on the roof

“Cigarette?”

“No, thank you.”

It was breezy on the roof where they sat, so Katherine had to cup her hand around the match in order to get her cigarette lit.

“I’m surprised it’s not Jan Sleet accusing me,” she said after a moment.

“She dropped the case. She was wrong about who did it… Anyway, it’s a long story.”

“How did you know?”

“You were seen, after all. Everybody tried to find other explanations, because you didn’t seem to have a motive, and because you could have disguised yourself.” Stevie One shook her head, though of course her expression was difficult to read under her mask. “I’m not as smart as Jan Sleet. I’m not a genius detective. I’m a cop, basically, and if I learn that a known murderer was seen in the vicinity of a murder, the murder of somebody she knew, I try to figure out if maybe she did it.”

“And now you think you’ve come up with a motive for me?”

“Jennifer Owens’ body was found in the basement of Mr. Drenkenson’s pet store. It was in a trunk, wrapped very carefully in plastic, but the smell had started to become noticeable.”

Katherine nodded slowly. “I can’t say I’m sorry. But you think Jenny’s death gives me a motive? I couldn’t stand her.”

“No, but you love Pete, and you would want to protect him.”

“I would kill to protect him, yes, and I’ve done that in the past. But what possible threat did she pose to him?”

The young superhero shook her head. “I’m not accusing you of her murder. I’m accusing you of Tom Drenkenson’s murder.”

“You have lost me completely.”

“Tom Drenkenson killed Jennifer Owens, because she had left him for Philip Henshaw. Mister Henshaw had a motive also, but he was in the hospital that night – the night Miss Owens apparently left town – stabbed in the leg by Miss Owens. Mr. Drenkenson probably hid the body in the basement of the store, planning to dispose of it elsewhere at some point, and then either he couldn’t figure out how to do that or his own death came too quickly for him to carry out his plan.”

“And I killed Tom in revenge for his murder of a woman I didn’t like?”

“The danger was that, if you didn’t kill Mr. Drenkenson, Pete would do it himself. The murder would be discovered and solved sooner or later, after all, and Pete cared about Jenny. That’s why you made sure you were seen, and why you did it at a time when Pete had an alibi – to protect him.”

“Is this where I point out that you don’t have any evidence?”

The young superhero shrugged. “I don’t need evidence. All I have to do is get Jan Sleet back on the case, by telling her that she’s wrong in her current thinking.”

Katherine nodded. “That would probably do it. But I do have to point out that you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position…”

Her voice trailed off as Stevie pulled a small gun from under her vest.

“Ah,” Katherine said. “I didn’t know you carried a gun.”

“I don’t advertise it, for a variety of reasons. I–”

Katherine reached out, grabbed Stevie’s wrist, twisted it, and took the gun out of her hand, all without dropping her cigarette.

She placed the gun on the tar paper on the other side of her. “I guess that’s today’s lesson,” she said. “Never pull a gun that you’re not prepared to use. Not on somebody like me.”

The door to the stairs opened and Angel stepped out onto the roof. In the dusk, dressed all in white, she almost glowed. “Hello, Katherine,” she said.

Katherine frowned. “I don’t think I know you.”

Angel approached them. Stevie hadn’t spoken, and Angel reached down to cup the back of her head. Before the young superhero could figure out how to react to this, Angel said, “Sleep,” and she lowered Stevie’s unconscious form gently to the tar paper.

Katherine took a moment to look again at the woman in front of her. She was still tall and slender, but now she had short, salt-and-pepper hair and a lined face, wearing black jeans and a black trench coat.

“Alex,” Katherine said after a moment.

Alex smiled. “It’s good to see you. It’s been a while. May I sit?”

Katherine shifted to the right, so there was space between her and the unconscious form of Stevie One. Alex lowered herself to the tar paper and said, “You’re surprised to see me, I imagine.”

Katherine nodded. “I am.” She gestured at Stevie One. “Is she okay?”

“Oh, yes. She’s just asleep.”

Katherine had been in therapy for a while, and she took it very seriously. She had read several books on the subject of psychology, and she was in the middle of two more at the moment. Pete joked sometimes that she had read more books about psychology than he’d ever seen her read about anything else, but she knew this was just his unease about the subject in general (Pete was obsessive-compulsive, in her estimation).

He thoroughly supported her interest, though, as long as he didn’t have to participate himself, which was fair.

In her reading, she’d learned quite a bit about people with multiple personalities. Finding herself sitting next to one, she had several questions, but this did not seem to be the right time to ask them. She was having trouble thinking of something else to talk about, though.

There was a moment of silence, then Katherine said, “Vinnie is here, if you don’t know.”

“Here? In U-town?”

“No, downstairs in my apartment. Having sex with my dog, rather noisily.”

Alex frowned. “Is this another one of those jokes that everybody gets except me?”

Katherine shook her head. “No – let’s just say he’s having sex with my roommate.”

“Why is he here? In U-town, I mean.”

“To visit his daughter, mostly. Jan Sleet.”

Alex nodded. “That makes sense.”

They were silent for another moment.

“Do you want to see him?”

Alex shrugged. “Not particularly.”

There was another moment of silence, and Katherine stubbed out her cigarette. “What’s she going to do?” she asked, gesturing at Stevie One. “When she wakes up.”

Alex shook her head. “I have no idea.” She met Katherine’s eyes. “You will not harm her.”

There was another pause, then Katherine was aware of a sidelong questioning glance from Alex, who raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Something you said to me,” she said, “a long time ago. I wonder if you even remember.”

Katherine shrugged. “Quite possibly not. My memory of those days is erratic.”

“Mine, too. But this was a very specific conversation, and I remember it very clearly. Imagination and will, that’s what you said it takes, to become somebody different, somebody new.”

Katherine snorted a laugh and then covered her mouth. “I said that to you? All those years ago?” She pulled out her cigarettes and lit one. “God, I…” Alex caught her eye. “You smoke?”

Alex shrugged and smiled. “Maybe. Who remembers?”

Katherine laughed and lit one for her, too. Then she drew smoke deeply into her lungs and slowly let it out. “I was remembering my last conversation with Jenny Owens. I was telling her the same thing. She was just so… nothing that happened to her was… she didn’t deserve any of it, but she put herself in some bad situations and then pretended that she had no choice.” She shook her head. “I suggested she could change if she wanted to, with imagination and will, but she said no. She wasn’t going anywhere, even though she’d just stabbed Henshaw.”

She rolled her eyes. “He certainly deserved it. She was adamant, though, that she was going to stick, to ‘ride it out,’ as she put it. Then she was going to talk to Drenkenson. That’s how I knew she hadn’t left town, and what had probably happened to her.”

“I thought you couldn’t stand her.”

“I didn’t like her, but she was a fact of life. I was living with Pete, and she was spending a few nights in his bed – or at least a few afternoons. God, there was a special bench for us, in the band’s rehearsal room – the ‘girlfriend seat.’ We had to sort of get along with each other. And she wasn’t afraid of me, so that’s always nice.”

 
“It is good to see you,” Katherine said after another moment’s silence. “You should come over for dinner some time. We can bore Pete and Daphne with our stories about the old days.” Alex looked dubious. “If you’re worried about Vinnie, I’m sure he’s going back to Italy at some point. He’s supposed to be here to see Ron, I think, but he seems to spend most of his time with Daphne.”

“Ron,” Alex said slowly.

“Have you met her?”

“No.” She stubbed out her cigarette and threw the butt off the roof. “Granddaughter,” she said, looking out over the rooftops.

“I went through all that with Vinnie. You should meet her. She’s cool.” She grinned suddenly. “He’s still handsome, by the way, but I’m pretty sure he dyes his hair.”

“I hope you’re not trying to fix me up with him.”

“Oh, no. Daphne wouldn’t like that. You know, he was just telling her about that night with Lauren–”

“Oh, God, her. I’d managed to forget about her.”

“The night she made that crack about us, and you tripped her–”

“Okay, that I remember. I do remember that.” She shook her head. “Vinnie, such a gentleman, defending us against the terrible slander of being called dykes.”

“It seems funny now. I was glad he didn’t tell Daphne the specifics, because she… well, she entertains ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages, as Pete always says.”

“And Vinnie.”

“She’s been pretty steady with Vinnie. Every night. That’s unusual for her.”

Alex smiled and said, “Okay, explain your comment about Vinnie and your dog. Well, as long as it isn’t obscene.”

Katherine laughed.

 
“You want to know my theory?”

“Are you still at that?” Daphne asked. “I thought you said you can’t solve it.”

“No, not that,” Vinnie said. “This is something else.” He squeezed her and kissed her shoulder. “I want to tell you a story.”

She shrugged.

“I don’t know for sure how it started,” he said, speaking very quietly, “why Daphne started being a dog, but however it started, here she was, living with a man and a woman, a couple. They are heterosexual and monogamous, and in any case she does not find either of them attractive.

“But how can she be part of this household? Just as a roommate? No, she feels more attached to them than that, and they to her. But she is young and attractive, and much closer to the man in age than either is to the man’s lover. And the lover is heavily armed and has a history of violence – you wouldn’t want to get her jealous.

“And of course being a dog lets her tease people and see how they’ll react. She enjoys that…”

He raised his head to look at Daphne’s face. She was asleep, snoring as she always did when she slept on her back. She was far from the loudest he’d ever heard, though he knew the volume would probably increase as she got older.

Oh, well. He smiled. Holding her close, he reflected on the general advice about sleeping dogs.

His head was resting on the curve between her shoulder and her breast, with his arm across her belly. They had tacitly agreed not to mention the fact that her pregnancy was pretty obvious when she was naked.

There were several other things that they didn’t talk about, like his future plans and intentions, but he was thinking that tomorrow he should start to bring those things up. Or maybe tonight. Their early-evening romp aside, he still wanted dinner.

 
“So,” Alex said. “there’s a litter of puppies coming?”

Katherine laughed. “Pete’s not very observant, so I’ll have to break it to him at some point.”

“Are they Vinnie’s?”

“Oh, no. He just got here a few days ago.”

Alex noticed Katherine glance at Stevie One again.

“I really don’t know what her decision will be,” Alex said, “but it’s going to be complicated by a couple of things. One is that she resents your freedom here. She thinks you should be locked up, because of what you’ve done in the past. So, if she decides to arrest you, for a crime committed here against a murderer, she will wonder if she’s being influenced by the other things you’ve done, elsewhere. Which shouldn’t matter in this, but she’ll second-guess herself.

“Also, she had her own grudge against Tom Drenkenson, and she will know that shouldn’t matter either, but she will wonder if… “

She frowned and pointed at Katherine’s forehead. “Forget that last part. Anyway, there is only one way to find out what she’s going to do, you know, and that’s to wake her up. Which I will have to do sooner or later.”

Katherine nodded, and Alex got to her feet. By the time she was standing, she was Angel again.

She leaned over, but then she straightened up again and reached into a pocket of her dazzlingly white jacket. She pulled out a business card, which she handed to Katherine.

“My attorney,” she said. “If you do end up needing a lawyer, Tammy Nelson is the best.” She hesitated, then she said, “Miss Nelson is very sharp, and she won’t buy Stevie’s explanation for why you killed Mr. Drenkenson, and, for the record, I don’t buy it either.”

She looked down at Stevie One.

“Wake up now, dear,” she said quietly.

 
The End

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