Taking the Fall
off before anyone sees it.”
    She was right, of course. This was not exactly the kind of advertising we’d budgeted and planned for. Hurry, moms and dads. Sign your kids up to roll around the mat with a couple of murderers!
    “I suppose so,” Alice said.
    “Do you think we can wash it off,” Blythe asked me softly, “before the police see it? We should ask—” I caught Blythe as she opened her mouth to ask Alice that same question. She saw my look and stopped.
    The evidence had been collected, the pictures taken. What would calling the police now do, other than draw attention to this unwanted advertising? What if Crazy Eric answered the call again? Even if Riggins came, the neighborhood was waking up and getting about their business. It was seven on a Saturday morning, but there were a lot of retirees in town, and my guess was they weren’t much different from the retirees in Sierra Vista, Arizona—early to bed, early to rise. Chances were this had been done in the dark, that it had gone unnoticed so far. Sirens and police lights were not what we needed. Neither was gossip leaking from the police department, even if the neighborhood somehow didn’t notice their presence.
    I was headed back to the rear door to go and see if we had the cleaning supplies we needed when I saw it—a bright green smudge on the sidewalk headed uphill from the front of the studio. Further up the hill, what appeared to be a slightly lighter smudge. I grabbed Blythe, held my finger to my lips, and pointed at the green blob.
    “It still looks wet,” I whispered.
    “I’ll call the police. They could catch this guy. He could still be close!”
    “No,” I hissed. “I’m going to figure out who did this, who’s trying to smear us, before the whole town finds out.”
    “Brenna—”
    “Whoever it is, they have no idea they’ve left a trail. Otherwise they would’ve wiped it up. Do you really want a bunch of commotion, a bunch of cops tipping them off?”
    Besides, we’d wash it off and pretend we didn’t know better. Riggins and his buddies could find out about the windows when they got the forensics reports. In the meantime, I was going to catch this jerk.
    “But what about washing the windows?” Blythe asked.
    “You’re going to have to stay and take care of it.”
    “No way. You’re not going by yourself!”
    “Blythe, I have to go now .” I could just see the best lead I had in this mystery drying up as fast as that tell-tale paint. “I promise, I’m just going to see where that paint leads.”
    “You won’t do anything dangerous?”
    Like try to confront a killer? Me? No way. “I’ll be right back. I promise.”  

16

    The paint was too smudged to give a clue as to shoe-type, but I snapped a picture of the first blob with my phone anyway. I did the same with the second smudge. Please, please, I begged silently. That can’t be all . I examined the sidewalk, trying to look casual, and I’m sure, failing just as miserably at that as I was at spotting any more of that green paint.
    I wasn’t ready to admit defeat, so I just kept walking up the hill, hoping for anything that might end this mess. When I came to the opening in the sidewalk, the paved expanse that led to the deck and the park below, I turned. Why was I drawn here again? It had a strange, hidden, empty feel. A calmness, a silence that was just a little beyond peaceful. I’d expected, in the daylight, that it would feel different. More open. But I found myself wishing I hadn’t left Blythe behind. I should go. There was nothing here. Nothing except a strangely bright green spot on one of the rhododendron leaves!
    I touched it and was rewarded with a lime-green fingertip. Wet paint! Ha! I wanted to shout. I’ve got you now. I combed the deck area for more paint. Nothing. I stared at the shadowy staircase leading to the park below. No, I wasn’t ready to go there. Not yet. Not unless I really had to. I backed up, giving the paved area another look

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