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The JOY of Murder – Chapter 1
“Jacques, do give Mrs. Lark my heartfelt thanks next time you see her, won’t you? She’s a veritable treasure.” Dai, my sister in all but blood, sat curled up on the living room’s curved, deep green couch, the morning sunshine glinting off her straight, black, shoulder-length hair. Her fingertips moved rapidly across the pages of a Reader’s Digest magazine published in Braille.
“I’ll do that.” I couldn’t help but smile. Dai had picked up the skill of scanning Braille a while back, but the amount of printed matter in that format was lacking, especially for adults. Mrs. Lark, the head librarian at the Dallas Library, had learned of the American Publishing House’s efforts with Reader’s Digest. Since 1928, they’d worked to get their publications reissued in Braille, so those blinded during the Great War would have something to stimulate their minds on their own terms. The library had started collecting the publication for their patrons and made sure to let me know.
Dai being able to ‘read’ alone, rather than requiring her parents or me to recite the contents aloud for her benefit, gave her a new type of independence. I was happy for her, even as somewhere deep inside, I mourned the lessening of my duties. It was absurd, of course, but the feeling was there all the same.
“What are you reading?” I asked her.
“An article called ‘Aladdins of the Test Tubes’ by William Pickett Helm. It’s a bit fanciful, but it’s nice to see chemists getting some attention. I just wish he’d actually mentioned some formulae in the piece.” She shrugged. “Oh well. Something is better than nothing.”
Her satisfied smile belied her words.
Dozing beside her, Prince Razor, our Scottish terrier and Pomeranian mix companion, suddenly sat up, both ears lifting. Dai’s heart-shaped face also tilted slightly. “Jacques, an automobile just parked on the street in front of our house. I think we’re about to have a visitor.”
Dai might be blind, but without visual distractions, her hearing was quite keen. Still, visitors to the Wu household were rare, especially at this time of day. Luckily, life had pretty much returned to normal after the Laura Cooper incident had been closed, for the most part anyway—so there should be nothing to worry about.
Dai’s friendship with Dr. Aiden Campbell had blossomed since then, which enriched both their lives, even if, at times, the technical science banter left me scratching my head. Unfortunately, ‘he who wasn’t worth talking about’ had not disappeared from our lives as I’d hoped. But, pressure from his family and self-appointed girlfriend had kept meetings between him and Dai to a minimum—and the dreaded dinner delayed—much to Dai’s father’s relief as well as mine. Truman Pierce was trouble—Trouble with a capital T.
Setting down my dog-eared copy of Gulliver’s Travels, I rose and prepared to answer the door if indeed we were about to receive a visitor. The sound of the doorbell was quickly followed by a loud rapping—which seemed rather desperate or rude. My initial guess that the caller might be a salesman was shunted aside, as one would never call on a prospective customer with such impudence.
My quick opening of the door caught our unexpected visitor off-guard, but I was even more shocked to see who was there. The popinjay was back.
“Oh, thank goodness!” Pierce said, relief flushing over his rich-bad-boy features. “I wasn’t sure you’d be home. Is Dai available?”
I gave him my most displeased frown. “You should have called. You can’t just show up at a young lady’s house whenever you please.”
“There wasn’t time, Jacques. This is important.”
My usual retort of “It’s Jacques, not Jackie” rose in my throat, but I clamped my mouth shut before it could escape. This might very well have been the first time the upstart used my actual name, and I was so startled I didn’t even resist as he wiggled his way inside.
“I’m in the living room, Truman.” Dai’s voice hooked him like a fish, and he headed straight there, leaving his fedora on the table in the foyer as he went.
I quickly closed the front door and followed behind him, wondering what in the world could have brought him to our entrance in such a rush.
“China Doll, I need your help.” Truman kneeled before her, looking much like a vassal, asking his liege for a boon. His gray summer jacket added to the knight’s illusion. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but without you, I fear a huge miscarriage of justice is about to be committed.”
Dai’s brows rose, her head lilting to the side. “I take it something unexpected has occurred?”
I moved to Dai’s side, not having the faintest idea what this could be about. If the popinjay were trying to pull some sort of trick, I’d make sure he regretted it.
Pierce bowed his head. “There’s been a murder. An object found at the scene pointed the police to a suspect.”
“So why the theatrics?” I demanded. “It sounds like law enforcement has things well in hand.”
Keeping his face hidden, Pierce hesitated a moment before answering. “They’ve arrested my mother for the crime.”