No Brainer ( The Darcy Walker Series #2) (5 page)

Normally dressed to kill, today he was ready for the holiday, wearing black board shorts and a matching t-shirt with his left leg bouncing in leather slides.

He pitched his chin to the seat across from him. “Sit, Darcy. I’ve missed you.”

I mumbled behind the sausage. “I called you twice, Mr. Taylor.”

“Call me, Colton, dear, and you
returned
my calls,” he clarified. “There’s a difference. I don’t like going two weeks without speaking to you.” Some people collect stamps, others cars, Dylan’s father collected people. If he cared for you, he’d insert himself into every aspect of your life, wanting to know where you were at all times of the day. Like his son, he had this knack of showing up when I was minutes from disorderly conduct.

You know …
fun
.

He focused on my plate, rolling his eyes with a sigh. “You eat too much sugar. I worry about what you’re doing to your body.”

No, kidding. My pancreas was probably PO’d.

I collapsed in the seat directly in front of him, separated by a tray table. Most people flew knee-to-knee making nice with the folks sitting next to them. We were flying in a floating living room full of camel-colored leather and dark wood accents.

He stole a glance at his Rolex Submariner, pecking out a few more sentences. “Everything in moderation,” he murmured, taking the time to scan my plate. “Eat those eggs, or grab some fruit while we do the crossword. The pineapple slices were nice.”

“How about a slice of Dylan Taylor?” Dylan whispered in my ear. “And let me remind you, sweetheart, you can have that slice however you’d like.”

Dylan could flirt with the stamina of a Kenyan runner. I couldn’t. After thirty seconds, I was ready to smack him or rip off…

I pulled out my mental scrub brush, forking a piece of egg. “How about a flip-flop up your ego?”

Yeah, I’d found my big girl panties.

Dylan’s eyes danced like a ballerina. “Darcy Walker, you’re a naughty girl, and your best friend was lost without you. Come over here, and let me love on you.”

Dylan’s idea of “loving on you” by definition wasn’t for mixed company. Heck, it didn’t qualify for behind closed doors if you wanted to rejoin the rest of the world without a blush and indecent smile plastered on your face.

“I don’t want to sit by you,” I told him. His father slid over a copy of the morning newspaper and what I recognized as the front page of yesterday’s
Orlando Sentinel
, too. My guess was it came with the plane this morning. Once again, I scanned the lead story featuring Cisco Medina. In summary, there’d been a shift in the case. Those assumed innocent were suddenly MIA. Those assumed guilty had been cleared—sort of like the crossword puzzle. Just a bunch of empty boxes until someone came along smart enough to fill them up.

“Darcy doesn’t want to sit with you, son,” Colton told Dylan. “She and I are doing the crossword puzzle.”

“That’s right,” I said. “I’m doing a crossword puzzle with Colton.”

Dylan had a pile of eggs on his plate the size of a newborn baby. He placed them down on a separate tray table, and then crossed his arms, still considering my reluctance to sit with him a major act of heresy. “Get up,” he demanded.

I held up my palm, giving him a talk-to-the-hand gesture.

When I didn’t budge, he 86’d that idea and fisted a large handful of my hair, yanking me out of the seat.

I tried to wrestle away, but sausage lodged in my throat mid-scream. “I just ch-choked on my sausage,” I coughed. Dylan burst into sidesplitting laughter as I picked up my coffee swishing it back down. “Don’t make me spill my c-coffee!” I hacked again.

“Ditto on the spilling of the coffee, son.” Colton eyeballed his son like he was a sheer and utter idiot.

“Back off, sucker,” I laughed.

Dylan flinched like I’d just kicked his dog. From out of nowhere, he hoisted me over his shoulder, pivoting toward his chair. I pounded my fists on his back, but it was like striking an anvil. “D!” I laughed.

“Good Lord, son!” his father gasped. “Quit manhandling Darcy.”

Dylan didn’t do anything he didn’t want to do. Usually he represented the model child, but when it came to me, he didn’t understand the terms “invasion of privacy” and “normal boundaries.”

“You missed me, sweetheart. Admit it,” he flirted.

Glancing down, I realized I was mere inches from the best rear end money could buy.
I longed to smack it
, I laughed to myself. Call me crazy, but I’m sure that was frowned upon in the present company. While I continued to bang on his shoulders, I sucked in a big bunch of air when gravity forced my barely digested sausage up into my mouth. I burped loud and attempted to swallow it back down.

“Come on, sweetheart,” Dylan giggled. “That’s so unladylike.”

“You gave me acid reflux. Count yourself lucky I didn’t puke down your back.”

Dylan’s I-love-Darcy-on-overdrive had been revving since Thursday morning when he surprised Marjorie and me as our ride home from Grandpa Winston’s. As soon as he turned off his engine, he gave me a bone-crushing hug. Not a best friend type of hug; a hug like he’d feared I’d never come home. I received the same hug last night when he took us to see
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
at a late night showing of classic horror films. We borrowed his sister’s convertible, held hands, and snacked away doing normal Dylan and Darcy things, except he seemed different. Where he was typically an attentive best friend, he’d appeared even more attentive than usual. Heck, by the end of the show, I had some lasting mental effects.

“Okay, Big Man,” I conceded. “I’ll sit by you mid-flight to hold your wee-wittle hand when you’re scared.”

He growled, “Pinky swear.”

I threw my head back, bursting into laughter. “Seriously?” Dylan’s and my pinkies had been swear-buddies since age eight. It was our way of dragging the truth out of one another, minus the kicking and screaming. With a split candy bar to seal the deal, we swore to tell the other
the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God … God willing that the creek didn’t rise.

I honestly didn’t need the oath … I was a horrible liar.

“Oh, all right, pinky swear.” I twined my pinky inside his and squeezed away.

Dylan gently released me, dropping a kiss on the top of my head. As I settled back in my seat, I scooted into something slick, hard, and plastic that had lodged between the leather cushion and armrest. Gazing down, I discovered a BlackBerry cell phone, concluding it must’ve tumbled out of his pocket. All at once, something clicked in my head that sounded like the switch on a time bomb. Nosiness took over, and I didn’t know why.

Snatching it up, I devoured the text message on the screen.

 

Midnight tonight. He either talks or he’s dead.

 

4. CLIFFHANGER

N
OW, THAT’S WHAT
I
’D CALL
a cliffhanger, folks.

Dylan had one foot in Boy Scout, the other in altar boy. Who in the heck had he been trading texts with?

While Dylan chatted with his father and demolished half the food on his plate, I jumped up and acted like Mother Nature’s call was seconds from causing me mortal embarrassment. In six strides, I stepped inside the bathroom and slid the lock on the door to “occupied” for an opportunity to sin unencumbered.

Not a fan of restrooms in general, being in an airplane bathroom didn’t leave much room for anything. You had about three feet in circumference for whatever the mission, while being deluged with the smell of chemicals and blue dye.

Opting to stand, I curled into myself and began texting. This was wrong—on like a gazillion different planes—but I wanted to know: (A), what my best friend was up to; and (B), why I didn’t get an invite.

He deserves it
, I texted.

Imagine my shock, when someone typed back:

I can arrange that
.

How so?

Fingers … kneecaps … family jewels … Check this video.

Cue the spooky music.

When I clicked on the link, an icy hand gripped my heart and squeezed. If I thought Eddie Lopez creeped me out, this person reached a whole other category of psycho that shrinks hadn’t encountered. The video seemed amateurish and grainy, but the content remained 100 percent clear. A body—unidentifiable as male or female—was burned charcoal-black and hanging from a rope in front of a long row of windows. It swung back and forth like the hand on a metronome, hypnotically drawing you into the horror in front of you. After roughly a dozen swings, the head suddenly snapped at the neck with a loud crunch. When the body crashed to the ground, the head bounced twice and rolled across the floor like a bowling ball, landing right at the videographer’s black sneakers.

I stammered soundlessly.

Blinked a few times.

Filed it under OMG.

Ambient noise filled what had previously been a silent film. At first, I couldn’t place the sounds until I realized the cameraman’s heavy breathing and intermittent male laughter were the cause. Like he’d been so amused, he’d worn himself out and needed an oxygen tent. He zoomed in on the head, focusing on what was left of the eyes and the charred, singed hair that had been eyebrows. Then he kicked it with his shoe until it rolled to one side, and you caught the dingy glare of a drop earring in the left lobe in the shape of a star. The practice had no purpose other than to brag to the viewer what he’d just accomplished.

Right when I struck the “play” arrow again to search for clues, the BlackBerry rang. I jumped, birthing a patch of gray hair on the spot. Shoot, … this was bad. Before I sank in deeper, I checked the number and discovered a Los Angeles area prefix attached to it. Oh, Lordy, I’d stepped into deeper-than-crap trouble here. This wasn’t Dylan’s phone—try his grandfather’s—and my guess was the “ole switcheroo” happened sometime this morning. More than likely I’d just chatted with his partner. And thank God that was cleared up. I’d begun to wonder if my best friend was the reincarnation of Jekyll & Hyde.

The elder Taylors came to town a few days earlier for Dylan’s birthday, and even though he operated on West Coast time, his grandfather never “clocked out” of his job … a job where he carried a gun and threw bad guys in the slammer. He worked as an undercover detective in the vice unit, so the video, I presume, had to be evidence of some kind. Just my POV, but the person filming didn’t need the slammer; they needed a lethal injection.

Once the brevity of the situation settled, an onslaught of nerves slammed into me like waves at spring tide. I fumbled the still ringing BlackBerry until it landed on the edge of the toilet. I watched in absolute horror as it teetered in slow-mo, seconds from drowning in the blue fluid in the bowl. Quickly plucking it up, I shakily sent the call to voicemail, and then shoved it in my pocket, washing my hands. Next, I counted to sixty doing some imaginary yoga moves in my mind to calm myself.

Then I simply stared … stared at myself in the mirror, as reason knocked at my door. Reason told me to show the text to his grandfather. Bow out gracefully. Mind my own business. As usual, I ignored the suggestion.

Sliding the door open, I did my best to swallow down what I’d seen. Charred body. Headless charred body. Insanely crazy videographer. No big deal. I threw my shoulders back and stumbled as confidently as I could back to my seat. I swear Dylan knew I’d dabbled in the forbidden. He’d settled across from me, narrowing his eyes. “What’s going on in your pretty, little head?”

I decided to keep it dumb; tossing the phone over, hoping it miraculously erased my texts in transit. “I found Detective Taylor’s phone.”

Dylan caught it with one hand, panicked, patted himself down, and giggled like a little girl. “I’m dead.”

Yeah, dead seemed to be going around.

I slumped down in the seat, drumming my bitten-to-the-quick nails on the armrest. It would absolutely kill me inside until I figured out the subject matter of the video. While the wheels turned in my head, I took a swig of coffee, picked up my second danish, and licked off the lemon ooze. Stuffing half in my mouth, I realized parts of my personality were at severe odds with one another. The part that hated death and the part that was so fascinated by it, I ran for a ringside seat. The blood, guts, and broken dreams didn’t faze me; what fazed me was the fact that someone may never right the wrong that was done to the victim.

Knowing a good chance existed that I’d never discover the details, I cast another gander at yesterday’s paper and the accompanying photograph of Cisco Medina. He was very Latino looking with dark skin and hair on a round face with intelligent looking eyes. A black mole was under his right eye the size of a baby pea. My gaze settled on the last paragraph.

Any information you may have regarding this case, please contact the Orange County Police Department or
[email protected]
.

When I phoned Troy this morning, he implied that the real story lay within the story. If I emailed this go-around, maybe I’d get a totally different spin and could piece the truth together between the two conversations. That left me in a quandary. I couldn’t send information from my normal email account because that would “out” the liar … the liar being
me
. My only option was to capitalize on the moniker that my good friend, Vinnie Vecchione, bestowed on me when I found a dead body last spring.

When Vinnie and I went to the police station to snoop around, Vinnie introduced us as family of the victim, my name being Jester. The universe broke the mold when it created Vinnie—sometimes he showed genuine smarts, others he embraced his dumb side (you know, illegal substances induced dumb). Whatever the case, the name did the job, and I’d had a hard time letting it go. Jester hailed as my alter ego;
she
got into trouble. Darcy Walker was a good little girl that made straight As and volunteered in a soup kitchen.

Siiiiiinful … that thought had to be a sin.

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