Read Ding Dong Dead Online

Authors: Deb Baker

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Large Type Books, #Mystery Fiction, #Murder, #Crime, #Investigation, #Murder - Investigation, #Birch; Gretchen (Fictitious Character), #Dolls, #Dolls - Collectors and Collecting, #Collectors and Collecting

Ding Dong Dead (3 page)

BOOK: Ding Dong Dead
10.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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The woman had made all the wrong moves and had paid the ultimate penalty.
“Gretchen,” she heard behind her as she turned and fled.
She made it to the tree next to Matt’s car. She leaned against the palm tree for support, fighting back waves of nausea, feeling helpless and weak against the monster that had done this to one of her kind.
When Matt reached her, she welcomed his arms, wrapped herself against his chest, and never wanted to let go.
3
Fantasy dolls are the latest rage. Unicorns, dragons, mermaids, fairies, and wizards. They are the three Ms—mystical, magical, and mysterious. For those who enjoy working with clay, creating fantasy dolls can become an addictive hobby. Kits are available for the novice enthusiast. Or dig into the clay and cast your own forms. Fantasy dolls are replicas of immortal earthly spirits with supernatural abilities. Add feathers, fibers, and fairy glitter to your newly sculpted piece and watch her come to life.
—From
World of Dolls
by Caroline Birch
 
 
 
Detective Terry Vascar arrives at the crime scene and parks behind a line of vehicles. Two women are greeting each other next to the car parked ahead of him. He recognizes one of them, even in the dark. It’s the woman his pal Matt Albright has been dating, Gretchen Birch.
Terry swings his head and spots Matt talking to a forensics team. When he looks back, the women are moving in the opposite direction.
Terry follows, staying in the shadows, curious. They stop at a headstone, not even noticing him.
Three words appear on the marble when the younger woman shines a flashlight beam on it.
Die, Dolly, Die.
“It’s not blood.” Gretchen is breathing fast, rushing her words as she speaks. “It’s lipstick.”
A cop walks toward them, with Matt trailing behind. Terry steps in beside Matt, who nods so slightly Terry almost misses the greeting.
“Caroline,” Matt says, moving forward to shake the older woman’s hand. “Thanks for coming to get Gretchen.”
“I don’t like this.”
“None of us do. Listen, we found a doll. Would the two of you take a look?”
“Of course,” both women respond.
Terry watches his buddy slide away, stopping a good distance from where an officer holds up a clear bag containing a doll.
What’s up with Matt?
The flashlight in Gretchen Birch’s hand illuminates the doll for a moment, then swings wild, erratic. Terry takes the flashlight from her. She doesn’t resist, instead giving him a look of gratitude. He shines it on the object with a steady hand.
The doll’s face is exquisitely chiseled. She has long copper hair that falls to her waist. Ivy snakes up a perfectly formed leg.
A second bag contains gold wings. In the murky light, the wings sparkle like gemstone dust.
“A fantasy doll,” Gretchen whispers. “Her wings have broken off.”
“Yes,” Caroline agrees.
“Have you seen this doll before?” Matt asks from outside the small group. “Or one like it?”
“No,” Caroline says, but Terry catches something in her voice, in the startled expression on her face. Matt senses it, too, because he glances sharply at Terry.
“Thank you again, Caroline, for coming,” Matt says after a pause. Terry waits while Matt escorts the women back to their car, opening doors for them and muttering reassurances. The women drive away.
“Gretchen’s mother?” Terry asks.
“Yes.”
“She recognized the doll.”
“Maybe. I’ll talk to her again.”
Terry gestures toward the body, covered and strapped to a gurney. Strobe lights everywhere. “What’s going on?”
“A murdered woman.”
“Name?”
“No purse and no identification.”
“But we have a doll.”
“Just my luck,” Matt says.
4
The man—known to his friends as Nacho, formerly called Theodore Brummer in a life he barely remembers—watches the car leave the cemetery. He thought about moving away from the group, greeting his friends Gretchen and Caroline before they drove off, but that would have called even more attention his way. The police already think he is some kind of ringleader.
Police! He hates them and their superior, suspicious attitudes.
“Vagrants,” says a cop, who pretends he is doing good deeds while actually satisfying a sadist tendency to manipulate and destroy those who are weaker. He’s the same one who rounded them up, flashing a club to prove his power.
Make my day. Make a move so I have an excuse to pound you into the ground.
All Nacho wanted was a quiet place to bed down away from the dopers downtown, the addicts who will kill for a buck, for the possibility of a high. That’s all any of them wanted, peace and quiet. Not this.
How could Gretchen get involved with a cop?
Here he comes, striding over like he owns the world. The one his friend Gretchen is so fond of. Albright. Nacho wants to give him the benefit of the doubt for her sake. But a cop? More benefit for him in doubt.
“Hey, Detective Albright,” Nacho says. “They want to haul the lot of us in.” That’s what the cop had called them.
The lot
, like they aren’t human. Maybe Gretchen’s cop friend can help him and Daisy.
The detective nods in recognition. Good. He remembers. Nacho glances back and sees Daisy pushing forward and addressing the detective, too. “Hi,” she says, friendlylike. That’s Daisy, no prejudices there, even when they pick her up off the street for no good reason.
The detective honors her with another nod before consulting with the coppers, not bothering with Nacho’s concern of incarceration.
Nacho doesn’t want to spend the night in jail, although sleeping in a bed would be a treat. A square meal and sheets. How long has it been? He’s used to passing the night in a ripped-up sleeping bag thrown down on hard desert dirt, a cover over his head if he’s lucky. Black plastic sheets work when it rains. But the cops have confiscated all their possessions—Daisy’s shopping cart filled with supplies, their backpacks.
Who called in the cops without warning them to leave the cemetery first? Usually Nacho is the first to know of these situations. When you live on the street, you hear it all, see it all, and you vamoose before the heat arrives. It wasn’t one of theirs who made the call. That’s obvious.
Too late this time. They should have gone when the going was good, when they heard the disturbance, little ripples of conflict, on the other side of the cemetery.
Detective Albright starts interrogating the clump of frightened people, asking the same questions already asked by the other cop.
Who are you? What are you doing here? What did you see go down?
No one wants to say anything. Who would? Speak at all and they run you in and book you on some trumped up charge. None of them admits to hearing the disturbance, two people, the mutter of voices, rising, then falling, quiet after that.
There’s someone whom Nacho doesn’t recognize in the group. One among them doesn’t belong to his community, but he isn’t saying a word. He doesn’t get involved in other people’s business.
The streets of Phoenix are beginning to swell with more homeless people than ever before. The old-timers are forced to share more and more, make due with less all the time. No one will leave them alone. They’ve lost their tent city, the services they used to count on are closing up, laws are tightening, some of his acquaintances go missing by morning, rounded up and dropped off at the border.
Get out
, that’s the message he hears the most.
Go someplace else.
If he could control his drinking, he’d consider a different lifestyle. That’s what Daisy hints at. A real home.
Albright gets around to the one who looks like them, but doesn’t smell right. After a while, you know who fits and who doesn’t. This one doesn’t.
“Who are you?” Albright asks, but Nacho doesn’t hear the answer because Daisy is on her cell phone. People sometimes laugh when they find out about her phone. What’s a homeless person doing with a cell phone? But Daisy is amazingly secretive about her past.
Most of them don’t even remember having a past. Nacho doesn’t.
“We’re in the cemetery,” Daisy says into the phone, then listens. “. . . I don’t know why . . . Didn’t want to make trouble for you . . . Taking us in for questioning . . . Not yet. I’ll let you know. Thanks.”
Nacho thinks how cute she looks since she changed her style to that red hat thing. Daisy is wearing a floppy hat with her favorite purple dress. The rest of her wardrobe is in police custody along with everything else she owns.
“Vagrancy?” one of the cops asks the detective.
Albright replies loud enough to interrupt Nacho’s eavesdropping, but that’s okay, Daisy has disconnected from the call. “Book them,” he hears from this man Gretchen thinks so highly of. She should be here to see how they’re treated.
Nothing like joining the homeless community to realize how rotten people can be on both sides of the law.
5
The gun blast frightened all of them. Someone screamed.
Gretchen watched with a mixture of frustration and disbelief as Bonnie dove for the floor, landing on her padded stomach. The man’s black synthetic wig she wore on her head slid sideways, and her fake handlebar mustache skidded across the floor.
Bonnie’s body seized. Then her eyes stared sightlessly.
Julie Wicker dropped the weapon on the floor and covered her face with both hands. “I didn’t mean to fire it,” she said after clearing a space between her pinky fingers for better articulation. “It was an accident. I’m so sorry.”
“Cut,” Nina shouted, recovering slightly faster than Gretchen had from the unexpected explosion. Nina stomped up to the stage to glare at the cast members. She maintained a commanding presence even while dwarfed by a six-foot Barbie mannequin dressed in a cheerleader’s outfit.
“Take five,” Nina ordered. “Then come back and try to do the scene the way it was written. And why did the mustache come off?”
Gretchen was the one who had applied Bonnie’s mustache, another one of the many responsibilities she was trying to juggle. “Who’s got the glue?” Nina continued when no one answered. “Where’s makeup?”
“We do our own makeup,” Bonnie said. “You know that.”
Another glare from Nina. “Use superglue next time. I want that mustache to adhere so well it never comes off.”
Bonnie Albright, president of the Phoenix Dollers Club and mother of the man Gretchen was dating, could have pointed an accusing finger at Gretchen, but she didn’t, which raised Gretchen’s esteem for the woman several notches.
Bonnie rolled to her side, pushed up into a sitting position, and readjusted her wig.
“We’ve been at this for hours,” she griped. “We need more than a five-minute break.”
The other cast members agreed.
Gretchen sighed, and followed her aunt onto the stage, picking up the blank-firing revolver on the way. Not only was the cast totally inept, forgetting their lines and firing weapons at all the wrong times, but Nina, who had volunteered to help out so that she could keep an eye on Gretchen after the unfortunate tarot reading, seemed determined to horn in on Gretchen’s directorial turf. Nina apparently didn’t understand the role of assistant director.
Gretchen fervently wished that she’d never mentioned the high school stage production she’d had a minor role in years ago. Suddenly she was the director of
Ding Dong Dead
, the certified expert on play production. Certifiable, was more like it. She had to be nuts to have agreed to take this on. The title of director didn’t suit her, as she was quickly finding out. She didn’t have the necessary air of authority. But Nina didn’t have the people skills, judging by the pleading expressions on the cast’s faces.
“A few more minutes before we start up again would be appreciated,” Julie agreed.
They looked expectantly toward Gretchen, waiting to see if she’d challenge Nina’s bid for power. She really should say something that would reestablish her status as commander of this listing ship. But after last night’s trip to the cemetery, Gretchen hadn’t slept well. Nightmares weren’t anything new, but her usual dreams had morphed into something different—monsters she couldn’t see, screams she couldn’t scream, cliffs, falling, and a dead woman’s sightless stare.
Gretchen managed a nod to indicate her agreement with the cast.
Nina rolled her eyes.
Bonnie, who played the role of Craig Bitters in the production, flipped off the cheap male wig, exposing a tight wig cap underneath. Beneath the cap, crushed against her scalp, was Bonnie’s own red wig, which she wore every day to conceal the large bald spot on her crown.
“I’m proud of our stage setting,” Gretchen said to distract them from further dissent. The play, which had been written by her mother, Caroline, took place inside a doll collector’s home, in a room devoted entirely to Barbie dolls and teddy bears. They had found a damaged pink Barbie house and had converted it into display cases, filling it with dolls and bears. The six-foot Barbie had been donated by one of the club members. The overall effect was perfect. At times, Gretchen could suspend belief and actually imagine that she was in one of the club member’s homes.
“When that gun went off, I almost peed in my pants,” Bonnie said.
Julie giggled. Cast as Craig’s long-suffering wife, Doris, Julie came to rehearsal each day dressed for her part. Although Gretchen had insisted that she was perfect already, Julie had dyed her brown hair black and styled it in a messy updo. Heavy makeup and a red cotton sweater with embroidered teddy bears completed the package.
Gretchen felt the tension break as the group of doll collectors took turns stepping down from the stage of the banquet hall, all talking at once. She watched them head for the break area in the next room.
BOOK: Ding Dong Dead
10.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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