Authors: Morgana Best
Nun of That (A Deadly Habit Cozy Mystery, Book 1)
Copyright © 2015 by Morgana Best
All Rights Reserved
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This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The personal names have been invented by the author, and any likeness to the name of any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This book may contain references to specific commercial products, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, specific brand-name products and/or trade names of products, which are trademarks or registered trademarks and/or trade names, and these are property of their respective owners. Morgana Best or her associates, have no association with any specific commercial products, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, specific brand-name products and / or trade names of products.
I hurried back from the local café with my regular hazelnut latté grasped tightly in my hand. I arrived at my store, a recycled furniture store, at just after seven in the morning, as I did six days a week. My keys were stuck at the bottom of my jeans pocket, and I reached in to retrieve them.
I set down my cup on my concrete door step, and fidgeted with the old, locking mechanism. Right at that moment, someone knocked me down. I caught a glance of brightly colored, Asics running shoes whizzing past my face. My first thought was that one of the local teenagers was being more boisterous than usual, and then a sharp, stabbing pain shot up my arm. I looked down to see blood oozing from a graze on my wrist. At least my coffee hadn’t spilled.
I scrambled to my feet to yell at the culprit, but instead of a teenager, there was a nun sprinting down the road, her long, black mantle flowing behind her.
Even in my caffeine-deprived state, I could see that several things were wrong with this picture. The only nun in town was elderly, and had arthritis. She was lucky to walk, let alone run. Also, Sister Bertrand always wore a sensible skirt, white shirt, blue jacket, and sandals, not a full, traditional habit, and certainly not the latest Asics running shoes. I mean, I’m not a Catholic, so I wouldn’t really know, but the last time I saw such a traditional habit was on
The Flying Nun
I paused for a moment, and then picked myself up, unlocked my door, and retrieved my coffee. I wondered if perhaps the convent had a visiting nun over from another town. That would easily explain what I had just witnessed, but the visiting nun must be in training for a marathon.
I threw myself into my chair behind the front desk and sipped my coffee. What a start to the day! I shook my head and made a mental list of what I needed to do that morning. I had to mix some chalk paint and then paint a chest of drawers. It was a hideous, bright yellow gloss, and I intended to chalk paint it
, and then paint the drawers in
, and finally, stencil a bird pattern on the drawers.
I hadn’t sold as much furniture as usual in the last month, and was worrying about finances. My parents had wanted me to be a lawyer, and had been none too pleased when I had done a Fine Arts degree instead. “You’ll never make money out of that,” they had said, more times than I could count, and I had been determined to prove them wrong.
I had initially rented the store with the apartment over it, but in the property slump some years ago, I had managed to buy it for a song. It had been dingy and in a state of disrepair, and I had been renovating it bit by bit ever since. My small town was on a highway, which had to narrow to pass through the little town. All the stores in town lined the highway, so business from passing traffic was good, especially as the highway bypassed the closest big town to the north, and the closest big town to the south was well over an hour away.
Lately, however, business had declined. I was still pondering this sorry fact two or three hours later, when a young man walked through the door. A customer at last!
“Hi, I’m sorry to bother you, but do you know when the pawnbroker’s shop next door will be open?” he asked.
My face fell; he wasn’t a customer, after all. “Oh, Dave should be open right now,” I said.
“The sign on the door says it’s closed.”
How strange; I’d never known Dave to be late opening. Besides, he lived in the apartment above his store, like I did. We chatted most days, and minded the other’s store if one of us had to pop out. We often had coffee together, and swapped stories about rude customers. “He should be open again tomorrow,” I said. “Or try this afternoon.”
The man thanked me and left. I sighed and stood up. Perhaps Dave had accidentally left the
sign on his door. I thought I should better take a look, so went out onto the street. Sure enough, there was a large
sign hanging on his front door. Dave always kept his door shut, and had a buzzer to alert him when someone opened his door, for security reasons.
I shook my head. The door was unlocked, and I pushed it open. Perhaps Dave was working out the back, and had forgotten to change the sign.
“Dave!” I called. “Hello? Dave, are you here?”
There was no reply.
As I reached the front of the desk, I tripped over something on the ground. I grabbed at the edge of the desk, and looked down. Two legs were sticking out from behind the desk. Terror paralyzed me, and everything seemed to happen in slow motion. I forced myself to inch forward. It was Dave, and he had been shot. I took several deep breaths.
Why Dave? He was a nice, old man who wouldn’t hurt anyone. Tears fell down my face as I ran back into my shop to call the police.
“Fire, police, or ambulance?” the voice said.
“Police and ambulance.”
“What’s the problem, ma’am?”
“I just went next door to the pawn shop, and I think the owner has been shot.” I gave Dave’s address and my address, and then sat down. The room was starting to spin, and I feared I would faint. I hung up, despite the voice asking me to stay on the line.
When the police arrived next door, I didn’t know what to do. I paced up and down in my store, waiting for the police to come in. I saw several officers and paramedics going in and out of Dave’s store. Just as I decided I should sit down, a cop came through my door. He was tall and strong, and his sharp features made him look slightly intimidating. I had seen him around town for years, but we had never spoken.
“Rose Tyler?” he said, in a matter of fact voice. “I’m Sergeant Barnes.”
I nodded. “Yes, I’m the one who called, though my name’s Taylor.”
“Can you tell me what happened, in your own words.” It was a statement, not a question.
I tried not to break into tears. “A man came in and asked me when Dave would be open. He should’ve been open by now, so I went to see if something was wrong. Then I saw Dave.” I sniffled into my tissue.
Another cop walked through my door, and was duly introduced as Constable Jones. “Go on,” Barnes said.
I gave them a blow-by-blow description of finding Dave.
“Did you hear any gunshots?”
I shook my head. “No, I didn’t hear anything at all. I mean, I wasn’t here all morning, though.”
“Where and when did you go?” Sergeant Barnes asked. “What times?’
“I went to the Top Town Café to get a coffee. That was about seven thirty. Then I came straight back here.”
“Don’t you live above your store?” the cop asked. “Why didn’t you make coffee at home?”
I wondered where he was going with this. Did he see me as a suspect? “Well, it doesn’t taste as good if you make it yourself, of course,” I said, “and instant coffee is against my religion, so to speak. I do have a plunger and a Nespresso machine, but -”
Barnes cut me off. “Right. And you didn’t see anyone, or hear anything?”
“Oh, yes, I saw someone,” I said. “I saw a nun, running away. She knocked me down.”
The two officers looked at each other. “Sister Bertrand is hardly likely to be running,” Barnes said, with obvious disbelief.
“It wasn’t Sister Bertrand,” I said. “This was a different nun, and she was wearing running shoes.”
“Running shoes?” Barnes echoed.
I nodded my head. “Yes, and she was wearing a full habit, you know, the old fashioned sort.”
“A full habit?” the constable parroted.
“Yes,” I said. “Like they wore in the olden days, like Julie Andrews wore on
The Sound of Music
Constable Jones spluttered, and the sergeant’s face grew stern. “Ms. Tyler, have you been drinking?”
I glared at him. “No! And it’s
“Are you on any medication?”
My irritation was growing. “I know what I saw,” I said firmly. “I saw a nun, in a full traditional habit.”
The two cops looked like they were trying hard not to laugh.
I shook my head and looked out the store window, just in time to see Dave’s cat, Bernard, run onto the pavement, next to the busy highway. I dashed out of the store, the officers hard on my tail. I expect they thought I was making a run for it.
I seized Bernard before he came to any harm, and turned to the cops. “He was Dave’s cat,” I said. “I’ll mind him until Dave’s relatives turn up.”
I expected them to protest, but they simply shrugged. “Sure,” Sergeant Barnes said. “We’re finished here, but we’ll be in touch.” They walked off, sniggering.
The morning started off slowly, as it usually did, but as the sun grew brighter and the clock ticked on, the town sprang to life with visitors traversing the highway. While business still wasn’t booming in my little furniture store, the influx of customers and window shoppers was enough to help the day pass by quickly.
I looked around at the furniture that sat unsold, and adjacent to those items were several items with red tags marked
hanging from them. “Why don’t people come and collect their furniture promptly?” I asked a bookcase, which was nicely chalk-painted in duck egg blue, but had been plain pine in its former life.
I walked into the back room and sighed. Some of the assorted items that lined the space in the back of the store hadn’t been upcycled yet. I really needed to get to work on them. I decided to tidy up, dusting away the cobwebs on the old furniture, and washing the mirrors until they reflected the sun’s rays with a dazzling brightness. I was wondering if another customer would ever come into the store, when the door swung open once more.
“Hello?” The voice was deep, but friendly, so I figured it wasn’t one of the local cops.
I darted toward the front of the store. “Good afternoon,” I said, surprised to see a tall, handsome man with short, dark hair standing in the doorway, holding the door open with one hand.
“Hi there,” he said. “I was just curious to know why the pawn shop next door wasn’t open. You wouldn’t happen to have any idea, would you?”
I smiled at the man, partly happy to see a good-looking man for once in my small town, but at the same time irritated, because he was standing on the buzzer in the doorway, making the sound reverberate again and again.
"Come in, please,” I said, motioning for him to enter with my right hand.
“Oh, okay,” the man said as he walked in, letting the door shut behind him. He looked around the shop, momentarily getting lost in time as his eyes jumped from one piece of furniture to another. “Wow, this is some nice stuff.” He walked over to a table and ran his finger across it. “A Hepplewhite Pembroke, drop leaf, chess table. Are you going to restore it?”
I was surprised that he knew such a thing about antiques. Most people didn’t know the difference between antiques and garage-made chests. I nodded. “When I get around to it. I bought it for myself, not for resale. Besides, it’s in good condition apart from the missing pieces of parquetry. Are you a collector?”
He shook his head. “No, but my mother was an antiques dealer.”
I frowned. “I suppose you think it’s a crime to paint wooden furniture, then. Not that I’d ever paint antique furniture,” I hastened to add.
The man shook his head again. “Not at all. I think it’s a great idea to upcycle used modern furniture, like you’re doing.” He gestured expansively around the store.
“Yes, I think so, too,” I said, shifting from one foot to the other. I was unsure how to act around this attractive man, as attractive men are rarities in small, country towns. I had seen the man around town the last day or two, but this was the first time I had seen him up close. Of course, I was far more nervous this time than I had been when looking at him from hundreds of feet away.
The man’s eyes continued to wander around the store for a few moments before he spoke again. “So, the pawn shop?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” I’d completely forgotten why the man was standing before me. “An old man named Dave owns it, but he was found deceased inside the store the other day. The police are keeping the business closed until his next of kin can be notified, all that sort of thing.”
The man looked shocked. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I had no idea; I’ve been traveling a bit, and just came into town a few days ago.”
“Did you know Dave?”
The man shook his head. “No, I’m not a friend or a family member. I’m Adam Bowen.” He stuck out his hand and I shook it. His grip was firm. “I’m a freelance journalist,” he continued. “I’m actually working on a book about a gang involved in a string of major bank robberies. May I ask exactly what happened to the shop owner next door?”
I caught my breath. How had I forgotten to mention that Dave was murdered? “He was murdered,” I said with a grimace. “Someone shot him.”
Adam’s eyes grew larger. “What, in his store?”
“Did you or anyone hear any gun shots?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “The police think it happened early morning. I live above my store, but I didn’t hear anything, though I did go out for coffee that morning.”
“So it must have happened when you weren’t here, or perhaps they used a silencer of some sort,” he said, looking around aimlessly. “What time did you go out for coffee?”
I’d already been through this several times with the police. “It was about seven, but no one else reported hearing any shots.”
“Hmm, interesting,” Adam said as he walked to look out my store window. “And you didn’t see or hear anything at all?” The journalist finally turned his focus back to the interior of the shop, and his eyes fixed on mine.
“I did see something.”
Adam’s eyes lighted up, and he took a step closer to me.
I took a deep breath, fearing that his reaction would be similar to the cops’ reactions when I told them what I had seen. “When I got back to my store with my coffee, I saw a nun leaving Dave’s pawn shop.”
“A nun?” he asked, seemingly bewildered by the information. “I’m assuming there’s a convent nearby?”
“Of course, but the thing is, there’s only Sister Bertrand left at the convent these days, and she’s elderly. The nun I saw was not only wearing brightly colored running shoes, but she also ran away.”
“Let me guess; the nun in town doesn’t normally wear gym shoes and go for runs, right?”
I nodded. At least he wasn’t laughing at me like the police had. “Sister Bertrand always wore a skirt, blouse, and jacket, but this nun was in full traditional habit.”
Adam squinted as he pulled out a pen and notepad. “That’s most unusual; nuns these days in Australia don’t usually wear traditional habits. How strange.”
I shrugged. “I’m not Catholic, so I wouldn’t know.”
“I’m not Catholic either, but I went to a Catholic school,” he said. “You know, for a better education and all that. And you’ve never seen this nun before?’
“Definitely not,” I said. “And not only does Sister Bertrand not wear a habit, she also has trouble walking, let alone running. It must’ve been a nun passing through town.”
Adam smiled. “Yes, with the town being right on the highway, you’d get so much passing traffic. Still, I just feel like something else is going on.”
“You’re hoping it’s connected to your robberies, aren’t you?”
“Hoping, but I’m not naïve,” he said, with a warm smile. “Okay, how does this sound for a possible scenario?”
I listened carefully.
“Maybe you’re right, and the convent had some visitors. Perhaps your visiting nun ran by you after discovering the lifeless body of Dave.”
“Yes, that’s what I thought,” I said. “What other possible reason could there be? I’m just wondering, though, why a nun would be spending time at a pawn shop?”
Adam looked away from me, and looked around the room. He looked blank, but I figured that was his method of thinking critically. After a few quiet moments, he turned back toward me. “Convents, churches, parishes, and so on, all get donations to help with revenue. Perhaps the nun was just trying to sell some donated items to raise funds for the convent, or for some sort of pilgrimage or something.”
I thought for a moment. It all fitted, but was that what had happened? “I’ve gone over it again and again,” I said. “That is the only explanation that fits. The nun knocked me down and took off like an Olympic sprinter. I would’ve thought a nun, no matter how upset, would have turned back to see if I was all right.”
Adam looked around. “Mind if I sit?” I nodded, and he pulled up an old, but newly-sanded, celebrant chair. “So what exactly do you think it means? Like you say, what other possible explanation could there be than that the nun was an unfortunate visitor who stumbled upon a terrifying discovery?”
I rubbed my temples. “Honestly, the more I think about it, the less I’m sure I know what to think.”
Adam scribbled a few notes, and then looked back up from his notepad. “Yes, that’s where I’m stuck too. I’m thinking the best thing to do might be to just go visit the convent myself. I’m sure Sister Bertrand welcomes all visitors, and would have no reason to hold back any information about visiting nuns. Do you know Sister Bertrand?”
I shook my head. “Not really. I mean, I say
to her and that sort of thing, but we’ve never had a conversation apart from the usual
What bad weather
– that sort of thing.”
He nodded. “Still, she knows your face?”
“It’s a small country town,” I said. “Everyone knows everyone else’s face, and even everyone else’s business.”
He was silent for a moment. “Would you come with me?”
“To the convent?” I felt silly as soon as I said it. Where else could he mean?
He nodded. “It’s always better to have two people at stuff like this. I’m a reporter. I’m good at my job, if I do say so myself.” He broke off with a chuckle. “Although occasionally another person hears something different, or sees something different. Plus she knows you, at least by sight. Let’s go and talk to Sister Bertrand, and then compare notes.”
I nodded. “Sure,” I said, trying not to look too eager to spend more time in the handsome man’s company.
“Well, it’s already getting late today, so how about tomorrow?”
I smiled. “Well, I do open on Saturdays, but I close at midday, so any time after that would be fine.”
Adam returned my smile. “Are you sure you don’t mind helping me look into this?”
“Only if you’re sure you don’t mind putting up with me for another day,” I said automatically, and I regretted the words as soon as I said them. I’m not much of a flirt. I mean, there’s no one to flirt with in a small country town, and I tend to rabbit on when I’m nervous.
Adam stood up and returned his chair to its original position. “I have a feeling I wouldn’t mind putting up with you for much longer than just a day.”
My cheeks burned hot, and I stood there with my jaw open as Adam exited the store.