Authors: Allison Kingsley
Tags: #General, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction
Clara sighed. “You should know better than to listen to Roberta Prince. She exaggerates everything.”
Stephanie took Clara’s arm. “You look frazzled. Come on down to the Nook and we’ll have a cup of coffee. Molly can take care of the counter for a while.”
Clara followed her cousin down the aisle where Molly was stacking books on a shelf. Catching sight of Clara, the young woman bounced over to her. “Did you hear the news? I can’t believe they arrested—”
Both cousins spoke at once. “He’s not been arrested!”
Molly blinked. “Oh, I thought…”
She let her voice trail off as Clara glared at her. “From now on, if anyone mentions the word
in my presence, expect to get an earful, is that clear?”
Molly nodded and glanced at Stephanie.
“I need you at the counter,” Stephanie said, nudging Clara to go forward. “We’ll be in the Nook if anyone wants us.”
“Got it!” Molly darted off, no doubt glad to be out of the line of fire.
Clara flung herself down on a chair in the Nook and rubbed her forehead with her fingers.
“Headache?” Stephanie handed her a mug of steaming coffee.
“A pounder. It’s been quite a morning.”
“Yeah, I saw you earlier. What on earth were you doing with that dog?”
Clara filled her in, making her laugh more than once as she related the events of the morning.
“I bet Aunt Jessie will have a screaming fit when she sees Tatters,” Stephanie said when Clara finished her story.
“I’m just hoping she doesn’t freak out when she opens my bedroom door.” Clara tried not to visualize Tatters tearing through the house, leaving a trail of broken knickknacks behind him.
Stephanie leaned back in her chair. “Reminds me of the time you found that poor little dog in the woods. You took it home, and Aunt Jessie wouldn’t let it in the house because it was running alive with fleas.”
Clara smiled. “I remember. We kept that puppy for days in the woodshed on McAllister’s farm.”
“Until Mr. McAllister found out and chased us out of there.” Stephanie stared into her coffee mug. “I remember how you held that dog in your lap and talked to it like it was a child. You kept listening as if it was talking to you and you could understand every word it said. Then you
got up, said you knew where it lived, and we took it to that house near the woods.”
“I was right. That little girl cried when we gave her back her puppy.”
“That dog told you where it lived.”
Clara shifted on her chair and put the mug down on the table at her side. “It was just a lucky guess. I pretended it told me. We were kids. We were always pretending things. If we weren’t sailing the high seas with a bunch of pirates we were flying on a magic carpet to Aladdin’s castle.”
“Or pretending to be fortune-tellers. We couldn’t wait to get the Quinn Sense so we could tell fortunes for real.”
“Yeah, well that didn’t turn out to be nearly as exciting as we imagined.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Stephanie gave her a hard look. “What are you going to do about Rick?”
Clara raised her eyebrows. “What should I be doing?”
“I mean, if he’s guilty—if he really did kill that guy—”
“Stephanie Quinn Dowd! How can you say that? You know Rick as well as I do. He could never do something like that.”
Stephanie looked worried. “Clara, aren’t you just a little prejudiced? I know you like the guy. How can you be so sure he didn’t do it?”
Clara pinched her lips. “I know. Just leave it at that.”
Stephanie stared at her, her expression slowly changing from doubt to recognition. “The Quinn Sense. It was the Sense that told you, right?” She slapped the arm of her
chair. “Darn it, I wish I could do that! It’s not fair. Why should you get the powers and not me? We’re practically sisters, for heaven’s sake! Most of our family has it, why can’t I?”
“Shhh!” Clara looked around in alarm. “You know how I feel about that. I don’t want anyone to know I have it.”
“Sorry.” Stephanie leaned forward. “I was right, though, wasn’t I? That’s how come you’re so sure Rick is innocent.”
“I believe he’s innocent because I know him. Well enough to know he’s not a murderer.” Clara paused, knowing that what she was about to say had been in her mind ever since she’d heard that Rick was a suspect. “I’m going to do my best to prove it,” she said quietly.
Stephanie frowned. “Have you forgotten what happened when you helped clear Molly’s name?”
“No, of course not. But Rick needs my help. I don’t see anyone else rushing to his aid.”
“He has a lawyer, hasn’t he?”
“Yes, but lawyers are interested in proving their clients’ innocence, not tracking down the real murderer.”
“Isn’t that what the police department is supposed to do?”
Clara sighed. “Yes, they are. Dan is a good cop, and I know he’s doing his best to find out the truth. But it’s like we said when Molly was a suspect. People don’t like talking to the cops. They’ll talk to us. Someone out there knows what really happened. All we have to do is find him.”
Stephanie’s eyes gleamed. “And there’s always the Quinn Sense.”
“You know how erratic that can be.”
“It’s helped before.”
“Maybe. But I’m not going to rely on it. I’m just going to ask questions and hope someone comes up with the right answer.”
“But if the Sense can help?”
Clara paused a long moment before answering. “Much as I hate to admit it, it could come in handy.”
Stephanie sat up. “All right! Since you’re determined to do this, I’m going to help you.”
Clara smiled. “I thought you might.”
“As long as you bear in mind that I’m the ideas person. You’re the one who does the legwork.”
“Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“And we don’t tell George what we’re doing. He’d kill me if he knew we were chasing after another murderer.”
“I wouldn’t dream of telling him.” Clara hesitated. “Unless it’s a dire emergency.”
Stephanie frowned again. “Promise me you won’t do anything rash. We must never forget that this could be dangerous.”
“Absolutely.” Clara leaned forward. “Thanks, Steffie. It’ll be easier if there’s two of us.”
“What about Molly?”
“What about her?”
“You know she’d want in on this. After all, we helped
find the real killer when she was a suspect. I know she’ll want to do what she can to clear Rick’s name.”
Clara thought about it for a moment before nodding. “If we need her, we’ll ask for her help. For now, though, I’d like to keep this just between us.”
Stephanie raised her coffee mug. “To the Quinn cousins, and our quest.”
Clara picked up her own mug and tapped it against her cousin’s. “To success.” She was about to drink when the familiar sensation washed over her. The voice spoke so loudly in her ear she thought Stephanie might have heard it.
Beware of the blind alley. Danger lies in the gutter.
Her expression must have given her thoughts away, as her cousin stared at her. “What? What is it? Have you thought of something?”
Clara sighed. “More like heard something.” She repeated the words.
Stephanie leaned forward, eyes gleaming with excitement. “The Sense told you that? What does it mean?”
“I wish I knew.” Clara took a sip of her coffee and put down her mug, the strange message still buzzing in her head. “Wait.” She met Stephanie’s gaze. “I think I know what the voices are telling me. What are you doing tonight?”
Stephanie waited until George had changed into shorts and a T-shirt and was settled in his favorite chair before delivering her announcement. “I need you to babysit tonight.”
George sipped his beer and regarded her over the rim of his glass. “Going somewhere?”
“Clara and I are going bowling.”
George choked, spilling beer down the side of his glass. “
You haven’t been bowling since we got married.”
Stephanie shrugged. “Clara wanted to go and asked me if I’d go with her.”
George’s thick red eyebrows drew together across his nose. “Does this have anything to do with Rick Sanders being arrested?”
Stephanie opened her eyes wide. “What? Rick has been arrested? I thought he was just being held for questioning.”
George put down his glass and crossed his arms. “Whatever. You know what I mean.”
“I have no idea what you mean.” Stephanie struggled to avoid telling an outright lie. “Clara suggested we go bowling tonight, and I thought it might be fun, that’s all.”
“Uh-huh. Seems to me that whenever you two get together, something bad happens.”
“Whatever are you talking about?” Stephanie heard the raised voices of her children floating down the stairs. “All we want to do is have a little fun. You know Clara doesn’t have friends here yet. She’s getting bored sitting at home at night.” She started walking toward the stairs. “It’s hard on her living back here after being used to big-city life.” She put a foot on the bottom step and yelled at the top of her voice. “
Stop fighting this instant.
Where are you? Stop those kids from fighting.
Ethan’s eleven-year-old voice rose above the shouts of his younger siblings. “Aw,
. I’m doing homework.”
Stephanie glared up at her invisible son. “No, you’re not. It’s summertime. You don’t have homework. Drag yourself away from Facebook for five minutes and find out what those two are fighting about.”
Returning to George, she muttered, “Is it too much to ask to have an hour or so to myself?”
George rolled his eyes. “All right, all right. Go
bowling. Just don’t come crying to me if you get into trouble with Dan for interfering in police business.”
Stephanie dropped her jaw. “Why on earth would I want to do that?”
“You’ve done it before.”
“That was different.”
George stood up. “Stay out of this, Stephanie. I don’t want to have to identify your dead body in the morgue. Who would I get to iron my undies if you’re not around?”
Stephanie uttered a dry laugh. “Don’t worry, there’s no chance of that.” She couldn’t help feeling a bit apprehensive as she hurried into the kitchen to start preparing dinner. She consoled herself with the thought that she and Clara had agreed that at the first sign of real danger they would hand everything over to Dan. That’s if they could find out anything useful.
Dan and his deputies were far more experienced at tracking down a murderer, but the cousins had one thing that Dan didn’t. The Quinn Sense. Already it had pointed them toward the bowling alley with the cryptic message Clara had received.
Beware of the blind alley. Danger lies in the gutter.
Stephanie was impressed that Clara had seemed to instantly know what the words meant.
True, the Sense was unpredictable, and not always there when needed, but Stephanie had a lot more faith in it than her cousin did, and felt reasonably sure that it would warn them if they were getting into more trouble than they could handle.
With that firmly in mind, she pushed the uneasy thoughts out of her head and concentrated on making the salad.
Clara arrived home from the bookstore full of apprehension. She’d been waiting all afternoon and evening for her mother to call and scream about some disaster caused by Tatters. When the call didn’t come, she didn’t know whether to be relieved or worried by the unexpected silence.
Standing at the front door with her ear pressed against it, she listened for any sign of a commotion inside. Hearing nothing, she fitted her key into the lock and turned it. As she opened the door, she heard voices from the TV and thought she caught the sound of a low
from the direction of the living room.
She paused, waiting for the onslaught of furry paws. When no sign of Tatters materialized, her first thought was that her mother had done something dreadful to the dog. Or vice versa.
Rushing into the living room, she felt a wave of relief at the sight of her mother sitting calmly on her chair in front of the blaring TV. That quickly changed to astonishment when she saw Tatters curled up at Jessie’s feet, nose on his paws. His big brown eyes watched Clara as she crossed the room toward him.
Jessie looked up as Clara approached. “Oh, there you are. I’ve left a casserole in the fridge if you want to heat it up.”