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
And I couldn't say, with a straight face, that we weren't headed that way.
I continued to stand there with Pluckie as a light wind picked up. Realizing that the morning was growing later, I called my assistant Millie, who was due in first that day, to tell her that something had come up and I would be late.
I didn't elaborate, and she, fortunately, didn't ask.
I also watched what was happening at the crime scene from as far away as I could get and yet stay in this small park, while also observing what I assumed were the first official interrogations.
I supposed it would be best to talk to someone I knew, but I wasn't that friendly with Alice. Would I be better off speaking with Detective Choye? I didn't think so.
Why couldn't Justin act as a detective here? I knew he'd help to calm my frayed nerves, make me feel betterâat least as much as possible under these difficult circumstances.
But he'd joined the first group around where we'd found Lou Landorf's body, which I assumed was still there since I hadn't seen it carted off toward the official vehicles parked along the nearby road.
Pluckie was being her usual good self, sniffing the grass and pulling a bit to continue walking, although she obeyed each time I told her “sit.” As we stood there, I felt a tickling at my neck and reached to rub it.
Fortunately, it must have been my below-shoulder-length blond hair tickling my skin in the breeze and notâthank heavens for many reasonsâa spider, which had been my first thought. As I'd touched the area I remembered a superstition I'd heard sometime after arriving here in Destiny, although I didn't recall the source. I'd been thinking about Justin. And the superstition said that if you have a spider on your neck, you'll also have a lover.
If that ever happened between us, I certainly didn't want it to have anything to do with a creepy, crawly insect's intrusion.
I nevertheless kept watching the area where Justin had goneâmostly because I was hoping somehow that I'd been wrong, that Lou Landorf had been wounded, yes, but not killed.
Although if there'd been any hope, EMTs would undoubtedly have arrived by now. And Justin had mentioned that one of the men who'd arrived before was the medical examiner â¦
No, I shouldn't bother to hope. Yetâ
“Rory? Do you know what happened?”
I was startled at the voice from behind me. Pluckie wasn't surprised, though. She'd been pulling in that direction on her leash, and I'd just assumed she was still on sniff-and-piddle patrol.
I turned, knowing who it was.
And knowing, too, that I didn't really want to talk to reporter Celia Vardox.
“Oh, hi, Celia,” I
said, not responding to her question. To avoid it even longer, I continued, “What brings you here? You don't have Charlotte with you.” Then, inspired by my implied scolding of her for not having her sweet black Lab along, I did answer what she'd asked. “I'm here because I took Pluckie to this park for her morning walk.”
“I figured,” she acknowledged, glancing down at Pluckie and then back up again. “But what did you find here?” Her brown eyes studied me with her usual journalistic inquisitiveness. She was about my age but shorter than me, with curly hair, a strong brow and a wide, contemplative mouth.
“Find?” My voice sounded too shrill, and that changed her curious expression into something that appeared victorious.
“I heard sirens in town and followed them. They led hereâwhich shouldn't surprise you.” She gestured toward all the police and other emergency vehicles along the curb. “So, what's going on here?”
I took a deep breath. She'd hear about it anyway, so it shouldn't hurt for me to talk to her about whatâwhoâPluckie and Pippin had found, and in what condition he was.
Exceptâ”If I say anything to you, I don't want to be quoted or mentioned in any way, not even as an anonymous source. Not me, and not my dog. Okay?”
I'd gotten into a predicament before, thanks to the
and its owners, the Vardoxes, who'd written an article that featured meâand called too much attention to me having moved to Destiny and why. It had led to trouble, to a danger I hadn't anticipated. It perhaps had helped garner a resolution, but I didn't want to go through anything like that again. Ever.
Celia hesitated, but only for a moment. “Okay,” she said. “I'm sure I'll find other, more cooperative sources once I know what I'm looking for.” She raised her brows as if she believed that I'd roll over and let her quote me rather than let others get the credit for what I was about to tell her.
“Fine. So I do have your promise?”
She nodded and held up her right hand, her little finger bent. “Pinky swear,” she said. “And that's a stronger vow than a handshake. Superstition has it that if you violate a promise made with a pinky swear you're supposed to cut off that finger to avoid bad luck.”
“Ugh,” I said and didn't link my pinky with hers. “I'll take your word for it.”
“So,” she prompted. “What happened?”
If anyone would leap to combine the situation here with what Pluckie had discovered before, it would be Celia. I therefore decided to tone down my dog's involvement if I had to mention her at all. I simply said, “An apparent murder victim was found in the park this morning.”
Celia's staring eyes grew shrewd and excited. She had a large shoulder bag and I could see her restrain herself from reaching for it, perhaps to draw out pen and paper to take notes â¦ for now. I figured she would eventually. A camera too.
As long as Pluckie and I were not featured in either I didn't care.
“And it isâ?” she prompted.
I swallowed, then blurted, “Public Affairs Director Lou Landorf.”
Her expression looked almost delighted. Did she hate Lou that much, or did she just love the idea that the news would interest a whole lot of people, both in Destiny and elsewhere?
They must not have been close friends, or surely her reaction would have been different.
“Really? Lou? How was he killed? Is a suspect in custody?”
“That's all I'm going to tell you, Celia,” I said firmly. “Partly because I don't know much more than that. But also because it's bad luck to talk about such things. You should know that. Your offices burned after you tried to interview people about â¦ that situation before, after we were all warned about how much bad luck there'd be, that we shouldn't talk at all about what had happened, or what we speculated had happened.” I didn't really have to remind her of that. The
office wasn't totally decimated after her brother's attempt to dig into information involving a superstition that had supposedly come true, but it had taken the entire Destiny Fire Department to put out the blaze.
The Vardoxes were still finishing the restoration of their building and its contents.
“Who said it was bad luck to talk about this situation?” Celia countered. “Or about any murder or whatever? If that was really true, there'd never be anything in the media anywhere about death or war or anything terrible like that because anyone who talked about it would suffer, maybe like the victim. Is that what you're saying? And don't blame it on superstition being the cause. People can claim that regarding anything that happens.”
What she said made sense, but I wouldn't admit it. And who knewâyetâif talking about what had happened to Lou involved a superstition, or whether discussing it would be bad luck?
“You, of all people, should know better,” I said. I wanted to walk away. Alice Numa or the other detective would be able to find me. Maybe they could question me later, somewhere else.
In any event, I didn't want to continue this debate with Celia.
But when I glanced toward the picnic tables, both detectives were now seated there together with Sue and Bill Planger. Neither was ready for me. And when I pivoted slightly to look over Celia's shoulder I saw that Justin was following some people pushing a gurney toward the street. A lump covered with a white sheet was on top. Lou, no doubt.
Maybe I should just point there and sic Celia on them. But I didn't. She'd jump on them soon enough.
“What I'm saying is that things are different in Destiny. But you know that. Andâ”
My expression must have said something my words didn't. She looked over her own shoulder, then raised her hand and said, “Thanks, Rory. We'll talk again later. All off the record.” And she hurried to catch up with the procession.
I watched her dash up to Justin and begin talking to him. What would he say? Would he be more forthcoming than I?
I doubted it. I figured the official line would be either “no comment” or “that's still under investigation.”
And, evidently, I was under investigation, too, because I saw the two detectives rise, as did the Plangers, who started walking off with their dog. Then Alice Numa seemed to scan the area with a determined gaze that soon settled on me. She beckoned me to join her.
I knew I needed to obey.
The interrogation went well, I thought. I was becoming a pro at this. Or at least my prior experience seemed to kick in and help me respond to Alice's questions this time.
She was slightly overweight, clad in a dark, official-looking suit, including a jacket, even outdoors here in the park. She had a cop's utility belt on too. I didn't see her weapon but I knew it was there. Her dark eyes were alert and seemed studiedly blank as she asked her questionsâmost of the time.
She was taking notes again, as she had before. Plus, she was once more recording what I said.
I kept Pluckie's leash looped over my arm, and my dog seemed fine with lying down on the grass beneath the table.
At Alice's behest, I described minute by minute what I'd done that morning till Pluckie and I helped to find the body, including our partial walk with the Plangers and their dog Pippin. No, I didn't see anyone else at the park when we got here. It was early.
No, I didn't see any vehicle peeling out of the area along the road, or anything else that appeared suspicious.
Why had I come to this particular park this morning? She leveled her now narrow-eyed stare at me, as if she expected me to reveal something important that she'd draw out of me.
I didn't. “It wasn't the first time,” I said, although Pluckie and I had always stayed at the park's fringes before. “It's not far from the Rainbow B&B where we're staying. I just happened to notice the Plangers walking with their dog and thought that Pluckie and I could say hi, invite them to visit the Lucky Dog, that kind of thing.” Why? Was she insinuating that I knew what we'd find here?
“Okay,” she said. “Now, let's go back to last night. You were all there together at the Clinking Glass Saloon, right? Did you hear or see anything that appeared suspicious, any threats leveled at Director Landorf, that kind of thing?”
I'd already been pondering that. Lou hadn't been on his best behavior. He seemed to have drunk too much. He'd sniped at a number of different people, including Gemma, but I wasn't going to mention her.
Instead, I could mention his other targets of nastiness and generate Alice's irritation without appearing to point any fingers. “Well, he was criticizing the Destiny Police Department,” I reminded her.
“Yeah, I know,” she said glumly. “But I assume you're not accusing Chief Halbertson or me of killing the director to shut him up.” Her dark eyes stared at me as if challenging me to do just that.
I didn't. “Of course not.”
Speaking of the Destiny PD, I noticed that Justin had broken away from Celia and was walking toward us. I forced myself not to smile. He wouldn't necessarily rescue me from this interrogation. In fact, he might have questions of his own to toss at me.
When he reached us, Pluckie stood and wagged her tail, then stood on her hind legs to put her forepaws on Justin's legs, a happy greeting if I'd ever seen one.
I couldn't exactly tell her to back off, that this man who seemed to be our friend might be here to do more stuff I didn't really want to deal with.
But Justin just said hi to Alice and me, then asked, “How are we doing here? Did you have anything useful for us, Rory?”
“I doubt it,” I said. “I didn't see anything or anyone that would solve it for youâunless there was something I didn't focus on but told you, Alice?” My voice rose, turning what I said into a question.
Her answer was to shake her head in the negative. “Not that I heard,” she told Justin. “But like with the rest of it, I'll listen again and put it into a report, Chief.”
“Great,” he said. “Are there any more questions you need to ask?”
“No, I think we're done here.”
I let my breath out in a sigh of relief. I hadn't noticed, but my breathing had gotten shallow out of nervousness, and now I could let it go.
But I still had some questions of my own, none that I'd reveal to either of these cops. I'd get the answers in my own way.
“I take it that neither of you have had breakfast,” Justin said. “Care to join me? It'll have to be fast food.”
“I need to get back to the station with this, Chief,” Alice said. “Thanks anyway.”
“And I need to get to the Lucky Dog,” I said. But then I relented. “No sense showing up there hungry, though. I can feed Pluckie at the shop, but I can join you for a quick bite on the way.”
I was delighted to see the breadth of the smile on Justin's handsome face.
I hurried back to the B&B for my car. Justin and I each drove since we'd have our own destinations after we were done.
The closest fast food place wasn't far out of townânone right inside Destiny, though. If there were any superstitions applicable to fast food I didn't know them, and none of the major chains had apparently tried to find some to justify inserting their presence here.
Our breakfast was brief, but Justin and I managed to sit at a table on an outside patio so Pluckie could join us. I shouldn't have, but I needed something to revitalize my energy, so I chose hotcakes and coffee. Justin ordered a biscuit sandwich with egg, bacon, and cheese.
And when we were seated, he looked me straight in the eyes. “Are you okay, Rory?”
“As okay as I can be after finding a dead body. A second dead body.” I closed my eyes and shook my head. “That never happened to me before, and I don't like it now.”
I hadn't been near my Warren when he'd died â¦
“I'm concerned that Destiny is unlucky for you,” Justin agreed. “We need to find some ways besides your amulet to send good luck your way. I've got some ideas of people to ask, but with Tarzal, who really knew superstitions, gone â¦”
He didn't finish. Didn't have to. And Tarzal might not have been appropriate to ask even if he were still alive, since he'd been shifting his position on the reliability of superstitions before he died.
“I know,” I said. “Let me know if you come up with any ideas, either of people I should talk with or good luck charms or whatever that can help turn things around. Or,” I amended, “that true believers would think could turn things around.”
He laughed. “Unlike us,” he said.
“Unlike us,” I agreed, smiling at him. Catching his eyes with mine. Seeing some interest there beyond cop concern and even just friendship.
Which made me smile a bit more. Maybe I was looking right at whatâwhoâcould bring me good luck.
And I did know of someone I could talk to about superstitions and changing my luck. I'd talk to Gemma a little later to see if her knowledge of superstitions in books could help.
That wasn't all I intended to talk to her about.