Every little sound turned Sarah’s head. Old wives’ tales labeled these as the house settling – whatever that means. But every crackle, shuffle and thump raised her eyes from her work. She left the desk and opened the front door for a breath of fresh air and received more than she bargained for. A biting cold ripped through the entrance on a fierce wind. The black night distorted her view of everything beyond the ghost tree that struggled beyond its limits to yank her from the door. She closed it.
At the desk once again, she stared at the screen where she hoped a story would appear. Another noise caught her attention. She tossed the pen down that she usually held to generate ideas. That’s one downfall of writers – often times, their imaginations can get the best of them. She stormed into the hallway, scanning every inch of the house. She was reminded that the ice maker in the freezer was occasionally dropping cubes. She learned that the wind whistled through the corridors of the air ducts and that tree branches were banging against windows. Finally, arriving at the bathroom, she sighed, disgusted with herself. Certainly a hot shower would calm her. She peeled off her robe and loungers and concealed herself behind the scum and hard water stains that plastered the shower door.
Minutes into the steamy comfort, she could not help chuckling to herself about how she allowed her imagination to creep her out. She looked over her shoulder, relishing the hot spray on her back and saw a dark silhouette moving toward her with another dark object poked out – like a gun. Someone snatched the door open and a gunshot broke the silence in the house. The ringing of the shot ceased in seconds, allowing only the sounds of running water.
Detective Jay Jiles leaned over a cup of coffee at Danny’s Diner on Fifth Street. The world was on his shoulders and he could not get a break. He picked up the phone from the table, dialed and raised it to his ear (which was not far from the table).
“Are you comin’?” He said into the phone. “You’re like a brother to me man, I need to talk to you.” Seconds passed and he ended the call.
Within half an hour, Jay not only stared into his coffee cup but across the table at childhood friend, Johnathan Campbell. Johnathan almost sat for ten minutes before Jay said anything with the exception of snapping his fingers at the waitress and asking her to bring over more coffee and two coffee cakes. One would never guess he was a detective. He looked like a biker in his studded leather jacket and stone washed jeans over black boots.
“So what’s up, J.J.?” Johnathan finally asked.
“I’m on another case and I feel like the world’s closin’ in on me, J.C. Has anything about my personality ever disturbed you when we were comin’ up?
Johnathan chuckled. “Yeah, the way you wore your mom’s apron and made lunch and snacks for us after we played.”
Jay sucked his teeth. “C’mon man, I’m serious.”
“J.J., there’s nothing wrong with you.” He pointed at him with two, flat open palms. “You’re tired – you’ve been at this for twenty years! Why don’t you take a break and just run the diner?” He gestured at the open space around them.
“The diner runs itself.” He said dryly.
“Then take a long vacation.” Johnathan bit the cake and took a sip of coffee.
Jay only looked across the table. Both pairs of eyes darted toward the cell phone when the deep thudded vibration rumbled the table. “Yeah – I’m on my way.” Jay grabbed his friend’s shoulder. “I gotta go. Thanks for comin’ all right?”
“Sure.” Johnathan finished the cake and held the half cup of coffee to his lips.
Yellow tape enclosed a conundrum of a thousand missing pieces that Detective Jay Jiles did not have the strength to tackle. He only wished he could open the puzzle box and connect the pieces one after the other but the depletion of energy for the task clouded his thought processes. Yet there he stood anyway, five minutes after arriving, amidst the missing pieces of the scene of the crime. Neighbors claimed they heard a gunshot and there were bullets in the corpse and close range, gun powder burns circling the wound. But there was no gun (obviously, the criminal would not leave it at the scene of the crime). There were no footprints, no sign of forced entry – just a body in a crimson shower stall. Forensics began dusting for prints but Jiles just knew the killer wore black leather gloves. He released a sigh of uncertainty, studying his surroundings. Nothing jumped out at him as a clue. He turned and walked out of the bathroom, through the master and conjoined dining and living rooms, to the hallway. Down the hall, he peered into a bedroom that had been converted into a mini gym. Next, he came upon a workroom where an active computer screen caught his attention – intertwining geometric figures flowed constantly from the background to the foreground and back again. Jiles trudged into the room and over to the desk. He tilted his body forward a bit and wiggled the mouse. The screen saver disappeared and an interesting document appeared, a letter addressed to the community. Frowning and gaping, Jiles sat to read.
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen of the city of Glenn Oaks,
It is not my pleasure but my duty I feel, to inform you of certain activities in our community concerning one of the running mates for Mayor. While parading as an upstanding citizen in this city, Bertram Carter secretly unmasks himself as a womanizer, a whoremonger and absentee father. There are no records of child support and Mr. Carter lines his pockets with public funds.
In order not to insult your intelligence, I inform you of this immoral behavior and urge you not to support Bertram Carter in his activities to obtain the title as Mayor.
One Who is Concerned
7911 Shadybrook Lane, 9:00am
Home of Bertram Carter
The sun was high and hot. For a minute, Jiles thought it would energize him the way it strengthens Superman. But it didn’t. The heat only zapped what little energy he had left. Seconds after ringing the doorbell, a brown skinned salt and pepper gent in a collared shirt opened the door.
Jiles displayed his badge. “Good morning. Are you Bertram Carter?”
“I’m Detective Jay Jiles – I need to ask you some questions.”
“Okay,” He stepped aside to allow the detective entrance.
Jiles released a sigh of relief – the cool breezes of the air conditioning were refreshing.
“May I offer you some coffee?” The gentleman asked.
“Water would be great…thank you. Mr. Carter, did you know this woman?” Jiles held up a picture.
Mr. Carter squinted. “Miss Pitley, she was a teacher of one of my children for a few months before she was released.”
“Yeah, she was suddenly let go,” He handed Jiles a cup of water. “I don’t know why.”
“Mmm…were the two of you enemies?”
“No, at least, not that I know of…why?”
Jiles nodded. “Shot at close range in her shower stall.”
“Am I a suspect?”
“No, I guess not – not until we have more evidence anyway. Can you tell me anything else about her?”
“No…I really didn’t know her…what does all this have to do with me?”
“She wrote this about you.” Jiles handed him the letter and consumed the water.
Bertram looked it over. “What the …these are all lies!”
“Well why would she spread such news?”
“I don’t know! I told you!” He shoved the paper back into Jiles’ hands.
“Well I’m sure I’ll be in touch.” Jiles turned toward the door but looked back to give the gentleman one of his cards before leaving. “May I speak with your wife, sir?” Jiles remembered to ask, stepping over the threshold.
“She’s not here…we’re trying to work it out…especially before Election Day, but she doesn’t live here.” Mr. Carter explained.
“May I have her address?”
“Sure,” Bertram took a couple steps back inside to jot the address down and stepped out again, passing the paper to Jiles.
At the diner, a small and cozy booth invited Jiles to fill himself with the hot meal that sat before him. He did not have hot meals while working a case – they reminded him of his wife too much and the psychotic lunatic who made the “’til death do us part,” section of the vow a reality. In spite of his great cooking skills, his wife always had the hot meals waiting when he got home from the job. These days, dinner usually consisted of cold, left over pizza or breakfast for dinner – another round of coffee and a coffee cake, then off to bed.
He played back the events of the day between forkfuls of gravy and rice, mashed potatoes and steamed veggies. He thought about the neighbors who claimed to have heard the gunshot and saw someone dressed in black run from the house (Multiple zippers shinning in the beams of street lights were described as decoration on the front of a black jacket with red inside the collar). He thought about Bertram’s inner circle of friends and associates and how they labeled every bit of the letter as slander and how the author got what he or she deserved. He thought about his outer circle of associates and how they did not know about anything in the letter but seemed to consider the possibilities. He thought about his visit with Mrs. Carter and remembered an odd question that she threw at him. How would Miss Pitley know about Bertram not paying child support? He paused in his eating as though a light bulb suddenly illuminated his mind. He further remembered her saying that whether or not Bertram paid child support did not matter because they were getting back together. Jiles finished his meal in deep thought.
889 Brock Road
Home of Mrs. Eleanor Carter, 2nd. Visit
Jiles found himself ringing the doorbell of Mrs. Carter’s residence early the next morning. He banged with his fist when the door did not open within a few seconds.
“Good morning, Detective.” The door finally opened to a frowning Mrs. Carter whose eyes appeared foggy.
“Good morning…another word with you please,”
“Come in, Detective.”
She closed the door behind him. “Would you…like some coffee, Detective? I’m having some.”
“Yes, thank you.” He followed her to the kitchen and stood in the doorway.
“So what’s up now, Detective?”
“Something you said last time, kept weighing on my mind.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?” She kept fiddling around the kitchen in preparation for the hot drink.
Jiles took a deep breath. “Last time I was here, you asked, ‘How would Miss Pitley know about Bertram not paying child support?’”
“Well, that’s information that only you and Bertram would have ma’am – unless you shared that information with Miss Pitley…”
She faced him. “So what are you tryin’ to say, Detective?”
Jiles entered the kitchen, glancing into the small room adjacent to the kitchen – he noticed the very jacket described as being worn by the murderer that night. “I’m sayin’ that you bad mouthed your husband to Miss Pitley during some girl bonding time and you knocked her off when she decided to go public with the information since the two of you were getting back together.”
“That’s absurd!” She yelled. “Why couldn’t it have been Bertram?”
“He had no motive – he didn’t know the woman. Besides, I don’t think he could fit your little murder costume.” Jiles nodded at the jacket hanging in the breakfast nook.
Mrs. Carter pursed her lips, her eyes darting around the kitchen.
Jiles nodded. “Sweetheart, you’re under arrest for murder in the first degree.”
Sarah’s head reeled under the hot water of the shower. She mumbled to herself, “Detective Jay Jiles investigating the murder of a school teacher…now that makes a good story…I knew a hot shower would help me think.”