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 (6 page)

BOOK: Knock on Wood
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seven

Fortunately, Frank left the
Broken Mirror right after that. Would he listen and get out of town immediately?

Judging by the evil stares he leveled on each of us first, I suspected he wouldn't.

In case he somehow could impose bad luck on us, as I was sure he hoped to do, I crossed my fingers. In this group I probably should have hidden the gesture. Of all of them, only Justin was likely to question my motive since he didn't buy into superstitions any more than I did. And these strangers to Destiny might believe in luck even less than we did, despite hoping to make money from it off this store.

But just in case …“I hope he gets out of town without causing any problems,” I said, showing my crossed fingers as if they would, in fact, ward off any bad karma.

“Me too,” Gemma said fervently. To my delighted surprise, she imitated my gesture.

So did everyone else, even Justin—all showing different degrees of skepticism and amusement on their faces.

I laughed at myself and all of them, and that seemed to lighten the atmosphere a bit. “Anyhow,” I said to Gemma, “I've got to get back to the Lucky Dog. I'm wishing you all the good luck possible for your first partial day managing this bookstore. And feel free to ask me anything.” At my friend's smirk and shifting of her eyes from Justin to me, I felt myself flush. “Well, anything retail related,” I amended.

She laughed. “Thanks. If you've got time, let's have dinner together. Otherwise, I'll see you back at the B&B later.”

“Fine,” I said. I'd ask her then if her decision to stay was final or still pending. And maybe she was mad enough at Frank to tell me at last what had happened between them. Her earlier frightened face had made it clear that there was more than a simple breakup involved.

The first thing I noticed as Justin and I walked out the door was that it was raining. Not hard, just a drizzle, but my mind shifted back through all the pet-related weather omens I'd spoken about at my superstition talk. For one thing, Pluckie had not acted sleepy at all, nor had she been scratching. She hadn't warned me.

On the other hand, as we started toward the Lucky Dog, I saw a black cat near the building. It didn't cross our path, or at least it didn't seem to. I saw, though, that I wasn't the only one around who'd noticed it. As always, despite the rain, there were a lot of tourists on the sidewalk along Destiny Boulevard. A bunch pointed toward the kitty. It was just stalking along now, not grooming itself with any of the motions that would have signified a change in the weather, and there wasn't a fireplace around for it to turn its back toward.

Maybe I was, after all, buying into this superstition stuff too much around here. But it was a good thing at least to know about it enough to discuss it with the tourists and anyone else.

Like Justin.

And the fact that the black cat was outside in the rain? Well, I already knew some of the omens that might mean. But poor cat. Did it like getting wet?

I'd thought again of when I particularly had reason to worry about Destiny's black cat—or one of them if they were plural. I'd seen it up on a mountain under less-than-desirable circumstances. Was this one it? Did it always survive? Which of its nine lives was it on?

I'd heard rumors of someone I might be able to ask, but she had turned out as elusive as the cats. I hadn't met her yet, if she existed. I assumed, from local residents' attitudes when I'd dared to ask, that it was probably considered bad luck to talk about her.

“So what do you think?” Justin asked as we reached the door to the Lucky Dog. We'd been walking relatively quickly, making our way through the crowd even though the rain wasn't particularly heavy. “Did your talk have anything to do with this unpredicted rainfall?”

“Was it unpredicted? I hadn't checked the news.” Not even this week's issue of the
Destiny Star
that contained, along with its local news, a weekly weather prediction.

I had looked to make sure that one of its owners was at my talk, so I figured there would be a story about it in their next edition. I was sure they'd feel safe reporting about something so uncontroversial.

“I wasn't aware of it,” Justin said, “and we always talk about potential changes in the weather each morning at the station.”

“All right, then. Let's say that my talk, and descriptions of those pet-related superstitions, did cause this.” My back toward the door to my shop, I gestured around. Justin laughed. I turned toward him. There were too many people around for us to share a kiss goodbye. But …“Care to join Gemma and me for dinner tonight?” I asked.

“Absolutely.”

Smiling, I turned—only to see the door to my shop open. I stepped back, expecting to see a customer come out.

No one did.

And when I stepped forward I saw no one near the door.

Justin hadn't taken off yet. I looked at him.

“Isn't there a superstition about doors that open by themselves?” I asked.

“You're more of an expert these days than I am,” he said, “but yes. It's supposed to be a sign that you're going to get a visitor.” Cop that he was, he stepped toward it and looked around inside but didn't seem particularly alarmed.

“Well, that's fine,” I said as he turned to face me again. “That visitor will probably be another customer.”

“Or not. The way I understand the superstition is that the person who'll show up is not someone you want to have around.”

Our dinner that night at the Shamrock Steakhouse went well. Justin and I, and our dogs Pluckie and Killer, were joined on the crowded—and fortunately well-covered—patio by Gemma and her companion for the night, Stuart. The rain had lessened but a heavy mist still drifted downward.

We'd briefly thought of introducing Gemma to the Black Cat Inn's restaurant but immediately discarded the idea since that inn was where Frank was staying.

No use inviting bad luck. And we had no reason to believe that Frank had left town.

During our meal, we talked about Gemma's new potential career. “Yes, I'm staying for now,” she said. “I even got my boss's okay to come back when I'm ready, just like you did.” She grinned.

“Great!” I said, knowing I might never take advantage of that promise I'd received from the manager of the MegaPets store I'd worked at in L.A.

Later, Justin and Killer walked us back to the B&B. Gemma shot me an evil smile, and when Stuart strode inside the lobby, she followed him. I, in turn, aimed an amused smile at Justin as we both held our dogs' leashes. “I think my friend is encouraging us to share a good night kiss.”

“I wouldn't want to disappoint her.” Justin's voice was low and sexy, and he leaned down to comply with what we figured Gemma wanted. And I wanted. And clearly Justin wanted, too. And Killer and Pluckie? Justin's Doberman and my spaniel mix just sat tolerantly on the ground beside us, looking up.

The kiss certainly didn't disappoint me, but once again I was glad we were in public with other people around. I'd already acknowledged to myself that my attitude was softening, but I wasn't ready to jump into a new relationship … yet.

Justin and Killer left then, and Pluckie and I went inside. Stuart must already have gone to his room since I didn't see him.

I braced for Gemma's teasing. Instead she just said, “It's nice that you've got a new relationship blossoming, Rory.”

“Maybe, but you have a couple.”

Before she could respond, our hostess and owner of the B&B, Serina Frye, joined us from the TV room off the side of the lobby. “Hi, ladies. Do you have everything you need for the night?”

Everything but Justin
, I thought, then scolded myself internally for even harboring the idea.
Although
…

I did talk to Gemma in her room before we went to bed. She was ready at last to discuss her breakup with Frank. She spoke quite a lot, in fact, about how her quiet, sometimes insecure Frank had apparently decided they were more than an item and became verbally abusive about it at times. The end came because, just this past week, he had become physically threatening when Gemma talked to other men at the library where they'd both worked. “Even if I'd considered him my ultimate guy before, I definitely wouldn't after he started that,” she said.

“Good girl,” I applauded, and we soon said good night.

The next morning, I walked Pluckie first thing as always. I then joined Gemma to have breakfast in the B&B's dining area. “Stuart had a teleconference this morning,” she told me. “He said he'd be on his phone for a while and to go ahead without him.”

He didn't appear before we finished and left, walking toward our respective stores together with Pluckie accompanying us.

Gemma had already told me that Nancy was going to meet her at the Broken Mirror first thing to let her in and get her started for the day. “I won't be surprised if the Brownlings come, too, to make sure I also get their ideas and don't start playing favorites.”

I laughed. Soon, we reached Destiny Boulevard. The Wish-on-a-Star children's shop was on the right. I ushered Gemma in that direction, pulling Pluckie's leash gently to get her to follow.

“I made a wish once on those falling stars,” I said, pointing to the display in the store's window in which lights acted as moving stars burning day and night. Now, it was almost time for the shop to open, but I didn't want to take the time to introduce Gemma to the owner, Lorraine Nereida. Not yet. But I'd liked Lorraine when we'd talked before. “It came true,” I finished.

It had been fairly unassuming. I'd merely asked to make the right decision about whether to stay in Destiny to run the Lucky Dog Boutique. My decision had sort of fallen around me like a soft sheet that had grown tauter, pulling me in and holding me here.

So far, I hadn't regretted it. Did it have anything to do with my wish?

Around here, I wouldn't be surprised.

“That's cool.” Gemma's grin looked wistful. “Do you think I could try it?”

“Sure.” I waited while, watching the display, she made her wish—which she of course didn't reveal to me. That would have assured it wouldn't come true.

Still avoiding cracks in the sidewalk, along with the window-shopping tourists and traffic on Destiny Boulevard, we crossed the street and reached the Broken Mirror Bookstore.

“I'll stop in later to see how you're doing,” I told Gemma. “And feel free to call me anytime.”

I gave her a quick, encouraging hug, then Pluckie and I headed next door to the Lucky Dog. It was around nine thirty, half an hour before we opened. I would be the only salesperson there for the first couple of hours that morning.

But Martha had come downstairs from her apartment above the store. Not only that, but her nephew Arlen, with whom she had a difficult relationship, was there too. Arlen Jallopia was a Destiny tour guide. In fact, I'd taken his tour and really enjoyed it. And now, partially thanks to my success in giving talks regarding pet superstitions, he had been able to add the Lucky Dog Boutique to his tour itinerary.

Arlen was a nice-looking guy who resembled a sitcom star, with spiky dark brown hair. As usual, he wore a red knit shirt with the Destiny's Luckiest Tours logo on the pocket.

Right now, aunt and nephew were at the side of the store near a display of superstition dog toys. Each had a cup of take-out coffee in their hands that I assumed Arlen had brought from the nearby
Beware-of-Bubbles Coffee Shop. Yes, there were superstitions involving the formation and movement of bubbles in cups of coffee; I'd learned that soon after arriving here.

Whatever those bubbles were doing right now, I wanted to salute them. Aunt and nephew seemed to be getting along great … for this moment.

Did I want them to get along permanently? That could lead to Martha hiring Arlen to run this shop, as he wanted.

Well, that would certainly make future decisions for me. I had even begun weighing the pros and cons of possibly asking to buy the place from Martha.

I chatted with them for a few minutes before taking the steps I needed to open the doors of the store. Arlen offered to help, and I took him up on it, at least as far as straightening some displays.

Soon after I opened the store I found myself waiting on customers, Pluckie at my side. It was fun sharing pet-related superstitions with the tourists who came in and asked questions about the products we sold. A few had been at my most recent presentation.

I really enjoyed this place. This store. The kinds of patrons who came in.

Maybe I would make that purchase offer to Martha someday. Not now, though. She hung around till Arlen had to leave for his job, then walked to the stairway that would take her up to her apartment.

“You okay to go up there on your own?” I asked her.

“Yes, I'm doing well this morning, dear. And if I trip going up the stairs—”

“Yes, I know, it's not as bad as when you go down the stairs.” We'd talked about these superstitions before. The former meant a wedding in the family, while the latter meant bad luck.

She soon started up the steps, closing the door behind her.

Late morning, Millie came in. Once she got settled and started waiting on customers, I had time to go next door and check on Gemma.

Good thing I did. First thing I saw when I walked into the bookstore was that all three men who seemed interested in her were present. They stood around the table that harbored Tarzal's book on superstitions.

Glaring at each other.

Gemma quickly walked around them to join me at the door. “I have a feeling there's a lot of bad luck floating in the air around here,” she whispered.

It was then I saw the black cat sitting calmly near the wall at the far corner of the store.

Same cat? A different one?

BOOK: Knock on Wood
5.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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