On The Rocks: A Coven Cafe Mystery

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Chapter 9

After dropping off the necklace at the Westchester County Forensics Lab, Ian returned to Nyack via the Tappan Zee Bridge for the second time in less than twelve hours. The sun was up, another clear day, the bright blue sky helping to keep him awake. He had spent way too many hours on this steel span thanks to his wife, the attention whore. He was more than ready to get home, crash in his empty king-sized bed, and sleep for the rest of the day.

Crossing this bridge sparked his memory of the other bridge, Bear Mountain Bridge, where he was sure the body of Jenna Danvers had been dumped. Even if the killer had been careful enough to wear gloves--and it was certainly glove-wearing weather--he or she hadn’t taken the time to wipe down all the railings. Ian believed the DNA results would show that Jenna had gone over that railing.

But that little nagging voice was whispering in his ear again. There was something about the evidence from the bridge that he needed to examine more closely. There was a clue hiding right in front of him, in plain sight. He simply needed to bring the picture into focus.

Now that he had given up the Vicodin, he expected his mind to function better. He hadn’t popped a pill in two full days. How long would it take for the painkiller to completely leave his system? Was he just exhausted right now? Or was his brain still addled from the drug? He desperately needed a clear mind to solve this case. Maybe sleep would help.

Instead of trying to think, he took a deep breath, sighed, and allowed his fingers to dance over the steering wheel. He imagined he was seated at the piano, performing Moonlight Sonata. His mother had once been a concert pianist, before she had six children, and she had given him lessons for many years. He was still proficient enough to play several impressive pieces from memory, although the upright piano in his living room received little attention these days. He really ought to have it tuned.

Beethoven carried him the rest of the way over the bridge and into Nyack. Once home, he fell into his bed without removing even his shoes and slept the rest of the day like a log. He was too tired to even dream.


At the Coven Café, Angelica and her sister Erica scanned the list of specials. Sunday brunch was the busiest meal of the entire week. Their new hostess, Felix, was taking drink orders to speed things along, while Bruce, the bartender, made mimosas like a madman. When Vivian finally worked her way over to their corner table, both sisters ordered the pumpkin spice pancakes with pecan maple syrup.

"Is something wrong?" Erica’s question broke through Angelica’s thoughts. “You look upset.”

It had been several days since she had heard from Ian and Angelica couldn’t help worrying. This wasn’t normal for him—he had been very good about keeping in contact up until this particular case came along. He just wasn’t himself these days. For the first time since they had become involved, he seemed to be actively pushing her away. And it felt more painful than she’d care to admit.

“Do I? I was just thinking about Ian.” She tried to smile but her bottom lip trembled. “I just wish he’d call. Or come over. Or something. The last time we tried to have dinner together, he got up and walked out on me.”

“That doesn’t sound like him.” Erica frowned, taking a sip of her Earl Gray tea. “But I’m sure he’s going through a difficult time. He shot and killed a person. And he’s not the type to take that lightly.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Plus he’s been on painkillers. Those mess with your mind, at least to some degree.” Angelica remembered how her mother had become addicted to pain medication after taking a stray bullet. It had done little to improve her parenting skills.

“I’ve taken almost every drug out there, but never painkillers.” Erica had been in therapy since she was ten years old; she continue to use medications prescribed for depression, insomnia, and anxiety.

“It’s been a while since I’ve needed any, but I remember feeling like crap on painkillers. The codeine made me nauseous. And my head was constantly fuzzy. Not something I enjoyed at all.” Angelica sipped her coffee. Then she lowered her voice. “There’s something I haven’t told Ian.”

Erica leaned forward in her seat, propping her elbows on the table. “What?”

“I offered to do a reading for him, the last time he came in here. I had my cards out, I was all set, but he refused.” She paused, wondering again if she had done something wrong. He'd left in such a hurry. “So, I did the reading without him. And I received some answers. About his wife.”

Erica nodded. “You haven’t shared this information with Ian?”

“No. We’ve barely spoken since then.”

“And you’re wondering if you should tell him what you know.”

Piles of steaming pancakes arrived at that moment, sprinkled with chopped pecans and glistening with melted butter. A pitcher of warm syrup accompanied the dishes. Vivian, their waitress, smiled at their expressions of awe. “Anything else right now?”

“Nope. This looks amazing.” Angelica flashed her a grin.

“Thanks, Vivian,” Erica added. “Come join us when you get a minute.”

“That won’t be anytime soon!” She swooshed off to another table, grabbing a coffee pot in one hand and the hot water in the other.

Angelica chewed a bite of pancake and swooned. “This might be the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.”

“I love the flavors of this season. The warm spices, the cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.” Erica dug into her breakfast with similar gusto. “But you were telling me about Ian’s wife.”

Angelica nodded, swallowing another bite. “So he’s been wondering if she was abducted, murdered, God knows what. But the cards told me very clearly: she’s alive. She’s got a hidden agenda. And she’s acting like a puppet master, pulling somebody’s strings. Or making a fool of someone.”

Erica paused, her fork midway to her mouth. Maple syrup threatened to drip onto the black linen tablecloth. “And you’re afraid that someone could be Ian.”

“It kinda makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, let’s say she ran away. Disappeared by choice. Then her parents brought in a big-time detective from the city and the guy starts hounding Ian.” Angelica thought about it some more. “But what if it’s all a hoax? What does she get out of it?”

“Well, she gets a shitload of attention. Her face is plastered all over Nyack. When she returns, she’ll be the talk of the town. Everyone will want to know what happened, where she was, if she’s okay…”

Erica had a good point.

“But in the process, she makes Ian look like a fool because he’s the idiot chasing after her. Trying to hunt her down. Clueless.” Angelica couldn’t stand the thought.

“Right. But she’d have to have help. Or be hiding in another part of the country. The local papers and even the television stations have been saturated with her image. There’s no way she could hide around here without an accomplice.”

Angelica pondered some more and felt her anger building. This selfish woman had already ruined four years of Ian’s life. Just when he was getting ready to step away from his toxic marriage, she pulled this ploy. Perhaps to suck him back in? Or embarrass him? To punish him for moving on? The timing could not be coincidental.

“So what are you going to do?” Erica asked, pausing between bites, maple syrup dripping from her fork.

Angelica looked up from her plate and met her sister’s gaze. “He might not want to hear it, and he might not appreciate me butting in, but I’ve got to warn Ian.”


But back at home, stuffed with pancakes and pecans, both sisters were immediately overcome by the need for a nap.

“I never pass out in the middle of the day, but I’m so sleepy.” Erica, prone to anxiety and insomnia, sounded almost proud of herself.

“Me, too. I wonder what Gretchen put in those pancakes.”

"Probably a bunch of carbs," Erica said with a big yawn.

Angelica climbed the stairs to her third-floor suite to find the sun’s afternoon rays streaming through the windows. Her bed beckoned, and she curled up like a house cat. Instead of calling Ian, she succumbed to the sandman. As she conked out, she promised herself she’d make that phone call as soon as she woke up.


A clanging sound drew Ian out of a deep slumber. Why was someone banging pots and pans next to his head? Maybe he had fallen asleep at Strawberry Place?

No. It was the telephone ringing.

“Hello?” Ian struggled to sit up. He was still wearing his overcoat.

“Ian? You sound strange.”

It was Angelica. He realized he hadn’t called her in way too long. How many days had it been? Shit, she was probably pissed. Or hurt.

“I just woke up.”

“Me, too. I think I ate too much brunch. Then I passed out.”

Ian’s stomach growled loudly, protesting his lack of both breakfast and lunch. “I’m jealous. I don’t think I’ve eaten today.” He looked at the clock. Four forty-five.

“You’re kidding me.” Angelica, raised in a Jewish household, took food very seriously. Skipping a meal was a felony in her book. “Do you have a death wish?”

“No. I’ll get something soon.” He yawned and rubbed a hand over his face. He’d have to shave before trying to scrounge up a meal somewhere.

“Why don’t you come over? I’ll make you dinner. Erica and Harry will be up at the Coven tonight, so we can have some privacy.”

“Um…” He hesitated. There was some reason he’d been avoiding Angelica, but he couldn’t remember why.

“Ian, is something wrong? Are you mad at me?” Angelica’s voice broke with emotion.

“No. I’m not mad. At this moment, I’m kind of confused, though.”

“Is it the painkillers? I know they can screw you up. I felt like crap all the time when I was taking them.” Her voice was back to normal now.

“I stopped taking them for that reason. And the pain is mostly under control. But my head still feels like someone stuffed it full of cotton balls.” Ian rubbed his temples. “And I’m a little bit dizzy.”

“You probably have low blood sugar, you idiot. Get your scrawny butt over here.” She hung up on him.

Nice.

He shucked off his heavy overcoat and realized he’d been sweating underneath it. His suit was rumpled. He stripped down and got into the shower. After a few minutes under the hot water, breathing in the steam, he started to feel slightly more human. After soaping up, shaving, and rinsing off, he also smelled more like a human.

He grabbed the last clean suit hanging in his closet. Once dressed, he still felt something was missing. He should have some kind of gift to bring to Angelica. He had ignored her, disregarded her feelings for him, and walked out on her. She deserved better than that. His job was important, but so was she.

A bottle of wine sent the wrong message since he didn’t want to encourage drinking. Flowers would be good, but he didn’t have time to run all over town. She wasn’t the type who needed expensive presents, like Janice. She’d be thrilled over something small. He recalled bringing her a bouquet of Charms Blo-pops once. He needed something like that. He had also written her a song once, but that task had taken about a week.

If he stopped by a store, they’d only have a bunch of Thanksgiving-inspired junk. Indian corn bundles and cornucopia baskets. Stuff like that.

And then inspiration hit him like a fat, awkward bird flapping straight into his head. He grabbed a piece of Janice’s plain, white stationary and traced the shape of his hand. He added some feathers, an eyeball, a beak, a comb, and a wattle. Underneath he wrote: “I’m such a turkey. Sorry!”

He didn’t own any crayons, so he colored some of the feathers with a red pen. Good enough.


He handed her the drawing without saying a word. Angelica took one look at it and threw her arms around him. As they held each other, her three dogs attempted to pry them apart using their snouts.

“I think I’ve been an ass,” he whispered into her hair.

“I think so, too,” she agreed. “And a really big turkey.”

“Practically an entire zoo.”

Her hug was starting to make him feel very warm. And tingly. Or maybe that was the dog breath on his crotch.

She tilted her face up to meet his gaze.

It felt like eons since he had last kissed her. Why had he stayed away? What possible harm could this do? When it felt like such sheer heaven. Like everything was finally right again with the world.

She pulled away and looked into his eyes, smiling. “Let’s eat. And I have something to share with you.”

BLAM! He instantly remembered why he had been avoiding her. His eyes must have registered the shift in his emotions because she cocked her head.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

Ian’s shoulders sagged. He was going to have to spill the beans now. And have an uncomfortable conversation. He’d been trying to avoid this, but there was no getting around it. “Angel, I made a promise to myself that I would solve this case on my own. Without any help from you. That’s why I walked out the other night, before you could read those cards.”

She nodded, her expression wary. “Okay...” She paused. “Does that mean you don’t want to hear what the cards told me? About Janice?”

Ian shook his head in disbelief. “So you read them, anyway? Without me?”

Why was he surprised? This was what she did. She had warned him from the start that she was nosy. Could never leave things alone. Well, she hadn’t lied.

“Yes. I’m sorry. I guess that was wrong. I won’t say anything more about it, if you don’t want to know.” Angelica reached for his hands and held them. “Please don’t be mad.”

How could he stay mad at her? “I’m not. Let’s eat. I’m starved and it smells great in here.”

She kept hold of one of his hands and pulled him into the kitchen. There was a tossed salad in a large wooden bowl already on the table. Angelica’s salads were masterpieces. He peered into the bowl and spied chunks of pear along with goat cheese and pecans nestling among the dark green leaves.

“Have a seat. Everything should be ready.”

“Are you sure I can’t help?” Ian reached for a napkin.

“So now it’s okay to help each other?” She shot him a wicked look as she donned a set of oven mitts.

A steaming pan of roasted vegetables emerged from the oven, followed by a tray of grilled lamb chops.

“This all looks fantastic.” Ian was salivating almost as much as the three dogs. Ebony ran like a faucet whenever she smelled meat. There was already a small puddle forming under the table.

Angelica made up a plate for each of them and pushed the salad bowl toward him. “I know you’re starving so dig in.”

“Thanks.” Ian attempted to cut his meat politely, but his pace was much too frantic to be considered genteel. Angelica laughed at him as she speared a roasted carrot.

One thing he appreciated about her was how much she enjoyed watching him eat. There was a warm, nurturing side to her that he had never experienced with Janice. In fact, Angelica was even more motherly than his actual mother, who had too many children to ever tend to one individual for very long. Not to mention, his mother had suffered from bi-polar disease and had been hospitalized for much of his childhood.

As he chewed, he felt guilty about taking advantage of her hospitality. He figured he still owed her more of an explanation. “I’ve been feeling off my game lately. I guess it was probably the painkillers making my head all fuzzy. And the pain was so intense at first, I wasn’t sure I should even be out of bed. Let alone trying to track down a murderer. Then that sleazy detective was following me around, accusing me.” He wiped his mouth with a napkin. “But I haven’t even told you what happened last night.”

“What?” She perked up, all ears.

“Janice showed up. On the bridge. She threatened to jump if they didn’t find me and bring me to her.”

“Holy shit.” Her eyes went wide.

“Yeah. I was in the middle of a raid at this massage parlor in Congers, and I had to drive out onto the bridge and talk her down.”

“So you did? And she’s safe?”

“I got a little tired of talking so I basically grabbed her and yanked her down. But yeah, she’s safe. She’s in the psych ward at Nyack Hospital for now.”

“Wow.”

Ian had the feeling Angelica was biting her tongue.

“That’s not all.” He finished off the last bite of his chop and took some salad. “She was wearing this little gold cross around her neck. I’d never seen it on her before, but it looked like an exact match for the one the dead girl on the beach should have been wearing. The girl’s parents told me she never took the necklace off. Janice claimed it was a gift. She refused to say from who.”

Angelica shook her head. “You said Janice ‘claimed’ it was a gift. Does that mean you think she’s lying?”

He shrugged, chewing some salad. “I’m not sure. She’s definitely a liar. But the possibilities seem to be that she took the necklace from the dead girl herself, which would mean she was a party to the abduction and maybe the killing, or she was given the stolen necklace by the killer.”

“Or she just happened to be given a very similar cross as a gift.”

“I told you the vic was a dead ringer for Janice, right? And then Janice shows up, pretending she wants to kill herself, wearing the exact same necklace. I don’t think it could be a coincidence. Do you?” Ian held her gaze.

“Seems unlikely, when you put it like that. Is there a way to definitively match the necklace to the dead girl?” She finished off her chop and pushed her plate away.

“I’m hoping we’ll get some DNA off it. And not just Janice’s.”

She smiled a very small smile. “I noticed you asked my opinion. Does that mean you’re not completely opposed to my help?”

“You’re just dying to tell me what those cards said, aren’t you? You can barely contain yourself.” Ian grinned at her.

“Do you want coffee, Mr. Know-It-All?” She got up from the table and cleared her dishes, pretending not to be quite so anxious.

“Coffee would be great.” He polished off the last of the salad and leaned back in his chair. “That’s the first real meal I’ve eaten in a while. Maybe since the last time we had dinner.”

“I’m a good influence on you. I don’t know why you resist it.” Angelica turned away from the coffee maker and narrowed her eyes at him. “I assume you have to get to work after this.”

“Yup. I passed out this morning when I finally got home, but I still have a killer to catch.” He looked at the clock on the oven. “I have time for a quick cup of coffee, though.”

And maybe a little snuggling on the couch, he thought to himself as the coffee dripped into the pot.

“Let’s take our cups into the living room,” Angelica echoed his thought, leading the way.

“So,” she said, placing her mug on the coffee table and sliding back against the couch cushions, “do you want to hear this or not?”

“Nah. I decided I don’t need your help after all.” Ian took a seat next to her.

She turned and smacked his leg. “You are such a…”

Ian grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her onto his lap. This was more like it, her knees wide apart, her hips against his. He reached up and took her face in his hands, drawing her to him. Their kiss lingered.

When she lifted her mouth from his, she was smiling. “You keep distracting me.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re the one who’s distracting me."

She climbed off his lap without kneeing him in the ribs or the groin, which he appreciated. “So. If you want me to let you leave this house, you need to listen.”

He reached for his coffee cup and took a sip. “Go ahead, if you must.”

“When I read the cards, I saw three things. One was that Janice has a secret. A hidden agenda. I saw that she was alive, which you have now confirmed. And it looked like she was pulling someone’s strings, like a puppet master. Or making a fool of someone. Or both.”

Ian was quiet as he mulled this over. He hadn’t wanted the help, hadn’t been seeking it out, but he found the information rang true. He knew Janice had at least one secret because she had refused to tell him who had given her the cross. And he guessed that he must be the fool in this scenario, worrying about her whereabouts when she had been hiding from him.

“I don’t know if any of this is helpful now, since I’ve already found Janice. But I believe everything you’ve just told me is true.” He placed a hand on her knee. “You’ve gotten really good at reading those cards.”

“I told you. I’ve been studying.” She turned to face him. “I can do another one, if you want. Maybe dig up some fresher information.”

He shook his head. “Not tonight. I need to get over to the station now. I think I better take my coffee to go. Do you mind if I borrow your mug?”

“Not at all.” She glanced at his handmade gift on the coffee table. “By the way, I’m going to frame that drawing and hang it on the wall.”

Ian looked pained. “Please don’t.”


He hurried along the sidewalk, trying not to spill his coffee. It was already dark; the days were getting the shorter. The lack of light seemed to affect his mood more and more as he got older. He felt he had to fight to keep the darkness from invading his spirit. Some days, it was a losing battle.

In front of Strawberry Place, he caught sight of a couple of teenagers fooling around on the sidewalk. A boyfriend and girlfriend, it seemed, were in no great rush to get wherever they were going. The guy ambled along while the girl danced around him, leaned against him, and attempted to jump onto his back. Then she draped her arms over his shoulders and relaxed, letting him drag her body for several yards.

The instant Ian saw the boy dragging the girl, he stopped dead in his tracks.

The dragging was significant. That was the detail from the Bear Mountain Bridge that needed further analysis.

But why? What did his brain know that it wasn’t spitting out?

In the middle of the sidewalk, still holding his now cold cup of coffee, he closed his eyes and imagined the scene. Someone transported Jenna’s body in a car to the Bear Mountain Bridge. In the back seat? In the trunk? The trunk was the most likely choice.

When the killer got to the bridge, he or she dragged the body for at least ten yards. Why didn’t the killer just lift and carry the body? Jenna was barely a hundred pounds according to the autopsy, and the killer should have been in a hurry. Why not sling the corpse over one shoulder in a fireman’s carry, jog to the correct spot, and dump it quickly over the railing?

There was only one possible answer to this question. Because the killer couldn’t. Because the killer wasn’t strong enough to easily lift one hundred pounds.

Several pieces of the puzzle tumbled into place.

Why starve the victim before strangling her? Perhaps to make her weaker, too weak to fight back. And also to make her lighter. Easier to dispose of, once she was dead. This killer thought ahead. He or she was organized, intelligent, but not physically strong.

Could be a woman.

Could be a man who was small, weak, injured, older, handicapped, or possibly ill.

And Ian had a strong feeling this wasn’t the killer’s first offense. This level of planning and forethought pointed to expertise. Expertise gained in the commission of similar crimes. His killer had done this before. He’d put money on it.

Ian’s eyes popped open and he took off down Broadway at a brisk pace. Cold coffee sloshed in his mug. He tossed the remnants into a bush. It was nearly eight o’clock on a Sunday night. Not the best time to do research, but he didn’t have much choice. He must access the New York State databases containing information on similar unsolved crimes in the area.

And he needed to get over to the hospital and grill Janice some more. Not tonight. He’d let her stew in her own juices for another day. By tomorrow she should be fully marinated.

As he jogged up the steps to the station, someone burst through the door and almost knocked him backwards down the concrete stairs. The large man grabbed his arm at the last second, preventing the fall. Pain shot through Ian’s ribs as his shoulder received a brutal yank.

Ian peered into the guy’s face, eyes watering. “Christ, it’s you.”

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