Murder at the Edge of the Orient, Episode Four
Two women were arguing in the yard of the Bennett home. I stopped my car a block down the street. It took a minute of spying to realize my mistake.
Lori Bennett leaned into the slightly taller and thinner character until her forehead touched the brim of the fedora. Her adversary jerked backwards at contact, revealing the self-conscious physique of a teenage boy. Lori turned away and the kid pursued with the objection of a scolded puppy.
Drizzle stippled my windshield, adding steam to an already sultry night.
The boy caught Lori at her door. She struggled against him to gain entry. My watch told me to go home, it was four a.m. I needed sleep. Lori rummaged in her purse. Probably for the key. It made holding her pursuer at bay difficult. I damned myself and hopped out of the car.
“Need help there?”
The kid jumped backward and shot a defensive glare my way. “We’re fine. Who are you?”
I took advantage of the startle factor. “A friend of the family. Heard the horrible news. About Bi—The captain. Just making sure Mrs. Bennett was okay.”
“I’m taking care of her.” He puffed his chest at me.
“No offense, kid, but you don’t strike me as the consoling type.”
Lori pulled the door open. The sound surprised the boy. He spun and grabbed. His hand hooked her purse. It crashed to the walk, contents spreading like flotsam.
The two stooped and conked heads.
While they berated one another, I moved in and gathered the mess into Lori’s bag. I stepped over them to get inside the house. It smelled of Christmas and cinnamon toast. More in line with the kindergarten teacher I knew and loved. And allowed my kid to love.
Lori Bennett the weekend harlot shoved past me into the small hallway with her underage lover stumbling in the wake. I followed.
The hallway opened on a large living room. Every trinket and bauble, of which there were multitudes, sat in its proper place. The potpourri scent steamed from an electric pot on an accent table against the stair wall.
A final flash of size ten Chuck Taylors bounded up the last visible stair treads, cluing me that the other two had stolen away to the rooms above. Muddled blubbering tumbled down after.
One cabinet stood apart in that it held artistic decanters of liquid courage.
I tossed the purse next to the bubbler. My focus honed in on a single, honey amber bottle of Woodford Reserve that occupied front and center in the perfectly dimensioned, custom whiskey cabinet. Three measured steps put me in front of the best Kentucky bourbon I’d ever let tune my tastebuds. That bottle held a trauma memory made palatable by a wise mentor who steered me away from self-destruction.
My mouth was celebrating the smooth, round flavor when the amorous adolescent galloped downstairs to hold me accountable. He still had that goofy fedora cocked on his noggin. “What are you doing here, upsetting Miss Lori?”
“I found her husband with a bullet to his groin.” It was meant to set him back and did as much. I also wanted to assess his involvement.
His back-step stumble and hacking clutch-the-crotch routine answered my question. “It’s breaking and entering,” he managed.
“You a cop, too?” I asked nonchalant. “Like Lori’s husband?”
“Prick,” he said, forcing his back to straighten.
I poured a second tumbler of Woodford. Handed it over. Watched him worry it with his eyes.
He took the glass in a gangly fist. An attempt to dump a mouthful down hatch sent him into another fit.
I watched in fascination with thankful aplomb that it was not my $30 bottle of whiskey slopping to its premature death. “Does your momma know where you spend your time, boy?”
“Are you with the police?” he sputtered around a cough.
“No. I’m Connor Pierce. A concerned citizen.”
“Why shouldn’t I call the cops?”
“Maybe you should.” I took the half-empty tumbler from him. Poured it into mine.
He gawked from beneath an untrusting brow. “Cops did this to her.”
That surprised me. It showed in my wide-open eyes.
“You don’t catch much for a snoop,” he said.
“And you’ve got the mouth of a whiny child.”
His lunge went right past my sidestep and into a conveniently positioned club chair. He scrambled to right himself, flailing elbows sharper than ninja blades.
I shoved him backward into the chair. Twice. “Calm down. You’ll disturb the lady.”
That settled him. Head found hands. Sobbing ensued.
I took a long pull on the whiskey to finish the round. “How about you stop that shit for a blink so we can make friends, Jimmy,” I said.
It took him a breath, but he obliged. “Why are you bothering her?”
“I’m not bothering her. I’m bothering you.” My butt found the matching chair. I studied his curly blonde surfer hair poking below the hatband and the ironic peach fur on what was shaping into a strong and masculine chin. “How old are you, kid?”
He slipped his gaze to study my shoes. “I’m no kid. I’m eighteen.”
A flare of hatred practically knocked the hat loose. “I might be more of a man than you realize.”
“An easy woman doesn’t make you a man.” My words circled around to perch on my shoulder. The evil one. Gave the angelic one a wink. Weakened my tone.
“You speak like you felt it yourself.”
“Too much.” I scanned the bottles on the shelf, hoping for something stronger than ninety proof. “You’d be smart to listen.”
His snuffling laugh brought me back. “Women are not your friends,” he said. The thousand miler suggested he’d discovered that expression in someone else’s mouth.
“How’s Mrs. Bennett?”
“That sounds legally binding.”
It popped him out of his seat. “She ain’t no killer, man!”
“Chill,” I said with a raised palm. “I’m no Sherlock. Just making a point.”
He collapsed into the seat. “This’ll ruin her.”
“She had no idea? About the affair?”
“She knew about Pasfield’s wife,” he said. “I think it made her want him dead. Made both of us want it.”
“Again with the legalese, pardner.”
“Whatever.” The boy-man was regaining his attitude.
“What made you want him dead?” I laid the question in his lap with intent.
His shoulders rolled forward. A shiver rattled his torso. “It’s not a thing I talk about.”
“She tell you to keep quiet?”
He shook his head with more than a little violence. “She doesn’t tell me… stuff.” The words were strong, though he didn’t make eye contact.
“You tell her.”
“What’s that mean?” Now his scowl had me locked down. “You think we are lovers?” The scalar climb of his voice shot the final syllable into a ricochet off the ceiling that lodged in my right eye.
A solid rattle of the pebbles in my brainpan cleared the idea. “Well, I don’t now.”
“We have a complicated relationship.” He drifted into recollection.
“She your mother?”
“Ha ha ha, Mr. Pierce that is not a detective.” It came with a quiet chuckle to himself. “We were friends.”
“You worked with her at the school?” My questions threatened to confuse me more than boy-man’s confounding double-talk.
He nodded. “Me and her would play tag with the kiddos at lunch, Bra. Then I’d wheel them out to Sunabe and carve a few waves.”
“Okay. So you have smart-ass down like a street clown. I’m impressed. Why don’t you just say what your connection was? Save us a decade or two of repartee.”
“I’m his son!” Those cobalt blue eyes drilled a hole through my heart. Inflamed blood vessels rimmed the edges and latticed the whites which had grown as big as party balloons. “Capitan, the Captain, Lord of the fucking flies, Bradley I’m Biff, take a walk with my cock, Bennett was my asshole of a father!”
A cool breeze in the back of my throat notified me that my mouth had opened to offer condolences. They remained stuck inside, lodged behind holy effing bat guano, Boy Wonder, you just earned defective detective of the century. How could I have gotten this one so off the mark?
“Don’t bother with the so sorry for your loss, young man, bullshit,” Jimmy told my knees. “The bastard left me to rot with my Tweaker of a mother and her string of shithead boyfriend dealers before I stopped shitting myself.” He slumped back in the chair, stared at the ceiling. “I came after his money. Glad the bitch shot him in his balls.”
“I don’t think she did it.” The words meant to fill emotional gaps, but too soon.
His wounded eyes found me, adjusted focus. “Lori saw the scene. The Pasfield woman had a gun.”
“No way that woman murdered him, Jimmy,” declared a voice from on high.
We both ratcheted like machine gunners finding a target.
“That crazy drama queen loved her little stage play too much to pull the curtain.” Mrs. Bennett the wise and informed kindergarten teacher was using her firm voice to get the kids in line. She paused on the final tread before the landing, her palm against the wall. Makeup lines smeared her face with drained hope. “I’d nicknamed her Miss Vitality.”
Surfer boy stood. “Lori, You need sleep.”
“Why are you here, Jimmy?” The dampened fire in her glare tried to cut through him. “There’s nothing left to chase. He’s dead.”
The attack deflated him. He sank into the fat chair.
Lori Bennett softened. “You got what you wanted. He can’t ignore you any longer.”
“What I thought I wanted,” Jimmy mumbled into his lap.
“I’m pretending not to hear any of this,” I said. Apart from the motives they were slapping back and forth like a badminton shuttlecock, I wanted to break the ghastly mood. “She wanted him dead. He wanted him to pay. You people are a cop’s nightmare.”
“What are you on about?” Lori Bennett asked. The confusion that had put the remaining embers out reminded me she hadn’t been here to recognize my mystery-solving skill.
“If it wasn’t a murder-suicide—” I let the phrase drop with the sloppy ease of bourbon over the rim of a boy-man’s glass.
“That’s ridiculous!” Jimmy was half out of his chair again.
A look from Lori quieted him. “Are we the only suspects?” She asked me.
“What do I know of the case? I’m nothing but your hound dog, crying all the time.” Bitters polluted the smooth delivery.
She shrugged it off. “Why not her husband? Why not Logan Pasfield? He’s got motive, as well.”
The idea kicked me in the shins. I’d seen him tonight. Seen his pain. The sight of which had wiped his name off the blackboard of possibles. I searched her face for sincerity. She had sufficient reason to displace blame.
Lori didn’t waver.
“Maybe so. Seeing him at the scene though. I can’t imagine he is the actor that she is.” The mistake stung. “Was.”
A flicker of awareness. Something like compassion.
My gaze encountered the liquor cabinet again.
“I’m sure my husband’s colleagues are on it. Master Sergeant Higa’s a good man. A good cop.”
I nodded, accepting her word. For now. “I’ll be going.” The front door looked a hundred miles away. Other than her mysterious alter ego, I admired Lori Bennett. With my own wife gone and her suddenly alone….
“She’ll be fine here with me,” Jimmy said.
A glance at Lori showed her humorous appreciation of the boy’s chivalry.
“Good,” I said. “Call me if you need anything.” The two of them watched me leave into the spitting night.
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