A Recipe for Disaster (Sarah Woods Mystery Book 16)

BOOK: A Recipe for Disaster (Sarah Woods Mystery Book 16)
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A Recipe for Disaster

Sarah Woods Mystery 16

 

by

 

Jennifer L. Jennings

Copyright 2016

Query Publishing LLC

All Rights Reserved

Chapter 1

Friday, March 31

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  
I
t had been over twenty years since the last time I'd seen Lois Mackey, but when she waltzed into my office that Friday morning, it was like no time had passed.

Lois and I had gone to massage school together. She had moved to Florida right after taking our final exam for certification. We’d kept in touch via Facebook and, according to her recent posts, she wasn't married and didn't have kids.

“Sarah Woods, how the hell are ya?”

I jumped to my feet and met her half way. I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed. “Lois, I hardly recognized you.”

Back in massage school, Lois weighed at least two hundred pounds. Now she was slender, looking better than I'd ever seen her. She was a mix of Italian and Greek, with dark features and thick brown hair that added an extra inch to her already tall frame.

“A hundred pounds will do that to you,” she said with a chuckle. “I've managed to keep the weight off after the surgery three years ago.”

“Surgery?”

“I had my stomach stapled,” she said, placing a hand on her abdomen. “Best decision I ever made.”

“I'm happy for you, Lois. You look amazing.”

“Not too shabby for forty-four, I guess. But speaking of amazing...” Lois waved her hand in front of me like a magic wand. “You look exactly the same. Are you sure you don't have a picture of Dorian Gray in your closet?”

I felt my cheeks getting warm at her compliment. Truth is, I run three miles a day and try to eat right when I'm not binging on chocolate or red wine. “Must be in the genes.”

She walked around my office, scanning the vintage posters of Noir movies from the fifties. “I can't believe you're a private detective now. I'd love to hear how you got into the business.”

“Yeah,” I said. “That's a story I should save for another time. Maybe we can have dinner soon and I'll tell you all about it.”

“I'd love that.”

“What brings you back to Bridgeport after all these years?”

Her expression changed. “Actually, my parents decided to retire and they wanted me to move home to take over the family business.”

Her parents owned the Decadent Delights Bakery in town. It might be a hokey name for a bakery, but their cakes have won numerous awards. “I hope your parents are getting on okay.”

“Oh sure, they're fine. They're just old, that's all. Now Peter and I are running things.”

Peter was her brother and also my boyfriend while I had attended massage school. We only dated a few months, lost touch after Lois moved away, and I had no idea what he'd been up to. “How is Peter? Married with kids, I bet.”

“He's divorced, two kids. Had some bad luck a few years back. Wife left him, filed for bankruptcy, lost his house.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“Oh, he's fine now. Better than ever. By the way, I never see you on Facebook anymore. You still with Daniel?”

“Divorced two years,” I said. “A mutual decision. Our son Brian goes to college in Boston.”

“Wow, time has flown, hasn't it?” She ran her hand across the top of my lime green upholstered couch. “I like your taste. It's very retro.”

“I just moved into this office last week. I'm proud to say that most of the furnishings came from Goodwill. You'd be amazed at the things people give away. Have a seat if you like.”

She plopped down and let out a troubled sigh. I had a feeling we were finally getting around to why she'd set up this meeting.

“Lois, why do you need a private detective?”

Her good-natured smile faded as she lowered her eyes. “I need your advice, Sarah. It has to do with my housemate who also works at the bakery. I think she might be in trouble or involved in something illegal.”

I sat down next to her and said, “Okay, I'm all ears.”

She took a deep breath and let it out. “When I moved back from Florida, I didn't have a place to stay. I didn't want to move in with my parents, but Claire was looking for a roommate. She’s worked for my parents for several years. I only plan to live with her a few months till I can find my own house.”

I held up my cell phone to indicate that I'd be recording our conversation. It beats taking notes. “Tell me about her.”

“Full name is Claire Kendall. She's twenty-eight, single, no kids. She's a private person and we don't interact much at the house.”

“What does she do at the bakery?”

“She took over my dad's position as head baker. He'd been training her for the past two years knowing he would retire. She really seems to enjoy the work. Since she's not the social type, being in the kitchen by herself suits her just fine.”

“Okay,” I said. “So why do you think she's in trouble?”

“I'm not proud of it, but I went into her bedroom after she left for work yesterday. The door wasn't locked.”

I raised an eyebrow and waited for her to explain.

She bit her lip as if ashamed. “To be honest, a pair of earrings had gone missing from my bedroom. They aren't so much valuable as they are precious to me. I thought maybe she took them.”

“Did you find them in her room?”

“No, but I found something else. A duffel bag filled with money. Thousands of dollars I'm guessing. My earrings were only worth a few hundred, so she certainly didn't get that money from pawning my jewelry.” She sighed heavily. “I don't know what to think. Maybe she robbed a store or she's dealing drugs.”

“Have you told your parents or your brother about this?”

“No. I don't want Claire to find out that I was in her room. She'd freak out for sure. I did a background check on her to see if she has a criminal history, but she's clean. So I guess what I'm asking is, what should I do?”

“There could be a perfectly legit explanation,” I said. “Some people don't trust banks. Although, if that were the case, then I doubt she'd be keeping the cash inside a duffel bag in her bedroom. She'd have a fireproof box with a lock. Has she been anxious? Stressed out more than usual?”

“Yes. She actually snapped at me the other day, which she never does.”

“Have you simply asked her what's going on?”

She nodded. “I did. She told me everything was fine.”

I'm sure Lois wouldn't appreciate a lecture about Claire's right to privacy, but I also understood her frustration and fear. “What else did you find in her room? Drugs, weapons, or any evidence that she's involved in something shady?”

“No. Just the money.”

I took a moment to observe Lois's features. By the way she evaded my intense stare, I figured she hadn't told me everything. “Did you really lose your earrings?” I said. “Or did you just use that as an excuse to go into her room?”

She looked at me with awe, like I was a mind reader. “Wait. How'd you know?”

I crossed my arms over my chest and gave her the look. “Why don't you tell me what's really going on?”

Her shoulders slumped. “I guess you still know me after all these years. I can't tell a fib to save my life.”

That was true. Lois, at least when I knew her over twenty years ago, didn't have a fake bone in her body.

“Look, I'm sorry. I promise to be straight with you from now on.”

“If we're going to work together, Lois, you need to trust me.”

She seemed slightly hurt. “I understand, and I do trust you.”

It was time to get down to business. “So, forgive me for being frank, but what exactly would you like me to do for you?”

She nibbled on a fingernail until finally her eyes met mine. “Maybe you could follow her around for a few days. Find out where she goes and who she meets with.”

“There are more economical ways to do that,” I said. “You could put a tracking device on her vehicle, for starters.”

“I thought of that. But just my luck, I'd get caught. I'd rather let a professional deal with it. And don't worry, I can afford to pay you your going rate.”

Of course I wanted the work, but I also felt an obligation to be fair to my friend. Forty-eight hours of surveillance would be expensive. “Why don't you try talking to her again. Maybe she just needs a friend to confide in.”

“I'd rather have you look into it.”

It was obvious to me that Lois had made up her mind. I gave it some thought and decided, why not? I was in the business to make money and help people. Turning away clients was not in my best interest and, now with the added office rental expense, I couldn't deny that I needed extra cash. “Okay,” I finally said. “When do you want me to start?”

“Today, if you can. I know it's short notice.”

“As it so happens, I'm free.”

For the next ten minutes, Lois and I discussed payment for my services. I offered to give her a friend and family discount, which would no doubt result in a mini lecture from Carter. He didn't believe in giving discounts, especially if the job posed certain risks. This was just surveillance; little risk involved. Which reminded me that I hadn't yet told her about him.

“By the way,” I said. “I have a partner. He's an ex-cop from Boston, and he taught me the ropes of the business.”

“Oh?” She seemed confused. “Where is he? I'd like to meet him.”

“He's at home, recovering from a pulled muscle in his back.”

That seemed to pique her interest. “From chasing after a felon?”

“Nothing that exciting,” I said. “It happened while he was moving some of my furniture into his house. I just moved in with him last week.”

“Business partners
and
lovers?” She wriggled her eyebrows. “What's he like?”

“If Richard Gere and the Marlboro Man had a love child, that would be Carter. Except he doesn't smoke.”

“He sounds intriguing. Now I really must meet this guy.”

“I'm sure you will, but right now, I need to get as much information about Claire as you can give me. Her full name, birthdate, and social security number if possible. I know you did a background check on her, but I can have Carter go deeper.”

“Yes, I have it all right here, along with home address, make of her Volvo and license plate number.”

I looked over the information and whistled low. “I'm impressed that you came prepared. This will save us a lot of time.”

“Now that I'm running a business, I've learned to get organized.”

“One more question,” I said. “What do you know about Claire's family?”

“Nothing. She's never mentioned them.”

“No framed pictures on the mantel? No postcards on her fridge?”

Lois shook her head. “Although I did see a framed black and white photograph on her nightstand in the bedroom. A little boy in a wheelchair. She's never mentioned anyone like that.”

“Boyfriends? Girlfriends?”

“There was this guy she dated last month, but he's out of the picture now.”

“What's his name?”

“Andy Pinkerton. He works at the Bagel Basket. Kind of a jerk.”

“Why did they break up?” I asked.

“I don't know. I heard them fighting one night when I was trying to sleep. I heard this crashing noise, like glass breaking. Next thing, he's slamming doors. I heard his truck screeching out of the driveway. I went downstairs and Claire was sweeping up a broken beer bottle.”

“He hit her?”

“No, I mean, she didn't look hurt. That's the thing. She didn't seem upset at all. Of course, I asked her what happened. She just told me the jerk was never coming back. Don't know what she saw in him anyway. He's one of these scrawny, greasy haired types with a massive chip on his shoulder. I told Claire she could do better. She told me, boys like Andy, are the only ones who will date her.”

Already, I was beginning to develop a picture in my mind of Claire. She seemed guarded, perhaps insecure from lack of self-esteem. She dated boys who were emotionally abusive, which could indicate an abusive upbringing. Or she was punishing herself for the sins or regrets of her past. “She hasn't been dating anyone else?”

“Not that I've met. Although she often goes to visit with the older guy who lives next door. I'm fairly certain there is no romance going on there. He's in his seventies.”

“How often does she go over there?”

“Once or twice a week. She mows his lawn and helps out around the house.”

The fact that she took the time to help a neighbor spoke volumes about her character. Unless, she had an ulterior motive for being nice to the guy. “Any girlfriends you've met?”

“No. I don't think she has any female friends at all, and I really wouldn't consider myself a friend. I get the feeling she doesn't want to be close to me and I don't push it.”

“Did she get a housemate because she's overspent? Is she in debt?”

Lois shrugged. “Good question. She makes about thirty grand a year at the bakery, which isn't much. She drives an old green Volvo that barely starts every morning and her clothes, well, she doesn't seem to care about the latest trends in fashion.”

BOOK: A Recipe for Disaster (Sarah Woods Mystery Book 16)
11.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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