Authors: Mak K. Han
Bound To Die
A Sweet Strawberry Shores Mystery
A Laura Lane Murder Mystery
Mak K. Han
Copyright © 2015-2016
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced in any format, by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior consent from the copyright owner and publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places, and events are the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously.
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Strawberry Shores Mystery Series:
This book is for my parents and my brother who have always been there for me.
As well as my better half: the jelly for my peanut butter; the biscuits for my butter; the key to my lock; the Lucy for her Ricky – my Jaanu
Table of Contents
I was standing in a Perry's convenience store when the robber entered.
In one hand I held my purse. In the other I held the reason for the visit to the gas station—a bottle of Coke for my boyfriend Gerald. The radio behind the counter was on and playing
Don't Stop Believin’
by Journey. The TV above it was on and muted, and showed a football game.
There was a man in front of me when the door burst open. A man with a black ski mask. He had his right hand tucked into the pouch of his hoodie. I shrieked.
“Everybody freeze!” He barked. “This is a stick-up!”
My first thought was Gerald. Where was he? Why wasn't he in here beating that man down? Then I remembered: we'd parked on the other side of the store. There was a good chance that Gerald hadn't seen the robber come in.
The robber gestured to his pouch pocket. “I have a gun!”
I winced. There was a sound like distant static in my head.
The robber turned his attention toward the clerk. “I don't want to hurt anyone,” the robber said. “I just want the money. Open the register!”
The static disappeared.
As the clerk started to empty the drawer into a brown paper bag, the robber turned his attention to the two of us in line. The guy ahead of me had his hands up. The thought had occurred to me, but I had my purse in one hand and the soda in the other, and for some reason the thought of setting them down didn't occur to me. I was afraid and paralyzed. It's funny what fear will make a person do—or keep them from doing.
“Give me the watch,” the robber growled at the man ahead of me.
I looked around. I could make a break for it, but suppose the robber came after me? No, he wouldn't. This was an opportunity of attack; he was after the contents of the cash register. If I took off, he might be angry with me, but he wouldn't leave the cash behind. Then again, he might shoot at me. While this guy didn't come across like a Navy SEAL, he might get lucky. And the last thing I wanted to do tonight was take a bullet to the back in the middle of a Perry's parking lot.
That was assuming he had a gun. And he had a gun—right?
I took a deep breath and swallowed hard. “Do you really have a gun?” I asked.
“Huh?” He glanced up at me. His attention was on the man's watch. “Yeah, I do!” The static returned, bubbling up from somewhere deep inside me. It wasn't the radio, or the TV. It was a hissing, scratchy static buried somewhere in my mind. “I have a gun and I'll shoot you with it if you don't cooperate!” The static intensified.
“Why don't you just walk out? You can still save yourself,” I said.
I didn't have any delusions about being a hero then, though later they would call me one. They would call me ‘Laura the Fearless’ and write me up in the newspaper, and do a two-minute interview on me on the local news.
They asked how I stayed so calm in the face of danger. I told them it just seemed like the right thing to do, which was sort of the truth, but also sort of a lie.
Actually, I knew he didn't have a gun. I suspected he had something shaped like a gun at best, but I
it wasn't a real gun.
And that's where I got hung up. That's where I decided I wasn't going to tell the interviewer the whole truth—because then they would ask how I knew. That was the question I couldn't answer. Not because it was some big secret, but because I simply did not know.
“Why don't you shut up?” The robber retorted. “In fact, give me your purse. Hand it over!”
The clerk looked at me. The gentleman ahead looked at me. Here I was, a twenty-six-year-old woman, standing face-to-face with a masked robber in defiance. They looked terrified and I could feel them urging me with their minds: Hand over your purse! Give him what he wants before something bad happens!
“Or else what?” I asked, as nonchalantly as I could.
“Or else I'm going to shoot you!”
I could barely hear him over the static in my head.
“And you have a gun in your pouch?” I asked while pointing to his pouch.
“Yes! Give me your purse!”
The static was a deafening roar—I only really knew his response because I can sort of lip-read.
Instead of giving him my purse, I reached into it and pulled out a container of pepper spray. “Okay, shoot me,” I said, raising the spray.
“Don't make me! I'll do it!” The robber was backing away from me.
The guy ahead stared at me, wide-eyed. “Do you have a death wish, kid? Give him the freakin' purse!”
“Death wish?” I asked him. “No, you think he's going to shoot me? He's not. He doesn't have a gun. See?”
I took another step forward and pressed the trigger on the pepper spray. The robber screamed and stumbled back toward the counter.
The clerk ducked out of the way of the acidic airborne stream. The robber struggled to protect his face but he only had one hand free and the other was tangled up in his pouch. I angled the stream directly into his eyes. He finally freed his other hand from his pouch pocket and when he did, a cylindrical piece of metal—about the size of the barrel of a gun—fell out and clattered across the floor.
The robber clawed at his face as he stumbled toward the door. The clerk had retrieved a baseball bat and looped around the counter to chase him out into the parking lot. The static abated.
Gerald came running in a minute later. “Jesus, Laura! What the hell happened?”
My hands were shaking. The pepper spray clattered to the ground. My heart beat a hundred miles an hour in my chest and my mouth was dry. I twisted open the Coke—which I had yet to pay for and for which the clerk would later tell me not to worry about—and took a swig.
“You didn't see that guy coming in here?” I asked, once I regained my bearings.
Gerald shook his head. “No, I didn't see him.”
The static started again.
I felt dizzy and my legs were like two pillars of jelly. Maybe I had a stroke of genius, or maybe I was in shock. But it needed to be asked.
“Do you love me, Gerald?”
Gerald looked shocked. “What? Do I love you?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Do you love me?”
“Yeah, I love you.”
The static was a roar again.
A minute later, the clerk returned to the store.
An hour later I was giving a report to a police officer.
Fifteen minutes after that, the robber was arrested. He was not hard to identify with his red face and pepper-spray-covered ski mask.
The next day I was interviewed by the news reporters. That was the day I broke up with Gerald.
Two days later I was on the Internet looking for a new home, somewhere safer than the city.
A week later, I moved to Strawberry Shores.
Alex watched me with narrow eyes.
It was Emily's move, but I was the one Alex was worried about. I knew her secret. She suspected that I was the one who had figured everything out and as soon as I had an opportunity, I was going to end this.
For now, though, Alex and I had to wait. Emily had control. She looked over the table before us, the candle flickering on her features. She glanced at Alex and at me. Emily was an optimist. She thought she still had a snowball's chance in hell. I'd proved her wrong before, and I'd prove her wrong again.
Alex came from the more cynical school of thought. She'd seen me at work, seen the way my brain operated. I'd figured out the case. I knew what had been done, where it had been done, and who had done it.
I barely paid attention to Emily as she made her move. It didn't matter what she did so long as she didn't make an accusation.
My turn. I rolled the dice. A six—two more than I needed. I stuck my piece in the center of the board.
“I accuse Mustard with the Candlestick in the Game Room!”
Alex rolled her eyes. “Fine, let's see it.”
Smirking, I pulled out the envelope. Sure enough, there it was—Mustard, Candlestick, and Game Room. “I win,” I announced, showing my cards to the girls.
“Yay Laura!” Emily cried, clapping her hands.
Alex snorted. “This is a dumb game anyway. Let's do something else.” She leaned forward and blew out the candles. Emily hopped to her feet and flipped on the lights.
I'd met Alex and Emily within days of moving to Strawberry Shores.
Emily was the first. She'd showed up on my doorstep the morning after I moved in, a basket full of bread and treats under one arm and a blinding white smile plastered on her face. Taken aback, I'd accepted the gifts and asked Emily inside.
She was a whirlwind of energy. Her blonde hair billowed out behind her as she explored my house, exclaiming about how awesome things were and how much she liked my decorations. All the while I stood there wondering how she'd baked all this stuff for me.
“Oh, I didn't,” Emily explained when she finally slowed down. “Everyone in town did.”
“Everyone in town?” I cocked my head. “Word spreads fast around here, huh?”
Emily nodded, her bangs bobbing. “Super fast. There's not much that happens around here that everyone doesn't know about within a few hours.”
I didn't meet Alex until the next day, when I was heading to the library to apply for a job. I found her out in the parking lot, nursing an injured cat. She stuck out like a sore thumb, with black hair streaked with blue and a black and red plaid skirt, kneeling in the middle of the parking lot over a bright red Abyssinian cat.
“Stand back!” Alex barked at me.
“It's okay,” I said, “I'm here to help. What's wrong with her?”
“I think it's a he. And I'm not sure, he just looks sick. I have to take him to a vet.”
“Where's your car?” I asked, looking around. “I'll get the door for you.”
Alex shook her head. “I don't have one. I have to carry him.”
“That'll take too long. Here, put him in my car. I'll drive you to the vet.”
I hadn't actually known Alex's name by that point. She was a stranger. She hopped into my passenger seat, the sick cat in her lap, and off we went to the vet. An hour later, I had learned two things: one, her name. Two, that Alex would make a terrible veterinarian, because the cat was in fact a girl, and happened to be giving birth. I was offered one of the kittens but turned it down because I'm allergic. Alex decided to keep the cat when she learned it was a stray, as well as two of the kittens. The other four kittens were distributed throughout the town.
As for my job at the library—well, Alex's father happened to be a town Selectman and, in light of my efforts to help the cat, Alex made it known that I was to get the library job.
Within the week I'd introduced Alex to Emily. Emily was delighted to have a new friend. Alex was slow to warm up to Emily—she was “too spunky and cheery.” The more the three of us hung out together, though, the closer we got.
I guess that only leaves me. My name is Laura Lane. I thought I would miss the city, and I thought I would miss Gerald. I missed neither. I was getting sick of the city life. I'd grown up in southern New Hampshire, which is about as rural as you can get, and the city life—while exciting at the beginning—had lost its luster.
Part of what turned me off about the city life was the perpetual anonymity. I wanted something more intimate. With Strawberry Shores, I got my wish. By the second day, everyone in town—most of whom I didn't know—knew my first name, last name, where I'd grown up and where I'd gone to school. At the end of the second day, I spoke to an older lady named Mrs. Tisdell, who was apparently a prodigy when it came to gossip because by the third day everyone in town knew every detail of the conversation.
As for Gerald? I'd been suspecting for a while that he didn't love me. Hiding in the car while a man in a ski mask robbed Perry’s—while I was inside, buying the Coke he was too lazy to buy himself—had been the last straw.
So I was happy in Strawberry Shores. Everyone knew everyone else. There were fights, scandals, break-ups, and relationships. There were other scandals too, like murder.
I wouldn't say murder was common—Strawberry Shores was a sweet, wholesome, Norman Rockwell kind of place—but it did happen from time to time. And whenever someone got murdered in Strawberry Shores, the whole town turned upside-down.