Authors: A.J. Lape
I pulled my iPhone out of my back pocket and pitched it on the counter. Kicking off my black flip-flops, I crawled onto the sofa, snuggling next to him with the details.
“The usual: sun and fun, plus Dylan wants to ride a mechanical bull at a country bar and zip line over gators.”
“Country bar?” he grumbled.
“Yeah, it’s called Cowboys,” I told him. “I figure I’ll knock back a few shots of whiskey then strip on top of the bar.”
“Of course,” he deadpanned. “Anything less would be a disappointment. What about this gator thing?”
“At Gatorland you can zip line over breeding gators.”
“Make sure to unsnap your harness,” he joked.
I burst out laughing and glanced around the four walls, all painted in a neutral shade of khaki. Our house represented your basic single-family unit. Three bedrooms upstairs with a vaulted ceiling and a master bedroom downstairs no one had stepped inside for years. I’d miss it, but it was hardly Norman Rockwell or as exciting as zip lining over gator debauchery.
“I want to see the naughty gators,” I giggled.
Murphy chuckled, his eyes squinting together. “Kid, your mind is utter filth. You need to work on that.”
“I’ve got a reputation to uphold. I wouldn’t want to let my fan club down.”
“You put a whole new spin on the term no-brainer,” he sighed sarcastically. “How much money does gator girl need?”
I vacationed with my best friend, Dylan Taylor, every summer, and his family was loaded. We’re talking house-in-Florida kind of loaded. Spring-breaks-in-Maui kind of loaded. Head of the clan, Colton Taylor, worked as a vice president at
Cosmetics and made Mark Zuckerberg look dirt poor. Somewhere along the road, I became their stray cat … a privilege that earned an all-expense paid, annual vacation via their private Learjet. No kidding, a freaking Learjet. If I’d learned anything, you made a major faux pas if you tried to foot the bill for even a pack of gum. Colton had a few rules: the biggest, he paid. The money Murphy sent was reserved for clothing, gifts for my little sister, or a random donation to the destitute or homeless.
Murphy mumbled, “I need to sell eye shadow.”
“What’s for dinner?” I giggled.
Murphy was still stuck in eye shadow. “Dogs and burgers,” he finally muttered, “but first on the list is a burial. Sweet Jesus,” he prayed, or maybe he was swearing. “I hate burials, plus I have to find a murderer.”
I had to agree. Even though my mouth watered for a hotdog—my favorite food—dead animal parts took precedence. Especially when the temperature was sweltering like an erupting volcano.
I live in Valley, a suburb of Cincinnati, OH, and today topped out at 99 degrees. Half dressed in cut-off jean shorts and a white tank, that small amount of clothing did little to combat a heat index of 110. The humidity grabbed you around the throat and squeezed like…
“Holy hell,” I finished out loud.
Murphy elbowed me so hard he might’ve snapped a rib. “Quit cursing, kid.”
“I wasn’t cursing, per se. I merely explained my feelings on the temperature of the house.” Smarty pants.
“The house is at an acceptable climate of 76 degrees,” he rattled off. “Watch your mouth, and drink a glass of water.” Murphy went ape poopoo when someone messed with the thermostat. Keeping his electric bill low was science, but he wasn’t cheap. He merely liked to beat the system … or gamble.
My little sister, Marjorie, swan dived in between us, her pink dress riding high above her hips. She sang, “Jesus loves me,” and I thought of my two dead crabs. Ugh, I didn’t want to touch that song any more than I wanted someone to slice my gut open.
“Hey, M,” I grunted.
With almond-shaped, brown eyes and fire engine red, wavy hair, we rarely called her Marjorie. I nicknamed her M as a baby, afraid she’d never figure out how to spell her eight-lettered name. She had it mastered by age two.
“Well, … ” she started.
I heard that song
Killing Me Softly
in my brain. Marjorie tended to be the “wordy” type. Starting a sentence with “well,” meant a 30-minute recap of a 30-second exchange.
?” I winced.
“I’m in love with Bobby Gerber. We’re going to get married or maybe live together.”
“Oh, God,” Murphy prayed. “Live together?”
“You know, combine their resources together in this time of economic woe,” I giggled.
Murphy kneed me in the thigh. “You’re messed up ten ways from Sunday, kid.”
Marjorie looked confused, assuming he’d addressed her. “I’m not messed up ten ways from Sunday. I don’t even know what that means.” I didn’t, either, but Murphy always talked in religious-speak when he was beside himself. “I’ve just found the man I love,” she smiled big.
Murphy mumbled to the ceiling about going to church more. “Marjorie, that kid is twisted, and you’re both too young to have boyfriends.”
Murphy made sure of that at the beginning of the summer. There’s a guy named Liam Woods that I’d gotten close to at the end of sophomore year … it was inevitable. Eddie Lopez wanted both of us dead, and she nearly succeeded with Liam by employing her black belt karate skills. Trouble was, he graduated in May, and things fizzled out before they really got started. He visited a few times, but we wound up watching movies or watching Murphy watch
. I think it humored Liam, but he moved to Alabama three weeks ago to attend Auburn University on a swimming scholarship. Let’s just say he’d either drowned or found a new girlfriend.
,” I clarified.
Murphy tried, but his patience expired before it reached full maturation. He stared at her, back at me, debated whether to be politically correct, then just blurted out, “He’s stupid.”
“He’s bad?” Marjorie frowned.
Murphy grunted, “A bad apple, kid.”
No kidding. Bobby loved to blow crap up. Unfortunately, I was the type that often needed his employ. I’d given him ten bucks for various jobs over the years. In my little corner of the world, I liked to think I’d taught him the value of self-employment.
Come to think of it, I wonder if Bobby’d paid Frick and Frack a visit.
Murphy smelled under both his arms, slid a glance in my direction, and then narrowed his eyes on Marjorie. “Please tell me you aren’t wearing your sister’s voodoo cream.”
“I am,” she beamed. “Claudia said I needed to start early because Darcy’s boobies aren’t responding.”
“Sweet Jesus,” Murphy whispered.
Claudia Gonzalez was my Puerto Rican Nanny. She practiced what Murphy considered the Dark Arts (ahem, voodoo), and at the top of her list was a potion that promised to provide an ample bosom. She claimed the answer was in the Crescent Moon, so during that phase I slathered on a paste concocted by her and her sister. That cream was bogus. I was barely a B-cup and now experiencing hot flashes and unnatural chest hair growth.
Marjorie smelled like she’d been dabbling in the goo.
“Claudia said the smell means it’s working,” she grinned.
“I figured that meant it was rotting,” Murphy muttered, “but who am I to judge what is clearly science?”
Murphy did sarcasm better than anyone.
The conversation predictably sailed over her head. “That’s right, Daddy, don’t judge. But if you must know, it’s comprised of witch hazel and island plant life.”
“Well, you’ve got the witch part right.” Murphy was petrified of the spirit world. He was even more petrified of anything that had to do with Claudia’s sister. Murphy read that part in the Bible over and over about the Antichrist ushering in the end of the world … he believed Claudia’s sister might be the vessel delivering it.
He pushed all three of us off the couch then ambled over to the countertop and picked up the Diamond matchbox.
“Make yourself useful, kid,” he said to me, opening the back door to scout for a burial plot. He pivoted to Marjorie. “Follow me. We’re going to have a little refresher course on appropriate six-year-old behavior.” She skipped behind him, not having a clue the two of us together probably warranted a visit from child protective services.
My MacBook Air sat on the countertop. I powered it up and keyed in the webpage for
The Orlando Sentinel
. Each time I left for vacation, I read the community blogs to find out the gossip in town. I scrolled through the main headlines: man arrested for striking son with pizza; alligator caught strolling upscale neighborhood; and five-year-old boy still missing. I read the opening paragraph about the pizza then found my way back to the story on the missing child. That story piqued my curiosity, and even though school records indicated I had a 160 IQ (shocking, I know), it took a lot to hold my interest.
One of the ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder), oftentimes my mind had one idea, and my body had another. People like me wound up trying harder than everyone else, or giving up and embracing the inevitable: a life of never really hitting the mark. I definitely knew what it felt like to be an outsider, realizing you were different, knowing short of a miracle, not a whole lot ever changed. Did it shape who I was? Absolutely. That’s one reason why I interfered when I shouldn’t; why I helped when no one needed it; why I broke the rules even when forbidden. I sought change and was a sucker for happy endings.
Sometimes it brought hope; other times it oozed stupidity.
One thing I had going for me was I happened to be a verb. Opening up the refrigerator, I got my verb on and pulled out the condiments, chomped into a pickle spear, scanning the opening paragraph of
The Orlando Sentinel
. Orange County officials are reporting there has been a shift in the case of the disappearance of Cisco Medina. Originally focusing on the thousands of leads that flooded their switchboard, authorities are now of the opinion that Fernando and Guadalupe Medina have not been totally forthcoming in the ongoing investigation of the disappearance of their five-year-old grandson.
Cisco Medina disappeared on his way home from a public park in early February, which launched a nationwide manhunt. No body or ransom ever entered the picture, and an exhaustive search produced no workable leads.
The Medinas, who reported their grandson missing, have thrown another confusion into the investigation by leaving town a month ago and not informing authorities. They had been awarded legal guardianship of their grandson when his mother, Lola Medina, lost him in a high stakes poker game with an undercover policeman when he was two.
In a news release on the sixth month anniversary of his disappearance, authorities reported that his mother, along with his father, are not considered suspects in the case and both have “air tight alibis on the night of his disappearance.”
According to the news release, “At the time of his disappearance, the mother was found on video at Walmart off John Young Parkway, and the father, Hank Henry, was seen on television showing his dog in a local dog show.”
A trust that finances private investigators was set up in Cisco’s name by Elmer Herschel, the landlord of the apartment complex where the Medinas lived. When interviewed by the Sentinel, Herschel stated, “I’m shocked the grandparents skipped town. They were a nice couple, but I guess everyone has secrets.”
According to the authorities, even if the child surfaces with his grandparents, guardians are required to check in with Child Services and the Medinas are in violation of that agreement. Any information you may have, please contact the Orange County’s Police Department or the Orlando Sentinel at 407-555-1234 or by email at
I grabbed another pickle and washed it down with a Coke while I wondered where Cisco was. An incorrigible snoop, I could sniff out the biggest stories that professionals couldn’t catch a whiff of even if right under their noses. That’s the main reason Eddie Lopez nearly murdered me. When I found a dead body in a dumpster near school, I discovered a local gang was involved and bravely—or moronically—called them on it. Problem was, Eddie wound up being the actual murderer, and I didn’t even know she belonged to the group … she basically sucker punched me. She didn’t just sucker punch me, though; she nearly killed our assistant principal whose recovery had been brutal.
But should I get involved with Cisco Medina? For God’s sake, it sounded like a job for the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. Still, for some insanely, idiotic reason I couldn’t let it go, although I knew nothing apart from a few paragraphs in an online newspaper and had only two weeks to work with.
A smart person would leave the job to the professionals; a dumb person wouldn’t know enough to care; an idiot would contact the newspaper and … lie.
This wasn’t exactly what I’d call a good life-choice, but the longer Cisco was unaccounted for, the colder the trail got. The colder the trail got, the more he’d be relegated to a cold case file. Cold case files were essentially when the authorities folded, or Destiny said it’s not the time to right your particular wrong.
Been there. Done that. Sucked.
I fired up my email account and typed a few sentences, changed my mind, and decided for a more direct approach. Thumbing the digits for
The Orlando Sentinel
into the house phone, after four rings, an overworked voice answered. “Troy here,” he muttered. “Make it front page or go away.”
I stood up straight, finding my big-girl voice. “Hello, I have a lead in the Cisco Medina case.”
A sweat mustache instantly formed over my lip. “Is that right?” he chuckled. “Well, sweetie, no one’s had a lead on Cisco Medina for months.”
“Well, I do,” I lied. “And don’t call me sweetie.”
Rustling paper, amidst sidesplitting laughter. “You don’t like sweetie, huh? How about babe?”