Karen E. Olson in Ives Main Library

Clawing the Pavement

August is Summer Reading Month in Daily Nutmeg, and Karen E. Olson is this week’s featured author. Please enjoy this excerpt from Olson’s mystery novel Sacred Cows (2005).

* * *

My hand closed over the cold steel in that second between hearing the phone ring and before my eyes opened. I squinted at the clock, the red numbers glowed 3:42, and I pushed the drawer shut, my paranoia possibly the result of too many beers. I knocked the phone off the table, and I could hear “Hello? Hello?” as I fumbled for the receiver on the floor.

“Yeah?” was the only sound that I could force through the fog of sleep.

“Get out of bed, Annie. There’s a dead girl in the road in front of University Towers on York Street. She took a dive.”

I heard the click, then the dial tone. Asshole, I thought as I pulled myself up on my elbows in an attempt to do what he said, but the room started to spin and I had to stop for a minute. What had I been thinking? I don’t drink like that anymore. It’s too dangerous, in too many ways.

A dead girl, that’s what Marty said. In the road. I’m not the fucking cops, they’re not going to tell me anything anyway, but I dragged my sorry butt into the bathroom. I almost screamed when I saw my reflection: my hair hanging in tangled clumps, lipstick smeared across one cheek, mascara smudged under my eyes. I was naked, but that wasn’t anything new.

A blast of water was what I needed, even though I’d probably miss something by not leaving the house sooner. But if I didn’t shower, get myself sobered up some, I’d miss more.

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I grabbed a pair of leggings out of the laundry basket and pulled on a big sweatshirt. It was almost 4:00 A.M., for Christ’s sake, and she was dead. No one was going to call the fashion police on me. My hair still hung in a clump, but at least it was clean and the alcohol haze had faded.

I stuffed my notebook in my bag and went out into the dark for the second time that night, the rain startling me as it slammed into my forehead. I cursed Marty for the umpteenth time, the dead girl for being dead at such an ungodly hour. I knew nothing, I was going into it cold, I hated this job.

The blue and red lights flashed against the black backdrop of the narrow street. I double-parked next to a cruiser; they’d be pissed, but what did I care, they weren’t leaving before me anyway. The yellow tape stopped just where the cops stood talking to one another, their notebooks getting soaked. I still hadn’t taken mine out of my purse.

I saw her before any of them saw me. She was facedown, the rain beating into her bare back, her body slumped over the sidewalk and into the road, her hair a waterfall into the catch basin. Her arms were at her side, her fingers spread, clawing the pavement. The spotlight accentuated her white skin, the pool of dark liquid under her head. Someone had put a raincoat over her bottom half, but a mangled leg peeked out from underneath.

The rain was washing all the evidence away.

I looked up at the balconies over me, my eyes finally resting on the barbed wire fence between the sidewalk and the building.

I caught bits and pieces of conversation around me, but I ignored them, finally seeing the detective I knew would be there.

“Hi, Tom,” I said, my voice still husky from the booze.

“What cat dragged you in?” He chuckled.

“Got a call. Thought I’d stop by.”

“Didn’t think you’d be up to it.” He winked, and I could still feel his mouth on mine as he said goodbye. He was gone by the time Marty called; I hadn’t heard his pager, but that’s not a surprise, considering.

“I’m always up for it, you know that.”

“I like your outfit.” His Paul Newman-blue eyes caressed my body, and I struggled to bring myself back to the matter at hand.

“What happened?”

“She fell or she jumped, who knows?”

“Who is she?”

He shrugged, and I could see him putting on his armor. “Don’t know yet. No ID.”

* * *

Sacred Cows
by Karen E. Olson
Where to buy: Amazon

Image, photographed by Dan Mims, depicts Karen E. Olson in the Ives Main Library.

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