Killing Kippers

Killing Kippers
by Eleanor Cawood Jones
Published in Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional, Wildside Press,
April 2016

Snow in the Midwest in January is hardly news. So it didn’t make headlines on that Thursday afternoon when the temperature and dewpoint combined to dump nineteen treacherous inches of snow and ice on Green Bay, Wisconsin. Salt trucks and snowplows drove in circles, but the rest of us stayed put. Put, for me, was the Running Stick Resort and Casino. I was in town on business. The clowns, including the one on the barstool next to me, were at the end of a four-day clown convention. News to me, that clowns convened.

“Two days,” Kippers the Klown moaned into her Jim Beam and ginger ale, and downed the dregs. She made a sucking noise to get every last drop and plinked the glass on the bar. “They say we’ll be snowed in for at least two more days before the planes run. I’m going to miss two gigs, and I really need the money.”

I made a noncommittal noise. Kippers had already told me at least six times how she would miss a Shriners’ breakfast and a cat’s birthday party. That’s why I planned to spend the next two days hiding—hiding in the casino, in my room, in the lobby, in the parking garage, and in a bottle. (Mostly the bottle.) In short, hiding any place where Kippers wasn’t. I’d been barnacled by this wanna-be entertainer since last night, and she was shaping up to be not only seriously not funny, and in fact whiny, but an alcoholic to boot.

Kippers the (Depressing) Klown was, in fact, pickled, and had been since I’d made the mistake of asking to borrow her phone charger the night before, seated at this same bar. I’d forgotten mine and the hotel gift shop was sold out. Apparently the charger came with a price of everlasting friendship. She’d been following me around since then, showing up at breakfast and turning my time in the casino afterward into a disaster.

I calculated. If I only used my phone for essential calls, like to my therapist, who understood how I felt about being trapped in general and with clowns in particular, I could surely drag it out for another twenty-four hours before I had to borrow her charger again. Maybe in the meantime I could find a way to ditch her and her constant moaning and carrying on about how the other clowns didn’t like her, the lack of work at parties, and how, if clowning was her calling, why was it all so hard?

I took a swig of my manhattan and glanced at Kippers out of the corner (korner) of my eye. All five-foot-nothing of her. What kind of clown dresses in all-black sequins—who knew they even made sequined pantaloons?—topped by a colorful dunce cap with her short, scraggly, bleached blond hair poking out the bottom of it? The effect was black and shiny and round with a burst of color on top. Audrey Hepburn, Kippers was not. More like Tweedledee.

Or Dum. Whichever.

“My boyfriend will miss me. Who knows what he’ll get into? And my poor, sick kitty needs me.”

Kippers had a boyfriend? Boggled the mind. The cat I could understand. Twenty-seven cats would be even more understandable. This Klown had all the makings of a Krazy Kat Lady.

“I’m sorry about Kibbles, Kippers,” I said for the seventy-second time. Kibbles the cat has gout and needs a special diet and exercise routine, according to Kippers.

Kippers turned to me as if seeing me for the first time. “You got a boyfriend back home?”

“No,” I said shortly. No boyfriend, no husband. Not anymore, anyway. No cat, either. But a manhattan? A manhattan I did have. I took another, heftier swig and signaled Peet the bartender for a refill. (Earlier I made the mistake of asking Peet about the unusual spelling of his name on his employee badge. He told me his mom had spelled it that way so he wouldn’t get confused with his twin brother, Pete. Yep, I was in Crazyland for sure.)

Soon I’d be just drunk enough to take another trip down the long hall that led to the casino. I could hear the Wheel of Riches slot machines calling my name, taunting me. This morning I’d been one pull away from a jackpot. I’d gone to find an ATM and asked Kippers, who was following me around and talking to me while I tried to play slots—not casino-savvy behavior at the best of times—to watch my machine and make sure no one touched it until I returned. She’d seen no harm in letting some guy take a turn while I was gone. He’d won the thirty grand progressive jackpot on the very next pull.

I could have used that money on a down payment for a new car and taken that trip to Hawaii I’d been promising myself for years. Maybe even paid off a credit card or two. Even after taxes.

When I came back to find the bells flashing and the guy who won cackling maniacally with glee—and cackle he well might, with all my money in his grip—Kippers was too drunk to even understand what she’d done. There was no point in explaining it to her, or beating her with the stick I could easily have snatched from the dealer at the craps table, or murdering her with my bare hands. To add insult to injury, she’d chosen that moment to lurch into me and spill her rum and coke all down the front of my one remaining clean blouse and suit jacket. At that point I simply descended into a black spiral of despair and resigned myself to starting over on another machine, staying drunk and sticky-suited, and hating all clowns everywhere forever. Especially Kippers.

And to getting out of town as soon as possible. Which brought me back to reality, which informed me in no uncertain terms that I’d be here another two days at least. I watched Peet mix my refill and then my cell phone rang.

Blessed mercy, it was my good friend Bambi. An anti-clown antidote if there ever was one.

I’d met Bambi three years before, when I’d first arrived in Green Bay to supervise the printing of an important client’s direct mail fundraising campaign, consisting of billions of pieces of paper that would be inserted into millions of envelopes on a gigantic, larger-than-a-football-field printing press available only here in the Midwest. Like the casino, the press ran twenty-four hours a day.

Compared to the compact DC suburbs, everything here seemed sprawling and giant to me, including the gorgeous young woman who met me at the airport. She had to be at least six-foot-two, with a killer body, wide blue eyes, and stick-straight, whiter-than-white hair cascading down her broad, parka-clad back. Everything about her screamed healthy outdoor activity and Scandinavian descent.

She had smiled a blinding Crest 3D White smile. “Welcome to Green Bay! I’m Bambi, and I’m with Packer Worldwide Printing.” Her deep, booming voice echoed in the practically deserted airport.

Since then, I’ve made this same trip every three months, and Bambi and I have grown to be close work friends and then some. She’s seen me through some tough times, and I’ve listened to her talk about her mother-in-law, Hilda, whom we call Hitler. (And not in a nice way.) I grinned tipsily at her name on my cell phone.

I found the right button to push, held the phone up to my ear, and heard her voice rumbling out of it. “Girl, where are you right now?”

Peet plumped my drink in front of me, and I grinned at it, too. “Bar.” No point in not mincing words. I was preserving my energy for the slot machines.

“Well, have Peet mix me up a gin and tonic. I’m on the way over.”

“Impossible. Snow. Ice.” I may have given out a little hiccup at this point. “Weather.”

“No problem. I’m cross-country skiing over to see you.” Of course she was. Bambi lived no more than what, five miles away? I rolled my eyes. Bad move, as Kippers came into view. I focused back on my drink.

“I was getting cabin fever,” Bambi continued, gracefully ignoring the hiccup. “Figured I could use some exercise and then a drink and maybe a little round or two in the casino.”

I could use some exercise, too. I pictured the long hallway between the hotel and casino, which turned in on itself twice before you arrived at that glorious, open room filled with the unique combination of buzzing and binging slot machines, shouts of eager customers, and ice-filled, clinking glasses found only in gambling establishments the world over. It was a really, really long walk to get there.

“Walking the mile, walking the mile,” I mumbled into the phone.

Bambi understood. “Kippers there?” She had spent last evening with Kippers and me in the bar.

“Yeppers.” I giggled.

“Well, stop drinking, and when I get there we’ll get her so drunk she won’t be able to follow us down to the slots. Okay?”

“ ’S a plan.” I found the right button and hung up on her. Things were looking up.

“Cheese curds.” Peet plunked a bowl of the fried, steaming Wisconsin specialty on the bar in front of me and winked. He knew I wasn’t normally much of a drinker. He probably wanted to feed me before I slid onto the floor. I sniffed the bowl. Heavenly. I reached for a curd but Kippers’s mitt beat me to it. She dug out a handful and scattered most of the rest onto the bar.

I went back to my drink, waited for Bambi, and listened to Kippers smack her loathsome lips while she ate my curds.

Kippers was talking nonstop and I had half a drink left when I sensed Bambi sliding onto the barstool on the other side of Kippers. Good. We had the clown surrounded.

“Kippers, my clown friend. What’s shaking?” Bambi’s voice boomed, and I heard Kippers mumble something in return.

“Gin and tonic for me, Peet, and I think some hot green tea for these two clowns.” I resented being included as a clown, but before I could protest, Bambi snatched something out of Kippers’s gigantic purse, which was open on the bar. “Kippers, what’s this?”

I peered around Kippers, who was frantically trying to retrieve something out of Bambi’s man-hand.

“Diazepam?” Bambi read the label of the prescription bottle in what was, for her, a whisper. “Girl, what are you doing with this?”

Kippers gave up the fight. “The clown’s life is a depressing life,” she intoned dramatically. “Besides, it’s just a weensy dose. You know, to take the edge off.”

“Two milligrams twice a day,” Bambi read aloud. She upended the bottle and shook a few into her hand. “This prescription is from last week. Why’s the bottle nearly empty?”

“I’ve been stressed, all right? Don’t know what business it is of yours anyway.” Kippers took a swallow of her drink and popped another curd.

Bambi dropped the bottle back into the purse and shrugged. “Used to be a nurse.”

Wow. I could imagine Bambi as a nurse. Efficient and capable, large and in charge. I bet no patient had the nerve to die on one of her shifts, either.

“Still.” She moved the drinks away from Kippers and me as Peet delivered two mugs of hot tea. “Best watch the alcohol intake. You know those pills will make you sleepy on their own.”

Kippers gave me a do something look born of alcoholic desperation, and out of the corner of my eye I could have sworn Bambi dropped one of the pills she’d palmed into the mug in front of Kippers. She moved the mug closer to the clown, and nudged her. “Tea will make you feel better. Promise.”

Bambi and I made eye contact, and she read my tacit, drunken approval of her spiking Kippers’s drink. The sooner this clown was out of our hair, the better.

Kippers grumbled, picked up a spoon and stirred, and took a couple of swallows of tea, then a few more until her mug was empty. I sipped mine, too. After all, I had a long walk in front of me. The heat felt good, though it was no manhattan.

“What’s dramazipipam, anyway?” Was I slurring? Surely not.

“Light tranquilizer,” Bambi answered carelessly. She signaled Peet for another gin and tonic.

Kippers made some sort of noise, shoved her mug away, and put her head down on the bar with a little more force than I thought was necessary.

Peet ambled over. “Damn. That’ll leave a mark.”

“We’d better get her to bed,” I said reluctantly. We all looked at her.

“Maybe I’d better get security to take her,” Peet said. “You don’t seem all that steady.” He eyed Bambi. “Though I suppose Bambi could handle her solo.”

I nudged Kippers. “Wake up. Bambi’s going to put you to bed.”

Peet leaned over. “Kippers?” He stared at Bambi. “Seriously, Bambi, is she breathing?”

And that’s when all hell broke loose. Peet vaulted over the bar, knocking Kippers’s purse onto the floor, and Bambi dragged me off the stool and away from Kippers. She parked me at a table, simultaneously dialing 911, and with her phone under her chin started grabbing Kippers’s belongings off the floor and stuffing them into the purse, taking a moment to wipe the pill bottle on her shirt, I noticed. She requested an ambulance, tossed the purse on the table with me, and went to help Peet, who had started CPR. Others, solemn-faced, gathered around to watch and worry.

By the time emergency services arrived in the form of two EMTs hauling several cases of equipment, we were all openly speculating that it might be too late for Kippers. I wanted to weep, but the alcohol had numbed me. What if it was too late for her? Who would take care of her gouty cat now?

The EMTs took over, and Bambi came to sit with me. I turned to her, and she answered my unspoken question, speaking directly into my ear. “No way a dose that small would have hurt her like this. Especially that fast. It was just one pill. It may have helped her go to sleep sooner is all. But it appears to me she had a massive heart attack. Peet told me he has EMT training, and even he couldn’t help her. They’ll do an autopsy if she doesn’t make it, you know.”

I believed her. I had to. I’d seen her put the meds in Kippers’s mug and hadn’t done a thing to stop her. The alternative to not believing her was too painful to contemplate. Besides, she’d been a nurse. She knew about these things.

I hoped.

The EMTs were asking aloud if anyone knew whether Kippers was ill or took any medicine. Peet told them she had been drinking heavily for days, and Bambi dutifully reported that the clown had a low-dose diazepam prescription.

But it was all to no avail, and a few minutes later the EMTs stopped their efforts, covered Kippers with a thin blanket, and began to pack up their equipment. Peet, now back behind the bar, began weeping.

“Uh-oh.” Bambi had given the EMTs Kippers’s oversized purse once they had given up working on her. Now one of them, a tall, blond man who could have easily passed for Bambi’s brother, was holding the pill bottle that had been tucked inside. He talked quietly with his partner as they stood beside Kippers’s body.

“What’s he saying, Bambi?”

The EMT holding the pills had opened the bottle and tipped a few pills into his hand. I thought I heard him say something along the lines of “wrong dose.” What did that mean?

Bambi and I sat still.

His partner, a slim, dark-haired woman, answered him in a low voice. “The bottle says two milligrams.”

“Well, take a gander at these pills. These are ten milligrams. Much stronger.”

There was a pause. Then the female EMT whipped her phone off her belt and, dialing, left the room.

Bambi looked sick. “The pills are wrong. I bet she’s gone to call the cops. Oh, my God. Ten to one Kippers poisoned herself. And all that booze on top of it.”

Poisoned herself? Maybe. Unless someone switched out her pills. But I kept that thought to myself. I closed my eyes for a moment, willing myself to unsee that one extra pill slipping into the clown’s drink. And unwilling to catch Bambi’s eye.

Everyone in the bar was still speculating about Kippers in hushed voices when a handsome man in a suit appeared in front of our table, asking us all to go into the next room, a miniballroom normally reserved for special events. I supposed this qualified.

He was met with stunned silence followed by a buzz of panicked conversation. “What was it, a heart attack?” “Something must be wrong. Otherwise why would they ask us to stay?” “Foul play. It’s got to be foul play.” “No way! She just had too much to drink and her heart couldn’t handle it.”

As the handsome guy turned away from me, I could see he’d taken a tumble in the weather. The back of his coat and pants were covered in slush and mud. I resisted an urge to brush him off. It might have been misinterpreted.

Twenty or so of us followed him next door to a room filled with comfortable seating, couches, and overstuffed chairs, even a fireplace. We were all choosing seats when he beckoned for Bambi and me to follow him into a small office adjoining the main area. A uniformed police officer sat at a table with four chairs, and he asked us to join him.

The slushy (but still handsome) guy remained standing. “I’m Detective Dave DuPrey,” he told us. Detective DuPrey. I filed the name away, changed it to Detective Damp Pants and shortened it to DDP in my head. (Memorization technique.) “I am told by the bartender that you two were with the deceased when she passed out.”

I winced at the idea of Kippers being called “the deceased.” Not that Kippers the Klown was any great shakes as a name, but it sure beat “the deceased.”

He was staring directly at me.

“It’s true!” Perhaps I was a little overenthusiastic. He really was incredibly good-looking. If you like that tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed type. I reminded myself he was covered in slush all over his backside.

“And who are you?”

I spread my arms in front of me. “Well, DDP. I can explain.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“She’s not much of drinker,” Bambi offered.

“I can see that.”

“Hey!” I waved my arms in case they’d forgotten I was sitting right there. “I’m just here on business. Kippers decided she’d rather hang out with me than the rest of the clowns. She had five or six drinks. Then, wham! She keeled over and her head hit the bar. We tried to wake her up to get her back to her room, and nothing. I mean, no breathing.”

My voice broke and I swallowed hard. I hadn’t liked Kippers. But nobody deserves to die stone drunk at a clown convention. Surrounded by, you know, clowns.

“That’s when Peet hopped the bar and went to work. He told Bambi he’s a trained EMT. And the EMTs got here, and then they called you.”

“Okay.” He flipped open his notebook. “Your name?”

“Princess.”

“Your given name.”

“Princess.”

He waited.

“Princess Jenkins.”

“Princess Jenkins?” He eyed me up and down, taking in my pin-striped suit and dress heels, highlighted hair, big brown eyes, and skinny frame. I pretended he also checked to make sure I wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. His gaze lingered on the now slightly crusty rum and coke stain on my chest. “What? You a working girl?”

I sighed and gave the short version. “It was the ’80s. My parents liked Prince. They wanted a boy.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“I think they drank a lot.”

He returned the eyebrow and turned to assess Bambi. “And you are?”

Bambi grinned at him. I was temporarily blinded by the flash of white so I didn’t quite catch his expression when she offered up her name. “Bambi.”

Silence.

“Bambi Swenson.”

I could swear he turned pale, but he wrote Bambi’s name in his notebook.

“And the deceased, what do you know about her?”

“Kippers,” I confirmed.

He grimaced.

“Oh, wait.” I fished in my purse for one of the dozen or so business cards Kippers had pressed on me during our brief acquaintanceship.

The card was simple, black and white, and plain, with just the words “Kippers the Klown” and a phone number on it, plus a small graphic of a circus clown in a dunce hat holding a balloon bouquet in one hand. It made the marketer in me cringe. What were her specialties? In what geographical area did she ply her trade? I knew she could do balloon animals. She gave me those, too.

“Do you think she overdosed?” I blurted out. “Or maybe someone offed her?” Hey, I watch a lot of cop TV. Maybe too much.

DDP stared. “What makes you say that?”

Oops. Maybe I shouldn’t have. “We were sitting by the EMTs. We heard what they said about Kippers’s pills.”

“Ah. Well, anything’s possible. I’m going to take everyone’s statement and contact information. We’ll know more in a few days. There’s always an autopsy in cases like this.”

“Told you so,” Bambi mouthed at me.

I sighed. “Statement? I have a statement.” I ignored Bambi shaking her head at me. “You know what, detective? I think Kippers was a fish out of water. Frankly, she was one of the most annoying people I’ve ever met and I can imagine any number of people had a boatload of reasons to kill her if it turns out that’s what happened. And on top of that, she was an awful clown. I think maybe clowning wasn’t her cup of tea.”

Apparently I was just getting warmed up. “This was her first big convention. She said hardly any of the other clowns showed up for her ballooning class, and she didn’t feel welcome at the juggling seminar, powder-base makeup session, or the keynote speech either. She didn’t even fit in at the clown ministry class. She wasn’t having a good time. I felt sorry for her. She felt shunned by the other clowns.”

He shook his head. “Shunned by clowns. Imagine.”

Bambi shook her head, too. Not to be left out, I nodded, which somehow seemed right.

“She just wanted to go home to her cat, which has gout. And her boyfriend.”

“Her cat has a boyfriend?”

“No.” What was with this guy? “She wanted to go home to her cat and her boyfriend.”

“She had a boyfriend?” DDP sounded incredulous.

“I know. Hard to believe, right?” Bambi sounded sad. “Big, tall guy. She showed us a bunch of pictures on her phone. Weird-looking couple, but someone for everyone, I guess.”

“Was he depressed too?” I wanted to know.

“What do you mean, was he depressed too?” The detective snapped to attention. “How well did you two actually know this clown?”

I shrugged. “Except for a couple hours I was sleeping, she’s been talking nonstop to me since yesterday.”

“I just met her last night,” Bambi said. “But tonight I saw she had that prescription you already know about for diazepam in her purse. It was for a tiny dose, according to the label on the bottle, but still, not what you’d find in a purse every day.”

“A clown’s life is a hard life,” I intoned dramatically. Perhaps wisely, they both ignored me.

“And you’d know this because?” The detective looked at Bambi.

She shrugged. “I used to be a nurse a long time ago. So I know a bit about meds. But the shift work and patients got to me after a while. I do PR for Packer Worldwide Printing now.”

Detective DuPrey eyed her again. “I bet you were a good nurse. Okay, I’ll call the number on the card and see if I can’t get hold of the boyfriend.” He sighed. “So I’m finishing with Princess and Bambi and next up I have”—he consulted his notebook—“Bobbles and Wobbles, with their twin clown act.” He glanced around. “When are Dopey, Grumpy, Doc, and Sweepy going to show up?”

“Sleepy,” I said.

He gave me a strange look. “Well, yeah, it’s late. I’m sure you are.”

“No. Sleepy. The dwarf. Not Sweepy.”

“Hunh. You sure?”

“Sure as shootin’,” I told him. At this point I absolutely did not hiccup.

“Hunh,” he said again. He opened the door and stuck his head out. “Okay, I’m through interviewing these two. Now send in the clowns.” He turned and cut his eyes to me, waiting.

Was that a cue for me to sing? I sat up and took a breath, but Bambi poked me in the back. Hard.

“Funny,” I heard Bambi rumble behind me. Good old Bambi.

He gave me a little nod and I swear that eyebrow quirked again, then we were out the door. There were a dozen or so clowns draped about the party room waiting to be interviewed. I grabbed Bambi’s hand and bolted before one of them could offer to make me a balloon giraffe or juggle scarves at me.

We wound up—where else?—back at the bar.

We were a glum bunch. I worried the detective would find out that Kippers had cost me a jackpot in the casino that very morning. Bambi worried someone else besides me may have seen her put that tiny pill in the clown’s tea. Even Peet was worried. It turns out Kippers hadn’t tipped him as much as one red cent, and he’d told several people at the bar that people like her were so miserable they were better off dead. Ouch. But I figured the way Peet had leaped over the bar to perform CPR on Kippers sort of took him out of the running as a suspect.

And was it my imagination or did the clowns who came back to the bar after giving their statements to DDP all seem highly nervous? (Well, I mean, more nervous than clowns usually seem.) Rumors were already spreading about the pill bottle in Kippers’s purse. Was it Kippers herself who had switched her pills? Or did someone do it without her knowledge? Did one of these clowns dislike her to that extent? And why?

Like DDP had said in all his damp-panted wisdom, anything was possible.

Anything at all. Especially with this bunch of clowns who, along with us, closed down the bar before we all eventually straggled off to get some sleep, Bambi taking the spare bed in my double room.

And speaking (again) of clowns, I had to revise my opinion of clowns in general before I left Green Bay. The conference clowns, spearheaded by the ones who had been in the bar with us, held a short memorial for Kippers the next night in the long hall between the hotel and the casino. It was a touching service, with a moving speech by the convention president and a demonstration of balloon animal crafting by the few clowns who had been in Kippers’s class.

The clowns I met are quite serious about their profession. Most have gone through years of training, not only for professional gigs but for volunteer work at children’s hospitals and charity events. Many are third- and fourth-generation clowns. Some had even been planning to mentor Kippers on her techniques. They were well aware she was feeling left out. Great people. And, as I said, a very touching, very professional memorial service.

All the clowns and several hotel employees came, plus Bambi and me, and I’d like to think it wasn’t because we were all still snowed in and had nothing better to do. DDP came too, in a clean suit this time.

And two days later, without learning anything new, we all finally flew home. Well, all of us except Kippers.

* * *

Bambi called a week later with the news that we were all red herrings in the demise of Kippers. We were, in fact, saved by the autopsy.

“So, guess what, Princess? Turns out Kippers was loaded up with so much diazepam that it’s amazing she didn’t keel over before we had that last drinking session in the bar.”

“Oh, wow. You sure?” I was relieved and sad at the same time.

“I’m e-mailing you the link to the story in the paper this morning,” Bambi said. She paused and I could hear her fingernails clicking on her keyboard. “According to this, there’s no way she should have had that much tranquilizer in her system, even if she’d swallowed the entire bottle of pills she had with her. She must have been high as a kite before she even arrived at the convention.”

I opened my e-mail and scanned the story while she was talking. The reporter had interviewed Detective DuPrey, who had retrieved the meds from Kippers’s purse and confirmed that indeed the pills labeled two milligrams on the bottle were actually ten milligrams.

“According to the prescription bottle you saw, Kippers should have been taking only four milligrams a day,” I said. “But she must have been taking at least twenty and probably a lot more. I wonder if we’ll ever know exactly how many pills she was taking to cope with her stress at the convention. And you saw how she liked to drink.” I shuddered. In spite of my best intentions, I still didn’t like to remember being surrounded by clowns.

“No kidding,” Bambi said. “Well, I think you’re the one who accidentally sent Detective DuPrey in the right direction when you asked if Kippers’s boyfriend had been depressed too.”

“Maybe so,” I agreed. Turns out the boyfriend, Wallace (not a clown, but in fact a casino employee in Las Vegas where he and Kippers lived) had been taking large doses of diazepam and he had switched his own pills with Kippers’s. The two-milligram-sized pills were found in Wallace’s medicine cabinet, in his own prescription bottle.

I read on. The reporter quoted Wallace during his confession as saying, “I didn’t mean to kill her. I just wanted her to relax so she would shut up. Is that a crime?” There was a picture of a distraught-looking man waving his hands about. He was a big, tall guy, like I remembered from Kippers’s photos. I could see why he’d need a giant dose of tranqs. Especially living with Kippers and Gouty.

“I never would have confessed if I was Wallace,” Bambi said, bringing me back to the present moment. “I’d have said Kippers switched the pills herself.”

I agreed with Bambi. I would have accused Kippers of making the pill switch and then I would have lawyered up. (As I mentioned, I watch a lot of crime television since the divorce and I’m a bit of an expert at police lingo. And I know my rights.) Still, it was a crime and the charge would be involuntary manslaughter.

To tell you the truth, my sympathies were with Wallace.

Meanwhile, I knew one marketing director, one publicity employee, one bartender, and a whole bunch of (nervous) clowns who were all no doubt secretly breathing sighs of relief that they wouldn’t be labeled as murder suspects in the death of Kippers the Klown. Because, let’s face it, there’s nothing funny about that. And as for one extra pill in a mug of tea playing a role in the clown’s demise, I am almost one hundred percent certain it made not a whit of difference.

“Has Detective DuPrey called you?” I could hear the smile in Bambi’s voice. “I mean, in an unofficial capacity, now that none of us are on his suspect list anymore.”

She couldn’t see me blushing. “What would make you think that?”

* * *

Shortly after charges were filed against Wallace, DDP attended a forensics conference in my neck of the woods in the Virginia suburbs of our nation’s capital. He came down for four days at the end of February and ended up staying an extra four days. Seems there were some sights he wanted to see. And I know DC very, very well.

I’ve been up to Green Bay twice since then, once for business and once to stay with Bambi and her husband, Lars, so she could teach me how to cross-country ski on what she calls my matchstick legs. Next time, she says, we’re going to the firing range so I can learn to handle a gun properly before she takes me hunting. (And don’t think the twenty-five-ways-to-Sunday irony of going hunting with someone named Bambi escapes me, either.) Bambi has formed an impression I might move to Wisconsin permanently, and she’s appointed herself my self-sufficiency and survival coach.

During both recent visits I spent a lot more time with DDP. He has two kids he’s raising by himself. Seems his ex didn’t like being married, much less to a detective. Shelley is four and Matthew is eight.

Shelley demanded to know why I was named Princess, and I may or may not have allowed her to believe that if I was not, in fact, a Disney princess, I was at least related to them. (The word cousin may have been used.)

And I may or may not have memorized the performance statistics of the entire Green Bay Packers starting lineup to impress a certain precocious eight-year-old with eyes just like his daddy’s. (That part was easy. I’m in marketing, and we eat statistics for breakfast.)

I never imagined myself as a potential stepmother. Then again, I never imagined myself missing a casino jackpot by a buck, aiding and abetting in accidentally offing a clown, or bagging a deer with a woman named Bambi. So I’m keeping an open mind.

Stranger things have happened.

Heck, maybe someday I’ll even tell him why I call him DDP. Then again, maybe Detective Damp Pants never needs to know.

#

Eleanor Cawood Jones began writing in elementary school, using a #2 pencil to craft short stories about the imaginary lives of her stuffed animals. While attending Virginia Tech, she got her first writing job as a reporter with the Kingsport, Tennessee, Times-News, and never looked back. Eleanor lives in Northern Virginia and is a marketing director, freelance copywriter, avid reader, traveler, and remodeling-show addict who spends her spare time telling people how to pronounce Cawood (Kay’-wood). Her short-story compilations include A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Tales of Murder and More and Death is Coming to Town: Four Murderous Holiday Tales.