Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series (7 page)

BOOK: Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series
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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

She was woken from her dreams by an insistent ringing. At first she thought it was her alarm, and that she had somehow slept in late, but it was still dark outside. She realized that the sound was her cell phone ringing, which was never meant anything good in the middle of the night. Sitting bolt upright so suddenly that the blanket fell off her, she grabbed her phone to see Martha’s name on the screen. She answered it cautiously, not sure what to expect, but certain that it couldn’t be anything good.

“Moira, thank goodness you answered.” Her friend’s voice was panicked, and Moira’s heart lurched. Something bad must have happened.

“What’s wrong?” she asked in concern.

“It’s Marcus. He’s in the hospital.”

“Oh my goodness, what happened?” Her first thought was that he must have been in some sort of car accident. It seemed to be a bad week for the men that she knew.

“He was attacked. Someone stabbed him when he was getting out of his car this evening,” Martha said, her voice shaky.

“How bad is it?” Moira asked, feeling faint.

“Pretty bad,” the other woman said honestly. “He’s in surgery now. The doctor said he didn’t think the knife hit any major organs, so that’s good, I guess. Luckily someone saw it happen and called an ambulance. They guy who attacked him ran away when they shouted.”

“Does anyone know who stabbed him or why?” she asked, her mind racing.

“No. The person was wearing a ski mask, and Marcus was too out of it to say anything.”

“Was there a red rose at the scene of the crime?”

“Well… yes,” Martha said after a pause. “The guy dropped one when he ran away. How did you know that?”

“Because David got attacked by a man in a ski mask the other day, and the guy left a rose there as well,” she said grimly. “Which means that the attacker must be the same person.”

“Is he okay? What happened?”

Moira related the story, and then asked her friend to give her best wishes to Marcus, and to let her know when he was out of surgery. She was still in shock when she got off the phone, and lay in bed for a long time without closing her eyes. Someone had attacked David and Marcus and had killed Jason Platte. All three were men that she knew to varying degrees, but in such a small town, it could be coincidence. Especially since as she owned the only deli in town, she’d seen most people at least once.

Unable to sleep, she got up and wandered down to the kitchen for a midnight snack. She worried about David and Marcus, and couldn’t help feeling that she was somehow responsible for the fact that they had both been attacked. As she raised a glass of water to her lips, she glanced out the kitchen window and froze. Under the streetlight in front of her house a car was idling. She could see its exhaust rising in steamy plumes.

She didn’t recognize the car and it was impossible to see who was in it from this angle, but something about it made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Even though there were plenty of other houses on the street, she couldn’t shake the feeling that whoever was in the car was watching hers.

Moira shut off the kitchen light and pulled a chair up to the window, confident that no one would be able to see inside her dark house from that far away. Water and cookie forgotten, she watched the car, her discomfort rising with each minute that passed. No one would just sit there and waste fuel for that long without a good reason, would they? Even if someone was watching her house, it couldn’t be so terribly interesting as to justify them sitting there for so long in the middle of the night.

Should I call the police?
she wondered. As far as she knew, it wasn’t illegal for whoever was in the car to just sit there. For all she knew, it was someone on a road trip who had simply pulled onto a quiet street to take a nap before continuing on in a few hours. The police wouldn’t appreciate the waste of their time, and the car wasn’t really hurting anyone, so once her eyes began to droop she left her vigil at the window and trudged upstairs to bed.

In the morning she had a couple of texts from Martha telling her that Marcus was out of surgery and was recovering well. Glad that he was going to be okay, she sent a text back asking if it would be all right to call him at the hospital later. Then she phoned David, who sounded much better this morning than he had the day before, though his cheery mood didn’t last long when she told him what had happened the night before.

“I’ll call the detective that’s working my case and let him know as soon as we get off the phone,” he told her. “Though I’m sure he’s aware of it, it won’t hurt to cross-check the facts that we have. Whoever is doing this has proved their willingness to kill, and I don’t want to have to find out the hard way who they have their sights on next.”

This reminded Moira of the car that had been watching her house the night before. It seemed like a foggy dream now that it was morning with sunlight streaming in the window, and she thought that she had probably been overreacting last night. She hadn’t exactly been in her right mind, after all. She didn’t tell David about it, but she did go to check if the car was still there once she got off the phone with him. It was gone, and she breathed a sigh of relief until she saw something lying in the snow near where the car had been parked. Unable to see clearly what it was from her window, she pulled her boots on and went outside in her bathrobe, her heart pounding faster and faster as she neared the object. It was a single rose, blood red against the white snow.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Moira was glad that it was another busy day at the deli. She didn’t even mind all of the questions from people who seemed fascinated by the fact that there had been a dead guy, and a fairly well known dead guy at that, in the store just a week ago. The conversations helped to distract her from thinking of the person who had attacked David and Marcus and killed Jason Platte sitting outside her window all night. She had hardly been able to convince herself to go into work alone that morning, but after checking the recording from the security camera the night before and double-checking that nothing had triggered the motion detector, she thought that the deli was probably safe.

Since Marcus was in the hospital, she was no longer planning on going to the dance. She hadn’t particularly wanted to go in the first place, and with her date injured, though recovering, it wouldn’t feel right. Instead, she would spend the evening with David, trying to figure out who was behind the attacks. Though she had entertained the idea that Denise Donovan was behind it, she just couldn’t make all of the connections. Yes, the woman might have had motive to kill the food critic if she had somehow known that he was giving her a bad review, but Denise was new to the area and as far as Moira knew, she didn’t know either Marcus or David. With nothing to connect them and no motive, she thought that she could safely cross Denise off her list of possible suspects. The problem was, the list was very small. In fact, Denise had been the only person on it. There just wasn’t enough evidence for Moira to suspect anyone else, and with so many tourists in town, it could be nearly anyone.

She said goodbye to Dante shortly after three so that he could get ready for whatever he was doing for Valentine’s Day. She knew that Candice would be busy preparing for the dance, and Darrin was likely going to be attending as well, though he hadn’t mentioned whether he had a date. She was closing the deli in another two hours; once the light parade and the dance started, there was no point in being open. Time passed slowly, with small rushes of customers and long lulls in between. Everyone was excited, and most people who stopped in were only there to buy last minute groceries that they might need over the weekend. No one was buying any of the fresh food, since the dance would have free snacks and drinks.

As evening began to fall, fewer and fewer people came in. The floors had long since been swept and mopped, and all of the goods were straightened on the shelves. The dishes were done, other than the still-simmering pots of soup, and the windows were sparkling. With nothing left to do, Moira took a seat behind the counter and began playing with the security camera app on her phone. It was neat to be able to watch herself sitting there and even more interesting to access the storage files and watch what had gone on earlier in the day. She couldn’t believe that she hadn’t installed anything like this before; with this technology, she would be able to keep an eye on the deli no matter where she was, as long as she had her phone. She could even go back and access old files from up to a week before.

And idea occurred to her so suddenly that she nearly dropped her phone. The security camera recorded everything, all the time, unlike the motion detector, which was only active during the hours the store was closed. That meant that the camera would have recorded whoever had dropped off the flowers. She had never gotten a chance to ask Marcus about them, so there was still a chance that he had done it, in which case she wouldn’t be any closer to finding out who the killer was. Unless he was the killer and had knifed himself to keep the eyes of the police off of him… but no, that didn’t make sense. For one, he would have had no reason to attack David or to kill Jason. Plus, while Marcus was unconscious in the hospital, someone
had
been watching her from a car last night; that person
had
left a red rose which linked him—or her—to the other crimes.

Her heart pounding with excitement, and trying not to be angry at herself for taking so long to come up with the idea, she found the correct date in the app’s storage and began playing the video. Since she had no idea what time the flowers had been dropped off, it took her a while to find the right moment. She had been looking for Johan, but when she finally saw a man walk through the front door with a bouquet of roses in his hands, she paused the video and stared at his face. The image was grainy, but she thought she recognized his sandy blonde hair and glasses. It was Steven, the man that had asked her to the dance last Sunday.

She played the video long enough to watch him place the roses on a table and walk away before she set down her phone and stared numbly at the image of him on his way out the door.
This isn’t necessarily solid evidence that he’s the killer
, she thought, trying to convince herself that there could be another explanation. Then she stopped trying to give Steven the benefit of the doubt; there could only be so many coincidences. Steven had been there when she and Marcus were discussing their date for the dance, and he had been visibly upset. A few hours later, Marcus had been stabbed. He had also been there on the day that David had stayed to help her at the deli for a few hours, and the private detective had been attacked a day later.

But what about the food critic? Why would Steven kill him? He seemed to have been targeting men that were close to her, and she had been anything but close to Jason. She frowned, trying to remember each time she had seen the suspected killer. Had he been there when she and Moira were talking about the bad review that Jason Platte had given her last year? She thought so, though she hadn’t known Steven’s name at the time. He might have heard Martha’s concerns about the deli losing business.

The one thing that she couldn’t understand was why Steven would try to hurt people that she was close to. She barely knew him, and had only spoken to him a handful of times. If she was right and he
was
the killer, then she supposed that the why didn’t matter that much right now. What mattered was turning him in before he could hurt anyone else.

She had just made the decision to call the police when the deli’s front door swung open, letting in a cold gust of wind. She looked up, hurriedly arranging her face into what she hoped was a normal expression so as not to frighten the customer, but froze halfway through the motion. Steven was standing in the doorway, a single red rose clutched in his hand.

Quickly forcing herself to smile, she offered what she hoped was a cheery greeting. She didn’t know what Steven was here for, but she knew that if he knew that she had found out the truth, then she was in more danger than she had ever been in before. Her only hope was to act like she had no idea that he had attacked two of her friends and killed someone else, and she didn’t know if she was a good enough actor to achieve that. She was certain that he would be able to read the truth in her eyes.

“How can I help you?” she asked, relieved that her voice didn’t shake.

“I saw your car in the lot, and thought I’d stop in,” he replied. “You shouldn’t be alone on Valentine’s Day.”

“I’m not here for much longer; we close in just a few minutes. Thanks for the concern, though.” Her voice sounded hollow even to herself. “What can I get you?”

“Let me see…” His eyes drifted towards the menu for a moment, and then down to the plate of cookies, half of which still remained. She saw her phone lying next to the plate too late. The screen was still on, and the image of Steven leaving the deli was as clear as day. Her blood turning to ice, she risked a glance back up at him and knew that he had seen it too.

The second his eyes met hers and she saw the cold rage in them, she ran. He was between her and the front door, so she went the only direction she could—into the kitchen. The door between the kitchen and the front room didn’t have a lock on it, so she only got a few steps into the room before Steven burst through after her. His eyes were wild. Frozen in terror, she watched as he slipped a knife from his pocket. The rose dropped from his hand to the floor, and one of the petals came off and slowly followed the flower down, floating the rest of the way until it came to rest on top of his boot. She saw all of this with strange clarity, as if it were happening in slow motion. She kept telling herself to run, to try to make it to the side door, but his gaze had her pinned in place. If she moved, time might start again, and then he would kill her.

She slid her eyes over to the counter where her purse was, and despaired that the pepper spray was so far away. It was halfway between them, what seemed like a hopeless distance away, but it was open and she knew exactly which pocket the pepper spray was in.

BOOK: Cold Cut Murder: Book Three in The Darling Deli Series
4.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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