From the bushes at the top of the hill, she could see the city police squad car idling in the senior center parking lot. Matt and his partner, Javon, were half sitting, half leaning on the trunk, both of them with arms folded like twin police officers, except one was white and the other Black. They were friends even though Matt was a little “Thin Blue Line” and Javon was more than a little “Black Lives Matter.” They’d been partners for three years and managed to work it out somehow.
Matt Veit was Amanda’s boyfriend. She met him in a downtown bar the summer after college graduation when she came back to Omaha to figure out what was next. Matt could have been what was next but she opted for graduate school on the east coast. Two years later, given the choice to go to a paper in Tampa or the hometown news, she picked Omaha and Matt. It had just been seven months together but they were headed somewhere but neither of them cared how fast they got there.
Seeing him up ahead in his navy blue uniform with his body armor and all the cop apparatus attached to him – gun, taser, handcuffs, flashlight – she appreciated all over again how gorgeous he was. Tall, thick from working out every day, blond hair cut in a butch, blue eyes under almost invisible eyebrows, and a constant smile. He smiled at all the ladies and all the criminals. That was his way.
Why was he here? And who was he and Javon talking to? It made sense to have the sheriff’s department here since the park was in their jurisdiction. But the city cops? That made no sense.
“There she is. Emerging from the forest. Didn’t I tell you to meet me here in the parking lot?”
It was Joe Jablonski, Amanda’s partner at the paper. Actually, he was more like her supervisor. The paper had paired her with Joe so he could mentor her, but his idea of mentoring was to send her for cupcakes while he talked to the bad guys.
He was from Pittsburgh and that rough, steelworker, kielbasa-eating vibe was all over him. Maybe he didn’t but it seemed like he wore the same pants and sport coat to work every day. Gray sans-a-belt pants and a charcoal blazer or what was once a blazer but was now more like a sweater, a white shirt and a clip-on tie which he mostly carried in his pocket. He was short with a paunch there since birth. Brown hair, parted on the right side, and brown eyes, otherwise just a meaty nondescript guy.
He loved the crime beat. It was his life’s work. Most reporters started with crime, calling all the police departments ten times a day to get wind of the latest burglaries and car accidents. Then they moved up to more prestigious work, covering local government or becoming the science or education reporter. Joe had stayed put. He liked crime. It was the sun coming up in the morning.
“I got here early so I went down to the homeless encampment by the lake. I figured they might know something about the murder.” Amanda picked a stubborn burr off her leggings.
“Wait. What? You went down to the camp by yourself? We just drove through to check things out. No idea you were here.” Matt, his arms still folded, leaned forward the way men do when they want to convey how ridiculous they think something is. The gesture made Amanda feel like her dad had caught her trying to wash the car with bubble bath.
“Yeah,” she answered. “And they invited me to spend the weekend with them sometime so I could learn more about being homeless, you know, get past all the stereotypes.”
“Oh Mandy, that’s not a great idea. There’s some bad dudes down there,” Joe said, shaking his head and chuckling in the slightest way. “I should’ve given you a heads up about them. Besides, the murder happened up here at the senior center. How about talking to some of those folks?”
“I didn’t go to college for six years to sit around talking to a bunch of old ladies about their canasta game.” Amanda pulled her phone out of her pocket and started to scroll. “Where do I find these great interviews?”
“Turn around, little chick-a-boom and walk about twenty steps. There’s a door. Go in it. Ask for the Three Dorothys, specifically Sally. That’d be a decent start.” Joe turned back to talk to Matt and Javon, dismissing Amanda like she was a waitress who’d brought cold soup. Out of the corner of her eye, Amanda could see Matt signal that there was more to talk about later. He wouldn’t embarrass her in public, she knew that. They’d have to hash it out about the homeless thing later at home.
“Can somebody tell me how to find the Three Dorothys?” Chick-a-boom, did Joe really just call me chick-a-boom? She reminded herself that her mentee status was temporary. She was moving up at the paper. She just had to get through this. Amanda steamed on this so hard her face heated up to match her hair. The receptionist pointed with her eyes toward a table where three women sat with an older man. “Over there. That’s them.”
“Hi, I’m looking for Sally. I’m from the Omaha Post Examiner and I want to get some background information about the senior center to include in a story about the murder that happened this morning.” Amanda slid the fifth chair out from the table and plopped down as if the group had been waiting for her to show up.
“Hi Amanda. I’m Sally. I don’t do background,” making quotation marks in the air with her fingers, “but I can show you the blood on my sneaker. You need a pen?”