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Authors: Melissa Glazer

A Murderous Glaze

BOOK: A Murderous Glaze
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Stone Cold

Hannah took another sip of coffee, then said, “I still can’t believe your shop club calls themselves the Firing Squad. It’s a bit grisly, isn’t it?”

I shrugged. “Don’t blame me. I didn’t pick it.”

Hannah’s gaze never left mine, so I finally admitted, “Okay, maybe I did suggest it, but I thought it would work well with the name of the shop. Besides, it’s not like Betty was shot. Someone used one of my awls on her.”

If I closed my eyes, I could still see the wooden handle and just a hint of the sharp steel skewer sticking out of her chest. I decided not to close my eyes, at least until the image had a chance to fade a little bit. If it ever did…

A Murderous Glaze
Melissa Glazer

BERKLEY PRIME CRIME, NEW YORK

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Kilns, cutting knives, and other craft tools can be hazardous, if used carelessly. All participants in such craft activities must assume responsibility for their own actions and safety. The information contained in this book cannot replace sound judgment and good decision making, which can help reduce risk exposure, nor does the scope of this book allow for disclosure of all the potential hazards and risks involved in such activities.

A MURDEROUS GLAZE

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2007 by The Berkley Publishing Group.

Cover art and logo by Robert Crawford.

Cover design by Annette Fiore.

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group
, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 1-4295-8469-6

BERKLEY
®
PRIME CRIME
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
The name BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the BERKLEY PRIME CRIME design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To my editor, Sandy Harding.

With much thanks!

Chapter 1

My name is Carolyn Emerson, and I should probably admit up front that I didn’t care for Betty Wickline, not from the first second she stepped into Fire at Will, my paint-your-own-pottery shop. Some customers are like that, generating an instant animosity in me from the moment they walk across my threshold. Now you’re probably thinking that I’m a dreadful woman, but you must believe me when I say that I get along perfectly fine with nearly all of my other customers.

Just not Betty.

I told you she was dead, didn’t I?

My husband, Bill, swears that I leave out important details sometimes, but it’s not true. Not usually, anyway. We’ve been married twenty-nine years (I was a child bride. Well, I was. All right, I was twenty-three when I had my first, if you must know), we’ve raised two fine sons, and I’ve run Fire at Will for the last five years, but my husband still accuses me of being scattered when it comes to relaying all of the pertinent details.

Oh, did I mention Betty was murdered?

Goodness, maybe Bill’s right, not that I’d ever admit it to him.

So that’s it, all you need to know. Betty Wickline was dead; murdered, in fact.

Oh, there’s one more thing. Somehow, the dreadful woman managed to expire in my pottery shop after hours when the place had been shut down for the night.

That’s everything. I’m sure of it.

Unless I neglected to mention that John Hodges, the ancient sheriff for Maple Ridge, Vermont—the town where I live—is under the distinct impression that I had something to do with it.

 

“I can’t believe you’re taking this so calmly,” Hannah Atkins said as we sipped coffee at In the Grounds, a shop that had the most wonderful blends of exotic dry roasts, but the most dreadful name I’d ever heard.

“There’s hardly anything I can do about it, is there?” I asked. I’d stumbled across the body the night before, and had enjoyed precious little sleep since. This morning I’d ordered a double jolt of espresso instead of my usual plain black coffee, but it may as well have been water for all the impact it was having on me.

“No, I suppose not,” she conceded. “But somehow I didn’t imagine we’d be sitting here at our regular table this morning as though nothing happened last night.”

“Surely you don’t suspect me as well?” I asked. Hannah has been my dear friend for many years. On the surface, we have hardly anything in common. I’m in my early fifties, more than a touch overweight, and have gray hair relentlessly advancing into my natural mousy brown, whereas Hannah is a slim, striking brunette barely over forty. She’s an English professor at Travers College—a fine arts institution on the edge of town—and is my assistant David’s mother. Despite our differences, she’s the best friend I’ve ever had. Hannah and I meet for coffee whenever we can, except on Sundays, when the place is too crowded to find a spot in line, let alone a table to ourselves. It’s our way of staying in touch, a retreat from the insanity of the world around us.

“Of course I know you didn’t do it,” she replied curtly. I wondered when David’s name would come up in our conversation, and it didn’t take long. A sudden look of panic flitted across her eyes. “They don’t suspect my son, do they?” Her motherly instinct of protecting her only child suddenly kicked into overdrive. “I’m going to get him the best lawyer in Maple Ridge. That’s not quite good enough, is it? I’ll go to Burlington.” She shook her head, paused a moment, then nodded resolutely. “Boston. I’m going to get someone from Boston.”

I touched her hand lightly. “Take it easy, Hannah. Nobody has accused David of anything.”

She refused to be reassured that easily. “But surely the sheriff talked to him, too, didn’t he? After all, David has a key to your place. That means he had access to the murder scene.” Hannah shivered as she said the word “murder,” and I didn’t blame her one bit. It gave me the creeps, too.

“If that’s all it takes to be a suspect, there are quite a few other people besides David and me who must be under suspicion.”

Hannah took a sip of coffee, then asked, “Carolyn, who else has a key to your shop?”

I pulled a small notebook out of my purse and studied my notes. Sheriff Hodges had asked me the same thing the night before, and I’d been working on my list since then. “First off, there’s Robert Owens. He just started teaching at Travers. Have you two met yet?”

“No, but he’s already getting a reputation,” Hannah said.

That certainly got my attention. “What kind of reputation does he have, and why didn’t you say anything before I hired him last week to teach some of my pottery classes?”

“Carolyn, I only heard something the other day about him fraternizing with his students. Actually, it was just the coeds.”

“Great, that’s just wonderful. That’s all I need. Too bad he’s still out of town, or I could point the sheriff in his direction.”

Hannah tapped the table impatiently with her fingers. “No tangents, Carolyn. Who else is on your list?”

I looked at my notebook and studied the other names I’d written on the pad. Then I promised myself I wouldn’t editorialize as I read them. Tangents, indeed.

“So far, I’ve got Jenna Blake, Martha Knotts, Herman Meadows, and my husband.”

She arched one eyebrow. “Why on earth do all of those people need keys to your shop?”

“Jenna and Martha are members of the Firing Squad, and Herman’s my landlord. It just makes sense that he’d have his own key. I know I gave Bill one, too, but heaven only knows where that one’s hiding.”

Hannah took another sip of coffee, then said, “I still can’t believe your shop club calls themselves the Firing Squad. It’s a bit grisly, isn’t it?”

I shrugged. “Don’t blame me. I didn’t pick it.”

Hannah’s gaze never left mine, so I finally admitted, “Okay, maybe I did suggest it, but I thought it would work well with the name of the shop. Besides, it’s not like Betty was shot. Someone used one of my awls on her.” If I closed my eyes, I could still see the wooden handle and just a hint of the sharp steel skewer sticking out of her chest. I decided not to close my eyes, at least until the image had a chance to fade a little bit. If it ever did. I was so thankful that Bill had been with me when I’d discovered the body. After we’d eaten our dinner, I hadn’t been able to remember if I’d turned on the pottery kilns before I’d left the shop, and David had an evening class at Travers, so he wouldn’t be able to double-check for me. I didn’t want to lose a night’s firing, so I’d dragged Bill downtown to the shop with me, though he’d grumbled all along the way. The irony was that I must have turned the kilns on after all, though I didn’t realize that until after I’d found Betty’s body. I’d have to check the pieces when I got to the shop, but I couldn’t bring myself to go back there, at least not yet.

“More coffee?” I asked Hannah as I tried to get the attention of our waitress, Cindy Maitland. If David had been with us, we wouldn’t have been able to take a sip without her noticing, since Cindy had a major crush on Hannah’s son. But we were alone, and apparently invisible as well.

Hannah shook her head. “Sorry, I’d really love to, but I’ve got to run,” she said as she glanced at her watch. “There are young minds waiting to be twisted.”

“And no one is better qualified to do that than you,” I said with a smile as I reached for the check.

She was quicker, though. “It’s my turn, remember? After all, with the night you had, it’s the least I can do.”

“Thanks,” I said as I followed her out of the coffee shop. She headed for the parking lot and I turned toward Fire at Will. It was a beautiful, brisk Vermont morning—the kind I’d always adored—so I decided I’d come back for my car later. Though the temperature in our part of the state had gotten down into the high twenties the night before, it was nearly forty now, with the weatherman’s promise of fifty by afternoon. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the murder the night before, it would have been my perfect kind of day, even if it was April 15, a date the federal government had ruined for me without actually resorting to homicide. Despite that single cloud, it was a good day to walk. I often left my Intrigue in the community lot to save more parking spaces near the shop for my customers.

Whoever had designed the town of Maple Ridge had been a visionary. Long before San Antonio’s much more spectacular River Walk, we sported a handful of shops bordering Whispering Brook, a nice creek that flowed through the center of what passed as our business district, at least when the water wasn’t frozen. Some of the town fathers had considered adding heating coils to the streambed to keep the water flowing twelve months a year, but they’d been voted down at the town meeting and nearly thrown out of Vermont to boot. For the most part, we liked things just the way they were, and it was a brave resident who proposed change during one of our community’s monthly town meetings. There was a narrow strip of lane between the shops and the water, with just enough parking to make the shopping agreeable. I liked the way the sidewalk was wider than the street it serviced.

As I walked beside the water, I glanced at the shops displaying their wares. One of my husband’s chairs was in the window of Shaker Styles. Bill was supposedly retired, but he built furniture now for Olive Haslett, a hobby that had quickly become a demanding job. An engineer by trade, my husband had always been drawn to the elegant lines and precise joinery of Shaker-style furniture, but it wasn’t until our sons left home that he started building pieces himself in the workshop in back of our house. Olive had been delighted when Bill had stepped in after her husband, Jack, the original furniture builder, had passed away, a chisel still resting gently in his hand.

Next up was Rose Colored Glasses, a shop that featured decorative stained glass windows, sun catchers, and such. Rose Nygren peeked out from behind a drawn curtain as I walked by. Was she hiding from me? I was tempted to walk up and pound on her door, but that would probably just fuel speculation around town that I was on some kind of rampage. I hurried my pace as I approached Hattie’s Attic, an antique shop that sported high-dollar price tags that would make a robber baron blush. I was hoping I’d miss the owner, Kendra Williams, but no such luck. Her door flew open before I could scurry past.

“Dear, poor, Carolyn. You look dreadful.”

“Thanks, Kendra. You’re too kind.”

I tried to sidestep her, but the old gal was too slick for me. I doubted that Kendra herself knew the original color of her hair. This week it was a ghastly red hue that wasn’t found in nature. Her abundant figure was partially hidden by one of the muumuus she habitually wore. This one was a faded print that may have once been beautiful, perhaps in the Civil War.

“Now, dear, you must come inside and tell me all about it. I’ve got a kettle on.”

The last thing I wanted to do was have a tête-à-tête with the village gossip. I knew that even if I didn’t give her a single detail about what had happened, the rumors would still fly around Maple Ridge, but at least they wouldn’t be based on any information I had provided.

“Sorry, but I’ve got to get ready to open my shop.”

She looked taken aback by the news. “You’re actually going to work today? How dreadful.” Kendra lowered her voice as she asked, “Is that wise? I’m sure the police need access to your business for their investigation.”

“As a matter of fact, they’ve okayed it.” They had, too. Not that John Hodges had done it willingly. He had some deluded idea that he could keep Fire at Will locked up until he solved the murder, but I had dissuaded him of that idea in a heartbeat. I couldn’t meet my rent payment if I had to shut the place down, and I wasn’t about to lose my business over something I hadn’t done.

The sheriff and I had been butting heads for twenty years. He’d once accused my youngest son of vandalism with no proof other than his “gut instinct,” as Hodges had called it, and our relationship—while never cordial before—had devolved after that into a strong dislike. I knew I was overly sensitive in my reactions and short-tempered every time I talked to the man, but I couldn’t disguise the open contempt I had for him, nor could I suppress it. I was surprised I had convinced him to let me keep the shop open.

I finally got away from Kendra and raced past the other stores, keeping my eyes on the flowing water. Whispering Brook was a lovely name, though not the original moniker. It had been Pig Snout Creek on the earliest survey maps because of a bulge in the stream where an odd pair of islets existed that resembled a hog’s nostrils, but even our early forefathers knew that name wasn’t going to make folks happy about living in Maple Ridge. So they’d changed it with an alacrity that must have stunned even them. It was one improvement I would have heartily embraced myself. Whispering Brook evoked much nicer images than Pig Snout Creek.

In no time at all, I was standing in front of Fire at Will. There were some pottery pieces for sale in the front plate-glass window display: a lovely set of hand-thrown dishes with a deep green glaze that Robert Owens had created, a unique face jug David had made, a vase with rippling sides thrown on one of my pottery wheels by Martha Knotts—a young mother of five and a member of the Firing Squad—and a set of glazed, hand-cut outdoor ornaments that I had made myself. On the exterior, there was a forest green awning over the tumbled red brick building that sported the shop’s name, and a black front door painted the color of midnight. I loved the shop, and hated the fact that someone had used it for a murder.

I started to unlock the front door when I realized it was already unlocked. Taking a deep breath, I steeled myself and walked inside. “Hello? Is anyone here?” I searched for a weapon—anything I could use against an intruder—but there was nothing within reach except a forgotten umbrella in the stand by the door. It was better than nothing, I supposed, so I grabbed it.

“Hello?” I called again. What was I doing? Someone had been murdered in my shop last night, and here I was, armed only with an umbrella, preparing to confront a prowler. What an idiot I could be sometimes. I started to back out of the shop so I could call the sheriff when a familiar face popped out of the back room.

“Is it raining, Carolyn?”

BOOK: A Murderous Glaze
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