Authors: Allison Kingsley
Tags: #General, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction
Pausing for a moment, Clara watched the seagulls floating above the sands against the hazy smudge of mountains that guarded the bay. Before she’d left for college she’d taken the scenery for granted. Once in New York, however, she’d missed the ocean and the peaceful ambiance of her hometown. Now that she’d learned to appreciate the beauty of Finn’s Harbor, she took the time to drink in the view.
Usually the fresh sea air helped to clear her mind, but today it failed to revive her. It was almost noon, and already the sticky heat of the day seemed overpowering. The climb to the top of the hill didn’t help, and by the time she reached the bookstore she was sweltering, out of breath and longing for a glass of iced tea.
The feeling of anxiety that had bothered her ever since she’d fallen out of bed that morning was now a full-blown feeling of impending disaster. Hoping it wasn’t the Quinn Sense giving her a warning, she shoved open the door and stepped inside the cool, shadowed entrance of the Raven’s Nest.
When Stephanie had first asked her cousin to take the afternoon shift at the bookstore, Clara had agreed with the clear understanding it was only temporary—just until Stephanie found someone else to help out.
Clara had returned home from New York with the firm intention of finding an apartment and a job. In a town as small as Finn’s Harbor, however, teaching positions were
few and far between. The commute to Portland, the closest big city, was too long to be an option, and the one offer she’d been given closer to home had not appealed to her.
Stephanie seemed in no hurry to replace her, and after working at the bookstore for several months, Clara had settled into a relaxing, if slightly mundane routine. She was in a comfortable place right now and didn’t seem to have the incentive to look for another job.
Although she tended to avoid anything to do with magic and the occult, the bookstore had grown on her. The dangling beads and spinning crystals, the lifesize fortune-teller staring into her crystal ball and the stuffed raven keeping watch from its high perch appealed to the quirky side of her nature. Besides, Stephanie needed her, and it felt good to be helping her cousin make a success of the Raven’s Nest.
As Clara walked over to the counter, Stephanie called out to her. Balanced on the rung of a ladder and half-hidden behind a stack of books, she peered out from one of the aisles. “Have you heard the news?”
Clara paused. The sensation was back. She could hear them now—the voices, clamoring in her head. She struggled to banish them. “What news?”
A face popped up from behind the counter, crowned with flyaway red hair. Molly Owens’s bright blue eyes sparkled with excitement. “We’ve been waiting for you to get here. You won’t believe what’s happened. There’s been a murder!”
The voices were immediately silenced, leaving only a
cold sick feeling behind. Clara’s lips felt dry as she answered Molly. “Where? Here in Finn’s Harbor?”
Stephanie abandoned her books and hurried over to join her young assistant behind the counter. “We thought you might have heard it on the news.”
Clara shook her head. “I was listening to a CD in my car. Who died? Not anyone we know, I hope.”
Molly was practically jumping up and down. “No one knows who he is. The police found him this morning. Guess where!”
You don’t want to know.
Clara jumped. It was as if someone had spoken the words out loud in her ear. She looked at Stephanie for help.
Her cousin’s face was a picture of discomfort. “I’m sorry, Clara. I know you like him, but…” She hesitated, and before Clara could absorb the words, Molly jumped in to finish for her.
“They found the body in the back of Rick Sanders’s truck!”
Clara kept staring at her cousin, waiting desperately for her to say that Molly was joking. Instead, Stephanie slowly nodded her head. “It’s true. Roberta was in here a little while ago. She heard it from John Halloran. He’s taking care of the store until Rick gets back.”
Clara clutched the edge of the counter. “What happened?”
Molly started to say something, but Stephanie cut her off. “Molly, go make a fresh pot of coffee, would you?”
The young girl looked disappointed, but she wandered off to the Reading Nook, leaving the cousins alone.
“We don’t know much,” Stephanie said, opening the cash drawer and closing it again. “Just that the body was found in Rick’s truck and he’s down at the station helping the police in their inquiries.”
“Well, they can’t possibly think he killed someone.” Clara hurried behind the counter and stashed her purse on the shelf underneath. “Dan must know that.”
Stephanie shrugged. “Dan Petersen’s the chief of police. I guess he has to question everyone.”
“Yeah, I remember when he questioned Molly about Ana Jordan’s death. He was convinced Molly had killed her.”
“Well, that turned out all right in the end, though, didn’t it?” Stephanie patted her arm. “Don’t worry, Clara. If Rick is innocent, I’m sure Dan will know it. He’s a good cop.”
Clara turned on her. “
about it. Rick would never kill anyone.”
Stephanie held up her hands. “Okay! If that’s so, then he has nothing to worry about.”
Annoyed with herself for overreacting, Clara shrugged. “So who’s the victim, anyway?”
“They don’t know his name yet. John said he thought the guy was from out of town.”
“I guess so.” Stephanie looked worried. “Clara, you’re not going to get involved in this, are you? Remember what happened the last time. You almost got yourself killed.”
“Of course I’m not getting involved. Besides, if I remember correctly, you were the one who begged me to look into Ana’s murder.”
“That’s because everyone thought Molly had killed her. Rick Sanders can take care of himself.”
Clara glanced at the clock. “Isn’t it time you left to pick up your kids? Aunt Paula will be wondering where you are.”
Stephanie followed her gaze and ran a hand through her fair hair. “Oh crap. Mom will kill me. She’s got a dentist appointment this afternoon.” She snatched up a large tapestry purse and tucked it under her arm. “I’ll let you know if I hear anything else.”
Stephanie paused at the door and looked back. “You will talk to me before you do anything…rash, won’t you?”
“I’m not going to do anything rash. Besides, I’m sure Rick will be back in the store this afternoon, so you have nothing to worry about.”
Stephanie looked unconvinced. “I hope so. Let me know if you hear anything.” The door closed behind her, and Clara slumped against the counter, wishing she felt as positive as she’d sounded.
Shreds of her dream kept wafting through her mind. What was happening to Tatters while Rick was detained? Was the dog alone in the house, tearing it apart? Was he in the hardware store, creating havoc?
Fortunately, she didn’t have time to worry about it as a little rush of customers took her mind off things.
Shortly before Molly was due to leave, Clara caught sight of Rick entering his store across the street. She waited until Molly had finished serving her customer, and hurried over to her.
“I’m going to the hardware store to see if everything’s all right over there,” she said as Molly finished entering the purchase on the computer. “Rick’s back, so at least he wasn’t arrested.”
Molly gave her a grin. “All right! Go ahead, I’ll wait.”
“I won’t be long.” Clara was out of the door before the words had left her mouth.
The sun scorched her head as she waited on the curb for the line of slow-moving cars to pass. Losing patience, she darted in between a pickup pulling a fifth wheel, and a black SUV piloted by a white-haired man who gestured at her as she flashed by him.
Rick had his back to her when she rushed into the shop. He stood talking to John Halloran, his sometimes assistant, who kept nodding his head and looking sympathetic.
Clara wasn’t sure how she felt about John. He’d owned a candy store farther down the street when she and Stephanie were kids. They’d been convinced he was an evil wizard. There was something in the way he’d talked to them that had freaked them out, and even now Clara felt uneasy whenever he was around.
John saw her coming and gave her a brief nod of his head.
Rick turned around, his taut features breaking into a smile at the sight of her.
“I heard the news,” Clara blurted out before he could say anything. “I’m so sorry, Rick. Is there anything I can
do? I mean…I hope…” She let her voice trail off, not sure quite what to say.
“It’s okay,” Rick assured her. “I wasn’t arrested or anything.”
He was still smiling, but she could see the worry in his eyes. “What did Dan say? Do they know who did it?”
“Nope.” Rick looked back at John. “You can run along now, buddy. I can take it from here.”
“You sure?” John gave Clara a long look that somehow made her feel she was intruding, then ambled out the door and disappeared.
Rick gazed after him, a frown creasing his brow. “I’ve got to get a permanent assistant. John’s been good about helping out now and then, but I need someone here to take over full-time when I’m away.”
Clara looked at him in alarm. “Are you saying you’re expecting to be arrested?”
He turned away before she could see his expression. “No, of course not. Still, you never know what might happen. If I’m sick, for instance, or have to go out of town for something, I have to rely on John being free to take over. With a permanent assistant I wouldn’t have that worry.”
“True.” Clara ran her fingers along the edge of the counter. “So, did Dan tell you anything about the murder?”
He looked at her then, his head tilted to one side. “You’re not thinking of hunting down a killer again, are you?”
Clara laughed. “Not on your life. I had all the excitement I needed with the last one.”
He looked relieved. “Good. Messing with police business is dangerous stuff.”
She wondered for a moment if he was warning her off for a reason, then dismissed it. “I heard that the cops don’t know the victim’s identity.”
“You heard right.” Rick walked over to the shelves and straightened up some boxes of patio lights.
Clara followed him. “He must be from out of town.”
Rick dropped his hand and turned to face her. “You’re not going to quit until I tell you everything. Right?”
She grinned. “Right.”
“Okay. Apparently a truck driver going past my house early this morning spotted the body in the back of my pickup and called the cops. Dan asked me a lot of questions about where I was and what I was doing last night. I told him I was at the bowling alley until around ten or so, then left and went home. I have no idea how or when the body landed in my truck. Dan said he’d been killed with a blunt instrument. So far they haven’t found the murder weapon, but they’re searching the area around the bowling alley.”
Clara could tell now that although Rick was putting on a brave face, underneath he was worried. As well he might be. “We’d better hope they don’t find it there,” she murmured.
“Exactly.” Rick strode over to the counter and opened up a box of miniature flashlights. “Things look bad
enough for me right now, but if they find the murder weapon anywhere near that bowling alley, I’ll be calling my lawyer.”
Clara was about to answer him when she was interrupted by whining, accompanied by scratching, from the door that led into the rear of the shop. “You’ve still got Tatters!”
“As if I don’t have enough problems.” Rick glanced at the door. “I still can’t make up my mind what to do with him. I could take him to the pound in Portland, I guess—”
“No!” Clara’s cry of distress cut off his words. “You can’t do that! He could be put down.”
As if to echo her words, the whining and scratching intensified.
Rick lifted his shoulders in a resigned shrug. “What else can I do? He’s not happy locked up back there, and he’s even more miserable shut up in the garage at home. I don’t know what else to do.”
Clara drew a deep breath. “What if I helped take care of him?”
She regretted the words the moment they were out of her mouth, but it was too late now. Rick was looking at her as if she had thrown him a life preserver. “That would be great! What do you have in mind?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought it through yet. I just…” She threw a glance at the door, which was still bearing the brunt of Tatters’ claws. “I can’t bear the thought of him going to the pound.”
“Look, you don’t have to do anything.” Rick gestured
at the door. “He can be a handful, and you have to work and probably don’t have time to deal with him. If you feel that bad about it I won’t take him to the pound. I’ll try to find him a home somewhere.”
Now that she’d embraced the idea, she was reluctant to let it go. “I’ll work out something, I promise.” She started for the door. “Give me some time to think about it.”
“Why don’t we talk about it over dinner? Do you like Italian food? Angelo’s is pretty decent, and they make a great tiramisu.” He was following her out the door, seemingly intent on getting an answer from her.
She paused on the street to look back at him. When she’d first started working at the Raven’s Nest, he’d invited her out more than once. She’d turned him down so often he’d finally given up asking her. She’d never quite decided if she was sad or sorry about that.