Once the media caught wind of the death of Oswald Keene, the house phone was unplugged after the crime scene investigators took the answering machine. The household staff were let go for the day since there was no reason for anyone to be around. Who would they serve? The crime scene sweepers? The house was empty, and sealed by the police. No one was authorized to be at the Keene mansion, not even the people who lived there. So party guests gave statements, promised to give more info as they came across it, and went home.
Melanie Smith, however, could not go home. She was too tired and too alert for her own good. It was a potentially lethal combo, but she was learning to deal with it. Coffee was the answer for anything. Fatigue? Can’t think? Can’t move? Coffee. The world’s best picker-upper.
She drove with her CD player playing the Isley Brothers on low. She figured that would calm her passenger down, and herself for that matter. She still felt like she was strolling through the Twilight Zone, even with the caffeine percolating through her system. The near-empty cup of Starbucks frappachino was in a cup holder nearby.
Drifting on a memory
Ain’t no place I’d rather be
Than with you, yeah
Loving you, well, well, well
Melanie glanced in her rearview briefly, seeing the crown of a messy blond head. When she approached a stop light, she turned to look back at her black-clad passenger and sighed.
I wanna be living for the love of you
Oh yes I am
All that I’m giving is for the love of you
“Jess?” Melanie asked, sounding a bit tentative.
Slumped in the backseat, Jessica Simpson-Keene looked up at her friend (and late husband’s former administrative assistant, if you wanted to venture out in that direction), and then her hazel eyes slid right down again. They were gazing at her hands. The diamond solitaire was still on her left ring finger, gleaming dully in the grainy light of the cloudy day. On the right one just above the thumb, there was a smudge of blood. Oswald’s blood.
Jessica swallowed nausea and closed her eyes. When she saw her husband’s bloody body illuminated by the moon in her mind’s eye, she forced them back open. The car started moving again, and Melanie turned back to the traffic. She didn’t want to add her own death and Jessica’s by auto accident to the carnage.
I keep hearing footsteps, baby
(In the dark)
In the dark
Oh, in the dark—
Clearing her throat, Melanie switched the song as she heard Jessica’s breath hitch. Yes, footsteps in the dark had killed her husband and knocked her out when she had found him. She figured “Caravan of Love” was innocuous enough.
“Sorry,” she murmured. Jessica said nothing, still immersed in her gloomy stupor.
Unexpectedly, her phone started singing.
Londontown is walking
I said it’s really talking, yeah
Stepping out in the walk of life—
Glancing at the radio digital clock, Melanie frowned. An eyebrow raised at the number, she picked up her phone and flipped it open.
The sound of Ashlee Simpson’s voice startled Melanie. But then again, given the situation, she wasn’t surprised that she was getting a call from Jessica’s little sister. “Melanie? It’s Ashlee. How’s Jess? She’d better be alright. I need to talk to—”
“Calm down,” Melanie interrupted firmly. “First of all, she’s fine. And secondly, do your parents know you’re calling?”
The insolence in Ashlee’s voice was evident. “I’m nineteen years old. I can talk to Jess if I want to. And no, they don’t know I’m calling because they didn’t hear about what I just heard. Now can I speak to her or not?”
Melanie sighed heavily. Insistent, aren’t we? She turned back to her friend. “Jessica, your sister wants to talk to you.”
Jessica looked up. After a moment, she took the phone. Melanie half-listened as Ashlee jabbered on the end and Jessica gave monosyllabic answers. But then again, Melanie was glad that Jessica had some contact with her own kin. It had been some years since she had talked with her own parents, since the young Jessica had run away from home and began her independent life in a Hooters in the next state. But little Ashlee, the Ashlee that was now spunky and nineteen, had secretly kept up with her big sister, even as their parents refused her phone calls.
When she was done, she flipped the top back down with a snap and placed the phone beside her. Melanie glanced at her in her rearview. Jessica’s face was wet, as if she had been crying. She felt a tug in her heart for the young blonde. The family that she was so intent in making was taken away from her even before it had a good chance to begin.
“The police said that he probably died instantly,” Jessica suddenly said. “That he didn’t suffer.”
“Jessica,” Melanie began.
“But I can’t think of anyone who would do something like this,” Jessica went on. “Everyone loved him so much.”
Melanie shook her head. Not everyone, she thought. In this case, there was always someone. “There are sick people in this world, Jess. Sick people that would do anything for what they want.”
Jessica nodded. “What they did wasn’t right. They killed a good man. The police are going to think that it was a crime of passion, that I did it, but we both know that’s not right.” Her eyes shifted, raised. “Mel, I’ve got a feeling that we might have to find out what happened ourselves.”
“We will, Jess,” Melanie promised. She turned left onto a street and exhaled. “We most definitely will.”
* * *
Meanwhile, in a posh two-bedroom apartment overlooking the Row, twenty-four-year-old Miyori Arashi stumbled to his kitchen and turned on the TV.
It had been another late night on the Row, partying, mingling with the young platinum-card set. The handsome Japanese model was used to being the toast of a party, the talk of the town. He was an anomaly in a sea of faces, delightfully exotic and carefully indigenous. He knew how to blend and stand out at the same time. It was one of his many skills.
A door slammed angrily down the hall. The shirtless Miyori sighed and gritted his teeth as his head throbbed. His roommate was awake, and she wasn’t being very quiet about things either. Damn her. Damn this damn hangover. He silently prayed for an aspirin and mercy from his roommate. He might not get either one at this point.
When twenty-two-year-old Megami Takumi Hill appeared, her brown eyes were filled with anger. Miyori combed a hand through his longish disheveled hair and listened to the sound of Megami’s angry breathing before he turned around.
“Didn’t we talk about this, Miyori?” Megami exclaimed. Her voice was not helping his headache. “This is the sixth damn time this month you’ve come home at the crack of dawn—”
“I’m glad someone’s been counting,” Miyori interrupted wryly. Megami squealed in anger. Insolence was his strong suit; reverence was not.
“You don’t give a damn about counting,” Megami snapped. Smelling coffee, Miyori turned around and was only half-listening to her diatribe. It was all the same anyway. He paid rent on time, and none of the utilities had been turned off since they’d moved in together. This was her only trouble with him. Megami was wonderful, but redundant at times.
As if sensing he wasn’t listening, Megami pounded a fist on the countertop. Miyori winced. He took the coffee pot and poured himself some coffee. There was some justice in the world today, dammit, and it was in this coffee.
Suddenly the sound of a familiar name had him nearly dropping the coffee mug.
“And in local news, prominent Gracia businessman Oswald Keene was killed last night in his home. There are no suspects at this time, but the Gracia Police Department is actively investigating the incident. Keene was survived by his two ex-wives, Natasha Finch and Adelaide Meyer, his only daughter Elizabeth, and his current wife Jessica.”
“What the hell—?” Before he knew what he was doing, he grabbed for the phone.
Megami placed a hand over his.
She shook her head. “You look like hell, and you’ll probably just make her feel worse.” She took her hand back. “I’ll go down to see her. It’ll only send up red flags if you go in her direction. And at this point, with a murder investigation pending, we don’t need any suspicion cast upon her.”
Megami had a point. She was often clever, too. But then again, it wouldn’t have taken a rocket scientist to come up with that line of thought. Especially with recent events. But he shook his head. He didn’t want to think about the past events that had put him at odds with the late Oswald Keene. Events that had ensued because of a misunderstanding.
They would rise to the surface eventually. He was sure of it. The only thing he wasn’t sure of was the outcome.
Raking the hand that had grabbed the phone through his hair again, Miyori inhaled deeply. “Fine. Go see her. I’m sure she needs the support.”
“For the Love of You” written by Chris Jasper, Ernie Isley, Marvin Isley, O’Kelly Isley, and Ronald Isley.
“Footsteps in the Dark” written by Chris Jasper, Ernie Isley, Marvin Isley, O’Kelly Isley, Ronald Isley, and Rudolph Isley.
“The Walk of Life” written by Spice Girls, Watkins, Wilson.