The Marquesa's Necklace (Oak Grove Mysteries Book 1)

BOOK: The Marquesa's Necklace (Oak Grove Mysteries Book 1)
8.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The Marquesa’s Necklace

P.J. MacLayne


To my mother, Helen Hinds Guth, who had the strength to let me learn by doing things my way.

Harmony Duprie enjoyed her well-ordered life in the quiet little town of Oak Grove—until her arrest for drug trafficking. Cleared of all charges, she wants nothing more than to return to the uneventful lifestyle of a historical researcher she once savored.

But when her beloved old car “George” is stolen and explodes into a ball of flames, it sets off a series of events that throws her plans into turmoil. Toss in a police detective that may or may not be interested in her, an attractive but mysterious stranger on her trail, and an ex-boyfriend doing time, and Harmony’s life freefalls into a downward spiral of chaos.

Now she has to use her research skills to figure out who is behind the sinister incidents plaguing her, and why. And she better take it seriously, like her life depends upon finding the right answers.

Because it might.

Chapter One

I first noticed him at the other end of the row when I glanced up to find another book. I recognize most of the regular patrons, and he wasn’t one of them. Curiosity kicked in, and I gave him a good looking over as I pretended to scan the table of contents of a random book I plucked off the shelf. Just because I considered myself off the market didn’t mean I couldn’t admire the goods, right? He wasn’t the kind of man you find on the cover of romance novels, but there was something appealing about him. Enough to send a shiver down my spine—or was that the air conditioning kicking in? In any case, the truth was, I preferred a man who didn’t look like he spent more time in front of a mirror than me.

The library was as quiet as a church sanctuary on a Tuesday morning—just the way I like it. As an ex-librarian, I appreciate the times when only a few patrons are perusing the shelves or racks of periodicals. Back then it gave me time to replace books or straighten out the magazines. Now that I’m a researcher for a writers’ co-op, these times are when I’m most productive. None of my old coworkers object when I accumulate a large pile of books on the table I stake out as my territory for the day. They know I’ll replace them in the proper places before I leave. I don’t necessarily need all these books, but they create a wall I can hide behind.

I don’t need to hide any more, at least not while Jake is doing time for assaulting an officer and resisting arrest, but old habits can be hard to break. Like wearing these coke-bottle glasses when I have a perfectly fine pair of contacts sitting in their case on my nightstand, or wearing my hair up in a bun. I can’t count the number of times friends have tried to get me to change my hairstyle, insisting men would be more interested in me if I wore it down, but I’m not trying to attract a man. After Jake, I swore off dating.

This particular day I was deep in the stacks trying to find out what John D. Rockefeller might have served at one of his dinner parties. One of the ladies decided to set her next romance in the 1920’s instead of making it a Regency. Accurate information about the regency period of England was standard fare but this was a challenge. I might even have to resort to the microfiche collection and spend hours scanning the gossip columns of the newspapers from that period. Not my favorite thing to do, but whatever. It all paid the same.

It was difficult to judge because I was sitting on the floor, but I guessed him to be taller than me. His wavy sand-brown hair was the perfect length to run my fingers through, although I had no expectation of that ever happening. His clothes—white shirt, brown slacks and brown blazer with elbow patches—reminded me of a college professor out of a movie from the 1970’s. As he turned and I could see his eyes, the cell phone is my jeans pocket vibrated. By the time I looked back up from the screen, he’d disappeared.

Curiosity nearly got the better of me and I thought about asking Janine at the front desk about him, but decided against it. If word got out I’d asked about a man, the rumor mill would start churning, and I’d never hear the end of it. My plans included a quiet evening with leftover chicken casserole, a glass of white wine, and a new mystery novel I bought last weekend. I didn’t want it interrupted with a dozen calls from my nearest and dearest friends.

I spent a few days peering into the microfiche machine to chase down a Rockefeller’s banquet menu. That’s why my contract with the co-op specifies I get paid a salary. Naturally, the lady in question changed her mind about the scene the same day I presented my findings to her, and had a different project for me. She wanted to find out about the colleges in the Bronx back then. I didn’t tell her, but I had spotted a book with the information she needed during my earlier research. Off to the library I went, laptop in tow, along with a portable hand-scanner. Though it was expensive, it’s saved me the cost of copies for several years now.

That’s when I ran into him the second time. I was doing my normal thing of walking through the 940’s with my nose in a book and I almost bumped into him. A sudden rush of cold air made me stop in my tracks and look up into a pair of eyes such a light blue they were almost gray.

“Oops, sorry about that.” I reached out to stop myself from falling, but he backed away. I managed to latch onto a shelf instead, so I didn’t end up with my face on the floor. My book did fall, and he bent over and picked it up. Without so much as a smile, he handed it to me and walked away without a word. Annoyed, I stood there with my mouth open and watched him turn the corner and vanish from my view. As I returned to my book I smelled the most unusual thing. I don’t know if it was his aftershave or what, but it made me think of freshly-turned dirt.

I stopped to talk to Janine on my way out. I wondered what she could tell me about him. He seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place where I’d seen him before. She just looked at me, shook her head and rolled her eyes while I nervously fiddled with my necklace.

“Haven’t caught sight of him,” she said. “You sure you aren’t imagining things? It’s time for you to start dating again. We’ll talk about it more tonight.” Great. Exactly what I figured.

Wednesday night was girls’ night out at our hang-out of choice, the Pink Flamingo. The Flamingo is about a quarter restaurant, three-fourths bar, and has been our favorite spot since high school. The plastic birds it took its name from have faded to an almost white color from exposure to the sunshine through the front windows, but the owner has never replaced them. Not much has changed in ten years, except we no longer sit up front in the restaurant section with its beige upholstery and bright lighting. We’ve graduated to the middle section where most of the seating is barstools or wooden chairs at small tables, and only a few booths line one wall and lighting is kept to a minimum. The back is reserved for pool players and their buddies.

Mid-week, the Flamingo didn’t attract much of a crowd. A few regulars play pool, but we could gossip without constant interruptions from guys looking to pick us up. Of course, Merrilee was always their first target. Her long blond hair and supermodel body made her a guy magnet for the newbies. Too bad she plays for the other team. That leaves me, Janine and Sarah, all brunettes, to pick up after her when we are so inclined.

The three of us looked enough alike that people sometimes mistook us for sisters. We all had long hair, but I was the tallest with Janine and Sarah about two inches shorter than me. Our eyes were brown, but Sarah listed hers as hazel on her driver’s license. Janine tends to be a little paler than the rest of us but that’s because she spent more time with her nose buried in a book than even me.

But this night, no one bothered us. I think Sarah was disappointed. She dumped her last boyfriend a few weeks earlier and was in the market for a new flame. All dressed up and wearing a pair of bright red stilettos, she eyed every man that walked in, but didn’t spot anyone of interest. However, right on cue, once we had our drinks but before the food arrived, Janine brought up my mystery man.

“We’ve got to fix Harmony up pretty soon,” she giggled. “She’s imagining guys now.”

I took a big swig of my brown ale before answering. I blame my liking for it on Jake. He introduced me to the variety of beers, and pale ales bore me now. “You must have been in the bathroom when he came in or something, because he was there. Twice.”

“Well, if he hangs out in history, maybe he’s your competition,” Merrilee chimed in.

I snorted, and almost knocked over my mug. Only a quick catch kept it from toppling over and spilling its contents into my lap. “If he wants to give it a try, he’s welcome to it. He’s probably gathering information for a college paper. Or he’s a first-time author doing research for himself.” Even as I said it, I decided the idea made a lot of sense. After having worked with the writers group, I know how focused they get when they’re on a writing streak. My mystery man probably wouldn’t even remember seeing me. I tipped my chair back, took another drink of my beer and dismissed the issue. Thank heavens, the girls got distracted by a hot guy who picked that moment to swagger into the bar.

Chapter Two

The rabid barking of Luke’s dog and a pounding on the door startled me out of the nap I didn’t mean to take. Grumbling, I set the laptop down on the floor, stretched and walked over to peer out the peephole. The man in blue with his fist raised to strike my door didn’t look familiar and I thought I knew most of the local police after last year’s incident. I pulled out my earbuds, nearly dropping the MP3 player, and opened the door before he hit it again. “Can I help you, Officer?”

“Harmony Duprie?” he asked, stopping his fist just before it made contact with my chest.

Yeah, that’s my name. Obviously, my parents didn’t hang around many strip clubs before they came up with the moniker. I took a step backwards. “Yes?” I asked, wondering what I had done wrong now.

“I’m Officer Felton. Do you own a,” he checked a slip of paper in his hand, “a 1979 blue Ford Pinto?”

“George? Why yes I do, he’s parked out on the street.” The car was around the corner and I couldn’t see him, but I parked him the same place every time. The local police knew my car, so why was the officer asking about him?

“Did you loan your car to anyone, Ms. Duprie?”

“No.” I felt a tickle of worry at the base of my skull. “Why?”

He sighed. “I have bad news. It appears your car was stolen.”

I pushed past him, leaned over the railing and tried to see my parking spot. “Did you find him?”


“George. My car. I call him George.” Because like the Abominable Snowman in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, that’s what I always wanted. My own little car.

“Your car has been totaled, Ms. Duprie.”

Stomach churning, I leaned against the door frame with a casualness I didn’t feel. “What happened?” Not that it would take much damage to total George, as old as he was.

His radio beeped and his eyes took on intense stare of someone listening intently to a voice I couldn’t hear. He leaned down and spoke into the black box on his shoulder. “10-4. We’re on our way.”

He looked at me. “Detective Thomason would like to speak to you at the office.”

Now it was my turn to sigh. Detective Fred Thomason and I are not the best of friends. I have tried to avoid him, with little luck, since the first time he handcuffed me. “I seem to be minus a car,” I pointed out dryly.

“I’ll give you a ride.”

“Can I change first?” I didn’t want to show up at the station in the holey old sweats and worn out T-shirt I had switched into sometime mid-morning.

“Can you make it quick?”

“Of course,” Then, against my better judgment, I added, “Why don’t you come in? This will only take a minute, but you might as well sit down while you are waiting.”

I wasn’t worried about inviting him in. It isn’t much of a place, but what I choose to afford, and the landlords keeps it in good repair. It’s the entire third floor of a three story home, and Luke and Joe have the bottom two floors. They are getting older so I help them out with basic maintenance and they keep the rent low. Much of my furniture is yard sale leftovers, but I claim the apartment is decorated in shabby chic. I prefer to spend my money on books as witnessed by the two walls worth of packed shelves. There are more books stacked on the floor of the bedroom and even several in the bathroom. The little kitchen is kept book-free except for a few cookbooks since the time I got so involved in the novel I was reading I burned a pot of spaghetti.

BOOK: The Marquesa's Necklace (Oak Grove Mysteries Book 1)
8.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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