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 (5 page)

BOOK: Knock on Wood
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six

We started to leave
the library a little later, and I think I felt as bemused as Gemma must have. As we walked toward the bookstore, my phone rang. I checked the caller ID. It was Justin.

I'd been able to get a few moments alone with him after the presentation as I'd anticipated, and he had walked Gemma and me to the B&B last night. My good night kiss with Justin had been brief but warm, and suggestive enough to ensure that I would remember it.

Now, standing on the library's top step as the others filed past, I smiled at the thought as I pushed the button on the phone to answer. “Hi,” I said. “I'm in your neighborhood now, at the library. We're about to pass the police station on our way back to the stores.”

“Stores? Plural?”

“Long story,” I said, “but yes. In fact, we're going to the Broken Mirror first.”

“Sounds like a story I'd like to hear. Things are under control at the moment. How about if I walk with you?”

Of course I agreed. In fact, I knew I'd appreciate his take on the atmosphere among the people I was with. Were the bookstore heirs actually happy about the situation, or were they holding their tempers inside, along with their grief, as they were being ordered by the city employee, Lou, to compromise or face the potential wrath of the Destiny government?

And the wrath of those running a town based on superstitions could be pretty scary.

In fact, it might have been Mayor Bevin's edict that no one could talk about what had happened to the original owners of the Broken Mirror Bookstore that had rained bad luck down on those who disobeyed. Or maybe it had been whatever superstitions had been in effect that had caused the death of Preston Kunningham when the murder of his partner Tarzal was about to be resolved. Or a combination.

Afterward, there still had been all kinds of speculation in media outside Destiny—followed by stories of odd things that went wrong because of the resulting bad luck. True or not? I didn't know. But what I did know was that discussion and speculation in Destiny itself were quashed by that fortunately minor fire in the offices of the
Destiny Star
after their first and only inquiries and attempts at interviews. They of course ran no articles about what had happened.

A black cat had appeared, which was the norm around Destiny. Even the cops kept things quiet.

As a result, only a few of us knew what had actually happened and who did what—and we weren't going to talk about it.

Now, I lagged a little behind, watching Gemma chat with Stuart on one side and Nancy on the other. The two Brownlings walked in front of them. Lou had stayed in the library.

As I passed the police station, I saw Justin hurry down the steps of the attractive old marble building. I waited for him.

“Hi,” he said, joining us. As usual while he was on duty, his uniform consisted of a blue button-down shirt and dark trousers. I'd not seen him wear anything that identified him as the highest-ranking police officer in the city. I supposed he didn't need to. When something needing his official attention happened, there were always other cops around heeding his orders.

“Hi,” I returned, increasing my pace so we could catch up with the others. Justin matched my gait as I told him what was going on.

“Out of the blue they decided not to hire a stranger, Gemma, as a librarian.” Justin's deep voice rang with amazement. “That would have been odd enough, but to have her manage a bookstore when that's not what she usually does?”

I glanced toward him, knowing that my expression displayed my own disbelief and wryness. “That's the story,” I said. “And why they did it? I suppose the idea of someone who knows books is of greatest importance. Someone who has no ties to either of the factions who now own the store may also be important. And most important of all, something I think is even weirder than my being hired by Martha because she likes the luckiness of my dog?”

“What?” Justin prodded.

“I think it's because two guys tied to this venture are attracted to my good friend Gemma.”

“I'd imagine that guy's one of them.” Justin gestured his long arm toward where Gemma now walked only with Stuart, since Nancy had moved forward to be with the Brownlings. Both Gemma and Stuart were looking into each other's faces a lot and laughing.

“You've got that right,” I said. “Did you meet him? He's an editor, the representative of the publishing company that published Tarzal's superstition book.”

“So he's got good reason to want the store to survive and do well,” Justin said. “And who's the other one? The boyfriend who followed Gemma here?”

“No, not hardly, although it's interesting that my relatively quiet friend has so many guys suddenly panting after her. I haven't had much of a chance to tease Gemma about that—and ask her secret—but I will.”

I'd also ask what she was up to. I still felt sure she was being flirtatious because she felt insecure after the breakup of her latest sort-of relationship, even though she'd initiated it. But would she want a long-term relationship with either of those other guys? That was up to her, but I'd be interested to see which one she chose, if either.

At the moment, my bet would be on Stuart.

We were now passing the Break-a-Leg Theater along Destiny Boulevard and approaching my friend Carolyn's shop, Buttons of Fortune. Justin glanced down at me with a smile that didn't look amused. In fact, if I read it correctly, it was an expression holding a touch of regret. Had I made him feel bad by suggesting I might want to know how to attract a whole raft of men right now?

Of course I'd been teasing him. Or attempting to, in a snarky way. Gemma's current goals weren't mine, whatever they might be. For a long time after losing Warren I'd had no interest in attracting other men at all.

But at the moment, my snarkiness notwithstanding, I was willing to see whether Justin's and my initial attraction to one another grew into something more interesting, assuming I could move forward after Warren. Which, even just by staying in Destiny, I now felt might be possible.

“Sounds good,” he finally said. “Don't know whether Gemma's secret would work for men, too, but I'd appreciate it if you'd pass along to me whatever she tells you.”

My lips puckered into something that probably resembled a grimace as much as a smile. “Touché. Anyway, the other man besides Stuart who seems eager to get to know Gemma better is none other than Destiny's goodwill ambassador and p.a. director—”

“Lou Landorf,” Justin finished as I waved through the store window toward Carolyn, who was waiting on some customers. “Interesting. He's dated a few locals during the time I've been here—” Which was about two years, when Justin had been recruited from a nearby town to take over the Destiny police department. Or so he'd told me before. “But he seems fairly private about it. If he's been serious about anyone, he hasn't dated them around town. Not that I'd really know, but I think you've experienced the rumor mill around here enough to recognize that everyone in Destiny seems to want to learn, and discuss, all other residents' business.”

“Yes,” I said, “I've noticed.”

“So both Ms. Tarzal and the Brownlings are on board with this proposal too?” Justin asked. “I thought they hated each others' guts and wouldn't agree on anything.”

“That may be the good thing about all this,” I said. “Maybe Lou's threats about repercussions if they didn't come to some kind of agreement got to them. I don't know. In fact, I'd love your official police assessment of what's going on.”

“I'll try to figure it out,” he said, “for the best interests of Destiny—like, are they all hiding their true feelings while deciding how to dispose of one another?” He paused. “Sorry. That's not funny at all, not in light of how the whole mess of the bookstore started.”

“You're right,” I said. “Though even if it's not funny, you authorities had better keep your eyes on them all, just in case.”

Changing the subject a bit, I asked about the investigation of the tourist's death and also asked when—if—they were close to being able to rule it an accident. Justin said he still couldn't talk about it, that it remained under investigation.

“Does that mean it wasn't an accident?” I felt my insides tighten. Could there have been another murder in Destiny?

“No, we're fairly certain it was, but we still have some aspects
… well, that's all I can say.”

So they did consider it an accident but couldn't give the world a definitive statement yet. I got it. Sort of. But I also knew his department remained under a lot of pressure about it.

We soon began talking about what he'd heard about locals' reactions to my latest Destiny's “Black Dogs and Black Cats” superstitions presentation.

“Good, of course. Our residents like anything positive that promotes Destiny, its superstitions, and commerce. And people love their pets, so why not teach them about how their furry family members can help predict the weather?”

We shared a smile. By then, we had reached the Lucky Dog Boutique. I decided to stop in for a second, check with Jeri to see how things were going, and make sure she and Pluckie were getting along all right since I wanted to leave my dog there a little longer. That didn't take long—although I was pleased I had to wait a minute to get Jeri's attention since she was helping a raft of customers while I patted Pluckie. Jeri broke away briefly, and then Justin and I got on our way again.

By then, Gemma already seemed in charge of the Broken Mirror Bookstore. She was studying the main table in the front as she moved the somewhat sparse copies of
The Destiny of Superstitions
by Kenneth Tarzal into what appeared to me to be a more attractive array, fanning some out and stacking others with the titles in each row all aimed in one direction.

Stuart seemed to beam at her. The Brownlings looked both curious and tolerant.

The expression on Nancy's long face appeared skeptical.

“Hey, I like it,” I told my friend, wanting to be utterly supportive of whatever she did, or didn't do, here.

“Do you? That's great. Of course the table is well situated to make sure anyone who comes in will see these particular books, so they especially need to stand out. I assume that the more books we can show off and sell, the better luck the Broken Mirror Bookstore will have. And I gather it could use some good luck now.” She stepped back and glanced around the rest of the store, her brown eyes sparkling with fervor. “Those mirrors fortunately aren't broken.” She pointed toward the farthest wall that appeared among the store's myriad tall bookshelves.

The mirrors actually had been broken not long ago, but I'd tell her that some other time—if I dared to talk about it. I'd also explain to her the significance of the five dollar bills hanging beside them in picture frames—which could turn around the seven years of bad luck for breaking a mirror.

“I'd like your professional opinion on how to arrange the rest of the books, too, including the luckiest way to display them,” she continued.

“I can help a lot if they're dog or cat food, or toys,” I said, then gave a little laugh at her suddenly grumpy expression. “Okay, I'll make some suggestions based on my extensive retail experience and my less extensive, but growing, knowledge of superstitions.”

She smiled then, but only for a moment. As she looked over my shoulder, her face grew white and even fearful.

I turned. Frank Shorester had just stalked into the store. I had always considered him short and maybe even a little geeky as a male librarian, but right now I took a step back. The fury on his face was almost palpable, even from several feet away.

As I turned back toward Gemma, I saw that everyone else present had noticed. Nancy and the Brownlings appeared taken aback. Gemma herself now had a touch of anger in her scowl.

And Justin? He wore the only calm expression in the place. But though I didn't really know him very well, this looked like a cop assessment to me.

Frank finally broke the silence with a very loud question. “What's going on here, Gemma?” He took another step toward her, but she stood her ground.

I nearly interceded, then caught Justin's expression and stopped at the slight shake of his head.

“What do you mean?” Gemma's tone was ominously quiet.

“I ran into that public affairs guy when I was headed toward the library. He said I was too late, that you weren't there anymore. He looked so damned smug … and told me to go home. That you and he were going to get to know each other better.” Frank looked around the store with his lips curled in rage. “That you were going to run this bookshop and never, ever see me again. It's not true, is it? Gemma, come home with me.”

Interesting that Lou would act so … well, sure of himself with Gemma. I knew he'd been flirting with her, but she'd seemed more interested in Stuart than in the p.a. director.

But that was up to her. And right now, Frank was the issue.

“I agree it's time for you to go home, Frank,” Gemma said. “In fact, you should not have come here in the first place. But Lou was right, at least in part of what he said. I'm staying here and running this bookstore, at least for now.” She'd apparently made up her mind, since she hadn't been certain while we were still at the library.

Or maybe her decisiveness was all for Frank's benefit.

“And as far as seeing you again?” she continued. “That I don't know, but it won't be as anything more than as friends.”

I didn't move then. I didn't have to.

Justin took a few steps to plant himself beside Gemma. “And in case you have any hesitation about leaving town, Frank, you can be sure I'll be watching you. And I, as police chief of Destiny, can make sure you have nothing but bad luck if you stay here.”

BOOK: Knock on Wood
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