Kate woke up when the painkillers wore off. She was in her father’s bed. Her pills and a bottle of water were on the bedside table. She still had her underpants on and Carmedy’s shirt. Everything else, including her bra, was in the laundry hamper.
Interesting. She didn’t even remember getting out of the car.
When she got around to going downstairs, she found Carmedy on the office couch. On his open terminal, she could see the annual report was completed. Kate poured herself some juice and read his additions, tweaking his grammar here and there.
“We’ll proof it later,” he said, coming up behind her. “Tell me about Irene Collins . . . while you make coffee.”
“She’s the peach jam lady,” said Kate, heading for the kitchenette.
She brought him over the half-empty jar and showed him Irene’s name.
“Does that mean you’ve dismissed her as a suspect?” he asked, smiling. “After all, we don’t want to interfere with our supply of preserves.”
She shook her head.
“I’m checking on her missing husband. Maybe he’s come back and is trying to terrorize her.”
She told him about her interviews with the neighbourhood watch and her brief talk with Ms Collins. Irene confirmed the gossip that her husband abused her and she was afraid of him returning.
“She said her cat died just before he left.”
“That’s significant,” he agreed. “We’ll see what turns up tomorrow. Right now we have to get ready for dinner and for me, that means a trip home.”
A couple of hours later, clean, dressed appropriately, and inappropriately terrified, Kate stood in front of the Thorsens’ house.
Think of it as a business function, Kate told herself. You and your business partner are meeting a client and his family for dinner.
Right, except that the Thorsens were her family. She baby-sat the Thorsen kids. She was with Mama Maggie when Erica, the youngest, was born. Up until Jake Carmedy came along, Kate and her father spent every Yule at the Thorsen home. Then her father practically adopted Carmedy. After one very tense Yule dinner, Kate announced she’d visit the Thorsens with her mother and step-father from now on.
She knocked at the door. Obviously she was expected because she only got one knock in before the door flew open and Erica jumped out, throwing her arms around Kate’s neck.
The girl was no featherweight. She almost knocked Kate off her feet. That would have been embarrassing: detective bowled over by ten-year-old.
“Erica! Settle down,” Thorsen shouted from the kitchen.
“It’s okay,” Kate called out. “I don’t mind.”
She set down her bags and flipped the girl over. Erica giggled so hard she started to hiccup. Kate put her down and handed her two of the three bags she brought.
“Here monster-girl, these are to go under the tree.”
Once the girl was out of sight, Kate hugged her bad hand to her chest. She was going to need more painkillers.
Thorsen greeted her with a scowl.
“Carmedy tell you about last night?” she guessed.
“Only after I grilled him. I got the initial report from Mohr.”
“Mohr called you?”
“No. I called Mohr when my daily reports flagged your name. Why didn’t you call me, Kathleen?”
There were a lot of answers to that question. Kate picked the least controversial.
“Too tired to think of it.”
He dropped his arm around her shoulder and guided her into the kitchen.
“We’ll talk about it later.”
Jake looked up from the baguette he was slicing. Igor was looking better now that Kate was here.
“Almost done?” Maggie asked him.
He made the last few cuts and dumped the pieces into the bread basket.
“Done,” he said.
“Good, because you’ll have to do the job I reserved for Kate.”
“I can work,” Kate said.
“Someone needs to get the stuffing out of the bird.”
“Can’t do that,” Kate agreed. “How about stirring the gravy?”
“That’s Andrea’s job. Sonia and Erica are setting the table. Igor is preparing to carve . . . Can you set out the condiments and relishes? Or will the jars be a problem?”
Kate waved her good hand.
Jake split his attention between digging out the stuffing and watching Kate wrestle with jar tops. She was watching him on and off too. Finally she came over to him.
“You have to scoop out the other end too,” she whispered.
Jake rolled his eyes and turned the bird around.
When he was done, Igor shooed him away so he could carve. Kate now had everything out and was faced by a cluster of open jars. Jake washed up and offered to put the lids on while she ferried the dishes to the table.
Two varieties of pickled onion, three varieties of pickled herring, gherkins, bread and butter pickles, sliced dill pickles, tamarind sauce, fig sauce and peach chutney. He took the chutney out so he could steal a taste. It wasn’t as good as the jam, but it was pretty damned good.
“You like it?” she asked, catching him in the act. “Irene must go through bushels of peaches. You have to wonder how she maintains quality control when she hates dealing with people.”
“I just wonder what she does with all the pits.”
“Mulch. But that’s just the shells.”
She stared at him for a moment then announced, “ I need to check something.”
“Not work,” he hissed. “Not here.”
He followed her back to the kitchen, but she swept past him with her purse in hand.
“Got to check my bandages.”
He didn’t believe her, but there was fresh gauze wrapped around her hand when she returned – just in time to sit down with the family. There was also a self-satisfied smile on her face.
Now that she had solved the puzzle, at least to her satisfaction, Kate was able to set it aside and enjoy the family celebration. After dinner was cleared away, they settled in the living room with coffee and schnaps. Kate passed on the schnaps. She eyed an open place on the couch, but was pulled down onto the floor by Erica who then leaped back up again.
“Presents!” she cried. “I want to give Kate my present first.”
No one objected, so the girl dug through the parcels until she found what she was looking for. Finally, she handed over a homemade box with a recycled bow on top. Kate opened the box, removed the tissue and pulled out a coffee mug. It was a bit lumpy and included a perfect thumb impression where the handle was joined to the cup.
“I made it myself,” Erica said. “I painted this side.”
She pointed to the side nearest Kate. It was decorated with holly and mistletoe.
“But on this side,” she turned the mug in Kate’s hands, “I had them put a photo. See – there’s me.”
Mama Maggie was obviously trying to get her youngest to look toward the camera, but the baby was more interested in trying to get into Mama’s blouse. Papa Igor had Sonia on his lap. Beside him was her Dad with Andrea perched on a knee. On the other side of Maggie, Kate was trying to get baby Erica’s attention. Beside her, sitting on the arm of the couch was Carmedy. Their first and last Yule together.
Kate’s eyes welled up with tears. Sure, she had been with Erica every season since, every birthday, every significant event, but she had cheated herself out of nine Yule dinners because of pride.
“You okay, Katie?” Erica asked, her voice tremulous. “Don’t you like it?”
“I love it, honey. It’s the best gift ever.”
Jake was desperate for the washroom but Kate was asleep, leaning against his leg, using his knee as a pillow.
“Big change from last time you two were in this house,” Igor commented. “I take it you’re getting along now.”
“Except when we aren’t,” Jake replied.
“I’m going to want her back, you know. I let her have the time off because she would have quit on me if I didn’t, but she has the makings of a fine homicide detective. She won’t get that opportunity in private investigation.”
“Joe was Joe.” Igor’s brows furrowed and his mouth was tight. “There’s a lot of resentment towards private contractors. You don’t see it because Joe was practically legendary. In other cities there’s been trouble. Toronto’s given up the practice completely. They’ll refer qualified private investigators, but they won’t hire them.”
“Are you telling me that Carmedy and Garrett Investigations can’t expect much work from you?” Jake asked. “Or will you still send us the pet crimes?”
“No business tonight,” Maggie said, rousing from her doze. “Jake, Andrea made up the couch in the basement for you. I was thinking Kate could sleep with the girls but . . .”
“I can sleep on the couch too,” Kate said, without lifting her head. “It’s big enough.”
Jake had the satisfaction of seeing Igor blush. He guessed it had more to do with being overheard than Kate’s provocative offer.
Kate’s good hand crawled up his shin and braced itself on his knee. With a grunt of effort, she stood, using him for leverage. Once she was up, she grabbed his wrist and pulled him to his feet.
“Come on, partner,” she said. “Good night all.”
Jake followed her down to the finished basement. As promised, the couch was made up into a queen-sized bed. There was also a full bath so he disengaged from her grip so he could make use of the facilities. She was already stripped down to her bra and panties when he returned.
“Do you have a spare t-shirt?” she asked. “I didn’t come prepared to stay.”
He was prepared and his bag had been brought down earlier. He rummaged for a clean t-shirt and tossed it to her.
She put it on and took her bra off underneath.
“Is this a form of rebellion?” he asked.
“Partly. I heard most of my godfather’s diatribe. He’s right, of course. We can’t count on getting high profile cases. We’ll be called in for support, but we won’t get the kind of cases my father got.”
She slipped between the covers, staying to the edge, leaving him almost two thirds of the mattress. If he only took up a third, they’d have a decent buffer zone. That would work.
“The thing is,” she continued, “the first thing my father taught me was that most important thing about solving a case was solving it. If you can take the stand in court and present the facts clearly, so that no one can shake your testimony, then you’ve done your job – whether it was a high-profile homicide or a traffic accident.”
He wasn’t sure whether he bought her line, or even if she did, but he knew she wasn’t lying about the source. Joe had said as much to him.
He stripped down to boxers and undershirt and crawled into bed, careful to keep to his side. Obviously, she thought of him in platonic terms so this wasn’t a problem for her. It was a problem for him, but he’d deal with it.
Then the shoe dropped.
He turned over, putting himself in the middle of the bed.
“You’ve solved the case.”
She turned onto her back and grinned up at him.
Continued tomorrow, or read the whole story at: