Butter Off Dead

Butter Off Dead by Leslie Budewitz Read Free Book Online

Book: Butter Off Dead by Leslie Budewitz Read Free Book Online
Authors: Leslie Budewitz
    Careful, Erin
. You’re not her mother or teacher, or the Film Club advisor. You barely know her.
    â€œHey, there. You could have gone in. You didn’t need to wait for me.”
    The hood slipped back. The brown eyes she’d gotten from the Greek side of her family were pained.
    â€œWhat’s wrong?” I said. No reply. My rib cage tightening with a nascent fear, I stepped around her and opened the screen. Knocked on the door.
    No answer. No footsteps.
    Behind the house, Christine’s car stood under last night’s thin blanket of snow. She hadn’t gone anywhere.
    I twisted the doorknob. Locked. “Did you try the studio? She must be waiting for us there.”
. The only word for Zayda’s expression.
    At the back doors of the church, I tugged the big brass handle on first one dark red metal door, then the other. Rattled them. “Christine,” I yelled.
    No answer.
    So I did what any veteran little sister would do. I called my big brother.
    â€œThe spare’s underneath the Buddha behind the house,” Nick said. “I’ll be right there.”
    I upended three frosted Buddha statues before finding two keys on a thin wire ring. The faded yellow paper label read BACK . Church or house? I dashed to the red double doors, mentally rubbing the stars on my wrist. Keys and I don’t always get along.
    First key, no luck. I swore.
    The second key fit and I turned it, but nothing happened. “The other way,” I muttered, and the door creaked open.
    â€œChristine?” I paused in the carpeted back entry, listening.
    â€œChristine?” Nothing. I bounded up the half flight ofstairs to the sanctuary, a long straight nave with no transepts or alcoves. “Christine?” Light poured through the tall windows behind the altar. A marble statue on a pedestal gleamed, and a pair of bronzes gave off a subtle glow.
    â€œOh, God.” She lay on the altar, facedown. Two long red braids trailed down her back, and a thin trickle of a deeper red crawled across the yellowed oak floor.

• Four •
    I did not want to see her. I did not want to touch her.
    â€œChristine.” I knelt, taking her wrist in my shaking fingers. Warm skin—a good sign. A faint throbbing. Her pulse, or mine?
    â€œUhhnnnh. Uhh-unh.”
    â€œShush. It’s Erin. Help is on the way.” I lowered my face to hers, to hear and be heard. “Hang in there.”
    In response came a long, painful gurgling noise. Like a fish crying for water, she scrambled for air. Her shoulders heaved and bucked as she tried to raise her chest off the worn wood floor.
    That’s when I saw the pool of blood beneath her, the hole in her side.
    Acid welled in my gut. “Hang on. Zayda’s calling for help.” An unmanned fire station stood kitty-corner across the highway, but the volunteer department could only be reached by calling county dispatch.
    â€œShop,” she said, her speech obscured by the gasping, the gurgling, as blood filled her lungs. “Lrss.”
    â€œShushhh. Don’t try to talk.”
    â€œShop,” she repeated, her paint-stained fingers clawing and scraping.
    â€œMy shop is fine. Tracy’s working today. Help is coming and you’ll be fine. Hang in there.” She would not be fine, and we both knew it.
    I held her wrist, my other hand unsure where to land, finally settling lightly on her shoulder. Liz Pinsky had made me a feng shui convert last summer, demonstrating how a space holds energy. She would say that even after decommissioning, a church holds the prayers and intentions of the faithful who worshipped there.
    I called on them now, and on the saints and angels, to not abandon this holy place because evil had violated it.
    That is when we need all that is holy all the more.
    In reply, sirens.
    And then, “I’ll take over now.” An EMT—a mechanic by trade—touched my shoulder. I scooted

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