Chapter One

My husband and I have been involved in a few crimes, including murder, but…

Let me rephrase that. My husband and I have been involved in solving a few crimes, but we decided to retire from crime solving, so to speak. We have a young son and he’d been in danger more than once, although the situations had taken us by surprise. We wouldn’t put him through that again.

We also have a business to run. It’s a forties-themed restaurant and lounge, with live music and excellent food.

My husband, Chris Cross, is a Humphrey Bogart look-alike, and there’s nothing he enjoys more than walking the walk and talking the talk. Our customers love his Bogey persona and occasionally show up for dinner dressed in forties garb.

At one time he wanted to be a private investigator and that’s how we met. I was suspected of committing a murder, and he was on the case. Thankfully, a friend who’s a P.I. taught him a few hard lessons about the craft, and that’s when we ended up in the restaurant business.

After that first case, he ended up with a reputation for figuring things out. People thought we could solve anything. We were quite a team, but reality spoke to us and we stopped listening when people wanted our help. I referred them to that P.I. friend of ours.

That is, until one morning when a neighbor from down the street, Mary, approached us with a problem. We sat on the sofa in the living room and talked.

“Pamela,” she said, “I need your help.”

“Oh? I heard you were redecorating. Do you need some advice or an opinion?”

“It’s not that, although I know you have great taste. No, I’m having a problem with the Black Butterfly.”

“Black butterfly? What’s that?”

“Not what, but who. The Black Butterfly was my cousin. Her parents died when she was young and we were raised together. She felt more like a sister than a cousin.”

Mary Litton was in her mid-eighties, and as spry and energetic as they come. She still dyed her hair blonde, made a point of wearing make-up, and dressed stylishly, yet comfortably. She went to the beauty shop once a week and had her hair done. Sharp as a tack, not much got past her.

“Your cousin? Why was she called the Black Butterfly?”

“It’s a long story, and if you decide to help me, I think you and Chris should hear it at the same time.”

“You know we retired from the sleuthing business, right?” I asked, hoping she’d let it go.

“I know, but somehow I think you and your husband would be perfect for my issues. It wouldn’t jeopardize Mikey in any way, shape or form. I promise.”

I sat and watched the woman for a moment before making up my mind. “I think Chris is in the garage. I’ll go check and be back in a minute. Would you like a cup of coffee while you wait?”

“No, thank you. I’m fine.”

I walked toward the back door, but when I entered the kitchen, there was Mikey, eavesdropping.

“Young man – “

“I promise to keep my nose out of your business.” He spoke quickly and his face had turned pink from the embarrassment of being caught.

“You know your father and I aren’t working on cases anymore. There won’t be anything to keep your nose out of, right?”

“Sure, Mom.”

I walked past him and glancing over my shoulder, I saw that he had his fingers crossed behind his back.

I shook my head and vowed to keep a close eye on him.

Chris was in the garage, working on his forties vintage Chevy, his pride and joy. This time he was changing the oil.

“Hey, Bogey Man, we have a guest.” I tried to sound casual, but I had a feeling I wasn’t succeeding.

He glanced up but didn’t say anything. I wondered if the suspicious expression on his face had something to do with my tone of voice or the nickname I’d used.

“Mary Litton is here. You know Mary, our neighbor?”

“Uh huh. What’s up, toots?”

“She wants to talk to us about the Black Butterfly.”

“The what?”

“It’s not a what, but a who. She has a cousin who was called the Black Butterfly. That’s all I know. She thought she should tell her story to both of us at the same time so she wouldn’t have to repeat it. I don’t know what it’s all about. Oh, and I found Mikey in the kitchen listening in on our conversation.”

Chris frowned. “Now why doesn’t that surprise me?”

I shrugged. Our son has an unnatural interest in the unusual, and mysteries, and it’s our fault. He’s seen and heard too much for a child to really comprehend. We were trying to change that.

The Black Butterfly? Oh, come on. What could Mary possibly want us to help her with that had to do with her cousin and a butterfly?

My husband wiped his hands on an old rag and followed me back to the house.

Our two yellow Labrador Retrievers, who are mostly white, ran across the back yard to greet us.

Chris gave them some pets and scratches before telling them to stay outside. Sherlock and Watson sat and looked up at him. If a dog can look disappointed, then that’s the way they looked.

“The very least we can do is listen to what Mary wants. She’s a nice woman, after all. How bad could things be?”

“How bad could things be? I think we’ve said those words before – just before our world fell in on us. Besides, she’s always struck me as a dame who keeps things close to the vest.”

“Mary? She’s always been very open with me. I never got the feeling she was keeping secrets.”

“Calling her sister – “

“Cousin, but like a sister.”

“Whatever. Calling her cousin the Black Butterfly reeks of secrecy to me. The nickname sounds ominous, like a gun moll.”

I laughed. “Listen to you. You’re already moving into your Bogey persona, Chris. Let’s just hear her out before we decide if we want to get involved.”

We found Mary patiently waiting in the living room with Mikey telling her about the latest child’s mystery he’d read.

“Okay, Ace, why don’t you go upstairs and take care of your homework,” Chris said. Mikey never got tired of Chris calling him Ace and he smiled at his father before slowly climbing the stairs.

I knew he was hoping we’d start talking before he reached the top step. I watched him and held up my hand for silence.

Chris waited until our son was out of sight before turning to Mary. “Okay, let’s have the lowdown. What is it you need?”

“Chris, that was kind of rude,” I said. “You could at least tell our neighbor ‘hi’,” I said.

“Hi,” he said. “Now what’s the skinny?”

I started to say something but Mary shook her head. “It’s okay, Pamela. I know he’s a busy man and wants to get down to business.”

She seemed to stop to gather her thoughts for a moment, rubbing her lips together while she massaged her knees with her hands.

I heard some sounds from upstairs. “Mikey, go do your homework,” I said, loudly.

I heard footsteps racing down the hallway.

Mary took a deep breath. “I was out in my backyard a couple of days ago and saw a Red Admiral. Do you know what that is?”

“No,” I replied. “I’ve never heard of anything by that name.”

“It’s a butterfly that’s mostly black, with some red and white spots on the tips of its wings. I haven’t seen one in years, and it made me think about Meredith. In the days when women didn’t get tattoos, Meredith got one of a black butterfly on her shoulder. People knew about it – word gets around fast – and that’s where she got the name the Black Butterfly.”

“What’s the significance?” I asked.

“I guess there’s no tactful way to put this, but my cousin was a hit man, or I guess you’d say a hit woman. At least, that’s what I was told after she disappeared. Like I said, the tattoo earned her the nickname.”

My mouth dropped open.

Pete reached over and tapped my lip.

I closed my mouth, only to reopen it to ask questions, and I had plenty, beginning with, “What?”

Chris grinned at me. “Wasn’t it just a few minutes ago when you asked how bad it could be? Got a clue now?”

Marja McGraw

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Black Butterfly
A Bogey Man Mystery

Marja McGraw