| The apartment had a small bedroom for the kid, a small bathroom. The kitchen was separated by a bar. The place reeked of cigarettes and welfare, so Detective Will Jeffries wasn’t surprised.
“What we got?” he asked the nearest uniform.
“Dead female ID’d as Denise Maris, 35. No apparent foul play. Called in my the son—“
“Who’re they?” Jeffries interrupted, pointing at two women seated on the couch.
“Witnesses. Here when the vic passed. The lights were out, though, so they didn’t see a thing.”
“What’d they hear then?” Jeffries asked. When he saw the clueless look, he added, “Never mind.”
He walked over to the victim. Denise, he reminded himself. She was on the floor, half on her back and half on her side. Looked like she died crawling into the fetal position. Her lain black dress was askew. Death hadn’t touched her face. Eyes wide open with a dull shade of brown. Nice lips. Alive she’d have been a decent catch.
The so-called witnesses were fidgeting nervously on the couch. The older one was chain-smoking, making the apartment smell worse. With a scowl, he approached them.
“Detective Jeffries.” He flashed his badge, never tiring of the moment. “Who are you & why are you here?”
The couch was broken; he could tell by the way both ladies were sitting close together.
“Don’t a family have a right to be here?” the older woman asked, tugging at the flowered sleeve of her shirt.
Not very intelligent, Jeffries thought.
“Not a crime scene. No,” he said. With a sigh, he added. “Family. So you must be…”
“I’m Estelle.” She continued to tug at her sleeve.
He figured her for a junkie. “Estelle, the mom? And you must be…”
These two made a simple question like pulling teeth from an alligator.
“Erin, the older sister,” the younger woman finally said.
She looked everywhere but at him. Her arms were crossed and her foot was tapping. Otherwise, she was unnoticeable.
“I need a vacation,” he said with another sigh. He sat down on an old wooden coffee table and hoped it would hold him. “Ok, why’s the whole family here with my body?”
He said each word slowly, looking at both of them.
Estelle jumped up. “My daughter’s not your body!”
“Mom, quit. It’s his job, she’s in his hands. That sort of thing.” Erin said as she re-crossed her arms. “Besides, you never cared before.”
Estelle glared at her daughter as she sat back down. The whole time she’d been standing, she still played with her sleeve. The constant fidgeting was distracting.
“I’ll only ask one more time. Why are you here?”
“She called us,” Erin said. He noticed she’d answered for her mom as well.
“Getting somewhere now. When and why?”
“Obviously earlier,” Erin said.
“And she asked you to come over?” He was getting a headache.
Erin didn’t answer so he looked at Estelle, interested in what she would say. She said nothing, just gave him a blank stare.
A little voice came from behind him. “Mommy said she won the big one and we were moving. She said I had to go to bed. That she had calls to make.”
Jeffries turned to find a little boy around six or seven, with sandy blond hair in Power Rangers pajamas. It tore at him because the kid looked so much like Jakey.
It’s been five years since he’d seen his only grandson. Just as long for his wayward daughter. Last time they’d been over, words got heated. Maybe he had crossed some line but she was his daughter. He had a right to protect her. As a man, a father, and a cop it was his duty.
“That so?” he asked with a soft smile. “You called us?”
He could tell the boy had been crying. His blue eyes were red and puffy; his little button nose ran.
“Uh huh.” The boy nodded as fresh alligator tears welled up.
The kid was about to go again. Who could blame him, though?
At first, Jeffries wasn’t sure he’d get an answer. The boy now had the hiccups Jakey used to get the hiccups after crying for a while.
“I heard yelling, slamming, and I didn’t recognize their voices,” he finally said, pointing at the grandmother and aunt he didn’t know.
To the first officer Jeffries saw, he said, “Take care of him.”
The uniform escorted the boy off and he wondered that Child Protective Services would do with him.
“That so,” he said again, looking back at his suspects. “How big?”
“Six hundred and fifty thousand,” Erin said with disgust. “My sister, the bitch, won huge.”
Jeffries listened to Erin complain about her baby sister, Denny. Inside her complaints were pertinent details.
Denise had thought her luck had changed. Erin was poor, living in a trailer with five kids. Her husband was never home. She felt her baby sister owed her.
All good things to know.
“I came over so she’d share the wealth. But before we could calmly discuss things, Mom burst through the door.”
“And saw you waving a fucking gun!” Estelle said.
“I never shot it. Test my fingers for you GSR bullshit. I know! I watch TV!” Erin thrust her hands out to Jeffries.
He shook his head and rubbed his temples. His hair was getting shaggy. It was time to get it cut.
“Ok, let’s backup just a second. Were you frisked when the officer got here?”
His question was met with silence. He couldn’t believe how green the force was getting. He felt like the last blue blood out here.
Jeffries knew there was one female cop on the force. He just had no idea if she was on scene. He looked around, only seeing the men.
“Is Officer Pyle on scene?”
The apartment was small enough, everyone heard.
“Right here, sir,” a female voice said from the kitchen.
He’d heard she could blend in but he was still shocked. He was sure a man was walking toward him.
“Frisk Estelle. Pay attention to her sleeves. They seem to be bugging her.”
He turned to Erin and took a step closer, keeping Estelle in his sights.
“Where’s the gun?”
She pulled a .357 Magnum out of her blood-red purse and handed it over. He noticed the purse. He noticed the purse matched her nails. He couldn’t believe people sometimes 40 years on the force was wearing him thin.
“Why were you waving the gun?”
“I was angry. I wanted to prove a point. But I swear I didn’t shoot her.”
Jeffries looked at her long and hard but remained silent. He knew she didn’t shoot the vic.
“Sir,” Pyle spoke up.
She had one hand on Estelle’s arm. In the other hand it looked like a scrap of paper. He was betting it was Denise’s lotto win.
“It’s mine,” Estelle said quickly white Erin just scoffed at her.
“And I bet when Pyle checks, it’s a winner. A big one,” Jeffries said with faux excitement. To Pyle he said, “Check it.”
As Pyle left, Estelle rejoined Erin on the couch. She no longer fidgeted with her sleeve.
“What’s your story?” he asked, watching her closely.
“Paint yourself innocent, you paint yourself in a corner,” Estelle said. “I came in-I did not knock-and my baby girl was breathing. I got this one to put up the gun and a few minutes later all the lights went out.”
“Why were the lights out?”
“Dunno. Copper turned them on. Ask him,” Erin’s arms were still crossed but her leg had silenced the tapping. “I better get that gun back.”
“I just know they were on long enough to get here and fix her a cup of tea,” Estelle said, lighting another cigarette.”
“Who a cup of tea?” Jeffries asked the stringy haired woman.
“My Denny, of course.”
“Of course. You made my victim a cup of tea and then the lights went out. Did she drink it?”
Neither woman spoke so he went over to talk to the man first on scene. The cop confirmed their story and reported a cup of tea spilled beside the vic. The lights going out was just a fuse.
Thirty minutes later, Jeffries ambled up to the two slouching on the couch. He’d been watching and they never spoke to each other.
“Soon as you sign written statements, you can go. However, I wouldn’t leave town if I were you.”
“Who?” Erin asked with a smug grin.
“Both of you.”
They grumbled and Jeffries just smiled.
“My card.” He dropped a couple of cards in their laps. “Call.”
He strode off and finished up the scene. When he was done for the day, he headed home. He couldn’t help thinking of the little boy. Neither his grandmother nor his aunt asked about him. Of course he wasn’t shocked, just sad.
Over the next two weeks he checked out his suspects, the only leads. Both were shady characters with both motive and means. The cup had tested positive for poison. He just needed the autopsy findings. When they came in he was itching to make an arrest.
It was always the family and his money was on the old lady. Mama had a garden of suspicious plants she kept in its own gated area. He figured poison in the tea, especially with no gun wounds.
He checked over the reports several times, unable to believe old Doc Leroy got it right.
Denise Marks died of natural causes. She had a heart attack.