Barnyard Murder: A Cozy Mystery (Strawberry Shores Mystery Book 2)

BOOK: Barnyard Murder: A Cozy Mystery (Strawberry Shores Mystery Book 2)
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Barnyard Murder

A Sweet Strawberry Shores Mystery Book 2

A Laura Lane Murder Mystery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mak K. Han

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2016

 

All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced in any format, by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior consent from the copyright owner and publisher of this book.

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places, and events are the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously.

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Strawberry Shores Mystery Series:

Bound To Die: A Cozy Mystery (Book 1)

 

This book is for my better half: the jelly for my peanut butter; the biscuits for my butter; the key to my lock; the Lucy for her Ricky – my Jaan
u

Prologue

 

1975

 

“Hello? Is anyone in here?”

Jack had to shout over the deafening roar of the cackling flames. To his right, a flaming wooden beam crashed to the ground. A stack of hay nearby caught fire. The loss of the beam destabilized the barn's infrastructure and the entire right-hand side of the structure swayed back and forth.

Looking around once more, he didn't see anyone in here. It was three in the morning. He didn't think anyone would be inside, but the cause of the fire was unknown. Kids came out here trysting from time to time, and it was a popular spot for stray cats. All he saw was the lantern on the ground—the lantern that had started the fire.

No kids, and no cats. That was the important thing.

Even through his suit, Jack could feel the heat of the flames. It was time to leave. He turned on his heel and ran, sprinting through the open double-doors just as another beam came crashing to the ground. Another thirty seconds in there and he would have been trapped.

Outside, fire trucks had lined up along the road. His team was uncoiling the hoses. Lance and Rick, the first to arrive, were standing at the ready. Jack gave them the go-ahead and they let loose, firing a stream of water into the barn. They'd start by dousing the floor and putting out the flames on the ground and then work upward. If any more beams fell, the ground would already be wet, so the fire wouldn't spread.

“Did you find anyone?” Lance shouted over the roar of the fire hose.

Jack shook his head. “It's empty.” He headed over to the other fire truck and helped unwind the coil. With both trucks focusing on the fire it took about forty minutes to put it out. The barn was a total loss.

As the crew went about recoiling the hoses, Jack walked the area around the smoldering ruins with Lance. It was late summer in the town of Strawberry Shoreline, and they needed to make sure a stray ember hadn't flown free. Across the street was the library, and the last thing Jack wanted was for the library to go up in flames.

“It took too long to put out the fire,” Lance remarked. “We don't have enough funding. This is what we get for electing Nixon.”

“It could be worse,” Jack rebutted. “We could be over in Vietnam.”

Lance shook his head. “The way things are going, we might still end up over there.”

“Like hell. If they try to draft me, I'll see you in Canada. I'd hate to leave Strawberry Shoreline, but I'm not going overseas.”

Lance chuckled. “Have you heard the rumors? They're thinking about changing the name to Strawberry Shores.”

Jack laughed out loud. “Yeah. That'll never happen.”

The duo rounded the right side of what used to be the barn. “Now isn't that a shame.”

Jack followed Lance's gaze. He was referring to the enormous Northern Catalpa tree that stood nearby. Half of its noble, twisting branches had been incinerated by the blaze. It looked like the trunk had suffered damage too. Jack would be surprised if the tree survived another year.

“A damn shame. That tree's been here since before I was born. Who owns this property? Maybe we can convince him to transplant it.”

Lance shook his head. “Not likely. The roots on that thing probably go a mile deep. Besides, this lot belongs to Frederick Ferdinand.”

Jack crinkled his nose. “Little punk, if you ask me.” Frederick Ferdinand had been nothing but a nuisance for as long as Jack had known him. Ferdinand was militant when it came to people altering—or even being on—his property. It was a miracle that he hadn't come out and harassed the firemen for putting out the fire. “But, I'll talk to him anyway. In the morning. For now, I'd say the area is secure. Let's get the gear squared away and head back to the station. I'm getting hungry.”

Lance agreed. They turned away from the Northern Catalpa and started for the truck.

 

Chapter 1

 

Present Day

 

Emily stared at me. I could feel Alex staring at me too, but I was focusing on Emily. Her green eyes. Her blond hair tied up in a bow. Her mouth, speckled with crumbs from a chocolate cupcake.

“One more time,” Emily said. “My mom's name is Dawn.” She paused. “Strawberry Shores used to be called Strawberry Shoreline.” Another pause. “Alex and I first met in second grade.”

I nibbled my lip and listened for the static. One of the three statements was a lie. I had the ability to tell when someone wasn't telling the truth because if there was a radio nearby, I heard static in my head when they were lying. We were testing my ability to hear the static when there wasn't a radio.

This was the twelfth round of questions, six from Alex and six from Emily. Alex was keeping track of which ones I'd gotten right and which ones I'd gotten wrong.

“The second one,” I said. “Strawberry Shoreline sounds stupid.”

Emily giggled. “Wrong-o. Alex and I didn't meet until you came to town, Laura!”

I sat back in the chair and relaxed, rubbing my eyes. The tension drained from the room. I felt like I'd been under the microscope for the last hour. Emily stuffed the rest of her cupcake into her mouth and headed to the kitchen for another. I looked to Alex. “How did I do?”

Alex counted up the right answers. “Three out of four. Good. Not great.”

I shook my head. “Not good enough. I want to be at a hundred percent.”

“The only time you've been at a hundred is when you had the radio on in the background,” Emily said as she returned from the kitchen, her mouth filled with a cupcake.

It was true. We'd already tested it with a radio and sure enough, I'd been able to tell precisely when one of the girls was lying. The static had been unmistakable. However, without the radio, I had a harder time figuring out which was the lie and which was the truth.

I sat back and rubbed my eyes. I'd had enough fun being under the microscope for one night. I turned to Alex.

She was wearing one of her custom outfits: a t-shirt, painted and glittered. It had been black at one point until Alex had glittered it to look like outer space with the word 'REBEL' written in pink capital letters. She was wearing black stockings with matching heels; her shoes had also been customized with stars and glitter. Alex's tagline was
Stand Out from the Crowd: be a Superstar
, hence the emphasis on stars. Her black hair had a fluorescent orange streak in it and was clipped to one side with one of her custom clips, also adorned with stars.

“How goes the clothing business?” I asked her.

Alex interlaced her fingers behind her back and propped her feet up on the table. It was an unconscious gesture. She did something similar every time someone asked about her clothes. Putting her hands behind her head gave full visibility to the shirt and putting her feet on the table gave full visibility to her shoes. “It goes, I guess,” she said. “I made a Facebook page and I have about ten likes. I don't have enough money for a web page yet. I'm hoping that by wearing my clothes more often, people will talk about them.” She sat up straight. “Hey! I have an idea!”

Emily and I looked at her. She looked at us. Whenever Alex had an idea, she got this rather manic look in her eyes and rubbed her hands together. She looked like a mad scientist.

“You guys could wear my clothes around town! And then whenever people ask about your clothes, you can point them my way!”

I chuckled. “I think I'm all set, Alex.”

She cocked her head and raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure? You could definitely use a wardrobe adjustment.”

“Hey!” I looked myself over: jeans, t-shirt. “What's wrong with the way I dress?”

“Nothing,” Alex said. “It's just a little boring. Spice it up!”

“Yeah!” Emily chirped. “Alex has a style. I have a style. You need a style too, Laura.”

I opened my mouth to interject but Alex beat me to it. “You have a style?” She said to Emily. “What, the 1950s look? You look like you're about to meet a swell guy to go jitterbugging.”

Emily frowned. “I look classy. You look like a groupie for a washed-up eighties hair band.”

“At least the eighties are recent.”

“No more recent than the 50s. The difference is, I look good and you look trashy!”

Alex and Emily launched full into a fight about clothing styles. While they sorted things out, I picked Alex's list off the table. Sure enough, nine of the questions had been marked correct, three were incorrect.

It didn't make much a difference to me. I didn't have any plans on using my psychic powers. I'd used them about six months back to help solve a murder, but that was a one-off kind of thing. The odds of me being involved in another murder were slim to none.

So I thought.

 

Chapter 2

 

Susan and I left the library at five fifteen. We left a little later than usual because Miss Tilwell had heard that Doreen Reusch and Amanda Jax were feuding, and she figured the best place to get verification was from the library where Doreen was known to frequent—so Miss Tilwell had spent half an hour grilling Susan and me about Doreen's goings-ons.

We turned and locked the doors. Susan still didn't have a car, so we'd taken up walking to work together. We started up the path.

“What's on your mind for the evening?” she asked me.

I rolled my eyes. “Alex and Emily are having a business competition. Alex has decided that Emily and I are going to model her clothes. Emily's jealous, so she's ramping up cupcake-production. So tonight it's going to be a lot of trying on clothes that are too small and eating cupcakes.”

“That'll be great for your complexion.”

“Tell me about it,” I said.

We kept walking. As we crossed the road out in front of the library, Susan stopped in front of the burnt-out barn.

“Is everything all right?” I asked.

Susan shook her head. “No, everything's fine. It's just, I've gotten so used to this barn here, it's going to be strange to see it go.” She pointed up the road. “Let's keep going.”

I paused for a moment to survey the burnt-out barn. It was sort of an eyesore. I'd noticed it when I first moved to Strawberry Shores but hadn't paid much attention since; come to think of it, I was surprised the Coalition for a Beautiful Strawberry Shores had let it stay standing. “What's going to happen to it?”

“Frederick Ferdinand died last week,” Susan explained. “He owned the property. The barn burned down back in the seventies but he refused to tear it down.”

“Frederick Ferdinand?” I asked.

“He is—er, was—a hermit that lived up on Sprout Street. I never met him, but I've heard he was nasty.”

“Come now,” I chided. “It's in poor taste to speak ill of the dead.”

Susan cringed. “Sorry, but it's true. I've never heard a good thing about him. Anyway, now that he's out of the picture, the CBSS hired Tim Hayfield to tear down the barn.”

I looked at the barn. There wasn't much left to tear down; it was mostly the shell of a building overgrown with weeds and vines. A large tree stood next to it. Most of the tree was warped and dead – it looked like it had been hurt by the fire. “What about that tree?” I asked.

Susan shrugged. “Probably the tree too. Dana wants the whole lot cleared.” Before I could ask, Susan explained. “Dana Jones. She runs the CBSS.”

“Sounds exciting. When are they going to clear the lot?”

“It's hard to say,” Susan said. “It's supposed to be cleared tomorrow. Tim Hayfield is bringing in all sorts of construction equipment.”

“Cool,” I said. “Maybe I'll come watch. I think Emily and Alex have the day off, too.”

Susan laughed. “Good luck. As I understand, Jeannie Frederick is in town, and she and Dana are fighting over the estate.”

I furrowed my brow. “How is there a fight? If Jeannie is inheriting the property, shouldn't she have the last say about what happens to it?”

Susan shook her head. “Not in Strawberry Shores. After the barn burned down in the seventies, the CBSS was formed. Since Frederick Ferdinand wasn't letting anyone tear down the barn, they added an amendment to the town charter—the CBSS has the right to do whatever it takes to preserve the town's beauty.”

“And Frederick was grandfathered in, so the law didn't apply to him.”

“Exactly. So ever since then, the CBSS has been waiting for Frederick to either move out of Strawberry Shores, or die—whichever came first. Now he's dead, and theoretically the CBSS should be able to move in on Frederick's property, but now Jeannie Ferdinand is saying the Ferdinand
family
is grandfathered in, and the CBSS still doesn't have the authority to tear down the barn.”

“Because she owns it, and she's family,” I finished. “That's strange. Why does Jeannie Ferdinand care about the barn? She just moved here, right?”

“As far as I know. I've never seen her around before.” Coming from Susan, that meant something. She was the same age as I was—twenty-six—but unlike me she'd lived in Strawberry Shores for her whole life, and she'd worked in the library for six of those years. She knew—or knew of—just about everyone in the town.

We rounded the bend and stopped in front of Susan's house. “Maybe I'll see you tomorrow?” She asked.

I shrugged. “Maybe. I want to watch Tim Hayfield knock down the barn, so I'll be in the area. I'll stop by during your shift.”

Susan smiled. “Great! See you then!”

With that, we departed. I was excited to see the construction work the next day. The barn had been there ever since I'd arrived in Strawberry Shores and despite being ugly, it seemed to have its place. I saw the barn getting knocked down as the end of an era.

Little did I know, it would actually be the
beginning
of one.

 

BOOK: Barnyard Murder: A Cozy Mystery (Strawberry Shores Mystery Book 2)
11.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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