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Authors: Liz Mugavero

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BOOK: Murder Most Finicky
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Chapter 18
Detective Owens stepped into the room and surveyed the group. “Sorry to interrupt your evening, folks,” he said. “Toasting your late colleague, I see?”
Nervous shuffling ensued around the table. He had something in his hand. Stan tried, but couldn't quite make out what was in it.
“Detective Owens! So nice to see you again, although it would be better under different circumstances,” Sheldon said. “Can I offer you some strawberry torte?”
“Thanks, but no. Strawberry doesn't agree with me. Looks too much like blood, and I see a lot of that in my world. Speaking of that.” His eyes turned steely as they locked on Sheldon. “Your missing chef turn up yet?”
Sheldon shook his head, his face a picture of apology and disappointment. “I'm sad to say, he has not returned. But I'm confident he'll be at the door soon, the picture of remorse.”
Owens nodded slowly. “I hope so. Otherwise I'll have to use extra manpower to look for him, and my chief hates when we need extra manpower.”
Sheldon cocked his head, confusion pulling his face into an odd expression. “I'm sorry?”
“No, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that when Kyle McLeod turns up, I'm probably going to have to arrest him.”
Maria's wineglass crashed to the table, red liquid seeping into the tablecloth. Sheldon's mouth fell open. Leo gaped at the detective. Stan couldn't see everyone else's faces, but she'd bet they were just as shocked. Her sister's face appeared in her mind, pleading for Stan to help her find her boyfriend.
“For what?” she said, when no one else spoke.
Owens's gaze locked on her. “For the murder of Pierre LaPorte. Or Peter Landsdowne, as some know him.” He slowly raised the item in his hand. Stan could see through the plastic bag, and the object inside looked . . . menacing. “We found something that looks remarkably like this in a Dumpster behind Mr. McLeod's apartment. Does anyone recognize it?”
They all peered at the bag. No one spoke. Finally Sheldon stepped forward for a closer look. “It's a pizza cutter.”
Owens beamed at him. “I wish I had a prize to give you, Mr. Allyn. Yes, it's a pizza cutter. A fancy pizza cutter, not just your average Joe pizza cutter. And I have a YouTube video showing your golden boy chef using something that looked like this very recently.”
“Oh, that's hardly evidence pointing to Kyle,” Sheldon scoffed. “Do you know how many people use pizza cutters?”
“Most people I know order pizza,” Owens said. “Which already comes cut. If you're making frozen pizza and have to cut it yourself, sure. But I did a little research on this. These half moon jobs aren't what I'm going to buy to slice a DiGiorno. These are usually reserved for professionals.”
No one said anything for a long minute.
“He
is
a professional,” Sheldon pointed out.
“That's what I hear,” Owens said. “So why would he throw away one of his tools?”
Another silence. Maria dabbed frantically at the soiled tablecloth with her napkin.
“You are mistaken,” Sheldon said. “You see, it would be impossible for Kyle to have committed this murder. He was part of our little game yesterday. Joaquin, tell Detective Owens again what time you met up with Kyle.”
Joaquin pulled out his smartphone and called up the calendar. “Of course,” he said. “As I mentioned when we first spoke, Detective, Kyle and I rendezvoused at three o'clock at the garage in downtown Newport. We were then together for the rest of the afternoon, right up until Ms. Connor discovered the body. In fact, he was not out of my sight at all.” He looked expectantly up at Owens.
Owens nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Leroy. I'll make a note of that. Although it doesn't matter much, because the coroner has determined the time of death to be between noon and two
P.M.
” His gaze hardened. “So Mr. McLeod isn't quite off the hook. If any of you see him or talk to him, I'd highly recommend you advise him to turn himself in. Otherwise, not to worry.” He nodded slowly. “We'll find him.”
Chapter 19
Stan slipped out of the group in the chaos that followed and headed for her room. She paused at the front desk when she saw Owens leaning against the counter. She approached him.
“Detective?”
He turned.
“Are you sure Kyle's your guy?”
The clerk looked at them curiously. Owens motioned for her to follow him. He moved to a quiet spot in the middle of the lobby. “Have you heard from him?”
“No.”
“Ideas where he went?”
“No.”
He sighed. “Then why are you talking to me about him?”
“I don't know,” Stan said, offering a weak smile. “I just didn't get the murderer vibe from him.”
That raised Owens's eyebrows. “Murderer vibe? I wish I had that. It would make these kinds of cases much easier.”
Stan flushed. “You know what I mean.”
“I really don't, Ms. Connor. But I did find out that Kyle McLeod's car—or at least a car registered in his name—is still in the parking lot downtown. Which means he either left on foot or got a ride. With whom and why is my burning question.”
Stan thought about that. “No security cameras outside the hotel? There have to be in a place like this.”
“There are. I'm waiting for the tapes. In the meantime, I hoped one of you might've seen him leave.”
“Not me.” Stan glanced at the front desk. “Did you try the cab companies?”
Owens looked amused. “Are you looking to change careers? I don't think we have any open positions right now.”
 
 
Stan went upstairs, locked herself in her room with Nutty, and called her best friend. She'd known Nikki Manning since college when her dog transport had been just a dream based on a couple of road trips saving five dogs. Today, Nikki and her volunteers made two runs each month and rescued hundreds of dogs. She operated out of a farmhouse on twenty acres in another part of Rhode Island. She also knew Stan's family from way back, which made her the perfect ear for Caitlyn's latest drama and the serious turn it had taken.
“So you're not going to believe this,” Stan said when she answered.
“Oh jeez. I'm afraid to ask.” Nikki sounded relaxed tonight, which meant she was not immediately pre- or post-transport. “Is it about Jake?”
“No. Caitlyn.”
“I'm intrigued. Hold on.”
An insanely loud grinding sound came through the line. Stan held the phone away from her ear until the noise subsided. “What the heck are you doing?”
“Making a mud-slide,” Nikki said.
“My favorite. I'm jealous.” Stan pictured her friend in her typical denim shorts and cowboy boots, short black hair standing up in handmade spikes and probably tipped with some crazy color, dogs and cats following her around her messy kitchen.
“You should be. I make mad good mud-slides. If you come over I'll make you one.”
“I wish I could. I'm a prisoner for the weekend. Locked away with a bunch of chefs.”
“Sounds horrifying,” Nikki said. “Now tell me what the prima donna's up to.”
Stan filled her in on the events since yesterday—her trip to Newport, her discovery of Pierre's body, Caitlyn's secret and plea for help, and finally, the murder weapon. “So the police are looking hard for her boyfriend,” she finished. “But Caitlyn asked me to help her find him. She thinks he's in trouble.”
Nikki stayed quiet for so long Stan was afraid she'd fallen asleep from too much mud-slide. “Nik?”
“I'm here,” Nikki said. “Don't take this the wrong way, Stan. You've got some murderous black cloud hanging over your head. I have no idea how these things find you. That aside, wow. I didn't think Caitlyn was interesting enough to surprise me, but she's proven me wrong. So is he a murderer, or is he a victim?” She slurped her drink. “No, Scout! No mud-slide for you.”
Stan heard a dog whining in the background and smiled. Leave it to Nikki to rescue the pups who liked to drink. “You didn't have to point out the black cloud,” she said. “I'm well aware, since I'm the one it's following. I don't know what to do. I told Caitlyn I would help her, but now I'm wondering if she missed a sign or something about this guy.”
“You met him?”
“Yeah. We were blindfolded in the back of the pastry truck together.”
Silence again. Then Nikki said, “Seriously,
that
I don't want to know about.”
Stan giggled. It did sound absurd. Most of the events since yesterday had been absurd. Then she sobered. They'd also been tragic. Someone had died.
“Did you get a bad vibe?”
“I didn't,” Stan said. “But maybe the blindfold could've skewed my intuition.”
“It's possible,” Nikki said. “Or maybe he didn't kill the guy. Maybe he is in trouble. Anyone call his wife?”
“Besides Caitlyn? I'm presuming the police did,” Stan said. “But the cops won't tell me, obviously.”
Nikki choked on her mud-slide. “Caitlyn called his
wife
? Is this an open relationship or something?” she asked when she could speak again.
“No, she hung up when the wife answered.” Then a light dawned. “Hey. Do you know any cops around here?”
“I know a state trooper, but haven't talked to him in a long time. Not sure he would be much help if the locals aren't interested in him poking around.”
“No.” Stan thought about that. “And my sister doesn't want any publicity.”
“I guess not. What is she thinking? Doesn't she have, like, everything she wants? Isn't she married to some fancy rich boy? Not to mention her own cash. And what about her kid?”
Nikki had a good point. To the outside world Caitlyn did have everything. Including her own trust fund if Michael's salary wasn't enough. As for Michael, a big-deal insurance guy, Stan knew financial services well enough to know that the higher up you were and the more money you made, the worse the hours. Maybe he did work too much. “She thinks as long as Eva doesn't know anything it's fine. And I guess she doesn't think she has everything she wants. Or maybe she really is bored and this is one of those cliché affairs. At least it's not her pool boy or something.”
Nikki snorted. “So he's cute?”
“He is. Charming, too.”
“Yeah, that's trouble.”
“So what do you think? Should I look for this guy? She gave me a list of phone numbers.”
“Doesn't sound like he wants to be found. Don't you think the cops would've found him by now if he was nearby?”
“I don't know. He's probably got lots of friends. Maybe he's hiding out with someone.”
“Or maybe he went home to his wife and she's pretending he's not there. Or maybe she killed him.”
“He couldn't have gotten there that quickly.”
“Why don't you ask Jake's sister? By the way, did you tell him about this debacle?” Nikki wanted to know.
“I told him about the dead guy. Haven't talked to him today,” she said evasively.
“You don't want to tell him about Caitlyn, huh?” Nikki slurped her drink.
“That's not true,” Stan said.
“Sure it is. She's not you, Stan. He doesn't strike me as the type to be confused about that.”
“I know. It's just . . .” She sighed. “My family's so complicated compared to his. They all just love each other. Even when Jessie's driving him crazy, he loves her. And speaking of Jessie, why would I ask her about this? She's a Connecticut state trooper—who doesn't particularly love me.”
“Nice subject change. And why wouldn't she help? You helped her out a few months ago. She likes you just fine. Ask her opinion. Seriously,” Nikki said. “Aside from telling you to fuhgedaboudit and come home, she might have a pointer or two on how to not get yourself killed.”
Chapter 20
Stan hung up and thought about Nikki's suggestion. She and Jessie Pasquale had come a long way from Stan's first days in town when they'd been sworn enemies. Their relationship had gradually evolved to toleration and, at rare times, a certain kinship. If Stan called her, it could go one of two ways. Jessie would appreciate her dilemma and offer her some carefully crafted advice that would consist mostly of “Let the police handle it” and maybe a few tidbits she could actually use, or she'd return to her prior conclusion that Stan was either crazy, meddling, or both. That could set them back a few paces. She preferred to think they'd come far enough for option one, but she'd have to ponder it more.
The rest of the suite was silent. Claustrophobic, despite its size. She had no idea if Maria or Therese had returned. She had to get out of here for a bit, even just outside for some air. She grabbed a sweatshirt and a pair of sneakers and hurried to the elevator, unable to shake the creepy feeling Owens's visit had prompted. If that pizza cutter had been the weapon, she'd never be able to look at pizza the same way again.
The elevator doors
whooshed
open in the lobby and she stepped out. It was quiet now, compared to this afternoon's rush. Only one person worked the front desk. Yummy smells wafted from the restaurant at the other side of the lobby. Voices and laughter filtered out of the cocktail bar area closest to her elevator. Then she saw Marcin at one of the high tables, sitting alone, nursing a drink. He saw her and raised his glass, but his vibe said
Don't come over.
Definitely a weird dude. She wondered again about his meds. Should he be drinking if he was taking meds? And where was Leo? Maybe they'd had a fight. The insane part of her brain hoped Leo wasn't dead somewhere, too. She lifted her hand in a wave and made a beeline for the revolving door as Detective Genske entered it from the other side. Owens must still be here. Maybe they'd found something on the tapes. She stepped outside and watched her walk to the front desk. The man behind the counter pointed down a hall and she followed his finger. Stan changed her mind and went back inside.
The man behind the counter smiled at her. Unfortunately it wasn't Jamal. This guy looked like Harrison Ford. “Good evening, miss. Can I help you?”
“I'm looking for Lucy Keyes,” Stan said.
“Lucy is in a meeting right now,” he said.
Stan frowned. At nearly eleven at night? “With the cops?”
The clerk pursed his lips. “I'm afraid I can't share that information.”
Stan tried a different tact. She turned on her brightest smile. “So do you guys have security cameras outside? It makes me feel so much better to know,” she said, leaning closer as if to confide in him. “I had so many problems with my ex.” The lie rolled easily off her tongue, and she topped it off with a smile she hoped was just worried enough to elicit sympathy.
The guy seemed unimpressed. “We do.” He turned back to his computer.
“So how does that work?” Stan asked. “Does it record everyone who goes in and out?”
“You'd have to speak with the IT people,” he said. “I'm not sure how it works. But we can certainly call the police and file a report if someone's bothering you.”
“Oh, that's not necessary,” Stan said hurriedly. “But thanks.” She went outside and walked around back. Maybe she could catch Lucy when she left. She cased the parking lot but didn't see a silver SUV like the one she'd seen Lucy get into last night. She camped out at the back door and called Jake. McSwigg's would still be hopping, but maybe he could take a break. He answered on the second ring.
“Hey, babe.” Hearing his warm, husky voice felt like a hug over the phone line.
“Hey yourself.”
“What's going on? Any news on the dead chef?”
“No. We expect it'll be public soon. The police have his real name now, so I'm sure it'll be all over the news tomorrow. I got elected to help with the media relations.”
“Elected or volunteered?”
“Elected.”
“The cops have any suspects?”
Yeah. All of us, with an emphasis on Kyle.
“Actually, yeah. A guy from our group left the hotel last night and hasn't been seen since.” She didn't mention it was the guy she'd ridden with blindfolded in the back of the pastry truck.
“They think he killed him? Why?”
Stan told him about the pizza cutter and the YouTube video. “There's one other wrinkle with this guy.”
“I can't wait to hear it,” Jake said.
“My sister is having an affair with him.”
Silence.
“Hello?” Stan said.
“I'm here. How . . . ?”
“She called and begged me to meet her. Told me the whole story. She thinks he's in trouble and wants help finding him.” She could almost feel his sigh on the other end of the phone.
“I think you know what I'm going to say,” he said.
“I'm pretty sure I do.” She moved out of the way as a young couple emerged from the door and walked to their car. The girl laughed at something.
“Just in case,” he said. “Don't get involved.”
“That's what I figured. But I'm already involved.”
“Which is bad enough. You don't need to go all in.”
“It's my sister,” she said. “And my business. Believe me, I don't want to be in this spot either. But . . . I'm kind of in it.”
“Okay. Let's break this down,” Jake said. “The business part first. What's he really committing to doing for you long term? He puts up capital for the location. Then what?”
“His name,” she said simply. “He's got a lot of reach. It would save me about two years of building up my name.”
“When did you start your business officially?”
“You know—”
“Just humor me,” Jake interrupted. “How long?”
“About a year ago.”
“Okay. And how fast have you built up a name?”
“All the dogs in town know me,” she said. “And many of the cats. Is that what you mean?”
“I'm serious, Stan. Stop downplaying your success. Since you came to town last year with a few bags of extra treats for the local pets, you're now filling requests for treats around the state. Rescue events, high-end doggie day cares, local food co-ops.You have your own line of meals. You've become the go-to for dog parties, including weddings. You have an assistant, and you're about to expand. And that's with some social media, when you and Brenna have time. Is that about right?”
“Yes,” Stan said.
“So that proves your work speaks for itself. You're growing your business organically. If reach is what you're looking for, you put together a thoughtful campaign and you're doubling, tripling your business. Then you open a shop, or whatever you want. My point is, you don't need this guy.”
“That start-up capital is nothing to sneeze at,” she said.
“You want an investor? I can be your investor,” Jake said.
She pulled the phone away and looked at it before putting it back to her ear. “You what?” she said.
“I can be your investor.” In addition to his pub owner status, Jake dabbled in development, including investing in projects he thought were good for Frog Ledge.
“But . . . you don't invest in businesses. You invest in real estate.”
“I take on whatever project feels right. If a business gets me excited, I'll invest in it.”
“And pet food gets you excited?” She could hear the doubt in her own voice and hated it. Confidence had never been her strong suit. In her corporate days, she'd subscribed to the fake it till you make it mentality. Even outside that world, she still had trouble feeling like she'd made it.
“Of course it does. And I'm excited about
you
. I know how committed you are to Pawsitively Organic. It's a win-win.”
“I guess,” Stan said slowly. “Jake, are you just saying this so I'll come home and forget about Sheldon?”
“I'm saying it because it's true. And if it makes you come home and forget about Sheldon, even better. Look. I want you to be happy here in Frog Ledge. I know it's a small town and it's not totally what you're used to.”
“I
am
happy in Frog Ledge. With or without a pastry shop,” she said. “It's home.”
“Yeah?” Now the doubt had crept into his voice. “I always figure you're going to change your mind. Wake up one day and remember that you miss the city or the ocean or something.”
Brenna once told Stan that Jake's last long-term relationship had fallen apart because his ex didn't want to live in a tiny town, and Jake couldn't imagine living anywhere else.
“I'm not changing my mind. We can visit the ocean or the city. I'd miss you more,” Stan said. “Remember, I picked Frog Ledge because it felt right. You're not forcing me. I
want
to be there. I can't think of a better place for my business. Plus . . . you make me happy.” She gave herself a mental head smack for still sounding like a high schooler bumbling her way through her first crush, even nearly a year after they'd been dating.
But she could feel his smile at the other end. “You make me happy, too. I'm in it for the long term with you, if you'll have me,” he said, and left her mouth hanging open while he went on to his second point. “Now let's look at part two of this scenario.”
“Part two?” Still mooning over his words, her brain hadn't caught up.
“Your sister. Her request.”
“Yes. My sister. I told her I'd put my ear to the ground, but the police were way ahead of me.” She didn't mention Nikki's idea to talk to Jessie.
“When was the last time you talked to your sister before today?”
“It's definitely been a while.”
“But you're doing this for her anyway.” It was a statement, not a question.
She sighed. “I suck at saying no. Besides, like it or not, she's family. Would you do it for Brenna or Jessie?”
“Of course I would.”
“You think I'm crazy?”
“You bet,” he said. “But it's also why I love you. Be careful, okay? Leave the real investigating to the cops.”
“I will.” She noticed Lucy then, walking around the side of the building with someone, deep in conversation. “Hey, I have to run. I'll call you tomorrow. And, Jake? I love you, too.”
BOOK: Murder Most Finicky
11.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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