Murder on the Ol' Bunions (A LaTisha Barnhart Mystery) (8 page)

BOOK: Murder on the Ol' Bunions (A LaTisha Barnhart Mystery)
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I dug around in the utensil drawer for a couple of spoons, ready to plunge into the food, trying to reassure myself. I’d made sure to suggest just enough to lure Officer Simpson into spilling the information I needed. Didn’t Hardy want me to clear my name? It was his fault I was in this mess anyhow.

I flicked off my shoes and rubbed at my feet. The stew would warm up real fast, filling the kitchen with its rich, beefy scent. If Hardy wanted to eat, his nose knew the way.

As I picked up the newspaper, fliers slipped out and spread their glossy sheen over the table. The paper’s headlines proved intriguing and predictable, many of the articles centered
around
Marion’s murder. Old Michael, editor of the paper, must have rushed to get the articles in before the paper went to print. A picture of the front of the store, cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape, graced the first page. A small story to the right of the lead documented Dana’s accusation, along with a short interview with
Valorie
, confessing the cheating allegations as truth and leaking to the public the fact that her mother had not been happy with her.

I wondered if that knowledge made her a suspect in Chief’s mind. I knew what it made me think.

Another article recapped the ongoing struggle between Payton
O’Mahney’s
fight to block Marion’s sale of their building by having it declared a historic site. The city council would hear the citizen arguments for and against the proposal on Thursday evening before they voted.

I scoured this article, surprised to find that Mark Hamm, a member of the council after a long time resident died six months before reelection, planned to
recuse
his vote.
Strange.
What reason would he have to do that? I mulled this over as I retrieved my bowl of stew.

Most council members
recused
their vote when a conflict of interest prevented them from voting legally. Perhaps there was a connection between Mark Hamm and Marion’s building? Could his relationship with
Valorie
have some bearing on his decision to forego voting on the matter? And, if Marion had already been upset with
Valorie
over her visits to Mark’s restaurant, would her daughter’s cheating send her over the top?

I turned the page and found an interview of Chief Conrad in regard to his first murder/homicide as police chief.

So.
. . he did think it was more than an accident. I wasn’t surprised, of course, given Marion’s disagreeable nature.

The article continued by reporting that Conrad acknowledged there were certain persons of interest, but the tests run by the state police forensics team would shed further light and help clear a path to arrest if there had been foul play. “The innocent having nothing to fear from my investigation,” the reporter quoted Conrad.

Last of all, I skimmed over Mark Hamm’s most recent column on historical tidbits he’d discovered as an amateur historian. Every other week he had something new to share about the gold-mining days of Colorado. Sometimes he slipped in a commentary on current events. I marked the article with a pen so I’d remember to read it later.

I stirred the stew, releasing a puff of fragrant steam, and took a bite. Needed a little more pepper. Hardy’s vacant chair brought me back to my domestic dilemma. Where was that man? This was getting serious.
Making me fidgety to the point that I lost my appetite halfway through the bowl of stew.

I dumped the dishes into the sink and set about packaging the remainder of the food from my cook-a-thon the previous evening. Then I broke the food down into small portions more suitable for the two of us, and stacked each bag in the freezer.

The phone chirped. I wiped my hands and waited to see if Hardy would answer. On the third ring, I gave up on him and plucked the cordless from its base.

“Hello.”

I welcomed the baritone of our oldest son, but my enthusiasm sprung a leak when he started right off with the reason for his call.

“What d’
ya
mean you can’t come home?” Not another cancellation. I gripped the phone tighter. “Cora’s been working every day, traveling all that way without a problem, but you don’t think she can make a three-hour drive here?” Frustration rose in my throat. I cleared my throat into the phone.

“It’s the doctor’s orders, Momma. Cora’s getting close to her date and he wants her to start taking it easy. I’m even cutting back my hours to be home with her.”

From deep down inside, the voice of reason scraped its finger across my mind. I squeezed my eyes shut. It was best this way.
Really.
I should be thrilled that my son and daughter-in-law would be so willing not to risk Cora’s health, or the baby’s.
My first grandchild.
Grand-child.
This equals old.
Washed up.
Life over.
Gone to seed.

My children don’t need me anymore. They’re capable.

“I know you’re disappointed, Momma. But just remember you’ll have your first grandbaby soon.”

I nodded against the phone, dried the lone trail of a tear and fought to keep my voice steady. “Tell Cora we love her and to take care of my grandbaby.”

With a vicious stab, I punched the OFF button, grateful for the solid counter to support my weight as my legs became quivery and my vision blurred. I should
be understanding
.
Forgiving and kind and unwilling to be angry at Tyrone and Cora’s cancellation from Easter supper.
And if I kept saying those things to myself long enough, the hurt might bleed away.

I don’t want all my chicks back in the nest, Lord, but they could at least come by to cluck at me once in a while.

My eyes landed on the bowl of stew I had heated for Hardy. It was time for him to eat, and I’ve never seen him turn down the notion of food. Unless he was mad at me.
“Hardy!”
I yelled at the top of my lungs. “You better come eat or I’m
gonna
eat it for you.” I listened hard for a reply, satisfied to hear the scuffle of feet on the floor above.

“You better keep your lips off my food. I’ll be down in a minute.”

In a jiff, I’d reheated the stew and set his place at the table, all the while fretting over my dwindling list of Easter supper guests. I snapped the seals closed on the food storage bags and stacked them in the freezer, the blast of cold air doing nothing to cool my rising anger.
At my children.
At my husband.
At myself for being so cranky when I’m so blessed.

When the dining chair creaked behind me and I heard the clink of the spoon against the bowl, I didn’t turn, but began work on divvying up the chicken and dumplings. Let Hardy be the first one to speak. I’d had enough.

“The newspaper sure has a lot to say about Marion,” he offered. “Did you see the police beat about the theft?”

My mind snapped to attention. Now how’d I miss that juicy tidbit? Drat it all, and just when I had taken a vow of silence. Now he had the paper. I gulped down my pride, though it nearly choked me to do so. “Read it to me.”

“Not much to read. It just says the police were called to 35 Rolling Way—that’s Dana’s house, isn’t it?—in regard to a reported book theft.”

 
Book?
Who would miss a book unless they placed great value on it? Could it be the diary she’d accused Marion of taking? But why would Dana report it now, after Marion had died, and did the diary mean that much to her?

My last dumpling slipped from the pot into the bag. Chief and I needed to talk. He could confirm if it was about Dana’s diary or not.

Keeping my hands busy always helped me focus, and this news needed to be analyzed. Could explain why Payton seemed so shook up at the chief’s presence. Maybe since Payton had been at Dana’s tuning the piano he had been questioned over Dana’s stolen book previous to Marion’s murder?
Hmm.

I wanted so bad to know Hardy’s thoughts. I risked a peek in his direction as I wiped the countertop. His eyes darted left to right, the paper spread out before him, spoon firmly clenched in his hand. Beyond sharing what he read in the paper, he would remain silent about the episode at the police station, knowing his silence pricked at me. After all this time being married to the contrary man, his tricks were nothing new to me. Even worse—they worked.

Finally, he folded the paper and set it aside. He didn’t look my way one time.

I heaved a sigh of resignation. “You’re
thinkin
’ I went overboard today, aren’t you?”

He peered at me from under his bushy brows. “You could get that boy in trouble if you’re not careful. Tricking him into revealing
things.
. .and you weren’t right being less than honest.”

My hackles were rising in self-defense. “But you did misplace money.”

“You took it out of my wallet.
Said so yourself, and I’m not arguing the point with you,
Tisha
.
He’s a young man on the police force trying to make his way in life. If he were one of yours, you’d squash anyone who tried to put him in a bad light.” Hardy scraped the inside of his bowl clean and pushed it forward. His brown eyes speared me. “You stop giving that boy a hard time.”

I turned my back, knowing he was right, and pressed my lips together. My hand grabbed for a long knife to begin the process of slicing the pies. I wasn’t quite ready to be humble. I’d let a slice of pie be my peace offering. Nice, sweet, cherry pie. I covered it in whipped cream and slid it before him.

Our eyes met. He understood the symbol of my silent plea for forgiveness.

“Who called?” he asked, as he picked up the fork.

“Tyrone. They can’t come for Easter.”

“Too bad.
But I figure she needs to be careful since this is her last month. You remember how careful you were when you were carrying Tyrone?”

How could I forget? My stomach was so huge with baby I thought for sure I would pop before I gave birth.

“You couldn’t get off the sofa that one day and had to get on the floor and crawl to a chair.”

The memory brought a smile to my lips. I tore off a piece of plastic wrap to cover the pie. “And you did nothing but laugh at me when I told you.”

“Yeah.”
He rubbed the side of his head. “You cuffed me a good one for that. Come to think of it, you always got mean the month before your due date.
Seven times.”
He lifted his fork and paused. His gaze met mine, spilling over me like warm brown gravy. My throat swelled almost shut and I reached out a hand to trace a finger down the side of his face.

Hardy was
right,
I’d been tough on Mac Simpson. Officer Nelson, too, but I decided I wouldn’t tell him about that one. A woman has her pride.

As he forked in another mouthful, he flipped the paper over.
“Says here someone posted a reward for information on anything suspicious in regards to Marion’s death.”

“A reward?”
I’d missed that, too!
“How much?”

“A thousand.”


Whoo
-wee.”
I pulled down an old picnic basket and placed the cherry pie and a crock full of dumplings inside. “I’m going to take these dumplings over to
Valorie’s
house and see how she’s
doin
’. Then I’m going to drop off this pie for the boys at the police station. You
coming?”


Naw
.”
He stretched and scratched his chest. “I need to get caught up on my beauty sleep.” A slow smile of approval spread across his face.

Just as it was for him, he knew the pie was my peace offering to Officer Simpson. Of course, Simpson would think I was just being nice. I smothered a smile. Who knew, maybe it would loosen his tongue and grant me some more juicy tidbits.

“As if you didn’t sleep like a dead man last night.
The only way I know you was alive was the snoring.” Hefting the load, I stuck out my hand. “Give me the keys to the car and I’ll be out of here.”

Hardy dug around in his front pocket and dropped the keys into my hand. “If old Lou breaks down, call the garage. I’ll be sleeping.”

 
 
 

Chapter Eight

 

“Old Lou,” referred to the beige Buick we’d bought on Tyrone’s tenth birthday. The car was as familiar to me as my kitchen. A spot of blood on the backseat from Mason’s almost-severed finger, stains from baby
Shayna
getting car sick a few hundred times, and the smell of old leather. Though Hardy kept the car running, its purr had deteriorated to a congested cough over the years. Still, Lou kept going and neither of us saw any reason to replace a car whose longest trip ended up being the few times we ventured into Denver or went to visit the children.

I plunked the basket into the backseat and started to slide behind the wheel but got stuck. You’d think after all these years of living with a skinny
man,
he’d remember to slide the seat back for me. Not him. I backed my body out, pulled the lever and slid the seat all the way back, then shimmied behind the steering wheel. I let go a huge sigh of relief to be off my feet.

 
At my age—and my motto is don’t ask, don’t tell—I refused to wear the orthopedic granny shoes I saw on the feet of other older women. You can bet my bunions chastise me daily for the abuse, but I have my pride. As sorry as it sounds, wearing stylish shoes—sans comfort—is my one point of great pride.

BOOK: Murder on the Ol' Bunions (A LaTisha Barnhart Mystery)
3.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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