Authors: Jacklyn Brady
Gabriel shook his head, which might have made me feel better if he hadn't also answered my question. “I'm sure they don't. Really. The thing is, nobody really knows you.”
I'm pretty sure my heart stopped beating completely. “But I've been here a yearâ”
Gabriel touched my cheek with the backs of his fingers. “Baby, you could live here twenty years and you'd still be the new girl in town. But we'll get this straightened out. I promise you that.”
I held on to that promise with both hands. I had to. It was the only lifeline I had. “So Aquanettia had a good reason to want Destiny out of the way, and if Keon is really trying to stay away from drugs, maybe he was trying to get Destiny to back off.”
“Or maybe Isaiah was protecting his little brother,” Gabriel agreed. “Anyone else?”
“Edgar had some kind of relationship with her,” I said. “And Felix sure wanted her removed from the alliance. He knew that she was using drugs again. Maybe he
wanted to protect the neighborhood from her. And half the alliance was on his side before we took the vote,” I reminded him. “It could be almost anyone.”
“So where do we go from here?” Gabriel asked. “Do we check alibis? Look for witnesses? Go over the crime scene searching for evidence? Do we need gloves? Baggies? Give me a job and I'll do it.”
His offer was just about the nicest thing anyone had ever given me. I leaned up and kissed his cheek. “We keep our eyes and our ears open,” I said. “If you get a chance to talk to someone who might have information, take it. But don't let Detective Winslow catch you. I don't want him to decide you were an accomplice or something.”
The coffeemaker beeped to let me know it was finished brewing and Gabriel got up to gather everything we'd need. I hated knowing that Detective Winslow was still hot on my trail, and I had no idea whether Gabriel and I could clear my name. But knowing that he was on my side made me feel better than I'd felt in days.
I slept fitfully until sunrise Sunday morning, and then finally gave up trying. I had too much on my mind to rest. Gabriel's late-night visit had left me hurt, confused, and grateful for his friendship. I just didn't know which one was strongest.
I went downstairs and caught a glimpse of overcast sky and a few drops of rain spattering against the window as I put on a fresh pot of coffee and stirred together a batch of blueberry muffins. Zydeco is closed on Sundays and I didn't want to be around people anyway, so I spent the morning taking care of a few chores. I'd ignored the house for too long.
By the time I started a load of laundry, the sky had darkened and the storm had gathered strength. I turned on the television and listened with half an ear while I dusted, ran the vacuum, and wiped down the bathroom sinks and counters. While the laundry dried, I tried my hand at a crossword puzzle, unloaded the dishwasher, and arranged my spices in alphabetical order. And the whole time I worked, I thought. A lot. Right up until the local news anchor started talking about the murder of local businesswoman Destiny Hazen.
Shaking like a leaf, I sat down in front of the TV just in time to catch the anchor's interview with Detective Winslow. He'd actually cleaned up for his fifteen minutes of fame. His hair was brushed, his suit clean and unwrinkled. In fact, he looked almost trustworthy as he explained that the police had determined that Destiny's overdose had been accompanied by some suspicious bruising and a few other unnamed pieces of evidence. Those led them to conclude that she had been murdered.
My stomach rolled over when I thought about him making this announcement on a Sunday morning. They must have been working on it all weekend. Not good.
Based on forensic evidence, the police placed the time of death somewhere between midnight and seven in the morning. I found her around nine, so she'd been dead at least a couple of hours before I got there. I didn't know whether to high-five myself for calling it first, or bury my head in my hands and cry. Meanwhile, Detective Winslow was assuring the good citizens of New Orleans that an arrest in the Destiny Hazen murder case was imminent.
Maybe the general population of the city felt better hearing that. I suddenly felt a whole lot worse.
I turned off the TV and puttered around the house for a little while longer, but the interview had rattled me. I needed to get outside. I wasn't going to find Destiny's killer in my kitchen. I couldn't clear my name from the laundry room. And I couldn't think about anything else.
I decided to go in to work for a few hours. I was seriously behind on paperwork, and I had a blog entry to write, bills to pay, and a staff meeting Monday morning I wasn't fully prepared for, all of which gave me a better than average chance of keeping my mind occupied.
Battling wind and rain, I drove across town and was all set to park on the street in front of Zydeco when I saw Scotty and Pearl Lee walking under a huge, family-sized umbrella. Scotty wore a red Hawaiian print shirt, shorts, and sandals. Pearl Lee wore a red suit and matching pumps, which she carefully protected from puddles.
What was she
here, with Scotty, on a Sunday? Was she completely oblivious, or had she heard that the police had just announced his daughter had been murdered? I hadn't forgotten Scotty's warning and he still made me nervous. But Miss Frankie would never forgive me if I let Pearl Lee get herself hurt or killed.
I decided to follow them, though it wasn't easy to do in the rainâespecially since I couldn't exactly pretend to be out for a casual stroll. Luckily, they were too engrossed in their conversation to care what was going on around them. After about half a block, Pearl Lee let go of Scotty's hand and leaned up to kiss his cheek. He dropped his head and stood there, letting the rain hit him on the back. He didn't seem to notice, or maybe he just didn't care.
After a minute, they walked on, and when they reached the corner market, they slipped inside out of the storm. I arrived a few minutes laterâit took me a while to figure out that my umbrella had rolled under the front seatâto find them standing in front of the beer cooler, Pearl Lee leaning into Scotty and giving him an unobstructed view of her various charms.
I groaned out loud and at the same time heard a sharp intake of breath coming from behind me. I turned and found Zora staring at the two of them with wide, hurt eyes. Her pale hair hung in limp wet strands to her chin and her plain face seemed even rounder and wider than usual. She saw me looking at her and turned away quickly but she looked so wounded I couldn't just let her go.
“Zora? Wait!” I hurried after her, slipping a little on the wet floor.
She kept going, remarkably surefooted in her rubber-soled orthopedics. She pushed through the door and out into the parking lot. I hesitated for a heartbeat and then raced outside after her. Call me crazy, but I was guessing her feelings for Scotty went a little deeper than friendship after all.
For a woman her size, she sure moved fast! By the time I got outside, she was already half a block away.
Using my umbrella as a shield against the rain, I ducked my head and jogged after her. “Zora! Wait! Please! I need to talk to you for a minute.”
Cars passing on the street splashed water onto the sidewalk, and the sound of the rain hitting the pavement made it hard to hear. So when Zora looked over her shoulder and wiped a lock of rain-soaked hair out of her eyes, I was surprised. I was even more surprised that she actually stopped and waited for me to catch up to her.
She put her hands on her full hips and stared me down. “What?”
“I justâIâ” I stepped over a dried palm frond on the sidewalk and tried to catch my breath. “Look, I'm sorry about Pearl Lee. She's a bit out of control.”
Zora squinted at me in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
“The woman with Scotty. She's been working with me at Zydeco. I know she's a bit over the top. I just wanted to say that I'm sorry if she upset you.”
“Oh. That.” She barked a laugh and shook rain from her collar. “You don't really think I care about
“WellÂ .Â .Â . yes. I mean, you seemed surprised to see them together. I thought you looked hurt.”
“Hurt?” Zora smirked and started walking again. “Oh, honey, Scotty's a friend, that's all. He's free to see whoever he wants and so am I.”
Then why had she just stormed out of the market? “So the two of you aren't a couple?”
“Of course not.”
“Why did I think you were?”
She raked an impatient look across my face and stepped under an awning. “I'm sure I don't know.”
“You seemed so comfortable the day I came by to offer my condolences about Destiny. Almost like you were one of the family.”
Her lips curved, but the smile didn't even come close to her eyes. “I felt sorry for those two men, that's all. They seemed so lost when Destiny died. So that's what you wanted to talk to me about? That's what was so important you had to chase me down in the middle of a rainstorm?”
“I told you, I was concerned about you. I'm glad you're okay.”
“Oh. WellÂ .Â .Â .” She looked a little sheepish. “Thank you.”
“I guess you've heard the news about Destiny?”
“What news is that?”
I told her about the news story I'd just seen and watched her recoil in shock. “I'm sorry. I thought you knew.”
She shook her head slowly. “No, I haven't had the TV on today.”
“You knew Destiny pretty well, didn't you?”
“Oh. I thought you did from the way you were talking at the alliance meeting.”
“You must have gotten the wrong impression,” she said. “I barely knew her at all.”
“But you said things about her relationship with Mooseâabout how he let her get away with murder.”
Zora laughed, but it sounded more like she was clearing her throat. “Goodness, Rita. Everyone in the neighborhood knew how Destiny was. Everyone knows that she put Moose through the wringer.”
“It wasn't my imagination, Zora. I sat right there and heard you say those things.”
“But you're imagining some kind of âspecial relationship' that just doesn't exist.” She used both hands to put air quotes around the phrase. “I'm friendly with Moose and with Scotty, but no friendlier than anyone else in the neighborhood. What is it to you anyway?”
If Zora didn't know that Detective Winslow had me on his short list of suspects, I saw no reason to tell her. “The police haven't solved Destiny's murder,” I said. “And I was nearly hit by someone who stole a van from Second Chances just before she died. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the driver was someone who saw the opportunity to hurt Moose or Destiny but hurt me instead. I'm sure you can understand why I'm concerned.”
A gust of wind showered us both with rain and Zora moved a little closer to the building. “You said the other day that you thought the two incidents might be related, but surely you're wrong.”
“I don't think so. Someone stole the van at the end of our meeting. Why would a random stranger choose a time like that to steal a vehicle from a business surrounded by people? I think that the driver was someone who was at that meeting.”
Zora glanced nervously up and down the street as if she wanted to remind herself who to watch out for. “You think it was one of
“Yeah, I do. Did you see anyone slipping around to the back of the building that night?”
“Of course not! If I had, I would have told the police.”
“Did you happen to pass the Chopper Shop that morning?”
“I may have passed by. I had a dozen errands to run. Do you think the killer was there?”
I tried to set her mind at ease. “He was probably long gone before you showed up. I'm just trying to find someone who was around that morning. I keep thinking that somebody must have seen something.”
Zora sighed heavily. “I'm sorry, but this is all just too much. I wish I could help. I really do. But don't you think it's naÃ¯ve to believe Aquanettia about the van? I mean, we only have her say-so that it was stolen. If you want my opinion, I think she knows who was driving the van that nightâand it might have been her. You saw how Aquanettia reacted to the idea of Destiny running against her in the board elections.”
“Well, yes,” I said uncertainly. “But do you really think Aquanettia snapped?”
“I think the Fishers had more opportunity to sneak through the fence and kill Destiny than anyone else in the neighborhood. And nobody would have been any the wiser.” Zora looked up at the sky and pulled her collar up around her neck. “If you'll excuse me, I really need to get back to work.”
I nodded and tried to decide how I felt about what she'd just said. “Of course. If you think of anything else, would you let me know?”
“Don't you think that's information I should share with the police? If I
happen to remember anything, I mean.”
With Detective Winslow? Not in a million years. But I couldn't say that, so I smiled an innocent-as-a-newborn-baby smile and chirped, “Yes. Of course. That's what I meant.”
She gave me a “sure it was” look. I didn't know her well enough to guess whether she'd mention our conversation to Detective Winslow, but I hoped she wouldn't. The last thing I needed was another warning from him.
She glanced behind her a couple of times, and I realized that I'd frightened her. Maybe I should be a little more careful in the future. I didn't want the whole neighborhood to freak out. She rounded a corner and I tried to decide what to do next. But it was a no-brainer, really. The paperwork at Zydeco could wait awhile longer. What I really needed to do was go shopping.