Killer Soul Mate

by Anne Rothman-Hicks & Ken Hicks

Jane Larson is back, and trouble abounds on New York’s Upper East Side! A new client, Jasmine, hires Jane to undo the terms of a matrimonial agreement with her ex-husband, the owner of a prosperous hedge fund who does not like to lose. At the same time, Jane’s landlord is working to evict her from the storefront law office where her mother had practiced for many years, and Jane is forced to fight to save her mother’s legacy. However, it seems there is no way she can win.

All too soon, the bodies begin to pile up and Jane has to figure out who is responsible before she becomes one of the victims. Meanwhile, a guy named Gary is trying to worm his way into her life, and, even though she thinks he is much too young for her, she starts to fall for him. The problem is that he has a habit of showing up where the murders occur. Can she trust him?


Chapter One


Funny how one thing leads to another.

During the last week of February that year, a winter storm had left a few inches of slushy, wet snow on Central Park’s many winding paths, and my fellow exercise freaks and I had quickly churned the reservoir track into a mass of muddy footprints. Overnight, a blast of Arctic air had just as quickly frozen the ground rock-solid. Some would have said, “Stay home. Keep to your bed.” But I have been a runner for many years, and I am undeterred by mere weather. The bitter cold, the howling wind, and the deep dark shadows of predawn New York City separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. The park is denuded of leaves and of people. A religious person might call it a blessing.

And so, I jogged over and took a nice slow warm-up turn around the bridle path, before switching to the reservoir circuit for my final push. Things were going fine. I felt strong. Alive. Half my age! Endorphins were kicking in. Muscles were cooperating. And then—as I rounded the bend on the southeastern corner and the final straightaway opened before me—a young person of my fair sex, with legs as full of bounce as a gazelle, came up on my left side. She wore a skintight ensemble of the latest material, which kept her body warm while allowing any nasty perspiration to escape. A cute little powder-blue knit cap held her hair in place and matched the racing stripe on her outfit. Her cheeks were pink, and her butt was firm, as she slipped effortlessly in front of me.

Maybe my own brain was oxygen-deprived that morning? Who can say? I didn’t think. I just reacted. And, wearing a moth-eaten sweater with holes in the elbows and over-sized sweatpants that had once belonged to an old boyfriend, I quickened my pace. It’s on, girlie!

Without even taking notice, gazelle-legs pulled ahead. I gritted my teeth, took a mammoth breath, and started churning my knees and swinging my arms. My thighs burned, my hands clawed at the air, sweat poured down my face, my clothes flapped in the wind, and my scruffy baseball hat fell off when, astonishingly, I caught up with and even passed her.

I briefly fought the urge to look over and gloat. I truly did. Then I succumbed to that temptation and turned my head slightly to see that she was listening to music, entirely unaware of my hard-won achievement. At that exact moment, my left foot twisted in one of those frozen ruts. Call it bad karma. Certainly, bad luck. A searing pain traveled from my ankle to my knee, and I went down like a gazelle with a lion’s teeth in its haunches—like a woman nearer to forty than she will ever again be to thirty. Of course, my ankle was broken.

In the hospital, a day later, my orthopedist told me that it would take about six weeks before I could get back to any sort of serious exercise. And, of course, I would be needing physical therapy starting right away, although I could sign up for sessions at the Y directly across from my apartment on 92nd Street. That time frame quoted seemed excessive. I recited examples of several athletes in the recent news who had progressed at a far quicker rate.

“Well,” he said. “Young bones heal more quickly than—” Self-preservation stopped him midsentence. He no doubt saw the unfriendly fire in my eye. Maybe a clenched fist. “Than bones that are not quite so young.”

Pretty lame, Doc. I’m still looking for a new orthopedist.

* * *

A few weeks later, my ego took another blow when I got the visit from Gracemary Healy, who is my landlord now that the former owner, Lorraine Gilmour, is dead (God rest her soul). I was in my law office on 92nd Street, with my bad foot up on a chair and a keyboard in my lap as I typed some legal papers for a divorce client. Showers are difficult when you have only one leg worth talking about and no one to help you soap up, rinse thoroughly, and manage passage across a slippery bathroom floor. For all those reasons, and more, my hair was not photo-ready.

“Got a minute?” Gracemary asked. I operate my practice out of a dilapidated storefront, the same office my mother Martha had used for years and years until cancer took her. My entrance door opens directly on the street, which allowed Gracemary to come inside without waiting for a response. “Jesus, you look like hell,” she said.

“Thanks. But we all grow dim by comparison when you step into the room, Gracemary.”

She did not respond. She may have thought I was serious; she had been a chestnut-haired green-eyed Irish beauty in her youth, Martha once told me. As a teenager, a coterie of guys would follow her around anytime she left her family’s tenement apartment down on Second Avenue. Her eyes and hair (with a little help) remain striking, but she had put on weight years ago when she first was pregnant and had never lost it. Not that the extra pounds did her any harm, since they merely seemed to enlarge that which men find most pleasing in a woman. She still preferred the tightest of sweaters and the shortest of skirts: today’s outfit was a pink top and a fire-engine-red mini.

I heard a noise outside. Then Gracemary’s daughter, Roseann, slipped into the doorway. Her three dogs tugged their leashes in different directions.

Personally, I do not take a great deal of care with my appearance, but Roseann makes me look like a Cosmo cover girl. Her mousy brown hair is generally in need of work, and when it reaches her shoulders, she cuts it herself, including the bangs. She favors men’s clothes for comfort and buys them at the Goodwill store on Second Avenue and 88th. A messenger bag, in which she keeps snacks for her dogs; bottles of water; and baggies and paper towels for accidents, hangs around her neck always. That bag would definitely profit from the hot cycle of a washing machine, with plenty of soap and bleach.

“Hi, Jane,” Roseann said. “I think you look nice.”

I smiled. She is a gentle soul, whom I have known since we were in elementary school together at Our Lady Queen of Angels, and she would stand beside me at recess to protect herself from the less gentle souls.

“Leave the blasted dogs outside!” Gracemary said. “Jeez Louise! When was the last time you gave ’em a flippin’ bath?”

Roseann didn’t answer as she straddled the threshold, propping the door open with her foot. She had three rescue dogs: Blackie, a part-collie mutt missing one back leg; Muffin, a lab mix who was the oldest and suffered from arthritis in his hips; and Erasmus, a puppy with big paws and a face like a Golden Retriever, the hair and build of a poodle and only one functioning eye. At the moment, Blackie was inside and pulling hard in my direction since he remembered I had given him a cracker last time I saw him. Muffin lay on the floor, eyes closed. Erasmus was straining for the sidewalk outside, where wonderful smells awaited at every signpost, fence, and tree.

“You can come in, Roseann,” I said. “It’s okay.”

“We’re not here on a social call,” Gracemary said. “This is business. I got papers for you.”

Roseann stayed put. She snuck a peek at me once in a while, but mostly watched the floor. We could have been 10 years old again, back in the schoolyard.

“Papers?” I said. “So you decided to extend the lease, just as your Aunt Lorraine intended? Thank you!”

Gracemary let out a sound that began like the bray of a donkey and ended more like the snort of a pig. It startled even Roseann.

“Very flippin’ funny. And you know what? This is why I brought Roseann along. Just in case you start your funny bull dip about what Lorraine said. Fact is, she didn’t say nothin’. And if she did, it wouldn’t matter ’cause you didn’t get it in writing. That’s what Dennis says. That’s what every flippin’ lawyer in New York City says.”

“We’ll see,” I replied. I shut the lid of my laptop and folded my hands on top, trying to seem confident. “Courts are funny places. Every once in a while, justice is done. Ask Dennis.”

The sound she emitted this time was pure pig.

“You’re so flippin’ smart, see what you do with this.” She handed me some rolled up papers; the outermost sheet was blue and bore the words “Summons and Complaint.”

“Getting a little ahead of yourself, aren’t you? The lease isn’t up for a few months, even if we assume you are right.”

“Read it and weep,” she replied. Gracemary has a way with words.

The suit was for a declaratory judgment, meaning that she was asking the court to determine in advance that she was right about the office lease and that I was wrong. It was a pretty good tactic. That sort of case has to be tried in Supreme Court, where the judges are not quite as tenant-friendly as in Landlord Tenant Court and don’t enforce the technicalities that can slow down a money-hungry mogul. Also, if she convinced the judge my arguments were frivolous, I might even be forced to pay legal fees. I hadn’t thought Dennis was that cagey.

I glanced at Roseann. She was still contemplating the floor, although now she seemed to be breathing heavily. The dogs had noticed her difficulty. They had stopped pulling at their leashes and were huddled around her feet, whimpering.

“Are you okay, Roseann?”

Roseann nodded quickly. Her shoulders heaved over and over. Perspiration dotted her forehead.

“She’s fine, for Criminy sake. Whaddaya got to say about the papers?”

“I say that you can’t serve me with legal documents. You’re the plaintiff.”

“I know I’m the flippin’ plaintiff, smart ass. But Dennis told me that if I pay someone to deliver them, you’ll have to pay me back when I win. This way you can save yourself a hundred-fifty bucks.”

“Process servers have to live, too,” I said and handed the bundle back to her. “I’d hate to do them out of their fees.”

Gracemary shook her head as though she was a long-suffering saint. In a fire-engine-red miniskirt.

“What the hullabaloo, Jane! Why are you fighting me like this? I’ve known you since you were a kid; I know you don’t really want to spend the rest of your life in this shitty little office doing shitty little cases like your mother did. You used to be somebody when you worked downtown. Dennis says you could still go back to the big-shot firms. You ain’t that old. Not yet anyway.”

She paused for emphasis on the word “yet.” My ankle throbbed.

“Leave Martha out of this,” I said.

“Gladly,” she continued. “We never got along all that well. So, are you taking the darned papers, or not?”

“Give me some time to think about it.”

“Judas Priest! What’s there to think about? Okay, okay. What do you want, twenty-four hours? Forty-eight?”

“How about, say, ten years? Lorraine was offering twenty.”

“Go and flip yourself,” Gracemary said. “I thought you were smart, but you’re as dumb as Martha was. Flippin’ dumb Norwegians. You can’t ever talk flippin’ sense to a Norwegian. My father told me that, and he knew a ton of ’em.”

Roseann sank to her knees, her back still propped against the door jamb. Blackie stood on his one good hind leg and licked her face. Muffin had roused himself enough to put his graying muzzle on her foot. Erasmus’ ears were flat against the sides of his head as he maneuvered to show some love of his own.

“Roseann, are you okay?” I asked. She had always been susceptible to attacks of nerves, but this was over the top. “Do you want some water?”

“She’s fine! Come on, kid, let’s get going.” Gracemary raised Roseann up with one arm. The three dogs circled her legs but had trouble deciding which way to go. “G’wan, you flippin’ mutts.”

“Please don’t yell at them,” Roseann whispered. Her face was bright red now. Her shoulders were hunched.

“I’ll kick their furry butts down the block if they don’t start moving.”

“Please, don’t,” she whispered. She got them all headed in the right direction and edged through my door, still bent almost in half, breathing hard, her voice nearly swallowed by the sounds of the street. “Goodbye, Jane!”

"Killer Soull Mate" by Anne Rothman-Hicks & Ken Hicks



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