Brenda Murphy © 2020
All Rights Reserved
Warning: This excerpt may contain sexually explicit material, please proceed at your discretion.
Eunice Park glared at the ringing phone on her desk. On the third ring she picked it up. “What is it?”
“Sorry to bother you, Eunice, but your father’s on the line. He insisted I connect him.”
Eunice leaned forward and straightened her posture. “What?”
“Your father. Says it’s urgent. Want me to take a message? Or leave him on hold till he hangs up?”
Eunice swept her hair back with one hand and closed her fist around it, barely resisting the urge to tear it out. “No. I’ll talk to him.” She took her reading glasses off and tossed them on the top of the stack of trial transcripts and depositions on her desk.
“Eun?” James Park’s rich baritone filled her ear. Her Korean name, spoken in the way it was meant to be said, made her heart squeeze. She detested Eunice and still cursed the day she had chosen to use it instead of her true name.
“Yes.” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “It’s me.”
Silence stretched out between them, harsh and violent. Eun settled back into her chair. Her father’s silence and its power over Eun had weakened over the years. Eun knew his trick. Wait for the other to become so uncomfortable they spilled their secrets and told you everything you wanted to know. For once, Eun would not give in. She set her gaze on the clock on her computer screen. One minute. Two minutes. Eun fiddled with the edge of her blotter.
At three and one-half minutes her father cleared his throat and spoke. “Come home. I need to see you.”
“Nothing’s changed.” Eun chewed her lip.
“I need to see you.”
“Why now? I’m not coming home to be berated again. You made yourself clear five years ago. I’m not backing down. Not this time.”
“I’m not asking you to. I have something to discuss with you. I can’t do it over the phone. Please. This weekend?”
Eun rubbed her forehead. “I can’t. I’m buried. I have dog of a case, my cocounsel is an idiot, and I’ve got closing arguments next week. The weekend after?”
“If that’s the best you can do.”
“What?” Eun’s voice rose as anger she had managed to contain bubbled up. “Oh hell no. You can’t call me up out of the blue, demand I see you, and then act all pissy if I can’t drop what I’m doing and run home. Not after what you pulled last time. I’m lesbian, Dad. I’ve been lesbian, I’m going to be lesbian. Nothing is going to change that.”
“I know.” The defeated tone in his voice scraped against Eun’s battered heart.
“I have to go.”
“Will you come?”
Her father disconnected the call. Eun fell back into her chair. Late afternoon sun raked the tops of the high-rise buildings surrounding the office building. Red-and-orange light, reflected off the glass, shone through the floor to ceiling window and glinted off the framed print on the wall opposite her desk.
Her stomach rumbled, an audible reminder of her neglecting to eat breakfast and lunch. She tapped her pen on the desk and glowered at the stack of transcripts on her desk as she rang her assistant. “Order us some food, please.’
“Have a hankering for anything?” Sally’s soft drawl spilled through the phone.
“Whatever you want.”
“I will be.” Eun spun her pen in a circle, a wave of guilt for keeping her assistant after hours swept over her. “You don’t have to stay. John must miss you.”
“He does. But he also knows how important this case is. Faizal’s okay?”
“Sounds wonderful. That gyro salad they do.”
Eun’s mouth watered at the thought of the sticky honey-sweet dessert. “Of course.”
Eun hung up and spun in her chair to face her bookshelf. The black-framed photo of Eun and her father at her law school graduation was opposite a photo of Eun and her mother at Eun’s kindergarten graduation. She closed her eyes as the memory of the last fight she’d had with her father surfaced. Anger and humiliation over his demand she go to conversion therapy surged through her as strong and as raw as that evening. Memories of other interventions, his relentless set-ups with eligible young men, and the shocked expressions of his church friends when she told them all the only thing she was sure of was they were all going to hell bubbled to the surface.
Her stomach ached: too much coffee, and not enough food. She reached into her drawer for the ginger chews she kept at hand. She unwrapped one and popped it into her mouth to quell her stomachache and glanced at the clock on the computer screen. It would be at least forty-five minutes before Sally was back with their food.
Her phone vibrated with a message. The glowing read notification sent a rill of excitement down her spine. Maybe a quick fuck would be the ticket to a good night’s sleep. A glorious, no-real-names hotel-room sex fest would be delightful. She thumbed open the Hit Me Up app and opened the message.
Disappointment washed over her. The message was from her most recent date. A bold butch who had given Eun several mind-bending orgasms that had made her strongly reconsider her self-imposed no-more-than-one-date rule. Until she stalked the woman on social media and found out she was not single as her profile claimed. Eun detested cheaters. She deleted the woman’s message without reading it and tossed her phone on to her desk.
Morgan Wright parked her truck behind her sister’s police cruiser. She tugged on her fluorescent yellow windbreaker with Wright’s Lock Shop emblazoned on the back and grabbed her tool bag from the floorboard.
A sharp wind rustled the yellow-and-white daffodils along the side of the driveway.
“Hey.” Miesha called from the yard. “Thanks for coming out on a Sunday.”
Morgan slipped the tool bag strap over her shoulder. “What we got?” She surveyed the mid-century low ranch-style houses and manicured lawns lining both sides of the street.
“A neighbor called. No one’s seen Mr. Park since Friday evening. The neighbor called after she knocked on his door and got no answer. Said his dog sounded like he was going to take her leg off.”
Morgan frowned. She hated wellness checks. More often than not they were nothing, and then it took forever to get reimbursed from the police department for her time.
She nodded toward the security system sign. “Did you call them?”
Her sister barked out a laugh. “It’s one of those fake signs. Like half of them.”
Morgan rolled her eyes. A wooden post displayed a carved green-and-white sign proclaiming James Park, Esquire in gold script. A wide sidewalk split off into two and led to a second door on the front of the house.
“He works out of his home?”
Miesha flipped her notebook closed and tucked it in her shirt pocket. “He does. And his car is in the garage.”
Morgan walked to the front door. A large brass deadbolt secured it. It was dusty and small cobwebs lined the frame next to the hinge. She opened the lid to the mailbox and a tiny spider scuttled away from the light. “Let’s try the side door. Doesn’t seem like this one is used much.”
Morgan followed the curving walk leading to the side of the house. A low porch with an iron railing was sheltered by a red-and-white striped awning. As soon as she set foot on the porch vicious barking rang out.
Morgan glanced over her shoulder at her sister. “You better call Animal Control too.” A trickle of sweat ran down her back.
“The department takes their calls on Sunday, so I’m Animal Control today. Will you hurry up? I don’t have a good feeling about this.” Miesha shifted her feet and rested her hands on her duty belt.
Morgan studied the locking mechanism. “For fuck’s sake, you could have done this. You didn’t need me. There isn’t even a deadbolt.” She drew a flexible metal shim from her tool bag and slid it between the door latch and the jamb. The barking on the other side grew frenzied. Morgan wiggled the thin strip of metal until the lock popped open. She twisted the knob in her hand. “Get ready, I think Cujo’s on the other side.”
Miesha stepped close. “Shove it open and then step behind me.”
Morgan shoved the door wide and dropped behind her sister. A brown-and-white ball of fur and teeth flew at them. Morgan turned away and raised her hands over her face. The dog barreled past them into the yard. Morgan turned around to keep the animal in her line of sight. The dog stopped, urinated, and then bolted back into the house.
Miesha had disappeared inside the house. The small hairs on the back of Morgan’s neck stood up at the silence. She hesitated. It wasn’t in her job description to do more than open the door, but the lure of the dog and her own curiosity drove her steps and she entered the home.
The rank scent of urine and feces stung her nose as she walked through the door. In the middle of the kitchen floor, a man she assumed was Mr. Park lay stretched out facedown. A small pile of dog toys was scattered near him. The dog, a classically colored tan-and-white corgi so much smaller than his bark, lay with his muzzle on the back of the man’s outstretched hand. His wary eyes settled on Miesha and Morgan.
“Easy, Cujo.” Miesha knelt and reached down to check the man’s neck for a pulse, more out of habit than any real hope of finding one because it was very apparent James Park, Esquire was dead. Morgan rubbed the back of her neck.
“Damn it.” Miesha sighed as she rose to her feet.
“You know him?” Morgan rested her hand on her sister’s shoulder.
“Met him a couple of times in court. Decent man. Good attorney. Fuck, I hate this.”
The dog whined. Morgan inclined her head toward him. “What about him?”
Miesha shrugged. “I’ll call the shelter. It’s Sunday. I hope they answer.”
Morgan knelt down and held out her hand palm up to the dog. “You saw it all, didn’t you, buddy?”
The crackle of Miesha’s radio became background noise as she called for the coroner and talked to her dispatcher. Morgan dared to lift her hand to stroke the soft fur. The dog leaned into her touch. She turned his collar so she could read his tag. “Rudy” was etched in the brass plate followed by a phone number. “Well, Rudy, it’s nice to meet you.”
At the mention of his name the dog lifted his head. His deep-brown eyes locked with Morgan’s and he nuzzled her hand.
Miesha leaned against the counter. “Great. The coroner is out on another case. I’m going to be here a while.”
“What if I took him?” Morgan raised her gaze to her sister.
“Unless Mister Park’s people are close. I’ll take him. Only overnight. Until the shelter opens.”
Miesha eyed her sister. “Isn’t that how you got Beau? A lockout and eviction? And an ‘oh I’ll just keep him until the shelter opens’?”
“Well yeah. But…”
“But nothing. It’s fine with me. On the condition you go get me coffee. I’ve got to stay here with Mister Park until Doctor Silvestri gets here.”
“Done.” Morgan stood up. “Come on, Rudy. Where’s your leash?”
“You already named him?”
“No. It was on his tag.” Morgan looked around the kitchen. Next to the back door was a hook and a bright-blue leash. She removed it and knelt down. She patted her leg. “Come on, Rudy. Want to go for a ride?”
Rudy stood and took a step toward Morgan. She sat back on her heels to wait. He waddled over to her and sat down. She hooked the leash on to his collar. He looked over his shoulder at Mr. Park. Morgan bit her lip. She gave him slack on the lead. Rudy walked over to Mr. Park, licked his cheek, and then walked toward the door.
Morgan shouldered her tool bag. “You want your usual?”
“Yeah. I’ll be here. Leave the door open.” Her sister turned and opened the kitchen window. “Maybe the cross-breeze will help.”
Rudy scratched at the screen door. Morgan pushed it open and followed him out to the yard. He nosed about for a minute and then trotted forward.
He watered the azalea bush on his way down the sidewalk. A tall woman in a floral dress waved Morgan down. “I’m Mrs. Dunn, I called.” She flapped her hand at the police car. “Where are they? Who are you? Where are you taking Rudy?” Morgan opened her mouth to speak but the woman ranted on. “Oh, my word. Something’s happened. I should’ve called sooner.”
Morgan lifted her cap and resettled it. “The police are inside. I’m sorry, I can’t tell you anything.”
Her eyes widened. “He’s dead. I knew it. I know things.” She crossed herself.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I have to go.” Morgan walked Rudy to her truck and opened the door.
He cast a baleful glance at her over his shoulder and rested his front feet on the running board. Morgan rolled her eyes at his expression before she picked him up and put him into the truck. He made three circles on the cushion and then settled into the passenger seat. Morgan cruised to the doughnut shop drive-through and picked up coffee for her sister and an empty cup. She poured water from her water bottle into the cup. “Hey, want some water?”
Rudy sat up and sniffed at the cup before he lapped at it. Cold water splashed over Morgan’s hand and she held the cup as he drank. After he emptied the cup, Rudy lay down with his back to her.
On the drive back to Mr. Park’s house Morgan reached out to stroke Rudy’s fur. He huffed and shifted away from her touch.
“I get it buddy. I’m rushing you.” Morgan left Rudy in the truck while she delivered her sister’s coffee.
Miesha was standing on the side porch when Morgan returned. She took the cup Morgan offered.
“Thanks.” She pursed her lips. “I’ve got to call his daughter, Eunice Park. She’s listed as next of kin, so don’t get too attached to Cujo.”
“His name’s Rudy, and I know.” Morgan called over her shoulder as she strode back to her truck. Rudy barked sharply when she opened the door. “I wasn’t gone that long.”
Rudy huffed and lay down with his head between his paws. His tiny snores made Morgan smile on the ride home, and then sober as the circumstances of her newest rescue hit her. “You’re gonna be okay, boy. I think. I hope.”
Morgan drove through the sunny afternoon, wondering about the woman whose world was about to be upended at the news of her father’s passing.