Tabitha was relieved when Caleb appeared halfway through Maya's interview with her. Her short, harsh tones sounded accusatory as she asked questions, and she seemed dubious of Kyle being the killer, even with the perfect motive. Caleb rounded the corner of the house dressed in running clothes, looking sweaty but also toned in his tight t-shirt and tiny shorts. Any other time and Tabitha would have regretted sending him home the night before. Caleb was very…solid. "You found a body?" he asked her immediately.
"I didn’t mean to," she shot back. She was getting frustrated with the situation, and Fritz had been sitting at her feet alternating between whimpering and groaning, a doggy version of heartbreak. Thistle sat at Fritz's side, leaning into him slightly to comfort, and looking at all the humans in the yard like they were idiots.
"Why didn’t you call me?"
"I did--I called the police. I'm assuming that's who called you?"
"You should have called me," he said again. "I would have come over right away."
"I was fine," she said, knowing what the problem was. He was upset that she hadn’t needed him.
She expected him to say more to her, but he turned to Maya. "So what have we got?"
"Who's the detective here?” Maya shot back. “I'll ask the questions." Tabitha knew Caleb wanted to say something and was proud that he'd managed to hold his tongue. It must be difficult, having your partner promoted over you. Especially a woman, Tabitha thought, not feeling sorry for him at all.
"Miss Silverstein, you said you saw the victim with a man last night. Can you recall what time that was?"
"Last month you called me Tabitha."
Maya's voice dropped a few degrees, from ice water to a glacier. "But now you're a witness. And I'm the cop."
Tabitha sighed. "It was somewhere between twelve and one."
"Closer to one," Caleb interrupted. "I remember when she dropped me off." Sure you do, Tabitha thought, but said nothing. She didn’t want to cause a scene in front of half the police force.
"I could see their shadows through the shades--Janine and a man. About the same height as her. Like Kyle."
"We'll talk to him first. don't worry," Maya promised, perhaps making an effort to sound more like herself and less like a tough detective.
"The other boyfriend," Tabitha continued, "is Zach Gordon. There might be others." Fritz took that moment to bark and Tabitha glanced down at the animals. Thistle shook his head. "I think it was just the two though." she amended.
"Okay Ms. Silverstein. I guess that's all--"
"Speak of the devil," Thistle announced, very loud, but only Tabitha turned her head towards him to give him a warning glare. No one else seemed to care who had spoken, because their eyes were on a new person entering the back yard. Kyle, looking wide-eyed and much younger than usual, stepped into the back yard pushing his bike.
"What's going on?" he demanded. "What happened to Janine?" Any thoughts that he might be the killer fled Tabitha when she saw his frightened face, but at her feet Fritz started growling.
Not good, Thistle thought, jumping away from Fritz out of instinct, but the dog’s only concern was “Die, not my Janine you took my Janine I let you scratch my belly you bastard DIE!” Tabitha was fast and had Fritz by the collar even as he was lunging at Kyle.
The boy jumped back in fear and began to cry. “Please, someone tell me what’s going on!”
“Someone get that dog out of here,” the lady cop said, her voice upsetting Fritz even more.
“I’ll take him to my house,” Tabitha said quickly. She put her hand on Fritz’s head. “Shh. It wasn’t him,” she tried to soothe, obviously not caring if the other people thought she was crazy, which Thistle approved of. Fritz gave up quickly, going silent and leaning against Tabitha’s leg. She made a big deal about leaning down to pick him up and whispered to Thistle, “Keep an eye on things.”
Aye, aye Captain, he thought as she carried Fritz off. Tabitha just didn’t want to miss anything. Not that it mattered, because Thistle had already decided. He was going to catch the killer. He’d never get any peace and quiet if he didn’t.
Thistle crept closer, doing his best to be invisible. “You’re the boyfriend?” Maya asked, taking in the sight of Kyle. He wasn’t very tall and skinny in his khaki cargo shorts and t-shirt. Crying with his arms wrapped around his body, Kyle hardly looked like a killer anything.
“She’s dead, isn’t she?”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” But Maya didn’t look like she meant it as she studied the boy. “You’re Kyle?”
He nodded. “Kyle Harding.” He did his best to dry his tears.
“What was your bike still doing here?”
“After the movie Janine dropped me off at home. I said I’d come pick it up today.” The floodgates started again and Kyle wiped his face with the back of his arm. “What happened? Was it a robbery?”
“Why don’t we go down to the station and talk about it?”
“Can you account for your whereabouts last night between eleven and two?”
“Yeah,” Kyle said, his tears melting into anger. “You can ask my mom.”
“Don’t worry. We will.” Maya shook her head. “Go home kid. I’ll come by later.”
“I want to see her first,” he said, and before either cop could react he was through the kitchen door and Thistle followed after.
Caleb made a grab at him but Thistle was too fast, shooting back into the house. In the dining room Thistle made a jump from the table to the top of the tall china hutch against one wall. He situated himself at the very back in the middle, where no one could reach him.
"Caleb," Maya said as she reappeared, trying to keep her voice modulated. "Get the cat."
"He belongs to your girlfriend."
"Yeah, and it hates me."
I'm not an 'it,' Thistle thought. From his perch he could see most of the living room. The police had apparently finished gathering evidence because the broken vase was now in plastic evidence bags and they had placed the body in a big black bag and hoisted it onto a gurney. Someone had obliged Kyle and opened it so he could see her face, pale and smeared with blood.
Kyle had managed to pull together some sort of dignity in the mostly male company of the crime scene people. He stood next to it; arms still wrapped around his chest like armor. Caleb stepped up next to him. "You're not supposed to be here," he told him. "This is a crime scene. You'll tamper with evidence."
"You'll find out who did it, won't you?" Kyle's voice was hard. He'd grown up in the last ten minutes.
"Of course," Caleb said. Thistle didn't trust Caleb to do anything, but he had a bit of confidence in Maya. She was a little high strung, but he liked her.
Maya had disappeared and returned carrying a stepladder. It had apparently come from Janine's basement because there was a wide smudge of dust across her black suit from where she had held it against her body. She handed it off to Caleb. "Get the cat down, and out of my crime scene."
Now it was Caleb who looked like he was going to cry. He climbed up to Thistle. "I do not want to deal with you," Caleb said to him. "Not today."
Thistle hissed at him and tried to jump out of the way, but Caleb managed to get a hold to the skin behind his neck. Why do they always go with the Vulcan death grip? Thistle froze as he was hauled down and tucked under Caleb's arm. So humiliating.
Caleb nearly fell getting off the ladder but kept a tight grip on Thistle as he took him out of the house through the front door, giving Thistle one last glance at the crime scene. Next-door Caleb kicked Tabitha's door to get her attention and dropped Thistle on the floor as soon as they were in the house. Caleb did his best to smile at Tabitha. "Got any beer?"
Caleb stayed for lunch despite his sweaty running clothes, drinking beer and eating grilled cheese. "Are they going to let you help with the case?" she asked him.
"I'm a street cop," Caleb explained. "Not a detective."
"You'll get your chance," Tabitha soothed. She was eating her lunch with Fritz balanced precariously on her lap, one hand on the dog's head, the other stabbing at her salad. "Maybe Maya can give you some help. Recommend you or something. Then you two could work together again."
"Yeah. I don’t think so."
"You used to like her."
"We're on two different levels now," he explained. "We aren't equals anymore. If she says jump, I better hop to attention."
"Janine was my neighbor," Tabitha said. "She had her faults--"
"Like Junior crying next door."
"But I liked her. I want her killer to come to justice."
"I promise I'll see what I can do," he said. "If—and only if--you take me to get my car after we finish eating." Tabitha nodded with a smile. Caleb had many issues, but he always kept his word.
After lunch Caleb insisted he take her to get ice cream to make up for being drunk the night before. She didn’t want a bribe--she wanted him to behave himself. But it was Jenny's ice cream, so it wasn't too hard to supplicate her.
It was late afternoon by the time she dropped Caleb off at his car still in the deck and got home. Fritz and Thistle were lying on the couch together like they had grown up together. "Hey," she said, voice soothing for Fritz as she sat down next to them. "How are we holding up?"
"We're okay," Thistle answered for Fritz. "He's been sleeping on and off."
"I'm sorry Fritz," Tabitha said. The dog raised his head and gave her a mournful look before setting it back down and closing his eyes.
Thistle stood up. "I'm going to catch whoever did this," he announced, hopping down from the couch. He pawed on the power switch of the computer and waited on the vanity while it booted up. "Fritz deserves to know what happened."
"But Thistle," Tabitha said. "You're a cat."
"What's your point? You should get over here and type for me. It'll go faster." Tabitha sighed and did as he asked. They started making lists: one with all of the pertinent crime scene indications, the other a list of people of interest. "Put Kyle on there just in case," Thistle said.
"Zach. Mrs. Garret--"
"She's one of those uber judgmental types. You know that she got poor Jacque neutered because men are unclean and she didn’t want him to have nasty thoughts?"
"You don’t know that."
"He told me," Thistle insisted. "Why do you think he's so unstable? Or maybe Zach's grandma caught wind of what was going on and--"
"Mary Gordon did not bash anyone over the head," Tabitha objected. "She's almost eighty."
"She's pretty spry," Thistle insisted, but was cut short at a knock on the door.
Tabitha opened the door to a short, lean man about her own age, maybe a few years older. He wore jeans, a Ramones t-shirt, and black plastic rimmed glasses. "Hi," he said, looking apologetic. "The police department said I should talk to you...about my mother's dog?"
"Oh good, you do have him. Pets are so often overlooked in situations like this."
"You're Danny," Tabitha said, remembering that Janine had mentioned him once or twice. Her son.
Tabitha opened the door wider. "Please come in--I'm so sorry for your loss."
"Thank you," he said. "You're very kind."
"I'm Tabitha Silverstein. Can I get you anything?" she asked. "A beer. Coffee?"
"Do you have any tea?" he asked, and she nodded. "That would be nice."
At his voice Fritz stood up and gave a bark of recognition. "I guess you two will want to catch up," Tabitha said, and went into the kitchen to put on the kettle and find tea bags. She had three different flavors and set them out in a teacup on a vintage cookie sheet she used as a tray. She also found some cookies in the cupboard. Something had clicked in her chest when she opened the door and found the exact opposite of Caleb standing there. Maybe she needed the change.
Fritz was on Danny’s lap and wagging his tail when Tabitha came back into the room, a good sign. "Your mom was nice," she said when she set the tray down on the coffee table.
"We had our differences," Danny said. "But yeah. She was very nice. I just can't believe someone would just come in and--” His voice cut out. "You never think this will ever happen to you. She'd been a smoker my entire life--I thought for sure I'd be losing her to cancer." It must have been terrible, getting a call like that, Tabitha thought, her sympathy going out to him.
"So I guess you've come to take Fritz home?" she asked, feeling sorry that she wouldn’t be keeping him, even though the last thing she needed was a hyper Jack Russell.
"Actually," Danny said, "my apartment doesn’t allow pets--at all. I was hoping that you could take care of him until arrangements could be made. I can pay you of course," he finished quickly.
"That’s not really necessary," Tabitha insisted. "I'd be happy to keep him for a while."
Thistle, who had hung back by the computer, jumped up onto the back of the couch behind Tabitha so he could whisper into her ear. “You like him.”
I didnt get a chance to send this to my beta before posting, so any spelling/grammar/other wonky stuff, please feel free to let me know.
I'm marathoning a children's book this week. It's a fantasy story about three 12 year olds who have to save their gaming convention from evil. I want to have the whole thing written by next monday. I'm saying this because if I tell you guys I'm doing it, I'll have to finish. If a few of you (preferrably regular commenters from ETW) want to read it when I'm done, I think I'll let you. I had a slow start yesterday thanks to storms, computer issues, and episodes of Grey's Anatomy, but so far I have 3,000 words and an outline.