Authors: Kathy Hogan Trocheck,Mary Kay Andrews
Tags: #mystery, #cleaningmystery, #housemouse, #marykayandrews, #shortstory, #kathyhogantrocheck, #fudge
A Callahan Garrity Short
by Mary Kay Andrews
writing as Kathy Hogan Trocheck
Mary Kay Andrews, writing as Kathy Hogan
Copyright © 1995 by Kathy Hogan
First printed in Malice Domestic, volume 4 (New
York: Pocket Books, 1995)
First ebook edition
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I was busy touching up my mental image of the
new Callahan Garrity: long sleek legs, nonexistent thighs, flat
belly, firm shapely arms. My stomach growled angrily. I love the
first day of a diet. The happy feeling of starvation, the power you
feel over your gnawing appetite.
A shadow fell over the lawn chair where I was
I opened one eye. A generously built black
woman with a sad expression stood beside me, blocking out the sun
that was to tone me, bake me, turn me into something out of a
"Callahan," she said tentatively. "Edna told
me to come talk to you."
"Hello, Ruby," I said, with little enthusiasm.
"If it's about that extra day you want to work, take it up with
Edna. It's her day on the
taking the afternoon off for self-improvement."
Edna, my mother and business partner, was
supposed to be handling the office while I recharged my batteries.
It had been an awful week.
“No'm, it's not about work," Ruby said. "Well,
it sort of is, but it's really about Darius."
"Darius," I said. "Is he one of your nephews?"
Ruby has so many nieces and nephews, grandchildren and
great-grandchildren, that I can never keep track of them
“Foster grandson," she prompted. "My Darius is
in trouble, Callahan. I need you to see about it."
Seeing about other people's troubles is what I
do in my nonexistent spare time. I bought The House Mouse shortly
after quitting my job as a detective for the Atlanta Police
Department. Some women take up tennis. I dabble in private
investigation. Doesn't burn up near the calories,
I sat up slowly and looked down at my belly,
slightly pink and flabby and oily from the suntan lotion. Not flat
and brown. Oh well. Ruby is a rock usually, one of those
imperturbable women whose expressions stay calm in the face of
untold troubles. She's a mainstay of The House Mouse, the cleaning
business Edna and I run out of my house here in Atlanta. But today
her lower lip was trembling, and she dabbed continually at her eyes
with a crumpled hankie.
She perched at the edge of my lawn chair,
smoothing her white cleaning smock down over her knees.
"You know Mr. Ragan, my Thursday morning job?
Old gentleman lives alone over there off Hooper Avenue?" I
remembered the name.
"Mr. Ragan's dead," Ruby said. Tears spilled
down her smooth round cheeks. "Murdered. And the police think my
Darius did it. They come to the house this morning and took him
away. Handcuffed him like you see on the TV news."
"Why would they suspect Darius?" I asked.
"Does he even know Merritt Ragan?"
She nodded. "Darius been doing Mr. Ragan's
yard work for a year. He liked that old man a lot. And Mr. Ragan
liked him too. Paid Darius $25 to keep the yard nice. Darius
wouldn't hurt that old man. He's a good boy. A good worker. So I
want to know can you see about it? I'll pay. You can take the money
out of my check every week."
She reached in her smock pocket and pulled out
a crisp $100 bill and held it toward me. "This here's the down
payment. Is that right?” I stood up and pulled on the shorts I'd
left on the ground, then straightened up to zip. They were
definitely looser. "Keep the money, Ruby. Employees get a 50
percent discount on private investigation work."
* * *
Edna looked up from the bank deposit she'd
been preparing, and frowned. A stack of checks sat on the table
next to a smaller stack of twenties. She took a deep drag on the
extra-long filtered cigarette and exhaled slowly, letting the smoke
halo her carefully coiffed white hair.
"You gonna help Ruby?"
"Yeah," I sighed. "Of course I'll help her.
The woman's a saint, but that doesn't mean little Darius is. I
guess I'll head down to homicide to see what the deal is with the
charges. Can you hold the fort here?"
She glanced at the kitchen clock. "It's four
now. The girls are done for the day. I'll put the answering machine
on and come with you."
The last thing I needed was my mother riding
shotgun with me to the cop shop. "I may need you to do some phone
work for me," I said tactfully. "Stay here and I'll call you after
I know if they intend to keep him."
She pooched out her lower lip, took another
drag on her cigarette, and regarded me through narrowed eyes. "I
know a brush-off when I hear one."
As luck would have it, the only soul occupying
the homicide detective's office was a friendly face, Bucky Deavers,
an old friend from my days as a burglary detective.
We traded good-natured insults, then I got
down to business. "I'm looking for information on the Merritt Ragan
homicide. I'm working for the kid you picked up and charged this
morning. His grandmother, Ruby, is one of my House Mouse
Bucky leafed through some papers in a box of
reports on his desk. "Oh yeah. Merritt Ragan. He's the old dude over
off of Hooper Avenue. Kid came in the house, saw all this money,
bopped him on the head, took the money, and split."
I reached over and plucked the report from his
hands. "I doubt that the report says that."
He leaned back in the chair and folded his
hands behind his neck. “Read it and weep," he said. "The kid did
it, Callahan. His fingerprints are all over the kitchen and the
murder weapon. Which was one of those heavy old-fashioned irons, by
“Darius worked there," I said. "Yard man. And
Ragan invited him in all the time. He probably saw the iron some
other time and picked it up to ask about it."
“He's got a sheet," Bucky said. "Did time at
the Youth Detention Center up in Alto for burglary and
'"Misspent youth," I said, scanning the
report. "He's lived with his grandma for a year, cleaned up his
act, works all the time, goes to church regular. He's a new
“He's a rotten little killer," Bucky said. "We
found the cash on him, six hundred dollar bills. Had it stashed in
his Air Jordans. He admitted he took it from Ragan."
"What?" I said, startled. "His grandmother
doesn't know about any confession."
"Grannies don't know a lot of stuff," Bucky
said, a touch too smugly. "Your friend Darius says he went to the
house yesterday afternoon to see about getting paid early. He says
he went in, saw a bunch of money laying around by the front door,
"But he doesn't admit he killed the old
"Not yet," Bucky said. "But we know he did it,
and he knows it too. Homicide in commission of another felony.
Robbery. He's seventeen now, eighteen next month. We can try him as
an adult. The DA's looking at the death penalty."
I sat up straight at the mention of Old
Sparky, which is what they call Georgia's electric chair, the one
they keep warmed up down at the state prison at Jackson. "Jesus,
Bucky! The death penalty?"
He was suddenly busy tidying things on his
desktop. "I saw the grandmother this morning when we picked the kid
up. Nice lady. She's lucky Darius didn't turn on her."
I stood up to leave. "Ruby knows the kid and
she says he didn't do it. That's enough for me. Can you get me in
to see him?"
Darius Greene wasn't overjoyed to see me. He
was slumped over in a chair when the guard escorted me into the
visiting area. Long, blue-clad legs stretched out in front of him.
He had one of those trick haircuts the kids were into lately, with
the hair shaved to the scalp in the back, moderating to a wedge
shape that angled sharply to the left.
"Darius, I'm Callahan. Your grandmother works
for me. She thinks I can help you."
He cocked his head to the side and ran a
practiced eye over me, then turned his attention back to the
"You're the one who keep Grandmama washing
toilets," he said tonelessly. "How're you gonna help me? Gimme some
toilets to scrub?"
I felt my face flush hot with guilt. And then
I got mad. "I'm the one who takes your grandmama to the hospital
when her blood pressure goes up. I'm the one sees she gets paid a
decent wage for her work, so she can buy fancy basketball shoes for
some snot-nosed kid she loves. And I'm also a former cop and a
private detective. I can help you if you let me. Did you know the
DA is thinking of asking for the death penalty for Merritt Ragan's
"I heard," he mumbled. He didn't look
I was losing patience. "Look, Darius. I've
seen the police reports. This does not look good. Can you tell me
anything at all about yesterday? Could anyone else have been in
that house before you got there? Did you see Mr. Ragan when you
went into the house? Had the door been forced?"
"Did you kill him, Darius? Did you? Ruby says
you're a good boy. What happened? Why'd you take the money and kill
him? He was a helpless old man. Is that what you'd like to have
happen to Ruby?"
He continued to stare at the floor. "Ain't
tellin' you nothin'. I'm gettin' me a lawyer."
* * *
Another person who wasn’t overjoyed to see me
was the deceased man’s daughter. On the other side of the screened
door, Caroline Ragan's lips set in a tight disapproving line when I
told her who I was and what I wanted.
Somebody had told her that old-maid
schoolteachers were supposed to be thin and humorless, and she'd
taken their advice to heart. She had mouse-colored hair and
close-set brown eyes, which she blinked continually.
"I'm sorry for Ruby's troubles. She kept this
house immaculate. I guess it wouldn't hurt to let you come in and
look around. The police said I could start cleaning things up
Merritt Ragan's gray saltbox house could have
been an antique shop. Shelves lined the walls of every room, and
each held a different collection. There were silver candlesticks,
Steiff teddy bears, majolica, miniature snuffboxes, and blue and
white porcelains. The wooden floor was dotted with jewel-toned
Oriental rugs. The furniture was old too, and the mellow wood
glowed in the late afternoon sunlight that poured through the
"The kitchen's in there," Caroline said as we
neared the back of the house. "That's where they found Daddy. Go
ahead in. I... don't like to be there. Because of Daddy and all.
The new cleaning service is supposed to take care of it tomorrow."
She glared at me when she mentioned the new cleaning
Merritt Ragan's kitchen was one of the
cheeriest murder scenes I've ever examined. White-painted cabinets
lined the room, and a fruit-motif wallpaper covered the walls.
Crisply ruffled white curtains hung at the windows. The floor was
gleaming yellow vinyl. Spotless. I walked over to the back door and
took a look. Fingerprint powder stained the wall and the woodwork
of the door. About the door. The lock didn't look like it had been
tampered with. "The police cleaned up the blood," she said. I
turned around. Caroline stood in the doorway, her matchstick arms
crossed over her chest, as though she were chilled.
"Daddy must have let him in," she added. "I
begged him to get a lawn service. But he wouldn't hear of it. He
was fascinated with that Darius."