Poisoned Pin: A Cozy Mystery (Brenna Battle Book 2) (8 page)

Katie held her nose with a bloody hand and said in a nasally voice, “No way am I sitting in there with ice on my face.”

I gave her a look. One that reminded her there truly were even worse things to endure than than total humiliation. It may have been just a tad threatening. Okay, so I need to work on my soft side. But I got her in, out of the rain, and settled on a bench with a towel wrapped around her to warm her up and a wad of paper towels to absorb the steady trickle of blood. Now, all we needed was some ice.

I opened the mini fridge door, and the image of Katie smashing into that window filled my head and tickled my funny bone with all of its awful, humiliating glory. I laughed silently into the fridge. Too bad it wasn’t big enough for me to step inside and really bust my guts. I hoped the kids couldn’t see my shoulders shaking. I liked the kid, and I sure felt for her, but that had to be one of the funniest things I’d ever seen. I forced the image of her smacked against the glass out of my mind and grabbed one of the pre-made ice bags. I was determined to hang on to Klutzy Katie.

12

I wrapped up my freshly washed hair, put on my comfy shorts and worn-to-supreme-softness T-shirt, and pulled on my fuzzy socks, then plopped on the couch next to Blythe and put my feet up on the coffee table.

“Ahh!” she cried, holding a nail polish brush delicately in one hand.

“Sorry. Did I mess you up?”

“Not too much,” she said. But she put the brush back in the bottle and opened the remover.

I picked up my laptop from the table, careful not to shake the couch this time, and got online. Blythe and I had had a little talk with Riggins, after our judo lessons were over and our Battlers had gone home. Harvey had given him an earful about all the strange goings-on at Reiner House—unexplained noises, and the latest to set him off, a note he claimed was left on his mirror, written in toothpaste. Warning Harvey to “watch out.”

“Watch out” wasn’t quite a clear threat, and though Riggins offered to have a look, Harvey had already washed the mirror.

“I think he’s been reading that
Small Town Hauntings
site or something,” Riggins had explained. “It’s all in good fun to some people, but for someone like Harvey, it becomes real.”

I looked up the website and found it was a sort of ghost story reporting site covering small towns across the United States. And whaddaya know? The most recent entry was on Bonney Bay:

Breaking! More news on the wrath of Moira, Reiner House’s most deadly spirit in residence. According to sources, today the only remaining (living) resident of Reiner House discovered a warning written on his bathroom mirror in toothpaste.

Harvey’s name was abbreviated to
H
“to protect the innocent,” but it was clearly his story. The story he’d just told Will Riggins last night. The article went on to recap the death of Derek Thompson, and to link to a report they had published the day before, entitled “Moira the Murderess?”

Was Will right? Could Harvey have gotten his story from the website? I had a hunch it was more likely to be the other way around. Harvey still had a flip phone; I’d seen it. I also hadn’t seen any sign of a computer in his house. Harvey just didn’t strike me as the type who’d be active online, even if he did have a computer. I recalled the rolled-up newspapers I’d seen sitting on the porch. Sure, it was possible he kept up with the site, but it didn’t seem to fit with Harvey to me. But then, would Harvey pass information along to an online reporter if he wasn’t aware of the site?

Someone in Bonney Bay was passing information along. How else would the writers even know about Derek’s death, for example? It hadn’t made the TV news. The tragedy had been reported in the local online paper, the
Bonney Bay Blaster
, but only as a sudden and tragic death. As far as the police were concerned, he’d died of natural causes. Unless that site kept some serious tabs on Bonney Bay, someone had tipped them off, and Moira was taking the blame. Someone who either believed Reiner House was haunted, or who had an interest in others believing.

Someone who might be up to no good. Someone who might be responsible for Derek’s death? I couldn’t help thinking it. I couldn’t shake my hunch that something wasn’t right. The death of such a young man never feels right, but something was just off. If there was a killer, could the killer and the ghost story-feeder be the same person? Why would a killer think a ghost made the best fall guy? The best alibi?
 

Unless he was crazy.
Crazy Harvey.

No! My gut churned in a visceral reaction against that possibility. But what other possibility was there?

Was I letting myself get too influenced by Harvey, and by the strange and unsettling events since my arrival in Bonney Bay? Maybe Riggins was right and Derek had passed away, plain and simple. Maybe I should just focus on my business and get on with my life. Had Derek been been right? Was I just feeding into Harvey’s craziness? But Derek was
dead
. I couldn’t let it go until I was sure that was the best way to help Harvey. Until I was sure he was as safe as a sort of nutty old guy can be.

13

The next day I took a little jog around the neighborhood. I left Blythe to keep an eye on things, just in case anyone else came by to sign up for judo. Not only did I need the exercise, I needed to check up on some things. Harvey, for one. But I’d called him as soon as I left the dojo, and he’d said he was going to be out for a while this morning. To come by later. I was curious where he was out to, but Harvey didn’t elaborate, and I figured it was good for him to get out and about.

I’d done some more digging around online last night, looking into Bonney Bay’s historical buildings and the stories behind them—especially the ghost stories. But online articles were nothing compared to talking to real people. Real Bonney Bay-ans. Or, Bonney Bay-ites. Whatever. The people who’d lived here for a long time. What I really needed to get a handle on was how big of an issue this haunted stuff was. Who really benefitted from it, if anyone? Had anyone been caught faking ghostly activities before? Did anyone besides Harvey claim to have experienced hauntings themselves? What were their stories?

And so, after a forty-five minute jog, I opened the wood-framed glass doors of the Shaw Drug and Hardware Store, whose old-fashioned window sign boasted about its “World famous sundaes and banana splits,” in search of a treat, with a cherry and some ghost stories on top. Shaw’s had more than its share of ghost stories, as I’d discovered online, and I wondered if I could find a connection between them and the stories of Reiner House.

Inside, there was a pleasant, low hum of activity. What looked like a fifty-fifty split of locals and tourists sat at newer-looking oak tables with rounded, armed chairs. The wood paneled ceiling and walls were painted a thick, satiny white. A white arch stretched from one wall to the next, a couple of feet from the ceiling. I wondered if the room had once been divided, or if it was just there for support. An old, potbellied stove stood off to one side, its black chimney stretching up to the high ceiling. Did they still use it during the winter months?

Along the wall on my left, tall antique cabinets with glass doors held more antiques. Pictures of old Bonney Bay adorned the walls, along with an ancient, wall mounted telephone. The counters were finished in a beautiful, polished dark look, topped with a huge antique cash register. A young man in a sharp white button-up shirt and red bow tie mixed sodas behind the counter, working old fashioned fountain equipment that appeared, to my untrained eye, like it could be original. Behind him, gorgeous wood shelves and mirrors covered the wall. Unsure whether to seat myself, wait to be seated, or order at the counter, I walked up to him.

“Hello!” he greeted me cheerfully, without turning around. “Be with you in a jiff!”

When he turned around, he said, “Brenna Battle, the Olympian,” right away. “Out for a run?”

I smiled and tried to make it look friendly instead of tight. I really wished I could just be Brenna. Especially since my Olympian status had failed to result in a medal. “Done with my run. And I thought it would be nice to get out and get to know Bonney Bay and its history a little better,” I said.

He offered me his hand. “I’m Paul. Well, you’re definitely in the right place. This used to be the general store, the post office, the everything. If you look around back there, you’ll see the original post office boxes.” He gestured at the far end of the long room. I made out some shorter cabinets back there. From a distance, they reminded me of old library card catalogs.
 

“I did some reading about Bonney Bay online. I think I remember something about this place being haunted?”

Paul grinned. His light brown curls were thinning a little prematurely on top, but his slightly plump face was baby-smooth, making it hard to guess his age. “Yes, we’re haunted, alright. The machines turn themselves on every once in a while. Employees come in in the morning, and can’t find utensils they put away the night before. Sometimes they find them in the strangest places.”

“The dishwasher?” I said sarcastically.

He laughed softly and shrugged off my joke. “No, in some drawer no one ever opens, in the oven, weird stuff like that.”

“So, who’s the ghost?” I asked.

“Elmer Shaw, Bonney Bay pioneer and original owner of the store. In his will, he made his wishes clear. That the store should always stay in the family. And it did, until one of his descendants, Joseph Gilmer, lost it during the Great Depression. That’s when all the problems started.”

“Did it ever come back into family ownership?”

“Nope. It’s owned by ‘outsiders’ to this day. My Grandfather, in fact. He’s a history buff, and he couldn’t stand to see the oldest operating general store in the Northwest stop operating. So it’s not only not in the Gilmer family, but owned my someone who’s never lived in Bonney Bay. My Grandfather’s lived in Olympia his whole life.”

“So the ghosts didn’t scare your grandfather away?”

“He doesn’t have time for hogwash like that, he says. The employees gave up passing along their complaints a long time ago.”

He caught me staring at the open ice cream cartons stored in the freezer below the counter, ice cream shop style. “Thinking about a post-jog treat?”

As a matter of fact, I was. And I was craving something a little more elaborate than mocha fudge on a cone. “You have a dessert menu?”

He grabbed one and opened it on the counter for me. “Ooh. A classic banana split sounds great.”

“Coming right up,” he said. “Go ahead and seat yourself.”

“Thanks.”

I glanced around Shaw’s, looking for a small, empty table. I didn’t want to take up a big one all by myself.

“Excuse me,” a lady’s voice called out behind me.

A middle-aged woman sat by herself in the only booth at the front window. Actually, it was the only table in the whole place with a window. Shaw’s was so long and narrow, with a storefront less than fifteen feet across.

Her shoulder-length hair, dark blond, with brownish streaks—or should I say, spirals—was the kind that’s so curly, it’s spring-loaded. The top and sides were cut shorter than the rest, probably in an attempt to keep the curls under control and out of her face, but the result was just a teensy bit mullet-esque.

Her eyes were a nice hazel, though. Definitely her best feature. I’m no expert on make-up, but I even I could tell the excessive eyeliner, especially along the lower edge of her lids, wasn’t doing her any favors.

“Are you eating alone? I’d love it if you’d join me here,” the woman said.

“Oh. Okay.”
Sheesh, lady, announce it to the whole store. Brenna Battle is eating dessert all by herself!
I admonished myself to be charitable. From the looks of the table, she’d been here for a while, also all by herself. Half a sandwich and a pickle remained of her lunch. A small pot of hot water stood guard over a mug, encircled by several used tea bags.

“I’m Jacinda Peters. Author of
Bonney Queen of the Bay
.”

Oh-kay. Never heard of that one. But then, I’d never heard of most books. “Sounds interesting.” Yes, that really was the best I could do.

I pulled a chair over from an adjacent table and sat across from her, rather than slide into the booth with a total stranger. People did that sometimes in Europe. I’d experienced enough of that during my travels to international judo events. I was glad to be back in the good ole USA, where I could enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of solitude. Yep, I could stand to work on my friendliness, but there was something to be said for personal space, even in a public place.
Especially
in a public place. I did my best to make my smile not look chagrined and tried to think of a way out of dining duo.

Jacinda Peters said, “Forgive me, but I couldn’t help overhearing. You’re Brenna Battle, the Olympian, and you’re new in town. And you and I have something in common.”

“Are you new in town too?”

“No, I’m just visiting. I’m a fairly frequent visitor, actually. I heard you talking to Paul about the ghost stories.”

“Yeah, they’re—”

“Absolutely intriguing! Can you believe how active the spirits have become? I’m sure you heard a man is dead because of them.”

“Well, yes. I was there.”

“You were
there
?”

“When Derek Thompson passed away. Is that what you mean?”

“That’s exactly what I mean! Don’t tell me you saw Moira in action! How horrible for you!”

But she didn’t look like she thought it was horrible at all. Sure, I guess you could say her expression was horrified, but her eyes were all lit up. She was enthralled. Entranced. Mesmerized. Horrified and loving it. I swallowed back a sour taste.
 

I guess it showed, because she placed her hand over mine and said, “I’m so sorry. It’s just, I’ve been studying these phenomena for years. Decades. If you witnessed a spirit acting on the physical world in such a profound way, to actually take another from this world into hers, well … that would just be absolutely ground-breaking, you see?”

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