Sunday, July 25, 2004

The next morning I rolled out of bed at ten feeling like a million bucks, thanks to the aspirins and three tabs of vitamin C I had popped before going to bed.  I showered, dressed and, after feeding my two wards, a mutt named Holmes and a cat named Watson, whipped up a batch of Eggbeaters and slapped them between two pieces of toast with some ketchup. 
 
It was a cool sunny day and when the coffee was perked I sat out on my deck and had two cups along with four Newports. By eleven I was ready for work.  I put on a UPS uniform I keep in the closet for an east disguise, locked up the house and drove over to Sharon's.

Ridgeton is an upper middle-class part of town that I would probably be living in if I had fulfilled my parents' dreams.  I've had a few divorce cases that have landed me on this side of the tracks and I know that most of the homes are expensive splits or ultra-modern two-stories with built-in pools, large manicured lawns and even larger mortgages.  Sharon's address was in a group of tall Victorian brick townhouses huddled together in groups of two.

Every one was identical to the one next to it.  On the first floor was a single-car garage, an asphalt driveway and a path that wound through a rock garden and a small patch of front lawn to the entranceway.  The second floor sported several large expensive cut-glass bow windows. 

First I took a leisurely drive through the neighborhood and noticed that the cheapest car in the whole development, outside of my Olds, was a Seville.

Then I drove past Sharon's place slowly and parked around the corner.  I pulled on a pair of UPS overalls I carry in the trunk for a quick disguise, and got out.    Someone had over watered the lawn and my running shoes got soaked on the way to the front door. 

I rang the doorbell several times and heard the chimes tinkle somewhere inside and above me on the second floor but there was no answer.  Then I knocked on the screen door.  Still nothing.  I walked around to the garage door and peeked in a dusty window.  On a whim I had checked out Sharon's place on my way home the night before.  There had been a black Celica parked in the garage then and it was still there.  It looked like it hadn't been moved.

Walking next door, I rang the bell of the connecting townhouse.  The door was opened by an out of breath blonde dressed in a multi-colored sweat suit.  In her right hand was a wooden spoon covered either with custard or pus and balanced on her left hip was a baby that resembled Andy Warhol.  Loud dance music was blasting in the background and above the beat a heavy-breathing Hanoi Jane was ordering everyone to shake their flabby thighs double-time.

The blonde's empty smile quickly faded to a "Why the hell are you bothering me?" look as she eyed the uniform I was wearing. 

"Got a delivery for your neighbor." 

I waved an empty package in her face. 

"She around?"

The bitch gave me the once over and her lip curled up into a condescending sneer. 

"Haven't seen the whore in days, sweetie.  You might try asking half the men in town." 
Then she slammed the door in my face.

"Starting with your husband," I muttered, wondering what her reaction would have been if I had been a male driver. 

I went back to Sharon's driveway and, under the pretense of re-tying a lace of my running shoe, kneeled down and scoped out the area.  The only people in sight were two middle-aged women taking a morning constitutional.  I waited until they had wandered around the corner and then got up and, not having left home without it, used a green plastic card to open the screen door.  Then I pulled out my lock pick gun and shoved it into the keyhole of the doorknob.  Three pulls of the trigger and I was inside.

I pushed the front door shut behind me with my foot, listening and looking around.  The only sound was the dull thump of a bass drum coming from blondie's exercise tape next door.  So much for quality soundproof construction.

I was standing in a small six by six entranceway with three doors and a wide staircase leading up. 
 
 "Sharon?"  I shouted.  "I'm a friend of Broderick's.  You home?"

There was no answer. 
 
 I began checking doors. 
 
The first was a coat closet filled with several jackets and sweaters.  A set of skis and poles were buried in the back.

"My name is Maggie,"  I called out, trying to make conversation.  "He hasn't heard from you in a couple of days and couldn't get you on the phone.  He asked me to stop by and make sure you're okay."

The second door was a small powder room done in a black metallic wallpaper and the third led to the garage.  On a hunch I felt the tailpipe of the car.  It was cool as a cucumber.

"Are you up there, Sharon?"

Things were quiet and I felt uncomfortable. 
 
I pulled my 9mm Beretta from underneath my shirt and, holding it down by my side, slowly climbed the staircase.  At the top, directly in front of me was a modern kitchen with all the bells and whistles.  On the right was a small balcony leading to the front of the townhouse and the living room. 

I stepped through the archway into the living room and before my eyes could tell my brain what they were seeing, my instincts kicked in:  I dropped to a crouch against the wall, weapon front and center.  An adrenalin rush started buzzing in my head and I slowly scanned the place, my eyes sucking in every detail.

Someone had decided to re-decorate Sharon's townhouse.  The contents of a roll top desk, a china closet and several bureaus were spilled across an expensive oriental rug.  Right in the middle of this mess lay Sharon. 

She was a tall girl with long athletic legs and a spectacular shape squeezed into a dazzling scarlet Spandex jumpsuit.  I'd have to take someone else's word that she was good-looking, though.    Her face had been pounded into raw beefsteak and several bullets fired into it.  Then someone had chopped her up a little bit.

She was dead.

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