Authors: Laina Turner
Tags: #mystery, #holiday, #suspense, #chick lit, #womens fiction
Copyright 2011 Laina Turner
Five Seas Ink Publishing
“Who’s there?” Tommy called out. The garage was pitch black with only a flashlight for light, and the batteries were going out as it barely had a faint beam. Tommy thought he heard footsteps behind him, but when he stopped the footfalls ceased. Or maybe he was imagining things. For the millionth time he was second-guessing himself. The only reason he was going along with it was he didn’t know how to get out of it. He felt so bad because he really liked Brian. His dad was right, he was a screw up.
He continued walking over to the office at the back of the garage then heard a loud banging. That I didn’t imagine, Tommy thought to himself. He spun around and shined his light in front of him and yelled again, “Who’s there?”
A man walked into his weakening light. Tommy’s jaw dropped. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry, Tommy.” It was then Tommy noticed there was a gun pointed on him.
“Noooo!!!!” Tommy threw the flashlight at the man in an effort to protect himself, but it was too late.
“When are you going to get down here?” my mother asked as soon as I answered the phone.
“Hello to you too, Mother.”
“Presley, there are a lot of people I’m trying to coordinate for Christmas Eve dinner. You’re not making it easy.”
I sighed. I wasn’t making it easy? She was the one who was adamant everyone arrive no later than six, and we couldn’t eat unless everyone was present. “We plan on leaving the city about noon,” I said. “So we should be to your driveway about threeish, four at the latest depending on the traffic. What time are Jesse and Ashley coming in?”
“I’m not sure. He hasn’t returned my calls. You know your brother.”
Did I ever. What wasn’t fair was that my mother let him slide whereas she was all over me for every little thing. His luck being the baby of the family. Her comment made me wonder, though. I had also left a couple messages for him that he hadn’t returned and to ignore both of us made me wonder if something was wrong.
“Is Cooper going to stay at his dad’s or did he want to stay here?” my mother said interrupting my thoughts.
“With us here. He will visit his dad while we’re in town, but the farther he stays away from his step mom the better they all get along,” I said.
“I don’t doubt it. That woman is dreadful.”
Cooper’s mom had left a long time ago, when he was really young. His dad had eventually remarried this horrible bitch, to put it mildly, when Cooper was in high school. She was the stereotypical stepmother who wanted the child out of the way, and she didn’t try to hide it. Well except from Cooper’s dad who didn’t seem to notice the tension – or chose to ignore it. Cooper did his part to keep the peace just to make his dad happy. Unfortunately, as an adult that meant not coming around all that often. “You can say that again,” I said.
“Now because your Aunt Kate and Uncle Peter are coming, Cooper will probably have to bunk with Jesse and Ashley with you. You know I don’t believe in sharing a room when you’re not married.”
“I know, Mom.” She was old fashioned that way, but I had to admit it didn’t bother me as much as sleeping with Cooper under my parent’s roof would. I guess that meant I was old fashioned, too.
“Well call me when you leave so I know you’re on your way.”
“Will do Mom.” I got off the phone with her and wondered if I should give Jesse a call. I looked at my watch. I had time before meeting Anna. I dialed his number, and the phone just rang and rang. Finally the voicemail picked up only to announce the voicemail was full. That was unusual. Now I know mom and I weren’t the only ones he was ignoring, I thought. This knowledge, however, just made me more worried that something was actually wrong. But with him in Vegas there wasn’t much I could do but wait for him to call back. Maybe I was overreacting and he was just busy. I hoped that was it; he was my baby brother, after all.
The trip to Alkon from Chicago was uneventful. Not much traffic and great weather, cold and clear. We took my Kia, but Cooper drove so I had a chance to catch up on my reading and even took a short nap. Riding in a car always put me to sleep if I wasn’t the one driving.
Everyone made it to my parents on time except Jesse, as his flight had been delayed. We were all sitting around the tree and a roaring fire, and I was well on my way to having that romantic moment I had always wanted when the front door opened. I jumped up almost spilling my drink, as I knew it had to be Jesse. He and Ashley were the only ones missing.
I was right. I grabbed Jesse and gave him a big hug then looked around. “Where’s Ashley?”
I noticed his eyes were red and that he looked tired and upset. I had been in such a hurry to hug him I hadn’t paid close attention. “Are you ok?”
“Not really, Pres. Look, I don’t want to talk about this right now.”
I felt bad. Jesse was so in love with Ashley. He said she was the woman he wanted to marry, which for him was huge. He had never been a big one for commitment. I can’t imagine what could have happened, but I wasn’t going to push him. At least right now.
A few minutes later in the kitchen, my mother whispered, “You need to figure out what’s going on with your brother.”
“Mom, he said he doesn’t want to talk about it. I can’t force him.”
“Sure you can, you’re his sister.”
“You’re his mother; he’s supposed to listen to you. Why do I have to be the bad guy?”
“Just find out.”
My mother drove me crazy sometimes. She was the one who was the nosiest but liked to pretend she wasn’t by getting me to ask.
Everyone was enjoying family and food when there was a knock on the door.
“Wonder who that could be, everyone is here,” my dad said opening the door. “Oh hi Brian, what brings you here on Christmas Eve? Please come in.”
It was Brian, my ex boyfriend from high school. We were still friends although the friendship had been a long time in the making, so I wasn’t all that surprised he stopped by. I stood and gave him a hug, then he shook Cooper’s hand.
“Can I get you something? Spiked eggnog, some pie?” My dad asked.
“No. I actually came to talk to Pres.”
“Come on into the kitchen; it will be quieter in there,” I said motioning him into the kitchen, where we and sat at the table, which was full of desserts. Not good for my willpower. “So what’s going on?”
“I need your help.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Someone is stealing tools from my shop. I only have one employee, Tommy Jackson, and I trust him, but I don’t know who else it could be, and I hate to judge but his brother has been in and out of jail. No one else has access. Even if it is him, I hate to accuse him without proof, and I’m not sure how to get it.”
“I’m not sure how I can help, but Cooper and I can stop by tomorrow afternoon. I know it’s Christmas, but after lunch I am sure we will need a break for all the family togetherness.”
“That would be great Presley. I would really appreciate it.”
“Are you sure I can’t get you some pie or eggnog?”
“No, I can’t stay. I’m on my way to mom and pops. Your mom had just mentioned to me the other day you would be here.”
“Ok, well tell your parents I said hi and we will see you tomorrow. Merry Christmas, Brian.”
“Merry Christmas to you too, Pres.”
I heard a ringing. Was that my phone? I rolled over and grabbed it off the nightstand. Who was calling me at six in the morning on Christmas Day? I mean I loved Christmas, but I could wait until a more decent hour to celebrate it. “Hello,” I croaked out my vocal chords definitely not awake yet.
“Presley, it’s Brian. I am so sorry to wake you, but you have to come to my shop, now!”
“What’s wrong?” I asked sitting up in bed immediately worried. Brian was usually very calm and even keel, usually to a fault.
“It’s Tommy, the guy I told you about last night who worked for me. He’s dead.”
Now I was really awake. How did things go from Brian thinking Tommy might be stealing from him to Tommy being dead? “We’ll be right there! Make sure to call the cops.”
“I already have.” I hung up and threw on some jeans and a long sleeve gray T-shirt and wrapped a black scarf around my neck. I was of the opinion that a scarf could add flair to any outfit no matter how boring. Plus it would help keep me warm. I looked at my hair; it was a fuzzy mess, partly from the dryness of winter and partly from sleeping on it, but that’s why they invented a messy bun for those of us not blessed with perfectly straight and healthy hair or those of us who were just lazy.
I walked out of my room and across the hall to Jesse’s where he and Cooper were sleeping. I softly knocked, not expecting either of them to be awake, before I opened the door and walked in. As I figured they were both sound asleep but Cooper must have heard my footsteps approaching him and popped his eyes opened. He sat up. “What’s wrong?”
“Brian just called. He said Tommy’s been murdered! He wants us to come to his shop now.”
Cooper was immediately all business. He owned a private security firm and was always prepared for every emergency so not much fazed him. He tossed me the car keys that had been in his pants pocket.
“Go warm up the car, and I will be right down.” I took the keys and headed downstairs. I knew he would just be a second. As the car was warming up, I was starting to wish for a cup of coffee. The Coffee Café, Alkon’s only in-town coffee shop wasn’t open since it was Christmas, and we didn’t have time to wait on me brewing a pot. The passenger door opened and Cooper jumped in.
“Your mom stopped me on the way out. She’s not too happy.”
I started backing out of the driveway and could see my mom looking out the kitchen window at us with a frown. “Did you tell her what was going on?”
“Yes, but you know your mother.”
Did I ever? She wouldn’t like anything, even murder, standing in the way of her Christmas timetable. I couldn’t blame her. I wanted to just be at home, still in bed, in my pajamas with a steaming cup of coffee rather than going to the scene of a murder, but Brian was a friend and I had to admit I wanted to know what was going on.
“What did Brian say when he called?” Cooper asked, all business.
“Not much. He just called panicking saying Tommy had been murdered and asked me to come to the shop. Probably for moral support as much as anything else.”
“I hope so. You know how I feel about getting involved in things that are better suited for the police.”
I just rolled my eyes. It was too early to have this conversation once again.
“Are you going to be ok without coffee this early?” Cooper grinned. He knew me all too well.
I gave him a dirty look and ignored his comment. I soon pulled into the parking lot of Brian’s shop; it was alive with a couple police cars and an ambulance. Pretty much all the emergency vehicles Alkon had to offer. Alkon was a small town so didn’t have a very big police force. Luckily not a lot usually happened in this sleepy town. Though this murder, if that’s what it was, was the second that year, a trend that hopefully would not continue. The first murder being Senator Daniels, a senator I had been in town to interview during my short-lived journalism career, was murdered the night after I interviewed him. That had been the first murder in Alkon since twenty years ago when a wife killed her cheating husband. It did make me wonder what was happening around here. You expected murders in Chicago not here in Alkon.
Cooper and I walked up to where Brian was standing outside his shop. I gave him a hug. He looked awful but finding a dead body would do that to you.
“Glad you’re here,” he said as shaking Cooper’s hand.
“No problem, Brian,” I said. “Now what happened?”
“I just couldn’t sleep, I’ve been so stressed out about this Tommy issue, so I thought I would come to the shop this morning and get caught up on some paperwork for a few hours. Being here always makes me feel better. I flipped on the shop lights to walk back to my office, and there he was, just lying in front of my office door with a bullet hole through his head.” Brian shuddered.
“What have the cops said?” Cooper asked.
“What do you think happened?” I asked.
“I really have no idea, Pres. I mean, I thought he might be stealing from me, but I don’t know why anyone would want to kill him. He was a likeable guy – young but good with cars.”
“Was he from here?” Cooper asked.
“No he’s from the next town over, Shelby. It’s about the same size as Alkon. He started working for me part-time last year as part of a vocational program, and I just kept him on once he graduated. He’s too young to have enemies, don’t you think?”
“Everyone can have enemies, Brian, even young kids,” Cooper said. “Why did you think that he was stealing from you?”
“I had tools come up missing. Expensive tools. There wasn’t ever any sign of breaking and entering, so I could only assume it was someone with a key. Tommy was the only other person who had a key besides myself.”
“Do you have a security system?” Cooper asked.
“No I never needed one. I just can’t believe someone would kill Tommy.”
“Who’s in charge of the police department since Dirt left?” I asked. Dirt, childhood nickname for Derek, was someone Cooper, Brian, and I had gone to school with. He was currently serving a life sentence at Fox River Penitentiary for killing Senator Daniels for a mob boss whom both Dirt and the senator owed money too.
“Joe Blackford. He was a couple years younger than us. I don’t know him well, but he seems like a great guy. That’s him walking over here now.”
A big guy, broad through the shoulders, with a capable looking face and not one I recognized, walked up to us.
“Joe, this is Presley Thurman and Cooper Sands,” Brian said. “Presley and Cooper, this is our new sheriff, Joe Blackford.” We all shook hands. “What happened?”
“I was hoping you could tell me?” the sheriff replied.
“I don’t know anything more than I already told you.”
“You don’t have any idea why Tommy would have been at the shop in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve?”
“Not except what I already told you that I had some tools missing, so maybe he was here to steal, thinking I wouldn’t be here.”
“Well make sure if you remember anything to call me, and if you could, stop by the station tomorrow to sign your statement I would appreciate it. In the meantime I will call you when our guys are done processing the scene and you can go back in.”
“Good to meet you all.” the sheriff said with a nod to Cooper and I, and then he headed back to the crime scene.
“What can we do to help, Brian?” I asked.
“I know the police are doing their job, but this is so personal,” he said. “I can’t believe it happened to me. I hate to ask, but could you ask around? You know, just to see what people might be saying.”
“Sure we can, Brian.” I looked at Cooper, and he nodded his agreement.