After Lucy and Po Po grabbed an early lunch, they stopped by the nurses’ station at the hospital. There were no changes to her mother’s condition, and, according to the nurse, no other visitors. And because of Max’s visit this morning, Lucy had missed the doctor.
She could wait for the doctor to finish his rounds or come back this afternoon when he would be at his office doing paperwork. Unfortunately, because of a heart patient who just came out of surgery, the doctor would not be able to return to this wing for a while. Lucy told the nurse she would be back this afternoon to speak to the doctor. Lucy and Po Po went into Mom’s room. The machines flashed and whirled, but Lucy had no idea what it meant. Nothing was beeping, so this must be a good sign.
Her sister should be at their mother’s side. Even if she didn’t get Estelle’s message, someone in town would have told her the news by now. While Lucy wasn’t close to her baby sister, she had followed Breanne on social media. Her sister was part of the generation that shared everything online. However, a month ago, Breanne had stopped posting regularly. Lucy had assumed her sister got busy in real life. Now she wondered if something had been going on since then. Dread swirled in Lucy’s stomach. What if her mother wasn’t the only target?
Po Po rubbed her back. “We can’t do anything else here. Let’s go find that sister of yours.”
Lucy swallowed the lump in her throat. “Time to hit the road then.”
They piled into Lucy’s car. Po Po whipped out her cell phone, tapping on the screen and leaving Lucy to her thoughts. Lucy typed the address into the GPS unit on the dashboard. Her sister’s address was on the other side of the mountain where the houses were small and within spitting distance of each other. The residents had no ocean view and had to drive twenty minutes or more to access the beach. This would have been prime real estate in San Francisco.
A few minutes later, the road wound downhill around the mountain, and glimpses of the ocean came and went from view. The GPS unit guided Lucy to a duplex separated by two single-car garages in the middle. She double-checked the address. This was the right place, and her sister’s unit was on the left. It was bigger than Lucy’s apartment, but a cardboard box was bigger than her place.
Lucy parked next to the curb, and they got out. New age music consisting mostly of rhythmic chanting drifted over from the opened window from the unit on the right. Ommm. Tink. Tink. Ommm. It sounded like a Buddhist temple with a monk tapping on a singing bowl.
Po Po rolled her eyes. “Potheads.”
Lucy strode up the walkway and knocked on her sister’s door. “Maybe they’re religious.”
“And I’m the Dalai Lama,” Po Po said.
No one came to the door.
Lucy knocked again and called out, “Breanne! It’s Lucy, your sister.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized it was pathetic that she had to clarify her relationship in case there was another Lucy in her sister’s life.
The curtains on the two windows facing the street were closed, the flowers in the window box were wilting, and the mailbox was full of junk. Lucy strained her ears but didn’t hear anything. She checked underneath the floor mat and in the window box. No key. Apparently, the town was no longer as trusting as it used to be.
“Let’s try next door,” Po Po said, marching over. She pounded on the door. “Open up! I’m from the police department.”
“Po Po! You can’t say that,” Lucy whispered.
“That hunky police chief can give me a stern talking to anytime he wants. Maybe he can handcuff me.”
Lucy blinked, not sure how to respond. She had always known her grandma wasn’t as matronly as she pretended to be when she was in Chinatown. But she didn’t suspect Po Po would be a cougar.
Her grandma burst out laughing. “I may be old, but I’m not dead. But don’t worry, I don’t poach from the family.”
“I’m not looking for a relationship. And no more blind dates. If you pull another stunt like last night, I’m not having dinner with you anymore.” This was an empty threat. Lucy would do whatever it took to spend more time with Po Po, but her grandma didn’t need to know this. “How come you never set Raina up with someone?”
“That’s because she always had Matthew in her heart. There wasn’t room for anyone else. But you, my dear, are like a flower waiting to bloom.”
Lucy didn’t know whether she should blush or groan. Why did her grandma assume every single woman wanted a husband? And why did she sound like a pimp trying to showcase a thoroughbred?
The front door swung open, and the distinct smell of marijuana billowed out of the unit. So not a Buddhist temple after all. Po Po gave Lucy a pointed look and whispered, “We should ask him where he gets his weed.”
“No,” Lucy whispered back.
“It would let him know we’re on the same team. For medicinal use.”
Po Po folded her arms over her chest. “Party pooper.”
Lucy ignored her. She was surprised her grandma didn’t stick out her tongue.
The man stared at them with a furrowed brow like he was trying to follow their conversation. He was about her sister’s age, early twenties. His brown eyes were at half-mast. His brown hair was flat in the front like he slept on his face and stuck out on the sides in patches. His white tank top had yellowish green stains that were either vomit or snot and didn’t cover the top of his belly button. And his green-and-brown flannel pajama pants hung low over his skinny hips, exposing a swath of brown hair. Yep, a real specimen of a man.
Lucy forced a smile on her face, hoping he couldn’t see that she wanted to bleach her eyes. “Hi, I’m Lucy Fong. I’m Breanne Faye’s sister.”
“Who?” he asked, squinting at her.
Lucy gestured at her sister’s unit. “I’m your neighbor’s sister. I haven’t been able to get in touch with Breanne for days. When was the last time you saw her?”
“Oh.” He nodded. “The cute chick.”
Lucy glanced at Po Po. They could be here all day. “When was the last time you saw her?” she said slowly.
“Who?” he asked.
Lucy smacked her forehead. Did his head have more holes than a wedge of Swiss cheese? It was worse than talking to a toddler. She gestured to Po Po. “Please use your feminine wiles on him. I’ll take a peek at Breanne’s windows.”
Po Po tossed her head. “I can get any man to squeal.”
As Lucy strolled back to her sister’s unit, she heard Po Po asking the neighbor where she could buy marijuana in town for medicinal purposes. Lucy groaned. At this rate, they would get arrested before the day was over. Like it or not, her next meeting with Police Chief DeWitt was inevitable.
Lucy knocked on the front door again. No one answered. She didn’t expect it to be otherwise but had hoped maybe her sister was in the shower and didn’t hear the knock the first time. She opened the gate leading to the backyard and went in. The narrow concrete pathway had knee-high overgrown weeds on either side. One faint gossamer strand of spider web drifted across the path, and she ducked her head, batting at it. Her sister wasn’t much of a gardener.
She peered in the first window, but couldn’t see much through the blinds. Just a sofa and small flat screen TV. The small coffee table held a pile of mail and two Chinese take-out boxes. Flies buzzed around the open lids. The smaller second window had obscure privacy glass. Probably a bathroom. As Lucy stepped further into the yard, her nostrils flared, and she grimaced at the fetid odor. She glanced around for the trashcan but didn’t see it. When was the last time her sister pushed out the bins for trash collection? It smelled like there was a dead skunk in the yard.
Lucy breathed through her mouth and stepped up to the last window on this side of the building. The hair on the back of her neck stiffened, and she froze. What was that? A cloud of buzzing bees? She glanced behind her but didn’t see anything other than overgrown weeds. As she was about to return to the window, a branch snapped behind her, followed by rattling at the gate like a large animal was trying to get through. Lucy whipped around, her heart in her throat. She forgot about breathing through her nose and gagged at the pungent smell.
Po Po marched into view, swatting at her face. “Argh! I hate spiders.” She took several more steps and stopped, her nose wrinkling. “What is that awful smell? Did someone take a dump back here?”
Lucy exhaled, forcing the air through her mouth. Returning to her hometown had her jumping at shadows and loud noises like a simpering fool. She gave herself a mental head slap. She would be no help to anyone if she ended up giving herself a heart attack. It was time to snap out of it.
Po Po paused, cocking her head, studying Lucy. “Are you okay? You look like you saw a ghost.”
“Couldn’t you have called out to let me know you were coming in the backyard?” Lucy said, sounding peevish.
“How was I supposed to know you would be so skittish?” Po Po said. She pinched her nose. “Did you find anything? I’m surprised Mr. Pothead didn’t complain about the smell to the landlord. Let’s get outta here.”
Lucy wasn’t skittish; she was irritated with the situation. Why was she here in the first place? She wasn’t the type to skulk in someone else’s backyard. Just because this was her sister’s backyard didn’t make a difference. She was no better than a Peeping Tom.
Her life had been orderly and comforting until the phone call from Cousin Estelle. Maybe some people might consider her life boring, but she had enough family drama in her childhood to last a lifetime.
“Did you find anything from the neighbor?” Lucy asked.
Po Po shrugged. “Just that your sister works for the plastic surgery center, so we can check there next. I’m surprised there’s enough business for a facility here.”
“Maybe that’s the point. I can see the Hollywood type coming here to do a little nip and tuck and returning home with no one the wiser. It’s secluded but still close enough to LA to drive up here for the weekend.”
“Are we going there next?” Po Po asked.
Lucy checked the time on the Fitbit on her arm. “Maybe tomorrow. I need to catch the doctor at the hospital before he leaves for the evening.”
“Or we could go get some medicinal marijuana,” Po Po said. “It’s much easier to get pot than pain meds these days.” She jerked a thumb at the other side of the duplex. “The neighbor gave me the name and address of a doctor who can prescribe it to me.”
Lucy gave her grandma a sideways glance. A high-flying Po Po would put Lucy in the doghouse with the Wong family. This was a headache she didn’t need. After all, Po Po could get into enough trouble on her own without Lucy’s involvement.
She turned her attention back to the window and the overfilled kitchen sink in front of her. From what she could see of the kitchen table, which wasn’t much more than a corner, it was covered in used pots and pans. It certainly was much easier to get takeout than to clean the kitchen. Lucy gasped. Underneath the table was a pair of feet in a pool of blood on the linoleum floor. The buzzing she had heard earlier was from the flies hovering over the dead body.
Why was there blood everywhere? The edges of her vision turned white, and she blinked rapidly, hoping to clear it. She stumbled backward, falling onto Po Po. They tumbled into a heap on the ground. As Lucy’s tailbone hit the concrete, a sharp pain ran up her spine, snapping her vision back into place. She rolled sideways to extract her arms and legs from her grandma. She couldn’t get up even if she wanted to at the moment.
Po Po grimaced, grabbing her left ankle. “I hope there’s a naked man in there. It would be embarrassing to sprain my ankle over an empty house.”
Lucy rubbed her back, blinking back tears in her eyes. “How about a dead one?”
Don't miss this fast-paced cozy mystery--get your copy of Just Shoot Me Dead today!
Catch up on Chapter 1 here.
Lucy jerked up from the full-size bed, clutching the sheets. Her heart raced with fear. The room was dim and unfamiliar. She didn’t own a heavy walnut armoire. The thin gauzy curtains were drawn against the pale morning light. Where were her blackout curtains to block out the city noise? Her head felt thick and groggy from emotion and exhaustion. It took her several heartbeats to realize someone was knocking on the front door. And she was in her mother’s guest bedroom, which used to be her sister’s bedroom.
She reached for the cell phone on the nightstand and glanced at the digital display. Eight in the morning. She had fallen asleep less than four hours ago. Maybe if she ignored the knock, the person would go away. Obviously, this person hadn’t heard Mom was in the hospital.
The cell phone vibrated on the nightstand. Lucy stuffed the pillow over her head, but it didn’t stop the ringing. She reached for the phone and tapped on the screen to accept the call.
“Hello?” she mumbled. Her voice sounded gravelly like she was a smoker. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Hello?” This time it sounded like she only had a cold.
“Miss Fong? It’s Max DeWitt. I’m outside your front door,” the unfamiliar voice said. The smile in his voice was unmistakable.
Lucy groaned inwardly. Didn’t the police chief just go to bed? She hated cheerful morning people. “I just went to bed. What do you want?” Great. Now she sounded like a cranky child. She needed to stay on the police chief’s good side, especially since he was looking into her mother’s shooting.
“Sorry to bother you, ma’am. I’ll come back later,” Max said.
Lucy swung her legs off the bed. “Now is fine. I’m already up. Just give me a few minutes.” She managed to walk with her eyes at half-mast to the bathroom. She used the restroom, twirled a toothbrush half-heartedly in her mouth, and padded for the front door.
She ran a hand through her bed-hair, hoping to tame it. There was nothing she could do about the dark and swollen eye bags. After her thirtieth birthday, a night with less than five hours of sleep made her look like a raccoon the next morning thanks to the Faye side of her family. There was a reason her ancestors could sneak around without a mask—they had one built in.
She lumbered downstairs and swung open the front door. Max DeWitt—in full uniform—smiled down at her. He held a tray with two coffee cups and two small pastry bags. He was in his mid-thirties, close to six feet tall, and well-muscled. The pale morning light glinted off his honey-blonde hair. The skin crinkled around his moss-green eyes like he was happy to see her. He looked like a desperate woman’s dream come true. It must be the uniform.
Lucy did a double take at the gleam in his eyes. Not that she was desperate—or interested. It wasn’t fair that he looked like a well-rested Boy Scout troop leader with even less sleep than she had.
“Why are you scowling at me?” Max asked.
Lucy shook her head to clear her thoughts and gestured for him to come inside. She didn’t know her resting morning face could scare a panhandler. “Sorry, I’m not a morning person.”
“Would it help if I offer you coffee?” he asked, stepping into the living room.
She closed the door after him. “When a man buys me a drink, he usually wants something from me.”
“Then you’re meeting men in the wrong places,” Max said, sitting on the sofa. He held out a coffee cup and a pastry bag.
Lucy sighed and reached for the goodies. “Thank you for breakfast, but let’s leave my dating life to my grandma.”
Max shrugged. “Hey, you started it.”
Lucy sipped the coffee, inhaling the nutty aromatic flavor. “Thank you,” she said again with more sincerity. “It was a rough night.”
“I usually deal with drunks on a Friday night. This is my first intentional shooting.” Max bit into his pastry with reckless abandon, scattering crumbs in front of him.
Lucy blinked. He had no actual crime investigation experience? She knew the resources were limited in a small town, but he must have had to deal with something bigger than drunks. “How long have you worked for the police department?”
“I hit my six month anniversary next month. Why?”
Lucy took another sip of coffee to keep from saying something rude. He was practically a new cadet. “Aren’t you a little young to be the chief? What were you doing before?”
“I was an Assistant DA in Orange County.”
“What?” Lucy splattered coffee in front of her. She dabbed at the dribble on her T-shirt. “How did you make the transition?” She wanted to ask how he went from a desk jockey to be the muscle for protecting innocent people. And was he still on probation?
“Not much to it. There was a job opening. I applied, and I was the most qualified. I was already in the police academy, so they held the position for me while I finished up at the police academy in LA. Unfortunately, this meant I only had a week with the old police chief instead of the planned six months. But it’s been fine so far.”
Lucy took a deep breath. He had some experience with criminals, just none in catching them. They weren’t going to find her mom’s shooter. What if the bad guy came back to finish the job? Her fingers tightened around the coffee cup, popping the lid off the top.
Max watched her with a raised eyebrow as if following her thoughts. “Relax. Your mother is stable, and we have breakfast. Everything is better with a pastry from the Shoreline Bakery.”
Lucy gave him a disgusted look and secured the top back onto the coffee cup. She peeked inside the pastry bag—an almond croissant. Like this was supposed to inspire confidence. She bit into the pastry. Buttery, flaky crust with a sweet almond center. Yum. The knot between her shoulder blades loosened, and she relaxed for the first time since she had gotten the phone call from Cousin Estelle.
She glanced around the living room. The house had belonged to her maternal grandmother who died after Lucy turned five. These days the furnishings—mostly solid walnut—would be considered antiques among her friends or cottage chic to the interior decorators, but they were hand-me-downs from three generations of Fayes. The sofa set was the only recent purchase, and even then, it was older than Lucy’s younger half-sister who was twenty years old.
“Have you been in touch with your sister, Breanne Faye, Miss Fong?” Max finally asked. He attempted to brush the crumbs back into the pastry bag. Instead, he scattered it around.
Lucy pressed her lips together to stop from wincing. Mom had a mild case of OCD with cleanliness. If she were in the room, she would run for the vacuum cleaner in the coat closet. “Please call me Lucy. And no, I haven’t even thought about Breanne yet.” Why wasn’t her sister at their mother’s bedside? “I’m assuming you notified her.”
“Estelle called her. And I stopped by her apartment yesterday, but no one was home.” Max handed Lucy a slip of paper. “Here’s Breanne’s address. Estelle said the two of you weren’t close, so you might not know where she lives.”
Lucy set the paper on the coffee table. So Estelle had been gossiping with the police chief. While Estelle didn’t have a malicious bone in her body, she was an extrovert who moved her jaw in front of a reflection to hear herself. He must know about her illegitimate birth. Of course, these days it didn’t matter so much, and he did come from a big city where people had even more shameful secrets.
“Please let Breanne know I need to talk to her,” Max asked.
Lucy nodded. Was this why he showed up with coffee and pastries? “Can you tell me anything else about what happened to my mother?”
“It’s still early in the investigation. Dispatch got a call from the reporter working at the newspaper office next door to your mother’s PI office. He said he peeked in to say goodnight and discovered her. It was a good thing he did, or she might have bled to death. From what we can tell, the shooting must have happened an hour before the call at six or six thirty.”
“Do you have any suspects?”
Max shook his head. “Not unless you know of anyone who might have a grudge against your mother?”
“We’re not close, but my sister might be able to help us.”
He handed her a business card and got up. “That’s my hope too. Please let me know what you find out.”
Before he got to the door, there was a knock. Was the whole town stopping by? Lucy threw open the front door, expecting a neighbor. Instead, Po Po held up a pink Chinese pastry box with a broad smile. A red suitcase leaned against the side of the house.
“Good morning, Lulu,” Po Po said, shoving the pastry box at Lucy and pushing her way into the house. She dragged the suitcase over the threshold.
Po Po was the official title for maternal grandmother and a term of respect for an elderly woman in Chinese. Bonnie Wong, a.k.a. Po Po, had found an angry teenage Lucy outside her uncle’s shop in San Francisco and decided she needed a grandma. Since then, her foster grandma had more than lived up to the role. Even after all these years, Lucy still marveled at the blessing of becoming a de facto member of the Wong family.
“Oh, am I interrupting something?” Po Po said, catching sight of Max on the sofa. She turned to face Lucy and wiggled her eyebrows.
Lucy rubbed her temples. “Max DeWitt, this is my foster grandma. Everyone calls her Po Po.” She addressed her grandma. “He’s the police chief investigating the shooting, and he’s leaving.”
Max stayed where he was. Lucy wondered if he wanted to see what she was like around other people. She ignored his scrutiny. There was nothing to hide.
“What are you doing here, Po Po?” Lucy asked. Her grandma must have left San Francisco at five o’clock this morning to get here at this time.
“I thought you could use a sidekick,” Po Po said. “Or a lackey, depending on if you’re a hero or villain. I hope you’re a villain. I think they have more fun than the good guys.”
Lucy blinked at the burning in her eyes, and she turned to look out the window. When did she become one of those weepy women? She wasn’t the type to cry at sad movies or crave romantic walks on the beach. She had always been practical and pragmatic. She made her lists, and she checked them off. This wasn’t like her.
Po Po rubbed Lucy’s back. “We’ll set things right, and you can return to your life soon. It will work out as it’s meant to be.”
Lucy forced a smile on her face. While she had nothing to hide, she didn’t want Max to see her like this. It could get embarrassing. “Do you still need anything else, Max?”
“Do you mind if I walk around the outside of the house?” Max asked.
“Be my guest,” Lucy said, opening the front door. Was he looking for something? The shooter wouldn’t have left his weapon outside in the bushes.
Once he was out of the room, Po Po said, “He’s a hottie. I think you should keep him.”
Lucy burst out laughing. “He’s not a pet.” She glanced at the suitcase by the door. “How long are you planning to stay?” If she gave Po Po the guest room, Lucy would have to clean up her childhood bedroom in the attic. It didn’t seem right to sleep in Mom’s bed while she was at the hospital.
Po Po shrugged. “I have all the time in the world. It’s one of the perks of getting old. The days blend together unless you find some excitement to make them stand apart.”
Lucy suppressed a smile. She had no doubt her grandma came with intentions of helping her, but if something were to happen, Po Po would be all over it like a hound digging for a bone. “I better call my boss to let her know what happened.”
Po Po grimaced. “When your boss couldn’t reach you this morning, she called me since I’m on your emergency form. Well, she fired you. I’m sorry, Lulu.”
Lucy flushed, and she averted her gaze. The job wasn’t great, but she didn’t want her grandma to think she wasn’t a good employee. This was embarrassing.
Po Po patted her arm. “Now you can concentrate on taking care of business here.”
Lucy gave her grandma a sideways glance. Though the Wong family were more recent immigrants than the Fongs, they were a powerful family filled with lawyers, doctors, businesspeople, and politicians. There wasn’t even a hint of judgment in her grandma’s voice. “I—“
There was another knock, and Estelle opened the front door. Lucy sighed. She hadn’t locked the door after Max.
“What’s going on here? There are all these cars in front. Lucy, you can’t have a party with your mother in the hospital,” Estelle said.
Po Po cocked her head, regarding Estelle with an unblinking gaze.
Lucy sensed a disturbance in the air. Her grandma wouldn’t like having competition in the sidekick department. She sighed inwardly. There was no way she would play referee between the two if they didn’t get along. When she finished introductions, Max returned and came in through the front door. The living room was starting to feel like an unwelcome surprise party.
Max raised an eyebrow at the women. “Your kitchen window is open, but the rest of the house is secured.”
“Okay, thanks,” Lucy said. Back when she was a child, people still left the front doors unlocked in town. Did he think someone might try to break in once news of her mother’s hospitalization became common knowledge?
“I thought this was a safe town,” Po Po said.
“It’s safe, but Dahlia’s job attracts riffraff,” Estelle said with her lips curled in disgust. “I told her to sell the business.”
“The Fayes have been investigators of a sort for five generations. Mom can’t sell the family business,” Lucy said.
“The men had always inherited the profession,” Estelle said. “Dahlia is a woman. She shouldn’t have such a dangerous profession and at her age, too.”
Lucy couldn’t tell if there was a hint of jealousy in Estelle’s voice. Mom had learned the private investigator’s business from her grandfather. The business and the ownership of the building usually passed onto the male Faye with the talent and interest in the profession, but her mom’s generation had yielded two girls, much like Lucy’s. “Mom’s only ten years older than you.”
Estelle crossed her arms. “My point exactly. It’s not like she needed the money.”
“It’s a family business. Someone in the family has to do it,” Lucy said.
“I think it’s neat she’s a private investigator,” Po Po said. “It’s almost better than being a ninja.”
“I have to get going,” Max said. He raised an eyebrow at Lucy as if to say he didn’t envy the diatribe that would occur after his departure. He seemed to know Estelle well. “The police will be done processing your mother’s office by noon today. Maybe Estelle could help you find a good cleaning service.”
Estelle perked up and smiled at Max. “I know just the person. I’ll stop by her shop right away, so we can get on the schedule. We wouldn’t want the stains to set.”
It wasn’t until everyone left, and Lucy was alone with Po Po that she understood what he meant. Her mother was found shot in her office, so someone would need to clean it up. She shivered. And this someone would have to be her.
Don't miss this fast-paced cozy mystery--get your copy of Just Shoot Me Dead today!