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 (8 page)

BOOK: Knock on Wood
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There was a small podium off to one side where Bevin went to get a swig of water from a bottle. As he headed there, Lou followed. As Bevin reached for the bottle Lou stood in front of him for an instant, then, when he turned, had the microphone in his hand.

“Hi again, everyone,” he said into it. “I want to veer a little now from our standard welcome to particularly welcome a newcomer to Destiny. Her name is Gemma Grayfield.” He swept his hand, holding the mike in the general direction of where we sat.

I glanced toward Gemma. If she'd been able to, I think she would have melted into her seat. Instead, as everyone looked toward us seeking her, she managed a graceful smile and wave.

“Gemma's a librarian,” Lou continued. “Or at least she was one. Now that she's in Destiny, she's going to become our superstition go-to lady since she'll be managing the Broken Mirror Bookstore where the primary book on sale is
The Destiny of Superstitions
. Gemma, would you come up here, please?”

Her glance toward me appeared desperate. “It could help the store's sales,” I said, quickly reminding her of the talks I'd been giving.

“But don't do it unless you want to,” Stuart said from behind her. “In fact, if you want I'll go up there and talk about the store and the book.”

“Come with me.” Gemma turned to look toward Stuart. “If I say anything while I'm up there I'm not sure how it'll come out, and you can correct me.”

Which I suspected my delightful, sure-of-herself friend would abhor if he actually did it. On the other hand, his presence might boost her confidence.

The two of them excused their way out of our row and walked side-by-side down the aisle to the right of us. The house lights were bright enough so they could see their way, and Gemma preceded Stuart at the end of the aisle up the steps onto the stage.

As she reached the top, Lou approached and gave her a big, public hug. “Thanks for joining us,” he said in a friendly, loud stage voice. “Now, come over here and tell us about your background and what you're doing in Destiny.”

He kept his arm around her back as he led her to center stage. It appeared to me that Gemma tried to hang back but Lou didn't let her. She turned her head once as if to see whether Stuart was behind her. He was, although I wasn't sure she could see him. I heard multiple footsteps on the wooden stage even from the middle of the audience, so I hoped she did too.

In moments, they'd stopped walking and Lou stood on one side of her. Bevin joined them and stood on Gemma's other side. Lou began interviewing her.

Yes, she was a librarian by background so she knew books. She was a friend of mine and had started researching superstitions to help me out with a question she fortunately did not specify. I still didn't talk much about what had happened to Warren. And, yes, she'd enjoyed learning about superstitions.

She had come here to Destiny to visit me, since I was staying. Wisely, she didn't mention her other personal reason that had brought her here a day earlier than planned—her breakup with Frank. I'd glanced toward him while Gemma was walking toward the stage and hadn't been able to see his face, so I'd no idea what Frank thought about what was going on now. I suspected he didn't like it, though, since it might seem to ensconce Gemma further into Destiny.

Then Lou started asking about the Broken Mirror Bookstore and what Gemma thought of it and how she was enjoying running the place. Her answers seemed spot-on to me, ones that could entice tourists to come visit and learn more about the books, including
The Destiny of Superstitions
.

When Bevin broke in and asked some questions about the book's contents, including superstitions regarding books, Gemma stumbled a little.

Stuart quickly stepped forward and offered some assistance. “I don't know too many superstitions regarding books, and there aren't a lot in
The Destiny of Superstitions
, either—but one is that college kids should respect their textbooks, which includes not reading them in the bathroom. If they do, it can bring them bad luck in their studies. Of course these days a lot of textbooks are in e-format like other kinds of books, so even though the superstitions are old and referred to print versions, we all could visualize the problems if a kid accidentally dropped his e-reader into the tub or toilet while in the bathroom. Bad luck? Yeah.”

That garnered a lot of laughs, and then Stuart began talking about superstitions on travel, a good thing since a lot of the audience consisted of tourists. He described things like not turning back once you've set off on a journey, listening to grasshoppers since they portend good luck on a trip, and making sure to step onto a ship with your right foot first to ensure the best of luck. These all had been included in the book, even though I wondered whether Tarzal had made some of them up; but now they were in the most well-known superstition book so that gave them some credence—at least to those who believed in superstitions.

I noticed the less-than-happy looks Lou shot Stuart's way. Was he attempting to send the evil eye toward the man he seemed to consider a rival for Gemma's affections?

In a short while, Stuart handed the microphone back to Gemma after holding it away from both of them for an instant. Gemma's somewhat scared look dissolved into a happy smile. “You heard it right here,” she said into it, “but that's only a smattering of what's included in
The Destiny of Superstitions
. Come visit me at the Broken Mirror Bookstore and buy a book, or many, to learn more.”

That pretty much ended that night's Welcome. I was glad. I hadn't done a thing but watch and listen, yet I was exhausted.

Gemma soon returned to her seat, but only long enough to tell me that the night wasn't over yet. She'd agreed to join some of the townsfolk for drinks at the Clinking Glass again and wanted me to come along.

“I'm buying,” she coaxed.

How could I refuse?

nine

As I accompanied Gemma
out of the auditorium into the theater's lobby, I looked around, wondering if I'd get a chance to say hi to Justin. Would I even see him? The room was crowded as everyone seemed to head slowly toward the exit. I felt the warmth of people jostling on all sides of me and attempted just to go with the flow, remaining as close as I could to Gemma.

I needn't have worried. Justin was near the farthest wall talking to the cops who'd come there with him. His gaze wasn't on them, though, but on the door I'd just exited. He had possibly been watching for me, as I was looking for him.

I smiled. He smiled.

“I'll meet you outside,” I told Gemma.

“Tell your cop to come with us,” she said, not even looking at me. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea for her to know me so well.

On the other hand, there wasn't really any harm in her recognizing my interest in Justin. And if she started teasing me about it, I could bounce it back at her threefold.

I determinedly made my way toward Justin and noticed that he was also edging his way through the crowd toward me.

“Need someone to walk you back to your B&B?” he asked as we finally met, looking down with a question in his gleaming blue eyes. He grasped my shoulder gently as if he thought I was off balance and needed some help. I was perfectly fine but didn't mind his touch.

“Maybe eventually,” I answered, “but I'm heading now for the Clinking Glass Saloon with Gemma and some of her new friends. Like to join us?”

“I sure would, and since my companions here are now off duty, too, I'll get them to come along.”

“Great,” I said. Just then someone in the crowd behind me must have decided things were moving too slowly, and I was suddenly pushed in Justin's direction. I pressed against his chest, a nice, firm, muscular chest. I'd felt it before when we'd kissed now and then, and I was always appreciative of his law enforcer's physique. In fact, I was quite appreciative of a lot about Justin.

I was glad he'd be with me some more that evening.

But he didn't walk with me. Instead, he said he'd go with his gang since they had some things to discuss.

He didn't mention it, but I'd seen some not-so-cordial glances toward the cop contingent from the mayor and the p.a. director while they were up on the stage. No one mentioned it at the Welcome. It would have been highly unwelcoming. But I knew there was some potential scandal brewing because of the failure of the Destiny Police Department to declare the death of that tourist who'd fallen down the mountain an accident—or, if it wasn't an accident, to announce what had happened and solve any crime that had been committed. This would help Destiny's ability to reassure tourists that their welcome and safety wasn't affected.

I felt sure that Justin would handle the situation just fine. What I didn't know was when he'd reach a resolution, and that was apparently a problem.

I made my way outside and found Gemma standing with Stuart near the edge of the sidewalk. “Hope you don't mind me joining you for drinks,” he said.

I stole a glance toward Gemma. She was beaming, even as her smooth complexion turned a shade rosier.

“I don't mind at all,” I responded, and the three of us began negotiating the crowd along the sidewalk in the direction of the bar. Gemma and Stuart talked mostly about how things had gone during the Welcome, and how Gemma should feel flattered and not embarrassed.

By habit, I glanced down in the pale light from the lantern-shape street lamps to avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks. We soon neared the right block. As much as I'd have loved to go back to get Pluckie before the rest of the evening's festivities, the Clinking Glass was a lot closer than my B&B. And if Pluckie wasn't with me, I wouldn't have to insist on a table on the patio.

I worried about my dog, of course, but knew that tonight she would be just fine. But the thought had me crossing my fingers, just in case.

I headed for the dark, noisy inside area, along with Gemma and Stuart.

The high stools at the bar were nearly all occupied. A couple of grinning, busy bartenders were pouring drinks. Along the rear wall was a large mirror—unbroken, of course—over which were a couple of neon decorative lights in the shape of two round wineglasses with their stems crossed in an X.

The rest of the conversation-filled room was crowded with a variety of tables, mostly small round ones but also larger ones in oval and rectangular shapes to accommodate parties of any size. The chairs were somewhat uniform, though—all wooden with tall backs and seats of green faux leather held down by copper-colored bolts.

I had always sat outside on my previous visits here, such as after my dog and cat talks, and hadn't paid much attention to the inside area before. Now, I studied it as I stood at the door with Gemma and Stuart, looking around for an empty table.

There weren't many. But that didn't matter. Not with the town's most esteemed politicians there.

“Hey, Gemma, over here,” shouted Lou Landorf. I wasn't surprised to see him, nor the mayor at the table beside him. This bar was a popular place to congregate for any reason, and especially after a Destiny Welcome—both by locals and by tourists. Not that I came here each time, but I'd heard that others did.

I gathered that the two politicians had had some underlings push a few tables together and save them. There were several vacant seats—in fact quite a few, considering how busy this place was—and those that were occupied became vacant quickly as the young occupants, maybe interns, stood and left as other people arrived.

Gemma, Stuart, and I joined them. So did Carolyn Innes, who had been sitting on the other side of the room from me at the Welcome with proprietors of a couple of other local shops. They all joined us now. The conversation turned immediately to the Welcome and the way Lou had focused on Gemma and the Broken Mirror Bookstore. None of the others seemed jealous. In fact, they
appeared to welcome the attention, since that bookstore was always a draw to bring tourists to town. Thanks to Gemma, it still would be.

I noticed that Gemma and Stuart weren't able to engage in any private conversation; anytime they began speaking to one another Lou seemed to think of something vital to tell Gemma about how the Broken Mirror should be handled in the future. “I'll always be willing to speak up for you with the owners, if ever you have any dispute with them,” he said at one point. “We don't need their … let's say, difficult relationship spilling over into this town. In fact, I'll knock on wood that it doesn't happen anymore.” And knock he did.

With a big smile on her face, Gemma imitated what he'd done, which drew an even bigger smile from Lou.

Not so much from Stuart, though. It wasn't any surprise to me that he probably interpreted Lou's actions as being further flirtation with Gemma.

Some shop owners came and went. I hadn't seen what had happened to Frank Shorester after the Welcome, but I did notice when he joined us at the table—clearly uninvited, if Lou's glare was any indication.

But Mayor Bevin had drunk enough Irish beer that he didn't seem inclined to tell Frank he was unwelcome. And Lou appeared to defer to Bevin—although not without an unhappy look.

Frank didn't act like he wanted to talk to Gemma. Maybe he just wanted to try to call attention to himself by his presence. Perhaps he hoped to shame her into saying something to him. But other than an initial hi, she didn't pay much attention to him.

I was delighted when the law enforcement delegation arrived. I'd fortunately been successful in saving a seat beside me—or at least had Carolyn sit there and twisted her arm to stay until I suggested it was time for her to leave.

Her smile as she rose appeared as teasing as Gemma's, but I just gave her a small, grateful wave.

Justin sat down beside me. Alice took a seat at his other side. She'd taken off her suit jacket and now didn't look particularly like a detective. Beyond her was a young cop who'd been in uniform but was now in a T-shirt and jeans.

The timing wasn't perfect, though. Gemma and Lou had become locked into some kind of discussion, with Stuart attempting to break in now and then. From the little I overheard I had the impression that Lou was telling Gemma that she now owed him and should take absolute instructions from him for running the bookstore. “To attract more tourists,” he said.

But I was quickly distracted by Justin's presence. I'd been sipping on a really good pinot noir supposedly handcrafted not far from here, in Santa Barbara. He ordered a locally brewed beer. And when he was served we—of course—clinked glasses.

We started talking about—well, I'm not sure what, just our day and the Welcome and other mundane things. We were kind of flirting.

And as I always did at such times with Justin, I gave a silent nod to my poor, lost Warren. I might not talk about him much, but I still thought about him a lot. Though he was why I was in Destiny, I was sure he would have wanted me to get on with my life without him.

Yet I'd never forget him nor his misfortune after walking under a ladder.

“Forget it!” That was Gemma's loud voice from behind me. I'd had my back toward her as I talked to Justin, and now I spun around in my seat and looked. She was standing, hands on her hips, facing Lou. “If I'm going to be here running the bookstore, I have to do it the best way I can. I appreciate you introducing me before. And giving me suggestions. But I'll decide how I think things should be handled and run with it.” She turned to look at Stuart beside her. He just shrugged his shoulders, apparently not wanting to get involved with whatever argument was going on.

I was aware when Justin stood up too. I glanced in his direction and saw that Alice and the other cop had also stood—peacekeepers even when off duty.

“You owe me,” Lou yelled at her. “Just remember that, and make sure you listen to me, get it?”

“Let's keep things down,” Justin said, a good idea since the underlying roar in the bar had been reduced to a hum as other patrons gawked at us. “If there's something you need to discuss, how about doing it later, when it won't be … enhanced by alcohol?”

“None of your business.” Lou was standing now too. His complexion beneath his light, now-messy hair was beet red, and his glare looked designed to shoot someone. Not a good idea with cops, I thought.

“Oh, I think it is,” Justin contradicted.

Alice maneuvered around so she was shoulder to shoulder with Justin, obviously offering support. “Please let's just calm down.” Her tone was placating.

“Do your own jobs, and don't worry about me doing mine,” Lou shouted. “In fact, you should be out there working on that case instead of drinking and trying to tell me what to do.” His frown moved from Justin to Alice to their cohort. “You should be protecting tourists, that's what. Finding answers to that tourist's death. A
tourist's
death,” he reiterated. “Not just someone who lives here. You're taking too damned long, and Destiny's continued success is at risk. It's a good thing the Destiny PD is adding a division to work solely with tourists so they'll know who to go to. But you—you want to keep your jobs? Or get promotions? If you have any ambitions for anything else, remember that you owe me, too—and you'd better fix things fast.”

“I think it's time for this evening to end.” Justin's gaze was moving beyond Lou toward the bar area, as if he was seeking the owner or manager or someone else who could gracefully kick Lou out.

“Not until—” Lou began. But then the redness of his face segued to absolute white. He was looking beyond Justin, up toward the ceiling of the room.

I turned to follow his gaze. That's when I saw that a pigeon had somehow flown into the saloon.

A pigeon? At this hour? What did that—

“A pigeon flying inside foreshadows doom,” Stuart intoned from behind Gemma. He was standing now too. “That's what's in
The Destiny of Superstitions
.”

“Not for me,” Lou said in a voice so hoarse that I was sure he didn't believe what he said. “I'll knock on wood to ensure it.” Which he did.

So did everyone else, after each saying something like they were knocking on wood as a precaution, to bring good luck.

Including me.

The pigeon apparently got the attention of the saloon's manager, whom I hadn't met. He had a broom and a large box in his hand.

Others inside helped him while standing on tables, shooing the bird into the box.

“Don't hurt him,” I said, always the animal advocate.

“I just want to set him loose outside,” the man said and wended his way out the front door.

But that event, after Lou's outburst, was enough to dampen everyone's party mood. Mayor Bevin and Director Lou both threw some bills down on the table and hurried out. So did most everyone else. Gemma and I also left, accompanied by Stuart … and Justin.

We had a nice, brisk walk to the B&B, where I left Justin in the lobby while I went upstairs to get Pluckie. Justin remained with us during Pluckie's good night walk.

Gemma and Stuart had gone upstairs, which was fine with me. That gave me a tiny bit of privacy to share a good night kiss with Justin outside the inn's door.

“Good thing neither of us believes in superstitions,” I said.

“Yeah, or we might be worried about what that bird meant. Good night, Rory. Let's get together for coffee or something tomorrow.”

“I'd love it,” I said, then walked back inside with Pluckie.

Our hostess Serina was up late since she'd been to the Welcome too. “Everything okay, Rory?” My distress must have shown on my face.

But all I said was, “Everything's fine. Thanks for asking. See you in the morning at breakfast.”

Then Pluckie and I went upstairs.

BOOK: Knock on Wood
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