Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series (3 page)

BOOK: Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series
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“Excuse me?” she said hesitantly when the man didn’t respond to her strangled yelp. He still didn’t move. Cautiously, she approached, gripping her keys in her hand tightly as protection.

“Sir… are you all right?” It wasn’t until she was a few feet away that she noticed the dark stain down the front of his jacket and the red smear on his hand. Her heart pounded, but unable to stop herself, she gently tilted the man’s head back to find herself gazing into blank, staring eyes.

* * *

She was in a state of shock as she watched the crime scene photographers snap picture after picture of her deli. The front door had been propped open, letting in the icy air. Salt and snow had been tracked across the usually clean floor of the deli, and the parking lot was full of emergency vehicles.

“Do you know the victim?” the taciturn Detective Fitzgerald asked her, his pen poised and ready against his notepad.

“I, um…” She found her gaze dragged once again towards the man in the chair, his body half obscured by one of the crime scene technicians. “Yes. He’s a food critic. He comes here every year for the Winter Festival.”

“Do you know his name?”

“Jason Platte,” she said.

“Thank you, ma’am, that will be helpful. He doesn’t have ID on him.” The detective sighed and rubbed his eyes; he looked older than he had when Moira had met him only a few months ago. “I think that’s everything I need from you right now. We’ll be in contact, I’m sure. You can either wait here, or get going home; this will probably take most of the day.”

“I’ll leave—I need to tell my daughter what happened, and I really don’t want to have to see any more of this than I have to.” She hesitated, reluctant to leave her store alone even with the police. “Do you think you could have someone call me when you’re done? I just want to stop by and make sure everything is locked up.”

“Sure.” Fitzgerald made a note on his pad before snapping it shut and putting it in his pocket. “I’ll have someone give you a call when we’re done. You know the drill: the deli is closed, but you need to stick around and be prepared to come down to the station if we need you to answer any more questions.” Moira nodded, and then grabbed her purse and numbly made for the door. She didn’t know what she would tell Candice, or how long the shop would be shut for. She just knew that once again, a tragic crime had struck too close to her life.

She walked into a house redolent of cookies and peppermint. She had forgotten that Candice had been planning on bringing in another batch of cookies when she came in to work—she was just glad that
she
had opened the store today, not her daughter or either of her other employees. Finding the food critic had been horrible, but it would have been a hundred times worse if her daughter had been the one to find him.

“Hi, sweetie,” Moira said, poking her head into the kitchen to see her daughter dressed in an apron with flour everywhere. The peppermint smell was even stronger.

“Mom, what are you doing here? I thought you were opening the store this morning.” She saw the look on her mother’s face and immediately quit rolling out the dough that she had been working on. “What happened?”

“Someone died.” Moira took a deep breath, and then began telling her daughter what had happened to her that morning.

“Wow, I can’t believe it. Do you think it was an accident?” Her daughter peered at a candy thermometer that was poking out of a pot on the stove, then shook her head and turned her attention back to her mother.

“An accident? No, I don’t see how it could be. I mean, he was bleeding from some sort of wound.” Moira shook her head. “I don’t think he would stab himself or whatever happened, and then decide to just sit down and wait while he bled.”

“I guess.” Candice shuddered. “That means that someone else did it, though. Someone killed a guy in your deli.” Her daughter looked pale, and Moira reached an arm out to steady her.

“I’m sure the police will figure things out soon.” She found herself wishing vehemently that she had installed security cameras like David had suggested when she had first met him.

“Do you think they’ll blame you? I mean, he did give the deli a bad review, and he was killed in a building you own…”

“They didn’t seem very suspicious,” she said, thinking back over the conversation. “But I guess they might think I had something to do with it.” She sighed. “I’ll just do what I did last time I was a suspect… be honest, and do what I can to help.”

“And call David?” her daughter asked, giving her a weak grin.

“Maybe.” Moira couldn’t help but to smile to herself at the thought of the handsome private investigator. “What are you making?” she asked with a nod towards the pot on the stove in an effort to distract her daughter.

“Oh, I’m just trying to make some peppermint hard candies. It’s a pretty simple recipe, so I thought it would be a good one to start out with.” She eyed the thermometer once again, and then sighed. “It’s just a pain waiting for it to get up to the perfect temperature, and I have to keep stirring so it doesn’t burn.”

“It smells amazing; if they turn out well, you can sell them alongside the cookies when we reopen.” She sighed, her thoughts brought back to the dead man in the deli. “I think I’m going to head upstairs for a bit. Let me know when the candies are done; I definitely want to try one.”

Deciding that she should be comfortable since she couldn’t work, Moira threw on a pair of sweatpants and a loose tee shirt, then collapsed into bed. She still felt emotionally numb; after the shock of seeing the dead food critic, it was hard to feel anything else. It was terrible that he was dead, there was no denying that. But what she was beginning to feel more than sadness, was fear. Fear for herself, for her daughter, and even for her business. Someone had been in her store. Someone had
killed
Jason Platte in her store and left him there. It felt personal, and that was terrifying.

She considered her options. Of course the police would investigate, but what was she supposed to do until they caught the killer? Could she really be comfortable in the deli knowing that someone had been murdered there? And how had Jason Platte and his killer even gotten in? There were too many questions for her to answer by herself. She was reluctant to turn to David for help so soon; he would start to think that she attracted trouble. Unable to sleep, she lay in bed until her daughter’s voice called up the stairs, letting her know that the peppermint candies were done and ready to be tested.

 

CHAPTER SIX

“This was a good idea,” Moira told her daughter, giving her a quick smile before turning her attention back to the road. “Getting out of the house was probably the best thing I could do. Otherwise I’d just be lying in bed, thinking about what happened and waiting for the police to call.”

“Thanks for coming with me. I know it’s a bit early to start looking, but I just want to see what’s available,” Candice replied. She offered her mother another peppermint candy, wrapped in wax paper and dusted with powdered sugar. They had turned out well, sweet and minty without being overwhelming.

“It’s exciting, isn’t it?” she asked as she took the candy. It was a bittersweet trip that they were taking. She and her daughter were going to drive around Lake Marion, Maple City’s neighboring town, and look at apartments and small commercial spaces. They wouldn’t be able to actually rent a place until the tourist season picked up, but it would give them both a good feel of what to expect.

Candice had only ever been out of the house for the two years that she had spent at college getting her associate’s degree. Moira knew that it was reasonable to expect her daughter to move out at some point, but it was still an emotional event. They had finally developed a good relationship and she didn’t want to lose that. As a teen, Candice had blamed Moira for her parents’ divorce. It hadn’t been until her daughter had returned from college that they had finally begun to communicate and work together. Now, the young woman was a trusted and valuable part of the deli, as well as a caring and responsible daughter.

“I’m going to miss you,” she added, popping the candy into her mouth.

“I know, Mom. I’m going to miss you too. But I won’t be far away, and I’ll visit you whenever I can.”

“No, no, you should feel free to live your own life. Don’t worry about me.” She slowed the car as they pulled into the city limits, the lake that gave the small town its name was a white expanse of ice to their right. A few huts for ice fishing were set up on it, and there was one man trudging carefully towards one. “It’s a nice town, and I’m sure you’ll feel right at home pretty quickly.”

They began their search on Main Street, cruising slowly along and making note of the few
For Lease
and
For Sale
signs that they saw. They knew that a central location would be best. They needed the perfect location so that plenty of drivers could see the store as well as area where there would be a lot of foot traffic. The only problem was, nothing good seemed to be for lease. The only suitably sized building that they found was far down a side street.

“Well… maybe some places will open up in the summer,” Candice said with a disappointed sigh. “That corner building would be perfect for me.”

“You never know; anything might happen.” She gave her daughter a reassuring smile. “Things will work out. Now, how about some coffee before we head home?”

David Morris tapped his fingers slowly on his thigh as he stared at the papers spread out in front of him. No matter how hard he stared, the words seemed to swim away from his tired eyes. It wasn’t even that late out, but darkness was falling, and the coffee in the paper cup on the table was getting cold. Pretty soon, he would either have to order another cup, or leave.

When the door to the small coffee shop jingled open, he looked up automatically. He did a double take when he saw who it was. The cute deli owner who seemed to attract trouble like a magnet was walking in with her daughter like she owned the place.
What business could they have in Lake Marion?
he wondered.

“Moira,” he called out, half rising from his seat to catch her attention.

“David!” she exclaimed, once her eyes found him. He forced himself not to show how pleased he was when she smiled at him. He’d never got the feeling that she reciprocated his feelings and he wasn’t about to push it.

“What brings you here?” he asked, clearing the table so that her and her daughter could sit with him. He dumped the papers unceremoniously into the bag; he could get back to work tomorrow.

“Oh, we were just looking around at storefronts.” She gave a small laugh and wrinkled her nose. “Nothing good is available though. Say… you wouldn’t know of any businesses that are going under, would you?”

“Why, are you relocating?” he asked hopefully. If she opened up a deli here, chances were he would stop by every day for soup and a sandwich.

“It’s for Candice,” she replied. “She’s going to be opening her own shop in Lake Marion—a candy shop, with all homemade candies. She just tried out a peppermint hard candy recipe that turned out very well.”

“Here, I actually have one left. You can have it.” The daughter reached into her purse and pulled out a small candy wrapped in wax paper, which he took. “Oh, it looks like our coffee is done. I’ll be right back.”

“So, what’s new in your life?” David asked as Candice walked away. “Business going well?’

“Yes, it is, thankfully. Except—” She hesitated, biting her lip and looking at him regretfully. “Ah… someone was murdered in the deli this morning.”

“Are you serious?” He stared at her uncertainly. It didn’t seem like the kind of joke that she would play, but he just couldn’t believe that she was involved in yet another murder, and this one so close to home.

“I am.” She sighed. “It was horrible. I found him this morning and… I knew him.” She took a deep breath and sat down, burying her head in her hands. “I saw him just yesterday, at a new restaurant, and he was fine. And then today…” She trailed off, and David reached out to pat her arm. He didn’t know what to say. Moira had been through more than a lot of people that he knew. She was strong in many ways, but there was only so much that one person could deal with.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Did you know him well?”

“No, I’d only met him once before, actually.” She choked out a short laugh. “He was a food critic, and gave my deli a bad review last year. I’m sure once the police find that out, they’ll be all over me.”

“Do you know how he died?” It was David’s nature to seek answers even to difficult questions, which was one of the reasons that he had been able to make a living as a private investigator. It wasn’t so bad to work all the time if you loved your job.

“Not really. But there was a bloodstain on the front of his shirt. I think he might have been stabbed,” she told him. A quick glance around reassured her that Candice wasn’t back yet, so she continued. “He was just sitting in the chair, kind of slouched down, like someone had propped him up.” She imitated the corpse’s positioning. “I just can’t get over the fact that someone was in the deli, someone who killed a guy, and he could come back at any time.”

“You really need security cameras. Or at least some sort of alarm system,” he pointed out. He paused, considering his next words carefully. He didn’t want to scare her, but he did want to let her know just how serious the situation was. “You should have something that will alert you if the doors are opened during the night. Right now, someone could break in when the deli is closed and hide out in the kitchen, and you wouldn’t know until it was too late.”

“Don’t say that.” She shivered. “I already feel like I’ll never be comfortable again.”

“Sorry,” he said. “I just don’t want to see you get hurt… or worse.”

Candice returned at that moment, and conversation turned to her plans for the future. Before the two women left, he promised to stop by within the next few days to help her install some sort of security. He hated the thought of her involved with yet another crime, but he knew that there wasn’t anything he could do the keep her out of trouble; she had a nose for it.

BOOK: Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series
5.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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