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Chapter One: Overwhelming Generosity

“If I move this one here… and that one there…” 

My hands looped the blood red yarn around pushpins surrounded by the images of every resident of Sweet Pea, Ohio. It was like a mural of murder victims, taken while they were dripping blood-yarn in the final howls of death. None of the images were flattering, none of them taken with consent or any express purpose beyond establishing a reasonable pattern of accusation. 

A swift and blind accusation with zero basis in the rational world. 

Probable cause was not needed. Not for this investigation. That was too clean and legal for what I had planned. 

A cackle slipped out as I looped another piece of yarn and circled a single picture over and over again. It was her… it had to be. No one else would have the power to orchestrate such a targeted attack of generosity. 

And no one else would risk incurring my wrath.

“I’ll get you my pretty…” 

“Please don’t tell me you’ve lost it.” 

My skin jumped away from its muscles while I whirled around, brandishing the sharpest object available to me at the source of the voice. 

A thumbtack. 

Against Mrs. Margot. 

She was 100 when I was a child, which meant she was probably a thousand now… or a supernatural being. Vampire, werewolf, mummy… 

“Will you put that damn thumbtack down and stop trying to figure out what immortal being I am? We’ve been over this, I’m only 85! And I can’t be taken out with a thumbtack. Remember? You tried when you were six, Cynthia.” 

My lavender eyes flutter down at her shrunken frame. 

“I don’t remember… I was six. And only a vampire would know that I was trying to figure out if she was a vampire. I’m getting garlic!” 

Spinning on my foot, I turned toward the rear of my office and the door to my apartment above. The whole space was about 900 sq ft, divided into two levels so I could easily get up there and back before Mrs. Margot could hobble out on her walker. I didn’t have garlic cloves, but I usually had garlic salt.  

It would be perfect for taking her out if she was a vampire OR a snail. 

My first step collided with the hefty fur log half pressed against my leg. 

Down I went, falling the almost six feet between my head and my feet, while angling myself away from the German Shepherd Malinois mix on the floor. 

Landing shoulder first, head tucked, my arm flopped down onto Winnie’s tail, and she screamed. The impact sent a sharp stabbing pain down my arm with a loud pop and I joined her agonizing howl. I was used to falling, and this one wasn’t especially life threatening but occasionally, one just needed to scream. 

For hours, into the sky and curse the world. 

Maybe not the whole world, but I was willing to scream at Florida, bigots and men. 

Also, chickens, goats and whoever designed coffee bags with that inadequate glue on the foldy-tab so it fell off when you tried to open the bag and you were forced to rely on that clear sticker. 

That person was obviously a sadist who didn’t really like coffee. 

Or being alive if coffee lovers ever found him. 

Where was I going with this? My brain acknowledged its own rambling even as my mouth continued screaming like an overly dramatic poltergeist. Instead of mental relief, my throat became dry and scratchy. 

“Will the pair of you shut up? At least one of you is fine and neither of you can be fixed by screaming about it. Honestly, Cynthia, you and the whole Sharp family are the most dramatic lot of fornicators…” 

“La la la…. I am not listening,” I shouted over her, not prepared to hear anymore allusions to my parents’ sex life that was both public knowledge and public spectacle. The last time I broke a bone, it was chasing after Winnie the day I came home from my four years of Army service. She’d stolen my mom’s ball gag and delivered it to the neighbor while I fell out of the front door and down the three-stair front stoop. 

Absolutely nothing was private about their private lives and I, for one, knew more than enough. 

They say no one wants to know how the sausage gets made but an up-close look at how you got made is far more traumatizing. 

It also, strangely, involves sausage. 

Deciding I’d screamed enough, I took a few deep breaths and pondered the meaning of life, the universe and everything… I know it was supposed to be 42, but aside from that movie about baseball and my brother’s age, it didn’t offer any real insight. 

Maybe I needed to be 42 to get it… a question for Seth if his daughter hasn’t killed him.  

Mrs. Margot cleared her throat with an unnecessary amount of indignation, and I put on my sweetest fake smile. 

“How can I help you?” 

My question was directed at the fiberglass tiles and metal supports that comprised my ceiling. Actually, it was Mrs. Margot’s ceiling. She owned the building, including my office and the studio apartment above it where I lived and slept… when I wasn’t slowly losing my mind and refusing to sleep. Aside from my one-woman crusade to stop the unwanted generosity of townsfolk, I was dealing with an existential crisis that came on the heels of my twenty-ninth birthday. 

In one year, I would be thirty and all of my “quirks” would solidify into permanent personality traits… at least, they would if you believed the jokes of comedians and they were fairly trustworthy. Like everything I read on the internet, it should immediately be taken as fact because it came from the mouth of a stranger and they were infinitely more normal than the people I actually knew… case in point, Mrs. Margot. 

“Are you going to get off the floor?” 

It was phrased as a question, and yet it didn’t feel optional. Once, in a fit of insomnia and irrational fear, I’d tried to count the black dots in each of my ceiling tiles. After 1,989 spots, I was cross eyed and no closer to sleep or legal insanity. That had lead to trying to count Winnie furs before ending with counting coffee beans and dividing them one bean at a time into the six dozen coffee cups that had appeared in a twenty minute period. 

Which was only… I glanced at the white clock on my wall with black arms and black numbers on a white face. It looked like the clock in every schoolroom ever. The sight brought back memories of bullying, friendship and Larry… it haunted me so stunningly. 

I should stop looking at the clock.

Why was I looking at the clock? 

“I repeat, Cynthia, get off the floor!”

Right, I was trying to figure out how long it had been since I tried to count the ceiling tile dots… 

The answer was six hours. 

Or 12 hours… without the AM/PM designation, I couldn’t be sure what was day or night anymore since I’d given up outside, sunlight, and human interaction alongside sleep. 

Only some of those choices were mine, but all of them felt right.

 Like making a cup of Keurig while waiting for the drip machine to make a full pot. Without sleep, human interaction was impossible and sunlight was the devil. 

“Cynthia, I will give you to the count of three. One.”

I refocused on Mrs. Margot’s face. This conversation was probably going to feel the same as counting ceiling dots, futile and unproductive. Six pots of coffee were burning a hole in my stomach… and wallet since I bought five pounds of the stuff at 4AM when I emptied a bag into the aforementioned cups and convinced myself that it needed immediate replacing and those beans were, for all intents and purposes, already consumed. 

“Yes, ma’am,” I sighed. Hauling my size 16 frame off the floor and stumbling back toward my desk, the canine I’d served with, Sgt. Winnifred Pupperson, ambled along beside me. My shoulder wasn’t seated properly in its socket, but my best furry friend looked completely fine. 

Small miracles as she didn’t currently have a vet. 

“But if you want me to take care of anything that requires a computer or paper, I can’t help you.” 

With a sweeping gesture, I drew her attention to the completely obscured surface that used to house a facsimile of business operations equipment. In place of the clean surface of my lacquered wood desk was coffee cups. 

Several dozen coffee cups of various colors, shapes, and volumes. Each one emblazoned with either a dog, a farm, or some manner of witty or snarky saying. 

All of them having simply appeared. 

Mrs. Margot, however, could not care less. 

“Why don’t you put them away, Cynthia? As I understand it, your previous collection was destroyed. Just place them where those once resided… honestly…” 

She tutted at me, and I narrowed my eyes at her, glancing between her and my string art conspiracy theory board. 

Could it be… 

“Will your partner be joining you or has Sgt. Winnifred forgotten her manners?” 

The dog in question, retired from the Army alongside me, had flopped onto the floor again and was now doing a sideways wiggle on her back. Rear paws kicking out, front tucked against her chest, the dog was either scratching her back or jazzercising in perfect time to the music coming in from the public library next door. 

Baby I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake it off,” her tail thumped in time to the beat with each foot kicking out to punctuate the claps before the bridge. 

“Considering she wrecked your bingo hall and tried to blow up Florida, I don’t know where you got the idea she had manners,” I scoffed. Jiggling my dislocated shoulder, I stifled a scream and decided it was well and truly out of place, but I would need coffee to get it back in. Picking up one of the coffee cups and putting it next to the coffee maker, I tried to choose what to put inside the cup with my magic bean water. “It’s like you’ve never met either of us and think we somehow developed social skills and competence.”

A sharp side eye from Mrs. Margot attempted to maim me but I elected to take TayTay’s advice and… well ignore it. 

Only Winnie could work a tail shake like that in our dynamic duo. 

I’d probably un-seat another ball joint if I tried. 

“And I can’t put the damn coffee cups away because when the old ones went down, the shelf broke and I don’t own any tools! I tried to buy some tools, but I ended up in the grocery store buying cheese and coffee creamer… and then I went to… somewhere! Probably work? Definitely not bed because it smells like Larry and he…” 

I blinked at her, wondering when she’d lost focus. 

“When did you last sleep, Cynthia?” 

“Do you want some coffee?” I asked her instead, gesturing the cup in my hand out to her. Beside the coffee maker was another full cup, one I’d apparently poured and forgotten about at some point. I poked the side and discovered it was still lukewarm. 

Like the inside of a Tauntaun.  

I snickered at my own joke. 

“I do not want coffee. I want to know why you aren’t sleeping,” she scowled at me. Ambling slowly over to the front window, she ripped back the heavy drapes and let it in the morning light. 

A sharp hiss at the brightness passed through my lips as I looked through the front window. It was adorned with our names in vinyl letters: Sharp Investigations, Cynthia Sharp and Sgt. Winnifred Pupperson, K9. 

Only Winnie had earned rank and title. 

My name looked like what my mother would call me when I was in trouble and she couldn’t remember my middle name. 

Outside the glass, people ambled up and down Main St in the not-so-sleepy town of Sweet Pea, OH. I’d been born and raised here, but it had never felt like home. In a search for belonging, I’d gone to school in Colorado, joined the Army and started my career in Texas with no luck. After seeing a few parts of the world and some other parts of the country, I wasn’t sure anywhere would ever feel like home. 

Another reason sleep eluded me. 

Through my window, I watched the average citizens of my average town continue on with their mediocre lives and wondered at the key to their happiness. Nothing about their movements was hurried or motivated… It was unclear if they had places to be or were simply enjoying the cooling temperatures of early fall. Either way, I was mildly envious of them as they enjoyed the trees early-stage death drop of foliage. September had barely arrived, but pumpkin spice everything had already made its way into Mo’s bakery, the Coffee Cabin, the lube section of the adult stores, and my coffee maker. 

Mankind’s greatest invention and the only love in my life besides Winnie I could trust not to let me down. The little orange light on the maker was off… the coffee maker should never be off… though the carafe was getting darker, maybe there was coffee?


My head jerked up, and I shook off the cobwebs. Crusties lingered in the corner of my eyes, and I wondered if I had fallen asleep or I was just starting to decay while theoretically still alive. The decay would make sense if I wasn’t in so much pain. 


“Why don’t you ask one of your male… friends… to fix your shelf? Would you be able to sleep then?” 

I shook my head slowly, pondering the possibility Mo would bring me a cheese filled croissant if such a thing existed and I could find my phone to ask her. 

And if said phone would be charged and usable. 

“I don’t have any man friends. Cruz went away and Larry…. Is dumb. His whole family is dumb…” I went to sit down, once again forgetting my cup of coffee, and decided to use my desk as leverage to push my shoulder back into place. The wet pop was unnerving, but I’d managed to do it without crying… much. I looked out the window again, waiting for the mist in my eyes to clear before addressing the vampire in the room. 

“What about your intern, Stella?” She tried again and I pointed to a pile of confetti in the corner. 

“She quit and brought me a pile of resumes for potential new people. Winnie ate them.” 

The mist in my eyes was starting to clear and I could once again see the happy town with its happy people and its happy coffee that they could make because everyone they cared about hadn’t decided to jump ship. 

A shadow momentarily blocked out the sun and I darted out the door like a drunken troll. 

“You!” I shouted, an accusatory finger leveled at the rather expansive chest of my brother’s wife and the town’s sheriff… or chief. 

I was even less certain now than I’d been before. 

“This…” I tripped over a collection of coffee mugs on the sidewalk. They fell over, and I toppled after barely managing to angle myself away from the shattered ceramic. I landed on the shoulder I’d just popped back in and felt it threaten to slide out again. Frustrated, I blinked up at the sun and the outline of my curvy in all the right places sister-in-law. The shorter version of Jessica rabbit, with an equally sexy voice and lethal hands. My attempt to glare at her was marred by the squint of my eyes as I fought to keep them trained on her for signs of guilt. 

She just stared down at me. 

“This sidewalk is unclean. You should get up,” she advised and I waited for the horror to fill me. I’d seen things on this sidewalk. Horrible things and yet…

Horizontal on the sidewalk was actually kind of comfortable, a weird discovery since my bed felt possessed by fire ants recently. I closed my eyes against the sun and the second I did everything else faded and I fell asleep.

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