Po Po blinked. She opened and closed her mouth. “I think I’m speechless. Yes, I am speechless. Is he naked?”
“Who?” Lucy got up. “We better call the police.”
“The dead guy. Does he have a stif—”
Lucy put her hands underneath her grandma’s armpits and hauled her up, huffing from the exertion. She would need to get in better shape if she was to chase her twenty-year-old sister all over town.
Po Po pressed the back of a hand to her forehead. “Save yourself, Lulu. I don’t think I can make it.”
Lucy let go of her grandma’s arm. “Okay. I’ll come back with the EMT. I’m sure the smell will knock you out by the time they get here. You might even need mouth-to-mouth. I’ll ask the person with bad breath and body odor to take care of you.”
Po Po gave Lucy a sharp glance. “Let’s get out of this stink hole.”
They hobbled back to the front of the house. Po Po sat on the lawn and pulled out her cell phone to call the police.
Lucy collapsed onto the sidewalk, not even bothering to move the four inches to the soft grass. As her grandma continued to speak to the dispatcher, her voice became a soft buzz, not unlike the flies in the house.
Lucy closed her eyes. She tucked her head between her knees and focused on controlling her breathing. The body had looked like it had been in Breanne’s home for days. Where was her baby sister? Was she dead in another room?
Cold seeped into her, and Lucy shivered. She felt disconnected from her body, like she was floating away.
A gentle touch on her arm snapped Lucy back into her body. She blinked, feeling lightheaded. Po Po had thrown a blanket around Lucy’s shoulders, and she clutched it tight against her body as if her life depended on it.
Po Po was on the phone, giving their location to the police and rubbing Lucy’s back at the same time.
Lucy wanted to curl up with her grandma’s hand. At least she got Po Po away from the crime scene. For all of her grandma’s bravado, a bloody corpse wasn’t a sight for someone in her seventies.
It would be a nightmare to have Po Po in the hospital for a heart attack. Maybe her grandma and mom could be roommates. Lucy giggled, a high-pitched bay that sounded like a constipated donkey.
Po Po shot her a glance and slapped Lucy’s cheek. The crack was still ringing in Lucy’s ears when her grandma hung up. She raised an eyebrow as if daring Lucy to continue. “Are you done? You don’t have time to go into shock. You’ll be useless to your family.”
Lucy rubbed her cheek, grimacing in pain and embarrassment. Her grandma was right as usual. “Where did this blanket come from?”
The blanket in question was a thin thermal gray plastic sheet, the kind used by hikers or athletes to retain their body heat.
“I keep one in my purse in case I get lost in the woods. It folds up to the size of a tissue package,” Po Po said calmly as if they were chatting at a café.
Of course, her grandma would naturally pretend that Lucy didn’t just have a moment of weakness. Helping someone save face came easily to Po Po, who was raised in the land of dragons and ancient traditions.
“When do you spend time in the forest?” Lucy asked. Her grandma was a city girl.
“I could…someday. In the meantime, I’ll pretend it’s my invisibility cloak,” Po Po said. “Are you feeling any better? Want me to borrow a joint from the neighbor?”
Lucy blinked, trying to process what she just heard. Was that what she needed? Something to relax her? “Ah no, thanks.”
“What about a beer?”
“If you don’t want alcohol, I have Red Bull?”
Lucy didn’t even know how to respond. This was the most bizarre conversation she ever had with her grandma. What if this was a hallucination?
“You’re awake,” Po Po said, rubbing Lucy’s hands. “And you’re looking much better now. Your skin doesn’t have that clammy feel anymore.”
“We just found a dead body. How can you be so serene?” Lucy asked. Trying to puzzle out what her grandma meant had a soothing effect on her. Maybe this was the whole point of their bizarre conversation.
“This isn’t my first dragon dance,” Po Po said. “You get numb after the first few bodies.” She shrugged as if it was no big deal.
“So the murder investigation stories are true?”
“Rainy and I are like Sherlock and Watson.”
“I thought you were making stories up. The Wong cousins think you’re—” Lucy twirled a finger next to her temple. She mouthed the word crazy.
Po Po raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure how to take that comment. So I’ll pretend it’s a compliment.”
Lucy studied the petite Chinese woman in front of her. Po Po barely came up to Lucy’s chin but had more strength of character than she did. Her grandma’s face reflected her wisdom but still looked like a rural roadmap rather than a city transit route. With her pixie cut and the pink streaks in her silver hair, Po Po looked like a senior citizen with the heart of a thirty-year-old.
Whereas, Lucy had the heart of a sixty-year-old, probably from a lifetime of disappointment. Not that she would ever voice this thought out loud. She didn’t want her grandma to smack her on the side of the head and call her a silly girl. And deep down inside, Lucy knew her grandma was probably right about this as well.
Distant sirens broke the tranquility of the late afternoon day. The police cruiser turned into the street and pulled up next to Lucy’s black Volkswagen Jetta. An ambulance came a few seconds later, followed by the fire engine. It was good to know the town went all out for an emergency. In San Francisco, it would take more than one dead body to get this kind of prompt service.
Max DeWitt probably had no idea Lucy would find a dead man in her sister’s home...or that the man had been dead for days, judging by the appearance of the corpse. This meant Breanne had disappeared well before their mother’s shooting.
The police chief, an officer, and a fireman went into the side yard and disappeared from view. One of the emergency medical technicians approached Lucy, but she waved him away.
Po Po ended up with two EMTs checking her for injuries. Her grandma preened under the attention. When the buff EMT carried Po Po to the ambulance, her grandma waved like Miss America in a processional.
Lucy groaned. It was the theater blood. Po Po’s mom had been an opera singer before her elevation to the position of the third wife for a rich merchant in China.
The blinds on the pothead neighbor’s window moved and the window slid closed. As if this would be enough to keep the marijuana scent inside the home. Would he pretend he wasn’t home? Should Lucy go along with this charade or call him out to the cops?
The three uniformed officials came back. The fireman got into his vehicle and left. The officer went to talk to the EMT and Po Po, and Police Chief Max DeWitt got on the phone, probably to call the coroner. It would be a while before Lucy could leave.
She rose from the sidewalk and got back into her car. It had been a long night with little sleep, and she clenched her teeth hoping to shut the fear for her baby sister into a back corner. The next hour became a blur. Lucy might have drifted off because she didn’t remember much of it.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Lucy jumped at the noise next to her ear. Max DeWitt stood next to her car, frowning down at her. She covered her mouth and yawned. He probably didn’t expect her to find a dead body when he’d asked her to check in on her sister. She opened the door and got out.
“The male victim in the kitchen appears to be the only one inside,” Max said. “Do you know the dead man in your sister’s home?”
Lucy exhaled audibly. She closed her eyes and silently thanked her ancestors. She had been afraid Breanne was inside, but too chicken to voice the thought. She opened her eyes to find the Police Chief studying her. “Sorry. I’m just relieved my sister isn’t inside.”
“Do you know if she was living with anyone?” Max asked.
“If you’re trying to ask if I can identify the victim, all I saw were his legs from the knee down. While I might have a lot of superpowers, identifying a man by the hair on his legs isn’t one of them.” As soon as the words left her mouth, Lucy regretted it. Why was she so flippant with him? “Sorry, it’s been a rough twenty-four hours.”
Though Max’s expression didn’t change, his eyes softened. “You haven’t answered my questions.”
“I don’t know. Other than what she posted online, I don’t really know my sister at all.” Lucy’s cheeks burned. “I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I don’t think my situation is unusual. Lots of people are estranged from their families.”
“But they don’t run to check on their family,” Max said, his tone flat. “And yet, here you are.”
Lucy wondered what he was thinking. “I’m not sure what you’re implying. She’s my mother.”
“Do you still resent Breanne for stealing your mother’s affections?”
“Why would I resent her? She’s my sister.”
“She’s your half sister. You hated your stepfather.” Max waved a hand toward Breanne’s home. “Maybe you set this whole thing up to get back at her.”
Lucy gaped at him. “You’re kidding me.”
“In situations like this, it’s usually an insider job. And the only anomaly here is you. Maybe you’re back in town to take revenge on your mother and sister for abandoning you all those years ago.”
Lucy took a deep breath, hoping her voice would not waver with her growing frustration. “I’m here because it is my duty to be here.” Just as her uncle had taken her in when they were nothing more than strangers to each other. “It’s like cleaning the toilet. Nobody really likes doing it, but you know it needs to be done. There’s no hidden agenda.”
The police chief’s expression didn’t change. “So you think your family is like sewage?”
Lucy did a mental head slap. She was in the Twilight Zone. “Someone must be after Breanne,” she said, hoping the switch in topics would get her off his suspect list. “The dead body explains why she wasn’t at our mother’s bedside.”
“Not necessarily. The dead man could be the intended victim.”
“My sister must have run off while the killer was busy with the man,” Lucy said, watching his expression. It didn’t change, but something in his eyes did. Her pulse kicked up a notch. He was keeping something from her. “She could have run out the back door or a window.”
Max pressed his lips together.
“Is there an opened door or window?” she asked.
There was a long pause. Lucy glanced over at the ambulance. Po Po seemed happy enough, sitting on the back end and chatting with the EMT. She even swung the boot on her sprained ankle like a young girl flirting with her beaus.
“The back door,” he finally said with reluctance.
“Are my mother’s shooting and my sister’s disappearance linked?” she asked.
“It’s too early in the investigation to know.”
“I wonder if the killer is after the man or Breanne.”
“The man was stabbed multiple times with a kitchen knife. There is a missing knife from the block on the countertop. Maybe he’s a boyfriend, and your sister found out he has been cheating on her. Obviously, she knew the victim or he wouldn’t be in her home.”
Lucy blinked, trying to process what he just said. This was ridiculous. First, he accused her of shooting her mother, and now he accused her sister of killing this man. “If my sister killed the man, it would be stupid to leave him to rot in her home.”
Max shrugged. “There’s rumors that she’s a drug addict. Maybe she flipped out on him.”
“You can’t trust rumors.”
“There are prescription pill bottles all over the house.”
“Maybe she had a recent injury.”
“That many pain medication could kill an elephant. She’s either buying them or stealing them.”
Lucy’s heart sank. He was probably right that Breanne had something to do with the man’s death. “Maybe the man broke into her home, and she was defending herself.”
“Then how come she didn’t call the police?”
“Maybe my sister wasn’t thinking straight. She’s only twenty years old, and she probably ran because she was afraid.”
Max didn’t look convinced. “So you admit she could have killed the man.”
Lucy recoiled from him. “I didn’t say this.”
“She’s a person of interest, and I want to talk to her.”
“How do you know the killer didn’t kidnap Breanne?” Lucy asked. “If she’s being held against her will, she wouldn’t be able to call the cops.”
Max considered her words and shook his head. “That’s unlikely. It’s much easier to nab someone off the street than to break into someone’s home to snatch them out of their beds. Besides, there’s no sign of a break-in.”
“How do you know she was even at home at the time of the killing? She could be on vacation somewhere.”
“You’re grasping at straws.”
“When can I go home?” Lucy whispered. She felt emotionally drained and exhausted. She hadn’t expected to be involved in a murder. He was probably right that her sister wasn’t held against her will somewhere. The other scenarios were even more terrifying.
“After you give Officer Martinez your statement,” Max said. “We’ll get in touch if we need more information. Will you be staying in town for a while? To do your duty and all.”
Lucy nodded. She didn’t like talking to the police chief. He had a habit of twisting her words and using them against her later. She had to remember she was talking to an ex-lawyer and not an inexperienced small town cop. Was he testing her with his accusations? Trying to bait her to react? She rubbed her temples, hoping she wouldn’t get a migraine.
Max patted her shoulder and softened his voice. “Get some rest when you get home.”
As he walked away, Po Po gave Lucy a thumbs up from the inside of the ambulance.
As if Lucy could fall for a guy who believed her baby sister was a murder suspect. Why did her sister flee from the crime scene? Why didn’t she contact the police? Lucy glanced back at her sister’s unit and shivered. What if Breanne went into hiding because the killer was connected to the police force?
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