Odds of Dying: Chapter Seven

     I stopped by the grocery store on the way home. Kenji had offered to buy me dinner to thank me for helping, but I took a rain check. I wouldn’t have been good company. I needed the solace that only my own special combo of sliced meats, veggies and cheese on sourdough could provide.
     When I pulled into the driveway, my house looked the same as it had when I’d left that morning, and Mitch was nowhere in sight. I trudged around to the back of the house, unlocked the back door and dumped my purse and groceries on the kitchen counter. How much longer was I going to have to use the back door? In daylight it wasn’t so bad, but I hadn’t liked finding my way in the dark the night before. Mitch hadn’t given me a timeline for replacing the door. What if I had to live with a non-functional front door for weeks? Discontent settled over me like fog over the Bay Bridge.

Odds of Dying: Chapter Six

I woke up before my alarm went off, sat up with a jolt, and swung my feet over the side of the bed. My hip joint twinged and the side of my face felt tender. No matter. Today belonged to me, because yesterday Daniel had finally given me the go-ahead to work on the refinery study.
      I dashed into the bathroom and speed-showered, but I couldn’t move as fast as my imagination. I pictured myself at my desk, already reading the printouts, the results nearly leaping off the page: Living near the refineries was hazardous to your health, and I could prove it. Or maybe it was more subtle than that, and I’d have to do some complicated analyses that took account of wind patterns.
     I towel-dried my hair and pulled on khakis and a knit top while lost in a fantasy of how my dissertation was nearly going to write itself. I’d reached the point of receiving the dissertation-of-the-year award at graduation, me very modest in my acceptance speech, thanking all the people who’d helped me, when the sound of the doorbell stopped me cold.
     I checked the time. If I got rid of whoever was at the door and settled for a quick cup of coffee, I could get to work early. The sooner the better, as far as I was concerned. Whoever it was gave up on the doorbell and took up knocking. I hurried into the living room. Could Frank have come back for another door-destruction maneuver? If so, he was in for a big surprise. Mitch had sealed the door on both sides with strips of lumber. It would take more than a kick with a booted foot to break it in now.
     I pressed my eye to the peephole. The two detectives who’d interviewed me the day before stood on my porch. I groaned. Just what I didn’t need—cops with my coffee.

Odds of Dying: Chapter Five

“That should do it,” Mitch said, which was no answer at all as far as I was concerned. He stood up, took the now unhinged door from Tony and carried it out onto the porch.

            “That should do what?” I stalked out after him.

            Tony and Frank followed in my wake. “I’m going to take off now,” Tony said.

            I turned to him. Of the three men standing on my front porch, he was the only one I wanted to stay. He hadn’t been much help with Frank, but he’d hung around when I’d assumed he’d duck out.

            Frank shook his hand, like they were old buddies, and they mumbled good-byes to one another.

“Thanks for coming by.” I tried to give a casual goodbye wave, but forgot I was still holding the butcher knife, and more or less ruined the effect. I didn’t add anything about seeing him again. That was probably too much to hope for.

“Looks like you’ve already found someone to fix your door.” Frank gaveMitch his sincere look and extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Frank Avery.”

            Mitch didn’t move, speak or smile. In fact, for a moment, I thought he’d deliberately wiped all expression from his face. Not that it was easy to tell on a man with a full beard and a baseball cap pulled down to his eyebrows.

            Frank gave a chuckle and dropped his out-stretched hand. “I can see Al’s been talking about me.”

            “Who’s Al?” Mitch asked.

            Frank chuckled again. It was all part of his show and usually a pretty effective icebreaker, but I’d seen it all before. Mitch acted as if he’d seen it, too.

            “Guess I’ll be going.” Frank’s jolly pose seeped out of him like air out of balloon.

            I copied Mitch and didn’t say anything.

 



Odds of Dying: Chapter 4

       Hot showers are wonderful restoratives. Naps are even better. I took both, but got a little carried away with the nap. The sun had shifted to the other side of the house when I dragged myself out of bed, pulled on a tee-shirt and a pair of old jeans and staggered into the kitchen.
If I’d been hungry before, I was ravenous now. I rummaged through the refrigerator and the breadbox and put together a quick sandwich of cold spaghetti with tomato sauce on crusty sourdough. I’d learned the basic rule of the sandwich from my first foster mother—namely, there’s nothing edible that can’t be put between two pieces of bread. Even after I’d been moved on to my second, third and fourth foster family, a sandwich, any sandwich, remained my personal comfort food.
     Leaning over the sink to spare my kitchen floor from random loose strands of spaghetti, I chomped my way through half a loaf of sourdough, noodles, and red meat sauce. I’d just crammed the last bite into my mouth when the doorbell rang. I padded barefoot across the living room and opened the door without bothering to peek through the little spy hole in the door first. Since nine times out of ten my visitors are people soliciting for a good cause and the tenth time they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was pretty surprised to find Tony Dezzutti standing on my doorstep.

Odds of Dying: Chapter 3

Chapter Three
Detective Stans took me out to his unmarked police car and opened the door on the front passenger side. So I sat down and looked around while Stans circled the car and got in on the driver’s side. This cop car boasted the crime-fighting equipment of the modern age. No metal screen separated the back seat from the front. Instead of a shotgun, a laptop computer mounted on a swivel occupied the space between the two front seats.
Another detective opened the back door and slid in. “This is my partner, Detective Carney,” Stans said. I twisted around in my seat and nodded to him. He was younger than Stans and tougher looking. Like Stans and all the uniformed cops at the scene, he sported a mustache. Unlike Stans, he didn’t have a soft belly straining the buttons on his white shirt, and his sports jacket lacked the permanent-press wrinkles. Possibly he was more of an action-type cop and didn’t spend a lot of time in warm cars questioning witnesses.
Stans got my address and phone and asked me all the expected questions. I found myself repeating almost word for word the story I’d told the uniformed officer earlier. I’d just found the body when Joe had appeared out of nowhere. He’d spoken to me briefly, then knocked me down when the garbage truck showed up.
“I’ve known Stevie Number and GI Joe for about two years, through my volunteer work at the Mobile Clinic,” I told them.
“Where’s that?” Carney asked.
“Lots of places. It’s a converted Winnebago. We drive it to different parts of Berkeley and Oakland. Nurses and physicians donate their time to provide free medical care to those who need it.”


Odds of Dying: Chapter 2

Chapter Two
     Daniel made for the back door, but I could tell we weren’t going to get past the cop guarding the yellow tape across the alley. “Let’s go in the front,” I said. “We can check the back door from the inside.”
     I told the cop on guard duty where I was going and why. Daniel led the way at his usual fast clip up the street and around the corner to the Center’s official entrance. My knee hurt, my hip had stiffened up from sitting in the police car, and I couldn’t keep up with him. I brought up the rear in a hurried half-limp.
     “You say that you discovered the body and then someone attacked you?” Daniel asked me over his shoulder.
     “Mmmph,” I mumbled. I was short of breath, and I wasn’t too fond of doing the three-step-behind submissive march. If he wanted to ask questions he could slow down.
When we reached the painted metal front door with its discreet brass nameplate, Daniel punched in his access code to turn off the alarm, first shielding the number pad with his body. Ever security-conscious, our Daniel. I had my own access code, what could I possibly want with his? I leaned against the wall and rested my sore hip.
     An electronic alarm and two dead bolts later, we were inside the suite of offices. Daniel’s office and the data room ran along one wall, restrooms and lounge lined the opposite side. The large windowless expanse that remained had been divided into a maze of cubicles with only fluorescent fixtures buzzing overhead to illuminate the darkness.
     If thieves ever succeeded in breaking in again, they’d wonder where the treasure was buried. Our computer equipment represented a haphazard collection of used hard drives, dysfunctional keyboards and ancient printers, and our office furniture would have made a poor showing at a garage sale.


Odds of Dying: Chapter 1.2

The cops came quickly and in full force, ready to deal with a hostage situation. Some of them looked let down when they finally figured out that they only had one dead body, one bruised woman, three confused garbagemen and no gun-toting bad guy in sight.

            When one of the older cops asked him, Dark and Curly told him his name was Tony Dezzutti and made sure the cop knew that it was spelled with two Z’s and two T’s. When it was my turn, I told him my name was Alison Weaver and let him figure it out for himself. I also told him that I knew Stevie and Joe from volunteering at the Mobile Clinic in Berkeley, that I didn’t know what either of them would be doing this far from Telegraph Avenue, and that I didn’t know why anyone would want to kill Stevie. I didn’t bother to add what he knew as well as I. In Stevie and Joe’s world, almost anything could serve as a motive for violence--a sneer, a misunderstood mumbled word, a refusal to share a cigarette.

Odds of Dying chapter 1.1

June 6, 1994
Oakland, California
     Finding a dead body can ruin your whole day. At least it ruined mine. Not that I had much room to complain. Someone had ruined Stevie Number’s whole life.
I found him in the Center’s recycling dumpster sprawled on his back, arms outflung as if to embrace the gray dawn. Even alive, Stevie had smelled bad, and dying had done nothing to improve his body odor. I turned my face away and took a deep breath.
     Okay, I’ll admit it wasn’t just the smell, pungent though it was. As a hospice nurse, I’d seen a lot of people pass from this earth to the next plane, but they’d done it on their own steam—or actually by running out of steam. Stevie had been helped along his way to the next world. Someone had crushed in the side of his skull.