Murder on the Ol' Bunions (A LaTisha Barnhart Mystery) (7 page)

BOOK: Murder on the Ol' Bunions (A LaTisha Barnhart Mystery)
10.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Maybe they’ll give me time off for good behavior.”

He guffawed and pushed his plate away. “As long as you’ll have time to make that salsa before they put you in the can.” He smacked his lips together.
“Can taste it now.”

“It’s probably indigestion. You ate so fast it’s all a blur in your belly.”

Hardy’s answering grin showed his unconcern. He got up and ambled over to tuck his feet into his gardening shoes, lined up in a neat row beside his Sunday shoes and everyday loafers. “Then leave me your recipe and I’ll figure it out for myself. You wouldn’t want me to starve while you’re eating gruel.”

He ducked the spoonful of egg I shot at his head and slammed the door behind him so hard the glass
rattled.Egg
slimed a path down the door and plopped onto the floor.

 
 

Maple Gap’s police station hailed back to its early days as a booming gold rush town. But just as the town took off, the gold trickled out. Two-thirds of a narrow, two-story brick building, with a false front, housed the police station. The other third of the building held the offices of a local attorney.

Scared me silly to think I might be seeing more of the inside of that police house than I wanted. I shut the car door and imagined it sounded much like the door of a jail cell. Hardy’s declaration had left Chief Conrad frothing at the mouth.
That,
coupled with me being the one who found the body spelled indictment if I couldn’t find the real criminal.

“It
ain’t
gonna
happen and you know it,” Hardy piped up as he slid out of the car. “You’re making too much of this,
LaTisha
.” He came over to stand beside me, a knowing frown on his face. “Your fingerprints aren’t anywhere in that shop except those books you bought.
They’s
looking for someone with a motive.
Someone who has a real problem with Marion.”

True. True. “And Chief really isn’t looking at anything right now since he doesn’t have the results back from the state police.” At least, I hoped that was the case. It really could have been an accident. I doubted it. Just couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that she didn’t simply fall. But Hardy was right. No
sense in letting my imagination run
wild when we both knew I was innocent. Such thoughts would only serve to waste my mental energies.

Confidence renewed, I followed Hardy up the steps. He held the door as I glided into the station and bestowed my best smile on the young officer at the desk. Officer Mac Simpson.

When he caught sight of me, his eyes widened and—did I imagine it?—he got pale.

“Good morning,” I trilled, trying to inject every grain of sugar I could into my voice. “Officer Simpson. I was wondering if I could have a word with the chief. I need to ask him about getting a box from Marion’s shop.”

“Only he can answer that and he’s not in right now.” His words came fast and furious. He grabbed a pen and began to madly scribble. “I’ll write down your request and put it on his desk.”

I braced a hand on the rather cluttered desk and leaned forward. “Then I guess I’ll tell you my second reason for dropping by. You might have heard that I’m pursuing a degree in Police Science. Our professor has us studying police photography procedures and I wanted to know if Officer Nelson could give me some tips. We’re real good friends, you know. Go way, way back. He played ball with my oldest, begging a meal at my back door every chance he could.”

Simpson cleared his throat and reared back in his chair. The chair dipped hard and he flailed his hands out to catch himself.

I smothered a laugh and tried to appear concerned. “Oh, honey, you be careful. I had me one of them chairs before. Downright hazardous, they are.”

His face flamed red as he released the edge of his desk and tilted the chair forward until his feet hit the ground. He cleared his throat, a sound much like the grinding of a truck’s gears and his tone grew hard. “I can’t do that, Mrs. Barnhart.”

“Could you at least call him and ask? I’ve got a paper due soon and I would really like to talk to an expert.”

“I’m sorry.”

I dared not show my frustration. Simpson wouldn’t budge and I couldn’t blame him a bit. Still.

Hardy’d
been quiet. I cast a glance his way. He had nested on the hard wooden bench beside the snack and cola machine, his neck craned as he looked over the selections like a man starved.

“You just ate.”

He raised his eyebrows at me. “A man can look.”

I gazed at the door that led to the back offices and wondered if I should yank it open and sing out for Nelson. That’s when I got an idea. I faced Simpson. “What’s Officer Nelson’s extension?”

His brows lowered and he crossed his arms.

I stepped over to the payphone on the wall by the vending machines and dug around the waistband of my skirt for the coins I kept coiled in the elastic of my hose when I wasn’t wearing something with pockets. I got a dial tone and punched in the numbers for the police office. The phone rang on Simpson’s desk. He scowled at me. I grinned. He picked up the phone and returned it to the cradle, cutting off my call. With a grunt, he picked up the receiver again, punched in a number and growled something I couldn’t quite understand.

Within thirty seconds, Officer Nelson came through the door grinning from ear to ear. “Mrs. Barnhart! How’s that Tyrone doing?
He a daddy yet?”

“Not yet.”

“What can I do for you?”

“I saw you helping out the state police taking pictures of Marion. You know I’m getting my degree in Police Science--”

“Good for you!”

“I wondered if I could ask you a few questions about photographing victims for a paper I’m writing. It’s due soon.” Never one to forget the way to a man’s heart, I added, “I’ll even send over the caramel pecan-cake I made just last night.”

“Why sure.
Can’t beat that as a bribe.”
His laugh was hearty as he held the door open. “I’ll even be a good boy and share with Simpson and the chief.”

I tried my best not to smirk when I nodded over at Officer Simpson.

He didn’t look up.

I shifted my attention to Hardy. “You stay put. I’ll be back.”

Hardy plucked up a tattered old magazine with a beautiful celebrity on the front. His smile went huge. “You go ahead. I think I can find something to keep me entertained.”

“Be careful, you might have a heart attack.” With that, I spun on my heel and lumbered along after Officer Nelson.

 
 

Officer Nelson snapped his camera onto the tripod in front of him. “I use a tripod since my hands don’t normally give me a steady shot. But until yesterday, I’ve never photographed an actual body.” Blond wisps formed a comb-over that did nothing for his overall appearance. One could easily see that Thomas “Tank” Nelson had earned his high school nickname for good reason.

His small office held little in the way of furniture and smelled of chemicals and bad coffee.

An ugly feeling that I just might be listening to the details of photography all day if I didn’t try to lead the conversation in the proper direction made me break out in a sweat. Had to be a way to finagle things around to the questions I really needed answered. “Awful dark behind that counter at Marion’s, did you have trouble fixing the lighting?”

“I used my flash as backlighting. Since my automatic settings compromised my depth of field, I decided to use manual mode.”

Feigning interest in this information, I
squinted
one eye shut and peered through the viewfinder, knowing my next words would be a gamble. “How do you adjust for objects that are light in color?
Like that white paper on the counter at Marion’s shop.”

He crouched to take my place looking through the viewfinder of his camera. “Shiny objects prove a problem, as do white. Marion’s jewelry caused glints, as did the service bell on her counter. The white envelope full of
mon
-” Nelson’s head snapped up, his eyes skidded in my direction.

I regrouped real
quick
. Better for me to ease up and play the innocent. Hands on hips, I jerked my head back and fixed him with my best don’t-mess-with-me expression. “What you
lookin
’ at me like that for? You surprised I know so much? I know all about the problems caused by shiny and white objects when photographing scenes. Between Marion’s silver bell
thingie
on the counter, the envelope, and all those bracelets she wears, I figured you got some hands-on experience with how to temper glare and probably some great advice from the state trooper.”

My pounding heart slowed as the glint of suspicion seeped from Nelson’s eyes. His shoulders relaxed. “You’re right. Photographing shiny objects can be difficult. Contrary to what you think, I haven’t had much experience with such things.” One side of his mouth rose in a smile. “Usually when I photograph a scene, it’s after the thief has taken the jewelry.”

I punctuated his statement with a little laugh.

“But watching Officer Lawton taught me a few things about technique.”

Now, unless I wanted a verbal rendition of Officer Lawton’s tips, I needed to cut this visit short. Chances were Tank would not be supplying me with any further information—on the crime scene anyhow.

I backpedaled toward the door real slow-like, showing as much interest as I could in the processes Officer Lawton had gone through to photograph Marion’s body. When Tank paused in his recital, I used the excuse that Hardy was waiting and extricated myself from his office, thanking him for his time. Tank insisted on escorting me back to the door leading to the front of the station, spouting more details of his technique with flash, until I felt I could produce my own pop of white light.

I thanked him again and pushed through the door. I stopped dead in my tracks. Straight in front of me, Hardy’s rear end poked up from where he knelt on the hardwood floor.

“What you
doin
’ with your tail stuck up in the air?”

Hardy shot to his feet and pointed to the floor. “I lost my money.”

I studied the wide planks of the old wood floor. A mental image of Hardy spilling his change and watching it rattle along and slip between the cracks made me wonder how many hundreds of dollars in coins might rest below the old floor. In all these years, could be enough collected under there to at least buy Officer Simpson a decent chair.

I glanced over at the young man. He appeared oblivious to Hardy’s distress, engrossed in paperwork of some sort. My brain latched onto the seedling of an idea. Paperwork . . . Envelope . . . “Mon-” could have been money. It was worth a try.

I crossed my arms and settled my eyes on my man.

He retreated, hands raised, palms out. “You’re up to something.”

I winked and raised my voice for the benefit of Officer Mac Simpson’s ears. “You lost your money again? What am I
gonna
do with you, man?”

Mac lifted his head, his face a mask of aggravation.
Touchy, touchy.

I jabbed a finger at the young officer and his eyes widened. “Any money been turned in to you today?”

Mac cringed as I sauntered closer.
“No, ma’am.
None today.”

“Hardy misplaced some yesterday, too.” At the desk, I shifted my weight forward, hands braced on the edge of the desk, until my eyes came level with his. “You know anything about that?”

He ran a finger around his collar. “Uh, we found a substantial amount yesterday.”

I turned back to a slack-jawed Hardy. “You lose it at Marion’s?” Before he could answer, I signaled with another wink. “When I checked your wallet, you only had that five.” I leveled my gaze back on Simpson. “You find any at Marion’s?”

“It’s a crime scene. We, uh- We found a substantial amount. . .”

“In a white envelope?”

Mac Simpson’s head bobbed, then stilled. His lips tightened. “Why don’t I let you talk to the chief about it when he returns?”

Not a chance. “You said a substantial amount?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I swung back to Hardy, elated over what Mac had just spilled. I clamped down hard on my excitement and continued my charade. “How much were you missing? Ten dollars, wasn’t it? Can’t be ours then.”

“No.” Hardy frowned. “It’s not ours.”

Before Officer Simpson could form a reply, I shooed Hardy out the door of the police station. Mission accomplished.

 
 
 

Chapter Seven

 

Maple Gap’s weekly paper, The Distant Echo, waited on the porch. Hardy handed it over without a word.
Probably still miffed over the flap at the station.

“I told the truth.” I’d made the same statement three times on our way home. I hated his silence, knowing after thirty-eight years what it meant.

I saw the flash of white from his eyes, before he went through the door and straight upstairs. My chest locked down tight on my heart. Surely he didn’t think I’d gone too far.

Opening the refrigerator, I yanked out the pot of beef stew and put it on the stove to heat. As always, the flavors would be better today after mingling overnight. I broke off a corner of cornbread for me and one for Hardy —if he would eat with me. If he didn’t, fine. Let him be that way.

BOOK: Murder on the Ol' Bunions (A LaTisha Barnhart Mystery)
10.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Space Rocks! by Tom O'Donnell
Blood Born by Linda Howard
Welcome to My World by Miranda Dickinson
The Bride Wore Blue by Cindy Gerard
A Lot to Tackle by Belle Payton
Slim for Life by Jillian Michaels
The Skeleton Room by Kate Ellis
Deep Down (I) by Karen Harper