I got in my car, and stopped at Timmy’s. When in shock there’s nothing better than an extra large double-double and a sour cream glazed to put things right. Okay, so in this case, there were a lot of ways things could be improved, but coffee and a donut was a good start. I told Gerry where I was going. He offered to tag along, but I needed time to collect my thoughts, before heading to my employment agency to let them know I was available for tomorrow. I handed in my last timesheet, but nothing fresh had come in just yet. Even though I wasn’t in the mood, I gave them my cell number and told them I could really use the work before I got desperate enough to flip burgers, or sort clothes at Value Village. However, until my name is cleared up in this mess, employment was the last thing on my mind.
The next, dreaded stop was the west end. I needed to fill in my parents about the deceased house guest before they heard it through the news or the trans-metropolitan grapevine known as my family at large. Any gossip can reach Etobicoke from Scarberia within a half hour. I wasn’t going to call Vicky either for the same reason. I surfed the radio stations searching for news of the city’s latest murder. There was nothing yet, great. My Bon Jovi CD kept me company on the drive over.
I wanted to call Elaine, my very best friend for the last ten years since college. I just couldn’t do it until I was sure I wouldn’t break down. Elaine is great in an emergency but I wanted to digest the situation myself before sharing. Traffic on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardener Expressway were clear at 10 am on a Monday morning, and I made the trip in good time.
As I drove west I wondered who in hell would want Hodges dead. As I had told both Gerry and the detective, I had only known Hodges for a short while. I really didn’t like him. His collection methods were suspect and rumor had it he was snake when it came to women. So I guess there were many possibilities. Who would fit the suspect list? Pissed off victims of his collection attempts, and as many ex-girlfriends as you could shake a stick at. The biggest issue still stuck in my head was, ” Why my apartment? Was it completely random or was I really being sent a message as Inspector Gibbons suspected?” I could speculate until the cows come home but until we knew the truth, it was as useful as banging my head against the wall.
My parents still lived in the same house they had when they first got married forty-five years ago. I hauled my trash out of the car and headed for the side entrance. Mom was at the kitchen table portioning out her groceries into meal-sized servings. Upon seeing the Timmy’s bag and tray she gave me the look, you’ll-never-get-a-man-eating junk food” look. I am definitely heading for plus size model status. My mother preferred herself and her “girls” to be Barbie perfect, referring to Edna and Charlene, my two sisters.
I returned her look with a glare to suggest “skip-the-lecture-been through-helland-back”. It’s like I had told the police earlier. Mom has always believed that the girls should stay at home until they meet Dr. Right and have ten kids. I am 34 divorced and have always believed in once fried in unholy matrimony don’t do it again. I appealed to Dad to get her off my case for the moment. Dad is a happy camper as long as he has his newspaper and a 12 pack of Guinness in the fridge. I sat down at the table.
Mom looked at me.” You’re not working today?” “Nope.” I was feeling into short staccato replies.
“Why not” was the obvious next query?
I didn’t really want to launch into 20 questions with her about my employment status. Mom just looked at me. It didn’t take much for her to figure that something was up.
“Before I entertain you with my activities of late, I need you to put down the knife before you hurt yourself.” Mom carefully put the knife on the table and sat down
“Laura,” she said, “You look like you have been through a war or two.” I had her attention now. “What’s going on?” She looked at my father. “Robert, put down the paper. Laura has news.” She was likely hoping I had finally snagged my shrink. Mom doesn’t care what kind of doctor I marry, as long as the initials preceded his name.
“Don’t get all excited Ma, I am not marrying Dr O’Hara. In fact, let’s just leave my love life and employment status out of this,” I tell them.
“There is something I do need to tell you. Number one, I am not working. I couldn’t handle the stress of chasing debtors and there is nothing available right now. Secondly I had a guest visitor overnight.”
Mom crossed herself and gave me and I don’t want to know about your tawdry sex life look.
“Nothing like that! Someone deposited a dead body in my living room last night while I was out.” There I said it. The best way I have discovered for delivering this kind of news is the rip off the band-aid quick method.
“Mom! I may be in deep here. I have to get printed and tested for gunshot residue, in order to clear myself of any involvement in this crime.”
My mom plunked down on the kitchen chair and looked sky, crossed herself, and sported
the ‘why me?’ look. It’s kind of a shoot first, answer questions later approach Her eyes got that glazed look. “What the….., why? Did you know him?”
“Yes I did. Some one snuck him in sometime while I was out yesterday, beyond that I don’t know. The police came this morning, and did the usual – including dusting for prints. They are going to let me know.”
“Okay who was he?”
“Well he worked at the agency. His name was Anthony Hodges. Not sure why yet either, obviously someone’s trying to tell me something. Maybe someone has an axe to grind and in his or her sick way is telling me, I’m next.” This thought alone gave me the willies big time!
“Well then its final, Laura I want you to move home.” Mom cut to the chase and put on her mommy knows best hat.
“I can’t. I have cats,” I was ready for her arguments and had some ready mad retorts of my own. “Besides, if I move, it will look suspicious to the police.”
“Who, the police?” I had a tendency toward sarcasm, which drove the folk’s nuts.
“Don’t get smart Laura; you know I meant your animals.”
“Well get out of that neighborhood. I never liked you living across the city. Saul across the street is renting out his basement—I’ll put in a good word for you.”
“I am not moving THAT close,” I tell them.
Maybe it was just the shock of the situation, but my mother was doing a great job of avoiding the bigger picture, maybe that’s where I get it. I put my hands on her shoulders and looked her straight in the eye. “Mom, I could end up very dead if whoever murdered Hodges, found me. The other more heinous possibility is I could do time for this, if the legal system decided I was responsible for the crime.” It was a hideous thought that we all had to face. The only good news was that Canada has no death penalty. However, I pictured being at the mercy of some big chick named Bertha, who would either kill me or make me her prison bitch.
” I actually came here seeking refuge and a sense of safety, which I don’t think I am really getting here.”
“You’re welcome to stay here if you want.” Mom replied.
“No.” I return. “I’ll call Elaine. I want to go home and sanitize my apartment after all that has happened. I may not stay there but I at least need to clean up and get some extra locks and maybe an alarm system. No one is going to surprise me like that again. Besides the police planted an unmarked car in case the killer decides to come back. We also have to consider that if they want to question me further, I may just need a damned good lawyer.”
Dad chirped in for the first time.” Okay Laura I will call my lawyer friend, Paddy Mulligan—He does real estate law, but he might know someone good at criminal law, should the need arise.”
No matter how little Dad said in a conversation, I could always count on his common sense approach—no nonsense from him. “Thanks daddy.”
“No problem—hope you won’t need it but I’ll not put you in the hands of a ‘still wet behind the ears’ duty council.”
I kissed the top of Dad’s head I also hugged Mom, and asked them to wish me luck and say a few prayers the next time they head to Mass.
I pulled out my cell and called Elaine. I arranged a dinner date with her and some of our girlfriends. I definitely needed a night out to forget my troubles, albeit temporarily.
“Where are you going for dinner?” Mom asked.
“Not the Moose Burger Emporium.” I said, as I headed out the door.
My appointment at the police division was for three p.m. I hoped I would not bump into anyone I knew. I took Elaine with me for emotional support. Elaine is another real long time friend. We have been buddies since our college days when we used to raise hell and get drunk. She is perpetually single, and loves it. She says it would be a frosty day in hell before she does the ball and chain routine. Call it commitment phobia. Seeing me and
Louie split, didn’t help change her mind. It only confirmed that love stinks, and men are pigs. Okay she’s not a lesbian, but she won’t commit to a guy beyond a short fling. Anyway, she and the other girls we hang with, including my cousin Vicky, have been a great support to each other over the years. So, once again, Elaine was along for the ride, complete with bail money should I need it. The testing involved me getting my hands clothing, and jewellery examined. I had a change of clothes in my car so I could hand over what I had been wearing. Elaine and I were out of there within an hour. I was informed that testing could take awhile but I would definitely hear from someone if there were problems. Next stop was the liquor store and the Home Depot for supplies – not necessarily in that order.
There is nothing like a night out with the girls to make you forget your woes. I told the group what had happened that morning. The girls were shocked that someone could have gotten in that easily. We agreed that, that night we would have a sleep over at my place install the locks, alarms and arm ourselves with pots and pans against further invasion. I had my baseball bat ready. If there was to be another intrusion to my sanctuary, the sucker had better be prepared to eat wood.
The next morning I got a call for a day job at a printing company, which ended uneventfully. Upon arriving home I received a call from Inspector Gibbons, who wanted to meet about the investigation. I asked him if it was official enough to come to the division, and did I need a lawyer.
Since he said no, I invited him over for coffee. I was still uncomfortable being alone, despite the unmarked police car out in the back lot. At 7 pm, Jeff Gibbons showed up at my door armed with coffee and Danish. We sat at my counter bar.
“So,” I said. “What’s new?”
The good news was that so far my hands had tested clean; they were still working on my other things. Gerry and Ray had been tested as well. Gibbons confirmed the fact that Hodges had been dead before he was dumped. He was shot. The Medical Examiner said some one had kept him on ice –almost literally – until he was delivered. Well at least now I could reassure mom and dad that I wasn’t going to jail.
“But how could that be?” I asked, “He smelled like a fermented banana split when I found him.”
“In that heat it doesn’t take long for things to thaw out.”
“There is another nagging question I have been thinking of all day….. Since there was no blood on my carpet or in the parking lot, how did they get him here? I awakened at eight am and that’s when I stumbled over him. How long had he been in my apartment and who got him in here?”
“Those are good questions and ones maybe you can help us find answers to.”
“Okay, but I am not sure what I can do.”
“It’s easy. Just take us through your activities the day before the body was found. That way we can determine the possible time a body could have been snuck into the building.”
“Perhaps,” I remarked, “it would be important to find out how the killer knew to deliver him here.”
“Hey, I am impressed. How did you figure that out?”
“Look at me, I am a single woman, I have a lot of time to watch TV. I suppose I get into it a bit too much.”
“Okay let’s follow that line of thinking. Let’s take it back to Friday night. What time did you leave work?”
“Easy, they let me leave at 4 pm that day because it was the day I quit. “
“Okay, you said previously Mr. Hodges left before you went to talk to the boss. What time was that, approximately?”
“Hmmmm, about 3:30, I had just gotten off the phone and I remember asking him where he was going and he said he was off to do repossession on a car. I remember being creeped out about it. He just seemed too happy at the prospect. Do you think the owner of the repossessed was responsible for the death? Maybe he wasn’t quite ready to part with the car. ?”
“Where did you go after you left work?” Gibbons cut in.
“I went to the Super Saver to grab some wings to go, and junk food, then on to the beer store. I called my friend Elaine. I went to her place, we stuffed ourselves silly, got stinking drunk and I conked out until noon on Saturday. From there I went to my cousin Vicki’s, where I babysat her three kids for the rest of the weekend.” Which, I was thinking is really hard to do when severely hung over.
“Did you stop at your apartment at anytime through out the weekend, for a change of clothes?”
“No I keep a change of clothes in my car for emergency sleep-over at my parents, or at friends. I also wear the same size as Elaine so I borrowed something from her. And I always carry a tooth brush with me in my bag.” The detective looked at me kind of funny.
“What?” noting his look I answered back, “I am a woman. I am prepared for anything.”
“No comment on that,” he said. “So when you returned home sometime on Sunday night, there was nothing odd in the apartment?”
“Not that I can remember. But I don’t think I tripped over the body ’til Monday morning. I was over tired from babysitting over the weekend and partying with friends on Friday. Sasquatch could have been camped on my couch and it would not have phased me.”
“Did you notice anything strange when you left work?”
“You mean like some one following me? I never noticed anything out of the ordinary.”
“Who did the trace on the debtor?”
“Maybe from now on you had better take notice.”
Inspector Gibbons looked at me. “I can’t tell you this officially but off the record, we
“like” the debtor for this. He or she’s definitely a person of interest.”
“Well that’s going to narrow things down. The manager of the agency could trace what files Hodges was working on. Any files regarding auto loans should be looked at.”
“We already spoke to the director of the agency and he traced anyone who was slated for collection of cars. Then we narrowed it down and found out where they were all weekend.”
I can’t remember exactly who the debtor was but I liked him for this too. “That’s a good start. There is still the burning question why did they dump him in my backyard? ”
“Okay, new thread but it bears checking out.”
I was starting to feel like a spider—throwing out new threads to build a web and I was woven into the middle.
I tried to pretend I wasn’t afraid, but my false bravado was fading. Someone knew where I lived, and had succeeded in depositing a dead body in my living room. “So how long does my shadow stay parked out there?”
“I’d say until it’s over, and the killer is behind bars. Do you feel safe here?”
“No, my home and my peace of mind have been invaded.” I couldn’t help it. I fell apart. I have never been much of a cry-baby, but enough is enough. I was crying real tears and I was not ashamed to do so. Inspector Gibbons stood in front of me and assured me it was natural to feel this way. He handed me a card for victims’ services, if I needed counselling.
“Well I guess I feel better with the car outside my door than without it.”
“I should get going.” He said. “Let us know if you remember anything else unusual about the weekend.”
“So do you really think someone could have followed me around to find out where I live?”
“It’s a possibility we can’t afford to ignore. If he was angry enough to kill Mr. Hodges and if you traced him, you should be careful. But we will do what we can to protect you.”
“Well this is my home and I am not running from it until I have to. I have a bat and I added some more locks.”
I slept on the couch that night with the lights and the TV on. My phone was beside me and I had hairspray under my pillow. It wasn’t Mace but it would do. I couldn’t sleep so I watched the all night movie channel.
I had no work the next day. So when I did fall asleep, I dreamt of having to flip those dreaded Moose burgers, and ended up counting Bullwinkle’s all night.