I walked along the small pathway that cut through the park, scanning the landscape. Much the same groups of people were present today as they had been on my last visit. The chess players had been right—this was a neighborhood park filled with regulars. I wondered if Kate had been close with any of them. It sounded like she'd been a regular here too, walking her dog.
From her letters, Kate had clearly been the vocal type when it came to her grievances. I wondered if maybe she'd shared her thoughts with anyone. I mentally wished she'd been a bit more specific in her complaint. "Criminal" was pretty broad. She could have meant anything from drug deals to littering.
My eyes rested on the group of men and women in spandex and shoes with separate toe shapes, gathering under a large shade tree for yoga class. The teacher hadn't arrived yet, but I remembered her to be about the same age as Kate had been. Had they known each other? I wondered. If nothing else, Yoga Lady spent a good deal of time in the park it seemed and might have seen the same sort of activity Kate had. It was at least worth a conversation.
I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Irene's number. "Want to meet me for yoga class?"
There was a beat of silence. "You don't practice yoga."
"I've been meaning to start," I said. "And a nice outdoor class under a bright blue sky seems like the perfect time."
I heard Irene gasp. "You're at the park! Are you investigating without me? Don't do a thing! I'll be right there." She disconnected.
I sat on an empty bench and didn't do a thing. Except keep an eye on the skateboarders, the mothers and their children, and the chess club, and the small group gathering in the grass off to my right, holding yoga gear and checking their watches. With any luck, the next class wouldn't start until Irene and I were ready to join it. Nobody seemed to notice me, which was just what I'd figured would happen. Sitting on a bench in a park, you became wallpaper.
A little while later, a Prius rolled down the street and into an empty spot at the curb. Irene jumped out, dressed in leggings and an oversized T-shirt knotted at the waist, carrying a pink rolled-up mat and a blue block. She rushed over to me. "Am I late? Did it start yet?"
I shook my head. "What do you have there?"
"These?" She glanced down. "I borrowed these from my neighbor. I wanted to look like a real yogi."
Pretty sure it took more than some rubber and Styrofoam to do that.
Irene sat down. "Since we have a few minutes, I wanted to tell you I did a little research last night. You'll be happy to know Dr. Watson isn't married."
Was I happy to know that? I wasn't sure. As easily as I could picture him chasing down the mystery intruder, I could picture him reaching past me to open my door and leave. While I stood there with my lips puckered like a fish. Even the memory was capable of embarrassing me. I felt my cheeks turning pink thinking about it.
Irene looked at me. "You're blushing."
"I am not," I said. "I'm just flushed with good health."
She narrowed her eyes. "What happened between you two?"
"Nothing," I said. "We had a perfectly lovely dinner. Thanks for the dress and the shoes, by the way. He thought they looked nice."
"That's not important," I told her. Not anymore. It hardly bothered me at all. First impressions weren't that important, were they? "He told me he found something." I shared Watson's description of the ginger lily under Kate's nails.
"Any idea where it's from?" she asked.
I shook my head. "I had planned to look through the house after dinner, but the night got a lot more interesting after we got here."
"Wait, what?" Irene practically vibrated with excitement. "We? He came back here with you?"
"It wasn't like that," I said. "He wanted to help me look for the source of the stuff under Kate's nails, so he followed me here. And it's a good thing he did. He wound up chasing off someone who had broken into the house."
Her mouth fell open. "What? Someone broke in? Who was it? Did they steal anything?"
"I don't think so. It's hard to tell for sure."
"So did he spend the night?" she asked. "You know, to keep an eye on your body?"
"No," I said, "he did not spend the night. But you should've seen him. He chased that guy right out into the backyard. He would've followed him over the fence, except I stopped him."
"Really?" She thought about that. "I can't see it from him."
That was the problem. I could, and very well. I had.
"You didn't stay here alone last night, did you?" she asked.
I shook my head. "I went back to my apartment. Dr. Watson followed me there too. He met 2B. It was humiliating."
"Why?" she asked. "Was he naked?"
I rolled my eyes. "You're missing the point. I live in a dive. It looks bad. It smells bad. Half the people who live there are nuts."
"I don't know the other half," I said.
She grinned. "How'd you manage to get to the park so early after a night like that?"
I glanced over at the skateboarders. "I wanted to talk to them. And I did. I talked to a real piece of work named Rabid, who told me Kate hassled him all the time and her dog made him break his finger."
"Is that right?" Irene was quiet for a moment. "Doesn't sound like this Rabid liked Kate very much, does it."
He wasn't the only one. I hadn't found anyone who'd spoken well of her yet.
She squinted toward the skateboarders. "Which one is Rabid?"
"The one with the broken finger."
She looked harder. "Four of them have broken fingers."
She was right. I'd been so focused on Rabid, I hadn't noticed that before.
"He's the one who's trying to ride his skateboard along the railing."
"Oh. Him." Irene watched him for a second. "He's not very bright, is he? But he is pretty big."
My thought exactly.
"Oh look." Irene stood. "There's our teacher. Get a load of her."
I turned and got a load. The yoga teacher was channeling her Haight-Ashbury days. She had two gray braids hanging down to her waist, a bandanna wrapped around her head, a tie-dyed T-shirt with a giant peace sign on it, orange leggings that bagged around her knobby seventy-something knees, and Birkenstocks, which she kicked off when she reached her students. She paused for a moment, and I could see her toes curling and uncurling into the grass while her eyes closed in bliss.
"Oh boy," Irene said, watching her. "She's bonding with dirt. You sure you want to do this? We could just talk to her after class. We could have a pizza while we wait. That sounds good, right?"
It did, actually. But I had a plan.
"We'll get a pizza after," I promised.
Irene sighed. "If we must, we must. We'd better join up, then."
"Stand in the back," I said. "I don't want them to know we're newbies."
"How hard can it be? They don't even breathe hard. I'm sure we'll be old pros in no time."
Fifteen minutes later, no time had taken on new meaning. Such as When is this torture going to end?
"And now push up into Adho Mukha Svanasana," the yoga lady called out, "or Downward Facing Dog."
"I can't do this anymore," Irene whispered.
I frowned at her. "Shh." I wasn't sure I could do it either, but I was determined to see it through. Besides, I could practically feel my chakras opening up. Either that, or I'd pulled a muscle.
The class, which had been on their bellies, lifted as one with their rear ends in the air, supported equally by both their feet and hands. The teacher circulated among us, making minute adjustments to hips and heads. "This pose stretches the spine and brings heat to the body," she assured us. "It's also quite soothing."
"Soothing?" Irene repeated in a whisper. "It's about as soothing as a cracked rib. Which I think I might have."
"Breathe," the yoga lady admonished the group. "Hold for two more nice deep breaths. And now slowly walk the feet forward toward the hands and roll up one vertebra at a time into Tadasana, or mountain pose."
"Finally." Irene blew out a breath. "A pose I can do. Standing."
"This asana is much more than just standing," the yoga lady said.
Irene rolled her eyes. "Of course it is. Is nothing what it seems to be in her universe?"
"And slowly bend forward into Uttanasana or forward head to knees pose." She rolled forward smoothly until her nose was nestled onto her kneecaps.
Irene threw up her hands. "That's it for me. I can't do it anymore. My body doesn't bend like hers."
"It doesn't matter if you can't touch your head to your knees," the teacher said, only her voice was muffled since her head was buried between her knees. "You can rest your hands on your block."
"Now she tells us." Irene leaned forward, hands on her knees, like a runner at the end of a race. "That's better."
I saw the yoga teacher glance over at us. "That's right," she called out. "You don't want to strain. Listen to your body."
Irene rolled her head sideways to look at me. "If I'd listened to my body, I'd be at Starbucks right now."
Mercifully, we only had to endure another few minutes before we wound up the class by lying on our backs and listening to the teacher drone on about the blueness of the sky and the warmth of the breeze and the oneness of the universe. I saw Irene fidgeting throughout, and I couldn't help but wonder how relaxed you could be when you were worried about dirt getting in your hair or insects crawling into your ears. Maybe I hadn't thought this through well enough. Everyone who was using a mat was lying there like frat boys the morning after a keg party. Except for Irene. She kept glancing over at the teacher and then at her watch. Irene was a busy woman. She didn't have time to lie on the ground. I thought maybe the spirit of yoga was lost on Irene.
"Namaste," the teacher said finally, and the group broke up and scattered in every direction. She stayed where she was, cross-legged on her mat, which was the opportunity I needed. I brushed myself off and hurried across the grass to her with Irene trailing, her mat dragging along the ground behind her like a dispirited train.
The teacher didn't notice me. Her eyes were shut again, her hands resting on her knees, a small beatific smile on her face.
I glanced at Irene. She gave me an encouraging little push.
I stepped closer and cleared my throat. "Excuse me. Could I talk to you for a minute?"
The yoga lady's eyes fluttered open. "There are no such things as minutes."
"Then I need to have a word with the people at TAG Heuer," Irene muttered.
I ignored her. "I enjoyed the class," I said. Better than telling her I was heading straight to the nearest drugstore to pick up a tube of muscle ointment. "My name's Marty."
"Sunshine Moonbeam," she told me.
I blinked. "I'm sorry?"
"I exist on this earthly plane as Sunshine Moonbeam." She smiled at me. "How can I help you, child? I can see your Venus chakra is clouded."
That wasn't all that was clouded. "Have you been holding classes here in the park for a long…for a while?" I asked.
"For a few months. When the weather is nice," she said. "But you didn't come here to discuss yoga."
I drew back a little. "I didn't?"
She shook her head. "You came to discuss the object of your desire."
"I don't have an object of my desire," I said firmly. "But you're right—I didn't come here to discuss yoga. I wanted to ask you if you know a woman named Kate Quigley."
Sunshine Moonbeam's eyes closed again. She rocked slightly back and forth. "I once knew a woman who used the Kate label," she said finally. "She was a troubled soul."
"Troubled how?" Irene cut in.
Sunshine's eyes opened again and went straight to me. "You do have an object of your desire. You're deceiving yourself."
"Yeah, she does that," Irene said. "About Kate. Did you talk to her? Did she tell you what she was troubled about?"
More swaying back and forth. "My child, every soul has occasions of unrest."
I couldn't agree more. I was having one at that moment.
Irene stepped closer. "We were looking for something a little more specific. Had something happened to Kate? Had someone threatened her?"
"We are but the collection of our experiences," Sunshine said. "And our perception of those experiences."
"Was Kate perceiving an experience of being in danger?" I asked.
Sunshine tipped her head forward. "Perhaps he can speak to your inquiry."
I turned to see Albert, the irritable chess player I'd dubbed Mr. Happy, glowering at a chessboard, his head propped on his fist, while Louis Chu sat across the table, waiting on the next move. Louis spotted me watching and gave me a happy wave. I gave him a nod in return.
"Which he?" I asked Sunshine.
"The one with the challenged Mercury chakra," she said.
"In English," Irene snapped.
"Guy with the green plaid shirt," Sunshine said.
Albert. Who hadn't said a word when we'd questioned him about Kate. Who'd made it very clear that he'd just wanted us to go away. Interesting. If I'd killed someone, I'd feel the same way.
"Had you seen the two of them talking?" Irene asked.
"They were communicating," Sunshine said. "Whether it was through words, I cannot say. There are many ways to communicate."
True. I supposed you could call choking someone to death with their own braids a means of communication.
Irene looked at me. "We should talk to him."
"I agree." I checked my watch. "But I can't do it right now. I'm due at the coffee bar."
"You're not due anywhere but where you are," Sunshine said. "Time is an illusion."
"My paycheck will be an illusion if I don't show up for work," I told her.
Irene grinned. "I've got a meeting in an hour anyway. We'll catch him another time. Seems like he's a regular." She looked at Sunshine. "Thanks for the information."
"I exist to serve humanity," Sunshine said.
"Yeah, you and me both," Irene told her.
* * *
I was busy at the espresso machine when I heard a familiar voice behind me. "Could I order a small chai tea to go, please?"
My hand froze on the dial. I knew that voice. Of all the coffee bars in all the universities in California, he had to walk into mine. Guess the universe hadn't humiliated me enough by exposing Watson to the Repository of Gloom that I called home.
I turned slowly, and sure enough, there he was on the other side of the counter.
He frowned when he recognized me. "Miss Hudson?"
I managed to stifle a sheepish grin. He looked fabulous in a dressed-for-success navy suit and pink tie. So he was secure enough in his masculinity to wear pink. Good to know. His hair was adorably rumpled from the wind. It looked good on him. I had to admit it, the man had style.
"One small chai tea coming up," I said cheerfully.
"I don't understand," he said. "What are you doing here?"
Bad enough he'd found me out. Did he have to ply me with a barrage of questions too?
I needed a small cup. And water. And chai tea. That was it—focus on the minutiae, and don't even think about the fact I was supposed to be somewhere else, doing something else, for someone else.
Where was Pam when I needed her? Pam would fall all over Dr. Watson. He'd be floss worthy for sure. Probably she already had her eye on him and she'd be out any minute to make her move.
I forced a smile. "I do this part-time, a few days a week. To supplement the PI work." I shrugged. "Guess there aren't enough husbands to follow around with a telephoto lens."
He didn't crack a smile. So we were back to that Dr. Watson again.
"What are you doing here?" I asked him.
"I was meeting with a colleague."
I raised an eyebrow in question.
I sucked in a breath. The forensic pathology guest lecturer. "This wouldn't happen to have anything to do with my aunt's death, would it?"
Watson's turn to raise an eyebrow at me. "You're familiar with Dr. Osterman's work, then?"
"You're avoiding the question," I countered.
Watson grinned. "Touché. Alright, as a matter of fact, yes, it does."
I opened my mouth to ask more when, right on cue, Pam showed up at my elbow. "You okay here, Marty? Want me to take over?" She showed Dr. Watson her teeth all the way to the molars. "Hello there. Have you been helped?"
I frowned. She didn't have to be that helpful. "Why don't you see if that man over in the corner needs a refill?" I mumbled to her. "He's your type, isn't he?"
Pam glanced over and wrinkled her nose. "He's got to be forty."
"I bet he's rich," I said.
She frowned. "He's wearing Converse."
I glanced at Watson. He was watching us with that little crooked grin.
"He's probably a tech millionaire," I told her. "You know they dress down."
She brightened. "Yeah. Book by its cover, right? Thanks, Marty." She adjusted her sweater, fluffed her hair, gave Watson one last beaming smile, and rushed off to see about her newest prospect.
"I feel like maybe I should be thanking you," Watson told me.
I smiled. "I owed you one after last night." A thought occurred to me. "Are you okay after last night?"
He pulled a napkin from the dispenser. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"No reason," I said. "I've just heard that weekend warriors tend to get hurt pretty easily when they overexert themselves."
A ghost of a grin flitted across his features. "Do I look like a weekend warrior to you, Miss Hudson?"
If I told him what I thought he looked like, he'd have me arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior.
"I just meant," I began, and then I stopped because why bother? He was clearly a look-but-don't-touch kind of guy. "No insult intended," I mumbled.
"None taken." He took the cup of tea from me but lingered at the counter. "Did you have a chance to speak with Mr. Holmes?"
"Not yet," I said. "He's on a plane on his way back from Guadalajara."
He did a slow nod.
"It's in Mexico," I said.
"Oh," he said. "That one."
"He's due back around dinnertime," I said. "I'm supposed to bring him up to speed around seven tonight. If you tell me what you and Dr. Osterman were discussing I can let him know…" I trailed off, hoping he'd rise to the bait.
"I'd feel better discussing this directly with Mr. Holmes."
Of course he would.
"Why don't you give me his number," he said, "and I can call him directly?"
The thought came to me so quickly and naturally, it scared me a little. "I'm sorry. He's going to call me. I never know which phone he took with him, so I can't reach him."
"Oh yes," Watson said. "The business cards."
"That's right," I said brightly.
"If we were having dinner at seven," he said, "we would both be able to talk to him."
Dinner? At seven? Was he asking me out on a date? I didn't have anything to wear on another date so soon. Well, it wouldn't be another date. Our first dinner had been more like a business meeting, even if he had seen my apartment. Either way, I couldn't wear the Stella McCartney dress again. And I wouldn't wear the Jimmy Choos. I'd rather wear army boots than another pair of borrowed stilettoes.
Hot on the heels of weighing my fashion choices came a horrible thought. Watson wasn't asking me out to dinner. He was calling me on my phantom boss and his farcical burner phone–collection story. I couldn't let that happen. Maybe Irene could round up someone with a deep and authoritative voice to make a simple phone call. It didn't even have to be a man. A testosterone-riddled female would be fine.
I sighed. Who was I kidding? That would never work. The man was a doctor. He knew a man from a woman. They covered that in year one of medical school.
"I'm sorry," I told him. "I can't make it tonight." I took the five-dollar bill he handed over and rang up his order, hoping he couldn't recognize in my expression the regret I was feeling. This was turning out to be a day of disappointments. "But can I ask you something?" I gave him his change. "Did you happen to find any dog hairs on Kate's clothing?"
He looked up from his wallet, startled. "As a matter of fact, I did. Why do you ask? You didn't mention your aunt leaving behind a dog."
"She didn't," I said. "Not exactly. I mean, she had a dog named Toby, but there's no sign of him now."
"Toby?" He blew on his tea and took a sip. "What kind of dog was he?"
"Basset hound," I said.
"Huh." He took another sip. "He must have gotten out when the first responders were on scene," he said. "They were probably so focused on their jobs that they didn't even notice him. I hope the poor thing is alright. Have you checked with the neighbors?"
"I plan to do that," I said. As soon as I revisited Mr. Happy at the park.
"It's possible someone picked him up somewhere and dropped him off at a shelter," Watson said. "You might want to give them a call too. Although my guess is, if he was microchipped, a shelter would have been in touch by now. They're good about checking that." He shook his head. "I hate to think of him wandering the streets alone and frightened. Let me know if there's anything I can do."
I thanked him and watched him leave, wondering how it was possible that he was single. A good-looking doctor who cared for animals, owned a pink tie, and was gallant enough to chase off intruders after paying for a fancy dinner. Sure, there was that whole works with dead people thing, but I was pretty sure I could get past that.
"He was hot," Pam said from behind me.
I turned. "Who?"
"Mr. Chai Tea." She mopped up a coffee spill on the counter. "Who is he?"
"He's the medical examiner."
"Oh, ick." She shuddered. "You're a little on the morbid side, you know that?"
That was a matter of perspective. To a medical examiner, I was a chat at the water cooler. "There was an oversight during my aunt Kate's autopsy," I said, "and I'm helping him straighten it out." I frowned. "He's helping me straighten it out."
"He can help me anytime," Pam said. "Except he'd have to get a different job. I'm not dating someone who smells like dead people."
"He doesn't smell like dead people," I told her. "And what about him?" I nodded at the man in the corner.
She shrugged. "I don't think that's gonna work out. He only looks like he's dead. He's got gray hairs."
"Those come from a life of experience," I told her.
"They're in his nose," she said.
"And probably his ears," she said. "I bet he's got gray hair all over. I can't date someone with gray hair." Her shoulders lifted and fell. "I'm afraid the man for me got away, and I'm destined to be alone the rest of my life."
"The man for you got away with the man for him," I reminded her, referencing her last boyfriend.
"Fate can be cruel that way." Her face brightened. "Oh look, there's that cute redheaded guy who's been stopping in lately. You don't mind if I take him, do you? He really looks like he could use a girlfriend."
He really looked like he could use a makeover. Droopy pants, clunky boots, baggy black hoodie. But when he smiled in Pam's direction, his whole face lit up, and so did hers. It was like Lady and the Tramp without the spaghetti.
I stepped away from the register. "He's all yours."
* * *
By the time I got back to the park after work, Mr. Happy and Louis Chu were nowhere in sight. No sign of Rabid either. An elderly couple strolled along the path arm in arm, leaning into each other and looking utterly content. I hoped to look that content someday, preferably with a man.
Some of the mothers were still there too, pushing their kids on the swings or catching them as they hurtled shrieking down the slide. I figured I might as well ask around about Toby. No point wasting the trip, especially because I had no intention of staying in the neighborhood longer than necessary. I wasn't up to spending another night in the house just yet. I'd never thought anything would make my apartment seem appealing, but breaking and entering and criminal trespass had done it.
I approached the mother closest to me. She was holding a juice box and watching her daughter bouncing up and down on the seesaw. She had the look of someone who'd been at the park far too long and seen far too many rounds on the seesaw.
I introduced myself and explained why I was there.
"A basset hound?" Her forehead creased in a frown. "What color is a basset hound?"
"I'm not quite sure." I thought for a moment about the basset hounds that might have crossed my path over the years. I came up empty. "Maybe brown or black?"
"Push harder, Chloe!" she yelled to her daughter. "It's supposed to go up and down!"
"I'll help her, Jackie," another mother called. She grabbed hold of the seesaw behind the girl and flung it up into the air. I thought little Chloe was going to go airborne when the other end slammed into the ground, but she clung to the handhold, cackling with glee. Or terror. It was a fine line sometimes.
"What size?" Jackie asked me.
I was stumped. "I don't think basset hounds are very big."
"So like teacup size?"
"I don't think they're very small, either," I said. "Sort of…dog sized."
"Dog sized," she repeated.
I did a palms-up shrug. "I don't know. I've never seen the dog."
"Chloe, do not stand up on the seesaw!" she yelled. She glanced my way. "Sorry. Motherhood."
"It's okay," I said. "She's adorable."
"She's a holy terror. She's been a holy terror since she was born. Thirty-six hours of labor that child put me through." She snorted. "Terrible twos, my—"
"About the dog," I cut in.
"Oh. Right. Sorry. So you don't know what size or color. Are you sure you're looking for a basset hound?"
I was starting to wonder.
She glanced over at a group of women clustered around the swings. "Terry, can you come over here for a sec?"
One of the women peeled off of the group and hurried over. She seemed slightly older than the others, with a few silvery hairs interwoven at the temples and a soft jawline and waistline.
Jackie made the introductions. "Marty's looking for a lost basset hound. Maybe. Have you seen one around?"
"What color?" Terry asked me.
She let me off the hook when she snapped her fingers. "I used to see an older woman walking a fat little dog here in the park. She had dyed blonde hair."
"That's the one," I said immediately. "What color was it?"
"The dog? Sort of tan and white," she said. "The woman would come over from down the street, I think. Is she a friend of yours?"
"My great-aunt," I said. "Have you seen that dog lately? He seems to have gotten out of the house somehow."
"Oh, that's a shame." Terry gnawed on a cuticle as she thought. "I'm sorry to say I haven't seen either one of them for quite a while now. In fact, my Broderick always looked for them, and he said the other day that he misses them. Broderick loves dogs, and your aunt would let him pet hers."
I swallowed a sigh. I hadn't expected this to be easy, but I'd had hope. Looked like I'd be knocking on doors and calling shelters after all. I couldn't stand the uncertainty of not knowing what had happened to Toby. I thanked them both for their time and decided to head back to my apartment to make a list of phone numbers for the local shelters. If I got lucky with the traffic, I could also grab something to eat and make it to a biology lecture before the day was totally wasted.