Back on March 3 I blogged about extracting short stories from paintings. I included two paintings of women, one dressed in classic detective garb leaning against a wall, the other lying down, smoke tendrils rising from her mouth. I made a promise to readers. I’d tease stories from the paintings. Here’s one of them, called Good, Old Dependable Dexter. The other, Beware of Smokin’ Hot Women, can be found on my Facebook author’s page: https://www.facebook.com/257163720993943/photos/a.313491875361127.73462.257163720993943/874419782601664/?type=1&theater.
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Sasha waited for me in front of the downtown office where she worked. Nothing unusual, right? Except the hands on the tower clock a block away said 1:00 a.m. and she hadn’t spoken to me in several months.
Always a playful dresser, Sasha on this cold winter night looked like the female version of Sherlock Holmes, complete with a man’s trench coat and a fedora. She leaned against the brick façade, hands in her pockets. A headlight beam illuminated her. She made no effort to escape the light. Thirty minutes earlier my cell phone rang as I lay in my bed, and when I answered, I heard her trembling voice.
“Please, I need your help. Come to where I work.”
She could have just easily said “come to where I’m bangin’ my boss.”
The fact she waited outside meant she’d just had a nasty breakup. The boss had probably decided the hot sex wasn’t worth wrecking his family life. Sasha liked to live on the edge. She didn’t want marriage, so the nasty-breakup explanation really didn’t make sense. If the wife had discovered the affair, Sasha would coolly look for another job. In her line of work – book editor – they were easy to come by. Men were even easier. Thirty years old, Sasha looked eighteen. Petite, smart and gorgeous as one of the heroines on the covers of the novels she edited, Sasha attracted men like a hummingbird to a bloom.
“I’m here,” I said, yawning. I don’t expect my sleep to be disturbed at 12:30 on a Thursday morning. I’d been perturbed, fearful that something had happened to one of my parents or a sibling. “This had better be good. You could have caught the train at the Lake Shore Station, just like always.”
Sasha touched my cheek. “I’m in trouble. Scary bad trouble. I need my best friend.”
Best friend and more. It had been a secret, though. Sasha loves secrets. It began innocently enough. Six friends enjoying adult Dungeons & Dragons at my condo. Always, she’d be the first to leave. One night, though, she settled snugly against a pillow on one corner of my couch as everyone else left. I poured wine for us and listened to her love-life travails. “I think we’ve both had a little too much wine,” I told her. “You can have my bed and I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“We can decide that later,” she said, putting down the wine. She scooted against me, turned my head toward her mouth and kissed me. So began our friends with benefits secret affair. It lasted two months and then she ended it. Her new public boyfriend lasted three months. She replaced him with her boss at Dragon Fire Publishing. Sasha’s hand rested on my cheek as I regarded her, looking impeccable in her Holmes attire outside the small publishing house.
“Your best friend? You haven’t talked to me in six months?” I slapped her hand from my cheek.
“I know. You’ve a right to hate me.” She glanced behind her, at the entrance to the publishing house. “Daniel’s dead inside. Stabbed.”
“Sweet Lord in Heaven, Sasha! What have you done?” I scanned the sidewalk and street in both directions. No one, not even a taxicab taking a drunk home. With Christmas four days in the past, the wreaths and garlands on the buildings and the strings of white lights above Eddie’s Diner’s sidewalk café already looked forlorn. Now they seemed sinister.
“My God! You think I killed him!” Her hands clenched at her side.
“I can’t believe you’ve been standing out here. People had to have seen you.”
She shook her head, grabbed her fedora to keep it from flying away. “I want them to see me. A murderess flees.”
Or calls up an old friend and waits for him on the sidewalk – just after she killed her lover. I castigated myself for doubting her. This elfin girl kill someone? I just couldn’t visualize it. “I want to see where he died. Then we’ll call the police.”
Sighing, she fished inside a coat pocket and emerged with keys. Her hand shook as she tried and failed to insert the Dragon Fire key into the keyhole. Resting my hand on her palm for a moment, I took the key and unlocked the front door.
Once inside, she punched in the code to disarm the alarm and led me past the receptionist desk to the stairs. The steps creaked as we made our way to the third floor. “We could have taken the elevator,” she said, weariness creeping into her voice. “I just didn’t want to get there too fast.”
At the third floor, she flicked on the hallway light. Tennis shoe prints, so faint I almost missed them, began just beyond the stairs. They became bloodier as we made our way through the corridor. I glanced at Sasha’s boots.
She snarled, “Damn you, Dexter! I know what you were thinking. No, I didn’t change out of my tennis shoes. Tennies don’t go with the outfit.” She laughed. “I sound like an airhead.”
The tracks were bloodiest at a closed door bearing the name plate: Daniel Morelli, Vice-President. “I see you were careful not to step on any of the shoe prints, Sasha.”
“But not as careful when I opened the door. Took my gloves off at the receptionist desk.” She retrieved her right-hand glove from her coat pocket, hesitated, stuffed it back in the pocket. “Going to leave my handprints. Nothing to hide. I came at 11:00 – just like always – to meet him and make love on the couch. He always leaves the door open, but this time it was closed. Didn’t think too much about it, though. Opened it.” She began to cry, wiped the back of her hand across her face. Sniffling, she continued, “He was on the floor.”
I kissed her cheek, tasted the saltiness of a tear she’d missed. “I hate asking this… did you check if he was dead?”
“Check? He was stabbed dozens of times. Someone was really mad at him. I just stood in the doorway and stared, then shut the door and called you.” She nuzzled against me, then stepped back. “Are you sure you want to see this?”
“I need to verify your story – for the questions the police will ask.” The door opened without squeaking. Daniel ran a well-oiled publishing house in more ways than one. The light from the hallway provided enough illumination to verify Sasha’s words. “I’ll call the police, explain why I’m here.” I reached into the pocket of my down jacket and dug out my IPhone 6.
“Watch it! You almost stepped on a footprint.”
I looked down. My shoe rested less than an inch from a bloody print. I jumped back; Sasha groaned a nervous laugh. I went to Google Search, got the police number and began dialing. “You’ve a habit of turning my life topsy-turvy, Sasha Volkov.”
“That’s why I called you. Good, old dependable Dexter.”