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My day started off at five in the morning with a body.
A body and a phone call, but not in that order. The phone call came first. I let the answering machine pick it up.
Kat Colorado Investigations.
Damn, I'd forgotten to turn the sound down.
Leave a message after the tone.
I pulled the pillow over my head.
I'll return your call.
They don't make down pillows like they used to. I heard the tone too.
"Oh, for goodness sakes, Katy, knock it off," Alma said crossly into the phone, "I know you're there, you're not fooling me." She paused. I tried to wake up. "Katy, you are there?''
I sighed and picked up the phone. "Yes. " Alma's voice broke a little. "Katy, the police are here." She pronounced it po-lice. I'm not a morning person but I woke up fast.
"They say Johnny's dead but that can't be, can it? It can't. He was fine just yesterday. Fine. I made him a corned beef on rye, dark rye, with mustard and a pickle just the way he likes it. So he can't be dead. Can he? No, of course he can't."
She sounded somewhat relieved. Alma is a firm believer in the power of good home-cooked food--which is okay as far as it goes; I just don't believe it goes that far. What I do believe in is police logic. For identifying a body I'd pick the police over corned beef anyday.
"He says he's a copper. I don't know. He's just wearing regular clothes. Polyester," she added scornfully. Alma is also a staunch believer in natural fibers. "Did you see his ID?"
"Alma, you let a strange man in in the middle of the night just because he said he was a cop?"
There was a long defensive silence. "It's not the middle of the night; it'smorning. Hey, sonny," her voice faded out a little, "let me see your ID." Her voice came back in. ''Okay, I saw it."
"Does he look like his picture?" A pause.
"Sonny, can I see that ID again?" A pause.
"Yes, he does. So what is he doing here?"
She asked me, not him. I don't try to figure Alma out anymore; I don't always answer her either. Anyway, he'd said why he was there, because of Johnny. My heart sank. Never mind the corned beef on rye, the dill pickles and mustard. Forget the polyester. A cop was a cop. And I was afraid. Afraid for Johnny and then for Alma. What the hell, afraid for me, too.
"Let me speak to the police officer, Alma." I pronounced police correctly.
There was a little crash as she put the phone down. Alma is eighty-one and figures she can get away with stuff like this. So far, unfortunately, she's been right. Where she gets words like po-lice and copper is beyond me. I think of her as living a sheltered life. Clearly that is a misconception on my part.
"Detective Barkowski here."
"Will you tell me what's going on, please?" I made it sound formal and dignified, as though I could control what was happening with words.
"Your name, ma'am?"
I bit back my impatience. "Kat Colorado."
"Your relationship to Mrs. Flaherty here?''
The impatience turned to nausea in the back of my throat. "She's my granddaughter, copper," I heard Alma say m the background.
"Johnny. Tell--me--about--Johnny." I carefully spaced out my sentence, still trying to control reality with words, still not getting it.
"We haven't determined anything yet, ma'am. There was a young man found dead in Mrs. Flaherty's car this morning around three. That's why we're here. She said she had loaned her car to her grandson."
"There was no ID on the body?"
Hope, like a bedraggled, soiled phoenix, struggled up through the nausea in my throat and hit me between the eyes. No ID. It needn't be Johnny. It could have been his roommate. My heart constricted again. Or the car might have been stolen. My heart eased. Stolen, that was best. I did not ask myself why anyone would bother to steal a 1973 turquoise Dodge Dart. I didn't ask because I knew the answer. They wouldn't.
''Detective, I'm coming over. You'll get a lot more out of Alma with me there."
"I hope so, ma'am." He sounded tired. It was a job to him, a job and a body. The phoenix stumbled.
"Ask Alma to make coffee and toast. She's at her best around food."
"Yes, ma'am. Could you get here as fast as possible?"
"Half an hour. I'm in Orangevale." It would take me that long to get from my country part of Orangevale to Angela's Victorian in midtown Sacramento.
"Give me the phone, sonny," Alma said imperiously.
"Katy, are you coming? You're going to clear up this nonsense, aren't you?"
"I'm coming, Alma, and yes, we'll figure it out. Give the detective coffee and a cinnamon roll or some thing. He's probably been up all night." I could almost hear her gears shift from outraged citizen to caretaker. We hung up on the comforting note of food.
Copyright ) 1990 by Karen Kijewski