“For the third time, we had the keys. Emaleen, gave, us, the, keys."
I rubbed my forehead. It felt fit to split. How long could these guys keep this up?
The big horse-faced Detective, Hegil Mesh, pointed to the shriveled gourd thing on the table. His head was so sunburned it look like a shiny apple.
"Smells like rat shit and cloves."
"And you've smelled that combination when? It's a karma key," and I pointed at it too. It did look disgusting. Black, wrinkled, and split on one side.
"Right. And you expect us to believe that?"
He flicked it with the tip of his pen. The key rolled over once, split side down.
"Karma Shmarma. It's shit and you know it."
"If you say so."
I shrugged so they would know that it didn't matter to me what they believed.
"Lew, tell us again how you met Emaleen Taza," Apple's partner drawled.
He looked a little like Richard Nixon, sounded like Huckleberry Hound and smelled like my uncle Zeke. A used odor like pipe tobacco and gin. A soldier of the American way. His badge read Detective Jake, I thought of him as Pie.
Together they managed to rumple more than my pants.
"I've been here two hours, and told you all of this all ready. I'm done."
My mood had gone south and just looking at the cops made my teeth want to bleed.
"Now," Pie drawled out the word like it had 3 syllables, “let's just go through it one more time. Just to make sure we have it right."
"That's what you said last time. And oh, let me think, the time before that too. You're taking notes for monkey’s sake. I mean, you're detectives. You had to have gone to college, right?"
They stared blankly at me. It made me nervous and I shifted in my seat. The wooden chair felt more like some kind of penance.
"Look, I'm freaking tired. Yeah, yeah, I know a guy’s dead. But that's not my problem." I drummed my fingers on the table and stared around the room. I let my dark hair fall into my eyes. I'd rehearsed the whole thing in the mirror, making sure my expressions were just right, almost bored, almost irritated, a little bit interested and totally big damn deal. My eyes, dish water gray, have always been hard to read. I knew they wouldn't give me away. They never do.
"As long as it takes. Now. How did you meet MS. Taza?"
Apple gave me the stink eye, his jaw iron, his lips a mean line. I sighed dramatically and leaned on the table, fixing my gaze on the shiniest part of Apple's head.
"Okay. For the fourth time. Me and Eustace were at the fair, at this palm reading booth. It was like six at night. We were just hanging around seeing if any of our friends were going to show up for the rides and concert. Emaleen had this sweet set of masks outside her tent. We were checking them out while we waited when she peeked through the flap. I thought she'd be some crone or ugly gypsy, but she was hot. Exotic type hot, so we talked to her. She had these big green eyes and two inch red nails. All this long black hair."
I moved my hands around to show how long.
"You or Eustace ever meet her before that night," Pie asked, his busy pen either writing down every word or doodling madly.
I'd put money on the former. He didn't seem the doodling type.
"No. I told you, no, we just met her the night of the carnival,“ I kept my voice even, a little bored.
"Go on," Apple said, matching my tone.
I let the room go silent as if the interruption had made me loose the flow.
"’Kay, let me see…"
"You were telling us about meeting ..."
“Yeah yeah, I know, for the fourth time even. Anyway, she comes on out of her tent and she's got her eyes on Euy. The girls all like him and she’s no different. She offered to read his palm for free. Euy might not be a rocket scientist but he can appreciate art. And Emaleen, she's art, top drawer."
I grinned and blew the hair out of my eyes.
"I'm thinking I'd like to check out what's under all that black silk and she looks at me like she knows I want to see her naked. Her gaze, those eyes, gave me the freaking creeps. A spooky kind of chick, that’s Emaleen. One of them girls you can't really say no to, but feel like you're standing on someone’s grave when you say yes."
The cops watched me like I was a bug in a bowl of soup.
"She was wearing spiky heels. I love when girls wear them. She's kind of skinny. I bet even I could put my hands round that chicks waist and I'm only five eight or so. But not flat, you know? She's got a nice rack."
I move my hands to form an hour glass. I grinned like we’re all buds.
"She's kind of Goth, but not really. A witchy woman."
I looked around the little dusty room, trying not to fidget but doing it anyway. The legs of my chair scraped on the cement floor as I shifted. I just couldn’t get comfortable. That was probably on purpose. My gaze went to the door, then at the cops. Door, cops, door, then I focused on Pie.
"And then what?" he asked, his pen scratch scratch scratching.
"You guys already know all this."
I let the tone sound annoyed, almost fed up. My stomach felt like I’d eaten onions on top of a vodka hang-over.
"Humor us," Pie said and grinned.
I'll never forget that sight. So many yellow teeth, like a shark that'd been eating egg yolk. I went back to looking at Apple's pate.
"And?" Apple growled.
He had one of those real deep voices, like the rumbling belly of the earth with a bad case of indigestion.
"She was flirting with Euy. He's a nice guy, don't want to hurt nobodies feelings, but he don't want to get hooked up with this chick either, so he starts tellin’ her bout this girl he thinks he loves, Lucinda Plursy. That she's like out o’ his class. That he'd do just about anything but kill his mama to get a girl like that."
I hadn’t meant to say it like that, but there it was.
"Maybe kill a perfect stranger?" Apple put in.
"Maybe your buddy Eustace ain't such a nice guy after all. Ya think?"
I rolled my eyes.
"You guys interested in the truth, or you want to play campfire?”
I put in just the right amount of sarcasm. I kept my cool. Emaleen said no matter what stick to the truth. They would never believe it and that was perfect.
“Campfire?” Pie stared at me hard.
“Yeah, making up stories,” I shrugged.
"Continue," Apple said, in his flat, just the facts tone.
“I don’t think I will. You already know all of it and nothin’ I say is gonna change it. Why I bet your new and improved version could get on the best seller list. Just make it up as you go along, since you’re in a creative frame of mind. According to you boys the Three Bears would go something like this.”
I put on my story telling voice.
“Some blond chick brakes into the harmless and charming Bear household. The bitch trashes the place, sabotages the kid’s stuff, slams some junk and goes on the nod till the Bears come home. They discover her and she takes out a 45 and blows them all away. She makes a clean get away until two brave and handsome cops track her down and put her behind bars for the rest of her worthless life.”
I grinned at them. It probably looked a little mad, which is how I felt.
“You don’t even have to put in anything about the porridge and broken chair."
"You're a real funny guy, Lew, now just tell us what really happened," Pie drawled.
"And ruin your creative moment here? I like fiction. It’s all I read."
I put on a miserable expression like they broke my heart.
“You’re both so good at plot and style. Why, you should get an agent, skip all this cop stuff, write a book."
"Just stick with the story you're telling," Pie said.
"It’s good enough for television."
"What is the point if you guys won't believe me? I'm wasting my time and yours. Don’t you have bad guys to throw down and kick, weeping widows to comfort, bribes to take?"
"Very funny, you're a laugh a minute, now go on."
Apple did his bad cop impression, his eyes flat, his voice like something between a semi-truck with engine trouble and a rock slide.
I went on--I'm not a total idiot.
"OK, don’t get wound-up. I just thought since I already told you and you have your own screwed idea of how things happened."
Apple banged the table with his fist.
“You’re going to spend the night in jail, dirt bag, if you don’t cooperate. You know what that means?"
“I’ve already told you all of this.”
I raised my voice to let them know I wasn’t intimidated, even though I was.
“I guess I have to arrest you for obstruction."
“I’m not obstructing,” I said indignantly. And I wasn’t.
“How about you just tell us the rest.”
Pie to the rescue.
I went on.
“Emaleen says she can make him a potion that'd make ol' Lucinda wash his clothes and like it. We laugh, but Eustace plays along with it and asks how much. Emaleen tells him, nothing-- just go get her book from this jerk who won't give it back."
"So that is when you went into Mr. Branhime's house and stole the book? What happened? Branhime walk in on you two and threaten to call the cops? So Eustace strangled him?"
Apple did that ‘you might as well confess’ stare cops have.
"You're too small to have done it. Branhime was a big guy, like your buddy Eustace." Pie pulled a pipe out of his pocket. He stuck it in his teeth and stared at his notes.
"You guys are just too smart for me. Maybe you can make up some evidence to go along with the novel you’re writing.”
I stopped talking since they seem to like their scenarios better then what I was tellin’ them. Weren’t cops supposed to have some sort of liedar or something? Couldn’t they tell I was telling them the truth?
Pie prodded, his teeth on the stem of the pipe making it more like, geew en.
"Na, that's all right, you guys got your little fantasy. Who am I to destroy perfect bull shit?"
I sighed and looked at the door again; my hair fell back into my face, as if on cue.
"Just go on, we won't interrupt again."
"Yeah, like that was going to happen."
"All righty then. We didn't steal the book. We didn't break in. The book had Emaleen’s name in it and we had keys." I pointed to the black thing lying on the table. It did look like some malignant turd. She said this guy had a security program called runes. That he'd coded it not to let her in but she'd made some karma keys that would let anyone else, ‘cept her, in. No sweat."
“I don’t believe in magic, Lew,” Apple said.
“You guys climb in a window?"
That was it. I felt like twisting both their noses.
"You boys arresting me? Cause If not I'm leavin’, ‘less you give me my smokes." Pie looked at his partner and Apple nodded. He tossed my pack of Generic menthol 100s on the table with a book of matches. I snatched them up and lit one.
I puffed a while and they watched me.
"What’d you get out of it?" Apple asked.
It sounded casual, but it wasn't.
"Well I said if she could put a spell on me so I could get rich, that'd be fine."
Pie tapped his pen on his notebook.
“I told you, he has a thing for Lucinda. Emeleen gave him a love potion."
"Lucinda, isn't she the lady who put up Eustace's bail? Used her house?" Apple asked. Like he didn't know.
"Don't you find that interesting?"
Pie put in, his teeth still clamped on the pipe stem.
"What about you Lew, did she put a money spell on you?"
"So you're rich?"
Pie raised his eyebrows.
"But you got the book," He pointed out.
I puffed some more. Made some smoke rings.
"How did you get in the house?" Pie asked.
There wasn't any place to flick my ashes so I used the floor.
"We went to the back door. Me and Euy both had our karma keys. I tried the knob and it was locked, so we just tapped the keys on the door and it swung open. Just like that. Swung right open."
I kind of laughed and even though I'd rehearsed, even though I'd been there and saw the door, my skin prickled with goose bumps.
"It was like a ghost or something opened it. We didn't break in, didn’t pick no lock, didn't break no window. It just opened, so we figured we was welcome."
I shivered. I couldn't help it. Your skin creeps so far and you gotta shake it back into place.
"What's wrong?" Pie’s stare was a living thing.
"You just shuttered. Why?"
"It's cold in here."
It wasn't, but what the hell. He nodded like he didn't believe it, but he didn't say anything, so I went on.
"We didn't break in. Ya knock on a door, it opens, ya go in. We was invited. I even called out, hello, hello, anyone home? Euy said, they got one of them automatic door openers. and that seemed reasonable. Made more sense than magic, right?"
"Then you didn't need her karma keys if someone opened the door. Who was it?" Pie asked.
The pipe made everything he said sound like he was grinning.
"No, it was one of them automatic door openers."
"Yeah, well Branhime didn’t have one of them,” Apple said, pointing his finger as if he was shooting the words at me.
"He lives alone, so if he didn't answer the door, you must have broken in. Unless he did open it and you forced your way in. He didn't like you guys intruding, He told you to leave, Things got rough, Eustace just meant to quiet the guy up, things got out of hand and Eustace accidentally killed him."
I put the cigarette in my mouth and clapped. The smoke stung my eyes but I ignored it and applauded, nice and slow. I took it out and dragged on it hard, blew the smoke out at the two cops.
"I'm impressed. You should go on one of them reality detective shows. Solve them crimes in half an hour or some shit."
"Let's just stick with the story," Pie said.
His pen kept scribbling, but his eyes never left my face.
"Look, I don't know, the door opened, we went in. You see any broken windows? Any jammed locks? We look like professional burglars to you? The fucking door opened. We went fucking in. It's that simple."
I crushed my smoke out on the table.
"Don't do that," Pie said.
Like it mattered, there were so many cigarette burns and gouges in the battered wooden surface, one more just made it art.
"Get an ashtray for him.”
Apple growled and left the room. He came back with a pop can. Such class. I dropped the butt in the can, ignoring the ashes.
"So the door opens and you guys just stroll on in. When you noticed there was no one around why didn't you just leave," Pie asked with his yellow, pipe chewing grin?
"The door opened, that meant come in. Since we thought it was one of them auto openers, we went looking for the guy. While we were doing that we found the library. So we searched for her book."
I lit another smoke, taking my time as if I wasn't itching to get out of there. There was a little bit of liquid in the bottom of the can and my match hissed when I dropped it in.
“What were you going to say to him when you found him?”
Apple rocked back on the rear legs of his chair, eyes cold as snow.
“I don’t know, we were going to ask him for her book. But we didn’t see him, so it doesn’t matter.”
I looked back just as frostily.
“All right, you’re in the house, no one is around. So tell us about getting the book."
Apple held my gaze. I finally looked back to his sunburn. It was easier.
"Yeah, the book, well we're in a library and this guy has more books than I've ever seen. He's got shelves and shelves of them."
"You're a real literary giant," Apple said, like he’d know one from a dung beetle.
"I say to Euy that it might take us a week to find the friggin’ book and he says then we best get to it and so we did." I had started talking real fast, I wanted out of the stifling little interrogation room. I was hungry, thirsty and had to use the john.
"We found the book, end of story. Now are we done?"
"No, we're not done. What kind of book was it? How did you know you had the right book," Pie asked slowly as if he were talking to a dense child?
I didn't let it bug me.
"I'm ready to go."
I dropped my cigarette in the pop can, only half smoked.
"You guys have an interesting afternoon."
I slid from my chair like I was heading out.
"A few more questions, Lew," Pie said, that nasty grin smeared over his face. Apple got up and stood by the door, giving me the impression he would bounce me a few times, like I was a basketball, should I decide to leave. I slid my chair back in and sat tight. I've never been much into sports.
"She said we'd know it cause it had gold writing on it. “The Tome of Worlds,” or something like that. Inside it was squares cut out, crooked ones, they was windows to other worlds. With it she could channel power from there to here. It sounded like bull, but she was hot like I said, and it was kind of fun to play along."
"Stealing is fun?" Apple asked from the door.
"It ain't stealing if the person who owns it asks you to get it. It was her book. It had her name in it. It's repossession," I said and lit another smoke.
"So what happened? How did you find the book? It must have taken a lot of time," Pie said, pen ever moving.
"Na, not really. It was real quick, like we was drawn to it or something. I took the top shelves, Euy took the bottom ones."
I puffed away, a picture of nonchalance.
"And?" Pie prodded.
"And who ever decorated your interrogation room had no sense of style or flare. No wonder you guys look so grim, look what you have to put up with."
I had to yank their chains just a little. I was pissed they'd dragged Euy in, when I knew he hadn’t done it.
"Funny, you're a regular comedy club special. Just answer the questions," Apple said with his hard-ass hat on.
"I bet you would feel much better with robin egg blue, or something teal."
"You are in the library searching for the book. Were you discovered?" Pie asked, ignoring my sound decorating advice.
Some people have no taste.
"No, we didn't see no one. When Euy bent down he saw a big book with gold writing. Just like Emaleen said. It was laying on its side behind some other books. He pulled it out from its hiding place, knocking over some junk. When he opened the cover he discovered the crude cut-out squares. ‘World windows, according to Emaleen’."
I could see the cops didn't believe. Of course they weren't going to. Emaleen had set it up that way. She’d warned me. That was the way she wanted it. My throat felt tight remembering her eyes, but when I went on I sounded normal enough.
"We took the book to her and she laughed like a girl. She hugged it, then hugged me and that felt cold and good, like lemonade. She hugged Euy and he said later, it was that way for him too."
I stretched, feigned a yawn.
"Then what?" Pie mumbled around his pipe.
"Emaleen went into some other room for half an hour or so. Then out she came with a little bottle. It was pink, like one of them sample shampoo deals. She gave it to Euy. He asked what to do with it and she told him to drink it. He did too, later at the bar. He tossed it down like a shot then chased it with a beer." I grinned. "He said it tasted like cough syrup."
"And?" Pie drew the word out in his Huckleberry drawl.
"Well, she had this doll with one of them bread ties around its neck."
"What kind of doll?" Apple rumbled.
"Just some homemade ugly thing. She twisted the bread tie real tight. Twist, twist, twist, till that dang doll’s head popped right off. A little fountain of red stuff bubbled out. I figured she was trying to creep us out, and well, it worked for me. Euy said he thought it was probably some of that fake blood stuff. She threw the thing in the trash and laughed some more. Then she turned them big green eyes on me and I nearly pissed my pants. She walked up to me and I couldn't look away from them eyes of hers. She knocked on my chest, drew some mojo pictures in the air in front of my face. I swear I seen sparkling lines following her fingers. Euy said he didn't see none though."
After a long silence Pie said, "Then what happened?"
"Where did you go?" Apple growled.
"To the bar."
“What time was that,” Pie wrote it down before I even said it?
“9 or maybe 9:10. And yeah, before you ask there was fifteen, sixteen people in there and they will tell you they seen us. Ain't that around the time that guy got killed? Can't argue with a room full of beer guzzlin’, pool shootin’, ball scratchin’, burger scarfin’, all American guys, now can ya?"
I tucked my smokes away and stared at the door.
"Aren't you worried Emaleen will put a curse on you for telling us this?” Apple said with mock earnestness.
"Na, she said you wouldn't believe me. But since Euy was with me and her, then we was at the bar, he couldn't have been over killing that Branhime guy."
"You can go for now," Pie said.
Maybe he saw I was leaving, dribble practice or not.
"Yeah, I know, don't leave town."
I left. The summer night was muggy but I was glad to be out of there. Thinking about Emaleen made me feel intrigued and weirded out at the same time. Euy did seem to be getting it on with Lucinda, but I sure wasn't rich. I had enough for a cold beer and a ride on the metro. After that, well...
As I stood on the corner waiting for my bus, a piece of paper blew right against my shoe. I bent down and picked it up. It was a lottery ticket. A 27 million dollar ticket. My stomach rolled over and my fingers felt numb. Emaleen, not just another pretty face, that was for sure.
For a split second I almost tossed it back on the ground. Some spooky thought about it being blood money and black magic crossed my mind, but common sense kicked in and I stashed it in my pocket. I had’t done nothin’ but get the book. That really was the truth. The bus came and I got on. Jax’s always had the tube on over the bar. I wanted to be in front of it when they read the numbers in an hour or so. I could stretch my beer out that long.
Atty Rose started her story telling career at nine, creating worlds to adventure in the backyard with her brother. From peanut butter monsters to Mike-The-Knife, she entertained all the kids in the neighborhood. At eleven she discovered the piano, which gave her another way of telling stories. She wrote many songs and even had her own band for a while.
One Christmas she received an electric typewriter, and wrote her first novel “Ticket To Hell”, in a mad rush right there at her kitchen table. Since it was typed in print and Atty is blind, she stashed it away until she could hire a reader to help with corrections. It’s still moldering some place. because of that very issue, she inadvertently wrapped her grandma's china in her second novel, The Witch And The Jazza. She thinks that one is in the garage somewhere.
She stopped writing for many years, raised four sons, a few dogs, half a dozen cats--including strays--and three rats and a rabbit.
Once computers started to talk, Atty discovered MUDS and role-playing games. Inspired by building grids and creating characters she made her own RPG and ran it for several years. This inspired her third novel, "The Sundering", which she is currently working on.
She lives in Omaha Nebraska with her youngest son Blake, their tarantula Azriella and their bearded dragon Simon.
“The Statement” was inspired by a 24 hour contest. It was such a blast that she decided everyone should experience this magical frenzy, so her and a couple of friends invented Creative Rush, a place to experience such happy madness. It will be coming to your neighborhood soon!