"She could be upstairs right now, gasping her last breath of air."
The woman rolled her eyes upward, as if she could see through walls. "Hmmm."
"Do you have a key?"
"Well, yes... "
"And what about her plants? Have you been watering her plants?"
"She didn't ask me to water her plants."
"Maybe we should go take a look. Make sure everything is okay."
"Are you a friend of Maxine's?"
I held two fingers up side-by-side. "Like this."
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to check. I'll be right back with the key. I've got it in the kitchen."
Okay, so I fibbed a little. But it wasn't such a bad fib because it was for a good cause. And besides, she could be dead in her bed. And her plants could be dying of thirst.
"Here it is," Mrs. Pease said, brandishing the key.
She turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open.
"Hell-oo-o," she called in her warbling old ladies voice. "Anybody home?"
No one answered, so we crept up the stairs. We stood in the little entrance area and looked into the living room-dining room.
"Not much of a housekeeper," Mrs. Pease said.
Housekeeping had nothing to do with it. The apartment had been trashed. It wasn't a fight because nothing was smashed. And it wasn't clutter from a last minute scurry to leave. Cushions were pulled off the couch and flung onto the floor. Cupboard doors were open. Drawers were pulled from the hutch and turned upside down, contents spilled out. I did a quick walk-through and saw more of the same in the bedroom and bath. Someone had been looking for something. Money? Drugs? If it was robbery it had been very specific because the TV and VCR were untouched.
"Someone has ransacked this apartment," I said to Mrs. Pease. "I'm surprised you didn't hear the drawers being flung around."
"If I was home I would have heard it. It must have been when I was out to Bingo. I go to Bingo every Wednesday and Friday. I don't get home until eleven. Do you think we should report this to the police?"
"It wouldn't serve much purpose right now." Except to notify the police that I'd been in Maxine's apartment sort of illegally. "We don't know if anything's been taken. Probably we should wait for Maxine to come home and let her call the police."
We didn't see any plants to water, so we tippytoed back down the stairs and locked the door.
I gave Mrs. Pease my card and asked her to call me if she should see or hear anything suspicious.
She studied the card. "A bounty hunter," she said, her voice showing surprise. "A woman's got to do what a woman's got to do," I said.
She looked up and nodded in agreement. "I suppose that's true." I squinted into the lot. "According to my information Maxine owns an '84 Fairlane. I don't see it here."
"She took off in it," Mrs. Pease said. "Wasn't much of a car. Always something or other broken on it, but she loaded it up with her suitcase and took off." "Did she say where she was going?"
"That was it?"
"Yep," Mrs. Pease said, "that was it. Usually Maxine's real talkative, but she wasn't saying anything this time. She was in a hurry, and she wasn't saying anything."
Copyright © 1998 by Evanovich, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of St. Martin's Press, Inc.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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