Authors: Traci Tyne Hilton
Tags: #Mystery: Christian Cozy - Realtor - Oregon
|Traci Tyne Hilton - Mitzi Neuhaus 03 - Buyer's Remorse|
|Mitzi Neuhaus |
|Traci Tyne Hilton|
|Traci Tyne Hilton (2011)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Christian Cozy - Realtor - Oregon|
To my brother, Andrew.
Thank you for all of your help and encouragement.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, places, and incidents are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, either living or dead, is completely coincidental.
Buyer’s Remorse: A Mitzy Neuhaus Mystery
Copyright 2011 by Traci
All rights reserved (11/13)
Mitzy Neuhaus turned the key for the last time. The lock clicked open and she sighed. A cold wind whipped her lavender wool scarf behind her. She pulled the scarf back around and tucked it into her jacket. She didn’t open the door right away. This place had been her home for many years.
Leaden clouds hung low in the afternoon sky. Very little light broke through. Mid-afternoon in
felt like dusk. A soaking mist had completely deflated Mitzy’s curls, and the
wind did the rest of the damage. Her damp clothes clung to her skin. She shivered. Winter in the Northwest was always dark and wet. Mitzy had the native-born aversion to umbrellas so she shook herself a little to drip dry before she stepped into her condo.
In less than thirty days she had to give up the keys to the condo. She expected to cry at closing, even though it had been her idea to sell. She had come by this afternoon to pick up some cleaning supplies that she had left behind. She and her favorite housecleaner had scrubbed the condo to within an inch of its life. Repairs, including cosmetic work, had been handled by Alonzo Miramontes’ crew, one of the great perks to being engaged to a builder.
After she shook most of the drips off, she wiped her feet on the recycled rubber front porch mat and opened the door. She stepped onto the new tropical hardwood floors and smiled.
Pre-finished, click together wood.
Mitzy marveled at how easy fixing houses up had become. She only wished every house she listed had the same budget for a makeover that hers had.
Mitzy told the housekeeper to leave the cleaning supplies in the kitchen where she could just pop in and pick them up. She wanted to say goodbye to her home. Her career had been launched from this place.
She had lived here for more than ten years. She bought it as a small place, just 1400 square feet. It had been plenty big for a busy Realtor, but as business grew, so did the condo. She bought the units on either side of it once she had earned her first million and turned them into the best penthouse suite in
. She had taken flack for it from the other Realtors. Doubters thought she’d destroyed any potential resale, but Mitzy knew it would work. She didn’t become a millionaire by making bad real estate decisions.
With the housing market going into its third year of sinking values, Mitzy’s debt-free lifestyle had stood her in good stead. She had never had a loan on her home. When the time came to sell, she sold.
With her wedding coming up, she wouldn’t need her own place anymore. She couldn’t suppress the smile. She and Alonzo had been through a lot in the last year, fighting off the Mafia and saving their new inn, The Miramontes, from both the FBI and the City Council’s plans to take the land. The Mafia thugs had torched their scooter shop with Mitzy inside. She had barely made it out.
For a few weeks she had suffered horrible nightmares. They frightened her into selling her condo early. She’d rather get a roommate or move in with her parents than sleep alone with those nightmares. She shivered in the cool room. She didn’t need to fear Mafia retribution. After the fire, the bad guys had gotten away. She hoped they had bigger fish to fry, but hope alone hadn’t been enough to make the nightmares stop.
She turned to the kitchen and bent down to grab her bucket of cleaners. Something moving on the patio caught her eye. Fabric flapped on the deck, like a painter’s tarp left out. She crossed the living room, her boot heels clicking on the floors, and slid the door open.
The wind swirled in the patio enclosure, and Mitzy’s hair flipped around her face. She brushed it aside with a shaking hand. Her stomach lurched. A raincoat beat a rhythm against a long, thin woman lying on the deck. Mitzy knelt down beside the woman, rainwater soaking the knees of her Sevens.
She grabbed the errant rain jacket and shoved it under her knee to still it. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Then she reached for the woman’s shoulder.
She patted the woman’s shoulder gently. “Hello?” she said, hoping she could rouse the woman.
She reached forward and pulled the hood of the rain jacket down uncovering a tangled mass of blood soaked, blonde curls. Her knuckles grazed the viscous blood as they passed over the woman’s hair. Instinctively Mitzy drew her hand away and shook it. “Oh, dear Jesus,” she said, her heart falling to her stomach. She took a deep breath and leaned forward again, turning the woman’s face away from the concrete deck. Bruises discolored her face. Her eyes were shut and swollen. Mitzy reached her shaking fingers under woman’s jaw, searching for a pulse. She found nothing.
She stumbled to her feet as quickly as she could, tripped over the legs of the woman, and threw herself against the patio rail.
She screamed it over and over, into the dark afternoon, the words tearing up her throat. Free from the trap of Mitzy’s knee, the coat flapped in the wind again. Mitzy turned her head and looked at the woman. A young woman, with long legs and a mess of blonde curls lay behind her.
She looks like me,
Mitzy thought. Mitzy turned back to the rail, took a deep breath and screamed into the distance again.
A light turned on across the courtyard. A shadowy, back lit, neighbor stepped out into the dusky afternoon.
Mitzy screamed again. She waved her arms at the neighbor. The dark form stepped back into the condo and slid the door shut. Then the distant blinds closed, blocking the light.
No one was going to help. She had to do something. She turned around and leaned heavily on the railing, her chin sunk to her chest. Her breath was ragged and tears coursed down her rain-drenched face. She forced herself to look at the woman. No pulse. Mitzy had time to think. She couldn’t save this woman, but she had to call 911. She needed to get inside and call 911.
Mitzy took a deep breath and launched herself over the legs of the woman. She tried not to look down. At the sliding door she turned back and looked again. What had she been doing here? What had brought her to this deck to die?
Mitzy crossed the room with shaking legs, grabbed her phone from her bag and called 911. She gave them the address and told them everything, “Can you send Detective Backman?” she asked, her voice choking back a sob.
“We’ll see what we can do. Just stay on the line until the police arrive,” the woman said with a well-practiced, soothing tone.
Mitzy kept the phone to her ear and stepped outside. She shut the door behind her and pressed her back to it. It felt secure to have her back against the front door. From this spot she could see the parking lot, and no one could come at her from behind.
The old fear that she thought she had defeated gripped her heart. She had put one man in prison for his crimes. But the other men, the ones who burned their scooter shop to the ground, hadn’t been caught. As far as the Mafia knew all of the evidence had been destroyed in the fire. She shouldn’t be scared. But what if that wasn’t good enough? What if …what if it was more than a coincidence that the body on the deck looked like her? What if the dead woman was meant to be her?
Mitzy’s hair whipped her face but she wouldn’t go back in. She clamped her eyes shut, but the picture of the bloody curls remained in front of her. She saw the woman, but she also saw her own head smashed in on that deck.
Someone had come to this condo, seen the blonde woman and killed her. What would they do when they learned they hadn’t killed Mitzy?
She gripped the phone in her shaking hand, and pressed it tightly to her ear. The phone buzzed softly. Her call had been dropped. Mitzy pulled the phone away from her face and shook it. She thumped it with her knuckle and shook it again. She held it to her ear but the 911 operator was gone.
Mitzy took a deep breath and dialed Alonzo. She could barely breathe. “Alonzo…Alonzo…there’s been a murder.”
“Slow down,” Alonzo said. “Where are you? How do you know there’s been a murder?”
“I’m at the condo. There’s a body. I’ve found a body at my condo.” Mitzy couldn’t pull the words together. She wanted to see Alonzo in front of her right now. She wanted to grab his arm and feel that he was really here. Then she could show him what she couldn’t say.
“Who is it? What happened?” Alonzo asked.
“I don’t know anything but you’ve got to come,” Mitzy said. She squared her shoulders, trying to gather her strength. “I just don’t know. But I’m waiting for the police and I’m alone.”
“I’ll be right there,” Alonzo said, but he didn’t stay on the line.
Mitzy tried to take another deep breath but a sob broke through and shook her.
She had never been this scared before. Not when Maxim Mikhaylichenko had her tied up in the basement of the foreclosed house, or when she was escaping the scooter shop fire. She had gone willingly into trouble both of those times. This murder had sprung up from nowhere.
She shivered. She wrapped her arms tightly around her chest. Her signature purple bag that hung from her elbow bumped her legs. She tapped her foot and willed sirens to sound in the distance.
She heard Alonzo’s pick-up rumble into the parking lot below. She listened to the sound of his feet pounding up the four flights of steps to her front door. She
her arms and took a deep breath, trying to relax.
Alonzo bounded up the last steps, lunged for her and pulled her into his arms. He kissed her until she gasped for breath.
“Al!” His arms felt like the only safe place in the world, but she fidgeted and stepped away from him.
He pulled her back and gave her one more squeeze and then released her. “Are you okay, Mitz?”
“I’m fine, I just, she’s just, on the back deck…” she choked on the words. But better to cry now with Al and talk sensibly with the cops when they showed up.
“It’s okay, don’t try to talk.” He reached around her for the doorknob.
“No, don’t go in. Just stay here with me until the cops get here.”
“It’s too cold. Go inside.”
“It’s a crime scene.”
“That doesn’t usually stop you,” Alonzo said.
“It’s not funny.” Mitzy shut her eyes. “This is a murder.”
“True.” He stepped away from the door. “Murder is something we haven’t done yet.” He walked to the end of the front porch and turned.
“We haven’t “done” this murder. Someone else did it,” Mitzy said, straining to hear a siren.
“But it is our murder. Who was it?” Alonzo walked to Mitzy, patted her on the shoulder and turned again.
“I didn’t recognize her.
Just a woman.
A young woman,” Mitzy said.
“What was she doing here?” Alonzo reached the end of the stoop and turned again.
“I don’t know who she is or how she got here.” Mitzy watched the street as best as she could, but the gathering dark made it difficult for her to tell one sedan from another. New storm clouds must have rolled in. Mitzy hated the eternal dusk of winter.
“Was the door locked?” Alonzo asked.
Mitzy turned to her pacing fiancé. “Yes. The sliding door too. She’s on the back deck and both doors were locked behind her.”
“So it wasn’t an accident then,” Alonzo said.
“I could have told you that. Her head is smashed.”
“But she could have fallen and hit her head, if she was drunk or stoned. She could have bashed her head into the wall and fallen over. But she couldn’t have bashed her head in and then locked the slider from the inside and the front door as well.”
“Whoever left her here must have had a key.”
Alonzo stopped again.
“Yes. I had to unlock the deadbolt to get in. Who has a key to this apartment now?” Mitzy hadn’t heard the car pull into the parking lot but she noticed the sound of feet on the stairs. Two men with badges held out in front of them bolted up the last steps.
“Mitzy Neuhaus?” the first man said.
Alonzo stepped forward with her, his arm wrapped around her back.
“Yes,” Mitzy said. “Is Detective Backman coming?”
The first man looked at the second and shook his head. “We’re Portland PD. You are reporting a death?”
“Yes. I—” She choked on the words.
“She found a body on the patio. This condo was her home and she came to get some stuff she left here. When she got inside she saw something on the patio—”