Tabitha’s head ached and her throat felt raw when she walked up to her front door a short time later. She had already cried--she did that in the parking deck before she left. Now she just felt alone. She didn’t even notice the large box on her porch until she tripped over it.
“What the hell?” She picked it up and went inside. Thistle was sitting on the back of the couch, alert and waiting for her.
“Why are you home so early? Is that my package?”
She set it down on the couch and dropped her purse beside it, kicking off her shoes in the same movements. “Well, it’s not mine.”
“Great. Go get Fritz and we can open it.”
There was no point in arguing. She went to the back yard and freed him from his chain. The little dog rushed into the house, barking excitedly and jumping up on the couch to sniff at the box. He turned back at her and barked again. “He wants you to open it,” Thistle said.
Tabitha ripped open the tape and pulled away a sheet of bubble wrap. The box was filled to the brim with pet toys. As soon as Tabitha picked up a rawhide bone Fritz was grabbing it from her hand and falling to the floor. There were balls and bits of cured animal for fritz, toy mice made of real fur and feathers for Thistle. At the bottom of the box there were two large packages tightly wrapped in plastic. They appeared to be of dried plant material. “Are you running a pot ring too?” Tabitha asked Thistle.
“It’s catnip,” he said. “Which you very well know. I want to bathe in it--so go one, fill up the sink for me.”
Tabitha let the packages fall back into the box. “I really am not in the mood for this, Thistle.” She picked up the invoice at the bottom of the box and glanced at the price total. “Two hundred dollars on pet toys?” She was too tired and too upset for it to even phase her. “Thistle, really.”
“I make no apologies,” he said as he jumped into the box and started to dig his claws into the catnip.
“I’m a murder suspect,” she said, sitting down on the couch. “Someone killed Mr. Daws and Maya thinks it was me.”
She explained to him what had happened, and, catnip momentarily forgotten, Thistle listened completely. “We’ll get you off,” he told her seriously. “That bitch can’t do this to you.“
“Is ‘that bitch’ Vanessa or Maya?”
“It’s Maya! She’s supposed to be a friend--she asked you out on a date. And now she’s questioning you for murder?”
“She’s just doing her job,” Tabitha said, getting up to find some aspirin. “I can’t blame her for doing her job.” Despite all that was going on Tabitha couldn’t help but think about the date proposal. If Maya was bringing it up did that mean she was still interested? Tabitha had never been a lesbian, and it had been so long since she had been with a woman she wasn’t even sure she could call herself bisexual. She wasn’t even sure if she liked Maya. She was a good person, but so cold… And then there was poor Caleb--she had treated him terribly. She had no right to go out with his old partner, none at all.
Tabitha gulped down twice the recommended dosage of pills and returned to the living room. Fritz was happily oblivious, but Thistle had a brooding expression on his face. “I’ll help,” he said. “With the investigation. I’ll help find out who did it.”
“That’s sweet of you Thistle. But what can you do?”
“I figured it out last time, didn’t I?”
“So he can help too. Take us to work tomorrow, let us check things out.”
“I can’t go back there,” Tabitha protested. “They think I’m a boss-scewing murderer.”
“And the only way we can prove them wrong is by finding out who it really is.” He jumped over to the computer and pawed it on. “Alright. Who are the suspects?” he asked, and started setting up a spreadsheet.
It took Tabitha every ounce of willpower to go into work the next day, and a preternatural amount to actually stay in the building once she was there. As she walked down the hall it felt like all eyes were on her. She did her best to ignore the stares and made her way to her office. She wasn’t even sure she would be allowed in it, but the crime scene tape was gone--apparently they had collected all of the evidence they needed.
As soon as she walked in the door Vanessa exited Mr. Daws’ office. She was not her usual self--her suit looked rumpled an Tabitha noticed that she was missing two acrylics from her right hand. There were dark circles under her eyes, like she’d been crying.
Tabitha felt sorry for her for about ten seconds. As soon as Vanessa set eyes on Tabitha she began to scream. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here, coming back after what’s happened? I don’t want to look at you, I don t want to speak to you. You make me sick! If you are not out of this office in thirty seconds I’m calling security.”
“Does this mean I’m fired?” Tabitha asked.
“You murdered my grandpa! Of course you’re fucking fired! Get out. Out!”
Tabitha backpedaled out the door, not the least bit upset that she was no longer welcome in the building. It wasn’t until she was crossing the street to The Sandwich Shop that a small smile broke across her face. “I’m fired,” she said to herself.
“I’ve been fired,” she said to Leticia when she entered the restaurant. “I was fired for murdering my boss. I can sue for wrongful termination.”
Leticia stared at her. “Congratulations?”
Tabitha laughed. “Thank you. Being wanted for murder has never felt so good!”
“Girl, if you don’t explain right now there will be hell to pay. I can’t hire a murderer.”
Tabitha knew fully well that Letica was joking, and stepped behind the counter to make herself a cappuccino as she explained the situation. “I suppose you’ll be wanting to take a few weeks off before you start here, then,” Leticia asked, “until everything blows over?”
“Oh no,” Tabitha said. “I want to start immediately. “Almost the entire office comes here for lunch or coffee--it will be the perfect place to spy on them and figure out what was going on.”
“You think it was someone in the office?”
“I think it was someone in his family.” Tabitha was already starting to second guess her suspicions about Vanessa. She had looked upset and not at all herself that morning. Could it be that she was finally mourning her grandfather’s death? Tabitha wasn’t sure about Mr. Daws Jr. He seemed level-headed and pleasant enough. Was there some deep, dark psychosis deep down inside him?
But Mrs. Daws was her prime suspect, when all was said and done. She was just so bitter, which, Tabitha supposed, she had every right to be. But bitter enough to kill? It was definitely something to mull over, but she didn’t have the time.
After finishing her cappacino she went back into the kitchen and helped Jerry finish the morning prep until the other cook, a friend of Jerry’s from his short stint as a boxer, came in. Vince and Jerry were both wide and muscular and quite filled up the tiny kitchen with their bulk when they were both there. Vince only worked part time--he was writing his second book.
I wish I could do something like that, Tabitha thought as she took a bag of garbage out to the dumpster behind the building. Work part time and do my art. That would be a dream.
She worked the register with Leticia and Denise, she went around the dining room wiping off tables and picking up trash--she learned to work the dish machine. Her afternoon was spent cutting up and plating frozen desserts. She was standing at a tiny counter in a corner of the kitchen. Her feet hurt and her back was starting to ache, but it was so much better to be moving around and doing something than it would be to go home and mope, listening to Thistle rave about things that as a cat he wasn’t capable of doing.
“Hey, Tabitha,” Leticia called through the window separating the kitchen from the front. “Someone here to see you.”
“See me?” She set down her knife and pulled off her plastic gloves. She found Maya standing at the counter, holding a ticket and waiting for a sandwich.
“Not on purpose,” Maya said. “I saw you through the window there--what the hell are you doing?”
“I have a new job,” Tabitha said. “I got fired today.”
“Me too,” Maya’s voice was glum.
“Not really fired,” she said. “But I’ve been kicked off the case.”
Behind them Vince set out Maya’s plate and Tabitha passed it over to her. “Take a break,” Leticia offered to Tabitha, and she went to sit down at one of the tables with Maya.
“Why were you kicked off the case?”
“People tend to freak out when the detective in charge has been asking suspects out on dates.”
Tabitha flushed. “I am so sorry! I didn’t mean to get you into trouble.”
Maya sighed. “It doesn’t matter. The fact that you were involved with Caleb made the entire situation unstable anyway. But I don’t like having my cases taken away from me. I was just over here to introduce my replacement to the Dawses and show him the crime scene.” She grimaced. “Which he insisted on going over again with a fine-tooted comb. Like I was going to miss anything.”
“I’m really sorry.”
“Yeah. Well, it’s John Gould, so you should be sorry. They guy is an ass. A much bigger pain in the ass than I am.” Maya let herself smile. “I know I play too tough out there. But it’s hard to be accepted as a woman cop. You have to be one of the guys, on top of everything. And if you don’t do as well as they do you’re seen as weak. If you do better than them you’re a threat. It’s pretty stressful to find that fine line and then walk it.” Her phone rang and Maya excused herself getting up from her half-eaten sandwich, but even a few steps away Tabitha could still hear that something terrible had happened.
The voice on the other end of the phone was talking loud and fast, and half-way though Maya’s expression darkened. “I didn’t miss anything,” she said. “If you found something it was put there last night.” More talking. “Have fun with that. Goodbye.”
“What was that?” Tabitha asked when Maya returned to her lunch.
Maya frowned and picked at a loose piece of lettuce on her plate. “I’m not supposed to tell you. I’m not supposed to talk about the case, especially to the suspects.” She sighed. “You’re going to get a visit from Gould today. And you’re not going to like it.”
Can I quit life now? Thank you.