Read Knock on Wood Online

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 (13 page)

BOOK: Knock on Wood
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I did call Gemma before I left to see if she was heading back to the B&B soon, too, and wanted to walk with us. But she said she'd just sent Frank on his way.

I didn't ask if he'd admitted anything to her. She sounded calm enough that I figured their encounter hadn't been a big deal.

If I'd spent more time with Frank, I'd have asked if he'd been questioned by the DPD yet. Maybe I could find that out another way.

In any event, Gemma said that Stuart and she were going to return to their lodgings later that night, after dinner. The implication was that she would be with him for a while—and then she would remain in her room for the rest of the evening. With Stuart? I wasn't about to ask.

As usual, the sidewalks of Destiny Boulevard remained busy despite how late the evening was growing. But when Pluckie and I got onto Fate Street, fewer people were around.

How many had there been when Gemma had walked this street late last night? Any? Had she been seen by someone who would report it to the police?

I gathered it hadn't happened yet, but that didn't mean it wouldn't.

Rather than strolling along thinking about Gemma's presence outside the B&B last night, or who else might have been around—the murderer, of course, but anyone else?—I all but jogged with Pluckie to our destination.

We stopped at the
7
-Eleven on the way so I could grab a pre-made small salad from their refrigerator case for dinner.

At the B&B, Serina was in the lobby at the desk talking to several guests. About the murder? Reassuring them that all here was fine?

I didn't stay to find out. I went into the breakfast room to eat—alone.

I headed upstairs quickly when I was done. There, I fed Pluckie. A short while later, I took her back downstairs for what would be her last walk of the night.

That was when my phone rang. I pulled it from my pocket.

Justin.

I drew in my breath as I answered, glad to hear from him, yet concerned.

“Hi,” I said, throwing cheerfulness into my tone. “How are you doing, Justin?” Like, are you being driven crazy by your investigation?

Or have you found the murderer—and it's not Gemma?

“Okay,” he said. “Rory, Killer and I are nearly at your B&B. Would you and Pluckie care to go for a walk with us?”

“Sure,” I said without thinking. But I did mean it.

Maybe he could tell me something I'd like to hear.

And I didn't have to tell him anything I didn't want to.

sixteen

When I opened the
B&B's front door, Justin was waiting on the sidewalk along Fate Street right outside, with Killer on his leash
beside him sniffing at the curb.

Pluckie seemed as happy to see Killer as I was to see Justin, since she immediately pulled on her leash to join them. I gladly followed.

The two dogs traded sniffs as Justin and I traded smiles. That made me feel a bit more comfortable meeting him out here on this night at this hour, but I still wanted to know what he was up to.

“Hi, Rory. Glad you could join me.” His voice was soft, his tone warm and sincere.

“Me too.” I didn't want to start questioning him yet, so I decided to keep things friendly and general. “Nice night. I can tell it's September. The air is a little cooler than it's been at this hour for a while.” Which was just after nine o'clock.

“Yes. It's very pleasant.” So was the sound of his voice, including the touch of humor in it that suggested he knew I wanted to keep things impersonal.

I was pleased but a bit surprised when Justin took me into his arms, right under one of the lights. When we kissed, anyone on this side of the B&B, or anyone who happened to be in any nearby building—although most were businesses closed at night—might be able to see us.

I wasn't a murder suspect, thank heavens, but I'd gotten a reputation in the earlier murder investigation, however briefly, of sticking my nose where it didn't belong—a reason for the chief of police not to act overly friendly with me in public, especially with another murder investigation pending. An investigation involving a second body I'd helped to discover. That discovery could also lead to me intruding into this investigation.

Although I hoped not. Maybe, by kissing me out here, Justin, too, was demonstrating that he hoped I would stay remote from his official duties.

Of course Justin might not have considered any of this as he held me tightly against his delightfully hard body.

We started to walk slowly north, taking time for the dogs to sniff out their paths along the sidewalk.

The sky was dark, but Fate Street, as always at nighttime, was illuminated by lights on poles—regular streetlights here, not the mock gaslights along Destiny Boulevard. But a glow emanated from old-fashioned lanterns mounted on either side of the horseshoe above the Rainbow B&B's door.

Thanks to those lights, when Gemma took her walk from here last night, or at least when she started off, she wouldn't have been concerned about strolling in the dark. But strolling alone … I shuddered at the idea, especially considering what had actually transpired near here.

She should have at least called me. I'd have talked her out of it—or come along.

If the latter, we both might be sweating what was going to happen next as Lou Landorf's murder was investigated.

As I strode slowly with Justin and the dogs, I wondered if any superstitions involved being out in the night air with a highly attractive man. Did it matter that I was still seeking answers about the reality of superstitions?

No ladders leaning against any buildings here. And the stars in the night sky weren't overly visible with all the streetlights on around us.

I knew there were superstitions about wandering spirits that roamed the skies and earth in darkness, which was why it was always a good thing to keep lights on at least somewhere.

Not to mention the fact that real, genuinely evil people might hesitate to show themselves in the light, where they might be seen.

I didn't talk about that, though. I followed Justin's lead and described how well things seemed to be going at the Lucky Dog Boutique while I managed it. I was working on another “Black Dog and Black Cat” superstition presentation that I'd give sometime next week.

I tossed into the discussion that I was glad the Broken Mirror Bookstore remained in business and seemed to be doing well. I didn't mention Gemma, or Lou Landorf's interest in her and how she was running the shop, or anything related that came to mind.

Neither did Justin. Nor did he talk about the Destiny Police Department or how he enjoyed his job or anything related to important things in his life.

So what were we doing here?

Eventually, after we'd walked a couple of blocks and drew nearer to the park, I had to ask. “It's really good to see you this evening,” I began.

“But you want to know what I'm doing here,” he finished.

He stopped walking and so did I, feeling Pluckie's tug on the leash with its handle around my wrist. She'd kept going at first, and so did Killer. I watched as the dogs turned to stare at us with sadly accusatory gazes. They must both have been enjoying their amble.

“Is there a superstition about reading minds?” I asked lightly.

“Probably. There is about everything else.” His grin was so wry that I had an urge to kiss it.

Hey. I was getting too hung up on this man and his moods and how they helped me manage my own moods. I gently pulled Pluckie back toward me and started walking again.

“So do you want to know why I decided to take a walk with you here tonight?” Justin was beside me again, keeping up at the brisk pace I'd undertaken.

“If you want to tell me,” I replied noncommittally, not stating the truth, because I really wanted to hear it.

I gathered our walk wasn't just because he wanted to see me. Which was fine. Sort of.

“Well, you're my cover for tonight.”

I stopped and looked at him. “I'm a cop's cover?” I shook my head. “How odd is that?”

“Pretty odd. But the thing is I wanted to see what this neighborhood was like at night. I don't know what time Lou Landorf might have come here after our impromptu party at the Clinking Glass Saloon, and our medical examiners are saying he probably died a little while after that.”

“So we're looking for a murderer?”

“No. Whoever did it isn't likely to show up again here tonight. If they do, I've got it covered—my guys know where I am and I wouldn't have to do much to get them here pronto. But mostly I just wanted a sense of the atmosphere.”

“That sounds a bit woo-woo for the chief of police,” I said, once more starting to walk, but this time a lot more slowly. I, too, was thinking about the atmosphere here. Nighttime. A scent of fir trees in the air as we approached the park. No other people around, and no cars—because of last night's murder? Was everyone keeping away? I hadn't walked this way at this hour before, so I didn't know.

There was someone I could ask … but I wasn't about to mention that to Justin. Not now, at least.

“Not so woo-woo,” he said. “I've generally found that it helps to get to know the area around a crime scene. It talks to me, but not supernaturally or superstitiously or anything like that. I already have a sense of stuff in town, although I did spend a bit more time around your shop and the Broken Mirror after Tarzal died—not that I disliked being there. You know what I think of Martha.”

“Yes, I do.” But did he think of me, too, while spending time around there?

And why was my mind going in that direction so much? I'd already decided I liked this man, and when—if—I ever was ready for a relationship after Warren, I might pursue something with Justin. But I wasn't there yet.

Was I?

This wasn't the night to decide. Justin said, “This is far enough, Rory. I don't want us to actually enter the park area. The crime scene techs are finished with it so we wouldn't mess anything up, but I don't want to put you through that, especially now, just one night after the killing occurred. Besides, there's more to it than that. I wanted to get my mind around the situation as well as the location.”

I wasn't sure what he was driving at. “Around it how?”

“I've gone over your statement and those of the others, including the ones taken from people who'd been at the party last night, especially if they'd argued with Lou, or even had a little tiff.”

“Like you?” I inquired with a smile.

“Well, he was giving my department a hard time.”

Justin, and Detective Numa, and more? I'd heard him snap at them, but they weren't the only ones.

“And a lot of other people,” I said, without naming any. Gemma, yes. But Lou also hadn't been getting along with the others who'd been flirting with her: Frank and Stuart.

He'd also snapped a bit at the servers at the bar. And what about his boss, the mayor?

I had to ask. “As I think about it, I'd imagine you have a whole list of potential persons of interest, including yourself. But are you zeroing in on any of them as prime suspects? Like, were there fingerprints on the murder weapon or any other obvious evidence, like who owned that stake?”

“That's another reason I wanted to take this walk.” His tone sounded exasperated. “I know it's early in the investigation, but the answer to your question is no, there's no evidence like fingerprints or a purchase receipt that makes the solution easy. And at the moment I don't have any suspects standing out as being most likely.”

“Then—”

“I will, though. Very soon.”

I wondered, then, what he'd thought of the public affairs director. I hesitated, looking up to where clouds above the trees obscured any stars in the night sky. “How did you meet Lou?” I asked.

“When I came here to interview for the police chief position,” he said, also looking around us. “I learned about it online and sent my resume. I think I mentioned to you before that, at the time, I was deputy chief in a larger town north of here. I was invited to visit here to talk to a group of local administrators, including Bevin and Lou. We had dinner at the Shamrock Steakhouse, which was a selling point.” He grinned.

“You must have impressed them,” I said.

“I guess so. I was so impressed with them that I knocked on wood and crossed my fingers after our meetings.” He grinned. He'd told me that before and I hadn't been sure whether he was serious—and I wasn't sure now, either. “Bevin called several days later with a job offer, and I came back. Lou was there, too, and I was introduced to some of the people who would be reporting to me.”

“That's great!”

“I thought so, although Lou took me aside and warned me that some people here thought the job should have gone to a local member of the PD. It wasn't long after I moved here that I heard Lou, who liked to give orders, had insisted on hiring me and Bevin had given in, this one time, at least. But then Bevin turned the tables on Lou and gave him some orders—like, he was to really act like the public relations guy he was supposed to be and travel a lot to tell the world about Destiny. He apparently didn't fight it. It kept him away from the people who'd apparently not been thrilled that I'd been brought in.”

I hesitated again. “Do you think now that Lou was back in town, anyone who wasn't thrilled about your hiring might have—”

“That was two years ago,” Justin said, looking down at me with a wry grin on his face. “Lou has made a lot of folks mad since then. He didn't stay completely away. He came back here a lot, in fact. But kill him? We're still checking into who happens to be mad at him now.”

He soon changed the subject. He sort of had to, since Killer squatted and required a clean-up. Pluckie was very interested in it, but she'd relieved herself well before I'd headed into the B&B with her for what I'd imagined would be the last time that night.

We started walking again, back toward the B&B. I couldn't help asking Justin, “I don't suppose you or your staff have found a loose wolf or anything that could have let out that howl we heard last night, have you?”

We'd learned where some of the howls that had heralded deaths or strong endangerment had come from during the Tarzal death and investigation, but not all of them.

He replied the way I figured he would. “No, but this is Destiny. And, yes, we have seen a black cat prowling through the park.”

“Of course.”

A car went by, followed by another—the apparent extent of nighttime traffic on Fate Street.

Soon, we were back outside my lodging. “Well, thanks for the walk,” I told Justin.

“Thank you for joining me.” And before I could turn to unlock the door, he pulled me into his arms.

The kiss was breathtaking. The feeling of being this close to him was more than welcome.

Warren? my mind called, but this time I didn't sense any kind of manufactured response, the way I often had before—not even a “go ahead and live your life” kind that I'd figured he'd have told me by now, if he could.

And with that I realized that I had reached a kind of closure over losing my wonderful former fiancé.

Did that mean I'd develop a real romantic relationship with Justin? Who knew?

But at least now I'd—probably—be open to it.

The walk this night had been more than a crime scene investigation involving a death.

It had also involved life.

BOOK: Knock on Wood
9.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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