Authors: Jessica Beck
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Cozy, #Amateur Sleuth
“No, I don’t litter,” I said.
He got out an evidence bag and picked up the wrapper with a pair of tweezers.
“Is that important?” I asked him.
“I don’t know yet. Right now, I’m still looking for any evidence I can find.”
He had work to do, I knew that, but that didn’t mean I had stick around any longer than I needed to. Being so close to Peg’s dead body was really starting to get to me. “If that’s all, can I go?”
“I’d like you to hang around a little, if you don’t mind,” the chief said.
“Fine, but can I at least go back inside the house?”
He thought about that for a few seconds, then said, “Okay, I don’t see what that could hurt. Just don’t wander off until I’ve had a chance to talk to you again.”
“I’ll be inside,” I said as I rushed for the door.
Marge was waiting for me near the door. “What happened? Does he know what killed Peg yet?”
“He can’t be sure, but it looks like one of my donuts did it.” I couldn’t believe how bizarre that sounded coming out of my mouth.
“She was poisoned?” Marge asked in a hushed tone of voice.
“The chief says it’s too soon to tell,” I said, fighting to hold onto the last shred of credibility that I could. “He won’t know that for a while.”
“So, what happens in the meantime?”
I said, “I’m supposed to wait here for him. You don’t have to keep me company, though. I don’t mind being by myself.”
“Nonsense, there’s nowhere else I need to be,” she said, “Especially with the exhibition canceled.”
“I’m so sorry about that.”
“It’s not your fault,” Marge said softly.
“I didn’t kill her,” I said with a little more force than I probably should have used with her.
“I’m sorry, Suzanne. I didn’t mean to imply that I thought you did.”
I looked at her and saw that she was nearing tears. It was the worst thing that could happen to her much-anticipated coming-out party. “Marge, it’s going to be all right.”
“I wish I could believe you,” she said.
I was thankful to have her there with me. If I was being honest with myself, I’d take any company at the moment over being alone.
After twenty minutes, there was no one left in the kitchen but me, Marge, and an April Springs police officer. He was a relatively new hire, and we hadn’t gotten the chance to get to know each other yet. It wasn’t the best circumstances for developing a bond today, either.
The chief finally came back in, and honestly looked surprised to find Marge sitting with me on the sofa.
“You can go somewhere else in the house, if you’d like,” he said.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll stay here with Suzanne.”
The chief shook his head. “There’s no need. She’s getting ready to leave.”
That surprised me. “Where am I going?” I had visions of being led from the house in handcuffs, something that made me want to throw up.
He frowned slightly. “I don’t care, but there’s no need for you to hang around here. I’m done with you.”
“For good?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I wouldn’t say that, but I would say for now.”
“Okay, I can live with that,” I said.
I turned to Marge. “You don’t have to stay here, either. Why don’t you come to the donut shop with me? I’ll treat you to cup of coffee and a bear claw.”
Chief Martin interrupted. “Actually, that’s the one place you can’t go right now, Suzanne.” He glanced at his watch, then said, “Give my men an hour, and then you can go back to your shop.”
I hadn’t been expecting that. “What? They’re searching my business? I thought you needed a warrant for that.”
“We do, and that donut was all it took to get one. Funny, I thought you’d welcome a search of your business. How else can we clear your name from our list of suspects?”
“You didn’t have to get a warrant. I would have gladly given you my permission to search my shop.”
“It’s neater this way,” he said.
I started for the door, but then I realized that Marge wasn’t behind me. “Aren’t you coming? I’m sure we can find a cup of coffee somewhere.”
She shook her head. “I think I’ll stay here, if you don’t mind,” she said.
I wasn’t about to argue with her. I just wanted to get out of there. I walked out to my Jeep, got in, started it, then sat there wondering where I should go. I wasn’t about to head home, for fear of the grilling I would get from my mother, and I’d been ordered not to go back to Donut Hearts. Grace was out of town on her business trip for a few days, so I couldn’t call her.
I noticed the new policeman watching me, so I put the Jeep in gear and drove off. I might not be able to go back to the donut shop, but I could do the next best thing. I was going to the Boxcar grill to get some coffee, and keep an eye on what was going on in my shop from across the tracks.
The owner, Trish Granger, frowned when I walked into the Boxcar, an old train car that she had converted into a diner. One long wall offered booths, while the other sported a long counter for diners to sit while they ate. An attached structure housed the kitchen, so stepping into the train car was a little like stepping back in time. Trish was in her early thirties, neat and trim, with her blonde hair in a constant ponytail.
“You’re having a hard day, aren’t you?” she asked.
There were few customers in the diner at 10:30 in the morning.
It was a slow time for me normally at the donut shop as well. “Not as tough as Peg Masterson is having,” I said as I slid onto a stool near her. “How’d you find out what happened so quickly?”
“Emma came over here when she couldn’t get hold of you. She was pretty upset when the police shut the place down.”
I’d wondered why she hadn’t warned me about what was happening at my shop. “Why didn’t she call me?”
Trish shrugged. “You tell me. She said her calls to you went straight to your voice mail. Is your phone on?”
I felt like such an idiot as I dove into my purse and pulled out my cell phone. I’d turned it off so it wouldn’t interfere with my demonstration, and I’d forgotten to turn it back on in all the turmoil that had followed.
“Hang on a second,” I said as I saw that I had two dozen voice mail messages since last night. That would take too long, so I punched in Emma’s number, and she picked up before it had time to finish the first ring.
“Suzanne, are you all right?” she asked the second she answered. Emma had explained that she had a song for each of her callers to identify them with when they called. My song was “Ain’t No Sunshine,” because we worked most of our hours in the middle of the night.
“I’m fine. How are you doing?”
She started crying as she spoke, and I knew she was really upset. In the years Emma and I had worked together, I couldn’t recall a time that I’d ever seen her cry. “I’m so sorry. They shut me down.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “The chief told me what they were doing. I’m just upset with myself that I didn’t call you to warn you about it.”
“It’s not your fault,” she said as she fought her tears. “Suzanne, what are they looking for?”
“My guess is poison,” I said softly, but evidently not quietly enough, because Trish’s eyebrows shot upward when I said it.
Emma said, “Oh, no. Do they think you killed that dreadful woman?” She sniffled again, then added, “I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. Forget I said that.”
“It’s understandable, given the circumstances. I’m not sure what Chief Martin thinks, but I’ve got a hunch that if he has a list right now, I’m bound to be somewhere near the top.”
“That’s just awful,” Emma said.
“Don’t worry,” I said, trying to keep my voice calmer than I felt. “He won’t find anything there, and then he’ll move to somebody else.” If only I believed that. There were nooks and corners of Donut Hearts that I hadn’t cleaned in years. Was it possible there was a box somewhere in my storage area that contained poison? If so, had someone come into my place of business to steal it before they killed Peg, or could they have hidden it after they’d dusted one of my donuts? My security system was pretty lax, and it wouldn’t have been that difficult to plant something there, I was unhappy to admit.
“What are we going to do if he keeps focusing on you?” she asked.
“We can’t do anything about that now. Emma, we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it, okay?”
Her voice lightened a little as she said, “I’ve got to say that you’re taking this awfully well.”
“I can either laugh or cry, and I hate to ruin my makeup, since I don’t wear it very often and it took
me forever to get just right.” It was true. I’d pulled out all the stops for my demonstration, even going so far as getting a manicure and breaking out some of the makeup my mother inundated me with every birthday, Christmas, and any other holiday she could use as an excuse to improve my personal appearance. It wouldn’t surprise me to find a wrapped present on my bed on Arbor Day, the way she was going. I knew my mother’s intentions were good, but that didn’t mean I was willing to use the products she gave me. I was a lot more comfortable with a little bit of blush, some mascara, and a touch of lipstick than the layers I’d applied that morning.
“I feel better now,” Emma said. “Thanks for calling me.”
“Sure thing. And don’t stress out about today. Nothing that happened is your fault, all right?”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll be back at the shop as soon as they finish searching it.”
I just couldn’t do that to her after what she’d been through. “You know what? Why don’t you take the rest of the day off. I’m at the Boxcar, so as soon as they leave, I’ll take care of it myself.”
“You don’t have to do that,” she said.
“I know I don’t, but to be honest with you, I want to. It will give me something to do. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
“If you’re sure,” she said.
“Trust me. Take me up on my offer before I change my mind.”
“Thanks,” she said, just before she hung up.
Trish waited until I put my phone back into my purse before she said, “That was sweet of you.”
“You weren’t listening to my private telephone conversation, were you?” I asked her with a smile.
“Hey, if you want privacy, don’t call anybody while you’re in a train boxcar. There’s not exactly a lot of room in here. Besides, I have to do something for entertainment. You wouldn’t deprive me of my eavesdropping, would you?”
I laughed. “No, when you put it that way, I’m fine with it.”
She slid a cup of coffee in front of me. “Can I get you something to eat? It’s a little early for lunch, but I’ll get Hilda to make you a burger, if you’d like one.”
I was tempted, but I honestly didn’t have much of an appetite. Just thinking about food made me visualize Peg sprawled out in the garden with one of my donuts clutched in her dead hand. Would I ever be able to look at another donut again without seeing that scene? I sincerely hoped so, or my business was in serious trouble.
I took a sip of the coffee, then said, “No, thanks. I’m good for now.”
My gaze was on the donut shop the entire time we spoke, where two police cruisers were still parked. I half-expected them to drape the front of the converted train depot with yellow warning tape, but at least they’d spared me that indignity.
The train car’s door opened, and I saw the good looking stranger come in. Instead of taking one of the booths in back, he surprised me by sliding onto a stool two spaces away from me.
“Mind if I join you?” he asked.
“Go right ahead.”
Trish came out, and the second she saw him, one
hand went to her forehead to make sure her bangs were in place. I was surprised she didn’t take her ponytail down and brush her hair.
“Coffee?” she asked as she slid a cup and saucer in front of him.
“That would be nice,” he said, not paying much attention to her.
She made a show of placing a menu in front of him, though there was one wedged between the napkin dispenser and the pepper shaker.
He pushed it back. “Thanks, but the coffee’s all I need,” he said.
Trish collected the menu, then moved back a few steps where she could still see him.
The man turned to me and said, “What I really wanted this morning was one of your donuts. I couldn’t get inside, though.”
“Join the club,” I replied. “That’s why I’m here, too.”
“What happened?” He looked honestly interested.
“I don’t even know where to start,” I said.
He nodded. “Got you. Health code violation?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said, not realizing just how harsh it would sound until I said it. In a calmer tone of voice, I said, “There was an accident somewhere else, and the police are making sure I wasn’t involved.”
“So they’re searching your shop? What happened, did someone eat a bad donut?”
It was clear that he’d been joking, but that was a lot closer to the truth than I was willing to deal with.
Suddenly, I had to get out of there before anyone could see me break down. I pushed my coffee away
and slid a dollar under the saucer. “If you’ll excuse me, there’s somewhere else I need to be.”
He said, “Hang on a second. I didn’t mean anything by it. It was just a joke.”
“I know,” I said as I paused at the door. “It’s just not all that funny right now.”
I was outside walking with vigorous steps to my shop when I heard someone running in the gravel behind me.
I turned and saw it was the stranger, but I made no move to slow my pace.
He caught up quickly enough, then as he matched my stride, he said, “Hang on a second. I’d like to talk to you.”
“It’s fine, really it is,” I said, hoping he’d get the hint and leave me alone.
He didn’t. He walked with me toward the donut shop, matching my steps. When we got to the parking lot, I looked in through one of the windows, but it didn’t appear the police were in any hurry to wrap up their search and leave.
“Now what?” he asked with a grin. “There’s nowhere else you can run.”
“I wasn’t running,” I said simply.
He frowned at that, then said, “We got off on the wrong foot today, didn’t we? Is there any chance we could just start over? I’m really sorry about the donut crack. That was uncalled for.” He offered a hand, then said, “My name’s David Shelby.”