Poisoned Pin: A Cozy Mystery (Brenna Battle Book 2) (3 page)

But Harvey wasn’t fine. His eyes bored into Derek with murderous rage. Derek just rolled his and smirked. I felt my own anger rise up to join Harvey’s. Yes, there was something seriously wrong with Harvey, but was it really necessary to mock him? Right in front of him?

“I enjoyed getting to know you, Harvey, and the house, too,” I said. Then I told Derek, “Since you’re here, I guess I’ll get going. Let you take care of things.” Get back to knocking on doors, trying to drum up business. Not that I’d really gotten started. I looked at Derek hopefully. “You don’t have any kids, do you?”

He raised his eyebrows at me, and I knew he’d read my look and my question totally the wrong way. My cheeks got hot.
Right. I’m not that desperate, buster!
I wanted to say. “I teach judo for kids. I was just going around the neighborhood, seeing if anyone was interested. It’s a new business, you know.”

Derek’s eyes glazed over. It was clear my not-quite-sales-pitch sounded even worse to him than the come-on he’d first imagined. He shook his head with a slowness that said it should’ve been obvious he didn’t have any kids, or if he did, they wouldn’t be interested in judo, at least not with me.

“Right. Well, nice to meet you anyway.” I reached into my back pocket for one of the cards Blythe had designed and had printed through an online company. They’d just arrived yesterday. “Harvey, here’s my card. Not for judo, just in case you want to talk about the house some more one of these days. Or if you need anything. You can call me.”

Harvey’s eyes actually lit up. “Thank you. I will. Moira really appreciates it.”

“You’re welcome.” I headed out the front door and into the sunshine.

I couldn’t get down those grand steps and back onto the sidewalk fast enough. I glanced up at the beautifully painted exterior. It didn’t match the odd, sad situation within at all. Maybe Harvey was right. Maybe the cheerful green was completely the wrong color. Or maybe I was being too hard on Derek. If he’d been dealing with Harvey for years, well, I guess that could really wear on you. Was it really so terrible for Derek to want to fix things up? To brighten up the gloomy old house? I wondered if any period in Reiner House’s past had matched the light tone Derek was trying to “restore.” I pictured the interior redone, lightened up. Whatever its past, I hoped some real light would be in the house’s future. Or at least Harvey’s and Derek’s.

“Miss Battle.”

I spun around. Derek trotted down the steps after me. He crossed his arms and gave me a stern look, oddly fatherly considering he wasn’t
that much
older than me.

“I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t encourage my uncle’s fantasies.”

Fantasies! As if anything I did or said would stop them! The man clearly had more than a problem confusing fantasy and reality. Didn’t this idiot know that? Was anyone really looking out for Harvey? I thought of the Coke bottle glasses and wondered when Harvey had last seen a doctor. Had anyone bothered to seek a diagnosis for his confusion? Maybe there was medication that could help him.

“You think it would be better to tell him he’s nuts? That there’s no such thing as spirits haunting old houses? What good would that do?” Okay, so I was just a tad riled up about Harvey. “He wouldn’t even believe it. He thinks they’re his friends. That they need him.”

“Maybe he’d be more interested in making real friends if he weren’t so absorbed in these fantasies. We can’t all just humor him and try to be his friend. What kind of friend lets someone believe in such nonsense, anyway?”

For goodness sake, I’d just met the man! We were hardly friends. Obviously Derek had a serious chip on his shoulder about it. “Look,” I said with careful, forced calm, “he wouldn’t stop believing that stuff no matter who told him it was nonsense! He ‘knows’ it’s true. He’d just dismiss you or me or anyone else.”

Derek just glared at me for a moment.

I glared right back. “How do you know they’re fantasies, anyway?” I said.

“Great. And here I thought you were just being nice. You’re one of those hooey-wooey nut jobs too?” He spun his finger in a circle around the side of his head in the universal sign for crazy. “Ghost hunters, ghost busters.” He shook his head sharply. “I’ve had enough of them. This house is perfectly capable of standing on its real history alone. All I want to do is turn it into a nice bed and breakfast, and stop catering to all the crazies. How can I do that with a crazy guy living here?”

So, Harvey was just in the way, huh? “Of course I don’t believe your uncle is talking to ghosts,” I said. “What I mean is, it seems to me he’s got something more going on. Alzheimer’s, dementia, something. He can’t help that!”

“You don’t know my uncle. He’s always been this way. Crazy as a loon! It’s just that the courts have finally taken action. For some reason, now that he’s reached a certain age, they’re suddenly willing to believe he needs a guardian. If they’d just listened to me years ago
 

 

“So, you’re his guardian?”

Derek straighten up with self-importance. “Yes, his guardian, and more importantly, the house’s guardian.”

Okay, so it was possible I was wrong about the alzheimer’s, but, Harvey, less important than a building?
 

Derek smiled grimly. “After all, how long will Harvey really be around? And if this house is taken care of properly, it will still be here for hundreds of years.” The smile broadened as he gestured at the house, an adoring look in his eye.
 

I could just about feel my hair trying to stand on end. Derek was freaking me out even more than Harvey’s ghosts. “But … it’s a house.” I ground out the words.

“It’s a national treasure!”

That was a bit of a reach, but I kept my mouth shut and threw Derek a disgusted look over my shoulder. I couldn’t get away from Derek fast enough. What a creep. If he was the only one looking out for Harvey’s welfare, I hated to think what could happen to the old man. One thing was for sure. When I was done finding new customers, I was going to find out more about Harvey and Derek and this old mansion.

5

A couple of houses down, and a bunch of deep breaths later, I spotted a promising-looking 1920s bungalow with fat, square porch columns and a pair of rollerblades left on the steps. I picked up the rollerblades and set them neatly by the front door, next to a pair of green rain boots with dragon mouths on the toes.
 

I got out a flyer, knocked on the door, and got my practiced-for-the-media smile ready. I was going to knock their socks off. They were going to come running to sign up for judo.

All I had to do was get someone to answer the door. I’d knocked firmly, and I thought I heard voices inside, but there was no sound to indicate they were coming.
Come on, answer the door, please.

I’d left Blythe back at the dojo an hour ago, and I had yet to even speak to a potential customer. I looked for a doorbell, and didn’t find one. Should I knock again? No, if it were me, that would really tick me off. When I ignore a knock on the door, I do it for a reason, you know?

Time to move on. I turned my back on the door and accepted defeat. Just then, my phone blared the awful ring tone Blythe had programmed into it. No doubt she was checking up on me. After my brushes with death the week before last, I couldn’t really blame her. I moved to answer it right away. But Blythe’s name and smiling picture didn’t appear on my screen. Instead it was a number I didn’t recognize. A customer! Someone who’d seen the flyers we’d left at the Bonney Bay’s Grocery store, the Cherry Bowl, or the post we’d made on the Bonney Bay social media pages.

I dove into customer service mode with a passion that nearly equaled the zeal with which I devoured a meal after making weight during my days as a competitor. “Hello, Brenna Battle speaking. How can I help you?”

A pause. Heavy breathing. Great. Just a weirdo. “Hello?” I repeated, my enthusiasm wilting.

Just when I was about to hang up, a muffled voice on the line said, “Ahh, it’s Harvey.”

“Harvey?” I’d just left his house, what, three minutes ago?

“I’m sorry, well, you said I could call. It’s Derek. He’s not breathing.”

“Harvey, I can barely hear you. It sounded like you said Derek’s not breathing?”

“I told him. Who can control Moira? Not me. I tried, I tell you!” Now Harvey was shouting. Shouting absolutely useless information.

“Harvey! Is Derek not breathing?”

“No, I don’t think so. You have to come help me.”

No? What did that mean? That Harvey wasn’t
not
breathing, or no, he wasn’t breathing? There was no telling how long it would take to get a straight answer out of Harvey. Guaranteed, if there really was a life-threatening emergency, it would be too long for Derek. “Harvey, hang up and call 9-1-1. I’m coming. I’ll be right there.”

And that’s when the door opened behind me. A young woman with a blond ponytail and a tired, confused look said, “Hello?” Two little boys stood behind her, licking sticky fingers.
 

An image of them wearing judo gis and holding trophies, and smiling while their equally ecstatic mother snapped pictures, popped into my head.
Focus, Brenna!
I was eighty percent sure Harvey had said Derek was not breathing! Not breathing equaled dying, which trumped the fact that my business was dying for customers.

“Sorry. Something just came up. Emergency.” I tossed the flyer over my shoulder and ran.

I caught a brief flash of the woman gaping at me as I bolted. I scaled the stately mansion steps in a manner far from grand, and I flung the door open without knocking. I was ready to bellow for Harvey, but there was no need. Derek lay in the middle of the foyer floor, a pained look on his face, eyes big and bulging out. Harvey paced around him, hands held to his head, mumbling nervously. He saw me and tried to grab at me, to greet me, probably.

It didn’t matter what he wanted, I didn’t have time for it; Derek was dying! I dove to his side, pushing Harvey away. Derek wasn’t breathing and he had no pulse, but he was still warm. I quickly dialed 9-1-1 because it was faster than finding out if Harvey had done it, and began CPR while I waited for an answer.

“Bonney Bay 9-1-1. What is your emergency?”

I’d placed the phone on the floor next to me, on speaker.

“A man’s not breathing! He has no pulse!” I shouted. “In Reiner House! I don’t know the address,” I said breathlessly, as soon as I heard the operator’s voice.

“Reiner House?”

“Yes, I’m doing CPR. Hurry.” I resumed CPR, praying all the while.

It must’ve only been a couple of minutes before I heard the sirens, but it seemed like forever. Officer Will Riggins was the first one through the door. I have to say, I’ve never been so glad to see his face, not even when he bent it close to mine and I realized he was going to kiss me. Though that had only been a week ago, now that I was leaning over a lifeless body, putting everything I had into breaths and compressions, it seemed like it had been a million years. Will’s big brown eyes registered surprise when they met mine. No doubt he didn’t expect to find me at the scene of this particular emergency—yet another emergency in the two short weeks I’d been in town.

He gave me a quick nod. “The ambulance is on its way,” he said, and then he took over CPR.

I took long, deep breaths. My whole body was shaking with adrenaline and exhaustion. The longer I waited, the more I felt it. Now that I wasn’t the one doing the work, focused on trying to revive Derek, the horrible reality sapped every bit of energy from me. Derek hadn’t responded to CPR. Odds were, he wasn’t coming back. Derek was dead.

I put a hand on Harvey’s back, and he paused his pacing and muttering. “What happened, Harvey?” I whispered.

“Moira killed him. She really killed him,” he moaned.

Killed him? There was no blood, no obvious sign of injury or struggle. Why did Harvey think anyone had killed Derek, let alone a ghost? It looked like a heart attack or something to me. Sure, Derek was young and fairly slim, but he could’ve had an undetected heart defect or something of the sort. So why did something about the idea of foul play ring true to me?

“How?” I said, desperately hoping
Moira killed him
wasn’t code for
I killed him, and I’m blaming it on a ghost.

“I don’t know. I just heard him cry out. It sounded muffled, like someone was strangling him or smothering him. I ran back to the foyer, and I heard him fall while I was still running over here. He was spasming. And then, he just stopped. He stopped moving. He stopped breathing. He looked at me, and blinked, and then his eyes stopped moving too.”

“Did Derek ever have seizures before? Did he have a medical condition?”

“No, nothing. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like she took over his body. Like he was possessed.”

I believed Harvey. My gut said he was telling the truth. It also told me he was right about Derek’s death being unnatural.

The paramedics arrived, as well as several neighbors, including the blond lady with the little boys. The one I’d thrown the flyer at. She must’ve told her boys to stay put, because they stood on the edge of their lawn, trying to see what was going on. The older one held onto the back of his brother’s well-worn superhero T-shirt, ready to pull him back if he tried to make a break for it.

“Hi, Jill,” Riggins greeted the young mom.

“Hi, Will.” Jill nodded at the gurney, surrounded by paramedics. Her dainty mouth frowned in concern, her almond-shaped blue eyes regarding Will with familiarity.

Just how familiar were these two? I felt an odd pang in my chest. I was an idiot. Will Riggins was not mine. It was none of my business how familiar he was with any of the beautiful young women in this town. Oh, how I hoped he wasn’t really familiar with any of them. Even though I was most certainly not pursuing this silly crush. Will kissing me on the bench at the park overlook—the scene came rushing back again, probably for the hundredth time. It was a moment I really needed to stop reliving in my mind, since I’d already decided it was definitely
not
going to be relived in real life. I just had to find the right time to break that to Will. Maybe I didn’t really have to tell him at all. He was probably regretting it as much as I was.

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