Sunday, December 22, 8:35pm
Zazzi let out a grunt of pain as her ankle twisted under her considerable bulk. Platform clogs probably weren’t the best shoes to wear in her new environment. The desert sand and pebbles seemed to be under foot no matter where she walked in this hick town. And the street lamps on Delano Road were so widely spaced the areas between them were dark voids lit only by the big sky above. Zazzi wasn’t much of a sky gazer. Not unless she was lying on her back in a hunky man’s arms.
As she came to the middle of the block, a display of Christmas lights reflected off her shiny green jacket, dotting her permed blonde hair with splotches of color, but doing little to light her uphill progress. Maybe it would be better to just go back home. No, she wanted to see the action first hand. Five minutes earlier, she’d been evaluating emails from the latest batch of job applicants when the street noise topped a level way beyond what she’d become used to on her street. Although she’d known about Rubicon Ranch’s notoriety, Zazzi hadn’t expected Rubicon Ranch to resemble a zombie theme park. A constant stream of ghoulish tourists traipsed back and forth from afternoon until dawn pawing every push and shrub in search of body parts. Presumably they slept in to digest the blood they drank each night.
Zazzi wasn’t much of a morning person herself. In order to conduct her business in complete privacy, she’d rented a fenced-in house, but she often heard her neighbors chasing the invaders off their property. The nightly revelry didn’t bother her too much. In fact, in the future, it should enable her employees to come and go without notice. But tonight she didn’t see the usual weirdos—not even the hippie wannabe with the rainbow-tinted scarves.
Everyone in town seemed to be congregating in front of a house fifty yards ahead.
The crowd had been held back by squad cars, two vans and the efforts of two young cops who looked more like boy scouts. Strong lights had been set up beyond the perimeter, giving the whole area the ambience of a dimly lit stage. Unable to see through the throng of people in front of her, Zazzi edged toward a pair of thirty-something women who were talking with an overweight young man holding a tape recorder. From an arm’s length away, she could smell his body odor and his heavy breathing told her he was either in heat or had run up the hill to get a scoop. Probably a freelance reporter.
“Nancy sold me my house,” said the taller woman, leaning toward the tiny recording device to make sure none of her pearls of wisdom would be lost to posterity. “She seemed to be a straight business woman, but these days, you never know, do you?”
Her companion nodded. “I guess that’s true, but I still think it must have been a random attack. Those sexual deviants are everywhere, you know. And I can’t believe nice Ms. Garcetti had enemies. I mean, what reason could there be to kill her?”
“I could give you a few,” Zazzi whispered as she backed away. A scene from the not too distant past flashed before her eyes. She could almost feel Nancy Garcetti’s long fingernails raking across her cheek. . . . And later that day, Zazzi found her cell phone tucked in a handbag compartment she only used for keys. She’d wondered ever since if the two events were related and if so, what had Nancy seen? Caught up in her flashback, Zazzi bumped headlong into a toddler being dragged from the scene by an elderly man. Ignoring the man’s accusations and the child’s distress, she increased her pace and made a beeline for home.
One hour and three beers later, Zazzi stood in her yard watching a cigarette butt float on the jewel-like, brilliantly lit surface of her swimming pool. She let out a long sigh. How would she successfully make the switch to upper class clients if she didn’t break her own coarse habits? Still, she gave herself points for not hurling the ashtray in as well. Or the whole damn patio set. For everything, big or small, she’d ever accomplished there seemed to be a defeat waiting right at its heels.
She glared at the patio umbrella which tonight had been defying her each step of the way. After twenty minutes of hardcore assault, the pole finally allowed itself to be anchored into the base, but now the damn ribs had frozen in a half furled position. She gave them one more, futile shove and sullenly examined her lacquered nails for damage, reflecting that this was a two-person task. But Zazzi had no helper, not since her partner had run off without her. He was wanted by the cops and she wondered what he’d say if they caught him. Men were not to be trusted. They weren’t all that bright either. That’s what made them such easy marks.
A fly buzzed past her ear and landed on her sweaty throat. She quickly smashed it with her fleshy palm and stopped herself just short of casting the little corpse on the same trajectory as the cigarette butt. The arrested movement proved to be the final straw for the spaghetti strap that had reached its tensile limits holding up her tube top—the other strap had long since succumbed to the umbrella fiasco. As the tube top and its bountiful contents surrendered to gravity, Zazzi’s doorbell began to chime. Grabbing a measure of the ruby red spandex in one hand, she strode through the house to the front door, looking forward to venting her anger on whoever she found.
The peephole revealed a runway model decked out in a cop’s uniform. Hmmm, maybe this woman was applying for a position as an “escort” and she specialized in cop costumes? No, get real, Zazzi. You should be so lucky. Given the noise her clogs produced when she crossed the tiled foyer, Zazzi figured she couldn’t pretend no one was home. Anyway, how could the law be on to her in this backwater? She’d moved in only a month before and had barely gotten her internet business off the ground.
The door chime sounded again. The officer now thrust a knuckled fist at the door. Zazzi quickly yanked the door open and the cop, who’d put a lot of force into the motion, lost her balance and tilted forward. Zazzi caught the woman’s upper arm and in an easy, fluid motion set the officer upright, nearly lifting her off the ground in the process.
“Oh—thank you,” said the cop, but her forced smile immediately became an expression of shock.
Zazzi lowered her chin to follow the officer’s gaze. As a result of using both hands to save the officer from falling, her tube top had rolled itself into a belt, exposing all of what she preferred to call her assets. Rather than cover herself, she decided to let the scene play out and see what would happen. If the cop felt ill at ease, it would work to Zazzi’s advantage.
“So, officer, what can I do for you?”
“My name is Lieutentant Frio and I’m with the local Sheriff’s department. Sorry to bother you, but we’re investigating an incident in the neighborhood. I’d like to ask you a few questions, but feel free to finish getting dressed if you like.”
“I’m good. I’m kind of in the middle of a home improvement job, but I’m always willing to make time to help the authorities.” Zazzi detected the barest trace of an eyeroll, but the cop evidently had decided to pretend the Empress had clothes. Or maybe she was used to nudity; with a figure like hers, Frio could have been a pole dancer. Well, there was no logic to people’s life choices.
“Were you home all evening?” asked the Lieutenant.
“Yeah, but I been out back. I heard some sirens, but didn’t pay much attention.”
“Have you seen any strangers or strange vehicles in the area today?
“No more than the usual gang of weirdo tourists. What’s going on?”
“Are you the only one living here Ms….I don’t believe you gave me your name.”
“It’s Zazzi. Zazzi Monet. MOAN-AY, you know, spelled like money but with a T on the end.”
“Oh, like the artist. Is Zazzi a nickname?”
Zazzi hated the artist reference and hated answering this question even more. “It’s Lavender, if you must know. So are you gonna tell me what’s going on or not?”
Lt. Frio kept her eyes fixed on a neutral point somewhere beyond Zazzi’s right ear and said, “Well, Lavender, I can’t really give you that information. If there’s someone else here, I need to interview them as well.”
“No one’s here but me.”
“Okay, Ms. Monet, I guess that’s it for now. If you think of anything else, here’s my card.” The Lieutenant placed it into Zazzi’s hand without touching skin.
Zazzi set the card on a small table without looking at it. “Hey, if you got a minute, I could really use some help with some patio furniture. I can’t offer to pay you since that might be, like, a bribe.”
But the officer was out the door before the word help hit the air. Zazzi shrugged and shut the door after her. She’d had plenty of visits from cops before, but this Lieutenant didn’t fit the usual mold. What did cops make, anyway? She could offer her three times the income. Something to consider.
Zazzi got herself a fresh beer and sat down to consider her current situation. She wondered if an alibi would be called for. Most of the time having one made the cops as suspicious as if you didn’t. That’s why she hadn’t stuck around Arbor City to give one and didn’t expect them to come looking for her here. Of course, she hadn’t expected to run into Nancy Garcetti either.