Death of a Coupon Clipper

BOOK: Death of a Coupon Clipper
13.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
It was so dark Hayley couldn’t see much except the outline in the snow. She fished
inside her coat pocket and fetched her iPhone. She pressed the button and a light
snapped on, illuminating the figure in the snow.
It wasn’t a deer.
It was a person.
Face down in the snow, arms and legs splayed as if he was making a snow angel.
Hayley stepped closer.
The head was turned to the side, facing her.
It wasn’t a him.
It was a her.
It was Candace Culpepper.
As the winter winds kicked up, coupons began flying up from the ground like a flock
of birds disturbed by an approaching car.
And then the light from Hayley’s phone caught a glint of something.
A large pair of industrial size scissors sticking out of Candace’s back . . .
Books by Lee Hollis
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
A Hayley Powell
Food & Cocktails Mystery
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Chapter 1
It would be a cold day in hell before Sal Moretti allowed his employees at the
Island Times
newspaper to go home early. The picturesque little hamlet of Bar Harbor, Maine, certainly
wasn’t hell. In fact, to all the hikers and mountain bikers and cruise ship passengers
and lobster lovers and vacationing families from all over the world who flocked to
Mount Desert Island for the breathtaking scenery of Acadia National Park, it was a
nature lover’s paradise.
But that was during the summer and fall months. Today, on this midafternoon during
a particularly brutal February, the temperature was hovering just below ten degrees.
Outside the picture window of the newspaper’s main office, where Hayley Powell sat
at her desk, all she could see was a white blanket of snow. She couldn’t remember
the last time she had seen it come down so hard.
Hayley stood up and poured herself a cup of hot coffee from the pot she had just brewed
and took a big gulp to warm herself up. Sal had allowed her to turn the thermostat
up a few degrees earlier that morning, but he kept a watchful eye to make sure she
didn’t crank it too high and send his heating bill soaring.
She had dressed appropriately for the workday. Long underwear. Flannel shirt. Bulky
wool sweater. Fleece snow pants over jeans. Big, clunky boots. However, as she looked
outside at the nasty weather, it still chilled her bones.
Bruce Linney, the paper’s handsome crime reporter, with whom Hayley maintained a love-hate
relationship, ambled out to the front office, from the back, to get some coffee. He
was dressed in an expensive black cashmere sweater and khaki pants.
“Hayley, would you mind running out and picking up some of those delicious warm blueberry
muffins from the Morning Glory Bakery?” he asked. “I’m sure the reporters would appreciate
“Of course, Bruce. Let me just get my dogsled team ready and I’ll be on my merry way,”
Hayley said, shaking her head.
She couldn’t believe he was serious.
Maybe their relationship was more tolerate-hate.
“Is that you being sarcastic?” Bruce sighed.
“That’s me saying no, Bruce!” Hayley said. “The Morning Glory is clear across town
and the streets aren’t plowed yet, and even if they were, the roads are so icy I’d
probably lose control of my car and skid right off the town pier!”
“Man, Hayley, sometimes you can be such a drama queen,” Bruce said, shrugging. “I
just asked for some muffins. Maybe if you thought ahead, you would have considered
the weather reports and whipped up some of your own muffins in your kitchen this morning,
so you wouldn’t have to go out in this nasty storm to buy us some now.”
“You’re not getting muffins, Bruce!” Hayley said.
Sal Moretti charged out of his office and bellowed, “Would you two pipe down? This
is a newspaper, not a marriage counselor’s office!”
Hayley and Bruce exchanged a look and called a silent truce. They both knew it was
best not to tick off the boss right now because Sal was already on edge. His wife
had left him for two weeks to go visit her mother in North Carolina, so there was
no one at home to take care of him.
And this was painfully obvious. His shirts were wrinkled. There were a half-dozen
empty bottles of TUMS on his desk from all the late-night gorging on pepperoni pizza.
The poor guy was scattered and off his game. It was clear he missed his wife terribly
and didn’t like being on his own.
“They’re saying on the Weather Channel that this storm’s only going to get worse,
so I think we should just call it a day and all go home,” Sal said.
Stunned silence.
Sal was dismissing the staff for the day?
It wasn’t even three o’clock in the afternoon.
Bruce did his best Rod Serling voice. “You’re about to enter another dimension. Next
stop, the Twilight Zone!”
“Shut up, Bruce,” Sal snapped. “I want everybody to be careful driving home. It’s
a mess out there.”
Sal rubbed his eyes and ambled back to his office.
Hayley wasn’t going to wait for him to change his mind. She quickly shut down her
computer and grabbed her green L.L.Bean winter jacket from the office closet. She
threw it on, laced up her black boots, and was out the door.
She carefully navigated the frozen walkway from the office to the street. Still, she
nearly lost her balance on the slippery ice and had to wave her arms like a crazy
person to keep herself from falling flat on her back.
Once she managed to reach her white Subaru wagon, which was parked up the street,
she pulled on a pair of mittens her mother had knitted her twenty years ago and began
brushing all the fresh snow off the car. She clicked the remote key to unlock the
doors and then rummaged through all the kids’ athletic equipment and empty fast-food
cartons and discarded paper coffee cups in the backseat to find her red wooden-handled
ice scraper.
Hayley began hacking at the clumps of ice that had formed on her windshield, clearing
enough so she could at least see where she was going on the short drive home. Then
she climbed behind the wheel, shut the door, started the engine, and cranked up the
heat. She waited a few minutes for the car to warm up before slowly pulling away from
the curb.
She could hear the wheels crunching through the snow and she hadn’t even maneuvered
the vehicle all the way into the street before the car hit a patch of ice and began
slipping and sliding into the opposite lane. Luckily, no one was stupid enough to
be out driving in this mess. There were no cars to collide with, so Hayley counted
her blessings.
She stayed focused, never taking her eyes off the road, gently pressing her foot down
on the accelerator not too much, just enough to keep the car going in a forward motion.
She didn’t want to chance losing control again and smashing into a tree or a fire
hydrant or, God forbid, a storefront window.
What was normally a five-minute drive home took twenty minutes, but Hayley finally
managed to get herself and her Subaru home safely. She turned into the driveway of
her gray two-story house. Well, it was gray when she left for work this morning. Now
it was completely white. At least the snow covered the fact that her house was in
desperate need of a new coat of paint. Which she couldn’t afford. Maybe she would
get a nice tax refund this year, which she could use to paint the house in the spring.
Wishful thinking.
Lex Bansfield, the man Hayley had been dating on and off for the past year and a half,
usually would clear her driveway with his snowplow truck during a storm. However,
he hadn’t had a chance to swing by yet, so Hayley assumed he was busy clearing the
roads on the expansive seaside estate, where he worked as a caretaker.
It was slow going, the tires of her Subaru skidding through the mound of snow piled
high in the driveway as she pulled in and opened the garage door with her remote.
Hayley had to press her foot harder down on the accelerator to keep the car moving
forward. Then suddenly, without warning, the tires freed themselves from the packed
snow and the car took off, speeding toward the open door of the garage. Hayley slammed
on the brakes and prayed her car wouldn’t hurtle through the garage and crash right
through the back wall and into her neighbor’s adjoining yard. Luckily, the Subaru
squealed to an abrupt stop just inches from the wall.
Hayley breathed a deep sigh of relief.
The last thing she needed right now was a costly repair. She got out of the car and
was about to head into the house when she stopped.
She heard a creaking sound.
Hayley looked around.
Nothing appeared out of the ordinary.
She couldn’t make out where it had come from.
She continued to walk out of the garage.
Another creak.
This time, louder.
What was that?
It seemed to be coming from the roof.
She looked up.
One of the wooden beams supporting the roof looked warped, as if it was bending and
about to snap in half. That couldn’t be.
She knew she would need to reinforce the roof at some point. Lex had warned her many
times, but she just didn’t have the money to do it right now. Besides, Lex told her
she was probably fine unless there was a lot of weight on it. Only then might it give
way to the pressure.
Hayley suddenly realized there was about two-and-a-half feet of heavy snowfall on
top of her roof.
The wooden beam suddenly snapped and Hayley heard a rumbling sound. Then she watched
in horror as the entire roof over her garage caved in, landing on top of her white
Subaru wagon and crushing it.
No. This was not happening.
Hayley just stood there in a state of shock. Flakes of snow landed on her rosy red
cheeks. She was about to cry, but she choked back the tears. She was afraid if she
did cry, the tears would freeze right on her face.
She heard Leroy, her white Shih Tzu (with a pronounced underbite), barking inside
the house, undoubtedly spooked from the thunderous crash of the roof collapsing. Hayley
decided to deal with the garage when the snow stopped. With her car buried underneath
the rubble, she was probably going to have to borrow some snowshoes to get to the
office in the morning.
Hayley entered the house through the back door into the kitchen. Leroy was there,
jumping up and down to greet her. The sight of her devoted pup instantly put Hayley
at ease. The little guy leapt into her arms when she knelt down to say hello. He began
licking frantically at her face, attracted to the wet snow. Hayley noticed Leroy’s
nose was running and he was shivering. She set him down and took off her coat. That’s
when she realized the temperature inside the house felt like twenty degrees. Maybe
even colder. She knew she had left the heat on when she went to work. What could have
possibly happened?
Dear God, no.
Not the furnace.
Lex had also warned her that her furnace was barely hanging on and the odds of making
it through another winter weren’t very good. She had brushed off his comments, not
because she didn’t believe him, but mostly because she just couldn’t bear the thought
of having to invest in a new one. She simply didn’t have the money. Hayley opened
the door to the basement, snapped on the light, and descended the stairs. Leroy scampered
behind her.
When she reached the bottom of the steps, she knew in her gut the situation was dire.
She touched the furnace. Ice cold. She played with the buttons and readings. Nothing.
It was dead.
And she was screwed.
Unable to hold it in any longer, Hayley finally started to cry. Why was all this happening
at once? How was she ever going to pay for all this? She sat down on the bottom step
of the basement and let the waterworks flow.
She was going to allow herself a few minutes of self-pity, and then she would steel
herself and work on solving the problems at hand.
Her cell phone rang.
Hayley reached into the back pocket of her snow pants and pulled out her phone.
It was Gemma.
Calling from her dad’s in Iowa.
Hayley’s two kids, sixteen-year-old Gemma and fourteen-year-old Dustin, were spending
the winter break with their dad, Hayley’s ex-husband, in Des Moines, Iowa, where he
worked as a manager at Walmart.
Hayley got a lump in her throat. She missed them. The three of them were a team. Now
faced with all this sudden adversity, she wished they were home with her to calm her
nerves. Just having them around made her feel better. But they were so far away and
she felt so alone right now.
Hayley wiped away the tears, cleared her throat, composed herself, and then clicked
on the phone.
“Gemma, honey, how are you?”
“It’s freezing here, Mom. I wish we were back in Bar Harbor.”
“It’s pretty much the same here, so you’re not missing anything. How’s your brother?”
“Still annoying. Dad’s got a new girlfriend. Becky. She’s nice, I guess, but totally
trying too hard to impress us. Just like the last three. What’s going on with you?”
“Not much,” Hayley said. “I just got home from work.”
“It’s only three o’clock there. Are you sick?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“You don’t sound fine. You sound stressed,” Gemma said.
“No, Gemma, everything’s just fine. Believe me.”
But things were not fine.
Not fine at all.
And they were about to get a whole lot worse because a collapsed roof, a crushed car,
and a busted furnace would soon be the least of Hayley Powell’s problems.
BOOK: Death of a Coupon Clipper
13.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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