THE HEAVY impatient pounding on the door to our darkened room at the Ocean’s End Bed & Breakfast startled us from a sound sleep. I heard the familiar groans coming from my two sisters, but I remained silent, pretending to be asleep. We were here in Cape May, New Jersey to attend our eight-year class reunion from East Cape May high school, Class of ’07. Most schools held reunions in five-year increments, but not our class. They wanted them every year. This was the first year since graduation we’d been back giving us a lot to catch up on.
“Who in God’s name is at our door at five o’clock in the freakin’ morning?” Riley ranted when she bolted to an upright position like a springboard. She heaved a deep sigh. With one eye half-cocked, I could see her silhouette from the light shining beneath the door. I watched as she leaned in closer and looked through the peephole. She whispered a few choice adjectives just before revealing who was on the other side of the door. “It’s Sissy Post,” she grumbled. “This better not be a social call at this hour.”
“Let’s hope not!” My sister Shelby, said in a croaky voice that sounded very much like a green tree frog. And of course, there was Sissy, a former classmate and known drama queen.
Riley opened the door causing the bright light from the hallway to flood inside our room like rays of sunshine. I immediately sought the safety of darkness by rolling over to face the corner to avoid the drama I knew was about to begin.
“I need your help,” I heard Sissy spat out in a state of panic. “I have a dead body in my room and my jewelry’s missing.”
That was my cue. I sprung out of bed so fast, you would have thought the room was on fire. I turned on the bright lamp and squinted trying to focus on Sissy who stared at my head, no doubt sticking up every which way. Shelby, our resident nurse was right next to me.
“Did you check her pulse?” Shelby asked. She’s the more serious one of the McKall clan.
“Of course not,” Sissy spat out. “I wasn’t gonna touch no dead body.”
“Then how do you know she’s dead?” Shelby never did have patience for Sissy.
“I kicked her foot and she didn’t move.” Sissy shuddered as she continued. “She’s dead all right. Stone cold. Didn’t budge an inch except to jerk when I kicked her. I think she works here because it looks like she’s dressed in a maid’s uniform.” Sissy stopped talking and stared at Riley. “What’s up with the shaved head?”
Riley simply blinked, turned on her heels and cut a path back to bed. She was used to people making comments about her Goth-like haircut with the shaved sides. The top hair, long and swept over the shaved side was jet black and aqua—a complimentary shade to our skin tone.
Sissy followed Riley with her eyes, her mouth slightly agape. After a few minutes of gawking, she asked me as she nodded toward Riley. “What happened to her hair?” she asked again. “You guys sure don’t look like the triplets I remember—especially that one.” She pointed to Riley.
“Yeah, and especially not at five in the morning,” Riley called out in a snarky voice. “And what’s with that get up you’re wearing?” Riley snapped back in retaliation before pulling the covers up close to her chin. “Were you headed to a dance recital?” she mumbled out as she turned to face the corner.
“Touché,” Sissy said.
Now aware of her outfit, I had to admit, Sissy did look pretty funny once I was able to get a good look at her. I tried to maintain decorum while checking her out and watched her rush to the full length mirror on the wall.
“You don’t like my outfit?” she asked while turning to and fro, only stopping to shove a piece of hair that had fallen out of her Aunt Jemima bandanna. Wearing a long sleeved see-through white lacy tank top with a yellow and black Polka dotted halter peeking through, her ruffled tulle skirt did resemble a tutu. What made her look twice as bad were the multi-colored striped leotards that spiraled around her stick-like legs that looked just like a “barber pole”. I bit down on my lips to keep from laughing.
“I think I look pretty darn good for someone in her mid-twenties,” she said, “except for these darn wrinkles on my blouse.” Her hands pressed down the fabric.
I remembered Sissy had ADHD. “Okay, focus Sissy,” I said in an effort to bring the conversation back on point. “Did you call the police?”
She snapped her head back in my direction. “Of course I called them, and I told that bozo at the front desk too. No one has done a thing yet.”
“How long ago did you call?”
“Oh, maybe ten minutes,” she said checking her watch.
“For God’s sake, Sissy. Give them a chance to get here,” I muttered. “It’s the wee hours of the morning.”
“Well, they should be moving faster.” I knew there was no convincing her, so I gave up. “And frankly, that’s why I came to you guys. You McKall sisters still in law enforcement?”
“No, we’ve never been in law enforcement,” I responded. “I’m an educator for the hearing impaired; Shelby’s a nurse, and Riley’s a graphic artist.” I shrugged. “I do write mysteries on the side though, but—” I don’t know why I told her that. Of course I knew. I wanted to know if she’d purchased any of my books but she was so focused on Riley’s hair that what I said seemed to go right over her head.
“Riley’s profession suits her look,” Sissy said. She released a huff then slapped her hand against her thigh. “Well, shoot, I thought you guys were true law enforcement people.” She started to walk toward the door, then stopped and turned back to look at me. “Although, I guess being a mystery writer works okay too. You still have to solve the crime at the end,” right?” I nodded. “I mean, you can’t leave your readers hanging, right?” She twisted her mouth, “But didn’t you guys work with the local cops when you were in school?”
“Yes. But we did that in the background, so to speak. They weren’t very happy about us butting our noses into their business.”
She snapped her fingers together. “Yeah, that’s right. I do remember that. You gals and Harry Boyle investigating.” She waggled her brows. “You know, he’s a detective now here on our very own Cape May force.”
“No, I didn’t know that. Well good for him.”
She gave me a cut-eye glance. “I figured you probably already knew that because of your connection with one another. You know what I mean?” she gave me the hard wink.
“No. I don’t.”
“C’mon,” she gave me a playful shove; “you can’t fool ole Sissy here. I knew you guys had that boyfriend-girlfriend thing going on.”
“Good grief, no!” I said, my pulse quickening at the accusation. “And don’t you be spreading that rumor around this weekend. We were never in a relationship,” I shot back. “Harry only hung out with us when we were working the cases. There was no romance.” I mean, seriously, Harry was a nice kid and all, but he was an unkempt, freckled face, fat kid who tagged along because no one else would bother with him, and my mother insisted.
Her smirk told me she wasn’t buying it. “Hey, it wasn’t just me who thought that. Everybody did, and it wasn’t because of anything I ever said.” She squinted her eyes at me like she was trying to focus, and pointed a freshly manicured finger at me, “Wasn’t it you guys that found the culprit who stole the answers to the Exit Exam at East Cape May High before graduation?” She didn’t wait for me to respond. “Yeah, I remember that. You weren’t the most popular gals in our class for figuring that one out.”
“I’m sure we weren’t,” I said, “but it wasn’t fair to those of us who studied our butts off to get good grades.” I could feel the heat building inside my chest from her comment. I’d forgotten how irritating she could be.
It was obvious that Shelby, the normally quiet one, was getting a bit fried around the edges when her facial expression turned from serious irritated in a matter of seconds.
“First of all,” she fired back, “if you’re looking for our help, bringing up ancient history isn’t going to win you any points.”
Sissy seemed surprised by Shelby’s defensiveness. “Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you. Heck, I just didn’t know if you were aware of how the class felt after you ruined it for them.”
“Right. Like we couldn’t tell when the kids who really needed those answers to graduate whispered to each other when we passed by,” Riley snarked from bed. I resigned myself that rebuttals toward Sissy were useless. I forced myself to relax and hoped seeing my calmness would help Shelby. “But we’ve never solved any murders,” I added to change the subject.
“Yeah, but like I said, you have in your own mysteries. Right?”
“Well, that’s good enough for me. I’m curious to know if that dead broad is wearing my jewelry.” Sissy started walking toward the door.
“Listen, Sissy,” I said, “I think you’d better wait for the police to arrive. I have no doubt the local police are already chewing their nails knowing we’re in town and groaning and taking cover.” I brushed a hair from my eyes. “And since we’re talking rumors, I’m surprised you never heard they didn’t like us butting in.” Shelby glared at her with crossed arms and nodded her head in agreement with everything I was saying. Riley raised her head slightly, gave a disgusted wave of her hand, and pulled the covers up over her head.
Sissy became distracted when Riley snuggled under the covers one more time. Sissy snapped her fingers together. “Well, shoot. I thought you guys were working for the law.” I guess she’d forgotten she’d just told us she thought I was perfect for figuring out her dilemma. “I’m sorry I bothered you.” She gave me a toothy grin as she stood and twirled around to head for the door, “but it was real nice to see you again.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Don’t be so hasty.” Now that she’d gotten our attention, I wasn’t about to let her out of my sight.
Shelby, who’d dressed in a matter of seconds, was headed for the door. “Give me the key to your room. I want to check for a pulse. That poor woman could be in there struggling to breathe.”
“Nah,” Sissy said handing over the key, “I told ya. She’s deader than a door nail.”
Shelby shook her head in disgust and shut the door to our room.
“We should go over some questions the cops are going to ask you,” I said. “You’d better sit down. Besides, now that we’re wide awake it wouldn’t be very nice for us to turn our backs on you.”
“I’m not awake,” Riley mumbled with one eye peeking out of the corner of the covers.
“Oh, yes, you are.” I said firmly so she’d get out of bed. Hearing the urgency in my voice, she begrudgingly sat up and huffed out a heavy sigh. I grabbed my jeans off the chair and slipped them on pulling the zipper into place, then shoved my arms into my “Uncle Bill’s Pancake House tee-shirt,” I’d pulled out from the dresser drawer.
“Where’s your room,” Shelby said poking her head back inside the door again.
Sissy pointed toward the wall. “I’m right next to ya.”
“Okay.” Sissy shrugged and began to follow Shelby out.
“Sissy, have a seat and let Shelby do what she does best. We need to prepare you for questioning.” I reached for the hotel’s pad and pen ready to take notes. “Okay, take me through everything that happened from the time you arrived until you saw the dead body.”
“Okay. I arrived around noon yesterday, dropped my bags off in my room and headed out to meet Bella Pagano afterward. You remember her, don’t you?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, of course.”
“Anyway, I never saw the corpse until this morning when I walked to the bathroom. And I probably would’ve missed it then too, but that darn closet door was open. That drives me crazy, so I went to close it. You know how these old places are? They keep all this ancient stuff for authenticity. I guess whoever shoved her in there hadn’t counted on the door popping back open.” Sissy stopped talking and leaned forward grabbing her head and moaned in pain. “Man, I have a freakin’ headache the size of New York. Do you have any aspirin?” I reached for my handbag, dug inside and pulled out a plastic container and handed it to her. She opened the lid and dropped the pills into her hand, tossed her head back and swallowed them without water.
“Don’t you want any water?”
“No. I’m good.”
“Okay, go on.”
Sissy shrugged. “So like I said, I was on my way to the bathroom when I first noticed my suitcase was open. My mind was fuzzy, you know, like right now with all I had to drink, and so it didn’t occur to me right away that I hadn’t left my suitcase opened. When it finally sunk in, the first thing I did was to look for my jewelry pouch and it was gone.” Closing her eyes, Sissy grabbed her head again and rocked back and forth.
“Sissy, this is important, so stop fooling around and focus!”
She blinked her eyes open. “Okay, okay. My head feels like somebody sat on it.”
“How long ago was it that you noticed the body?”
“Oh, I guess about three-quarters of an hour ago.” She continued as if anticipating my next question. “Like I said, after I dropped off my luggage, I turned on my heels and didn’t return to my room until the wee hours of the morning.” Sissy’s face cracked into a wide grin, obviously unaffected by the fact that she’d found a dead body in her room. “Bella and I were having so much fun I never realized how late it was until I started yawning.” She massaged her temples with her fingers.
“When you came home last night, did you pass anyone in the halls?” Katie asked.
“Not that I remember . . . but I was pretty snockered.”
“Did you notice anything odd about the door when you used your key to enter?”
“You mean, like marks that someone had broken in?”
“Nothing that stands out.”
“Okay. Is your room set up like this one?” I asked. She looked around and nodded. “The only difference is your closet door opens up to the left.”
“And you didn’t see the body when you got back to the room last night and got ready for bed?”
“Nope. I just dropped down on top of the bed, clothes and all.”
“The closet door wasn’t opened then?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t looking.” Sissy stood and walked to the door.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m gonna show you what I did. So pay attention cause I’m only doing this once.” When she reached the door, she turned around and headed towards me and literally dropped down onto my bed. “Oww,” she said, cradling her head in her hands. She closed her eyes for a second. “See what I mean? You didn’t see me move my head at all, did ya?”
I snickered. The woman was a drama queen to the max. “No. I’m just making sure you didn’t unconsciously see it and put it out of your mind. I’m trying to get a sense of how long the woman was dead.”
“Why does that matter? The woman is dead.”
“Because you’re going to have to prove you weren’t the one to kill her.”