Sirens blared in the distance while the operator asked a hundred questions. Belinda skidded into the parking lot, jumped out and ran to the police department’s front door. She grabbed the door’s handle but stopped and looked back for the blue car she was sure followed her.
When no cars tore into the parking lot with gunmen blasting away at her, her heart rate started to slow down. She shut the door behind her.
Magers showed up an hour later. She guessed he had to cover the search of her loft, call all the people whose names she’d given him, take care of the body, talk to the Coroner, have time to get to his office. It seemed like it took a century. His remarkable blue eyes had turned the color of granite, which bored into Belinda. She was okay until his face softened and he looked at her with sympathy. She cried.
“Don’t do that. You can’t help us while you’re out of control.” He walked a circle and stopped in front of her again.
“But I don’t know why that guy shot a gun at me. I don’t know why the dead man was in my loft. I’m afraid to go home.”
“Somebody is looking for something. Any idea what that might be?” He reached for his iphone, scrolled through some items, stopped and said, “We got enough glue off the dead man’s face to get a profile picture. It’s rough but I want to know if you recognize him. You’re okay, right?”
She’d never be okay again, but she clenched her teeth and looked at the small screen on Sam’s phone.
She choked. “Th-that’s Reedy.”
“So who is Reedy?”
“He was my husband until he disappeared four years ago. I got a divorce decree from him just this morning because he is presumed dead. Oh my god. I had no idea he was even in
Chris texted to her: where r u?
She looked at the text message but didn’t want to tell Chris she was at the police station. He’d freak out.
Sam insisted he take Belinda home to pack then some place to stay a few nights because she shouldn’t be alone. “A person who is more concerned about blood in her paint than who killed cock robin isn’t thinking entirely straight.”
She could see his point.
“And, the blue car that held the shooter at your house two nights ago has the wrong serial number. It’s registered to a Tom McKinzie.”
“But it looked like my step-brother’s car.”
“Is his name Tom McKenzie?”
“Tom McKenzie is dead. He was 84 when he died of a heart attack, best I can tell.”
“What? That’s insane.”
“I know...stay tuned for the next episode, whenever I find it.” Sam rolled his eyes and sighed. He opened the door with the key she dug out of her purse, looked inside. “Oops.”
Her leather couch and other furniture were torn and upside down, the glass on the front of her mother’s picture was broken out of its frame. Her fairy figurine collection was pulverized to powder on the hearth. Sam pulled his gun out, firmly pulled Belinda away from the door on the front porch, said “you stay here,” and left to search all of the rooms for any intruder who may still be there.
When he hopped into her living room, gun in both hands just like the movies, her heart pounded. She plastered herself up against the outside wall of her house and waited in terror. When he returned, he brought her inside and shut the door. “Don’t touch anything. Just look around and see if anything is missing.”
“Right.” Like she could tell if anything was gone in the mess that used to be her home.
A leather bound set of the classics from her book shelves had pages torn from them, wadded and thrown around the room like litter. Her father had given those to her for her 21st birthday. She thought she had no tears left. But she did.
“Think, Belinda. What do you have that’s valuable enough to...?” Her front door began to open. He shoved Belinda behind him and whipped out the Glock 17 again. Honest to God she thought Sam was going to fire it and kill her friend.
“It’s okay, Sam. That’s my friend Maddie!” Belinda yelled.
“Yikes, Linny!” A woman’s head poked inside. She froze when she saw the gun. Soft, round and short, she took two steps backward when she noticed his uniform and badge. “Are you okay?”
“ No, Maddie, I think I’m not okay. You scared me to death! How did you know I was here? Somebody shot a gun at me. Somebody wants me dead and I don’t even know why!”
“I parked down the street and saw you both come inside.” She looked around her feet, horror written on her face. “The loft is a mess too. I was just over there.”
The adrenaline level in the room was heavy as mist. They all stepped back onto the front porch. Sam talked into the box on his shoulder.
Belinda babbled to Maddie. “Yes. That’s where it all started. Reedy was killed and left in the studio, then they couldn’t get all the paint off him or the superglue, and they took a profile picture and showed it to me and it freaked me out but of course by that time somebody shot at me with a real gun., and ...”
Sam’s eyes turned from one of the women to the other, then back again.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait. You lost me at superglue.”
“Oh, sorry, Sergeant Magers, this is Madrigal , my friend.”
“Snzmeme Madrigal, nice to meetcha.” Maddie held out her hand to shake, which he shook lightly.
He smiled with a question in his eyes. “Snzmeme?”
“Snzmeme is her tribal name,” Belinda said.
Maddie wore turquoise wool pants, a turtleneck shirt and a v-neck orange sweater. She had thrown back her striped serape so she could hold her purse and wave her arms around. Her brown skin and wide round face were incongruous with her Caucasian features.
“Maddie uses my studio to do her artwork. She makes figurines and Native American art.”
“Yes, I am a child of the sun,” Maddie added as her face lit up.
“She means she’s American Indian and adores the people,” Belinda said.
Maddie wrinkled her nose as she panned the room. “Reedy is dead?”
She turned to Belinda. “You could stay with me. We can talk.”
Belinda wasn’t really sure where Maddie’s house was. Mostly she resided in her 1975 Lincoln Ambassador. Yet Maddie had often been to Belinda’s house, her mother’s house, her loft since the two women had met in an art class years ago. “I’m going to my mom’s house.”
“Rachael? Are you sure you want to do that? How about Chris’s house? He’d love that.”
“I guess I could stay with Chris for a little while--just until my house is cleaned up.” Why did men always make you feel safer than women? Women are trained that way from birth.
Later that day, Chris Danner, her would-be boyfriend, sat with Belinda at his breakfast table. Belinda was all cried out. “We should just get married,” Chris said the third time since her arrival. His brown puppy eyes pled with her. And he was kind of cute with his blonde curls and scruffy little beard. He had a good job as a foreman at a big box store--with benefits. Marrying Chris was never on her bucket list. She didn’t feel the connection he felt. She didn’t love him. Well, her first marriage hadn’t worked out so well, had it, and she’d definitely loved Reedy--or thought she had. Maybe Chris would grow on her. People used to have arranged marriages. Her mother said once that those were a good idea. Maybe she’d think about it.
She ignored Chris for the millionth time and felt guilty about it. He had gone to work by time Maddie called Belinda.
“Are you having fun playing house?” .
“I don’t know, Mads, I feel like Chris is a roommate. Living with a man, you’d think I’d feel something more for him.” She ran a hand through her hair, which was still wet from her shower. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. Sometimes I think....” She shook her head to clear it from that subject.
“For now, I’ll need a new canvas to replace the d-dead guy one. I don’t have time to get another canvas that size stretched, and primed.” The painting she’d contracted for was due to be shipped in three days, and the art gallery already had CD pictures of the first one. “I’ve been thinking... My dad bought one of the first paintings I ever made and hung it in his den. That canvas is a little smaller than the one at the studio, but I can paint over the picture that’s on it now. It isn’t very good anyway. He was just encouraging me when I was thirteen.” The gallery work was supposed to be new within six months. But over-painting would still be new, wouldn’t it?
“Why don’t you forget about painting for now?” Maddie said.
“I’ve already paid the entry fee. The gallery would probably accept the substitution¸ I think...I hope.”
“Especially if you don’t tell them about it.”
She drove a neighbor’s borrowed Ford pickup truck over toward the golf course where her mother lived in a ranch style house three inches from the Fourteenth green. Once there, she let herself in with a spare key.
Belinda went directly to her father’s den where the picture hung. She realized she’d have to wash it, but it looked smooth enough to paint over. Besides, she could use some gesso to make sure another painting would adhere to the one beneath.
She carried the painting out to the truck and laid it in the large bed, then covered it with a heavy blanket. It fit almost perfectly. Then she went looking for her mother who could probably be found in her garden. The garden was through the kitchen, out the backyard door. She was surprised to see her mother sitting, looking out the back window.
Her mother sat at the kitchen table. Not moving. She had a neat hole in her temple.
Belinda screamed, “Noooooo!” She collapsed into tears after she felt for her mother’s pulse. Her mother was cold. And dead.
She remembered Sam “clearing” her house just yesterday, and almost hyperventilated as she ran out the front door and called 911 again, so frightened she could barely talk. Something inside her twisted, broke and turned to lead. She made herself walk into the kitchen. How could she live without her mother? She was the only thing that never changed. “I’ll eat all my vegetables, I promise.” She sobbed out the silly promise, broke down again and looked through her tears around the room for some explanation. This was just a bad dream. How could anyone kill her mother?
Belinda’s bones ached and she thought she must have the flu. That would be perfect--a dead ex and a dead mother, being shot at and living with Chris which she’d said she’d never do, having a shot SUV, and now she had the flu. Her life was upside down in only two days. But why?
Exhausted, Belinda curled into a ball and fell asleep on the sofa while she and her mom waited for the authorities.
Fortunately, her mother had made a detailed will when she’d married Phillip. Had she known something was going to happen? She’d made plain her burial wishes and both she and Phillip had drawn up a pre-nuptial agreement. What belonged to her mother would come to Belinda. What belonged to Phillip would go to his children, Gary, Eric, Gail and Kitty. Not that they had anything besides retirement incomes to worry about. I wonder where my stepfather went? The investigator said Phillip was out playing golf when he got the bad news about his wife. She wondered if he even cared.
Belinda had gone to a few of Phillip’s family parties, but her step-siblings had treated her mother with so much disdain and jealousy for marrying the divorced Phillip while their mother was still alive, that it was too uncomfortable for Belinda to watch.
Belinda stayed with Chris after she got out of the hospital where she’d been checked for shock. When Magers pointed out the lapses in her logic, with such a sweet sales pitch, she wanted to jump into his lap and never get out. The psychiatrist gave her medication so she could stop crying. She’d never known constant crying was so exhausting. She just wanted to be left alone to sleep. But of course the world would not stop for her.