March Madness, Chapter One

I’ve posted this before, but I thought this time, I’d go ahead and post the whole thing, chapter by chapter.

This is the second novel I wrote, the first one I shopped, and the one that definitely can’t get published because the bottom fell out of the cozy mystery market. I’ve decided if I ever do start writing again, I want to change this one to the 1950s. But this still exists in its entirety, so I want to go ahead and release it.

Feel free to give me feedback on whether you like it or not. Not looking for an editor, just readers.

Love you all.


MARCH MADNESS, A NOVEL

BY

AMY L. MONTZ

“The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seemed filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.”

-Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”  

“Whoever you are–I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

-Blanche DuBois, Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

“There’s no house that I can call my home

There’s no place from which I’ll never roam

Town or city, it’s a pity

I’m left alone, all alone”

-Billie Holiday, “Left Alone


CHAPTER ONE

“Nah, she can’t be dead, Tommy. She was a goddamn champ.”

            A foot poked my ribcage. “Hey lady, you ain’t dead, right? Otherwise, I got a hell of a thing on my hands.”

            I tried to turn to the voices, but my head was pounding staccatos. The half inch I did move sent sharp pains down my spine.

            The hand shook my arm harder. “Boss wants your name. Better give it over, dead or not.”

No, I couldn’t be dead. Death was the big sleep, or cherubic angels singing harmonies, or just a white void of nothingness. Pain was somethingness. “Coffee?”

“Strange name.”

My fingers twitched against something hard, and warm. Concrete. Maybe I was dead after all, and Philip Marlowe was right. I was part of the nastiness now, all lying on the city sidewalk. I must not have had any coffee. My fingers wriggled around on the now-nastiness and brushed against something.

“She wants coffee. You want the cup, lady?” Someone put something in my hand. “It ain’t got no coffee in it.”

Why wouldn’t it have coffee? I always had coffee. Routine was very important. Wake up, run, coffee. If I didn’t have coffee, I shouldn’t interact with humanity and that must be why I was on the side–

“Hey, lady. What. Is. Your. Name?”

            “March Madness.” Maybe the coffee had spilled, and I was burned with… espresso? There was a wetness seeping around me, and espresso was wet, so wetness plus espresso equals spilled latte. I choked back the sob building in my throat. Poor latte. It never stood a chance.

“Oh for the love of the…. Grab her wallet and get her name. Leave the cash, you idiot.”

There was tugging. My head shifted with the movement and exploded into a thousand pains, all of them in individual colors and shapes and sizes and I could name them all, if I wanted, names like Pauly, and Tommy. I was exploding with pain, and that wasn’t fair, was it?

“Holy shit. Do you see all that blood?”

“I dropped my coffee and Simon’s getting the car,” I said, but even I didn’t know what I was saying.  There was a gun and coffee spilled all over my Billie dress and I was in Baton Rouge, falling out of the tree into Remy’s laughing arms but arms didn’t laugh, did they? No, Remy was laughing, not his arms. And my arm wasn’t laughing. My arm was shouting and screaming because I fell out of the tree and it hurt.

“Miss.” A hand smacked my face. “Did you see who did this?”

“I fell outta tree,” I said. The hand stopped smacking my face and started prying my eyes open. “And Remy didn’t catch me.” My vision cleared a little, scattering the filmy mauve and now my head hurt more, felt pink, a raging pink headache that smelled metallic and familiar.

A woman was looking down at me. “She’s going into shock,” she said. Her mouth and words didn’t synch up, like one of those bad kung fu movies Joey loved.

“You’re dubbed really badly,” I said as my eyes collapsed. “You should talk to your editing people. Maybe Simon knows someone.” There was a sharp prick on my arm and I tried to wrench it away, but the hands were far from gentle.

“Stay with me.” Another hand smacked my face. “Wake up.”

“I’m awake.” My eyes opened again and the world was less pink, more fuzzy. My head stopped pounding but now felt huge, a swollen and ripe pumpkin about to burst open and spill March seeds all over the sidewalk nastiness. Hands lifted me and I was rolling, jostled around until the wetness and pain retreated to loud wailing sirens, coffee cups, and my Billie dress.

“It’s still in her.”

“The coffee?” I asked. “No, I spilled that.” There was coffee, and Billie Holiday, and a man tipping a newsboy cap at me. Then there was Simon and Philip Marlowe on the sidewalk nastiness, Remy’s laughing arms and that damn tree in Baton Rouge. But there was something missing, something slamming into me and screaming and hand waving, and the pain in my shoulder so that must be–

“No, miss.” The woman’s voice was a gentle contrast to her rough hands. “The bullet.”

“Oh shit,” I said.

#

I squinted against the fluorescent lights before I turned the tiniest bit to the right. I sucked in a deep breath as I saw a face hovering three inches from mine.

            The nurse widened her eyes before she resumed an air of bored professionalism. “Ms. Sanderson? I’m just changing your bandages.”

            I drank in her amused eyes, her pretty black hair, her clucking tongue, and tried to smile.

Her face softened in response. “What hurts?”

            So I did look as bad as I felt. “Smiling. Breathing.” I tried to move again, and it was a little easier this time. “I haven’t seen you before.”

            The shadow of a smile passed over her face. “No, you have. I was here when you called your family. Don’t you remember?”

            I sent a mental probe far into my brain and was rewarded with a vague memory of shoving the phone at a nurse. “I told them not to come, right?”

            “Actually, what I think you said was, ‘Look, talk to the nurse. She’s pretty, so be nice to her.’  Thanks for that.”

Strange, and what I remembered was one of my brothers screaming, “You’ve been shot, and you’re fine? Just how many goddamn lives do you have, Marchy?” But then anything on either side of that conversation was a void of blank nothingness, spotted by vague flashes of doctors, nurses, and some men who looked suspiciously like undercover detectives. Show me an awkward knot in a tie and a tired stamp to features, and I could spot an undercover detective from twenty paces. “So how long can I milk this for?”

The nurse glanced over her shoulder at the closed door. “Not much longer. They’re getting a little anxious.”

“Can you get me another day?” When I tried to scoot up in the bed, she stopped me with a firm hand.

“Let me finish before you start moving around. We’ll see about that extra day. Remember anything yet?”

“Not really,” I said, lying as still as I could. All I needed to do was piss her off. Then it was lime jell-o instead of cherry, and nasty pieces of suspended fruit. “And that’s the real concussion talking. Honest to God. I remember the sidewalk, but not the wall.” Mental note: remember being shoved headfirst into wall.

“Well, the doctor said it’ll come back to you eventually.” She turned back towards me. “You just need to be patient.”

This felt like the third such conversation I had had, but I had a sinking suspicion that the nurse was the only one who believed I was telling the truth. If the cops were getting restless, then Chicago’s finest weren’t buying the fact that the concussion affected my memory. “I don’t want to be patient. I want to go home.” I tried to crane my neck to see what she was doing.

All she was doing was placing a large piece of gauze on my shoulder. “You’ll probably go home tomorrow. You were lucky, you know. The doctor said it must have been a magic bullet.” When I snorted, she gave me a little smile. “The bullet didn’t hit any bone. You only needed about ten stitches after we removed it. The real damage came from the path it dragged.”

“It stings a little, but that doesn’t feel like luck.” Bullet in the shoulder, head into wall. March Sanderson, unluckiest person alive, but still alive despite all of that. Plus, there were no splintered bones, and no Sandersons barging through the doors and threatening to drag me back home. Maybe I was lucky after all.

She ripped a few pieces of tape off a roll, secured the piece of gauze, and patted my hand with cool fingers before she pulled away. For a second, her hair was golden, flashed with the sun. And then she turned and it was once again Creole black, the particular deep, rich shade I hadn’t seen since I left Baton Rouge.

“Can I take a shower? I feel… funky.”

            “You can try,” the nurse said. “But don’t get the stitches wet. Let me just help you up.”

I swayed a little on my feet before I steadied myself with her arm. “This is not the way I wanted to start my summer,” I said. But I felt better, like I had been mauled by a baby bear rather than by her big bad Momma, so that was good, truly.

“Do you want something for the pain?” the nurse asked as she escorted me to the bathroom.

“No, it’s okay.” I transferred my grip from her arm to the sink before I waved my other hand in dismissal. “So do you know anything about the guy–”

            Her eyes widened to twice their size. She shook her head with an almost wild energy. “No.” She backed away to the door, her hand fumbling for the knob. “You need to ask the cops those kinds of questions, not me.” The nurse slipped out of the room and the door closed with a soft hiss behind her.

            I glanced at the mirror in passing as I closed the bathroom door. I froze and turned back to the mirror, gripping the counter for support. My hair was a frizzy halo around my head and shoulders, my left cheek had three deep scratches tearing down, and my right eye was fading black. When I probed my head, I felt soreness. Concussion and a cut. Must have bled like a stuck pig. I patted my hair down with my left hand, sponged my body as best I could, and actually felt humanlike. Mental note: human comes later.

            My fingers gripped the sink again and I pressed my head against the mirror. “Stupid, stupid, Sanderson,” I said. When I pulled my face away, there was a small cloud of condensation on the silver surface.

Feeling the air circulate around certain exposed areas of my body, I decided on the less revealing hospital-issue towel and wrapped it around me before I opened the bathroom door in search of real clothes. The door met resistance with a loud thump so I pushed a little harder. This time, there was a groan. I poked my head around, saw a man with a gun strapped to his hip, and screamed bloody murder.

            Several nurses came running into the room. They took one look at me in a towel–in a fighting stance, but in a towel–and the man holding his knee and wincing, and called security. By the time they arrived and figured out that the man was supposed to be there, a nurse had ushered me into the bathroom with a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. They weren’t mine, but they were clean. Priorities, Sanderson.

The Creole nurse tried to help me back to the bed. I refused and sat down in the chair instead, no longer feeling the invalid now that I was armed with jeans and a t-shirt. The man had no choice but to go out to the hall and get another chair. While he wrestled it into the room, I tried to read him. He was shorter than Remy but no taller than David, so I put him right at six feet. He probably wouldn’t use size for intimidation at least. He was lanky, but as he lifted the chair to scoot it closer to mine, I noticed ropy muscles under the sleeves of his dress shirt.

He sat down and settled his knee against the arm of the chair and his foot on top of his other knee. I almost smiled to myself. There was a very good possibility that he wouldn’t be strait-laced. He wasn’t wearing dress shoes but Doc Marten boots, the black leather worn and a little scuffed. Most of the men in my family wore the same boots on the job, and they weren’t concerned with rules or regulations.

The man rested a portfolio on his lap and pulled black plastic-framed reading glasses out of his shirt pocket. Once they were settled on his face, he opened his portfolio, glanced down for a second and then looked back at me. The glasses lent him an air of seriousness and aged him at least three years. “Nathalie Sanderson?”

            So much for that extra day. I nodded, resisting the urge to right his tousled brown hair and straighten his crooked tie.

            “Detective Reggianno,” he said. “How’s the shoulder?”

            “Stitched.”

            “How many stitches?”

            “The nurse said ten, but it feels more like a hundred.”

            “Uh huh.” He leaned back a little in the chair. “Do you feel, ah, well enough to answer a few questions about Tuesday?”

“I’m sorry you’ve had to wait, Detective, but I really do feel like I got shot two days ago.”

I hadn’t meant for my tone to come out that nasty, but it seemed to work on Detective Reggianno. Something flashed on his face a little like guilt. “Ms. Sanderson–”

            “Please, call me March or Nathalie, but I really prefer March.” When he hesitated, I sighed. “It’s just… I don’t like being called Ms. outside of the classroom. It brings forth a lecture voice and an odd desire to hold a red pen.”

            “You’re a high school teacher, right?”

            My hands gripped the arms of the chair tighter. “Did you even read my file? I mean, that’s a file on me, isn’t it?”

            “I read your file.”

            “Then why are you asking me if I’m a teacher?” I tried to peer at the file on his lap but he put his arm over the top, blocking it from view. I choked back a gasp of outrage. Bet Detective Reggianno never gave anyone answers on a test. Stupid snitch.

            “Detective Alcott was assigned to your case but, ah….” He paused. “He had a heart attack about two hours ago and I was called in at the last minute. I’ve only had a few minutes with your… file.”

            I had a case. No, I was a case. Redhead Gets Shot Trying to Do the Right Thing. It would make a bang-up headline. “I’m sorry about your friend.” My finger twitched against the chair. “Will he be all right?”

            “He should be.”

We regarded each other until I cleared my throat. “Well, what questions do you have for me?”

            There was a slight sound of rustling paper, but I didn’t think that he was looking for information. Rather, he seemed to be trying to intimidate me with paperwork. “Ms. Sanderson, what’s your relationship with the, ah… gentleman you took the bullet for?”

            But the paperwork intimidation stopped working when I was sixteen, so score one to me. “Relationship? I’d never seen him before Tuesday.”

            He leaned back in his chair and regarded me with colder eyes. Something fishy was going on, and damned if I knew what it was. Scoreboard was even now. “And so you just happened to be walking along right as someone pulled out a gun.”

            “Kudos for the man, not so much for me.” When a muscle twitched in his cheek, I wondered if I was driving him insane. It wouldn’t be the first time a cop accused me of not taking things seriously during a police investigation.

“So you’re trying to tell me that you just took a bullet for a random stranger out of the goodness of your heart?” he asked, his nasal Chicago accent thicker.

            “It seemed like the right thing to do.”

            “The right thing to do?”

            I had forgotten already how persistent detectives could be. “I saw a man with a gun take aim at another man. I yelled out a warning, but instead of looking at the man with the gun, everyone turned and looked at me. So I ran over there and tried to get him out of the way.”

            “And you never saw him before Tuesday.” When I shook my head, he tapped his pen on his thigh. “So you just took a bullet for a man you never met. You do this sort of thing often?”

            “To be fair, I didn’t intend to ‘take a bullet,’ but then he didn’t move and I…” my voice trailed off when his tapping pen stilled. “If he died, it would have been my fault,” I said in a tiny, embarrassed voice. When the muscle in his cheek twitched again, I realized that he was trying not to laugh at me.

“How do you figure that?”

            “Because if I hadn’t yelled a warning, maybe he would have seen the guy with the gun. Instead, all he saw was me waving and screaming like a madwoman. That’s not fair, is it? To let a man die because you distracted him?”

            He gave me a look I couldn’t interpret. “Start with Tuesday morning.”

            I shrugged to cover my embarrassment and winced at the pain in my shoulder. Mental note: no shrugging. “I stopped at the coffeehouse at about ten, got my latte, and walked out. When I turned left, I saw three men on the sidewalk with their backs to me and a guy riding a bike. He was holding something weird.”

            “Weird how?” the detective asked.

“Weird like I thought it was a coffee cup but it wasn’t.  When I thought, ‘Hey, that looks weird,’ I realized it was a gun.”

            He cocked an eyebrow but nodded for me to continue my story.

“And then he took aim at the guy on the corner. That guy had his back to me, but he didn’t seem to see the guy on the bike.”

            “How far away was the man from you?” he asked.

            “Which guy? There were a bunch of guys. There was the one on the bike, and then the one on the–”

            “Guy on the corner,” he interrupted. “Potential victim.”

            “Ten feet, more or less. I yelled out a warning, but the man and his two friends turned to look at me instead of looking at the guy with the gun.” My cheeks grew hotter. “I thought if he got shot, it would be my fault. So I jumped at him to push him out of the way.”

Detective Reggianno leaned back in his chair. “Uh huh.”

“You know what I mean, right?” I pressed my hand to my forehead to rub back the ache just beginning to throb harder. God, was this what a concussion felt like? It felt like my head was about to split open every time he asked a question. Then maybe that wasn’t because of the concussion. Maybe that was because it was another goddamn interrogation. They had gotten old around age eight.

            “So then what?” He paused a second. “Ms. Sanderson?”

            I pulled my hand down and stared at him. “So I’m flying in mid-air when the guy on the bike aims his cup… I mean, his gun, and shoots me instead. Next thing I know, I’m flat on my back on a sidewalk, I can’t open my eyes, and then I wake up in the hospital. That’s it.”

            The detective regarded me for a few minutes, his eyes thoughtful, before he seemed to relax in one fluid motion. “That’s what the witnesses said as well.”

            I cocked an eyebrow at him. Did he think that someone could make up a story that insane?

            “Did you even stop and think about why someone would shoot at this man?” he asked.

            “I didn’t really take time to think that all through.” I leaned forward in my chair. “Is he okay? Was it a drive-by or something?” Pedal-by? Bicycle-by? Was there even a term for this? I’d have to ask Remy.

            Detective Reggianno just barreled ahead with the interrogation. “Could you identify the shooter if you saw a picture?”

            I chewed on my bottom lip before I shook my head. No, it wasn’t the concussion. Definitely the interrogation. “Maybe. I don’t know. He was wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses. I could try, though.”

            He scribbled something down on his pad and flipped through a few pages. “Right. Well, we’ll keep that open. You moved to Chicago when?”

            “Two weeks ago. I left Louisiana on the first and got here on the second.”

            “And why exactly did you move to Chicago again?” The cold tone was back.

            “I got a job teaching.”

            “You moved all the way from Baton Rouge to Chicago for a high school teaching gig?”

            I lifted my chin. “I wanted a change of scenery.”

            “Uh huh. And who did you know in Chicago prior to moving?”

            “The nuns at the school I’m going to be teaching at, but no one else.”

            “Nuns?” His look became curious. “Where will you be teaching?”

            “Our Divine Mother of the Most Holy Rosary.”

            He regarded me with wide eyes and his right middle finger twitched against his thigh. I knew that twitch. Every Catholic knew that twitch. It came from active resistance against making the sign of the cross. “You’re teaching there? How hard did you hit your head?”

            I didn’t think my chin could get any higher. “The sisters there are lovely women.”

            He snorted. “Right.”

            “How would you know? It’s an all-girls’ school.”

He gave me a heartbreaking smile that made his eyes crinkle. He must have been a beautiful child. “Both of my sisters went there. They say that since they’ve already experienced hell on Earth, they’re assured their places in heaven.”

            Reggianno was sent to me for a reason, and I had the sinking suspicion it had a lot to do with that heartbreaking smile. “So you came from Louisiana to teach at Divine Mother? Want to tell me why?”

            “I don’t think that’s at all relevant to me getting shot.” I narrowed my eyes at him.

            “Oh I think it is.”

            I leaned back in my chair. It didn’t seem like part of the investigation. “I didn’t kill anyone.  I’m not running from the law.”

            He pulled back from me. He must be an educated or intelligent man, after all, if he made detective this young. He recognized a teacher voice when he heard one. “Of course you didn’t. We already called Baton Rouge.”

            “Oh God, I’m sorry.” I wondered how that conversation turned out, but the look in his eyes kind of clued me in. There was the telltale dazed expression people got when they discussed Baton Rouge’s police department with me. “Do you really need to hear it from me?”

            “I really do.” He gestured to the file for emphasis. “Police investigation and all.”

            “I wanted to get as far away from my ex as possible.”

            His voice was softer this time, more hesitant. “And why is that?”

            “Because before David was ex, he wanted to get as close to Maria Dugas as possible.” And if my best friend Ava had seen them correctly that day at the library, some of those ways weren’t possible without extensive elaborate props.

            “Ms. Sanderson?” The detective bit the corner of his lip. “I asked what your ex is doing now.”

            “Oh, nothing but Mrs. Maria Thibodeaux née Dugas.” It took me a second to realize I had said it out loud. Stupid concussion. “Sorry. I’m just… I’m just tired.”

            He cleared his throat. “I think those are all the questions I have for now, but let me get your number in case anything else comes up.”

            I cocked my head to the side, studying him, before I wrote down my contact information on his pad. For once, being left-handed was a good thing, what with getting shot in my right shoulder and all. From the small smile the detective gave me, he must have had the same thought. He handed me his card and left.

            I looked down at his card, which looked legitimate enough, and Lord knows I had enough experience with these things. Dominic Reggianno. I was sure he had been called Nicky as a child.

#

            The hospital released me the next morning and I stood outside in my borrowed clothes, wondering how I was going to get home. I didn’t have my car, I didn’t have any cash for a cab, I didn’t know anyone who could pick me up, and there were two shady looking characters standing near the front. One was smoking a cigarette. The other chewed on a toothpick, his arms crossed over his chest, managing to look like the most imposing man I’d ever seen. And I had seen a lot of imposing men, an army of them with badges and my eyes and maiden name. Both of these men were young, tan, and muscled, the smoker less so than his non-smoking friend. And both of them stared at me when I turned around to go back inside and plea bargain with one of the nurses for a loan or a ride. Then, both of them nodded at me, in unison.

            “Need some help?” the non-smoker asked in a deep voice. It was tinged by something that suggested English wasn’t his first language.

            “I’m fine,” I said as I eased towards the sliding glass doors. “But thanks for asking.”

            “Call you a cab?” The smoker reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone. “You need a cab, lady?” he asked, wiggling the phone at me.

            “No really, I’m fine.” My smile was tight against my lips and I edged closer to the door. My, everyone was friendly in Chicago, even when they were wearing mirrored sunglasses and hats pulled low on their heads.

            “You don’t look fine,” the non-smoker said. He popped the toothpick out of his mouth and pointed it at me. “That ain’t meant like, you don’t look fine. You just look like you got hit by a car.”

            Me and Alice, on our way to Wonderland. I shook my head and shuffled in a non-conspicuous manner towards the hospital door. “No car. I’m good.”

            The non-smoker glanced behind me. “Hey Bit, let’s get a soda.” He nudged his friend with an elbow before he tipped his newsboy cap at me. They both slipped through the glass doors the second a dark blue Blazer pulled up next to me.

“Need a ride?” a man asked through the open passenger window.

            I turned and narrowed my eyes at Detective Reggianno. My, my, my. Everyone really was helpful in Chicago. “How did you know?”

            “I asked the hospital to call me when you were released. I have a few more questions for you if that’s okay.”

            “Thanks.” I got in the front seat and looked over at him. He seemed more relaxed than yesterday. Even his clothes were casual, a faded pair of jeans and a rust-colored t-shirt.

He didn’t ask for directions, which was a blessing, since I had no idea where I was. Couple my recent move with my horrendous sense of direction, and it was a wonder I even recognized that we were still in Chicago. We rode in silence the entire trip and I watched his hand as he shifted gears, watched the muscle jump in his arm as we waited at a red light, watched the sunlight reflect off of the CD covers scattered on the dashboard, until I began to recognize the brownstone apartments around us, the diner on the corner, even the man in the business suit walking his golden retriever.

When we approached my apartment door, my step faltered.

            “That’s a lot of flowers,” the detective said. “From your family?”

            “I guess so. I don’t know anyone in town.” I knelt down to take the card off of the huge floral arrangement sitting in front of my door. “‘All best, A.G,’” I read before I looked up at him. “I don’t know any A.G.”

            His mouth hardened into a thin line. “Can we go inside? We need to talk.”

            “Would you like some coffee?” I asked.

“I never turn down coffee.” He grabbed my flowers to carry them in.

After we were inside and the smell of flowers permeated every room, I gave my apartment a mental checklist as I walked to the coffee pot. Were my dirty clothes still on the bathroom floor? No. They were in the hamper. When he started wandering around, I prayed that I had also disposed of the empty ice cream carton that was on the coffee table Monday night. No need for Detective Reggianno to discover the dinner of choice for lonely new arrivals of the female persuasion, even if calcium was good for you. I gave my trash can a discreet peek while I put the grounds in the filter and, pleased to see the empty carton in the garbage, placed a paper towel over it.

He walked through my living room, looking at the art prints on my walls, while I made a pot of coffee. “So how’s your shoulder?” he called from somewhere near my Casablanca print.

“It’s okay. My head still hurts, though.” I stared up at the cabinet above me. “Could you get the sugar?” I asked. “I don’t want to reach for it.”

            Detective Reggianno walked into the kitchen. “The doctors said you got a mild concussion when Gasconi’s men pushed you down.” When I pointed, he reached above my head.

            Well, that wasn’t the headache I was talking about, but okay. “Just put it over there.” I took out some cream and checked the date before I put it on the table. “Wait, Gasconi’s men?  Who’s Gasconi?  And why the hell does Gasconi have men?”     

“Where are your coffee cups?” he asked.

 “In the cabinet over the dishwasher. Is Gasconi the guy I took the bullet for?”

            “You have a really nice place, by the way.” Detective Reggianno gestured to the living room. “I’m surprised you’re unpacked so soon. It takes me months to unpack. I think that’s why I never move.”

            I refrained from looking at the trash can again. Early unpacking and empty rocky road pints were the top two tell-tale signs that a person had nothing to occupy her time with. “School doesn’t start until August and I finished all of my lesson plans already.” Sign number three.   He ignored my question, again, poured two cups of coffee, and carried them to the table. After he handed me my cup, he rubbed his hands along the acrylic top of my kitchen table. “Nice,” he said. “Did you buy it like this?”

            “No, my best friend and I made it.” Ava and I found the table and four matching chairs at a garage sale. They originally looked cafeteria issue, all faux wood and cracked beige vinyl, but I needed my own furniture and Ava’s quite the craftswoman. We painted the table, glued on my favorite art print, and covered it with acrylic overlay. We also painted the chairs to match and recovered the seats in a beautiful grey-blue fabric that echoed the colors of Waterhouse’s ocean.

            “I like the painting.” His finger traced along the edge of the art print trapped beneath the acrylic surface before he poured cream into his coffee.

            “It’s Waterhouse’s The Mermaid.” When we were finished with the whole project, Ava hugged me and told me to take the water up North. Chicago had a lake, but I grew up in the bayou. The air was too dry here, too thin for my part-amphibian, Louisiana-native lungs. During the summer season in Baton Rouge, say, March–the month, not me–through November, people didn’t walk as much as swim down the street in the South.

            “There’s something about you I just don’t get,” he said, his eyes curious, the lashes half-obscuring the pupils.

            “What’s that, Detective?” I added sugar to my coffee and lifted the cup to take a sip.

            “Well, for starters, I don’t understand why you took a bullet for a Mafia boss.”

            I spit coffee all over my beautiful table.

3 thoughts on “March Madness, Chapter One”

  1. Enjoying the read. Keeping me in suspense, to the point that I want to know what happens next. Please keep the chapters coming.

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