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Authors: Emilie Richards

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Praise for

Let There Be Suspects

“Charming.”

—The Wall Street Journal

“A lighthearted study in dysfunctional family dynamics,
Let There Be Suspects
is an answered prayer for fans of the cozy mystery.”

—Richmond Times-Dispatch

“A great storyteller, Richards writes a humor-filled murder mystery that works…She develops enough suspects and action to keep readers turning pages. She plays fair and lays the clues for the astute reader to solve the crime. This reader looks forward to more adventures with Aggie.”

—Gumshoe Review

“A charming cozy, full of memorable characters, suspense galore, and the unsinkable Aggie who is at her clever best when solving a mystery.”

—MyShelf.com

“Aggie is a fun character…A well-crafted mystery with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing to the end. I highly recommend this book and the whole series.”

—The Best Reviews

“I love her sharp, quirky voice, her rich and crazy characters, and I love that she’s mixed murder and mayhem with the Church…A delicious Christmas romp into the murderous minds of those that live and visit Emerald Springs, Ohio. You’ll want more of Emilie Richards.”

—Armchair Interviews

“Satisfying…There are quite a few humorous moments in the novel, but there’s a poignant side as well.”

—The Mystery Reader

“Zany characters add sparkle to this engaging cozy, where mystery is never in short supply…Witty and entertaining.”

—Romantic Times

Blessed Is the Busybody

“A well-crafted story with both humor and mystery. Emilie Richards has a writing style that reels the reader in with her first words. Aggie is a fun character…Any of Emilie Richards’s books are keepers on my shelf!”

—Romance Junkies

“A delightful cozy that stars an amateur sleuth who feels as if she swims upstream against the tide…All comes together in this fine Ministry is Murder thriller.”

—Midwest Book Review
(five-star review)

“An absolutely delightful mystery that fans of Emilie Richards and anyone who enjoys light mystery will adore…This novel takes a clever and unexpected turn at its conclusion. It also marks the beginning of a new mystery series involving Emerald Springs. I think Aggie is just getting started with her sleuthing and if future adventures are as well written as this one, we are in for a treat.”

—The Romance Readers Connection

“An enjoyable read…Any new book by this gifted author is cause for celebration.”

—The Mystery Reader

“A cozy mystery with style. Aggie is adorable and her sleuthing efforts will fill the reader with admiration—as well as chuckles…Ms. Richards’s characters are particularly vivid and all have interesting little twists that make them memorable and very real…A lighthearted and endearing read with a great deal of flavor and wit. If you are a fan of Dorothy Bodoin and Jan Karon, or an avid
Murder She Wrote
viewer, then
Blessed Is the Busybody
is just the book for you! Great work, Ms. Richards!”

—Roundtable Reviews

“Fun and suspenseful.”

—Fresh Fiction

Praise for the Novels of
Emilie Richards

“Multilayered plot, vivid descriptions, and a keen sense of time and place.”

—Library Journal

“Richards writes with rare honesty and compassion and has a keen eye for detail. This is a beautiful, heartwarming story that will find its way onto many shelves.”

—Romantic Times

“Richards pieces together each woman’s story as artfully as a quilter creates a quilt, with equally satisfying results, and her characterizations are transcendent, endowed with warmth and compassion.”

—Booklist

“Richards’s ability to portray compelling characters who grapple with challenging family issues is laudable, and this well-crafted tale should score well with fans of Luanne Rice and Kristin Hannah.”

—Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

“A flat-out page turner…reminiscent of the early Sidney Sheldon.”

—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Unforgettable characters and complex relationships.”

—The Romance Reader

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Emilie Richards

LET THERE BE SUSPECTS

BLESSED IS THE BUSYBODY

BEWARE FALSE PROFITS

Beware False Profits
Emilie Richards

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.

BEWARE FALSE PROFITS

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

Copyright © 2007 by Emilie McGee.

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:978-1-1012-0651-5

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.

1

For a minister’s wife I spend too much time in bars.

Okay, maybe “bars” isn’t exactly the right word. Sure, Don’t Go There, in Emerald Springs, Ohio, is a working-class, slugfest, “Daddy won’t you please come home,” semi-biker bar. And yes, despite the inherent warning in the name, I’ve “been” there a few times too many. Just asking questions, of course.

Technotes, farther afield, isn’t really a bar. It’s a dance club with enough blinking lights to trigger seizures and enough taut, gleaming skin to make me sadly aware that my vegetarian diet isn’t a diet at all. I’ve had reason to go there, as well.

But the Pussycat Club in Manhattan’s East Village, with a fifteen-foot pink cat blinking above the marquee? This one is new to my radar, and it’s going to be hard to top. No pun intended, but judging from some of the photographs in the glass case at the entrance, Saturday at the Pussycat is a drag queen review with ladies who are weightier on “top” than I. And I’m often forced to resort to Frederick’s of Hollywood for a bra that fits.

I’m getting ahead of myself, of course. Ed and I did not come to Manhattan to inspect, spectate, or even speculate at the Pussycat Club. We came for a much needed romantic weekend, something that hasn’t happened in years.

This all began when my mother, Junie, decided to call Emerald Springs her home, too. After decades on the road between one craft or Renaissance fair and another, Junie decided that hanging her hat, not to mention her quilts, in one place was a treat she deserved. She bought an old Victorian house I was flipping with my friend Lucy Jacobs, and moved in, lock, stock, and barrel.

With us
.

The problem is that the Victorian still needs a lot of work, and Junie can’t live there yet, much less turn the bottom floor into the quilt shop she envisions. Although we’re working on fast-forward now, Lucy and I had more or less been taking our time until Junie signed the contract. Lucy works full-time as a Realtor, and I, well, I work full-time at being a mother to two daughters, a wife to Ed, and inoffensive to the congregation.

This last role is the hardest.

I wasn’t born to be a minister’s partner. I’m not sure anyone is, of course, but truly some people seem more inclined toward this job than others. I was raised to be as Bohemian and freethinking as my mother. My two sisters and I traveled coast-to-coast with Junie, attending school here and there, calling new members of Junie’s Husband-of-the-Year Club “Daddy” until the next meeting of Junie’s Divorced-but-Dear Club. Junie has been married five times, and Sid, Vel, and I each have a different father. Despite our upbringing or because of it, no sisters are closer.

But back to Bohemian. On the religion scale Junie’s friends ranged from shamans to charlatans, Spiritualists to skeptics. When we went to church as a family, we only went to churches with names that intrigued my mother. The Holy Raiders Revival Church. The Sect of Secrets and Signs. The House of Heavenly Harmony.

Normally we breezed in and out. As a teenager my personal theology grew to include the following: There may or may not be a God. He or She may look like Lord Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god, or perhaps some amalgam of an elephant as described by three mythical blind men who are touching either a leg, a trunk, or a tail.

Then I met Ed Wilcox, seminary student and devoted attendee of the Unitarian-Universalist Church. They were a tad more orthodox than I was, but I did immediately feel at home.

Cut to the twenty-first century and the Consolidated Community Church of Emerald Springs, Ohio, where I update the archives, throw rip-roaring holiday open houses, and find naked bodies on the parsonage porch.

You have to remember, I came to this job without a resume.

Now that Ed has served three churches, one of the things I’ve learned is that congregations take up most of our waking hours, and sleeping hours aren’t sacred, either. Ed and I have learned to steal moments for conversation and intimacy whenever we can find them. Unfortunately, sneaking around gets wearing. When Junie moved into the parsonage, and we had one more person in the house to contend with, things began to deteriorate.

So when a Harvard classmate of Ed’s suggested we come to the Big Apple and stay in his apartment some weekend while he was off on sabbatical, we bought tickets on the first cheap flight out. And here we are. Standing at the entrance of the Pussycat Club in the East Village on a chilly spring evening, looking at the lineup for the night’s entertainment.

“We wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t given your cell phone number to Norma,” I reminded Ed, yet again. “What were you
thinking
?”

“I was thinking there might be an emergency.” Ed hadn’t come to New York with appropriate Pussycat clothes. He was wearing a pinstripe dress shirt and pleated khaki pants. He’d planned to ward off the chill with a monogrammed wool crew neck his mother gave him for Christmas, but I’d reminded him we weren’t having tea after a cricket match and made him leave it at the apartment.

“For pity’s sake, Ed, you knew Norma would give out your number if a parishioner’s dog got fleas. You might as well have published it in the
Flow
.” Norma: our garrulous church secretary. The
Flow
: our Emerald Springs daily.

“In this case Norma gave it out because we have a missing person,” he reminded me. Yet again.

I watched Ed shiver and felt a smidgen of regret that I’d denied him the crew neck. Had it only been black. Or fraying at the cuffs.

I stepped aside so that two guys in their sixties, one with a parochial school plaid skirt over dark trousers, could get through the door. “I really can’t believe Joe Wagner is missing. And I really can’t believe he was ever
here
.”

The Wagner saga started this morning. Just as Ed and I were getting out of bed after a spectacular marital booty call, Ed’s cell phone chirped Beethoven’s Fifth. We’d been planning to find a local deli where we could buy lox and real bagels, spread the
New York Times
from one end of the table to the other, and drink quarts of strong coffee. The rest of the day was filled with glorious possibilities. But the call changed everything.

I only heard Ed’s end, which went something like: “Uh-huh. No. Of course you’re upset. I can’t imagine.”

I nearly fell back asleep, but when Ed put down the phone, I recognized the look on his face. The sweet afterglow of sex, untarnished by the soundtrack of Saturday morning cartoons and Junie’s morning mantra, was no longer reflected there. This was unmistakably the look of a minister with another problem to worry about.

“Don’t tell me,” I said. “Oh, please don’t tell me we have to go home before tomorrow night.”

“That was Maura Wagner.”

Maura, her husband, Joe, and son, Tyler, are members of our church, although of the three Wagners, Maura is least often on the Tri-C scene. Joe’s a big, handsome guy, the director of Helping Hands, the local food bank, and everybody’s friend. Need tables set up for a potluck supper? Joe will come early to help. Need somebody to count the dollar bills in the collection plate? Joe’s the man. Need a chairman for the annual pledge drive? You get the picture. Joe is one of those people who keeps churches healthy. He shakes hands and gives out orders of service. He gives laughing toddlers rides on his strong shoulders and assures teenage girls that the male of the species can eventually grow up and clean up spectacularly.

Maura Wagner is Joe’s opposite. She is small and fragile, with Easter egg blue eyes and a halo of curly blonde hair. If Maura stubs her toe, she calls Joe and asks what profanity she can use. She’s weak to his strong, unfocused where he is forceful.

The roles seem to suit them both, because from the outside their marriage looks happy. Seemingly the only real bump on their road to marital bliss was the discovery that Tyler, now twelve, was diabetic. But even this was a bump, not a mountain they couldn’t scale. Between Joe’s attention to proper doses of insulin and Tyler’s resilient spirit, Tyler’s life has been for the most part normal and happy.

Maura Wagner was one of the last people I expected to bother Ed when we were off on a holiday. I wasn’t even sure she knew how to dial a telephone.

“Did somebody die?” I asked, afraid I already knew the answer.

“No, but it’s not much farther down the list.” Ed ran his hand over his chin. For months there’s been a beard there, not a very successful one. Last week he disposed of it, leaving chin pallor and a small scar on one cheek. He still forgets it’s gone.

“Please don’t make me guess.” I could envision all manner of crises. I’ve had too much experience with crises lately, and wasn’t longing for more.

“Joe’s disappeared.”

“Disappeared is a big word. Is he late coming home from the grocery store? Sitting through a twelve-inning game at Jacob’s Field? Or did he make off with their entire bank account last week and she’s only just noticed?”

“No, he was here, in the city, for a meeting. And he didn’t come home.”

“Joe in New York?”

“Supposed to be.” Ed rubbed his hand over his hair, which was still, fortunately, intact. It seemed to calm him. He dropped down to the bed beside me. “He was supposed to be home last night, but he didn’t show. At first Maura thought maybe his plane was just late.”

“Then she knew what flight he was on?”

Ed looked at me as if my IQ had suddenly dropped into an unacceptable range. “Aggie…”

“So okay, Maura isn’t a detail person. But knowing Joe, he left all the information. He probably laminated copies and posted them all over the house. He probably made Tyler memorize arrival times and airline phone numbers to repeat back to Maura at hourly intervals.”

“Maura says Joe goes to the same meeting in Manhattan every month and has for over a year. He leaves on the first flight out of Columbus on the third Thursday and comes home at the same time on the third Friday evening. And that’s all she knows.”

“Only this time he didn’t come home? And he didn’t call her?”

“That’s the strange part. Apparently she did get a call. She has caller ID, so she knows it came from Joe’s cell. But the call was garbled, the way they are when the tower’s too far away, or the caller’s inside a building. She thinks it was Joe on the other end, but she’s not even sure of that. And she couldn’t understand a word.”

I could just imagine how frustrating that had been. But Joe
had
called home. Maura knew he was alive and probably just held up in New York. Why had she bothered Ed?

“Did she call his hotel?” Ed gave me the “look” again and I narrowed my eyes. “You’re telling me she doesn’t know where Joe stays when he’s here?”

“Apparently he moves around. She says he shops for the best deal every time. She doesn’t keep up.”

This didn’t sound believable. “Joe knows Tyler could have a problem while he’s away. He would never leave without telling Maura where he’s staying.”

“That’s why he carries the cell phone.”

“So, has she tried to call him back?”

“She’s not that helpless. Repeatedly, apparently. Through the night and all morning until she called here.”

“How did she know to call you?”

“The whole church knows we’re in New York this weekend, even Maura.”

“Can’t she just wait and see if he shows up today on a later flight? It’s a weekend. Maybe Joe just figured he’d take a little time for himself for a change.”

“You’re forgetting something.”

I racked my brain, then I realized what Ed meant. “Mayday!”

“You got it.”

Mayday!, complete with exclamation point, is the Helping Hands yearly fund-raiser on the first Sunday afternoon of May. It’s a big deal for Emerald Springs. Unless you’ve lived in a small town, you can’t understand how important an event like this one is in community life. We don’t have a symphony or ballet—unless you count the annual spring recital of Bela’s Ballerinas, featuring seven-year-olds wearing tutus and lipstick. There’s no auditorium for fifty miles that’s large enough to showcase touring companies with third-rate casts of old Broadway musicals. So for the most part we entertain ourselves. And each year Mayday!, a spring carnival with pony rides, games of skill, and more junk food than you can shake a corn dog at, is happily anticipated.

Planning for Mayday! takes all year, and dozens of people spend the whole weekend doing the necessary physical labor. Last year I spent an entire day setting up and taking down tables in the food tent. I’ll confess removing myself from table duty was one of the joys of coming to New York this particular weekend.

“Joe told me once that they raise more than a quarter of their yearly budget at Mayday!,” I said.

“So Joe would never willingly miss it.”

“But what does Maura expect you to do?” I saw the answer in Ed’s eyes. “No, Ed. We aren’t going to spend our only Saturday in Manhattan looking for Joe, are we? Please tell me we aren’t.”

But of course we did.

Now, after a day of following clues, here we were at the Pussycat Club on a borderline seedy East Village street. There had been compensations. I’ve done a lot of detective work on my own this year, and this was the first time I hadn’t been forced to shield my activities from my husband’s suspicious gaze. Today Ed and I were a team, albeit a reluctant one. And even if our activities weren’t as much fun as a leisurely stroll down Fifth Avenue, at least we were together.

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