Throw a Monkey Wrench (an Emma Cassidy Mystery Book 1) (4 page)

BOOK: Throw a Monkey Wrench (an Emma Cassidy Mystery Book 1)
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She recalled how Cynthia had seemed to go
into a state of shock when she’d heard about Tony. Almost catatonic shock. Not
exactly the expected reaction if Cynthia thought Tony vulgar and beneath her.

And Howard had reacted strangely, too. He’d
seemed almost angry at the news. Or maybe his mottled face wasn’t an indication
of anger but satisfaction. Was he glad that Tony was dead? If so, why?

“There’s always tension between Cynthia and
Howard,” Becky said. “Theirs is not the happiest of marriages, although I’ve
heard they were quite the lovebirds in the early days. I feel sorry for the
daughter, Madison. She seems like a nice kid. Always polite when she comes in
here. And the big tips don’t hurt either.”

Yes, if there was one thing Emma was sure
of, it was that Madison didn’t deserve any of this. Somehow, despite her chilly
mom and her overbearing dad, she’d turned out pleasant and normal and cheerful.

Please, help him. Help us. Please.

Madison’s pleas echoed in Emma’s head,
causing her to squirm with discomfort. How could she help Sean? She wasn’t an
investigator; she didn’t have an in with the police; she couldn’t force people
to talk to her. As much as she sympathized with Sean and Madison, she couldn’t
see how she could help them. Sean was innocent, and as soon as the police
realized that, he’d be a free man, free to marry Madison just like they
planned.

“I hope those two get their wedding,” Becky
said. “If only to keep your business afloat.”

Emma pulled a face. “Yes. With all the
cancellations, I don’t have many bookings left. Just a small wedding in July,
and the Kaupers’ silver anniversary in August. At least they haven’t cancelled
yet.”

Although that might change if Sean was
indeed arrested for Tony’s murder and Emma’s connection to him became known.
Maybe it was a bit selfish of her to be concerned about her reputation, but she
couldn’t help it. A business like hers relied so much on opinion and
word-of-mouth. Rumors of murder could kill her enterprise before it even got
started.

“You’ll pull through.” The cook dinged his
bell, and Becky went to pick up an order. Seconds later, she slid a hot plate
containing a BLT with potato wedges and ranch dressing toward Emma. “Here you
go, honey. Eat up.”

With her mouth watering, Emma dunked a
potato wedge in ranch dressing. Yum. She might be heading into troubled waters,
but at least she’d face it with a full stomach.

Chapter Four

“Hello? Is anyone
here?”

Emma’s voice echoed off brick walls. As her
eyes adjusted from the brightness outside, she found herself in a large, open
space that smelled of grease and rubber. She walked in, careful to avoid the
darker stains on the concrete floor. The lights were on, which meant someone
must be here. Perhaps even Sean.

She’d spent the rest of the afternoon
updating her website, fretting about her bills, and working on Mr. and Mrs.
Kaupers’ silver anniversary. While she’d worked, she couldn’t help worrying
about Sean and wondering how he was getting on at the police station. She’d
half-expected Madison to call and give her an update, but no call came.

At five o’clock, she’d shut her office and
left for the day, intending to go straight home. But as she dug her car keys
out of her bag, she’d realized that she needed to do something about her car.
It really wasn’t safe driving it around while it sputtered and coughed like an
asthmatic.

She’d instantly thought of taking it to
Sean’s auto repair shop. Since they were friends, she could trust his
workmanship, and patronizing his business would be a way of showing her
support.

Using the internet on her cell phone to
look up Sean’s business address, she’d driven out to the industrial part of Greenville
that stretched south of the town center. The drive had taken her away from the
historic downtown area and picturesque lakefront. Soon, the road became bumpy
and pot-holed. Factories and warehouses lined the street.

Sean’s business sat at the end of a wide
road and looked more impressive than she’d anticipated. The building straddled
a wide block, with two entrances for vehicles to enter or exit the workshop and
plenty of parking for customers out the front. A bright yellow sign displayed
the business name. There was even a tub of flowers next to the main door.

The parking lot was empty, and the
reception office was closed, but one of the vehicle entrances was open. So Emma
walked inside and found herself in an area that appeared to function as an area
for dropping off and picking up vehicles.

“Hello?” she called again. “Sean, are you
here? It’s Emma.”

According to the sign pinned to the glass
doors of the reception office, the business shut at five-thirty, and it was
only twenty past now. But it seemed no one was here at the moment. Now that she
had driven here, though, she was reluctant to go away empty handed, especially
if there was a chance Sean might be here.

She didn’t know where Sean lived, but he’d
worked hard to build up this business and probably spend a lot of time here.
Maybe if he was released from the police station, this might be the first place
he’d come for refuge.

The rear of the garage opened out to
another space, which she couldn’t properly make out. Anxious to find Sean, she
walked through and found herself in an enormous shed-like building. There were
skylights in the ceiling high above, but at this hour with the sun lowering,
the interior was dim and shadowy. Still, there was enough light for her to see
that this was the workshop proper where vehicles were repaired. There were big
car hoists, trolleys filled with tools, rows of spare tires. A paint booth took
up one corner.

All this equipment had to be worth a lot,
she thought. Sean must have worked hard to save the capital.

Most of the lights were off, but a few
burned in the far corner. Hitching her bag over her shoulder, she started
walking down the center of the workshop, her heels tapping loudly in the hush.

A burly figure suddenly materialized out of
the shadows and loomed over her, as menacing as Bigfoot. “Whaddya want?” he
growled.

Emma’s hair stood on end as she shrieked.
She saw the wrench gripped in his hand and shrieked again.

“Get away from me!” she yelled in panic.

Oh God, was this the murderer?
It could be him. Why else was he lurking in a dark workshop with a wrench
in his hand? A wrench that could easily leave a nasty blow on a person’s skull.
He was going to kill her and leave her body here in this cold, dark building.
No one would find her until morning. She couldn’t do that to her father. He
didn’t deserve to lose his wife and daughter in the space of two years.

Keeping her gaze on him, she scrabbled
through her tote bag, searching through the myriad emergency supplies she never
left home without. Being an event planner was a bit like being a scout—always
be prepared. Her fingers rummaged through tissues, breath mints, TUMS, a sewing
kit, before curling around a slim aluminum tube. Ah, this must be the pepper
spray that she’d always carried with her in New York. She’d never had to use it
there, so it was a bit ironic that she needed it here in sleepy ol’ Greenville.

“Don’t come any closer or I’ll mace you!”
She held up the can only to realize it was hairspray not pepper spray, and
quickly tried to cover the label with her fingers.

Bigfoot halted. He didn’t seem to notice
that she was attempting to hold him off with hairspray. “Clear off! We don’t
need you buttinskies snooping around here.”

Emma peered a little closer at the man. She
thought she recognized those hulking shoulders and that surly voice. “Bart?
It’s Bart McCluskey, isn’t it?”

“Huh?” He squinted suspiciously at her.
“Who’s asking?”

“It’s me, Emma Cassidy. You were two grades
above me at high school. I was in the same year as Sean, your cousin.”

The guy shifted on his feet. “You’re Mr.
Cassidy’s daughter. I always hated history class.”

Emma sighed. Somehow she’d survived
attending the same school where her father taught, but only just. “That’s me.”

But knowing her name didn’t appear to
mollify Bart, the scowl returning to his forehead. “What do
you
want?
Bad enough having the dang cops all over the place without busybodies like you
sticking your nose where it don’t belong.”

“The police were here? When?”

Her question seemed to enrage Bart. “It
don’t mean anything! He didn’t do it!”

He paused and stared at the wrench in his
meaty hand. His gaze turned to Emma. She didn’t care for the look of menace in
his eyes. Her breathing shortened as she firmed her grip on the little can of
hairspray while with her free hand she delved desperately into her bag for the
real pepper spray. Why didn’t she keep it in one of the side pockets?

Someone in the shadows coughed. They both
turned to see a lanky man emerge from the dimness. His thin brown hair flopped
over a hollow-cheeked face, while gray overalls hung on a scarecrow figure.
Emma didn’t recognize him. Was he friend or foe?

“Bart? What are you doing?” His voice was
flat and emotionless.

Bart flushed. “Getting rid of another buttinsky.
Seems every mongrel in town comes sniffing around when a McCluskey’s in
trouble.” He shook the wrench in Emma’s direction. “The whole town’s got it in
for us, and we’re sick of it. You hear that? Sick of it!”

“I only came because of my car! I mean,
this is an auto repair shop, isn’t it?” Emma heartily wished she’d never come.
“But since I’m not welcome here, I’ll take my business somewhere else.”

Thrusting the hair spray back in her bag,
she spun on her heel and hurried toward the exit. Footsteps pattered after her.

“Sorry about Bart.” The skinny guy
scampered alongside her. “He doesn’t usually deal with customers.”

“I can see why.” Emma lengthened her
stride.

“Hey, it’s been a tough day for all of us.”

The strain in his voice made her pause. “I
know,” she sighed. “I had to see Chief Putnam take Sean away.”

The stranger’s eyes goggled. “You were
there?”

“Yes.” She hesitated. The man was average
height, just a few inches taller than her, and his deferential manner was a
welcome relief after Bart McCluskey’s hostility. “I’m Emma Cassidy. I’m the
wedding planner for Madison and Sean.”

“Oh.” He looked her over. “I’m Larry
Durant. I’m kind of the second-in-command around here.” He seemed to grow
self-conscious of his oil-stained overalls. “I work on the cars, too.”

“My car’s been making some strange noises
and I thought I’d bring it in here to, you know, show my support for Sean. But
it looks like you guys are shut for the day.”

“We normally only close at five-thirty, but
today…well, we heard Sean got picked up by the police, and then the cops were here
with a search warrant.”

“Did they find anything?”

“Yeah. They checked every tool cabinet in
here, then they took Sean’s away.”

That didn’t sound good.

“Bart started mouthing off at the cops,”
Larry continued. “Then a coupla other McCluskey cousins turned up, and things
got a bit tense. Eventually the police left, but there were a few reporters
snooping around the place. We weren’t getting any work done, so we closed shop,
and the McCluskeys headed for the bar. I didn’t realize Bart came back.”

“He’s got a bad temper.” Emma frowned as
remembered how he’d scared her. She glanced over her shoulder, but there was no
sign of him.

“Huh, it runs in the family.” Larry picked
up a rag and rubbed his hands with it. “You could say it’s their trademark.”

“Have you been working here long?” Emma
asked, curious about Larry. He seemed quite normal compared to the McCluskeys.
Maybe that was why Sean had hired him.

“Couple years. I know this business inside
out. Got years of experience. Sean won’t have to worry about this. I’ll keep
things ticking over while he’s away.”

Emma lifted her eyebrows. “Sean will be out
as soon as the police realize he has nothing to do with the murder.”

“Oh, yeah, sure. Of course he will. Sean
would never kill someone.” But his voice held a trace of hesitation as his gaze
slid away from Emma’s.

“Larry?” she prompted, suddenly uneasy
about what he wasn’t saying. “Is there more?”

“I’m sure it’s nothing, but Sean and Tony
Barnet had an argument on the phone yesterday afternoon.”

“An argument about what?”

“Some unpaid bill, I believe. I heard Sean
yelling from his office around five o’clock. The door was shut, but everyone in
the reception area could hear him shouting. Then he came steaming out, looking
ready to blow a gasket. I asked him what was going on, and he yelled ‘Tony
Barnet isn’t getting away with this. I’m going to make him pay.’ Then he stomped
straight past me into the workshop, and a few minutes later he took off in his
pickup truck.”

This was bad. Maybe Sean had grabbed a tool
out of his toolbox, driven out to Tony’s house, and somehow ended up killing
him. And there were other witnesses besides Larry to the argument over the
phone—the receptionist, customers, and workers. The police would eventually get
their statements, if they hadn’t already. She had been convinced that Sean
would be freed very soon, but now the case against him looked increasingly
dire.

The thought depressed her, and she made for
her car, anxious to get away.

“Hey, I thought you wanted someone to look
at your car,” Larry called out as he trotted behind her.

“I, um, I’ll come back some other time.”
She opened her car door and slid in. “It probably makes more sense to drop it
off in the morning, right?”

“Yeah.” He eyed her hatchback, and his
expression seemed to suggest it was a piece of junk. “Just warning you, might
take a few days to fix.”

Emma held back a sigh. Could she afford a
rental? Maybe she could borrow her dad’s car; he’d sprained an ankle and was
unable to drive for a week or more. She’d ask him when she got home.

“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Larry nodded goodbye and stood back before
she pulled off. As she drove away, she glanced in her rearview mirror.
Silhouetted against the setting sun, the workshop was a dark rectangular
shadow. She couldn’t see Larry at all. He must be a fast mover to have vanished
so quickly.

***

The scent of spicy
chicken greeted Emma as she walked in the door. Home was a plain, unpretentious
three-bedroom house where she’d been born and raised. There were azalea bushes
out the front, a wide deck out the back, and plenty of shelves inside to house
her dad’s vast book collection.

Her dad was in the kitchen, limping between
the stove and the sink. His wire-rimmed glasses, button down plaid shirt tucked
into his pants, and neat salt-and-pepper hair emphasized his calm,
mild-mannered demeanor. After teaching history for decades, he’d recently become
a high school counselor.

“Hi, sweetie.” Andrew Cassidy paused to
peck her on the cheek before shuffling to the stove to check his sizzling pan.
“Chicken burritos tonight.”

“Sounds great.”

Since she’d moved back home she’d gained
five extra pounds due to her dad’s cooking. She wasn’t much of a cook herself,
and she hadn’t expected him to provide her with meals, but he’d surprised her
with his cooking skills. While Emma’s mom was alive, Frances had always ruled
the kitchen, and Andrew had been happy with the traditional male role of
sticking to barbeques. When her mother had died, Emma had assumed her dad would
mostly eat out, which he had for the first year of being a widower, but now he
was an accomplished home cook.

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