Dex stood staring at the grand house and the wide-open French-walnut-and-stained-glass door. No one would walk away and leave the door wide open on a McMansion like this, even if it was a crisp autumn day, the kind Portland was known for with bright cerulean sky, blazing gold and red deciduous trees mixed with the stark blue-green of the pines and Douglas firs, and a brisk wind stirring the naked rose bushes and shiny green Rhododendrons.
A green Subaru Forrester pulled up the steep aggregate concrete driveway, and a harried young woman in a lime green hoodie popped out, texting on her cell phone while she sipped on a grande hot drink. Seeing Dex, she tapped a bit more, then tucked her phone into the shocking pink backpack swinging from her right shoulder.
"Are you Detective Tripper?" she asked. Dex nodded and started to reply, but the woman continued talking.
"Have you found Mother and Father? Was there...foul play?" Foul play? Seriously?
"I haven't enter..."
"Because I know they would never leave the house open and unattended. They always have a house sitter. Have you talked to her? Maybe she is involved in some nefarious plot to..." Nefarious? Good grief!
"Ms. Miller!" Dex spoke sharply. "Stop. Calm down. Your folks are wealthy retirees. Surely they often go on trips without telling you."
DeeDee Miller frowned at the detective. "You do know who I am, don't you, Detective Tripper?" Oh, ye gods, she is going to pull the old 'do you know who I am' card. Crap! It's going to be a long day.
"Yes, Ms. Miller, you are an assistant pre-school teacher. Now, back to your parents. Do they often go on trips without telling you?" C'mon, lady, get your head out of your my-parents-are-rich ass and give me some help here.
"Well, yes, but..."
"How often?" Dex got his notepad and a pen out. Might as well look like I give a rat's ass about Mom and Pop Moneybags taking off for St. Tropez or Martinique.
"Last month they ran down to Barbados for a few days." Barbados. Must be nice. "Uhm...three months ago they flew to Rio for a week." Ooo la la. Rio. Sheesh! "I can't remember before that."
"So them taking off isn't anything unusual?" Dex put his notebook in his pocket.
"But they wouldn't," Ms. Miller said. "Yesterday was my birthday. They wouldn't miss that." Sighing, Dex took his notebook out of his pocket.
"So, they never miss your birthday?" He poised his pen to write.
"Don't be silly. Of course they've missed my birthday, but they wouldn't..."
"How many birthdays have they missed?"
"Uhm...my thirteenth, twentieth, twenty-third, twenty-seventh, and twenty-eighth. But they wouldn't miss this one. It was my thirtieth. They promised me a new car. They promised!" Dex looked pointedly at the Subaru.
"That was used. Mother gave it to me when she got her new Lexus. They promised me a new BMW. They promised!" Get a grip, lady. You're thirty, not sixteen. Great! Another headache.
"When did you notice they were missing?"
"Yesterday, of course." Of course. Why check on the old folks if there wasn't anything in it for her.
"So they could have left several days ago? Maybe they had car trouble and couldn't make it back." Yeah, maybe their Lexus broke down.
"They always take the plane when they go very far." The plane. Of course they do.
"And the plane is hangared where?" Pen poised.
"I already checked. It's still there. It's the first thing I did. I'm not stupid." Not touching that with a ten-foot pole.
"Maybe we should check inside?" Dex gestured toward the front door.
DeeDee Miller looked at the beautiful front door like it was a gaping mouth with fangs. "Uhm...maybe you could go first? I'm so afraid I'll find..."
"Of course. Stay out here if you like." Left hand on the butt of his 9mm, right holding his shield, Dex rapped on the open door, nudging it further open.
"Portland Police. Mr. and Mrs. Miller? I'm coming into the house." Slowly Dex stepped through the front door, immediately looking left and right before going further. No bad guys in sight. No sign of 'foul play', whatever that looks like.
Bright autumn leaves were fluttering back and forth across the center of the inlaid stone foyer, the wind coming through the open door creating rippling waves of red and maroon and gold. More drifted lazily through the door as Dex watched.
Above the rustling happy sounds of the leaves caressing the black and white floor, Dex could hear another sound. Sort of a whoosh whoosh. What the heck?
Before moving toward the sound on his right, Dex cleared the small sunny room just to the left of the front door. Empty. Crossing the foyer, he cautiously poked his head around the door frame to another room. The dining room. The whoosh was coming from one of the doorways across from him.
Quick check of the left door. The kitchen. Drawing a deep breath, Dex gripped the comforting but of his gun. "Police!" he said loudly. Nothing. Crap, I hate closed doors. He pushed the door open slowly, the whoosh getting louder, now accompanied by a creak. Gad, I am such a pansy.
Opening the door to the sunny room all the way, he saw the fake palm leaf blades of the ceiling fan twirling lazily. The movement was reflected off water puddled on the floor. Oh, crap! Not water, blood.
A door to his left squeaked open. Dex moved right, pulled his gun, and turned left in one smooth practiced motion, drawing a bead on...
"Ms. Miller, I thought you were going to wait outside," he snapped, holstering his pistol. DeeDee Miller was a statue, not from looking down the barrel of a 9mm Glock, but because of the blood.
"Is that...oh, my, god, is that...whose...is...are they..." The thump when her head hit the floor was fortunately muffled by her hoodie. Great. More paperwork.
Twenty minutes later, Ms. Miller was holding an ice pack to her head and the Forensic Evidence Division was bagging up the remnants of fur and gristle that had once been a cat.
"Probably feral," the FED tech said, dropping bits of fur into a plastic evidence bag. Holding up a gnawed bone, he turned it around a bit. "Probably coyote," he said just as DeeDee Miller barfed on the EMT's shoes.
A patrolman poked his head into the sunroom. "Dex, some old guy and his wife are..." A short stocky man wearing a black cashmere sweater over grey worsted pants pushed his way past the cop.
"What is the meaning of this?"
"Deedums, what is going on? What are all these...people doing in my house?" A short stocky woman wearing a black cashmere sweater over a grey worsted skirt pushed past the cop, who threw his hands in the air and left, was scolding as she entered.
"Mommy?" Mommy? What thirty-year-old calls...not going there.
"Where have you been?" Deedums shrilled. "Your door was open. You didn't answer your cell phones. Your weren't here for my birthday!"
"Harrington, I told you that lock wasn't working. I told you that three weeks ago," Mrs. Moneybags...er, Miller shrilled in an eerie imitation of her daughter. Or would that be the other way around?
"Yes, Pennypoo, I know you did. I'll get it fixed right away." Dex wasn't sure he could process one more cutesypoo nickname.
"And that mess in the foyer! It will have to be thoroughly cleaned."
“And this...is that blood?"
The EMT produced another ice pack for Mrs. Sweetums...er, Miller when she regained consciousness.
"Mr. Miller," Dex said, withdrawing his notepad and pen. Mr. Miller fussed around his wife, ignoring Dex.
"Mr. Miller!" Dex snapped. "If you could spare me a few minutes, I have some questions."
Harrington Miller frowned at the detective. "You do know who I am, don't you, Detective?" Oh, ye gods, not him, too.
"Yes, Mr. Miller, you are someone who has been reported missing and has wasted the department's time because you, in fact, not missing. I'd like to find out why you are not missing so I can file my report and go home."
"Of course, I'm not missing. I'm right here." Dex rolled his eyes.
"Where were you, Mr. Miller?" he asked, pen poised over his notepad.
"And what business is that of yours?" Lord give me strength.
"Just trying to close this file, Mr. Miller. Your daughter reported you missing. I have a report to file." Mr. Miller looked down his nose at Dex, then shrugged.
"We were in Cannon Beach." Dex wrote Cannon Beach.
"And why didn't you call your daughter to let her know?"
"We tried to call her from the car, but I forgot my cell and Pennypoo's was dead." Dex wrote dead cell phone.
"And why didn't you call her from the hotel?"
"What hotel? We intended to drive down and back yesterday." Dex wrote down and back.
"But you didn't get back until today."
"We took Pennypoo's car." Mr. Miller's voice strained through his clenched jaw. "Apparently she doesn't believe the warning lights, warning voice, and text messages her car sends when it needs oil. The engine froze thirty miles out of Seaside." Dex wrote no oil, frozen engine.
"Yes, we had time so we decided to wander home." Dex wrote wander.
"And that took you until this morning?"
"Of course not. We spend most of the night in the car waiting for someone to find us." Dex had no clue what to write.
"Yes. Can you believe there was only one truck in twelve hours? One truck!"
"One truck? On highway 101?"
"No, on Lewis and Clark Road." Dex wrote Lewis and Clark Road.
"Out of Seaside?"
"Yes, it goes east from Seaside. Right after some coffee stand." Dex started to write and stopped. He was getting lost.
"Mr. Miller, why did you go to Cannon Beach?"
"Yes, there's a candy store there that Pennypoo loves."
"A candy store?"
"Yes. I can't remember the name, but they have lovely homemade chocolates that..."
"That Pennypoo loves." Dex wrote candy Pennypoo loves, closed his notebook and left. He couldn't wait to see the captain's face when he turned in this report.
I'm getting too old for this shit!
I began writing as soon as I could hold a pen. Then came college, marriage, and kids, and my life was full.