Dawn. I feel a hundred years old after four hours of sleep and an adrenaline hangover. I drag myself out of bed to tend to my roommate Merle, a yellow dog of the hound mix variety. Cup of chow goes into bowl and disappears into his stomach in 20 seconds. I take coffee outside to watch him chase squirrels. Change into shorts and a tee and take Merle for a slow jog. We are not training, just trying to get our blood circulating, chasing an elusive runner’s high.
Breakfast. I drop by my grandmother’s farmhouse to make us both breakfast and see how she’s doing. Fern, an artist, raised me after my mother disappeared when I was five, an abduction that’s never been solved. Fern’s driveway is bumpy, and when I tell her it needs grading she says she’ll get one of her retinue to do it. She has more men at her beck and call than Merle has fleas (a figure of speech, my dog doesn’t have fleas). She shows me her latest painting, I help her feed the donkeys, then I’m off to work, an office building in downtown Raleigh. State Bureau of Investigation office hours: 8 to 5. Since I work nights, my boss Richard has given me special dispensation to arrive at noon.
Work. There’s a note on my chair: Richard wants to see me. My heart sinks; it’s never good. The man is a wonder to behold, Raleigh’s best-dressed. Today his attire is uber-patriotic. His suit is navy, his shirt has tiny red and blue checks, his tie is navy with repeating white dots – sort of a medallion pattern. Pocket silk? Red, of course. While I am admiring his sartorial taste, he informs me that next week he is sending me to a two-day training in bath salts. Oh yay.
More Work. I spend three hideous hours writing reports, feeling the life trickle out of me. Reports done, I wander upstairs to pester Hogan, my ex-fiancé, and a darn good SBI researcher. He’s forking baked kale chips from a Tupperware container, trying to stay healthy for his girlfriend, a barely-legal nymphet he met on slut-dot-com. In exchange for Cheetos he tells me about corruption scandals and a legislator’s affair with a lobbyist. I yawn, bored with the same-old same-old.
On the Street. Fredricks picks me up. He’s my partner, my mentor, my videographer, my backup. I buy drugs, he records the transaction. Fredricks is a foodie and tonight it’s gourmet popcorn: organic, hull-less, and GMO-free. I try a piece and declare it very good. The night is beautiful, the soft air fragrant with wisteria and jasmine. A night for hand-holding and slow kisses in the moonlight. And here I am, in the front seat of a rusty pickup driven by a squat middle-aged man, on my way into the shoddiest neighborhood in Verwood to buy crack. And it’s my job to enrich the residents, with your money, dear taxpayer. I’m wearing jeans, a tee shirt and hoodie, no makeup, my hair back tight into a pony tail. I ask Fredricks how I look. About fourteen, he says, add some lipstick. I paint my mouth dark red. The zombie look. I hook the mike to my bra and run the wire to the one-way transmitter in my back pocket. Ready? he asks. Am I ready? The familiar stomach churn. A tremor in my hands. Heart rate elevated, metallic taste in my mouth. I hop down from the truck and head for the bus shelter where a huddle of dealers peels apart to surround me, pester me with their wares. I quickly buy a gram of coke from one, an ounce of weed from another, and scoot back to the truck. Being female, it’s extra-risky. I never go inside. Fredricks got good video, so we leave. He’s eating licorice and the sound of his gummy chewing makes me want to kill him. I make a few more buys – oxys at a convenience store, Lyrica caps behind a restaurant – then we call it a night.
Home at Last. At midnight I let Merle out into the yard again. I’m too wired, too tired. Wish Richard would re-assign me to work homicides, like I’ve begged him a dozen times. He says no, you are needed in narcotics. I fall asleep and dream that Hogan and I are in bed eating popcorn while Fern paints our picture.
You can read more about Stella in COLD FEET, the debut mystery novel by Karen Pullen to be published by Five Star Cengage in January 2013.
Meet the author
Karen Pullen left a perfectly good job at an engineering consulting firm to make her fortune – (er, maybe not) – as an innkeeper and a fiction writer. Her B&B has been open for 12 years, and her fiction is ready for prime time. She’s published short stories in Every Day Fiction, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Spinetingler. She has an MFA from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine on beautiful Casco Bay. She lives in the very small town of Pittsboro NC with her husband, her father and four spoiled cats. Follow her blog, visit her website, or like her Facebook author page to stay current with book news.
Books are available at retail and online booksellers.