Authors: J. M. Griffin
Published Internationally by Lachesis Publishing Inc.
Canada K0A 1T0
Copyright © 2012 J.M. Griffin
Exclusive cover © 2012 Laura Givens
Inside artwork © 2012 Giovanna Lagana
All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written consent of the publisher, Lachesis Publishing Inc., is an infringement of the copyright law.
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Editor: Patricia Thomas
Copyeditor: Giovanna Lagana
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any person or persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
To John and Michael, who never fail to prop me up.
Thanks to my family, friends and fellow authors who provided never-ending support, including all my buds from District Six. You are the best!
FOR LOVE OF LIVVY
BAKE SALE SLEUTH
COLD MOON DEAD
The old woman leaned against the trunk of the dented rattletrap car. It had stopped dead, halfway into the low speed lane of the highway. Draping one bony hand across her forehead, she shook her head back and forth in despair—at least, it looked like despair.
I swerved to miss the car and swung my own vehicle into the breakdown lane, shoved the shift lever into reverse, and backed toward the woman. My heart pounded from the near accident, but the old girl was in need. Perhaps I could help. After all, it was winter and the wan countenance of the sun offered little respite from the cold wind.
Drawing up beside the beastly wreck, I shifted into park, dialed the local police station on my cell phone, and reported the accident. My Altima idled as I strode toward the run-down jalopy whose driver had also seen better days. I stuffed my cell phone and my hands into the pockets of my wool jacket.
The old woman glanced around before she hobbled forward. A worn, ragged coat hung on her frail shoulders while her heavy boots flopped about on feet that shuffled a bit. Thin wisps of gray hair tossed about frantically in the wind. Her bony, claw-like hands clutched a filthy crocheted handbag that resembled a shopping bag. A grimace covered the prune-wrinkled face as the woman drew closer.
Mean eyes glared, and though I hadn’t caused her breakdown, I braced myself for a lecture on my poor driving skills. It wouldn’t be the first time I had received one of those.
“You dang near kilt me, young woman,” she said with a near snarl.
“I wasn’t expecting a car to be in the lane when I crested the hill,” I answered defensively. “I-I’m sorry if I frightened you.”
“It ain’t my fault the danged thing broke down, ya know.” She scratched her head with dirty fingernails. I stepped back in case there was a chance lice might jump from her to me. “The least ya can do for an old woman is to give her a ride, eh?” She stared at my car, then gave me the once over.
I caught the malevolent glitter in her eyes for just a second before she glanced away. Taken aback, I nodded and agreed to give her a ride. Disney’s Snow White, the old witch, and the poisoned apple popped into my head. While it was only for a split second, the image left me on edge. It took a mental head slap to force my mind back to the present situation.
Filled with trepidation, I asked, “Where were you going?”
“Just to Olneyville. Do you know where that is?
She continued. “You can drop me near the triangle. What’s yer name, missy?” she asked as she clopped toward the passenger side of my Altima.
“Lavinia Esposito, but my friends call me Vinnie,” I mumbled, wondering if the car would need fumigating after she got out. I hustled along, clicking the door lock open using the electronic key fob.
Within seconds, we were headed toward an area of Providence that had once been a hub of activity. Now it was simply rundown and filled with shady characters. Abandoned stores were boarded up, nightclubs stayed open until the early morning hours creating havoc, and tenement houses stood shabby and forlorn. This was the neighborhood of hookers, drug dealers, drunks, and punks. Even the cops disliked being dispatched to calls in this area.
Nestled into the seat, the old woman rubbed her hands, red with cold, together. The oversized handbag rested on her lap. She started to rummage through it. With a deft motion and a sound of satisfaction, the hag pulled out a snub-nosed .38 Special, Smith & Wesson. The gun was pointed at me. My stomach dropped to my feet as my heart jumped into my mouth.
“Just get off the road, Lavinie.”
“It’s Lavinia,” I murmured. I glanced at her, and tried to stay calm. “This isn’t necessary. I will have your car towed. I-I didn’t mean to nearly h-hit you, honest,” I stammered while my sweaty hands gripped the steering wheel.
“Don’t be stupid. Just do what I say and you’ll be fine.” The small, yet deadly handgun waggled. Her bony finger rested on the trigger. I couldn’t tell if the safety catch was on or not.
Dry-mouthed and scared witless, I steered the car off the main drag into a low-life neighborhood. In a split second I wondered whether I was worse off with this nightmare of a woman than on these mean streets. Either way, my situation sucked. If I didn’t do as she said, she might shoot me. If I did what she said, I might get mugged. Rather than be shot, since I have a serious aversion to blood, I figured I had a better chance on foot in daylight, even in a neighborhood such as this. With my height just short of the six-foot mark, and the ability to handle myself in a life-threatening situation, I figured I could manage this.
The car slid to a halt at the curb and the old harridan motioned for me to get out, with an order to stand in the center of the street. I grabbed my Louis Vuitton handbag but filthy, gnarled fingers whipped it from my grasp.
“You won’t need this, but I will, Lavinie.” She cackled, stepped from the car, and came around to slide into the driver’s seat as I got out, holding the gun on me all the while. She seemed adept at this holdup stuff, leaving me to wonder how many times she’d done it before.
I glanced around the windswept street in case anyone saw her and the gun. I was certain nobody would call the cops. They would close their drapes instead. This was a neighborhood where people refrained from involvement in things that didn’t concern them. Stepping back, I watched my car slide away and screech around the corner out of sight.
I reached into my pocket for my cell phone. When I dialed the Providence Police Department and relayed my story, the dispatcher asked if I was injured. I said only my pride had suffered from the incident. A snicker crossed the line. She said she would put the call out. I asked if she would dispatch Officer Banger, since I knew this was Freedom’s patrol district and that she was on duty. Dispatch said she’d relay the request.
I figured I was in for some ribbing over the robbery. Since I teach criminal justice, date a Rhode Island State Trooper, and have an undercover FBI agent as a tenant, the ribbing was certain. There might be some concern for my welfare mixed in for good measure, though. So not all was lost.
Freedom Banger was a tough cop, but never stupid. She would always recommend stepping away from a gun. This thought offered me some comfort while I awaited her arrival. As a Providence cop who’d been on the force for nearly eighteen years, Freedom had a quirky personality. She saw humor in things most people didn’t and was always suspicious of everyone and everything. If Freedom liked you, and thought you needed a hand, she would move heaven and earth to help you. On the flip side, it was just plain stupid to get on her last nerve.
Impatient, I paced the sidewalk, anxious to leave the area. A smart-looking black BMW rounded the corner and slowed to a stop next to me. Dark tinted windows made it impossible to see inside. With my luck, it was the old broad and she had robbed someone else, then come back to shoot me for kicks.
Mid-step, I paused on the sidewalk and stared at the car. The window slid down—smooth and silent. A black dude, with an earring the size of the Hope Diamond suspended from his earlobe, stared back from behind an expensive pair of sunglasses. His hair was cropped with a Z-cut to the scalp on one side, above his ear. A backward baseball cap tilted haphazardly atop his head. He grinned at me. I noticed his front teeth had a gap and were rimmed with gold. Now that’s attractive, I thought with disgust.
“Yo sistah, wha’s up?” he drawled, like the homey he was. A homey with a car, a very nice car. I didn’t have a car.
“Nothing’s up,” I answered with a quick glance around. Where was Freedom, and what was taking her so damned long?
“You are one fine bitch. Wanna take a ride and join me for a little action?” He gave me a lewd smile, lifted the sunglasses off his face and wiggled his eyebrows at me.
“Do I look like some hoochie momma to you?” I asked with a hand on my hip, my temper flaring.
“Well, who the hell else would be walkin’ these cold, mean streets at this time of day in those fine clothes?”
“Move along. I’m not interested in doing anything with you.”
“You sure?” He grinned. “I know how to satisfy a woman such as yoself.”
“I said, ‘I’m not interested.’” I actually yelled it, rather than said it.
I took a step toward the car and had just raised my high-heeled, booted foot to kick the door when the car raced away. My temper was out of control, and so was I. A hand waved to me out of the car window and the homey flipped me off. Could my day get any better?
Within minutes, I heard the siren and watched Freedom’s cruiser slide to a halt at the curb. Her grin held a smart-ass curve to it. It was then I realized I would never live this event down. I cringed at the thought. The story would make the rounds of the police department and beyond. I would have to listen to snide remarks from cops and students alike, until the next time anyway.
That’s what happens when you’re in a job like mine. I teach Criminal Justice at a local university, to cops, or Five-Os, as they’re called. They mix it up with my other students that tend to be law students and security personnel. In the process I witness a lot of human interaction that borders on the ridiculous. The security people take an immense amount of insults from the cops. They are called names like Flashlight Cops, Two-Point-Fives, or Wannabes. I know, it’s not fair. I often feel like I’m in a room full of kindergarten kids—ones with deadly weapons and gigantic egos. One thing is for sure though, my life is never, ever mundane and this morning’s events proved that to be true.