Brenna Battle Mystery #2
Former Olympian and Arizona native Brenna Battle’s crazy dream of running her very own judo school for kids in tiny, historic Bonney Bay isn’t exactly off to a great start. She has a grand total of one student signed up, but she’s determined to succeed even if it means going door to door. Brenna’s search for judo recruits takes her inside the infamous haunted Reiner House, where she befriends a confused old man named Harvey, and finds herself at the scene of the second murder since her arrival in Bonney Bay.
Brenna butts heads with Will Riggins, AKA Officer Dimples, when the poisoning of Derek Thompson is pinned on his uncle, Harvey Thompson. Harvey claims the ghosts of Reiner House are responsible. Brenna, busy battling the ghosts of her past failures and heartaches as she tries to get her business off the ground, is determined to prove there’s an earthly explanation for Derek’s murder. One that will set Harvey free, not only from jail, but from the torment of the “spirits” inhabiting Reiner House.
is the second book in the Brenna Battle Cozy Mystery series. The series starts with
Taking the Fall
ABOUT THE SERIES:
In this fast-paced, fun cozy mystery series, Brenna, the proud new owner of the building that formerly housed Bonney Bay’s lone recreational opportunity for kids, Little Swans Ballet, is ready to turn tutu-clad powder-puffs into little warriors by opening a judo school for kids in its place.
Olympian Brenna Battle once had the fire. Now, she’s just burned out—and burned by love. She’s ready to retire from competitive judo and pursue a new dream in a new town, with her biggest supporter, her recently divorced little sister, Blythe.
I grabbed the edge of my desk and dragged it over another foot. My sister, Blythe, cringed. Not because of the sound. Thanks to the thick felt cushions Blythe had insisted on sticking to the bottom of its feet, it slid soundlessly over the hardwood floor of the dance studio we’d converted into a judo school. No, my sister cringed because she hated “that ugly monstrosity.” I’d just bought this magnificent metal piece, painted a shade somewhere between olive green and gray, at an army surplus store. It was sturdy. Near unbreakable. My kind of furniture! I wheeled my chair over and plopped into it. There. Now I could gaze out the window and, you know, pretend I was expecting judo students to come walking—no, running—through the glass double doors any minute.
Let’s see, how many students did we have signed up for our first ever judo class, scheduled to start tonight? One. One very reluctant eleven-and-a-half-year-old whose mother had signed her up to join the Bonney Bay Battlers in order to get her out of her hair. Poor Sammi had just lost two friends—Stacey Goode, who was now sitting in jail for bashing my head in, among other things, and Stacey’s five-year-old little boy, Leo, who Sammi had taken care of before and after school. Leo had gone back to Texas to live with his father. As far as Sammi was concerned, it was all my fault. I couldn’t wait to have an hour-and-a-half alone with Sammi.
Yes, that was sarcasm.
I opened my laptop to check over my plans for a summer day camp. That was sure to get the kids in the door. I’d make it cheaper than any daycare to entice the working parents as well as the at-home ones struggling to make those hefty mortgage payments on their ocean view homes here in Bonney Bay. Surely they’d want something for their their kids to do during the day, too. Something that built character and kept them moving. Something that drew them away from glowing screens. But it was still May. Another four weeks before school let out. While she was all for me getting the summer program ready and working on enticing customers to sign up for that, Blythe also wanted me to get students in the door
My plans for regular classes were all done. As done as they could be without knowing how many students I was going to have, without seeing what they were capable of, how quickly they progressed. I was tired of making plans. I wanted to
something, for goodness sake! Instead I was stuck here at my desk, trying to look busy while Blythe worked on the flyer we’d talked about making for a free trial night/ demonstration here at the dojo. So I opened my browser and started poking around the internet. You know, looking up stuff that might come in handy if I ever had a life again.
Blythe bounced up in her own seat. Her expertly cut and styled blond hair bobbed with her. Her desk, the nice wooden one Miss Ruth, the dance teacher, had left behind, stood right beside mine. Miss Ruth had rented this building from my late aunt for years, and run Little Swans Ballet, one of Bonney Bay’s only opportunities for kids’ activities. When I inherited the building and Ruth decided to retire, I’d decided to retire from competitive judo, and I’d moved out here from Arizona with Blythe to launch a new dream—my own judo school. One that focused on kids and fun.
Blythe clapped her hands together, then pointed at her laptop screen. Her blue eyes danced.
“Fitness Day! Brenna, look! Thursday is Fitness Day at Cherry Orchard Elementary.”
I leaned back in my rolling chair. It was upholstered in a sort of natty 1980s blue. A garage sale find. It was seriously not classy enough for Blythe, but as a former cubicle bound accountant, she was also our money girl. And money was getting a bit tight. She’d silently swallowed back her distaste when I brought it in.
“Oka-a-ay,” I said.
“Okay? This is not
, this is our chance! We could visit the school and you could talk about being an Olympian.”
I gave her my
look. The one I’d used for years, to put up-and-coming judo players who were out to steal my spot in the top ten back in their places. She’d seen the look before, though it was rarely fixed on her.
Blythe cringed a little. Then she gave me an indignant look and went to use the restroom. Hopefully I’d scared the pee out of her.
On her way back to her desk, she paused by mine. I was too absorbed in my search results to realize she was looking over my shoulder.
She read my search term out loud. “Why don’t men use Kleenex?” She crinkled her nose as though she needed some.
Though I knew it was pointless, I hurriedly clicked out of the screen. I shrugged. “I’ve always wondered. Why don’t sociologists study things like that?”
“What, and solve the greatest mystery of the universe? What would mankind do with such profound knowledge?”
“It seemed less weird when it was just in my head,” I muttered.
“Clearly you need to get out. The sooner the better, and preferably to Cherry Orchard Elementary.”
I gave her the look again, but she recovered fast. I have to say, I thought she’d be just a little bit sorrier for awakening this side of me. The side of me who’d much rather rinse my eyes in jalapeño juice than talk about the Olympics.
“Maybe you could just talk about judo. And we could do a demo there at the school. It would be great for business. I’m sure we’d have kids begging their parents to sign them up. Once they see what judo is, they’ll love it.”
The beautiful, high throws. They mesmerized people. But watching it was nothing like doing it yourself. It’s hard to explain how absolutely wonderful it feels to launch another person in the air, to feel absolutely in control. There’s a point, when the timing is right, after the explosion of power it takes to get someone off balance like that, when it feels effortless, exhilarating. It feels like I’m flying, even though it’s my opponent or my practice partner who’s really taking the plunge.
“It’s never just about judo. They know I’m a two-time Olympian. I can try to talk about the World Cups I won, about training and fighting to make the team, but they’re going to ask me about the Games. Guaranteed.”
“They’re kids. You can handle a bunch of kids. It’s not like dealing with the media. Kids
to be impressed.”
Right. And anything short of a medal, preferably a gold medal, was going to be utterly unimpressive.
“I’d rather go knocking door to door, looking for customers, than get up and talk to a bunch of kids at a school.”
Blythe crossed her arms. She smiled. Not just any smile, but that rare sort of smile that meant she knew she’d won. One I’d learned to fear years ago. “Fine.”
“Fine?” I said warily.
“You can go door to door. That’s a great idea!”
“It is?” Oh, no. What had I just gotten myself into?
“Absolutely. You can go door to door. And then, if that doesn’t work, I’ll set something up with the school.”
“Of course it’s going to work!” I’d make it work, dang it. I was not going to that school. I got up and gathered the flyers we’d made, slipped them into a folder, and stuffed it into the canvas shoulder bag that passed for my briefcase. “I’m on it.”
Blythe raised her eyebrows.
“I’ll be back in time to get ready for class,” I said confidently. “Make sure you’re ready to sign up the new people who come walking in the door!”
The last thing I wanted was for Blythe to actually be able to see me getting rejected, so I wandered a few blocks away and turned the corner to head toward the ocean. I stopped on the street that overlooked the park—you know, the one right below the deck, where Officer Riggins had found me about a week ago, just as I regained consciousness after a vicious attack. beyond it were the cliffs and the beach.
I ought to be scanning the street, looking for signs of children. Not children themselves, of course. I knew better than to be the scary stranger lady trying to entice little Julie to come closer. I looked for bikes, toys, laughter. Instead I found myself tempted, as usual, by the beautiful little park with its benches, its giant wooden swing, ancient apple trees that belonged to a long lost orchard, and roses. There was a well-tended old rose garden with many beautiful specimens, but also wild rose bushes that grew in patches among the rocks piled along the cliffside. They spread through the crags and crevices of the rocks below, and flourished right at the edge of the cliff, threatening to take over parts of the lawn with dark pink blossoms and full, leafy branches.
I told myself. I had to stick with the game plan, unless I wanted to end up stuck with Blythe’s. I refused to let my feet cross the street to the park, and stayed on the house side. I looked up at the nearest house. How could I have missed that, looming over me? The house—or should I say,
—painted a rich, pond green, stood on a foundation about ten feet above the sidewalk. Broad brick stairs curved artfully around the rich foliage and met a set of dark painted steps above. The brick stairs were flanked by a curving brick wall, topped with a delicate black iron rail. These were stairs made for crowds. Or maybe someone grand enough to draw a crowd. The bluish purple flowers my grandma had always called
bloomed, regal, tall, and so dark they matched the near-black of the steps and the fine lines of house trim painted inside the broader white strips of trim.
Golden yellow roses, with centers that seemed to want to be more orange, were just beginning to bloom on either side of the front porch.
Who lived here? Probably not a family with children. The place was much too well manicured for that. Had children ever lived here? Who would’ve built such a place, so long ago? It definitely was old. Maybe even pre-Victorian.
“Julia!” a desperate shout interrupted my wonderings.
I turned toward the sound. An elderly man practically ran right through the bushes to get to the sidewalk where I stood. Branches crunched in protest as he tried to squeeze a somewhat portly body through. I looked behind me, for Julia, or whoever he was so desperate to get to. I didn’t see anyone. The sidewalk was empty, the park was empty—
“Julia!” the old man said again. He was looking right at me. And he’d flattened a bed of petunias, but he’d made it to the sidewalk. His white, wavy hair stuck out in a wild disarray that reflected his expression. “Julia. Look at you. What did you do, run all the way home?”
I looked myself over. Sure, I was a little sweaty, but I didn’t look that bad, did I? Never mind that. What was with this