Authors: Linda O. Johnston
Tags: #mystery, #mystery novel, #mystery fiction, #soft-boiled, #cozy, #pets, #dog, #luck, #superstition, #fate, #destiny, #linda johnson, #linda johnston, #linda o. johnson, #lost under a ladder
Knock on Wood: A Superstition Mystery
Â© 2015 by Linda O. Johnston.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
First e-book edition Â© 2015
E-book ISBN: 9780738745862
Book format by Teresa Pojar
Cover design by Kevin R. Brown
Cover illustration by
Mary Ann Lasher Dodge
Editing by Patti Frazee
Midnight Ink is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Johnston, Linda O.
Knock on wood / Linda O. Johnston. -- First edition.
1 online resource. -- (A superstition mystery ; #2)
Description based on print version record and CIP data provided by publisher; resource not viewed.
ISBN 978-0-7387-4586-2 -- ISBN 978-0-7387-4552-7
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As always, to my husband Fred. I had the best luck ever in finding and marrying you!
And again, this is dedicated to my readers. You can be sure my fingers remain crossed that you each have fun reading
Knock on Wood
, and that every one of you also enjoys continuous and wonderful luck.
Once again, I thank my wonderful agent Paige Wheeler as well as my delightful editor Terri Bischoff. I also thank my publicist Beth Hanson and all the other fantastic Midnight Ink folksâas well as the other Midnight Ink authors who are all so wonderful and supportive.
Thanks also to those who read and critiqued and helped me polish the
Knock on Wood
manuscript. I always appreciate your input!
My customers, a young
married couple, were having a hard time deciding which collar and leash to buy for their gorgeous, friendly Labrador retriever, who sat at their feet.
It was one of those times when I, Rory Chasen, manager of the Lucky Dog Boutique, would have considered handing these nice but very indecisive folks over to one of my two able and extremely patient assistants.
But this was also one of the days when those assistants had both been around at the same time and had ducked out of the store for their customary half hour to share coffees and conversation. That left just me there, along with my very sweet and very lucky little black and white spaniel-terrier mix, Pluckie. She was a lot more patient today than I was, too, and had been trading nose sniffs with the Lab.
“Any of the colors would look great on Lady,” the woman said. She was perhaps mid-twenties, dressed in a Destiny T-shirt over jeans. The man with her wore the same thing, but his shirt was green and hers was white.
She had draped three leashes over her hand, one black, another white, and the third blue. All were decorated with designs representing superstitions. Of course. After all, this was Destiny, California, the world headquarters of all things superstitious. That was undoubtedly what had brought the young couple and their dog here.
“I'd go with the blue,” said a voice from behind me. A familiar voiceâbut one I'd not anticipated hearing for another day.
I pivoted. “Gemma. What are youâ”
She ignored me and approached the customers. “I'm a librarian,” she said. “I did a lot of research on superstitions before I came here to Destiny, and I learned that blue is one of the luckiest colors there is. And the fact that the leash has a waterfall of rainbows depicted on it? You and your dog will have all the good luck in the world!”
“We'll take it, then.” The woman's grin was huge as she put down the other two leashes, then picked up the blue collar with rainbows that matched the blue leash; she held both the leash and collar out to me.
Gemma winked at me and stood there, arms crossed, as she watched me lead the customers to the counter where I could ring them up on the electronic cash register.
My bff, Gemma Grayfield, is a very pretty lady, with short brunette hair, dark eyes with endless lashes, and a real fashion sense, even when she's dressed casually in a work shirt and jeans as she was now.
In a way, we're oppositesâin appearance, at least. My hair is longish and blond, with highlights and bangs. I want to look nice since I have to appear professional to customers. Today, I wore jeans, too, and my pink Lucky Dog Boutique T-shirt with my lucky black dog hematite amulet that I nearly always wore on top of it.
Another group of customers walked in as that couple left. Darn. I wanted to talk to Gemma. Despite her smile, I could see something less than happy percolating behind her expression. Maybe I could just take her asideâbut that wasn't going to happen. Not yet, anyway. Two male senior citizens approached the counter and began asking me questions about ingredients in some of the dog foods we carried.
I sent Gemma an apologetic look as I talked to the men. As I spoke with them more customers walked in. Normally, I'd be delighted. I was doing all I could to increase the Lucky Dog's sales; they'd been relatively healthy even before I started managing the shop over a month ago. Even so â¦
The Lucky Dog was a small shop, as were most in Destiny. Like the others, its basic theme focused on superstitionsâin this case, those related to pets, especially dogs. I had helped to reorganize how stock was displayed and was quite proud of it. I was also working on other merchandise for the store to carry.
Toys? Oh, yes, we sold ones that could be enjoyed by pets and people alike. Some of them were stuffed animals, like black cats and black and white dogs, and horseshoe shapes. Then there were the collars and leashes, some decorated in rhinestones and some stamped with superstitious themes, like rainbows or four-leaf clovers.
The foods all had lucky-sounding names like, well, Lucky Cat Food. We also had pet clothing and bedding decorated with superstition themes. Plus, we had a glass counter filled with amulets that could be attached to collarsâor human necklacesâthat had smiling animal faces and more.
The walls, too, had superstition-related decorations in some locations, including a wallpapered area designed with cute puppy and kitten faces.
Gemma was seeing it all for the first time, but I got the impression she wasn't taking it all inâat least not yet.
These men seemed to want to hear not only about the food but also about everything else we sold here. Plus, a line was forming behind them with other customers holding products they apparently wanted to buy.
At this rate I'd never get an opportunity to break away and greet Gemma properly, let alone ask any questions about why she was here early.
But this was my job now. My calling, of sorts. I'd promised the store's owner, Martha Jallopiaâa very nice but ailing lady who lived upstairsâthat I'd be here at least for a while.
That was after I'd helped to clear her of the murder of a neighbor, but that's another story.
“Yes,” I said to the shorter of the two men before me. “I believe that all the dog food we sell here is excellent quality. But if your pet has allergies or anything else, you should read the contents on the label.”
If I'd been impatient before, now it was all I could do to continue smiling and acting like a consummately patient store manager. I saw, from the corner of my eye, that Gemma had started walking along the aisles, examining the products. And she didn't own a pet. I loved her anyway, although I'd suggested adoptions often when I'd lived near her in L.A. There, I'd been an assistant manager at one of the best MegaPets stores in the area.
I finally rang up a five-pound bag of dog kibble for these two men, and the next customers stepped up to the counter, their arms filled with cat toys and food. I smiled at themâand then my smile turned broader when I saw my assistants, Jeri Mardeer and Millie Weedin, walk through the front door. I caught Jeri's eye first and motioned for her to join me as Millie approached another group of customers over by the glass counter that contained charms and amulets representing pet superstitions.
“Hi, Jeri,” I said. The lovely young dark-complected woman, who wore a long, white Heads-Up Penny Gift Shop T-shirt over slacks, immediately stepped in and began ringing up the customers' purchases. Of course she'd know what to do and why, maybe as much as I did. She also worked part-time at her own family's Destiny storeâyes, the Heads-Up Penny.
I went in search of Gemma then. She was behind one of our tall displays that held an assortment of pet toys; she was looking at a wand for cats from which a fake rabbit's foot on a string dangled. “Oh, hi, Rory.” She sounded somewhat surprised to see me.
“Hi yourself. Come with me while I can get away for a few minutes.” I gestured for her to follow me to the back of the store, where I quickly led her through the flowing mesh drape adorned with shapes of dog bones into our stockroom in the rear. I finally had the opportunity to hug her in greeting. “It's so good to see you,” I said.
“Likewise.” She hugged me back, her closeness emphasizing that she was shorter and slimmer than me.
When we both stepped back, I motioned for her to sit down on one of the chairs at the card table. “Okay,” I said, taking the other seat. “As glad as I am that you're here, I want to know why you came a day early, and why you didn't even text me to let me know you were arriving today.”
A look of sorrow and something I couldn't quite interpret washed over her pretty face. I wanted to stand and hug her again since I sensed she needed emotional support for some reason I couldn't fathom â¦ yet. Instead, I merely waited.
“I had to get away sooner, Rory.” She stared at the table like it was a library book that had captured her attention. But then she looked up, straight into my face with her cinnamon brown eyes, and said, “I just broke up with Frank and I needed to get away. Fast. And don't ask me why. Not yet. I'll explain, but not right now.”
The tears that shimmered in her eyes punctuated her words, and I didn't even consider pushing her. Not now.
There'd be time for that later.
Things had finally quieted down at the store, but I still couldn't spend a lot of time with Gemma. First, we had to get her checked in at the Rainbow Bed and Breakfast, which was where I had been staying since I'd come to Destiny.
But as much as I liked the place, I no longer felt it was my destiny to remain there. I was considering renting an apartment. Or maybe, if I found the right situation, even buying a house.
For now, my room was too small to invite Gemma to stay with me. I'd reserved a separate room there for her, starting tomorrow. I felt reasonably sure that the owner, Serina Frye, would be able to accommodate Gemma for tonight too.
I hoped so. I didn't really have time to find her someplace else. I was presenting “Black Dogs and Black Cats,” one of my programs on superstitions involving animals, at the Break-a-Leg Theater tonight.
Gemma walked out the main door of the Lucky Dog in front of me. She'd told me she had parked her car in a lot a block away, and I figured it was better to leave it there for now, till we knew for sure she'd be staying at the B&B that night.
I had Pluckie beside me on a leash, one we sold at the store that had representations of four-leaf clovers on it. My dog hopped right onto the sidewalk and began sniffing the air. I wondered what scents she picked up from the crowd and figured she was most likely zeroing in on the smells of other dogs. A lot of tourists brought their pets to Destiny for good luck.
As always, Destiny Boulevard was jam-packed with tourists walking slowly along its length, most careful to avoid the myriad cracks in the sidewalk that I felt certain had been designed there so one of the most well-known superstitions had to be dealt with right up front by all visitors: “Step on a crack, you'll break your mother's back.” Not too many visitors here had dogs with them today.
“How far away is the B&B?” Gemma asked. As if by osmosis, she'd picked up the need to stay away from sidewalk cracks. Or maybe it was because of all the research on superstitions she had done to help me before I came here â¦ when I'd needed closure after my fiancÃ© Warren had died after walking under a ladder.
I gestured toward our right, beyond the nearest visible intersection. “A couple of blocks up that way. Nearly everything in Destiny is within walking distance of everything else.”
Including that shop.” She pointed to the building next to the Lucky Dog Boutique. Like my pet store, the Broken Mirror Bookstore was in an ornate, attractive structure that had been built back in the California Gold Rush era.
“It's the oneâ” she began, and I quickly interrupted.
Keeping my voice low so only she could hear it, I said, “Yes, that's the store where all the â¦ er, problems occurred. Superstition-related â¦ well, it's been made very clear in Destiny that to talk about what happened is extremely bad luck, and so we don't.”
I still wasn't sure whether I believed in the reality of superstitions leading to good or bad luck, but I did agree that, for Destiny to remain the wonderful tourist attraction it was, discussing the superstition-related deaths of the two men who'd owned that shop was a good thing to avoid. And so I did, even with Gemma.
We managed to reach the B&B in a little over ten minutes despite the crowd, Pluckie's usual dog sniffs and squats, and, yes, finding one of the heads-up penniesâlocals often seeded the sidewalks to make tourists know they were lucky being hereâas well as Gemma walking slowly to take in all the stores in this area.
As I expected, my librarian friend sucked in her breath in delight as we entered the lobby. The Rainbow B&B was also an ornate, three-story building. To get inside, we had to walk under a horseshoe mounted over the door. In the lobby, near the registration desk, was a pot of goldâor at least something that resembled gold. In a way, this place was a depiction of the rumored founding of Destiny by a couple of forty-niners during California Gold Rush Days who'd followed a rainbow to its end â¦ and actually found gold.
Our hostess, Serina Frye, stood behind the desk. She was chatting earnestly with a tall, slender man in a plaid shirt and dark slacks. As alwaysâwell, nearlyâshe was wearing a dress that would have looked appropriate in Gold Rush days, and her hair was in an upswept do on top of her head.
She noticed me right away. “Hi, Rory.” She gestured for me to come closer and I stooped to pick up Pluckie. “I'd like you to meet our newest guest. He arrived yesterday. He works for the publisher of
The Destiny of Superstitions
and was its editor.”
“Really?” Gemma responded even before I could. She hurried toward the man, who had turned to face us. He had a thick head of light hair and even thicker eyebrows that almost met over his prominent nose. He didn't necessarily look like a scholar or editor but his solid build suggested an interest in athletics.
“Hi.” He held his hand out to Gemma. “I'm Stuart Chanick.”
“I'm Gemma Grayfield,” she responded. “And I'm a librarian and bibliophile and a real admirer of editors.”
She was laying it on rather thick, I thought. Surely she couldn't be attracted to this man that fast. But maybe, since she was now unfettered by a relationship with Frank, she had decided to test the waters of possible dating.
Or perhaps she actually was impressed that this man had had something to do with the late Kenneth Tarzal's book that had helped to increase Destiny's popularity as a tourist destination.
As the two of them started chatting, I used the opportunity to approach Serina. I was still holding my dog. “Is that your friend who's supposed to arrive tomorrow?” she asked. I'd already mentioned to her that Gemma was a librarian.