Friday, April 4, 2014

DIAMONDS IN THE RUFF

In my last post, I was blatantly tooting my own horn about Diamonds in the Ruff, my first cozy mystery that I'll be submitting to Montlake Romance hoping they love it as much as I do. So without further ado, here's the first chapter of Diamonds in the Ruff for you to read and tell me what you think. I hope you enjoy it!




The heavy impatient pounding on the door to our darkened room at the Ocean’s End Bed & Breakfast startled us from a sound sleep. I heard my two sisters groan, but I kept silent, pretending to be asleep. We were here to attend our five-year class reunion from East Cape May high school, Class of ’08.
“Who in God’s name is at our door at five o’clock in the morning?” Riley ranted when she bolted to an upright position like a springboard and heaved a deep sigh. With one eye half cocked, I could see her silhouette from the light shining beneath the door. I saw her lean in close and look through the peephole. She released another groan and whispered a few choice adjectives then revealed who was on the other side of the door. “It’s Sissy Post,” she grumbled. “This better not be a social call at this hour in the freakin’ morning.”
“Let’s hope not,” Shelby said in a croaky voice that was barely audible. Sissy was a former classmate and a known drama queen. Riley opened the door causing the bright light from the hallway to flood inside our room like rays of sunshine. I immediately sought the safety of darkness by rolling over to face the corner.
“I need your help,” I heard Sissy spat out in a state of panic. “I have a dead body in the closet in my room and my jewelry’s missing.”
That was my cue. I sprung out of bed so fast, you would have thought the room was on fire. I turned on the bright lamp and squinted trying to focus on Sissy. Shelby was right next to me.
“Did you check her pulse?” Shelby asked. She’s the more serious one of the McKall clan and the nurse in the family.
“No. I didn’t want to touch her.”
“So how do you know if she’s dead?”
 “I kicked her foot and she didn’t move.” Sissy shuddered as she continued. “She’s dead all right. Stone cold. Didn’t budge an inch except to jerk when I kicked her. I think she works here because she looks like she’s dressed in a maid’s uniform.” Sissy stopped talking and stared at Riley. “What’s up with the shaved head?” she asked.
Riley simply blinked, turned on her heels and cut a path back to bed. She was used to people making comments about her Goth-like haircut with the shaved sides and the long top.
Sissy followed Riley with her eyes, her mouth slightly agape. She nodded toward Riley. “What happened to her hair?” she repeated. “You guys don’t look like the triplets I remember—especially that one.” She pointed to Riley.
“Yeah, especially not at five in the morning,” Riley said in a snarky tone and rolled over pulling the covers up close to her chin.
I remembered Sissy had ADHD. “Focus, Sissy,” shot out of my mouth before I’d even realized it. “Did you call the police?”
She snapped her head back in my direction. “Yes, I called them and told the front desk too. No one has done anything yet.”
“How long ago did you call?”
 “Oh, maybe ten minutes,” she said checking her watch.
“For God’s sake, Sissy. Give them a chance to get here,” I muttered. “It’s the wee hours of the morning.”
“Well, they should be moving faster.” I knew there was no convincing her, so I gave up. “And frankly, that’s why I came to you guys. You McKall sisters still in law enforcement?” she asked.
“No, we’ve never been in law enforcement,” I responded. “I’m an educator for the hearing impaired; Shelby’s a nurse, and Riley’s a graphic artist.” I shrugged. “I do write mysteries on the side, though—” I don’t know why I told her that. Of course I knew. I wanted to know if she’d purchased any of my books, but she was so focused on Riley’s hair that what I said sailed right over her head like a rocket.
“Riley’s profession suits her look.” She released a huff then slapped her hand against her thigh. “Well, shoot, I thought you guys were true law enforcement people.” She started to walk toward the door, then stopped abruptly, “But I guess being a mystery writer works okay too. You still have to solve the crime at the end, right?” I nodded.  “I mean, you can’t leave your readers hanging, right?” She twisted her mouth. “Didn’t you guys work with the local cops when you were in school?” she asked, her voice raising a higher octave.
“Yes. But we did that in the background. They weren’t very happy about us butting our noses into their business.”
 She snapped her fingers together. “Yeah, that’s right. I do remember that. You gals and Harry Boyle investigating.” She waggled her brows. “You know, he’s a detective now here on our very own Cape May force.”
“No, I didn’t know that. Well, good for him.”
She gave me a cut-eye glance. “I figured you probably already knew that because of your connection with one another. You know what I mean?” she gave me the hard wink.
“No. I don’t,” I huffed out.
“C’mon,” she gave me a playful shove; “you can’t fool ole Sissy here. I knew you guys had that boyfriend-girlfriend thing going on.”
“Good grief, no!” I said, my pulse quickened at the accusation. “And don’t you be spreading that rumor around this weekend. We were never in a relationship,” I shot back. “Harry only hung out with us when we were working the cases. There was no romance.” I mean seriously, Harry was a nice kid and all, but he was an unkempt, freckled face, fat kid who tagged along because no one else would bother with him. I was lonely but I sure wasn’t desperate.
Her smirk told me she wasn’t buying it. “Hey, it wasn’t just me who thought that. Everybody did, and it wasn’t because of anything I ever said.” She squinted her eyes at me like she was trying to focus, and pointed what looked like a newly manicured finger at me, “Wasn’t it you guys who found the culprit who stole the answers to the Exit Exam at East Cape May High before graduation?” She didn’t wait for me to respond. “Yeah, I remember that. You weren’t the most popular gals in our class for figuring that one out.”
“I’m sure we weren’t, but it wasn’t fair to those of us who studied our butts off to get good grades.” I could feel the heat building inside my chest from her comment. I’d forgotten how irritating she could be.
It was quickly becoming obvious that Shelby, the normally quiet one, was also getting a bit fried around the edges when her facial expression turned from serious to perturbed in a matter of seconds. “First of all,” she fired back, “if you’re looking for our help, bringing up ancient history isn’t going to win you any points.”
Sissy seemed surprised by Shelby’s defensiveness. “Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you. Heck, I just didn’t know if you were aware of how the class felt after you ruined it for them.”
Right. Like we couldn’t tell when the kids who really needed those answers to graduate whispered to each other when we passed by.”
I’d resigned myself that rebuttals toward Sissy were useless. I forced myself to calm down and hoped seeing my calmness would help Shelby. “But we’ve never solved any murders,” I added to change the subject.
“Yeah, but like I said, I’ll bet you have in your own mysteries. Right?”
“Of course.”
“Well, that’s good enough for me. I’m curious to know if that dead broad is wearing my jewelry.”
“Listen, Sissy, I think you’d better wait for the police to arrive. I have no doubt the police department are already chewing their nails knowing we’re in town. I’m sure the old cronies who sit on the benches on the boardwalk are groaning and taking cover.” I brushed my hair from my eyes. “And since we’re talking rumors, I’m surprised you never heard they didn’t like us butting in.” Shelby glared at her with crossed arms and stood erect like the Jolly Green Giant and nodded her head in agreement with everything I’d said. Riley picked up her head, gave a disgusted wave of her hand in support, and pulled the covers up over her head.
Sissy watched Riley snuggle under the covers then she snapped her fingers again. “Well, shoot. I thought you guys were working for the law.” I guess she’d forgotten she’d just told us she thought I was perfect for figuring out her dilemma. “I’m sorry I bothered you.” She gave me a toothy grin as she stood and twirled around to head for the door, “but it was real nice to see you again.”
 “Wait a minute,” I said. “Don’t be so hasty.” Now that she’d gotten our attention, I wasn’t about to let it slide.
Shelby, who’d dressed in a matter of seconds, was headed for the door. “Give me the key to your room. I want to check for a pulse. That poor woman could be in there struggling to breathe.”
“Nah,” Sissy said handing over the card, “I told ya. She’s deader than a door nail.”
Shelby shook her head in disgust and shut the door behind her.
“Let’s go over some questions the cops are going to ask you. Besides, now that we’re wide awake it wouldn’t be very nice for us to turn our backs on you.”
“I’m not awake,” Riley mumbled with one eye peeking out of the corner of the covers.
“Oh, yes, you are.” I said firmly so she’d get out of bed. Hearing the urgency in my voice, she sat up abruptly and huffed out a heavy sigh. I grabbed my jeans off the chair and slipped them on pulling the zipper into place, then shoved my arms into a T-shirt I’d pulled out from the dresser drawer.
“Where’s your room,” Shelby said poking her head inside the door again.
Sissy pointed toward the wall. “I’m right next to ya.” Sissy shrugged and began to follow Shelby out but I stopped her.
“Sissy, have a seat and let Shelby do what she does best. We need to prepare you for when the cops arrive.” I reached for the hotel’s pad and pen ready to take notes. “Okay, take me through everything that happened from the time you arrived until right now.”
“Okay. I arrived around noon yesterday, dropped my bags off in my room and headed out to meet Tiffany Pagano afterward. You remember her, don’t you?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, of course.”
“Anyway, I never saw the corpse until this morning when I walked to the bathroom. And I probably would’ve missed it then too, but that darn closet door was open and I stubbed my toe on it. Crap like that drives me crazy, so after I hobbled and rubbed the pain away, I went to close it. You know how these old places are? They keep all this ancient stuff for authenticity. I guess whoever shoved her in there hadn’t counted on the door popping back open.” Sissy stopped talking and leaned forward grabbing her head. She moaned in pain. “Man, I have a freakin’ headache the size of New York. Do you have any aspirin?” I reached for my handbag, dug inside and pulled out a plastic container and handed it to her. She opened the lid and dropped the pills into her hand, tossed her head back and swallowed them without water.
“Don’t you want some water?”
“No. I’m good.”
I shrugged and prompted her to continue. “Okay, go on.”
“So like I said, I was on my way to the bathroom when I first noticed my suitcase was open. My mind was fuzzy, you know, like right now with all I had to drink, and so it didn’t occur to me right away that I hadn’t opened my suitcase. When it finally sunk in, the first thing I did was to look for my jewelry pouch and it was gone.” Closing her eyes, Sissy grabbed her head again and rocked back and forth.
“Sissy, this is important, so please, focus.”
She blinked her eyes open. “Okay, okay. My head feels like somebody sat on it.”
“How long ago was it that you noticed the body?”
“Oh, I guess about three-quarters of an hour ago.” She continued as if anticipating my next question. “Like I said, after I dropped off my luggage, I turned on my heels and didn’t return until the wee hours of the morning.” She grinned. “Tif and I were having so much fun I never realized how late it was until I started yawning.” Sissy massaged her temples with her fingers.
“When you came home last night, did you pass anyone in the halls?”
“Not that I remember . . . but I was pretty drunk.”
“Did you notice anything odd about the door when you used your key card to enter?”
“You mean, like marks that someone had broken in?”
“Exactly.”
“Nothing that stands out.”
“Okay. Is your room set up like this one?” I asked. She looked around and nodded. “The closet door opens up to the left. Didn’t you see the body when you got back to the room last night and got ready for bed?”
“Nope. I just dropped down on top of the bed, clothes and all.”
“The closet door wasn’t opened then?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t looking.” Sissy stood and walked to the door.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m gonna show you what I did. So pay attention cause I’m only doing this once.” When she reached the door, she turned around and headed towards me and literally dropped down onto my bed. “Oww,” she said, cradling her head in her hands. She closed her eyes for a second. “See what I mean? You didn’t see me move my head at all, did ya?”
I snickered. The woman was a drama queen to the max. “No. I’m just making sure you didn’t unconsciously see it and put it out of your mind. I’m trying to get a sense of how long the woman was dead.”
“What does that matter? The woman is dead.”
“That may be true. But it’s prudent to be sure. What if she was killed while you were in the room? What time did you get back to your room?”
She gave me a side-glance. “I guess it was around two-thirty in the morning. So, what do you mean killed while I was in the room? You mean, like me watching someone kill her?”
“No. I meant, what if you were passed out on the bed while someone else was murdering her?”
She scoffed. “I think I would have known that. Don’t you? And I’m not deaf yet, so I would have heard her screaming. Wouldn’t I have heard the gunshot?”
“How do you know she was killed by a gun if you didn’t examine the body?”
“I didn’t. I’m just saying. That’s all. How else could she have been killed?”
“It could have been a knife. Not everyone is killed with a gun . . . unless they used a silencer. And maybe the killer stuffed her mouth with something to keep her quiet. Did you notice anything in her mouth?”
“No, I told you,” she stamped her foot on the floor like a teenager. “How many ways can I say I didn’t examine her body?”
“Just making sure. The detectives are going to ask you these questions and more.” She lowered her head as though being reprimanded by a parent and flung her arm in the air in compliance. “Make sure you think before you answer the detectives’ questions because the simplest of responses can be misconstrued.”
“I think I got this,” she said with sarcasm. “I watch enough police shows on television to know how quickly they can make a mountain outta a mole hill.”
“Okay, but what if you were dead to the world—no pun intended, like you said you were? It could have happened.” I cocked my head to the side. “And if that’s the case, you could be the prime suspect.”
She scrunched up her face and shook her head. “You know, this is way too many questions for someone who has a hangover. Can we stop now?”
“Just checking your alibi. You wanted our help.” I raised a dismissive shoulder.
“All right, already.” Sissy stopped talking. “Which one are you?” she asked. “Shelby or Katie?” 
“Katie. Remember I called my sisters by name?”
She shrugged. “Yeah, I guess, but I’m in shock. Remember?”
“Yeah, I remember. Back on topic, please. Here’s what I’m having trouble with: I guess I just don’t understand how you had the presence of mind to check to see if your jewelry was still there after seeing a dead body. I mean, I would have thought, given the circumstances, checking for your jewelry would have been the last thing on your mind and you would have made a beeline out of there.”
 Sissy’s hand flew to her hip; her brows rose again and the words flew out of her mouth with a vengeance. “If your jewelry was as valuable as mine, sweetheart, you’d have been checking too. And secondly, what could the woman have done to me. She was already dead.” She turned her head toward Riley, apparently looking for support. She didn’t get any.  Sissy was one of those people who wanted everyone to know her net worth. Somehow, she had the opinion that money gave her respect.
 “If you’re jewelry is worth so much, you should have had it insured?” Riley spewed. The girl is never short on sarcasm.
“I do have it insured,” Sissy retaliated. “I had a lot of heirlooms from my grandmother in that pouch. Those aren’t replaceable.”
“Then why in God’s name would you pack your jewelry in your luggage instead of in your handbag?” Riley countered.
“I don’t know. I guess I just wasn’t thinking straight.”
I intervened. “And you’re absolutely certain you did not open your suitcase last night?”
“Absolutely certain.”
“So if this is true, you’re saying whoever killed the person in your room, must have stolen your jewelry—”
Sissy cut me to the quick. “What do you mean, if it’s true? I know what I did or didn’t do,” she screeched in a high pitch falsetto.
“Calm down, Sissy. I’m sorry, but it just seems odd that you were looking for your jewelry, that’s all. I think you’d better have a good explanation when the cops ask. Isn’t it possible you might have forgotten that you had in fact opened your suitcase before you met Tiffany?” I asked.
“No, ma’am. It is not possible.”
Riley was listening intently while she was getting dressed. “How can you be sure your jewelry wasn’t taken at the airport?” Riley asked. “What if the TSA who examined your bag, forgot to put it back inside your luggage when they closed it up?” 
“Because I know!” She blasted.
“Calm down, Sissy.”
Sissy waved her arms in surrender. “Look, I’m sorry. I’ve only had two hours of sleep and the aspirin hasn’t kicked in yet.” She seemed to calm down somewhat before continuing. “I suppose I can’t be sure, but my suitcase was open this morning and my clothes were all messed up like someone had been rummaging through the bag to find something. Now, my clothes are all wrinkled.” Her hand slapped against the bed.
“Tell me about the body. What is the gender?”
“I told you it was a woman. The poor thing was stuffed in that hole inside the closet.” She paused, “you know, like a pretzel.” She stood and bent at the waist, crossing her arms and ankles to demonstrate the shape. Remember those wind up dolls who flop over when the key runs out?” I nodded. “Sorta like that.”
“You said she was stuffed in the closet, and just now, you said she was stuffed in the hole inside the closet. What kind of hole?”
“Like a trap door—like maybe they were hiding treasures there.” She raised her voice, “Or my jewelry.”
“I thought you didn’t look that closely?”
“She was folded in half, I’m telling you. I saw the top of her head and her twisted ankles.” She frowned. “Oh, and there was a lot of blood.”  Sissy scanned the room,
“So how do you know she was folded like a pretzel then if you only looked at the top of her head?” I waited for her to respond, but she was in a fog. “Sissy,” I snapped my fingers, “how did you know?”
“I guess I stooped down to see inside the hole of the closet. That’s all.”
“Wasn’t it dark in that closet? How were you able to see her?”
“There must’ve been a crack in the wall or the floor seams somewhere, cause some light was filtering through there.”
“Ooh, Sissy. Your story has a lot of holes in it. You better think about what you’re going to say to the police before you answer any questions.”
 She nodded. “So tell me? Is this place still haunted?” she asked.
“What? You have a dead body in your room and you’re asking if this place is haunted?” Sissy nodded with a smile. “Why? You think a ghost swooped in and slayed the dragon?” I snickered. Her expression told me she wasn’t finding my comment humorous. “Yeah, I guess . . . if you believe in that mumbo jumbo crap.”
“I thought so.”
“Why do you ask?” Riley jumped in, seemingly less annoyed. She was the resident ghost expert.
“Well, because just before I dozed off, I thought I saw something like a bluish-white circle, kinda hovering near the corner of the ceiling.”
 “You mean like a spirit orb?”
 “What’s a spirit orb?” Sissy asked.
“It’s a floating ball of spirit energy, Sissy,” Riley told her wide-eyed.
Sissy shrugged. “You mean, ghosts?” Riley nodded with certainty. “I thought they were white? You know, the things that float through the air, like Casper, the friendly ghost.”
“It’s the same thing. Forming a circle uses less energy than if the spirit were to be in full form.”
“Well, I’ll be. Hmm,” she scratched her head. “I suppose it could have been the booze that was making me see things. I really wanted to go to the Chillingham. Now that’s the best ghost place here in Cape May, but there weren’t any more rooms available. She gestured with her hand. “Who’s that prostitute they say was burned in the fire at the Chillingham in the 1800s, and still walks through all the rooms searching for her lover?”
I couldn’t believe my ears as I listened to these two talk about ghosts. There was no tension on Sissy’s part. While I understood everyone deals with grief in a different way, this was way over the top for me. My mind blocked out their conversation as I wondered what Shelby had found next door.  I stood to stretch my legs. If Sissy didn’t care, then why should I?
“Lavinia,” Riley’s excited voice cut into my thoughts.
“Right. That’s the name.” Sissy shrugged. “So maybe it was the booze, because I don’t think Lavinia would have floated across the street, right?” Riley shrugged. “I swear though, it felt like someone was shaking me to wake up this morning. When I jumped up, I figured I’d better go to the bathroom so I could go back to bed. And that’s when all this crap hit the fan.” She shuddered. “I freaked out when I saw that body.” She looked from one to the other waiting for some reassurance.
A loud knock on the door startled us. “Shelby must have forgotten her key,” Riley said when she opened the door and came face to face with Ralph Jenkins and Shelby, whose hands were behind her back. Shelby gave me an odd look. 
“What’s going on, Ralph,” I asked.
“I just found your sister checking out the body next door.”
“Yeah. She’s a nurse,” I said, “and that’s what they do for a living. After Sissy told us about the dead woman, Shelby wanted to see if the woman was still alive.” I turned to Shelby. “Show him your nurses card.”
“It’s in my wallet.”
“Why?” he said. “We have our own methods of checking to see if she’s a nurse. That card could be a fake.” Turning to Shelby, “I think you went over there to make sure she was dead.”
“No, Ralph. So she could help her.” Now, I was the one with my hands on my hips. “Ralph Jenkins,” I said firmly, “you’ve known the McKall family all our lives. Have you ever known any one of us to be violent?”
“Just doin’ my job. I haven’t seen you McKalls in a long time. How do I know you haven’t headed down the wrong side of the law?” He stared at Riley for a few minutes looking perplexed. “What’s up with the shaved head? I’ll bet your parents are real proud.”
My brows rose. I knew he was law enforcement, but he was pushing the wrong buttons. “I’d be careful about making derogatory remarks about my family,” I retaliated as I watched Shelby grimace with pain. “And for God’s sake, Ralph, you need to loosen those cuffs. They’re hurting her wrists.”
“Unless you want to be in cuffs too, Katie, I’d mind my P&Qs if I were you,” he warned. “Want to know how I figured out who you were?” I opened my mouth to speak, but he cut me off. “Cause I remember you being the aggressive one—the leader of the pact.” He pointed his finger at me. “I’m just doing my job. She was in the room crouched down by the dead body when the team arrived and we caught this little lady with her hand in the cookie jar . . . so to speak.”
Sissy stepped in to save Shelby. “It was my room, Ralphie. She’s a nurse for cripes sake. And frankly, I’d say it’s about time you guys got here. Did you get that body outta my room yet?”
“No ma’am. We just got here.” He turned to address Katie. “Ever since you guys came into town, you’ve got the police hopping. Now, why do you suppose problems follow you McKalls?”
“Hey, we weren’t doing anything wrong. We’ve been in our room the whole time.” I glanced at Shelby again who was getting ready to sit down on the edge of the bed. “Can you please remove those cuffs? She’s not going anywhere.”
“Well, she will be . . . along with the rest of you . . . coming down to headquarters for questioning.”
“That’s fine. We’re more than willing to go with you.” I gave him my saddest puppy dog look. “Please, Ralph. For old times sake?”
Ralph huffed and motioned for Shelby to stand. I heard the lock release and watched the relief wash over my sister’s face. “Thank you.”
“Grab your purses, ladies. We’re leaving now.”
“Why them?” Sissy snapped. “They don’t know anything except what I told ‘em.”
“Because this one,” he gestured to Shelby, “was caught red-handed, and because you all know the dead woman.” Ralph said nodding his head in the affirmative.
“We do?” He nodded again, “So who was she?” I asked.
“Candy Kane.” We gasped, but Sissy’s mouth quirked into a smile.
 “Serves the broad right,” she said and angled her hip against the dresser to steady herself.
 “Did you kill her?” Ralph asked.
“What? Are you outta your mind?” she snapped. “Do I look like I could kill someone?”
“I don’t know, Sissy. You have a fiery temper.”
 “Why because I said she deserved it? What I want to know is if she was wearing my jewels?” Sissy was unfazed by Ralph’s accusation.
“Sissy,” I warned. “Don’t say another word.”
 “This is no joke,” Ralph said. “This is serious. Do you know what first degree murder will get you in Jersey? Death row.” It suddenly became apparent that Sissy was beginning to understand the magnitude of what was happening and clamped her mouth shut. At least for now. There was no telling what she’d say or do when she got fired up.
“Ralph,” I intervened, “there’s no capital punishment in the state of New Jersey. They abolished that in 2007.”
Ralph gave me a side-glance and ignored my comment. “Let’s go.” We exited the room in single file and followed Ralph to his car.
“But I told you I don’t know anything.” Sissy said trying to weasel her way out.
“Maybe not, but you’re pretty damn happy about her being dead.”
“But why should that matter? I hated the broad.”
“Do I have to spell this out for you?”
Riley’s eyes opened wide in warning, “Sissy. Shut the hell up!”
She shrugged it off and tugged on Ralph’s arm. “Listen, before we drive off, can you call the room and ask if they found my jewelry?”
Ralph just shook his head in disbelief and continued to guide her outside to the police car.
 “That Candy was always jealous of me.” Sissy quipped.
“Well, I don’t know about that, but I haven’t forgotten the day you two were brought to the station house because of a fistfight you had over her cutting in on your boyfriend.”
Riley and I looked at one another, but didn’t say a word. Shelby just smirked, annoyed with the entire mess. And Sissy, well, she just couldn’t keep her big mouth shut.
 “And what was she doing in my room anyway?”
“She works . . . I mean, she worked, here.”
“Oh, that’s right. The uniform. How about that? Miss High and Mighty cleaned dirty hotel rooms for a living.” She laughed. “Well, I’ll be. It couldn’t have happened to anyone more deserving than her. It’s about time somebody caught up to her conniving ways.” She slid across the front seat next to Ralph. We three scooted into the back seat trying to get out of the cold. One glance at the sky with its thick white clouds with a hint of grey signaled a pending snow storm and made us shiver. We sat close to one another for warmth.
“Now, I have the last laugh.” Sissy said.
My sisters and I shook our heads. With the thick screen separating us, there was no way I could even jab her in the shoulder. At this point though, I had given up trying to save her because there was little doubt Sissy was the prime suspect even before she’d opened her mouth. The last half hour had sealed her fate and I figured it was looking pretty good for her to be behind bars within the hour. The more she talked, the faster old Ralph was pounding the keys on the computer in his car getting down every word. She turned to look at us over her shoulder and gave a nonchalant wave of her hand. “And I’ll bet Candy’s fingerprints are all over my suitcase.”
Sissy was way more delusional than any of us had remembered. She didn’t have a clue about what she was doing to herself. After she clicked her seatbelt into place, she pulled the sun visor down and glanced at her reflection in the small mirror, puckered her lips and leaned in closer to fluff her bangs with her fingers.  Checking her teeth, she used her pinky nail to remove a piece of food from in between her teeth. We watched her tighten the bow on her Chiquita Banana lookalike headdress and adjust it into place. Suddenly aware of her clothing, she screeched. “I can’t go down to the precinct looking like this,” she said. “Can we go back so I can change?”
Ralph interrupted. “First of all. Your room is a crime scene and you won’t get your luggage until after we’ve examined it.”
In a fit of anger, Sissy slammed her hands on the dashboard, “more hands all over my clothes. I’ll probably have to have emergency dry cleaning done . . . and your department is paying for it.”
“Yeah,” Ralph said, “Good luck with that one. I really wouldn’t worry about that just now, if I were you. I told you, I have a nice orange jumpsuit you can wear.” The precinct was a short distance down on Washington and not that far from Ocean. We pulled into the back parking lot. Ralph shoved the gearshift into park and cut the engine. We exited the car.
“Then where are we gonna stay?” Sissy demanded. “Everything is booked solid?”
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll find rooms for you.”
“Well, it better be classy cause I’m not staying in anything shabby looking place. I paid good money—”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ralph interrupted. “We all know you’re loaded with money, Sissy. Let’s just cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“So what was it you were asking me about orange?”
“I have an orange jumpsuit in your size that you can wear.”
Sissy was so naïve, she never realized Ralph was talking about the government issued jumpsuits prisoners wear.
“Well, it’s not my best color, but jumpsuits look good on me. I have a pretty good figure for my age, in case you didn’t notice.” Ralph snorted. “And I’ll bet every newspaper in the county will want to interview me after they find out about Candy's untimely death. Right?”