Chapter 2: Clean Plate Club Murder Mystery

Prior and subsequent chapters are posted in the murder mystery category.


I met Penny at a Starbuck’s near the dreary complex of cinder block dorms at SantaTeresaUniversity.  On the phone, her baby doll voice made her sound like a timid child.  But in person this was one tough chick, heavily tattooed with multiple piercings of her brows, nose and lips. As she talked, I could also see the glint of a large stud in her tongue.

“I just know something has happened to Dessa,” she said.  “We are room mates – and she has been missing for over two weeks.  She would never take off without telling me,” Penny said with an unexpected crack in her voice.

“What makes you think that?” I asked.

“Well Detective Grimes said that you would not be bothered by this, but we were really partners.  Before she left, she told me that she was going to invite her parents for dinner.  That was a big step for her.  I think that she was scared of them, you see….”  Her voice trailed off.   

I was sure that Charles had deliberately omitted this intriguing tidbit, knowing that I liked to be surprised by the sudden twists and turns that spiced up a case.  “Did her parents know about your relationship?” I asked, girding myself for the response.

“They knew we were room mates, but beyond that…  I met her mother once and it wasn’t surprising that she instantly hated me – she is one of those society types, you know, and I am well …”  She shrugged her shoulders to accentuate the obvious.  “Have you heard of Sam Todd the developer – that’s her father.”

Sure I knew him – a deep pocketed developer who had a two year battle with environmentalists to fill in one of the last canyons on the outskirts of Santa Teresa.  His wife was a fashion icon on the boards of cachet museums, operas and ballets.  She came from old money, but tattered old money, the kind that needed a refresher every now and then from people like Sam.  “I am so frustrated,” said Penny.  They told me that Dessa was taking a semester off, but I don’t believe it.  They are holding a reception at their house for her brother Goddard.  He is a photographer and the reception is for his new show.  They won’t let me in, that’s for sure, but you could go, it’s technically open to the public.  Dessa and Goddard are very close, and if Dessa is not there, I will know something is wrong. ”

“Were you and Dessa having trouble before she disappeared?” I asked.

“Well I don’t think so, but I wanted to take our relationship to the next level and that might have spooked her.  She really didn’t want her parents to know, and I don’t blame her, but at some point you have to be honest with yourself, you know what I mean?”

“Yes, I know what you mean, but I also know that honesty can be destructive.  It can require timing otherwise honesty just brings out the worst version of yourself.” 

Penny shoved her chair back and grabbed her purse and cell phone.  She stared at me with glistening eyes.  “I don’t need this,” she snapped.  “Grimes said that you would be cool.  I really loved her you know, and if you can’t handle our relationship, then you are the worst version of yourself.”

“Okay, wait a minute, Penny,” I said.  “I really don’t like sermonizing either, but I just need to know that jealousy or revenge is not on your agenda here.  I’m not going to be your agent who marches up to her parents and tells them that their daughter is a lesbian for shock value alone.  Dessa needs to tell them, not me.  Do you understand?  I refuse to shatter lives unless it is absolutely necessary.  So tell me, what makes you think that Dessa has truly disappeared?” I said.

“Well, for starters, but nobody has seen her around campus.  There was an important regional fencing meet last Saturday, one that she would not want to miss since she is the top fencer.  She doesn’t go to classes much, but she never misses fencing.  What’s really weird is that nothing is missing – her car is still in the parking lot, her purse and wallet and cell phone are in the apartment.  That’s what makes me really worried.  If she had just gotten in her car and taken off, well then it might have something to do with me.” 

Penny slumped back in her chair, but her hands were shaking and she was hugging herself.  I tried to think of some way to dispose of this case.  I didn’t want to get involved in a tawdry lover’s quarrel, but I would also have been worried if my room mate had totally disappeared.  “Okay, Penny, here’s what I will do.  I will go to the reception tomorrow and quietly check things out.  If Dessa is there I will just mention that you would like to hear from her.  I cannot do anything more than that.  If she doesn’t want to talk with you – well broken hearts are not my métier.”

“Thanks, Ms Blue.  I just really want to make sure that she is alright,” she said as she nodded, “just make sure she is alright, believe me I don’t really want to cause any trouble.  How much will this cost me?”           

It was strange to see such a tough looking girt snivel and dab her eyes with a napkin.  Penny seemed genuine and I liked her.  “Well Penny, I have always wanted to see Skye Isle, so I’ll go to the reception on my own.  If there is more work to do after that, we can discuss it, but if Dessa is there then there is no more work for me.  And my name is Liza Blue, but please call me Liza.”  I handed her one of my newly minted business cards, which sadly listed only my name and not my father’s. 


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