A stray piece of paper is more likely to be picked up if it’s light pink with cute artwork of a kitten and some handwriting on it.
That was the stray piece of paper Denise saw on the grocery store floor, near the customer service desk and picked up. Next to the kitten, at the top of the page, was printed: “Things CONNIE Needs To Do Today.” It was from the sort of notepad advertised in junk mail, and Connie had ordered some. There was, indeed a list of things to do:
1. Call Mom
2. Deposit check
3. Pay rent
4. Take movies back
5. Get haircut – Fran
6. Wash car
7. Go to work
8. Get CheezPuffers, Bloody Mary mix, rat poison
9. Meet Terry at hotel
10. Put rat poison in Terry’s drink
11. Go home, wash clothes & clean out fridge!
Numbers eight through ten caught Denise’s attention as an off-duty police officer. The handwriting was that of a young woman, with large, round letters and the lowercase i’s all dotted with a little heart.
The paper was fairly clean, meaning it was dropped recently. Denise scanned the aisles to see if she could spot someone searching the floor. No one was. No one seemed to be acting out of the ordinary.
Naturally, Connie could have left already. That would mean calling the sarge and getting the word out to all the area hotels as quickly as possible, which would be no small chore.
There was another time factor; her sister was out of infant formula and Denise was supposed to pick up a big can at the store and take it right over to Donna.
“Can I help you?” a bored voice asked from behind her.
Denise turned around to see the girl on duty at the customer service desk. She might have been twenty. Blonde hair cascaded over her shoulders. She had a little too much mascara under her light blue eyes, a freckled button nose, and full lips. Her grocery store’s logo was badly distorted by her generous chest which also thrust her pin-on nametag practically in Denise’s face: Connie.
“Yes, I think so. Did you lose your to-do list, Connie?”
Connie gave Denise a funny look and her hands went to her pockets, coming up empty. “Yeah, I guess…” Denise held it up, out of Connie’s reach. “Yeah, that’s it.” Then she realized what she had written for her eyes only.
“Have you met Terry at the hotel yet?” Denise asked.
Connie shook her head slightly.
“Then you haven’t done anything wrong yet. I’m Officer Wells of the police department. Denise. Let’s go out to my car and talk, Connie.”
Connie lowered her head and quietly said to a co-worker, “I’m going on break.” She walked out of the store with Denise and got into the Impala.
“Are you and Terry lovers, Connie?”
Connie nodded and sniffled back a tear. “Yeah. Only he’s married. One of my friends found out and told me. He’s just been using me ’cause first his wife was pregnant and then she’s always tired with the baby.”
“That’s very hard, Connie. It hurts to be used.”
“He’s a rat! That’s why I was gonna use rat poison on him.”
“But Connie…” Denise began, but Connie interrupted her. The girl pointed at the magnetic thermometer Denise’s insurance salesman had given her.
“He gave me one of those. He has one in his car and I liked it. He opened up a big box of them and gave me one.”
Denise froze. “He had a big box of them?”
“Yeah. He said he gives them out to his clients. I never bought any insurance from him, but he gave me the thermometer anyway. That’s when I thought he really liked me.” She sniffled again and a few tears chased each other down her face.
Denise had called her insurance man “Terry” one time and he gently corrected her. He preferred “Terrence.” A few months later, Terrence had married Denise’s little sister, Donna.
“How long have you and ‘Terry’ been together, Connie?” Denise asked slowly.
“More than a year.”
Donna had given birth to a beautiful baby girl six months ago.
Denise put her hand on Connie’s. “Honey, I know you want to make ‘Terry’ pay for hurting you. But you simply cannot poison him. It’s too easy to trace and you’d end up in jail.”
“Oh,” she said softly.
“Now, when are you supposed to meet ‘Terry’ at the hotel?”
“OK. Look, I have to run an errand; it’s very important I deliver something to my sister. But I’ll come right back. You finish your shift and we’ll go together to see ‘Terry.’ And then I’ll show you how to kill someone and make it look like an accident. It’s pretty easy, really. And then, if you want, I can help you clean out your fridge.”
Connie smiled through her tears at her new friend.