DISCLAIMER: Did I mention that I don't own any of the lovely characters portrayed in this fic? There's lots of other people who own them, but sadly, none of them are me. I'm just borrowing them for a while. Promise I'll put them back when I'm done. I'm not intentionally infringing on anyone's rights in any way. I'm also not making any profit from this in anyway, shape or form. Disclaimer done.
FANDOMS: Charlie's Angels, Murder She Wrote, The Facts of Life, Nancy Drew and Law & Order SVU.
CHALLENGE: Submitted for the 5th Anniversary Challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Five Fandom Cross-Over Story
By Del Robertson
Charles Townsend Private Investigations
Bosley squirmed in his chair, picked up the airline tickets once again. He fidgeted, tapping the edges of the three tickets on the hardwood desk. He was always nervous when the Angels went on away missions without him.
"Is everyone here, Bosley?" came the rich, dulcet tones from the speaker box.
"All present and accounted for, Charlie," Bosley confirmed, pushing the intercom button on his desk.
He looked expectantly at the trio of Angels. Kelly was seated on the sofa, idly scratching behind the ears of her favorite dog, a large black poodle with red ribbons in its fur to match the red polish on her nails. Jill lounged sideways in a plush chair, legs draped over one arm, sandals dangling precariously from her toes. She chewed her gum, blew a bubble as she leafed through the pages of a fashion magazine. At her customary place at the bar, Sabrina sat perched on the edge of her stool, gingerly sipping at her mug of piping hot coffee.
Reaching out, with a flick of a switch, Bosley dimmed the lights. He picked up a black cord, pressed the vinyl-covered button with his thumb. Instantly, a screen descended from the ceiling against the opposite wall. The Angels immediately focused their full attention as the first slide appeared on the screen.
The slide depicted an image of a woman who appeared to be in her late fifties, perhaps early sixties. She wore a large, beige turtleneck and a tweed skirt. A set of glasses hung from a cord about her neck. One hand valiantly attempting to keep her fading blonde windswept hair from her eyes as she stared directly into the camera. She appeared to be standing on a rocky coastline, a decrepit lighthouse visible in the background.
"That looks like the New England coastline, Charlie," Sabrina observed, blowing on her cup of coffee.
"Good eye, Angel," confirmed Charlie. "This picture was actually taken just outside the city limits of Cabot Cove."
"She looks familiar," Kelly stared intently at the frozen image of the woman looking back at her. "I've seen her somewhere before. I'm sure of it."
"So have I," added Sabrina, tapping her chin thoughtfully.
"Probably at the bookstore," supplied Bosley, clicking his button, bringing up the next slide. "Her titles are always on the best-seller list."
"J. B. Fletcher," Sabrina snapped her fingers.
"Oooh, I just love her," cooed Jill, glancing up from her fashion magazine. She caught the incredulous looks from the others. "What?" she shrugged. "They turn her books into movies-of-the-week all the time."
Bosley was the first to recover from Jill's bout of logic, hurriedly clicking his button, bringing up the next slide. This one was of a pleasantly plump woman. Like J. B. Fletcher, she wore her glasses on a chain about her neck. Her red hair was tied up in a bun and she wore a dusting of white powder on one cheek. An apron was tied snugly about her waist. She held a pan of fresh-baked cookies in front of her, waved an oven-mitted hand at the camera. A broad smile was on her face.
"This," explained Bosley, reading from the legal pad on his desk, "Is Mrs. Edna Garrett of Edna's Edibles. Ms. Fletcher has been lodging with her while she's in town speaking at the local colleges and bookstores."
"Aww, she's such a happy looking lady," observed Jill.
"She is, according to everyone who knows her," added Bosley. "Including her long-time friend, J. B. Fletcher."
"Let me guess," Jill smiled, batting long lashes at Bosley and his speaker box. "Someone's stolen her top secret recipe for fudge brownies and she needs our help to get them back?"
"Not exactly." Bosley sighed heavily, making his displeasure known. "As yet, there hasn't been an official retainer fee paid for our services."
"However, Angels, we are currently working this case," interrupted Charlie.
"I'm puzzled," Kelly sat up, suddenly intrigued. "Which of these ladies is our client?"
"Ms. Fletcher has been arrested for the murder of Mrs. Garrett."
The Angels sat in stunned silence, staring at the dual pictures of J. B. Fletcher and Edna Garrett staring back at them. Sabrina was the first to recover enough to move, sitting her mug of coffee down on the bar, easing herself off her stool. She came to stand behind the sofa, both hands clasping Kelly's shoulders.
"I don't get it," she said at last, still staring at the slides. "If we haven't been hired by anyone, why are we investigating this one?"
"Because, Angel," Charlie's voice echoed from the speaker box, "Jessica Fletcher is my wife."
"Ex-wife, actually," amended Jessica Fletcher.
"Oh, I'm sorry," apologized Kelly, "I thought you were still married to Charles Townsend."
"I'm sure it's not your fault, dear." Ms. Fletcher reached across the table, patting Kelly's hand reassuringly. "Sometimes Charles forgets to add the ex to wife. Especially when my stipend is due."
They sat in the visitor's room, which also doubled as the interrogation room. It wasn't a large jail, as Kelly had soon discovered when Ms. Fletcher was escorted from one of only three cells on the entire premises by the same officer who had processed her request at the front desk. Apparently, Peekskill was still one of those towns that was ran by one sheriff and one deputy. Why, she'd be surprised to learn that the cell Ms. Fletcher was residing in had even been locked.
"Were you married long?" The question was phrased innocently enough, but Kelly was shrewd enough to word it in such a way that she might discern new information about her mysterious employer.
"Only about five years. We were both so young. Charles was so handsome - and I was still quite naive. But, I was still smart enough to put some of my own money into Charles' investments. Squirrel something away for a rainy day, you might say."
"What did Charlie look like back then?" she asked sweetly.
"Well, you know, dear," Jessica leaned across the table, motioning for the young woman to come closer. Kelly did so, turning her ear, waiting for Ms. Fletcher to confide in her, "Charles told me not to answer those types of questions."
Sighing heavily, Kelly slumped back in her chair, unable to hide her look of disappointment. Shaking her head ruefully, she fought down her urge to roll her eyes.
"Maybe we should just stick to business," suggested Ms. Fletcher.
"Maybe," agreed Kelly, leaning forward in her seat again. "Why don't you start by telling me exactly what happened?"
Jo Polniachek killed the ignition switch on her bike. Taking off her helmet, she dropped the kickstand into place, dismounted. Mrs. G used to insist she park around back, but ever since Mrs. G - . Jo pushed the thought to the back of her mind as she stormed past a woman at the payphone and in the front door of the shop.
She instinctively glanced around the shop, taking note of the crowded tables as she pushed her way through the swinging doors and into the kitchen. She slammed her helmet down on the counter, causing Blair to nearly jump out of her skin.
"Jo! You scared the daylights out of me!" Blair flicked an exasperated look at the Bronx native. "Not to mention, you could have caused my soufflé to fall!"
"Yeah, well, I don't know why we're even open. I don't give a crap about those people out there and I don't give a crap about your fancy soufflé, either."
Blair felt something burst inside her. She moved away from Jo, towards the sink, attempting to hide her tears. She knew her friend was agitated; had been since Mrs. Garrett's - she couldn't bear to think the words. And, she'd been walking on eggshells ever since, everyone had, to keep Jo from flying off the handle.
Jo heard the muffled sobs, recognized the heaving shoulders. Feeling like a heel, she pushed herself off from the counter she'd been leaning against, came to stand behind Blair. "Shush, it's okay, Princess. Let it all out," she encouraged, placing a reassuring hand on Blair's shoulder.
Blair turned within her arms, burying her face in Jo's chest. She felt Jo's arms envelope her, strong hands caressing her back as soothing words were whispered into her hair. She struggled to control her sobbing, fought to prevent the heaving, ragged breaths that tore through her body. She inhaled deeply, smelling the reassuringly familiar scent of Jo's leather jacket.
"Blair, I'm sorry, honey. I didn't mean it." Jo worked to put a little space between them, caught Blair's chin with her fingers, tilted her face up. "I think you make great soufflés."
"Really? You're not just saying that?" Blair asked between sobs, attempting to wipe at her tears without streaking her mascara.
Jo smiled at the Warner heiress. A genuine smile, not just one to make her feel better. "You ever know me to say something I don't mean?" She reached out, wiping a bit of flour off Blair's cheek.
She looked so adorable in the kitchen, with her designer apron on and all the cookbooks spread about, trying to make sense out of all the chaos. It looked like a tornado had hit the kitchen every time Blair baked, but Jo always volunteered to help clean up the mess. Jo recognized the attempts for what they truly were; therapy. And, ever since Mrs. G, well, Blair had been spending a lot of her time in the kitchen.
"I'm sorry, Princess," Jo apologized again. "I just get so agitated every time I come in the front door and see all those people out there."
"People are good for business, Jo. Economics 101, remember?" asked in true Warner-fashion.
"You know as well as I do more than half of them wouldn't be out there now if - " Jo left the rest unsaid.
"Humans are morbid that way," Blair waxed philosophical. "Think about it. There's a wreck on the highway. Traffic grinds to a halt because everyone has to slow down to see what's happened. We're attracted to, fascinated by tragedy. It's human nature."
"Yeah, I guess," Jo acquiesced. "I just don't like it. All these vultures hovering around. We've been packed every single moment of every shift. And, you've been working nonstop during business hours, taking care of all the arrangements and trying to do all the baking and - "
"So, shut up and help me, Polniachek." Blair dipped her spoon into a bowl of flour, threw the contents on Jo's jacket.
"Did you just tell me to shut up?" Jo asked, swiping at the flour coating her leather jacket. She moved towards the counter, grabbing the stick of butter.
"Now, Jo, don't do anything you'll regret!" Blair pleaded, backing away from the woman advancing on her, holding a stick of butter leveled at her as if it was a butcher knife.
"Oh, don't worry, Princess!" Jo grinned, pinning her against the refrigerator. "I don't think I'll regret doing this at all!"
Outside, the woman Jo had breezed past at the payphone discreetly kept her head down, her hat pulled low as she gazed into the window of the shop. She had seen the young woman barrel past her, into the shop, disappearing into what she presumed was the kitchen. She waited, expecting the woman to come right back out. When she didn't, she lifted the receiver, dialed a number scrawled on a slip of paper.
"Kelly? Yeah, one of them just went into the shop. I've seen two younger girls working the front counter. From the slides Bosley showed us, it has to be Natalie Green and Dorothy Ramsey." Sabrina paused, listening intently to the voice on the other line. "Okay. Jill's already in position. I'm going to join her, scope the place out. We'll meet you back at the motel."
Sabrina hung up the phone, reflexively inserted her finger in the slot, checking for her change. Adjusting her glasses on the bridge of her nose, she pushed through the front door. She made a showing of surveying the shop. Then, she approached a gorgeous blonde donned in tennis apparel who was seated alone at a corner table.
"Excuse me, miss," Sabrina made sure she addressed the woman in an overly-loud tone so as to be overheard from as far away as the front register, "It seems to be awfully crowded. Do you mind if I join you?"
"No, not at all," replied the blonde, motioning for Sabrina to sit. "I'd be glad for the company."
Sabrina sat down across from Jill, waited until one of the girls from the counter - Natalie Green, she reminded herself - approached to take her order. Then, she leaned across the table and said in a not-so-quite tone, "I hear they've been doing well ever since the murder."
"Murder?" Jill looked positively shocked.
"Yeah. Local yokels got some fancy writer locked up in the jail. But, they don't think she did it." Sabrina leaned impossibly closer. "They think it's an inside job. Sheriff thinks the writer knows who did it and he locked her up for her own protection."
Sabrina let her voice trail off. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Natalie's slight hesitation, the almost-stumble as she approached their table. "H-Hi, there. Welcome to Edna's Edibles. What can I get you?" Sabrina noticed the large smile, the way the girl wiped her seemingly sweaty palms on her sweater before producing a notepad from her pocket.
"Coffee. Black." Sabrina hesitated. "And a couple of your pigs-in-blankets to go."
"Just water for me, thanks," Jill smiled as she watched the girl write down both drink orders before disappearing into the kitchen. "What do you think?" she asked Sabrina.
"Well," Sabrina never took her eyes off the door Natalie had gone through, "She's pretty nervous about something."
Sabrina plugged in the last connection, adjusted the location of the speaker box, placing it right beside the motel telephone on the nightstand. All three women gathered around, Jill curled up with a pillow in a plush chair, Kelly and Sabrina sprawled out across the bed.
"Can you hear us, Charlie?" Sabrina asked, adjusting the volume control.
"Loud and clear, Angel," came Charlie's voice over the box. "Let's review what we've got so far."
"A big lot of nothing, Charlie." Kelly fluffed her pillow, leaned back against the headboard. "Literally. According to J. B. Fletcher, she arrived in Peekskill to find that her reservation at the Peekskill Motel had been cancelled. Normally, in a town this size, that wouldn't be a problem. They'd just give her another room. Ironically, though, the motel was booked solid with out-of-towners coming to listen to her lecture at the local college. Naturally, her long-time friend, Edna Garrett, offered to put her up at her house, which coincidentally, is over the roof of Edna's Edibles. She spent half the night reminiscing with Edna about the good, old days. She got up early the next morning, had breakfast with Edna, then went off to her conference. When she came back that evening, the police were waiting to arrest her for the murder."
"Did Jessica give you an indication as to why the police think she did it?"
Sabrina arched an eyebrow at the use of Ms. Fletcher's first name, gave Kelly a sly look. Kelly almost laughed, but then shooed Sabrina off, focusing on the case at hand. "The police followed a bloody trail from the kitchen to one of the bedrooms. Inside Ms. Fletcher's suitcase was a butcher knife, covered in blood."
"That could have been planted by anyone in the house," protested Bosley. "It sounds like a classic frame."
"I agree," chimed in Sabrina. "There are four women living in that house. We need to look at every one of them as a possible suspect."
"Anyone in particular stand out?" inquired the speaker box.
"I watched them most of the afternoon, Charlie." Jill flipped her blonde hair back over her shoulder as she talked. "They're all pretty nervous about something."
"Charlie, back to the frame angle," interrupted Kelly, "The police arrested Ms. Fletcher strictly on the bloody trail and the knife. They don't even have a body."
Bosley let out a low whistle. "Definitely sounds like a frame-up."
"Say," Jill snapped her fingers. "Do you think the sheriff's in on it? It wouldn't be the first time we've run across a crooked cop."
Kelly shook her head. "I don't think so. Sheriff Gorden appears to be exactly what he is; a small town law enforcement official. He prides himself on maintaining order. I doubt if this town has ever had a crime bigger than a random shoplifting."
"Maybe that's the point." Sabrina rolled over, ending up closer to the speaker box, propping her chin on Kelly's upper thigh. "Think about it. A celebrity on trial in a small town. We've seen it ourselves; business is booming in Peekskill."
"Bree's right." Kelly idly stroked her fingers through Sabrina's short locks. "The motel's booked, the local diners are full. Edna's Edibles is jam-packed from the minute they open until the second they close. You can't go anywhere without running into a camera crew."
"Celebrity trials have always been big money-makers," added Jill. "And, J. B. Fletcher is probably the biggest celebrity Peekskill has ever seen."
"In that case," Bosley's voice echoed from the tiny speaker box, "I don't think the local sheriff is going to have any incentive to look any farther than Ms. Fletcher for his murderer. They're going to railroad her."
"I'm afraid I'm forced to agree with Bosley." The Angels could hear the distinctive drumming of Charlie's fingers on his desk. "I'm going to call an attorney friend of mine in New York. Maybe we can get some legal involvement of our own."
"While you do that, Charlie, Kelly and I'll pay another visit to Edna's Edibles," suggested Sabrina. "See if we can find any clues the sheriff may have missed."
"And, I'll talk to the locals before I swing by to check on Ms. Fletcher," chimed in Jill. "See if I can get a vibe on our murder victim and those four girls working for her."
"Excellent idea, Angel." Jill fairly beamed at Charlie's praise. "Tomorrow's going to be a full day. I recommend you three turn in as soon as possible."
"Night, Charlie. Night, Bosley," chorused all three before the line was disconnected.
"Charlie's right," Kelly yawned. "We'd better all get to bed."
"Yeah, guess so." Jill got up from her chair. Stretching, she made her way slowly towards the door. "See ya'll in the morning." She paused with her hand on the knob, turned back to look at Sabrina and Kelly. "You know, it's funny how every time we book a room somewhere, they always have just one single and one queen available." A small giggle escaped as she thought about that. "I'm just glad I'm super-lucky and always win the coin toss to see who gets the room all to herself."
"Yeah," agreed Sabrina. "You're super-lucky that way." She grinned as Kelly subtly elbowed her in the ribs. "Turn off the lights on your way out, huh?"
Edna's Edibles - Early Morning
"I can't believe you dragged me out of bed this early," Sabrina groused, leaning over her cup of coffee, deeply inhaling the rich aroma.
"Well, if you'd gone straight to bed like Charlie said last night, you wouldn't be so tired this morning," Kelly admonished, biting into her croissant.
"As I recall, we went to bed early." Sabrina smirked around the rim of her mug. "It's not my fault you didn't let me go to sleep."
"Excuse me? I didn't let you go to sleep? Who was the one that - " Kelly let her voice trail off as one of the women who worked there approached the table.
"Can I get you anything else?" asked the woman whose nametag proudly proclaimed her as Tootie. She openly appraised Sabrina's mug. "Another cup of coffee?"
"Yeah, that'd be great. I just can't seem to wake up today."
"I guess not. That's like your third cup already," Tootie said in awe.
"Yeah, for some reason, my whole mouth feels numb. Like I strained my tongue or something, you know?" Sabrina grimaced as Kelly deftly kicked her shin underneath the table.
Tootie's eyes went wide. "Well, I can't help you with that, but Dr. Hanover comes in for coffee every morning around nine. Maybe he can look at it for you?"
"Actually, there might be something else you can help us with." Kelly spoke softly, smiling at the young woman. It was a knack she had, being able to charm anyone. Especially children and reluctant witnesses. "You see, we're journalists. And, it would be really great if you could show us around, talk to us about what happened here."
"Oh, I don't know about that." Tootie began hastily backing away from the table. "Jo got real upset last time I talked to a reporter. He took some photos and they ended up in the tabloids and Jo got real mad - "
Kelly reached out, placing a restraining hand on Tootie's arm. "We're not those kind of journalists." She remembered to keep her voice calm, soothing. "We'll run everything by you before it's printed. We won't even take any photographs."
Sabrina shook her head. "Not a one."
"Well, I guess it'll be okay, then," Tootie smiled, then bit her bottom lip. "But, maybe we shouldn't tell Jo. Just in case."
Kelly and Sabrina nodded. "She won't hear a word about it from us."
Peekskill Court House
"This is ludicrous!" protested Alexandra Cabot, slamming her open palm emphatically on the hardwood table. To her satisfaction, the judge visibly jumped at her outburst. Likewise, she saw the elderly woman seated beside her flinch. "You have no legal recourse to prosecute this woman!"
"Careful, dear," cautioned Ms. Fletcher, leaning in to whisper in her counselor's ear. "Small town judges don't always appreciate the flair for confrontation that you possess."
"Confrontation is what I do best," Alex advised Ms. Fletcher, "Don't worry; we'll be out of here before lunch time."
"Your honor," spoke up the man at the next table. Alex cast an annoyed look in his direction. He had a slight build and a receding hairline. Thin wire-framed glasses perched atop his nose. He nervously pushed his glasses up as he addressed the judge. "Although Ms. Fletcher looks harmless, she in fact brutally murdered a long-time citizen of Peekskill, one Edna Garrett."
"You don't even have a body!" protested Alex. "Your entire case is circumstantial."
"Your honor, Mrs. Garrett's apron, covered in blood, was recovered at the scene. Sheriff Gordon tracked a trail of blood upstairs, where he discovered a butcher knife covered in blood hidden in Ms. Fletcher's suitcase."
"Your Honor, we're willing to negotiate a plea bargain."
"You are?" The judge's tone was incredulous. Alex slid a sidelong glance at the prosecutor. His face was a mixture of relief and confusion.
"Yes. If the prosecuting attorney is willing to admit that he's a blundering idiot who couldn't find his ass with both hands, let alone present it as evidence, we'll agree to not press charges for slander and wrongful imprisonment."
Alex folded her arms over her chest, smirked at the prosecuting attorney. She felt a slight bit of pressure at the small of her back, immediately realized it was Olivia, seated directly behind her. Warning me to watch it before I get tossed in jail on contempt charges. Dear, sweet Liv, this isn't Petrovsky's court. I'm just getting warmed up.
"Ms. Cabot," the judge's voice broke into her reverie. She focused on the bench, waited patiently as Judge Walker leafed through a stack of papers on his desk. "Correct me if I'm mistaken, but aren't you a prosecuting attorney in New York?"
"I'm an assistant district attorney," confirmed Alex.
"Uh-huh. And, as a district attorney, don't you normally do the prosecuting in these cases?"
"Normally, yes, your honor."
The judge leaned forward, peering at the stunning blonde over the rim of his glasses. "Then, if I may inquire, Ms. Cabot, why are you defending Ms. Fletcher?"
"Favor to a friend."
"I see." With that, he went back to perusing his paperwork. The entire courtroom waited as the minutes stretched by. The prosecuting attorney adjusted his tie, wiped the sweat from his brow with his handkerchief. Alex continued to stand with her arms folded across her chest, tapping the toe of her patented black high heel shoes. She heard Detective Benson audibly sigh, squirm on the bench behind her. "Well," continued the judge, looking up from his papers, "There seems to be enough circumstantial evidence to proceed to trial."
The prosecuting attorney smirked. "People request Ms. Fletcher be remanded without bail, your honor."
"She's not a flight risk, your honor," objected Alex.
"She's a celebrity, your honor. With access to an unlimited amount of cash, transportation and the ability to flee the country."
"It's her notoriety that will ensure her not leaving town. She's instantly recognizable; where can she run to?"
"This ain't California," objected the prosecuting attorney. "We don't let our murderers and child molesters out on bail to do commercials and t.v. specials."
"Ms. Fletcher is neither of those things, I assure you." Alex rolled her eyes at the prosecutor, then turned, laying her most charming smile on the judge. "If it will appease the court, I'll agree to pay her bail and take custody of Ms. Fletcher until her trial date."
"Well ." the judge bit his bottom lip, glanced between Alex Cabot and the prosecutor.
"Your Honor, the people object - "
"Your Honor, my girl my escort is one of New York's finest. Detective Benson will be delighted to take Ms. Fletcher into her custody, if you prefer." She indicated Olivia, who Alex thanked God, was actually paying attention to the proceedings and smiled on cue. "And, seated beside her, is a private investigator from Charles Townsend Private Investigations. Surely between two such respected law enforcement officials, the court's satisfaction should be met."
To Alex's consternation, the peroxide blonde seated beside Detective Benson on the bench smiled and waved at the judge, flipping her blonde hair over her shoulder in one carefully orchestrated maneuver. Alex bit her bottom lip, praying the judge wouldn't throw the book at her client. She had advised Olivia and Jill to be friendly towards the judge. Benson was behaving admirably. But, she hadn't realized she'd need a leash to curb Jill's flirting.
"Indeed, Ms. Cabot." The judge smiled warmly at the blue-eyed blonde seated almost directly behind the defense table. "I think the court is very much satisfied. Jessica Fletcher is hereby released into your custody until trial." He slammed his gavel down, hurriedly left the bench, briskly exiting the door nearest his bench before the prosecutor could voice any further protests.
"Wow! You were fantastic!" gushed Jill for the third time in as many minutes.
"Yeah, well, that's what I do," Alex mumbled, attempting to fight back a blush.
Olivia rubbed her chin thoughtfully, glancing suspiciously from Alex to Jill and back again. You know, Jill's kind of cute. I wonder if Alex has ever thought about Nah! Olivia mentally shook off that image, focused her attention back on the subject at hand.
"You really were pretty amazing, dear," added Ms. Fletcher, smiling warmly at Alex. "I really thought that little man was going to get away with locking me up."
"We're not out of the woods, yet," Alex declared grimly, snapping her briefcase closed, hoisting it off the defendant's table. "We've got a lot of work to do if we're going to get your case tossed before your trial date."
"I think we need to regroup back at the motel," suggested Detective Benson. "Maybe Jill's friends have come up with something."
"That sounds like a groovy idea." Jill flashed her mega-watt smile at Olivia, hooked her arm through Olivia's as they exited the courtroom. "I think you'll like Kelly and Sabrina. They're both smart. And pretty."
"As pretty as you?" asked Detective Benson, maneuvering them out of the building and down the front stairs of the courthouse.
"Hardly," giggled Jill, tightening her grip on Olivia's arm, leaning into her.
Behind them, Alexandra Cabot walked beside Ms. Fletcher, resigning herself to stroll at the elderly woman's slower pace. Her jaw clenched as she heard the flirty, feminine giggles escaping from the peroxide blonde as she leaned into Detective Benson. As she moved in closer, rubbing her well-endowed sweater against Olivia's arm, Alex felt her muscles instinctively tighten. Still hurling imaginary daggers at the blonde's back with her piercing glare, Alexandra didn't even glance down as she tossed her now-broken pencil into the trash receptacle at the bottom of the steps.
"I'm telling you, Kelly, something's not right with those two."
"I think you're overreacting, Bree. They're just a bunch of sweet kids."
"You kidding me?" Sabrina's eyebrows arched, threatening to lose themselves in her hairline. "The blonde what's her name?"
"Yeah. Blair. She's a major player. She buys and sells more stock before breakfast than I do all year."
"That doesn't make her a master criminal," Kelly admonished.
"Yeah? Well, I still think we need to keep an eye on them." Sabrina sipped gingerly from her cup of coffee, watching her quarry over the brim of her mug. "They're up to something."
Tootie had cleverly suggested to Kelly that she follow her to the kitchen disguised as a food connoisseur. Tootie introduced her, claiming she had been raving about the pigs-in-blankets and demanded to meet the chef. Kelly laid on a thick southern accent and played up to the blonde's ego. She figured the best way to catch Blair off-guard was to distract her with flattery. It had been Sabrina's job to unobtrusively come in with her and scope out the kitchen while Kelly distracted Blair.
They hadn't counted on the other one, though. Jo. She was immediately suspicious of both of them. And, if it hadn't been for Blair stepping in and putting her foot down, she had no doubt the brunette with the Bronx accent would have been all too happy to toss them out on their ears. At Blair's reprimand, Jo had tossed her apron down on the counter and stormed off. Sabrina's first instinct was to follow her, but she knew if she left the kitchen, her actions would seem even more suspicious.
So, she waited until an opportune time to duck back out to the front counter. She found Natalie working there, running the register and waiting the tables while Tootie was on break. Sabrina took the opportunity to pump her for information. Remembering what Tootie had said about Jo being a mechanic, she asked for the brunette under the pretext of needing to check a rattle under the hood. Of course, Natalie took the bait, stating that Jo had gone to her garage to cool off for a while.
Sabrina took the opportunity to slip out of the house and towards the garage that Natalie so helpfully pointed her in the direction of. Sure enough, she found the garage door open, the brunette leaning over a workbench. Her toolbox was open and she was carefully wiping each tool with a rag.
"That's a nice bike," Sabrina called out, standing just inside the doorway, hands in her back pockets.
Jo dropped the wrench she'd been cleaning, abruptly turned around. "Didn't hear you come in," she flashed a shy smile. Then, as she recognized Sabrina, her scowl returned. "What are you doin' out here?"
"Well, you know, Kelly's really into the whole cooking, cleaning, home and garden thing." Sabrina deliberately kept her approach casual. She didn't want to put the girl on the defense any more than she already was. "Not really my cup of tea, if you know what I mean."
"Oh. Yeah, the girls are like that, too. All the cleaning and cooking and stuff just gets on my nerves. If I could, I'd be out here, getting grease under my nails all the time."
Sabrina's gaze flicked to Jo's fingernails. They were cut short. There was a little bit of grease under the nails, but not much. What with recent events, she assumed Jo hadn't had too much time to work on her bike. She watched intently as Jo briskly cleaned a screwdriver on her mechanic's rag. As she dropped it into the toolbox, Sabrina picked it up.
"You know, you really gotta be careful with a set of tools like this." She took a tissue from her pocket, wiped at the end of the screwdriver. "Stuff gets into the grooves of a Phillip's head and you'll never get it out." Jo openly stared as Sabrina cleaned the tool. "There. All clean." Sabrina smiled, dropping the screwdriver back into the toolbox.
"Thanks." Jo reached over, abruptly slamming the lid of the toolbox shut. "I gotta get back. Blair's probably wondering where I got off to." She took Sabrina by the elbow, steered her towards the door. "Come on, I'll walk you back up to the house."
Sabrina nodded in agreement, casually slipped her hand holding the dirty tissue into her front pocket as she allowed Jo to escort her out of the garage.
"I'm telling you, I don't trust them," Sabrina repeated, leaning in closer to Kelly.
Although Kelly cocked her head to one side, listening to Sabrina, her gaze never left the front counter. Two women were standing at the register, one sort of tomboyish with short black hair, the other more feminine, with strawberry-blonde hair. They were speaking in hushed tones to Natalie. Even though she couldn't hear the conversation, Kelly could tell the strawberry-blonde was agitated about something. She had a business card firmly clasped in hand and was repeatedly tapping the edges on the glass countertop as she spoke animatedly with Natalie.
"Bree, look towards the front counter. Can you make out what's going on?"
Sabrina turned her attention to where Kelly directed, focusing on the two young women speaking with Natalie. Her eyes narrowed as she studied the unfolding scene. "Something's definitely up. Maybe I can move a little closer, hear what's going on."
Sabrina deftly rose from her chair, casually strolled towards the counter. She lingered at the condiment counter, surreptitiously studying the sugar packets and swizzle sticks as she edged closer to the women.
"Look, I already told you, there's no one here by that name." Natalie's tone rose in obvious irritation.
"And, as I've already told you," insisted the strawberry-blonde in the turtleneck sweater and long skirt, "My housekeeper's friend called from here in a state of panic."
"Yeah, well, Peekskill's a big town." Natalie caught the skeptical look from the woman leaning on her counter. "Well, it's growing all the time. Check one of the other shops on the block. I know; George's father owns a hardware store. I'll bet she called from there."
"I had the number traced. She definitely called from this shop."
"I don't know what to tell you," Natalie shrugged. "Maybe she asked to use the phone."
"This may be a matter of life and death," persisted the strawberry-blonde.
"Maybe she got over it and got on with her life," deadpanned Natalie. She closed the till, started to walk away.
The tomboyish brunette quickly shot out a hand, preventing Natalie from leaving. "And, maybe you're lying."
"Hey! Let go!" Natalie shrieked, yanking her arm free.
Sabrina dropped her swizzle stick and sugar packets, ready to step in. That's when she saw the kitchen door swinging open. Jo instantly appeared, stepping up beside Natalie. "Is there a problem, Nat?" she asked.
"I think it's just a misunderstanding," apologized the strawberry-blonde.
"The only misunderstanding is that your friend doesn't know what 'let go' means." Natalie tenderly rubbed her aching wrist.
"Blair needs you in the kitchen, Nat." Jo maintained eye contact with the two women even as she grabbed Natalie by the shoulders, turned her around, gave her a shove in the right direction. Folding both arms over her chest, she steadfastly glared. "I think you two need to leave."
"I'm not trying to cause trouble. Really," protested the strawberry-blonde. "I'm just trying to help my friend."
"And your friend was hurting my friend. I don't like people who try to hurt my friends. Leave. Now."
"Look, it was all just a big misunderstanding. Here's my card. If you see my friend, please, tell her Nancy Drew is looking for her." Jo impassively watched as the woman printed a name on the business card, pushed it across the glass counter with her fingertip. "Please. It may be a matter of life and death." Nancy turned to her companion. "Come on, George, let's go."
Jo watched the two women leave, then picked up the business card off the counter. She read the front, then flipped it over, studying the handwriting on the backside. Tearing the card in half, she tossed it in the trashcan beside the register.
Sabrina waited until Jo had walked back through the door leading to the kitchen before she made her move. Idly chewing on the end of her swizzle stick, she casually approached the counter. Giving a cursory glance at her surroundings, she tossed the swizzle stick in the trash. She forced herself to nonchalantly walk away from the counter.
She had just slid into her chair beside Kelly when Natalie appeared from the kitchen. Sabrina took a sip of her coffee, casually placed her palm face down on the table. They watched as Natalie approached the register. She rang up a customer, took his money, placed it in the till. As soon as the man took his sack of bagels, she tore off the receipt, balled it up and tossed it in the trash. Her gaze swept the shop, pausing momentarily on Kelly and Sabrina before moving on.
"Think she's looking for this?" asked Sabrina, removing her palm from the table.
"Certainly looks like it," agreed Kelly, piecing the two halves of the business card together on the table between them.
Both Angels continued to act natural as they studied the business card. The card was imprinted with a sketch of a fingerprint and a magnifying glass. The name 'Nancy Drew - freelance investigator' was clearly emblazoned beneath the artwork. Kelly slid the two halves of the card off the table, flipped it over before placing the pieces back together again.
"As soon as we can get to a phone, we'll call Jill and see if she can talk to some of the locals," suggested Sabrina. "We may not know who Rena T. Edgar is, but I'd sure like to figure out what Ms. Detective Drew is on to."
"You think she's doing more than just looking for her friend?" asked Kelly.
"Oh, I'd be willing to bet on it."
Open, partially empty pizza boxes lay scattered about the table. A three-liter, half-full bottle of soda sat on the nightstand between the table and the bed. And, there were only two cans of beer left from the case. Detective Benson reached across the table, grabbed one of the cans, fell back into her position on the floor. She leaned back, settling in between Alex's legs.
She opened the beer, taking a swig. Tapered nails glided down the length of her arm; she surrendered her beer can to Alex. Leaning back, she propped her arm up on Alex's knee, feeling the worn denim against her flesh. She idly stroked the fabric of Alex's favorite jeans, delighting in the change from the attorney's customary all-business attire. Very seldom did Alex do casual, so it was always nice for Olivia when she could witness the counselor out of her formal wear.
There weren't enough chairs to go around, so she had graciously taken the floor, allowing Alex the chair. They had rendezvoused with Kelly, Sabrina and Jill in their motel room to discuss the case over dinner. Now that they had sufficiently stuffed themselves, they were all lounging around in various positions, moaning over bloated stomachs and going over the facts - again.
Ms. Fletcher sat in a plush chair, using a reading lamp to study the business card that had been retrieved from Edna's Edibles. Reaching in her purse, she dug around until she found a tape dispenser. Taping the two halves of the card together, she adjusted her glasses, read the name again.
"I'm afraid I have no clue," she admitted, passing the card to Jill.
"I asked all the locals I could," Jill fingered the card, letting the edges slide under her fingernail until the card bent, then allowed it to flip back into place, "And mind you, they were all pretty friendly," she flashed her trademark smile, flipped her luxurious blonde mane. "But, none of them have ever even heard of Rena T. Edgar."
"She's not a local then," concluded Kelly from her position on the bed.
She had retreated to the queen-size bed and was now stretched out widthwise across the bottom half. She lay on her stomach, chin propped in her palm as she leaned on one elbow. Sabrina lay lengthwise on the bed, head propped up on several pillows, feet laced together at the ankles, resting in the small of Kelly's back.
"The question is, then, who is she and why is Nancy Drew so determined to find her?"
"We pulled some strings, did some checking." Alex took another sip of Olivia's beer. "Nancy Drew is exactly who she claims to be. But, there's no such person as Rena T. Edgar. She doesn't exist."
"An alias, maybe?" guessed Sabrina.
"For who?" asked Jill.
No one answered. Sabrina reached over, extracting the card from Jill. She stared at it, idly tapping her chin. "What about that tissue sample?" she asked Detective Benson.
"Well, if I'd known we'd be studying forensic evidence, I would have invited a few of the crime scene investigators along. I don't trust the locals to process it. And, they won't let me use their equipment." A deep sigh resonated from Detective Benson as she thought about what she'd like to do to the narrow-minded, small town sheriff. "Best we could do was Fed-ex it back to the lab. They'll call as soon as they get something."
"So, where are we now?" asked Alex.
"I've been accused of murdering one of my oldest and dearest friends," volunteered J. B. Fletcher.
"Okay, let's start with that." Alex grabbed her legal pad and felt-tip pen from the table. Dropping her black-rimmed glasses into place, she began writing on the pad. "We need to do a timeline," she declared. "That should give us some perspective."
"Did you notice anything unusual that morning?" prompted Detective Benson.
"No. Edna was in high spirits. That's typical of her. Even early in the morning. She made breakfast for me, then rushed me out the door so I wouldn't be late for the conference."
"Where were the other girls?" asked Sabrina.
Jessica shrugged. "I think the two youngest were still asleep. Blair and Jo had early morning classes, so they were already up and about."
"So, they could have committed the crime after you left," prompted Alex.
"I don't think so. I recall seeing them both at the college. They sat in on the lecture I gave."
"They could have killed her, dumped the body, and made an appearance at the lecture to establish their alibis."
"What's the motive?" asked Jessica.
"We'll get to that later," directed Alex. "The beautiful thing about being on the defense for a change is we get to poke holes in the prosecution. They have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Believe me, that's not going to happen. By the time I'm done, I'll have the jury believing the judge could have done it."
"Has anyone seen the evidence against Ms. Fletcher?" asked Kelly.
Alex shook her head. "The prosecutor has to disclose soon. The defense team has to have an opportunity to examine the evidence. So far, I've seen photographs. I'll call tomorrow and find out when I can see the actual items."
"I'd like to see those photos if you don't mind," spoke up Jessica.
"Sure thing, J. B.," agreed Detective Benson. "It's pretty cut-and-dried, though. There's a shot of a bloody apron, wadded up and discarded on the kitchen floor. There's blood on the counter top and splatters of blood leading from the kitchen. There are several photographs of the trail leading up to one of the bedrooms. And, there's a pic of a bloody butcher knife in a plastic bag inside your suitcase."
"Liv." Alex tenderly tapped Detective Benson on the shoulder. "Why don't you go refill the ice bucket?"
"But it's still got plenty of - "
"More ice, Liv," Alex repeated, nudging Olivia more firmly this time.
"Oh, okay!" Olivia struggled to her feet, grabbed the ice box, ambled out the door.
"Sorry, Jessica," apologized Alexandra. "Detectives. Sometimes they forget that not everyone comes equipped with a cast-iron stomach and a heart of stone."
"Damn Cabot, sending me out to get more ice when we've got plenty - " Olivia continued to grouse as she made her way along the sidewalk to the end of the row of motel rooms. She swung the ice bucket loosely from her left hand, letting its weight carry her arm, slapping the bucket against her thigh with each step.
She stepped off the end of the sidewalk, onto the asphalt drive. "She could have at least let me put my shoes on before sending me - Owwch!" Liv grabbed her left foot, hopped the rest of the way to the ice machine. Catching the edge of the lid, she clung to the side. "Son of a bitch - Cabot, I swear when I get my hands on you - "
Liv's voice trailed off as she caught sight of two young women approaching. They slowed as they neared the ice machine, smiling warmly at the detective. Liv smiled in return, watching as they sauntered past. Her eyes raked over their bodies, taking in every feature, every detail instantly. Alex called it her 'detective sense', the ability to casually glance at someone and be able to pretty much size them up instantly.
They were young. Probably early-twenties. The brunette had short hair, not a lot of makeup. A watch was visible on her wrist, but no other jewelry was readily visible. She wore a frayed jersey and tight, faded blue jeans. Her room key dangled loosely from her hand as she talked animatedly with her companion.
She was wearing a skirt, a nice blouse. Unlike her tomboyishly athletic companion, she was all feminine grace and charm. The svelte curve of her hip, the handbag, a tasteful touch of makeup. And jewelry. Liv always marveled at girls and their jewelry. She had caught sight of a thin-banded watch on one wrist, several gold bracelets adorned the other. Earrings dangled from both ears, brushing against her strawberry-blonde hair as she walked -
Damn - Olivia threw her ice bucket down, grabbed her cell from the waistband of her jeans. She hobbled down the sidewalk as the speed-dial connection went through. "Alex, get out here now," she spoke as soon as she heard the district attorney pick up.
"Liv, come on," she heard the agitated whine in Alex's voice, "You're perfectly capable of getting ice by yourself."
"I've found Nancy Drew."
Six women stood huddled outside a motel room door. Sabrina raised her hand, firmly rapping her knuckles on the faux-wood.
"Are you quite certain this is the correct room, Detective Benson?" asked Jessica Fletcher, trying her best to peer through a sheer curtain covering the window.
"Positive." Benson folded her arms across her chest, glared at the door. "I saw them go in this door."
"How you let them get to their room, get inside and lock door is beyond me," chided Alex, "I expected better from one of New York's finest, detective."
Benson's eyebrows arched in surprise at the unexpected reprimand. "Excuse me, you're the one that sent me out without shoes, remember?" she wriggled her bare toes on the concrete for emphasis. "I can't be expected to chase down perps without footwear."
"No one appears to be inside," stated Jessica, firmly, moving away from the window.
"They have to be," protested Detective Benson. "They never left my sight." She stepped forward, nudging Sabrina out of the way, pounding on the door with significantly more force. "Police! We know you're in there!"
Olivia raised her fist, ready to beat on the door again when Kelly Garrett stepped between her and the entrance. "Allow me, detective." She smiled sweetly, held up a cylindrical object between two fingers.
Liv watched dumbfounded as the brunette extracted several tools from the kit that looked to be nothing more than a regular manicure set. Kelly knelt down, eye level with the lock and fiddled with it. Less than thirty seconds later, she put her tools away, stood up. With a Cheshire-cat grin, she turned the knob, pushing the door open.
"I did not just witness an illegal entry without a search warrant." Alex quickly averted her gaze.
"Relax, counselor," Olivia nudged her with her hip, "We don't have to worry about illegal search and seizures this time, remember?"
The women jockeyed for position into the darkened motel room. As Detective Benson and the Angels pulled their weapons and fanned out, Alex and Jessica stayed by the front door. Alex reached out, flipping on the lights.
"No one's here," declared Jill, standing in the middle of the room, one hand on her hip, the other holding her revolver loosely pointed at the floor.
"But, they were." Ms. Fletcher picked up two plane tickets out of an open suitcase. "Two plane tickets from River Heights."
"So, it's definitely their room," concluded Alex. "But, where are they?"
"Out the bathroom window." Benson appeared in the doorway leading from the lavatory, wiping her hands on a towel. "Window's open. They're both agile enough to have gotten out easily."
"Now what?" asked Sabrina, flopping down on the bed. She picked up a discarded paperback laying on the pillow, idly leafed through the pages. "They could be anywhere by now."
"Well, they won't get far without their plane tickets. But, I doubt if they'll come back here tonight." Alex paced the length of the carpet. "We could leave someone here to stake-out the room."
"Oh! I'll do it!" Jill waved her hand in the air, bounced up and down on the balls of her feet.
Ms. Fletcher saw the hesitant looks that passed between the other women. "I'll stay with her," she volunteered. "They're just two young girls. And, I think Jill and I would be less likely to intimidate them if they do make an appearance."
"Then, it's agreed," decided Alex. "The rest of us will go back to our rooms and get some rest. We'll meet over breakfast and map out our plan for the day." She grabbed Olivia by the hand, tugged her towards the door. "Come on, detective, let's see if we can find a clue as to the whereabouts of your shoes."
"Hey, guys." Sabrina snapped her fingers, abruptly sat up on the bed. She tossed the worn copy of J. B. Fletcher's latest mystery onto the mattress. "I know who Rena T. Edgar is," she said, holding up a makeshift bookmark.
Edna's Edibles - late night
"I don't get it," Kelly whispered softly in Sabrina's ear as she deftly closed the front door, the lock barely making an audible click as it slid back into place. "If you know who Rena Edgar is, why are we back here?"
"Because this is where it started. And, the criminal always returns to the scene of the crime."
Kelly rolled her eyes. She didn't understand why Sabrina just couldn't tell her. Unless, she thought, she doesn't know, either. I'll bet she's just playing one of her off-the-wall hunches. Resolutely, she followed close behind her partner as they crept through the darkened shop.
It was just the two of them for this little adventure. At Sabrina's insistence, they'd opted to leave Jill and Ms. Fletcher back at the motel, in case Nancy and her friend made their way back there. Alex was working on her opening statement, just in case it was needed. And, Detective Benson was calling her station, trying to get a rush put on those lab results.
"I'm telling you, Jo, I heard something."
Sabrina and Kelly ducked down, crouching behind the counter, pressing against the trashcan near the front register. A swinging door creaked open, two women edged their way into the shop.
One was clad in a pair of men's pajamas, sleeves rolled up past her elbows. A baseball bat was firmly gripped in both hands, knuckles clenched bone white about the taped handle. A cute blonde wearing a short robe followed close behind her, both hands clutching at the material covering the brunette's shoulders. Every time Jo would take a step, she heard Blair take two quick steps behind her.
She shrugged out of Blair's clutches, turned sharply. "Will you get off me?" she hissed through clenched teeth.
Satisfied, Jo hefted the baseball bat, relaxed her grip somewhat. More confident, she strode through the shop, making her way towards the light switch. Blair reached out, stopping her just as her fingers fumbled for the switch.
"I think it came from the kitchen," Blair whispered, eyes wide with fright.
Jo resisted the temptation to roll her eyes. There'd be no sleep for the rest of the night until she satisfied Blair's over-active imagination. "I swear, this is the last time I let you watch Friday The Thirteenth with me," she grumbled.
She cautiously approached the door leading to the kitchen, peered through the glass window. The kitchen appeared spotless, just the way Natalie and Tootie had left it after their shift. She moved her head left and right, looking this way and that.
"I don't see anything," she hissed over her shoulder.
"I'm sure I heard something," protested Blair.
Biting her bottom lip, Jo edged forward, creeping through the swinging door. She felt Blair rush up behind her, firmly attaching herself to her backside again. Manicured fingernails clutched tightly at the material of Jo's pajama top as they inched into the kitchen. As they made their way across the linoleum floor, the door swung behind them, causing Blair to let out a little shriek, nails digging deeply into the flesh of Jo's upper arms.
"What do you think's going on in there?"
"I don't know. But, I told you they were up to something."
"Maybe it's nothing," Kelly waffled.
"Kel, they've been in that pantry for fifteen minutes now. I don't think they're sneaking a midnight snack."
Kelly and Sabrina stood in the middle of the kitchen, staring at the door that Blair and Jo had disappeared behind. Their initial thought had been to search the rest of the house, but Sabrina's interest was piqued by the mysterious going-ons of the two young women.
"This is where Mrs. Garrett's bloody apron was found." Kelly stared at the tile, as if trying to discern the exact location of the deed. Of course, Blair had paid a cleaning service to come in and clean the entire house, removing any trace of the crime. "Do you think something's happened to them?" she asked. "Maybe someone was hiding in the pantry."
"Maybe they stashed some incriminating evidence in there and they're planning on how to dispose of it," Sabrina countered. "Anyway, there's only one way to find out."
Taking a deep breath, Sabrina quickly crossed the length of the linoleum floor. Reaching back, she removed her revolver from the waistband of her slacks. Tightening her grip on her .38 she nodded at Kelly. Kelly pulled her own gun from her purse, nodded in return. Shaking fingers reached out, closing about the doorknob. Taking another deep breath, she quickly turned the knob, jerking the pantry door open.
She reflexively pivoted into a crouch in the doorway, gun aimed straight ahead. Her eyes went wide, mouth dropped open in shock. "What the - ?"
" - Blazes?" shrieked Blair, frantically tapping Jo on the shoulder.
"We are so sorry," apologized Kelly, instantly taking in the scene.
"What the fuck?!?" growled Jo, rising from her kneeling position, reaching for her baseball bat.
"Now, hold on," Sabrina slowly lowered her gun in an attempt to show the irate brunette that she wasn't a threat. "We're private investigators. I think we should talk." She stepped backwards out of the pantry. "In the kitchen?" she suggested.
Jo reluctantly followed the woman into the kitchen, eyeing her warily. Sabrina noticed that although she followed her suggestion, she never relinquished her hold on the baseball bat. As she stormed out of the pantry, Kelly poked her head inside, smiling warmly at the blonde.
"We are sorry, you know. We didn't realize you were - "
"Turn blue." Blair pushed her way past the private investigator. Kelly marveled at how the young woman managed to keep an air of regality about her even as she emerged half-naked from a pantry, her lipstick smeared, her hair mussed, hands working to efficiently retie her robe.
"Thanks again for agreeing to show us the room."
Jo shot Kelly a harsh look. "If it will get you out of here any faster, no problem. But, ya gotta be quiet. Toot and Nat are sleeping." Jo stopped so suddenly that Kelly stumbled into her. She frantically motioned for everyone to remain quiet. No one moved.
"What is it?" Sabrina leaned in close, lowering her voice to a whisper.
"I didn't leave that light on," Jo pointed, whispering sharply.
Frowning, Sabrina surveyed the closed door. A dim light shone beneath the door frame. Probably a lamp, she thought. She watched for several long moments, but didn't detect any sign of movement from the other side.
"Are you sure?" asked Blair. "We may have left the light on when the sheriff was up here earlier."
"I'm positive." Jo's voice was firm. There was no doubt in her mind. "I turned off the light and locked the door when we left."
There was a flitter of movement, a shadow passed by the doorframe. Kelly jostled Sabrina's elbow. "Did you see that?" she hissed.
Sabrina nodded, motioned for everyone to move back. Drawing her gun, she flung the door wide open.
"Freeze!" she shouted, bursting into the room.
Kelly and Jo quickly rushed in, close on Sabrina's heels. Blair stuck her head around the doorframe, cautiously peering in before stepping foot inside the room. She pressed herself against the wall just inside the doorway, turned the lightswitch on.
Nancy Drew stood in the center of the room, hands straight up in the air. Behind her, stood her friend, George. Like Nancy, she stood motionless, hands in the air.
"What the Hell are you two doin' here?" Jo barked, sharply.
"As I explained earlier, I'm looking for my housekeeper's friend."
"That don't explain what you're doing ransacking Mrs. G.'s room," Jo bit out, spying the open dresser drawers directly behind Nancy. Clothing was draped over the edges of the drawers, giving testament to a hasty rummaging.
"It does if Mrs. Garrett is who they've been looking for."
"WHAT?!?" all heads snapped in Sabrina's direction.
"It's true, isn't it?" Sabrina asked, lowering her weapon. "Rena T. Edgar is an amalgam for Edna Garrett."
Nancy nodded, lowered her hands. George followed her lead, lowering hers, as well. "It took me a while to figure it out," confessed Nancy. "You see, I've always known Hannah's friend as Rena Edgar. I never knew there was a Mrs. Garrett."
"Let me get this straight," Jo blurted out, "You're trying to tell us that Mrs. G.'s got some sort of secret life or something?" She paused, looking from Sabrina to Nancy, then back again. "That is what you're saying, right?"
"There seems to be a bit of confusion. Perhaps you'd better take it from the top, Ms. Drew," suggested Kelly.
"Hannah Greun is my matronly housekeeper who's looked after me ever since my own mother died tragically when I was three. My father is a successful attorney who's away a lot on business, leaving just me and Hannah home by ourselves most of the time. I discovered my knack for solving mysteries at a fairly young age and my friend, George Fayne, helps me out on most of my cases. She's the tomboyishly attractive brunette that keeps in great shape by participating in numerous athletic activities. Her cousin, Bess Marvin, although slightly plump and somewhat of a clotheshorse, manages to attract scads of boyfriends. She helps sometimes, too. But, mostly, I prefer it when George gives me a - " a pink blush tinged her cheeks as she flicked a shy glance at her companion " - hand."
"Actually, when I said start from the top, I meant at the top of the case."
"Oh. Well, you see, Hannah was expecting her friend, Ms. Edgar to fly in on the Red Eye for a visit. When her friend didn't arrive as scheduled, she became somewhat concerned."
"Let me take it from there, Nance," George offered. "Ms. Edgar called the next morning, but the connection was so bad, Hannah couldn't hardly understand her. But, she distinctly heard her say she was afraid. And, there was a definite air of panic in her voice."
"Naturally, I attempted to contact the authorities here to calm Hannah's nerves, but the sheriff claimed there was no Rena Edgar residing in Peekskill."
"So, you just naturally flew out here to investigate for yourself," prompted Kelly.
"Naturally," agreed Nancy.
"That still don't explain how you got yourselves into a locked room," growled Jo.
Nancy pursed her lips, reached up, produced a bobby pin from her hair. "Never leave home without it," she admitted, having the common decency to muster up a blush over her little breaking-and-entering incident.
"Just cause you know how to pick a lock don't give you the right to break in here and rifle through Mrs. G.'s things!" protested Jo.
George discreetly bent down, picked up an item off the floor. Gingerly, she tucked Mrs. Garrett's granny-panties back into the top drawer, slid it closed.
"Please." Everyone turned to stare at Blair, who up until now had remained standing quietly against the wall. "It's the middle of the night and I have a headache and Mrs. Garrett is - " she looked imploringly at Jo. "Can't we just argue about this in the morning?"
Jo unclenched the fist she'd had balled up for most of the evening. Shoulders slumped in defeat, she came to Blair, taking her in her arms. "Anything you say, Princess," she acquiesced, tenderly placing a chaste kiss atop Blair's head.
"Let's all call it a night," Sabrina suggested, suddenly feeling guilty about everything they'd subjected the two young women to that night. Not only did they have to deal with strangers traipsing in and out of their home at all hours of the day and night, they also had to come to terms with their lives being suddenly and completely disrupted. Feeling like a complete jerk, she began ushering everyone out of the room.
Blair stiffened in Jo's arms. "What was that?" Her voice cracked with fright.
"Not that again." Jo fought down the urge to roll her eyes.
"I heard it, too," Kelly spoke up, "Sounded like it came from downstairs."
Sabrina and Nancy crept to the bedroom door, peered around the edge of the wooden frame. Another sound echoed throughout the house. Each of the women cast anxious glances at each other. Footsteps sounded distinctly on the stairs.
"Get back," Sabrina instructed, edging away from the door.
She took up her position behind the door, leaving it open just a crack. Jo shielded Blair, putting herself between the door and the whimpering blonde. Kelly turned off the main lightswitch. George extinguished the light from the lamp.
Holding their collective breaths, they waited in the darkness. The only illumination in the room was a sliver of light shining in from the hallway. Footsteps sounded loudly in the hall. No one dared to move as a shadow passed in front of the door. Slowly, the door creaked open and someone stepped into the room.
Kelly flicked the lights on, trained her revolver on the intruder.
"Don't move!" shouted Sabrina, drawing her gun, shoving the door closed.
The redhead shrieked, dropping her suitcase, clutching at her heart in shock.
"Mrs. Garrett!" exclaimed Jo and Blair, rushing to engulf the woman in hugs 'n kisses.
"Girls!" Mrs. Garrett squealed beneath the onslaught. "Girls!" she frantically attempted to push Jo and Blair away. "I'm glad to see you, too. But, what are you doing in my bedroom? And who are these people - " Her eyes narrowed to tiny slits as she took in Kelly and Sabrina " - with guns?"
The Angels cringed at the disapproving look, sheepishly put their weapons away.
"Oh, Mrs. Garrett!" gushed Blair, wrapping her arms about the matronly woman again. "We thought you were dead!"
"Dead? Why would you ever think such a thing?"
"There was blood in the kitchen. On your apron."
"I cut myself slicing the roast beef," Edna explained, holding up her bandaged hand.
"But, there was so much blood," protested Blair.
"Oh, it looked much worse than it was," Mrs. Garrett shooed off their concern. "But, why would you think I was dead?"
"The blood. And, you were gone and the butcher knife in the suitcase - "
"I was out of town. I should have left Monday night, but then Jessica showed up and needed a place to stay. I pushed my flight back. Then, we got to reminiscing and stayed up late and I didn't think I'd make my morning flight - " Her ramblings trailed off as the unfolding scene finally began to hit home. " - Didn't Natalie tell you?"
"What's with all the racket?" asked Tootie, appearing in the doorway, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
"Yeah, some people are trying to sleep, you know - " Natalie's eyes grew wide as she saw the suitcase on the floor, Mrs. Garrett standing in the bedroom. "Uh-oh."
"NATALIE!!!" screamed Mrs. Garrett at the top of her lungs.
"Oooohhhh, you're in trooouuubbbllleee!" Eyes as big as saucers, Tootie quickly clamped a hand over her mouth.
"I - I can explain everything!" Natalie stammered.
"Where's the note I left, Natalie?" Mrs. Garrett asked, sternly.
"Uh - safely tucked away in my apron pocket?" she asked.
"You better start talking, Green," Jo warned, fists clenching and unclenching. "Now!"
"Okay, okay! There's no need for violence, Jo!" She held up both hands to ward off Jo's advance, took a few precautionary steps backwards. "Mrs. Garrett was going to miss her flight, so I suggested she take the greyhound. She wrote a note explaining her absence to Ms. Fletcher and asked me to tell you guys she'd gone to visit a friend."
"Which you obviously didn't," guessed Mrs. Garrett. "I'm also assuming you didn't clean up the kitchen like you said you would?"
"No," admitted Natalie. "I meant to. Honest. But, then I got engrossed in my homework for Film Journalism 101." Natalie caught Jo's impatient expression, hastened her narration. "I've really been struggling in that class and I need a really good grade on my next project or I won't pass." She dropped her gaze, staring at the carpeting. Her next words came out as a soft murmur. "It's a video assignment."
"Oh, Natalie!" wailed Mrs. Garrett. "You didn't!"
"I did," Natalie nodded. "I wasn't going to, but Tootie came in from class and saw the bloody apron and freaked out and - " She smiled sheepishly. " - My imagination just kind of took off from there."
"You mean you've been videotaping us running around the house, thinking Mrs. G. was pushing up daisies somewhere!" Jo's voice rose by decibels, the veins in her neck throbbed, her nostrils flared as the blood rushed to her face.
"And, an innocent woman's been arrested for her murder," interjected Sabrina.
"NATALIE GREEN!!!" shrieked Mrs. Garrett.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Garrett. Jo and Blair came in and everything was looking great on film. But, then the police showed up and I was scared and then they arrested Ms. Fletcher and - " she gestured helplessly. " - things just kind of snowballed from there."
"Oh, Natalie!" groaned Mrs. Garrett, burying her face in her hands.
"Are you almost done, Natalie?" Blair groaned, turning over, attempting to hide her face beneath her pillow.
"Yeah, it's past midnight," complained Jo, glancing at her watch before rolling over on her back, using her forearm to shield her eyes from the glaring light.
"Almost," Natalie hastily scribbled in her notebook.
"Hurry up!" came Blair's muffled voice from beneath the pillow. "Need I remind you how important it is for me to get my designated amount of beauty sleep in each night?"
"Come on, Nat." Tootie stumbled from her bed, came to sit beside Natalie at her desk. "It's been hours."
She reached out, taking the last two pages Natalie had written out, quickly read over it. Natalie handed her the last page, patiently waited while her friend perused it.
"Well?" she asked.
"Hang on," Tootie shooed her off, reading the last line again. "I like it," she declared, carefully laying the paper face down, adding it to the three-inch thick stack already on the desk.
"But, do you think J. B. will?" Natalie asked.
"She has to, it's brilliant," Blair decreed, peeking out from beneath her pillow.
"Yeah, Nat," agreed Jo. "Quit stressing so much and just be happy Mrs. G.'s friend said she'd personally read it after her lecture."
"I'm just afraid she won't like it," admitted Natalie. "I mean, she's a great writer. What if she thinks I'm a hack?"
"Look, turn in and get some rest. Read it with a fresh set of eyes in the morning," suggested Blair.
"Blair's right, Natalie. You can fix any plot holes then." Tootie slid beneath the covers, turned off her lamp.
She felt Natalie's weight settle on the mattress as she sat on the edge of the bed. She reflexively shielded her eyes as Natalie clicked the lamp back on.
"Plot holes?" Natalie sounded positively mortified. "I have plot holes?"
"Just one or two," Tootie admitted between a stifled yawn. "I'll help you fix them in the morning." She reached out, turning off the lamp again.
"No!" shrieked Natalie. The lamp came back on. "You have to tell me now or I'll be awake all night, unable to fall asleep, afraid I might fall in a hole!"
"They're just minor ones," Tootie attempted to reassure her.
"Minor? What's minor? Are we talking about one guy with a shovel, filling in a small hole? Or, are we talking an entire crew, highways shut down, traffic detoured for miles? Tell me!" she gripped Tootie's shoulders, shaking her violently. "Tell me!"
"Okay, already! Geez, get a grip!" She pushed Natalie's hands away. "For one thing, the whole business of Mrs. G being dead, but not being dead. Is that really a believable plot twist?"
"I liked that part," Blair protested. "Showed ingenuity. It's like a clever riddle - When is a murder not a murder?" She grinned. "When Natalie Green is the author."
"Okay, then." Tootie bit her bottom lip. "You never did explain why Mrs. Garrett was using an alias."
"And, that whole bit about three female private investigators working for a boss they've never seen?" interrupted Blair. "Puh-leeze! The only redeeming qualities they had was their great fashion sense!"
"'And," Jo pointed out, "What about the bloody screwdriver in my toolbox?"
"A red herring," Natalie proclaimed, proudly. "Like when Sabrina and Kelly caught you two in the pantry together. Uh - you're not mad about that, are you?"
"Nah," she glanced mischievously at Blair, "I've had worse. But, how do you explain the blood on the screwdriver? You really had me convinced I did it!"
"Brake fluid from your motorcycle?"
"I was fixing my bike with a Phillips?" Jo asked, incredulously.
"Artistic license," Natalie shrugged. "Just wait. If there's a sequel, I may have you rebuild your entire bike from scratch with nothing more than a pocketknife and a rubberband."
Jo nodded, obviously pleased with that answer.
"You know, what really threw me off was that private investigator," interjected Blair.
"No, the other one. What's-her-name? Kelly."
"What about her?" Natalie asked. "I thought she was the most sane character in the entire manuscript."
"Well, you gave her the same last name as Mrs. Garrett, but you didn't follow up on it. I kept expecting it to be revealed that she was Mrs. G.'s long lost daughter or something."
"Oh!" Natalie seemed genuinely surprised by that notion, as if she hadn't even realized two of her characters possessed the same last name. "I guess I have a lot of revisions to work on, huh?" she asked, morosely staring at the thick stack of papers waiting for her on her desk.
"Tomorrow, Natalie," Tootie advised, clicking off the lamp. "There's always tomorrow."
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