The afternoon had passed quickly after Liam had come around to the Burger Bar to check in with the many witnesses. He’d taken several statements, handed out cards, and told me quietly that I shouldn’t talk to anyone about what I’d seen. Just in case.
Folks in our Sleepy Creek had a habit of sharing gossip like they would cake, and the less publicity the better it was for the detectives working the case. But that was like wishing the sky was purple.
I sat on the sofa in Griselda’s living room, my legs folded underneath me, and Poirot, my adopted kitty cat, curled up in my lap. Curly Fries, the terrorizer of food and humans alike, had positioned her bulk near the kitchen door. Occasionally, she would whack her tail back and forth to show her displeasure.
What was new?
Curly was always in a foul mood when I was around. And Poirot hadn’t helped matters. My cat had a white and dark markings both around his eyes and above his little kitty mouth—they made him look like a pro-investigator. One of the many things I adored about him.
I stroked his furry head, and Poirot rose and let out a meow.
“What’s up?” I asked.
Once upon a time, I would’ve called myself crazy for talking to a cat. Yet another testament to how this town had worn me down—from hardened homicide detective to cat whisperer. Stranger things had happened.
Poirot prt-meowed at me, and I frowned, stroking his ears. He leaped out of my lap and trotted toward the front door. Another meow followed.
Odd. He’s never so restless.
“What’s wrong, Poirot?”
The kitty scratched the front door and tried to reach underneath it. He let out another doleful meow, turned toward me and gave me a look brimming with intelligence, the markings around his eyes giving the impression of perfectly circular glasses.
“All right,” I said, muting the TV. “Hold on a second. Let me get my coat.” There was no reason for Poirot to go outside other than a potty break—but we had a tray inside for that.
Who could explain the whims of a cat? Not me. Besides, I needed a breath of fresh air, anyway. Maybe it would loosen something in my mind. A clue. Or a lead. I’d run over the murder so many times in my thoughts, things had started blurring.
I unlocked the front door and escorted Poirot out onto the front porch. The lights were off. I muttered under my breath and turned to switch them off, but Poirot meowed again and batted my ankle this time.
Very unlike him. That was more of a Curly Fries move.
“What’s wrong with you tonight?” I whispered. “You’d swear…”
Poirot darted off toward the wooden-slatted fence that separated Grizzy’s place from the neighbor’s. Ray Tolentino was a chubby, balding man who hated cats and loved shouting things at the top of his lungs. His porch lights were on, at least.
“Poirot, wait,” I hissed.
If he jumped over the fence and got lost in Tolentino’s yard, the man would show no mercy. He’d been known to wield a broom. I’d saved Curly Fries from his ire once before.
I hurried after Poirot, but the cat hadn’t jumped up on the fence. Instead, he dug his little paws underneath it and meowed again.
“Poirot?” I brought my cellphone out of my coat pocket and switched on the flashlight app.
A bit of pink plastic peeked out from under the garden fence. It looked as if it had been buried in Ray’s front yard, right along the fence line. But why? And what was it?
I bent down, brushing my fingertips off on my jeans, and worked the bit of plastic out. It was a pair of sunglasses, glittery pink sunglasses. Exactly the type that the women in the Gossip Circle wore.
Poirot had switched from meowing to purring now, and he rubbed against my legs.
“How on earth did you know this was here?” I asked, turning the glasses over in my hand. On one of the temple pieces, Mona’s name had been printed in glitter. And on the other side… was Meghan’s. “What on earth?”
A bang sounded out before I could fathom what the clue meant, and I jolted on the spot. Poirot let out a meow.
“Shush.” I put up my finger, tucking the strange battered glasses into my pocket. I pressed my hands to the wooden fence and peered between the slats. My heart skipped a beat. The noise had been the slam of a car door, and a figure had appeared at the end of Ray’s garden.
They stood there, shrouded in darkness, then clicked the gate open and walked up the long path that led to his porch. Light splashed over the approaching stranger, and I barely stifled a gasp.
Keep it together, Watson.
It was Mona! Mona ‘Gossip Queen’ Jonah here for… well, for what I didn’t know. Mona and Ray didn’t exactly run in the same circles. From what I’d heard, Ray didn’t run at all, not if he could help it, unless it was to chase cats out of his rosebushes.
Mona grumbled something under her breath. She swept off her pink gloves and patted them in the palm of one of her hands, glancing left and right as if to check if the coast was clear.
What is she up to?
Poirot sat next to me in the grass, silent, his yellow eyes fixed on the crack in the fence. The kitty was far too smart for his own good, though I preferred his intelligence to Curly Fries’ aptitude for getting her head stuck in coffee mugs.
Mona pressed her finger to the doorbell and it bzzed in Ray’s house. A beat passed and, finally, the door creaked open. Ray shuffled out onto the porch, blocking Mona from entering.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, picking at his belly button underneath his tank top. “I told you not to come around here anymore.”
“It’s frankly hilarious that you think you can tell me what to do,” Mona replied, not sounding the least bit entertained. “You know why I’m here, Tolentino. You’ve been warned about your actions, and you will pay the consequences for your interference.”
“I didn’t do anything that’s your business.”
“You know it’s my business, Tolentino,” Mona hissed, pointing a finger at him. “You know what happened today.”
“What? What happened?”
“What?” Ray asked.
I kept myself deadly still. There wasn’t a whiff of wind. One move and they’d surely hear me. Poirot was silent as well, his eyes glowing, and his tail held out in a long line behind him.
“Megan’s dead. She was murdered today,” Mona said, and the words were hard.
Ray froze. “What? No. That’s a lie.”
“It’s true. And you pretending you don’t know… it’s sick. You’re going down, Tolentino. Understand me? You’re going down.” Mona turned on her heel and marched back down the front steps and down the path. The distant waft of her musky perfume reached my nose and I forced my fist to it to keep from sneezing.
“No,” Ray called after her, raising a fist. “I don’t believe you. I won’t let you get away with this!” He slammed back into his house and clapped the door closed. Mona’s car started out in the street and cruised off.
Silence returned to the suburb.
“Now, that was intriguing,” I whispered, touching my hand to my pocket and feeling the outline of the glasses within. “The plot thickens, Poirot. Looks like we’ve got some investigating to do.”
The kitty meowed in response, and I scratched under his chin. “Good job, by the way. Let’s go inside and get something to eat.” It would give me the chance to mull over what I’d just seen and make some notes.
I was on the case.