Detective Peabody Investigates
What about a return as Buffy? "Oh, God, I'll be in a walker. And Buffy will be killing people with her cane. It's not in my immediate future, but stranger things have happened." From an interview with Sarah Michelle Gellar in THE INDEPENDENT (UK) 13th October 2006
I don’t own the Buffyverse (right, I wish!): it belongs to M.E. and Josh. And I don’t own the IN DEATH sequence, which belongs to J.D. Robb (or Nora Roberts or whatever she’s calling herself this week).
Detective Third Grade Delia Peabody sighed as she pulled herself up to the top floor landing and wondered if, all things taken into consideration, it was too late for her to run away from home and join the circus.
Not that she didn’t have a good life. She had a hot boyfriend, with whom she was not only doing the horizontal mamba (and also standing up in closets at Cop Central and anywhere else they could manage) but also the relationship thing and the joint tenancy thing: the whole commitment thing. She had the best job in the world (homicide detective) and the best boss in the world, who she loved like a sister, albeit an irritable, perfectionist elder sister with a tendency to unnecessary violence. (Not that she could say that to Lieutenant Eve Dallas since she would instantly be threatened with bodily dismemberment for going mushy while at work.)
But having just spent two hours canvassing this building, this rotting, dilapidated, smelling-of-pee building, for people who might know anything about the body that had been found that morning in the dumpster in the alley behind it and got nothing for her trouble but ‘Dunno’ and ‘Is this about those parking tickets ‘cos I paid them honest’ and (from the old lady with all the cats in 3b) ‘It’s the Martians I tell you! They’re coming in their invisible space planes to steal our ovaries!’: well even the best job in the world can get a little much.
Added to which her new boots, which had looked thoroughly mag in the store, were killing her, just as the Lieutenant had predicted on first seeing them. And the blistering summer of 2059 had turned to a freeze-your-ass-off winter. Her parents’ Free-Ager lectures about the evils of abusing the environment and the extreme weather patterns caused by global warming came back to her and she added a hearty ‘Amen’ to them and would have added a curse on the black souls of the industrialists of the last century if that hadn’t been so not the Free-Ager thing to do.
Still, here she was, at the top of the building. One more apartment to check and then she could go back to Cop Central to complete her report, have lunch and coffee and get off her poor aching feet.
She looked at the virtually illegible label above the doorbell as she pushed it and when a reedy, quavering voice asked who was there said:
”Ms… uhhh Pratt? I’m Detective Peabody, NYPSD. Could you spare a few moments to answer a couple of questions, ma’am?”
”My name is Callaghan-Pratt. Mrs. I’m a widow. Twice over.”
“Oh, right….” Now she looked, the squiggle above ‘Pratt’ could be ‘Callaghan’ if it was written by someone with very bad handwriting on a bit of paper too tiny for the word. “Sorry about that, ma’am. Could I ask you a few questions?”
”Show me some ID.”
Delia held up the badge to the fish-eye in the door and a few moments later she heard the sound of bolts being withdrawn. Lots of bolts: heavy ones.
Oh, great! Another paranoid old biddy…
When the door opened it was clear that ‘old’ was the least of it. The woman on the other side was in her eighties (at best guess) and Caucasian with hair that was pure white. She had come to the door with the aid of an old-fashioned walker. Not a powered or smart unit, just a metal frame with handles and some wheels. Not only was she stooped over, her back bent almost through ninety degrees with age, but her face, her arms, what could be seen of her legs around the thick elasticated compression stockings she wore, every inch of her visible skin was covered with scars. Old scars, long healed but scars everywhere. Delia’s shock must have been plainly visible because the old lady grinned up at her (she must have been a tiny thing even before her back became stooped) and said “Come on in, officer. I’ll make us some tea. Or do you prefer coffee?”
“Coffee, please ma’am. Black.”
She followed the old lady down a corridor, past a bedroom where the bed had sidebars just like her grandma had needed in her last few years to get herself up in the morning and down to a comfortable little sitting room whose large windows gave a spectacular view over the less than salubrious neighbourhood. No cats, thank God, and no smell of pee either. Just the old lady smell of old fashioned perfume and cookies.
Must have someone in to keep it clean for her: she’d never manage to do her own housework with her back that bad. This is the one nice apartment left in this building, like it must have been when it was first built.
Delia smiled as the old lady came pottering back with coffee for the visitor and tea for herself perched on a tray on the handles of her walker. She got out her notebook and smiled, nodding over to a pair of photographs on a shelf: a dark-haired, rather grim man and a smiling, cocky, face topped by a shock of obviously bleached blond hair: she wouldn’t have been surprised to see either of them in a line up.
”Are those your husbands, ma’am?’
“Yeppers. Those are my bad boys. I keep them there to remind me of… Oh, good times. Long ago. Heh. Drink your coffee.”
Obediently, Delia took a sip. And nearly choked.
“That’s… That’s real coffee!”
”Well, yes.” The old lady seemed offended. “I wouldn’t have the synthetic crap in the house! Let alone serve it to guests. Nice to meet someone who knows the difference.”
”I… Uh, my boss’s husband… He lets her have the real stuff and I get to share hers. Couldn’t afford it on a cop’s salary.”
”Well, I’m glad you like it. Coffee’s too much for my nerves nowadays. I got the tea habit from an old friend of mine from England. Used to make terrible fun of him about it but now it just calms my nerves and reminds me of him. Now what was it you needed to know?”
“Well, Mrs Callaghan-Pratt….”
“Lizzy. Call me Lizzy dear…”
“Lizzy, right. Ma’am, I don’t know if you’ve heard but we found a body in the dumpster behind the building first thing this morning and I’m calling on everyone in the building to see if they heard anything suspicious or might know anything about the victim.”
”Who is he? Or is it she?”
“He ma’am…. Well, he seems to have been homeless and disabled.”
”Disabled? What? A cripple?”
”He was blind.”
”Oh. Well, can’t say I know anyone that’s blind… When did you say this murder happened?”
”Last night. Can’t be too specific yet because the cold puts our field measurements off…”
”Uh huh? Well, I’m sorry but I didn’t notice anything unusual last night. I sleep soundly, that’s one thing I can say for my current way of life. For many years I had to live on much less sleep than most people and now, well I know most old people find it hard to sleep straight through the night but not me. I’m too busy catching up on all those years I got by on three or four hours a night.”
”Well, good for you! But you’re sure you heard nothing?”
”Not a thing. Hit the pillow at eleven and out like a light until eight o’clock. That’s me, regular as clockwork. We had a car crash right outside the building one night in the summer and last year the police had a shootout with some gang or other just round the corner. Slept like a log through both of them.”
”Well, perhaps you might have noticed the homeless guy around the building? Known him to look at if not to talk to?”
”Sorry, but I go out so seldom nowadays. I’m not really housebound: my grandchildren have bought me one of those powered wheelchair things. I can zip about on it very nicely but I don’t get out more than once a month: it’s so much bother getting it ready. I only go out to visit some old friends who live in Greenwich Village. More old ladies like me. We get together and natter about old times.”
”That’s nice.” And it’s Detective Delia Peabody scoring a big fat zero on the canvassing scene! Oh my aching feet! “Would you mind… I could show you a picture of the victim, see if it jogs any memories. Would you mind? It’s a bit…. Gruesome.”
The old lady laughed. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything gruesome enough to upset me. Let me have a look.”
Gingerly Delia got out her PCC and brought up the picture Lieutenant Dallas had taken that morning and uploaded to her, as Lizzy got out her glasses and perched them on the end of her nose.
And then it happened.