Blood glistened on the concrete like garnets. Diana sighed deeply. She stepped over the blood and continued on toward her office. The office building was bland, beige stone like every other building on the block. Her office was on the second floor. The elevator was out again. She shook her head. She checked her weapon out of habit before entering the stairwell. The light was burning brightly. Good. She looked up before she mounted the stairs.
“God damn it, Melody.”
“Oh, come on. Please?”
“You’re supposed to be in school.” Diana met her little sister at the door to the second floor. She yanked the door open and stalked through it.
“School is boring.” Her sister followed her. “I didn’t want to go to college in the first place. I wanted to go to the police academy, but someone pissed off the commissioner.”
“He deserved it. Corrupt son of a bitch.” She unlocked the door to Hernandez Investigations. “What exactly are you doing here? Are you broke again?” The door was solid metal with her name on a plate next to it. The inside was plain white walls with a few filing cabinets, a closet, and a bathroom. She hadn’t bothered to get walls in place to create a waiting room yet. The filing cabinets were spray-painted aqua to hide their dents and scratches. Travel posters were taped to one wall. Some day she’d get out of this shithole of a city.
“No, I’m helping you.” Melody’s black hair was in a mohawk now with pink accents. She had three earrings in one ear. So much for the squeaky clean look she’d been rocking for most of her life.
“Helping me?” Diana hung her coat up on the coat rack behind the door. She picked the envelope that was on the floor. Her name was on the front. She sighed. “Fine, get gloves and two respirators out of the closet. Then, open the window. I’ll get the camera.” She didn’t have a down-draft table, but she was damned if she was going to open a mysterious envelope in the middle of her office without precautions.
She photographed the envelope. It was a standard manila envelope and felt faintly puffy. If the door hadn’t had a mail slot it would never have fit under the door. She met her sister at the window. She used the camera to hold the envelope in place while they gloved up and put on their masks. She carefully unpacked the envelope, taking pictures the whole way.
She frowned at the pasted letters. It was an old-fashioned way of hiding handwriting, but a computer would have been so much easier. Someone with a lot of time on their hands. Melody was quiet. She watched with avid eyes. “I can be your secretary,” she offered suddenly. “Answer the phones, that sort of thing. Every PI needs a sidekick.”
“Mama will kill me.”
“She’s fine with it.”
Liar. “I’ll think about it.”
Melody grinned in triumph. “So, which resident of the psych ward did you piss off last?”
“This isn’t an enemy,” Diana said absently. The fragments of type were in a simple code. She recognized the cypher. She translated it in her head. “Get a pen and paper if you’re going to be my secretary,” she ordered.
Melody practically danced over to the desk. Crap, she’d need a desk and a laptop. Hopefully, the investments would pay off this month and she’d have a few protection payments coming it. No, that came out wrong. A few grateful patrons that she’d patrol every night. There, that was better. It wasn’t glamorous, but it would pay the bills. And that divorce case was coming up. She could use someone to write up that report. Mama was going to kill her. Melody was supposed to be the good daughter – college, safe job, husband, and grand-children.
Diana was not a good daughter. She’d gone into the police, only did two years of college, was definitely not having a child, and was iffy on the entire idea of marriage. It seemed that she’d infected her little sister with a similar outlook on life. Sunday dinner was going to be interesting for awhile.
Melody held the pen against the notepad with an attentive expression.
“You are cordially invited to visit the home of Master Milhouse Morton. Be prepared. Saturday, April second at seven pm. No guests.” She unraveled the next layer. “Games to begin after dinner, promptly at nine. Formal dress is expected.” She unfolded the last part of the puzzle. She frowned at it for a long moment. “It’s just the address. It’s in my book.”
“Formal dress huh? How formal is that?”
“Black pantsuit with actual flats as opposed to boots. And a shiny shirt and jewelry, I hope.” She grimaced. “I’ll have to check that etiquette book that Tia Carmen got for me when she thought she’d still make a lady out of me. I might have to wear a skirt.”
“How about long culottes or something?” Melody chewed absently on the end of her pen. “Who’s Milhouse anyway?”
“The richest man in the city who isn’t a mobster.”
“Dang, girl. You aim high.”
Diana narrowed her eyes. “If that is a matchmaking glint I see in your eye, you just quit it right now.”
Melody grinned. “So, boss, when do I get a desk?”
“As soon as we find one at the Goodwill or out back in the dumpsters.”