Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series (6 page)

BOOK: Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series
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“But you’re okay?” she asked when he had finished.

“Not okay exactly,” he said with a dry laugh. “But I’ll live. They released me from the hospital half an hour ago.”

“What did the police say? Will they be able to catch the person who did this?”

“I’m not sure. I didn’t really give them a lot to go on,” he replied. “They can’t exactly track down every person who owns a ski mask and a baseball bat and bring them in for questioning.”

“Why would someone do this to you?” she wondered.

“I’ve managed to make a few enemies in my time. Not everyone likes a private investigator, you know. Especially when I’m not on their side.”

“Do
you
have any idea who it was?” she asked. “Did anything about the person seem familiar? It must be someone who knows you… I can’t imagine why anyone would do this to a stranger.”

“I didn’t recognize anything about them,” he said. “It was odd, though… whoever it was dropped a single red rose when they ran away.”

“A red rose?” Something nagged at Moira. Where had she seen a red rose recently? She gasped suddenly. “David, the food critic had a red rose on him when I found him. It was tucked into his suit pocket, and I thought that he must have just been wearing it to dress up for some reason. But if whoever attacked you left a red rose too…”

“Then the crimes might be connected,” he finished. “Does this help you link anyone to them? Do you know any florists?”

“No, but…” she hesitated. “Well, it might not mean anything, but when Candice and I went to the Redwood Grill, we met the owner’s husband, and he had a red rose tucked into his lapel. And he did come to the store to talk to me after that, which I thought was kind of odd.”

“Send me any information you have on him,” David said hoarsely. “I’m going to be taking it easy for a few days anyway; I might as well make myself useful by seeing what I can dig up on him.”

At that moment, Candice came back into the room, wearing her new dress and carrying two different pairs of heels in her hand. When she saw her mother on the phone, she raised her eyebrows and gestured with her head back towards the kitchen door, asking if she should leave. Moira shook her head and held up a finger to get her to wait. She needed to tell her daughter what had happened.

After promising to call David in the morning to check up on him, she said a hurried goodbye to David, who was going to take pain medication and go to sleep. Then she sat down with Candice and told her what had happened—and even more chillingly, that whoever murdered Jason Platte might have also attacked David.

“Do you think whoever attacked David meant to kill him?” she asked once Moira was done telling her what David had told her.

“I don’t know. Maybe.” She frowned, going over everything she knew about both crimes in her mind. She couldn’t figure out what linked the murdered food critic and David. As far as she knew, they had never met. She supposed that it was possible that it was just an odd coincidence, but something in her gut told her that the same person had committed both crimes.

“I want you to be careful,” she told her daughter. “We don’t know what’s going on, or what the motive is of whoever is behind all of this. Do you still have that pepper spray I gave you?”

“Yeah,” Candice said. “I keep it in my purse.”

“Make sure it’s somewhere you can grab it quickly if you need to. I’ll keep mine on me too.”

“I will.” She got up. “I’m going to go change out of the dress—it doesn’t feel right to be wearing it now. Then I think I’ll go to bed. Good night, Mom.”

“Good night sweetie. I’ll see you in the morning.” She sat at the table for a few minutes after her daughter left, not sure if she had the energy left to finish cleaning up the kitchen. She was worried about David, and even more worried about what might happen next. She was glad that David had installed the security measures in the deli; with any luck, whoever the killer was would try to break in again and they would catch him red-handed.

CHAPTER TWELVE

“I’ll have the Tuscan bean chili, and also this smoked cheddar and half a pound of the honey turkey breast.” The woman placed a wedge of cheddar on the counter and gazed at the drink fridge. “Oh, and a bottle of that raspberry sparkling water if that’s all right. The soup’s for here.”

“Okay, your order will be ready in just a moment. Dante here will ring you up, and I’ll go get your soup. Are you sure you don’t want a sandwich with that?”

“Oh, I’d better not.” The customer chuckled. “I’m watching my weight. The soup’s a treat for me; it was a long day at work.”

Moira ducked into the back to ladle some of the chili into a bowl. The scent of the rich vegetarian chili made her stomach grumble. It was well past lunch, and she still hadn’t had a chance to eat. After this customer, she would have to leave Dante and Darrin to manage things while she took a break.

“Here you go,” she said when she got back out to the register. “Enjoy, and have a nice afternoon.”

“Thanks.” The woman took the soup with a grateful smile and headed over to one of the corner tables to enjoy her food.

“I’m going to grab lunch really quickly,” she told her two employees. “Do you think you two can handle things for a bit?”

“Sure, Ms. D,” Darrin said. “We’ll come find you if we need help. I think it’s starting to slow down a bit, anyway.”

She settled herself down on a stool in the kitchen with a bowl of chili in front of her. The first spoonful was amazing: the fresh tomatoes were cooked to perfection and burst with flavor in her mouth, and the basil and oregano gave the unique soup some familiar flavors. She sprinkled extra parmesan cheese on top; the cheese was freshly grated and came from a local cheese maker that she knew personally. With some sparkling water to wash it down, it was the perfect meal.

When she got back out to the front, the line of customers had dwindled to just a few of her regulars, and Darrin was changing a light bulb in one of the refrigerated display cases while Dante rang someone up. As she watched her employees work, she began to realize that they were more than capable of handling the daily goings on at the deli. She really didn’t need to be there as much as she was, and she was certain that the two young men and her daughter would appreciate the extra hours. Maybe she could start working one or two fewer days each week—once the Winter Festival was over, of course. That would leave her time to focus on other aspects of her life. Maybe she could get a hobby, or join some sort of local club.

The rest of the day passed slowly until five o’clock, when most people left work and the dinner rush. Moira spent most of the time tending to some necessary minor maintenance, spackling over old nail holes in the wall and cleaning the glass in the display cases. She kept checking her phone for any news from David, but he didn’t call. She hoped that he was all right; if he still hadn’t contacted her by the time they closed the deli, she would call him.

Once the dinner rush began, she returned to her chosen job of fetching people’s orders; she preferred ladling soup and making sandwiches to hearing people talk about the food critic’s death, which was still the talk of the town. It didn’t help that there were more tourists than ever; as the Winter Festival progressed, more and more shops put up beautiful light displays and had special sales for charity. There was an ice carving contest in the park and sledding races on the hill by the high school. She secretly thought that some of the tourists in her deli hadn’t come for the festival at all; they just wanted to stop by and speculate about the murder.

“Hey, you,” a male voice said, distracting her from the mental math she was doing as she counted the customers and estimated how much soup they had left. They were running low on cheese too; she would have to order another delivery soon.

“Oh, hi,” she said when she looked up and recognized Marcus. “How are you doing?”

“I am doing well,” he said. “And you?”

“Busy,” she told him with a tired smile. “But that’s a good thing.”

“I can see that. I won’t hold you up for long; I was just in town and figured I would stop by.” He grinned at her. “Plus I wanted to make sure you hadn’t changed your mind about going to the dance with me.”

“Of course not.” She smiled at him. “I’m looking forward to it.”

“In that case,” he said, returning her smile. “I would like a bowl of your soup, and then I will be on my way.”

“Which one?” she asked. “We have Tuscan bean chili, and creamy lemon chicken soup.”

“Surprise me,” he told her. She was just turning away to go get the soup for him when she saw someone shove his way angrily out of line and stalk out of the restaurant, slamming the door behind him. It was Steven, the man who had asked her to the dance first, and who she had turned down. She felt bad that he had overheard her and Marcus’s conversation; even though she didn’t particularly like him, she didn’t want him to be hurt.
Oh, well,
she thought.
There’s nothing I can do now.

She returned a few moments later with a bowl of the chili for Marcus—it was her favorite of the two—and bade him a warm goodbye before turning to the next customer.

Luckily, they had enough soup to last through the rest of the evening, though they ran out of cookies part way through the day. She entertained the idea of adding cookies to the list of things that she offered daily; they seemed to be popular. However, she decided that she just didn’t like baking enough to make a fresh batch every morning. Perhaps she could offer muffins on Sundays, or begin offering a wider assortment of freshly baked bread. She made a mental note to see if any of her employees other than Candice were handy with baking, and if they would be willing to put in a few extra hours a week to help with it.

“Ms. Darling, someone left these for you,” Dante told her when she came out of the kitchen for the last time. He was holding a bouquet of red roses. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw them as she recalled the rose that had been on the food critic’s body and the one that David said had been dropped next to him when he was attacked.

“Do you know who they’re from?” she asked warily.

“No, sorry, neither of us saw who dropped them off—it must have been during the busiest part of the day, right before close. Darrin found them on one of the tables over there.” He inclined his head towards the front of the room where there were a few small bistro tables.

“Are you sure they’re for me?” She took the flowers cautiously, half expecting something bad to happen. Nothing did.

“Yeah, there’s a note with your name on it.” She looked and saw that there indeed was. It read
For Moira
in slanted handwriting. “Who do you think left them?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “It could be Marcus. It’s probably Marcus. He must have gone to get flowers, and when he came back and saw how busy we were, he didn’t want to interrupt.”

She was trying to convince herself as she said it, but the words didn’t ring quite true. Marcus could easily have walked up and handed the flowers to whoever was at the register, or at least put them on the counter. He didn’t seem like a shy man, and she thought he would probably have signed the note with his name. Besides, she hardly knew him; they were going to the dance together because they were both single and they had a friend in common. They seemed to get along well enough, but there wasn’t really any romance between them—not yet, anyway. They didn’t know each other well enough for that. She just hoped that they weren’t from Johan, in some misguided attempt to either apologize to her for his behavior the other night, or to try to woo her further.

“That’s nice of him,” her employee said, obviously not as curious about them as she was, now that she had given him a reasonable solution to who they were from. “Do you need any more help here tonight?”

“Nope, I’m just going to mop the floors, and then I’ll call it a night,” she told him, putting the mystery of the flowers out of her mind temporarily. There was work to do, and the flowers would still be there in an hour when she was home and could call David. “You and Darrin can get going. Oh, and you can leave right after lunch tomorrow if you want, since it’s Valentine’s Day.” She didn’t know if he had a girlfriend, but she thought she would offer anyway. She was closing early on the night of the dance, so she wouldn’t be there alone for more than a couple of hours.

“Thanks, Ms. Darling. I’ll take you up on that.” He shot her a grin, and then ducked into the kitchen to grab his coat and tell Darrin that they were free to go.

Later at home that night, Moira called David. She was relieved to hear that he sounded much better, if a bit spacey. He had taken the day off, and spent most of it taking things easy and recovering. He still didn’t have any leads about the identity of the attacker, but he told her that both the Lake Marion and Maple Creek police were working on the case. He had informed them about the single red rose found at the scenes of both crimes, and they said that they would look into it. That brought Moira to her main reason for calling him so late, the thing that had been on her mind the entire evening; the bouquet of roses that had mysteriously appeared at the diner.

“They could be from Marcus,” she said. “But it just seems like too big of a coincidence.”

“Marcus?” David asked. Moira realized that she hadn’t told him about her date yet.

“Oh, he’s a friend of Martha’s. He asked me to the Valentine’s dance at City Hall,” she said.

“You’re going with him?” he asked. She thought for a moment that she heard a note of disappointment in his voice, but dismissed it. He was still out of it from his injuries and the pain meds.

“Yeah, I agreed to it even though I don’t know him that well. I don’t go out that often. It should be nice.” She paused. “So, do you think I’m overreacting and the roses
are
from him?”

“I don’t know. It’s possible, but like you said, that would be quite the coincidence. Couldn’t you just ask him?”

“I will tomorrow,” she told him. “It’s late, and I don’t know much about his schedule.”

“Well, keep me updated. And be careful, Moira. I have the feeling that whatever is going on, you’re at the center of it.”

BOOK: Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series
10.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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