So, in celebration of Fish on a Bicycle going on pre-sale at DSP, I thought I’d give a little bit of love to my friend Rhae, who is currently having some trouble with contractors and needs some vengeance.
* * *
Chaos and Cooking
Jackson had put the folder together the day before, and but he sat in on the meeting between Ellery and the defendant with no assumptions whatsoever.
“So, Ms. Camdyn–” Ellery began.
“Oh, honey. You can call me Rhae. It’s so sweet of you to see me on such short notice.” The woman who sat in their brand new law office with her bag of crocheting and a pretty little shawl around her shoulders did not look threatening.
“Well, yes, Rhae–you caught us as we’re just beginning our practice. We’ve got a few cases under our belt–most of them successful–“
“Oh, I looked you up already. I know your record. That Sampson thing–what a doozy!”
Ellery looked at Jackson who shrugged. Well, “shrewd old bird” was IN CAPS in the top of the damned file for a reason.
“And I heard that your PI had some trouble–” she continued.
“All fine,” Jackson lied. He told the truth to Ellery, that was enough.
“Um-hm.” Rhae Camdyn was a sweet, plumpish grandmotherly sort, with graying hair pulled up in a ponytail and bright eyes peering out from gray-framed glasses, but apparently she was computer savvy, and also savvy to the contracting laws of the state.
And according to the printout, she was one hell of a baker.
“So, Ms. Camdyn, you are charged with poisoning an entire construction crew with brownies,” Ellery said, still not sure he’d read that right, then heard that right, then researched that right. “Is this true?”
“Is it true that I’m being charged with that? Oh yes, it most definitely is.”
Ellery raised his eyebrows, and Jackson shrugged again. How many times did he need to put “shrewd old bird” in caps anyway?
“So, you’re being charged with it–what I’m asking now is, did you do it?”
“Definitely not,” Jackson interjected, raising one eyebrow. “The report is absolutely clear. Two labs verified it, Ellery. The brownies were homemade, they had two types of chocolate, and according to all the guys on the site, they were delicious. But they were not–repeat not–tampered with or poisoned. There was nothing in those brownies besides your standard ingredients.”
Rhae Camdyn smiled an adorable little-old-lady smile and pulled out her crocheting project. “Except a whole lot of love,” she said, starting to stitch what appeared to be a purple granny square.
“So the brownies were uncontaminated,” Ellery clarified.
“Not a damned thing in them that me and those boys didn’t bring in the first place,” Ms. Camdyn reassured him, her hands flying with the wool and the hook.
“Then how do you explain what happened next?” Ellery continued doggedly.
Jackson had to hand it to her–she was good. He’d seen a lot of hardened criminals who would have murdered twice to sound as innocent as this woman.
“Yes,” Ellery said. “Next. The entire group of contractors–including guys who claimed they weren’t on the scene that day–had to be rushed to the hospital with cramps, nausea, and diarrhea. They all swore it was the brownies.”
“But how could it be?” Rhae said, not dropping a stitch. “My brownies had nothing in them that me and those boys didn’t bring to the table.”
Jackson’s eyes narrowed. It was the second time she’d said something like that–the third if you counted the police report.
“They were building your house, ma’am,” Jackson said, and Ellery nodded because it was obvious he was out of steam trying to figure this one out.
“Well, that’s what they said they were doing,” Ms. Camdyn said tartly. “They claimed to be putting our pre-fab together, but those things should go up in a relatively short period of time, and those assholes have been mucking about it for weeks.”
Jackson knew his eyes widened, but then, he’d talked to some of those guys. They’d gone on and on about the old lady whining at them when they’d been trying to text their girlfriends, and he’d thought they were assholes too.
“That must have been really inconvenient.”
“Inconvenient?” she asked, and her sweet-little-old-lady gaze went hard. “We were living in a double-wide–do you know how many fur-babies we have?”
“Says here six?” Jackson asked, just to make sure. “Is that right?”
“I have no idea,” she snapped. “But I have grown children and fur-babies and then that rain–“
“Yes, ma’am. Climate change is very destructive–“
“My office collapsed!” she snarled. “Because the prefab was supposed to be up by then! Inconvenient? Do you know I used to do that work? I would put in an honest days work for an honest day’s pay, and those fools were telling me that I couldn’t tell if they were slacking because I didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing in the first place! My husband had to hold me back–we own a shotgun and I know how to use it!”
Ellery’s eyes, which had narrowed suspiciously, were now very very wide, and he was looking at Jackson with the teeniest bit of anxiety. “Do you, uhm, happen to be armed now, ma’am?”
“No, young man, where do you think we live? Texas? There’s no concealed carry law for a shotgun in California, and if there is, where am I supposed to conceal it? Use it as a cane?”
Jackson hid a smirk behind his hand.
“Uhm, no ma’am,” Ellery said, having apparently just been schooled. “You seem very upset–and rightly so. I mean, I could probably make a case for letting you off if you did poison–“
“I didn’t poison the brownies!” she said, with extreme emphasis.
“But you did poison the workers?” Jackson asked, just making sure.
“There was no poison involved,” she said, her anger fading and her complacency returning as if by magic.
“Ma’am, we need to know. What exactly did you do to the contractors?”
She regarded them serenely from her purple project again. “I cursed them.”
Jackson thought his eyeballs might dry out, and Ellery looked like he’d quit breathing. Jackson recovered first. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but how did you–“
“Brownies were fine. I’m a high level druid, young man. I passed my wand thrice and uttered a ‘receive as thou hast given’ spell over them. It was a mild spell–I was thinking they’d get a little heartburn was all. I didn’t realize they were such assholes that they’d all get karmic dysentery.”
There was no air in the room. None. It had all been sucked out and Jackson could only gape like a fish. This time it was Ellery who recovered.
“You absolutely cannot say that on the stand.”
“Wasn’t planning to,” she said, her hook never ceasing that rather hypnotic movement. “I only told you two nice young men because you were so insistent that it would hurt my case if you were surprised.”
“Well we’re definitely surprised,” Jackson managed. “But, well, Ellery’s right. There is absolutely no evidence to link you to the mysterious illness that took over the entire outfit. In fact, because some of the people who got sick weren’t there, it points to a flaw in their own water supply, and we should probably use that as an alternative theory. I’m pretty sure we can get you off completely.”
Rhae Camdyn’s ingenuous smile didn’t dim one iota. “Oh, I had a good feeling about you boys. Thank you so much. I absolutely must make you something for this office. I think one of Auntie Rhae’s afghans would look lovely in the front, don’t you?”
“We’d be delighted, ma’am,” Jackson said, feeling as though the juggernaut of fate had somehow missed them but breezed a bit of wind through their hair. “Just, you know, don’t bake for us.”
Ms. Camdyn’s laughter tinkled throughout the office, and she left shortly thereafter, leaving Jackson and Ellery to look at each other helplessly.
“A curse,” Ellery said.
“That was new.”
“There is absolutely nothing proving that is even possible–” Ellery began, but Jackson held up a hurried hand.
“Ellery, do you really want to test that woman? She’s knitting us an afghan–for all we know it’s got karmic wool or something and every time we tell a lie we’ll be jumping like we’ve got a pin up our ass. Just take the win.”
“Take the win,” Jackson ground out. “Take the fucking win.”
“Fine,” Ellery muttered. “It doesn’t look like we’ve got a choice. The DA dropped the case.”
“Something about the entire office taking a nap after getting a batch of cupcakes.”
Jackson expelled a breath. “Take. The. Win.”
“I should have been a dentist,” Ellery told him sincerely.
“Sure. And I should have been a history teacher. We both fucked up. Just this once, we’re going to walk away.”
“The afghan was purple, Jackson.”
“It’s for the office,” he said diplomatically. “Jade likes purple–she’s the one who has to look at it in the reception room. Take–“
“The win. Fine. Come here.”
Jackson moved across the room. “Why?” he asked, although he figured he knew.
Ellery raised his face. “Kiss me.”
Jackson smiled, but did it anyway. “Why?”
“Because that, at least, I know is real.”