Tag Archive | Florida

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 51 by Dellani Oakes

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

“They offered scholarships to girls on the golf team. In return for—favors. Special party favors,” he said quietly, the disgust evident in his voice.

Deirdre looked at the picture and saw the pain and grief in the girls’ eyes. They tried to smile, but it was obvious that none of them wanted to be there.

“Bullock—persuaded the girls to participate at the parties. This young lady,” he tapped Fonda’s face. “Was pregnant with Bullock’s child. He made her abort.”

“Where are her parents? I know her! That’s Fonda Hart. And that’s Inez Westerman. We went to school with their parents. They play golf with Fred! Does he know?”

“I’m sure he doesn’t. Fred isn’t an insider and he’s made it clear he has no interest in it. He put another picture on top. This one featured Troy Intriago, Jim Butcher and Fred’s boss, Mona Colfer.

“Not them, too! This is sex trafficking! How does this go on? How are they not caught?”

“There are, obviously, some very influential people involved. We believe that Wendy was going to use her knowledge of this to get money to finance her lawsuit against the adoptive parents. She wanted Rowan back, wanted to make a life for her. Blackmail is a very dangerous game, especially when the players are all high ranking members of society.”

“That poor, desperate child. Didn’t she know she couldn’t get Rowan back?”

“She was going to say she was underage and coerced into it. She very likely would have gotten her child.”

“How did you find that out?”

“Her diary. Between her entries and the testimony of Fonda and Inez, we can break this wide open. But it’s going to get really ugly. You poke that many snakes….”

“You’re gonna get bit.”

“Yeah. And someone must have leaked something, because you’re being followed.”

“My boys, my parents!”

“We’ve called in some help. You’re all being watched, as are the girls. I’m glad Eoin is here. He’s a witness, too.”

“Horrific.”

“Yes. Now you know.”

“How am I supposed to feel? Angry, sickened, vulnerable?”

“All of the above.”

“We still haven’t figured out who killed Wendy.”

“You don’t think it was Troy?”

“Aiden says no, and I believe him. But Troy did assault her.”

His phone buzzed. “It’s the Boss checking up on us.” He swiped the screen, putting the phone on speaker. “Hey, Boss. You’re up early.”

“I got the lab results on the DNA.”

“Deirdre’s up with me. You’re on speaker.”

“Hi Deirdre. How are you feeling?”

“Like I twisted my ankle. What’s the news?”

“Aiden’s jacket gave us Troy’s DNA. Jasper’s clever thinking with Jim’s Red Bull can, gave us his. We’ve accounted for Bullock as well…. All that to tell you—”

“All three raped her,” Deirdre said solemnly. “Others?”

“One other trace deposit. You’re not going to like it.”

“Eoin,” Deirdre said. “But he wouldn’t have forced her. He loved her.”

“Agreed. And I don’t consider him a suspect. His sample was older.”

Deirdre closed her eyes, inhaling slowly. “Then who killed her?”

“My money is on Jim Butcher. He’s got a history of violence, and was thrown out of the Marines for beating up a female Naval officer. She disciplined him, so he waited in a secluded area on the ship, and jumped her. No doubt his intent was to rape her, but she took him down. Hardly left a mark on her. He got his arm broken. And let’s just say, I’m surprised he could get it up to attack Wendy. Testicular torsion.”

Aaron hissed loudly.

“Do we have proof that he’s the one who strangled her?”

“The size and pattern of the marks on her neck are consistent with his size hands. Troy’s are smaller, Bullock’s are bigger. We’re hoping that the State lab will be able to pull fingerprints off her throat. They were stupid enough not to wear condoms when they raped her, they probably didn’t wear gloves, either.”

“And the rest? How do we bring it down? Are the girls on that team still suffering? Are they still playing their dirty games?” Deirdre’s voice rose again.

“I’m still thinking about that. Trust me, I want this as much as you do. As to whether it’s going on, or not. I imagine it is.”

“You don’t think Aiden…?”

“Aiden has a stable home, a loving family. Some of these other kids are vulnerable, for one reason or another. I hope not.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 50 by Dellani Oakes

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

“Fred’s having trouble finding a flight. I suggested Sanford, apparently, it’s not a viable option either.”

“He’ll find something, Mom,” Aiden said.

She nodded, pressing her lips together. Vanessa took her hand, squeezing comfortingly.

“Meanwhile, you have us. Aaron and Eoin are spending the night. I’m just a phone call away, so are Scott and Jasper.”

“Jasper is only minutes away,” Aaron offered. “He’s just a few blocks south.”

Deirdre nodded, thanking them all. She picked at her food until Corin spoke up.

“Mom, you always used to fuss at me for playing with my food. Do I have to feed it to you? Because I will. This is the best lasagna ever, better than yours—sorry. Aaron made the sauce and froze it, and the pasta was made by hand. So eat.”

Giggling and trying not to cry, Deirdre did as he ordered. “I never thought I’d be taking orders from my fifteen year old.”

“Behave, or I’ll give you more,” he threatened, lowering his voice.

He sounded so much like his father, it made her gulp. All her boys looked like their father, too handsome for their own good.

“If you don’t mind, I’m going to take a pain pill and go to bed.”

“Can you get around by yourself?” Vanessa asked.

“I’ll use my crutches.” Deirdre gave Eoin an evil eye.

Reluctantly, he gave them to her. “You promise not to overdo.”

“I’m going to bed. The only place I’ll go after that, is the toilet.”

“All right.” He gave her a hug and kiss.

All the boys did the same. Vanessa gave her a hug and she hobbled to her bedroom. The noise of the household faded when she closed the door. It took longer to get ready for bed, but she finally turned in. Sleepy from her pill, she fell in to a deep, dreamless sleep.

Deirdre woke late at night. The house was quiet, but she saw a light peeping under her door. After a trip to the bathroom, she was thirsty, so she limped to the kitchen. Aaron sat at the table, going through pictures and papers. Glancing up, he smiled, then got up to help her walk.

“I’m surprised to see you awake.”

“Had to pee. Can you grab me some water?”

“Sure.” He got a glass and filled it with ice and water.

“Thank you. What are you doing?”

“Looking over photos that Vanessa gave me. That, and an endless lists of names.”

“What of?”

“Some private golf organization. In fact, it’s called the Private Golf Club or PGC.”

“Boring name.”

“Yeah, but not boring people. You and your husband got an invite several years ago, do you remember?”

“Vaguely. It was way too expensive, Corin wasn’t even in school yet, so we gave it a pass. We like golf, but not enough to pay thousands of dollars in membership fees and dues. I was surprised we were invited, to be honest.”

“You can be recommended by members. Do you remember who invited you?”

Deirdre screwed up her face, thinking hard. That was over ten years ago, and not important. “Bigby. Oh, what was his first name? Something with two syllables.”

“Dickie?”

“Was it? What a horrible name, Dickie Bigby. Yes, that sounds right. Why?”

“Because I’ve done some very injudicious digging.” He wiggled his fingers as if he’d been typing on a computer. “I was a hacker in my misspent youth.” He winked. “Be glad you said no. These folks are into some hinky shit.”

“How hinky?” She sipped her water, watching him over the top of her glass.

Aaron took a deep breath. “Illegal gambling. Insider trading. Wife swapping.”

“Wife—what? Did you said swapping?” Her voice got a bit shrill. Getting herself under control, she stared at him. “Swapping? Ew!”

“Yeah, which is why, I suspect, Dickie invited you. You’re a very attractive woman. He likes well built blondes.”

“Ewwg.” Shuddering, she wiped at her arms. “God, that’s disgusting. Have you seen him?”

Dickie Bigby was moderate height, but weighed over three hundred pounds.

“That’s disgusting!”

“That isn’t the worst of it.” He handed a picture to her. Wendy sat on Dickie’s lap. Three other girls, all familiar, sat on the knees of much older men. Each of them was someone important, a pillar of the community. To the right of Dickie sat none other than Coach Bullock.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 49 by Dellani Oakes

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

“Thanks, no. Unfortunately, this is the only meal I can prepare without intervention. Every man needs one thing he can prepare for the woman in his life.”

“For Fred, it’s steak and potatoes,” Deirdre said. “Not fancy, but he grills a great steak. I’ll need to call him!”

“I did, already,” Corin said. “He’s pulling in an area supervisor to take over the job and he’s heading home as soon as he can get a flight.”

“Thank God,” she whispered, gasping a little.

“It’s all right, Mom,” Burl said, hugging her gently. “You’ve got us and Eoin. And Aaron. We’ll take care of you.”

“Nothing like having your husband around, though,” Vanessa said, understanding Deirdre’s reaction completely. “You’ll be fine here with the menfolk. Do you need me to help with anything?”

“I really need to pee,” Deirdre said.

“I’ve got it,” Eoin said. “I’ll help you to the bathroom. You can manage to pee on your own?” He raised a beautifully sculpted brow.

“Yes, Mum. I can pee by myself.” She touched his cheek. “You’ve got to show me how to arch your brow like that. It’s gorgeous.”

“I like the lip liner,” Vanessa said.

“Drag Queen 101 will begin after dinner. Is your handsome hubby expecting you?” he asked Vanessa as they helped Deirdre rise.

“How do you know he’s handsome?”

“Because a woman as gorgeous as you would not marry a dog.”

“There’s plenty,” Aiden said with a grin. “Invite him over.”

“Really? Is that okay?” she asked Deirdre.

“Totally okay. We’ll have plenty, even with the Vacuum Brothers at the table. Give him a call.”

“Thank you. We won’t stay long.”

Deirdre nodded and eased into the bathroom. She had crutches, but Eoin was holding them hostage, knowing she would overdue if he allowed her to have them. Once she was done, she was helped to the recliner, this time by Burl and Aiden.

Dario arrived about twenty minutes later, carrying a big, pink cardboard box—the kind bakeries used. “I couldn’t come without a contribution, so I picked up this.” He wouldn’t let them see what it was, but put it in the refrigerator. “I’m Dario Escobar, Vanessa’s husband.”

“Told you he was handsome,” Eoin said, waving. He’d washed off his makeup, but his hair was still in a sloppy bun.

“I know you! Angelique! Love the show, man. It’s amazing. You ever seen her act?” Dario asked Deirdre and Aaron.

“Once,” Aaron replied. “Simply astounding. You should be in Vegas.”

“Thank you! I like it here, though. It’s more fun being the big fish, even if the pond is tiny. Somewhere like Vegas, I’d be a tiny little fish, in a huge ocean of performers. Besides, I don’t imitate anyone, I’m me.”

“Better that way,” Dario said. “Anyone can say they’re a female impersonator, but most of them aren’t any damn good. A true drag queen, with her own image, now that is cool.”

“Thank you. Angie and I are flattered.” He did the modest half bow.

Deirdre’s phone rang as they were sitting down to eat. She told everyone to dig in and answered. It was Fred.

“I’m having trouble getting a plane. Who knew St. Paul to Daytona was such a popular flight! And don’t even start me on Orlando. Insanity.”

“Try Sanford.”

“Didn’t think of that. I will. How are you?”

“Sore, but fine. I miss you.” Her voice caught.

“I miss you too. I’ll be home if I have to drive to Wisconsin for a flight. Honest to God, the way it’s going, I might have to. Ah, here’s Sanford. Oh, good Lord, the flights are ridiculous! Can’t put a price on you.”

“Be sensible. I’m here with a phalanx of protectors. Don’t get a ridiculously priced flight. We can’t afford it.”

“You’re right. I’ll see what I can find. I might have to wait a day.”

“Okay. Food’s getting cold.”

“I love you. Be safe.”

“I will. I love you, too.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

She hung up, knowing he would keep saying farewell until her meal went cold. She had her mother hen moments, so did he.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 48 by Dellani Oakes

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

Eoin put a hand on his chest, bowing his head in acceptance.

The door popped open and Vanessa stormed in, followed by Jasper.

“You’re okay? How did this happen?”

“We’ll find out,” Jasper consoled her. “We’re putting an officer on you and the boys,” he told Deirdre. “A buddy of mine.”

“I can’t put you out like that.”

“Nonsense. I wish I’d thought about it before. He’ll meet you at your house. Meanwhile, how are we getting you home?”

“I’ll take her,” Eoin offered.

“My Jeep!”

“I’ll drive you,” Vanessa said. “Jasper will bring my car and Eoin can follow in his.”

“Perfect,” Eoin agreed.

“Are you all right?” the female officer asked.

“I think so.” Deirdre tried to stand, hissing in pain.

“No, you’re not. There’s an Urgent Care two blocks down. You take her there,” the female officer instructed. “I’ll call so they get you right in. Bill us.”

“No need to bill the city,” Deirdre said as they carried her to her Jeep. “We have good insurance.”

The men lifted her in and got her settled. Vanessa hopped in the other side. They made a convoy to the clinic, and were ushered in like royalty. One of the workers brought out a wheelchair for Deirdre. She sank into it gratefully. They X-rayed her ankle and did all kinds of other tests to determine what was wrong.

“Not sprained,” the doctor announced after he examined her. “Be glad of that, it’s harder to get over than a break. You’ve strained and twisted it. It will be ugly for a few days, but I’ll get you a pain med and a boot.”

“A boot? I can’t drive with that on.”

“You can’t drive for a week, in any case. Your family will have to chauffeur you around.”

“Ugh.” Deirdre rolled her eyes. “Fine. At least my eldest can drive. He’ll love it.”

“I mean it. No physical activity, except going to the bathroom. When you’re sitting, feet elevated. Do you have a recliner?”

“Yes.”

“Good, you’re in it unless you’re asleep. Clear?”

“Yes, Doctor.”

“You mean it?”

“I’ll sit on her if she doesn’t,” Eoin stated firmly. “I’m with, for the duration,” he said sternly. “Hubby’s out of town, and you can’t expect your boys to handle meals. They’d burn the house down, and you unable to hobble out. Vanessa will see you home, and I’ll pop over to my place, pack a bag and follow you down.”

“Okay, you talked me into it. I’m not going to argue.”

“She must be sick,” Eoin said. “She’s never that compliant.” He felt her head with the back of his hand.

Deirdre waved it away. “Just tired and in a lot of pain.”

They got her prescription filled at the clinic and Vanessa saw her home. Jasper followed Eoin. His logic was that if the criminals had followed Deirdre, they knew where he lived. He wasn’t taking chances with the younger man’s safety. Vanessa could take care of Deirdre and his friend, Aaron, would meet them at the house.

Eoin packed his bags and joined Jasper in Vanessa’s car, leaving his own parked at his home. His nosy neighbor came out to check on him, and he told her he’d be out of town for a few days.

“You’ll be all right?”

“Yes, Pati. I’ll be fine, I promise.” He kissed her cheeks and thanked her for looking after his place.

“You be careful,” she cautioned. “I don’t want to lose you as a neighbor, I don’t feel like breaking in another one.”

“Cross my heart.”

The trip home was blissfully uneventful. Deirdre couldn’t remember a time she’d felt so grateful that nothing untoward happened. Her boys were home and Aaron was inside with them, working on dinner, he’d brought food with him. A homemade lasagna bubbled in the oven. Corin was mixing his signature garlic butter while Aiden and Burl worked on a salad. Aaron was kneading bread on the island.

“Look at the domesticity!” Deirdre said. “You want a nanny job?” she asked Aaron, after she was introduced.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 47

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

A few feet from it, she slipped on the wet pavement and fell. Crying out, she dropped her handbag, but clutched her umbrella in her left hand. Struggling to stand, she was aware of the fast approach of the men who were after her. Ballsy to accost her at the police station, where there were cameras, people. Rushing to her, one reached for his gun, but the other one stopped him, pointing at the building. Deirdre concentrated on their faces, memorizing details. Both were about her age, swarthy, dark haired. They looked cruel, brutal and not as afraid as they should be, right in front of the police department. They approached closer, making a grab for her. Deirdre’s hands worked furiously, seeking the button on the side of the umbrella handle, which made it open. It was being stubborn, stuck somehow. With a shake, she brandished the only weapon she had. The men, seeing the small, black and white checkered umbrella, laughed nastily.

Aiming it at the nearest one, the man without the gun in his jacket, she felt it click. The umbrella launched itself, hitting him in the groin. Since it was strapped shut, it couldn’t unfurl, and hit him in the nuts like a telescoping club. Deirdre slammed it home, making him howl. Using it like a staff, she smacked the other man with it. Whacking back and forth, she screamed as loudly as she could, praying she’d be heard inside. Her prayers were answered. Two armed police officers burst through the door, weapons drawn. They aimed at the men, covering a third, who helped Deirdre to her feet. Supporting her, he half carried her inside.

The two men were cuffed and led, dripping, to the booking area. Deirdre was given a seat in the lobby, her leg up on the bench beside her, topped with an ice pack. Someone found her a towel and a blanket. Someone else brought coffee. She couldn’t keep track of the movement around her, she was too stunned. Suddenly overcome with shivers, she nearly dropped her cup. A sturdy woman with dark blonde hair, took it from her. She wore the uniform of a civilian worker.

“What happened?” she asked calmly, patting Deirdre’s hand.

“They followed me in their car. Pulled a gun! I turned off Beville, taking a chance I’d find you. I don’t know my way around, I was dropping a friend at home.”

“Can we call someone for you?”

“My boys are at school, my husband is out of town.”

“Your friend?”

“Yes. Eoin….” Her mind went blank. “I can’t remember his last name! It’s Irish—common….”

“Sullivan? O’Brian? O’Toole?”

“Reilly,” she remembered. “Eoin Reilly. His number is on my phone.” She gave it over with trembling hands.

It seemed mere seconds later that Eoin rushed in the door. His makeup only half applied, his black hair in a sloppy bun, he was the best sight she’d ever seen. If his appearance caused comment, Deirdre didn’t hear it.

“What happened?” He held her close, rocking her back and forth.

Deirdre told him what she could remember.

A police officer sat nearby, taking notes. “You did the right thing, Mrs. Partridge,” she said.

“I’m lucky I was in the right neighborhood. I don’t know my way around. I live in New Smyrna. And I wasn’t going to lead them back to Eoin.”

“I’m here, my lovely. I’ll see you get home.”

“You have to work!”

“They’ll get by a night without me. Family first. I already called.”

“Who were they? Why? How did they know?”

“I don’t know, but I called Vanessa on the way over.”

“Is that Detective Weinstein?” the officer asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Eoin said with a stunning smile. “Pardon my disarray, I was getting ready for work.”

“You headline at Pocket Pool,” she said with a grin.

“I do, how clever of you to spot that!”

“I’m a fan. My brother is Miss Taken.”

“No, really? He’s a good friend of mine. Very talented.”

“Thank you. So are you.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 45

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

When the police arrive at Mrs. Berman’s house, they find her in a coma. They also find evidence that this was the place where Wendy was raped and killed.

While the men were gone to investigate Gertrude Berman’s house, Vanessa prepared to interview Jim “Butch” Butcher. She knew the man peripherally, only vaguely aware of him. Since she rarely had computer problems, she had no occasion to meet him. She hadn’t even known his full name, or recognized him in old photographs. To be fair, he looked very different from the teen three years ago. He’d put on weight and his hair had thinned. He now wore glasses, where he’d worn contacts in high school.

He was still cooling his heels in the interrogation room. Taking another officer in with her, she took her place across from him. He wore too much cologne, and was already sweating. She asked the officer to adjust the air, and did her best to keep her lunch down. Holding a handkerchief over her nose, she was able to stand his odor until the fan helped clear the air.

“I smell that bad?” he sniffed himself. “Oh, I forget, you’re knocked up.” An ugly leer flitted across his face. “Got yourself that good looking husband. The Cuban guy.”

Vanessa didn’t bother to correct his assumption. She was half Cuban, Dario was full blooded Peruvian. She did wonder how Jim knew, but she wasn’t going to ask him.

“How long have you been helping Sue cover up Troy’s crimes?”

“I like that. Right to the point. No beating around the bush.”

“You, on the other hand…. I figure it’s been more than just the last two years. You were pretty handy with computers, even in school. Of course, your short, unimpressive career in the Marines, set you back a little. Feeling up an officer? Wow.”

“She wanted it. She just pretended she didn’t.”

“She broke your arm, Jim.”

“Butch. I go by Butch now.”

“So…Jim. I guess she didn’t want it after all.”

He shrugged. “Women say one thing, mean another.”

“What did Wendy mean when she told you to take your hands off her. When she screamed for help as you and your friends raped her. Did she really mean that she liked it? Wanted it? What did you mean when you strangled her?” She tossed a picture of Wendy in front of him. It showed the damage the vultures had done. “Did you mean to kill her? I’m not sure you did. I think you killed her, because you got off on her pain. Her suffering. It’s alike an aphrodisiac for sick f**ks like you.” She leaned forward, tapping the picture. “Isn’t it?”

“You got nothing….”

“Lieutenant Scott and Sergeant Waters are paying a visit to your old friend, Gertrude Berman.”

Butcher paled, flop sweat caused huge rings to appear under his arms and across his chest.

“Yeah, whatever you gave her, killed her. She’s dead, too. Two deaths on your hands, Jim. Not good.”

“I didn’t do anything to Gertrude! That was Bullock! He drugged the old lady, so she couldn’t talk. She couldn’t tell….” He clapped a hand over his mouth.

“Couldn’t tell what? That you and your twisted friends raped Wendy and murdered her? She had marks on her throat. They’re too small for Bullock’s hand, too big for Troy’s. But I think, just by looking at you, they’re going to find that your hands are just right. The Goldilocks of Murder. That’s you. Did you mean to kill her? Or was it an accident? Getting off on the torture, the near death. See, I think you can’t get it up with a woman, unless you’re hurting her. I think you and Troy, you have to hurt a woman to get hard. I think Bullock just likes to beat women. And I bet if it weren’t for rape, none of you would get laid.”

She didn’t even look at him when she said that. He said nothing.

“You don’t have to answer. I’m pretty sure I’ve got my facts right. But any time you wanna hop in and set me straight….”

“Bullock said we had to shut her up. He said we’d rough her up and make her leave.”

“But you killed her. Why?”

Jim Butcher burst into tears. “It was an accident. I was trying to do that thing—you know…. That thing!” He held his hands up, as if grasping his throat.

“Erotic asphyxiation. Yeah, didn’t go as planned, huh?”

“She wouldn’t hold still, so I kept…I kept— And then she stopped struggling and she wasn’t there anymore. Just that quick.”

“You killed her, Jim.”

“It was an accident.”

“You murdered her.”

“I didn’t mean to!”

“James Butcher, I’m arresting you for the rape and murder of Wendy Hamilton.”

He burst into tears, wailing incoherently. Vanessa had him taken back to his cell.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

Sidetracked by Dellani Oakes Part 44

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Cover image from Free Stock Photos: Railroad Track On A Fall Day by Curtis Dean Wilson

With both Butch and Sue in custody, Jasper takes a team to go examine the home of Troy’s grandmother.

As much as he didn’t want to enter the Berman/ Intriago household again, Jasper was pleased to lead the raid. He had the warrant in hand. Sending two officers around back, he and his friend, Aaron, took the front. Taking their positions on either side of the door, he nodded. Aaron thumped on the door with his fist.

“Mrs. Berman, Police. Open up.” He thudded on the door again.

Glancing in the window, Jasper saw the old woman sitting in her chair. She wasn’t moving. The dogs barked, a cacophony of yapping filled the air.

“Try the knob,” Jasper ordered.

Aaron tried it and the door opened.

“Mrs. Berman. Ma’am? Gertrude?”

The dogs capered and barked, getting in his way. Jasper walked over to Gertrude Berman’s chair and felt her pulse. It was weak and thready. Her respiration was sharp and shallow, as she gulped for air. The air was even more fetid than when he’d been there before, and it didn’t take long to determine that the old lady had shit herself. Calling EMS, he warned them of the situation. Leaving her for the moment, he moved toward the back door and let the other officers in.

The kitchen was knee deep in storm debris. Part of the roof had come down. Plaster, insulation and shingles littered the room And something else caught his eye. It was a bright pink woman’s jacket. There was no way in hell that would fit Gertrude Berman, even if she were likely to put on an athletic hoodie with a big, sparkling W bedazzled on the breast. There was blood on the jacket, and something more he didn’t want to identify. After taking some pictures, he carefully, he picked it up, looking for identification. A license and a set of keys tumbled into his searching hand. The pretty face, framed by lush blonde hair, told a sad story.

“It’s Wendy’s,” he told the others. “Lock this place down. It’s a crime scene. Aaron, you got your kit in the car?”

“Yes, sir. You don’t want me to call Sherri?”

Jasper rolled his eyes. “Do you think this is the appropriate place for her?”

“No. Of course. I wasn’t thinking. I’ll be right back. EMS is here. I’ll let them in and call Animal Control. We can’t have these dogs around while we process the scene.”

“Good idea. Thanks.”

The other two officers had locked the back door, but went around opening the windows. The stench was enough to choke an entire army. Jasper found the air conditioner and started the fan, hoping to suck out the smell.

Minutes later, Animal Control pulled up. Behind them, Scott rolled in. By this time, EMS had collected Gertrude. She was breathing, but she was in bad shape.

“Looks like she might have been drugged,” one EMT said. “But it’s hard to tell. Jesus, this place! How do people live like this?”

“No clue. Thanks. Keep me posted?” Scott asked.

“You got it.”

The Animal Control offier, with the help of the two blond policemen, rounded up the dogs.

“First thing we’ll do is get you each a nice, hot bath. Won’t that be fun? You poor babies. I don’t think they’ve ever been clean. And this one, bless her heart, is expecting!”

It took some doing to go through the kitchen for evidence, but there were enough trace specimens on the table and floor to show them that this was where Wendy was raped and killed. Aaron, with the help of another officer, went over the scene twice to be sure they had photographed and gathered everything.

While this was going on, Scott and Jasper found the grow room. It was on the enclosed Florida room off the back. Someone had been enterprising enough to tap illegally into the power line, to keep the power use off the police radar. There were dozens of healthy plants in the spacious, spotless room, which ran the length of the house. A sophisticated watering system was set up to tend to the plants, and the air in here was fresh, though it did smell of weed. They left the doors open, to help the house odor.

“I’m never gonna get this stench off me,” Jasper said.

“I’m gonna have to boil or burn this suit. I can’t come home smelling like this.”

“We can’t go back to the station like this,” Jasper said. “Vanessa would throw us out!” His phone rang and he recognized the number of the EMS. “Go for Waters.”

“I’m sorry, Jasper. The old lady died. She’d been drugged all right. And she was severely dehydrated. She’s got a bracelet on that says she’s diabetic. I don’t know her glucose level, but I’m pretty sure she went into a coma.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. She was a strange old bird, but no one deserves to die alone like that. Thanks.” He reported to Scott.

“Well, damn. I was hoping to talk to her.”

“Boss, the woman is dead.”

“Yeah? I’m sorry about that, but if her family is any indication, she was a horrible person. I can’t find it in me to care right now. Wendy was raped repeatedly, and strangled. Right here. Did she really sleep through it all? Or did she simply pretend?” He shook his head. “We’ll never know. The only witnesses to her death, are the ones who killed her.”

© 2018 Dellani Oakes