The Hitwoman and the Poisoned Apple
Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman Book 8
How do you solve a murder when the victim is still alive?
Maggie Lee’s murder mentor (and almost lover) Patrick Mulligan wants her to find out who poisoned him before it’s too late. Keeping the man she loves alive would be hard enough if all she had to worry about was not getting caught, but nothing’s ever that simple.
In between dealing with her strung out cat, searching for Patrick’s poisoner, meeting a deadline to deliver a mysterious gift for her mobster boss and keeping a curious reporter on his toes, she finds herself entangled in the complicated (and potentially dangerous) romantic affairs of her Aunt Susan and her semi-psychic friend Armani.
Hearts and lives are in peril.
Can the kooky, klutzy assassin save them?
You know it’s going to be a bad day when your To Do list contains: Go to the Cemetery.
And when you get out of bed with your bare feet and step into a pile of puke your drugged out cat regurgitated in the middle of the night, and you dry heave, your hopes for the day fall even further. And when a brown anole lizard chortles at your discomfort, it’s enough reason to fall back into bed and pull the covers over your head, all the while keeping your damp, sticky, vomit-covered foot dangling over the side.
“You overslept,” Godzilla, the aforementioned lizard, who prefers to be called God for short, informed me from where he lounged on a piece of driftwood in his glass terrarium.
I grabbed the corner of the pillow I’d used to cover my face, ready to chuck it at him. “I barely slept.”
“None of us did,” the lizard snapped. “You’re not the only one who’s worried about him.”
“Too me!” My dyslexic Doberman pinscher panted, jumping onto the bed and sticking her wet nose under the pillow. “Too me!”
Tossing the pillow aside, I stroked the dog’s snout. “I know you are, DeeDee.”
She laid her head on my shoulder, pressing her body weight against me.
“She’s only concerned because he feeds her,” God griped from his enclosure. “She doesn’t really care about him.”
“Too do,” DeeDee growled.
The “he” we were talking about is Patrick Mulligan. A hero cop, a feeder of animals, my almost lover, and my murder mentor. I’d found out from my mobster boss that Patrick had been poisoned. Unable to learn much more than that without attracting the unwanted attention of his wife, cops, or assorted criminals, I’d obeyed Patrick’s Rule Number One: Don’t get caught—and stopped asking questions.
Instead, I’d come home and told my pets what I knew.
I know everyone talks to their pets, but mine talk back. Really. A while back I was involved in a car accident that left me with the ability to hear and understand animals. I know it sounds crazy, but my whole life is crazy. That same accident resulted in me becoming my niece Katie’s guardian, responsible for her care and responsible for her medical bills. And the responsibility for the medical bills led me to the desperate choice to kill someone (a very bad someone, I swear!) for money, and that led me to Patrick.
Now Patrick was lying in a hospital room and I, Maggie Lee, was starting yet another bad day with the Greek chorus of creatures complicating my morning even further.
“You’re going to be late,” God nagged.
“I know, I know.” I dragged myself out of bed, careful not to step into the cat puke again, and hopped across the basement of the Bed and Breakfast owned by my aunts, not wanting to get the floor even dirtier.
“Gotta,” DeeDee whined softly, reminding me she needed to be let out.
After wiping my foot clean with a dish towel, I climbed the short set of stairs and opened the basement’s storm door to let her out into the yard. She bounded gleefully up the steps, almost knocking me over in her haste to get outside to nature’s port-a-potty.
“Where’s Piss?” I asked the lizard.
“Under the sofa.”
Crossing the room, I knelt down, lifted the flap of fabric hanging from the bottom of the sofa and peered underneath. “How are you doing, sweetheart?”
“It hurts!” the one-eyed, one-eared cat yowled. “How in tarnation do you think I’m doing?”
Startled, I dropped the fabric and reared back.
“Your Southern Belle isn’t so sweet now, is she?” the lizard mocked.
Lifting the flap again, I bent to get a better look at my feline friend.
“I need drugs,” she hissed.
“Okay, okay,” I assured her. “I’ll open a can of food and get them for you. Chicken or fish?”
“You make it sound like she’s responding to a wedding invitation,” God interjected.
“Fish,” she grumbled.
“Fish it is.” Jumping to my feet, I hurried to the bathroom where I kept her spare food and an extra can opener.
I could have climbed the stairs and used the kitchen of the B&B, but I really wasn’t in the mood to deal with anyone else. Besides, I didn’t know if Bob, my Aunt Susan’s ex-boyfriend, had finished repairing the broken window. It was the broken window that had caused Piss’s mood. If she hadn’t stepped on the glass and cut her paws, she would be her usual self, a bit mysterious, but kind.
“She’s not going to be happy if you’re late,” God called.
“Yeah, yeah.” I was supposed to meet my friend Armani Vasquez at the cemetery first thing. She’d left a message the night before, begging me to meet her. In addition to being my co-worker at Insuring the Future, Armani is semi-psychic. When she asks me to do something, I’m inclined to do it since her “predictions” have saved my life in the past.
Tearing the lid off the can of cat food, I wrinkled my nose at the fishy scent. I took one of the pain pills prescribed for Piss and mashed it into the food, before carrying the can to the sofa.
“Here you go,” I said cheerily, placing it on the floor beside the couch.
Piss slunk out from beneath. She’d had a hard life and had the scars to prove it, but now she looked even worse than usual as she gobbled up the contents of the can.
“Hungry!” DeeDee yipped softly from outside.
I let her back inside and fed her a couple of dog biscuits from the box I kept stashed behind the television.
Living in a basement wasn’t the ideal set up, but I’d recently lost my own apartment when it was blown up, and I’d lost my old bedroom in the B&B when my sister, Marlene, had given up her life on the street and moved back home. Still the basement did offer a level of privacy, with its very own escape hatch.
I used that hatch to slip out of the B&B without any of my aunts seeing me. Getting in my car, I slipped it into gear without starting the engine and slowly rolled it out of driveway so as not to attract anyone’s attention. I was having a bad enough day after a near-sleepless night, tossing and turning and worrying about Patrick, I didn’t need to run into a family member who would suck me into their Drama du Jour. When I was far enough from the B&B to make a clean escape, I started the engine. “Take that!” I shouted, needing to celebrate my victory, no matter how small.
“Take what?” a voice asked from the backseat.
Terrified, I shrieked and stomped on the gas pedal as though I could outrun whoever was behind me.
The engine roared, the car lurched forward, and I barely managed to miss running over a fire hydrant.
The person behind me screamed in terror.
Slamming on the brake, I twisted to take on my would-be attacker, grabbing my only available weapon, a CD out of the stereo system. I gripped it tightly imagining it to have a razor sharp edge that I could use to slice the person behind me to ribbons.
“What the heck are you doing?” Armani Vasquez demanded. “You almost broke Barry Manilow.”
I stared at my friend. Her usually perfect hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed for days and her mascara was smudged beneath her eyes. If the circumstances had been different, I would have been concerned about her, but as it was, I was pissed. “What the hell are you doing in the back of my car?”
“I was sleeping.”
“You can’t just go around sleeping in random cars.”
“It wasn’t random. It’s yours.”
“You almost gave me a heart attack,” I shouted, my voice echoing off the car’s interior.
“You returned the favor,” she yelled back. “Where’d you learn to drive? The Helen Keller School for Bad Drivers?”
“You didn’t mind my driving when I took you to Atlantic City to see Barry,” I reminded her, shaking the Manilow CD I’d almost used to slice open her jugular.
“Play me some Copa?” she pleaded.
“Explain to me why you were sleeping in my car.”
“Cuz we’re going to the cemetery. If you don’t start driving, we’ll never get there,” she reminded me, sitting back in her seat like I was her personal chauffeur.
Since I had things to do other than listen to the rantings of my semi-psychic friend all day, I popped the CD back into the player and began to drive. “I thought we were meeting at the cemetery.”
“Are you loco?”
I glanced at her reflection in the rearview mirror. Yeah, I’m probably a bit crazy, after all it runs in the family, but I wasn’t about to admit that to her.
She finger combed her hair so that it didn’t stick out quite so wildly. “I’d never go to a cemetery alone.”
“Explain to me why we’re going there at all.”
She sighed. “The spirits are trying to tell me someone’s name.”
“What?” I mocked. “Your Scrabble tiles aren’t working?”
Some psychics read palms, others tea leaves. Armani reads Scrabble tiles.
“I don’t get to control how the messages come to me,” Armani explained huffily. “After all it’s a gift, not a possession to be used.”
“Spare me,” I muttered having heard multiple variations of this theme.
Ignoring me, Armani explained, “I need some ghosts to help me out.”
“Hence the cemetery.” I shivered involuntarily. The only ghost I had any interest in communicating with was my sister, Theresa, Katie’s mom.
As though she really is psychic and can read my mind, Armani said, “She won’t be there.”
“Who?” I asked, playing dumb.
“Which one?” The are two headstones in my family’s plot that bear the names of my sisters Darlene and Teresa.
“Either.” Armani yawned.
“Am I boring you?”
“I didn’t sleep well.”
“Either did I.”
I couldn’t very well tell her that I was worried about Patrick, my murder mentor and guy I had a serious thing for, despite the fact he’s married. So I offered a plausible lie instead. “Family. They’re driving me nuts.”
“No offense, chiquita, but your family is nuts.”
I couldn’t argue with her, even though this assessment was from a woman who got messages from “the other side.” “I still don’t understand why you need to go to the cemetery or why you were sleeping in my car.”
“I slept in your car because my date last night turned kind of creepy, so I had him drop me in front of the Bed & Breakfast thinking it would probably be the one house around that still had lights on at that hour. And of course it did.”
“You had no way to get home,” I joked.
“Luckily you leave your car unlocked.”
I made a mental note to stop doing that. It wasn’t good for my heart to be scared like I had been.
“And I’m thinking the cemetery will be full of energy.”
“It’s not exactly a hopping place,” I told her. “It’s full of dead people.”
“Spirit energy,” she explained. “If I can tap into it, it will boost my signal, cut through the static and make the message I’m supposed to receive crystal clear.”
“If you say so,” I said, despite not believing her.
“Think of it as psychic bunny ears,” she explained. “At the right angle, the broadcast suddenly becomes flawless.”
“I’m not standing on a grave and leaning this way and that while you shout out instructions,” I warned her.
“Of course not!” She huffed. “That’s my job.”
“Anywhere in particular I should park?” I pulled into the cemetery.
“Closest to wherever your family is would be great.”
“I thought you said my sister won’t be here.” I pulled the car onto the narrow strip of pavement that led the way to my family burial space.
“She won’t, but your older relatives might be.” Leaning forward Armani clapped me on the shoulder. “You, my friend, are going to be my lightning rod.”