Abby ravenously attacked a plate of pasta smothered in watery white clam sauce. Across the table, Jerry glared at his plate, picking at loose strands of spaghetti bathing in a wallpaper paste marinara.
“I suppose you can do better?” Abby said, inhaling her meal.
Jerry offered a bemused smile.
Abby’s cell rang. She checked the caller ID, excused herself from the table and headed to a private corner of this Carmel Bistro outdoor patio.
Sitting tall in Jerry’s lap, Winifred nosed her way to Jerry’s plate and a lonesome noodle drooping over the edge.
“Cheating on Frenchy, huh?” Sheriff’s Detective, Derek Butler, slung himself down into a chair beside Jerry.
“Hey, Columbo! Caught your act on TV the other day.”
“Yeah. Too bad. Knox was an okay guy. Met him a couple of years ago at some law enforcement charity.”
Derek studied the dog in Jerry’s lap, was about to say something when his face went blank, the sight of Abby walking towards him getting his undivided attention – her scratched face and bloody shirt more than a little disturbing.
“Jeez! What happened to you?” Derek shot Jerry a look. “This A-hole giving you a bad time?”
“No worse than you, sweetheart.” Abby gave Derek a tight-lipped smile, plopped in her chair, finished a glass of chardonnay and poured another.
Winifred got the vibration, all ears waiting to see who would step to the plate. A waitress came by and Derek ordered a beer. Jerry, another Dos Equis.
“So… Where’s Murphy?” Derek asked.
“At home. Watching TV.”
So there was a guy, Jerry thought.
Abby had no intention of correcting any misperception.
“Give him my best,” Derek said.
“I’ll do that. Speaking of your best… anything new on Knox’s murder?”
“Whoa… Slow down. We have nothing to suggest it was a homicide.”
“Right. You have nothing.” Abby sipped wine. “What if I told you that Knox was putting out feelers for a new home for Winnie?”
“Well, if you told me that, I’d have to say… So?”
“So, it sounds like either he figured he was going to jail, or he knew he’d be dead before he could testify,” Abby said.
“That’s assuming Knox was the surprise witness.”
“The only surprise would’ve been if he wasn’t,” Jerry said.
“Which then assumes he was going to jump the shark and take Stanton and Alpha Dog down with him.” Derek wasn’t buying it. “No. Everything we’ve found points to an accident… or possibly suicide.”
“That’s because you haven’t found everything.” Abby offered a twinkling tight-lipped smile, sat back and sipped chardonnay, in no hurry to finish him off.
Jerry’s Once Upon a Murder mind kicked into gear. “If it was suicide, why take Sweets with him? As a witness…? I don’t think so.”
“Who said she was with him?” Derek asked.
“It was their morning ritual. No way he’d take that walk without her. They were inseparable. Ask anybody.”
“We did. None of the maintenance crew remember seeing her or him that morning.”
“Then they weren’t looking.” Abby looked directly at Winifred perched in Jerry’s lap. “Whoever killed Walter Knox tried to kill the only eye witness.”
“Come on, Abby. You don’t know that. And you certainly can’t prove it.” Catching the twinkle in Abby’s eyes, Derek realized he’d been set up, turned to Jerry for back-up.
Jerry’s look said, you’re on your own, pal.
Abby pulled Winifred’s collar and tags from her pocket, tossed them across the table at Derek.
“Found them in a bush. Over the cliff. Right above where you found Walter’s body. Winnie went over with him. Only thing that saved her was that bush.”
Jerry couldn’t resist sticking the knife a little deeper. “I’m surprised you missed it.”
Abby twisted the blade, “Or maybe you just weren’t looking.”
Fingering the collar and tags, Derek muttered, “I’ll look into it.”
The way Abby and Derek looked at each other, whatever was between them still had some heat.
“She was there, Derek. And she knows who did it.”
Derek again checked Jerry, hoping for some mano a mano support.
“Don’t look at me,” said Jerry, then smiled at the mutt in his lap, “Ask her.”
Winifred gave Derek a low grrrrrr.
Derek pushed back from the table. “You’re not doing this to me, Abby. Not again. I’m not going to look like a fool!”
“Come on, Derek. This is different.”
“You got that right.” Old wound ripped open, Derek tossed the collar and tags on the table, threw some bills next to his beer bottle and was gone.
Jerry and Winifred watched the life force drain from Abby, the days’ events and the cliffs of doom taking their physical and mental toll. Draining her wine, she watched Winifred slurp the lonesome noodle off Jerry’s plate.
Feeling a need to say something, Jerry offered, “We golf together. He cheats.”
No surprise to Abby.
~ ~ ~