CW: Strong language, adult situations, violence, references to sex, and some gore.
Vlad’s House, Henford-on-Bagley
Vlad replayed Alice’s words a thousand times—in the shower, lying in the bed he didn’t sleep in, now while chopping vegetables. Already she’d upped the ante, looking positively gleeful whenever he visibly struggled to keep one of her concoctions down. What would she dream up next?
And how long until she brought him to his (preferably not literal) knees?
“Are you thinking about that bartender you’re obsessed with?” Latimer teased as he shuffled into the kitchen.
“I’m not obsessed.” Had he had increased their visits to the pub from weekly to almost daily? Yes, but he was merely making himself available to Miss Martin for her observation. And it paid off. “She asked me on a date, remember?” Vlad thrust his shoulders back, “Our interest is mutual.”
That tone. “What?”
“Do not get carried away. Does she think you’re cute? Yes. Does she have the same unwavering intensity you have about this spark between you? I don’t think so.” He crossed to the oven, sniffing in disapproval at the whole grain bread proving inside.
“She tells me about the creatures she hates and serves me increasingly vile cocktails.The only thing she could do to further demonstrate her interest is stabbing me.” Vlad paused, letting the fantasy play out in his mind. “Do you think she’d stab me?”
Latimer stared. “This is why you’re divorced.”
“It is not.” Vlad scooped some pepper seeds into the trash. He wasn’t an idiot. He just had a type. Gender didn’t matter. His sexuality was, as William described it: anything that could potentially kill him. “I am divorced because I married a nightmare made flesh, and we were miserable long before our stabbings went from playful to hateful.”
“There’s such a thing as a playful stabbing?” Latimer held up a hand, “Nevermind. Don’t answer that. Instead, tell me what the hell is going on with this grocery delivery.”
It was only a matter of time before this came up. “Nothing.”
“Nothin’?” Latimer was aghast. “It’s all vegetables!”
“Is that a comment on my cooking?”
“It’s a comment on how terrible it is to be deprived.”
“You’re being absurd.” Vlad returned to chopping vegetables. “You are not deprived, and your meals are not suffering.”
When the doctor mentioned a low-salt, vegetarian diet, the look on Latimer’s face had been mutinous. His friend was, in fact, wearing the same expression now. “You don’t know that! You don’t even eat!”
True. Food was not a thing Vlad could consume anymore. “You need only submit a recipe request; I’m perfectly capable of following directions.”
“But not capable of listening!” Latimer snapped his fingers, “I don’t intend to spend my final days eating like a damn rabbit because some doctor thinks it’ll give me a day. I’ll eat what I want!”
“You’ll eat what the doctor tells you!” Vlad slammed his fist down, forgetting his own strength and cracking the countertop. He turned, nostrils flaring. “If it buys you a day, an hour, a fucking second, I will see it done. And your health, Latimer Alexander Jones, will be preserved whether you are a willing participant or not.”
Decades together kept the sim from fleeing, but he still took a step back. “This is about Betty.”
“It’s not,” Vlad croaked.
“Sixty years, and you don’t think I can read you like a book? I miss her too.”
Once upon a time, the three were inseparable. Vlad had even endured decades in a Newcrest suburb just to be close to them. They held his heart, even if physically, such a thing did not exist anymore.
“Sims die,” Latimer said gently. “It’s what we do. You couldn’t have stopped Betty from dying, and you can’t stop me.”
San Myshuno Metro Police Station
Sims died. It was a universal truth. Though they didn’t usually move after they expired, as with Eliza Pancakes. The ME identified her body not long after it was brought in. She and her mysterious tooth necklace migrated far from the bubble blower where she supposedly overdosed.
“Run it again,” Bella demanded. The lab tech assigned to the case cringed.
She was being abrupt, but everything about this situation had her rattled. The press was having a field day with stories of a new sinister passionfruit flavor hitting the streets. The San Myshuno Times ran a headline that literally said:
“I thought it was always the spouse, like the first rule of murders,” Deacon remarked as he came up behind her. “Although, if I were a husband, it would be really weird if I had to kill my spouse just because the law says so.”
Bella raised her eyebrows, “That’s morbid.”
“I don’t make the rules,” he replied with mock solemnity, “I just follow them.”
They both laughed. You had to in this job. It was the only thing that kept you from screaming.
“So you don’t think we missed something?” she asked as they grabbed a seat. Deacon was a strange guy. But he was good at spotting clues or considering motives that others missed.
On the outside, Bob looked like the perfect culprit. It was no secret that he and Eliza were having trouble. In fact, that was the very first thing he mentioned when he opened the door.
Bella leaned in hard, but he was adamant. “Eliza is dead, and we had problems. Lots of problems. She was a gold-digger, and I’m a bit lazy. I was divorcing, not murdering her.”
“He’s not a nice dude,” Deacon said, “But like, there are easier ways to kill your wife. And having problems isn’t proof of anything besides, like, marriage being hella hard. Which seems true because everyone complains about it.”
Bella agreed. Not only did Bob have an airtight alibi, he was also adamant that Eliza didn’t like bubble blowers or use them. Why defend her in a way that made him look more like a suspect?
“Y’all wanna see what I’ve got?” the tech asked.
Bella and Deacon nodded.
“Well, it’s not much,” he said, leading them over to the machine. “It’s canine in nature, but it doesn’t match anything in the database, and it’s partially laced with sim DNA.”
“So, what does that mean?” Bella asked, peering at the screen, trying to make some sense of the jumbled numbers, letters, and squiggles.
“You’re looking for a werewolf?” At Bella’s frown, he hid his smile. “Sorry, bad joke.”
It was a lead, a useless one, but that wasn’t the tech’s fault. “I’m gonna get some fresh air,” she said to Deacon, “Try to think of something else.”
As she passed the front desk, Marley jumped up, pretending to file paperwork, but Bella caught sight of the magazines she left on the counter.
The cover of Sims InTouch drew her attention: