Coco used her key card to open it and led them through. “Zelda insists that I’m a ballad singer. She likes the Billie Holiday thing. But I’ve been working up some more current stuff. You know, Mariah Carey, Britney Spears? Sort of a new image. Know what I mean?”
Miranda opened her mouth to answer, but Coco pressed the elevator button and kept talking. “The crowds at La Chic seemed to like the new stuff, too. I was starting to get a following.” She pouted her lips, her blue eyes flashing. “I can’t believe that Ralph. I take a little side trip, and he bumps me to Mondays and Tuesdays. All for a job I didn’t get.”
“Where was the job?” Parker said as the elevator doors opened and they all stepped in. Miranda was amazed he had gotten a word in.
“I’m in five-oh-seven.” Coco punched another button. “Indianapolis. There’s a really hot piano bar there. They wanted a house singer five days a week, but the audition was this Friday night, so I had to miss my gig at La Chic. I told Ralph I’d only be gone one weekend. I don’t see what the big deal was.”
Miranda watched the floor numbers tick off. “Long drive to Indianapolis.”
She wondered why Coco had stayed through Monday, but it was none of her business.
Coco waved her hand. “So anyway, I told Zelda I was going out of town and she said, ‘why don’t we get Jake to fix up our apartment while you’re gone?’ She was going to stay at Jake’s a few days to work with a client in the area. She’s an actress, but she does interior design on the side when the acting jobs are scarce. She’s always trying to fix up our place.”
The elevator doors opened on the fifth floor and Miranda followed Coco down the hall.
“I take it Jake is your roommate’s boyfriend?” It was second nature for Parker to pump people for information and make it sound like conversation.
Coco shrugged. “On-again, off-again. He buys houses and fixes them up and then sells them. He’s a real ambitious type. A little possessive, too, if you ask me. He’s got an ego. Even owns his own company. Jake Jeffries Enterprises. Here I am.”
Miranda read the number. Five-zero-seven. Must be the place.
Coco got out her key, jiggled it in the door and stepped inside. She switched on the light and gave a little squeal as she moved toward the living room. “Oh, Jake put in the divider and it’s nice and deep the way we wanted it. C’mon in here.”
Miranda followed her into the larger room. The walls were bare, prepped for painting, the couch and chairs and tables had been shoved aside and covered with plastic. A large canvas drop cloth was spread on the floor. Several large buckets sat in the middle of the room.
Beside them was a good-sized toolbox. More tools lay on the floor beside it. An awful lot of them. Jake must have brought in a crew.
She wrinkled her nose as an odd smell hit her. Bleach and something…rotten. Maybe a worker left a sandwich lying around.
“Looks like Jake didn’t finish,” Coco said.
“Yeah.” This scene brought back memories of her construction worker days. Except for…that something in the air overpowering the scene.
Coco grimaced. “Oh, gosh. What’s that smell?”
There was an annoying buzzing sound coming from somewhere, and the odor seemed to be getting worse. Miranda held a hand over her mouth. “Did your toilet back up?”
“I—I don’t know.” Coco scurried down the hall to check. “Everything seems okay in here.”
The scent was like old tuna and very rotten bananas. “How about the fridge?”
“Miranda,” Parker murmured at her side. He handed her a handkerchief.
She took it to cover her face and studied his look. He recognized that smell. Now so did she. Coco headed for the kitchen.
“Never mind the fridge,” Miranda told her. “Don’t touch anything.”
But the girl pivoted and scampered over to the sliding doors of the balcony to open them a crack. “I’m so embarrassed. I don’t know what Jake was thinking. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Trying to sound calm, Miranda waved a bug away from her face. Bug?
Parker touched her arm and silently pointed at the divider.
It wasn’t just any bug. It was a fly. And it was partying with his extended family on the new wall. That’s where the buzzing sound was coming from. Chill bumps prickled her arms. She wanted to suck in air, but thought better of it.
“What’s wrong, Miranda?” Coco’s voice trembled.
In her party dress, Miranda strolled closer to the wall and studied it. Sloppy drywall job. There was blistering, and she could see the tape through the paint. She tapped on the surface. Stud. She moved little to the right, tapped again. She repeated the process a few times, covering about a foot. All solid. That wasn’t right.
She ambled over to where the tools lay on the floor. There seemed to be at least two of everything, enough for a team of workers. “Since you just had that installed, it can’t be a load bearing wall, right?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Never mind.” She looked down at the pile and considered the Sawzall. “The standard way would be to make two vertical cuts. But I don’t think we have time for that.” She picked up the heavy sledgehammer.
“What are you going to do with that?” Coco sounded alarmed.
Parker stepped to the girl’s side. “Stay calm, Coco.”
“What is she doing?”
Miranda moved to the new divider, got a good grip on the hammer’s handle and swung. Thwack. The wall trembled.
Coco screamed. “What are you doing that for? Are you crazy?”
“Let me help you, Miranda.”
“I know what I’m doing, Parker. This is my area of expertise.” She gave the wall another whack. It shuddered again. “C’mon, you son of a bitch.”
“Stop it,” Coco cried. “Mr. Parker, stop her. She’s going to wake the neighbors.”
Ignoring her, Parker went to the toolbox and picked up a smaller sledgehammer. He joined Miranda and gave the wall a hard smack. That time, the whole building seemed to shake.
Not to be outdone, Miranda swung her hammer again. Boom. At last, the drywall cracked.
Parker took another swing. The crack started to split.
Coco went berserk. “Have you both gone stark raving mad?”
“Stay back, Coco.” Miranda hit the wall again. This time it splintered like an eggshell.
“My landlord’s going to kill me.”
“I think your landlord’s the least of your worries.” Miranda put down the sledgehammer and picked up a pry bar.
“He’ll evict me.”
“We’ll speak to the landlord,” Parker said firmly as he found a crowbar.
“Please tell me why you’re doing this.”
Miranda didn’t want to say. “Why don’t you go back in the bedroom until we finish.”
They both began hacking at the cracks in the wall with their tools, picking out the chunks of plaster one by one until at last they made a hole.
“It’s over here,” Parker said. “Don’t reach inside.”
“I wasn’t going to.” Miranda hooked the blade of the pry onto the drywall’s edge and yanked.
It came loose, spewing more plaster onto the floor.
A little more prying, and at last the drywall and boards yielded. A form tumbled out headfirst, yawning out the gaping hole.
The face was covered with plastic, duct tape had been wrapped around the neck, the dark hair was matted against the skull. But the eyes and mouth were wide open, frozen in that last moment of terror. And in the middle of the chest, was a bright red blood stain.
Coco ran forward, pressed her hands to her cheeks, and stared down at the lifeless body. “No,” she gasped.
The flies settled on the plastic making the already distorted face even more gruesome. She had been pretty once.
Miranda couldn’t hear their buzzing anymore. All she could hear was Parker dialing 911.
And Coco’s bloodcurdling scream as she burst into tears. “Oh, God. Oh, God! This can’t be happening. It’s impossible. How can that be Zelda?”
# # #
Forever Mine (A Miranda's Rights Mystery) - Book III
Just a little while longer and I'll have everything I want...