Three unanswered texts later, I jumped into the Maserati and headed back across town to Persephone’s place. Traffic blurred past me. My knuckles ached as I gripped the leather-wrapped wheel, and my temples pounded from the glare of late-day reflections. I didn’t want to think that something bad had happened to her. She had a habit of inserting her nose where it didn’t belong.
Halfway there, I let up on the pedal. She was on deadline. Probably ignoring me on purpose. Man, I could already see the fireworks if I interrupted her.
And the kissie-kissie later, after the fight.
I sped up. In record time, I pulled into her quiet neighborhood where the shade trees cooled the worst of my headache. In case I was wrong (not that I ever was, but there was always a first time), I eased the Maserati into a space down the street from her place, behind the bumper of a dirty, white van with Louisiana plates. I checked my phone. Still no response.
Oh, F— Fred.
There was no one around on the sidewalk, so I climbed out of the car and darted across the street. Pretending to bend down to tie my shoe, I cased her block. Still empty. So I dove behind a hedge and made my way across neighbors’ yards to the back of Persephone’s place. Her office window was at the back, overlooking a patio.
I crept closer.
A handy bush gave me some cover as I peered through her office window. And there she was, Pretty Persephone, hunched over, in front of her monitor. With her back turned to the window, I could see what was on her screen. Some file was open about faulty processing at the Granny Berry Fruit Plant. I guessed she was writing another one of her investigative reports, now that she’d been cleared of murder. Squinting, I could barely make out something about tainted applesauce.
I tried to read more, but then a car door squeaked not far away. I dove back for cover, not wanting to be caught in this compromising situation. Anyway, I figured Persephone would stay busy for a while. She wasn’t going away anytime soon.
From the bushes, I had an okay view of the street. And what do you know? That pole dancer, Merry Goosebury, stood beside the dirty white van, yanking open its driver’s door as if there was a fire somewhere. She jumped in behind the wheel, started up the engine, and the van screeched away from the curb. I sprang out of the bushes in time to note the numbers on those Louisiana plates.
Back in the Maserati, I gave chase. It didn’t take too long to catch up, and then I kept my distance, staying half a block behind the dirty white van. Cradling my cell against my neck, I phoned up Poundacre to get a make on those plates. And dig up everything she could find on Goosebury.
From the evasive manner in which she drove, I figured she’d seen me. But that van was no match for the Maserati. I stayed on her butt like a tick on a dog.
On the other side of the tracks was the industrial side of town, and that’s where she headed now. Just a few yards past the Blue Parrot, which Duncan Meadows had trashed last Saturday night, the van turned into the guarded gate at the Granny Berry Fruit Plant.
As for me, I knew just the place to take up a position to watch that gate.
By the time Patty Poundacre joined me at the Blue Parrot, I was on my second ginger beer. Hell, I was on duty.
She slammed a file folder down on the table before me. “Looks like we’ve got five suspects. First, there are the two Fries siblings, who stand to inherit and whose shoes put them at the scene of the crime. Next, we have the ex-son-in-law Duncan Meadows, not only fingered for the crime by his ex-wife but also he has a proven track record for violence, having trashed this place.” She looked around at the grimy, dim interior. “Got to wonder why, being out here in the industrial zone. Mighty handy, too, being next door to the Granny Berry Factory. Next, suspect number four is Aloysius Everslam, who will go to any lengths to protect his new boyfriend from said boyfriend’s grumpy dad. And, I might point out, Everslam happens to be handy at breaking and entering.”
I grunted. “Very good, Poundacre.” Perfect Patty thought she was the rising star, did she? “We can eliminate Everslam. Fries didn’t know him, and he clearly knew his attacker.”
Poundacre frowned. “Okay, then that makes four suspects. The fourth one is your Merry Goosebury, the heir apparent to the Granny Berry fortune.”
“What’s her motive?” I said. “And what about that van? Why would she drive an old heap like that?” I remembered how she fawned over the Maserati.
“Van is registered to Elton Fries,” Poundacre said. “He drove it up here from the Gulf, where he used to work.”
“That explains the plates,” I said, “but it still doesn’t explain why Goosebury was driving it.”
“You got to wonder,” Poundacre said, tapping the file folder. “As it turns out, Merry Goosebury and Duncan Meadows were quite the item before Claudia Fries entered the picture and stole him away. Merry never forgave Claudia for it, and she has a rap sheet to prove it.”
I mulled that over. Poundacre fell silent, too. And then my phone beeped. I thumbed it on and said, “Yeah?”
“Fred Boschman here. I’ve got your results for you. You got a minute?”
“Go ahead, Fred.” I was beginning to see a picture in my head.
“Cause of death was due to poisoning,” Fred said.
I made a few impatient sounds. He wasn’t telling me anything new.
“But it’s not what you think. Sure, Fries was allergic to apples, which brought on a respiratory event, but that wasn’t enough to kill him. It was the level of arsenic in the applesauce that caused it.”
“Okay, thanks,” I said, thumbing off. I stared at Poundacre. She stared at me.
Finally she broke the silence. “You think Merry did it and now she’s trying to frame Claudia with that shoe? Make it look like Claudia knocked off her old man, when it was really her, Merry who did it. That’s why you’re here, keeping Merry under surveillance next door, am I right?”
I shrugged. “The evidence isn’t all in yet. What if Claudia really did do it? The evidence so far points to her, with that glitter.”
“No motive, Sterling.”
Maybe she was right, and I was gonna have to change that picture in my head. Just then the door to the Blue Parrot opened, and in walked a couple new patrons.
“Well, speak of the devil,” Poundacre said. “It’s the Fries siblings, Claudia and Elton.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but what I really want to know is where is Duncan?”