Laughing Out Loud – Literally

HA-HA-HA-HA, the fifth mystery in the Triple Threat Investigation Agency series, has our private eyes—JJ, Rey, and Linda—caught up in a serial killer’s sadistic game.  And he wants the trio to play by his rules, “ha-ha, ha-ha”.

GrimReaperPeeper, or GRP as they call him, proves to be as charming as he is calculating and cruel . . . and the four develop an odd bond as more victims fall prey.  What is the significance of the floral etchings and black roses found on the fatalities?  Why are they found in particular locations?  Is there a common denominator?  . . . And just how long, and where else, has he been committing these baffling murders?

Who is GRP?  A true “whacko”?  A disgruntled man with an axe to grind?  He doesn’t appear to follow the usual serial killer profile.  Perhaps he’s a professional?  Someone wealthy?  An individual no one would ever suspect?

Whoever he is, he’s good—very smart and exceptionally shrewd.  Fingerprints and DNA are never found at the crime scenes.  While JJ, Rey and Linda diligently attempt to determine his identity, they accept a couple of casual cases—that of a wayward hubby (they’ve proven fairly accomplished at those) and a stalker shadowing a pretty, young woman.  

With the assistance of Detective Ald Ives and a couple of his seasoned detectives, handsome Hammill and surly Sallo, the three private eyes travel winding trails, search for useable clues, and are yanked into dangerous situations that could, ultimately, prove terminal.

This non-official case is as complex as it is confounding, but as is the trio’s way, they won’t give up.  They must stop GRP . . . before he potentially stops them.

storm

Hey, it’s Rey!  Not a bad synopsis for our latest case.  Our boss figures it’ll be out there early next year.  We’ll keep ya posted!  

HA-HA-HA-HA—Nothing to Laugh About

Hey, it’s Rey today.  Just thought I’d update you on our latest case.  We’re calling it HA-HA-HA-HA because that’s how the killer likes to sign his “farewell” notes.  But these serial killings are nothing to laugh about.

We’re close to tying up the case.  Real close.  Dangerously close.  GrimReaperPeeper—GRP for short—is clever and cunning.  He constantly outsmarts the police.  Finding clues as to his whereabouts has been a major challenge.  This guy’s good.  Unfortunately.

Here’s an excerpt . . .

Several seconds later, the door opened—to reveal our three colleagues standing but a few feet away, two Tasers, a flashlight, and a camera raised.  It flashed.

“Talk about perfect timing,” Jimmy C said.

“Ugh, I’m blinded,” Rey griped.  “So?  What?  You been taking pics of the place?  Hoping for a big scoop?”

The big scoop,” he grinned, lowering the camera.

“We found Gail,” I announced.  “Adwin’s escorting her to the car.”

“GRP had the room—probably the entire house—bugged.  Guess he reckoned we’d figure it out,” Rey said.  “Shit, we should have grabbed that speaker.  Oh well.  The police’ll get it.”

Linda tucked the Taser in her hoodie pocket.  “Do you think GRP’s in here somewhere?”

I shook my head.  “He’s close, but not within reach.”

“We didn’t find much, except a well hidden beneath some dense shrubbery to the far rear of the ohana,” Sach said.  “And then, just when we were going to leave, we discovered this passageway.”

“Purely by accident,” Jimmy C said with a self-conscious smile.  “I tripped into it and it opened.”

“This place has suddenly become very creepy,” Sach grimaced.

“Did you lock up the ohana?” I asked.   

Linda nodded.  “Behind us, as soon as we entered.”

“Then let’s head back this way.  Given Ald’s incommunicado, we’ll call Hammill on the way home.”

“Shouldn’t we call him now?” Jimmy C asked.  “He and his team members would probably prefer we hang around.  Maybe I can get some interesting details for my story.”

“This place could be boobytrapped and, if it is, we may find more than confetti raining down on us,” I advised.  “Let’s not take chances.”

“I’m in total agreement.”  Sach pointed forward.  “Let’s get out of here, and fast!”

So, hopefully, you’ll be able to read about this exciting [taxing] case soon! 

In the meanwhile, stay safe, play smart.  Aloha!

What’s Up, Buttercup?

We are—so up and so ready to face another day.  Hey, it’s Rey!

The three of us from the Triple Threat Investigation Agency are still lanai lounging and solving the odd case via the Internet and phone.  A new way to private-eyeing.  Whatever works, right?

HA-HA-HA-HA should be available by end of July (our boss is doing her best to get our latest case recorded as quickly as possible).  It’s an exciting—if not testing and trying—one that involves a stalker and serial killer (we do seem to attract those like bears to honey—must be some invisible invitation tattooed on our foreheads).

As I’m reclining on the chaise longue, watching the kids play in the grass, and Linda and JJ are grilling veggies and fish, I thought I’d share another excerpt with you.

“Any witnesses or sightings re the murders or murderer?” Rey asked, studying a large thick slab of cheese-heavy garlic bread as if it might grow teeth and bite back.

Which prompted a smirk from Sallo.  Snorting, he said, “It ain’t gonna chomp back.”

Appearing doubtful, she took a tiny bite, chewed, and nodded.  “Damn.  It’s good.  Real garlicky.”

“Told you so,” he simpered, digging into the chili.

Linda and I followed suit.  Sallo would share information when he was ready and not a blink before. 

Half-a-bowl later, he motioned Clem for another beer and sat back.  “Jo Belcastro saw a black van around 7:30 the night you found the bodies.  He was jogging along Date, near Laau, heading nowhere in particular.  He noticed it because it was standing alone, real close to that house that burned down last month.  As a landscaper, he tends to notice things that don’t fit well, but he didn’t think about it again until he settled in with the news last night after his jog.”

“He called the police simply because he remembered a van parked near beside a burned-out house?” Linda asked, skeptical. 

“He heard of the murders—who hasn’t?—but he wasn’t really following the news.  Too many landscaping projects.”  With a smirk, he started on the garlic bread and we returned to our chili. 

A couple minutes later, he was ready to pick up where he’d left off.  “When he caught up on them last night—and saw the request for people to come forward if they’d seen anything out of the ordinary—he remembered the van and decided to call.”

“What could he tell you about it?” I asked. 

He frowned.  “Not a helluva lot.  Black.  No lettering.  Basic windows.  Didn’t catch the license plate.  Only noticed it because it was the only vehicle there—in the shadows, slightly off the street, near that house some ass had set a torch to.”

“That sucks,” Rey said.

“Yeah.  But there’s something positive.  Belcastro tripped and another guy and his dog, who weren’t that far away, went to his rescue.  Belcastro was okay.  Just a skinned knee and bruised ego.  They chatted briefly.  Belcastro patted the dog and asked his name and all that, and then they parted ways.”

The three of us leaned in close—grateful we’d all sucked back garlic—anticipating something more useful was about to be imparted.  “When Belcastro called to tell us about it, he mentioned Barty the Springer Spaniel.  Seems Barty’s a favorite in the area, so it wasn’t hard to track down his owner.”

Linda gave a thumb’s up.

“Barty’s owner, Murphy Geist, saw the same van that night.  Considering he wasn’t far behind Belcasto, how could he not?  Anyway, just after the two parted ways, owner and pooch continued their nightly stroll.  After circling around, maybe ten or twelve minutes later, Barty began acting a touch weird—straining at the leash, making whiney doggy sounds.”

“And Geist didn’t think to see what might be bothering Barty?” I asked, astonished.

“He’d been mugged a couple of times and figured it might be some thug lurking in the shrubbery with bad deeds on his mind.  He decided it was a good time to head home and head home fast.”

“And?” I prompted.

His expression bordered on smug.  “He sighted a guy in the van.”

I’m gonna leave ya hangin’ there.  He, he.

We are doing our utmost to stay well and safe.  I hope you are, too.  Take care everyone!

No Aversion to Diversions

It’s Linda posting today.  The Boss is helping us close the current case, HA-HA-HA-HA, while simultaneously working on an editing project and doing the 9-to-5.  (At least she got over that t.p. obsession, though now she does seem to be  fanatically focused on finding sanitizer products.)

Rey, JJ and I are sitting on the lanai again.  It’s nice and quiet, save for the neighbor who decided to start a self-reno project, given he’s got a lot of time on his hand.  The banging and clanging are a bit annoying, but nothing compared to the cussing when he hammers his finger.

The three of us at the Triple Threat Investigation Agency are still finding diversions—besides blogging and reviewing, I’m taking an on-line course on pet grooming, inspired by JJ’s gawd-awful “spruce up” of Button a few days ago.  The poor dear’s still wearing that woe-is-me look.  A dog with a mullet; who knew it was possible?  JJ’s reviewing crime stories for the agency website.  And Rey’s still reading Nancy Drew books, with great enthusiasm I might add.  She’s been enacting scenes for us.  Hey, it passes the time.

Considering there’s not much happening, I’ve no aversion to another diversion.  So here you go, dear friends, another excerpt from HA-HA-HA-HA.

Continue to stay safe and healthy!

“Nice flowers,” Rey commented, peering over my shoulder at the gold-flecked carton that had just arrived at the agency. 

It was a few minutes after noon and Linda had joined Mink for a casual lunch in the doggy-wear designer’s office.  I’d declined as I’d already picked up shrimp won-ton mein at a noodle house across the street and Rey had passed with a monotone “not hungry”.  Whether that was because she wasn’t a fan of Mink or the fact her BFF and Mink were becoming good pals remained to be seen.

She dropped onto the rattan sofa beside me with a thud.

“Hey, we can’t afford to replace broken furniture,” I chided.

“You going to open that?”  She poked the carton with a long apple-red fingernail.

“My, my, my.  Aren’t we curious?”

“We are.  Now, open it!”

Chuckling, I untied the satin ribbon.  Inside, wrapped in lightweight tissue were twelve long-stem crimson roses.

“Nice.”  Her tone was flat, her gaze narrowed.  “What about the card?”

I passed it.  “You do the honors.”

She unsealed the small gilt-edged envelope like a pro.  “Lovely flowers for lovely ladies.”  She turned it over and shrugged.  “Looks like you have—hold on, it says ‘ladies’.  But the delivery was to you.”

“Looks like we have a secret admirer.”

She frowned.  “They’re roses.”

“But they’re not black,” I said with a tight smile.

Her frown deepened.  “You think they might be from GRP?”

“It’s possible, but I’d expect him to enclose a taunting or sinister message.  And the flowers would be black, or close to.”  I shrugged.  “These could be from a former client or a mischievous friend.”

“Our few friends don’t have money to blow on high-end roses,” she stated, eyeing them circumspectly.  “Maybe a client.”

I stood.  “May as well put them in a vase.”

“We don’t have one.”

“Then I’ll run down to the little trading shop next door and buy one.  They’re too pretty to let wither.”

“Take ‘em home.”  She smiled faintly.  “The place could use some color.”

“They still need water until we leave.”

She shrugged and started to remove them from the box—and shrieked.  “Shit.  I forgot about thorns.”

But it wasn’t a thorn that was sticking from a bleeding finger when she held it up—but a mini razor blade for a snap-blade knife.

She looked at me crossly.  “You were sayin’ something about friends?”

No Laughing Matter

Hey, it’s Rey today.  The Boss is out on t.p. patrol.  The woman has an obsession about it, I tell ya (so what if there’s hardly any to be had?)—get over it.

Cousin Jilly and Linda and I are sitting on the lanai.  We’ve been fortunate so far re the virus, but then we’re being diligent about staying in touch with the latest news.  Ensure you do, too.

So life doesn’t become too grim or overwhelming, we’re finding diversions—Linda’s blogging and JJ’s grooming the pets in the shade.  I’m reading some of the Boss’ Nancy Drew books to pass time.

In case you’re looking for a bit of a distraction, I thought I’d share an excerpt, or teaser, from our upcoming case HA-HA-HA-HA (whadya think—all caps or no?).

Stay safe and healthy everyone—we will get through this.

Take it away, JJ!

“So much for an early night,” Linda grumbled, waving farewell to Ald and Sallo, who’d arrived fifteen minutes after we’d called Ald. 

Both men had been wearing 50s-style polyester black-and-red bowling shirts.  Funny, who’d have guessed either HPD homicide detective was a bowler?  As Rey would say, ya truly do learn something new every day.

Pets on our heels, it was fifteen minutes after midnight when we finally locked up and trooped upstairs. 

“So GRP’s getting close and personal.”  I parked my butt on the edge of Rey’s queen-size upholstered storage bed.  

Leaning into the far wall, Linda frowned and appeared pensive.  “I wonder whose blood he used.” 

“I suspect we’ll learn soon enough,” I said wearily. 

“Do you think they’ll find anything incriminating?”

“That dude won’t have left any evidence or DNA,” Rey responded, removing a folded oversized T-shirt from one of two marquetry-motif nightstands.  She started undressing.  “Guess we can open an official case file, starting with the photos we took earlier.”

“And the details Ald said he’d provide tomorrow,” Linda added.

Limited details,” I emphasized.  “He’s not going to share all.”

“It should be enough to begin some serious private-eyeing.”

“Think we should get a security system, like Hives suggested?” my cousin asked, tossing a crimson lace bra across the room.  It landed at the base of a variegated solid-marble and brushed-brass floor mirror (an “awesome mega-discounted sale piece”).

“Given our line of work, yes.”  I flopped back and stared at a ceiling in dire need of paint.  Bonzo landed beside me, his face—with whiskers wildly twitching—inches from mine.  “Let’s do it first thing.”

Linda glanced at her ice-pink Coach watch.  “I’m bed-bound.  Nighty-night ladies.”

“Who can sleep?” Rey asked dryly, slipping the T-shirt advertising a local rib joint over her head.

“Count sheep.”

“More like count cadavers,” she said with a cynical smile.

Standing, I waved goodnight and tread to my room where I found Button already on the bed.  With a pat to her head, I slipped into a V-back chemise and pulled aside the covers.  A twinge—gut instinct—impelled me to check the agency website.  The laptop, conveniently perched on a recently purchased diamond-patterned nightstand (Rey’s “sales bug” was contagious), found its way onto my lap. 

Sure enough, a message from GRP had arrived in the Inbox.

Need help with house renos?  Climbing ladders is no big deal and I’m pretty good with tools.  You’ve seen my etching work.  Let me know and I’ll pop by.  Your new playmate.  GrimReaperPeeper.  Or, as you’ve so fondly dubbed me, GRP.

I drew a deep breath and gazed around the dim bedroom.  Obviously GRP was watching.  And it appeared he was listening, too.

New Year, New Outlook, New Hope(s)

Hey, it’s Rey.  The Boss is in meltdown mode these days (poor thing), so we decided to take over re the first official 2020 blog post (New Year’s Day doesn’t count).  We’re keepin’ it light; nothing earth-shattering or overly deep. 

Because it’s a new year—a new decade—the three of us from the Triple Threat Investigation Agency thought we’d share what we’d like to accomplish and see happen this year. 

We’ll start with my BFF, Linda.  Over to you, hon!

WPAgency2Thanks Rey.  I’m not looking for anything grandiose.  A nice home, sufficient finances, and continued employment would be perfectly fine.  Blogging and writing is fun, so I definitely want to continue with both.  Volunteering with the homeless goes without saying.  Oh, can’t forget continued good health:  that’s important.  What would I like to accomplish or see happen outside the norm?  Well, it would be great if the agency were successful—i.e. it receives steady, regular cases.  And I wouldn’t mind a trip to Japan and Hong Kong.  <chuckle>  Rey’s rolling her eyes and feigning a yawn.

That was a snoozer, wasn’t it?  Thanks Linda for sharing that non-exciting wish-list.  What about you, Cousin Jilly?  Hopefully your 2020 plans are more thrilling.

WPAgency1Sorry to disappoint, Cousin Reynalda.  I’m of a similar mind.  I’m not looking for huge financial gain, other than what we earn through the agency or via independent projects.  I’m content with the new house, even if it needs a lot of work.  I’d like us to have more cases, but we’re not doing that badly for a relatively new agency, so I’ll keep the faith that all will work out in our favor.  A relationship doesn’t appeal to me, at least not at this time; it’s too much work, never mind the making-compromises component.  Volunteering at the animal shelter is a must.  <hehe>  My cousin just rolled her eyes again and offered a big fat, fake yawn.

Thanks JJ.  Another snoozer.  Okay, here’s what yours truly hopes for 2020.

WPAgency3I’m all for having a nice home, an exciting private-eye career, and saving the monk seals.  That’s the humdrum stuff outta the way; now for the real, fun things.  I want lots of money, because—as you know—I love shopping.  Faux designer bags and shoes are okay, but I’d like the genuine articles, know what I mean?  Considering I’ve been married three times, I’m not looking for another walk down the aisle, but I could handle a boyfriend or two.  Question is: could they handle me?  <LMAO>  I still want us to expand the agency—to Maui and Kauai, for starters.  I’d also like to do more community theater and see a movie made about the three of us.  I could play me!  With the right director/crew, it’d win an award or two.

One last thing re 2020: our new case HA-HA-HA-HA will be avail.  Can you spell w-o-o-h-o-o?

WPAgencyB

Who’s Laughing Now?

Not us gals at the Triple Threat Investigation Agency—we’re embarking on our next big case: HA-HA-HA-HA.

Now, it may take some time to solve (given The Boss has those time constraints), but we’re keeping the faith it’ll get done sooner than later.

It’s Rey by the way.  Hope you’re all doing well.  We certainly are.  In fact, JJ and Linda and me are super stoked—and, as that once popular saying used to go, we’re are so-o ready to rock’n’roll!

Here’s how it all begins . . .

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“What an f’g jackass.”  Shoving her thumbs in her ears, melodramatic Cousin Reynalda thrust out her tongue and wiggled long, slender fingers.

Standing alongside a looming, leafy shrub that served as target practice for strident feathery friends gliding and bounding nearby, Detective Sammie Sallo chose to turn just then.

Out came the thumbs and in went the tongue.  With a Hollywood [dazzling] smile, Rey waved with both hands, then tucked them into the pockets of daisy-imprinted cut-off shorts.

“Next time, sister, that tongue better mean business.”  With a buffalo snort, he pulled out a mouth-to-lung e-cigarette bundle.  Sallo resembled Stacy Keach’s Mike Hammer, right down to the mustache and fedora, an odd hat to be wearing on Oahu.  It arrived with him when he moved here two months ago from NYC to replace Devoy Hunt, a detective we’d just gotten to know.  He’d opted to move to “quieter, calmer” Kauai, the Garden Isle.

“Jackass,” she muttered, turning sideways.  “Why’d he have to choose the same time as us to come and check out the murder scene?”

“Timing’s everything,” Linda said gaily, giving him the finger when he turned back to view the canal.

The three of us—private eyes from The Triple Threat Investigation Agency (Rey’s choice of name)—hadn’t been officially hired for any particular case.  We had, however, received an odd email at 8:30 p.m. two nights ago that read: The game’s started, ladies.  Check out the area on Laau around the Ala Wai Canal.  I suggest you head there now.  HA-HA-HA-HA  Your loving GrimReaperPeeper.

Tourists, joggers, and strollers with frolicsome dogs utilized the sidewalk on the maiki (south) side of the canal.  On the mauka (mountain) side was a golf course, community garden and park, and boating facilities, among other things.  Sadly, people didn’t—couldn’t—swim in the Ala Wai anymore.  To do so could prove hazardous, because the 1.5-mile-long canal was a breeding channel for bacteria, heavy metals, and pesticides—never mind garbage.  Kayakers and canoe paddlers, however, seemed fearless, overlooking the fact that getting canal water on your skin or in your mouth could result in rashes and gastro-intestinal issues.  Hazards aside, it was a lovely stretch . . . although we might never quite few it the same way again.

GrimReaperPeeper had sent a message at the completion of our last major case, the third in the agency’s short history that involved bad-ass murderers.  Curious, we drove to Laau Street and checked cautiously around.  Given the vague directions, there’d been considerable ground to cover and as we were about to give up, Linda had stumbled upon four bodies stretched out before the canal by the Fisheries Management area—four bedraggled, bruised, blotched bodies with loose puckered skin as white as the underbelly of a perch and as translucent as a jellyfish. 

Forty-eight hours in the canal, which served as both drainage ditch and tidal estuary, would have contributed to multi-hued patterns on regions still resembling human parts after aquatic inhabitants had feasted.  Would have, but didn’t.  These four souls had taken their initial swim elsewhere, before necrophagous insects came to feast and spawn.

The two couples had been missing since March twenty-fourth and had been dead since March twenty-sixth, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianoaole Day.  That had been the initial determination and it hadn’t, yet, changed.

Detective Sammie Sallo drew on an e-cig and exhaled at length.  Fumes twirled upward like coolant smoke flowing from a tailpipe.  Strolling back to join us, he eyed Rey’s face with obvious interest.  “Looked kinda like beached whales, didn’t they?”

An image of the humpback whales that migrated to Hawaii this time of year came to mind.  The migration was comparable to an Oregon cattle drive of yesteryear, a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, or even a run of the grunion, marine fish related to the mullet that spawned from March to August on the first four nights after the highest tide of each full or new moon.  They were so predictable the California State Fisheries Laboratory published a timetable indicating when they’d appear.

Well, these four grunion had made it to shore all right, but they’d not completed their quest.  There’d been no dissolved oxygen to fan their blood, no sand to begin the regeneration process from, no purpose or hope to keep them alive.  And this ending was far from predictable . . .  although there had been a full moon that night.  Given that unusual things were reported to occur during one, was that significant? 

It had been two days since the discovery of the bodies.  We’d returned this breezy afternoon to take daytime photos, poke around, and get a feel for what might have happened; Sallo, unfortunately, had had similar thoughts. 

The fifty-year-old believed that the four had partied hardy, so he’d stated a few times that night.  Given his next words, he was still of the same mind.  “There was probably a group of them.  They got caught up in too much booze, maybe drugs too, and started playing weird cult games.  Maybe they were paying homage to the great god of Ecstasy and/or praying to Mr. Full Moon.  I’ve seen shit like this before.  Booze and drugs make people do bizarre things.”  He picked up a large coffee perched alongside a small plumeria tree, noisily gulped back what was left, and belched. 

When it came to class, Sallo had as much elegance as Archie Bunker, a character that retro television wouldn’t let anyone forget.  Rey, Linda and I had met him three times in the last few weeks and while Detective Ald Ives (or “Hives” as Rey mockingly called him) seemed to get along well enough with his colleague, we found Sallo as abrasive as steel wool.

Linda smirked, tossing raspberry-red, shoulder-length waves.  “You really think a group of them got into ‘cult games’?”

“It sure looks that way, Royale.  Remember the marks on their chests?  In their fucked-up states, they’d probably thought it was a fun, freaky thing to do.  Matches the tatts on their arms and probably other body parts we’ve yet to see.”  He eyed her with dark amusement, like a deranged despot might his lackey. 

“So friends just left them there after moon-and-drug worshipping, and what?  Went home to sleep it off?”

“Why not?  Come the morning, they realized how carried away they’d gotten.  They’re either now having issues coming to terms with it or they don’t give a rat’s ass.” 

They’d been found facing the canal with arms folded neatly over chests.  Four black fabric roses, glossy and delicate, had been pinned to tops and shirts and all four had had floral designs incised into chests, possibly with a roulette—not the gambling game, but a small toothed disk of tempered steel attached to a hilt and used to make a series or rows of dots, slits, or perforations.

I kicked pebbles as I eyed the crime scene ahead, thinking it was time to visit an upset-irate client whose wayward hubby we’d finally caught being wayward—with her sister.  We’d promised to arrive around 4:15 to provide background, a report and invoice, but given Mrs. Starzeneiss’ “high strung” personality, we’d probably have to stick around to soothe ruffled feathers.

“Isn’t it possible they were murdered by a sadistic killer?”

He scowled, threw the coffee cup onto the concrete pathway, and popped a Tic-Tac. 

With a sigh, I swallowed a rebuke.  Pulling a warm bottle of water from a Hawaiian print backpack, I took a long swallow and eyed fluttering, ripped police tape wrapped around several trees and shrubs.  A yellow ribbon tied around an old oak tree it wasn’t.  What it was, was jarring.  A reminder that something terrible had occurred.

There were often obvious if not improbable gaps in Sallo’s hypotheses, but he wasn’t the sort you could argue with—not without wanting to bang your head against a wall or three.

I nodded to my Jeep parked several yards down, under a bright lemon-colored sun.  Thankfully, the sunroof and windows were open (I didn’t much care for A/C).

“Catch ya later, Detective S,” Rey purred.

“Whatever.”

She blew a raspberry and the three of us moseyed to the car.

“Can you spell jerk?” Linda asked, pulling an apple banana from a large crocheted tote.

“Yeah.  S-a-l-l-o,” I replied wryly, opening the passenger door.

“What’s up, buttercup?” a baritone voice boomed from behind.

Rey spun, ready to pounce. 

Linda and I exchanged amused glances. 

“You always pop out from behind parked SUVs like that?” I asked.

Jimmy Carcanetta, a freelance writer and blogger Linda had gotten to know in the last couple months, grinned like a toddler who’d just be given a huge slice of cake.  His pumpkin-shaped head bobbled like a fishing bobber.  “Nothing like the element of surprise.”

“What brings you here?” 

“The same thing that brought you guys here: a need to piece things together and get a feel for what happened.”

“Your article on the murders was good.”

“For a food and wine reviewer,” he chuckled, pulling a new Canon camera from a faux-leather bag.  “Thought I’d take a few more pics, for context.”

“Any new findings or thoughts?” Linda asked, leaning into the passenger door and taking a chomp from the apple banana.

“Not yet.  Just mulling over facts.  They’d been missing two days and died on the twenty-sixth, or thereabouts.  They’d been meticulously mutilated—and please don’t attribute it to cult games or weird rites.  I heard that from the ass back there the other day.”  With a glower, he jerked a thumb rearward.  “What crap.  . . . Any thoughts about the fact they’d been so neatly arranged, with roses yet?  That seems very specific, as if the killer were leaving a calling card.” 

“Maybe it’s the creep’s way of saying goodbye, a ceremonial or funereal kind of thing,” Rey offered. 

“Who says the roses came from the killer?” Linda added.  “They might have been a club or party signature thing.  The four may have been wearing them before they were done in.”

“Yeah, but the incisions resembled flowery embroidery.”  He scanned the end of the street.  “I’m thinking there was a connection between the two, even if Sallo won’t admit it.  Why though?”

“Why won’t he admit it?  Or what’s the connection?”  I smiled drily.  “I have a feeling the detective’s going to prove a thorn in many people’s sides.”

“Thorn?” Rey asked sarcastically.  “How about spike?”

WPWedHA1