Here's your next chapter of Hit or Missus. I thought I'd do something a little fun with the text today. I've attached links to some of the places mentioned in the chapter. That way, if you're interested in where Peri and Skip go around town, you can look things up easily.
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Two steps into her kitchen, Peri's shins made contact with a soft but immovable object. She stuttered forward, trying to stay on both feet and hold onto the bag of Chinese food she'd just bought at Pick Up Stix. The object yowled as her foot came down on it and she fell to her knees, sending her chicken teriyaki bowl and egg rolls dashing across the floor and into the wall, where the container tops exploded.
"Ow-ow-ow." Pain pulsed from her hands to her elbows, her knees to her hips. She eased back onto her heels and rubbed her palms, looking at the chaos that was supposed to be her lunch, now splashed on the wall and floor.
Her new guest wandered over to the mess and sniffed. He picked up a piece of chicken and proceeded to shred and eat it.
"Damn cat, I forgot about you." Peri stood and limped to the paper towels.
Mr. Mustard sat and licked his paws while she picked up the food, then bolted away when she got out the spray bottle of cleanser.
Later, as she curled on the couch and ate a peanut butter sandwich while reading her notes, she felt a warm prickle on the back of her neck, as though she was being watched. She looked up to find two large, yellow eyes staring, unblinking, at her.
"Finding everything you need here?" She reached out and rubbed his ear. "Poor kitty, losing Bob and Dottie within a month. Don't worry, I'll find a good home for you. Someone who loves kitties."
Peri finished her sandwich and thought about Bob and Dottie. It wasn't unusual for elderly couples to die within weeks, or even days, of each other. Still, she thought it was curious.
She wadded up her napkin, and heard a strange, giggling sound. The cat at her side leaped to attention, staring at the paper ball in her hand. She held it up.
"You want this?"
The cat's tail vibrated. Peri threw the napkin across the room and watched him run after it, capture it, and return to her, the napkin in his mouth. She laughed and threw it again. The tabby gave chase, then dropped the napkin at her feet and waited. They spent a few minutes in this game, until the cat suddenly walked away and curled up in the window for a nap.
Peri thought about their game, and remembered the morning's events.
The paper Mr. Mustard gave me – "DECIDE NOW" – what was that phone number? She closed her eyes and visualized the note. It had been written in bold, dark print, making it easy to recall. Five-five-five, oh-six-two-four. She reached for the phone and dialed.
A woman answered, her voice low and words enunciated. "Keller and Patterson, how may I direct your call?"
"I'm sorry, I think I misdialed - is this 555-2624?"
"No, ma'am, it's oh-six-two-four."
Peri apologized once more and hung up. Why would Dottie have a note to call her client's office?
Forcing herself back to her own case, she logged on to her laptop and did a preliminary hunt for Nikki Simms Keller. A pass through the woman's internet presence was enough to give Peri indigestion. According to Classmates, Nikki Simms enjoyed life as a high school cheerleader before attending the University of Southern California as a communications major.
She checked Facebook next. Usually, people had their privacy settings so no one could read their information, but updates to the online social network sometimes reset preferences. Nikki's privacy settings were in the middle of the road, so Peri could see some of her information, such as her friends, her photos, and her notes.
Looking at her friends' photos, Peri saw one that looked familiar, Carol Hanlon. Carol was a woman she had once cleaned house for and was now in her Facebook friend list. She guessed Carol was Nikki's friend because they both belonged to the Alta Vista Country Club. Clicking on Carol's name, Peri was able to read some of Nikki's status updates.
"Party time tonight for all my Bettys," was the latest.
What are Bettys"? Peri searched the Internet, trying to figure out the meaning. Google was of no help; all of the pages were about businesses with 'Betty' in the name.
"No, I don't mean Betty's Baked Goods," she told her computer.
She printed basic information about her client's wife, including her previous addresses and criminal history. Peri glanced at them as she put them into a large purple folder with a number on the top. Apart from a few recent traffic citations, Nikki had no criminal history, and it didn't look like she had spent any significant time outside California.
The question of Dottie Peters and Don Keller's development firm tugged at the back of Peri's brain, so she decided to take a break and do a little digging in another direction. She was still wandering aimlessly through Dottie and Bob's histories when she heard a key in the back door, followed by the sound of the hinges, a simultaneous thump and cat's scream, and then Skip's growling expletives.
"Watch out for the cat," she said.
An orange streak flashed by her as the cat ran toward the bedroom. Skip walked in a few moments later with a bottle of beer.
"Thanks for the warning." He reached down and kissed her before collapsing into the couch.
"Not bad, except for Dottie. Death just leaves me feeling kinda… spent."
Peri put her laptop aside and wrapped her arms around him. "Sorry, Babe. Even when someone's older, it's hard." She kissed his neck. "And the older I get, the younger Dottie seemed."
They sat, entwined, for awhile, listening to the music from the stereo. Peri had put on Joe Sample, and the strains of smooth jazz piano floated through the room like a grown-up lullaby.
She reached for his beer. "What's for dinner?"
He glanced at his watch. "It's pretty early. We could go for sushi."
Peri caught his wrist and checked the time. "Five on a Tuesday. Hmm, I guess Fish in a Bottle won't be that busy."
Their heads bent together towards the watch, his upper lip close enough to brush her lower one. In less than a second, they were kissing, losing themselves in the moment while they tried not to spill the beer.
"How hungry are you?" He nuzzled her neck. "Could we get something a little later?"
"Mmm, sounds tempting, but I could eat shoe leather right now. The damn cat spilled my lunch."
He kissed her again. "Here one day and he's already ruining our love life."
She stroked his cheek. "Well, feed me and we can get back to business."
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Check back next Sunday for Chapter 6, or buy it now and read for yourself!