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
“Weird!” I exclaimed. “And surely someone in this superstitious town considered it. But I'll let Justin know.”
Mayor Bevin Dermot occupied the entire stage at the Break-a-Leg Theater that night. He held a microphone and paced and wished everyone good luck over and over even as he informed us all about his versionâwhich was to become the town's official versionâof what happened.
His audience was huge, at least for Destiny. The theater seats were all occupied, and people stood in the center aisles and along the wall.
The Vardoxes stood just below the stage, filming him and typing notes on their tablets for whatever article they intended to put into the
and on their website.
I sat along an aisle near the front, with Gemma and Stuart and Carolyn. Most other Destiny residents I looked for were there, too, as well as Nancy Tarzal and the Brownlings. Martha was there in her wheelchair, helped along by assistants Millie and Jeri.
“Now,” Mayor Bevin said, “it's bad luck as well as bad form to talk about former detective Alice Numa being arrested for the murder of our dear Public Affairs Director Lou. It's an ongoing investigation and I don't want myself or any of you to mess up evidence or the prosecution or anything, so we can't talk about the situation any more than we could the last one, since it'd be bad luck. We all do need to cooperate with the police, though, and answer their questions honestly and all that. In case you're wondering, she claims her bad luck was caused by accidentally opening an umbrella inside, and having her path crossed by a black cat.” He paused. “She is a Destiny resident, no matter what.”
It was, unsurprisingly, public now that Alice had been arrested. No one was even trying to keep that quiet. But where and how she had gotten caught, and how her supposed bad luck had affected it, weren't directly part of the mayor's discussion.
The why and how she'd allegedly killed Lou wouldn't be discussed here either, I figured.
I saw Justin standing at stage right, nodding. With him were Choye and some of the uniformed cops I recognized.
“In any event, I want to thank our police chief Justin Halbertson for his efforts in the investigation and for coming to a reasonably quick solution, assuming it's correct, of course, and that a trial proves it.”
He glanced toward Justin, who just nodded. Not exactly the most rousing approval of him or his team's work, but it was okay.
I was also glad that no one else seemed to have picked up on my involvement. If the mayor knew, he was apparently keeping it to himself.
Maybe he considered it bad luck to talk about it.
“I've got my fingers crossed,” the mayor continued, raising his right hand to show that was true, “that all goes well and that the resolution is quick. Will you all join me?” He gestured with his hand, and pretty much everyone in the audience did the same thing.
When that was finished, the mayor still had things to say. “Now, you all may know that some of what happened could have been precipitated by that terrible event, the death of Sherman Ambridge,
one of our treasured tourists, a few weeks ago. Sherman was a superstitious man and a frequent visitor. He had brought some business associates and they were apparently also enjoying our ambiance, maybe even considering opening a retail store here. But they all went up one of our mountains on a hike and Sherman supposedly disappeared. His body was found the next day. As a result, an investigation was conducted to determine if it was an accident or a homicideâand it took our investigators a while to make a determination. And in fact, they just resolved it today.”
He paused, possibly for effect, and leveled a glare at Justin, who looked straight back at the mayor, clearly not apologizing.
“Because Destiny's reputation was at stake, particularly our good luck, Lou was especially upset, and his anger toward our police department was obvious. I can't say whether that was a factor in what happened to Lou.” He didn't have to. Anyone who knew any of the circumstances was aware the answer was in the affirmative, although indirectly. “In any event, the investigation has been closed. Sherman's business associates claimed he had wandered off and they couldn't find him. It was getting dark and they called
and got off the mountain. Did someone push Sherman? There is no evidence, verbal or physical, that that was the case. However â¦”
His pause was dramatic and lengthy. The audience was his. Everyone watched and waited, some with mouths open as if to encourage him.
“His comrades there finally admitted that Sherman had had aspirations of exploring the local mountains near Destiny. Therefore, he'd done some research into superstitions relating to mountaineering.”
“Mountaineering?” someone in the audience exclaimed. “Oh, my lord! Was he attacked by an eagle?”
Yes, Destiny folksâincluding the policeâknew superstitions. Apparently the local medical examiner had been told to factor this into the tourist's autopsy and it had been dropped as a possibility since there was no evidence the man had been attacked.
But this was the superstition Gemma had come up with, and when I'd suggested to Justin that he ask the victim's friends if they'd any knowledge of itâand whether their dead friend had known it tooâhe had pushed them to talk.
Sure, they had discussed superstitions before and any potential relationship to the guy's death, but with Justin's unrelenting persuasion the truth had finally come out.
“Not exactly, but an eagle was definitely the reason he died. He saw one at the lookout and tried to capture it, but he missed it, and that's when he fell. His friends had been too upset and embarrassed to admit it before nowâespecially since they were afraid tree-huggers, or at least animal-huggers, would say it was an appropriate outcome. Sherman had wanted to kill the eagle and extract its tongue so he could stick it into his collar for good luck while mountaineering.”
A lot of upset groans and calls resounded through the audience, including Gemma's and mine.
“No one would have wished death on him for that,” Bevin finally continued, “butâ”
“Except the eagle,” someone shouted. Laughter resulted, and then Bevin called for a moment of silence out of respect for the dead tourist, whether or not he'd earned any respect.
Bevin finished soon after that.
I had left Pluckie at the Lucky Dog and went to get her. Then I joined a large group of people at the Clinking Glass Saloon, including Justin, whose reputation as chief of police was now polished again, and no longer tarnished.
It was early Friday evening, the day after Mayor Bevin's presentation at the theater.
Because of all the goings-on, I had deferred my next “Black Dogs and Black Cats” talk till next week.
Word must have somehow gotten out about my involvement in solving Lou's murder, or Alice's capture at the Lucky Dog Boutique, or whatever. My store had been exceptionally busy all day.
Fortunately, my assistants both were there, as was Martha. They were discreet enough not to say anything about what they knew had transpired here a couple of evenings ago for fear of bringing bad luck on themselvesâin the form of the wrath of Destiny's mayor and police, if nothing else.
That didn't keep them from zipping their lips in an obvious way when asked whether our store had been connected with the arrest, suggesting it was true even if they wouldn't discuss it. Smart ladies.
Now our store was closed and Pluckie and I were at the Broken Mirror Bookstore. Gemma had asked me to come over. She had something she wanted to discuss with me.
Good stuff, like where could we move to together in Destiny?
Or bad stuff, like she'd had enough and was returning to the L.A.-area library where she worked?
I didn't know, but I hoped it was the former. In fact, I found myself crossing my fingers on the way to the shop.
I looked for black cats, and even the black cat lady, but saw neither.
The Broken Mirror was still open, although I didn't see any customers. Not even Frank was thereânot a surprise, since he had stopped us outside the theater last night and said goodbye to Gemma, maybe forever. He'd had enough here in Destiny. He was going home.
To my surprise, Gemma had had tears in her eyes as she hugged him and wished him well.
Stuart was there, though, talking to the Brownlings. I had heard he had decided at last to make an offer to buy the store before his required trip back to his employer. Was it happening now?
Gemma, seeing me, motioned for me to follow her to the back of her store.
There, she said, “It's finally time. Enough has happened here in Destiny. We need an inkling of our own fates too.”
“You mean seeing if there are any reflections of our true loves in the mirror?” I asked in a scoffing tone. Not going to happen.
Or I didn't want it to â¦ did I?
“Exactly.” She reached toward the back of a nearby shelf and extracted an apple wrapped in a paper towel. “Eat,” she said. “And then look.”
I didn't have a good excuse not to now, except for common sense. But what the heck? I took the apple from her, ate a few bites, then turned to stare toward the back wall and into the mirror with the stylized decorative painted-on cracks.
Justin's image was behind me.
I turned quickly and nearly sighed in relief. He wasn't an illusion. He was there, in his blue police chief shirt and dark pants and with a big, handsome smile on his face.
“Hi, ladies,” he said. “I didn't mean to startle you, Rory, but Martha said you'd headed over here. I wanted to invite you to dinner. Both of you, if you'd like to come, too, Gemma.”
“Thanks,” she said. “I have plans.” But the huge, complacent grin on her face suggested that her plans had been met. I'd seen Justin in the mirror.
Maybe she and Martha had plotted this appearance, but did it matter?
“Well â¦ sure,” I said. I figured we'd talk about what came next in the Alice Numa investigation and eventual prosecution.
Instead, Justin surprised me. Turned out he invited Pluckie and me to his home for dinner that night. Not for take-out, either. He was a reasonably good cook, at least on his patio grill, and we had homemade hamburgers and onion rings, along with a delicious Mediterranean-style salad.
Pluckie and Killer got tastes of the well-cooked meat, and I helped Justin clean up afterward.
No need to go into details, but I soon found myself in Justin's arms â¦ and staying the night.
Maybe that mirror superstition was realâor it had made me vulnerable to one night of pleasure, at least.
Justin took us back home very early the next morning after more kissing and â¦ more. He promised to call later.
By the way, I did ask Gemma that day if she'd seen anyone in the mirror after I left, and if so, was it Stuart or Frank?
Yes, she said to the first question. And neither, to the second. It was someone she hadn't recognized, who hadn't been there when she'd turned around.
But she was delighted to be staying in Destiny to learn who it was. She still wasn't sure whether Stuart's offer to buy the store had been accepted, though.
This time, for a change, I didn't dispute whether superstitions could come true.
About the Author
Â© Christine Rose Elle
Linda O. Johnston (Los Angeles, CA) has published forty romance and mystery novels, including the Pet Rescue Mystery series and the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime, and the Superstition Mysteries and the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries for Midnight Ink.