Over Easy


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Preface

Susan reached for the wooden pumpkin on the Halloween display. Her daughter, Brianne, had encouraged her to come, or rather, forced her to take part in the venture by her relentless whining. Susan decided the trip would be bearable when Jane Dove, her friend and current manager of Honesty House, had decided to tag along.
With Halloween music playing over the PA system, and plenty of people talking and drooling over the numerous treasures at the yearly craft fair, it was no surprise that her daughter would get in on the act, though a sudden squeal made Susan jump.
 "Mom! You won't believe this!" Brianne picked up a wicked looking witch — green face and all, including the curled toes and long red fingernails. The thing was made of varying fabrics; at least that's what it looked like from one booth away.
Jane smiled over at her.
"Now, don't you two go getting any ideas! We'll look at everything, and then come back later when we've decided on what we want," Susan said.
"Oh, you're no fun." Brianne poised the witch in front of her. "What do you think, Wicked?" she asked.
"You or the witch?" Susan couldn't help asking.
"Oh, Mom!"
At 15, 'Oh Mom' was about as popular as 'you just don't get it,' and frankly, Susan would need some good old rest when she finally managed to tuck herself in bed.
Of course, there was Henry, would always be Henry, but Henry often made it to bed before she did, wrapping himself in the old quilt for warmth. The thing had hung on the quilt rack for the entire summer, but now that the weather was cooling down, it was the quilt that would settle him even before she'd made it to bed.
Near thirty minutes later, a screech the size of Texas enveloped her ears, and Susan couldn’t help but stop and listen. This time it didn't come from her daughter, at least not that she could tell. She could no longer see Brianne up the aisle looking over the witch decoration. The sound appeared to have come from the far corner of the room. They were indoors, in an old farm building rented out for just such occasions. Craft shows would never be her cup of tea, but then again, if coming to them meant she had more time with her friend and daughter, so be it.
A clamoring of people passed her and she set the pumpkin down on the table. Susan turned, searching the aisle with her eyes. The spooky Halloween music, fit for such an occasion as this, had suddenly stopped. In its place, howling. Was someone — crying?
She looked up but didn't see her daughter. "Brianne?" she called through the crowd.
Jane took her by the arm. "I think the sound came from over here," she said, yanking Susan in the direction of the back door — the one that led customers to door number two where even more treasures would be displayed.
They were forced to stop suddenly, as heads were all they could see in the gathering crowd. "What do you think happened?" Susan asked, stunned at the amount of traffic that could find a screech so interesting in just a matter of seconds.
Jane shook her head. "I have no idea. Where is Brianne?"
Susan shrugged, turned briefly and then back to see a woman's face directly in front of her. The dark headed woman with blue eyes blinked. "I think someone's dead," she said.

***

As the ambulance arrived, the crowd parted, only to reveal a young woman — probably in her early-twenties — lying motionless on the cement floor. Crusted blood issued from the right side of her head and her hand lay bloody on the floor. A black shoe — a stiletto — was lying next to her head and she wore a black party dress. Her hair was a long silky black. She wasn’t moving and her chest wasn’t rising, at least not that Susan could determine from five feet away.  
She still hadn't seen her daughter. And Jane? Susan was worried.
She searched the crowd. So many people and where was the other shoe?
“Everyone, stand back!” someone shouted, and in moments she was being pushed back along with the others.
"Mom! Mom!" Brianne yelled, fighting her way through the crowd.
“Brianne! Thank heavens you’re alright!”
"I... was just talking to her,” she returned, her words stumbling.  “She said... she said that she needed to use the restroom. And she left me.  I... "
Susan wrapped her arm around Brianne’s shoulder, squeezing it tightly. So, it was happening again, the death magnet. She would never understand death's attraction to her if she lived to be a million years old. "Look, there are the police," she said.
"The po -lice?" Brianne gasped. The girl shook.
"Did you see the killer?" Susan asked, mortified at the crowd following the dead woman out; she’d been placed on a gurney.
Jane was suddenly beside her. She took Brianne by the other arm. "You're as white as a sheet. Let's find you a chair."
Brianne nodded and followed them clumsily to a bench just outside the door. Susan held her daughter close as she watched the gurney slide into the back end of the ambulance. The doors shut, the eerie shrill of the siren met her ears.
"Oh, Mom!"
"Yes?"
"Who would want to kill her? I mean, she was so nice. She talked to me like we were – old friends. She was dressed up, 'ready to go to a party,' she said. I might have said only ten words to her, and then she excused herself. About twenty minutes later, I heard a scream. I couldn't find you."
"Sorry. I was doing what everyone else was doing," she said.
Jane shook her head. "Where were you anyway?"
"Around the corner."
"Did you see anything?" Susan asked, for again, it occurred to her that Brianne might have been within eyeshot of the murder – the girl was definitely dead from the looks of things. As she was placed in the ambulance there was nothing to assist with breathing, just a sheet over the body.
"I'm not sure." Brianne shifted uneasily on her chair. "I mean, her head was down a little, she seemed to be looking at some clothing closer to the floor. I looked down myself to check something out and when I heard the scream I looked up. I don't know how I knew, but I knew it was her."
A creepy feeling crept up Susan’s back.
“I couldn't move. People raced past me to the area where I'd last seen her standing, but I could no longer see her. I hoped I couldn't see her because of the crowd, but when I finally found you and the... I figured it had to be her."
"Who is she?"
"I don't know... I mean, Roxanne. Her name is Roxanne. She's older than I am, though she didn't tell me that. I figured she must be at Lowell or something. She had this cool pin on her purse and I complimented her on it: Rowan Halls."
"A sorority?" Jane asked.
Brianne nodded. "Gads, I don't think I can shop anymore," she said.

***

Henry was not happy. As they sat with their daughter at police headquarters, all Susan could think about were the cases before this one that she had bungled. But maybe, this time, all it would take would be a short confession about what her daughter had seen and then they could go about their merry way. There was always hope.
Henry wasn't well, but he sat there with the two of them. Henry's detective agency wasn't going so well and most days he simply didn't have the energy to help Jane over at Honesty House. Susan knew it was his heart. She knew it, and it killed her to know that Henry might never quite be himself again. After numerous visits to the hospital — numerous tests and heart procedures, Henry's heart was failing, and he had been put on a transplant list.
Still, when it came to his son — currently in school, a spit-fire of a kid who now appeared to like girls for none of the important reasons — Henry wouldn't let his illness keep him from most things that concerned him. Oscar was 18, and thinking of attending Lowell, a local college, and driving them crazy with late nights and homework at 2 a.m. Oscar would graduate high school this year and Susan didn't even want to think about it.
"And where were you at the time of the stabbing?" Police Officer Crump asked.
"I don't know..." Brianne stumbled.
"What did you do after she left you?"
"I went back to looking at come other stuff... until I heard the scream."
"And you were standing — where?"
"Two booths down, around the corner from my mother and her friend, I was looking at some lotions and stuff — you know they make a thing called bath bombs that you can throw in your bath water and everything fizzes up?"
Police Officer Crump grunted. "I'm not sure I have," he said.
"You could get some for your wife," she offered.
"Not married. Should we get back to the questions?"
Brianne blushed. "Sorry," she said.  "When I heard the scream, I looked up. I didn't see Roxanne anymore. There were a lot of people crowding in. I wondered what had happened."
"How much time do you think lapsed between Roxanne leaving you and hearing the scream?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe twenty minutes, but I'm not sure. I get really involved when I hunt for bargains."
Officer Crump stared wearily into Henry's eyes. "Haven't seen you for a while," he said. "How have you been?"
Henry blinked and then repeated the answer he'd given to everyone lately that had asked him that question. "A little tired, but not too worse for wear."
He sounded like an old man, though Susan would have never told Henry the same. Her love for him overcame all else. But the officer looked over at her now, a question on his tongue.
"And how are you, Susan? Do you know this Roxanne?"
"No. I've never met her, though my daughter says she must be attending a college somewhere..."
"We saw the sorority pin. An excellent observation," he added, turning again to Brianne who was deathly pale. "Anything else you noticed about the young woman that you'd like to tell me now?"
Susan could see her daughter's thoughts going deeper; could almost feel the fear Brianne must have experienced the moment she realized that Roxanne was dead. "Well, she was wearing black, as you probably already know. And she was beautiful. A black shoe was next to her hand. Where was the other one?" Brianne asked.
"We're not sure.” He smiled. “She should have been wearing it.”
If the officer had meant to be funny, the joke had fallen on less than eager ears.
"She had both shoes on when she talked with me. I couldn't believe how high they were — that she actually walked around the show in them. She said she was meeting her boyfriend later.”
The officer wrote down some notes. "Anything else?"
"Let's see...  I guess not."
Officer Crump wiped his bald head and stood. "Thank you. If I have any further questions, may I call you?"
"Just call me, I'll get the word on to Brianne," Henry offered before Brianne could speak. Brianne was underage after all, and the police would have to speak with she or Henry if any other information was needed.
Susan took Henry's hand. "Let's go," she said.

***

"So, how long have you known Crump?" Susan asked.
After returning home, Brianne had promptly gone to her room and shut the door behind her. Oscar was doing his homework in his room, though he'd managed a short 'hello' as they'd returned.
"I really don't," Henry answered, hanging his jacket on a hook near the door. Susan followed suit. In moments, they were sitting on the couch, he on one end, and she on the other. "Crump arrived just as I left. Transferred, I believe."
"Oh." Susan tried to smile but it just wasn't happening. Her husband looked so tired. He smiled over at her but his eyes weren't in it. "I'm sorry, Susan," he finally said, standing up and moving closer to her on the couch. "I feel like an old man."
"Well you're not," she said, placing her hands on his own. "You will always be my handsome husband."
"And you will always be my beautiful wife."
It was all too sentimental, Susan knew it, but they needed this time to talk, to think about something other than the inevitable. Susan couldn't think about the inevitable.

"Do you want to watch a movie?" she finally asked when neither of them seemed to have anything more to say.



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