There was nothing quite like a burger from the Burger Bar to fill the emptiness in my stomach… and maybe in my soul too. It didn’t matter that I’d gotten it in a takeout box and spent so long walking home, pondering what I’d just witnessed, that by the time I’d gotten into the kitchen, it was cold.
I stood in Grizzy’s kitchen waiting for the microwave to heat up my burger. Curly Fries sat next to her bowl, occasionally meowing at me though she had to know by now that I wouldn’t feed her unless it was her set breakfast or dinner time.
The microwave ‘tinged’ and I brought out my burger in its cardboard box, grinning to myself. After a long day of trying to figure out what Janine and Mona were up to, I was officially tuckered out.
It didn’t help that I couldn’t make the connection between one of the women and the murder.
I carried my burger box to the table and sat down.
The trouble with my suspects were that they both had a motive. Janine wanted to be second-in-command, and that might mean she’d gotten rid of Megan to do exactly that. And Mona? She’d alluded to changing things up in the chain of command.
Could it be that simple?
But where did Ray come into it? Why had Megan’s glasses been wedged under the fence that separated Grizzy’s garden from his? Was it just because of his relationship with Megan? But Kensington was the one who was with Ray now. And it didn’t seem she was linked to the crime—unless she’d staged the whole thing.
But why? All for Ray? There were easier ways to handle—
“Hey!” The shout came from outside the house. “You get out here!”
I pushed up from the table and darted to the front door—never mind that Curly Fries would probably find a way to open my burger box while I was gone. I was out and onto the front porch in seconds.
Ray Tolentino stood in the front yard in his undershirt, his eyes wild, grasping a piece of paper. “Do you think this is funny?” he yelled.
I looked over my shoulder. No one there. “Are you talking to me, Ray?”
“Yeah, I’m talking to you.” He stormed up to me and thrust the document into my hands. “Is this your idea of a joke?”
I scanned it.
It was an image of Ray and Kensington, locked in a passionate embrace out in his front garden. “Uh?”
“Turn it over,” Ray said, impatiently.
I flipped the picture over and found words scrawled across the back in untidy handwriting.
I know your dirty little secret. Tell Mona or you’re next.
My eyebrows rose. Tell Mona? About Ray’s relationship with Kensington? Didn’t she already know?
It didn’t matter whether she did or didn’t, though. I had the evidence I needed. “Ray,” I said, “where did you find this?”
“Someone put it under my door this morning. I’ve been waiting all day to talk to you about it,” he replied. “I thought… you’re the snooping type. You know, you’d do something like this. It’s none of your business who I’m in a relationship with.”
“What about the glasses, Ray?” I asked.
“The glasses that I found buried on the border of your property. They were Megan’s.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ray said, and his eyes said he was telling the truth. But if he hadn’t buried them, who had?
I turned back to the house and beckoned for him to follow. “We need to discuss this inside. Something isn’t right here.” Like the fact that someone was threatening Ray. And that he had no idea that the sunglasses had been buried on his property.
“The only thing that isn’t right is you pranking me. It’s none of your business who I date or what I do.”
“Who you date?” I asked, as I reached the porch.
Ray had followed me, and he huffed and puffed after each step, seemingly caught between going along with my plan to chat inside and the urge to vent his spleen.
“Yes! Everyone’s involved. If it’s not you, it’s that…” he cleared his throat and grumbled something indistinct.
I shepherded my neighbor inside and brought him to the kitchen table. Much to my eternal shock, Curly Fries hadn’t managed to get the burger out of its box where I’d left it. Instead, she sat on the table itself batting it around with her paw. I’d come back just in time.
She meowed at me, leaped off the kitchen table and pitter-pattered out of sight.
“That cat!” Ray said. “That cat is a nuisance. And that other weird-lookin’ one with the circles around its eyes ain’t any better.”
“Take a seat, Ray, and kindly don’t talk negatively about my cat. Or Curly Fries.”
Ray stared at me, mutinously. “I don’t see why I should say anything to you. I know you’ve been sneaking around my property, doing things you shouldn’t.”
“What things?” I asked.
“Don’t play dumb.” Ray directed a chubby finger at me. “You slipped that picture under my door, and you were the one who rifled through my trash cans the other day. And you were the one who—”
I raised a hand. “I haven’t done anything, Ray.”
“You’re obsessed with me.”
I snorted. I couldn’t help it. “I’m sorry, Ray, but I’m not.”
“Then why did you sneak into my bedroom last night?”
I froze. “Someone was in your bedroom last night?”
“A woman. And I know it wasn’t Kensington because she’s not that tall.”
A tall woman. Janine? Perhaps, she’d been snooping in Ray’s house… but why?
“Ray,” I said. “Where’s Kensington?”
He colored red and rolled his shoulders. “Dunno.”
“Why don’t you know?”
“Because we broke up, OK? We broke up.”
Heat and cold flushed through me in equal parts. There was something here. A clue I couldn’t place my finger on yet. I latched onto a question. “Does anyone else know that?”
“Ray, this is important, does anyone else know that you two are broken up?”
“No. It happened yesterday morning. She’s acting strange and different and… not like herself. I don’t have time for that. Women need to do what’s expected of them in a relationship and part of that is cooking meals when they’re meant to and—”
“All due respect, Ray, it’s a miracle no one’s murdered you yet in this town,” I said, and walked for the door, still grasping the picture in my hand.
Ray had dated Kensington, and the murderer didn’t know they had broken up. The strange things going on at Ray’s house had likely been targeted at Kensington instead of Ray. The break-in last night…
I paused, mid-stride, and looked back at Ray. “How often did Kensington stay at your place?”
“Quickly, please. This is important.”
“Every night,” he replied. “She loved me.”
And there was my answer. The murderer hadn’t known Kensington wouldn’t be there. They’d come for her, not Ray. And that left me with one option.
The murderer had to be…