BY DONNA KIRK
Copyright is held by the author.
GLORIA Fontana-Onge’s weekends were a whirl of drop-in social appearances. When I arrived at the party she and her date had already left. But you’d have thought she was still there by all the chatter. Each little circle of guests was still in her thrall.
“Didn’t she look beautiful?”
“She and her new boyfriend are going to the Algarve for a romantic weekend getaway.”
“What happened to the last guy?”
“She kept him under wraps. I never found out his name.”
I knew very well who he was.
Gloria’s perfume hung in the room. She did that to people — left behind enticing traces — making you want to follow the trail.
No one noticed me moving from group to group, listening to the conversations. I sampled picked-over appetizers and took a glass of warm white wine from a tray on the grand piano. I would have preferred the Valpolicella, but only smudged goblets bearing red traces stood abandoned amongst full glasses of Chardonnay.
In the morning paper I read that Gloria’s bloodied body had been found in her upscale condo. The police weren’t revealing details, but were clear that death occurred as the result of blunt force trauma. A man who identified himself as her boyfriend (they weren’t naming names) had discovered the body. He had gone to her apartment when she’d failed to meet him as planned.
The newspaper reported no signs of a break-in. But there was mention of evidence found at the scene and police were anxious to speak to a certain person of interest.
Of course, the police had called to notify me about my sister’s death. The phone call startled and disturbed me. I told them I had her cat.
I reflected how Gloria had treated people with casual indifference. She only contacted me, her one remaining family member, when the cat needed minding. Often, it was a text at the last minute as she threw things into her suitcase.
Shameless, Gloria’s cat, jumped up on my lap. My coffee spilled and a dark stain spread over the newspaper report.
I spent the day responding to calls of condolence from her friends.
The next morning, the paper announced that an arrest had been made in the homicide of Gloria Fontana-Onge. A fuzzy picture showed Marshall Wrightman in handcuffs, being led towards a police cruiser.
An accompanying story by one of the paper’s sensationalist writers was full of speculation about Gloria the beautiful socialite, and Marshall, her anonymous lover. Twinges of guilt tickled my conscience.
Another columnist’s query, “Jealous Jilted Fiancé?” made me sit bolt upright.
Fiancé? I hope the bastard burns in hell. Shameless mewed reproachfully when I dumped her on the floor.
Of course, Marshall had been embarrassed when I found out about his affair with my sister and asked me if he could move back in. But I wasn’t interested in Gloria F-O’s castoffs.
Then, I smiled to myself. What a stroke of luck I’d found one of my ex’s business cards in a drawer last week.
The police called and asked to come to my apartment. They assured me that interviewing next-of-kin was just a formality.
An hour later, two officers sat in my tiny living room, squeezed beside each other on the love seat. Shameless meowed her protest to the intruders and hid under my chair. The cops expressed their condolences once again, on the loss of my sister. The pudgy red-headed one asked questions and took notes, while his brawny, prickly-faced companion listened and watched with a critical eye.
The writer asked the questions.
I responded that yes, I’d been to my sister’s condo to pick up her pet. I showed then my key. Her concierge knew me and never questioned my comings and goings. And, this was her cat, Shameless.
When had I last been there, at what time, and how long did I stay? Did I notice anyone suspicious hanging around? Where was Gloria when I picked up her cat?
I replied that two days ago I drove to her place in late afternoon and parked outside on the street in my usual spot. The concierge and I spoke briefly, he buzzed my sister and there was no answer. Then, he remembered seeing her, a half-hour or so earlier, leaving with a suitcase. He’d been busy with other residents and hadn’t paid much attention. I went up to her condo and picked up the cat. When I came back down I was the only person around other than the concierge. So I that put me under suspicion, so be it.
The wary listener narrowed his eyes. He told me the man they’d arrested had an iron-clad alibi and had been cleared of all charges. They asked me to inform them if I planned to leave town. Then they both got up and left.
I assumed I was now the person of interest, but they could prove nothing. My sister and I looked alike enough to be mistaken for each other; particularly since I often wore her hand-me-down clothing, right down to discarded Vuarnet sunglasses.
I knew the front desk schedule off by heart and that staff left the lobby unattended for many minutes while they transitioned.
At shift change, it had been easy to enter the building wearing one of Gloria’s former favourite hats and a pair of her sunglasses. I rode the elevator up to her suite and re-appeared ten minutes later, wearing one of her current outfits, and carrying her suitcase.
I hurried across the lobby, waved to the concierge, who was talking to two other people, and walked out the front door. My car was parked four blocks away. I got in and stuffed my sister-disguise hat and coat in the suitcase – no one would ever discover its hiding place. I changed into a blouse and skirt of my own that had been captured by the condo security camera many times before.
After an hour, I drove back to Gloria’s condo, parked in front, and picked up the cat.
A few days later, the two officers made another visit to my apartment. Would I go over the details of my visit to Gloria’s apartment the day I picked up the cat? They wanted to make sure of the time of my visit and how long I’d been there.
The only thing I added to my previous story was that I always kept food for Shameless at my apartment; I looked after her so frequently. The scribe didn’t even bother to write this detail down.
While they spoke, Shameless acted like they had the plague. She rounded her back, hissed and curled up on my lap. She lay there, purring and licking her belly. I watched the two cops watching her.
Did I have the cat box I used to transport Shameless from Gloria’s apartment to my own? If so, they wanted to take it with them.
Did you want me to put the cat in it, I asked with a smug grin?
We’ll take very good care of her, they said.
A week later, the police phoned and asked me to come down to the station. When I arrived, they ushered me into a smudged, stale interview room that contained a steel desk and chair. I was invited to be seated.
The cat box sat on the floor with Shameless inside. When I reached over and opened the door she jumped into my lap.
Say a last goodbye to her, the cops said. She’s going to an animal shelter. They gestured to a forensic report that lay on the table.
Mrs. Ophelia Wrightman, you are being charged with the murder of Ms. Gloria Fontana-Onge.
I leaned over and picked up the report. “Victim’s blood found on pet feline’s paws.” A crude diagram indicated where dried blood had been found.
I’d scrubbed the cat box and bleached it. Even though I knew cats were meticulous, I’d washed and used a blow-dryer on that damn cat. Too bad I hadn’t bleached between her toes.
Too bad she hadn’t done a better job cleaning herself up.