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Authors: Kate Carlisle

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1 A High-End Finish (7 page)

BOOK: 1 A High-End Finish
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I turned away so I wasn’t watching and slugged down a long drink of cold water. I was taken aback, to say the least. I’d never seen him smile so easily. But who wouldn’t smile at Jane, my tall, blond, beautiful, easygoing friend?

Seeing him smile like that was a revelation. Tonight he wore a thick fisherman’s sweater, casual jeans with faded boots, and a scarred leather jacket. The look was so appealing that it caused a little tempest of nerves and excitement to swirl around inside me.

I shifted in my chair to watch them. Jensen continued to smile as Jane gestured with her hands and talked animatedly. But then his forehead furrowed. He leaned to his left and stared beyond her, right at me, meeting my gaze with a frown.

Great. So she’d mentioned my name to him and he’d instantly morphed from smiling guy to grouchy bear. So much for him being a sweetie pie.

We managed to nod at each other. Jane glanced over her shoulder at me and I signaled for her to come back. She said good-bye to the chief. And when she got to our table, I said, “See? I told you he hates me.”

She wore a thoughtful look as she sat down and reached for her wineglass. “I don’t think he hates you, Shannon.”

“No, he just suspects me of murder,” I said, and dolefully lifted my wineglass. “Cheers.”

Chapter Five

Over thick, buttered bread and tangy antipasti, I told Jane everything that had happened since I saw her Friday morning until now. I replayed my adventures in the grim darkness of the Boyers’ basement and then later in the interrogation room at police headquarters.

When I was finished, I was a little winded and my throat was so dry, I had to drink down half a glass of water.

“I still say he likes you,” Jane said as she casually chewed on a breadstick.

I almost choked on the water. “Did you hear a word I just said?” I hissed. “He interrogated me for more than two hours. For good reason, too. I threatened the dead guy with murder and then tripped over his body. That makes me look really suspicious. One of these days I expect Chief Jensen to show up at my house with a search warrant.”

She smiled softly. “I expect him to show up with flowers and candy.”

“Oh, Jane.” I shook my head. “Poor, sweet Jane.” Jane was a big romance-novel reader and I’ll admit she shared them with me occasionally. I found them enjoyable, especially the endings when the guy had to grovel to get the girl. But Jane took it to a whole new level. She was totally in love with the idea of finding one’s own great romantic love, and yet I was pretty certain she’d never actually been there. High school crushes didn’t count.

I broke a thick chunk of bread into two pieces and gave her one. “You’ve been inhaling too many paint fumes. It’s affected your brain.”

She laughed, but after a minute of silent munching, we both agreed not to talk about the murder again. The restaurant was filling up and I couldn’t forget that Chief Jensen was sitting a mere thirty feet away. Yes, he was in the other room, but that was still close enough to make me nervous.

As we drank wine and ate more bread, my mood gradually lightened. Our pasta was served, and we chatted about family and friends and the upcoming Harvest Festival parade. I entertained her with my impression of Wendell Jarvick’s attempts to make me carry all his luggage upstairs.

I knew Jane wanted to ask me more about the murder, so when dinner was over, we walked the two blocks back to my house for ice cream. Once our bowls were filled with scoops of sea-salted caramel and chocolate mint ice cream, we sat at my big, old kitchen table, and Jane asked the questions that had been on her mind all evening.

“So, who do you think killed him?”

“I have a list of names if you’d like to hear them.”

“Very funny.”

“I’m not kidding.”

“Well, maybe we can go over them later.” She skimmed her spoon over the scoop of caramel and nibbled it slowly. “What did it feel like when you found the body?”

“It was horrible,” I said, remembering the terror I felt as I stood in that dank, dark basement. “It scared the crap out of me. My first thought was that whoever knocked him off was still hiding down there and I was next.” I shivered at the memory. I told her about tripping over the arm, then seeing the body, and then realizing that it was Jerry Saxton. Dead. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Once I was back outside, I had to call the police.

“So, tell me for real now,” she said. “Who do you think killed him?”

“I really do have a list of possibilities. The names are all in my head right now, but maybe it would help to write them down.”

I pulled out a notepad and handed it to Jane, who wrote as I spoke. I named every woman I’d heard of who had been linked with Jerry. “The women’s fathers and husbands and brothers would be out for revenge, too, so let’s add Luisa’s dad and her brothers, Buddy and Marco, to the list, along with Stan Boyer.”

“Okay.” When we were finished, she looked up at me. “We know most of these people.”

“I know,” I said, feeling the guilt seep in. “I’m sure they’re all innocent, but so am I. So while I’d love to talk to them all, I can’t exactly run around interrogating them. Especially after what Chief Jensen said about me running my own investigation.”

“Maybe you can’t go around snooping, but I can,” Jane said with a determined smile. “And so can Lizzie and Marigold. And Emily, too.”

“I can’t ask you guys to do it.” But I’d had the exact same thought when I was stuck alone in the interrogation room the other night. It made sense. Among us, my girlfriends and I knew every single person in town. Why couldn’t we get some answers?

But then I grimaced as reality set in. “No, it’s too dangerous. In case you’ve forgotten, there’s a killer running loose. What if he finds out you’re all asking questions? He could get angry or suspicious or worse.”

“Come on, Shannon,” she said reasonably. “You know everyone in town is talking about the murder. This is Lighthouse Cove. We thrive on gossip. We live for it. Let’s take advantage of the situation and join in the conversation. We’ll look perfectly innocent doing it, and one of us might find out something important that’ll get you off the hook for good.”

I didn’t want to pin too much hope on it, but I had to admit that talking to Jane was helping me let go of some of the anxiety I’d been carrying around. The thought of doing something proactive was exciting, and it was nice to know that my friends might be willing to help.

“And you could be our liaison to Chief Jensen,” I said brightly. Better Jane than me, after all. I didn’t want to see what he’d do if I brought him more “information”—in air quotes—about other possible suspects.

“My pleasure.” Jane took our bowls to the sink. “I mean, it’s not exactly a hardship to look at him.”

“I have to agree. So, why didn’t Lizzie try to set one of us up with him? Or is he married?”

“He’s divorced,” she said, “and I have a feeling it was an ugly one.”

“That’s too bad.”

“I know. That wouldn’t have stopped Lizzie, though. The fact is, she did ask him if he’d like to meet some nice women in town and he said, and I quote, ‘
No
.’”

I started to laugh. “Just like that, he told her no?”

“Pretty clear-cut, right?” She smiled. “He had no idea that an answer like that would just embolden Lizzie.”

“I’m afraid to see what her next move will be.”

“Me, too.” Jane shook her head. “But he’s obviously not interested in dating right now.”

I agreed and allowed the subject to drop. Reaching for the notepad, I read off the long list of possible suspects. Jane helped me choose which of us five girls knew each person best and could get answers from them more easily than anyone else. When we were finished, Jane made phone calls to Lizzie and the others to set up a meeting the next morning at Emily’s to go over our big plan. I wanted them to be comfortable with what we were thinking of doing. Jane assured me that they would.

Putting down my pencil, I took a deep breath and let it out. We were taking action and I felt . . . relieved. It was the first time I’d felt that way in days.

•   •   •

At Emily’s tea shop the next morning, my friends enthusiastically accepted their assignments from Jane.

“This is going to be fun,” Lizzie said, practically bouncing in her chair. “It’ll be good to do something positive after all the negativity that’s been going around town.”

Marigold stirred her tea. “I just received a new shipment from Lancaster County, so I have an excuse to call Susan, the woman I told you about. After we talk business, I’ll ask her if she heard the news about Jerry’s murder and see what she says.”

Emily was eager to help, too. She was friendly with Luisa’s father and brothers, who operated a pizza kitchen on the other side of the town square. “We have our restaurant-association lunch this Thursday, so I’ll chat them up and see what pops.”

“I’ll talk to Penny at the bank,” I said. “She told me she worked with Jerry on some home loans, so she might know something about his business connections.”

“Good,” Jane said, checking another name off the list.

“I’ll talk to Joyce Boyer, too,” I added. “And Stan. I want to find out why he lied to me on the phone.”

“Just be careful,” Lizzie said.

I felt a cold chill and realized I’d forgotten to say something important. “Promise me you’ll all be careful. One of us might be confronting a killer.”

“We’ll be fine,” Emily said, trying to sound lighthearted as she glanced around the table. “We’ll approach it as though we’re having a wee chat. Sharing a bit of gossip. Nobody will be the wiser.”

“That’s right,” Lizzie said. “Just having a friendly conversation. I’ll run over to the Cozy Cove later and see if Cindy knows anything.”

“Good idea,” Jane said, making a note.

“Thanks, everyone,” I said. “I’m beyond grateful.”

“Don’t be silly, love,” Emily said, squeezing my arm. “You’d do the same for any of us.”

What she said was true, so I left it at that.

Jane brought up the subject of Police Chief Eric Jensen and everyone made happy noises. So it was true. He was super nice to everyone in town but me. Didn’t that just figure?

“He’s got a bug up his very attractive butt about Shannon,” Jane said. “He doesn’t know her, so I suppose he can be forgiven for thinking she actually could’ve killed that horrible man. But as soon and as often as possible, we all need to let him know how wonderful Shannon is and how she wouldn’t ever dream of killing a single soul.”

“Even if I did threaten to do so,” I muttered.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Jane insisted. “We all know you never would have carried out the threat.”

“People talk like that all the time,” Marigold put in. “Just yesterday I heard Hazel Williams threaten to murder little Stevie Johnson if his ball landed in her garden again.
Nobody
takes those kinds of threats seriously.”

“Except Chief Jensen,” I muttered. “He doesn’t trust me.”

“He doesn’t know you,” Lizzie said. “Once he does, he’ll realize that you could never hurt anyone like that.”

“Well, now, she did kick the man in the bollocks,” Emily said.

“I didn’t,” I insisted, then laughed shortly. “Thanks for that, Emily.”

“Just keeping it real, love,” she said with a wink.

Later, as everyone was leaving, Emily pulled me aside. “Come to dinner tonight.”

“Here?” I asked, glancing around the tea shop.

“No, no. My place. I’m trying out a new luncheon recipe. Scottish-style beef stew.”

“Sounds wonderful. What makes it Scottish?”

“An extra bottle of ale.”

I laughed again. “I can’t wait. Thanks, Emily.”

She pushed my hair back from my forehead like somebody’s mom would and gave me a tight hug. “Stiff upper lip, m’dear.”

I nodded firmly. “You bet. See you tonight.”

•   •   •

From the tea shop I drove out to Sloane’s Stones, the huge brickyard where I liked to buy the floor tiles and granite or marble slabs for my clients’ kitchen and bathroom counters. Sloane’s yard was massive, at least five acres, and filled with every type and color of brick and tile ever made. If I couldn’t find it here, they would happily order it from anywhere.

Growing up with a contractor father, I had great childhood memories of my sister and me dashing wildly across the brickyard, playing hide-and-seek among the huge stacks of bricks and slabs of marble, and exploring the different showrooms with their gorgeous wall murals created from thousands of bits of colorful mosaic tiles. We would invariably come home covered head to toe in dusty redbrick powder.

We always had good times when Dad took us somewhere on business. One of our favorite destinations was the landfill, where he would dispose of truckloads of demolished house parts. I shuddered now to think of the dump as another of our childhood playgrounds, but we’d always had fun. These days, though, I let my guys take care of running stuff out to the landfill. Some memories were meant to stay in the past.

After two hours at Sloane’s, I had amassed enough tile and counter samples to weigh down the back of my truck. On the way home, I stopped at the lumberyard and picked up several fine wood-grain samples I thought Penny might like to use for her new cupboards and drawers.

Back in town, I parked my truck on the street in front of my house because Wendell’s damn Lincoln Continental was hogging the driveway. I knew I would have to lecture him about that eventually, but I didn’t want to spoil my afternoon. Climbing out of my truck, I brushed off the worst of the brick dust on my shirt and jeans and walked up to Main Street to Nail It, my favorite day spa owned by my friend Paloma and her mom.

I hadn’t always understood the benefits of a good manicure. Back in high school, I’d resisted any kind of pampering as a protest against Whitney and her snotty friends, who enjoyed teasing me mercilessly about my laid-back wardrobe, my messy mass of curly hair, and my less than meticulous manicures. At that point, if I had dared to show up at school wearing designer jeans and painted nails, I would’ve received even more grief.

During my brief sojourn in San Francisco, I had worked for a large construction firm. There I’d made friends with the office manager, Debby, who insisted that I join the office girls every Thursday night for mani-pedis and margaritas. Who could pass up an invitation like that? The sneaky little side benefit was that my nails and hands were no longer cracked and red and dry from working all day long with power tools.

Paloma brought the mani-pedi experience to a new level of bliss by wrapping me up in a warm robe and then smearing some wonderfully scented waxy substance all over my feet and hands. I thought there might also be seaweed involved, but I couldn’t say for sure. After a twenty-minute shoulder and neck massage, Paloma would peel off the wax and rub more lotions and potions onto my skin. Eventually she would begin painting my nails, but I was usually fast asleep by then. When I awoke, I was fluffed and folded and buffed and ready to face the world again—and happy that I no longer gave a damn what Whitney and her mean-girl posse thought of me.

•   •   •

That night, over bowls of hearty beef stew, crusty bread, and a lovely Rhône, Emily entertained me with tales of all the customers she’d chatted up about the murder that day. I knew how wonderful my friends were, but my affection for them was renewed when I saw how determined they were to keep me out of jail.

BOOK: 1 A High-End Finish
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