Authors: Leona Fox
opyright © 2016 Leona Fox
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher
a lovely Sunday afternoon when Sadie Barnett and Zackary Woodstone walked hand in hand along the path around Faraway Lake. Every once in a while, they liked a change of scenery from the ocean walk they normally took together, and today was one of those days. They'd driven out of the coastal fog and into the next county to walk the path that surrounded the lake. Sadie's tiny terrier, Mr. Bradshaw, had been allowed off the leash and was following the scent of squirrels and raccoons a little way ahead of his people.
The air was warm, the shade was cool and the lake as beautiful as a lake can be - a breeze ruffling the surface of the water, making the reflected sunlight dance. Sadie looked up at Zack and smiled. He really was a lovely man. He looked down and took her hand, swinging their arms as they strolled through the sunshine.
“We should do this more often,” Sadie said.
“And we will,” Zack said, “because your wish is my command.” Sadie laughed and Zack pulled her in for a hug.
“No, really, it is,” he said.
“Not a wise thing for a police chief to say,” Sadie said. “You never know what I might wish for.”
Zack started to say, “Anything for you,” but was cut off by Mr. Bradshaw’s incessant barking. They looked at each other and hurried around the corner.
At first, they couldn’t tell what he was barking at. They’d expected a deer or a bear, at the very least a squirrel, but there weren’t any obvious critters. There were rushes and shaded trees, plus the sparkling and eye blinding reflections where the sun did make its way through the trees and bounce off the water. But as they came closer it became only too clear. A woman was floating face down in the lake, her hair floating in a halo around her head.
Zack jumped from the four-foot drop-off into the water and waded, hip high, to the woman. He flipped her, but didn’t start CPR. Even from the shore, Sadie could see the woman had been dead for a while. Sadie clipped the leash on Mr. Bradshaw and called 9-1-1. Zack towed the body to the shore where he left her floating, a piece of scarf twisted around her neck caught on his sleeve and he had to untangle himself from the strands before he climbed onto the shore. He stood at the shore pulling lake grass from his pants and dripping everywhere.
“I called 9-1-1,” Sadie said. “Do you want me to go to your house and get some dry clothes?”
“No. I’m fine. It’s more important that you be here. You never should leave the scene of a crime.” Zack looked grim.
They sat side by side on a fallen tree trunk with Mr. B at their feet, waiting for the emergency response team to show up. A puddle was growing under Zack's feet, but luckily it was a warm day and he wasn't in danger of hypothermia.
Sadie tried not to focus on the water, or at least not on the body in the water. It had been such a lovely day and she was a little disappointed that it had been cut short. But she told herself in this situation she was the lucky one - she was still alive. So her day with Zack was cut short, that clearly wasn't the worst that could happen.
A party of cops and EMTs finally emerged around the curve in the path and descended upon them. An older officer shook hands with Zack and asked them to come back around the bend, out of sight of the floating corpse. Sadie thought it was probably for her benefit - as police chief Zack had seen plenty of bodies. Actually, Sadie had seen more than her fair share of bodies and was perfectly content to lead Mr. B away from the scene.
They were out of Zack's jurisdiction, but he clearly knew the officer and the two of them fell into a technical discussion about decay that Sadie did her best to ignore. She and Mr. B moved further along the path and she gazed across the Lake while Mr. B sniffed in the rushes. Her mind was far away when she felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up to see the older cop standing next to her.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't hear you."
"Death takes people that way, sometimes," he said gently. "Can I ask you a few questions?"
"Of course," she said and Mr. B abandoned the rushes and sniffed around the man's ankles.
"Are you okay with dogs?" Sadie asked. "I can pick him up if you like?"
"He's fine." He held out his hand to her.
"I'm Officer Ryan of the Hillside Police Department. I understand you are Sadie Barnett?" They shook hands.
"Yes, I'm Sadie." He had a good handshake, firm without being damp or painful.
"Did you know or recognize the deceased woman?" he asked.
"No." She shook her head. Truthfully she hadn't looked that closely, but she doubted closer examination would help.
"Did you have plans to come out to the lake today, or was it a spur of the moment thing?" he asked.
"We had planned to go on our usual walk along the cliffs in Seagrove." She smiled remembering Zack showing her where he wanted to get married on the cliff above the ocean.
"But it was foggy on the coast today so we decided to come inland and walk in the sunshine."
He wrote a few words in his notebook and looked up. "Is there anything else you can tell me about discovering the body?"
"I don't think so," she said. "Mr. Bradshaw," she gestured to her dog, "was barking so we hurried around the bend. Zack jumped in the lake and towed the body to shore while I called 9-1-1. Then we sat on a log and waited. That's about it."
"Thank you, Ms. Barnett, you can go now." He laid a hand on her shoulder.
"Try not to dwell on it," he said kindly. "Do something engaging to take your mind off the day."
Sadie smiled at him but secretly thought the day had been wonderful until Mr. Bradshaw had alerted them to the body. She wondered what he considered engaging, probably not what she was contemplating – solving the murder of the unknown woman. Of course, it was possible that it had been an accidental death, but she really didn’t think so.
She went to find Zack, who was deep in discussion with one of the other officers. She tried getting his attention without interrupting the conversation, but he seemed to have forgotten her. Trying to keep her impatience at bay, she walked Mr. B along the path a little further and then back again, but he was now taking notes. She walked up to him.
“Sorry to interrupt,” she said. “But, I’d really like to go home now should I just call a cab?”
He looked at her, surprised. “I thought you’d be combing for clues. I’m not ready to leave, why don’t you take the jeep and I’ll get a ride into town with one of these guys.”
“Yeah, I thought so, too. I think I’m a little done with murders. Keep your car,” she said and was surprised at how snappish she sounded.
“I can get a taxi.”
“I don’t mind you taking my car, Sadie.” He held out his keys but she waved him away.
“I’m fine,” she said.
“I’ll see you later then.” And two seconds later he was back in conversation with the other officers.
Two hours ago her wish had been his command, now he hardly knew she existed. Sadie tried not to be mad at Zack as she walked with Mr. Bradshaw back to the parking area. Crime was his thing, after all. But her snarky inner voice wouldn’t be quiet and she found herself fuming over the fact that they’d been on a date and he’d abandoned her for a case he wouldn’t even be working on. The lake was miles away from his jurisdiction. And he hadn’t even asked her how she was doing, and it hadn’t even been three weeks since she’d found a young man dead in her shop.
She tried to push away the resentment, to be reasonable, but it seemed this was one body too many. She’d lost her bounce.
She called a taxi and sat on a picnic bench near the parking lot with Mr. B in her lap, waiting. Her mind wandered and she thought of Spain. It had been a while since she’d been, and it was time she went back again. By the time the taxi arrived she’d pretty much made up her mind. It was time for a buying trip. Her shop could use some new inventory.
It was twilight when Zack called up to her apartment and asked if he could come in. Sadie swallowed her pride and stomped down the stairs to let him in, before stomping back up the stairs again.
“Are you okay, Sadie?” he asked. “You seem a bit down.”
“No,” she said. “I’m not okay. There’s been too much death and I’m tired of it.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have left you to find your own way home.”
“I’m an adult woman, Zack. Mr. Bradshaw and I were perfectly fine getting a taxi home. Really, I’m okay.” But the fact that she felt like biting his head off hadn’t escaped her. That wasn’t normal.
“I thought you’d want to hear this,” Zack said. “The dead woman – well, girl really -- she was a college student. Her name was Sylvia Jones and she was one of your sorority sisters. And it was definitely murder.”
Sadie tried not to look devastated. This was really too much. Two weeks ago she’d found out a sorority sister was a murderer, and now one of her sisters had been murdered. She couldn’t understand how Zack could be so insensitive. Yet she also knew he had no way of knowing that a middle-aged woman still will be connected to the college-aged women that had joined the same sorority.
“I had a feeling we were dealing with murder,” Sadie said.
“I had no idea she was a sorority sister. I hate that a place that was a safe haven for me in college has turned into a nightmare place.” She sniffed and wiped her hand across her face.
“You can help me make this right," Zack said. "I'm not sure where the murder was committed, but it leads back to us and that sorority of yours. So we'll have a hand in the investigation. We'll find who killed your girl."
"She isn't exactly my girl," Sadie said. "She's my sorority sister. I've got sorority sisters all over the country who I've never met. We're connected, but not."
"There's the potential for connection?" Zack asked.
"Yes. We're a network. We look out for each other. We help where we can," Sadie said. "It's too late to help that girl. What was her name again?"
"Sylvia Jones," Zack said. "She had the highest GPA in her class."
"I don't recall ever hearing about her." Sadie dropped her head and leaned against his chest. She was just so tired.
"I'm so done with death and murder, murder and death. People I know are dying way too early and not of natural causes. I'm thinking I should go to Spain or Argentina on a buying trip. Get away for a bit."
Zack put his hands on her shoulders and stepped back, searching her face. She saw the worry in his eyes and felt guilty, but she couldn't put on a smile. She collapsed into her favorite chair and curled into a ball, wrapping her arms around her legs and dropping her head to her knees.
"I just can't do this one, I just can't."
“Why can't I?” she thought. What's wrong with me?
She searched through her mind for a clue to her malaise. She'd been fine. It was a wonderful day, and then they'd discovered the dead woman. She'd still been fine. The cops had come and she'd been questioned, and she'd been fine. She'd walked with Mr. Bradshaw back to the parking area and called a taxi. And she'd been fine. They'd rode home in the taxi and she'd started thinking about Spain. And she hadn't been fine.
She'd only thought of Spain because she wanted to escape. And, although she hated to admit it, she'd been unhappy that Zack had left her to make her way home, which was also unlike her. She felt Zack's hands on her shoulders, gently kneading the knots out of her muscles.
"I forget, sometimes, that you aren't a cop," he said quietly.
“Not that it doesn't take a toll on us, too, but we are trained for it. And we have a psychologist to talk to when we need to. You've seen a lot of death in the past couple of months. I forget you don't have the same support that we do." He dropped a kiss on the top of her head.
The next morning Sadie was feeling much better. After walking Mr. Bradshaw in the park, she went next door to grab a coffee to go. Then she pulled her jacket on over her sweater and went to sit on the balcony in the sun. Mr. B jumped onto the chair opposite Sadie and curled into a ball in the sun.
Sadie closed her eyes and let the sun warm her face. Maybe she should go to Italy instead of Spain. Or to the south of France. They were all good places to be when you wanted a little warmth and plenty of sun. And good junk. Good junk was the most important part. She thought of the busload of tourists that came through Seagrove a couple of weeks previously. They'd descended on her shop like circling vultures, snatching up anything that would fit in the luggage compartment under their bus.
Her shop felt decidedly empty these days. Her shop assistant, Betty, was spending a lot of time cleaning the dust off shelves and trying to make the shop look full. It wasn't easy. The hoard had bought up so much of her inventory she felt like she could go anywhere she liked. It didn't matter if she'd been there recently because there was so little left.
Mexico, she thought. She hadn't been to Mexico in a long time. Or maybe a world tour. She could leave Mr. B with Zack and take Lucy and Betty around the world with her. The three of them probably would spend too much time on the beaches and not enough time in the bazaars, but it would be fun. And there would be no dead bodies.
Someone cleared their voice down on the sidewalk and Sadie opened her eyes. Justin Ives was standing on the sidewalk in front of her shop, looking up.
"Hi, Ms. Barnett," he said. "Can I talk to you?" Sadie sighed. She just wasn’t in the mood.
"Come on up," she said, but before she could get up to go downstairs and let him in, Betty came around the corner with a bounce in her step.
"Are you going up to see Sadie?" she asked. "I'll let you in."
Sadie sat back down and waited for Justin to join her on the balcony, which he did shortly. He picked up Mr. Bradshaw, sat in the chair, and settled Mr. B onto his lap. The terrier curled up contentedly, completely unperturbed by the change in circumstance; he and Justin were old friends.
"Don't tell me," Sadie said. "You are mixed up with the dead college girl."
Whatever trouble was in the town, Justin seemed to be right in the middle. He didn't want to be in the midst of the hubbub, he just always found himself there.