“Six minutes until the MoonPie drops,” Glenn Hanover, my hot boyfriend, whispered before kissing my neck on that vulnerable spot where the pulse hides.
Glenn’s got one of those voices, you know, the sexy-mellow sound that weakens knees and sets off a riptide of fluttery goosebumps. He knows the effect he has on me and uses it. Standing behind me with his arms around me, he lets loose a tiny sigh, making me want to leave the New Year’s Eve rooftop party because I’m…
“Blinded!” a girl shouted from the ground.
We were on top of my brother-in-law’s business, the equivalent of three stories high on St. Francis Street. Leaning over the safety rail, I scanned the park below for injured people. Laughter echoed and then quieted. Teens ran or danced through the park, waving handheld sparklers. No one had fallen in distress or caught on fire as far as I could tell. An air horn sounded, calling everyone back to the rooftop for the New Year countdown.
Glenn tightened his arms around me and said, “It’s good to hear kids having fun again, isn’t it?”
I nodded, smiling. I’m hopelessly in love and trying not to embarrass myself in public. He keeps me from feeling the cold chill in the night air, and he helps to hold my nightmares at bay. Glenn always sees the sunny-side view, and I’m a borderline pessimist. I expect trouble; Glenn doesn’t. Being with him has been good for me. I laugh more.
The New Year’s Eve crowd was in a good mood, the hot chocolate hadn’t run out, and the smoky aroma of barbecue lingered in the frigid air. I was happy, drunkenly happy for the first time in months, and I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. Plastic flutes of champagne were being passed around on a tray. Glenn and I took one. My brother-in-law, Robert Blakeley, poured ginger ale for my sister, Heather.
“Five minutes to midnight,” Heather shouted. She looked beautiful as she kissed her husband.
Heather and Robert are pregnant and they’re having a boy. They’re prone to blurting baby names at the strangest times. Today they came up with Wolfgar, but said they’d call the baby Gar. I mean, they’ve lost their minds, but they’re high on the idea of being parents. Heather is my only blood relative. She resembles our mother, I look like Dad. We’re opposites in every category important to sisters, but we’re close. Always have been, always will be.
“Heather misses not being downtown at the newsroom anchor desk, waiting for the ’Pie to drop,” I said to Glenn.
“I do not!” Heather yelled, proving for all time she inherited the snoop gene too. “Quick! Someone please toss Reece a MoonPie to snack on.”
Heather helped usher in the MoonPie era. A fake giant MoonPie is dropped from Mobile’s tallest building on New Year’s Eve. She talked endlessly about the unique idea from her old job as a local TV news anchor. Proposed by a city councilman, most people scoffed at the idea, but Heather loved it. She even attended a council hearing and handed out ’Pies to the attendees. MoonPies are two round graham crackers with marshmallow filling dipped in a flavored coating. Masked krewe members riding on Mardi Gras floats toss MoonPies to the hungry serfs below. As a lifelong serf, my personal favorite is banana flavored, but most people prefer the chocolate.
’Pies pelted me. I caught the yellow one and ripped the plastic with my teeth. People applauded. Glenn and I took a bite at the same time while Dixie Kennedy, my neighbor’s best friend, snapped pictures.
Everyone I know—well, all but one small group of seniors—is trying to keep me from snooping, since it almost killed me in September. Snooping is sticking my nose in other people’s business. I’m one of those odd people that can remember details others ignore or don’t notice. I’ll never forget my near brush with death, because during my ordeal Mobile was visited by a late-season hurricane nicknamed the Fiend. No one even remembers the name NOAA gave the storm, but I still dream of what happened.
“Three minutes to midnight!”
The air horn blew a second time to summon teenagers from the park below.
Below us, kids discovered the ’Pies that sailed over my head as they ran to join their families on the rooftops. They bickered over the flavors. “Give me the vanilla one!”
I said to Glenn, “You’re right, it’s great to hear laughter in crowds, since there’s been precious little since the Fiend’s visit.”
As soon as I said the local’s name for the storm that nearly washed Mobile out to sea, the conversation hushed.
“I don’t believe you,” Heather said, rubbing her belly. “To get invited to this party, friends had to swear an oath over Joe Cain’s grave never to say that name again. It’s my party and my sister breaks the one and only rule?”
“Don’t you mean it’s our party?” I asked, and pointed at Robert.
Robert shouted, “Two minutes!” He muted the lights so we could see the ’Pie drop in the distance and the fireworks that follow. Other roof parties flanking the park below did the same. It was Heather’s idea to turn the New Year’s Eve celebration into a business block party. It worked out because the hurricane flattened trees and cleared our downtown view.
“She’s supposed to walk the plank,” Heather complained.
“Reece has a cast on,” Robert reminded her. “One minute!”
“No excuses!” Dot Dearwood, my neighbor, yelled.
The partygoers laughed. The plank was ten feet long and led to the roof next door. Some roofers had left it behind in the after-storm repair frenzy. Robert left it up as a joke and blocked the entry points.
Revelers on the other roof shouted, “Walk the plank!”
“Walk the plank or hear a secret?” I yelled, balancing my drink on the safety rail.
“Now you’ve done it,” Glenn muttered.
“Ten seconds!” Robert said, leading his crowd into the countdown.
“Does Glenn know?” Dot Dearwood bellowed.
I grinned and shook my head. Dot can’t stand not knowing a secret.
“Secret’s on my phone.” I tossed it to Dot.
Heather, always competitive, lunged to catch it.
“Happy New Year!”
That was how my first New Year’s kiss came from my sister.
Heather hugged and kissed me. “It’s going to be a great new year, isn’t it?”
I nodded. Heather’s baby would be the highlight for us both. I turned to kiss Glenn and wished him happy New Year. In the wild exchange of hugs and kisses, I really felt like the depression from my near-death experience in my own home had faded, and that the heartache from the hurricane’s devastation was finally behind me. Glenn and I tipped flutes and drank to the New Year.
Detective Tom Tyson arrived on the rooftop as we sang “Auld Lang Syne.” Kelly Vinson, his date and a single mother, hugged him. Kelly was my nurse after my ankle surgery, and we became friends. She and Tom started dating a month ago. She’d even pulled a few stints with Text-A-Nurse on her off days, when Glenn couldn’t see my patients. Between them they kept my business running until I became mobile.
The rooftop crowd went through another round of hugs and kisses, and then Tom headed straight for the food. He’d just gotten free from working a homicide in the last few hours of the old year. He says solving murders are harder than he’d previously thought, especially the cold cases he inherited. I’ve offered to help with the old cases, but he’s ignored me. Tom feels guilty whenever one of the family members calls and asks for an update. Sooner or later, he’ll ask for my help because he knows I might notice something others have missed.
Fireworks exploded above the Mobile River after the song ended. Robert turned on the chosen music. Each business asked their employees to recommend a few songs. A DJ then combined the lot into one unique anthem for our party.
Standing with Glenn’s arms around me, I stared up at the magnificent fireworks for about ten seconds. You see, I have a character flaw. I’m trying to fight my snoop gene, but it’s like ignoring chest pain. Sooner or later, I’ll follow my inherited programming because I believe it’s genetic, and not a crime addiction from a lifetime of reading mysteries. While everyone else is oohing and aahing at the best promised fireworks ever seen in Mobile, I looked down at the park. Gaslights along the walking path highlighted a few details.
Two figures approached from opposite directions under the shadows cast by the tree limbs. They both wore long coats because it was a chilly night. I had the impression the one facing me wore a brimmed hat and was taller, but it was hard to tell. The taller one with the hat walked fast. The stockier one had his back to me and walked slower. He stopped and turned back to the gate and waved, or he swatted at a moth before resuming his midnight stroll. He didn’t appear to be in a hurry. The taller one with the hat slowed his pace when he noticed the other guy. I watched the stockier one stop and stare up at the sky again, and the one with the hat moved to an intercept course. As they drew closer the stockier one stopped, and for a brief instant it looked like they recognized one another. Maybe they were even laughing. How nice to be surprised by a friend on New Year’s Eve.
“Look at that green and gold one,” Glenn said.
People on the rooftops applauded the fireworks.
I couldn’t drag my gaze from the reunion below. The stockier one held both arms out wide as if expecting a hug. The one wearing a hat lurched forward, and they embraced. I smiled and wondered if they were male and female. Then in an instant the one in the hat sucker punched the stockier one. What?
The stocky one grabbed the other guy, like he was holding on. The one with the hat pushed the guy off him. Stocky guy staggered backward, and the one facing me shook his wrist like it hurt. Hat man turned around and limped back the way he came. The hurt one held out his hand like a plea for the other to come back or help.
I pulled away from Glenn and leaned over the railing, shouting, “Hey!”
No one heard me because the music and the fireworks hadn’t ended. The injured one didn’t turn around, but fell forward, face first like a plank. Gasping at the other’s nonchalant ease as he hurried away, I shouted and pointed at the park below. “Tom! He’s getting away!”
Glenn glanced down and ran for the stairs. Tom followed him. Robert glanced over the railing and sent texts to the other parties. People quieted and trained lights on the park. The guy hadn’t moved since he fell.
Kelly joined me at the railing, and we watched Tom and Glenn reach the body. Glenn checked for a carotid pulse, and Tom pulled up his shirt to check his back for an exit wound. They rolled him over. His coat fell open and exposed a light-colored shirt with a dark spot.
“Is it a man or woman?” I asked Kelly.
She shook her head. “Can’t say. The hair is long enough for a woman.”
Overhead the fireworks became booming explosions, leading to the finale, and the music quickened into a crescendo.
Kelly gasped. “The first death of the New Year.”
Dot and her aging coterie pushed to the safety rail. “Cher, why are you standing here like an accident gawker? Get down there!” Dot ordered.
I looked at the diminutive older woman, who was a powder keg with a Southern drawl, which rivaled any heard in Gone With the Wind. “I’m a businesswoman, not a policeman.”
“P’shaw!” It sounded like she said “piss off.”
Tom stood to talk into his police radio and then he stared up at us.
“Detective Tyson has determined you had a bird’s-eye view,” Dot said.
Heather elbowed Dot’s group out of the way. “Tom wants you down there but wants to know what direction the killer took.”
“Southwest. It’s the same direction he came from. Wearing a long, dark coat and a brimmed hat.”
Heather texted him.
Tom took off running, leaving Glenn alone to perform CPR.