Read April Fool Dead Online

Authors: Carolyn Hart

April Fool Dead (3 page)

“Oh, Agatha. Have you had a hard day, too?” Annie ignored the fact it was just past nine in the morning. Dammit, it had been a hard day. Would the books really come tomorrow? And why should Emma be irritated? And who cared about dowsing or dowsers, whether in daylight or dark? Annie grabbed a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, ignored Agatha's dry food (after all, fair was fair) and picked up and opened a can of lamb and rice, which might not be the equivalent of a T-bone but Agatha liked it a lot better than the dietary dry food. To be fair, Annie wasn't crazy about rice cakes. Annie filled and put down Agatha's bowl.

A whoosh beside her indicated Ingrid was busy at the cappuccino machine. They carried their mugs to a table with a good view of the front of the store, just in case a customer arrived. Annie clutched the mug like a lifeline. “Ingrid, if I live through Emma's signing on Sunday, I want a gold star, some Godiva chocolate and an afternoon in my hammock to read the new James Lee Burke. Now, what's this about Emma?”

Ingrid pushed her wire-rim glasses higher on a bony nose and frowned. She opened her mouth, closed it.

Annie tensed. She had the same hollow feeling she always experienced when confronted by Emma, even a genial (oh, rare day) Emma. She pictured Emma, imperious blue eyes sharp as stilettos, spiky hair that should have made her ridiculous but never did, statuesque appearance as daunting as a Sherman tank despite the colorful caftans.

“Oh, God,” Annie said simply. “What's wrong?”

Ingrid did not look at Annie and her tone was falsely cheerful. “I'm sure it's nothing. But Emma called a little while ago.” Ingrid came to a full stop.

Annie didn't want to know, but ignorance is rarely bliss. “And?” she prompted, then took a reviving gulp of cappuccino.

Ingrid's thin shoulders lifted and fell. “It wasn't what she said. I mean, she didn't say hello or how are you or anything. She snapped, ‘Where's Annie?' I said you would be in around nine.”

Annie stared at Ingrid, waiting for the guillotine to slice.

There was time for a full turn of the tumbrel wheel before Ingrid concluded, “She hung up.”

Annie considered the full import. No salutation. An imperious demand. Abrupt termination. Annie swallowed. “Did she sound…” Annie didn't have to finish.

Ingrid studied the carnations in a slender green vase. “Colder than the Greenland ice cap in
Night Without End

Annie registered in a far corner of her mind the title
of the superb Alistair MacLean suspense novel while a similar icy emptiness spread through her. “So Emma's on the warpath.” Annie drank from her mug, still felt cold. “Ingrid, I can't imagine what's wrong.” Annie snatched up the top flyer from the stack next to the vase. Similar stacks sat on every table as well as the coffee bar and the cash desk. Flyers were taped to the end of every bookcase. Flyers, in fact, were scattered the length and breadth of the island.

Annie plumped the cerise sheet on the table. “How can Emma be mad?” Annie pointed at the flyer. “This is the cleverest promotion in the history of bookselling!” And the Whodunit contest sponsored by Death on Demand was the sole creation of Annie Laurance Darling, mystery bookseller extraordinaire. “In grid, this contest is fantastic!” She looked down at the flyer. Honestly, she would probably never tire of admiring the contents of the flyer, even though she knew every word by heart. For starters, the sheet featured Emma's name in huge letters. Annie smoothed the paper and read her masterpiece aloud:




In whodunits, the detective captures the murderer in the last chapter. Now you have a chance to outdo fictional sleuths. Prove you are a Champion Mystery Reader and you will win:




A Marigold Rembrandt Mystery


Here's how to win: Identify the
(not the villain) and give the title of these famous mysteries from the following clues:

Book 1—A country doctor knows there is more behind the murder of his old friend than anyone else realizes.

Book 2—A messenger dies in a mysterious plane crash, leaving behind a list of ten names.

Book 3—Two strangers travel on a train and talk about murder.

Book 4—A smart-mouth reporter investigates the drug scene on a California beach and meets a man who wants to die.

Book 5—A half-English, half-Egyptian con man, who never quite succeeds at anything, drives a car to Istanbul and finds himself in the middle of a daring robbery.

Book 6—A very conventional English lawyer defends an attractive dark-haired woman and her eccentric mother against a charge of kidnapping.

Book 7—A middle-aged spinster takes a house in the country for the summer, a man is shot to death in the clubroom and her niece and nephew seem to know more than they admit.

Book 8—Three children try to solve a neighborhood murder while their mystery-writer mom races to meet a deadline.

Book 9—Can the new mistress of Manderly ever escape the shadow of her husband's first wife?




Be the first to name the authors and the titles and take home your very own signed




Annie glowed. So, okay, maybe her pride was over weening, but who would not admire her brilliance and guile? If Emma didn't appreciate the thought and effort behind the flyers, she was an ungrateful, rude—

The front door of Death on Demand banged open. Heavy steps pounded down the central aisle.

Annie came to her feet.

Emma's spiky orange hair and purple-and-pink caftan were no match for the icy brightness of her blue eyes and the vivid red splotches on her pale white cheeks. She marched up to the table, flung down a crumpled pink flyer. Emma's voice, deep and rough as a rumbling river, always commanded attention. Now the words crashed into the waiting silence with the force and power of icebergs slamming into a ship. “Have you lost your mind?”

her chin, glared at Emma. “Wait a minute, Emma. I've done my best to—”

Emma's rock-crusher voice drowned out Annie's words. “I am appalled. I have lived on this island in peace with my neighbors for almost twenty years. If this is some kind of April-fool joke, I'm definitely not amused.”

Knuckles rapped smartly on the tabletop. Ingrid flapped the pink flyer in the air. “Emma, don't be an idiot.”

Emma's head jerked back, her orange spikes quivered, her ice-blue eyes blazed.

Ingrid thrust the sheet at Annie, “Annie, take a look. This isn't your contest!” Ingrid threw up her hands. “Emma, how could you possibly believe Annie would do this?”

Annie heard Ingrid's voice, high and sharp as a mockingbird's complaint, and Emma's deep rumble, the tone as stentorian as a Fourth of July tuba, but the words slid past her as she stared at the heavy Gothic printing on the sheet:




The Crimes:



False imprisonment

Murder 1

Murder 2

The Clues:

Seventeen graves south of the Portwood Mausoleum.

One-half mile east on Least Tern Lane.

Front page,
The Island Gazette,
September 13, 1990.

Marigold's Pleasure.
Ask Emma.

Leisure Moment.
Ask Capt. Joe.


Annie's gaze stuck on one startling line:
Marigold's Pleasure
. Ask Emma. Oh, God, were those whispers still around? Some years earlier, Emma's second husband, Ricky (her much younger and philandering second husband), fell to his death from her yacht,
Marigold's Pleasure.
The death was adjudged accidental. Annie avoided looking at Emma. Instead, her face flaming, Annie cried, “I can't believe this. Who
this?” She rattled the sheet. “It's outrageous. Somebody's taken my contest and turned it into something hateful. This isn't a joke. This is awful. And why a thousand dollars?”

Emma clapped her arms across her chest, stood motionless for an instant.

Annie stared into brilliant-blue eyes that changed abruptly from blistering anger to thoughtful appraisal to chagrin. Annie blinked. Emma chagrined? That was less likely than James Bond in drag.

Emma cleared her throat. “I'm sorry, Annie. I apologize. I should have known you'd never stoop to this.” Her square face was rueful for an instant, then once again hardened into a glower. “But somebody cooked this up. Now who the hell was it?”

Annie wasn't offended. She understood. Emma's book was being used to stir up trouble. And, perhaps even worse, the whispers about her second husband's death would begin again. But Annie was angry, too. The idea for the Whodunit contest—the contest of which she'd been so proud—had been hers. It was Annie who had scattered Whodunit flyers across the island, flyers that on the surface looked so much like the one she held in her hand.

“Dammit, somebody's put these things out”—Annie held up the pink flyer—“and they are obviously patterned after my flyers. People are going to think I did this. Oh, Emma, this is awful.”

Emma studied the stack of Annie's flyers on the coffee bar. “When did you put your flyers out? And where?”

“Over the weekend. Monday. Yesterday. Everywhere.” Annie had covered the island from the ferry-boat dock on the northwest end of the island to the collection of shops on the boardwalk by the marina on the southwest. Those flyers had better visibility than a
new John Grisham novel at Christmas. “I wanted to get as much exposure as possible before the signing on Sunday.” Sunday, April 1. April Fools' Day. Damn.

Emma pulled out a chair. Her caftan swirled as she sank majestically down.

Annie was irresistibly reminded of the stately progress of
Marigold's Pleasure,
a huge yacht that could just manage the narrow entrance to the Broward's Rock Marina. The only boat to rival it in size was
Leisure Moment.
Who owned
Leisure Moment
? Wait a minute, that was the big boat that belonged to that rich woman from Atlanta. And she'd tumbled off her boat last fall, just like Emma's second husband. Annie forced her thoughts away from
Leisure Moment
Marigold's Pleasure.
“Where did you find this? When? Are there many—”

Emma held up a square hand, the blunt fingers ink stained. “Wait. Let's proceed with order and precision.” This was a favorite dictum of Emma's sleuth, Marigold Rembrandt, and was often a remonstrance to dense Detective Inspector Hector Houlihan. “You can take notes.”

Annie was tempted to respond that Emma wasn't Marigold and Annie sure as hell wasn't Detective Inspector Hector Houlihan, but one flash of Emma's icy gaze and Annie pulled a pen from her pocket and turned over one of her own flyers to the blank side.

Emma's stubby finger tapped the pink flyer. “I found this in my mailbox this morning. My mail delivery arrives around four in the afternoon. I often don't retrieve the mail until the next morning. The flyer was on top of the letters.”

Ingrid scooted her chair closer to the table, peered at the flyer. “Okay.” Ingrid was not only the world's best bookstore employee, she was a world-class mystery reader as well. “First.” She flipped up her fingers as she spoke. “The imitation flyer must have been placed in Emma's mailbox after four o'clock on Tuesday afternoon, since Emma found it above, not below, the letters. Now, we have to find out whether this flyer was aimed specifically at Emma. Is this the only flyer? If there are other flyers, how widespread is their distribution?”

Annie wrote down: Tuesday afternoon.

Emma's glance at Ingrid was approving. “Good thinking.” So might Marigold have said to her young niece, Evangeline, a recurring character who served Marigold as Hastings serves Poirot, and a character whom Annie found supremely sappy.

Annie shook her head, as much to rid her mind of Marigold's damned intrusive presence as to focus on something important, something she knew, something that might—

Annie jumped to her feet. “The skywriting! I'll be right back. Emma, get on the phone to your neighbors. Doesn't General O'Brien live next door to you? Oh, and on the other side it's the Morrison house. Check with Mimi Morrison, see if they got it in the mail. I'll be right back.” And she was running up the central aisle. She was a little surprised to realize that Emma had delved into a capacious pocket and was even now punching numbers into her cell phone. For Emma to follow Annie's instructions was startling proof that Emma was shaken by the flyer.

As Annie hurried out the door, she heard the bookstore phone ring. She didn't pause. Ingrid would take care of it. Annie's shoes clicked on the boardwalk. She reached the door to Confidential Commissions and pushed inside.

With a portable phone to her ear, Barb waggled her fingers hello. Her hairdo was as always an amazing bouffant, but Annie wasn't accustomed to the color change from gold to red. Hey, why not?

“…you didn't check it out at all?”

Annie sped through the anteroom. The door to Max's office was ajar. Knees bent, head down, hands firmly grasping the putter as he started his swing, he chanted, “Drop. Drop. Drop.”

Annie skidded to a stop behind him. “Max! The most awful thing's happened!”

The club head jerked, the ball swerved left, clattered from the indoor putting green, caromed from the malachite base of a lamp and scooted across the wooden floor to roll through the open door into the anteroom.

“That one got my foot.” Barb's voice was good-humored. “I'm almost off the phone. Be there in a sec.”

“Max, listen.” Annie described the bogus and vicious flyer. “…and I'll bet it's tied up to the skywriting. You didn't order that flight. Or me. And I'm sure it wasn't Emma. So who did? Have you found out anything at all?”

Max reached for another golf ball, tossed it up and down. “Barb's checking out the skywriting outfits. There's one in Beaufort and a couple in Savannah and—”

Barb poked her head in the office. “There's something funny going on about that skywriting. I talked to Gus Harvey. He runs Write It in the Sky and he's the guy who flew over the island this morning.” She stepped inside, holding a legal pad.

Annie was afraid she knew the answer, but she had to ask. “Who hired him?”

“That's what's strange. Mr. Harvey doesn't have any idea. He found a letter shoved under his office door Tuesday morning. Harvey worked until after ten Monday night, so somebody left the letter late that night or early Tuesday morning. The message had been typed on a computer. No signature. The envelope contained twenty hundred-dollar bills.” Barb glanced down at her pad. “Here's what the letter said: ‘As part of a book promotion on Broward's Rock Island'”—she shot a pleased glance at Annie—“‘please skywrite WHODUNIT over the island at nine
. on Wednesday morning. This is a surprise for a friend.'” Barb stopped.

Max frowned, twirled the ball on his fingers. “And…”

“Nada mas,”
Barb replied. “He had the money. He had his instructions. He did the job.”

Max rolled the golf ball in his hand. “Two thousand dollars. Somebody really wanted to get everybody's attention.”

“Clever.” Annie's tone wasn't admiring. “And we don't have any idea who did it. We don't know anything—”

Emma's deep voice filled the room. “Morning,
Barb, Max. Annie, Ingrid's fielding calls faster than Sammy Sosa's hitting home runs. I suggested she leave the phone off the hook, but she muttered something about customer relations, had to get the word out that the store isn't to blame, but I told her and I'm telling you”—the bright blue eyes didn't blink—“that more is at stake than the store's reputation and my signing. Somebody's broken open a wasps' nest and we're all going to get stung. We've got to find out who did this and tell the world. Now, I checked with my neighbors. They got flyers. And from the number of calls coming in—”

The phone rang in the anteroom. Barb turned and hurried through the door.

“—I'm sure the flyer is all over the island. We have to find out who set us up for this.”

Annie shoved a hand through her hair. “Emma, did you see the skywriting this morning?”

Emma's eyes narrowed. “Skywriting?”

Annie explained, concluding, “Somebody anonymously arranged for the skywriting. All we know is that he—or she—left a letter with money in it at the skywriting office.”

“To draw even more attention to the damn things.” Emma looked thoughtful.

Barb poked her head in the office. “Annie. For you.”

Max waved his hand. “Tell any callers that we're in conference.”

Annie shook her head, moved to Max's desk, a rather grand desk that had all the dignity of a refectory
table in a monastery, and grabbed the portable phone. Nobody but Ingrid knew she was here and if Ingrid was calling, Annie knew she'd better answer. Annie punched the phone on.

In the background Barb remonstrated: “Annie, wait a minute. I think it's—”

Max said briskly, “We'll canvass the neighborhood. Somebody must have seen something!”

Emma nodded approval. “That's one avenue. But we need to think about the kind of person who would pull a trick like this. Obviously, we have to look for an angry personality, someone in need of attention—jealous, hostile and aggressive. Perhaps the last is most important.”

Annie strained to hear. “Annie! I simply don't know what to do.” Annie clutched the receiver, understood Barb's warning. The breathless, urgent, well-intentioned voice was all too familiar. If Pamela Potts hadn't invented good works, she'd staked a preeminent claim as the island's super do-gooder. Church suppers? Pamela cooked. Bereaved families? Pamela led the casserole brigade. Island charities? Nobody made more calls, walked farther, donated more time than Pamela. Hospital auxiliary? A staunch member. Annual bird count? Pamela had spotted more purple gallinules than the next five watchers combined. But now was not the moment. Annie didn't have time to bake a casserole or do a walkathon or—

“Annie, you know I always do my best.” There was a quaver in Pamela's voice. “However, I find myself in a most difficult…”

Max picked up a legal pad from his desk, began to write.

Carrying the portable phone, Annie came up beside him and craned to see:



  • 1. Do a door-to-door canvass, seeking a description of the person placing the flyers in the mailboxes.
  • 2. Find out if any other means was used to distribute the flyers.
  • 3. Get a story in
    Island Gazette,
    making it clear the bogus flyers have no connection to Death on Demand.

Annie could have hugged his broad shoulders. Bogus flyers, that was the message they had to get out to everyone on the island. She would never have thought the word “bogus” would become a favorite.

Max continued:

  • 4. Check on last ferry from the mainland Monday night, first ferry Tuesday morning.

The ferry? Why the ferry? Oh, sure. Annie shot an admiring glance at Max. The person who left the anonymous payment for the skywriting had to get on and off the island between those times. Pamela's worried voice droned in Annie's ear: “…predicament. I am torn between my utmost loyalty to you and, of course, to Death on Demand, the finest mystery bookstore east of Atlanta, but…”

Emma pulled a chair up to Max's desk and grabbed a sheet of paper.

Annie bent to look. Emma printed with a savage swiftness, the letters large and blocky:

Other books

Is You Okay? by GloZell Green
The Lost Abbot by Susanna Gregory
Revealed by You (Torn) by Walker, J.M.
Runaways by V.C. Andrews
Lady Meets Her Match by Gina Conkle Copyright 2016 - 2024