Authors: Kari Lee Townsend
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective
She was acting crazier than an upside-down deck of cards these days.
I could actually buy into the qigong method, but I drew the line when it came to the Shake Weight. First off, it just looked wrong. Second, I couldn’t imagine shaking some silly weight back and forth would actually be effective in toning her arms. All it had given her was a bad case of tennis elbow.
And the neckline slimmer she’d resorted to next was absolutely ridiculous. It consisted of this bizarre
contraption that rested on her chest with a protruding extension that sat under her chin. Then she would proceed to smile as she opened and closed her mouth repeatedly like a ventriloquist’s dummy. She swore the resistance of the spring would tone the flab under her chin. All it had done so far was give her lockjaw and a permanently smiling face that made her look like the Joker.
By Wednesday morning I couldn’t take any more, so I’d brought her to the gym with me. She packed a bag of workout clothes and was changing in the locker room while I went out to talk to Sean.
“Did you check into that matter for me?” I asked.
He glanced around, making sure no one was listening. “I sure did. The pocketknife you found behind the auction booth belonged to Quincy. He bought it at Eddy’s Gun Emporium last fall.”
“But the carnival is held in his park. Why on earth would he be trying to sabotage the whole thing? Even though his Parks and Rec Program isn’t getting the money, he still has a booth here. It’s a great advertisement for him. It doesn’t make any sense that he wouldn’t want that. Not to mention he now seems to have Bernadette in his corner.”
“That’s what I thought, so I asked him about it. I pretended I found it and since it had his initials on it, I assumed it was his. He said that someone had stolen it from his office, but he hadn’t had time to report it missing yet.”
“Do you think he’s telling the truth?”
“I’m not sure. He’s definitely hiding something.”
“I’ll find a way to talk to him soon. In the meantime, are you ready for Friday night?”
We were supposed to meet Jo’s cousin Zoe on my dinner break from the carnival Friday night at Smokey Jo’s. I just loved weddings and was hoping all the romantic juju would rub off on Mitch.
“Oh, no,” I said as I stared out into the main section of the gym.
“Oh, what?” Sean asked, following my gaze. “Oh, boy.”
Fiona Atwater was dressed to the nines in the latest yoga athletic wear, headband and all, looking picture-perfect in every way. She was walking on a treadmill that sat right beside the one Captain Walker was on.
They were chatting and smiling, and she kept throwing her head back, making her earrings twinkle like the constellations in my sanctuary, and patting her chest repeatedly. If I had a figure like hers at that age, I’d probably draw attention to it, too, I had to admit. I shook off my thoughts as I remembered the issue at hand.
“Oh, brother. This is not good.” I was about to turn around to intercept Granny from the locker room, but I was too late.
She’d already slipped out, and I could tell by her expression that she had just spotted the twittering twosome. I’d never seen her pump her arms that fast as she hoisted her head high and marched over to hop onto the treadmill on the other side of the captain, wearing…
“Good Lord, where did she get that outfit?” I sputtered.
Apparently she’d found more of Vicky’s old curtains and had made herself her own version of yoga pants, but they looked more like floral bell bottoms from the seventies, with a matching bandanna instead of her standard plastic rain cap. She was moving like she had dance fever, all right, or ants in her pants. If she didn’t stop all that gyrating, she was going to need more than a pair of Depends.
“She’s a cheeky lass, I’ll give her that. Now I know where you get your spunk from.” Sean chuckled, crossing his arms and cocking his head as though settling in to enjoy the show.
The captain’s smile slipped a bit and a wary expression took its place as he looked from one woman to the next and then up to Sean and I. His eyes were wide like he was caught in the middle of a horror flick with a skip in the DVD as the terrifying scene playing out before him repeated itself over and over and over.
Granny now chattered as much as Fiona, both obviously trying to outdo one another. And the speed of the treadmills kept increasing until both women were holding on tight to the rails and now running with everything on them jiggling in the breeze.
“Sean, do something before one of them breaks a hip,” I said, then added half under my breath, “or scares everyone into therapy.”
“Looks like Wally already beat me to it.”
Wally was the owner of Wally’s World gym and a massive man. Six feet eight inches of creamy milk chocolate and not a speck of hair on his big beautiful body.
His wide smile and blazing white teeth were in full effect as he hoisted Granny under one arm and Fiona under the other as if they were as light as a couple of lumpy pillows. They quieted instantly, staring up in awe at his exotic features.
Wally’s smile actually broadened.
Stopping in front of Sean and I, he gently set the women on their feet. “Why don’t you try something more your speed, ladies? Wouldn’t want such precious cargo getting hurt on one of my machines. Yoga room’s that way.” He patted both of them on their bottoms.
Fiona let out a kitty-cat meow, and Granny fluttered her lashes, which looked longer than they had this morning, like she’d slapped on a pair of falsies. When her feather-duster eyelashes stopped fluttering, one was suspiciously crooked.
“I think we’re done, Granny,” I said. “Let’s go.”
“I think you’re right,” Granny responded, fanning herself. “Land sakes, that was quite the workout. We’ve got to get to the carnival. There’s so much to do before the bakeoff.”
“You’re not going to win. You heard how much the captain likes Bernadette’s apple turnovers,” Fiona pointed out smugly. “And she wins
“Bernadette’s turnovers don’t hold a candle to my cookies. Ask her yourself. She’s been trying to get my secret ingredient out of me since the day I arrived, yet she never shares her recipe with anyone. Not even her staff.”
“Well, you’ve never tasted my lemon meringue pie.”
“Thank my lucky stars for that small miracle.” Granny grabbed her heart as though she was about to faint, then added, “And buttering the judge’s muffin isn’t going to score you any points, either.”
“At least I still know how to butter a muffin,” Fiona shot back. “Why, I ought to—”
“I think I just saw one of your nanas walk by,” Sean said, pointing out the window. “She looked distressed. You might want to go see if anything’s wrong.”
“Oh, dear me. Duty calls,” Fiona said and dashed off out the door.
“Duty smuty.” Granny harrumphed and rubbed her eyes until one set of her eye lashes was dangling off the corner of her eye and bouncing off her cheek as she talked. “Fiona left because she knew she was losing the argument. Let’s go, Sunny. We’ve got our own duty calling our names. Besides, I could use my heating pad right about now. It’s painful to be beautiful.” Granny hobbled off to the locker room.
“Thanks, Sean.” I blew out a breath and smiled at him.
“Anytime, love. See you on Friday.”
If I made it until then, it would be a miracle.
* * *
Friday night I pushed open the heavy door to Smokey Jo’s tavern and headed into the bar. I slid on a stool, slipped my fringed knapsack over the back, and then folded my arms on top of the rich mahogany surface.
“You’re early. Bet I can guess what you want,” Jo said
from behind the bar, expertly sliding an ice-cold beer across the surface until it stopped directly before me.
“You read my mind.” I took a sip, glancing around at the amber lighting and listening to the soothing sounds of the seventies folk music as it oozed softly out of the speakers. “It’s been a heck of a week.”
“Careful, lass, it’s not over yet.” Sean gave my shoulders a squeeze and then slid onto the stool next to me. “A lot can still happen.”
I groaned. “Don’t remind me.”
“Don’t remind you of what?” Cole asked as he wandered out of the kitchen behind the bar and slipped his arms around Jo. He was a Sasquatch of a man, intimidating most with his deep voice, five-o’clock shadow, and chain-link tattoo around his neck. But he was so unbelievably gentle with her, I got teary-eyed watching them.
Jo leaned her head back against his chest and looked up at him with pure love shining in her smoky gray eyes. She was a voluptuous redhead, but he made her look like a Disney Princess. That was one of the things she loved about him. He made her feel petite, and beautiful, and loved.
“I haven’t congratulated you yet,” I amended, popping some bar nuts into my mouth. “I really am so happy for you both.”
He winked at me. “I heard your detective was back in town. Haven’t seen him around much.”
“He’s not my anything, yet. Turns out we have something in common, Cole, because I haven’t seen him around, either.”
“Like I said, when are you going to dump him and take me up on that offer of romance, lass?” Sean wagged his eyebrows at me and flashed his famous dimples.
“When Fiona and Granny stop fighting.”
“Basically never, then?” Sean pretended to be wounded by slapping his hand over his heart. “Guess I’ll have to set my sights on some other lucky lady.”
“Trust me, you don’t want to be involved in my life these days. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Another lucky lady sounds perfect for you.”
The bells over the door chimed, and we turned around to see a petite woman walk inside.
“Aye, like that lovely lass right there.” Sean started to stand.
“Easy, Romeo, have a seat,” Jo said. “That, my friends, is my cousin Zoe.”
Sean lowered himself slowly to the barstool, looking transfixed.
Zoe glanced around the bar, spotted Jo, waved, and made her way through the crowd toward us. She looked like Jo, but she was petite and short—in fact I don’t think she was any taller than five feet—and she had silky straight red hair instead of a mass of curls.
She also had gray eyes, but a lighter shade than Jo’s, and there was a dusting of freckles sprinkled across the bridge of her nose. She wasn’t the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, but there was something sprite-like and innocent and utterly captivating about her.
“Hi, guys, I’m Zoe,” she said in a soft lyrical voice when she reached us. “And you must be Sunny and Sean.”
“So nice to meet you,” I said, shaking her hand.
“Pleasure’s all mine, lass,” Sean said and tried to kiss her hand, but she discreetly pulled away before his lips could touch her flesh. He paused, but then his lips quirked into a lopsided grin. “Hard to get. I like that.”
“Exactly. The church you wanted is fully booked and incredibly hard to get, Jo,” Zoe said, oblivious to Sean. “And there’s nothing to like about that. But I’ve got some other ideas.” She pulled Jo over to a booth, already deep in conversation, with Sean completely forgotten.
“Huh. Imagine that. A woman who
susceptible to your charms.” I grinned at Sean.
“Please. Give her time. She’ll come around,” he said, then hopped over the bar, but the crease between his baby blues was unmistakable.
“Isn’t that your Granny?” Cole said, squinting as he looked across the bar and out through the window.
I whipped my head to the side and stared in disbelief. Great. Here comes trouble. All I’d wanted was one night of peace and quiet from the Granny and Fiona Show. I winced as she swerved to miss a mailbox, jumped the curb, and nicked the light post out front before she came to a jarring stop. She shut off her car, leaving the keys in the ignition as usual, then grabbed her cookies and marched toward the front door in all her finery—rain cap, apron, and all.
She actually wore a dress obviously made from yet another set of my curtains. Good thing my house had a lot of windows and enough extra fabric to keep her in
curtain supplies for years to come. She must have forgotten to take her apron off when she left, though.
She spotted me and stopped by the bar. “Hi, dearie.”
“Hi, Granny. Um, did you forget something?” I asked in a low voice, pointing down.
“Oh, fiddlesticks.” She handed me the cookies and pulled off her rain cap. Then she untied her apron, slipped it off, and traded me her belongings for the cookies.
I wadded them up and shoved the bundle in my knapsack. “You look nice.” My gaze roamed over her body, stopping on her legs. “I haven’t seen you in a dress in ages.” I wrinkled my brow. “Since when did your legs get so tan? And what’s wrong with your toes? They almost look blue compared to the rest of your feet.”
“Sandal-foot nylons,” she whispered. “Not sandal toe, those are different, you see, for open-toed shoes. These are made for actual sandals. The trick is the toes are literally cut out, and the nylon hooks over your big toe to keep the material in place. Aren’t they just the bee’s knees? With my sandals on, you can’t even tell I’m wearing nylons, even if they do pinch a snippet.”
“They’re something, all right.” I smiled, thinking she should have chosen a lighter shade. These made her look like her circulation had literally stopped at the balls of her feet with her toes all but dead.
“At least I won’t get skin cancer like Phony Bologna Fiona with all the tanning she must do.” Granny tsked.
“What are you doing here, anyway?”
“I’m on a mission of sorts. Have you seen Captain Walker? Someone said he eats here on Friday nights.”
“Granny, what are you up to with that plate of cookies?” I asked in dread.
“Well,” she looked left and right as though she were about to reveal a clever secret, “I thought I’d give Grady a little sample to wet his whistle for Sunday’s bakeoff. I just found out Bernadette wins every year, but I’m about to dethrone her. I just have to figure out which type of cookie the captain likes best. So I baked all of my favorites. Want one?”
Since when had he become
instead of Captain Walker? “No, thanks,” I answered. “It’s pretty crowded in here, but he usually sits in the corner over there by…oh…my…God!”