As they walked past manicured lawns and sparkling fountains, Ralf tried not to grin. Jessica gazed at the building and asked him again, “Are you winding me up, Boss?”
When Ralf had mentioned that he was paying a visit to the Wangshafts for his monthly catch-up, Jessica had begged to be allowed to come with. Ralf was reluctant for a few reasons, not least because Chase hadn’t shown up for work again and Jessica wouldn’t stop theorising about what might have happened to the wayward deputy.
But, arguing was so not Ralf’s style and he’d decided that putting up with some nattering could work in his favour; Jessica could drive them back, permitting Ralf to indulge in a fine whiskey, if he was offered one. Plus, now she was showing an interest in those mispers, getting her away from her desk would delay the hundred and one questions she’d inevitably have.
“No, I’m not winding you up, Jess. Welcome to Wangshaft Manor.”
The girl shook her head. “This is where the Wangshafts live?” she asked, still scanning around. “The Wangshafts? This is the home of the most notorious family the area has ever seen? The guys who run that questionable psychiatric unit over in Windenburg and who own about half of all the real estate there?”
“About three-quarters of it and yes. Not what you were expecting?” Ralf asked, amused.
“It was beige, up until about twenty years ago, when Wilbur married Gloria, his third wife. The woman certainly has a colour preference,” Ralf said, walking up the path with Jessica close behind. The girl had been gawping since they’d entered the secure gates at the perimeter of the estate; he hoped she wouldn’t show him up too much. Although if he knew the Wangshafts, she probably wouldn’t even be allowed in the house.
Ralf had barely lifted his hand to knock when the door was flung open by a heavily-perfumed woman with perfectly coiffed silver hair.
“Officer Widdlefinkle,” she purred. “Has it been a month already—” she cut herself off, barely even acknowledging Jessica, but wearing a silent question on her face.
“Gloria, my newest recruit. Jessica Spoon,” Ralf offered uneasily to the stony-faced woman, who still hadn’t looked directly at Jessica. Ralf lowered his voice and said through gritted teeth. “She can wait in the car, if you prefer, ma’am.”
Jessica frowned at this. She didn’t come all this way to wait in the car, like a child. She stepped forward and extended her hand to the frosty woman. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Wangshaft.”
Gloria backed away. She glanced at Jessica’s hand, then back at her face like both were smeared with faeces.
But to Ralf’s surprise, she led them both into the house.
“So, anyway, after the whole mink farm misunderstanding, I had to leave the animal rights campaign group. I was sort of at a loose end and decided to move back home to Willow Creek and pursue a career in policing and now, here I am,” Jessica explained, ending her very long-winded answer to Gloria’s question about who she was.
Gloria hadn’t even pretended to be interested, twiddling with her wedding ring and uttering the words ‘please watcher; strike her down’ a few times under her breath, but Jessica couldn’t bear uncomfortable silence, so continued her story, unperturbed.
Gloria didn’t ask Jessica any further questions. Not that Jessica expected her to. Gloria reminded her of all the mean girls at school; polite with purpose. They would compliment her hand-knitted dresses and ask where she got them, then after she’d let them copy her homework, they wouldn’t talk to her again.
Jessica coughed slightly. Her throat was quite dry after all that talking, but she hadn’t been offered a drink. She wondered which scenario was more impolite; ask for a glass of water or faint from dehydration?
“I wonder what’s keeping Wilbur,” Gloria said, glancing impatiently towards the door. “I thought he would be very keen to speak with you today, with William missing again and all this nonsense about the Moss kidnapping, as if he’d be so foolish—“
“Ah,” Ralf quickly interjected before Jessica could open her mouth. “I’m afraid due to the nature of that case, it has been taken out of our hands.”
“I see,” Gloria replied, coolly. “Well, that’s interesting.”
Jessica was interrupted from asking why exactly that was interesting by the arrival of a smartly dressed man who was, without doubt, Wilbur Wangshaft.
Not only did he have those shark-like eyes, synonymous with the Wangshaft men, he had the unmistakeable attitude of someone who had generations of privilege and identity behind him. He didn’t bother with introductions or pleasantries, he simply motioned Ralf towards the door.
Ralf left his seat and followed Wilbur from the room, Jessica following close behind. They crossed the landing to another large door, where Wilbur paused, finally acknowledging Jessica for the first time. He gave her a once-over that felt intrusive; like he was seeing through her face, her attire, her badge and staring straight into her soul.
“You will wait in the downstairs hallway, Officer Spoon,” he instructed, emphasising her name with distaste.
Jessica had often found herself tarnished by her family’s less-than-perfect reputation, but felt that her mother’s drunken antics with the vicar wasn’t what aggrieved Mr. Wangshaft most about the name Spoon.
“With respect, sir. I’m—“
“Not required,” Wilbur finished, bluntly.
Jessica looked to Ralf for support, but he only nodded his head towards the stairs. “Wait downstairs, Jess. We won’t be long,” he assured her.
Jessica dutifully made her way downstairs. She wasn’t very happy about it, but she wasn’t about to ignore a direct order from her superior.
She didn’t completely comply though, stepping from the hallway into the adjacent dining room after a few minutes of staring at the front door. She idly opened a drawer on a cabinet, empty except for a few pens, inspected a bust on the mantlepiece and let her eyes wander up to a portrait above the fireplace.
They had captured him well; he looked arrogant. Jessica wouldn’t usually speak ill of anyone but she had taken an instant dislike to—
“The bloody craphole!”
Jessica paused for a second, trying to decipher if this new voice was an internal or external one, before realising that this outburst had come from a woman who had blustered into the hallway behind her and slammed the door so hard that it shook the pictures on the wall.
“I’m going to kill the craphole myself!” this woman screamed. “Gloria!”
At the threat of murder, Jessica stepped into the hallway to intervene.
“Who the heck are you?” The mystery woman asked. She looked to be in her late-twenties and her casual hair, bad language and clothing didn’t seem to fit in with the prim, pink interiors and icy cold personalities of the Wangshafts, yet she seemed oddly at home here.
“Officer Spoon,” Jessica replied. “WBPD.” She tapped her badge.
The woman’s eyes went wide. “Holy crap; you’ve found him?! He’s dead isn’t he?” At Jessica’s stunned silence, the woman continued, filling in her own blanks. “Crapbucket, was it a horrible scene? You can tell me; did you find him with his pants down? Was he with some floozy?”
“Um…” Jessica started. For once in her life she was lost for words.
“He was, wasn’t he?! The crapping arsehole! Screw you, Will!” the woman hissed. “Screw you right in the arse.“
“No… I’m sorry, you’ve totally lost me,” Jessica admitted, wincing every time the woman swore. “Sorry, who are you?”
The mystery woman narrowed her eyes at Jessica. “Wait. You… you’re not here to tell me you found Will?” Jessica shook her head. The woman looked relieved for a beat, then infuriated again. “So he is still shacking up with that blonde skank somewhere leaving me juggling a new baby and putting up with the press hounding me day and night? The craphole! Gloria! Where is that bloody woman?”
As Jessica was wondering if anyone in this family was co-operative, the woman spoke again.
“Sorry, I’m not usually so…” She gestured loops around her head. “I haven’t slept for about a week, courtesy of a draining, crying, crapping little nightmare, Watcher love him. I’m Beth Wangshaft, soon to be ex-wife of William ‘heir-to-this-pink-craphole’ Wangshaft. And I take it you’re the new recruit at the steaming pile that is the WBPD? What are you, twelve?”
“I am. The new recruit, that is,” Jessica replied, cautiously.
Beth laughed. “Thought so. I take it that as you’re down here hanging out with the doormat, that Old Saggy Balls is busy talking to the chief, huh? Yeah, he used to make Deputy Crooks hang out down here too, although Chase knew better than to snoop—“
“I wasn’t snooping,” Jessica protested, feeling her cheeks burn.
“Sure you weren’t.” Beth winked at Jessica and ascended the stairs, trailing her fingertip along the bannister as she went. She paused, inspected her finger. “You know, the Wangshafts have one heck of a maid, Officer Spoon,” she mused, her tone suggestive. “There’s never a speck of dirt to be found. Anywhere…”
After a luxurious few hours in the hot tub, the girls had dried off and draped themselves on the plush bed. They relaxed in companionable silence in the afterglow of soothing jets and frothy bubbles, which had only added to the general daytime drowsiness they experienced as creatures of the night.
Only Caleb was fully awake. The sound of a siren had cut through his haze and drawn him to the window. He glanced down, idly watching as an ambulance pulled up outside the hotel.
“What’s happening?” April asked, not moving from her position.
“Ambulance,” Caleb replied.
“Oh good, I thought it was the police,” Melinda said, twiddling her hair. “Not good that someone needs an ambulance but… you know what I mean.”
Caleb watched as another vehicle pulled up, blue lights flashing. “There are police as well—” he said, realisation waking him like a bucket of icy water. “Damn!”
His agitation stirred the girls who left the bed slowly, watching Caleb as he paced the floor.
“Do you think they’re here for us?” April asked. “How could they know we’re here?”
“Relax,” Melinda said, in her most soothing tone. “They can’t know we’re here. Unless… unless someone saw us sneak in. But then why would there be an ambulance?” Caleb could almost see the cogs turning in Melinda’s head and was not surprised in the slightest when she turned to him and asked, “Caleb, is this something to do with you?”
“How did you get this room, Caleb?” she asked. When he didn’t respond, Melinda took a step closer. “What did you do?”
The tone of her voice reminded him so much of Lilith, that he froze.
“Nobody died,” he replied. “I think.”
For a moment no one said anything; the silence filled by the echo of more sirens in the distance.
“We need to get the fuck out of here,” Faith stated.
“But we can’t! It’s day time!” April cried. “We’ll turn to ash!”
“We can’t just stay in here!” Melinda exclaimed. “We’ll find shelter somewhere. There must be a shopping mall or.. or… something!”
“Shit, this is really bad,” Faith mouthed, but her face did not appear to agree.
“Caleb, you know this area and you got us into this mess, what do we do?” Melinda squeaked.
Caleb thought for a minute. Slipping past the police at superspeed would be no problem and if he and Melinda ran superspeed all the way, they could make it to the cottage in under an hour. Melinda would likely need a few plasma bags to counteract the effort of getting herself there, but he knew that she could do it.
She had to; he couldn’t carry all three of them.
“I think we can escape, undetected, and make it to the cottage, if we run,” he decided, gesturing between himself and Melinda. “Head east along the river until you see a hill with a solitary dogwood tree on it. The cottage is about a mile south of that.” If it’s still there.
“What? I’m not leaving you guys!” Melinda protested. “I can carry April, she’s light—“
“Are you calling me fat?” Faith asked.
“You’ll wear yourself out before you even get there. You won’t be leaving us,” Caleb said, ignoring Faith. “We’ll be right behind you. Go. Now!”
“But—” Melinda looked to April, who silently repeated Caleb’s instruction; go. Melinda straightened up, gave a short, disgruntled nod. “Hill with a dogwood tree, got it. You’d better frigging make it,” she hissed. In a blink she’d vanished.
“You’re going to carry us both?” April asked, flapping her hands. “How strong are you?”
“Strong enough,” he said, sounding way more sure than he felt.
“Carry us how—?” April began. She let out a squeal as Caleb lifted her with one arm, hoisting her over his left shoulder. “Caleb! No!” she beat her fists on his back, “Unhand me! This isn’t dignified!”
Faith laughed so hard at the sight of April screaming her head off as she dangled, bum-up, in the air that she almost forgot the same fate was about to befall her.
“No fucking way!” she screeched, pushing Caleb away as he caught her by the waist. “What if you drop me?”
“I won’t drop you,” Caleb assured her. He grinned at her, playfully, as she shoved him and fruitlessly resisted his efforts to lift her, before practically throwing her over his other shoulder with a growl. He settled the girls in place and turned towards the door.
Neither girl was heavy so although his gait was unusual, he was fairly confident they’d still be able to move much faster this way than if they were all on foot; the bigger problem, he realised as he shifted them into a comfortable position, was distancing himself from the fact that he was holding two gorgeous women. A fact not lost on one of them.
“Keep your hand on top of the skirt, Fringey…”