Mighty Maids Mystery
A Bo Fexler Short
"You do, of course, realize you are my prime suspect," I said to my client.
"And I'm supposed to hire you?"
"Your wife would be second on my list."
He cocked his head and looked at me with dark eyes the color of almonds. "Oh? Why?"
"Because I'm thinking that someone, most likely you, was sleeping with the cleaning lady. I mean, she had a damn fine ass on her."
He sat back, crossing his arms over the dark gray suit jacket, neither
taking offense nor looking guilty. I'd expected more of a reaction just because
women don't usually talk about other women's asses. However, as a regional manager,
he was probably practiced in looking blasÚ.
"So, maybe you killed her 'cause she threatened to tell the wife. Maybe
the wife killed her to end the affair."
"Maybe you don't understand. I'd like to hire you to clear my name. Yet
here you are, accusing me."
I met his gaze. "Then give me something else to work with." I baited the line.
He didn't even give me an old tire to reel in. "I have an alibi—I
was at work. In fact, I’ve been at work.
You can call my office if you’d like. They’ll tell you that
I was there.”
“Look, my wife thinks I had something to do with this, but I didn’t.
I’m faithful. She complains that I’m boring—but I always
have been. Too boring to have some fling with anyone, let alone my cleaning lady.”
"How was she killed?"
"Police said it was a blow to the head."
"I don't know. They didn't say anything to me. A blunt object, I guess."
For a change, I thought about what to say next. "Well, I can look into
He frowned, making his pale lips go white. It was like a corpse, with
less color. "Well, Bo," he said slowly.
"How much is hiring you to investigate this going to cost me?"
We went through the formalities and the contract and I took the retainer money.
With a list of names and a short version of the story of the cleaning lady's death, I was back out in the cold.
The next morning I went out to play detective. I took a handful of my
business cards, noting they still had that freshly-printed smell. At least it
was the second box. Though part of the first box had been lost in the eviction.
The little bell on the front door of “Mighty Maids” cleaners dinked in a truly pathetic fashion. I glanced up at it to find a bent, tarnished piece of metal.
The woman at the front desk didn't realize her attire was far too formal for a discount cleaning company. She smiled at me, revealing a missing eye tooth. I extended
a hand, switched to my “nice” setting, and smiled back. "Hi."
"Hello! What I can do for you?"
"I've got some questions about the woman, Lucinda Raes, who died cleaning a client's house."
"Oh." That brought her back to reality faster than cops kill a high school
"How long was Lucinda cleaning the Harlow’s house?"
"That's not the only place she cleans, is it?"
"No. Usually we sent our ladies out in groups of two or three to clean
"How many is several?"
"Between five and seven houses, usually."
"All that on minimum wage."
"I'm sorry." Her tone iced over.
"Sorry. Got up on the wrong side of the bed." Never understood that phrase. Without being sure if the attempt
at placation was successful, I pressed on. "Now, what I've heard is that she
was found dead about two on November 27th, by the homeowner."
"Didn't she go to the house with a posse?"
The woman tapped a pen. "She did.
The other lady said she asked to be dropped off that morning to clean the house herself. She said she was upset and didn't feel like working around anyone else."
"Who's this other lady?"
"Is she working today?"
"Could you tell me where she's cleaning today?"
"Are you a police officer?"
I almost said I was, even though that's a direct violation of the law concerning my private investigator's license. My not-even-a-year-old license.
I shook my head and she clucked her tongue. "Then I can't tell you anything
about that. These ladies are here to work."
"Understood. What time to do they get off?"
"They're supposed to bring the company cars back by six."
As I nodded, I must have shaken a thought loose. A good one. "Would you like a coffee?"
Her eyebrows lifted, and a smile tipped her mouth. "Sure."
"I'll get us some from the shop on the corner."
"Well, thank you." The ice was melting.
I jogged down to get her a coffee. Friendly. Just as my mentor tried to instruct me. He'd have better luck
working with mules.
"Do you have a few minutes to talk?" I asked, as I handed her the coffee.
She took the lid off, took a packet of sweetener from her desk drawer and shook it in before stirring the drink. Finally, she was able to answer my question.
"Sure. About Raes?"
"Yeah. Did you know the ladies very well?"
"Some. Some of them will stop here and chat before or after their shift. And I'm the one they have to talk to when they call in."
"Did Lucinda call in much?"
"No. She had a great track record.
I've never had any complaints from her clients, either. We've had her
cover for other cleaners, and, well, we had to fire two ladies after Raes cleaned those houses."
"Weren't up to the task, were they?"
She shook her head, causing auburn hair to swing. "Here, take a seat."
"So, what can you tell me about Lucinda and her death?"
"Well, it was pretty odd that she went out there by herself. But, she's
a good worker. And the other woman, Katie Williham, is too, so it wouldn't really
matter. We'd never know most of the time.
Williham said that she was supposed to go back to pick Raes up about four, just before they were supposed to come back. Now, the thing that I don't quite get is that Williham was agreeing to take two houses,
while Raes just did one."
"That's what I thought. I told the police that, too, but they just shrugged
it off. But the guys I talked to were white."
"Raes is not."
She nodded. " ‘Lazy Mexican.’
We had a homeowner get upset last year that we sent a ‘lazy Mexican’ to her house. Didn't matter that we told her that Raes is one of our best workers."
"Well, the homeowner gets there before Williham gets back. Finds Raes
on the floor and calls the police. At least that's the story. He was supposed to be at work until seven that night."
"So what was he doing home?"
"Looks like somebody was having a little—" She wiggled her eyebrows and grinned.
I expected her to say "Wink, wink, nudge, nudge." But she left the implied
"Is Lucinda married?"
"No. She's got a boyfriend. George
Juarez. He works at a factory in the downtown.
Don't know what exactly. Raes talked about getting married, but I don't
think he ever sprung for a ring."
"Do you know how long Lucinda had been with George?"
"A couple years, I think."
"Any rumors of Lucinda ever straying?"
She thought about this. "No. I
don't think so."
"So do you think it's likely that she did sleep with Mr. Harlow?"
"Why not? I mean, she was a young attractive woman. He's not bad looking, for someone his age. And he's got money."
"Do you think he killed her?"
"Probably to keep her quiet about it. I bet she wanted him to divorce
the wife and move her into the huge house. That would be living!"
She watched too many soap operas. "Was it possible that Lucinda was pregnant?"
"I heard that she wasn't, but I don't know if that was rumor or from the police."
"Right. Well, I've got a lot to do.
Thank you, though, for your time." I stood, extended a hand. "You've been a big help."
I stopped by the police department for some ribbing from the officers that know me from my days as a glorified Cold
Case filer and for the reports on Lucinda Raes's death. At least they had a few
blonde jokes I hadn’t yet heard in my twenty-two years as a blonde.
George Juarez was supposed to still be at work, so I was surprised to
see movement inside when I got to his place just before five. If opportunity
can knock, so can I. The man who opened the door was wider than he was tall. He scowled.
"I'd like to talk to you about Lucinda Raes."
The scowl slid off like an overused magnet slides down the fridge, taking everything with it. He stepped aside and let me enter the small apartment. It
was warm with the smell of something Mexican. "Taquito?" he offered, motioned to a plate on the small round dining table.
He handed me a small plate and we sat across from each other. He sighed
several times in a row before stating, "I miss her."
I bit into my taquito.
"We were together for almost five years. I proposed to her last year,
at Christmas time. I've been saving for a ring, but then my car died. I had to fix it. Lucy said she understood and that she could
wait. We wanted to make sure we had enough money for the wedding. There was talk, I guess, that Lucy's great aunt might give us some money to help pay for the wedding."
I've read several etiquette books lately—from my mentor who laughed when he gave them to me—but none of
them covered what to say in these sorts of conversations.
"I was very much in love with her. Wanted to spend the rest of my life
with her." His voice started to tremble and he stopped. He turned a taquito around on his plate.
"Was she cheating on you?"
"No! Never! She wouldn't
even think of it, let alone do it."
"Would you cheat on her?"
His mouth dropped open. There were no words inside, and he just shook
I studied his face. He could have written "anguish" with a thick marker,
but that would have been less obvious than what his facial expressions showed. "How
was your relationship with Lucinda those last weeks?"
"No fights? No disagreements. No
little quibble over some stupid problem that just won't go away?"
He almost smiled. His mouth moved from a frown to a level position. "Well, sure. I mean, we disagreed plenty. I thought that she should look for a better job.
She said she would once she got married. She wanted to hang out with Katie,
but I wanted to go to the movies. It was the only night I didn't work overtime. I try to get all the O.T. I can, save money for the wedding."
"You fought over her going out with Katie?"
"Yeah. But not much. She
was going to go out whether I liked it. And I know her and Katie are close."
"This is the same Katie Williham that she works with?"
"Yeah. They're very good friends.
They work good together."
"Do you get along with Katie?"
"Oh sure. Very good. Katie
is very easy to talk to. She said she'd go out with me. If I wasn't with Lucy, of course."
He cocked his head, not sure if I was being sarcastic or not. I didn't
"Could I have another?" I pointed to the taquitos.
He nodded. "You think maybe Katie had something to do with this?"
"Maybe they fought over you. Maybe it just got out of hand. M.E. reports that Lucy died from a blow to the side of the head.
One in a million shot. Maybe they fought, Katie picked up a statue or
some other heavy, expensive thing and—"
"No. They would not fight over me.
Or any other man. They believed very strongly in honor. Especially between friends. Lucy told me that they would never
date a guy the other had dated. Even if he was a hot movie star. Their friendship was more important."
"Yeah, but does it change if one of the women dies? Does that make it
okay? The friendship is already gone."
His mouth twitched—something between a smile and frown. "Yes."
My eyebrows went up. "You know that?"
"Lucy told me about their conversation. They were joking around. They were drinking."
" 'How many mice does it take to screw in a light bulb?' is a joke. Asking
a woman in a serious relationship if it's okay to date her man if she's dead, is premeditation."
"Maybe Lucy asked." His voice cracked.
"Then it's a damn funny coincidence."
"They were good friends. They wouldn't—not over a man…"
"Not 'a man'. You."
That broke him. Tears started down his face and he bent to sob into the
I grabbed a taquito and left. That
last taquito didn't taste quite right.
I knew what hours Katie worked. I called her employer and managed to wheedle
the name of one of her clients. With a name, I was able to get an address. The next day, I drove over and waited on street side for Katie to show up for work.
I walked across the driveway as she was gathering her cleaning supplies. She
glanced up at me her face pale, brow furrowed and jaw pulled tight.
“Katie. I want to talk to you about Lucinda Raes.”
“I don’t have anything to say.”
“I’m not with the police.”
“I don’t care.”
“Wasn’t she your friend?”
“I don’t know who you think you are, but you need to get away from me.”
“Why don’t we match wits? I’ll put money down that I’m
going to win.”
She swung the mop handle. I blocked it easily—the blow was more
threat than intended harm. I grabbed the mop handle and twisted it from her hand.
Her eyes narrowed and she lunged for the pilfered mop. I smacked the handle against
She snarled at me, her lip curling back from her teeth. I jabbed with
the mop, poking her hip and making her juggle the other things she was carrying. “I
know you were crushing on Lucy’s fiancÚ.”
She shook her head. “You’re full of shit. You been talking
any of these lies to anyone else?”
“A couple people. Why—would it bother you?”
She grabbed for the mop. I let her take it, even though it meant handing
over the weapon. She was terrified of me—and it had nothing to do with
me taking the mop from her.
She backed away, mop held out and ready to strike. I lifted my chin, staring
She turned to the house, but kept looking over her shoulder at me. Then,
she was safely inside the house. I heard the door lock. I went back to my car. I saw her watching from the front window,
which has to make it hard to mop. I stood at the back of my car until she left
the window. The curtain swung back in place.
From the trunk of my car, I retrieved my set of Slim Jims. I jogged back
to Katie’s car. The garage blocked any view from the house, allowing me
to open the door and search Katie’s car in relative private.
I sorted through receipts. Got her home address from her automobile registration.
In her purse, she had the normal female accessories. But no love letters. The only evidence I had was an unused book of matches from a bar downtown. There were no phone numbers, names, or other useful evidence inside.
I poked around some more, then locked the door and went back to my car to review the police report.
Without many other leads, I headed to the downtown bar that Katie had presumably gone to at least once. Hopefully more than once, because my trail had dried up like every plant brought into my apartment.
The bar had the standard low-lighting and dank aroma of most low-class bars.
It was hard to judge if it was the locale or the clientele that accounted for most of the acrid, musty odor. I was hesitant to touch anything for fear the smell would linger for days on my hands.
I approached the bartender. He gave my chest an extra long look. There was nothing revealed except shape in the tight tee shirt. I let my long hair swing loose and straight. I had put on
a bit of makeup—red lipstick, a hint of blush, and some shimmery powder for an ethereal look. Even though my intentions were entirely un-angelic.
"What can I get for you?" the bartender asked in a low, throaty voice. It
seemed like he was trying to sound more masculine or macho.
"Looking for a man." I slid onto a bar stool and leaned my arms on the
counter. A lock of my hair slid over my shoulder.
"Oh? Any one in particular?"
"One who knows what he's doing."
The bartender grinned. "Well, I think you've come to the right place."
"Perhaps," I said, lowering my voice and leaning in conspiratorially. "If
he can do what I need him to."
"And what, exactly, do you need him to do?" the bartender asked with a flirty grin.
"Ideally, I need a hit man." But I grinned while I said it, making it
into a joke.
The bartender grinned and glanced away, as if he was looking for any customers who needed serving.
"Or perhaps just the guy she got."
I slid Katie's photo on the bar and studied the bartender's face. I kept
the grin on my lips, even though it felt wrong.
The bartender's eyebrows bunched up as he looked at the photo. He looked
at me, then leaned his arms on the counter. "Far as I know, she didn't come in
here hiring a hit man." He voice was low, furtive.
I laid a twenty on the photo. "I know.
Who is he?"
He put his hand over the twenty. "He's not a hit man."
"Far as you know. But does he have a name?"
"Luis. Luis Ramirez, maybe. He
only comes in once in a while. I wouldn't hire him for a hit. Too skittish. And I'd watch your back if I were you. If he hears that you were asking around."
"So he's more than just a two-bit guy who was sweet on the girl?" I lifted my eyebrows.
I hadn't really expected the guy to be a hit man. But it made sense. The lack of evidence, but the tenuous connection between him and Katie and Lucinda.
"I wouldn't exactly call him a professional. He mainly does B&E. He's good at it, so long as he keeps his head.
But sometimes he gets paranoid. Spooks easy."
"How would I know if he was the one giving me grief?"
"How many other Mexicans you have after you?"
I shrugged. "What's special about him?"
"Tat on his neck. Says 'demonio.' Spanish for demon. Red letters, like
they're blood. And a big fancy looking cross behind it."
"And wears a wallet chain and the baggy pants like the kids do. Only he's
a little too old. Though, come to think of it, he didn't have his chain last
time I saw him."
"You heard about that cleaning lady popped over on Wentworth Street?"
"I might have. That him?"
"Perhaps. Has your pal ever been busted and printed for anything?"
The bartender shook his head. He glanced around the bar, his gaze lingering
on each of the few patrons. "You don't seem much like the type of girl to get
involved in this sort of thing. You're not a narc are you?"
I snorted. "Oh, yeah. Like
I wouldn't stand out like a cactus in a bed of clover."
He laughed. "So what are you?"
"So a narc."
"No. My job is to find answers for my clients, not turn over two-bit criminals
to the cops for a small finder’s fee." As far as dollars went, keeping my mouth shut was more profitable.
He nodded slowly. "So, maybe you and me should go out for a drink or something." He had a nice smile. And blue eyes.
"Perhaps." I let him take the twenty, gave him one of my cards, and took
Katie's photo back. I slid the photo in my pocket and left.
There wasn't any point to following Katie until after she got off work. In
the meantime, I paid a visit to my client's house. He and his wife were away
as usual when I parked across the street. I double-checked the batteries on my
camera, then went to the side of the house. The tall gate was locked, but that's
never stopped me. I flipped my coat over the top of the gate, hooked my toes
into notches in the fence and heaved myself over. The coat is damn good at keeping
me warm, but too long and bulky for climbing and sleuthing—so I left it hanging on the gate.
Peering under the bushes, I saw many things. Signs of rodent and avian
life. Decaying leaves. Worm piles
and animal trails. And, on the opposite corner I had started from, a wallet chain. I took one photo, then shifted to take a better shot, but lost my balance and toppled
The trio of gun shots was deafening.
Bark splintered off the tree beside me. I backpedaled behind the limited
cover that the tree provided. Then, I went over the fence beyond that—using
the tree to help me climb. It also blocked me from view.
I hopped the neighbor's fence to the street-side yards, slipping on my way over in my haste. A little bruised, but still without any holes, I dashed as fast as cigarette-damaged lungs allowed to our
Ohio law prohibits citizens from carrying weapons. As a mostly law-abiding
citizen, I was clearly at a disadvantage. My pocket knife doesn't work terribly
well as a ranged weapon.
Ducking behind his car, I made note of the license plate. I moved slowly
along the side of the car until I spotted him at the fence where I left my coat. Might
as well have been a banner. He was too short to climb the fence, so he was fumbling
with the latch. He stood on his tip toes to see over, looking for me still. Damn.
I would have totally loved to snipe him like some Quake3 bot.
For the time being, I pressed my knife tip into the valve stem on his rear tire and deflated it. Afterwards, I let the air out of the front tire. I was careful
not to leave any prints on the car—just in case.
Then, I watched. He had stopped peering over the fence and was stomping
across the front yard. He swung the gun in his hands as if he wasn't in an otherwise
quiet residential neighborhood. To my delight, he pressed himself between the
tall pine and the house.
The perfect cover. I ran for the house, knife in hand. My footfalls echoed loudly against the large empty houses. Loud
enough even, to be heard over the sound of my heart pounding.
I reached the garage, paused, then proceeded carefully. I could hear him
rustling. The neighbor had a lower wrought-iron type of fence that butted up
to my client's fence. As I moved up to the pine, my assailant was using the smaller
fence as footing to get over the larger fence.
I moved in and stabbed him in the back of the knee. He yelled. Swung the gun around, which upset his perch on the fence. I
grabbed his shirt and pulled him—foolishly—towards myself. The intention
was to get him on the ground and hopefully get the gun from his hand.
The result was the gun firing.
He fell off the fence. I staggered back, pain burning down my leg. Before pain completely overtook my brain, I reached for the gun. Adrenaline does mighty things.
He held it tight. The best I could do was keep the gun pointed away from
me. I had a height advantage of nearly a foot on the shrimp. He was wider, but without muscle tone. But his grip was fierce. He was probably adrenaline-fueled as well.
In the distance, sirens wailed a sad song.
His face was growing redder, the color almost matched the red, bloody-looking letters on his neck. I tried to pry his fingers off the grip of the gun. He twisted
his body away from me. I used his momentum and sent us both to the ground. Me on top. Gun dangerously close by.
And so was my knife.
I allowed the distraction and stretched for my knife. He shoved me off. Shouldn't have gone for the knife.
There was less than a foot between us as he pointed the gun. I punched
him in the face, then in the stomach. And grabbed the gun with both hands. My thumb was against the safety—so I flicked it on. Then I twisted his hands. I could feel his hand tense as his
trigger finger did its thing.
My heart skipped a beat, but the safety was on and the gun stayed quiet. Twisting
his wrist until the bones protested, I finally freed the gun. His hands twitched
and his body shuddered.
The sirens were closer. It occurred to me that nice neighborhoods probably
have a few people that call the cops when there are gunshots fired. I've never
lived in one of those neighborhoods—at least not for a long time.
I lifted the gun and pressed the muzzle of it against the man's head. Then
I looked closely at him. He hadn't shaved.
He wore dark sweats—requisite stalker apparel.
And the red letters on his neck spelled demonio over a gothic cross.
"You must be Luis. Katie's
hit man. What' sa matter, get spooked?
His eyes began a wild dance back and forth. There weren't any answers. There wasn't any escape. Unless he was
just as foolish and desperate as I was. He had more at stake. But he said nothing. Didn't even tell me why he was there.
My guess was that someone had told him about me asking questions about the case and he got nervous.
"Drop your weapon!"
I took a few quick steps away from Luis, then tossed the gun aside. I
put my hands up to my shoulders. My hands were shaking—my whole body was
trembling. And my leg was throbbing, with hot, wet, burning pain. It was threatening to give out on me, so I shifted my weight to the good leg.
The police officer still had his gun drawn. He was a large, broad man
with a dark mustache. His hat was too big, but his bushy eyebrows seemed to do
a fine job keeping it on right.
"Hands up—both of you!"
I glanced at Luis, who finally lifted his hands. His shoulders were slumped
and he didn't lift his head. He was totally fucking busted.
The officer radioed for back-up then came over to retrieve the gun, keeping his own weapon on me at all times. Having been mistaken for a killer, an addict, a prostitute, and a psycho, I'm no long
surprised or bothered by such reactions.
"Do you mind—" I started.
"I'll ask the questions!"
"I've been fucking shot! I'd like to fucking sit down!"
He stared, eyes bugging out of his head. "That was pretty stupid of you,
wasn't it?" He grabbed my arm. "You
can sit in the back of my car. Hands on your head. I'm going to pat you down."
"Make sure you check my boobs real good."
"Watch your mouth. Charge you with disorderly conduct."
He patted me down, removing my wallet and cell phone from me.
"I'm not going to be able to walk to the car." My head was starting to
swim and my whole body was turning to a large Jell-O Jiggler. "And watch him."
"I don't need you telling me my job."
"No, but you do need some of the facts that you're missing. That's his
gun. The knife is mine. He shot
at me. He also killed Lucinda Raes. He—" I put my hand out, inadvertently as the world slipped sideways. The cop shoved my hand away. I let myself fall and closed
my eyes. I heard tires on the road. I
kept my eyes closed until I felt hands on me.
An EMS tech.
"I knew she was faking it," the cop spat as the paramedics helped me onto the stretcher.
Sometime later, as I was recovering in the hospital, finishing the book I'd talked a volunteer into purchasing, an
officer came to see me. He was tall, light in skin, hair and demeanor. He greeted me warmly.
I closed the book and set it aside. "Hopefully you have something to tell
and not just ask."
"You're the one who tied Luis to Lucinda?"
"Yeah. And to Katie."
"Well, we finished what you started. His prints are on the fence. The chain matches his wallet. He confessed—he
even admitted that he just bought a new chain."
"Good. So why'd he do it?"
"Money. She paid him, like, seven or eight grand for it. He always thought himself a tough guy anyway. A demon." He chuckled and shook his head.
I had to agree—Luis seemed more imp than demon. "What about George
The cop pressed his lips together tight in what was either a sad smile or a tense frown. "He didn't take it too well. He told us about what he told
you. Then he just kind of broke down. He
really cared about Raes, and—" He shook his head. "He couldn't seem to understand it. Said he didn't want to
be with Katie. He only wanted Raes."
"So Katie has a woman killed so she could have a chance with a man who expressed no real interest in her? Nice."
Love makes people do stupid things.
All the more reason to keep it out of my life.