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Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, businesses, places, events
and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a
fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual
events is purely coincidental.
Guardian Publishing Group
rights Reserved. No part of this publication or the information in it may be
quoted from or reproduced in any form by means such as printing, scanning,
photocopying or otherwise without prior written permission of the copyright
Table of Contents
Heather tilted her face upward, and
the rays of the sun played across her nose and cheeks. She smiled and shut her
eyes for a second.
“Keep walking like that and you’re
gonna hit a lamppost,” Amy said, beside her.
Lilly giggled, and Dave yapped a bark
in agreement. Her three favorite people, apart from the fourth who was hard at
work at the local station – could the day get any better?
Heather opened her eyes and focused on
the horizon. “I can’t help it. I feel like it’s going to be a good week.”
“You’re not nervous for the opening?”
The grand opening of the newly
renovated Donut Delights was a week away, and Heather could barely contain her
excitement. “Oh, I’m nervous all right, but that won’t stop me from enjoying a
walk with you guys.”
“Au-Heather,” Lilly said, then cleared
her throat. “We should come up with a new donut for the grand opening.
Something really yummy. Maybe with berries.”
“Berries?” Amy asked.
Heather glanced at the two of them and
“I love berries. Strawberries,
blueberries, raspberries.” Lilly ticked them off on her fingers of her free
hand – the other clutched the end of Dave’s leash. “Please, can we do that?”
“Yeah, I think berries are a great
idea.” Heather patted Lilly on the shoulder, then bent and scratched Dave on
his furry head, right between the ears. He looked up at her, and his tongue
lolled out of the side of his mouth.
“What’s that smell?” Amy asked.
Heather straightened and wrinkled her
nose. “Smoke,” she replied, then scanned the horizon. Her insides twisted, and
she pointed at a column of black which rose through the air.
Distant sirens streaked through the
morning, and an ambulance skidded around the corner at the end of the road.
“What if it’s –?”
“Don’t,” Heather said, and raised a
palm. That smoke was close to Donut Delights. What if something had gone wrong
at the store? What if the final week of construction had rushed the guys
working on the building and someone had made a mistake.
“Nope,” Lilly said, and placed her
hand over her eyes to shade it from Hillside’s sharp sunlight. “That’s too far
away to be from the store.”
Ten years old and already too
perceptive for her age. She did want to be a detective when she was older, and
that’d suit Lilly just fine.
Heather let out a long, low breath.
“Well, I guess we’d better –”
Lilly hurried along the sidewalk in
the direction of the smoke.
“Lilly!” Heather and Amy yelled.
“Let’s see what happened,” Lilly
called, over her shoulder. Dave’s doggy tail wagged in frantic circles –
clearly, he’d made up his mind as to where his allegiance lay.
Heather and Amy shared a glance. They
couldn’t let her wander off on her own.
“Lilly Jones, you come back here,
right this second,” Heather said, in her best mom voice. Or maybe it was her
Either way, Lilly paused for a second
and rolled her eyes. “C’mon Heather, it’s not that big of a deal. I mean, it’s
just a fire. Aren’t you curious to see where it’s coming from?”
Amy nudged Heather in the ribs. “She
has a point.”
“Don’t you start,” Heather replied.
A cop car sailed around the corner,
lights on, and sped off along the same route as the ambulance.
“Uh oh,” Heather whispered. The cops.
That meant something had gone seriously wrong.
“Can we go now?” Lilly asked. Dave
whined, and then scratched beneath his collar. His name tag jangled against his
“All right,” Heather said, at last.
“But stick close to me and not a toe out of line. Or a claw.”
Dave hopped to his furry paws and tugged
on the end of his leash.
Heather hurried up beside the young
girl, and her heart pounded against the inside of her chest. They turned the
corner, and the cloying scent of smoke hung thick around them.
Dave snuffled, and Lilly lifted him
into her arms.
Ambulances and cars lined the far end
of the road. A massive fire truck had parked close to the scene.
“Oh wow. It’s only six buildings away
from the store,” Amy said.
Heather pressed her palms to her
stomach and moved closer. She stopped just short of the police line and stared
at the blaze. The remains of an office building glared right back. Pops and
cracks rang out.
The whoosh of water from the end of
the hose and the cries of the firefighters.
Heather bit her bottom lip, and then
worried it with her teeth.
“Au-Heather? Are you okay?” Lilly
Heather put up a smile and dropped
into a crouch beside the girl. “I’m just fine, Lils. I don’t like the look of
this, is all. It doesn’t feel right.”
“Heather?” Ryan appeared on the other
side of the yellow line.
“Uh, oh,” Amy muttered. “Heather’s
sleuthin’ senses are always right.”
Heather patted Lilly on the back, then
strode forward to meet her husband. “What is it?” She glanced back at Lils, but
she was safe with Dave and Amy, further back from the heat, smoke, and yells.
“We’ve got a situation here,” Ryan
said. “That kind of situation, if you know what I mean.”
“A murder?” Heather asked.
“Suspected murder,” Ryan replied,
under his breath. “We’ve just pulled someone out of the flames and let’s just
“No need,” she replied and waved a
hand. She didn’t need the details. “You need me to investigate on this one?”
“Is that even a question?” Ryan asked.
He shook his head and looked back at the blaze. “I’ve got to get back to work,
but I get the feeling this case is going to be a pain in the neck.”
“Let me know when you’ve got the
evidence to discuss this,” Heather replied.
Ryan bobbed his head once. “I’ll call
you when I’m done here, my love.” His gaze traveled to Lilly and Amy. “Stay safe.”
“Don’t worry,” Heather replied. “We
She turned and clapped her hands once.
“All right, ladies, shows over. Let’s get back to my place and start baking
those berry donuts.”
Heather adjusted her handbag on the
seat beside her and sighed. The atmosphere in Dos Chicos hummed with
excitement. People ate their tacos or enchiladas with mole and laughed.
Ugh, she didn’t feel a tiny bit happy.
The excitement for a hard-earned week
long vacation from Donut Delights had disappeared at the sight of the burning
office building the day before.
“Sorry, I’m late,” Ryan said and
crammed himself into the seat opposite hers. “Still trying to catch up with
everything after what happened yesterday.” He reached out and squeezed her
“I understand, love. Just because my
career is on hold doesn’t mean I expect yours to be,” Heather replied. She
lifted his hand and kissed the back of it, lightly. “I ordered some nachos for
“You’re a star,” Ryan said, then sat
back and rested his head. “Boy, what a day.”
Heather took a sip of her soda, then
rolled the fizzy goodness around her mouth. She swallowed and smacked her lips.
“You wanna tell me about it?”
Ryan reached for his glass, lifted it,
and then drank deeply. He put it down again and stared at her. “Yeah. I think
that would be best. You’re the consultant on this case, too.”
“I know,” Heather replied, and a frown
wrinkled her forehead. That’d been a weird reaction on his part.
“Sorry, hon, I’m distracted. The guys
at the station are determined to give me grief about you and the case.” Ryan
drank more soda and shut his eyes for a second. “But it’s all right. Nothing I
haven’t dealt with before.”
Heather wriggled her lips, then let
them settle. “Do you have any new information about the case?”
“That’s part of the reason I’m so
distracted. It’s a strange scenario we’re dealing with here. Definitely a case
of arson and murder.”
“How do you know?” She asked.
“Because we spoke to the local fire
department and they say that the fire started outside the victim’s office
door,” Ryan replied. “Gasoline.”
Heather tapped her nails on the
tabletop. “Who was the victim?” She asked.
“Guy by the name of Paul Jackson.
Everybody called him Quick Paul, though. You might’ve heard of him.”
“Oh, I’m sure Sharon Janis mentioned
him between one or twenty times,” Heather replied. “But I kinda tune the gossip
Ryan chuckled then stopped himself.
“Quick Paul had quite the reputation in the business world. Pyramid schemes, a
few investment scandals, that kind of thing.”
“I think I heard about something like
that,” Heather replied, and cast her mind back to one of Sharon’s rants. “Uh,
it’s escaping me now, but it sounds like this guy might’ve had a few enemies in
the business realm.”
“That’s a possibility,” Ryan replied,
then cleared his throat. “Now, down to the details.”
“Oh boy,” Heather said and pushed her
soda to one side. “Do I need to hear these?”
“Yeah, you do.” Ryan brushed his
knuckles across the back of her forearm and smiled. “It’s nothing that will
disturb you. Just bare facts about the case.”
“All right. Fire away,” Heather
replied, then grimaced at the poor choice of words.
“Quick Paul was drugged before the
fire started,” Ryan replied. “He wasn’t tied to anything but had passed out on
the floor from what we can tell. He died of smoke inhalation.”
Heather pressed her lips together.
“And the tox report?”
“We expedited the process, this time
around. Valium,” Ryan said. “Lots and lots of valium. Too much for a person who
wanted to relieve stress.”
The waitress arrived and smiled at
them. She placed a plate of steaming hot nachos in the center of the table, and
Ryan’s eyes lit up like the 4th of July.
He grabbed a chip, loaded with salsa
and guacamole, and delivered it into his mouth.
Heather didn’t help herself. Something
didn’t add up, already. “Wait, what if Quick Paul took the valium himself. This
could’ve been a suicide.”
“Uh, I dunno about that. You think
he’d go to all that trouble? He’d set fire to the building, then take valium?”
Ryan shook his head. “No suicide note. No, sign that he was in grave financial
trouble. Nothing that could’ve stressed him out to that point.”
“I guess,” Heather said. Though who
were they to say what could stress a guy out or not? “Did he have any family
members nearby? Friends?”
“Nope. Just a long list of business
associates. But we need to narrow that way down before we can think about
following any leads.” Ryan crunched another chip between his teeth.
Heather finally ate some of the
Mexican goodness, and the zing of flavors spread through her mouth and
enlivened her mood. “All right,” she said. “Here’s what I’m thinking. Whoever
drugged Quick Paul had to be someone he knew and trusted, otherwise there
would’ve been some sign of a struggle.”
“So, we need to find out who he had
meetings or appointments with, first. Not that it was one of his associates,
necessarily, but it’s a good start,” Heather said. Good thing she had a week to
spare before the bakery opened up again.
Ryan grunted and took a sip of his
soda to wash down the food.
“We should probably head out to the
crime scene, sometime soon. Or at least to Quick Paul’s house.”
“Oh yeah, we’ve already cordoned that
off. The sooner we get this done, the better,” Ryan replied, then waved his
soda through the air. “The Mayor is up in arms about the arson.”
“I bet,” Heather replied. Hillside was
supposed to be the quiet, peaceful Texan town that everybody loved to visit.
The rash of murders and crime had certainly marred its image.
“We’ll meet up there tomorrow. How’s 9
“I’ll be there,” Heather replied, and
flashed her hubby a confident grin. A while ago, she’d doubted her
investigating prowess, but not anymore.
She was on the case, and Quick Paul
Jackson’s murderer would be in prison before he could say, “Raspberry Mojito