Belinda Gary swung by her house to feed the animals on her way to the precinct. Just as she went in to wash up, a car pulled up outside. A burgundy Shelby Cobra parked behind her Prius, its paint immaculate and gleaming. It reminded her of the kind of car her brother would drive if he weren’t so obsessed about the environment.
She wasn’t really one to talk, since she cared as much as he did, but he was more mouthy about it…
King and Trixie surged at the driver’s side door, the deep bells of their barking drowning out Marvin’s determined efforts. Of course Marvin, a long-haired Golden Retriever, wagged his whole body as he barked and ruined the effect. The two Burnese Mountain Dogs were an entirely different matter and she headed outside to call them off.
“King! Trix! To me!” She let out a piercing whistle with her fingers in her lips. She never could master the tongue whistle that Brock could do. Dogs came just fine without it, no matter what he claimed. She clapped her hands. “Come!”
A wave of three ecstatic dogs turned and crested over her, dust and dog spit flying. “Oh, guys, now I have to change again!” She ushered them to the side gate and through, then closed the gate so her visitor could get out of the car without getting mauled. Or licked to death.
Prince’s odd, lonely-sounding hoot could be heard over the dogs. Monica loved the quirky peacock, both for his feathers and his affectionate nature, but Brock hated him. She glanced over to make sure his enclosure hadn’t gotten opened by the dogs on accident and then turned back.
Jon alighted, bouncing the car on its shocks as it reacted to his weight. She felt her eyes widen. Jon drove a Cobra? He caught her watching him and waved with one hand, then bent to retrieve something off the passenger seat.
Her new partner brought her pizza?
Maybe she wasn’t losing another partner, after all…
She opened the mud porch door for him. “How’d you find me?”
“I’m a detective, remember?” he said, but without rancor. “Sandillo told me. He said you like anchovy on your pizza.”
She felt her eyes widen. “Bet he didn’t.”
He laughed. “I’ll tell you inside. I’m starving.”
She sighed. “Yeah. All right.”
She held the door and followed him in. The finches, or “The Girls” as Monica called them, exploded into happy beeps and chirps when they caught sight of him. She closed the door between the kitchen and the dining room where their flight cage sat so they could have a conversation.
“No problem. Canaries?”
“Huh-uh. Finches. They all have names, but I’ll introduce you later. They like men, especially big ones. They’ll never shut up if I bring you in there now.”
He chuckled and set the pizza on the counter to look around. She felt self-conscious suddenly, very aware of the dirty dishes in the sink and on the right side of the counter. Monica never let dishes accumulate. She loved to cook and make house, and kept everything immaculate. Belinda, never a good homemaker under the best of circumstances, didn’t have the wherewithal now that Monica died to keep things up the right way. Keeping up with the animals was enough of a chore. “I’m sorry it’s such a mess.”
“Nah,” he disagreed. “Just looks lived in.”
She wondered what he’d call her bedroom with its four loads of unwashed laundry, but figured she wouldn’t need to find out. He wanted Brock, not her. “So why the meals on wheels?”
“Where are your plates?”
She blushed. “I don’t have any clean…”
“Let me,” he interrupted her, stepping in front of her as she went to the sink. “Peace offering.”
He brought her a peace offering? “Not that I don’t appreciate it, but why?”
He started the water to let it heat and stacked the dirty dishes on the drain board. “You had a theory. I want to hear it.”
She knew better than to say something sarcastic. Her brother long ago explained ‘boy’ for apology; it dawned on her this must be Jon’s way of doing it.
If he fed Brock when they got into fights, they’d grow old together. She turned her back so he wouldn’t see her smirk.
“There are two perps,” she told her towel drawer. Its contents, thankfully, didn’t need washing. Of course, that was because she hadn’t washed dishes enough to use them all up.
Maybe she should start a load or two before she went to work.
She set the towel down and washed her hands. She eyed her clothes, but decided with one dab of the towel that she still looked presentable.
“Do you have something to drink?” he wanted to know.
“Coke or ginger ale?” she offered.
He smiled, pleased. “Then I’ll take that.” He brought the plates and pizza to the table. “You have oregano?”
“The pizza. You can’t have pizza without oregano flakes.”
She rummaged in the spice cabinet, digging through to the ‘O’s.’ Monica rivaled Belinda’s mother for an herb garden, and in fact traded herbal wisdom with Heather whenever she could. She found the oregano leaves and brought them out, handing the small plastic baggie full of whole dried leaves to Jon.
“What’s that?” Jon asked, suspicious.
“If I said pot, you’d probably believe me, huh?” Monica told him. “Relax. It’s oregano from my garden. My …” She started to say ‘girlfriend.’ “My partner picked it last Spring, so it’s fresh.”
He eyed it and then sprinkled a large helping on his plate and crushed the leaves in his fingers. His eyes widened. “This smells divine!”
She grinned, pleased. “She was a good cook and gardener.”
He opened the pizza box and it was her turn to be suspicious. “What is that?”
“Pizza,” he said in an overly innocent tone of voice.
“It looks like you killed a cow for the milk,” she muttered. “How much cheese is on that thing?”
“It’s Chicago deep dish,” he told her. “Sausage and garlic. Sandillo said you usually get that pansy New York shit, but I’m buying, so I get to pick.”
She didn’t think her pizza was ‘pansy,’ but this… She watched him serve her an enormous slice. “I can’t eat all that!”
“Just try it,” he advised.
“Where’d you get it?” She had to admit, it smelled divine.
“Lou Malnati’s,” he answered, cutting his own piece. “I had some shipped up here and they just got dropped off by FedEx, so I froze them and brought on here.”
“Don’t you stay in an extended-stay apartment?”
“Yeah. I only got three.” He sounded defensive.
She watched him sprinkle the oregano on top and tried some on her own. When she took a bite, she had to close her eyes.
“You look happy,” he noted smugly.
She waited until she chewed and swallowed. “This is like sex on a plate.”
“Better than,” he agreed, taking a huge bite.
“Only if you’re doing it wrong,” she retorted.
He glared at her, but had too much food in his mouth to say anything. She laughed and took another bite.
“So tell me about his theory of yours.” He served himself another piece.
“How’d you heat it?” she blurted, staring at the pizza. “They don’t ship it hot…” Of course they didn’t. She flushed.
He snorted. “No, they send them frozen. I have an oven in my apartment.”
“And you just heated it up?”
“Don’t you cook?”
“Why, cuz I’m a chick?”
He frowned at her like she should know better. “No, because this is obviously a cook’s kitchen.”
Her stomach clenched. “Oh.” She fished a piece of sausage off her piece of pizza. “Yes. Monica did all the cooking.”
His eyes softened. “I’m sorry.”
She shrugged. “Let’s just stay focused.”
“Fair enough. So why do you think it’s two perps?”
She resisted saying, “I know there are,” but only because he just brought her pizza. “The first perp is orderly. The ‘feel’ of the scenes is methodical, calm. Like a thief. The third scene…” She had to set her food down. “Maybe we should talk about this after we eat.”
His eyes widened and then he swallowed his bite. “I should have thought.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s not like I’ve never worked homicide.”
“Just not so up-close and personal,” he finished for her.
“Yeah.” She took another bite, dainty compared to him, and he started in on his third piece.
“Why’d you pick Madison?” she asked.
He shrugged. “I looked around. I wanted a change of scenery, since they wouldn’t let me stay in serial crimes. Madison has a good rep, and it’s a good city.”
“Where else did you look?”
“Boulder and San Francisco,” he told her. “But Sandillo seems to be the kind of leader that I could work with.”
“Really?” She frowned. Why?”
“You like him, don’t you?”
“Yeah, of course!”
“Oh.” She finished her slice and sat back. “I’m full.”
“I had something with my uncle earlier, so…”
“Ah. Shall we leave the rest in the fridge?”
She nodded. “Sure!”
He rose, stuffing the last of his crust into his mouth, and opened the door “Jesus, Belinda!” He stared at her refrigerator.
“What? It’s clean!”
“There’s no food!” He set the pizza box on the top shelf. “You need a housekeeper.”
Unfortunately, that reminded her of the woman at the murder scene. “That poor woman.”
He closed the door and leaned against the counter, hip cocked. “Huh?”
“The housekeeper. At the murder scene.”
“She seemed devastated.”
“Maybe she wasn’t just a housekeeper.”
She remembered her uncle’s admonition. “I need to go see the crime scene again.”
“I… I have a hunch,” she told him. It wasn’t exactly a lie, she just didn’t specify whose hunch it was.
“So we good?”
“Yeah. You still don’t believe me, do you?”
He shrugged. “I’ll keep an open mind.”
“You were a profiler!” she burst out. “What do you think of the pattern?”
He shrugged again. “Too soon to tell. One school of thought would say it’s just that the killer is coming unglued, and that’s why he’s escalating it.”
“How do we know it’s a guy?”
“We don’t.” He grabbed his ginger ale and then leaned against the counter, looking down at her. “Just using that to be economical. If I have to start saying ‘he or she’ all the time, it’ll take forever to say anything.”
She laughed. “Fair enough.”
“Are you driving or am I?”
She frowned. “Driving where?”
“The crime scene?”
“You’re going with me?’
“We’re partners, aren’t we?”
“Yes, I guess we are.” She stood. “I’ll drive. Takes less gas, so move your ego monster for me to get out.” She wondered if he had purposely parked behind her so she couldn’t escape before they sorted things out. He was pushy, just like her brother…
He smirked but didn’t argue her reasoning, just let her precede him out the door.