“Fancy meeting you here, kitty,” Dawn says as she takes the seat across from Gemma. The detective stares at her, a piece of bacon still in her mouth. “Glad you’re enjoying the breakfast buffet. We don’t do this often for dinner, but this is a special occasion. Think of this feast as a reward for solving the riddle. Fluffy and crispy things are always nice in the evening. Are you expecting someone?”
“Just looking for a friend,” Gemma bluntly answers, her eyes darting in every direction. She wonders why she has not seen Roy all day, including when she went to his room and found a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. “I realized something. By solving your riddle and warning your victims, I have no evidence that you were going to do anything. Still, I’m happy to have stopped you from killing.”
“I have a little secret,” the hotelier sings, her fingers dancing on the table. The brown-haired woman stops and stares at her erratic movements, her mouth moving silently until a loud crash snaps her out of the trance. “My good friends met with an unfortunate accident. They were at the zoo and decided that the rules didn’t apply to them. So Demarcus Lang broke the glass to the alligator cage and went swimming with them. Not a long swim since it was just around feeding time and he must have smelled delicious. Alicia Lang thought these poisonous frogs looked delicious and ate one. She died painfully. Here’s a printout of the article that’s going to be all over the papers tomorrow.”
With a shaking hand, Gemma takes the papers and reads through them while slowly munching another piece of bacon. She notes that the zookeepers swear that the poison dart frog should not have been toxic due to their controlled diet. Another oddity is that there was no clear sign of how Demarcus broke the thick glass to the alligators. With most of the article stating why the scene made little sense, Gemma becomes to wonder if Dawn is lying and created the report on her own. Grabbing her phone, she searches for the site and curses when she sees the printout displayed on the screen. Picking up a butter-covered knife, she taps it on the papers and considers leaping over the table to slit the other woman’s throat. Her murderous glare is met by a wide grin and hungry, twinkling eyes, the disturbing expression giving the detective a reason to hold back.
“Oh, don’t look so angry. Turn that snarl into a friendly raspberry,” Dawn teases as she leans forward and claims a strawberry. Wiping a few bits of bacon off the fruit, the young woman rubs it around her eye patch before taking a bite. “I have a confession to make. The riddle was a bunch of rubbish I came up with on the spot. My brain gremlin assured me it would lead you to someone here. Then I went after your choice. Guess this makes you an accomplice more than a rival.”
“You’re a sick bitch, but there’s no way you did any of this,” Gemma declares, dropping the knife into a glass of water. She looks away from the wounded expression on her enemy’s face, her attention falling on the entrance. “Getting a cook to drug a bachelorette party is one thing because it’s on your turf. This is you getting two guests to act suicidal in an entirely different borough.”
Dawn yawns before curling her legs into the chair and running her finger around her crimson lips. “I give mints and kisses to my favorite guests when they leave. Though what I use is untraceable and unique. Too bad it didn’t work on your new friend. Maybe I wasn’t really into it, which happens when I’m bored or have more delicious plans. He was skulking around for a while, so I forgot about him when you fell into my lap. Imagine my surprise when you cheated and went for help. You’re supposed to be my equal in this, which means you solve my puzzles on your own.”
“What did you do to Roy?”
“Removed him from the game.”
“I said I had a delicious plan.”
Confused and worried, Gemma scans the room until her eyes fall on the buffet. A fresh platter of bacon is being served, the smell drifting throughout the restaurant. People are swarming the buffet table to grab the fresh meat, most of the guests grabbing the food by the handful instead of waiting for the tongs. The detective glances at Dawn, who eagerly nods her head and flashes a toothy, shark-like grin. Nausea sets in and gets worse when Gemma thinks about how many she has eaten, the crispy slices her favorite part of the meal. She picks up her last piece and holds it in front of her face, the smell slightly different than before. When she drops it back on the plate, Dawn snatches the bacon and pops it into her mouth. The sight of the hotelier’s eyes rolling back and the sound of her sensual moans makes the red-haired woman cover her mouth to avoid vomiting.
Knowing she will not last much longer, Gemma’s hands are shaking as she stands and staggers toward a nearby bathroom. She is thankful that nobody else is inside to watch her empty her stomach into the nearest toilet. Dawn appears in the opening of the stall to hold the detective’s hair back, the amused woman whistling her favorite pop song. The irritating noise angers Gemma to the point where she grabs the hotelier’s wrist and tries to slam her into the tile floor. Instead, the cop is yanked off her feet and hurled into the mirror, which cracks without shattering into dangerous shards. The confident and playful glint in Dawn’s eyes falters before she rushes out of the bathroom. Rubbing her aching back, Gemma is about to follow when her phone rings and she sees that it is Max, who has been texting her for the last hour.
“You need to be at the hospital in the morning. I’m talking before you even think of having coffee,” the man urgently says, his breathing ragged as if he recently ran up several flights of stairs. A raspy cough cuts off his voice and is followed by him guzzling a bottle of water to ease his throat. “That bridesmaid regained consciousness. She’s asleep now, but we have permission to talk to her in the morning. No idea what’s going on, Cook, but the chief wants you to be involved. I’ll have your gun and badge waiting for you too. Not sure if you’re back to work or not though. You’re pretty quiet. Everything okay over there?”
“No, but I’ll tell you the details in the morning,” Gemma replies in a low voice. Running cold water, she throws some on her face and takes a drink to settle her stomach. “Ms. Addison . . . Dawn won a big round. Get some sleep, old man, because we’re going to have a rough tomorrow.”