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Tell Me A Story, Desdmona
illustration by garv

Agent Jackson Parks: The Pearly Gates

By Desdmona

This story contains sexually explicit scenes.

At five minutes of five, the morning DJ topped off his radio program with a sleek number by Norah Jones. Her smoky sound seeped through the chill of the wee morning hours, filling the interior of his ’92 Accord. Agent Jackson Parks kept the car radio tuned so low that the rhythm was a whisper, Norah’s voice like a memory in his mind. As the song drifted towards the end, Jackson turned off the radio, cupped his hands around the dashboard’s lighter, and lit another cigarette.

When he’d taken the last slow drag, he eased the car door open and stood out in the crisp, predawn air. Four weeks of waiting and watching had left him stiff and tired, and the tiredness was deep in him – a lead-muscle, saggy-nerve weariness.

Jackson leaned against the hood of his faded maroon car, waiting for a sign that the neighborhood was alive. As if on cue, through the sediment of night, came the far-off sigh and pant of a train. There’d been other times in his life – sitting through the lectures in Sociology 101, waiting in line at the DMV, or on the ship to the Persian Gulf – when boredom jostled with lassitude, leaving him bone-tired, but this was different. There was no definite end in sight. No date that Jackson could stick a thumbtack on in his mental calendar. He was at the mercy of the Bureau. And the Bureau was at the mercy of a killer.

At eight, Jackson would be relieved by Agent Dixon who would be relieved in turn at four in the afternoon by Agent Prugh, who would carry on until midnight, when once again Jackson Parks, with his thermos of coffee, a bundle of sandwiches, and a canister of Pringles, would begin the vigil that had begun to seem pointless. But no agent who’d been part of the Bureau for only two years could point out to the Special Agent in Charge that this assignment, in his measured opinion, was fruitless. Patience was a quality more valuable than gold to the Bureau. Impatient agents didn’t last long, and Jackson Parks had plans to be around a good long time.

So, night after night, Jackson followed his routine, kissing the spent twenty-eight nights goodbye and begrudging the possible loss of the twenty-eight nights to come. Each shift adding another cumulative factor to Jackson’s deathly weariness. A constant state of alertness took its toll. Adrenalin pumped through his blood, hard and fast, whenever a car on the road slowed, or an unfamiliar sound needed to be investigated. But mostly there was just hour after hour of nothing.

All because the Bureau was gambling that Denver Jones would return to see the girl he had intended to marry. Libby Doyle. Jackson wasn’t a gambling man, but he didn’t figure the odds to be too good. Denver Jones didn’t strike Jackson as the monogamous type. The “Butcher” was most likely miles away, cozying up to some other skirt and sticking her with his blade.

He’d made a mistake: let a girl get away. She was still convalescing and would be the rest of her life. Jones had cut her up pretty bad in all the places that counted. But she was a survivor. Even with the some fifty slices to her face and gut and groin, she’d crawled away while he was sleeping – and somehow took his driver’s license with her.

As dawn paled the eastern sky, the bedroom lights in the tiny house that Jackson had been watching, flipped on. He checked his watch. Ms. Doyle was like clockwork. Jackson inched his way to the only tree around, a maple that allowed the yard to cling to the charade of a natural environment. Its low branches shielded him as Jackson leaned heavily against the tree’s trunk. This was his favorite part of this job. Libby Doyle slept in the nude and, at night, didn’t bother to close her curtains. She moved about her bedroom in slow, graceful strides – like Norah’s voice come to life – making the bed, fluffing the pillows, stretching her limbs before finally, still nude, making her way to the kitchen, where the window was bigger. When she put on the coffee and reached for the eggs, Jackson could see her bare feet as well as her tousled black hair. The frying pan was kept in an under-the-counter cabinet. Each morning as she bent to get the pan, Libby Doyle proved that keeping her cunt shaved bald was also part of her daily routine.

Jackson had only meant to unzip his pants to let his penis breathe. But the morning-after-morning ritual had worn down his resistance. He forgot about his job, forgot where he was, and ignored any ethical twinge that might nag him. He palmed the shaft of his cock, stroking as slow as Libby Doyle moved. By the time Miss Doyle walked back to the bedroom and slipped into pants and a sweatshirt, Jackson had spilled his seed at the base of the maple, the puddle glistening like morning dew from a street lamp’s glow.

Her sweatshirt was well-worn with the words “Natural Born Killer” printed on its front. It was too large for her, and Jackson suspected it once belonged to Denver Jones, a callous coincidence based on Jones’s history. The man had killed a dozen people, with no particular motive in mind except cold-blooded malice. When Jackson thought of Libby Doyle wearing Jones’s sweatshirt, an ugly anger thickened in his gut. He recognized the potential danger of this attitude, but twenty-eight days of staking out the same house had drained the brooding out of him. He let the anger flare.

On the night watch, Jackson could think of taking Libby Doyle, with her ignorance and her naivety, and becoming a Pygmalion. Her slim loveliness was more than just an attribute of youth. Jackson knew she worked at keeping herself beautiful. Prugh had shared with him her evening ritual of bathing, waxing, and pampering while candles flickered throughout the house. Libby Doyle would take beauty to her grave. She seemed like a woman who needed to be taken care of, like decisions were hard to come by. Jackson was more of a share-the-lead kind of guy. But maybe this once?

In the long nights, he had thought of her softly breathing in sleep and how her warm breath might escape from her parted lips. He thought about her ebony hair splayed over the pillow and her naked body snuggled deep under the covers. She was three hundred feet away, and in four weeks time, only Jackson’s professional restraint had kept him huddled under the maple branches instead of knocking on her front door. So what if he shot a wad once or twice? He was confident enough to think if he’d wanted, he could have been sharing her bed, suckling those pert dark nipples and tonguing her smooth, rosy pussy.

Jackson Parks wasn’t a bad guy. Though sometimes cocky, he still had a line in his mind separating right from wrong. The frequency with which his thoughts were turning to Libby Doyle disturbed him. It was blatantly wrong for an agent to involve himself personally with any female in any case. Even if the female was the moll of a butcher and her involvement in his activities was questionable. But Jackson was still just a man, with a man’s needs, and a man’s lust.

Dixon and Prugh both made the usual expected jokes about the midnight-to-eight shift, and the obvious advantages pertaining to the hour. In the beginning, Jackson had laughed in the expected way and hinted broadly of the mythical delights of such an assignment. But lately, when the jokes flared, Jackson’s neck flushed and laughing with them was getting harder. Libby Doyle should have somebody to protect her.

When she returned to the kitchen, the rising sun peeked over the horizon. She opened the back door and looked over toward the small side road where Jackson had parked his car. The light behind her outlined her frame, and the morning wind teased the strands of her long, dark hair.

Jackson had rationalized a while ago that eating breakfast with her every morning didn’t compromise any bureau directives. They’d all agreed that it would be impossible to watch the girl day-after-day without tipping her off. So his conscience was clear, and breakfast had become a morning custom.

He strolled across the yard, pulling the magnum from his shoulder holster when he was forty feet from her door, pointing it toward the ground. She stepped aside, as usual, ushering him into her house.

“Morning 007,” she said with a look of amusement on her face.

“Good Morning Miss Doyle,” he answered, feeling a little bit like a five-year-old boy playing an absurd variation of cops and robbers.

He went through the house as he had been taught at the Academy—gun at the ready, reflexes alert. It didn’t take long. The house was small with four rooms, like little boxes, all on one floor – kitchen, bedroom, living room, and bathroom – each meticulously clean. Dolls lived in bigger homes. The closets were organized, the floors shined, and no dust particle touched a single piece of furniture.

When Jackson came back into the kitchen, she had put the coffee cups on the table, taking, as usual, the mug with the bleeding heart picture on its side.

She stood at the stove, turning the eggs and waiting for the toast to pop. Without turning she said, “Find any crooks in my house, Mr. Spy Man?”

“Not today.”

“You don’t trust me much, do ya?”

“Of course I trust you, Libby. I just have to follow orders.”

“Ain’t you got a mind of your own? she asked wearily. “It gives me the willies, you sneakin’ around my house with your gun out.”

He tucked the magnum back in his holster and sat down in his usual place—his back to the wall. She brought over the two plates loaded with eggs and strips of thick-cut bacon. The toast popped, and she mechanically buttered each slice.

They ate in silence, and like every morning, she lowered her face almost to the plate, nearly shoveling each forkful into her mouth. From another woman it might have amused him, or partially revolted him. In Libby, it seemed pathetic. He’d studied her graceful movements day after day. He knew what she was capable of. Her eating habits seemed more like a girl playing a part. And in the depths of her gray eyes, the deadness, the nothingness resting there, was just part of the act. Libby Doyle needed someone to teach her.

They finished breakfast, and he found the ten-dollar-bill in his pocket. He slipped it under the edge of the plate without her seeing him do it. They had never spoken of the fee he had arbitrarily selected as proper for the morning breakfast, and he knew that she would not take the plate away until he left.

“When you all gonna give up?” she asked.

“When we get Jones.”

“He’s pretty smart, eh?”

“Maybe, but they all make mistakes sometime. We’ll find him. Maybe he’ll come back to be found.”

She pulled out a cigarette and Jackson wished he carried a lighter instead of relying on the one in the car. She had a way about her that made him want to act like a gentleman. Or at least, what he’d learned of gentleman in old movies.

She sighed. “I might as well be in the slammer. At least when Denver was around I got to go dancing once in awhile. Now the whole town skitters at the sight of me. The women do-si-do around me like I’m gonna slice open their necks, and the men eyeball me like I’m gonna give them AIDS. And it’s impossible to make new friends with you double-oh’s tagging along with me, I’m like a cancer.”

Jackson stared at her mouth, memorizing how her lips looked when they formed the word oh’s. “Are you in love with Denver Jones?” he suddenly asked.

She answered quickly without registering any surprise. “Love is a mighty big word, Mr. Spy Man,” she said. “Denver ain’t a fine catch, but he’s the card I was dealt.”

“You didn’t know anything about his other activities, Libby?”

She frowned. “You ask me that question about once a week. My answer ain’t no different from what it was.”

“It just doesn’t make sense that he could kill that many people and still maintain a normal life.”

“I told you he was smart.”

“Maybe. But you keep this place spotless. How is it that he didn’t bring home a mess, once or twice, and you not know about it?”

She took another hit off her cigarette before smashing the butt in the ashtray. “I don’t know,” she said with the least amount of conviction she’d used all morning. “Didn’t you boys say he buried them in another state?”

“The ones we know about. They didn’t die easy, Libby.”

“He was always wild-like,” she said softly. “Even when he was just a kid.”

“You were going to marry him,” Jackson said, fighting the anger that rose in him again.

“Oh, I know what you mean. He’d give me a bad time for sure. Other women, boozing, or slam me around. But he only hit me bad once.” She gazed off into the distance like she was retracing a fond memory. “Damn, was I messed up. Nineteen stitches to my shoulder alone.” She absently rubbed her left shoulder, pulling the oversized sweatshirt down and exposing an ugly scar that ran along her collarbone.

“After what’s happened,” Jackson asked, “if you had the chance to go with him, would you?”

“I’d be a nut to, wouldn’t I?”

“But you would, wouldn’t you?”

“I might.”

The anger bubbled over. He shoved his chair back and stood up. “You’ll find the ten bucks under the plate.”

She flushed a crimson that made her eyes seem lighter. “No need to leave that,” she said. “I got no need for hand-outs.”

“I was paying for the company, like any john would do.”

His anger didn’t fade entirely until he was back at the car, and then he was ashamed for what he’d said. She wasn’t a common whore, and Jackson had no right to treat her like one. She’d known Denver Jones all of her short life. The reports said he’d raised her from age ten. No one was sure when Jones had started bedding her. He was still all she had, and Libby Doyle, according to all reports, needed a caretaker. From what Jackson had seen, she was doing okay all by herself.

Still, he could kick himself for being so heartless. Libby Doyle deserved better. Some Pygmalion he was. He couldn’t make a stick figure out of Play-doh, let alone a perfect woman out of ivory. Things certainly wouldn’t be the same between her and Jackson now.

Agent Dixon showed up a little before eight and Jackson Parks drove back to his rented room and went to bed.

He was up at five in the afternoon, had another breakfast and flipped through the cable channels looking for something decent to watch. At eleven, he finished his lunch, made up a tuna sandwich, brewed some coffee, grabbed a bag of corn chips, and went out to relieve a bored and sleepy Paul Prugh.

“Anything?” Jackson asked.

“Nada,” Prugh said as he screwed on the lid to his thermos. “Funny though,” he added, “she stayed in the shower an extra half hour tonight and skipped dinner.”

The long night hours went by without incident. Jackson imagined Libby Doyle, deliberately slipping into a flannel gown after her long shower, refusing to be nude and scooting underneath her blanket. Maybe she was regretting missing dinner. Or maybe she just wanted to feel warm.

In the morning, her curtains were pulled tight. She didn’t come to the back door. He waited longer than usual and then went over.

“I need to search the house.” He sounded gruffer than he’d meant to.

She stepped aside without a word. As before, the house was empty.

He went back into the kitchen. “Do I get breakfast this morning, Libby?”

“I can sell you coffee, eggs and bacon for ten bucks, if you want it, but I won’t be joining you.”

“I’m sorry I acted like I did yesterday, Libby.”

Her dead gray eyes flickered to his left and then back to him. “You were mean, 007.”

“I had a reason.”

“Yeah? What reason?”

“You said you might go away with him. Libby, I know it isn’t right, but I care about you.” Jackson had practiced this speech all night, trying to think of the perfect thing to say. He hadn’t expected her reaction.

She moved a half step closer and lifted her eyes to look up at him. A spark of life danced into their gray depths just as her warm breath caressed his chin. When he bent to kiss her, she didn’t blink or close those eyes. Jackson felt compelled to keep his eyes open, too. From his periphery he saw her hand hang tentatively in the air above his bicep, as if she wasn’t sure she could touch him, and then fall lightly against his arm. Her fingertips flitted along his muscle like flapping butterfly wings. He pressed his lips to hers just as lightly, and then with more need. Her hard lips softened with his urging, and her mouth opened. As his tongue slid into the warmth of her mouth, his eyes instinctively closed and serious want trickled from his lips to his groin. He slipped his hand around her waist, touching the heavy “Natural Born Killer” sweatshirt, and for a moment, he remembered his job. But the moment passed when her hand slid off his arm and lighted on his waist. He flattened his palm against the small of her back and nudged her closer. Her long, lithe frame fit perfectly against his beefier one. She relaxed against him, and Jackson strengthened his hold. She smelled of strawberries—fresh from the patch and sprinkled with sugar. She tasted just as sweet. His other hand wound its way through her silky mane of hair. He wished she’d worn it down instead of pulled back. He’d dreamed of that hair a million times. The ponytail loosened as his fingers weaved between the strands.

As easily as she’d leaned into him, she pulled back, breaking the kiss. Her eyes were glossy, her lips moist and swollen. Libby Doyle looked alive for the first time in four weeks.

“This ain’t right,” she whispered.

“Why? Because of my job?” Jackson asked.

“It just ain’t right,” she said a little louder, a little more forcefully.

“We’re adults, Libby. I want you. I think you want me. That’s what’s right. Anything else we can deal with later.”

She glanced away and when she looked back, her eyes had gone dead again—flat and gray. In that instant, Jackson felt the rise of instinct at the back of his neck, but his reactions were sluggish. He twisted away, reaching for his magnum.

“I wouldn’t try that, Sonny Boy,” a man quietly said. The Colt in the man’s hand was aimed at Jackson’s belt buckle. “Thanks Libby, baby, you did great.”

Jackson chanced a quick look at Libby. Her ashen hand, fluttering at her neck, looked like a lost dove.

“Get his gun, Libs.”

Libby reached into Jackson’s jacket. Instead of going straight for the gun, her fingers climbed up his chest and crab-walked over to his holster. Jackson couldn’t control the shiver, but he could ignore it. He tried to calculate the aim of Denver Jones’s pistol. Jackson might be able to swing away and grab Libby as cover, but instinct told him Jones might bat an eye, but he’d still shoot her if it meant saving his own skin. Jackson couldn’t take that chance.

“Hurry it up, Libby. We ain’t got all day. Marshall Dillon here’s relief will be showing up in a couple of hours.” Denver Jones cackled like a rooster in brassy defiance of daybreak. “You boys sure are punctual. A man could set his watch by your comings and goings.”

Jackson shrugged as Libby pulled the magnum from its holster. She dangled it away from her with two fingers pinched around the trigger.

“Put the damn thing on the table, Libs before you shoot me with it.”

She dropped the gun on the kitchen table and clenched her eyes shut as if waiting for the explosion. The only sound was the muffled thud of metal against a clothed wood table.

“Now, back up real slow against the wall, mister. Hands way up. That’s right. Get me a wad of some cloth, Libby. Make it thick, like a towel or something.”

Denver Jones wore an Armani suit, but the knees were stained with dirt and a button was missing from the jacket. His dingy, white shirt was opened at the collar. His neck sagged like a man of sixty instead of forty. He was taller than Jackson, but his slump kept him from meeting that height. His belly pouched over his slacks hiding the snap of his fly. Black eyebrows came together over the bridge of his nose, and his face was dusted with a few days growth of beard. When he smirked, his surprisingly white teeth sparkled.

“A cop,” Jones said, “trying to fuck my woman!” He cackled again. “You ain’t very smart, mister. Where’d they get you from? The K-Mart Academy?”

“Laugh it up while you can, Denver. The way I see it, your laughing days are numbered.” Jackson spoke with the confidence only agents from the Bureau possessed.

“I ain’t the one with a gun pointed at my gut. You are.”

“You can kill me, but there are hundreds more, just like me, waiting to connect up with you.”

Denver Jones must have seen the truth in that because his smirk disappeared. “Hurry up, Libby,” he yelled over his shoulder, and then focused on Jackson once again. “You beagles couldn’t find a pile of shit unless your foot stepped in it,” he said. “You didn’t find me before, and you won’t find the two of us later.”

Libby came back into the kitchen with a white towel draped across her arm like she was waitressing. “You want me to cut it up, Denver? Or maybe find some rope?” she asked.

“No. Give it here. I want to wad it around the end of this pistol. The damn thing makes too much noise.” He grabbed the towel and wrapped it around the pistol, never taking his eyes off of Jackson. “You want to see me shoot him, Libby?”


“Stand over there, far away from him in case this gets messy.”

“His blood’s gonna get on everything in my kitchen?”

“Probably. I might have shot him clean-like in the head, but I seen him wanking off underneath the maple yesterday morning while he was peeking through your window. Any man using my woman deserves to suffer a little more.”

Color – scarlet red – rushed up over Libby’s neck and face. She glanced at Jackson and then dropped her gaze to the floor.

“Don’t tell me you like the idea of him watching you, Libs.”

“No, no…I”

“Forget it baby, I know I ain’t took care of your needs in a while. Daddy knows you got an itch. We’ll get to that later when we kiss this hell-hole goodbye.”

The scarlet drained from Libby’s face as her hand fluttered again at her throat. “Do we have to leave a mess, Denver?” she asked. “We just painted this room in April. Remember?”

“Oh, I remember. We fucked right there on that table whilst we waited for the first coat to dry. You always were a tiger, baby.” Denver stared at Jackson. “I can see why you’d want her. She’s got a great set of titties, don’t she? And that pearly gate of hers, all shaven and clean, just like I like it. It is still clean, ain’t it Libby?”

Libby refused to look up. She only nodded.

“Give us a look-see, Libby. I ain’t seen it in awhile, and this poor sucker might as well get one last peek at what he’ll be missing.” When Jones cackled this time, it sounded wet, like a man with a mouth full of spit.

“No, Denver, please.”

“Do it, honey, or daddy might start ruminating over how much his little girl seemed to like kissin’ the copper here.” He spoke quietly, but the sinister undertow of his words pulled at Jackson’s gut.

Libby didn’t hesitate. She yanked down her pants and spread her legs.

“Mm-mm. Ain’t nothing like a shaved pussy. Pull your flappers apart, Libby, so’s I can see the pink.”

Like a stringed marionette, she reached with both hands and spread her labia. Pearlescent beads of moisture clung to her inner folds. Jackson knew he should have looked away, saved her dignity, but he couldn’t help himself. He stared at her pink pussy and wondered, was she wet because of Denver? Or was she wet because of the kiss she had shared with Jackson? His cock twitched in his pants.

“I’ll get me a taste of that real soon, Libby, but for now, that’s enough,” Denver said in that cool, low voice.

Sweat dribbled down Jackson’s ribs. His mouth was dry and a low hum buzzed in his ears. Some of it was genuine fear. More of it was anger and frustration that he’d been taken so easily. He looked at Libby. She’d pulled her pants back up and stood with her hands crossed over her chest.

“Do you have to kill him in the kitchen, Denver?”

“You got no more use for this shack, baby. If you don’t want to watch then go in the next room. We got to get a move on.”

“They’ll never give up if you kill me, Jones. The Bureau takes care of their own debts,” Jackson said, despising the tremble that crept into his voice.

“They don’t scare me, especially not after seeing how easy coming back here was.” Jones tightened the towel around the barrel of the gun and steadied his aim.

“Denver,” Libby said. “Wait a minute. Let me get my stuff together before you kill him. It’ll make noise, and I don’t want to run for it without my things.”

“Forget it baby, I’ll buy you all new things. Where we’re going, all you’ll need is a swimsuit, anyways.”

“After we get married?”

Denver Jones frowned. “Baby, there ain’t time for weddings. You’ll get the new stuff anyway.”

“I’ll hurry, I promise. Don’t shoot him yet. I want to see it, Denver. I’ve never seen a man get shot before.” She smiled, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes. She tipped up on her toes and kissed Denver on his scruffy cheek before hurrying off toward her bedroom.

“Make it fast, baby,” Denver growled.

Denver stood, whistling an old Charlie Pride tune, the muzzle, shrouded in the white towel, steady as a boulder. Jackson made his plan, the best plan he could come up with. The magnum was still on the table—a clumsy mistake. Two steps and Jackson would have it in his hand. He just needed to watch Denver’s eyes. They might flick over to Libby when she came back into the kitchen. If they did, Jackson would throw himself to the left and snatch the magnum as he fell. He’d get at least one good shot.

Jackson heard Libby’s quick footsteps. She appeared in the kitchen doorway, almost ethereal-looking. She lifted a pistol and the full blast at short range caught Denver Jones in the back of his skull. Denver’s eyes widened in surprise, just before they quit moving altogether. He stumbled forward and fell, crashing to the floor, his face smashing against the worn-woven rug.

Jackson jumped, almost too late, to get his foot out of the way of the falling body. He was stunned. Moments ago, she’d acted as if she was scared to death to touch Jackson’s gun, and now she’d, almost expertly, held a pistol and calmly took Denver Jones’s life.

Libby Doyle laid her pistol neatly next to Jones’s Colt, facing both barrels in the same direction—away from Denver Jones.

Jackson bent and picked up the guns. There was no doubt that Jones was dead. Blood pooled in his opened eyes, changing the whites to crimson. Libby knelt beside the body. She clasped Denver’s dead hand to her chest and sat back on her heels. A low sad tune spilled from someplace deep inside her.

“You really did love him,” Jackson said.

“I loved my old Denver. The one I used to know. This wasn’t him.”

“Why’d you kill him, Libby? Because he was going to kill me?”

She turned her head slowly and looked at the wall behind Jackson. Her eyes were distant, and her voice reedy. “You see that white wall? Last April, I wanted to fix this place up. We’d been here almost two whole months. A record for me and Denver. He bought the paint, and we painted it. And just like Denver said, whilst we were waiting, we fucked on that table.” She glanced at the wooden legs and the checkerboard cloth of the kitchen table. “Only it wasn’t like fucking that time. At least, not the fucking Denver and I was used to. That time he used the cleaned paint brush. He dipped the brush into water, pretending it was paint. He called me his Mona Lisa and brushed the water all over my body. I was so wet, dripping from water and my own cream. He brushed my pussy like he was painting a masterpiece—long strokes and little short dabs. ‘Now this is art,’ he said. When he climbed up on me, he swirled the soft bristles over my titties, gentle-like. He pushed his pecker inside of me, and jammed the bristles harder against my nipples. When we was finished, he painted my belly with his soft lollipop. I expected Denver to shove the paint brush up inside me, but instead he said, ‘We should get married,’ and I believed him. We was gonna live here, you know.”

She still coddled Denver’s lifeless hand against her chest. Black, curly hair poked from under his shirt sleeve and drifted up over his colorless knuckles. A Rolex knockoff showed the time to be six-twenty-two. The last half-hour had seemed like an eternity.

“You didn’t want my blood to mess up the wall?”

“It didn’t mean nothing to him, not a damn thing.”

Jackson shifted uneasily. “Well, no matter why you did it, I owe you.” But she wasn’t listening. She’d started that toneless crooning again, a forgotten lullaby.

He walked toward the counter, her feathery words stopping him. “Did you say something Miss. Doyle?”

“I can buy a new rug, can’t I, 007? But the walls, they would never have been the same.”

He reached for the phone, careful not to disturb her canister set lined neatly against the wall—flour, sugar, tea, and coffee all spaced evenly apart. The cordless phone stuck in its cradle and he had to rock it to release it. He’d work out the details of his phrasing later, when he wrote his report, but for now he needed to tell Dixon that Jones was dead. He dialed the number. The low rings reminded him of a lifeguard’s whistle at the county pool. He hated when things weren’t what they seemed.

“Yeah?” the sleepy voice said.

“This is Parks,” he said. “I’ve got news.”

“What’s up, Jackson?”

“No need to bring a lunch when you come today, Dixon. The long wait is over.”

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