Big Trouble

Episode 7

Arilin Thorferra

Officer Norwich didn’t invite me along to the Lamberts’ mansion, so he wasn’t happy when I showed up anyway. Another not-so-friendly flatfoot held out a hand to block me as I pushed the front door open. Detective Waters was a rhino, and even bigger than Norwich. “This is a crime scene, Mallory.” Past the door I could see the sitting room, where Norwich, a tiger in a cop uniform, and a possum in a doctor’s coat knelt by Elsa’s sprawled form, white fur now stained with far too much red.

I gestured toward the body. “And the crime was committed against my client.”

“That doesn’t make you a cop.”

“It makes me someone who knows things cops don’t.”

Norwich gave me a sullen glare. “You weren’t so eager to help when we talked back at the Spotlight.”

“What I’m eager to help with is stopping you guys from leaping to stupid conclusions. Like ‘maybe it was the private eye.’”

Rolling his eyes, Waters stepped back. “You’re not a suspect, Mallory, you’re a busybody who does work for shysters. If you have something to tell us, then tell us. Otherwise, bounce on back to your jazz joint.”

“You said this happened a few hours ago. After dinner?”

“That’s not you telling us something.” Waters sighed, and pointed at a staircase on the far side of the sitting room. “Mr. Lambert says he was in the library, up on the second floor, and heard a scream from in here. He came down and found her like this.”

“He says,” Norwich added.

“You don’t believe him?”

“Nine times out of ten it’s the husband.”

I jerked a thumb at the front door. “You know the latch is broken, right?”


I walked back to the door, closed it, then pulled on the handle to open it without touching the latch. “See?”

Norwich waved dismissively. “You don’t know how long it’s been like that.”

“Are there any servants on site?”

“A maid. We already talked to her.”

“About the latch?”

Waters and Norwich looked at one another. Finally, Norwich shrugged his massive shoulders. “You wanna play detective? Fine. She’s upstairs with Lambert. Stay out of our way, don’t mess up anything, and get out of here in five.”

“Thanks for being such friendly guys.” I circled around. The sitting room looked like it was actually used for sitting, even if the cheapest end table in the place would probably cover my rent for a month or two. The coroner gave me a quizzical look; Norwich and the other copper studiously ignored me. Elsa had been shot twice, in the stomach and the head. From the way the blood had spattered, I could put together what had likely happened. She’d been on the sofa, reading a magazine (it was set aside, still open), gotten up when she heard the door being forced, and started to walk toward it. The gunman clipped her in the stomach. She staggered backward and fell. He walked in, shot her again in the head to make sure the job was finished, and split.

I walked upstairs. The second-floor landing led to a balcony that wrapped partially around the floor below, with a hallway to the right that looked like it led to bedrooms. I thought I could hear a soft voice in the other direction, so I went that way.

A mouse in a maid’s getup intercepted me, stepping out of a room that looked like the library. “Who are you?” She squinted at me suspiciously.

“I’m a detective.”

“Haven’t you asked Mr. Lambert enough questions?”

“I wanted to ask you one.” I pointed at the front door. “How long has the latch been broken?”

She looked that direction. “The front door latch?” She furrowed her brow. “It isn’t broken, ma’am. It locks when you pull it to.”

“It’s broken now. When do you use the deadbolt?”

“Only after the Lamberts go to sleep.”

“I wonder who else knows that.”

“I don’t…I don’t know, ma’am.” Now she looked less suspicious than horrified. “Surely you don’t think it was one of the staff!”

“It could have been an observant recent visitor.”

I headed past her into the library. Edgar stood by a window, looking out through it with no expression, tail drooping like a flag on a windless day. The maid reacted to me a second too late, hurrying after and giving me a glare before addressing her employer. “She says she’s another detective, sir.”

He didn’t turn to look at either of us. “I don’t think I should keep speaking to the police.”

“I’m not with the police.”

The mouse gasped at me, her glare intensifying. “You—”

“I said I was a detective. I am. I was hired by Mrs. Lambert.”

She put her hands on her hips. “For what?”

Edgar turned to look at me with bright, sad eyes. “Could you leave us, Mrs. Abernathy?” he said after a moment.

“Sir, the lawyer—”

“It’ll be all right.”

She huffed, giving me another whisker-singing glare, and strode out of the room with clenched fists.

Edgar headed slowly to the library door and closed it. “She hired you to investigate me, I presume.”

“She caught onto the money you’ve been withdrawing, and wanted to find out why.”

He took a seat in one of the half-dozen chairs scattered around the room, folding his hands in his lap. He stood nearly six feet, but looked very small. “And did you find out?”

“I told her someone set you up, tempting you into making a one-time mistake and blackmailing you for it.” I tilted my head. “She didn’t confront you over it?”

“No. The first time I saw her today was…” He closed his eyes.

“Your maid started to say something about a lawyer.”

“One is on the way. I was told not to say anything more to the police until he got here. I suspect I shouldn’t say more to you, either.”

“Probably not, no.”

He walked back to the window, falling silent. I was about to tip my hat and leave when he spoke again. “They’ve told me it wasn’t a robbery. They think I killed her, don’t they? Even though I found the body.”

“How much of her money do you inherit?”

“I don’t know. Enough for it to be a motive.”

I canted my ear toward the hallway, hearing voices—the maid’s, and another one that sounded familiar. A moment later, Samuel Cross strode into the room. “Edgar,” he boomed, walking past me to clasp one of the fox’s hands in both of his. “I’m so sorry for your loss. This must be devastating.” Edgar nodded stiffly, looking distant.

Cross was a rat, built like a bull. He stood taller than Lambert, and fully twice as wide shoulder-to-shoulder. His royal purple suit was perfectly tailored to his hulking form. After he let go of the fox’s hands and clapped him on the shoulder, he turned to me. “Nora. How unexpected to see you here.”

“I could say the same. Didn’t think you were still practicing law.”

“Hmm? Oh, rarely, rarely. There’s not much time these days, not with everything else on my plate.” He flashed the kind of grin that suggested he was going to swallow everything on his plate whole. “I’ve been supporting legislation you might like, Nora. Taking some pressure off size-shifters.”

“That would be nice.” I ignored Lambert’s ears standing straight up.

“At any rate, I’m still part of the firm, and I’m making sure Edgar has the best legal guidance through this tragedy.”

“Of course.”

“What brings you here, though?” He looked between Edgar and me. “Surely Mr. Lambert hasn’t engaged your services.”

“I’d been doing work for Mrs. Lambert.”

“I see.” He arched a brow. When I didn’t say anything else, he continued. “I’m sorry we couldn’t keep you on retainer. I hope you’re keeping busy with other work, though. You’re an excellent detective.”

“Thanks. I’ve always had trouble letting go of a case with unanswered questions, though.” I tipped my hat. “Nice seeing you again, Samuel. And again, my condolences, Mr. Lambert.”

As I headed downstairs and passed by the cops, Norwich sneered. “Find anything?”

“He didn’t do it. Follow up on the latch. You’re welcome.” I tipped my hat to them, too, and walked out.