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You and I, Me and You, Page 2

MaryJanice Davidson

  chapter five

  My baker greeted my partner with, “Too bad you can’t stay for a tour.”

  “Too bad you can’t keep flour or butter out of your eyebrows, Aunt Jane. And besides, like I’d want to?” He yelped more than spoke; when startled or amused, George tended to squawk or yelp. “Barf barf barf barf barf barf barf fucking barf barfity fucking fuck barf barf. I just…” He eyed our perfect house and shook his head. “You’re rich, right? I googled you in a moment of suicidal-level boredom. You’re the Sara Lee of … I dunno … stuff Sara Lee makes. Why didn’t you buy one of Tom Cruise’s places? He’s had to downsize since Katie wised up and started her version of Scientology: Take Two.”

  Patrick/Aunt Jane shrugged, but I knew the answer. Yes, he was a millionaire. He’d built a hobby into a career into a corporation that shipped delectable pastries around the world. He’d made baked desserts trendy and sought-after long before the cupcake rage.

  (Cupcake rage, heh. Sounded like how you felt after too many cupcakes. Or when denied cupcakes.)

  He could have indeed bought an abandoned Cruise mansion or a previously owned Diddy boat. He could have bought a ten-bed/six-bath mansion on Summit Hill for one-point-two, rather than the trim four-bed, two-point-five-bath in Cottage Grove. But Patrick had made his money; he hadn’t been born with a silver spatula in his mouth. “Why would I want to clunk around in a huge mansion?” he’d asked the Realtor with honest bewilderment. “I want a home, not a museum.” I could have fallen in love with him for that sentiment alone.

  “Purple and gray,” George was marveling, staring at the front of the house. “And a gray door. You’ve fulfilled your lifelong dream to live in a thundercloud, Cadence.”

  “It’s not gray,” I couldn’t resist pointing out, ignoring Patrick’s Don’t bother eye roll. “It’s Shale and Fig. From the … uh…”

  (Martha Stewart Collection.)

  “So, there’s dead people? Let’s go see dead people.” I took a step toward him/away from the baker.

  Patrick’s hand closed gently over my bicep. “Do you have to?” he asked plaintively. “It’s Moving Day. You’ve been looking forward to it for days. And I thought, after, we could maybe—uh—make the house our own?”

  George dramatically clutched his stomach, bent forward at the waist, and made throwing-up noises.

  “Sorry. The dead can’t wait.”

  “Technically they can.” George bobbed back upright, fully recovered from his fake barfing. “They’re not getting deader, right? Man’s inhumanity to man has been pretty much a constant theme for hundreds of thousands of years. But somebody’s gotta go catch those pesky bad guys, Janey-poo, and the FBI lost the coin toss. Along with various police departments and sheriff’s offices.”

  “Your car.” I’d actually forgotten about Cathie, who during all this had been standing by the van looking chilly (the weather) and puffy (the Gore-Tex). “It’s awful. As awful as you are. I can’t believe you did it. I can’t believe you found the perfect car to showcase your awfulness.”

  “Actually makes your brain hurt to look at it, huh?” George loved his awful car for many reasons, not least the attention it brought him.

  “I might have to paint it,” she continued, staring. “That’s how terrible it is.”

  “Later, baby. We gotta go. Mush, Cadence, mush! Over yon hilltop a corpse awaits!”

  I turned and kissed Patrick on the mouth. “I’ll be back when I can.”

  “I’ll start unpacking the kitchen boxes in our bedroom,” he replied dryly, but he managed to return my kiss, glare at George, and jerk his head at Cathie all in one motion, which I thought was pretty neat. “C’mon, Cath, let’s get you out of the cold.”

  “Even if I shut my eyes I can still see his horrible car,” she whispered, turning and following her brother up the walk. “I don’t understand how swans and that car can exist in the same universe.”

  “Wanna go for a ride in the car, girl?” George was shaking his keys at me. “Wanna go for a ride? Huh? Do ya? Huh?”

  The jingling was making my head throb. “Please don’t,” I said, two words that had never worked on him. (Which begged the question: why oh why did I keep trying?)

  “Huh? Do ya? Huh? We’ll go to the park! You like the park, doncha?”

  Darn it, gosh darn it! Can’t he ever just not be like this? Can’t he ever just—

  chapter six

  Almost as quick as the thought (it was impossible for a physical motion to be as quick as a thought, though now and again I came close), my hand flashed out and I seized George’s left earlobe between my left thumb and index finger. Incorrect; I shall clarify: I seized his earlobe between my left thumbnail and left index finger nail. And then I did what Cadence would not: tried to make my nails touch through his earlobe.

  “Do ya, girl? Do yannnnaaaaaggghhh!” George blinked so fast tears came to his eyes. “Oh. Hi, Shiro. Please will you let go and then scrape my earlobe out from under your nails and mail it to me?”

  “Do not shake your keys at Cadence and liken her to a dog.”

  “Never! It wasn’t me! Framed, I was framed! I’m the victim, damn it.”

  “You will be, if you do such a thing again.”

  I let go and he cringed back, pawing at his ear. “Argh, Jesus! It burns and feels cold at the same time, and I’m pretty sure I’m gonna start crying; this isn’t making me horny at all. Your problem is, you’ve got no sense of humor.”

  George was right; that was my problem. One of my problems.

  “Yours is that you never know when to quit a jest.” One of his problems.

  A sociopath fears only for himself. You may think that if his relative is threatened, he fears for that relative; he does not. He fears how harm to the relative will complicate/worsen/end his life. You cannot frighten or hurt a clinical sociopath with anything but his own pain. But although the option box is sparse when dealing with such types, it is very near a sure thing. Pain = compliance. It was crude and knee-jerk and quite Pavlovian. As was George.

  Cadence’s baker boy had come back when George shrieked. “Shiro!” He put his arms around me, and I allowed it. I liked Cadence’s baker boy, not least because he could tell me apart from my sisters. Many cannot, which only proves the general sinking of IQs. “Just like you to show up after all the heavy lifting is done.”

  “Indeed. I am sorry to leave before doing my share.”

  “I was only teasing,” he said. He raised my hand to his lips and kissed the knuckles. “Sure you really want to go?”

  “It is not a question of want,” I told him with real regret.

  My dog, Olive, heard my voice and came running outside, frisking about my ankles as I knelt and petted her. “New house,” I told her as she looked up at me with unconditional adoration, “same rules. Off the furniture, Olive.” I was not sure why I was compelled to waste my breath in this matter: Cadence called our dog Pearl and let her on the couch, Patrick let her on the beds, and Adrienne … I shuddered to think.

  “That poor fucked-up dog,” George observed, shaking his head. It wasn’t often he could sit in moral judgment of us so was unable to keep his mouth shut. “Different names and different rules.… Olive/Pearl/Dawg doesn’t have a chance. Also, Dawg? Dumbest name ever.”

  “We didn’t give it to her,” I replied, annoyed. Her cretin former owner had referred to his dog as Dawg. You could hear the w. “And your shrill harping only shows your limited knowledge regarding all things canine.” I straightened up from petting her. She had a small, white, olive-shaped patch of fur on her black head: Olive. “Shall we go?”

  “You could kill George,” Patrick wheedled, “and, while you disposed of the body and flawlessly covered up the crime, I could make you some hot chocolate.”

  “You are Satan himself, tempting me with two of my fondest desires.” Cadence’s baker made what he called “Flanders cocoa.” With real chunks of real chocolate. Real milk (whole). No powder and no water; he was not a
barbarian. Sipping his concoctions was like drinking chocolaty velvet. Alas …

  “Can we please go look at a corpse now?” George whined, then added in a mutter, “I’d like to have one Friday in my life where I don’t say that. Not too goddamned much to ask, right?”

  “Yes indeed,” I replied. I spared a last look at Cadence’s Band-Aid, the house painted in what George had perfectly described as thundercloud colors. From the outside it looked like a house anyone would want: two stories, the garage and main building shaped like barns, a housing trend I feared would never fall out of favor. Two-car garage, the second door twice as wide as the one on the right. Small sidewalk running beside the driveway to the wooden front porch and the cloud-purple door. It looked like normal people lived there. Perhaps were even happy there.

  Was it any wonder my poor sister, who could be as deluded and psychotic as our sister Adrienne, wanted it so badly?

  chapter seven

  “You’ve scarred me for life, you horrible bitch.” George drove one-handed while he rubbed his ear with the other.

  “Yes, but that was years ago.” Unmoved by George’s sweaty whining, I stared out the car window and tried not to feel like his car was digesting me. “Tell me.”

  “Well, here’s the recap: horrible bitch, I hate you, my ear feels hot and cold at the same time, Cadence is an idiot, her house is stupid—”

  “About the murders, you tongue-flapping imbecile.”

  “Ooh!” The strangest things delighted this man. “That’s a good one. I’m putting that one in my blog and you won’t get any of the credit. And it’s another Sue Suicide. Which I’m now gonna start calling Sussudio, because Phil Collins is a living god and, also, is old enough to almost be God.”

  Ah. “Sue Suicide” was George’s pet phrase for pseudo suicide. The victims—this would be number three—were killed by a person or persons unknown who made the scenes look like assisted suicides. It was a new one for both of us, and several of BOFFO’s in-house psychiatrists and profilers were nearly in ecstasy at the chance to interview such a killer. If we caught him/her/them, they would likely black out from joy.

  But first we had to catch him/her/them, and so far we had not. Not only was the person or persons unknown still killing, we had no idea who or where or why. When was a little easier, thanks to current forensic methods. I would have traded a when for a who in a cold moment.

  George brought us to Wentworth Apartments, a large, neatly kept three-story apartment building in West St. Paul. The neighborhood was doubtless rather peaceful when there weren’t multiple police units parked haphazardly in the parking lot, and several police officers, ME staff, and paramedics walking briskly back and forth across the wide expanse of lawn in front of the building. The victim had no use for paramedics, of course, but policy was policy; if the body had been pronounced, they would be leaving soon. The ambulance must needs make way for the ME’s car: the circle of life. Or, ah, death.

  Though it was winter, several of the people on the scene wore only light coats, and not just because it had been the mildest of seasons thus far. The adrenaline kept one warm, even if all one did was observe the crime scene. It sounds odd, but it’s true.

  “All locals, I see.” I said this in a neutral tone, but George knew what I was pondering.

  “Yeah, lucky us … the first Feds out here. Don’t sweat a thing, Shiro, I’m super-duper sure they’ll play nice.”

  I snorted but made no comment. As I escaped from George’s car, I saw a young couple—she as dark as he was blond—who had been on their way to the rental office. They stood still and made no sound, hands clasped like an adult version of Hansel and Gretel as they took in the choreographed chaos, but their big eyes told the story, and as one, they turned and hurried back to their car.

  I did not judge. Although I would not let proximity to a murder dissuade me from renting in the suburbs (once I ascertained the mechanics of the crime and whether it affected rental rates), I did not expect average citizens (as if there were such things) to feel the way I did.

  “Another apartment.” George, who had escaped his car just behind me, was looking over the building. “Again with this guy. He’s got the luck of a pro athlete dodging rape charges.”

  “He does,” I agreed.

  “Ah! But! The dream team of Pinkman and That Crazy Lady are on the case, and the bad guys are doomed to sooner or later be arrested and run over. Maybe even in that order this time.”

  I had to laugh. He was exasperating and awful, but so amusing when he wished to be.

  We found and introduced ourselves to the OIC and made our presence known to various other law-enforcement types. Officer Lynn Rivers, an almost-friend who knew there were three people in our body, saw us and hurried over. “You lost the coin toss?”

  “Her entire life,” George agreed. “What’s up, Rivers?”

  Lynn blinked, momentarily hypnotized by George’s wretched tie du jour: bees bleeding out their eyes against a bright-green background. Then she managed to snap back to the crime scene. Because that’s how dreadful George’s ties were; the scene of a homicide is easier to bear. “More of the same, I’m sorry to say.” Lynn had half a dozen years of law enforcement experience and was known to pray wife-beaters would resist arrest, but her bright-blue eyes were dull with apprehension as she jerked her head toward the building. “You’ve got a secret FBI-sanctioned plan, right? What with all the evidence from the other murders?”

  “All what evid—” George began, but my elbow-jab to his side made him hush. “Argh! Ribs!” Or at least talk about something else.

  Lynn ignored our lack of professionalism, thank goodness. “And you’re mere hours from closing in on the killers but can’t tell us because we’re locals and you’re Feds, right? All part of your secret plan, though, so there’s nothing to worry about? Right?”

  “Yes indeed,” I said at the same time George said, “You bet.”

  She found a smile from somewhere. When Officer Rivers wasn’t fretting over serial killers in the neighborhood, she was quite a lovely young woman, a Minnesota stereotype with long legs, shaggy blond hair, the complexion of an eighteenth-century dairymaid, and of course lively blue eyes, the finest feature in a host of them. Some of her prettiness came back as she cheered herself up—you could actually see her making herself be less glum. It was interesting, and a talent I lacked.

  “Golly. I feel safer already. You guys won’t believe this; this time our guy—”

  “Shhhh!” George held a finger in front of his lips, smiling. That simple motion and sound and expression drew attention to his long fingers, clear green eyes, and psychosis (not that pure sociopaths were psychotic, technically speaking). No psychologically intact human looked and sounded so anticipatory on the way to see something ghastly. “Don’t spoil the surprise.”

  “You’re scaring the lady,” I said mildly.

  Lynn shook her head. “You guys. I’d be horrified right now, George, and pulling you aside to ask you when you’re gonna break your partner’s neck, Shiro, except I think you’re our best chance at getting this fuck-o.”

  Hmm. Officer Rivers tended to go with “weirdo” or “nutjob” or “wife-beating jerkoff.” “Fuck-o” was new, and it told me all I needed to know about what had happened at Wentworth Apartments that day.

  Officer Rivers turned and led us to apartment 4A, which, if law-enforcement officers were ever encouraged to use their imaginations, should also be known in all paperwork, reports, and various memorandum as Where the Ghastly Thing Happened.

  Perhaps it was just as well that such hyperbole was discouraged.

  chapter eight

  We walked through a neatly kept lobby and took the (NEW IN 2011!!!, the sign advised in hysterical type) elevator to the second floor, then walked down a hallway painted Boring Buff (also known as Does Not Show Dirt Too Badly), on a carpet that stood out in no way, through the door leading to 4A.

  A digression: I liked Cadence’s baker for getting us out
of apartments. I was never meant to be a wasp in a hive, and that is how I thought of apartment buildings. Every corridor the same, every door. Every wall and elevator and stairwell. Every apartment (and never mind the inane yammer—“But this is a two-bedroom!”—they were all the same, the same, the same). It was a hive, another anonymous hive in a city full of them, and sometimes when I stood back and looked at an apartment building, I could almost see the residents crawling around in their little honeycomb cells, thinking everything they did mattered, while suspecting that in the long run it did not.

  This put me in an acceptable frame of mind to examine a crime scene. And what a scene it was. Even if we had been civilians, had never been near a homicide, it would have been easy to find. Follow the milling uniforms and the smell of adrenaline and coffee. And blood, of course. Must not forget the blood. Even rookies recognized that scent—our long-buried prehistoric sensibilities knew what it was, which was why we tried to fluff up fur we no longer had in an attempt to make ourselves look bigger. See: “made my skin crawl” and “raised the hair on the nape of my neck” and “I just want to get the fuck out of here.”

  We paused long enough to bootee our feet and pull on gloves, then we followed Lynn into an apartment that was almost preternaturally tidy. Focused on seeing the victim, I nevertheless felt something give me an internal nudge, what Cadence called tickling our brain. Something about the apartment being so clean bothered me; I made a mental note to give that further thought at another time.

  The victim was in the living room, one bare of any proof of “living” save for a glass coffee table, a dark-green couch, and a gray easy chair. Nothing on the coffee table, no crumbs on the couch or chair—too neat, too clean.