Death Wears Yellow Garters
By: Rae D. Magdon
Dedication/Thanks: Thank you to my Mistress. You supported me through every word, sentence, and chapter of this month's crazy novel. What a journey it's been. Also, thank you to all of my fellow NaNoWriMo participants. Your plot discussions and word wars kept me writing and inspired through the whole month.
Disclaimer: Yep, they look like it, but they're not them, I promise.
Warning: This novel contains graphic depictions of consensual sex between two women
NaNoWriMo: For those of you who don't know, National Novel Writing Month is a one-month-long sprint to finish a 50,000-word novel in exactly 30 days! Go to www . nanowrimo . org to find out more! This particular novel was spawned from a dare. A famous Murder Mystery essay uses 'Death Wears Yellow Garters' as a made-up title for a murder mystery book. The dare was to write an actual novel with this title (and to have it make sense).
Jay Buchanan stared at the towering colonial-style mansion, blinking only when her eyes started to go dry. It looked like a giant white birthday cake, double-layered and square, with balconies making up the decorative icing around the edges. Driving in through an electronic gate should have been her first clue, but actually seeing the house really drove the point home: her new girlfriend came from serious money.
"Nicky, this is your house?" she croaked, her voice catching. Nervously, Jay tugged at the collar of her tuxedo shirt, still taking in the courtyard. How many houses even had courtyards these days?
"Yes," said the sheepish, honey-haired blonde beside her. Jay finally looked down at Nicole Fox, her girlfriend of six weeks and her date for the evening. She reached out a small hand to squeeze Jay's, who was still too started to protest.
"So, you decided to wait until we're walking up the driveway to your enormous mansion to tell me your family is filthy rich?" she accused. Jay was upset, and Nicole was embarrassed, but neither of them pulled their hands away.
Nicole sighed. "I knew you would react like this. I told you my family was well off…"
"-Not this well off."
Jay had known, of course, that Nicole came from money. Her hair, her clothes, her voice, the way she never looked at price tags. The clues were all there. But the house had caught her off-guard, and Jay was a planner. She did not like surprises.
The tall, dark-haired woman tried to fix her cufflinks, realized that she was still holding her girlfriend's hand, and stopped tugging. "I should have worn a dress," she muttered quietly to herself.
"You hate girl-clothes, Jay. Besides, I wanted you to wear the tux. I picked it out."
Jay groaned. "It's probably worth more than my monthly paycheck. You are never buying clothes for me ever again unless I'm there to put a spending limit on you."
Tired of standing outside, Nicole coaxed her date forward, tugging her by the arm toward the set of large double doors situated between two white pillars. "You look good. Stop worrying about it. Daddy and Grandpa aren't expecting a guy or a saleswoman for Mary Kay. I talk a lot about you at home, you know." Nicky rang the bell, and Jay's stomach dropped. The perceptive blonde gave Jay's hand another squeeze. "You aren't nervous, are you? You said you weren't nervous when we left your house…"
"That was before I knew we were the dyke and the debutante." The fingers of her left hand threaded through her short hair, a nervous habit. "I thought this was just dinner with your family."
"Oh, about that, I didn't mention just how much of my family – Oh, Michelle, hello!" Any response Jay might have given was cut off as a housekeeper in a dark, sensible dress opened the door. "Where is Anthony tonight?"
"Hello." Michelle smiled at both of them, making sure to include Jay in the greeting. Jay gave an awkward smile back. "Tony is supervising in the kitchen. All of your cousins are already here, and your brother, since you decided to arrive fashionably late, as usual."
Nicole did not seem upset by the gentle dig. In fact, she gave the housekeeper a grateful look. "Thanks for heading me off. I thought Harry would be an hour after me, at least. Come on, Jay, inside," she ordered, handing Michelle her coat.
That's me, a well-trained dog. Heel, Jay. Come, Jay. That last thought made her blush. She was trying to take her relationship with Nicole slowly, not wanting to ruin a good thing with awkward, too-early-in-the-relationship sex or misunderstandings. It frightened her to admit that, even though they had not been intimate yet, she already felt attached. Face it, you're whipped, or you wouldn't even be here.
Remembering that she was supposed to be angry, Jay pulled her hand out of Nicole's and followed her across a tile floor, past a grand staircase, and into the depths of the enormous house. The ceiling stretched up and up, supporting a large, dangling chandelier over the entryway. "The woman who answered the door – Michelle – mentioned something about cousins? And your brother? Just how many people are at this dinner?"
Nicole carefully avoided Jay's eyes. "Oh, just immediate family, I promise. My grandfather, father, his brother and sister, some cousins, their children, my brother, my nephew…"
Each listed relative made Jay's stomach ache worse. She froze somewhere in a wide hallway, and Nicole noticed when her footsteps stopped. She turned around, her loose hair settling over her shoulders, all peaches and cream above the scooping hem of her evening dress. The sight made Jay's heart trip in her chest, and it took her a few moments to remember why she was upset.
"You are so beautiful… wait, but- you said I was only going to meet your parents and your grandfather or something," Jay insisted, almost pleading. "You tricked me!"
Nicole had the decency to look a little guilty. "I never lied to you. It was more of an omission of information. If I told you, would you have come?"
"No," Jay insisted. Yes, she thought.
"Yes, you would have," Nicole said confidently, echoing Jay's thoughts, "but I knew you would fuss over it until we got here and have a miserable time. I thought this way was best."
Jay did not want to admit that Nicole was probably right, as usual. Instead, she gave her girlfriend a look that clearly said, you owe me, and offered her tuxedoed arm. "May I escort you in, Miss Fox?" she asked, resigning herself to her fate.
"I would be delighted, Miss Buchanan."
Nicole looked so relieved that Jay just had to add: "you still have a lot of apologizing and making-up to do later. You did trick me, and I haven't forgiven you yet."
Nicole patted her taller companion's arm reassuringly. "No, but you will," she purred. The knot in Jay's stomach came back, but for an entirely different reason. She hated it when her girlfriend was right.
Jay hardly remembered the short walk through the house. All of her attention had been focused on the extravagance of the place before, but the looming prospect of meeting Nicole's family pushed it out of her mind. When she entered the large dining room and burned under the scrutiny of at least a dozen pairs of eyes, she realized that she did not know the way back out the front door. Not that she could have broken free anyway. Nicole was gripping her arm tight enough to leave bruises above her wrist.
There was a long, uncomfortable pause.
"Nic! You're finally here." As one young man, also in a tuxedo, got up from his seat at the table and approached them, several interrupted conversations resumed.
"Harry! Michelle told me you were here before me for a change." Like Nicole, the man had fair hair and dimples, but he was much taller, over six feet. He pulled Nicole in for a quick kiss, forcing her to let go of Jay's arm. Jay braced herself for a handshake, but was pulled into a short, friendly hug that surprised her.
"Hallo, I'm Harry Fox, Nic's brother. You must be the infamous Jay we've been hearing about."
"Infamous?" the dark-haired woman raised her eyebrows at Nicole.
"Don't listen to him, he's a tease," Nicole said, giving her brother an annoyed, fond look common between siblings.
"Usually, she isn't as polite and just calls me an ass."
"Unfortunately, Nicole didn't tell me that her entire family was going to be here… I thought it was just going to be her parents and her grandfather." Jay noticed, with some satisfaction, that Nicole was squirming uncomfortably beside her.Good, she thought, let her sweat it out for a while before I forgive her. Taking pity on her girlfriend, she added, "but it's very nice to meet you."
"The same to you, of course. Well, I'll let you two lovebirds make the rounds. I can see Aunt Martha and Mum Janine are just dying to meet both of you." Jay followed his eyes and noticed two older, well-dressed women in pearls and gloves examining them with something between fascination and horror. Sensing an unpleasant moment, Harry made a hasty retreat to the other side of the room.
Jay looked from the two women back to Nicole. "Well, don't they look… um." She found it impossible to finish her sentence.
"Aunt Martha's a busybody, you'll just have to ignore her," Nicole said, grabbing Jay's arm again and hauling her towards the pair. "Mum Janine can be all right, when she doesn't look like she's just smelled something unpleasant. I hope her face sticks like that."
"You told me that your mother died," Jay asked, confused but unwilling to pry. She remembered that conversation. It had been their first real, intimate discussion as a couple, even though it happened to occur over coffee at the breakfast table.
"She did," Nicole explained. "Mum Janine is my stepmother. She married Dad when I was fourteen. Stop stalling, and try not to look so miserable."
Realizing that she was trailing behind her date like a frightened puppy, Jay gave herself a mental shake and started walking even with Nicole. With newfound – but forced – assertiveness, she straightened her shoulders and kept her chin level when they drew even with the two middle-aged ladies.
"Mum Janine, Aunt Martha, it's wonderful to see you." She sat down immediately, skipping the kiss-hug ritual. As Jay took a seat next to Nicole, she realized her girlfriend had done it on purpose. Sitting down right away prevented any awkwardness while Jay and her relatives tried to decide on an appropriate greeting. She was grateful for the smooth transition. "I'm so glad you're both here to meet Jay."
"I would never miss your grandfather's seventieth birthday party," Aunt Martha said. Her hair was short, curled, and well taken care of, obviously dyed to hide any hints of gray. Thankfully, the selected color was tasteful. Martha was clearly a talker, possessing the wide mouth that went along with it, while Janine was a listener. Her facial expressions, however, made her thoughts clear enough on their own.
"Aunt Martha," Nicole started, trying to cut off the monologue she knew was coming, "I wanted you to meet –"
"Of course, I almost had to stay home," Aunt Martha said, completely ignoring her niece.
The sentence was clearly a lead. Jay, wanting to be polite and focus the conversation on anyone but herself, asked, "oh, were you not feeling well?"
That was all the encouragement that Martha needed. "Oh, it was dreadful! My Denise had to call in the doctor, we thought there was something wrong with my heart. My body just seems to be falling apart…"
Nicole gave her partner an uncharacteristically gloomy look, and Jay chewed on the inside of her mouth. Obviously, she had made a mistake, and Aunt Martha liked talking about her various illnesses a little too much. "I could have died, you see, and the doctor said it was a very serious symptom…" Nicole pretended to smile and nod, but the tight corners of her mouth told Jay that she was barely tolerating her Aunt. Jay tossed a stray lock of hair out of her right eye, reminding herself to get a haircut soon. Even though she considered herself the 'butch' in their relationship, she liked keeping her hair long. Still, the ends could do with a trim.
Finally, Janine ended the one-sided conversation, forcing her stiff face into something resembling a smile. "Nicole, why don't you and your – Jay… go and wish your grandfather a happy birthday," she said. Jay was not sure if Nicole's stepmother was trying to get rid of them, or stop Aunt Martha from talking. Both seemed to be annoying her.
Nicole jumped on the suggestion. "I really should. Aunt Martha will fill you in on all the details while I'm gone, and you can tell me later." Without waiting for a response, the tiny blonde bolted across the room, leaving a stunned Jay behind. After a few moments, she followed, not wanting to be left behind with Janine, who looked like she had something stuck in her throat, and Martha, who had started talking again.
"You left me there," Jay whispered accusingly when she caught up with Nicole.
"I knew you would come after me. Why did you have to get Aunt Martha started?"
"I didn't know. I don't know anything about your family because you hardly ever talk about them, and now I'm in a room with a bunch of rich socialites I've never met, most of whom obviously don't like me…"
"Grandpa will adore you," Nicole assured her, pointing to a tall, barrel-chested man with silver hair who was surrounded by a small group of relatives. He looked strong and healthy for seventy, with wide shoulders and a square chin covered in a smooth gray beard.
When the elderly gentleman saw Nicole, he smiled and opened his arms. Nicole was too much of a lady to run in to them, especially in high heels, but Jay could tell that she wanted to. When they were close enough, grandfather and granddaughter hugged for a long moment with genuine affection. "My little Nicky! You've kept yourself away too long," he said fondly.
"I visited you two weeks ago, Grandpa. Happy birthday."
Unsure of herself, Jay kept back a few paces until Nicole's grandfather let her go, and she became the focus of his attention. "You brought Jay. Wonderful! I suppose your stepmother was thrilled with the idea." Jay could not tell if the old man was deluded, or very subtle with his sarcasm. She only had a few moments to wonder before Nicole's grandfather grabbed her hand and pumped it in a strong, friendly shake. "Nice to meet you, I'm Stephen Fox, but I'm sure Nicky's told you."
Jay felt her heart stop. "You're… Stephen Fox…?"
Noticing her wide eyes and pale face, Mr. Fox let go of Jay's hand and said, "well, maybe she hasn't told you…"
Jay's head was spinning. "You're the Stephen Fox? The business investor? You started the Fox Foundation?" Stephen Fox came from old money. The Foxes were shipping merchants during most of the eighteenth century, and after becoming wildly rich already, Stephen Fox had taken his fortune and invested it in fuel and transportation, making even more money than his ancestors.
"Nicky, you really didn't tell her?"
Nicole shrugged, two spots of red coloring her cheeks. "It's hard enough to have a good date without worrying whether it's a creep after your money."
Instead of being surprised, Jay felt wounded. "You didn't trust me enough to tell me?" she asked, a worry line appearing in the middle of her forehead.
"I did – I do… but after a while, it was just easier not to tell you… I knew you would get upset…" Nicole groped for the words that would bring her companion some peace. The hurt in Jay's eyes stung. It was exactly what she had been trying to avoid.
Swallowing a tight lump in her throat, Jay pushed down her feelings of shock and betrayal to deal with later. Aside from this disaster of a party, her relationship with Nicole was good. Great, in fact. The best she'd found in a long time…
"So, Mr. Fox, please tell me more about the Fox Foundation. I read in the paper that your board of directors is budgeting more for AIDS funding this year, and the cancer research centers aren't happy about it."
The profoundly grateful look in Nicole's eyes soothed her bruised feelings a little. Either way, Jay thought, Nicole owed her a deeper explanation after this was over.
"Explain it to me again, slower this time," Jay repeated loudly, straining to be heard over the buzz of conversation and the scraping of silverware around the table.
"My grandfather had three children – my father, Uncle Tom, and Aunt Martha. Aunt Martha has one daughter, Denise. Uncle Tom, he's the one away on a business trip, has two children, Tom and Patrick. They're here with Uncle Tom's wife. And my father has – had… three children."
The dark-haired woman noticed her girlfriend's correction, but glossed over it. "Who is that woman over there, next to your stepmother?" She nodded her head at a very large woman who was bursting out of her evening gown, her arms wobbling dangerously as she swung them to emphasize a point. "Oh, that's Aunt Beatrice, Uncle Tom's wife. She's not usually so… movement oriented. She's had a bit too much to drink, I'm afraid." Indeed, Aunt Beatrice's face was very red, and her fleshy cheeks seemed warm.
"So, have you forgiven me yet, dear heart?" Nicole asked, changing the subject abruptly. Her soft green eyes made Jay grip her fork more tightly. There were three forks, actually, and Nicole had quietly and discreetly pointed out which one was used for meat before Jay made an error.
"No," Jay said, stabbing a bite-sized piece of her steak and staring at it intently. "But after we talk about it later, I probably will. I won't break up with you, if that's what you're worried about. But you really hurt my feelings. If you're so ashamed of me, or think I'm some creep that's after your money, why did you invite me here?"
Nicole sighed and put her hand on top of Jay's, making her drop the fork. It clattered to her plate, but the noise was lost in the swell of conversation. "I brought you here to show you that I'm not ashamed of you, and that I don't think you are some creep that's after my money. It isn't all mine, anyway… most of it is in a trust, with the interest paid out to my father, Uncle Tom, and Aunt Martha."
"But who does the trust go to?" Jay asked.
"I'm not sure. I suppose the cousins, Harry, and I will split it when we're old and the rest of the family is gone." Nicole stared across the table, and Jay's eyes followed hers to look at Denise, Aunt Martha's daughter. She was blonde and tall, with tanned skin and a red dress that scooped much lower than Nicole's. Denise realized she was being looked at and shot them a dazzling smile. Her teeth were blindingly white.
"Denise is a bit of an idiot," Nicole murmured, keeping her voice low so that only Jay could hear her, "at least with money. She spends it all on clothes and spa days and surgery."
Jay winced. The idea of any kind of cosmetic surgery – breast implants, liposuction, even botox – made her uncomfortable. It seemed like more pain than it was worth. "I know," Nicole agreed, "makes you twitch, doesn't it? I wouldn't be surprised if Grandpa put her part of the inheritance in stocks and only let her touch the interest to keep her from blowing it all at once."
"Your Grandfather seems very nice," Jay offered, hoping to make peace with her girlfriend and salvage some of the night. She picked up her abandoned fork and ate another bite of steak. It was very good. The food, at least, was more pleasant than the company – excluding Nicole and her Grandfather. Her brother seems all right, too, Jay thought.
"I love Grandpa. He always did things with me when I was little. Took me out on boats, or to the zoo. He never made me visit boring adult things when I was a kid. He knew I wouldn't appreciate them."
"And now?" Jay teased. Her girlfriend did like a lot of 'boring adult things', like opera and art shows. It was another clue to her upbringing and social status.
"Now, I still like some boring adult things," Nicole relented. "But I also like softball and going out on boats."
Jay rolled her eyes. "You hate softball. I don't know why you insist on pretending you like it." They had met at a softball game – the stereotypical lesbian romance, except they hadn't moved in together after two weeks and bought a golden retriever. Nicole had come with some friends (she was bored, she claimed), but when she noticed Jay, she pestered them to bring her back.
"You're right. I just like you." Nicole's flirtatious voice helped soothe some of Jay's emotional wounds. She felt much better. The evening had started out horribly, but things were getting better. Aunt Martha was seated well away from them, complaining to one of the cousins – Tom or Patrick, she couldn't remember which. Nicole's Grandfather, Mr. Fox, looked like he was having a good time with his family around him. Janine still had an unpleasant expression on her face, but she was talking to Denise, and she only stopped to glare at Jay once every few minutes.
"Here, Daddy's looking at you, Jay," Nicole said, lightly tugging on the arm of Jay's tuxedo. "I think he likes you."
"He doesn't seem to dislike me," Jay admitted. She had been introduced to her girlfriend's father, but only briefly. Dinner interrupted them before they could start a conversation. He had not seemed as put-off by her presence at dinner as his wife. His main interest seemed to be stock exchanges, and most things that did not involve money went over his head.
Thinking about Nicole's parents, particularly her stepmother's lack of approval, made Jay feel uncomfortable. Dinner was drawing to a close, and she wanted a quiet moment to herself. "Hey, is there a bathroom near here? Would it be impolite to get up from the table?"
Nicole smiled. "I bet you haven't asked permission to leave the table since you were about six," she guessed.
"Nope," Jay shook her head. "I still ask my momma before I get up from the table."
"Well, since you're just so well-mannered, go ahead." After a few whispered directions and a pointed finger, Jay left the table as discreetly as possible and slipped out of the dining room, relieved to be on her own for a minute.
Still thinking about how large and luxurious the bathroom was, Jay tried to remember her way back to the group. The Fox mansion was very big, and she wished she had paid more attention to Nicole's directions.
Finally, after a wrong left turn and a three-minute delay, she found herself back in the dining room. This time, however, it was empty. The contrast of the room now, without food on the table and the constant din, made Jay uncomfortable. "Hello?" she called out softly, even though nobody was there. "Where did you all go?"
"They went into the sitting room," said a voice behind her.
Barely swallowing a shout, Jay whipped around to face a tall, dark-haired man with a pointed chin. His face was clean-shaven, and he looked only a little like Nicole and her brother. Jay recognized him as one of the cousins. Before she could ask which one, he gave her tall, lanky frame a slow perusal. He topped Jay's height by six inches, and, at five foot nine, she was not short by anyone's standards. Is everyone in this family besides Nicole a giant, she wondered?
"So, you're the one fucking my cousin," he drawled, still eyeing Jay in her tuxedo, as if he could not decide what to make of her.
"Don't talk about Nicky like that. She doesn't deserve it."
"No offense meant," he said, his smooth voice implying just the opposite. "I just wanted a look at you. You've given our family quite a stir."
The tall woman clenched her fists, nails biting into her palms. "Had a long enough look, then? Trying to make sure I'm really a girl?" she snapped, instantly defensive.
Nicole's cousin laughed, tossing back his shock of dark hair. "Oh, I can tell you're a girl. I see why Nicky wants you. In a dress, you would be very… striking, I think."
Jay resisted the urge to adjust the coat of her tuxedo. This man's eyes made her skin crawl. He was obviously checking her out, and it made her feel dirty. Just because he was Nicole's cousin didn't mean that she had to be polite to him.
"Listen, this party is important to Nicky. I don't want any trouble. Please show me where the sitting room is, or I'll go find it myself."
Nicole's cousin tsked at her. "Temper, temper… I can show you where it is. My lovely cousin is eagerly awaiting your return, I'm sure." He offered his arm, which Jay refused to take. "No? Oh well. Follow me, then."
Thankfully, the walk was very short, and soon they entered a large, cozy sitting room. With one last look at her hip, the unpleasant cousin with the dark hair left to bother another relative. Jay did not thank him.
Nicole, who was talking to her Uncle Bill on the other side of the room, excused herself and hurried over to Jay. Jay wanted to reach down and smooth away the wrinkle above her eyebrows. Seeing Nicole made her feel safe and secure again.
"What was Tom doing with you?" she asked, clearly unhappy.
"Besides insulting you and hitting on me? He showed me the way to the sitting room."
"I waited for you in the dining room," Nicole explained, "but when you didn't come back, I assumed you found your way here. I was just trying to find out if anyone had seen you."
Jay rubbed the back of her neck, embarrassed. "I got lost on the way back from the bathroom. Your cousin – Tom? – found me in the dining room. Wow, what a creep."
"That was one reason I wanted you in a tux." The tiny blonde reached up to fuss with Jay's unruly hair. The taller woman endured it, secretly liking the attention. "I thought he'd be less likely to bother you."
"That was the only reason?" Jay pouted a little, shaking her hair out and away from Nicole's combing fingers.
"Hey, you're hot. I was trying to keep Tom away from my woman. But I also wanted you in the tux because I think it makes you look dashing and handsome."
Jay grinned, her cheeks flushing a light pink.
As after-dinner dessert wine (and port, for those inclined) passed through the room, the atmosphere of the party improved dramatically. Feeling mellower, Jay set her glass on top of a coaster, reaching over to touch Nicole's hand. The blonde blushed prettily, taking another sip from her own glass. "Are you feeling a little warm?" she asked, touching her red face. "Or am I a little drunk?"
The taller woman smirked, taking Nicole's glass and setting it next to her own on the coffee table. "I think you're drunk, sweetie."
"Oh. Have I ever been drunk in front of you before? I can't remember."
Jay was a firm believer in drunk-personality readings. Since alcohol stripped away inhibitions, she figured, it could expose secret parts of your personality. Fortunately, Nicole seemed to be a giggly, harmless drunk, and not a mean or foolish one. "No, I don't think so. Don't worry, I'll keep you from making an ass of yourself."
Nicole looked almost offended. "I would never make an ass of myself," she declared, although she kept her voice at a moderate level. "Even while drunk." Jay raised her eyebrows. "I wouldn't!" she insisted, a little louder.
"It is very good wine," Jay admitted. She reached for her glass to take another sip. "Oops, that's yours. Got some lipstick on it." Taking a quick drink from the glass anyway, Jay was about to set it back down when a loud shout came from across the room.
Mr. Fox had fallen from his chair, and was yelling as he tried to pick himself up. "I can't breathe! Help, someone, I – I can't… breathe…"
The glass fell out of Jay's hand and onto the floor, spilling wine all over the carpet. She and Nicole did not notice. Both of them ran over to the old man, who was clutching at his chest. "My drink…" he groaned, his face twisted with pain. The entire family gathered around him, some bent on their knees, others just staring in silence.
"Oh my God, grandpa!" Nicole broke the silence. "Someone get hot water… or something… call 911!" She screamed, dodging a swinging arm as her grandfather's body began to convulse.
Aunt Martha started sobbing hysterically, and her husband rushed to comfort her, not taking his eyes off Mr. Fox. No one else moved.
Realizing that no one knew what to do, Jay pulled out her cell phone and started dialing. "Harry, get hot water. I'm calling 911… Hello? Operator? Yes, I'm at 565 Rathborne street… a man is having convulsions… I don't know… he's older, seventy. Please, just hurry and send someone…"
Jay's phone conversation was drowned out by another horrific scream. The old man's body bent back like a bow before collapsing back to the ground, shivering wildly. His face was rigid, his eyes popping out of his head like two white marbles. Suddenly, he went limp, all of his muscles relaxing.
"Water…" he pleaded with a raspy, hoarse voice. "Please… wa-ter…"
"Harry is getting you water, Dad," said Nicole's father, who had joined his daughter on his knees. "We called 911… an ambulance is coming…"
As suddenly as they had stopped, the spasms started again, throwing the poor man's body to the left as his limbs went rigid. Someone screamed, a man this time – "Oh God, what's happening? What's happening?" Everyone started shouting at once, some of them trying to hold Mr. Fox's body down with their hands. The man shook in their grip.
After what felt like hours, Harry came back with the water. "What do I do?" he asked, setting the pot down beside his grandfather.
"I don't know, put a cloth on his chest…"
"No, turn him on his side," someone said. "You're supposed to turn someone having a seizure on their side…"
"That's if they're vomiting. He's not vomiting."
The room erupted with more shouts as Mr. Fox bucked against the hands trying to hold him down. He was gasping for air through his nose, but his jaw remained locked. Twitching and shuddering, he went limp again, still and unmoving. The rest of the group stopped moving, too.
Nicole's father was the first to check for a pulse. "I can't feel anything," he muttered, tearing at Mr. Fox's shirt and putting his palms directly against his chest. "I can't feel anything…"
"Oh, please…" Jay felt a hand squeeze her fingers, and looked down. Nicole was clinging to her, eyes closed, praying. "Let him be okay…"
As the wailing of sirens approached the house from outside, Nicole's father pulled away from the still body. "His heart is stopped. I think… he's dead."
"Wait, move him," Nicole said. "I see something under his jacket." Obediently, her father helped turn Mr. Fox's body. "Hold on…" Carefully, her small hand reached under his jacket and pulled out a strip of yellow fabric.
"What is it?" Denise asked. The blonde peered over Nicole's hunched back to get a better look. Several other relatives were gathered behind her.
"It's a garter," Jay said slowly. "A yellow garter."
"Yes, I was the one who dialed 911," Jay explained for what felt like the hundredth time. "No one else was doing anything… My girlfriend kept yelling for someone to call, so I used my cell phone."
The policeman sitting across the table from her referred to his notes, the brim of his hat hiding his eyes. She did not understand why he needed to wear a hat indoors. Maybe he thought it hid his expressions. The man had introduced himself as Lieutenant Slack, and he was the third officer to interview Jay. The second was still sitting next to him, watching the procedure. "Miss Nicole Fox, correct? She was the one who invited you to the party."
"My girlfriend, yes." Jay was frustrated, and her nerves were frazzled. It all seemed like a horrible dream. Nicole's grandfather was dead, and now everyone was at the police station being questioned. It was better than being at the house, she thought. By now, the reporters had probably picked up the story and started camping outside the Fox mansion. "She just started shouting, and Mr. Fox was convulsing. I told Harry – Nicole's brother – to get hot water. And I started dialing. That's it."
Lieutenant Slack consulted his notes again. Removing his hat, he locked eyes with Jay, and she sank deeper into her chair. She was tired, frightened, and worried about Nicole. Jay had seen her briefly in the halls of the police station, while both of them were changing rooms, but could not speak to her. "Do you have any ideas about what happened to Mr. Fox?" he asked.
"No. Well, maybe. He shouted 'my drink' right before the convulsions started. Won't the autopsy tell you what killed him?"
"You watch too many crime shows," said Lieutenant Slack, but he did not deny it. "Do you know of any medical conditions Mr. Fox might have had?"
Jay sighed. "No medical conditions I know of make someone die… like that." There were no words to describe the violent, horrible way that Nicole's grandfather had passed. The dark-haired woman closed her eyes, and then opened them slowly, trying to steady her swimming head. "Since he shouted 'my drink', and fell onto the ground writhing in pain, I'm assuming something got in his system." Lieutenant Slack raised his eyebrows, tapping the tip of his pen on the table. He scribbled something in his notes. "I mean, it's obvious, isn't it? Someone poisoned him."
"Wait. How did you get from 'something got in his system' to 'someone poisoned him'… is there something you haven't told us, Miss Buchanan?"
"It doesn't take a genius to figure it out," Jay snapped, frustrated. "He fell over and started screaming. It was horrible. People don't do that unless they've been poisoned. I've read enough murder mysteries to know that much."
"We can't confirm the cause of death until Mr. Fox's autopsy is finished tomorrow," said Lieutenant Slack. "It could have been any number of things."
With a heavy sigh, the tense woman began massaging her forehead, hoping to break up her headache. Lieutenant Slack ignored her, but the other policeman asked, "would you like a glass of water?"
Jay shook her head. "The last thing I want to do right now is drink something," she said with a nervous laugh.
"I guess you've already made up your mind. All right, hypothetically, let's say Mr. Fox was poisoned. Who would want to poison him, and why?" Lieutenant Slack asked.
"I don't know. I only met the family tonight. Ask someone else." Jay paused for a moment, gathering her thoughts. She felt guilty for giving the police a hard time. "I'm sorry. After everything that's happened… I just want to crawl under the covers and pass out for a year or so."
"I understand." While not exactly sympathetic, Lieutenant Slack did not seem to blame her for being emotional, either. "We need to ask a few more questions. We want this situation resolved as quickly as possible, without any trouble. After that, you can get some sleep."
"At my apartment, or here?" Jay asked.
"At your apartment," said Lieutenant Slack. "We have no reason to hold anyone here yet." Jay gave him points for being honest.
It only took a few minutes for the Lieutenant to finish his questioning. Finally, he let Jay leave the interrogation room. She was overjoyed to find Nicole waiting for her in the hall. As soon as she saw Jay, the blonde collapsed into her girlfriend's arms, crying silently into her shirt. Jay held her awkwardly, not sure how to comfort her.
From the doorway, Lieutenant Slack watched both of them, an unreadable expression on his face.
Jay woke to a shrill ringing sound that echoed in her head. She reached out blindly, her face still buried in a pillow, trying to silence her alarm clock. "Phone, not the clock," a tired voice groaned beside her. Jay stirred, realizing that Nicole was in bed next to her.
It was not the ideal way to spend their first night together. Both of them were still in their clothes from the night before, and Nicole's makeup was smudged over her face. Jay knew that she probably looked just as bad, if not worse. The phone kept ringing, so she stumbled out of bed to go and find her portable.
"Hello?" she said, her tired voice breaking.
"Jay, have you seen the paper this morning? Of course you haven't… you never read the paper. That party you were at last night? A wealthy businessman was murdered! You were there, right? Why didn't you call me?"
The dark-haired woman groaned. She recognized the voice, and really did not want to deal with her eccentric Aunt Mimi this early in the morning. "I didn't call you because I was at the police station last night. Yes, I was at the party. Listen, I need to go–"
"The paper says it's a murder!"
That woke Jay up. "Why do they think it's a murder?" She had not shared her suspicions with anyone but Lieutenant Slack, not even Nicole. Now, she reflected, in the light of day, after a few hours of restless sleep, murder did seem a little farfetched. Mr. Fox had been kind and welcoming. Who would want to kill him? Besides, he was an older man. Maybe something was wrong with his heart.
"Because he was rich! Of course it was murder. I bet the family wanted his money. It happens all the time…"
Jay rolled her eyes. "No, it doesn't. That kind of thing hasn't happened since the Medici family. We're in the twenty-first century now, Aunt Mimi, not one of your detective stories." Jay was fond of her Aunt Mimi, but she was forever reading old murder mysteries, thrillers, and detective stories. Any kind of whodunit novel, really. And she was convinced that, if presented with her own murder, she could solve it. It was one of her favorite topics of conversation.
"You never had any imagination, Jay," Aunt Mimi grumbled, clearly upset at not getting a rise out of her niece.
"No, just common sense."
"I am coming over right now. I want to question you while the memories are still fresh. You should have called me last night!"
"No –" Jay tried to protest, holding the phone with two hands. "No, you do not want to come over… and you don't need to question me. The police already did that. I have to go back later today. Aunt Mimi… you are not involved in this at all. Do you understand? Aunt Mimi..?" But she had already hung up, leaving Jay talking to a dead phone in the middle of the kitchen. She put it back on the wall, hanging her head and resigning herself to her fate. There would be no stopping Aunt Mimi now.
Jay had just pulled on a clean pair of jeans when the doorbell rang. Nicole, who was still asleep in Jay's bed, did not wake up. Trying not to make too much noise, Jay stumbled barefoot to the front door of her apartment, trying to button her pants and pull up her zipper at the same time. When she opened the door, Aunt Mimi came in, looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with her bright yellow purse and matching shoes. Aunt Mimi's colorful purses always matched her shoes – it was a requirement.
"You look awful," she said to Jay, shaking her head and frowning disapprovingly.
"That is because you woke me up at seven in the morning," her niece mumbled, trudging reluctantly into the kitchen to prepare coffee. "I didn't even have time to take a shower. Thanks a lot."
"You aren't being very polite," said Aunt Mimi, who did not seem to mind very much. "Now, about the murder–"
"There was no murder," Jay protested, starting coffee as her aunt sat down at the kitchen table. She forced herself to forget that she had thought it was a murder the night before, too. Now that Aunt Mimi believed the worst possible scenario, she wanted no part in it. "I'm sure he just had a seizure."
"I've said it a hundred times, and I'll say it again. You have no imagination!" Aunt Mimi declared, dropping her purse on the floor by her feet with a thud. "Of course it was a murder. Now, you have to tell me all about this little party… I need all the details, even things you don't think are important."
Jay tried one last time to dissuade her Aunt from 'investigating'. "The police are already looking in to it… even if it was a murder, I'm sure they'll figure it out. You don't have access to the body, or the crime scene, or anything… just let them do their job."
"We'll see about that," said Aunt Mimi, looking just as determined as ever.
Jay knew a lost cause when she saw one. "Fine, fine. If I tell you what happened last night, will you go away?" Before Aunt Mimi could promise, Jay plopped down in the seat next to her and gave the older woman a cup of coffee in a pale blue mug. She started explaining.
Half an hour later, Aunt Mimi was still not satisfied with her niece's explanation. "A yellow garter? Are you sure? Were any of the ladies at the party wearing yellow?" Taking a sip of coffee, Jay tried to remember. Aunt Mimi slapped her hand away and retrieved her mug. "That's mine, not yours."
"Sorry, I'm tired. And no, I don't think anyone was wearing yellow. How could you tell what color their garters were under their dresses? What if they didn't match?"
"We're talking about high society. None of the ladies at the party would be stupid enough to wear garters that did not match their dresses. I doubt the older women wore them at all. Garters are more of a young-girl thing. So, that leaves only one possible explanation: the murderer dropped it as a clue to his – or her – identity!"
Jay remained unconvinced. "This isn't a detective story. I'm still not convinced it was a murder," she lied. She was willing to fudge her own opinions just to keep Aunt Mimi from getting excited. "Murderers are too smart to drop stuff at the scene of a crime."
Aunt Mimi, as usual, refused to be dissuaded. "He or she must have done it on purpose."
"You keep saying 'he or she'. Do you think the murderer is a she?" Jay asked.
"Poisoners are very often women," Aunt Mimi explained. "Do you know how many women have killed off their husbands for the insurance with arsenic?"
"No, but I'm sure you're going to tell me," Jay muttered.
"A lot, that's how many!" Aunt Mimi declared. Her horn-rimmed glasses went askew on her nose, and she had to calm down for a moment to push them back into place. With her glasses adjusted, the middle-aged woman leaned close, staring deep into Jay's eyes. "I'm afraid there's no question… it was murder. A cruel, cold-blooded murder."
Nicole, who had chosen the worst possible moment to walk into the kitchen, gasped softly, taking a step back. Her face went pale, and Jay jumped out of her chair to steady her.
Although the makeup had been washed from her face, Nicole, wearing one of Jay's large tee-shirts, still looked very tired and distressed when Jay finally got her to sit down in a chair next to Aunt Mimi. The middle-aged woman opened her mouth, probably to ask a question, but for once, she closed it again when Jay glared at her. She did not want to subject her girlfriend to her Aunt's insensitive questions about murder.
Unfortunately, the subject had already been brought up, and Nicole was clearly upset. "Do you really think it was a murder?" she asked, wiping at her red eyes even though she was not crying. "Why would want to kill my Grandpa? It was… horrible…"
"No one knows what happened to your Grandfather yet," Jay said, trying to reassure Nicole. "They haven't done the autopsy. It might have been an accident."
"What kind of accident is it when someone takes a sip of their wine and ends up on the floor, dead? Some accident…" Jay tried not to take Nicole's bitter tone personally, but the sharp comment still stung. She reminded herself that her girlfriend was very upset, and still shocked by the loss of her Grandfather. "If this was a murder, I want the killer found. Even if it's a member of my own family."
"It must be a member of your own family," said Aunt Mimi, getting excited again. "No one else was there except Jay, and she didn't know Mr. Fox until that night." She sensed a new ally in her quest for the guilty party. A strange light came to her eyes that frightened Jay very much.
"Don't encourage her," Jay said, not sure whether she was talking to Nicole or Aunt Mimi. "None of us should make assumptions about what happened."
"We are not making assumptions, we are making educated guesses. Aren't we, my dear? Jay, surely you can find something better for your charming friend to wear besides an old shirt."
Nicole blushed, momentarily forgetting about the serious situation. "Most of Jay's clothes don't fit me. We're not the same size…" her voice trailed off, and she studied Aunt Mimi with renewed interest. "I'm sorry, we haven't been introduced. My name is Nicole Fox." She held out her hand, and Aunt Mimi shook it.
"I thought so. Jay has told me a lot about you. I'm Mimi Buchanan, Jay's aunt. I'm sorry my niece was rude enough to forget introductions." As usual, Jay took the blame in silence, not wanting to aggravate either of her guests.
"Listen," she said, desperate for a change of subject, "Nicole and I have to get back to the police station this morning. Why don't we all go out to breakfast or something, so we can forget about last night? We need food anyway, and I'm afraid my fridge is pretty empty."
"That is a wonderful idea, dear. Go find Nicole something else to wear, and we can get something to eat. I really should question her anyway…"
"No, you don't want to question Nicole," Jay tried to say, but the two women had already started a conversation. Feeling nervous, drained, and excluded, Jay wandered back to the bedroom to hunt for some smaller clothes.
Later that morning, Jay was forced to return to the police station. Breakfast with Aunt Mimi had been about what she expected – a barrage of wild accusations and questions. Nicole seemed interested in what she had to say, despite Jay's warnings that her Aunt was more firmly rooted in fiction than in reality. At least, Jay thought, she had gotten some coffee and eggs. Having a full belly made her feel better.
Afterwards, she dropped off Aunt Mimi before driving herself and Nicole down to the police precinct. Thankfully, it was a Sunday, and she did not have to go in to work. She almost felt sorry for the busy workers at their desks in the police station as she passed them, until she remembered why she was there.
After giving out their signatures a few times, she and Nicole were separated. A few minutes later, she was sitting in another interrogation room, which was almost identical to the one from last night. A steaming cup of coffee sat in front of her, and Jay studied it warily, not sure if she trusted the police precinct's brew. Lieutenant Slack was once again seated across the table from her, with a new stack of notes. He looked tired, and Jay wondered how late he had stayed up compiling information.
"Between all the reports, we have a pretty good picture of what was happening in the room when Mr. Fox's convulsions started," he said. "I want to know more about his family. An outside perspective…"
It was clearly a lead, and Jay took it half-heartedly. "I can't tell you much about them. Before last, I didn't even know my girlfriend was a Fox. I mean, I knew her last name, but I had no idea she was Stephen Fox's granddaughter. That's why she invited me to the party, I guess. To tell me."
"You say you didn't know about them until yesterday. Did they know about you?"
Jay thought about it. "I think so. Her grandfather knew my name. He was nice to me. I guess Nicole talked about me before the party." Thinking about Mr. Fox's kind acceptance made a lump form in her throat. Nicole was obviously attached to him. Why had he died so suddenly? So painfully? Even though she had only known him for a few hours, she felt sick thinking about it. Nicole must be feeling ten times worse than I am right now… where is she?
"And the rest of the Foxes? Did they like you?"
Jay hunched her shoulders defensively. "I'm not sure why it matters."
"It matters. Everything about the people at that party matters."
Lieutenant Slack wrote more notes as Jay answered the question, reluctantly. "Nicole's stepmother kept making faces at me. Aunt Martha was put off at first, but once she was the center of attention again, she stopped caring about me. Her brother, Harry, seemed to like me. Her father didn't really care one way or the other. He hardly spoke to me."
"What about the younger crowd? There were lots of grandchildren at the party, right?"
"Yes. Nicole's cousin, Denise, just smiled and made stupid comments about clothes and the weather all the time. Another cousin, Tom Jr., tried to hit on me, and when I told him to shove it, he made a few smart comments and left me alone. The whole thing calmed down by the time we started drinking in the sitting room…" Jay laughed at that; a cold, empty laugh. "I guess not…"
Lieutenant Slack ignored her brief emotional moment. "So, you did not think that any family members were acting… hostile towards Mr. Fox?"
Jay shook her head. "No. Wait, are you treating this as a homicide case?" Lieutenant Slack started to protest, but the young woman held up a hand. "Hold on, I have a reason for asking. I have this crazy Aunt Mimi, see? And she likes to read detective stories. She fancies herself some kind of modern day Miss Marple, I guess, because she's decided she wants to solve this case. Or something."
Even to Jay's own ears, the explanation sounded ridiculous. She was not surprised when Lieutenant Slack gave her an odd look, obviously confused. "Let me try again," she said in a rush. "My Aunt Mimi – well … just, if a crazy middle aged woman with matching shoes and handbag ever comes snooping around, don't treat her like some crank reporter. She's harmless. Mostly. I think. You have my contact information. Just call me if she ever bothers you while you're investigating, and I'll come get her. Or distract her with something shiny. Whatever works."
For the first time in over two days of interviewing, Lieutenant Slack heard something that surprised him. A middle aged woman with coordinated shoe and handbag colors trying to solve murder mysteries in her spare time? Now he really had heard it all. "Well, if your Aunt Mimi does show up, I'll be sure to notify you. We will have to intercede if she causes trouble for the investigation."
"She won't cause any trouble," Jay said, sounding a lot more confident than she felt. "I promise."
Jay was released from her room before Nicole, and decided to wait for her at the front of the station. She sat in a plastic chair a few feet away from the front desks, staring out the window and counting the number of red cars that passed by outside. She was at six when someone came up behind her.
"Hallo, Jay. They finally let you escape, too? Have you seen my sister yet?"
Jay turned around to see Harry Fox standing in front of her chair, his weight shifted onto his left foot, one hand in his pocket. "She's still somewhere in back. I drove Nicole here this morning. She was upset last night, so I let her sleep with me." The dark haired woman blushed as she realized how that sounded. The fact that she had just said it to Nicole's brother only made it worse. "I meant – we both just went right to sleep…"
Harry laughed, and Jay smiled, probably her first genuine smile since the night before. "I know you didn't, Buckers." Jay pulled her mouth to one side, squinting one eye in a very confused expression. "Last name's Buchanan, right? I've decided that Buckers is my new nickname for you!" Harry declared.
"Oh great. I haven't had a nickname that bad since second grade," Jay said. She sensed Nicole approaching before she even looked up, and greeted her with a smile. Since he was standing, Harry gave her a hug.
"And just what was this terrible second grade name?" the tiny blonde asked.
Jay made a show of zipping her lips. "I'll never tell."
Nicole winked at her brother. "I'll get it out of her eventually." Although she tried to look cheerful, Jay could tell that her girlfriend was emotionally exhausted. The questioning had been hard on her.
"So, what did the police question you about?" Harry asked, a little too loudly.
"We aren't supposed to talk about the investigation," Nicole reminded him, dragging her brother towards the door by the sleeve. Jay stood up and followed them as they went out into the crisp fall air. It was just cold enough for them to see their breath hang in a silvery mist in front of their faces. Nicole shivered as she re-buttoned her jacket.
"Are you really not going to tell me?" Harry asked.
"No, I will, I just wanted to get out of there. Going back to that station in twenty years would be too soon for me. Unfortunately, I have a feeling we'll be visiting again." Nicole surprised Jay by reaching for her hand. It was not cold enough for mittens yet, and the warmth around her fingers felt nice.
"They mostly questioned me about Grandpa's will," Nicole explained as they walked across the parking lot to Jay's car. "They wanted to know where all his money went if he died, and if he had an insurance policy. That kind of thing."
"Looking for a motive, I guess. Did you tell them?"
"I said that the trust went to the grandchildren, and the physical property to his children, with percentages of the interest. I don't really know much more than that…"
"You should have told them to get a judge's order and go to our lawyers. That kind of thing is confidential."
Nicole reached into Jay's back pocket, removing the car keys from their usual place, and squeezing her bottom in the process. Jay jumped, and Harry looked at both of them with a smirk. She pressed the unlock button, and the girls sat down. "I didn't realize it was a big secret," Nicole said to Harry, a little defensively. "I didn't think it would matter if I told."
"I suppose it doesn't," Harry admitted. "My car is on the other side of the lot. I'll see you soon, sis. Buckers, you too. Try to keep Nic out of trouble. Actually, get her in to some. It might be good for her."
Jay closed the car door and watched the fair-haired man walk away, shaking her head as she turned the key in the ignition. "Buckers. Your brother's a trip, Nicky." She buckled her seatbelt and glanced in the rear-view mirror.
"He is. Well, tall, dark, and handsome, what did the police question you about?"
Jay shrugged, putting the car in reverse and pulling out of the parking lot. "They just wanted to know about your family. Wondered if anyone was acting 'threateningly' towards your Grandfather. I told them no. The evening started out rough, but that was expected, since you brought a strange girl in a tux as your date. But I thought things were going well until…" her voice trailed off, and they sat in uncomfortable silence as Jay waited to pull out of the lot.
Sensing that her girlfriend needed reassurance, Nicole put a small hand on Jay's denim-clad thigh. "It's okay, Jay."
The soft touch made Jay's stomach tie itself in knots. Instead of pulling onto the street, she turned around and pulled into an empty parking space near the front of the station. Unbuckling her seatbelt, the taller woman put the car in park and leaned over, looking at Nicole with worried blue eyes. "I'm worried about you."
Smooth, warm fingers reached up to stroke Jay's cheek. Nicole's small, rosebud mouth smiling up at her made the taller woman's heart trip. I am so gone, she thought. "You know, some people would have cut and run during this mess," said the blonde. "But I'm glad you didn't."
"I could never run." Then you would never look at me like this again. Like you want me.
It was too soon to say 'I love you', but both of them were thinking something like it. They inched forward, faces moving closer. It was unclear who kissed whom first, but when their lips met, both women smiled into the kiss. Nicole kept her hand on Jay's thigh, squeezing gently in approval.
Both of them kept their eyes closed at first. By chance, they both peeked at the same time to see if the other was looking. When they noticed, they both started laughing and couldn't keep kissing.
It felt good to laugh, Nicole thought, leaning her forehead against Jay's strong shoulder. It was a nice change – to feel a pleasant release of emotion instead of the cold, painful grief that threatened to swallow her. It was also nice to be with Jay. Jay, who was alive with a healthy, beating heart and warm blood and soft lips. A reminder that life was not simply the state one waited in for death.
"Hey," she asked, patting Jay's knee, "have you ever made out in a parking lot before?"
Jay wiggled her eyebrows and grinned. "Nooo… do you want to?"
Nicole pretended to look offended. "I thought that's what we were doing."
"That was not making out," Jay said. "Making out requires a lot more than one kiss. And maybe some under-the-shirt petting."
"Well, maybe we should find a better place to practice this 'making out' besides your car?" Nicole suggested, almost shyly. "Since you're such an expert and all."
Jay put the car back in drive and pulled out of the parking space. "Oh, I think that can be arranged. I promise to teach you all the moves that give me 'expert' status, little lady."
Back inside the precinct, Lieutenant Slack was sorting through his paperwork. He was tired, frustrated, and trying to ward off a monstrous headache. The young rookie cop, Bellows, who was assisting him, had a very loud voice and was easily excitable, which did not improve his mood. "So, what do you think, Loo?" the young man asked, not really concentrating on his work. "Which of them poisoned the poor bastard?"
"You'll never make detective if you refer to your vics as 'poor bastards'," said Lieutenant Slack. "At least, not the filthy rich ones. This station is all politics, kid." There was a pause, and only the shuffling of paper was heard. "Besides, we haven't even gotten the results of the autopsy back yet. We don't know he's been poisoned."
"The guy was poisoned. Any idiot could figure that out. That Buchanan woman we questioned knew it right away." The rookie was not dissuaded. "But you have a guess, at least, don't you?"
Sighing, the Lieutenant looked up from his paperwork. He moved his pinched forefinger and thumb to his lips, mimicking the motion of smoking a cigarette. His wife of twenty years had forced him to quit long ago, but he repeated the motion as a habit when he was stressed. "The problem is that I have too many guesses. All of them stood to benefit from Stephen Fox's death. Everyone has a motive."
"What if we tried tracing the poison?" Bellows asked.
Lieutenant Slack shook his head. Oh, the ignorance of the young and foolish. "We don't know what poison was used yet. We can't trace what the techs haven't found. This ain't some TV show where you get results back in thirty minutes or less."
"Like a Dominos Pizza order!" Bellows said cheerfully. The Lieutenant gave him a withering look.
"Why I waste my jokes on you, I'll never know. All you do is repeat them back to me… damn idiot. Get out of here. Make yourself useful and go badger the lab for some answers. I want a lead to follow, and I want it now."
Without a word of argument, Bellows left the room to go and be 'useful'. Yeah right, the Lieutenant thought. Only way that kid would be useful is if he tripped over his pants and took out a perp on the way down. Feeling a little guilty, Slack adjusted his belt and stared at the file on his desk. The kid wasn't so bad, really. He was just young and inexperienced.
Lieutenant Slack did not want to be assigned to this case. Only sixteen hours had passed, and the upper brass was already busting his balls. They wanted answers for the media frenzy, even if he had to lie or make them up. But Slack was not that kind of officer. He had never been the smartest, or the fastest, but he was always thorough. That was why he made Lieutenant. His last name was an ironic twist of fate. He considered changing it for a hundredth time, and decided against it. Too much hassle. He already had enough paperwork at his job without looking for more on his personal time.
Slack's job had become easier over the past few years. After making Lieutenant, he was rarely asked to go into the field anymore and investigate cases. His duties were mostly administrative now, but the powers that be had dictated that he investigate the Fox case because of the intense media scrutiny and the large amount of inheritance money involved.
Stephen Fox. He really was a poor bastard, Lieutenant Slack thought. The collected witness statements told him that the death had been extremely painful. And noticeable. That was the problem with the case, he realized – everything was too obvious. There was an obvious victim, an obvious cause of death, several obvious motives, several obvious suspects, and even though the scene was not fully processed yet, there would probably be lots of obvious forensic evidence. So why was this case turning in to such a headache?
Around seven that evening, while Jay was cooking dinner for two in her apartment, her cell phone rang. "Nicole, could you come here and watch the stove, please?" she hollered, running in to the next room where her phone was vibrating on the coffee table. Flipping open the phone, she sank onto the couch. "Hello?" she panted.
"Jay Buchanan?" asked an unfamiliar voice on the other end. Male, young sounding, she decided.
"Speaking. Who is this?"
"This is Officer Bellows from the police department. My Lieutenant told me to call you and tell you that… something about a crazy lady trying to gain access to a crime scene? He was not very clear in his explanation. There was a lot of yelling involved."
Jay groaned, her head lolling onto the back of the couch. She closed her eyes, massaging her forehead with her free hand. "The Fox crime scene, right?" Jay asked for clarification.
"Does this lady happen to wear funny glasses, with bright colored shoes and a matching purse?" Of course, Jay already knew the answer.
"As a matter of fact, she does… Do you know what's going on, because Lieutenant Slack is still yelling. I think his face is turning purple."
The dark haired woman had no problem picturing that. "Yeah, go tell Lieutenant Slack that I'm on my way to pick her up… that's my Aunt Mimi. I'll make sure she gets out of his way and doesn't bother him again."
Hanging up the phone, Jay shook her head and buried her face in her hands, elbows resting on her knees. "Argh!" she groaned, fingers pressing hard into her scalp. "I knew this was going to happen!"
"What's wrong, Jay?" Nicole was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, looking worried. "I turned the stove down. Do you have to go somewhere?"
"My Aunt Mimi went to investigate the crime scene," Jay muttered, her voice muffled by her downturned head. "I have to go get her before they throw her in a cell for obstructing an investigation or something."
"Do you want me to come with you? Dinner can wait…"
Jay was miserable. She knew that there was no reason for Nicole to come, but she wanted her girlfriend nearby. The little blonde had a way of easing her frustrations. "You can if you want. I'd like it, but you don't have to… my Aunt is kind of a pain."
"I think she's darling," Nicole said, stepping over to Jay and putting a hand on her shoulder. "She is certainly a character."
"That's the understatement of the year. Come on, let's go try and talk some sense in to her. If I try to strangle her or something, whack me over the head. The rest of the family would never forgive you."
Nicole's eyes widened in mock horror. "Oh God, there are more of you? And I was afraid that you would be intimidated by my family…"
"Oh yeah, there are more of us. But Aunt Mimi definitely wins the crazy award. And I was intimidated by your family." She still was, but Jay did not want to admit that. "Are you sure you want to come with me? We haven't been apart since early yesterday afternoon… I don't want you to get sick of me."
"Jay, I could never get sick of you." Nicole kissed Jay's forehead, which made the taller woman's cheeks glow red. "To be honest, I'm glad I'm staying here with you. I need to be with someone right now…"
Suddenly, Jay felt like an insensitive moron. Here she was, complaining about her family, when Nicole had just lost her grandfather. She was lucky to have most of her family still with her, even if they were a little crazy. "I'm really glad you're here," she whispered, tenderly stroking the soft skin of Nicole's cheek. Now it was the blonde's turn to blush.
"Let's go get your Aunt Mimi. I have an idea that might convince her to come back with us."
Aunt Mimi was already waiting for them at the front gate when Jay and Nicole drove up. Clutching her purse to her chest, light green this time, the disgruntled woman approached the car. Lieutenant Slack was with her, politely but firmly escorting her away from the house.
"Obviously, Bellows called you," he said when Jay rolled down the window. "They found her trying to go in through a back door. I convinced the officers on the scene not to book her, but you have to take her home. They thought she was from the media. If you haven't noticed, it's a circus out on the main road. None of them can get up to the house… I have no idea how your Aunt got by us."
"Don't feel bad," Jay said. "My Aunt Mimi is… very resourceful. I promise to keep her out of your way. I'm sorry if she caused you any trouble. Thank you for calling me instead of booking her." The Lieutenant tipped his hat at her, and lifted a hand to say goodbye when Jay rolled up the window.
"Obviously, I can't get in during the day," Aunt Mimi said when she opened the car door and slid into the back seat. "There is too much police protection around. Jay's good mood vanished.
"Aunt Mimi… you can't just go walk over a crime scene. There's evidence there…" Jay said, reversing back down the drive to the main road. "It's illegal."
"Of course there's evidence there! That's why I need to get in," the middle aged woman pointed out.
"Miss Buchanan – " Nicole started to say.
"Oh, call me Mimi, dear. I told you this morning."
"Well, Mimi, they keep people out of crime scenes for a good reason. What if the murderer or an accomplice tried to remove evidence? They can't let just anyone in."
Aunt Mimi rolled her eyes. "I know that, dear. But I'm not the murderer or an accomplice. I'm not even involved…"
"Right!" Jay jumped on the comment. "You're not involved. So there's no reason for you to go traipsing through crime scenes."
"But I have to, or no one will ever solve the mystery!"
"That's what the police are for," Jay said, resisting the temptation to bang her head against the steering wheel. She was having trouble concentrating on the conversation, because the road leading up to the house was packed with news vans and cars. Everyone and their grandmother seemed to be parked just around the corner, wanting a piece of the story.
A young police officer, who was fending off several men and women who were trying to talk their way past him, checked their license plate and waved them by. Jay had shown him identification on the way in, and fortunately, Lieutenant Slack had called ahead to let the guard know they were coming up to the house.
When the media hounds saw Jay's car leaving the house, several reporters swarmed around the van, trying to get a look at who was inside. Jay had no idea why none of them showed any interest when they drove past the guard on the way up. Maybe they were mistaken for part of the investigating team. This time, they were not so lucky.
"Hey, I know her… she's one of the grandkids. Charlie, get some video of this! It's one of the Fox grandkids!"
Nicole tried to duck down in her seat, but it was too late. Several people were peering through the windows of the car, aiming camera lenses and video cameras through the glass. "Damn," Jay growled, slamming her hands on the steering wheel. "They're blocking my way." She could see the officer on duty talking in to his radio, but for the moment, they were stuck.
"I'm sorry, Jay," Nicole said in a quiet, subdued voice. "I should have thought ahead about this."
One woman, pluckier than the rest, somehow forced her way up to the front window. She was very pretty, even with her glasses were hanging askew and her hair tangled around her ears. "Hello, Cindy Larson from the Tribune: Do you have any comment about your grandfather's murder, Nicole?"
"No comment," Nicole said, raising her voice to be heard over the other questions.
"Are you going to inherit any of your grandfather's mon-"
Jay rolled up the windows, but there were several muffled questions being shouted through the door. The passengers inside could only pick out a few individual phrases. "That's it! Hold on…" A determined expression on her face, Jay put the car in park and slammed her foot on the gas, revving the engine. That startled some of the reporters in front of the car, and Jay shifted the car back into drive, letting the car idle forward through the ocean of people. Once they realized the car was moving, the crowd reluctantly parted, letting Jay's car nose through to the main road.
"Well," Aunt Mimi huffed once they were clear of the press, "how rude."
"Now, dear," Aunt Mimi said to Jay and Nicole, tapping her ball point pen on a yellow pad of notebook paper, "the first thing to do is line up our suspects. It was obviously someone at the dinner party." She ripped a sheet of paper from the pad and slid it across the tabletop to Nicole. "While we list the suspects, would you be a darling and draw me a diagram of the room? Those rotten police are so stubborn, not letting anyone see the crime scene! A diagram will have to do until I can get a real look…"
"A diagram is all you're going to see, Aunt Mimi," Jay protested, getting out of her seat to find a second pen for Nicole. The blonde heiress was very composed and accommodating with her aunt, and Jay was grateful for that. "If you want me to make her leave, just tell me," she whispered in the smaller woman's ear as she sat back down beside her.
"It's all right," Nicole whispered back while Aunt Mimi scribbled and mumbled to herself. "Maybe she will find something that no one else catches," she suggested hopefully.
Jay shook her head, seriously doubting that Aunt Mimi could detective her way out of a paper bag. Reading cozies in bed every evening was not the same as solving a real homicide case. Nicole began drawing a square, using the lines of the notebook paper as a guide, and filled it in with boxes for furniture and stick figures for the people. She tried drawing arrows to show where some of the people had moved, but she could not remember even half of what had been going on. She drew a big 'x' where her grandfather collapsed.
"This isn't going to work," Nicole mumbled, setting the pen down. "I can't remember where everyone was standing. No one stayed in one part of the room. They all moved around, talking to each other and jumping in and out of conversations."
"Then we will just have to assume that anyone could have slipped something in to your grandfather's drink while he wasn't looking," Aunt Mimi said, not sounding at all discouraged as she studied Nicole's diagram. Curiously, Jay looked at Aunt Mimi's own paper. There was a list on it.
Thomas Fox Sr. – Stephen Fox's son (not a suspect, out of town during party)
Beatrice, his wife
Thomas Jr., his first son
Patrick, his second son
Martha Rorsche – Stephen Fox's daughter
William, her husband
Denise, her daughter
Gregory Fox – Stephen Fox's son
Janine, his wife
Nicole, his daughter
Harry, his son
Jay Buchanan, Nicole's guest
Servants? A cook? Catering staff?
"Hey, why is my name on there? And Nicole's?" she protested, reading down the column of names.
Aunt Mimi sighed, exasperated at what she considered to be a foolish question. "Because the police will be investigating you! I don't think either of you did it, of course, but you have to be on the list so that we can dismiss you."
Jay was still unsettled seeing their names, but decided to choose her battles. She knew that Nicole had not done it. Her eyes stayed on the blonde for the entire evening… her dress had been lovely. More accurately, Nicole's beauty made the dress look lovely.
"I suppose the most obvious motive is money," Aunt Mimi continued. "Everyone at the party, with the exception of Jay, stood to inherit. You know, it's not surprising that the poor man got poisoned, if a member of the family needed money in a hurry."
Nicole shrugged. "They could have just asked Grandpa for a loan. He would have given it to them. And most of them have plenty of money of their own…"
Aunt Mimi gave Nicole a sage, knowing look that Jay suspected she had practiced. "You never know what secret debts wealthy people sometimes have… for all we know, one of your uncles, aunts, or cousins might have a secret gambling addiction."
"That's a little dramatic, Aunt Mimi –"
"There is one other motive I can think of," the middle aged, would-be detective continued, "and that is a family grudge."
Nicole looked surprised, and then her expression became surprisingly guarded. "Our family has its fair share of skeletons, but nothing that would lead to murder, I'm sure… we all loved Grandpa. As far as I know, he didn't have any secrets." But something in Nicole's gentle face looked pained, worried. Jay could sense it in the way her hand gripped the ballpoint pen.
"That is why it's called a secret," Aunt Mimi said mysteriously. "You aren't supposed to know. Now, I really must find a way to talk to all of the people who were at that party." The middle-aged amateur sleuth turned to Nicole with a hopeful look. "You will help me, won't you, dear?"
"Aunt Mimi, no," Jay protested. Nicole stopped her with a raised hand.
"We will have to think of subtle ways to do it. I am not sure that any of them will want to talk about it in front of a stranger. Well, Harry will do whatever I ask him to. Aunt Martha never shuts up, so she'll be easy to interview. Aunt Beatrice will cooperate if I get her drunk enough."
"But will she be able to answer questions while drunk?"
"Aunt Beatrice loves recalling past experiences while under the influence of alcohol," Nicole said sincerely. "I don't know how to get you to interview my father, Mum Janine, or Uncle Thomas. Patrick's rather boring, and Tom's downright unpleasant. I doubt either of them will be much help."
"You should invite Nicole's parents over for dinner, Jay," Aunt Mimi suggested without even attempting to be subtle. "Since you were invited to Nicole's grandfather's birthday –"
"Were he was murdered," Jay reminded her.
"That doesn't matter. I am sure that they will want to scrutinize their daughter's choice of romantic partner. Right?"
"And to make sure she isn't after my money," Nicole mumbled.
"I didn't know you had money until that party, and then your Grandfather died, and I wasn't really thinking about it…"
"The huge house and the news vans today didn't remind you?"
Jay looked at her girlfriend with wide, honest blue eyes. "No… I was too busy worrying about you…" Nicole's face softened into a smile, and she patted Jay's hand, rewarding her for the good answer.
"I will try and get my parents to come over, Jay. Your Aunt can drop by, and of course, I'll invite her in." Nicole turned to Aunt Mimi. "But you must try and be subtle, especially with my Aunt. If she realizes that you are digging for information, she will clam right up and you won't get anything."
"Poirot and Holmes did it all the time. If Miss Marple can do it, so can I. I'm sure it won't be that difficult, dear. I promise to be discreet."
"I still think both of you are over-thinking this," said Jay. "The police have access to forensic evidence, witness statements, and all the technology they need. I'm sure they will solve the case soon, and everything will go back to normal."
Aunt Mimi looked doubtful. "You really trust the police? They do have the right equipment for crime solving, but most of them have no concept of human emotion. That is what crime is about, my dear! Emotions!"
"And you have no concept of common sense," the tall young woman muttered under her breath.