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BITE OUT OF CRIME
“Bite Out of Crime” was originally published four years ago by Mystery Writers of America in the anthology ODD PARTNERS, edited by Anne Perry. The premise was simple: write a short mystery with an odd pair solving a crime. I immediately had an idea — a teen-age thief who finds a stray dog and realizes the dog may have witnessed a crime.
Last year, I got my rights back to the story to do what I want with it, and I may self-publish in some day in an anthology with other short stories, but right now I want to give something back to my readers — so I’m posting the entire story here, on Substack.
Thanks for reading Murder She Writes! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
The anthology is still available to purchase in hardcover, audio, and ebook — in fact, the ebook is discounted to $2.99, I think permanently! So if you like my story, you might like the others, check them out.
Because the story is nearly 10,000 words, it exceed the limit for some email programs. However, click the headline of the article and you’ll be brought to the main page where you can read the story, or at the point in the short where the email is cut off you’ll see a link to click to view entire email.
I hope you enjoy it — I really loved this story, even though writing short is always a challenge.
Bite Out Of Crime
By Allison Brennan
Jamie Blair first saw the mutt eating out of a dumpster behind the BBQ restaurant on Folsom Boulevard near the freeway.
It was after eleven that night, when Jamie was on her way home after robbing a couple houses on 49th Street. Rich neighborhood with lots of targets, but she was good at her trade: she’d never been caught. After all, someone had to take care of her deadbeat parent. Pay the rent, buy food, put gas in her mom’s beat up car that Jamie still wasn’t old enough to drive.
“Ignore him,” she mumbled to herself. Problem was, she liked dogs—primarily because they weren’t people. That the poor dog was digging through garbage for a meal made her angry. Well, a lot of things made her angry these days.
She slowly approached. He appeared mostly German Shepherd, but a mutt because he was too small for the breed. And he didn’t look like he’d been on the streets long—a little dirty, but not too skinny.
He looked at her and there was something in his sad eyes. Fear. Apprehension.
She pulled a half-empty bottle of water from her backpack, then squatted down as the dog came over. She poured the water out slowly, and he lapped it up. Poor thing—it had been a hot day, though when the sun went down so did the temperatures. Such was autumn in Sacramento.
When the water was gone, she tossed the bottle into the dumpster and started to walk away.
The dog followed.
She said, “You can’t come home with me.”
Her mother would have a shit fit if she brought a dog home. But she couldn’t just leave him here. If animal control got him, they’d kill him if they couldn’t find his owner. And what if he’d been abandoned? He didn’t look like he’d been on the streets for long, but she’d never forget when her neighbors across the street moved and left their cat behind. That poor animal waited for them to come home, losing weight every week. Jamie had fed it until her mother whacked her upside the head for giving their food to “a filthy feline.” A month later Jamie found the cat dead in the gutter, victim of a hit and run.
She couldn’t let that happen to this mutt. It just wasn’t fair.
Jamie squatted again, and the dog came right up to her and licked her hand. He wore a collar and she looked at the tag.
His name was Duke. There was a phone number.
“One night, Duke,” she said. “Then I’ll call your owner.”
She almost didn’t expect him to follow. She resumed walking through the parking lot to the hole in the fence that cut off a good quarter-mile from her trek home.
Twenty minutes later she was at her house, the small side of a corner duplex surrounded by duplexes up and down the street. Her mother was passed out on the couch; the huge flat-screen television played some sitcom with fake laugh track.
Duke growled softly.
“Quiet,” she told him, not knowing if he could understand her.
He still growled. Great. Duke didn’t like her house. Her mom did nothing all day—she watched soap operas, drank beer, and smoked pot. Maybe that was the problem. He didn’t like the smell. She wrinkled her nose. She didn’t like it much either.
“Stay,” she ordered. He sat like a sentry at the front door.
Jamie didn’t dare turn off the television—that was the fastest way to wake up her mom. She went to the kitchen, since she’d just gone to the store the other day and there was fresh food. Cooked two hamburgers on the stove as quietly as possible. She put American cheese on both, then mustard and ketchup and pickles on hers, and left Duke’s plain. She figured dogs didn’t much care for the extras.
She cut Duke’s hamburger into quarters, and hers in half, then took them to her bedroom along with another liter of water and a plastic bowl.
Duke was still sitting by the door, right where she told him.
She motioned for him to follow, and he did. She unlocked her door—if she didn’t lock it, her mom would toss her room until she found all her cash and then buy hard drugs. Pot didn’t make her mother mean, but if she started using the serious shit again, she’d become unpredictable.
Jamie turned on her fan and opened her window. She put water in a bowl for Duke, then his plate of hamburger. She ate hers slower than the dog, watching him. In the light, he actually looked pretty clean and healthy, though his paws were dirty and and two of his claws were torn off. Maybe he’d gotten lost. Jumped his fence or something. Could have walked a long way, that’s how he hurt his feet.
She ate half her burger, gave Duke the other half, guzzled some of the water, then emptied her backpack.
Tonight had been a good score.
She’d hit three houses—three was her lucky number, so she always robbed three houses a month, usually on the same night. She staked out her territory for weeks—sometimes months—before she picked the marks. She had to make sure they didn’t have security systems, no dogs, no nosy neighbors, and confirm that they’d be out for the evening.
She scratched Duke behind the ears, and he put his head on her lap.
Jamie never took anything that couldn’t fit in her backpack, which made it even better because most of the time, the people didn’t even know they’d been robbed, and if they figured it out, they really couldn’t remember when. Five credit cards—those would go to a fence she worked with for a hundred dollars a pop. Some jewelry—those would go to another guy she knew. He always shortchanged her, but she could usually get a few hundred from him for anything she brought. He’d taught her the difference between real and fake. Diamonds and gold moved well. And, of course, cash. People left cash all over the place, and she knew the best hiding places, but rich people didn’t hide their money. If they didn’t have a safe, they put cash in jewelry boxes, desk drawers, and with their underwear. Weird. She taped her stash to the bottom of her bed or in the vent behind her desk. Sometimes rolled up in her old Converse if she knew her mother was snooping around.
Tonight she’d walked away with over a thousand bucks, most of it from the Tudor house three down from the corner whose owners were at the Community Center Theater.
She didn’t particularly like stealing from people, but it was better than living on the street, and she only targeted people she figured could afford to lose a few bucks. She couldn’t wait until she graduated high school and could leave. Maybe go to college. Not a big college, but a community college. She could probably go for free because her parents were deadbeats. She didn’t know what would happen to her mom in three years when she walked away—the woman couldn’t take care of herself, and her dad was in and out so much he might as well be gone for good. But she didn’t feel guilty at the thought that she would someday leave and never look back. Maybe she’d get a dog. Like Duke. Someone to keep her company. Because dogs didn’t lie to you, they didn’t steal your shit, and they didn’t smoke so much dope they couldn’t hold down a job.
“Down, Duke,” she said, feeling bad for kicking the dog off her bed. Still, there wasn’t a lot of room and he wasn’t exactly clean. She put a blanket on the floor and he curled up on it. She was about to turn off the lights when she saw something written on his blue collar.
1414 48th St.
The address was written in permanent marker, but it was so faded that she hadn’t noticed it until it was under the light just right. She knew that address—it was directly behind one of the houses she’d robbed. She’d targeted 48th Street last month, though not that house, for two reasons. First and foremost? She’d heard a dog in the backyard. She never targeted houses with dogs. And second? The old woman who lived there was nice. She was always out on the small porch sitting and drinking tea, or watering the gazillion flowers that bloomed along the perimeter. She waved at Jamie when she walked by with her backpack—probably thinking Jamie was going to or from school or a friend’s house. Never thinking that Jamie was staking out the neighborhood. Never thinking that Jamie had robbed from her neighbors.
Terrific, she thought. For months she avoided any street she hit because she didn’t want anyone to notice her. It’s what had kept her under the radar for the three years she’d been a thief.
But Duke wasn’t her dog, and her mother would never let her keep him, so she didn’t have much of a choice. Maybe when she called in the morning, the owner would meet her somewhere. Maybe there was even a reward.
She didn’t want money for Duke, she realized. She wanted to keep the dog. But that wouldn’t happen.
Jamie hid the cash, put the cards and jewels in separate envelopes and back into her backpack, locked her door, and slept.
“What the hell, Jamie?” her mother said that morning as she was leaving. Her mother was drinking coffee and eating cereal from the box, one eye on the game show blaring from the TV. “You brought a dog into my house? What if he shit on the carpet? Am I supposed to clean up after him?”
“He followed me home last night. He has a collar. I’m taking him back to his owner.”
“You shouldn’t have brought him inside. Really, Jamie, you’re so irresponsible I don’t know what to do with you.”
“Pot, kettle,” she said.
Her mother teared up. “I don’t know what I ever did to deserve that.”
A long list immediately sprang to mind, but Jamie ignored it. “Mom, I’ll be home tonight.”
“We’re out of food.”
“I went to the store three days ago.”
“I just need a little money.”
Of course she did. It was four days before her disability check hit her bank account, and she was out of beer.
“I don’t have a lot.”
“Just forty, fifty dollars?”
“I can stop at the store on my way home.”
Jamie didn’t want to fight. She was so tired of being the mother in the house. She pulled two twenties from her pocket and put them on the kitchen table. “That’s all I have.”
“Thanks, Baby. And the dog isn’t that bad. If you can’t find his owner, you can bring him back—but he has to stay outside.”
“Okay. Thanks, Mom,” she mumbled.
Her mother never asked her where she got the money. On the first of the month when her mother fretted because she was a hundred dollars short on the rent and Jamie gave her five twenties. Or when they were at the grocery store and her food card went tilt and Jamie pulled forty dollars from her pocket to cover the difference. Never once. What did she think?
Jamie didn’t care. Three years—less than three years—and she’d graduate from high school and leave. Never look back.
First stop, she sold the credit cards to her guy Milo. Five hundred bucks, crisp and folded, rested in her back pocket as she walked from his apartment ten blocks to 48th Street, where she would have to turn Duke over to his owner. She’d tried the number earlier, but there had been no answer.
The whole time, Duke stayed with her. Not even on a leash, yet he stayed within two feet during their walk. She could get used to a dog like Duke.
As soon as they turned onto 48th Street, Duke knew he was almost home. But his reaction surprised Jamie—he tensed, walked slower, and practically tripped her several times, as if he didn’t want to go home.
“What’s going on, Duke?” she asked. Like he could answer her.
The address 1414 was in the middle of the block. It was one of the smaller houses, but just as well-maintained and stately as all the others. This was the edge of the so-called “Fabulous Forties,” a section of East Sacramento that boasted some of the oldest and most beautiful homes in town. Wide, tree-lined streets. Large yards set back from the road. Rich people with expensive toys. It’s why Jamie targeted the area—she figured they wouldn’t miss what she took. And no one looked at a white teen girl in clean clothes with any real suspicion.
Jamie knew the routines of every household in the area—that’s how she didn’t get caught. She didn’t remember names, but she remembered numbers, cars and faces. Addresses, times. The married couple north of 1414 both worked; they were doctors and kept odd hours. He drove an older Mercedes, she drove a Prius. The family on the south side had two teen-agers—jerks. She knew them, vaguely—had seen them around. Not from her school, but in her neighborhood buying drugs. Troublemakers, she thought. Why did they need drugs when they lived in a place like this? When they had everything they could ever want? The oldest even had a car—she remembered when he got it for his birthday last year. At least, that’s what she assumed when she saw the new wheels—a big-ass, brand new red truck, and he was still in high school.
Behind 1414 was the house Jamie had hit last night. A lawyer who drove a new BMW and went to work from eight to six every day. His wife didn’t actually work. She volunteered for charities. Jamie wouldn’t have hit the house at all because volunteering was actually a good thing to do for people — then she learned that the wife was having an affair. A muscular guy who drove a small but tricked-out black Dodge truck. The guy came by several days a week, usually in the morning. He’d been there Thursday, but not yesterday—at least not when Jamie walked by, at ten and again at two.
It was because of that affair that Jamie decided they were on her list. They didn’t have an alarm, they didn’t have a dog, and the locks—though good—wouldn’t give her too much trouble.
Jamie walked up to the front door of the old woman’s house. Duke started whimpering.
Something was wrong. She knew it, but still she rang the bell. Silence. She knocked. Still no answer.
Jamie walked around to the back of the house. Her heart raced. Her heart never beat this fast when she was breaking into a place, why was it thumping so hard when she wasn’t doing anything wrong?
The garage was detached and behind the house. She looked in through the lone window. An old sedan was parked there. She knew from her previous surveillance that the old woman only had the one car.
So she was home. Or on a walk.
Really, a walk, Jamie? She’s like eighty! How far could she go?
Vacation? Maybe that was it. She was on a vacation, and the people who were supposed to be watching Duke screwed up.
Then why was Duke acting so weird?
She turned, and the dog was lying down, his head on the ground, his legs in front of him. He whimpered. Then she noticed a big hole under the fence that separated the driveway from the backyard. It looked new. That’s how Duke got out, she figured.
“Did something happen to your woman?” she asked.
She didn’t want to call the police. She didn’t want to do anything but leave, but Duke wasn’t her dog.
Jamie walked next door to where the doctors lived. The Prius was there, which meant the wife was home. She rang the bell. No answer. Maybe she went to work with her husband. Great. She rang again, then knocked.
She heard movement, then the door opened. A tired woman stood there wearing pajama bottoms and a tank top. “It says no solicitors for a reason,” she snapped.
“I’m sorry,” Jamie said. “I found this dog and, um, he has a collar that says he belongs next door, but no one’s answering.”
The doctor looked over Jamie’s shoulder and clearly recognized Duke. “Oh. That’s Duke. Where’d you find him?”
“At the BBQ restaurant off Folsom.”
“That far down? I’ve never known Duke to stray. Just put him in the backyard. Emily is probably at the store.”
“I was going to put him in the yard, but saw a car in the garage.” Jamie lied smoothly. She had to be a good liar in her line of work. “I walk down this street all the time because my best friend lives over on H Street, and I know the woman who lives there is really old, and I just thought maybe…something might have happened. She loves her dog, I think she would have been looking for him. I found him last night.”
“Oh, dear. Just hold on a minute, I’ll go over with you.”
“Maybe you can just take Duke?” Jamie didn’t want to get in the middle of this. She just wanted to return the dog.
The doctor shook her head. “My husband is allergic. Just hold on, we’ll check on Emily.”
She walked away for a couple minutes and Jamie almost left. She glanced down at Duke. He was watching her, as if to say, don’t leave me.
He wasn’t, of course. She was projecting.
The doctor came back wearing flip-flops and carrying a key ring. “Emily gave us a set of keys when we moved here, in case of an emergency. I hope nothing is wrong. What’s your name?”
“I’m Teresa Linn. It was very nice of you to bring Duke back.”
“He kinda followed me.”
“He doesn’t like most people, you should feel lucky.”
Jamie glanced at Duke with a half-smile. She knew they were kindred spirits.
Dr. Linn rang the bell and knocked. “Emily? It’s Teresa. Are you okay?”
There was no answer.
“Emily, I’m using the key to come in, okay?” She unlocked the door. “Jamie, wait here for a second, okay?”
Jamie had no intention of going inside.
Dr. Linn opened the door and a foul smell rushed out of the stuffy house. Jamie gagged, and Dr. Linn paled. “Oh, no.” She ran into the house. Duke ran after her.
“Duke!” Jamie yelled. “Stay, Duke!”
Dr. Linn screamed, and Duke started barking. Jamie wanted to run far away, but she didn’t. She followed the dog and found him and Dr. Linn in the kitchen.
Emily, the kind old woman, was lying on the floor. She was very dead, her face swollen, and she had bruises all over her neck.
Jamie sucked in her breath, then felt nauseous because of the smell.
Dr. Linn turned around and pushed Jamie out of the house. Duke started to howl, an intensely mournful sound.
“Duke!” Dr. Linn shouted. “Duke, come here!”
Duke whimpered and followed.
Jamie sat down heavily on the porch. Duke sat next to her and put his head in her lap. She might have sort of fainted a bit because she didn’t mean to sit, she just did.
Dr. Linn said, “I have to get my phone. Don’t move.”
Did she think that Jamie had something to do with…with that? She couldn’t, could she?
Jamie wrapped her arms around Duke. “I’m sorry, Duke. Now I know why you were out. I’m sorry about your owner.”
Dr. Linn returned a minute later. She was still talking on the phone.
“Yes, I’m her neighbor, at 1418 48th Street. I have a key to her house, and when she didn’t answer I went in. You need to send the police. I think she was killed… Yes, I’ll wait right here.”
She hung up, typed on her phone, then turned to Jamie. “Are you okay honey?”
Jamie nodded because she couldn’t talk right then.
Dr. Linn held out her hand. “We shouldn’t be here right now. This is a crime scene. The police will need to investigate.”
Jamie hesitated, then took her hand. Dr. Linn, though petite, was strong and helped her up. “I didn’t—I guess—I just wanted to return her dog.” Her voice cracked.
“I’m sorry you had to see this.”
“You screamed—I didn’t know what happened.”
She should have run away. Hidden out. No one knew who she was, not really. Jamie was a common name. Why hadn’t she lied about her age? Why hadn’t she just put Duke in the backyard and walked away?
What were the police going to ask her?
She had a very, very bad feeling that her whole world was going to crumble apart.
Duke pushed his nose against her hand and she scratched him.
Detective Gayle Holman interviewed both the neighbor and the teenager who’d found the dead woman’s dog. She wasn’t buying the kid’s story. Something was…off.
“What were you doing out after eleven?”
“You know there’s a curfew.”
“That’s why I was going home.”
“Where were you coming from?”
“A friend’s house.”
“What’s your friend’s name?”
“Why? I don’t know why you’re asking me all these questions. I just found the dog last night, took him home because it was late, and brought him back this morning. I was being nice.”
“Just answer the question.”
“I can’t. I don’t want to get her in trouble. Her parents weren’t home.”
“You’re going to be in trouble.”
“I didn’t do anything!”
“Emily Carr was murdered, and you have her dog.”
The girl paled. “I didn’t hurt anyone. I didn’t know her, just saw her when I walked by sometimes.”
“Then tell me where you were last night.”
“Detective,” the deputy coroner said as he approached.
“Stay put,” Gayle told the teenager. She moved away so the girl couldn’t overhear, and the coroner followed. “What?”
“She’s been dead for more than twenty-four hours. I’m guessing closer to forty-eight—the A/C was on, so it’s hard to really get a good estimate. We’ll know more after the autopsy. Outward appearance of manual strangulation.”
“So you’re saying what? Thursday afternoon?”
“Morning even. I can’t give you an exact time, rigor has come and gone. I would say between early Thursday morning and mid-afternoon. 6 am to 2 pm? That’s very rough.”
“That girl’s lying to me,” she mumbled.
“You think she killed the old woman? And returned her dog?”
Gayle had been a cop for twenty-two years, since she was nineteen, and earned her gold shield nearly a decade ago. She’d spent a lot of time with kids in the community—volunteering, coaching a softball team, doing what she could with young teens to keep them out of gangs, off drugs, and in school. With the territory came a lie detector. She knew when the kids were bullshitting her. Most of the time it wasn’t serious, and she let it pass. She didn’t think the girl was a killer, but she was being unnecessarily evasive.
She left the girl to stew and went to talk to the responding officers. She’d worked with Officer Riley Knight many times in the past. He was one of the best cops in the field. “What have you learned?”
“A lot. Come out back.”
She motioned for Riley’s partner to keep his eye on the kid, then walked through the house. Though they’d opened up all the doors and windows to air out the place, it still reeked of the dead.
Emily Carr was a bit of a pack rat, but though cluttered everything was tidy and clean. Riley said, “Front door was locked—the neighbor confirmed that she unlocked both the deadbolt and main lock when she came in. The back door was unlocked. Half-finished coffee on the table, a plate in the sink with remnants of egg and toast, so I’m guessing she was finished with breakfast.”
“I’m with you.”
“The dog is a German Shepherd mix. Neighbors—not the doctor next door, but the family on the south side—said the dog was barking Thursday morning around ten.”
“The mother—she has two teenage boys who left for school at 7:30—left the house about ten and heard Duke ‘barking his head off.’ She was going to talk to Mrs. Carr when she returned, but when she got back at noon, Duke was silent, and she didn’t think anything else of it.”
“When was the last time anyone saw Mrs. Carr?”
“Dr. Linn called her husband—he’s with a patient and can’t come right now, but will give a statement at the station later. He’s also a doctor. He told his wife he saw Mrs. Carr watering Thursday morning when he left for the hospital—we confirmed with his administrator that he arrived to prep for surgery at seven. But look at this.”
Though the kitchen was well-lit, Riley shined his light on the door. There was a faint impression of a partial shoe print, as if someone had kicked the door with the bottom of a sneaker.
“That’s good, Knight.”
“I aim to please.”
“Why haven’t you taken the detective exam?”
“I like being a uniformed cop. I leave the detecting to the rest of my family.” Riley Knight came from a long line of cops.
“That’s not all,” he continued. “The door was unlocked. It’s been dusted, and CSI has collected evidence from the print, so we’re clear.”
Still, he didn’t remove his gloves and opened the door. “No sign of lock pick or forced entry. But see here?” He gestured to the outside of the door. It had been clawed up—likely by the dog.
“So, the dog is outside, his owner is being attacked, he tries to get in.”
“Yes, but something more—the killer didn’t exit the way he entered. I sure wouldn’t if I just killed someone and a dog wanted to bite my head off. There are two other exits—the front door, which was deadbolted according to Dr. Linn, who had to unlock both locks — and a sliding glass door in the den down the hall.”
“And that’s what he used.”
“Yes. It goes to a side patio. There is clear evidence that he hopped the fence on the Linn side of the property. But there’s more.”
“You have the killer on video.”
He laughed. “No, not yet—but he didn’t get into the yard from the side fence. He got in through the back fence.”
Knight led the way through the deep, narrow backyard that had a small grass area and lots of bushes and trees. The CSI team was collecting evidence at the back fence—a very nice wood and brick design. The house behind the Carr home was larger and wider, abutting both Carr’s property line and the family to the south.
“Almost done here,” the head CSI said. “You were right, Riley—this is how he came in. I can’t confirm without testing, but the soil here is similar—and possibly a match to the trace found in the kitchen. And there are recent scuff marks from shoes on both sides of the fence. This brick here? It’s loose and recently fell, then was put back. There’s a bench on the other side, if the killer used the bench to help leverage himself, he would likely have touched this brick. Maybe it loosened under his weight. He put it back—but I’m going to take it in for trace. Brick is a really shitty surface to get prints from, but we might be able to pull something.”
“Would love to get his DNA too—maybe he cut himself,” Gayle said.
The tech laughed. “Only on TV, detective.”
“We need to talk to the owners of that house—they might have surveillance cameras,” Gayle said. “Want to join me, Riley?”
“Absolutely. It was bold—jumping over the fence in broad daylight in a neighborhood like this.”
“People work. And with all the trees here, he could have been shielded.” They walked back toward the house. Gayle saw the hole under the gate. “So the girl wasn’t lying. The dog really did dig himself out.”
“Lying? The teenager?”
“She was evasive. She pushed my buttons.”
“She’s fifteen and being questioned by cops. That would make most kids nervous.”
“Still—something’s up with her. I’m not letting her off the hook yet.”
“I have an idea.”
Gayle listened to Riley’s idea, and agreed. “Okay, we’ll do it your way.” They walked back to where Riley’s partner was standing with Dr. Linn and Jamie.
“Jamie,” Gayle said, “we can’t locate a relative of Mrs. Carr’s right now, and Officer Knight is a big animal lover and doesn’t want to send Duke to the pound.”
His partner snorted. “He can’t possibly take another stray in. He has three cats and two dogs as it is.”
“It seems that Duke here has bonded with you, Jamie. So we discussed it, and agreed that if you want, you can take care of Duke until relatives have the option of weighing in. If no one wants him, we can help you adopt him.”
“Really?” She seemed stunned. “You’d help me?”
“Sure. He likes you, and he just lost his owner. However, he may have seen or smelled whoever killed Mrs. Carr, and there is some precedent for using dogs as witnesses.” That was only partly true. Courts were nervous about canine identification.
Gayle squatted in front of Duke. He stared at her. “Duke, I just want to check your paws, okay?” She gently reached down. On the right front paw the claws were worn completely down and two was clearly broken off. “Poor guy.”
“What happened?” Jamie asked.
“He was clawing at the back door. When you get home, clean him up, and if they start bleeding take him to the vet.”
Jamie’s face fell. “Okay.”
Riley said, “If you go to the MidTown Vet Clinic on 27th and L, they’ll take care of Duke for free.” He handed Jamie his card. “Just show them this, I’m friends with the head animal doc there.”
“I need your address for the records, and because we’ll need to follow-up when we find a suspect.”
The girl gave her full name—Jamie Blair—and her mother’s name, Janice. Her cell number and an address off 65th Street. Definitely a whole world different than the Fabulous Forties.
Gayle wanted to ask her what she was doing on this side of the highway, but didn’t. “Okay,” she said, “and where do you go to school? Hiram Johnson? St. Francis?”
She snorted. “Johnson.”
“Okay. We’re good here. You want a ride home? It’s getting hot, and Duke’s paws look sore.”
Jamie bit her lip. “I guess.”
Gayle sent Riley’s partner off to escort the girl, discreetly instructing him to confirm her address, then she and Riley drove around the block to the house in question.
The address was 1407 49th Street. It was a wide, stately home with a large old tree in the front that Gayle would have loved to climb when she was a kid. Knight ran the address. “This is interesting. Officers were called to the house last night for a possible burglary.”
“12:45. The residents, Cynthia and Brandon Block, returned home shortly after midnight. When Mrs. Block was putting her jewelry away, she noticed that her diamond earrings were missing, along with five hundred dollars she keeps in her jewelry box.”
“When police arrived, Mr. Block said he thought he had an extra credit card in his desk that wasn’t there. But all electronics, art, and most jewelry was there. Full inventory pending.”
“What kind of thief comes in and just takes a couple things?”
“The earrings were worth twenty thousand dollars.”
“You’re shitting me. I’ll bet she flushed them down the toilet to get the insurance payout,” Gayle mumbled.
Murder Thursday morning, then theft Friday night? Could the killer have been staking out the place and thought Mrs. Carr had seen him? If so, why would he kill her for twenty thousand-dollar earrings? Most thieves would simply avoid the mark, find another. Unless the thief took something that the Blocks didn’t report. But then why report the theft at all?
Gayle rang the bell. An attractive, slender woman in her late thirties answered. Even though it was Saturday morning, she was impeccably dressed, with jewelry and make-up. “Mrs. Block?”
“You found my earrings?” she asked hopefully.
“No. We’re here about your neighbor, Mrs. Carr.”
“She lives in the house behind you. Seventy-nine years old. She was murdered.”
Mrs. Block blinked. “Murdered? Oh no. That’s awful Who would do that? I didn’t know her well—only talked with her a few times. Emily, I think her name was. She was such a kind older woman.”
“Do you have a few minutes?”
“Well, yes, I suppose, though my husband will be home from golf in an hour and we’re going out to lunch with friends.”
“It won’t be long. We believe that the killer may have used your yard to access Mrs. Carr’s property.”
Mrs. Block shook her head. “Impossible. I was home yesterday morning. I’m sure I would have heard something.”
“What about Thursday morning?”
“Thursday? I left at some point for a lunch meeting. I’d have to check my calendar, but I believe I left just before noon.”
“So you were home Thursday morning.”
“Yes.” She frowned. Thinking? Reflecting? Coming up with a lie?
Gayle had been a cop far too long. She was suspicious of everyone. “Do you have security cameras?”
She shook her head. “I couldn’t convince my husband that we need them. This can’t possibly be a coincidence. The theft. Poor Mrs. Carr.”
“We don’t know at this point, but may we please inspect your backyard?”
She hesitated. “Okay. Go ahead, but I need to call my husband. He’s a lawyer.”
Great. A lawyer.
“We already inspected Mrs. Carr’s side of the fence and it’s clear that someone climbed over from your yard,” Riley said.
“This way.” Mrs. Block led them down a long hall to a sun room with multiple french doors leading to the backyard. “Please, right through there. I’m just going to call my husband and let him know what’s happening.”
Gayle and Riley walked outside. The Blocks’ back yard wasn’t quite as deep as Mrs. Carr’s, but it was twice as wide and far more elaborate. A fancy black-bottom swimming pool, covered patio, water fall, gazebo, long green grassy area, a stone path that wound around the perimeter. Lots of tasteful decorations, including a stone bench along the back fence where the killer accessed Mrs. Carr’s yard. Gayle stopped and visually inspected the area.
“Bricks. Stone. No footprints,” Riley said.
“She was home Thursday morning. She could have seen something, but she didn’t say anything.”
“An intruder could have gone through the side gate.”
“We’ll check that next. Did you see what the Blocks have in the house?”
“A lot of stuff.”
“Exactly, and that was just what we saw walking out here, yet the thief only took some cash and one pair of earrings? That woman has to have piles of jewelry. Were the diamonds the most expensive? Did the thief know that? Someone she knows? A relative?”
“The property crimes detectives would ask all those questions.”
“It feels odd.”
“I know the detective who caught the case, I’ll call—maybe there’s a pattern. Maybe Mrs. Carr’s death is related, she might have seen something.”
But why was she killed on Thursday if the theft was the following night? Unless the Block’s didn’t notice the missing jewelry until Friday. Maybe they were robbed Thursday morning.
Riley stepped to the far side of the yard to make the call, and Gayle inspected the fence and bench. It was marble, with two mates ten feet away on either side. It would be easy enough to jump on the bench and climb over.
She took a couple of pictures, but there was nothing here.
Mrs. Block returned before Riley. “My husband said he wants to help in any way possible. He’s heartbroken over Mrs. Carr’s death.”
“When do your gardeners service the house?”
She seemed surprised at the question. “Tuesdays.”
“Any other visitors? Maintenance, pool, guests?”
“Well—I don’t think so. My girlfriend stopped by Wednesday to pick up donations for WEAVE, and another friend came by yesterday—we’re planning a gala in the spring to benefit pediatric cancer patients. Last night my husband and I were at the theater with friends. That’s when we were robbed.”
“You’re certain the earrings were there Thursday?”
“Yes—I almost wore them Friday night, went back and forth between the diamonds and my emeralds. Picked the emeralds.”
“Did you hear Mrs. Carr’s dog barking on Thursday?”
“I really couldn’t say—there are a lot of dogs in the neighborhood, but our walls are very thick. They rarely bother me.”
“No visitors on Thursday?”
“No—my husband came home sometime in the morning because he forgot a file in his office, but I don’t remember exactly when.”
Riley came over, and clearly wanted to talk to her alone. Gayle thanked Mrs. Block and handed the woman her card. “If you think of anything else, please let me know.”
“I will. Thank you.”
They left, and in Gayle’s sedan, Riley burst out, “I talked to the detective in charge. Get this. There’s been a string of similar robberies over the last couple of years. All cash, credit cards, and jewels. Nothing over twenty thousand—in fact, the Blocks are the largest score. Most of the thefts were less than five K, but the credit cards have been traced to an ID theft ring the feds are investigating. All the crimes are unsolved. No prints have shown up. There have been sixteen reports over the last three years that match the same M. O.“
“Old-fashioned lock pick. Someone who’s really good—and has gotten better. In fact, the last few places they didn’t connect right away because there was no visible sign of the locks being picked. And the detective thinks sixteen is low—that the thief has probably hit twice that many places, but the victims didn’t know they were missing anything. If their ID was stolen, they just dealt with their credit companies.”
“You have one now.”
As soon as Riley said her name, it made sense.
Riley continued. “The target area, according to the lead detective, is 36th to 53rd Streets west to east; J Street to Folsom Blvd. All walking distance from her house off 65th. She’s a nice-looking girl who isn’t going to stand out in this neighborhood. The property crimes people have put this on the back burner because the amounts are low. The detective said they believe that it’s a gang hitting the houses, young, in their twenties, but they could be off. They also said that because there were no mistakes, they think the places were well staked out, and the thieves know exactly when to go in.”
“Who’s she working with?”
“You just said—“
“That property crimes thinks it’s a gang. I think it’s one smart girl.”
Gayle considered. “She found the dog at eleven Friday night. She could have hit the Block house before that, and the barbecue place is definitely between here and her house.” She didn’t know why she wasn’t happy with this news. She didn’t want to arrest the girl for burglary. She was fifteen. Send her to juvie? Give her probation? That wasn’t really up to Gayle.
“Let’s talk to her,” Riley said.
“Her life is going to be a mess.”
“We don’t know that. What we think and what we can prove are two different things. Consider this: she might know what’s been going on at the Block house—who’s coming and going. I’ve worked with troubled kids before. That kid is pretty much on her own. I’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. Let’s see what’s what before we make any decisions.”
Gayle concurred. “I want to catch Emily Carr’s killer, first and foremost. And if Jamie Blair has answers, she’ll tell us.”
Jamie’s mom wasn’t home when the officer dropped her off. She was relieved—her mother would have a fit if she was being brought home by a cop.
She made hamburgers for Duke and her while pondering what she’d overheard at Mrs. Carr’s house. The police thought she’d been killed Thursday morning and someone had hopped the back fence—that adjoined the house Jamie had robbed. She doubted the owners had realized it yet, but Jamie knew that the wife hadn’t been alone Thursday morning. She also knew that there was no way to get into their backyard because the side gate was locked with a combination lock, not a keyed lock. The garage had a side door, and that’s the way she went in because it was an easier lock to pick than the front door, not to mention less exposed.
Jamie went to her room and slipped her notebook out from under her mattress. She kept all her notes here when she staked out a place, and then would burn the notebook when she was done. She had to burn this one, too. But first, she wanted to check if her memory was right.
It was. The wife’s beefy lover in the black Dodge had been at the house Thursday morning at nine-thirty a.m. when she’d walked by. His truck was gone by 11:30. She didn’t know when he’d left, but it was between those hours.
She looked back at her notes. He always came on Mondays and Thursdays mornings during the last two months when she was staking out the street, and the occasional Wednesday. She’d written down his license plate number. He never parked in front of his mistress’s house, always three or four houses away, but Jamie knew he went there—she’d watched him several times.
But that didn’t mean anything. Did it? Just because the wife was having an affair with the Dodge truck guy didn’t mean he killed the old woman. Why would he?
Burn the notebook. Get rid of the earrings.
She bit her lip. “Duke, I’m sorry about your owner, but this is only going to get me in trouble. It’s not going to help her.”
They didn’t have a fireplace, but there was a park a mile away with barbecues and stuff. She’d burned her other notebooks there.
Jamie stuffed everything in her backpack. She’d bury the earrings at the park until the heat died. Her instincts were good, and right now they told her to destroy everything and never talk to the police again. If they wanted the dog, they could have him.
She went outside and opened the garage. As she got her bike out, she saw the police car. It was followed by the detective’s car.
She closed the garage door, locked it, and hopped on her bike as Officer Knight stepped out of his car. His partner stayed inside. The detective got out of her car.
“Hi,” Jamie said, “I need to go do stuff. You’re not taking Duke, are you?”
“No, not right now,” Officer Knight said, “but we need to talk. Is your mother home?”
“Do you know when she’ll be home?”
Jamie shrugged. “I was just going to the store to get dog food. Can we meet in a couple hours?”
The detective said, “We need to talk now. Let’s go inside.”
She shook her head. She hated her house. It was a mess, and she was embarrassed. Her neighbors were looking out their windows. She had always kept a low profile and now? She was the center of attention. Tears burned behind her eyes. For three years no one had suspected she was a thief. Now…they knew something.
Or was that her guilt? That she was going to burn her notebook that might help them find out who killed Mrs. Carr? She wanted to do the right thing, but she didn’t want to get into trouble. She didn’t want to be locked up. She just wanted to be left alone.
Detective Holman came up to her. “Jamie, I can help you, if you tell the truth.”
She shook her head again.
Duke licked her hand. As if to say everything was going to be all right. But nothing was going to be okay.
“Let’s go inside,” the detective said.
“It’s a mess,” she whispered.
“The drugs aren’t mine. I don’t do drugs.”
“I believe you.”
She took a deep breath, then got off her bike and dropped it to the ground. She unlocked the door and went inside.
Detective Holman and Officer Knight followed her. She’d cleaned the kitchen after lunch, and it was the only place that looked halfway presentable, so she sat at the kitchen table. The cop stood, and the detective sat across from her. She hated the pity in their eyes, that she lived like this.
“I’m going to give you one chance to tell me the truth,” the detective said. “If you do, I will do everything in my power to help you. Officer Knight and I have a lot of clout in the department, his brother-in-law is a federal agent and the D. A. is a personal friend of mine. But you have to help yourself first.”
What did they know? What could she say? How was she going to get out of this?
“I—I don’t know what to do.”
“The truth. You robbed the Blocks last night. Diamond earrings, some cash, a credit card.”
They knew. How had they figured it out so quickly?
“The M.O. matches sixteen other crimes over three years. But the lead detective thinks there were more that were never reported.”
Jamie didn’t say anything. She’d robbed forty-five houses over three years.
“Based on the evidence, we believe the person who killed Mrs. Carr climbed over the Block’s fence on Thursday morning approximately 10:00 a.m. A neighbor reported that Duke was barking up a storm at about ten in the morning, but when she returned a couple hours later, he was silent. We know that the killer came in through the back door—it was unlocked. He left through a sliding glass door on the side of the house, likely because Duke was clawing at the back door. No visible signs of theft. The killer came in, killed her, left. That tells me he knew her.”
Officer Knight said, “Her family is out of state. She has no wealth except her home. We don’t have a motive. Someone she angered? A thrill killer? If we don’t know the motive, it’s harder to find him.”
“You walk around the neighborhood a lot, don’t you?” Detective Holman asked.
“I don’t care about the burglary. I care about finding Emily Carr’s killer. And I’ll bet if I had a suspect, Duke would know him.”
She looked up. “You think so?”
“Based on what we’ve learned so far? Yes. But I need a direction.”
“I’m going to get in big trouble.”
“Maybe. But if you help us, I’ll help you,” the detective said.
Jamie didn’t know what to do, but she didn’t want a killer to get away.
She reached into her backpack and pulled out her notebook. “I was going to burn it. It’s going to put me in jail.”
“You’re fifteen and have no record — I already ran you.” She held out her hand.
Jamie handed her the notebook. The detective and cop read it, both clearly surprised.
“This is very detailed,” Officer Knight said.
“It’s confusing,” Holman said.
“It’s not in chronological order—the number at the top is the address, then days and patterns. I’m good at recognizing patterns. It’s just my own shorthand. But I know what you want.” She flipped to the page for the Block’s house. “I’m not good with names, but I know numbers and patterns. A black Dodge truck was at the house every Monday and Thursday morning since I started, um, walking down the street regularly. Sometimes other days, but every Monday and Tuesday. Always gone before noon. I figured that the wife was having an affair because he parked down the street. She let him in. That’s his license plate number.”
“Can you swear that he was there Thursday morning?”
“He was at 9:30 in the morning when I first walked by. When I returned at 11:30 he was gone. That’s what that check mark is for, the pattern.”
“I’ll run him,” Knight said and walked out of the duplex.
Jamie looked at her hands. She was done.
“Hey,” the detective said.
“I’m not sorry,” Jamie said. “I’m sorry I was caught.”
“At least you’re honest.”
“I never took a lot.”
“That’s why you stayed under the radar for so long.”
“Just—just enough to get by. My mom’s on disability.”
“Ditto. But he’s not around much. Don’t even know where he lives most of the time.”
“You don’t have to stay here.”
“Where would I go?” Now she was angry. “Foster care? Really? I’d never get out of the system. My mom isn’t a bad person. She doesn’t beat me or anything. She’s just lazy and thinks she’s a victim of everything. I don’t care. I just have three years and I can leave. I took what I absolutely needed to make sure the rent was paid and stuff. I never hurt anyone. And Duke needs me. He doesn’t have anyone, either. He’s not a young puppy that everyone wants. He’s an old mutt.” Now the tears were coming, and she couldn’t stop them.
“Honey, listen to me. I promised I will help you.”
Knight came back in. “Randall Franklin. He owns a gym in midtown—the same gym that Cynthia Block has a membership to.”
“Were they in on it together?” Holman asked.
“She had to have let him in the house,” Knight said. “She already admitted that she was home that morning.”
“Why would she want to kill her neighbor?” Holman thought about it.
“Maybe she didn’t know,” Knight said.
“Still, why? Motive?”
Jamie found the conversation fascinating, and a bit scary. “But you think Duke can identify him.”
“Duke—and you. How about a ride along?”
“You’re not arresting me?”
“Not now, but you’ll have to come clean, then the D.A. will need to make the final decision. But like I said, the D.A. and I go way back. He’s tough, but fair—especially with teenagers.”
She didn’t know what was going to happen, but if she could help put Emily Carr’s killer in prison, she would do it.
Thanks to Riley Knight, they located Randall Franklin at his gym. He hadn’t fled—maybe Block hadn’t warned him after all.
Gayle was nervous about bringing a kid into this, but Jamie said she’d recognize him, and they had spotted his car in the lot behind the gym. He was here.
“Officer Knight and his partner are going to stay outside and out of sight.” Gayle had already taken off her blazer and pulled her blouse out of her slacks so it wasn’t obvious she was a cop. She shifted her holster to the small of her back to better conceal it. “We’re going in with Duke. But he has to be leashed. We don’t want him to go full on attack dog, and based on how he destroyed that door, I think that’s a possibility.”
“He killed Duke’s owner.” The girl scratched the dog behind the ears as she clipped on a leash Gayle had bought at the CVS down the street. “I’m ready.”
Gayle walked into the gym first, the A/C hitting her full force. Jamie followed with Duke. Gayle only had an old DMV photo of Franklin and didn’t immediately spot him, but Jamie said, “He’s in the back, I see him.”
As soon as Jamie spoke, Duke growled and started barking. The teen held the dog back.
Franklin looked over at them, then immediately ran. Gayle said into her radio, “He’s heading out back!” She ordered Jamie to stay, then grabbed Duke’s leash and ran through the gym. She had one shot.
Franklin was fast. Gayle followed, saw the emergency exit slam shut, and went that way. She burst out in time to see Franklin go around the corner.
She could get in serious trouble for this, but Riley was still down the street. She unclipped the leash. “Get him, Duke!”
She ran after the sprinting dog as he pursued Franklin to his truck. Franklin couldn’t even get the door closed before Duke leaped up and sunk his teeth in the killer’s arm.
“Shit! Oh, fuck! Get him off me!” Franklin screamed in pain.
Gayle caught up with Duke. “Randall Franklin,” she said, slightly out of breath. “You’re under arrest for the murder of Emily Carr.”
“Get him off me! Get him off!”
Gayle ordered Duke to let go, but the dog wouldn’t. Dammit, this wasn’t going as she’d planned.
Jamie did exactly what Gayle told her not to, and came around the corner. “Jamie! Get back!” Gayle pulled her gun. She didn’t want to shoot the dog, but if his teeth got into Franklin’s neck—she couldn’t let the dog kill her suspect.
“Don’t shoot him!” Jamie screamed.
Riley and his partner came screeching to a stop behind the idling truck.
“Duke! Come!” Jamie shouted, running toward the truck. Gayle put her hand out to stop her.
The dog let go of Franklin’s arm, then the bastard kicked the animal. Duke yelped and fell to the ground. As Franklin was about to kick him again, Gayle said, “Don’t you dare! Hands up where I can see them!”
Riley cuffed Franklin and read him his rights. Jamie knelt by Duke. He had blood on his mouth from biting the suspect, and was trying to get up, but limped.
“He’s hurt,” Jamie said. “Please, we have to take him to the vet.”
“We do. Because we now have solid evidence tying Randall Franklin to the murder of Emily Carr.” Gayle smiled. “And as soon as the DNA comes back from the dog’s mouth and victim’s neck, I think we can look at Murder One.” She said to Franklin, “No jury is going to let you off for strangling a seventy-nine-year-old woman.”
“I-I-I-” he stammered. “I want a lawyer.”
Two weeks later, Jamie told the District Attorney everything. She didn’t want to—she was scared that everything Detective Holman had told her was a lie. That she was going to juvenile detention. That she would be in serious trouble.
But the D.A. told her that if she kept her nose clean and testified against Randall Franklin and what she knew, plus turned over all the information she knew about the identity theft ring and her jewelry fence, she wouldn’t see any jail time. “We’ll call it super-secret probation.”
“If I put probation on your record, then you’ll be in the system.” He glanced at Detective Holman. “Gayle told me about your home situation. I can get you into a group home.”
“No. My mom can’t take care of herself.”
“But you took care of her by stealing.”
She bit her lip. That was true. She didn’t know what to do.
“Your mother has to be able to provide for you. You can’t steal for her,” Holman said.
“I’ll get a job. A real job.”
“Harder at fifteen, but I like where your head is at. And I think I have something for you.” The D.A. handed her a business card. “They’re dog groomers and run a dog hotel. They normally don’t hire minors, but I know the owner well, and you’re old enough for a work permit. It won’t be glamorous—a lot of cleaning up after the dogs—but it’s a real job, and you’re good with animals.” He glanced down to where Duke was lying next to her. She had been so worried about him after Franklin kicked him. One of his ribs was broken, but the vet said he was healing fine.
“I just need your word that your thieving days are over. Once a month Gayle or Officer Knight will check in with you, make sure everything is okay.”
She turned to the detective. “Why would you do that for me?”
“You did the right thing even though you knew you could get into serious trouble. And you returned the diamonds.”
“Why did he do it?” she asked them.
“He’s not talking—though I have a plea meeting with his attorney for later today.”
Holman said, “We’ve pieced together some information from what Mrs. Block said. He used the fence a couple of times to leave when Mr. Block made an unexpected stop home. Mrs. Block said Emily Carr made a comment a few weeks ago about how she needed to put an end to the shenanigans—Emily’s word—because Mr. Block was a good man who provided well for her. Mrs. Block dismissed it—but told Randall Franklin. He confessed to her that the woman had seen him a couple of times. That Thursday, he left through the back. Mrs. Block claims she didn’t remember even after we asked her.”
“You don’t believe her!”
“No, but I don’t think she thought he had killed Mrs. Carr.”
“She admitted to the affair, and that she was trying to keep it from her husband,” Holman added.
“I think he panicked,” the D.A. said. “Brandon Block has a reputation for suing people who make him mad, and Randall doesn’t have a lot of money. He didn’t want to lose his gym or house, and I suspect Mrs. Carr saw him that morning and gave him a tongue lashing. Dr. Linn confirmed that Mrs. Carr always spoke her mind.”
“He snapped,” Holman said. “And he will pay for it.”
“I really don’t like people very much,” Jamie said.
“Sometimes, I don’t either.”
Detective Holman walked her and Duke out of the D.A.’s office. “I asked Officer Knight to take you home. Is everything okay with your mother?”
“She’s not happy, but I don’t think she’s ever been happy.”
“Don’t let her unhappiness rub off on you. You have a lot potential, Jamie. You just have to see it.”
“Thank you for doing what you said you would.”
“Thank you for helping us put a bad guy in prison. You and Duke.” Holman bent down and scratched the dog. “You two make a great team.”
Let me know what you think of Bite Out of Crime … and check out my other short stories listed here on my website.
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