Authors: Shelley Freydont
Liv dropped BeBe off in the parking lot behind the Buttercup, waited while she started up her Subaru, then followed her out. BeBe turned right out of the parking lot, Liv went left, but instead of going home she looped around to the far side of the green and drove to the Clarion office.
The building was really a clapboard Craftsman-style house that had been converted into office space and a living space for Chaz—not that Liv had ever seen it, or intended to. But she knew he slept there, so he would be there, even if she had to wake him up.
The lights were dark in the front of the house. Undeterred, Liv drove past the house and made a U-turn in the street. It was late, the stores were closed, the streets were empty, and she didn’t think anyone would fault her for hanging a little U-ey.
Light shone from a window toward the back of the house—Chaz’s office, for lack of a better word, though “pigsty” did come to mind.
Liv pulled to the curb and turned off the engine. She considered calling to let him know she was here, then decided surprise was the best tactic. As she thought it, the light in the house went out. Not so much of a surprise after all.
She locked her car and hurried to the front door. Finding the door locked, she knocked. Loudly. Several times. Got no response. Tried again. When it was clear he either didn’t hear her or heard her and had chosen to ignore her, she walked around the side of the house.
The window was too high to reach and it was too dark to find a stone to throw, so she reached into her bag and rummaged around until she found some change that somehow always managed to find its way to the bottom of her purse.
She threw a penny at the window. It made a nice loud ping.
But Chaz didn’t appear.
She threw another penny. Harder this time.
She looked for a quarter, that should do it. She hauled back and let it rip just as the window opened. The quarter sailed inside and hit Chaz on the chest before falling to the floor.
He broke into a slow grin. “I don’t think I’ve ever had women throw money at me before.”
Liv scowled at him. “Probably goes the other way around.”
“Is there something you want?”
“Yes. Let me in.”
Chaz cocked his head. “Is this in the way of something we’ll both enjoy?”
“In your dreams. It’s something we both need to do. Something I suspect you’re already doing in there.”
“This sounds promising.”
“I have a theory.”
Chaz’s head fell back and he looked at the ceiling. “A theory. Great. Just what I need.”
“Are you going to let me in or do I crawl through the window?”
“It’s tempting but I’ll meet you in front.” The window slid down. Followed by the shade.
So help me
, she thought.
If you try to stand me up.
But he was waiting at the front door and she stepped inside. It was toasty warm, for which she was grateful.
He turned and headed to the back of the house, leaving her standing just inside the door.
Since an invitation didn’t seem imminent, she followed him.
His desktop computer was booted up, as was his laptop. He sat down in front of them. Liv looked over his shoulder. He was playing solitaire.
“So what’s this theory you think you have?”
“Are you really sitting here playing solitaire?”
She pushed a pile of papers and fast food bags off a chair and sat. “After you left, the widow—”
Liv raised her eyebrows. “Eileen went into the bar, threw herself at Eric, and threatened to sue the town.”
“Oh, that’s why you were throwing money at me.”
“Okay, just listen. She was hanging on Eric—”
“Do you know all their names?”
“Looked in Corinne’s registration book. The beauty of old-fashioned inns.”
“So she was hanging on Eric and . . .”
“But she was looking over his shoulder and she gave Pudge such a look.”
Chaz stopped moving the cards around the screen. “What kind of look?”
“Not angry, not sad, I didn’t see his reaction, but there was definitely a look of understanding.”
“And you’re basing your theory on the way somebody looked at somebody?”
“Well, not the whole theory. But it got me to thinking.”
“A scary thought.”
“Stop being so mean.”
“Sorry. You’re just so cute when you get all pissy.”
“Chaz, stop. I’m not amused with this stupid game. Too much is at stake. If they build some big gun club, the streets won’t be safe. Heck, they haven’t even started and someone has been murdered.”
Chaz blinked. “Guess you’ve passed the hunting accident stage.”
“Yes, and I think you have, too.”
“And probably the sheriff, too.”
“Probably, but he has a whole bunch of other duties, and he wasn’t at the bar tonight.” Her eyes narrowed. “But you were. Did Corinne call you, too?”
me to come, so I wasn’t just being nosey. Why were you really there?”
“I was having dinner.”
“So you said.” Liv huffed out an exasperated sigh. “I don’t believe you. But fine. Why did you approach them and ask about investing in their project? What makes you think they were looking for investors?”
Chaz clicked the computer’s mouse. The screen changed to a page of the
. There was a full-page ad for investors in an exclusive sports resort in Celebration Bay. A contact address and email for Fieldcorps, Inc.
“Yep. I don’t think you have to worry about them suing. Not if they want local investors.”
“I suppose I should be relieved. But we still have a problem with a gun club within the town limits.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Is that wishful thinking? Do you think they won’t be able to get the investors?”
“Oh, I think they can, but there will never be a gun club.”
Liv rubbed her face. “I’m not following you.” Chaz stood suddenly; his desk chair rolled back and came to rest on a stack of paper. He went to stand by the window, came back to the computer. The room seemed to shrink as if it were too small for him.
“Something just didn’t feel right about these guys.”
Liv stilled. This was not the laid-back laissez-faire man she knew. This was a prowling newshound.
“And were you right?”
He leaned over the desk, braced on one hand. “Lyle Clegg.” He stepped away and Liv saw another article, this one with an accompanying photograph. “Nine years ago. Miami. A big resort. Developers, investors. Long delays.” He clicked to another page. “Sausalito, six years ago. Yacht club and hotel. Big delays. In the meantime, construction starts in Miami. Sausalito went belly-up. Stuff happened. The investors were left high and dry. Soon after that, construction on the Miami project came to a screeching halt. I remember the story. A friend of mine pulled the follow-up story. That’s why I remembered it.”
“Same players, an alias here or there, a little fresh blood—change the company name, and voila. Typical shell game tactics. Move the money. Close down shop. Start up with a different name. But a little research . . .” He shrugged.
“And they didn’t send them to jail?”
“Like I said, stuff happens. Enterprises go belly-up all the time, and not always as a scam. Nothing could be proved against them . . . yet. The investors lost, and they made a bundle by borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Probably could have kept it up longer if the economy hadn’t tanked.”
“And you think they’re planning the same thing here?”
“I’m working on it.”
“So where have they been during the last six years?”
“I haven’t gotten that far, but my guess? In Canada.”
“Home of Max and Eileen Bonhoff. Wow.” Liv moved closer to the screen, squinted at the fuzzy head shot of Lyle Clegg. Another click and the photo enlarged and she was staring at a younger, thinner . . .
“It’s Pudge.” She sat back in her chair. “Wow. Just wow. Does Bill know?”
“Possibly. I doubt if he’s going by Clegg anymore, though, and I didn’t have time to look more closely before you came barreling out of the bar. Jeez, I thought you had more sense.”
“They couldn’t see me. Well, maybe Eric could, but I don’t think he was paying attention. But this would make perfect sense. I knew something was up when I saw that look. I can’t tell you how many times clients give themselves away just by their expressions and body language. You can tell when they’re about to stiff you, cancel, postpone, and when there are ulterior motives involved.”
“And this leads to murder how?”
“Well, think about it. It makes more sense if one of them killed Max, rather than Henny or a nearsighted hunter.”
“And why would they do that?”
“I don’t know. A falling-out among thieves.”
“We’re not sure they’re card-carrying thieves yet. I need to do more research.”
“Maybe Max found out it was a scam.”
“And what? He agrees to meet Lyle or whoever at a specified place in the woods, which happens to be on private land in the middle of three simultaneous races?”
Liv chewed on her bottom lip. “They would have to have figured out the meeting place in advance. Maybe they were both in on it and planned to screw the other two, and do it during the race because it was the only time they could get away from the others?”
“Possible, but why not just wait until they were back wherever they’re working out of and throw him over a cliff or bridge or whatever?”
“It does seem awfully complicated, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, but someone who can juggle a big Ponzi scheme for several years could pull this off in his sleep.”
“You think Pudge—Lyle—is the mastermind?”
“Or Max. Or the other two.”
“Why did you decide to get involved?”
“Because I knew you’d badger me until I did.”
“Are you going to tell Bill?”
“When I know more. Now go home. I need sleep.”
• • •
Liv slept straight through until the alarm woke her at six the next morning. She rolled over and groaned. Pushed slowly to a sit on the edge of the bed. She hurt in places she hadn’t hurt in years.
Whiskey jumped at her feet. “Arf.”
“Okay, okay. Sorry I slept so long.” She pulled on her mucklucks, a new catalogue purchase to accessorize her growing “country” wardrobe, tied a robe around her flannel pajamas, and shuffled down the hall to the kitchen to let Whiskey out.
He shot past her and disappeared into the shrubs. She closed the door and waited for him with her forehead resting against the door frame. Her body was moving slowly this morning, but her brain had already ratcheted to high gear.
She wondered if Chaz had gone to bed last night or continued to research the development company. Had he told Bill? Was there a way to get this settled so they could move on to a peaceful Thanksgiving?
Whiskey was back in a few minutes and Liv went off to take a very hot, very long shower.
Forty-five minutes later a much-revived Liv and a nourished and energetic Whiskey were making their way across the green toward the Apple of My Eye Bakery.
The bakery was owned by Fred and Dolly Hunnicutt. Dolly was famous for miles around for her baked goods. She kept everyone well fed and satisfied. Fred was an efficient traffic manager. Both were friendly, supportive, and didn’t mind a bit of gossip. Liv bet Dolly had gotten an earful from Fred when he’d gotten home.
And soon everyone else would know, too. Celebration Bay thrived on its gossip as well as sticky buns and apple cider. The less you said about something, the more exaggerated it became. The idea of not saying anything was not an option. News always got out. And Liv had learned the hard way not to fight it. She just had to spin it to prevent panic. This time she didn’t even get the chance.
Dolly met her at the door of the bakery. “Oh my goodness, Liv. Have you heard?”
“What? I was there.”
“No. Last night, Bill arrested one of those marathoners for murder.”
“He did? But—”
“It was after you left the Inn last night?”
“How did you know I was at the Inn?”
Dolly gave Liv one of her when-will-you-ever-learn looks. “Corinne told me when she was in getting bread this morning. She also told me about the arrest.”
“Did she say which one he arrested?”
“The one they call Pudge.”
“I didn’t arrest him,” Bill said as he took a slice of Dolly’s pumpkin nut bread that Ted had arranged on a plate on Liv’s desk.
“Dolly said . . .”
“Aroo,” Whiskey barked, recognizing the name of the benefactor of the turkey-flavored dog biscuit he was chewing from his place on his doggie bed.
“Well, Dolly was wrong. I took him in for questioning. He has an alibi.”
“Rats,” said Liv.
“You wanted him to be guilty?”
“Well, not really. But that would take care of a lot of problems, like a murderer wandering freely about town. And the fact that— Has Chaz happened to talk to you about—”
“Talk to you about what?” Ted asked, putting down his tea and giving them his full attention.
Bill pushed his fingers through his curly hair, which immediately sprung up again when he was done. “Since it’s not a part of this investigation, I guess I can tell.” He brought Ted up to speed on what Chaz had discovered the night before. “I told him to keep searching. I would really like this to be one of them. Outsiders.”
“We all would,” Liv agreed.
“I knew there was something about those four that just seemed wrong,” Ted said. “They were going to bilk this town.”
“We don’t have proof of that yet,” Bill said. “So no rumors, please.”
“Me?” Ted asked incredulously.
Bill snorted. “Please?”
“Is that why you arrested—took Pudge in for questioning? Because of what Chaz and I learned?”
“No. I didn’t know all this when I talked to Mr. Clegg.”
“Clegg?” Ted asked.
“Pudge’s real name is Lyle Clegg.”
“So why did you take him in?” Liv asked, trying to bring the conversation back on point. “He ran the 2K. How could he have had time to meet Max, kill him, hide the weapon . . . It’s impossible.”
“He didn’t run the race,” Bill said.
“But I saw him. He was standing right to the side of me.”
“And you kept him in sight for how long?”
Liv thought back, shrugged. “I didn’t.”
“Right. And as soon as he got to Lakeside Drive and the runners turned south, he turned north back to the Inn, where he had a nice leisurely breakfast until the others came back.”
“Wow. And he was there the whole time?”
Bill nodded. “The whole time. Corrine was on duty. He didn’t leave the dining room until after we found the body.” Bill took another piece of pumpkin nut bread and stood up. “That’s all I can say. That’s all we’ve got. Now we’ll just have to wait to see if Chaz comes up with something that can lead us somewhere near the truth.”
“Chaz? When did you speak to him?”
“Late last night. He said he was going to get some sleep and start again this morning.”
“Chaz’s idea of morning is late afternoon.”
“He said he would get on it.” Bill popped the slice of bread in his mouth and struggled back into his police jacket. “Just stay put. I’ll take it from here.”
Ted walked Bill out. Whiskey went to sleep and Liv booted up her computer and her calendar. She’d just gotten off the phone with the Turkey Trot chairman when her cell rang.
She checked caller ID. BeBe. “Hey, what’s up?”
“They’re here. Two of those developers and the wife just ordered coffee. They’re sitting at the corner table. I thought you might want to come spy.”
“Where are you now?”
“In the back looking through the curtain where I can see them.”
Liv deliberated. Bill had just told her not to interfere, and she did have a lot of work to do, but she would be able to do that work much more efficiently once the murderer was behind bars.
“On my way.”
“Come to the back. They may recognize you from last night.”
Liv grabbed her coat, and with a mumbled excuse to Ted, she hurried out of the office and out of town hall to the street. She was nearly at a run by the time she reached the alley that ran behind the stores on the square. BeBe was waiting for her at the back door to the Buttercup.
“They were laughing, even the widow. Can you believe it?” BeBe asked as she trundled Liv toward the curtained door. “If we stand here, we can see them in the mirror and they can’t see us.”
“Don’t you need to be out front?”
“I hired part-time help for the weekends. Wish I could get more.” BeBe positioned Liv diagonally to the door, stood behind her, and pulled the curtain aside a few inches. Liv got a full view of the heads of Joe, Eric, and Eileen. There was no Pudge.
“Well, I’ve had enough,” Eileen said and stood up abruptly.
“Now, Eileen. I know it’s hard, but you just have to be patient.”
“For what? They arrested Lyle. I want to go home. I’ve had it with these people and this town. I’m leaving.”
She grabbed her purse and headed for the door.
Eric jumped up. “Eileen, don’t.”
Eileen pouted at him. “Don’t worry, sweetie. I won’t leave without you.” She was flirting but there was something hard in her eyes. “Later.” She opened the door, and a gust of wind rattled the paper menus.
Eric started to go after her, but Joe grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “Let her go.”
“Ouch.” Eric flinched and grabbed the shoulder of the arm Joe had grabbed.
“Sorry, man. That must have been some fall you took.”
Eric grimaced at him. “It was.” He sat down and continued to rub his shoulder.
Fall. Fall? Liv forgot about Eileen leaving. Eric was obviously in pain. His right shoulder. The night before he hadn’t shaken hands with Chaz like the others had. Not because he was being rude, but because his shoulder hurt. And she bet it wasn’t from a fall.
“BeBe, what do you know about shotguns?”
“Me? Nothing. Well, my ex tried to teach me to shoot when I first moved here. Knocked me on my butt. I thought for sure it had broken my collarbone. After that I decided to steer clear of all firearms.”
“Kickback. I wonder . . .”
“What? Did you think of something?”
“I’m not sure. I gotta run.”
“Why? Where are you going?”
“First I’m going to follow the widow if she’s on foot, then I’m going to call Bill.”
BeBe’s mouth fell open. “Darn. I really need full-time help.”
Liv raced back up the alley, hoping she’d guessed correctly that Eileen would be walking back to the Inn. She came out on the street and a gust of wind nearly knocked her off her feet. Eileen had stopped at the corner and was talking on her cell phone.
Liv ducked around the corner of the building and, peering out at the widow, pulled her knit hat out of her coat and shoved it down over her ears. Not much of a disguise but it would have to do. Besides, the wind was freezing.
She did feel a qualm about all this clandestine spying she was doing. And she hoped that she wasn’t breaking the law or interfering with the investigation. But it couldn’t be helped.
She just happened to be on the scene, and like every good event planner, she was thinking on her feet.
Eileen was very intent on the conversation she was having with whoever was on the other end of the cell phone she had pressed to her ear. “What?” she said, practically yelling into the phone. “I can’t hear you.”
The wind must be creating ambient noise, and that was lucky for Liv because the same wind was throwing Eileen’s side of the conversation right toward her.
“Yes. He’s rattled, poor thing. It won’t be long before he cracks. I want to be ready to go when he does.” She listened for a while. “I’m on my way there now. See you, sweetie.”
Sweetie? Hadn’t she just called Eric “sweetie”? It didn’t sound like she was talking to him. It sounded like she was talking
him. And since Joe was with him, that left Pudge.
Eileen crossed the street, walking fast in spite of the wind and her high-heeled boots. She’d hung up the phone but kept it clasped in her hand.
Liv reached for her own phone. She didn’t know who to call first, Bill or Chaz. She called Chaz. If Bill was waiting to move until Chaz had finished his search, they might all be out of town before he could stop them.
She punched in speed dial. Listened until the machine picked up. “Not here. Call back.”
What kind of way was that to run a newspaper? She called again. Same message. “If you’re there, pick up. Things are moving quickly. I mean it, pick up.”
He didn’t pick up.
She hung up and called Bill.
“Bill, it’s Liv. Uh.” How was she going to explain? They were a block from the Inn now and she didn’t have time to think of a good excuse. “Don’t yell, but Eileen Bonhoff is on her way to the Inn. She says she’s leaving. I think I know who killed Max.”
“I guess it’s useless for me to say stay away from her.”
“Are you at the Inn waiting for her?”
“No, I’m out following another lead.”
“Then yes, it would be useless.”
“I’m on my way.”
“I’ll try to stall her until you get to the Inn.”
She hung up, pushed the phone into her coat pocket just as Eric and Joe passed her walking at a clip that would catch them up to Eileen in the next block.
Liv took off after them. This was so not in her job description, but somebody had to keep them from leaving town. She was pretty sure she knew who had killed Max Bonhoff, but there was no way she was going to let any of them get away.