Chapter 3 Clean Plate Club Murder Mystery

Prior chapters can be found in the murder mystery category.

Laurel and Greenbay was just on the outskirts of the business center where it abutted the college campus.  This area included the usual array of college business, an all night pizza joint, a hemp clothing store and a second hand book store.  I parked the next block over and joined the bunch of rubber neckers straining at the slick yellow crime scene tape.  The EMTs had just snugged the corpse into the black plastic body bag and were zipping it up.  Clearly someone had died.  I inched my way over to the detective who had clipped his badge to his overcoat. 

“Hi I am Liza Blue, are you Detective McNitt?”  I flashed him my PI license.  “You called me about the victim here?”

“Yeah, is this your card – it’s the only ID we found on her.”  He handed me my crumpled card.

Yes, that is my card, but I am not sure if I have ever met with the victim, can you just unzip her a bit and I will let you know.”

Rush pulled back the gurney, shielded the body from the murmuring crowd and unzipped.  There was not a mark on Penny’s face, but I could imagine the mangling that lay beneath the black plastic.

“Poor kid,” I said, “Do you think that it is a college student?  Someone must have noticed her.  She looks very distinctive.”

McNitt caught my dissembling immediately and I was impressed.  “Ms Blue, have you or haven’t you met with her.  What is her name?”

“Well all I can tell you is that I got a phone message from a Penny – she didn’t give me a last name, and I never met with her.  She said that she got my name from your Detective Grimes, so he might know more, but she didn’t leave any details on the message.  She just wanted to meet at the coffee shop around the corner here, so I didn’t get her home address.   What happened to her anyway?”  I was still dissembling, but hopefully I had ladled in enough details that Rush would feed me in return.  Also, I knew that Grimes was off camping in Montana and would not be in cell phone range for at least another day.

“Well, the campus police saw her lying here and called us in.  Hard to believe, but we have not found any witnesses yet.  But from the looks of it, it is a hit and run based on these skid marks.  Not really sure of the cause of death, we’ll have to wait for those black crows down in the morgue to make the pronouncement.  Didn’t see any obvious trauma, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

“Well sorry that I cannot help you anymore,” I said.  “Here is a fresh business card and give me a call if you think that I can be of any help. Grimes and I are friends so I will certainly be in touch with him.  All I can tell you is that she was not a client of mine.”  Dissembling again – for the purposes of this conversation, the definition of a client was someone who had signed a contract with me. 

The ambulance took off and the crowd began to disperse.  The cops were trying to corral the bystanders to take witness statements, but many just faded into the misty night air.  I saw one young downcast woman with hands in her pockets, leaning against a store window.  As she saw the police move outside the main throng of people to interview the next ring of bystanders, she quickly pulled the hood of her sweatshirt over her eyes, turned and walked quickly down the street.

I like to think that I am a student of body language.  Give me three shadows, and I can usually pick out the most likely witness/victim/perpetrator based on the stoop of the shoulders, the crane of the neck or the angle of the jaw.  There was something about this women that made me want to follow her.  Her slumped shoulders, clenched jaw and hurried pace were throwing off an interesting combination of dejection and defiance.  My guess was that she had some vested interest in the victim – knew her at the very least.

She strode up the block turned right and then right again and right again, so that she was now only a half a block from the corpse.  However, this circuitous route meant that she avoided the crime scene and the cops canvassing for witnesses.  Interest definitely peaked at this point. 

I saw her enter a coffee shop – called with a striking lack of imagination, “College Coffee.”  A classic college joint with a few tables and ratty couch, and a corner reserved for live music.  I walked in and the stale smoky air washed over me, and I felt my shoes sticking to the floor.  I didn’t see the women at first, but then she emerged from the back wearing an apron.  I sat down as she approached me.

“What can I get for you?” she said as she handed me a delaminating plastic menu.

“Well what looks good here, do you have an specials?”

She grimaced and shook her head.  “Just the basic stuff, but I’m supposed to tell you that the soup is home made, but I wouldn’t want to live in that home.  It’s chicken noodle today.”

“Did I just see you around the corner where that poor women got hit by a car.  Do you know what happened?  Do you know her?”

“It’s not everyday that I see a dead body.  That was Penny, she worked her, I mean used to work here.”  She gave my table top a perfunctory wipe down and headed back to the kitchen.

She can back with my soup – broth the color of bilge water with a few dispirited peas and carrots bobbing around.  There was no chicken in sight. 

“Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?  I met Penny the other day – she responded to an ad that I placed for a babysitter and we discovered that we both knew the Browns here in town, but I didn’t catch her last name.”

“Well I can’t imagine that she would make a good babysitter, she rarely came to work on time, and spent more time on her cell phone.  This is not the first time I have had to cover for her.   I’m sorry, it’s certainly not her fault she missed her shift tonight, but she was not my favorite.  Never covered for me.”  

“Has she worked here for a long time?  Was she a student or what?”

“Well she was only around for about a month, and I don’t think that she was a student.  Not sure where she lived either – sometimes I think that she even slept in the back.  I think that the manager was going to fire her, so maybe that is why she was looking for another job.”

“Well I would like to notify the Brown’s,” I said, perpetuating my lie.  “Do you think that her information is in her personnel file?”

“Does this look like a place that has an HR department?” she snorted.  “I think that she just wandered in one day, and Johnny, the manager put her to work.” 

“Is Johnny here?  Perhaps he has more information – she must have filled out a W2 form, that sort of thing.”

“Johnny is not here, in fact he is hardly ever here.  The last time I saw him is when Penny showed up.  And that’s the thing that really pisses me off.  He pays her cash plus lets her snitch food – and I am on a measly hourly wage with taxes taken out.  It’s just not fair.  Now I even have to work her shift and I’m sure that overtime is a novel concept to  Johnny.  You know she left her purse here and I was going to take it down to the police station after my shift, but I don’t really want to get involved.  Will you do me the favor?”

“Sure I can do that,” I said as I pushed the tasteless soup away.  She scooped up bowl, went back into the kitchen and returned with my bill and large lumpy bag which she dumped into the chair next to me.

“I tried to tell you the soup stunk,” she said.  “But make sure you tell all your friends to come here.  And thanks for taking the purse.”

“Thanks for the info, and keep the change,” I said as I handed here a $20.  “I’ve worked my share of double shifts in my life, and it’s a bitch, that’s for sure.”

I slung the bag over my shoulder and headed out, eager to start the purse post-mortem in my car.  As I walked down Greenbay toward Laurel Street, I realized that I was kitty corner from the Goddard Todd Photography studio.  I could see a banner announcing the opening of “Self and Sib.”  I crossed the street to take a quick look, and noticed Nick Nichol’s handiwork – a series of pictures and quotes from GQ magazine.  There were a couple of photographs of a very tan Goddard decked out in tight white Levi’s and open shirt.  He was casually sitting at an outdoor café, legs crossed with one espadrille hanging from his toe. 

The story was called “The Essentials:”

What is your favorite breakfast?

Making my sister’s favorite blueberry pancakes on her birthday.

Favorite place to eat breakfast?

As the sun comes up on Machu Picchu.  Mystical and inspiring.

Favorite clothes?

My white Levi’s and a pair of espadrilles.  My mother says that I should not wear white after Labor Day, so I try to follow summer all year long – Bondi Beach in Sydney, kayaking in Patagonia in Argentina – all highly recommended. 

Favorite accessory?

My backgammon board.  I like to sit in a café near the Acropolis and play with some old codgers.  No need for English when you have backgammon!

Who are your peeps, dare we call them your God Squad?

I know that I have a name that is easy to make fun of, but it’s a family name and I’m proud of it.  I’ll tell you my sister Dessa got off easily.  Here given name is Teresa, but if I’m Goddard, she might as well be a Goddess and from there Teresa just got shortened to Dessa.  Besides it fits her.  She is my best friend and muse.

Seriously, Goddard, most people would think that you got it made – out of a corner office to all corners of the world.  How did you get involved in photography?

Well, I like to say that photography chose me.  I am grateful to my parents who gave me the opportunity to travel throughout my life, and I just started taking my camera along.  I also had a great teacher, Ned Houston at Santa Teresa University, and one thing lead to another.  My latest exhibition is something of a departure since I am showing my portrait photography for the first time. 

What is your one piece of advice?

Always follow your bliss.

I hoisted the purse back on my shoulder and followed my bliss back to my car.


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