Read Ding Dong Dead Online

Authors: Deb Baker

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Large Type Books, #Mystery Fiction, #Murder, #Crime, #Investigation, #Murder - Investigation, #Birch; Gretchen (Fictitious Character), #Dolls, #Dolls - Collectors and Collecting, #Collectors and Collecting

Ding Dong Dead (7 page)

BOOK: Ding Dong Dead
9.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
“I can’t sit. I want to bounce right off the stars.” Daisy whirled, robe twirling. “Nacho proposed!” she said. “We’re getting married.”
Gretchen and Caroline yelped with pleasure. Daisy blushed. Her middle-aged face took on a young girl’s glow.
“I’ll have to put my acting career on hold,” she said. “But it will only be temporary.”
“Sure. You can always go back to acting later,” Gretchen agreed.
One of Daisy’s consuming delusions was her belief that Hollywood scouts would discover her on the crowded streets of Phoenix and she would become an Oscar-winning actress. It hadn’t happened so far, but Daisy remained optimistic.
Today, the bride-to-be was more grounded than usual.
“When and where is this extraordinary event taking place?” Caroline asked.
“At the courthouse on the first of June. We don’t want a lengthy engagement, but we need to give our out-of-town friends time to arrive. Everyone we know is invited.”
Gretchen could picture an entire homeless community descending en masse to converge on the Phoenix courthouse.
They’d never make it through security.
And where would the couple honeymoon? In Eternal View Cemetery? Would they dine at the rescue mission? She couldn’t completely wrap her mind around their future together, but they’d coexisted until now in perfect contentment.
Caroline winked at Gretchen. She nodded back, knowing what was coming.
“Why don’t we have the wedding right here?” Caroline said. “We could find someone to perform the ceremony on the patio and have a reception afterward. And everyone would still be invited.” She grabbed Daisy’s hand. “Please say yes.”
Daisy radiated happiness. “I’d love that!” she said. “I have to go call my friends and tell them about the change in plans.”
And off she went, bouncing on a dreamy cloud with the teacup poodle in her arms. “Daisy is a mystery,” Gretchen said. “Where did she get the cell phone? And who is maintaining the service for her?”
“Who knows? I think she came from a good home life. She’s kind and generous and has impeccable manners when it suits her.”
“I wish she’d agree to accept psychological help and get off the street.”
“It’s her choice. She’s the only one who can make a change happen. All we can do is support her decision and help in small ways. Besides, she
working on improving herself. She’s trying a new medication.”
“Really!” No wonder Daisy seemed so rational lately. “The pills are working.”
“She told me about her doctor’s visit last week, but I wasn’t supposed to tell you.”
“Why not?”
“You tend to get too involved.”
“Marriage will be good for both of them. Now if only—” Gretchen was about to voice her concerns about Nacho and his battle with alcoholism when her mother interrupted.
“All we can do is support them,” Caroline reminded her. “When is Matt picking you up?”
“He’s bringing dinner in an hour, enough for all of us.” She glanced up at Camelback Mountain, appreciating the view from the patio as much today as the day she’d moved into her mother’s cabana. “Then we’re hitting the mountain ridges.”
“The quest for another bird?”
Gretchen nodded.
Something like that.
“Listen, we have to have a conversation before Matt arrives.”
“Sure, what’s up?” Her mother looked too serious.
Please don’t tell me your cancer is back.
That particular fear hung on the edge of Gretchen’s mind all the time.
“Don’t look at me that way,” Caroline said. “I’m perfectly fine. It’s about the woman in the cemetery.”
“What about her?” Gretchen had kept the dead woman at the back of her thoughts most of the day. Staying busy had helped.
“The fantasy doll looked vaguely familiar to me. I thought about it all night, and this morning I knew for sure I was right. It was so long ago, I didn’t believe it could be possible. But unfortunately, it was.” Caroline reached for her glass on the table—her favorite cocktail, a single-malt scotch, ice, no water. “I know who the murder victim is.”
“What?” exclaimed Gretchen.
“I met Matt at the police station. He showed me photographs and I identified her. She was older than I’d pictured her. It’s strange, when you haven’t seen someone for a long time, you expect them to remain looking exactly the same.” Caroline’s face registered fear and sadness.
Gretchen rose and bent over the back of Caroline’s chair, kissing the top of her head and rubbing her mother’s shoulders. “Who was she?”
Caroline went limp under Gretchen’s fingers, giving herself over to the massage. “We met at a national doll convention long before I married your father. We kept in touch for a number of years, then lost track of each other, but every once in a while, I’d get news and see pictures of her fantasy dolls. Her name was Allison Thomasia.” Caroline smiled, remembering.
“I wonder what happened in the cemetery,” Gretchen said, feeling her mother’s muscles tighten again, sorry she had said anything.
“Matt told me someone struck her several times, crushing her head. The murder weapon hasn’t been found.” Caroline’s voice cracked.
Gretchen thought of the blood stains on the desert floor and Matt’s observation that the woman had crawled before collapsing. She’d keep that knowledge to herself.
“Did she live in Phoenix?” Gretchen asked.
“I doubt it, or I would have heard.”
The doorbell at the front of the house rang. Gretchen heard Nimrod, the family gatekeeper, raising the alarm from inside.
“It’s Matt,” Gretchen said. “Nimrod will shake him down.”
“We’re around back,” Caroline called out. A minute later Matt unlatched the outer patio door, came through, and placed a bag on the table. Nimrod burst back outside and tried to crawl up his leg. Matt reached down and stroked the little dog, greeted Caroline, then addressed Gretchen.
“Too lazy to properly greet the man of your dreams,” he said. “I expected you to rush to me.”
“I’m paralyzed with pleasure,” Gretchen responded. “I can’t move a single muscle.”
“We’ll have to work on your welcomes.” He kissed her.
Gretchen loved the casual banter between them. He was a completely different person when he relaxed—fun, witty, sensual.
She walked into the house and went down the hall to get Daisy, but found her sprawled on the bed, talking on her cell. She refused to budge. “I couldn’t eat a thing,” Daisy said. “I’m too excited.”
The rest of them dined on Gretchen’s favorite food—green chile stew from Richardson’s Restaurant. While they ate she thought about her plan for their evening mountain hike. She’d packed a light blanket, two wineglasses, candles, and a bottle of champagne. Tonight, she was going to have him all to herself. She had briefly considered faking a twisted ankle at the very height of Camelback to keep him up there. But knowing him, he’d call in a helicopter for a mountain rescue or attempt to carry her down. She’d better stay honest, if she didn’t want him to heft her over his shoulder and find out that she wasn’t a waif like his ex-wife.
“Let’s go,” Gretchen said when they finished, ready to implement her romantic plan.
“Gretchen, I’m very sorry, but I can’t,” Matt said. “As much as I want to, I’m working tonight. I was lucky to get away long enough to have dinner with you.”
Gretchen’s excitement transformed into major disappointment. She couldn’t speak.
“Was the information I gave you helpful?” Caroline said after glancing at Gretchen and seeing her distress. “Did you locate Allison’s husband?”
“Very much. At first we couldn’t track him down—they had a home together in LA, but he wasn’t there. Then he came into the station a little while ago to report his wife missing.”
“Andy couldn’t have taken the news well,” Caroline said. “Those two were inseparable. I’d like to talk to him. Do you know where he’s staying?”
“With us for the moment.”
Caroline gasped. “You’re holding him? The man found out moments ago that his wife is dead and you have him in custody?”
“We have procedures, Caroline. I don’t make up the rules.”
“I’m going down there immediately.”
Matt shook his head. “That isn’t possible. But I promise to notify you when he’s released.”
He had that all-business attitude that Gretchen was learning to recognize. She could almost see his mind working when he said, “According to him, they were vacationing in Phoenix. Yet it took the guy almost twenty-four hours to notify the police that his wife had disappeared. That’s a long time, Caroline.”
“You can’t possibly suspect Andy?”
“Everyone is a suspect until we can prove otherwise.” Matt stood up. “It was a pleasure, as always.”
Gretchen walked with him along the side of the house, steering the conversation away from murder and on to safer ground by relating Nina’s escapade in the haunted museum and her mission to find a ghost’s doll.
Matt put his hands up and crossed his index fingers as if to ward off evil. “Don’t tell me any more. I’m getting sweaty just hearing about d-o-l-l-s. That fairy doll almost put me over the edge.”
Gretchen wrapped her fingers tightly through his. “I’ve been thinking about that poor woman’s final moments,” she said. “I can feel them as though they were my own.”
“Once you see a murder scene it stays with you a long time.”
Gretchen thought her last image of the victim might be around forever. “I’d like to help, if I can.”
“Thanks, but you don’t need to worry about my cases. Tell you what,” Matt said. “I’ll figure out who killed Allison Thomasia and you find out more about the ghost in the museum. Our time together is so short these days, let’s not waste it with shoptalk. Ok?”
One sweet kiss and he was off, leaving Gretchen frustrated and pretty sure that he’d just told her to mind her own business.
The woman at the front door is like an all-terrain vehicle, solid, strong, rugged, in high gear as though she’s had too much coffee. She’s wearing a tentlike yellow top and matching cotton pants and white crew socks with leather sandals. He’s annoyed by her presence this early in the day, having expected an opportunity to check out the hall before anyone arrived. He wants to shout out loud to blow off his building tension, but he’s too smart for that. He holds it in.
“You just saved the show,” she says all enthusiastic, reaching into his personal space. At first, he thinks she is going to bear-hug him, she’s so excited. So he steps back, dodging, but she’s only extending her hand. He doesn’t want to touch her, but he needs to fit in. They shake. “I’m April,” she says. “And you say you have experience with lighting?”
He gives her a short nod, and she claps her hands together, like her prayers have been answered.
“That guy said you were looking for someone,” he says, swinging his head toward the man standing at the street corner. The big guy doesn’t cross the road in either direction. Instead he lights a pipe and loiters at the crosswalk. Who smokes a pipe these days?
“That’s Mr. B. He owns this banquet hall,” she says, squinting toward the pipe smoker over the top of her reading glasses, the sun hot and bright on her round face. “He lives upstairs. Good thing I mentioned to Mr. B. that we needed someone to do our lights, otherwise he wouldn’t have passed it on to you. What a break for us.”
“I was an electrician before I retired,” he says.
Yeah, right.
“What’s your name?”
“Jerome.” He doesn’t try to think of an alias. It doesn’t matter now and it won’t matter later. He smells pipe tobacco, a light aroma of cherries, coming from Mr. B., who is greeting a woman walking by. He should get inside before the man decides to join them and says something to make this April woman suspicious.
“Why are we still standing here?” she says as though plucking his thoughts from his brain. “Come on in.”
They enter the building and go down a hall to a banquet room, their footsteps echoing like thunder in a canyon. Dolls and teddy bears are in display cases on a stage; a heap of pink material is on a sewing machine. No one else around but the woman. And a small, nasty creature like a rat, that barrels at him. It snarls.
If it keeps coming, he’ll kick it. The woman must sense his intention because she grabs it when it rushes by her to attack him.
“A local theater group is letting us use their stuff,” she says, tucking the animal under an arm and leading him to a corner where lighting equipment is boxed, the flaps open like they looked inside but realized right away that this job was beyond them. One long black cord hangs out of a cardboard box.
“I better get busy stringing lights and running power.” He doesn’t have a clue how to start, but it can’t be that hard. Hang them over the stage—the hooks are already in place he sees—focus the beams, flick them on and off at the right times. Not rocket science, and he’s a smart guy.
“Where’s the script?” At least he knows to ask. He should study it.
“I suppose that would help,” she says digging through papers on a small table, finding what she’s looking for, unbelievable considering the mess. “The director will be here soon. She can answer any questions you have. I made a pot of coffee if you want some.”
She’s at the sewing machine, making room among the folds of fabric to find her chair, muttering to the dog, tucking it into a bag hanging from the chair, picking up a pair of scissors. “Here,” she says, coming at him with the scissors pointed right at him. “Let me take care of that for you.” Right then he thinks he will have to hurt her. He doesn’t have much time to consider his options. Before he pulls out his own weapon, she says, “I do that all the time. Leave tags on new clothes. Let me snip it off.”
Jerome relaxes slightly, hand still stuffed in his pocket, gripping his switchblade just in case. He is taking a chance, letting someone get behind his back. She’s quick. Holds the price tag up so he can see. Goes back to her machine.
BOOK: Ding Dong Dead
9.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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