Second Grave on the Left - Darynda Jones Page 0,1

of Cookie’s screeching and, having flailed, almost fell out of bed. Man, she had a set of lungs. She’d yelled from her apartment across the hall.

“You’re going to wake the dead!” I yelled back. I didn’t deal well with the dead at two in the morning. Who did?

“I’m going to do more than that if you don’t get your ass out of bed.”

For a best-friend-slash-neighbor-slash-dirt-cheap-receptionist, Cookie was getting pushy. We’d both moved into our respective apartments across the hall from each other three years ago. I was fresh out of the Peace Corps, and she was fresh out of divorce court with one kid in tow. We were like those people who meet and just seem to know each other. When I opened my PI business, she offered to answer the phone until I could find someone more permanent, and the rest is history. She’s been my slave ever since.

I examined the articles of clothing strewn across my bedroom and lifted a couple in doubt. “Bunny slippers and a leather miniskirt?” I called out to her. “Together? Like an ensemble?”

She stormed back into the room, hands on hips, her cropped black hair sticking every direction but down, and then she glared at me, the same glare my stepmother used to give me when I gave her the Nazi salute. That woman was so touchy about her resemblance to Hitler.

I sighed in annoyance. “Are we going to one of those kinky parties where everyone dresses like stuffed animals? ’Cause those people freak me out.”

She spotted a pair of sweats and hurled them at me along with a T-shirt that proclaimed GRIM REAPERS ARE TO DIE FOR. Then she rushed back out again.

“Is that a negatory?” I asked no one in particular.

Throwing back my Bugs Bunny comforter with a dramatic flair, I swung out of bed and struggled to get my feet into the sweats—as humans are wont to do when dressing at two o’clock in the morning—before donning one of those lacey push-up bras I’d grown fond of. My girls deserved all the support I could give them.

I realized Cookie had come back as I was shimmying into the bra and glanced up at her in question.

“Are your double-Ds secure?” she asked as she shook out the T-shirt and crammed it over my head. Then she shoved a jacket I hadn’t worn since high school into my hands, scooped up a pair of house slippers, and dragged me out of the room by my arm.

Cookie was a lot like orange juice on white pants. She could be either grating or funny, depending on who was wearing the white pants. I hopped into the bunny slippers as she dragged me down the stairs and struggled into the jacket as she pushed me out the entryway. My protests of “Wait,” “Ouch,” and “Pinkie toe!” did little good. She just barely eased her grip when I asked, “Are you wearing razor blades on your fingertips?”

The crisp, black night enveloped us as we hurried to her car. It had been a week since we’d solved one of the highest-profile cases ever to hit Albuquerque—the murder of three lawyers in connection to a human trafficking ring—and I had been quite enjoying the calm after the storm. Apparently, that was all about to end.

Trying hard to find her erratic behavior humorous, I tolerated Cookie’s manhandling until—for reasons I had yet to acquire—she tried to stuff me into the trunk of her Taurus. Two problems surfaced right off the bat: First, my hair caught in the locking mechanisms. Second, there was a departed guy already there, his ghostly image monochrome in the low light. I considered telling Cookie she had a dead guy in her trunk but thought better of it. Her behavior was erratic enough without throwing a dead stowaway into the mix. Thank goodness she couldn’t see dead people. But no way was I climbing into the trunk with him.

“Stop,” I said, holding up a hand in surrender while I fished long strands of chestnut hair out of the trunk latch with the other one. “Aren’t you forgetting someone?”

She screeched to a halt, metaphorically, and leveled a puzzled expression on me. It was funny.

I had yet to be a mother, but I would have thought it difficult to forget something it took thirty-seven hours of excruciating pain to push out from between my legs. I decided to give her a hint. “She starts with an A and ends with an mmm-ber.”

Cookie blinked and thought for a