Fashion designer Lucy Jones is being followed. At least, that’s what she tells her twin sister, Janine, who thinks Lucy is just being paranoid. But when a dead body shows up in her garden, Lucy realizes that things are more serious than she had imagined. With a boatload of resolve, and a lot of indiscriminate bacon-eating, Lucy plunges headfirst into unveiling a plot fueled by jealousy and greed. And when she discovers a secret dangerously close to home, Lucy realizes that beyond a tenacious spirit, she’ll need as much luck as she can muster. Not to mention a good second-hand Armani chiffon.
“Mr. Murphy. What have you got, now?” Lucy wondered when the little feline would cease his constant battle with the natural world, hoping it wasn’t another snake. Moles she could almost handle. Mice were tricky, but she could manage them. It was the snakes that got her. They were bulky, and looked practically forlorn as she tossed them behind the little green shed in the yard.
Mr. Murphy hissed. He wasn’t moving, and was staring toward the back fence. “Calm down,” she said to him. “There’s no need to get testy.”
She walked to the shed door and opened it, retrieving the shovel. As she made her way to the back garden, where Mr. Murphy had been circling, she stopped. The shovel in her hand fell into the mulch, and she left it there.
Lying among the tulips was a body.
It was a man, dressed in a black suit. Lucy was quite sure he was dead. She took a step forward, although her instinct was to turn and run, to close the sliders behind her, to bolt through the front door and out into the street, where she’d go to the nearest café and order a cup of their very strongest espresso, mull over her progressively twisted life as the cars went by, and then consider going back since she’d left Mr. Murphy at home – the home that was no longer secure. Of course, she knew she’d do no such thing. She hated espresso.
She took another step so that she could almost see the man’s face. It was imperative that she look at his face. She raised her foot to propel her forward and forced it down again, the act of walking grueling, like a bad dream – until she was almost directly in front of the body. The man had a hat on, one of those gangster-type hats – not the rap gangster kind, but the old-fashioned gangster kind. She leaned over the man’s head, taking care not to lose her balance. It wouldn’t do to fall on top of a corpse. Falling on a corpse would, perhaps, be the most intolerable thing that could happen to a person.
It wasn’t a man. It was a woman, dressed as a man.
Lucy inhaled, coughing, and stepped back. She turned and walked to the house, her high heels digging into the grass, and then submitting to it. She pulled up with her toes but the heels were wedged in the dirt stubbornly, so she stepped out of them and walked in her bare feet to the sliders, closing them firmly behind her and locking them. She picked up the phone and called Janine.
“There’s a dead garden in my body.”
“There’s a what?”
“I mean, my garden is not dead. It’s growing nicely. But there’s a body. A dead one.”
Lucy took a breath. Her heart felt as if it would fly away. “There’s a dead body lying in my annuals.”
“I’m serious. You know, I thought it was a man. But, as it turns out, it’s a woman. Or, was a woman. It looks like the waitress.”
“The one at Paheli. Listen, I should call the cops.”
“I’ll be right there.”
“No – don’t bother. Okay, sure. Come on over. Thanks.” Lucy hung up and sobbed briefly, then looked out the window. Her shoes stuck in the lawn in a pink salutation, insanely cheerful. Mr. Murphy circled the yard, his tail low, his body flattened almost to the ground.
She unlocked the doors and stuck her head out. “Mr. Murphy,” she stage-whispered. “Mr. Murphy. You come here. Right now!”
Mr. Murphy looked at her as if she were suggesting he cartwheel himself inside and make her a casserole. He went back to his prowling, his sleek body pressed into a horizontal cylinder, reminding Lucy of a hoagie. He was a hotheaded cat sandwich and was not, in no uncertain terms, going to come into the house with her. She stepped inside again, watching him, the phone tight against her ear. “Hello?” she said. “This is Lucy Jones. At 112 Seacoast Heights. There’s a dead body in my garden. I’ll need a cruiser over here right away.”
She hung up and opened the sliders, standing outside the door for a few seconds, and placed a hand on the side of the house before moving forward. She approached the small shed, winding around behind it quietly, as if she would disturb the ex-person laying in the tulips; as if she’d wake her. She peeked around the side of the shed, Mr. Murphy at her ankles, his ears flattened to his head, hissing intermittently.
The tulips were defeated, the stems bent to the earth, petals spread out in a surprising geometric pattern. The body was gone. It was gone.
“Well, that’s strange,” she said to the open air. “Isn’t it?”
Mr. Murphy crept over to the crushed tulips and hissed.
“You’re right, Mr. Murphy,” Lucy said, backing away. “It’s an interesting development.”
She ran back to the house and locked the doors behind her, picking up the phone again. Voice mail. “Janine,” she said to the recording. “It’s gone.”
“Why are there shoes stuck in the lawn?” Janine gazed down at the pink incongruity, hands on her hips.
“Who cares,” said Lucy. “There was a body. A BODY.”
“I’m not saying I don’t believe you. But why, and how, would a body disappear suddenly? I mean, what’s the point?”
“I don’t know. How would I know?”
They stood next to each other, studying the garden path. “Maybe it’s a warning,” Lucy said. “Like, ‘you could be next.’ Or something.”
“Maybe. Maybe she wasn’t dead.”
Lucy shivered. “Let’s go inside,” she said. “The police will be here soon. They’ll want to examine the garden. Maybe dust for fingerprints.”
“I doubt it. How would they dust soil? There wouldn’t be fingerprints, anyway. Unless.”
“Unless there are footprints. There might be footprints.”
They walked slowly toward the garden path together, circling around the shed to the crushed tulip display. Lucy strode up, and peered into the patch. “It’s definitely a mess,” she said. “I’m not seeing footprints, though.”
Janine gasped, and Lucy almost fell over the short wire garden fence. “What?”
“There’s a clue.”
Janine pointed, and Lucy noticed an envelope on the outermost garden path that led to the opposite side of the building. The envelope looked as if it had been stomped on; bits of dirt and moss were smeared into it, and it was wrinkled. But it didn’t look as if it had been dropped. It was neatly arranged in the grass so that it stood straight up on end, as if it had been placed there on purpose.
Lucy walked over and picked it up. It felt odd to hold it. Whoever had arranged the entire strange scenario had just been there – had tromped over her flower bed, had touched her garden path with his or her feet, had handled the envelope, maybe licked it closed, and left it there for her to find. She was quite sure it was for her. She opened it with her index finger. It was like the first one – pasted letters from a magazine, creating multi-colored words.
You can’t take it with you. Consider yourself warned.
p.s. I know you have it.
“Oh my God, Janine,” she whispered. “It’s just as I thought. It’s a warning. ‘I know you have it,’ it says. They know I have it. What? What do I have?”
“The cops are here.” Janine stood beside her on the grass.
Lucy folded the envelope and put it in her pocket. “Let’s keep this to ourselves,” she said, “for now.”