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?”
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