Did you miss part one of Chapter One?
From A Deathly Rattle
Chapter One Continued…
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, but I could tell he was suppressing a chuckle. Whether the rest of the play was true or not, I knew good and well that line in the play was meant for me. He seemed quite satisfied that I had caught on to that fact.
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “You know, Vicente, I may still be a little new at this whole PI thing. But I solved two homicide cases this past month. Doubling my average. Does it make you nervous that this amateur broad is catching up to you?”
He smirked again. “You’re actually pretty impressive, Kate. You’ve got gusto. Keep it up, and you might actually turn into some serious competition for me.” And with that, he rose out of his seat, looking like he was headed to the food table.
“Ha! With that attitude, I’m never going to direct your play.”
He froze and spun around. “You mean I have a chance?”
Before I could answer, a woman I recognized as one of the ensemble members of the cast, with dyed-green hair and orange capri pants, swooped down the aisle and grabbed Vicente’s arm. “Where have you been hiding?” she screeched at him.
“Amanda!” he said, kissing both her cheeks in his traditional Spanish greeting. He laced an arm through hers, but before heading off, he wagged a finger at me. “To be continued, Kate.”
I nodded in agreement and turned my attention to the stage. Mom now had Laurie out of her stroller, parading her around while Paula snapped a few pictures. “Oh, so cute,” Paula was saying.
They aren’t very helpful with the strike, I thought.
I spotted the director making his way toward the lip of the stage. Walking alongside him was a tall, burly man. They seemed to have Paula in their sights. Curious, I rose and joined them.
The director plopped his elbows on the stage from where he stood on the floor. “Hey, Paula!” he called.
“What’s up?” she sang.
“This is my buddy, Howard. Just moved out this way,” the director said. “He’s looking to get his place fixed up, and I told him you did that sort of thing.”
Paula’s specialty, of course, was interior design. Doing the set for a play was a bit of a downgrade for the sort of work she typically did, but she’d had a lot of fun with it. It had allowed her to do something more creative and out of the box, but I knew her budding design firm needed more clients. Having babies can wreak havoc on any entrepreneur.
Paula’s face lit up. “Hmmm? A touch-up? Redo? What’s your scope?” she asked hopefully. I could tell she was resisting the urge to squeal at this new prospect.
Howard smiled brightly up at her. “Little bit of everything. Probably most of my house, actually. I’m bad at this sort of stuff. Had to sell half my furniture before the move—just didn’t have the time to move all that crap. Was ready for a fresh start, and that stuff was old and ready to go, anyhow. I need a lady’s touch to get my place looking right. Don’t really want to fill it with a bunch of bachelor-pad junk. Want it to look nice, you know?”
“Well, that’s right up my alley,” Paula said, hopping down from the stage to go and speak to Howard about his vision for his new home.
I gave her a thumbs-up before she disappeared with Howard and the director into a corner. Paula and I were cut from the same cloth; we both were work-from-home moms who mostly freelanced. A spontaneous job like this was always welcome. And, from the sound of it, this Howard guy was looking to get his whole house taken care of. That would be a huge win for her.
I headed up onto the stage to start helping with the strike, taking up a hammer like I actually knew what I was doing and pulling nails out of the back of the stage pieces so that we could lay the boards flat. I felt rather handy after pulling out two or three nails, when someone tapped me on the shoulder. “You’re Kate, right?” the man asked.
“Who’s asking?” I spun around to see my husband staring back at me with a big, goofy grin on his face. “Jim!” I laughed, nearly shouting in my surprise. “What are you doing here?” I asked, quite glad to see him but mildly alarmed by his presence. “You’re supposed to be headed to the airport!”
Jim was in advertising. And he’d just landed a gig working with a big movie that was coming out next year; he was supposed to be heading out to LA for a couple of weeks. “I got a text that my flight’s delayed, so I thought I’d stop by and help. And, of course, to see my girls one more time before I have to leave for two weeks.” He leaned forward, giving me a kiss.
I wrapped my arms around him and pressed my head to his chest. “I’m going to miss you!” I said. Suddenly I pulled away from him. “Why is the flight delayed? It’s not mechanical problems, is it?”
He chuckled. “I’m sure not. Don’t worry.”
I squinted at him. “Don’t you dare die. I can’t raise these babies without you.”
He looked around, as if just recalling Laurie. “So, where’s my little lady?”
“Mom’s parading her around somewhere.”
He glanced at his watch and rolled up his sleeves, nodding. “Okay, I have about an hour. Give me that hammer before you hurt yourself.”
I laughed. “Aren’t you the guy who failed woodshop?”
“Shh!” he scolded, looking over his shoulder. “I can pull out nails. It was carving animals out of wood that I choked on.”
Between pizza breaks and snuggling-with-Laurie breaks, the hour flew by. We’d broken down most of the set and were ready to start the cast party in earnest when Jim kissed me goodbye.
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“Call me when you land,” I said.
He leaned over to give Laurie, now comfortably nuzzled in my arms, a butterfly kiss and make her giggle.
I gripped her chubby wrist and wiggled her hand at him. “Say bye-bye, Daddy. Bye-bye, da-da.”
She gurgled happily and made bubbling noises at him.
Jim’s eyes grew wide. “She said, da-da!”
“I don’t think she did,” I said. “It was ga-ga.”
“No, I heard da-da.”
“You heard ca-ca,” I said, laughing maniacally. Every night I’d been coaching Laurie with ‘ma-ma,’ and stubbornly, the only sounds she made always seemed to have a b, d, or g in front of them, never an m.
Jim frowned and looked around for a witness. The actress with the green hair strolled by, and he asked, “Did you hear the baby say da-da?”
She smiled at Jim, then at Laurie. “No, but what a beautiful baby.”
Jim dismissed her with a shake of his head, disappointed that she’d failed to validate his claim.
He leaned in for one last kiss. “I heard it,” he whispered conspiratorially to me.
“You better get going before you miss your flight,” I said.
After he left, the evening got a bit rowdy. Someone put on a playlist of ’70s music, and every cast member clambered onto the now-empty stage to dance to “YMCA.”
When the last of the theater had been swept clean, I strapped Laurie into her stroller and found Mom chatting happily with a group by the exit.
“Ready?” I asked. Fatigue bore down on my shoulders, and I realized that my lower back throbbed with exhaustion.
She nodded and handed me her car key. “I’m right behind you,” she said.
I stepped out into the dark parking lot and glanced at my phone. Ten o’clock already!
Others were in various stages of packing up, the lot surprisingly busy.
With one hand on my lower back and the other on Laurie’s stroller, I made my way toward Mom’s car.
A loud popping sound ripped through the night.
My breath caught, and my heart raced.
What in the world?
Any lingering fatigue disappeared, instantly replaced by a mad adrenaline rush. People, myself included, yelped in terror.
Two more shots rang out, and this time it was unmistakable—the wretched sound of gunfire.
I snatched Laurie out of the stroller and ran for cover, the commotion making her scream and cry.
I spotted Deb, and instead of running away from the noise as the rest of us had, she sprang into action, pulling out her sidearm and sprinting toward the danger. It takes a very special kind of person to run toward gunshots instead of away from them.
From around Mom’s car, I heard Deb on the phone. “We have a gunshot victim. Send an ambulance immediately. Active shooter in the area; I do not have visual contact with the shooter. Attempting to resuscitate the victim. Hey, yo, Paula! Come here and speak to the operator for me!”
I clutched my baby girl, feeling incredibly impotent as I saw Paula nervously make her way out of hiding. Deb tossed her cell phone toward Paula as the crowd of actors and crew members slowly emerged from their hiding places—realizing the shooter was likely long gone.
Paula stammered on the phone, giving the operator whatever information Deb shouted at her.
“I need another set of hands over here!” Deb yelled, and I made sudden and uncomfortable eye contact with her.
Mom scuttled out of her hiding spot in the doorway of the theater and plucked Laurie from my arms.
“Get her in the car,” I pleaded, but I needn’t have worried. Mom was already lunging for the car door and doing her best to protect Laurie.
I hurried around the vehicle and over to Deb.
“He’s been shot in the neck. I need you to put your fingers right here in his artery,” Deb said, grabbing my hand and shoving my fingers into the victim’s neck.
I cringed, turning away. I was already nauseous enough from being pregnant—I didn’t need to see all that blood.
All I have to do is keep my hand steady.
I took a deep breath and turned toward the victim.
My heart dropped to my stomach. “Oh!” I gasped. “It’s Vicente Domingo!”
Deb, who was putting pressure on his other wounds, leveled a gaze at me. “It’s not looking good.”
Fear gripped me, and I glanced around the parking lot. I didn’t see anyone who appeared to be brandishing a weapon. The shooter was indeed long gone, it seemed.
Sirens wailed in the distance, and I prayed it was an ambulance.
“Kate, who would shoot Vicente Domingo?” Deb asked.
I shook my head. “That’s an excellent question.”
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