date night

“So, Daphne seemed to really enjoy your company,” Marshall said with a grin.

Vinnie yawned. “I’ll appreciate it tremendously if you don’t share that observation with your employer, my daughter. But I imagine you probably will.”

“Being a detective’s assistant is a sacred trust.”

“That makes me feel so much better. Why are we walking so fast?”

“I want to get back to the hotel. It’s nearly time to walk Ron to school.”

“You walk her to school? Isn’t she a little old for that?”

Marshall laughed. “Don’t tell her. No, it started because I wanted to make sure she was actually going. We made her go to school after we adopted her – after some time of her not attending school at all. Then she sort of let me know that she enjoyed it, so we kept on with it. Do you want to come along?”

Vinnie sighed. “I’d love to. That is why I’m here, after all, but I’m going to take a nap. Perhaps we can have a nice family dinner tonight or something.” He frowned. “You’re walking Ron to school now? Is it a half day or something?”

“No. She delivers the mail in the mornings.” He looked ahead and spotted Ron sitting on the steps of the hotel. She had her arms folded and was looking disgruntled.

“Apparently I’m late,” Marshall said. “I’ll see you tonight.” He trotted up the stairs toward his daughter.

Vinnie made his way to the room he’d been assigned, and he barely had time to wonder why Ron delivered the mail before he fell asleep.

 
“Padre? Are you decent?”

Vinnie opened his eyes. It took him a moment to remember where he was. He looked around the room. Apparently he’d fallen into bed and into sleep without turning off the lights or removing his shoes.

“Well, are you decent?”

He saw his daughter peering owlishly into the room.

“Why don’t you ask if I’m awake?” he demanded.

She smiled, stepping into the room. “I’m perfectly willing to wake you up, but I wouldn’t want to burst in on you if you were en deshabille.”

Marshall came in after her and closed the door.

Jan smiled brightly. “Or, of course, if you were playing ‘fetch,’ so to speak, with Daphne the dog.”

Vinnie regarded Marshall unhappily.

“So, padre,” the great detective continued, “we wanted to bring you up to date on the case. Marshall has told me all about your home care excursion this morning. I gather you didn’t see any flickers of guilt when they found out about the murder.”

“No, though Marshall told me afterward that nobody ever gets caught that way. How about you?”

“Ah,” she said, looking pleased with herself. “I went to where Stephanie lives.”

“You think she did it?” Vinnie asked. “U-town’s ‘superhero’?”

She smiled. “No, not really, though nobody is innocent until somebody is proven guilty. And stop making quotation marks with your fingers. She is our superhero, and we’re very lucky to have her.

“No, I went because there’s a man who she lives with who is… shall we say, no stranger to violence. Since Mr. Drenkenson made an unwanted and inappropriate pass at her, it’s possible this Larry Gerard retaliated.”

“Is he her boyfriend?”

“Oh, no. He’s in a relationship with the woman who owns the house where they live. Her name is Angel Valentine.”

Vinnie shook his head. “That name is rather improbable, even for U-town.”

Marshall laughed. “This from the man who spent the morning visiting starling, and fending off the amorous advances of Daphne the dog.”

There was a knock at the door before Jan could comment on this, at least verbally. She said, “I’ll get it. I’m expecting…”

She opened the door, and she stood there for a moment, looking perplexed. Vinnie and Marshall heard a woman’s voice say, “Woof.”

“Padre,” Jan said slowly, “I think this might be for you.”

He got to his feet, went to the door, and saw Daphne. She was standing upright (on her hind legs, as he thought of it), smiling and holding a very small bouquet of flowers. She held them out. “For you,” she said. He took them, wishing there weren’t any witnesses to this. At least Ron wasn’t there.

“They’re very nice,” he said, trying to remember the last time anybody had given him flowers.

She smiled again. “I understand you’re a visitor here in U-town, professor, and I thought you might like to see some of the sights this evening.”

She was still wearing her black sweatshirt and jeans, but she’d added a bright yellow scarf which partly covered her dog collar. Her hair was brushed, and she seemed to be wearing a little makeup. Standing up, she was taller than he would have expected, certainly taller than Pete or Katherine.

“Well,” he said, suddenly afraid that he’d been looking at her body in a way that she might resent. “Last night, when I got here, I had my heart set on seafood, at a place I remembered from my last visit, and I never made it–”

“Down by the docks, no name, long tables, three items on the menu?”

He laughed and nodded as Jan took the flowers from his hand. “I’ll put these in water,” she murmured. “We won’t wait up.”

 
“How long are you visiting us?” Daphne asked as they walked through the hotel lobby.

“I haven’t decided. I wanted to…” His voice trailed off as she preceded him through the revolving door. He found himself noticing her tight black jeans (tighter, he thought, than the ones she’d been wearing that morning), and the fact that a dog leash was hanging out of her back pocket. He had a momentary image of himself walking her like a dog, but when they were on the sidewalk she remained upright and circled her arm through his.

“So,” she said, “how long are you visiting us, professor?”

“That’s not entirely worked out. A couple of weeks at least.”

She squeezed his arm and barked. He thought to himself that this was going to be an interesting evening.

 
“So,” Daphne said after they had ordered and each had a bottle of beer. “Shall I comment on how I’m surprised you’re drinking beer rather than wine, being Italian and all, or should I tell you what I’m not going to talk about?”

Vinnie frowned as he sipped his beer. “I’m afraid you’ve lost me.” He smiled. “And I’m not Italian, I mean, I’m a citizen now, but I was born here. In the United States, I mean.”

She smiled. “I’ll explain what I meant. There’s been a murder – a member of Pete’s band was killed, right? And, as your daughter the detective will soon find out, if she hasn’t already, there was some bad blood between various members of the band. And, of course, Pete lives with Katherine, who has killed a lot of people.”

“And you’re not going to talk about this… but you are talking about it. As I said, I’m confused.”

A waiter came and put two cups of chowder on the table in front of them, each with a little plastic packet of fish-shaped crackers.

“The chowder is, in many ways, the best thing,” she said reverently.

He nodded. “I remember. And the rest was pretty great, too.” He blew on a spoonful of the thick soup. “But you were explaining something to me.”

“It will occur to the great detective, at some point, that Katherine may have done this. So, I should probably be pumping you for information, trying to learn what I can to protect my family. But I’m not going to.”

And, Vinnie thought to himself, I’m not going to ask you why you live your life as a dog. I’m sure that’s the first thing every young man asks you on a date, So I’m not going to even mention it.

* * * *

“You haven’t asked about me being a dog,” Daphne observed. She licked his face.

He held her close. “No, I haven’t.”

She nuzzled even closer and sniffed all around his face. “Hmph,” she said. “As a dog, I should be offended.”

He frowned at her, though he could barely see her in the dark bedroom. “Offended?”

She was obviously barely able to contain her laughter. She leaned in close and whispered, “Your face smells entirely of pussy.”

Vinnie laughed and rubbed his face on hers.

 
Vinnie woke up, and again he wondered where he was. He was lying on a mattress on the floor, naked, and something was tugging on his wrist and growling. The bedclothes were scattered around the floor of the small, nearly empty room.

He lifted his head and saw Daphne, on all fours, dressed in a black T-shirt and skimpy black underwear. She had his wrist between her teeth, but when she saw that he was awake she stopped growling and sat quietly, allowing him to hear the voices from the next room.

He recognized the flutey and mannered voice of his daughter. From her tone, it sounded like this wasn’t a social call.

Okay, this was awkward. Vinnie had gone out to dinner with a woman he’d just met, a woman who lived her life as a dog. Now he’d spent the night with her, and her roommates were apparently involved in a murder that his daughter was investigating.

Well, there was no point in trying to hide his presence from the great detective, but he really didn’t want to put yesterday’s clothes on again without taking a shower first. “Do you have a robe I can wear?” he asked.

She scampered across to a pile of clothes and grabbed the corner of a shabby robe in her teeth, dragging it over to where he was sitting. He stood up, suddenly painfully aware of exactly how badly they both needed a shower. He slipped on the robe and opened the door to the other room.

Jan Sleet, having offered her condolences on the loss of Pete’s friend and band mate, and having accepted the offer of a cup of coffee, sat down at the big, round table and lit a cigarette. Pete and Katherine lit up also.

She looked at the table and then at the door to the hall, and then back at the table. “I do have to ask how you ever got this table in here.” She ducked her head to look at the underside. “I can’t see how it would come apart easily, and it’s far too big to fit up the stairs or through the door.”

“It was here when I moved in,” Pete said. “As far as we can figure, it must have been built here in the apartment. But I doubt if you came here this morning to investigate our table.”

The bedroom door opened and Vinnie and Daphne came out.

“Good morning, padre,” Jan said. “I’ve been stalling, waiting for you to appear. Under the circumstances, you should probably hear this.” Daphne barked. “And good morning to you, Daphne.”

Pete had already poured a mug of coffee for Vinnie (which told Vinnie that he and Daphne had been all too audible the night before), and Daphne trotted over to her bowl as Vinnie sat down, wishing the robe he was wearing was a bit longer. He picked up the mug and said “Thank you” before he sipped.

“As you all know, Tom Drenkenson was knifed to death in his store on Sunday night,” Jan began, and Vinnie, who had witnessed scenes like this before, suddenly wondered if she had solved the case already. He didn’t think so – Marshall would have been there, and maybe some form of security…

He almost lost the thread of what she was saying, distracted first by his own thoughts and then by the sight of Daphne, who had lapped up some of her coffee and was now regarding him, her head cocked to the side. She was behind Jan, so the detective couldn’t see her, and she seemed to be wondering about whether it would be appropriate to come over to Vinnie, with his daughter there and a murder investigation apparently on the agenda. Vinnie tilted his head, indicating the patch of floor next to him, and Daphne padded over and sat there, leaning against his leg.

Then his attention snapped back to his daughter’s words.

“One of the runners came forward last night, in answer to our question, and he said that he had seen somebody near the pet store at around the time Mr. Drenkenson was stabbed. He said it was starling.”

There was a moment of silence. Katherine did not react visibly, in fact she did not move or change expression, but Vinnie felt his chest get tight and the atmosphere in the room became very different.

Because Katherine, this lean woman with the level stare and the scars, was starling, who had killed a lot of people in her life. She was apparently not armed at the moment (she was dressed in a T-shirt and underwear), but he was sure there were weapons in the room somewhere and he knew she had killed people with her bare hands, too.

Why had Jan not brought Marshall today? Was it because she was so cocky that she thought she could handle this by herself, or was it because she wanted to protect him?

Vinnie suddenly realized that his hand was on Daphne’s shoulder and he was holding her to him. Which was probably not appropriate, but nobody was looking at them anyway.

“I wasn’t there,” Katherine said quietly. “I was here. All evening.”

“Alone?”

Daphne got to her feet and said, “Pete was out, but I was here all night. We made dinner and listened to the radio. We didn’t go out.”

Jan looked as if she was debating asking whether Daphne would tell a lie for Katherine, but Katherine spoke first.

“Miss Sleet, where is this pet store? Where the murder took place.”

“Down by the school. One block north of the big vegetable market.”

“I’d like to meet you there, in front of the store, in a half hour. There’s something I want to show you there.”

Jan frowned, obviously wondering what this meant. She nodded slowly. “That would be fine.” She took her cane and got to her feet. “I’ll see you then. Thank you for the coffee.”

She left, and Katherine stood up also. “Vinnie, I’m sorry to be rude, but I’m afraid you need to leave, too.”

“After you get dressed, obviously,” Pete added.

This was pretty definite, so Vinnie turned to go to Daphne’s room, but then he turned back. “I think I’ll go catch up with Jan. Can you tell me how to get to the pet store from here? I was there before, but–”

“I’ll draw you a map,” Pete said, but Daphne scrambled into her room and trotted back with her leash in her mouth.

“Or, of course, Daphne could show you,” Pete said, smiling.

 
one night at the quarter (part three)

Katherine didn’t always come to see Pete’s gigs. He didn’t expect her to (she wasn’t really his girlfriend, after all), so she went or not, depending on how she felt.

But this was not a typical gig. For one thing, she thought that it was probably going to be the last one. Already Tom had quit the band once and then come back. She was sure he’d be gone for good, soon, and she even wondered if he might not show up tonight.

She wanted to be there for Pete, if he needed moral support (she was still feeling her way around this idea of friendship – it had been a very long time – but she knew moral support was part of it).

More importantly, she also thought there might be violence. It was just a hunch, nothing specific, but there was a lot of tension, and if Pete’s affair with Jenny should be discovered…

So, she was also here to protect Pete, should that become necessary. She’d been prepared to kill Henshaw for a while, if he’d ever found out about Jenny and Pete. She didn’t anticipate much trouble – Henshaw had obviously seen a lot of movies, and he’d be the type who’d want to make a speech before doing anything else. They were always easy to kill.

Tom came in and brushed past her, heading toward the tiny dressing room behind the stage. He was carrying his guitar case. He looked gloomy, but that was normal for him. Well, at least he’d showed up.

 
part six: the pet store

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