Goodness knows I’ve dreamed of taking a spin in Sterling’s Maserati, but not like this.
I sit shotgun, holding my head in my hands. If only I weren’t so sleep deprived from finishing my damn article, perhaps I could piece this nightmare together.
I can’t make sense of it. Sure, Grumpy was a bit of a grump, hence his namesake, but he was a part of the community. You could count on him rocking in the chair on his porch, growling at passersby. Despite his bark, I always got the impression he was lonely. We had that in common.
“Oh, Fred!” I exclaim.
“There aren’t any children present, you can say the actual f-word.”
“No, Fred, my date.” I twist in my seat and look behind me, the palm trees flying by so fast I get dizzy. “I forgot to call and cancel.”
“We have other things to worry about right now,” Sterling says, the corner of his lips twitching into a smirk.
“You’re right,” I admit with a sigh. “So where are we going?” When Sterling said he needed my help, I seized the excuse to get out of my apartment, no questions asked.
“To pay Aloysius a visit.” He cuts a look at me sideways.
My face flushes and all the coffee I’ve consumed in the last twelve hours roils in my stomach. No wonder the detective didn’t mention specifics.
“Forget it.” I’d rather face Grumpy’s murderer than my ex. “Turn this heap of metal around pronto.”
Sterling grimaces, gently patting the steering wheel. “Ignore her, baby.”
I’m about to snap at him not to call me baby when I realize he’s not talking to me. I roll my eyes.
“Come on, Persephone. I need to know if he’s been in contact with Duncan.” His clenched jaw accentuates at least one week’s worth of stubble. “Please,” he adds, the word sounding foreign on his tongue.
I face forward, crossing my arms over my chest.
Here’s the thing: Grumpy didn’t deserve to die the way he did. Will it be painful digging up my past? Of course. Am I looking for a way to procrastinate on my work? Probably. Will I let some jackass get away with breaking and entering into my apartment? Hell no.
“On one condition,” I finally say, one eyebrow raised.
I smile sweetly at him, running one finger along the leather seat.“You’re not going to like it.” He really does make an impressive figure in his Maserati.
Humidity clings to me like the glitter I’ll never be able to scrub from my apartment, ominous and unyielding.
Alo lives in a quintessential bachelor pad on the other side of the railroad tracks. Locusts hum in mulberry trees bordering the complex and the air smells smoky and sour, like milk long expired.
I squeeze Sterling’s forearm, his muscles taut beneath his shirt, as I knock on Alo’s door. There’s no way I’d visit my ex without proof that my life is better off without him.
Seconds pass as I shift from one flip flop-clad foot to the other. There’s a scuffling behind the door and then the unmistakable sound of two voices whispering.
Sterling pounds on the door, the vein in his forehead throbbing.
“Coming,” a shaky voice says before the door opens, revealing my ex in all his glory. With skinny jeans, a tight t-shirt, and a silvering goatee, he’s every inch the aging hipster.
“Hello, Al,” I say, leaning into Sterling.
“I hate it when you call me that,” he grumbles.
“I know,” I say, clicking my tongue.
“Are you two together now?” Alo nods between Sterling and me.
I peck Sterling on the cheek, my pounding heart giving credibility to our act. “And we owe it all to you.”
“Enough,” Sterling whispers as he nuzzles my hair, his breath warm on my neck.
“Don’t pretend you’re not enjoying this,” I whisper back with a wink. He just grunts.
“So what are you doing here?” Alo asks, fiddling with the bracelet around his wrist. He was always great at accessorizing.
Sterling steps over the threshold, gently tugging me along with him. Alo’s apartment appears to be empty, but there are two plates of half-eaten etouffee on the kitchen table.
“We need to talk,” I say. “About Grumpy.”
“What about him?” Alo asks, sweat beading on his upper lip.
“He passed away this morning,” Sterling says, his eyes scanning every inch of Aloysius’ apartment. “Know anything about that?”
“I haven’t been back to that neighborhood since Persephone filed the restraining order after the letter incident.”
My ex may have lied about many things—the success of his band, how much he can bench, his sexuality—but I actually believe him now.
There’s a thump in the back of the apartment. Sterling drops his arm from my shoulder and nudges me behind him. “I’ll need to see in your shoe closet.”
I shake my head. “Alo, what sort of trouble have you gotten yourself into?”