The Beauty at the End of the Block, A Brew Parkers Mystery

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Chapter 7

Holly sent the text at 7 a.m.. The police were at her house with a search warrant and wanted her to go down for questioning now. I messaged back to send the boys to me. Ten minutes later, Tag and Mitch were at our door. I fed them and tried to set them at ease. With the boys playing and distracted as possible, I had to distract myself. Sitting and worrying was not me. I had to do something. I was so upset for Holly I could not write or bake. Instead, I scrubbed cabinets, floors and windows. It was past lunch when Holly sent the text she was home. Dave came over and took all four boys for ice cream.

When Holly came back, she was the angriest I had ever seen her. The “Holly means business” gray pant suit looked slightly rumpled. I followed her into the sun warmed kitchen. Holly tossed her favorite gray flats into the cluttered hall closet and put on her favorite fuzzy slippers. I started the kettle for tea then perched on my usual stool. Princess sauntered in and Mel came bounding in with puppy energy. His 15 pounds bounding into my arms for a hug and scratch was a big change from Charger's 110 pounds .

“Hi, Mel. Go see Mommy she needs a hug.” He kissed my face and bounced over towards Holly. As a reflex, Holly bent down and picked him up. She reached over with one hand to grab the tea mugs.

“It was insulting! It was all about the chemicals and about some organic cleaner. Dave even told them, he was the one purchased it. I knew nothing about it. It was in the garage. In his stuff! If I was such a master criminal, why would I leave it where it could be found?!” Holly spouted and placed Mel on the floor. She grabbed two bags of Oolong.

“Other than the cleaner, what did they have?”

“The rest of the stuff we have already gone over. All circumstantial.” Holly reached for two Granny Smith apples and the Irish cheddar from the fridge. She cut them up and set them out on plates for each of us. Holly poured the water over the bags and handed me one. She sat down on the stool on the other side of the peninsula.

“I am being silly because I am angry that he bought it in the first place! He knows I make my own cleaners that are better for us, the environment and cheaper! Darn it! And the stupid stuff is supposed to be organic. How could it be involved in poisoning someone? I don't think they know what they are looking for.” She took a sip of her tea. “My lawyer politely pointed all of this out. The police understood. They were still required to bring me in for questioning!” Holly shook her head and placed it in her hands. “How does this look to the boys? They will be so upset or embarrassed. I am so upset.”

I walked around the counter and gave Holly a hug. Mel pawed at my leg wanting to get attention too. I let go and picked up Mel. “Did they say you would have to go back for further questioning? ” I handed Mel to Holly. Mel gave Holly more kisses.

“They said they would be in touch but the way they said it...” Holly put Mel back down. “I don't know . I didn't like how they made me feel. I feel awful.” Holly looked so sad. Neither of us would relax unless we did something about this murder.

When I got home, I could not sit still. My best friend was a suspect in a murder case about people we hardly knew. How is that fair? It sounded like something our boys would say. But what the hell! What were they thinking? Holly told the clerk if she forgot to ring up an item at the grocery store! There is no way she could kill someone. The evidence was circumstantial. The police knew that. They had to pursue every avenue. This was not a TV show or movie.

The next morning, I was up before the rest of the house. I think best in the mornings. Charger and I did a quick walk/run and now he was sleeping next to Michael. I had my laptop and coffee on the front porch. Inspiration eluded me. I was pissed at the world! My best friend and neighbor was under suspicion of murder. I was drawing a blank on what we could do to help her. The police had circumstantial evidence against Holly. We had the truth. She did not kill Sahara and Kyle. Margret had given us a little to work with. Sahara would not talk about what she did in Boston or her family. She talked about Boston, sure, but looking back, the conversations reminded me of a presentation from a travel agent. It lacked personal anecdotes. When she talked about the open air market, it was just, “we went to the market” not “I really love Bill at the organic honey stand. He had the best stories about the bee that did sting him under his protective suit.” Or “Kyle loved the bar on Eighth Street where we watched the team play their game every Sunday.” She never mentioned a favorite store! As much as Sahara shopped, she had to have a store and even a sales person at that store she always dealt with . Marie, the nice lady in the special foods department, knew my name and which cheeses I liked best. How could movie- star- perfect- Sahara or cartoon -surfer- Kyle not have people notice them?
“Or maybe they never noticed the peasants serving them?” I asked the robin sitting in the crab apple tree in front of me. He looked a creepy beady eye at me and did not respond. The fat worm hanging in his black and tan beak gave a last weak twitch. I reached down for my coffee. It was in one of two dozen mugs the guys had given me over the years. (They knew Mommy loved coffee.) It was a Halloween mug white with black letters in different fonts spelling out scary and Halloween related words. We loved Halloween and made a big party of it. John's birthday is near the 31st, so we made it a birthday/Halloween party. Our family always took time to make stories up about our costumes, to make it more fun. You were never just a vampire. You were Count Dragonstar of the family Night. You live in a dark castle deep in a valley where no light every falls. You were out of the valley looking for a new servant to take care of the castle. We took our characters seriously. (The boys were not that creepy, more silly.) Our guests started to get into the game. They made up stories and tried to stay in character for the whole party. People who did not want to think that hard about a costume came as the standard tough guy or Hollywood movie star. They would not bother to make up stories to go with their costumes. They would have simple non-specific answers if you asked them anything. Remembering the Halloween parties, made me think about the Brew Parkers' meetings and Sahara's conversations. When she talked about the topics she picked, Sahara would talk for half an hour without a break. At the first meeting, Sahara spoke non stop about Boston ,but it was generic from what I could remember. Why? I made note on my computer to ask Holly how she remembered the conversations. My computer was on because my editor had sent a text looking for my next three chapters. I was caught up with helping Holly and forgot they were due next week. I closed my eyes and tried to focus on my story. I still could not see where the monster was going. I needed some music to jump- start my brain. Heavy Metal from the 80s always worked for me. I closed my computer, picked up my empty coffee cup and went in the house.

At the civilized hour of 9a.m., I called Margret's contact. I was ready to try anything. I asked for Officer Ted Bowden. The clerk said he was out and would be back in a half hour. I left the message from Tabitha Wolf that I would like to speak to him.

We were caught up on all our chores. I was hungry and stressed. I made homemade cookies, chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies (John jokes he likes it when I'm stressed.)

My phone rang. Michael answered it for me. My hands were covered in dough.

“Mom, it's Officer Bowden.”

I wiped cookie dough off my hands. “Hello, Officer Bowden. This is Tabitha Wolf. Margret Caswell gave me your name as someone I could talk to about police procedures. I am a writer and I have some questions.” I prayed Margret had not lied to me.

“Hello, Mrs. Wolf, I know who you are. I am a big fan. Mrs. Caswell said she knew you. What can I do for you?” Officer Bowden sounded young.

“I have a few questions about search and seizure. May I come down and talk to you?”

“Sure. I will be at the desk for the rest of the day.” He sounded genuinely excited.

“I will be there at one. See you then.” It was 11 now. I hung up with the officer and called Mom and Dad. They were home and the boys were always welcome stay with them.

I took a quick shower to get the cookie smell out of my hair. It was 85 degrees and 75% humidity. My wild, curly, dark hair went into a ponytail. My black caprices and white cotton twin set would be comfortable. I sent John a text to let him know our plans. He wished me luck.

I grabbed my notebook, a tin of cookies and headed out. I know people are happier when they have a full stomach. Cookies are perfect happy food.

“Officer Bowden, please.” The blond girl at the front desk pointed to him. Officer Ted Bowden was just what Margret liked. No wonder she kept coming back to the police station. When we talked about movies and television shows, we always mentioned which actors we liked best. Margret had a consistent theme to her actors. Young and heavily muscled. Officer Bowden should be on their recruitment posters. He was 6'ish, blond and blue eyed and 23 if he was a day. He looked over the waiting area and found me. When he smiled and I saw five women stop to look at him. He didn't notice .

“Ms. Wolf, it is a pleasure to meet you. I am huge fan. Would you mind?” He shook my hand and handed me a copy of Peaceful Rest .

“Sure. Did you like it?” I tapped the cover. My Dad had encouraged me to write this one. He was first on the dedication page.

“Yes! It freaked me out. We went to visit one of the guys in a care center after he had hip surgery. All I could think about is Roger coming up the stairs from the boiler room.” Officer Bowden knew his book. I smiled and took the book. “Would you make it out to Ted Bowden?”

“To Ted Bowen. Thanks for all of your support. Keep reading. T.A. Wolf.” I handed it back. “How is that?'

The room stopping smile appeared again and I swear I heard the girl behind the counter sigh. Yikes.

“That's great! I would take a selfie with you but I am in uniform and would get in trouble.” He motioned for me to follow him. We went into an interview room just past the main desk. “You said you had questions. How can I help?”

I had a story made up about research for my next book. I pulled out my notebook and read the questions. He provided textbook answers; clear and concise. I took about 20 minutes of his time. I wanted to establish a rapport in order to ease into the bigger questions. I gave him my address. “I am home most of the summer, if you want to stop by and take that picture. “ I smiled my encouraging smile, as John called it.

“Really! That would be great!” He smiled and shook my hand. Still holding my hand he leaned close. “I am off tomorrow. Do you mind if I stop by? Maybe in the afternoon?”

“That would be fine. Thanks again for all of your help.” We turned and walked back to the reception area. I waved at the girl behind the desk.

As soon as I got home, I rang Holly. “Hi. Officer Bowden is stopping by to take a picture with his favorite author. And, that author is going to pick his brain on a certain murder case.”

Holly laughed. “I hope, really, hope you are successful.” I heard Holly walk into her laundry room. The dryer hummed in the background. “One of Taggert's friends asked him if his mom had killed anyone else. He was old enough to laugh it off. Mitchel would not have been as caviler about it.” Her voice shook at the end. Dr. Holly Cherish was a tough and fair teacher, brilliant chemist, loving wife and mom, and ferocious mother. To hear her voice betraying her hardened exterior made my eyes begin to water.

“We WILL fix this. We have to. No offense to the police. They are looking to close cases. We are working to clear your name.” What else could we do?

After dinner, John and I worked out what the plan was for Office Bowen's visit.

“So, the guys and I will leave you to speak with the Officer Bowden .” John sat down and rubbed Charger's massive head. “The less distractions the better.”

“I need more information on what the police know.” I picked up the plates from our chocolate cake and put them in the dishwasher. “We know they are looking at Holly and we know most of the circumstantial evidence.”

“The guys and I will go for a bike ride to your parents house and will stay there until you call.” John sipped more iced coffee. “Remind me to water Jerry's plants and check on the house tomorrow when we get back.”

“Any word on how his aunt is doing?”

“He called and said she was stable but still needs constant care. Roger is getting her house set for her. Ramps and hand rails. Jerry asked a lot about you and Holly. He is really worried about her and how the investigation is going.”

“Poor lady. “ I sighed and stepped over to John. He stood up and took me in his arms for a long comforting hug. He was not only my husband, but my best friend and had been for almost 30 years. We knew each others moods and behaviors and helped each other. I was so worried about Holly. Everything else was mentally put on hold.

Thursday was sunny with big white puffy clouds. The breeze swirled the summer scents of fresh cut grass, roses from the next door garden and gasoline from the industrial grade leaf blower the landscapers across the street used. I baked snicker doodles and chocolate chip cookies. Nervous energy is constructively dispelled by baking. I scratched my head over what to wear for the visit. I tried on three different sets and settled on my stand by - black dress shorts(slimming color and cut) and a white oxford style blouse, short sleeved because of the season and pearls. My other best friend, mentor, and critic, Wendy, encouraged me to wear pearls when we were in college. She said they went with everything. We wore them with everything from sweatshirts to sweaters. I feel naked if I do not have them on. Not fancy real ones, John did give me several very good sets, but fake sets picked up at malls throughout the country. I picked out a “magical” string of same size,off white imitation pearls. I unearthed them at a Gingersnap Junction, a converted farm house turned store. They sold new candles and vintage everything else. I do not purchase vintage or antique items thanks to horror novels from my heroes. This string was different. It did not feel “haunted by a sad or malevolent spirit”. I took my chances and they have been safe (So far. Insert spooky laugh).

Officer Ted Bowden was prompt and pulled up in a vintage muscle car in a bright neon green, making an impression. His enthusiastic and perfectly capped teeth smile made a perfect picture with chino shorts and a vintage looking rock t-shirt. Wendy, who had been a lawyer, then a judge and was now a best selling author, previously joked about how looking model perfect was a prerequisite for the police force in our town.

“Hi. Nice house, Mrs. York.” On perfect movie cue, Charger came running to greet our guest. “This must be Charger, right? You talked about him in your interviews. He was the inspiration for Koda in The Foxton Mirror. Hi, boy.” Officer Ted squatted down to rub Charger. Charger paid him back by standing on his back legs placing his front paws on Ted's shoulders and sniffing his hair. Ted laughed and gave the huge mixed breed a bear hug. Charger licked his face in thanks.

“He likes you, if you can't tell and please call me Tabitha. Come in I made cookies and iced tea.” Charger backed down to let us shake hands and walk into the house.

Light conversation was made and cookies were consumed. Ted was a decent guy and dedicated officer. At 24 years old, I hoped he would stay that way.

“What are you working on now? I promise I won't tell.” Ted shyly smiled. “I won't post anything.”

“I am in between stories. I finished “Brothers” which comes out in November and haven't started anything new. We have had some,um, disturbances around here .” This was a plausible lead in.

“Yeah. “ Ted sipped his iced tea. “When I looked up your address, the Greentree case came up. Totally sad. Everyone was kind of freaked when he died at the station. I know the media was all over it.”

“I was out of town at the time. What happened? If you are allowed to say. I wouldn't want to get you in trouble.” I was trying for nice and concerned and hoping I was not coming off as cheesy or flirty.

“No. I can talk about what was on the news. That guy, Mr. Greentree, was brought in because his wife was dead and the detectives wanted to talk to him. Standard stuff. But, he would not calm down. And then, he kept ranting saying “She would know.” and then he dropped to the floor and died. CPR and everything was done to save him, but he just died.” Ted had the dazed look of someone remembering seeing their first dead body. It is not like at the funeral home, where the stage was set to show death as peaceful. Death was ugly.

“How sad. Those poor people.” I know, cheesy but expected.

“Um.” Ted was looking at his feet on my charcoal gray carpet. “I, um, looked up if you were involved in the case. I hope you don't mind, being a celebrity and everything, but the report said, um, you are close friends with the lady they think may have done it?” Ted looked at me eyes wide open looking for reassurance.

“Yeah. They think my best friend was involved, but I know she couldn't. She is kind, considerate and brilliant. I mean, I write horror stories,so they probably considered me.” I shrugged my shoulders.

“Well, they have to check everyone out, but I told them your books don't mean you are capable of killing someone.” He smiled. Officer Bowden was a purely good soul.

“That is one of my book questions. If there was a murder, would they investigate everyone in the subdivision or just the block or just the street?” I prayed this would keep the conversation going without my prying too hard.

“Oh, yeah.” Ted looked relieved to talk about procedures.”They would do a background check on the deceased and anyone they had contact with in the past 48 hours and anyone they lived near.

“Wow. That is a lot of leg work.” I hate to play stupid, but this was for Holly.

“No. We use computers to do the checks. They come back in a day. Well most.” Ted tilted his head and rubbed his had over his knee.

“What could cause one not to come back quickly?” I got up to refill our glasses.

“A name change. Someone who moves a lot. But there can be something else.” Tom stared unfocused out the window. He almost whispered his next words. “An alias, interesting.” Inside I was jumping up and down yelling, “More! More! More!”

“Yeah,” Tom looked at me and then around the room looking for anyone who could overhear him.”One of the neighbors, one of YOUR neighbors must have an alias because their names are not showing up.” He stared at me , a pleading look, like childhood friend begging “Please don't tell! All I know is it is a man and someone who he claims is his relative. You probably don't know who they are based on that information. So, I didn't tell you anything.” He looked pleased with his assessment of his statement.

“I know that police officers like yourself are on it and that is good enough for me. More cookies?” Changing the subject, I hope, would be calming. Tom smiled and accepted the cookies. We had small talk about how he choose to be a police officer and his grandfather who had been a captain.

About ten minutes later,the door from the garage opened and Michael ran in shouting about the cool car in front of the house. Ted smiled at the compliment and said it was his. Ted, Michael and I went out to see John, JJ and few of JJ's friends staring at Ted 's car. Ted beamed at the attention and showed off his baby. Ted was thanking me for my time and I was doing the same when we looked over at the Greentree's house.

“I wonder when their parents will come and collect their things. There must be some stuff left in the house.” I was saying it to be polite. A good neighbor should sound concerned.

“After we find them.” Ted said as waved at a neighbor running by. He looked at me on the sidewalk. “We have tried every variation on name and location for their parents or any next of kin. Zero. Nothing.” Ted whispered the last two words and looked around to see if anyone was listening.

“Oh. That is sad.” Again, that was a caring neighborly response. Right?

“Yeah. Really sad. Um, thanks again for your time. And if I can help with anymore technical questions, I would love to help. Maybe for a signed copy of your next book.” Ted smiled a heart melting model/boy next door smile.

I laughed. “You bet. Anything for a reader.” I stood on the side walk and waved bye. John came out to walk Charger.

“Was it a good meeting?”He asked and gave me a kiss.

“Yes and one of the strange things out of it was everyone's background checks came back except for Jerry's and Randy's.” I grabbed my phone and started texting Wendy as I walked in the house. I gave her all the relevant information on Jerry and Roger and explained what I needed and why. I sent Holly a message about something food related asking her to drop off an ingredient I was missing.. I didn't know what the police were monitoring. The text message chime sounded. Wendy would call me in 20 minutes. The chime rang again with Holly telling me she would be over. I made a glass of ice tea and contemplated what I thought I knew about my perfect neighbor, Jerry.

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