Friday, July 12, 2024

Deadly Drafts - CH 7



The Irregulars stood dumbfounded, cave crabs blinking against sunshine. Crisp morning air scrubbed their lungs. Though they’d been held for just thirteen hours—Harris had spent double that waiting in line for the Lord of the Rings movie—standing in the Municipal Complex parking lot felt like Andy Dufresne opening his arms to freedom. At last! Kavi breathed in deep, unable to push the smile from her face. 

Across the parking lot, Sheila Talbot sat in her idling car, heart thumping the back and forth of indecision. The three—a woman with elegant silver lines streaking her black hair, a rumpled pear of a man in jeans and plaid, and a tall drink of blonde-haired blue-eyed water—didn't look like criminals. Yet Sheila couldn't get that raspy, evil voice from her ears. Her every dream ended with its clawing laugh and a face drenched in cold sweat. And really, how great was Bakersville that Sheila wouldn't jump at a chance to get the hell out? Not to mention all the evidence stacked against the three… 

Sheila swallowed the lump in her throat and slammed her Karmann Ghia into drive.  

Screeching tires killed the Irregulars' Shawshank dreams. A sleek lime car screamed to a halt at their feet. Engine still chuffing, a redheaded rail of a woman tumbled out the driver door, silver audio recorder brandished like a shiv. 

"Sheila Talbot—Bakersville Independent. Why did you make The Sacred Theft come true? Was it the money? Was it the notoriety?" 

Harris stepped forward, put a hand on the voice recorder. "Get that out of my face. This is a two-party state and I don't consent to being recorded." 

Sheila tore the recorder from Harris' grip. "That's not quite how it works when I'm standing right in front of you, buddo." 

"Wait." Kavi's stomach dropped. "Did you say The Sacred Theft?" 

Sheila quickly swung her weapon to Kavi. "The whole town is buzzing. You wrote a story about a jewel heist and then made it come true! The readership of the Bakersville Independent wants to hear your side of the story, Mrs. Adnan-Byrne." 

Kavi rolled her eyes. Well, at least the reporter got her name right. Better than most in their nowhere backwater. She swallowed and the sun seemed to dim. "How did you know the title of my story?" 

"Uh…lady, maybe it's not obvious enough at this point, but I'm a reporter. We gather facts." 

Arthur stepped forward "That really is a lovely little device you've got there." With a quick flick of his wrist, he liberated the recorder from Sheila's grip and examined it in the sunlight "What model is it? I'm writing my memoirs and something like this would be a great help." 

"Hey!" Sheila swiped for the recorder. "Don't you steal—" 

Arthur handed the device back, a smile dimpling his cheeks. "No stealing, Ms. Talbot. Just curious. Might have to buy one of my own." 

"Listen," Kavi wedged herself between Arthur and the reporter. Her posture made clear: Kavi Adnan, Detroit's daughter, could scrap if need be. "We're not going to give any statements. If you want, contact our lawyer, Milo Penhale—" 

Sheila made a sour face. "Eeesh. Penhale? Good luck. Dude is greasier than a Captain Beefy Burger. He looks like a puppet from the Dark Crystal." Sheila clicked off her recorder. "If you change your mind, though call the Independent? The press can be a great ally." 

"Everyone wants to be our friend all of a sudden," Harris said. 

Sheila winked. "Some more than others, big bear." With a swivel, she ducked back into her car and skidded away. The car left a cloud of nose-prickling white smoke that drifted up into morning. 

"I don't know about you two," Kavi turned and marched down the sidewalk, "but I’d kill for a coffee right now." 

Arthur followed, unable to restrain a smile. "Not the best choice of words, Kavi." 

"Hey," Harris hobbled after, "where are we going?" 

"The library. Our cars are still in the lot. Then I'm going through the Perky's Café drive thru and having them run an IV of black coffee." 

Kavi marching a few paces ahead, the Irregulars walked through an empty parking lot, tramped the Historical Society's lawn, and circled the big Episcopal church to the library. Though not a long stroll, they were glad for the late summer surge warming their skin. Maybe the lemon sun and blue skies were some sort of good omen. Or, maybe not. 

"So where do we start, fellow Irregulars?" Harris said. 

"Start?" Arthur asked. 

"I don't trust our lawyer. Penhale," Harris shook his head. "I mean, we've been training for this exact situation for years. Creating and solving impossible mysteries. Clearing our names should be a breeze." 

"Good god, Kagan, you've gone daft." 

Kavi breathed deep the morning hair, hoping the freshness would dissolve the unease clenching her chest. Her panic only squeezed tighter. "Harris is right." 

Arthur squinted. "One night in a cell and we've all lost our minds." 

"The detective said she wanted to be our friend," Harris said. "We just have to convince her that we didn't do anything." 

"Harris and Alex sitting in a tree?" Arthur nudged Harris as they walked. "I always knew you had it for dominating women. Got a 'mommy' kink, eh?" 

Kavi shook her head. "We have to try." 

"Listen," Harris put up four fingers. "The detective's case rests on four bits of evidence: the story, the van, our supposed fingerprints and your gun, Arthur. If we can disprove any of it: presto! Reasonable doubt." 

"My van was in the garage yesterday afternoon." Kavi put a hand to her chest. Saying the facts aloud eased her heart. "Not that I can prove it, though…" 

Harris jogged ahead and walked backwards, facing Kavi. "Was it you?" 

Kavi stopped. "Excuse me?" 

"Occam's Razor," he shrugged. "Simplest answer is usually right. I know it wasn't me…" 

"That would be a fucking delicious plot twist," Arthur said. He chewed his lip for a moment and shook his head. "Wasn't me, either." 

"Harris." Kavi shot lasers. "I don't even jaywalk." 

"Let's assume we play detective," Arthur said. "What's easiest to disprove? Not to sound flippant but I've got a fairly full social schedule." 

"Can any of us prove an alibi?" Kavi asked. "I was home alone." 

"I don't think so," Harris said. 

"Nor can I," Arthur said. 

Harris put up a hand and wiggled his fingers. "Okay, so what about the fingerprints? Alex said they got whole prints at the scene—" 

"‘Alex,’ is it?’” Arthur smiled. “We on a first name basis already? You meet the parents? Buy the ring?" 

"Lay off, Arthur," Kavi said. "...But you are blushing, Harris." 

"Shut up!" Harris pulled the collar of his shirt up over his cheeks. 

"As a newly-minted American," Arthur said, "I've done my civic duty and binged enough Law and Order reruns to know whole fingerprints quite rare, yes?"  

"Though I've often lobbied for their removal, the district keeps all teachers' fingerprints on file," Harris spat. "We're practically begging pimple-faced hackers to stomp all over our constitutional privacies." 

"My prints are on police file." Kavi rolled her eyes, lowered her voice to an embarrassed whisper. "I was arrested years ago for punching [asshole tech billionaire] in the face." 

Arthur stopped, pulled Kavi’s elbow. "Are you joking?" 

Kavi shook her head. "Wish I was. I was working for a startup and honestly it was a misunderstand—" 

Arthur put a finger to Kavi's lips. "Shh. Shh. It's a much cooler story to say you punched [asshole tech billionaire]. It's the least you can do on behalf of the rest of humanity." 

Kavi shook free, continued walking. The library's bell tower, her van, and, by extension, all the coffee she could drink, loomed ahead. 

"Well, my record is as white as a virgin dancing through a fresh snowfall," Arthur said. "Unless someone's been meticulously following me, swiping my coffee empties from the rubbish bin, I don't know how anyone could get my prints." 

"That leaves The Sacred Theft itself." Kavi upped her pace. "I think I sent it to, like, 40 magazines." 

"51," Harris said. "What? I keep an excel sheet." 

With a quick turn, the Irregulars stepped into the looming shadow of the public library. Its bell tower and earthen brick were meant to invoke the spirit of an old country church. To the Irregulars, wrists still sore from too-tight handcuffs, the library instead seemed cousin to the old county jail hulking at the edge of town. Kavi shivered to walk into its shadow.  

"Are we suggesting our incessant fiction spam has cultivated a brutal psychopath?" Arthur rubbed his hands together. "How delicious." 

"I know who did it." The library tower clicked a rusty gear in Kavi's mind. The hairs on her neck prickled. Her spine shivered, wiggled from her hips to her shoulders. Her words hung in the air for a moment before fizzling into electricity. "Barbara Ann Leslie." 

"Oh shit." Harris blew a dismissive breath. "Your boss?" 

"I mean, a librarian who doesn't know Harry Potter?" Arthur said. "Definitely evil." 

"She has our stories," Kavi said. "I copy all our workshop drafts on our machine in the back office. Miss Leslie pulls them from the copier's memory and deducts printing costs from my paycheck. And she has motive. Public library funding has been decreasing for years." 

"Then do like everyone else and make something of use," Harris snorted. 

"Point is, she's wanted us out of that meeting room for years so she could organize her fundraisers. She could be the orangutan. She knows I skip out from work early on Tuesdays. She knocks over a jewelers using my story and its killing two birds with one stone. She gets funds for the library while getting us out of her meeting room. It fits." 

Harris held his arms out. "Whoa. Whoa. I think the logic train skipped a few stops and went express to crazy town. You think your boss dressed like a monkey and stole a quarter million dollars to screw us out of a library meeting room?" 

"Sherlock Holmes said it best," Kavi turned, leaned palms to the hood of her teal van, "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. 

"You call that eliminating the impossible?" Arthur said. "What about the costumes? The criminal had to get a monkey costume somewhere. What about the police reporter girl? Her car was at the library when we were arrested, she might know something we don't." 

Harris took an oversized jangle of keys from his pocket and unlocked the driver door of his ancient Ford Taurus. "I'm still not sold the culprit isn't one of us. Arthur, you own a gun like one used in the crime. Kavi, you own an identical teal van. Not exactly common." 

"Wait." Kavi looked to the empty parking spot between Harris' Taurus and Arthur's Outback. "Where's my van? Someone stole my van!" 

"Stole?" Arthur opened his passenger door, nodded Kavi in. "It's one of the key pieces of evidence in a crime. I imagine the police impounded it. You can ride with me until you get your wheels back." 

"Oh, right." Kavi swallowed the lump in her throat. "I must reiterate: we're not detectives. But it can't hurt to go to the Holiday House and check what costumes they've sold recently. I know you guys think I'm cuckoo, so I'll look into Miss Leslie by myself later." 

"So we all go to the costume shop?" Harris shot into the driver seat of his car. "This is so cool. It's like we're actually Sherlock Holmes. Ladies and Gentlemen…," Harris thrust a finger in the air, chest puffed and chin held high. "The game is afoot!" 

"Jesus," Arthur tutted as turned on his car, "you're insufferable."


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