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Excerpt for High Time by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

A NineStar Press Publication

Published by NineStar Press

P.O. Box 91792,

Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87199 USA.

www.ninestarpress.com

High Time

Copyright © 2018 by Keelan Ellis

Cover Art by Natasha Snow Copyright © 2018

Edited by Elizabetta McKay

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact NineStar Press at the physical or web addresses above or at Contact@ninestarpress.com.

Printed in the USA

First Edition

September, 2018


eBook ISBN: 978-1-949340-66-2

Print ISBN: 978-1-949340-70-9


High Time

The Solomon Mysteries, Book Two

Keelan Ellis

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Epilogue

About the Author

Chapter One

“It’s huge,” Paul said. “Won’t it be too much for the space?”

“No, the simplicity of it will keep it from overwhelming. I think it might even make the room seem bigger.”

It was a chilly Sunday in March, and Owen had dragged Paul to the studio of a friend of his from his art school days, promising to find him something to put on the large expanse of blank wall in his apartment. Paul wasn’t sure he really cared, but he knew it was the kind of thing that bothered other people. He liked having art on the walls and furniture that looked nice, but he wasn’t gifted with an eye for any of that. His ex-boyfriend Andy had handled all that stuff for eight years, and now he had Owen to help him with it.

Paul had been dating Owen for almost four months. It worked out pretty well because Owen worked in a bar and usually had to be there until the end of the night. It was a relief for Paul not to feel guilty when work kept him late. Sometimes Owen would knock on his door at two or three in the morning, and Paul would stumble out of bed to let him in. He sometimes thought, in that sleep deprived state, that maybe he should just give him a key. That idea rarely made it to the light of day.

“Can I even afford it?” Paul asked.

“Well, what else do you spend your money on?” He eyed Paul up and down in a conspicuously critical way. “Not clothes, that’s for sure.”

“Ha,” Paul said, rolling his eyes.

“Your apartment is a one bedroom on the second floor, next to a house full of stoners in Charles Village. Come on, Paul. Be an adult and buy some art.”

“Yeah, well…” Paul stopped himself before he could say something he’d regret. It was kind of ironic to hear Owen telling him to grow up, but it wasn’t worth getting into. “Never mind. Fine. You’re right, I should spend money on something real.”

“Great!” Owen pulled Paul over to his friend Ara and helped him work out the details. When she went to wrap up the painting, Owen said, “Don’t think I don’t know what you were going to say before, by the way.”

“What are you talking about?” Paul asked innocently.

Owen smiled and shook his head. “I don’t want an argument. I just want you to know that I know.”

Paul studied his face for a moment. He didn’t look pissed. He looked a little bit smug, but that was fine. “I don’t want an argument either,” Paul said. He snaked an arm around Owen’s waist and pulled him tight to his side. “I still need you to hang this picture for me.”

“I understand,” Owen said. “I have a few requests myself that I hoped you could help me with.”

“Will I need a hammer?” Paul asked, grinning.

“Always.”

Once Owen had the picture up, Paul had to admit it improved the look of his modest apartment quite a bit.

“Thanks for doing that,” Paul said.

Owen shrugged. “No big deal. It looks great, don’t you think?”

“Yeah. Thanks for picking it out for me.” Paul put his arms around Owen’s shoulders. “We should go out for dinner. Anywhere you want.”

“I kind of want to just stay in tonight. Would you mind? We could just order food and find something on streaming.”

After a pause that went on slightly too long, Paul said, “Uh, yeah. Sure.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Paul said, shaking his head. “Sorry. I was just thinking of where we should order from. You want Indian food?”

With a slight frown, Owen said, “Sure, that sounds good. Do you have a menu?”

Paul wasn’t sure what had shown on his face that caused Owen to react, but there’d been a second when Paul felt a twinge of panic. It made no rational sense. Staying in and ordering dinner was exactly the kind of thing Paul usually wanted. His job was tiring, and he didn’t like crowds. But coming from Owen, for some reason, it bothered him, and Paul knew it was unfair.

“I’ll go get it,” Paul said. “You pick out something on Netflix.”

Paul put his unease aside. They watched an entire season of Luther, which Paul loved. He assumed it was as full of inaccuracies as most American police dramas, but because it was English, he wasn’t clear enough on the details of their system to be annoyed by it. Plus, Idris Elba. Owen ended up falling asleep with his head on Paul’s leg by the end. It was as domestic as any evening he’d ever spent with Andy, but instead of making him feel content and comfortable, he only felt restless. He prodded Owen awake and got him into bed.

It was still dark out when Paul was awoken by the phone in the middle of a confusing dream in which he was at a baseball game at Camden Yards with his dad, while somehow simultaneously on the field, playing shortstop for the Blue Jays. His dad was rooting against Toronto, of course, but every time he made a play or got a hit, his dad would say, “That’s okay, son, I love you no matter what.” Not the most subtle dream he’d ever had.

He groped for his phone on the nightstand and picked up. “Solomon.”

It was his boss, Lieutenant Cherise Masters. “I’m sorry to call you so early. I need you to meet Tim and the forensic team at a scene in Leakin Park. I’ll text you the coordinates.”

“Someone dumped a body?”

“You must be psychic, Solomon. Buried it, actually, and a long time ago by all accounts. Pretty much just bones at this point.”

Paul sat up and put his feet on the floor. “Wait. Bones? Seriously? You’re calling me in early on some cold case whodunit?”

Masters was silent, no doubt in an effort to intimidate him. Paul waited her out, and she finally sighed in resignation. “Human remains were found by a couple of guys with a podcast who are apparently doing a series of episodes on the so-called ‘bodies of Leakin Park’.”

“You have got to be shitting me.”

The last thing we need is another goddamn Serial situation. It has to be done properly.”

“Yeah,” Paul said. “I’m on my way.” He hung up and looked over at Owen.

“You have to go right now?” Owen mumbled.

“Yeah, sorry. I hate to do this to you, but you have to get up. I’ll drop you off at home.” Paul pushed the hair out of Owen’s face and gave him a kiss.

Owen stretched and then burrowed further into the blankets. “I don’t have to work until four. I’ll just hang around and take the bus from here.”

“That would be fine, except you won’t be able to lock the deadbolt when you leave. Come on, get dressed.”

“Don’t you have an extra key?” Owen asked.

“No,” Paul lied. “I’m sorry.”

It was obvious Owen wasn’t buying it. He narrowed his eyes and said, “You said that already.”

Paul looked at him and realized that some kind of fight was brewing, and it wasn’t one he particularly wanted to have at the moment. Things between him and Owen had been great, for the most part, but that was going to change if they had to have the relationship conversation. It wasn’t a question Paul was in any way ready to answer. Regardless, he didn’t have time for it. He had to get to a crime scene. “I really need to get going. Can we do this later?”

“We could, but we probably won’t,” Owen grumbled. Still, he got out of bed and pulled his clothes on.

The silent ride from Charles Village to Mount Vernon was mercifully short, and when they pulled up in front of Owen’s building, Paul grabbed his wrist before he could get out. “Hey,” he said, “I don’t want to be in a fight with you.”

Owen sighed. “We’re not in a fight, Paul. You just hurt my feelings. I feel like you don’t trust me in your place.”

“It’s not that,” Paul said. “Look, it’s early. We’re both not in the best of moods. Can we do this later?”

“Sure.”

“I had a nice time yesterday. Thanks for helping me with the painting. It looks great in my apartment, and there’s no way I could have picked it out myself.”

Owen smiled. “I had fun too.”

“Are we okay?” Paul asked.

Owen leaned over and kissed him. “More or less,” he said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” He got out and walked into his building.



Traffic was beginning to pile up on Route 40 as Paul headed to the west side. Since catching the double murder in Irvington the previous September, he felt like he’d been spending even more time out that way in the last few months than when he’d been a patrolman in the Western District. He stopped at the nearby Royal Farms convenience store and picked up two coffees.

Paul pulled into a small parking area off Windsor Mill Road. There were several police cars and an ambulance in the lot. Tim stood at the edge of the woods. He scowled when he saw Paul’s car and flicked away his cigarette, blowing a cloud of smoke off to the side. Paul got out holding two large coffee cups and handed one to Tim without comment.

“I’m limiting myself,” Tim said, immediately on the defensive. “One with my first cup of coffee, one on my lunch break, and one after dinner.”

“Whatever. I’m not your mommy,” Paul said, although he’d love to lecture him, and not only because it stunk up the car. He wanted to remind him he had a daughter to raise, but it seemed unlikely that hadn’t occurred to him already.

“Thanks for the coffee.”

“You’re welcome. So what can you tell me?”

Tim’s grin made Paul a little uneasy. He knew his partner loved a bona fide mystery. Paul, not so much. “Come on, I’ll show you,” he said.

Tim gestured for him to follow, and they walked down a gravel path and over a wooden bridge. Shortly after that, they veered off the path and into the woods. They came to a large tree that had fallen over into a gulley, breaking off a sizable section of earth with it. Crime scene tape surrounded the entire area, and as they walked up an incline to where the base of the tree was, Paul saw a forensic team working on the excavation.

“The guys who called it in found a femur that looked like it had been gnawed on by some animal. They looked around a little until they found the burial site. The crime scene guys have netted what they think are some pieces of skull and part of an arm. They’re going to be here a while.”

“Any guesses on age or gender?”

“They’re saying it could be a teenager or a small woman, but nothing definite.”

“What’s the deal with these assholes who found the burial site?”

Tim waved his hand dismissively. “They have some kind of true crime podcast. I haven’t talked to them yet. Handed them off to a couple of unis to get their personal details, but I figured I’d wait for you to talk to them. Thought that might be entertaining.”

Paul walked closer to where the crime scene techs were digging. “So, the tree falling over uprooted a bunch of earth and then what? Erosion?”

“Seems like a good guess,” Tim said cheerfully.

“You’re enjoying this way too much. You must have read a lot of Sherlock Holmes as a kid.”

“Let me guess—you were more of a Poe guy. And speaking of people being way too excited about finding a dead body, let’s go talk to the, uh…journalists.”

They walked back out to the parking lot. Two guys, who Paul placed somewhere in their mid to late twenties, were huddled close to one of the squad cars. One of them, a tall, burly, red-haired guy with a full beard, noticed them and nudged his friend.

The big guy extended his hand as they approached. “Hey! Alex Martin,” he said.

Paul looked at his hand and then back at his face. “I’m Detective Solomon and this is Detective Cullen. You two found the bones?”

Martin lowered his hand, but his cheerful expression didn’t change. “Yeah! We almost walked over it, actually. We were on the way to the Hae Min Lee site. There’s renewed national interest in the case with Adnan being granted a new trial, so the timing seemed right.”

“Of course you were,” Paul said, sighing. “But why are you here? This is a podcast, right? It’s not like you’re filming something.”

“We wanted to get a feel for the area, since that’s a big part of the story. Plus we wanted to get supplemental photos to put on our website.”

“I see. So you just stumbled across it.”

“Yeah, man. Fucking crazy, right?”

“And you are?” Paul said, turning to the other podcaster, who was holding a device in his hand that looked like a large remote control. He was a bit older than his partner, and something about him was familiar. Paul couldn’t put his finger on it. He thought he might have seen a spark of recognition in the other man’s eyes as well.

“Oh. Uh. Mike Cohen.” The name was familiar too, but it wasn’t as if it was an unusual one.

“Anything you’d like to add regarding how you found the remains?”

“No. It’s just like he said. We were walking through and there it was. I almost tripped over it. Do the police have any theory yet on who this might be?”

Paul narrowed his eyes at Cohen. “Are you recording this?”

“I’m always recording,” Cohen said.

“Turn it off. I don’t give my permission for you to use my voice. Neither does anyone here. This is a homicide investigation.”

“So it’s definite that this is a murder?”

“We don’t know anything yet, and if we did, we wouldn’t be running it past you,” Paul said. “We will absolutely be in touch, but you’re free to go for now.” When the two men didn’t move, he gave them a hard look. “Let me rephrase. Go. Get the fuck out of here.”

“Hey man, this is public property, and we’re citizens. We have the right to be here.”

“You think so, do you?” Paul said. “Well, I personally find it suspicious that you two were out here looking for known body dump sites and just happened to find an actual body. Maybe we need to bring you in for further questioning. I can have some uniforms run you down there, and Detective Cullen and I will be with you when we finish up here.”

“Could be a few hours, though,” Tim put in quietly, grinning at the podcasters.

“Fine. Jesus. We’re going,” Martin said.

When they’d taken off, Tim said, “You seem a little short on patience this morning. Did the Lieutenant interrupt something good when she called?”

“No such luck,” Paul said. “Got into a fight to start the day.”

“Bad?”

“Not bad, just…as yet unresolved.” He glanced over his shoulder at the podcasters, who were getting into their vehicle, one of those boxy things that resembled Fisher-Price cars. “I recognize that guy. Cohen. He’s so familiar.”

Tim shrugged. “He’s around your age. Maybe you went to school with him?”

“I guess it’s possible. He wasn’t in my year, if so. Anyway. Do we even have a starting point with this thing?”

“I don’t know what we can do until we get something from the forensics people. We’re basically useless here. This is a dump site, not the murder site.”

“I seriously cannot fucking believe Cherise is wasting our time on this. Whoever killed this person is probably dead by now. What’s the point? They should let some academy students take a crack at it for practice.”

Tim snorted and nodded in agreement, but the gleeful expression on his face hadn’t changed. “We speak for the dead, my friend,” he intoned with false solemnity.

“Bullshit. We speak for the people who might die in the future if we don’t catch the ones who are out there doing murder now.”

“Detectives!”

They both looked up the hill where one of the crime scene technicians was waving at them. Paul experienced a nearly insignificant glimmer of hope, and Tim smiled widely as he thumped him between the shoulders. “The game is afoot,” he said.

“For fuck’s sake,” Paul muttered.

They trudged back to the site. The tech beckoned them over to the burial site and handed them an evidence bag containing what appeared to be a small ceramic pendant, attached to a scrap of deteriorated brown leather. Paul pulled on gloves and held it up by the leather piece, squinting at it. It was in the shape of a skull with what looked like roses where its hair would be. There was a small hole where the teeth should have been.

“What is that?” Paul asked, speaking to himself as much as anyone. “I’ve seen something like it before.” He pulled out his phone and took a picture of it.

“It’s a Grateful Dead thing,” Tim said. “Give it here.”

Paul handed it over. “Jesus, how cold is this fucking case?”

“See the hole here?” Tim pointed at it. “That’s for sticking a joint in when it’s too little to hold anymore, similar to a roach clip. Hard to say how old it is; you still see Dead stickers on cars to this day. But yeah, I mean, it could be pretty fucking cold.”

“That’s great.” Paul scowled. “Can’t wait to do the search for missing hippies from the last forty years. Do you think that thing is mass produced, or could we possibly trace it to an artist?”

Tim was still holding the pendant, his forehead creased in a frown as he stared at it. When he didn’t answer, Paul nudged him, and he looked up as if startled out of a trance. “What? Oh. I can’t tell. It looks like the kind of thing you’d buy from the trunk of a car at a Dead show.” Tim stared at it for another second or two and then handed it back to the crime scene tech.

“Been to many Dead shows?”

Tim shrugged. “One or two. Back in the day. Why? What were you doing in the eighties?”

“Going to middle school,” Paul said.

“Great,” Tim muttered.

Playing Little League, studying for my bar mitzvah—”

“I get it, I get it. Shut the fuck up.”

“Generally being younger than you, is what I’m saying.”

Tim sighed. “Anyway, I’m not sure what else we can do here until they’re finished with the site.”

“Yeah, okay. I was thinking I’d go online and see if I can get any information on that pendant. If it was something commercially available, maybe that can help us narrow down a time frame.”

“Don’t get started until I get there, because there’s something I need to check. I’ll meet you back at the station.”



“It could be nothing,” Tim said. He sat down at his desk and swiveled around to face Paul. “I called Prince George’s PD on my way over and asked them to find the file. Probably best to just drive down there and get it.”

“I know how much you love mysteries, but you should know I’m not such a big fan. Were you planning to fill me in on what this is, or do I need to wait for the big reveal?”

“In 1991, a nineteen-year-old girl named Penny Markowski disappeared from a Grateful Dead show in Landover. Or, more specifically, from the parking lot outside the show. As far as I know, she’s still considered a missing person. The thinking was that she was involved in that subculture, so she could have decided to drop out, run off with some dude with filthy blond dreads, and is now living off the grid somewhere in Idaho or God knows where. But her family and friends have always been adamant that it couldn’t have gone down that way.”

“They always are,” Paul said.

“That’s true.”

“How do you know so much about some PG County missing persons case, anyway? Were you even on the job in ninety-one?”

Tim shook his head. “I was in the Academy at the time. Penny went missing in Landover, but she was from Baltimore. She lived down in Pigtown, but she went to St. Catherine’s—class of ’90, same as my sister Kathleen. Kathleen was with her the night she disappeared.”

Paul’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re saying you might have known this vic?”

“I’m saying, I knew a girl who disappeared, who happened to be a Deadhead. And not even that well—I only met her a few times, in passing. But she disappeared a long way from Leakin Park. Why would they dump her here when they could have done it somewhere in PG County? There’s got to be way more remote spots down there.”

“Well…” Paul sat back. “You grew up in the city. Let’s say you killed someone, but it’s not like you’re some kind of hardened criminal. You’re scared, confused, maybe young. If you weren’t a cop, and you didn’t know your way around anywhere more than five miles beyond the beltway in any direction, what would you do? Drive around in unfamiliar territory for God knows how long, with a body in your trunk, looking for a place to dump it? Or would you go do it at the one place you’ve been hearing about since you were a kid?”

“Yeah. That makes sense.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. “The thing is, my sister was with her that night. They didn’t even have tickets; they were just hanging out in the parking lot with all the other dumb-ass broke hippies.”

“Is that a thing people did?”

“Yup.” Tim gave a short, humorless laugh. “Drop acid, dance around like idiots, pretend they’re part of some kind of movement.”

“So…”

“What?”

“Do you think your sister would be able to ID that necklace?”

Tim groaned. “Yeah, probably. The thing is, she’s always been a big proponent of the great escape theory. Said Penny was impulsive. Romantic. That it was just the kind of thing she’d do.”

Paul made a skeptical face. “Maybe, but to stay gone and undetected for twenty-seven years? She can’t really still believe it.”

“I doubt she does. Even if she’d run off, after this long with no word, my money’d be on a bad outcome at some point. From her perspective, I can see why she might think that, even though it’s kind of crazy. Kath met her husband that night, at that show.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep. She was hanging out with him that night, but they didn’t start going out until the next year when they ran into each other out of the blue at Towson State.”

“Huh. But still, that doesn’t mean she’s delusional.” Paul looked at his watch. “Would she be at work now?”

Tim shook his head. “She got downsized last year from a technical writing job. Now she works part-time from home doing freelance stuff.” He sighed. “Let’s do this.”

Chapter Two

Tim and Paul pulled up in front of a two-story clapboard home with a postage stamp lawn. The yard was surrounded by a chain-link fence, but a hedge grew up against it, softening the utilitarian look. All along the house were thriving azalea bushes that were probably the envy of the neighborhood in the spring. The small front porch featured a swing with flowered vinyl cushions, and next to the astroturf welcome mat was a wire holder with empty glass milk bottles in it. The screen was painted with some black-eyed Susans and an oriole. Nothing about the little Morrell Park house would have been out of place in 1950.

As they walked up the steps, Paul looked over at Tim with an eyebrow raised. “You did say your sister lives here, right? Not your grandmother?”

“She and her husband Jordan bought the house from my grandmother, as a matter of fact. They wanted to keep it authentic. The only thing she added was that rack of milk bottles, and I can’t decide if it’s too cute or just cute enough.”

Paul snorted. “I hope you’re not expecting any decorating guidance from me.”

“Uh…I’ve seen your apartment.” Tim rang the doorbell.

The man who answered the door didn’t quite fit the mold of what might have been expected in the neighborhood sixty or seventy years earlier. He was close to Paul’s height, dark-skinned, with fashionable eyeglasses and an expensive-looking fitted dress shirt. He flashed a smile at Tim and shook his hand.

“Jordan, hi,” Tim said. “Didn’t expect you to be here, man.”

“Hey, Tim. Kathleen said you called to say you were coming by. She said you told her it had to do with Penny, so I came home in case she needed me.”

“I’m glad you did. We were going to need to talk to you eventually anyway, seeing as you were there that night.” Tim nodded toward Paul. “This is my partner, Paul Solomon. Paul, my brother-in-law, Jordan Marshall.”

Jordan shook Paul’s hand but immediately after looked back at Tim. “Is Kath in the kitchen?”

“Yeah. She’s putting coffee on.”

“Good.” Tim clapped him on the shoulder. “Let’s go in there and talk, all right?”

Paul looked around as they followed Jordan through the living room. Apparently, the desire for “authenticity” only applied to the outside of the house. The interior looked as if it had been gutted and renovated within an inch of its life. The wood floors were stained an espresso brown, broken up by colorful throw rugs. The furniture was modern and immaculate.

“Nice place,” Paul said.

“Oh, thanks,” Jordan replied. “Benefit of not having kids. We get to have nice things.”

Tim snorted. “Rub it in, why don’t you.”

The kitchen looked to be restored more in keeping with the outside of the house, with what looked like the original cabinets, and a big table rather than a breakfast bar or island. At the table sat a woman with long, wiry red hair in a braid that hung down her back. She had a cup of coffee in front of her, and there was a stainless steel carafe and three empty mugs on the table. She lifted her freckled face as Tim walked over and kissed her cheek before making introductions.

When everyone was seated, Tim said, “I need you to look at something.” He pulled out his phone and retrieved a photo he’d taken of the pendant.

Her lips quivered for a split second before she pressed them together and brought a hand to her mouth. She pushed the phone back across the table at Tim and refused to look at him.

Paul poured himself a cup of coffee, giving her a moment to compose herself before asking, “Do you recognize it?”

Kathleen nodded, closing her eyes. “You found Penny?”

“Maybe,” Tim said.

“You found her here? In Baltimore?”

“We don’t know anything for sure, Kath.”

She shook her head. “If you found a body and it had that pendant on it, you found Penny. She made that herself in a pottery class she was taking at Baltimore City Community College. She was really proud of it.”

Jordan put his hand over his wife’s and gently squeezed it. “You want me to take the rest of the day off, babe?”

“No,” she said. “It’s been twenty-seven years. I’ve known she was dead for a long time. I’ll be okay.”

“In that case, I really should get back to work. Unless you guys need me to stick around, of course.”

Paul found that a little strange but figured it might be for the best. They could get his version of things without the influence of Kathleen’s account. “We’re going to need to talk to you too, but it doesn’t have to be this second. In the next couple days, we’ll need to sit down with anyone we know was there that night. You’ll be around?”

Jordan looked surprised for a second but nodded. “Yeah, of course. I don’t know what I’ll be able to tell you that I didn’t tell the police back then.”

“You never know,” Tim said. “Sometimes distance can give you a fresh perspective. Maybe there are connections you never made back then because you were too close.”

“All right, man. I’ll see you then.” He kissed Kathleen, grabbed his keys from a dish on the counter, and left.

When they heard the front door close, Paul said, “I’m sorry to have to ask this of you, but can you go through the events of that night, as you remember them? Of course, we’re going to read the reports from 1991, but like Tim said, there’s value in hearing it from your current point of view, as an adult. You never know what retelling could shake loose.”

Kathleen nodded. “Just a minute,” she said, and stood up. She walked over to a high cabinet, opened it, and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. “I know it’s early.” She poured a generous slug into her coffee cup, then added more coffee and some cream.

“Special circumstances,” Paul said, and Tim nodded.

Kathleen sipped her Irish coffee, and then drew a deep breath, let it out, and began talking. “Penny and I were best friends in high school. We had homeroom together sophomore year, and we just clicked. We liked the same music and thought the same boys were cute, and at that age that’s all you need, really.”

Paul nodded and sipped his coffee. “You went to St. Catherine’s, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Okay, so you had graduated the year before?”

Kathleen nodded. “We graduated in ’90. I’d started at Towson State, and she was going to BCCC. She planned to transfer to University of Maryland after two years.”

“Did you guys still hang out regularly after you started college?”

“Not as much. At times, I got the sense there was something going on with her, but she always said everything was fine. That she was just busy and trying to adjust to a new situation. Maybe that’s all it was, or maybe she felt like she was growing apart from me. That’s just normal friend stuff, you know. Things can get weird. We were both busy with school, and we’d both started making new friends. I hadn’t seen her at all for maybe two months before the show. That’s why I was so happy she asked me to go to Landover with her. You know I was never much into that whole scene—”

“Other than smoking weed,” Tim put in.

Kathleen threw him a dirty look of the sort exclusive to siblings but otherwise ignored him. “—but I figured it would basically be a fun party. You remember, we didn’t actually have tickets. We got there pretty early, a few hours before the show.”

“Were you using any drugs?” Paul said.

Kathleen looked at Tim. “Do I really have to go through all this again?”

Tim nodded. “We’ll be going through the file and reading your statements from back then, but there could be some value in getting the story from you with some perspective. I’m sorry.”

Deflated, she looked back at Paul. “Yeah, we were on drugs. We bought some sugar cubes from a girl we met there.”

“Sugar cubes?” Paul asked.

“They take a sugar cube and put a dose of acid in it. Then you let it dissolve in your mouth. By the time the show started, we were still tripping pretty hard.” She gave a short laugh. “Tripping balls, like we used to say. We somehow thought that was cool.”

“Did you notice her talking to anyone in particular? A man?”

Kathleen closed her eyes and let out a soft sigh. “It’s been so long, now. I can try to think back. If I come up with anything, I’ll call you.”

Paul nodded. “Around what time did you realize Penny was gone?”

“I don’t know what time it was. The show was still happening. We were just enjoying ourselves, bullshitting the way you do on acid, smoking too many cigarettes, laughing a lot. At some point, Penny got up to go pee.” Her lips and chin quivered, and tears escaped her eyes, streaking down her cheeks. “I know I should have gone with her. If I hadn’t been so out of it I’d have realized that.”

“You must have felt like it was a safe atmosphere,” Paul said.

She nodded. “I assumed everyone there was cool. Peaceful. I was so stupid. We both were. Anyway, I guess I kind of lost my sense of time. It took longer than it should have before I thought, you know, she’s been gone awhile.”

“How long?”

“I really don’t know. That was when I met Jordan, while I was waiting. He was with this other guy…Kevin, or…yeah, Kevin. He might remember if you asked him, if it matters. He didn’t talk much. I doubt they were really good friends or anything because I never saw him again when we started seeing each other.”

“So you didn’t see her again after she went to pee?”

“Never. There were porta-potties, but she didn’t want to use them because they were disgusting by that point. She went in the other direction, toward the trees. Like I said, it took me a long time to realize she hadn’t come back. So I went over there and was like, yelling for her, and asking people if they’d seen her. Eventually, I was kind of freaking out, and people were trying to calm me down but not really helping me look for her or anything. They were all, like, ‘Don’t worry, sister, she’s on her own trip right now. She’ll be around when she’s ready.’ I wanted to believe it. I mean, I figured she was somewhere around, that maybe she’d hooked up with some dude and was in his bus or tent or whatever. Maybe if I’d gone sooner, we’d have found her. Do you think?”

There was no satisfactory answer to that, and neither Paul nor Tim attempted one. It might be true, and it might not be. Tim took her hand and said, “Everything you did was understandable.”

“Were Jordan and Kevin still with you when you went to look for her?”

Kathleen shook her head. “No. I’d just told them I was going to try to find her, not that I was worried. They were still hanging out when I left, but it was a long time before I came back to my car, and they were gone by then. I mean, why would they have stayed? I barely knew them.”

Paul shrugged. “Seemed like you had a connection with Jordan. I thought maybe he would’ve wanted to help you out.”

Tim shot him a frown but kept quiet.

“I didn’t really give it a thought. I mean, by the time I’d gone to security and all that, he wasn’t on my mind at all. It didn’t occur to me then, but he probably figured I’d ditched him. That’s what I’d have assumed.”

“Okay,” Tim said, a little louder than necessary. “What happened when you went to security?”

“They went out with flashlights and a bullhorn. When they didn’t find her, they eventually called the cops.”

“Thanks, Kathleen,” Paul said. “That’s good for now. We still have to get confirmation on the identity of the remains, and we’ll want to speak with you again. I need to ask you not to discuss this with anyone until that identification is verified. And I’m really sorry about your friend.”

Paul went out to wait in the car while Tim said his goodbyes. When he came out five minutes later, he settled into the passenger side with a tense expression on his face. “Let’s go,” he said.

“She going to be okay? You want to stay with her? I can find something to keep me busy in the meantime.”

“Nah.” Tim shook his head tersely. “I’m more use to her by getting this thing solved. I’m sure Jordan would come home if she needs him to.”

Paul started the car and pulled away from the curb. “What’s he like?”

“Jordan? He’s great. Even my dad likes him, and to be honest, if you’d told me back then that he’d be okay with his baby marrying a black guy, I’d have laughed at you, but now I’m pretty sure he likes him better than me. Why?”

Paul nodded. “I thought it was weird he’d run out like that. I was surprised he’d even ask.”

“I’m sure he has a better idea of what she needs than we do. And anyway, he offered to take the day off. She said no.” He frowned in Paul’s direction. “What are you saying, anyway?”

“Nothing.” He glanced at Tim. “You know as well as I do, actual coincidences are like four-leaf clovers. They exist, but you hardly ever see them. Him ‘running into her’ a year later at school? I don’t know. I don’t know him the way you do. But I’m not going to ignore a feeling just because he’s your brother-in-law and you like him.”

“Not asking you to, dude, but why would he have been hanging out with her if he did something to her friend? There were thousands of people there. He could’ve just left.”

Paul shrugged. “You’re probably right. I’m just looking for a thread to pull.”

“You want to drive down to PG now?”

Paul glanced at the clock on the dashboard and grimaced. “I’m supposed to meet someone for lunch.”

“Really,” Tim said, raising his eyebrows. “Someone who?”

“Never mind. I’m going to cancel it anyway. I didn’t know we were going to be in the middle of this shit today.”

“You should go.”

“Yeah?”

“No reason we both need to go. I’ll pick up the file and meet you back at the office.”

Paul dropped Tim off and pulled away from the curb, relieved he hadn’t asked more questions. Not that he had anything to be ashamed of. He was meeting David Haygood, and it was lunch—nothing more. Though he and David had gone on one date, months earlier, Paul had put an end to that when he’d learned of David’s ugly past as the leader of a gay conversion ministry. Though he was trying to make amends, a lifetime of denial and self-hatred turned outward had left him with a mountain of guilt, and he wasn’t anywhere near ready for a romantic relationship. Paul had moved on from that possibility, and he was with Owen, anyway. The question of why Paul had felt compelled to befriend him was a separate issue altogether, and one he wasn’t interested in analyzing too deeply.

They were meeting at Faidley’s in Lexington Market. Paul had chosen it because there was no way it could be mistaken as a date. Though Paul had made it clear that wasn’t going to happen, the last time they’d gone out for coffee, David let him know he was still interested. It wouldn’t have been a problem if Paul hadn’t felt so tempted, and he’d been putting him off for weeks about getting together again.

David was already there when he arrived, standing at one of the high tables near the stand. His face lit up with a smile when he caught sight of Paul, and he waved.

“Hey,” Paul said. “Did you order yet?”

David shook his head. “Didn’t want to in case something came up for you at work.”

“I’ll get it. You can hold the table. What do you want to eat?”

“What should I get? I’ve never eaten here.”

“If you like crabcakes, then get the crabcakes.”

David shrugged. “Never had them.”

“Time to correct that situation. You’re not in Kansas anymore.” He walked over to get in line at the counter. Lunch was always hectic at Lexington Market, and this was the most popular counter in the place, with good reason. When he was in uniform, they used to wave him to the front of the line, but Paul had to wonder if they still had the practice. Community relations had never been a strong suit of the Baltimore PD; the way things were at that particular moment, something like that could cause problems. He’d never been comfortable with it, but he also hated waiting in lines.

He ordered two crabcake platters. While he waited, he glanced around at the sea of humanity on lunch break. Most people moved with purpose, trying to get their food before they had to get back to work, but some wandered aimlessly, gawking at the stands. A junkie nodded off over by the wall. Some middle-aged white ladies stood eating at a table nearby, looking nervously in every direction, as if every black person who passed them was an assault waiting to happen.

The order was ready quickly, earning him side-eye from the two people still waiting who had ordered before him. He wasn’t especially surprised; most people in the city could spot a cop a mile away, uniform or not. He carried the tray over to his table.

“I didn’t know what sides you’d want. I got you fries and a cucumber salad, but you can have my cole slaw if you want it. Hands off my pickled beets though.”

“No problem,” David said, wrinkling his nose. He watched as Paul tore open a packet of Saltines and forked a bite of his crabcake onto a cracker, and then followed suit.

“How’s it going?”

David shrugged. “Okay, I guess. I was offered a permanent job at the place I was temping.”

“Yeah? That’s good, right? Thinking about getting your own place yet?”

He made an exasperated sound. “I’ve been thinking about it for months. Thomas is driving me insane.”

Paul wasn’t surprised. He’d only met David’s well-intentioned cousin once, but it was easy to see how living with him might become oppressive. “What’s he doing?”

“He’s always trying to get me to talk about…stuff.”

“Stuff?” Paul lifted an eyebrow in amusement. “You sound like you’re sixteen.”

“I guess I do. That makes sense, considering that’s how Thomas talks to me. I’m positive he read some book on how to talk to your gay teen and figured he could apply it to me. But I’m not his kid, and I’m not a teenager, and I know I have issues, but they are not the ones in those books.” His eyes flashed with annoyance before he blinked it away and looked back at his food.

“I can see how that would be hard to deal with. But…”

“Yeah—I know he’s trying to help. He and Kate have both been so kind to me. I shouldn’t criticize.”

No, that’s not what I meant. I get why you don’t want to talk to him about it. But it seems like you should be talking to someone.”

David smiled. “I’m talking to you.”

“You know what I mean.”

“A therapist,” David said flatly.

“Or some kind of support group?”

“Yeah, right.” David laughed. “Because there are so many people in my position. If you think I’m joining a conversion therapy survivors group, you’re nuts. I wouldn’t do that to those people.” When Paul just nodded in acknowledgement, he went on. “Look, maybe I should discuss my past with a therapist. Probably. But that’s not even the kind of stuff Thomas wants to discuss. He wants to talk to me about dating. And sex.”

Paul pushed down a laugh and shoved a bite of food in his mouth.

Okay. I can see where that might be awkward.” A thought occurred to him and he leaned forward. “Are you dating anyone? Or…”

David looked at him with a hint of defiance. “I’ve met a couple guys.”

“Grindr hookups?”

“So?”

Paul shrugged. “So, nothing. Just…” He sighed and shook his head. “You do what you need to do. No one else gets to tell you what that is. Just make sure it’s really what you want to be doing.”

I’d like to have something more than just…that. But then I’d have to tell them everything, and I doubt many people would be able to accept it.” He looked up and met Paul’s eyes. “You couldn’t.”

There was more to it than that, but the middle of Lexington Market at lunch didn’t seem like the right time or place to get into it. “I don’t have much more time. Tim and I caught a case this morning, and I should get back to it pretty soon.”

“Sure.” David held the eye contact until Paul looked away. “I’ll let you know if I find an apartment. Maybe you can help me move.”

Paul smiled. “Of course. I owe you one.”

“So how are things with, uh…Owen, right? How are things with Owen?”

“Mostly really good. A few bumps, but you know how it goes.”

“Not really.” David tilted his head. “What kind of bumps?”

“Nothing important,” Paul lied. “I work a lot. My job makes relationships tricky.”

“Do you love him?”

“Don’t rush me.”

“That means no,” David said. “I was trained as a counselor, you know. I know avoidance when I see it.”

Paul didn’t respond to that, and they finished their lunch without much more conversation. Unfortunately, Paul’s train of thought kept coming back to the idea of David meeting men for random hookups. He found it both slightly concerning and undeniably hot at the same time. It went against all the assumptions he’d made about him, but it also made total sense. David had denied himself his entire life, and to expect him to wait even longer until he managed to—maybe—find a healthy relationship was unrealistic at best.

When they were done, they went out to the sidewalk together. The endings of these lunch and coffee dates were always awkward. Paul wasn’t a hugger, but a handshake didn’t feel right either. He put a hand on David’s arm, just below the shoulder. “It was nice seeing you.”

“Do you think, next time—if you want to hang out again sometime—maybe we could do it when we have a little more time?”

“Uh…”

“I know I made you uncomfortable last time we saw each other. I’m sorry I made you feel that way. I don’t expect anything from you, and I wouldn’t try to push anything on you. I just needed you to know how I felt. You deserve that honesty. But I guess it made things weird.”

Paul dropped his hand from David’s arm and stuck it in his pocket. “It was already a little weird.”

“Yeah.” David looked down.

“I’ll give you a call. Next time we’ll have fewer distractions and you can tell me about…stuff.”

David smiled. “Okay. Bye.”

“See you.”



Tim wasn’t back at the station yet, and wouldn’t be back for at least an hour, so Paul pulled out a legal pad and wrote down the limited facts they had so far. When he got to Kathleen Cullen’s name, he wrote down all the facts he had on her. One of those was having gone to school with Penny Markowski at St. Catherine’s. Paul had met the principal of St. Cat’s on his last case, a nun named Sister Theresa. He didn’t know if she’d been at the school when the girls were there—and if so, what she could tell him—but figured it didn’t hurt to ask. He had nothing better to do, anyway.

“Detective Solomon,” the nun said, sounding wary. “I hadn’t expected to hear from you again. Is there something I can do for you?”

“Hi, Sister. I didn’t mean to alarm you. This is nothing to do with that case. I wanted to ask if you were at the school back in the late 80s, early 90s.”

“No, I’m afraid not. I didn’t start here until ’98. Why?”

“It’s concerning a girl who graduated in 1990. Is there anyone still there who might have known her?”

“Hmmm. Most would have retired by now or moved on. Our school has gotten quite a bit smaller than it once was. No one can afford to send their kids to Catholic school anymore, even with scholarships.”

Paul couldn’t help thinking there might be a few other reasons besides that, but he kept it to himself. “It was a long shot anyway. I was just looking for a little background.”

“I’m sure I could find some names for you, if you want to look for them. But there is one person who springs to mind, and I know where you might find her if you’re interested. Mary Kent. She was an institution around here for decades. She was a bit of a polarizing figure among the girls—they either loved her or feared her—but she cared for all of them.”

When they’d finished their conversation, Paul glanced at the time. Tim would still be a while getting back, and there was no reason to wait for him just to talk to an old woman.

Sister Theresa had given him an address at Charlestown, a senior living residence not far from the school. It was a large campus with several apartment buildings, as well as a chapel and facilities for activities. There were regular apartments for people able to live on their own and another section for those who needed varying levels of assistance. Mary Kent was in long-term care.

A middle-aged black woman in nurse’s scrubs answered the door and gave him an apprehensive frown. “Can I help you?”

Paul showed her his badge and said, “There’s no reason to be alarmed. I was hoping to have a chance to speak to Ms. Kent for a few minutes. I was given her name by Sister Theresa over at St. Catherine’s. I’d like to ask her a few questions regarding one of her former students.”

“Ms. Kent may not be able to receive you just now. She needs rest, and—”

An imperious, though slightly querulous voice came from inside the apartment. “I’m perfectly capable of having a conversation about my girls.”

The woman at the door shook her head, but smiled with some affection. “Her hearing is shockingly good. So, I trust she can hear me telling you to keep it short.”

“Of course,” Paul said.

The small living room had a bay window and was furnished with what Paul could only assume was antique furniture. On a Victorian rose-upholstered loveseat sat a rotund woman with white hair, her lap covered with a hand-knitted afghan throw. She held a pair of reading glasses and a book.

“Ms. Kent, I’m Paul Solomon.” He held his hand out to her, and she shook it with an unexpectedly firm grip. “I’m a detective in the Baltimore Homicide Division.”

“Please, have a seat.” She indicated a chair, similarly upholstered to the loveseat. “Theresa sent you, did she?”

“That’s right. I’m sorry to have to interrupt your reading with this.”

She waved away his apology and set her book to the side. “I could use a break anyway.”

Paul glanced at the title and saw that it was We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. “Is it any good?”

“It’s worth reading. He’s from here, you know. Coates.” When Paul nodded, she said, “He grew up in Mondawmin. You’ve probably arrested people he knows.” She spoke in a neutral tone, but her gaze was sharp and probing.

“I did work the Western as a patrolman,” Paul replied. “So yeah, possibly.”

“Did you enjoy it?”

Paul paused and leveled a gaze at her. She was clearly challenging him, and he had no idea why it should be so effective coming from an elderly, sick woman, but she’d managed to get his hackles up. He smiled. “Stop and frisks, planting drugs in alleys, rough rides, unwarranted shootings… What’s not to love?”

“Very glib, Mr. Solomon. You seem defensive.”

Paul shrugged. “There were times, when I was working the Western, I questioned whether I really wanted to be a cop. There were bad cops on that beat. There are bad cops, and not only there. I don’t consider myself one of them. Most of us are just doing our best, but I suppose it’s human nature to want to close ranks around those we identify with when we feel threatened.”

She nodded. “I’m familiar with the dynamic, Detective. I’ve been a Catholic all my life, after all.”

“You must have been a terrifying teacher, Ms. Kent.”

She smiled and gave a nod of assent. “For some. There was certainly a degree of natural selection at play. There were those who were, as you say, terrified of me. And there were those on whom my little act had very little effect. Those girls often ended up considering me a friend, as I did them. One might have accused me of playing favorites—indeed, some did—but broadly speaking, the scaredy cats were the ones who got the best grades. The kids who came to see me during free periods, who fetched my lunch from the cafeteria, who made me mix tapes and told me secrets, usually they were the smart ones who cared little for grades.”

“Underachievers,” Paul said.

“Some people call them that. One could also say they were on their own path. I never lectured them, and never tried to fix them. I figured they’d gotten plenty of that their entire lives. I just wanted to hear what they had to say.”

“Was it interesting?”

“Only on the rare occasion,” she said, chuckling. “Bright as they were, they were still teenagers, figuring things out. I started teaching in 1968 and retired in 2005. What I found interesting was how the same types of kids always asked the same kinds of questions, and had the same kinds of epiphanies, and got angry at the same things. The world changed all around them, but the kids were remarkably consistent.”

“Do you remember a girl named Penny Markowski?”

Her face sagged. “I heard you say you were from the homicide division. I take it that means you’ve found her.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“It seems like only yesterday Penny was goofing off in my AP US History class. She and her other half, that Kathleen. Kathleen…” She shook her head. “Can’t quite get it.”

“Cullen,” Paul offered, smiling.

Her face brightened a bit. “That’s it. Those two. Joined at the hip. Both of them irreverent, irreligious, and disrespectful. They each had their own problems, their own challenges to deal with, but they were bright, funny girls. They had other friends in their little group, of course, but they were devoted to each other.”

Paul raised his eyebrows. “You make it sound like there was more than a friendship going on there.”

“That’s exactly the sort of thing I’d expect a man to say.”

“I didn’t mean to imply anything negative by that. I’m gay, myself.”

“Gay, straight—makes no difference. Men simply don’t understand women’s friendships.” She leaned forward. “Look. I saw a few romances bloom between girls during my many years teaching at St. Cat’s, but that’s not what this was. This was the special kind of friendship that girls sometimes form in their teen years—if they’re quite lucky, that is. It’s more lasting, and in almost every way more satisfying than any romantic relationship. Very difficult to form this sort of connection in adulthood.” She frowned. “How is it you think I can help you, Detective?”

“I’m just trying to get to know Penny better, and to get some perspective on what was going on in her life at the time of her disappearance.”

“She had already graduated by that time. I don’t know that I can offer you much information.” She looked out the window, her expression troubled, and sighed. “However, I will say this. She didn’t have a great deal of self-confidence when I knew her. She knew she was bright, but had no belief in her abilities. She was shy, and probably thought she was plain, or fat, or what have you, but she was a pretty girl. In my experience, that’s a dangerous combination.”

Paul nodded. “It can be. Is there something specific you’re referring to?”

“Not really.” She gave him a sad smile. “Penny was the type of girl who would frequently develop strong feelings—one might call them fixations—on many things. Areas of interest, music, and certainly boys.”

“Any one boy or boys in particular?”

“There was one she spoke about for a bit, but I believe it ended badly.”

“Badly how?”

“I recall her saying he was the jealous type, always wanting to know where she was, being hurt if she chose to spend time with friends instead of him. She never mentioned him harming her physically, and I never saw evidence of anything like that, but to be honest…” She looked down for a moment before meeting his eyes again. “If a young woman told me something like that now, I’d be on the phone with her parents that same day. Back then, and even more so when I was young, that type of behavior was brushed off much more casually. I now understand that it’s abuse in itself.”

“I don’t suppose you have a name for me.”

“It has been over twenty-five years. I’m afraid even elephants forget from time to time, Detective.” She winked at him. “I’d imagine Ms. Cullen would know.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Paul handed her a card. “If anything else occurs to you, call me right away, no matter what time it is.”

Paul let himself out and was walking back to the car when his phone rang. He answered as he fished in his pocket for his keys. “Solomon.”

“Where you at?” Tim asked, dispensing with a greeting.

“Charlestown. Talking to one of Penny’s teachers from St. Catherine’s. She sort of put a bug in my ear about someone we might want to talk to, if we can figure out who he is. I don’t know if anyone mentioned it back then.”


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