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Authors: Dawn Eastman

Pall in the Family

BOOK: Pall in the Family
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Praise for
Pall in the Family

“A kooky small town filled with eccentric characters, psychics, and murder make Eastman's Family Fortune Mystery series a stellar launch.”

—Kari Lee Townsend, national bestselling author
of the Fortune Teller Mysteries

“A tightly plotted, character-driven triumph of a mystery,
Pall in the Family
had me laughing out loud while feverishly turning pages to try and figure out whodunit . . . Eastman is fabulous!”

—Jenn McKinlay,
New York Times
bestselling author
of the Library Lover's Mysteries

Shivering Shih Tzu . . .

Something definitely wasn't right. With a growing sense of dread, I headed toward the dining room. I wouldn't have noticed the dog, but Seth, who was following like a stealth ninja, did.

“There he is!”

I jumped and backed into Seth, almost knocking both of us to the ground.

“I told you to stay put.” My voice edged toward drill sergeant but Seth didn't seem to notice.

“Sorry.” He was already on his knees, looking under the table.

“Is that Tuffy?”

I bent down to get a better look. A small ball of fluff was sitting under the dining room table shivering, its brown eyes shining. I nodded and kneeled next to Seth.

“What's the matter with him?” Seth asked, leaning toward the dog.

“Maybe he's afraid of you. I've never brought anyone with me before. I hadn't thought about it but he could be . . .” I stopped as Tuffy came out from under the table, crawled into Seth's lap, and continued trembling.

“He doesn't seem afraid of
me,
” Seth said, and stroked Tuffy's head.

“No, I guess not. But something's wrong.” I reached out to pet Tuffy, who usually was against all physical contact unless food was involved. He licked my hand and leaned closer in to Seth.


Stay here
with the dog. I'll be right back.” I stood and scanned the room.

The hair on the back of my neck prickled, and my ears buzzed. I moved slowly toward the kitchen, old instincts kicking in. I hadn't felt this rush of adrenaline and fear since I'd returned to Crystal Haven. I couldn't say I'd missed it. As I reached back and felt along my waistband, I did miss the gun.

From the kitchen doorway I could see why Tuffy was quivering. Sara was sprawled on the floor: faceup, motionless, legs at an odd angle, eyes staring at the ceiling. . . .

Pall in the Family

DAWN EASTMAN

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

For more information about the Penguin Group, visit penguin.com.

PALL IN THE FAMILY

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2013 by Dawn Eastman.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

BERKLEY
®
PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-101-60656-8

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / August 2013

Cover illustration by Daniel Craig.

Cover design by Judith Lagerman.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

To my daughter, Ellie, with love.

Acknowledgments

Solving a mystery in Crystal Haven is a group effort, just as publishing the first Family Fortune Mystery combined the talents of many generous individuals.

Thank you to my editor, Andie Avila, and the entire team at Berkley Prime Crime. From copyedits to cover art, I am fortunate to work with such a talented, dedicated group.

Forever thanks to my agent, Sharon Bowers, and her enthusiasm for these characters. My gratitude to Clare O'Donohue for opening the door.

Clyde Fortune and the rest of the crew would not exist without the encouragement, critiques, humor, and friendship of my amazing writers' group. Wendy Delsol, Kim Stuart, Kali Van Baale, Murl Pace, and Chantal Corcoran—you are truly cherished.

I am grateful to Jamie Chavez for her editorial expertise and cheerleading.

Thanks to Barbara and Junior Morton for Tuffy's name.

Thank you to Brent and Nancy Eastman for all the techie assistance.

My parents, Ann and Bob Eastman, instilled a love of reading and a self-confidence which is priceless. Thank you for a lifetime of comedic material.

Thank you to my children, Ellie and Jake, for support, tolerance, laughter, and love.

And to my husband, Steve, for believing.

Contents

Praise for Pall in the Family

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

1

I followed the shrieks to the living room, but didn't
rush. It was early in the day and I was still caffeine deprived.

Mom, Aunt Vi, and Seth ducked and watched the ceiling. Occasionally Mom screamed when the small black shadow flew in her direction. They had already divvied up the equipment.

Aunt Vi's long red fingernails curled around a bedsheet stretched between her hands. Her brightly colored skirt swished over sturdy black shoes. She tossed her long silver braid over her shoulder.

My nephew, Seth, gripped my old butterfly net with thick leather gloves. At five feet six inches he was almost as tall as I was. He had taken to measuring himself against me on a daily basis, continually dismayed that he had not surpassed me yet. He flicked his head to the side to shake blond bangs out of his eyes. He did this so frequently it seemed to have become a twitch.

Mom wielded a large plastic bowl that she mostly used to cover her head. At almost seventy, she was petite and still beautiful. Her white hair was coiled in a tight bun, and her makeup was flawless, even though she still wore her robe and slippers.

They were after a bat. Again.

“Clyde, it's coming your way!” Vi threw the sheet at me.

I looked up and saw the bat swoop in my direction. I tossed the sheet at him but missed. More noise ensued as he looped around the room and headed for Mom. Seth held his position like a goalie in a very slow game.

I opened three windows and popped out the screens while the hunting continued. Seth took a swing with the net but had no luck. Vi readied her sheet again. Mom cowered under the bowl. This was home.

Some people run away from home to join the circus; I had left home to escape one.

Fortunately, my phone buzzed in my pocket. I waved it at the bat-hunting trio and stepped into the dining room. It was a text from Tish. She needed to board Baxter again. He'd been with us more than he'd been home in the month since I'd returned to Crystal Haven. I wondered once again why she was away so much.

Another scream and then a crash issued from the room next door. I took a deep breath and dove in.

“Nana Rose, stop yelling. You're scaring the poor guy.” Seth frowned and followed the bat around the room with his eyes.

“What about what he's doing to me?” Mom turned to Vi, and said, “I thought you said all the da—
arn
bats were gone.” We all glanced at Seth. We had promised his mother we wouldn't swear in front of him. She still labored under the delusion that he was five years old.

Vi shrugged and glanced at the ceiling. “I'm pretty sure this is the last one.” Aunt Vi is a pet psychic, and her pronouncements on all things animal are taken as gospel by my mother.

Vi insists each sighting of a bat in the house is a sign of impending doom. Then Mom consults the tarot cards to try to identify the coming disaster. So far, nothing. But that doesn't stop my family from predicting dire outcomes. In a tourist town where psychics and fortune tellers are more thick on the ground than Realtors, grim prophecies are routine.

“He's getting tired. Maybe he'll notice the window if he flies lower.” Seth dropped his net hand to his side.

“Seth, stay on guard! He's probably faking.” Mom continued to protect her head and track the bat.

The animal landed on the couch. I imagined I could hear its little heart racing. Vi threw the sheet at him, and he was off again on his loop around the room. On the second round he flew through the window and landed with a splat on the front porch. I ran to close the windows, and Seth darted outside to assess the escapee.

I turned to check on Mom. She took deep breaths and put the bowl down with shaky hands only after Vi and I assured her the bat had left the building.

“Maybe we need professional help,” said Vi.

I had a few ideas about the kinds of professionals we would need, but I was pretty sure she meant animal control.

“Okay, well, Seth and I have dogs to walk—see you later.” I bolted out the front door and down the steps. I caught a glimpse of the bat as it flew into the trees. “You coming?” I called.

Seth gave a thumbs-up, climbed into my Jeep, and clicked his seat belt.

“I wish we could start a morning without a major ruckus.” I sighed and turned the key in the ignition.

“Ruckus.” Seth snorted. “You sound like Nana Rose.”

“Take that back or you will never see your fourteenth birthday.”

“Now you sound like Auntie Vi.” He grinned and shoved his earbuds into his ears.

Before putting the Jeep in gear, I closed my eyes and counted to five very slowly. My mother had suggested Seth as my assistant because we were “at the same maturity level.” But, seriously, who doesn't act like she's thirteen when forced to move back in with her parents at thirty?

Seth has been coming to Crystal Haven for the summer ever since it was legal to put him on an airplane alone. My perfect sister, Grace, hasn't stepped foot in our quirky hometown since the day she left, and I don't blame her. Much. She's made a good life for herself using her talents as a stockbroker.

In Seth's other life he's a city kid and goes to an expensive private school in New York City, wears a uniform, and plays tennis. He has always loved coming here for the summer and spending time on the beach and in the woods. Since I had just moved back—
temporarily
—we'd been spending a lot of time together.

“All right, our day just got more complicated,” I said.

With exaggerated patience, Seth removed his earbuds.

“How complicated can your day be? You walk dogs and pick up crap. It's not like you're saving the world—anymore.”

Seth was unhappy about my recent career switch from police officer to dog walker. I ignored him and continued. “We have to go get Baxter after we see our usual lineup.” I waved my phone at him. “Tish texted, and she's going out of town again. He's coming to stay with us.”

“Great, I love Baxter.”

“Good, you're in charge of him.”

* * *

Mondays are the
hardest days, since the dogs have to get used to the weekday routine after spending all weekend with their owners. Our first stop was Archie's house. He is an Airedale with a pathologic fear of thunderstorms. Fortunately for us, the sky was a clear blue and he only needed a quick walk. Molly and Roxie were next. Molly is an Australian shepherd with anxiety, and her neighbor Roxie is a spoiled cocker spaniel with fear-biting issues. I had taken to walking them together, one being less anxious and the other less fearful. My favorite, MacDuff, followed. A Scottish terrier, he had become depressed when the daughter of the house had moved away to college. Vi said he had “empty nest syndrome” and she was working with him to find other “sources of fulfillment.” So far, he was fulfilling his need to dig up his owner's yard.

After MacDuff, we drove to get Baxter. When we arrived at Tish's house, Baxter, who would have a frequent-flyer card if I wanted to encourage his repeat business, was waiting for us by the front door. His dark muzzle, comprised mainly of heavy jowls, pulled the rest of his face down to give him a perpetually worried countenance. His droopy stare brightened when he saw Seth. Baxter is a bullmastiff, which was another way of saying he's one hundred thirty pounds of drool. He adored Seth. He tolerated me because I usually accompanied Seth. Since he wasn't the only dog to ride in it, he hated my SUV. But I couldn't imagine anything better than a fifteen-year-old Jeep Wrangler for transporting dogs to their various destinations.

“Okay, on three,” I said.

I was in the backseat of my Jeep with both hands on Baxter's collar. Seth had the other end, which was still firmly planted outside on the street. The dog was wearing his stubborn face, which consisted of jutting his jaw even farther forward, and I braced myself for a fight.

“One, two,” I said, and Baxter lurched forward, his jowls flopping in my face and drenching me in dog saliva.

“We were supposed to go on three!” I said. I grabbed a dirty towel from the floor and wiped my face.

“I didn't push him. He did it himself,” Seth said, and looked away too late to hide his smile.

“Get in the car,” I said through clenched teeth.

We drove in silence to our next client's house. Seth had his earbuds screwed into his ears, but the corners of his mouth kept twitching upward. Baxter flopped his chin on my shoulder from the backseat, and I felt the warm wetness ooze down my arm.

I took my eyes off the road long enough to roll them skyward and wonder how I had ended up back in Crystal Haven with an enormous slobbering dog and an adolescent nephew who was either not speaking at all or talking so much it made my head hurt.
When will you teach me to shoot? Did you keep your flak jacket? How fast can you run? Do you think Baxter would make a good K-9 officer?
Much like with every other problem in my life, I blamed my mother. After my “incident” on the police force in Ann Arbor, I had called Mom in a moment of weakness. She had talked me into moving home for the summer. She made sense at the time, the way mothers sometimes do.
Come home, rest, take time to figure out your life.
My administrative leave morphed into a summer at home. I'd arrived in mid-June and it was already mid-July. At some point I'd have to decide what I was going to do come September. Within days of my return, Aunt Vi had used her connections to line up some “clients” for me. Many of her pet clients needed extra attention during the day. Even though I tried to argue with Vi on principle, her idea gave me a flexible schedule, a few extra bucks, and allowed me to spend the days walking other people's dogs.

The one good part about the summer was that I was spending it in western Michigan, mostly outside. Beautiful beaches and lush forests were all within a short drive. The tourist season guaranteed festivals and farmers markets and, after Ann Arbor, I needed a more relaxed pace. As we drove to Tuffy's house, I tried to focus on how much I loved it here.

It was close to eleven by the time I parked in the driveway of a small brick ranch on the outskirts of town. Tuffy's owner, Sara, was a part-time lawyer and often worked from home. I hadn't seen the dog in over a week. He was moody and spoiled and didn't like anyone but Sara. Plus, he's a shih tzu and wears one of those ridiculous ponytails on top of his head.

I nudged Seth. “Get your gear.”

“What?”

“The pooper-scooper.”

“Oh, man . . .” He slouched out of his seat, his bony shoulders sagging, and moved toward the back of the Jeep. As assistant dog walker, Seth was in charge of cleanup. He frequently pretended not to remember this aspect of the job description.

I stopped in front of the house and foraged under one of the spindly bushes flanking the front steps. I extracted the key from the fake rock Sara had hidden there and listened for noises inside the house. Usually Tuffy would be flinging himself at the door by now and barking furiously, as if I were an intruder he had never seen before, but all was quiet this morning.

“Just leave it by the steps and we'll go get him,” I said to Seth, who was holding the scooper at arm's length.

I unlocked the door and stepped inside, bracing myself for Tuffy's attack. It didn't come.

“Tuffy?”

“Here, puppy,” Seth said from behind me, and got down on one knee. He whistled. “Come on, boy.”

Still nothing.

“This is weird, Seth. Stay here.”

The shades were still down, and I threaded my way through the dimly lit living room, which was crowded with a sectional sofa that must have been purchased for a larger room, and a coffee table piled with books on spiritualism and séances. On the mantel, pictures of two college-age girls flanked a photo of the elusive dog. Sara's divorce had turned nasty over custody of the shih tzu. Had I been in her shoes, I would have walked away from the sectional and the dog.

Something definitely wasn't right. With a growing sense of dread, I headed toward the dining room. I wouldn't have noticed the dog, but Seth, who was following like a stealth ninja, did.

“There he is!”

I jumped and backed into Seth, almost knocking both of us to the ground.

“I told you to stay put.” My voice edged toward drill sergeant, but Seth didn't seem to notice.

“Sorry.” He was already on his knees, looking under the table. “Is that Tuffy?”

I bent down to get a better look. A small ball of fluff was sitting under the dining room table shivering, its brown eyes shining. I nodded and kneeled next to Seth.

“What's the matter with him?” Seth asked, leaning toward the dog.

“Maybe he's afraid of you. I've never brought anyone with me before. I hadn't thought about it, but he could be . . .” I stopped as Tuffy came out from under the table, crawled into Seth's lap, and continued trembling.

“He doesn't seem afraid of
me.
” Seth said, and stroked Tuffy's head.

BOOK: Pall in the Family
3.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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