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Authors: Diane Greenwood Muir

Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Friendship - Iowa

Diane Greenwood Muir - Bellingwood 05 - Life Between the Lines

BOOK: Diane Greenwood Muir - Bellingwood 05 - Life Between the Lines
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Diane Greenwood Muir - Bellingwood 05 - Life Between the Lines
Belllingwood [5]
Diane Greenwood Muir
Nammynools Publications (2014)
Tags:
Mystery: Cozy - Friendship - Iowa
It finally happened. One of Polly's guests dies—right at her front door. Thomas Zeller, an author with a strong affection for Edgar Allan Poe, wakes Polly in the middle of the night with fatal stab wounds, and she has to call the sheriff who threatens to buy her a Grim Reaper costume for Halloween. Zeller leaves behind a mystery for Polly to solve, and she gets everyone involved as she uncovers his real motive for being in Bellingwood.
As if that isn't enough, someone vandalizes Sycamore House, and Polly can't imagine who might be that angry at her. She and Jeff Lyndsay are preparing to celebrate the first anniversary of Sycamore House with a Masquerade Ball, and Lydia Merritt decorates the large foyer for Beggar's Night with a Haunted Hallway. With all of these things happening around her, Polly continues to meet new friends and build her relationship with Henry Sturtz.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission.
The publication / use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

 

 

 

Cover Design Photography: Maxim M. Muir

 

 

 

Copyright © 201
4 Diane Greenwood Muir

All rights reserved.

 

Don’t miss the first books in
Diane Greenwood Muir’s

Bellingwood Series

All Roads Lead Home – Bellingwood #1
A Big Life in a Small Town – Bellingwood #2
Treasure Uncovered – Bellingwood #3
Secrets and Revelations – Bellingwood #4
Life Between the Lines – Bellingwood #5
Room at the Inn – Bellingwood #5.5

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

A very special thank you to Rebecca Bauman, Tracy Kesterson Simpson, Linda Watson, Nancy Quist, Carol Greenwood, Alice Stewart, Edna Fleming, Fran Neff and Max Muir for continuing to help me tell my stories. I am always surprised at the care they give to my books when they proofread and edit and I have the best time reading their comments and asides, knowing that they want things to be written well. Without them, this would be impossible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

The low growl coming from her dog woke Polly out of a sound sleep. Obiwan’s ears were straight up and he was poised, ready to jump. Both cats were perched on the edge of her bed, fully alert and facing the front room of the apartment.

“What is it?” she whispered. Then she heard an insistent rapping at the front door. She checked the time. Three-eighteen.

“Who wants what at this hour?” she asked and sat up. Bearing responsibility for the needs of demanding guests was annoying sometimes. When she moved, the cats jumped to the floor and slowly crept into the living room. Obiwan continued to growl as she grabbed her robe from the foot of the bed and swung around to plant her feet on the floor.

She wrapped the robe around her, covering the shorts and tank top she usually wore to bed, then dropped her phone into the robe’s pocket. Obiwan followed as she flipped on lights and went into the entryway.

“Who’s there?” she asked
.

A faint “Polly” was the response. Whoever was out there didn’t sound threatening and she unlocked the door.

“Oh no!” she cried out, dropping to her knees. “What happened?”

Thomas Z
eller lay on the floor, clutching his midsection. The blood covering his hands had soaked through his shirt and jacket, seeping down into his pants.

“Thomas!” she cried.

He reached out and when she took his hand, felt him press something into hers. “Take this. For you. No one else. Find him.”

“Find who? Who did this to you?” With her other hand, she fumbled in her pocket for
the cell phone.

He squeezed the hand he held. It was barely noticeable. He had no strength left. “In there.”

His hand relaxed and fell away and his body slumped. Whatever he’d given her, she slipped into the pocket of her robe so both hands were free.

“Thomas!” she cried again. “Thomas!”

She leaned in when he didn’t respond. There was a faint scent of alcohol, but it wasn’t overpowering. She heard no breathing, so she checked for signs of a pulse. This just couldn’t be happening.

With a deep breath, she slid to the floor and leaned against the doorsill. Obiwan attempted to step over her to sniff the man, but she pushed him back. “No. Sit. Stay,”
and she created a barricade with her legs.

“He’s not going to believe this,” she said to her dog, scrolling through her contacts. “I don’t want to make this call.”

She dialed the phone and a sleepy Sheriff Merritt answered with, “Polly? It’s three in the morning. Is this what I think it is?”

“Aaron, I’m
really sorry about the hour, I really am. But I don’t know who else to call.”

“If this is another body, I’m buying you a grim reaper costume for Halloween.”

“Oh Aaron, Thomas Zeller just died outside my apartment. There’s blood all over him. I think he’s been stabbed.”

She heard his wife’s voice in the background and then heard him say to her, “Go back to sleep, Lydia. You can take care of Polly in the morning. I’ll take care of her tonight.”

He returned to the conversation. “I’ll call the squad. Stu Decker and I will be there as soon as possible.”

“Thank you Aaron. I’m so sorry. Is Sarah on duty tonight? She knows how to get up here and I’ll have the front doors unlocked.”

“I’ll let them know,” he said. “We’ll be there soon.”

Polly opened the app on her phone that controlled the locks at Sycamore House and unlocked the main doors. She turned the downstairs lights on and with one more press of
a button, lit the upstairs hallway. With all the lights on, she saw a trail of blood coming from the middle bedroom where Thomas Zeller had been staying for the last month.

“What happened
, Thomas?” Polly asked the man on the floor.

They’d had lunch yesterday and he hadn’t seemed worried or stressed. In fact, he told her he was nearly finished with his novel and would be staying one more week. It was time for him to return to reality. There was a movie deal in the offing and he needed to spend time hammering out the contract. He was looking forward to the financial freedom it would offer and was a little giddy at the opportunity to hob-knob with celebrities.
Those had been his words. After all that had happened in his life, he told her it was as if all his dreams had finally come true.

Obiwan settled his head on Polly’s thigh and she stroked him as they waited for people to arrive. He came alert before she heard the snick of the front door opening. She stood up, kept her hand on his collar and gave a weak wave when Sarah and another young man came up the last steps.

“You need an elevator, Polly,” Sarah laughed. “I don’t like carrying bodies down this many stairs.”

The young woman knelt beside Thomas, checked his pulse and looked up, “You did it again, didn’t you?”

Polly bit her lips and breathed loudly through her nose. “They just keep finding me. Maybe the world knows that the sheriff’s wife is my friend and I’ll call him for help.”

“It’s nice to know the universe needs you,” Sarah said, “even if it’s so that you keep Aaron and the rest of us employed.”

“My job is safe without this girl bringing me extra bodies, Sarah,” Aaron said as he strode across the floor of the upstairs hallway. He looked down at the scene. “Oh Polly, what have you gotten yourself into this time?”

“I don’t know, Aaron, He’s been staying in the room across the hall for the last month. I
‘ve enjoyed getting to know him.” Polly’s eyes filled with tears. “This time, he’s a friend.”

“I’m sorry, Polly. Would you like me to call
Lydia?”

“No, that’s fine. I’ll talk to her tomorrow.”

“She wanted to come. She’s desperate to hear from you.”

Lydia, Beryl Watson and Andy Saner had met Polly and Thomas for lunch at the local diner one afternoon last week and he’d entertained them with tales of his travels and all the interesting people he had met while searching for his stories. This would be difficult for everyone.

“I’ll give her a call. I promise,” Polly assured him.

Stu Decker came up the steps, “Sorry, boss. I was caught on a domestic. What do we have here?” He quickly took in the scene, “Why don’t I call in the team for you and we’ll get started. Anything I should know?”

“That was his room,” Aaron pointed across the hall. “Right, Polly?”

She nodded and looked down at the dog. “Let me get Obiwan inside.” She walked back into her apartment, tugging his collar. “I’m sorry. You can’t play with people tonight.” She quickly ran to the kitchen and washed the blood off her hands.

When she got back out to the hallway Stu was standing in front of Thomas’s room. “Can you open this, Polly?”

“Sure,” she
swiped the app to unlock the door.

“How much information does that app have on the doors around here?” Aaron pointed to her phone. “Can it tell us who opened which doors and when?”

“I suppose so,” she said. “I’ve never used the tracking feature. It will be easier to access it on a computer, though. I can do it from my laptop or we can go downstairs.”

“Let’s go on in to your apartment. Do you mind?”

“I guess not.”

“You know, you could make me get a search warrant for this information,” he said quietly.

“I’m not going to do that, Aaron. I trust that you’ll do the right thing and tonight, the right thing is finding out what happened to Thomas.”

Aaron followed her into the apartment.

“I’ll bring it to the dining room table,” she said. He sat down to wait while she retrieved the laptop from her bedroom. She and Henry had been on video chat the night before. He was in Michigan delivering furniture he had refinished for his sister. It was nice being able to talk with him before she went to sleep, even when he was far away. He had asked her to go along, but she didn’t feel like she could leave Sycamore House. Jeff Lindsay, her assistant, and Sylvie Donovan, one of her best friends and Sycamore House’s chef were planning their big first anniversary Halloween Ball. It was happening in just two weeks and being gone for four days was more than Polly thought she could handle.

She sat down at the table and waited for the laptop to power up. “Do you want some coffee?” she asked. “I’m so sorry I woke you in the middle of the night.”

Aaron rolled his neck and shoulders. “I’m fine and quit apologizing. It’s my job.”

“Here’s the program,” Polly said. “I’m not sure what I’m looking for.”

“Why don’t I make coffee and you figure this out,” Aaron stood up and walked into the kitchen. “Where’s the coffee?”

“You’ll see it in the jar right behind the pot.” She turned back to the program and began clicking through menus. “Stupid thing, when I need you to be intuitive, you escape me.”

“Take your time, Polly. If it’s there, you’ll find it.”

“Here it is. I found it.”

Aaron flipped on the coffee pot and sat back down. “Okay, tell me what’s what.”

“These are the individual rooms.” Polly pointed at the screen. “Here is the front door and the side door. This is the kitchen door and the door to the garage. And here is the main door of the new addition and its back door.”

“It looks as if these are all the times when those doors were accessed. Can you tell who was using their keys?”

Polly pulled up another screen. “Uh huh. Here are the access codes for the keys each person has. This one is different because we had to program a card for it. The guy in the front room of the addition doesn’t own a smart phone.”

“I’m going to want a copy of this data. Can you do that?”

“If I can’t, I’ll call the company in the morning and have them help me,” she said.

The two of them compared key usage and saw that the evening had actually been quite busy. Thomas had returned to Sycamore House about one fifteen in the morning. He’d accessed the front door and gone straight to his room. Then he accessed his room again twenty minutes later. Polly assumed it was a bathroom run. The guests on either side of them had accessed their rooms several times between ten thirty and midnight and the three guests over in the addition had been in and out until midnight as well.

“You have
house full of night owls,” Aaron remarked.

“I know,” she said. “None of them are ever interested in breakfast until after nine o’clock.”

“You know we’re going to have to wake your guests on this floor, don’t you?” Aaron asked.

“I suspect they’re already awake,” she said. “There’s no way they could sleep through this much activity.”

“Sheriff?” Stu Decker stuck his head in the door. “The team is here and they’ve started working the scene. There’s a lot of blood in his room, so that’s where the poor guy was hurt. Sarah says that with that gut wound, she’s surprised he made it across the hallway to your apartment, Polly.”

“Anything that gives us a clue as to who or why?” Aaron asked.

“‘Nothing yet, but we’re just getting started. Do you want me to wake people up?”

“We’re going to have to. Polly can you tell us the names of people up here?”

“Grey Linder, a poet, is in the back room and Lila Fletcher is in the front room. Do you want me to knock on their doors or anything for you?”

“You’re really not dressed for company, Polly,” Aaron chuckled. He walked over to the coffee pot and poured a cup, then handed it to her. “Lydia would have my head if she knew you were out and about dressed like that.”

Polly gasped when she realized the robe had come open at the top. She was dressed underneath it, but not in much. “Whoops!” she said. “Sorry. Let’s not tell Lydia, okay?” She drew the lapels back together and tightened the belt around her waist. “Do you want coffee, Stu?”

“Maybe later. Could I use the conference room?” he asked.

“Of course. Let me change clothes and I’ll run downstairs and start the coffee in the office.”

“Thanks.”

Polly set her mug on the table and trotted into the bedroom. In a flash, she changed into jeans and a sweatshirt. When she opened the door to the hallway again, she was shocked at the transformation. Sycamore House looked like a television crime show. A photographer was shooting pictures of Thomas Zeller’s body while the EMTs waited to load it for transport. One person was dusting for prints and another was shooting pictures in the room across the hall. She excused herself and ran downstairs.

BOOK: Diane Greenwood Muir - Bellingwood 05 - Life Between the Lines
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