THE DEAD WITHHELD #1

 


Dizzy Carter teetered on her barstool. It was less because she was six fingers into this fifth of bourbon and the world was on a tilt, and more because its uneven legs stuck in the crumbling brick of the alley’s ancient walkways. This was Mark Street, a string of pocket bars and taquerias set up in the mouths of candy-painted shipping containers and strewn with lantern lights kinder to bloodshot eyes. It catered to people who preferred the dark to San Guin’s nighttime neon hell, people without a fear of mayhem or the uncanny magics that made up their expanded reality.

She slugged down the last vestiges of amber liquid and refilled her glass, trying to make it an even ten fingers instead of six. The owner, N, cut and lit a cigar behind the bar and flipped to a news screen she watched on mute. N was a leathery old woman with large eyes and a gravel scratched voice who also sold bootleg brujeria supplies to rich tourists and their terrible children. Her shelves were dotted with human eyes and rattlesnake tails and likely her own backwash suspended in artisanal glass bottles of grain alcohol. And if she didn’t like you, she’d swear on your god (never hers) that they were potent in their spiritual properties and worth every cent you had on you at the time.

N made a good living.

Dizzy stuck with the bourbon.

She moved her glass from where her phone vibrated testily against it and instead watched raindrops alight on the invisible heads and shoulders of the dead milling among the oblivious living. The long wall of the noodle shop behind them was caked with bright graffiti, tithes of the all-seeing Color Man’s disciples. Between the rain and the swimming of the liquor in her blood, the colors danced in Dizzy’s vision arrhythmically to the bass bumping in the noodle house.

It was late on a Friday (or early on a Saturday, she’d have to look at her phone to know) and she could do with a moment left alone. But still, her phone vibrated. Any other profession, these would have been her off-hours.

Deadwalkers existed for centuries as lone witches, scattered throughout the world and held sacred as messengers of the dead to the living. Dizzy Carter was one of them but little was sacred anymore. Fewer folks knew that about her than knew she sang the blues; and even that was little more than a poorly kept secret. 

Six years ago she’d been in love and on the verge of more. More attention, better gigs. A career worthy of the life she shared with Lonnie Baxter. Then the “Fallen Angels” serial killer dropped the love of her life off the roof of their apartment building. 

Dreams of that night forced themselves on her when she was either too exhausted or not stoned enough. Not even the dead could find Lonnie Baxter.

She was a private investigator now, and well aware of the cliche. Started once looking for Lonnie’s murderer became a financially unsustainable obsession. The calls she ignored were undoubtedly from clients, people searching for cheating spouses or blackmail fodder on people they owed money. The police had long since halted the search for the Fallen Angels Killer. On quiet Friday nights in the dim glow of N’s paper lanterns, Dizzy considered she should as well.

A silhouette shrouded in raindrops approached the bar and stood beside Dizzy.

“Evening, friend.” She greeted the dead patron in respect. The words slid from her numbing mouth. She wasn’t in a state to hear them speak back.

A chill breeze cut the humid alley air and Dizzy plied the hood of her jacket before deciding home would be warmer. She polished off her drink and reached across the bar for another short glass into which she poured a slug of bourbon—an offering—for the invisible guest before rapping her goodbye to N and pressing a gold coin into the bar top by way of a tip.

Her first steps were trickier than she thought they’d be, poorly measured and on no certain path. She looked around to measure her drunkenness by the steps and ramblings of other patrons on the strip and paused as a face disappeared between two bodies at a street vendor’s stall. Despite herself, her heart skipped and she squinted trying to find some magical way to peer between raindrops.

Lonnie?

Lonnie’s face appeared again, closer. She was smiling, great almond eyes cut to glimmering half moons and lips moving in excited, silent speech as she walked closer. But she was translucent, little more than a bright shadow in an old band t-shirt against the bodies moving behind her. She wasn’t a ghost. This was a memory. 

Dizzy stayed riveted to the spot as the memory of Lonnie approached and then passed her in the alley. And then she matched Lonnie’s steps as they headed to the street, desperate to remember this moment in their past, to hear her voice match the words she mouthed and the laughter in them. 

They walked for blocks, well past the place Dizzy was living now. She remained unfazed as strangers crashed into her shoulder walking the other direction and immune to their curses when she walked into them. She drifted through crosswalks shunning crowds with their umbrellas and the onslaught of car horns. If she stayed beside Lonnie’s walking form, she could catch her eye, feel the wonder of being seen by her again. She knew better than to reach for Lonnie’s hand, to try and touch her or she may disappear. 

Rain and neon light from the signage of nightlife crashed through her and threatened to obscure her completely until Lonnie stopped on the sidewalk on a calmer street. They stood before a wrought-iron screen backlit in warm sunset-orange light. For full seconds, Lonnie looked into Dizzy’s eyes, a smile playing on her lips.

“I miss you,” Dizzy whispered. “Can you hear me?”

The memory of Lonnie kept smiling and appeared to burst into laughter, point at something well over their heads across the street. Instinctively, Dizzy turned to look at what was only a billboard of lights, advertising Heating Co. Power and Light. She remembered this part. On this day, it had been the movie poster for Lonnie’s first major performance, a throwback noir flick called Tiger Moon. 

Dizzy remembered this part, too, when the excited memory of Lonnie raised her hands to the sides of her face and kissed her. She closed her eyes in hopes she might feel it. When she opened them, the memory was gone. And Dizzy, as she’d always been, was alone. 



She was center-stage under searing light at this bougie spot called The Crane Lounge. They usually liked their doll-faced, moody darlings on piano in the dark but there she was bathed in gold, all hoodoo and gutter blues and a little lipstick. That night, she was entrancing a room packed with San Guin’s upper-crust citizens with the magic of her voice. Cherries of expensive cigars dotted a sea of brown faces under hazy blue lights. They toasted with brown liquor and clapped and swayed to her rhythm in their seats. 

And then her B string snapped. The chandelier lights flickered. The crowd froze as if time had stopped them and all their eyes — their impossibly wide, glowing eyes — were on her.

The music still played in her head. She kept singing. People scattered throughout the audience began to vibrate. Three of them. Ten. Twenty-one. She was terrified. The buzz became deafening and then she blinked and they were gone and all was silent. The audience, the stage crew, the bartenders, the waitstaff. All gone except for a woman in a white dress at the bar with her back to her.  

Dizzy left the stage as a new pitch grew in her ears. She crossed the dining room to the bar in the back and the pitch grew louder until it was clearly discernible as a scream. Filled with dread, she reached out and touched the woman’s shoulder. Lonnie turned to face her. It was always Lonnie. The triangles of her eyes were white like the dead always were. And when she went to smile, Dizzy caught the knots of stitches in the corners of her sewn-shut mouth. Then Lonnie kissed her and filled her head with her scream until she felt like she was falling and...

Dizzy’s eyes flew open and immediately took in the listless ceiling fan and pink-amber morning of a bedroom. It wasn’t much of a view, but sunlight filtered through patterned curtains and wooden blinds and the windows along the wall were open to let in new air and early traffic sounds of the city. Her gun, two aspirin, and a glass of water waited on the bedside table.

This was Carmen’s place. She ran The Rising Sun, a bordello of exquisite and highly skilled spies, sirens, and succubi. Its success proved that some men would volunteer their lives for an orgasm rumored to be worth it.

She reached, but the bed was empty beside her. The plum-colored sheets were barely rumpled but Carmen’s scent lingered there on her pillow. Dizzy swung her feet over the edge of the bed and waited for her equilibrium to right itself.

“Morning,” Carmen called from the bathroom.

“Hey,” Dizzy grimaced, tasting her own breath. She downed the aspirin and dug her phone from the pocket of her jeans on the floor to begin swiping through her notifications. Four missed calls. It was Saturday. At least she’d only slept the night this time. 

“You alright? You look like shit.”

“Long night. We can’t all wake up looking like goddesses.” 

“You’re right,” Carmen smiled into the mirror. “You sticking around long enough to eat something?”

“Nah, I need to get going. I’ve been slacking on this case.”

Carmen turned to face her in the doorway. She was impossibly beautiful, full and soft in her curves and the pout of her lips. Her eyes were round, brown, and disarming, but in the right sunlight the pupils flickered to slits and golden scales shimmered just below the surface of her perfect brown skin. She was a demon, after all. Sometimes it felt rude not to be in love with her.

“Oh yeah? New lead on Lonnie?” She asked.

Dizzy shook her head, trying to forget the Tiger Moon billboard, the memory of Lonnie on the street. There hadn’t been a lead in years.

“Then I’ll rephrase. You’re sticking around long enough to eat something.”

Dizzy was both hungry and in no mood to argue. “You’re the boss.”

Satisfied, Carmen sauntered over and kissed her. Dizzy was immune to the soul-stealing drain inflicted on men. She let the nerves in her lips tingle with Carmen’s venom and inhaled the heady fruit scent of her. “Brush your teeth,” Carmen winked. “See you downstairs.”

The door clicked shut behind her and Dizzy stared through the windows a moment longer at the faded billboards and outed neon signs of sleeping nightlife hotspots. She’d found herself here in this room with this view more often than she expected. In the early days when she was mostly investigating Lonnie's murder, she’d found the bordello contained a wealth of information and they found her story sweet enough to give it to her. The relationship with Carmen herself had gradually become more personal but short of love. They understood each other’s positions perfectly well. The tormented Dizzy was emotionally unavailable and Carmen hadn’t the energy to waste bringing her out of it. Still, they enjoyed each other’s company. 

Her phone vibrated. She didn’t recognize the number so she shimmied into her jeans and boots while she waited for it to go to voicemail. The untied laces whipped the dark hardwood floor as she made her way to the bathroom. 

She sighed at herself in the mirror. Her brown and heavily freckled face was lacking lately in its glow. Her lips were pale and parched. Last night’s eyeliner smudged itself into an unkempt ring around her eyes and she’d sweat out the gel keeping the edges of her hair in line. At least she’d had the sense to gather it into an ombre pineapple on top of her head before passing out in Carmen’s bed. 

She docked her phone in a mirror console. Three green dots blinked in the mirror before the home screen’s at-a-glance information organized itself along its edges. Weather and Traffic brought to you by Heating Co. Power and Light. Eighty-eight degrees and sunny. Accident on the expressway, tack 30-minutes onto your commute.

“Read new messages,” Dizzy commanded before running the tap cold and splashing the water on her face. A transcript of her newest voicemail appeared and scrolled up the mirror.

NEW MESSAGES

09:14 - Miss Carter this is Carol Underwood. Roger has been gone four days now. You agreed to help me but you too are missing. Where are you? I need to know if the bastard is dead or just gone.

Ah, Mrs. Underwood. Dizzy shook her head. She wasn’t lying when she said she was behind on a case but this wasn’t her first creeping husband assignment. All she had to do was rule out Mr. Underwood being dead. 

The missed calls log read all the same numbers since last night. Mrs. Underwood had been persistent.

“Desert weather,” Dizzy said, and a weather map on the mirror revealed a stormfront rolling in from the east. It would be over San Guin by nightfall. She had time.

She managed to wrangle her curls into a neat-enough braid, then scrubbed the taste of morning and bourbon and caapi cigarettes from her mouth. Deadwalkers relied on certain herbs to maintain their connections to the dead world and the blended cigarettes she used stained a black spot inside her bottom lip where they’d rested over the years. She poked at the spot. Her stomach growled. She collected her phone and the gun from the bedside table and headed downstairs.

The Rising Sun was six floors of violet-painted hallways, a dozen rooms each with gold doors. The interior of the elevator Dizzy rode down was painted in Baroque tapestries of intermingling kings and conquered warriors and the lascivious demons who owned them; a bit on-the-nose, but exactly this clientele’s kink. The elevator stopped on most of the floors and the men who’d survived the night stepped anxiously inside. They appeared wasting away inside yesterday’s suits, their gazes vapid and distant looking through Dizzy and the men beside them. By contrast, the sirens who accompanied them on the ride down were radiant and made up in every variation of perfect. They allowed the weaker men to lean on them and kept conversation to make sure the men didn’t pass out in the elevator.

“Hiya, Dizz,” they’d wink at her.

“Hey darlin’,” she’d reply.

She followed the vixens and their overnight clients to the bar nook across the lobby. A line of colorful, sweet-smelling elixirs in shot glasses lined the bar and each man took one. Their color returned in a wave along with the spark in their eyes. The little brews would keep them vital at least until their next visit. And there would be a next visit. Some stayed for coffee or fruit and small plates of cooked things. Their senses of self restored, they carried on as if this were a normal morning they were spending with a normal mistress before heading off for their work day. Eventually, they would waste away altogether.

Dizzy took a seat at the bar where Carmen flirted and made stiffer drinks for the master of the universe types in tailored suits who didn’t begin or end a day without a finger or two of top-shelf booze. Carmen was an experience they insisted they were meant to have. They had to settle for her laugh and a few precious moments of witty banter. Dizzy admired the regality she had about her.

“You made it,” Carmen said, turning to Dizzy. “Coffee?”

“Whiskey and a water,” Dizzy replied. “I gotta take the edge off this thing.”

“You sure you know the difference?” Carmen winked. She’d started pouring the whiskey before Dizzy even asked and slid the glasses over in front of her. “What’s the case you’re behind on?”

“Missing husband,” Dizzy said with mocking enthusiasm. “The wife’s on my ass. But to be fair, it’s been four days.”

“Four days? He dead?”

“Don’t know. I need to make a trip to the desert.”

A girl appeared through the kitchen doors bearing a plate and Carmen gestured with her head that whatever was on it was Dizzy’s. Chorizo, rice, and a fried egg. Dizzy dug in and then paused when she noticed Carmen was standing over her.

“You’re seriously going to watch me eat?”

“Yes and you’re not getting up until it’s gone. I’m serious. Death’s one of those things I do here and you look like I’ve been working on you.”

A succubus named Ash joined Carmen behind the bar. She was a leggy dark-skinned girl with wide, brown eyes and a beatific smile and her face lit up when she saw Dizzy.

“Dizzy Carter!” She gasped and leaned over the bar to kiss her cheeks. “You’re never around this long.”

“I was commanded,” Dizzy replied.

A hulking giant of a man she recognized appeared a few seats down and leaned on the bar, waiting for a drink. He had a heavy, brooding brow and about a day’s worth of beard on his stony face. Tattoos covering scars Dizzy’d put there the first time they met peeked above the collar of his work shirt. He tapped a crushed box of clove cigarettes on the bar.

“Tomás.  ¿Qué paso?” Carmen smiled at him.

“Carmen. Carter,” he nodded at the women but avoided Dizzy’s eyes.

“Tommy,” Dizzy muttered.

Ash served him. He thanked her and slugged his drink and ducked out of the building with a cigarette between his lips. Dizzy watched him go.

“So tell me what you’ve been up to?” Ash insisted. Her lips and the lids of her eyes were painted gold and nearly distracted from the faint scales beneath her skin as the sun angled through the front windows. “Any progress on Lonnie’s murder?”

“Not for a while. Not unless you’ve got news for me,” Dizzy hid her grimace behind a mouthful of rice. “Not even the dead can find Lonnie Baxter.”

“I think it’s romantic you’re still trying,” Ash mused. 

“And stupid,” Carmen added with a piteous smile as she poured herself a drink. “I understand love. Human love. Eternal love. But walker or not, Desdemona, the living ain’t supposed to spend this much time with the dead,” Carmen warned. She clinked Dizzy’s glass with her own then turned to Ash.

“Make sure she eats,” she added pointedly and moved away to tend the clients.

Ash let out a long, low whistle. “Was that a lovers’ quarrel?”

“I don’t know what that was.” Dizzy stared after her, hoping, dreading, their relationship hadn’t just turned a corner. She changed the subject. “You’ve been working Tommy for what? Three years now? How is he not dead yet?”

“Five. I think he’s protected.”

“By what? Craft? I didn’t think Tommy got down like that,” Dizzy watched him through the glass front windows.

“I don’t know. This fell out of his pocket.” Ash turned a black card over in her hand. A emblem like the bones of outstretched wings was etched into a corner. Ash handed it to her.

“Hotel key card?” Dizzy suggested, even though years of tracking cheating spouses and secret drug habits had familiarized her with every hotel in San Guin. This was no key card. But it was familiar...  

“Not likely. He’s got a brand that matches it on his chest.”

“You ain’t ask him what it meant?”

Ash shrugged. “His money’s good. That’s brujo business.”

Dizzy’s phone vibrated. Mrs. Underwood’s number. 

“Damn it.” She slugged the rest of her whiskey and stood up. “I have to go.”

“Want me to apologize to Carmen for you?”

Dizzy thought a moment about whether or not she’d actually done anything requiring an apology. “Just tell her I’ll see her later.” 

She grabbed a few bottles of water from the elixir table and headed out into the sun. 

Her car was a gift from Lonnie. It was black and impossible to keep clean with the desert dust that attached itself to everything here; modeled after one of those vintage bad boys that sounded like a lion when you turned the engine over. They called them muscle cars over a century ago. Loud, environmentally irresponsible. Powerful. A fitting relic of the Former United States. She’d swapped out for a better fuel system, sure, but no one could drive a stick anymore so it was hard to steal. 

She donned her sunglasses and tried not to think about Carmen as she carved her way out of the city east into the desert. Towering, congested architecture overflowed with massive billboards and signage in muted colors. Almost everything here was styled to be most alluring at night. Glimpses of back streets revealed pop-up marketplaces and people seeking refuge in the shade. Bustling city streets finally gave way to small, even dustier homes, garages, and trading posts. An old, defunct gas station marked the forty mile point beyond the city limits where all the rest was brush and rocks and unforgivable dry heat. 

Dizzy’s loose curls whipped in the wind and her fingers mocked the plucking of guitar sounds on her radio. She hadn’t lost the music. She simply didn’t love it the way she used to. She’d given it up to investigate Lonnie’s death and the Fallen Angels Killer in ways the San Guin police wouldn’t, combing the vice-riddled other-life of San Guin and threatening the dead for answers. The drinking habit that sustained her sleep now was far from the worst thing she’d done in the name of vengeance. Before going to the dead for guidance, she’d taken lives of her own. 

And kept them.

She was a dangerous, reckless witch.

About the 66 mile marker she turned south off the paved road and took to the dirt. Her tire tracks weren’t exactly well-worn into a trail, but she’d been out here enough to know where she was going. She stopped 12 miles clear of the main road and before a rocky eye formation of an arching land bridge joining two mesas. No one who wasn’t looking for it would notice the fifty-foot circle of spiraling stones on the ground here. Their surfaces were marked forever in her own bloody fingerprints but the desert wind had covered them in a layer of dust.

Dizzy grabbed a small brush from her glovebox and got out. The sky darkened and storm clouds were collecting just over the horizon through the eye but the scent of rain wasn’t carrying this far on the wind just yet. It took an hour, but she made her way around the circle, brushing off each rock until her prints were visible. And then she went to her trunk for a wooden bowl into which she poured the bottles of water and placed it in the center of the circle. Water was life and her offering. The dead would see her as long as the water was there.

She sat on the hood of her car to collect herself, to leave Carmen and her nightmare here on the edge of the circle before lighting a caapi cigarette. The smoke she exhaled as she muttered the start of her incantations streamed into the air over the circle, impervious to the wind. She walked the outer ring, still praying, still chanting, tapping ash over the stones until it stopped hitting the ground and joined the gathering fog. Caapi was a troubling thing. Maintaining lucidity was always a challenge by the end of the third lap. She was not so much exhaling the smoke anymore as it was being drawn from her and the chants became commands for the dead to take no more than what was theirs. Her breath was her own and she had not come to give it to them. 

The stones began to bleed in vein-like jags over the sand until a perfectly circular pool formed. She fought the parts of her mind that told her snakes and scorpions were being summoned here, that the sky had turned black and the sun had cracked open and was dripping its gold onto the mesas. The fog of caapi smoke and ash solidified into an orb before she closed her eyes.

“You again.”

Dizzy opened her eyes to find the sky was blue, the day was hot and breezy. Everything was normal, right down to the familiar skeletal visage of Nico, one of her regular informants, standing on the edge of the circle before her. He’d been buried out here as a mob casualty like countless other bodies maybe ten years ago and any spirit to take her call took it in the form of his body. His living eyes were white and his skin still clung to his frame in places but the rest of him had wasted away. The bowl of water in the circle began to steam.

“Me again,” she replied. The cells of her body felt like soda bubbles, fizzing and popping as the caapi worked to keep her tethered to the living world.

“You come to pay what you owe?”

Dizzy ignored the question. “I need a little help with a case.”

Nico held out a hand kept together by more magic than tendons. Dizzy tugged a cigarette from its case, handed it over and lit it for him. He had no lungs. He barely had lips, so she imagined this affectation was more a creature comfort. 

“What’s the case?”

“Missing husband,” she pulled up a picture of the dapper Mr. Roger Underwood on her phone. “Underwood. Went disappearing about four days ago.”

“Well the wife ain’t a widow. The dead don’t know him. Not unless he’s pulled a Lonnie Baxter,” said Nico. He waved the cigarette in loops for its dancing smoke.

Dizzy bit her tongue to keep from saying something stupid and cut her eyes at him from behind her mirrored sunglasses. At least she could tell Carol for sure that her husband was running out on her again.

“So when do you plan to settle up?”

“I haven’t found the Fallen Angels Killer yet.” Dizzy frowned and looked southward toward nothing. 

“It’s been six years.”

“I know how long it’s been,” she snapped. “Time is a real thing on this side.”

“Hey, I’m just the messenger, girl. You’ve owed the dead them three goons you got stashed for a long time. They clearly ain’t doing you no good so I would suggest you turn them over before the dead come looking.” 

“Yeah alright,” Dizzy fidgeted.

“That it?” Nico asked, picking at the crumbling collar of his dingy purple shirt.

“Yeah, that’s it,” she sighed and leaned back against the car. Something in her back pocket settled wrong against the metal. She pulled out the black card Ash had given her. “Friend of mine showed me this. It looks familiar but I can’t place it. She says it’s brujo business.”

Nico took it from her, inspected it, and handed it back.

“What’s it to you?”

“A dangerous man was carrying it and has the same symbol branded on his chest.”

“Yeah?” The flesh of his remaining cheek went up in a smirk. “San Guin’s got a demon problem. And not them girls you hang around, either. Your buddy with the brand can tell you more about who it is and why they’re here though. We don’t know that.”

“A demon problem?” Dizzy muttered to herself. She ran her fingers over the symbol on the card, racking her brain for where she’d last seen it.

When Nico chuckled, it sounded like three voices at once. “Don’t do it.”

“Don’t do what?”

“Demons are not your thing. You don’t do nothing in moderation and this is just something new to obsess over. That’s not your world.”

“Look, I just asked you what it was.”

“Ain’t none of us new here,” Nico flicked the caapi roach toward the water boiling away behind him. “You will pull this thread and kill or be killed by whatever’s at the end of it. And if you die, we’ll never be rid of you.”

“Alright, Nico,” Dizzy rolled her eyes as the sound of the last of the water began to sizzle out.

“Stay in your lane, Dizzy Carter.”

Bye Nico.”

He tipped a hat he didn’t have and turned back to the circle just before his bones settled to dust again and were swallowed up by the earth.

Dizzy threw her bowl back into the trunk and the deadwalker fatigue settled heavily in her bones. She sat in her car, drumming the card against her steering wheel. 

In the beginning, her investigations lacked a certain professionalism. There’d been a year of blind and reckless rage. A handful of brass-knuckled back-alley brawls with San Guin’s goons and lesser gangsters had translated into some gruesome interrogations. A few of these interrogations needed a change of venue or more time than the immediate circumstances permitted. And so she’d killed three men she knew knew something and kept their ghosts hostage beneath bell jars in her bedroom where she might find uses for them at her leisure.

Presumably, someone was doing the same thing to Lonnie and that was why the dead couldn’t find her. The difference was they knew where to find Dizzy to collect their due.

Dark clouds billowed closer and the wind now brought the smell of rain with it. Staying in the desert after the sun went down or hid itself behind storms invited the dead to plague her for what was theirs and what they needed from her. And not all of them behaved themselves. The living energy of the city diffused the dead too easily to harm her there, so she’d learned the hard way not to doze off in the desert in her post-caapi states. 

She dialed The Rising Sun and threw the car into gear before skidding on the desert gravel headed back to the city.

“The Rising Sun, this is Sugar,” said a voice befitting the name over the subtle din of entertaining in the background.

“Sugar, it’s Dizzy. Is Ash around?”

“Oh hiya, Dizz. She’s…. No, I don’t see her. She must be upstairs. You want Carmen instead?”

“No,” Dizzy replied. She paused, guilt itching in her chest. Why was she avoiding Carmen? “Can you just have someone call me if Tommy shows up there? Today, tomorrow, whenever.”

“He in trouble?”

“No, I just want to talk to him.”

“Uh huh,” Sugar chuckled. “I’ll let Ash know.”

“Thanks.”

Almost as soon as her phone hit the leather of the seat beside her, it began to vibrate. Dizzy shook her head, cleared her throat, and answered it.

“Mrs. Underwood, hi. I have good news depending on how you look at it: Roger’s not dead.”

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