A fresh wave of guilt washed over Tabitha when Caleb showed up at her house on Wenesday for the calling hours. He was dressed in his only suit and looked as good as he ever did. She was wearing Janine's favorite color--a bold red halter dress and matching five-inch heels. She knew Janine would approve. Thistle agreed.
Caleb kissed her in the doorway, but he froze when he realized Tabitha was holding two leashes. He looked down and Thistle and Fritz looked back up. Tabitha could only imagine what her silent cat was thinking. "What exactly are you doing?"
"They wanted to come," Tabitha said with a shrug, deciding there was no way she could explain or lie her way into a sane person. Thistle had been quite clear that he needed to see people mourn to decide how guilty they were and Fritz howled for an hour until she gave in.
"No way," Caleb said, backing away from her. "You can't just take animals to a funeral."
"I called the home. They said they didn’t care. Caleb, just let it go."
"This isn’t normal," he insisted. "You don't wear a bright red hooker dress to a funeral and you don't bring your menagerie! Why can't you be normal?"
"Normal!" She threw the leashes down. "Look here. This is who I am, this is what I do. I like bright clothes and guess what, so did Janine. This is for her, remember? Fritz has been miserable all week. His best friend just died. He needs to go to this. I know its crazy. You can call me crazy all you want, I don't mind. But don't call me weird."
She must have looked manic because Caleb studied her a long time before he answered. "Okay," he said finally. "I'm sorry." She sighed. She didn’t want him to be sorry, not really. If he broke up with her for being crazy not only would it be his fault, but he would be an asshole too and she wouldn’t have to feel bad anymore. "But they're riding in the back."
Tabitha gave him a weak smile. "Of course."
So all four of them piled into Caleb's car, and Caleb didn’t say anything about cat or dog hair, though Tabitha knew he wanted to. He was trying, and she appreciated it, even if it wasn’t what she wanted.
At the funeral home Tabitha held her head high as Thistle and Fritz walked ahead of her, ignoring the stares of the other people as she entered the building. Caleb, to his credit, walked beside her, but he did not hold her hand or touch her in any way. That was okay. She couldn't be embarrassed if she wanted to pull this off, but she couldn't expect him not to be.
There were a decent amount of people there, mostly men under thirty-five. "Lots of ex-boyfriends here," Caleb remarked under his breath, interested. To his cop brain every one of them was a potential suspect, but Tabitha had a hard time concentrating on the murder as she scanned the crowd looking for Danny.
She found him standing near the casket, talking to one of the few women in the room. "Let's go say hi to Danny," she said, because she couldn’t *not* include Caleb.
Danny excused himself with a smile and took Tabitha’s hand, giving it a squeeze. "Thank you for coming," he said, basic funeral speech.
"This is my boyfriend," Tabitha said, introducing Caleb. "He's working with Detective Vargas."
"She's here," Danny said. "I haven't really had a chance to talk to her yet--have you made more progress?" he asked Caleb.
"I can't really discuss the case," Caleb said. "But I expect we'll get some answers soon." Tabitha could feel Thistle, leaning against her leg, go on alert, crouching down like he wanted to pounce.
"I hope so," Danny said, and went down on one knee to pet Fritz, and Tabitha felt warm all over. He didn't care that she was crazy.
"I'm going to go say hi to Maya," Caleb told Tabitha. "I'll catch up with you later."
"Sure," she said, and knew he just wanted to get away from the animals.
Thistle began to pull at his leash immediately and Tabitha sighed. "Fine," she told him under her breath when she leaned down and unhooked the leash from his harness. "But if we get kicked out of here I'm blaming you."
Danny was looking at her when she stood up again. "He's a free spirit," she explained.
"Is he now?" She saw that he was amused. "I'm so glad you're here." He leaned close to her to whisper. "Love the dress."
"I firmly believe in celebrating the deceased, not mourning them," she told him as she folded up Thistle's leash and put it in her bag. She was much less conspicuous with just Fritz. The little dog was sitting quietly, watching. This was not normal behavior. He was a Jack Russell. He should have been jumping on every person in reach. She picked up the dog and gave him a hug. "Fritz is depressed," she explained. "I thought the funeral might give him some closer."
"You talk about them like they're people."
She couldn’t expect him to understand any more than Caleb or any other guy did, but somehow she had hoped. "People don't understand anything about animals. Not really. Fritz loved Janine in ways we can’t possibly understand. You can tell just by looking at him that his heart is broken."
"Of course. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings."
"Sorry," she apologized. "Caleb freaked out a little bit when he saw I was bringing them." She looked for him across the room—Thistle was sitting under a chair near him and Maya. Watching.
Thistle picked his way through the sea of ex-boyfriends, half-paying attention because it would make for a good blog topic later. He settled under a chair near Maya and Caleb. "This place is creepy," he told Maya. "Most of these guys are younger than me!"
"Focus," she told him. "We’re working, remember?"
"Are the lab results back yet?" Caleb asked.
Maya shook her head. "Monday at the earliest. Then we’ll find out whose blood is whose." Thistle perked his ears up at this. They had found the murderer’s blood?
"If we can just get the fireplace poker back, that would be something," Maya continued. "I talked to the ex-husband today," she said. "No wonder she dumped him—what a wimp."
Thistle was eager to hear about the ex-husband, the one paying the alimony. If he had learned one thing from watching TV it was that murders usually occurred over two things: greed and jealousy. The husband would have both. Unfortunately Maya didn't seem inclined to share any more, and Thistle’s whiskers prickled when he saw Kyle and his mother enter the room. Kyle was already crying, but Sylvia, if anything, looked smug. She let her son roam to the front of the room and glanced about at the people present.
The funeral home appeared to have two floors open to the public, and Thistle watched her slip upstairs without speaking to anyone. He was torn between hoping to overhear something about the case and seeing where his killer was running off.
In the end he tore himself away from the cops and slinked around the edges of the room and up the stairs. The second floor held a closed office, a full bathroom, and a medium sized sitting room equipped with a pair of sofas and a coffee maker. Thistle managed to slip inside the door and make a run for the sofa right before Sylvia shut it.
"Was that a cat?" a man’s voice said, and Thistle looked up to see Zach standing there. Zach had been lying low around the neighborhood since Janine was killed—this was the first Thistle had seen of him.
"I think so," Sylvia said, not even glancing under the sofa. "C’mon Zachary, its been too long. I’ve considered breaking the sink on purpose just so you could come over."
Thistle was appalled and thrilled when Sylvia pulled Zach into an embrace. I knew it was them, he thought, whiskers twitching. They were in on it together, they had to be. He was slightly less thrilled with the sucking sounds the couple was making, and he soon saw that they had every intention of having relations in the funeral home. This is going to be a great blog, he cackled internally. Hypocrisy was always a welcome subject to discuss, and this was a wonderfully scandalous example. He was a little impressed—Sylvia had hidden her cougar tendencies incredibly well.
Zach and Sylvia did it fast, standing up against a wall. The logistics were very interesting to Thistle, and he wondered if it was simply the fastest way to go about it in case someone walked in. But no one did, and once they were finished Zach simply zipped up his fly and Sylvia smoothed her skirt back down over her thighs. "Let’s go mourn the departed," Sylvia said, and they both laughed.
Thistle streaked out after them—he couldn’t wait to tell Tabitha.
"Not this time," Tabitha told Thistle the next morning. She was running late so she didn't have time to worry about him seeing her in her underwear as she pulled on a charcoal grey suit. "I don’t care how many more secret affairs you uncover."
"But I want to go," Thistle insisted, sitting up straight on the bed.
"Too bad. I’m leaving, you’re staying here." She glanced at Fritz at her feet, looking up at her with big doggie eyes. "You’re staying too. I have to go straight to work after the funeral—Daws wants to kill me as it is. You know, he takes off to go to funerals a couple times a year. All day—not just a morning. Well, he’s old and all his friends are dying. But when my neighbor is murdered, do I get sympathy?"
She slipped her feet into practical work shoes and looked in the mirror. "Ugh. I look depressing."
"Like you’re going to a funeral?"
"I hate you."
Tabitha still managed to get to the funeral with ten minutes to spare, and Danny waved her to the front of the room. "I want you to meet my dad," he said, and she saw a man even shorter than Danny and just as slight. He was going bald and had tiny, squinting eyes behind large glasses.
"Hi," she said, offering her hand and trying to be upbeat and ignore the dead body behind them. "I wish we could have met under better circumstances."
"My son has told me all about you," he said, shaking her hand with both hands. If Caleb had been there he would have laughed at the man’s grip afterwards. "It’s a pleasure." Tears prickled at his eyes as he spoke, and he pulled away to reach for a real handkerchief. "I’m sorry. My ex-wife, she was a remarkable woman."
"I know," Tabitha said.
Danny asked Tabitha to sit with him, and he leaned over towards her to whisper. "Mom really did Dad wrong in the end," he said. "But he still didn't want her to leave. In the end she got whatever she wanted, because he just wanted her to be happy."
"That does suck," Tabitha said, feeling a little cowed. She didn’t like thinking of Janine as the bad guy when she was the one who was dead.
Tabitha sat through a brief eulogy that tactfully skirted around the issue of Janine sleeping with three quarters of the people in the room, and then after a prayer the minister asked if anyone wished to speak.
There was the sound of uncomfortable shifting in the room, and then a low murmur when someone stood up. Danny and Tabitha both twisted around to see who it was. Kyle. "This isn’t going to be good," she muttered.
Kyle was dressed in a full suit—black with a black tie. He had rings under his eyes like he hadn’t slept in days. He looked around and made his way to the front of the room. He ignored the podium the minister stood beside and stepped up to the coffin.
For once Kyle was not crying.
"J-Janine was an amazing person," he said. He wasn’t talking loud enough to reach the whole room, but Tabitha could hear him perfectly. "She loved to laugh, she loved art and music. She opened the world to me." He turned away from everyone else. "I loved her." Tabitha’s mouth fell open in disbelief when Kyle took a ring from his pocket and slipped it onto the corpse’s finger.
He didn't wait for anyone’s reactions, just turned around and walked out of the room. "Well," the minister said, clearing his throat. "That was…new." And at that Sylvia stood up, a furious expression on her face, and hurried out after her son.
Thanks for the comments last chapter guys!
For those of you who’ve been around a while (like, 3 years), DES is finally done, more or less. It was a job of work, but the novel has been slashed in half, character issues have been resolved, yadda yadda yadda. I’ve got a handful of proofreaders to go over it, and then I start looking for an agent.
Arielle: I did finish Wizards and Warlocks in the week I had planned. My computer also broke down that week and I've only just gotten around to typing it up. I need to change some placeholder names and then I would be thrilled if you would read the first draft. (it's only half the length I planned so the finished product will be different)