Authors: Belle Knudson
Mrs. Fix It Mysteries, Book 1
Copyright © 2015
All Rights Reserved
. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
Table of Contents
Kate Flaherty pulled her secondhand truck into the parking spot in front of Grayson’s Hardware Store on Main Street in Rock Ridge. The place had been there so long that no one remembered who Grayson was. Maybe one of the original founders of the town in central Pennsylvania.
Having grown up here, Kate had just taken the name of the hardware store for granted. Those from out of town asked for Mr. Grayson when needing the manager.
Kate always began her day here. Today, she’d fix a hole in some sheetrock. That meant buying spackle and a new piece of sheetrock. The job would be simple. Part of her wanted to know how the hole happened, but most of the time customers were not forthcoming with the information.
What she wasn’t looking forward to was running into her customer. The new police chief in town, Scott York, was a nice enough man. At least he had been in high school during their romance. Then he left for college and never called her again.
She should be past it. She’d raised two boys who were currently in college. No, what bothered her was that she was alone. She remained solo until she found her husband, who had disappeared five years ago.
Until then, her love life was on hold.
She had a sneaking suspicion that Scott wouldn’t want her love life to be on hold. Still, she agreed over the phone to fix the hole in his wall. She didn’t ask how his wall came to have a hole in it. Sometimes the less she knew the better.
When you were the only handywoman in town, you learned things about people that you didn’t want to. Kate could be the soul of discretion, but most of the time she went out of her way to forget what she knew.
Everyone had secrets, and those were tough to keep in a small town.
The usual hardware-store flies were buzzing around the cash register talking about baseball. Hardware-store flies were like barflies, but sober. They only hung out at the hardware store during the week. When she first started her business, they had been full of unnecessary advice. Kate’s father had taught her everything she knew before he moved away.
Several of the guys were retired. One was out of work. They’d learned to accept her, so her presence in the store these days was barely a blip on their radar.
Once in a while they even greeted her.
She knew what she needed and where it was, so she didn’t bother Clark Stadt, the owner. He was busy recounting his latest fishing trip. The men were enthralled. Ah, life in a small Pennsylvania town.
He held his hands out three feet apart as Kate walked past. She smiled and kept on her way. When she’d gathered the necessary items, she waved a hand at Clark.
“On my tab?”
“Sure sweetie,” he said.
After this job, she would pay down her tab a little. A little. Her savings were beginning to run out and the boys had another tuition payment due soon. Otherwise, she would have paid it off in full.
Clark hoped that she would be his daughter-in-law someday, but nothing was happening until she found her husband. The hole in her life couldn’t be filled until she knew what had happened to him.
She blotted out the memory of that Monday afternoon. He’d called her before he left the office. Then never arrived home. No trace of him or his car were found. Shaking off the memory, she braced herself for the job ahead.
When she parked in Scott’s driveway, she saw that he wasn’t home. His house sat in the middle of a block of ranch-style houses. His had a porch on the front where he’d placed two rocking chairs. How quaint. As if he’d have time to just sit on his porch, passing the time.
Rock Ridge had been without a police chief for six months. Scott would have to catch up on paperwork, and that alone would have him at the station late at night.
A wreath hung on the door which seemed like a feminine touch. Hadn’t she heard that he’d divorced his wife? That’s why he was back here taking the open spot at the police department?
Not her problem. Kate just wanted to do what she’d come to do and leave. She kept her head down and her nose clean. No need to get into anybody’s business.
At least that was her intent these days.
Had Scott left her a key?
She glanced at her phone and realized he’d sent her a text.
Called into work for a traffic accident. The key is under the fake rock to the left of the door.
“Not a great burglary preventive,” she said.
But then there wasn’t a lot of crime in Rock Ridge. There wasn’t a lot of anything in Rock Ridge, but that suited her fine.
She retrieved the key, then opened the door with trepidation. He’d just moved back to Rock Ridge. Had he made the house his own yet? Should she be invading his personal space?
“Stop, Kate. That was a long time ago.”
They’d been high school sweethearts until he broke her heart by going off to college and not looking back. She’d attended the local community college where she met her husband, Greg Flaherty, a professor of Middle Eastern studies.
The hole in the wall was as obvious as Scott had said it would be. She cut a larger square around the damaged area then measured it. This would be a two-day job because of the spackling.
She patched the hole with a new piece of sheetrock, then put the spackle onto the edges. It would take all day to dry, so she packed up her tools.
She headed down the hallway toward the kitchen in search of the bathroom. As she washed her hands in the sink, she looked at herself in the mirror. She studied the wrinkles on her face.
“Don’t be so vain, Kate. He isn’t back for you.”
Her phone rang. She answered it.
The deep voice of Chief Scott York boomed out of her phone and echoed in the small bathroom. He was a big man with a big ego. You knew exactly where you stood with Scott.
“I patched your hole and spackled it. I’ll have to sand it tomorrow and, if necessary, spackle again. You need me to paint it?”
He chuckled. “Right down to business, I see.”
“Well, we are transacting business. That’s why you called me.”
She hoped she didn’t sound as petulant to him as she sounded to herself. “Oh, Kate. Always a spitfire.”
Must be the red hair. At least that’s what her mother had told her time and time again. For a moment she missed her mother dearly. She’d died not long after Kate first married Greg. Her father had moved to Florida a few years ago. He’d hated the winters. Kate only saw him once a year at Christmas.
He was busy with his new life.
Darn. He must have asked her something. “Sorry. What?”
She left the bathroom and stood in the hallway, hoping this conversation wouldn’t take long. She had to fix an outside faucet on Old Man Evans’ house. He couldn’t water his petunias until she did.
“Can I buy you dinner?”
“Uh, I don’t think that would be appropriate,” she said. She was still married even if she didn’t have a clue where her husband was.
“We’re old friends.”
He was going to use that line? They hadn’t been friends. They’d been teenage lovers. And boy had she fallen hard for him. It had been a stupid move and immature. One that she was not going to repeat.
“We were more than friends, Scott. I’m a married woman.”
“I see. So a dinner between two old friends can’t happen. Just two friends, catching up.”
The Rock Ridge grapevine would not see it that way, and all of those people were her customers or her potential customers. She couldn’t afford to alienate anyone.
He was flirting, and as much as she was flattered, she was uncomfortable. She paced away from the bathroom into the kitchen. That’s when she saw a foot.
She walked around the kitchen table to see a blonde woman on the floor. She didn’t move, and her lifeless eyes stared up at Kate. A chill ran through her.
“There’s a woman on your kitchen floor, Scott.”
“Is she alive?”
Kate knelt down to feel for a pulse. Nothing moved underneath her fingers. The body felt cold. “No.”
“Get out of the house.”
“Why? No one’s here. I’ve been here for an hour,” she said.
She backed out of the kitchen. She couldn’t do it fast enough. Having raised boys, she wasn’t squeamish, but a dead body was more than she could handle.
“Go sit on the front porch until I get there, Kate. Do you recognize the person?”
“No, I’ve never seen her before in my life.”
Kate rocked on one of the chairs on Scott’s porch. Various vehicles occupied the driveway and street along with her truck. Hers was the only one without a light bar. She couldn’t have moved if she tried. The cars and ambulance had her blocked in. Lucky her. They’d probably want to question her anyway.
Scott had appeared minutes after their conversation, and he hadn’t come out yet.
He’d looked good. Better than he should have with his snow white hair and light brown eyes. He’d glanced at her, asking her to stay put.
He probably didn’t mean to be so brusque, but she had the sense she was a dog that had just been asked to stay. As if. But since no one’s vehicle was going to move, she opted to do as he asked.
Half an hour after she sat, a neighbor, who introduced himself as Charlie, brought her some lemonade. The day wasn’t hot, but warm. The summer humidity hadn’t settled in yet. But it would and then there’d be no porch sitting. The lemonade was long gone, and Kate had the distinct feeling that Charlie was being so kind because he wanted to know what happened.
Despite his hospitality, she didn’t reveal what was going on. Not her problem. She’d called Old Man Evans to tell him that she might be late getting his faucet done.
Another car careened onto the cul-de-sac. It was too early in the day for people coming home from work. Who could this be?
Crime scene tape stopped anyone from entering the house, but no one stood guard of Scott’s property. She watched a young girl stride up the driveway with a camera and tablet in hand.
Beth Chance, reporter for the local weekly rag, stopped on the top step. The cop just inside the door shook his head. “You aren’t getting in, Beth. It’s a crime scene.”
“At least tell me what happened.”
“You’ll get an official release from the chief,” the officer said.
The problem with living in a small town was that you knew everyone. Beth had been two years ahead of Kate’s twin boys in school. Kate remembered the woman from when she was little and picking a book out at the elementary school book fair.
My, how time flies.
Beth turned to Kate, but Kate put up her hand. “I have nothing to say.”
Beth’s face fell and she sat on the top step of the porch. She must have just graduated and gotten the job at the Rock Ridge Sentinel. Kate felt sorry for her, but she didn’t want to get involved with the press.
The Sentinal had not been kind when her husband first went missing. They’d intimated that he’d met foul play and that she’d had something to do with it. This was when Beth was probably still in high school. It wasn’t Beth’s fault, but Kate didn’t often talk to reporters.
In fact, she didn’t even advertise in the local newspaper for her small business. That’s how far her dislike of the newspaper went. Kate advertised on bulletin boards, and most of her jobs came via word of mouth.
Even so, she was shaken up about finding a dead body and not in the mood to be nice. She wished Greg were here for her to call and talk to. He could have calmed her down. Her boys were at college, so she didn’t want to bother them.
“You sure you can’t tell me what is going on?” Beth said.
Kate rocked a little more in the chair, her head filled with visions of the woman dead on the kitchen floor. She wasn’t in any hurry to go back into Scott’s house, but she’d have to finish the repair at some point.