Have and Hold: (A Geeks and Things Cozy Mystery Novella #4) (Geeks and Things Cozy Mysteries)

BOOK: Have and Hold: (A Geeks and Things Cozy Mystery Novella #4) (Geeks and Things Cozy Mysteries)
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HAVE AND HOLD (A GEEKS AND THINGS MYSTERY) Copyright © 2016 by Sarah Biglow.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

If you enjoy this work, please consider leaving a review.

 

For information contact;
www.sarah-biglow.com

Edited by Ken Marrow, M.A.

Cover Design by: Ana Grigoriu

 

Published by Sarah Biglow: June 2016

 

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CHAPTER ONE

 

A crisp blanket of snow covered the front yard as Kalina stared out the second-story bedroom window. They didn’t get a lot of snow on the coast. It usually turned to rain by the time it reached the small town of Ellesworth but today, in late January, the storm was raging and heavy. It buffeted the windows and the wind howled in the distance. Her attention diverted to the slender stick in her fingers: a positive pregnancy test. She’d had her suspicions but this confirmed it. She supposed she was lucky that she and Chris were already getting married. Still, she wanted to wait until after the wedding to share the news. She didn’t want him to feel pressured into tying the knot just because of a baby. She also needed to get used to the idea of a child. She hadn’t been against the idea of being a mother, but it hadn’t really been in her life plan. Still, it brought a certain sense of excitement and she knew her mother would be thrilled. She hid the test in a wad of tissues and tossed them in the trash just as the bedroom door opened and Chris appeared in his dress uniform. Since he’d made detective he hadn’t needed to be in uniform. But today was a special day. After almost nine months without a captain, Chris had finally accepted the appointment.

“Well, don’t you look handsome,” she said and pulled him in for a kiss.

“You’re going to be there right beside me,” he said when she’d pulled away.

“You earned this. I’m so proud of you.”

“I don’t know about that. A man that I respected turned out to be a killer. I got this job because someone else murdered little old ladies.”

“Chris, come on. You know you earned this. You put in a lot of hard work to keep this town and its people safe.”

“I wouldn’t be half as good at it without you.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She’d only been involved in a few cases but Chris had always been the one to get the credit.

“Yes, you do. I know I can’t stop you from being curious.”

“I’m just a lowly shop owner,” she said with a sly smile.

“I just worry one day it will get too dangerous.”

“I’ll be fine. I promise.”

He settled on the bed to lace up his shoes and Kalina took the break in conversation to put on earrings and tame her short curls into submission. She studied her reflection in the mirror, scrutinizing her waistline to see if she was showing yet. She couldn’t spot any noticeable difference so her secret seemed safe.

“So have you talked to your mom about coming down for the wedding?” she asked.

“Yeah. I called her the other day. She’s going to be here for everything. She said she was sending over a present early. Her instructions were very clear to open it before the wedding.”

“That’s kind of strange.”

His reflection shrugged. “She’s a little weird sometimes. But I figure I’m the last kid to get married so I’ll humor her.”

“I get that.” She was the second of two siblings getting married in her family too.

“I have to admit I’m happy you didn’t want a big ceremony,” he said and moved to stand behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist.

Breath caught in her chest for a split second before she exhaled and leaned into him. “A big, flashy affair just isn’t us. Besides, we’re paying for everything and a cop’s salary and what I make from the shop isn’t the big bucks. So we do what we can.”

“Exactly.” He kissed her cheek and released his grip.

She checked herself in the mirror one last time before following him downstairs. She paused before going down to consider how far they’d come. They’d been engaged since Thanksgiving and had only been living together since then as well so they’d taken a few months to figure out what they wanted and who was on the guest list. She’d settled on a dress around Christmas but had to pay for it in installments. People liked their comics and other nerdy paraphernalia but the dress was still more than she felt comfortable paying for in a lump sum.

“Come on, we don’t want to be late,” Chris called, holding out her coat.

“Right, sorry.”

She hurried down the stairs and let him help her into her coat. She wrapped a thick scarf over her face and pulled on gloves before they braved the snow. Chris opened the front door to find a package perched on the front steps, covered in a thin layer of snow. He picked it up and heard something move inside. He stepped back inside.

“We’re going to be late if we open your mom’s gift now,” Kalina said.

“I don’t know that this is from her. No return address.”

It was addressed only to Detective Christian Harper. Kalina peered at the postage. “It’s from the right zip code though.”

“They aren’t going to start without the guy getting the promotion. We can be a couple minutes late,” he said and fished in his pocket for his keys. He kept a pocket knife attached and slid the blade along the tape on the top of the box. He folded back the flaps to find a small jar with clear liquid inside. The jar held a human finger with a sparkly engagement ring. Kalina tried not to scream but the sound still came out as a strangled moan. She’d seen dead bodies before but somehow the severed finger was worse. It ignited too many questions that she didn’t want to contemplate: chiefly whether the finger’s owner was still alive. Chris moved with quick steps to the kitchen—ignoring the snow he tracked across the floor—and flipped on the light.

“Why would someone send you a finger?” Kalina rasped.

“I have no idea,” he answered and pulled out his phone. “But I don’t think this is a coincidence.”

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

Kalina kicked off her boots and went in search of a towel to clean up the mess Chris had tracked in while he stood by the sink, phone pressed to his ear. Her own phone buzzed in her pocket, reminding her that they were already late for the ceremony. She bent down to wipe away the mess just as Chris’s call connected.

“Jimmy, it’s Chris. I need you to send someone over to my house immediately.  You know what, why don’t you just come yourself?” A pause and then, “Someone’s sent me a finger in a jar.”

Kalina tossed the sopping paper towel in the trash as Chris hung up and rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand. She watched him exhale a slow breath and toyed with the diamond on her left ring finger. The ring on the severed finger had to mean something. She bit her lower lip, mentally chastising herself for jumping into the investigation. Chris didn’t need her help.

“What do you think?” he asked after such a long pause that she jumped.

“I think they’d better reschedule the ceremony because someone sent the acting captain of the department a human finger.”

He smiled and shoved his phone in his pocket. “I meant about the finger.”

“I have no idea. I didn’t really take a good look. It isn’t something you expect to come in the mail.”

“Yeah. Jimmy and some lab techs are coming over to look at it.”

“Can’t we just bring it to the station since we were heading there already?”

“No. I don’t want to expose it to the elements more than necessary. It’s better if they examine it here.”

“OK.”

She steeled herself to head back into the living room. Her stomach churned at the thought of having to examine the finger before the police had their chance and she didn’t think it had anything to do with the new life growing inside her. She took shallow breaths as she bent down to examine the jar that held the finger. It looked as normal as a finger cut off its hand could. Its owner was dark-skinned, Hispanic or Black perhaps. The nail was trimmed and French manicured. She wasn’t a science expert but she could guess it was suspended in formaldehyde. The clear liquid distorted the cut of the ornate diamond just above the second knuckle. Still, the ring looked oddly familiar. She tried to remember where she’d seen it before but two sharp knocks at the front door broke her concentration. Before she answered the door, she snapped a quick picture of the ring on her phone, being sure to zoom in as close as possible on the ring.

“Hey, Kal,” Jimmy said as she opened the door.

Jimmy was one of the youngest officers on the force but something about being in his dress blues made him look very grown up. He pulled latex gloves from his coat pocket and slipped them on, all business. A tall, female lab technician in a hat and knee-length puffy jacket ducked in behind Jimmy with a field kit. Chris emerged from the kitchen and immediately pointed to the box sitting on the living room table.

“Any idea when it arrived, Captain?” Jimmy asked, addressing Chris by the title he had not yet received.

“It had to have been in the last hour or so. I didn’t see anything earlier.” He turned to Kalina. “Did you see anything?”

“No. The windows upstairs usually give a good view of the front yard and the porch. I don’t remember seeing anyone drop off the package. Besides, our mail doesn’t usually get delivered until the late afternoon.”

The lab tech opened her kit and pulled out fingerprint powder and a brush. She leaned over and started first with the jar. “Did either of you touch this?”

“No,” Kalina and Chris answered in unison.

She turned back to the purple powder and let the bristles glide over the glass jar. Nothing appeared. “Whoever sent this was careful enough not to leave prints.”

She moved next to the exterior box and found a plethora of prints. Most likely the majority belonged to Chris and Kalina. His prints were already on file but hers weren’t.

“Jimmy, why don’t you get a fingerprint card and get Kal’s prints to speed things up?”

“Sure thing, boss.”

Kalina led Jimmy into the kitchen so they were out of the way and settled at the table and studied her fingernails. She’d had a manicure herself less than a week ago. The wedding was in two weeks and she’d had gel put on just to make sure they lasted long enough. Jimmy fumbled to take off the gloves and opened the ink pad.

“Just roll your finger right to left,” he instructed.

Carefully, she allowed him to guide her fingers—left hand and then right—along the pad and paper until ten crisp prints lay on the page. She left him to fill out her identifying information while she scrubbed the ink from her fingers, trying not to mess up her nails. She could hear lowered whispers from the other room but her attempts to eavesdrop from beside the sink failed. For his part, Jimmy kept glancing furtively through the open doorway too.

“I don’t think Chris would mind you going back in there. He called you after all. Asked for you specifically,” Kalina said.

“I know. I’m just trying to figure out why someone would send him a body part. And at his house, not the station.”

“Why would that matter?” She slid into the chair beside him.

“I don’t know … it just seems like if you want to taunt the police, send it to the police station. This seems like it could be personal to the captain.”

“The finger has an engagement ring on it,” she supplied. He would find out sooner rather than later just by looking at the jar.

Jimmy fiddled with the limp latex gloves on the table in front of him. Kalina could tell he wanted to say something but she stayed quiet until he was ready. She had an inkling of the question he wanted to ask her. But she’d let him ask the question rather than assume.

“He was almost married once,” Jimmy stated.

“I know.”

They’d shared all of their pasts since getting back together. It had been an amicable break after high school, allowing them both to find themselves as adults. She got her degrees in business and he became a decorated cop. She’d dated a few guys in college and graduate school but none of them had gotten to the engagement stage. Chris, on the other hand, had gotten to the point of wedding planning but shortly before they were to walk down the aisle he’d found out that she’d been cheating on him and he’d broken things off. Kalina’s mother had been upset that the ring was the same one he’d given to the cheater. She saw it as Chris holding out hope that the ring would wind up on the right person’s finger. She was quite proud that the ring was now nestled between her left pinkie and middle fingers. It had quickly become a fixture on her hand so that she often forgot she was wearing it but could always tell when it was absent at night or in the shower.

“I know you tried to keep things quiet with your engagement and everything but do you think someone from his past could have found out?”

Kalina shook her head. “Even if they did, I don’t see why she’d send him a severed finger. For one thing, it looks as though whoever it belongs to is Hispanic or of color and she was the one who ruined the engagement, not Chris.”

“Fair enough. And I hate to ask but is there anyone who might have wanted to send something like this to you?”

“No. I had boyfriends but none that got serious enough for a proposal. I’m not sure this is personal other than to freak us out.”

“All right. Well, I’m going to see what’s going on out there.”

“Sure.”

Jimmy gathered the kit and fingerprint card and headed for the doorway leading to the living room. “You look really nice, by the way.”

She smiled at him. “Thanks.”

Kalina pulled her phone from her purse as soon as Jimmy was out of view and studied the photo she’d taken. There wasn’t much she could do about the identity of the finger—although she secretly hoped whomever it belonged to was still alive—but she could look into the ring. It looked strangely familiar but she couldn’t figure out where she’d seen it before. They’d gone ring shopping in the city, and according to Chris her engagement ring had been bought elsewhere too. But she was sure she’d seen the ring somewhere before. Its silver band, unadorned except for the large diamond, was a fairly standard design. Chewing her bottom lip, she went in search of her tablet. Chris and their guests were busy studying the jar and the package so didn’t take notice as she darted upstairs in stocking feet and found what she was looking for in the study. She’d turned it into a home office. It was nice to have someone to come home to now and so she tended to do the books for the comic shop at home. The tablet sat docked to its charger on the desk and she settled in front of it.

“Where did I see this before?” she muttered to herself as she waited for the browser to load.

While she let the thought percolate, her phone issued a loud ‘ding’, signaling an incoming text message from her sister, Jillian. She checked it. “Mom wants to know if you wanted the emerald earrings for the wedding. Sorry for late notice.”

Kalina had completely forgotten that her mother had wanted them to have matching jewelry for the wedding. It was something small she could do and it would have made their father extremely happy. The thought that her father wouldn’t be walking her down the aisle brought tears to her eyes. She wiped them away and responded to the text.

“That sounds great. What jeweler is she getting them from?”

In her heart, she hoped her sister’s response would give her an early clue to where the engagement ring in the jar had been purchased. If the shop was local, she could visit it on the pretense of picking out the earrings for her mother. She didn’t want to drag her mother into a police investigation—about the only family she’d willingly let tag along was her nephew, AJ—but it would give her the perfect excuse if Chris asked about it.

Her sister’s response took a good two minutes to come through. “Carmichael Jewelers.”

“Thank you, Jill,” Kalina said even though her sister couldn’t hear her. She fired off a short text saying that she would check what they had and turned her attention to looking up the jeweler.

After a brief Google search, she discovered that Carmichael Jewelers was the only jewelry store in town. How she hadn’t known that was a little baffling. Her embarrassment was assuaged a little when she saw that they’d only been established in town since the mid-2000s. She’d been off to college then so it made sense that she didn’t know. Maybe being an unknown to the owner would be helpful in her search. Either way, she intended to pay them a visit the following morning. The snowstorm outside didn’t seem to be letting up and she’d already closed down the shop for the day so the excuse of going to the shop wasn’t believable.

Footsteps echoed on the stairs and she hastily shut down the search window as Chris filled the doorway to the study. He gave her an apologetic smile. “I’m so sorry about all this.”

She waved his apology away. “You have nothing to be sorry for. Do they still want to do the ceremony today?”

“Yeah. We should head out in about a half hour. There isn’t much we can do with the evidence until we get an ID on who the finger belongs to. Might as well carry on with our lives. It’s the best way not to let the bad guys win.”

She pushed herself out of the chair and wrapped him in a hug. Going out to the ceremony would give her an excuse to check out the jeweler without being too obvious.

BOOK: Have and Hold: (A Geeks and Things Cozy Mystery Novella #4) (Geeks and Things Cozy Mysteries)
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