to death. Not poisoned.” She bit into one of the cupcakes. I stared at her, eyes wide, as she devoured the treat. “Are you sure you don’t want one?” she asked.
“You know, on second thought, I will take one for later.” I felt that at least one sample of the cupcakes should be preserved for evidence. I didn’t really think Mrs. Abbott would poison the cupcakes. But there was something odd about the whole thing. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why Mrs. Abbott would give them to Mrs. DuMond. Sucking up to the old lady didn’t ever seem to do anyone any good. And Mrs. DuMond certainly wouldn’t lower someone’s rent just because they brought her cupcakes.
“Here, take two,” Isabella said. “You can’t eat just one.” She started gobbling down a second cupcake. I figured I better start asking questions, just in case the cupcakes were poisoned.
“You and Jake are… friends, aren’t you?” I asked.
“More than friends?” I asked.
“No, just friends,” she said. I couldn’t tell if she was being truthful, or covering.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to have to ask some direct questions.”
“I guess, before we go any further, I should ask where you were at the time of the murder?”
Isabella frowned. “That’s the problem. I don’t have an alibi. I was alone in my room.” She took a deep breath. “I had a public fight with a woman who was murdered shortly thereafter. Do you know how incriminating that looks?”
Isabella’s face tightened, and she looked terrified. “I have keys to the maintenance closet. I have keys to everyone’s apartment. I had a motive to kill Mrs. DuMond.” Isabella was on the verge of tears. “I don’t want Jake to take the wrap for this. But if a full scale investigation starts, I’m going to be a prime suspect.”