Grave Homecoming (A Maddie Graves Mystery Book 1)

BOOK: Grave Homecoming (A Maddie Graves Mystery Book 1)
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Grave Homecoming

 

A Maddie Graves Mystery
Book One

 

 

Lily Harper Hart

Text copyright © 2015 Lily Harper Hart
Prologue

August 2005

“What are you doing, Maddie?”

Nick Winters rolled from his back to his side and smiled as he saw a flurry of pale blonde hair whip around in the moonlight. There she was. Maddie Graves. His best friend. His confidant. The torment of his very soul. She was the center of his world – and she was leaving. This was their last night together.

Maddie rounded off another cartwheel and landed heavily on her bare feet. Her long blonde hair was wild from the tumbling, but her blue eyes were sparkling when they focused on Nick. “Did you say something?”

They were hanging out in the open field by Willow Lake, one of the many bodies of water that surrounded Blackstone Bay on the northwestern side of Michigan’s lower peninsula. It was the last night of summer, and Maddie was leaving for college the next day.

Nick raised a dark eyebrow as he regarded her. “I asked what you were doing.”

“I’m playing,” Maddie said, pressing her naturally pink lips together and pushing them out into an adorable pout. Even without a stitch of makeup, she was still the most beautiful thing Nick had ever seen. She didn’t see it, of course, but everyone else did – including him. “This is the last time we’ll be out here. I’m doing what we always do out here.”

Her admission jolted him. He’d told himself a hundred times that Maddie was leaving town, but he kept hoping she would change her mind. He knew it was selfish. She had to leave Blackstone Bay to go to college. She had dreams that were bigger than one small town could yield, and yet part of him – a really selfish part – wanted her to stay. No, he needed her to stay.

“I thought you were here to spend time with me,” Nick teased, tamping his misgivings down. He didn’t want to ruin their last moments together.

Maddie made a face, but she ceased her endless tumbling and trudged over to the blanket he was reclining on. She took the open spot next to him, her warmth invading the previous void, and leaned her head against his shoulder. “Look how pretty it is here.”

Nick and Maddie had been best friends for as long as either one of them could remember. Blackstone Bay didn’t boast many options, so when you found someone who shared your interests, you had to hold on to them – even if it was someone of the opposite sex. The duo had taken a lot of guff over the years – people casting aspersions on the closeness of their relationship – but they’d never been anything more than friends.

By the time Nick realized that Maddie wasn’t the gawky girl with glasses and braces anymore, they were entering their senior year of high school. Ever since then, Nick had been struggling with a new set of feelings. He just couldn’t tell Maddie about them. He was sure she didn’t feel the same way, and he’d rather have her as a friend than not have her at all.

Now he was facing goodbye anyway, and his heart was thudding with regret. What would happen if he told her? What would’ve happened if he’d admitted he loved her? What would’ve happened if he gave in to more than a hundred different urges and kissed her?

It was too late now.

Nick swallowed hard. “It is beautiful.” He wasn’t looking at the sky, instead studying the lines of her face as it rested on his chest. Maddie didn’t notice.

“I’m going to miss this place,” Maddie admitted.

“Then don’t go.” His voice was plaintive, and he forced it to remain even, but he was deadly serious.

“I have to go, Nicky,” Maddie said. “The tuition has already been paid.”

“And you want to go,” Nick finished for her.

“Part of me does,” Maddie said. “Part of me wants to stay here forever … with you.” She tapped his square chin and giggled. “Admit it. You’re going to miss me.”

“I
am
going to miss you,” Nick said, his heart rolling painfully.

“You’re only going to be here two days without me. Then you’re leaving for the police academy. I’m sure you can find something to do. I know Marla Proctor has been sniffing around.”

Nick wrinkled his nose. “I wouldn’t touch Marla Proctor with your ten-foot pole.”

Maddie snorted. “That’s probably smart. I hear she’s a witch. If you touch her, your … thing will probably shrivel up and fall off.”

Nick smirked. “My thing?”

Maddie ignored him – like she often did when the conversation took an odd sexual turn. “What are you going to miss most about me?”

Everything.
Nick shrugged. “Nights like this. Just the two of us – and the stars.”

At that exact moment, one of the stars in question streaked across the sky.

“Look,” Maddie said, pointing. “It’s a shooting star.”

“I see it.”

“Make a wish.”

Nick frowned. They hadn’t played this game in a long time. When they were both younger, outcasts, they used to lay on their backs in this very field and wish on every star they saw. They wished for wealth, popularity, and fame. Now, Nick only had one wish, and there was no way it was going to come true.

“You saw it first,” he said. “It’s yours to wish on.”

Maddie’s eyes momentarily flashed sadness as they focused on him. “Let’s make a wish together.”

Nick nodded, swallowing hard. “Okay.”

They both pressed their eyelids together and lifted their chins to the stars. Nick had no idea what Maddie wished for, but his heart grabbed on to the moment and hoped for a united forever.

He didn’t get his wish – at least not then. The future was yet to be written.

One

Present Day

“This is not my fault!”

“Of course it’s your fault. It’s always your fault.”

“No, it’s your fault. You pulled out in front of me.”

“I didn’t pull out in front of you, you old biddy. You purposely ran into me.”

“Who are you calling a biddy?”

Nick Winters squeezed his eyes shut to block out the raised voices. Who knew two senior citizens could make so much noise? Given the women yelling at each other, though, he shouldn’t have been surprised.

Maude Graves and Harriet Proctor had been going at each other for as long as Nick could remember. He’d spent twenty-eight years in Blackstone Bay – minus the two at the police academy down the Lake Michigan coast in Traverse City – and Maude and Harriet had been trying to yank each other’s hair out all of that time. If local legend was to be believed, they’d been at it a lot longer than that.

He held up his hands to silence them. “Ladies … .”

“I want to file a complaint,” Harriet said, placing her hands on her hips as she swiveled to face Nick. “She tried to murder me. I want her arrested on attempted murder charges.”

“I want her arrested,” Maude countered, her steel-gray curls bouncing underneath the mid-afternoon sun.

“On what charge?” Nick asked, his tone dry.

“Annoying me.”

“That’s not a crime,” Nick pointed out.

“It is in my world.”

Nick sighed.  He’d known Maude his whole life. Actually, he’d known both women his whole life. He just had a soft spot for Maude. Unfortunately, he was fairly sure the accident was her fault. She shouldn’t be driving as it is. Neither of them should be. Both of them were hard of hearing, and their eyesight was going. Since Blackstone Bay was such a small town, though, Nick knew better than going up against either formidable force. They could make his life miserable – even more miserable than it was right now.

“I’m not going to issue tickets,” he said.

Harriet’s mouth dropped open, the mole on her upper lip wrinkling as disbelief washed over her face. “Excuse me?”

Nick reined in the words that were threatening to gallop out of his mouth. “All the witnesses are telling me different things.”

Harriet narrowed her eyes. “Well, if someone says it was my fault, they’re lying.”

“Nettie Wilder says that you pulled out in front of Maude,” Nick said. He held up his hand to cut off what he was sure was about to be a nasty retort. “Evelyn Dilfer says that Maude sped up when she saw it was you. Mike Forest says that you both pulled out at the same time. Oh, and Fred Givens says a unicorn ran out in front of you and caused you to slam on your brakes so you’d entrap Maude into hitting you.”

Harriet rolled her eyes. “Fred Givens should be locked up in a home.”

Nick couldn’t argue with that assessment. “He has some … issues.”

“Issues? That man is stoned on the marijuana every chance he gets.”

Nick fought the mad urge to laugh. Fred was a notorious pot proponent, even running for governor every four years on a “free your mind” campaign. The man was in his sixties, but he didn’t bother to hide his activities from anyone – including law enforcement. Since he mostly kept to himself, everyone looked the other way when he was breaking the law. He was harmless.

“We all know those aren’t weeds on the back edge of his property,” Harriet said.

“Some of them are weeds,” Nick said. He only knew that because he’d actually pinched the weeds instead of the pot when he was in high school. That was before he became an upstanding member of the Blackstone Bay police force, of course.

“And some of them aren’t.”

Nick sighed. “I can either write you both tickets, or I can write no one a ticket. It’s up to you.”

Harriet pursed her lips, and Nick could see she was shifting her dentures around inside of her mouth as she considered her options. He slid his gaze to Maude to see how she felt about the situation. “What are your feelings, Maude?”

“I think she should be arrested and beaten to death for being a scourge on the population of this town,” Maude said. “Or someone could just kick her.”

She always did have a way with words.

“You heard her, she just threatened me,” Harriet said. “She needs to be locked up. The people of this town aren’t safe with her on the loose.”

“I didn’t threaten to beat you to death,” Maude said.

Nick raised an eyebrow.

“I said someone else should do it,” Maude clarified. “You know I have a bad hip.”

“Well, that’s better,” Nick said, running a hand through his dark hair as his gaze bounced between the two women. The accident had been minor. The dent in Harriet’s back bumper was miniscule, and Maude’s front bumper was so scarred there was no way to tell what was a new dent and what was an old one. He had no idea why he was still here – or how large the interested crowd would be by the time he wrapped things up.

When he’d decided to become a police officer, Nick had visions of high-speed car chases and fleeing criminals dancing through his head. Instead of taking a chance and moving south so he could pursue more exciting opportunities, he’d opted to return to the familiar confines of Blackstone Bay. It made his mother happy, but his heart was still unsettled. He figured, some day, things would just fall into place for him. He was only twenty-eight, after all. He had plenty of time for that to happen.

“You can’t just let her get away with this,” Harriet said, her strawberry-colored hair bouncing as she shook her head.
Someone needs to tell her that pink is not a naturally-occurring hair hue,
Nick thought, his mind wandering.
Either she’d been lied to, or she was colorblind.
“It’s not fair. It’s not right.”

Nick let loose with an exasperated sigh. “Harriet … .”

“Oh, shut your trap,” Maude said, tapping her combat boot on the ground irritably as she shifted her floral dress around her bony body. “Stop trying to browbeat the boy. He’s doing his job to the best of his ability.”

“He’s trying to protect you,” Harriet countered. “He always takes your side.”

“That’s because I’m right.”

“You’re not right,” Harriet said. “You’re senile.”

“You’re senile.”

“You’re … incontinent.”

Maude’s drawn-on eyebrows practically flew off her forehead. “Well, I hear you wear an adult diaper.”

Harriet’s mouth dropped open. “I heard you pee in your drawers every time you laugh.”

Maude extended a gnarled finger. “That’s not incontinence,” she said. “That’s age. My kidneys don’t work like they should. Everyone knows how that works.”

“I don’t have that problem,” Harriet shot back.

“That’s because you never laugh,” Maude said. “You just cackle. That’s what witches do, right? They cackle.” She turned to Nick expectantly. “You heard she’s a witch, right? She probably cast a spell to make me run into her.”

Nick was losing track of the conversation, and his interest had long since waned. Since two sets of eyes were resting on him, though, he had a feeling he was supposed to say something. “So, where did we settle on the ticket decision?”

“I want her arrested,” Harriet screeched. “She’s a menace to society.”

“Well, at least I don’t have the herpes,” Maude said.

“I don’t have the herpes,” Harried replied. “You stop making up things, Maude Graves.”

“Lydia Donner says she saw you buying Campho-Phenique at the drug store the other day,” Maude charged. “Are you calling Lydia a liar?”

Since Lydia was the favorite aunt of Blackstone Bay’s esteemed mayor, it was never a wise decision to say anything untoward about the woman. She had a multitude of ears ready to report back to her if need be.

“That’s because I had a cold sore,” Harriet said, visibly blanching. “I’m not calling Lydia a liar.” She tapped Nick’s notebook. “Write that down.”

“That’s the herpes,” Maude said, pointing at Harriet’s lip.

“It’s a cold sore.”

“Caused by the herpes.”

“You’re a herpes,” Harriet said.

“No, you’re a herpes.”

Nick would’ve welcome actual herpes if it would get him out of this conversation. “Ladies … .”

“I want
her
taken to jail,” Harriet said.

“No,” Nick said.

“I want
her
taken to jail,” Maude said.

“No.”

“I want … .”

“No more,” Nick said, raising his hands in the air testily. “Either you’re both going to jail, or everyone is going to agree this was just an accident and move on.” If he could just end this here, his shift would be over. He could go home and drown his sorrows in a bottle of bourbon and some much-welcomed silence. That sounded heavenly right about now.

“Maybe
you
should be put in jail, Nick,” Harriet suggested.

“For what?”

“Elder abuse,” Harriet said. “What? That’s a real thing.”

Elder abuse sounded like a pretty good solution. Nick pinched the bridge of his nose. “Listen … .”

“Granny?”

Nick froze when he heard the voice. He would’ve recognize it anywhere, even though it had been a decade since he heard it. His body was rigid as he turned, his dark eyes falling on the face that still haunted his dreams as it emerged from the crowd of interested onlookers. “Maddie?”

BOOK: Grave Homecoming (A Maddie Graves Mystery Book 1)
10.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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