I arrived at the park a few minutes late, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t even supposed to be at work, but I had to find out what was happening with the park. There was an unfamiliar car parked in Eddie’s usual spot. I wondered who had the gall to use his space. I glanced at the license plate which said PHILLIP. There weren’t any employees named Phillip as far as I knew, and besides, none of the employees could afford a vintage Jag. Black. Very well taken care of. Whoever had bought it obviously had money and time. I admired it for a few minutes before reluctantly deciding that I better get inside.
“Bea! Thank God you got the message,” Antoinette said to me, gushing as I entered the green room. “You’re ten minutes late, but that’s ok. Oh, isn’t it terrible about Eddie? I’m just all broken up about it.” She didn’t look broken up to me, but what did I know?
“What message?” I asked, scanning the room. All the characters were there, as well as one man who I didn’t recognize. I gave him the once-over, liking what I saw. He was almost six-feet tall with dark, wavy brown hair and ice-blue eyes. The cleft in his chin and the smile on his face warmed his whole visage. There was a ruggedness about him which I associated with the outdoors. He appeared to be in his late thirties or early forties, which put him at the outer edge of my age-range. He was dressed sharply in a nice suit, however, and I couldn’t help but notice the Rolex on his wrist. Whoever he was, he came from money. I gave myself a mental shake. What was I doing drooling over a guy I didn’t know when I had a great boyfriend at home? Besides, he had a wedding band which made him firmly off-limits.
“I left a message on your cell!” Antoinette squeaked, looking at me disapprovingly. “Don’t you ever check your messages?” Actually, I didn’t. I hated being a slave to my cell phone. Antoinette didn’t wait for me to answer, but waved in the direction of the stranger. “That’s Phillip, Eddie’s brother. He’s taking over the business.” I gulped, sneaking another look at Phillip. This gorgeous creature was related to the repellant Eddie? I found it exceedingly difficult to believe. Wait a minute. Phillip? Of the Jag Phillip? Phillip with a Rolex? If Eddie was so hard-up for money, why hadn’t Phillip loaned him any?
“Um, what’s the meeting about?” I finally asked, once I wrenched my mind away from the fascinating Phillip.
“If you had listened to my message, you would know,” Antoinette said, frowning at me. “Phillip wanted to meet all the characters at one time so he could get a feel of things.” She sent a coquettish look Phillip’s way, but he wasn’t paying attention to her. Clearing her throat, she said, “Phillip, everyone is here.”
“Great,” Phillip said, smiling impartially at the whole room before rearranging his features into an appropriate solemn expression. “As you all know, my brother, Eddie, met his untimely demise yesterday morning.” He paused for a minute. I didn’t know whether he wanted us to express shock or grief or what, but nobody said anything. The silence seemed to discomfit him because it took him a moment to regain his composure. “Uh, you might not know that I inherit the park and that I’m going to keep it open.” He paused again, this time, apparently seeking applause. When he didn’t receive it, he hurried on. “There won’t be any changes for now—not until I figure out, uh, that is, well, let’s just say we’ll keep things as they are for now. I would like to open today if everyone is ok with that.” Nobody said a thing.
“What do the cops have to say about that?” A voice from the back asked.
“Since the, uh, event did not occur at the park, they are fine with us opening. They understand that it is an ongoing business concern.” Realizing that he didn’t sound exactly heartbroken, he added, “Eddie would have wanted it that way. It was his dream to have this park, so his work should not go in vain.”
Was this guy for real? Everything he uttered sounded like a canned greeting card or something. He didn’t sound distressed about his brother’s death, but I had to cut him some slack. Not everybody reacted to death in the same way. However, he didn’t look the least aggrieved at Eddie’s death; if anything, he looked as if he was trying to hold back a smile. If Eddie were my brother, I probably wouldn’t be very sad at his demise, either, but it still seemed odd that Phillip wasn’t showing any external signs of distress. He was bouncing lightly on his toes as if he were eager to face the day. I waited for everyone else to file out of the green room before glancing around. I still believed that Lydia had hidden whatever it was she wanted me to find somewhere in this room. There wasn’t any place I hadn’t looked, however, but I made another cursory search in case I had missed something.
I hadn’t. I kicked a chair in frustration, cursing Lydia under my breath. Obviously, she had given me more credit than I deserved because I was feeling dumber than a post right about now. As I was pacing back and forth, wondering what to do, my eyes fell on Lydia’s duck head—good old Daphne duck. Something niggled in my mind, but I couldn’t quite place it. I walked over to the head, however, convinced that there was something, if I could just…Fragments of my conversation with Mrs. Rodriguez came back to me, and I remembered her saying something about Lydia knowing that I’d use my head. Use my head. I looked at Daphne’s head and turned it over eagerly. I felt in the lining of the helmet and every other crevice I could find, but to no avail. There simply wasn’t anything in there. I growled in frustration, but then I remembered that Lydia had been wearing my head when she died. Perhaps she had suggested the switch for a reason.
“Bea! What are you still doing here? I thought you had the day off.” Antoinette banged open the green room door, her Jessalyn head under her arm. Her eyes went to the duck head which I was still holding upside down.
“Nothing,” I said, backing away from the head. “I was just leaving.” Antoinette watched me as I made my way towards the door. Just as I was about to leave, she added, “The cops are done with your head. You should get it back tomorrow.”
“Ok, no hurry,” I said in a casual voice. I decided to swing by the cop shop and see if I could persuade them to give me back my head now. I wanted to be the first one to take a look at it, even though the cops had probably stripped it bare.
“What do you have there?” Rafe asked as I hurried into the house. “That looks like a mouse head.”
“It is,” I said, shutting the door behind me. It had taken some major wheedling to pry the head away from the cop shop, but they admitted that they were done with it and my taking it saved them a trip out to the park. They made me sign for it, however, which made me slightly uneasy. I wasn’t sure why I was so eager to keep the knowledge that I had the head a secret, but I was.
“Well?” Rafe was still waiting for me to explain why I was lugging a mouse head around.
I explained to him my deductions concerning our conversation with Mrs. Rodriguez and how I had examined Daphne’s head already before figuring out that Lydia must have meant Maisie’s head. I omitted the detail about hijacking the head from the cops because I had a feeling Rafe wouldn’t approve of my methods. As it was, he wasn’t too thrilled that I was still sticking my nose where it didn’t belong—his words, not mine. When I said that he didn’t have to participate, however, he glared at me and ordered me to take the head into the living room where my parents were reading. For a minute, I was tempted to disobey his order, but since that was where I wanted to go in the first place, I did the mature thing. I stuck out my tongue then marched into the living room.
“What are you doing with that, dear?” My mother asked as she looked up from her Toni Morrison book. She was re-reading Sula, which was one of her favorite non-Quimby books in the world.
“She thinks Lydia might have hidden some information in there,” Rafe explained before pouring out the details. Both my parents looked interested as I started searching the inner lining of the head. It’s quite difficult to see if you didn’t know it’s there, which was probably why the cops hadn’t notice it.
“Bingo!” I said triumphantly, pulling out a envelope bulging with something. I set aside the head and opened up the envelope. It was crammed full with photos, and I pulled a few out to look at them. What I saw caused me to frown as I passed them to Rafe. After a quick glance, he handed them to my mother who took even less time before giving them to my father.
“Who is it?” My father asked, his normally gentle tone grim. “Who’s the pervert asshole?”
“Tommy,” I said, my voice catching. I cannot believe that I hadn’t asked him old his girlfriend was. I thought she was a college student or at worst, a senior in high school. What I hadn’t figured was that she would look like she was in her early teens, if that. That led me to wonder where her parents were and how she managed to go to the park every day by herself. “That’s why Lydia threatened to tell Eddie. Not because the girl’s a customer, but because of her age.” None of us had the stomach to look through the entire batch of pictures.
“What are you going to do about it?” My mother asked me, her lips pursed.
“I have to go to the cops,” I sighed, running my hand through my hair. “If the girl had been older, I would have just given the pictures to Tommy, but knowing what I know, I can’t.”
“Why did he tell you?” Rafe asked, looking slightly sick. “I mean, with Lydia gone, what did he have to fear from you? He should have just kept his mouth shut.”
“He was trying to find out what I knew,” I said, glaring at the offending envelope. “Lydia was waving the pictures around, so he knew she had them. He had to tell me something, so why not an innocuous version of the real story? He was probably hoping the pictures were never found.”
“Do you think he killed Lydia?” Rafe asked, fiddling with the packet of pictures. “This is pretty sick stuff. It could put him in jail for years.”
“I don’t know,” I said hesitantly. “The fact that we found the pictures makes me want to say no. I mean, it’s the pictures that do him harm—not Lydia herself. I don’t think he would have killed her without forcing her to tell him where the pictures were. Besides, where would Eddie fit in? Maybe Lydia told Eddie before she died,” I said, musing out loud before contradicting myself. “That doesn’t make sense. If Eddie knew, he wouldn’t have waited three days before confronting Tommy.”
“Call the cops now,” my father said firmly, his face twisted in disgust.
“Hold on a minute,” I said, turning back to the giant head. I felt my way in the lining again and discovered some papers crammed in tight. “Bingo again.” I pulled them out, obscurely relieved that I hadn’t found more pictures. In fact, everybody was happy to see papers instead of pictures.
“What is it?” My mother asked, leaning forward eagerly.
I held up my hand while I scanned the papers. A frown creased my forehead as I read, uncertain of what I was seeing. It had something to do with the park’s lease and Eddie’s account. It seemed that he was behind on his payment by several months. In addition, it appeared as if someone’s hand was in the till. I couldn’t tell if it was Eddie or not. I passed the papers along, and everyone else read them as well. We came to the agreement that there was something hinky about the situation, though none of us were savvy enough to pinpoint it precisely.
“Call the cops, now.” My mother insisted after reading the papers.
“In a second,” I said, scooping up the papers and going to the den. I copied the papers, knowing my mother wouldn’t approve. I wished I could keep a copy of the pictures as well, but I didn’t have time to copy them, too. Oh well, I could always talk to Mrs. Rodriguez and find out what happened to Lydia’s digital camera. I would bet that she kept a copy of the photos somewhere—digitally, of course. Or not. I wasn’t sure I’d keep those foul pictures around.
After I finished copying the papers, I called the police. They weren’t happy to hear they had missed something in the head, nor were they pleased to hear that someone in the department had released the head to me without checking with her uppers, but they let that slide in their eagerness to hear what I had. If I read between the lines, they were hard-up for clues and being pressured to find the killer or killers to no avail. They weren’t even sure if there was one killer or two. They told me to sit tight and they would be right over to talk to take back the head, the papers and the photos. I could tell by the tone of the detective’s voice that Tommy had leapt to the top of the suspect list. While I felt guilty about calling attention to him, I didn’t feel too bad because he was a fucking pedophile, for god’s sake. Ok, he wasn’t a pedophile in the strictest sense of the word, but still, he was getting it on with a girl who was probably ten to twelve years younger than he, and that was sickening enough.
“What did the cops have to say?” Rafe asked when I reentered the living room.
“They’re coming over,” I said glumly, stacking the papers and the envelope. “They weren’t happy, to say the least, but they weren’t mad at me. Not really.”
“Well, they shouldn’t be,” my mother said fiercely. “You’re doing a better job than they are.”
“That’s what’s making them mad,” I sighed, poking the mouse head with my foot. Right now, I wished I had never heard of FunLand, Maisie Mouse, or even Lydia. Instantly, guilty feelings washed over me. It’s not Lydia’s fault that she’s been murdered. We waited in silence for the cops; nevertheless, the doorbell ringing startled us. I got up from the couch and trudged to the front door.