“Memorable characters, a charming locale, and a satisfying mystery.”—Barbara Allan When a film crew comes to Mackinac Island, the last thing fudge shop owner Allie McMurphy expects to find is a murder victim . . . SHOT ON LOCATION It's Labor Day weekend, the official end of tourist season, and the beginning of a whole batch of trouble. First, the island is invaded by a TV crew filming a murder mystery pilot, and handsome Hollywood heartthrob Dirk Benjamin needs Allie’s help to prep for his role as local cop Rex Manning. Then, Allie’s bichonpoo Mal sniffs out a real murder in the alley behind the Historic McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop, a man shot in the head—with a note challenging amateur sleuth Allie to catch the culprit. Like it or not, the fudge maker has to square off against a crazy killer—but this time she may have bitten off more than she can chew . . . Praise for Nancy Coco and the Candy-Coated Mysteries “It’s probably best not to read this while you’re too hungry, as the assorted fudge recipes may send you right to the kitchen.” — The Oakland Tribune “The characters are fun and well-developed, the setting is quaint and beautiful.” — RT Book Reviews “I really enjoyed this cozy mystery and look forward to reading more in this series.” — Fresh Fiction
Release date: September 25, 2018
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 352
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“There’s a town hall meeting tonight,” I said, and didn’t look up from my work on the finances. Labor Day weekend was the official end of the season on Mackinac Island. It was the Tuesday after and I was working up the numbers to see how successful the season had been and if I could stay in business.
“Yes,” Jenn said as she sat on the edge of my desk. “But do you know why?”
I set down my pencil. “Tell me.”
“They’re announcing that a television pilot for a mystery series set on the island will be shot starting next week.”
“A mystery series set on Mackinac?” I sat back. “That’s cool.”
“It is so cool. Marsha Goodwin told me that a Hollywood producer visited us on vacation a year or so back and wanted to do a series set here. They finally got up the funds to shoot the pilot. They will be doing outside shots here and then inside shots back in their LA studios.” She wiggled into place on my desk. “Now, here’s the fun part, for a mere two thousand dollars, they will include shots of the exterior of the McMurphy. We could be part of the opening credits for the run of the show!”
“I’m familiar with television shows,” I said, thinking back to this summer’s cooking show I got roped into. “While a pilot is cool, that doesn’t mean a show will get made.”
“But it’s a shot you can’t pass up,” she said, and crossed her arms. “What if the series takes off? You could be on the opening for years and on reruns forever.”
“Two grand is—”
“Not that much money for that kind of exposure. Think about how business has picked up since that cooking show.”
I looked at my computer screen. Our online fudge sales had doubled. We only had a limited amount of rooms to rent so we were turning people away. “It has been good for business,” I mused.
“And you want to keep up the exposure,” she advised.
“But we are already running to capacity. Any more orders and I’ll have to stop making batches by hand and start farming it off to a factory.”
“Why would that be bad?” Jenn frowned at me, confused.
“Because we are known for our handmade fudge,” I said. “Anyone can make fudge in a factory. We make fudge in the kitchen by hand.”
“So hire in another candy maker and start another shift,” she said. Then she hopped down and planted her hands on my desk. “The Old Tyme Photo Shop and all the others on this side of Main Street are pitching in for the exterior shots. You don’t want to lose to the other side.”
“What other side?”
“The other side of Main,” Jenn said, and waved her hand and straightened. “People will be counting on your support tonight.”
“No pressure,” I muttered sarcastically, and rubbed my hands over my face. “If I do this, I’ll have to take the money out of the roof remodel fund. That means we would not have the patio roof for events next year.”
“They are both long-term investments,” Jenn pointed out. “But I think this television show has a chance to really take off.”
“It’s starring Dirk Benjamin,” she said with an exaggerated sigh.
She jumped up and pulled out her phone. “Yes, you know—he did that made-for-TV movie about broken hearts where the older guy has Alzheimer’s and the older woman falls for the younger handy-man.. . .”
“I don’t watch much TV,” I said.
“Oh, you know him,” she said. “I’ll pull up his IMDb page.” She flipped through some screens on her phone and then turned it toward me. “See?”
On the screen was a head shot of a very handsome man. I swore there was a twinkle spot of light coming off his teeth. “He is nice-looking.”
“He’s more than nice-looking,” she said, and turned the phone back toward her. “He is the latest ‘it’ guy for the small screen. He’s been slotted to play the local police detective. There is no way this pilot won’t take off.”
“So wait, that guy is playing Rex Manning?” I chuckled at the idea that a young Hollywood actor with so much hair and a toothy smile would be playing Rex. Rex Manning was rougher around the edges, with a bald head and more action-movie-guy looks than romantic hero looks.
“Well, not exactly,” Jenn said. “The series is about a Mackinac Island writer. You know, an updated version of Jessica Fletcher. She finds clues to murders and he steps in to arrest people.”
“Oh boy, I bet Rex loves that idea,” I said. Rex wasn’t very happy with my meddling with his investigations. I highly doubted he would be happy about a television show depicting the Mackinac Island police as needing an old woman’s help to solve crimes.
Jenn smirked. “Rex hates it. I heard that Dirk is shadowing Rex for the next week to get a feel for how he does his job.”
That thought made me laugh. “Okay, now I have to call Rex and see how he’s taking it.” I picked up my phone.
“Before you call,” Jenn interrupted. “Are you in for the two thousand?”
“I don’t think so,” I said with a shake of my head. “The pilot could get made and not picked up or even shown to anyone for years. I think I’ll keep my roof improvements.”
Jenn stuck out her bottom lip in a pout. “Sad. I think your neighbors aren’t going to be too happy.”
“We just can’t do everything,” I said with a shrug. “They are business owners. They’ll understand.”
Later that afternoon I took my bichon poo puppy, Mal, out for her afternoon walk. We went out the back of the McMurphy and across the alley to Mal’s favorite patch of grass.
“Allie,” Mr. Beecher called my name. Mr. Beecher was an elderly gentleman who wore three-piece suits and walked twice daily around the island. He reminded me of the snowman narrator from the Rudolph stop-motion television show. Or more specifically, he reminded me of Burl Ives.
“Hello, Mr. Beecher. How are you today?”
“I’m well, thanks,” he said. “I hear that you aren’t going to put in for the pool to get the television show to shoot your side of the street.”
I sent him a weak smile. “Word travels fast around here.”
“You’ve got some folks up in arms over it,” he said, then reached into his pocket and took out a small treat. Mal raced over and did her tricks for him. “I told them that you were entitled to spend your money as you saw fit.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I’m saving up to remodel the rooftop. It will make a great space for weddings and bridal showers and other kinds of parties. The view of the straits is awesome.”
His eyes twinkled. “Like I said you are entitled to spend your money as you see fit. I think your grandfather would be proud of what you’ve done with the place.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I wish Papa were here for my first season, too.”
“What’s our little friend up to?” he asked, and pointed out that Mal was sniffing around the side of the Dumpster two buildings down.
“Mal,” I called. “What are you doing? Get over here.” I clapped my hands. Mal refused to come. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Sometimes she can get really stubborn.”
“Do take care. They like to put poison out by the Dumpsters to keep the rats away.”
“Oh no.” My heart rate sped up. I don’t know what I would do if Mal got poisoned. I hurried down the alley to the Dumpster calling her name. “Mal. Mal, come here, girl.” It wasn’t rat poison she was sniffing around, but a pair of men’s tennis shoes . . . with the person still wearing them. “I’m sorry,”I said, and pulled her off the man. “She has never met a stranger.”
The guy was half sitting, half lying down against the side of the building. His head rested against the Dumpster, a hat covering his face as if he needed a nap and wanted to keep the sun out. He didn’t make a sound. I froze.
“Is he sleeping?” Mr. Beecher asked as he rounded the Dumpster.
“Oh, boy,” I said, noting the dirty jeans and torn sweatshirt he wore. “Hello? Sir?” I reached down and jiggled his shoulder. The hat popped up and revealed brown eyes wide open, but opaque, staring at nothing. “Sir?” I put my hand on his neck to feel for a pulse, but one touch let me know he was dead. The body was cold.
I straightened, my nerves on edge. Mal wiggled in my arms. Mr. Beecher stuck his hands in his pockets and whistled.
“So you’ve found another dead man,” he stated.
“I think so,” I said, and fumbled for my phone. “Do you recognize him?”
“He sort of looks like Jack Sharpe,” Mr. Beecher mused, tilting his round head to get a better look at the body. “Of course, Jack is a better dresser.”
“9-1-1, what is your emergency?” Charlene the dispatcher’s voice was clear on the other end of the phone.
“Hi, Charlene, it’s Allie.”
“Oh, dear me, who’s dead now?” She sounded pained.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m in the alley behind Main Street . . .” I stepped back to look at the store names stenciled on their back doors. “Behind Doud’s Market and Mackinac Gifts.”
“I’ll send Rex out,” she said. “But he isn’t going to be happy.”
“I’m not responsible for making Rex happy,” I replied.
“That’s not what I hear,” Charlene chuckled. “I’ve sent a text out to Shane as well to get CSU over there. There is a dead body, right?”
“Yes,” I said solemnly. “But just because I call you doesn’t automatically mean someone died.”
“Honey, the only time you ask for help is if someone dies,” she pointed out. “Are you alone?”
“No, Mr. Beecher is here, too.”
“Well, good. Who found the body?”
“Mal did,” I answered.
“That pup has a nose for the dead,” Charlene said.
In the distance I heard sirens. The alley wasn’t very far from the administration building where the ambulance and police were housed. The ambulance was one of the only motor vehicles allowed on the island.
“I hear them coming,” I said into the phone. “Thanks, Charlene.”
“Take care, Allie.”
“Well, this certainly is an interesting turn of events.” Mr. Beecher kept his hands in his pockets and bent over to peer at the body. “I wonder what killed him?”
“Let’s hope it wasn’t foul play,” I said, and gathered Mal up in my arms. Movement caught the corner of my eye and I turned to see Rex come striding down the alleyway with a tall, impossibly handsome man behind him.
“Allie, Mal, Mr. Beecher.” Rex acknowledged us all but didn’t introduce the man with him. He turned to the body. “You reported him dead?”
“Yes,” I said. “Mal pointed him out and we thought he was sleeping. So I knelt and shook him to wake him up, but he was stiff and cold.”
“Wow, a real dead guy. Just like that . . . in the alley,” the handsome man said, and ran his hand through his mass of blond hair, which was thick and glossy.
“Hello,” Mr. Beecher said, and stuck out his hand. “I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Right, Dirk Benjamin,” the man said, and shook Mr. Beecher’s hand. “You’re Beecher?”
“Mr. Beecher,” he replied.
“The man is definitely dead,” Rex said, interrupting. He knelt beside the body and used his pen to pull the hat off the dead man’s head. There was blood and gunk on the inside of the hat.
Dirk Benjamin turned very pale. “Is that like brains?”
“Yes,” Rex answered with his mouth in a grim line. Dirk turned and got sick on the other side of the Dumpster. “Amateurs . . .”
I looked from the hat to the dead man’s head and saw that he had a bullet hole right above the eyes.
“I’m thinking it was foul play,” Mr. Beecher said out loud.
“Do you think?” Rex muttered sarcastically.
The ambulance—one of only two motorized vehicles allowed on the island—cut its sirens as it crept along the alley toward us. George Marron and Walt Henderson got out of the vehicle. George had long, black hair that was pulled back in a single braid, copper skin, and high cheekbones of his Iroquois ancestry. Walt was a tall, thin man with gray hair and a hawklike nose. He had sharp features and dark brown eyes. His skin had the weathered look of a fisherman or at the least someone who knew his way around the water.
“Mr. Beecher, Allie,” George said. “What happened?”
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Mr. Beecher said.
“Did either of you hear gunshots last night?” Rex asked as he stood.
“No,” I replied. “Mal would have barked.”
“It might be a body dump,” George said as he squatted down to take a look. “There’s not a lot of blood here.” He squinted up at us, his dark black gaze serious. “Probably killed somewhere else and moved here.”
“Why here?” I asked.
“People know you walk this alley,” Rex said. “And with your reputation . . .”
“What reputation?” I put one hand on my hip and held Mal with the other.
“Of finding dead men,” George said.
“Mal finds them,” I pointed out. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“They probably killed him, brought him back here, posed him to look like he was sleeping, and left him here for you to find.”
“Are you sure he didn’t kill himself ?” Mr. Beecher asked.
“No gun around,” Rex said, taking in the scene.
“It could be under the Dumpster,” I pointed out.
“Jack Sharpe was right-handed,” George said. “The Dumpster is on his left.”
“So it is Jack Sharpe,” Mr. Beecher said. “I thought so.”
“I’m going to have to rope off the crime scene until Shane can get here,” Rex said. Shane was the local crime scene investigator and Jenn’s boyfriend. “George, take a look at Mr. Benjamin. He lost his breakfast and might be in shock. Allie, keep Mal away from the body. You and Mr. Beecher should go sit on the steps to your apartment until I can square away the scene.”
“Yes, sir,” I muttered.
“Come on, Allie,” Mr. Beecher said, taking my elbow in his hand. “This is the best adventure of my life.”
“Well, Mal and I wish it wasn’t a normal occasion in ours,” I said as we scooted past the ambulance. Dirk Benjamin sat in the back of the ambulance. George had draped him in a blanket and was checking his pulse. I remembered seeing my first dead body. It didn’t make me sick, but it did put me into shock.
Mr. Beecher pulled another treat for Mal out of his pocket as we settled onto the steps to my apartment. “I don’t know why Rex leapt to the conclusion that the body was left for me to find.”
“It was my first thought, too,” Mr. Beecher said.
“Why?” I asked. “You walk down this alley twice a day. The body could have been there for you to find.”
“Then they were successful, as I did find it, too,” he said. “But most likely it was left for you.”
I rolled my eyes. “You can’t rule out Doud’s Market or Mackinac Gifts, their owners and patrons,” I said. “It’s a stretch to say that it was left for me.”
“Not much of a stretch,” Rex said as he approached, his latex-gloved hand holding the corner of a piece of paper. “They left you a note.”
“They left me a note?” I stood, surprised and dismayed. “Where did you find it? What does it say?”
“It was in Jack’s hand,” Rex said. “Did you know Jack?”
“No,” I said, and shook my head. “No.” I peered around Rex to get another look at the dead man. “He doesn’t look familiar.”
“The killer must know you, then,” Rex said. “This note was addressed to you.” He held up a blank note card with my name typed across the front. Allie McMurphy. “I don’t like it,” he said.
“What does it say inside?”
“kf3,” Rex said and he studied the paper. “What does it mean?”
“Is it a code?” I asked, and studied the paper over his shoulder.
“Sounds like chess to me,” Mr. Beecher said. “An opening move.”
“Yes,” Mr. Beecher said. “The white knight opens.”
“Oh, that’s creepy,” I said, and got chills up and down my arms. “What do you think it means?”
Rex frowned at the paper. “I hope it doesn’t mean that the killer is playing games.” His warm gaze studied my face. “Do you play chess?”
“No,” I said. “Not really. I mean, it’s been a while. I used to play with Papa Liam, but I haven’t in years.” Papa Liam was my father’s father and the last owner of the Historic McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop. Papa had died this spring, leaving the family business to me. “I have to admit, it’s very easy to beat me.”
“I play,” Mr. Beecher said with a twinkle in his dark blue eyes. “I happen to be the island’s reigning champion.”
“Is there a chess players group on the island?” I asked.
“Of course,” Mr. Beecher said. “Now most players gather at the senior center, but we do have some young ones who play at the high school.”
“It wouldn’t necessarily be an older person who wrote this note,” I said. And wrapped my arms around my waist. I looked at Rex. “Why would they want to play a game with me?”
“I don’t know.” Rex’s mouth was a thin line. “Is there anyone who you’ve upset recently?”
“What? No,” I said. “Why would you think I upset anyone?”
“No reason,” he said. “I’m trying to understand why your name is on the front of this note card.”
Shane walked up carrying his evidence kit. He wore a navy-blue windbreaker with CSU on it and a ball cap. His glasses framed concern in his eyes. “Hello, guys and dolls,” he said. “What do we have here?”
“A dead guy,” Mr. Beecher said. “I’m pretty sure it’s Jack Sharpe.”
“Who is Jack Sharpe?” I asked.
“Jack is a stable hand at the Jessops’ stables,” Rex said.
“Oh, man,” I said, and covered my mouth with my palm. “Does this have anything to do with Trent? I mean, he and I are not on the best terms right now.”
“I thought you two were dating,” Mr. Beecher said with one eyebrow raised.
“We broke up,” I said, and did my best not to look at Rex. I had just broken up with Trent Jessop. Trent was very wealthy and his business obligations and family obligations had come between us. Then there was Rex. Since our kiss at Frances’s wedding reception, things had gotten a bit awkward between us. I know we needed to talk, but I wasn’t sure what I felt or what to do. I think he was letting things settle in my mind. I think I was letting things settle in my mind.
“Ah,” Mr. Beecher said.
“What does that mean?” I asked, and studied the older man.
He shrugged. “It means perhaps the killer didn’t know you weren’t dating.”
“You think the killer might have gone after Jack Sharpe because he worked for Trent and therefore I’d get involved in the investigation?”
“He made sure you were involved with that note,” Mr. Beecher said.
I held Mal close to my chest. “I feel terrible for Jack Sharpe and his family. No one should ever lose their life like this. It’s such a waste. How old was Jack?”
“He was in his fifties,” Mr. Beecher said. “I knew him well enough to say good morning, but that’s all. Jack usually kept to himself. I believe he was in Mr. Devaney’s English class in high school. You should ask him.”
“If he was in his fifties, it would have been before Mr. Devaney’s time, wouldn’t it?” I asked. Mr. Devaney was my handyman at the McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop. He had recently married Frances, my general manager. The couple were off on an extended honeymoon. Both were retired teachers and in their seventies.
“Douglas Devaney started teaching here right out of college,” Mr. Beecher said. “His family was from Traverse City and he grew up visiting the island.”
“So I suppose he could have had Jack Sharpe in his class. Why did Jack work at the stables? I thought most of the stable hands were young guys looking for work over the summer breaks.”
“Jack grew up on the island,” Mr. Beecher said. “He wasn’t much for school. In fact, his main ambition was to enjoy fishing. He worked enough to afford to pay rent on a small cabin. He spent most of his free time out on the water. Sometimes he’d get paid as a tour guide for other fishermen who wanted to fish the area.”
“He was one of Trent’s regular guys?” I asked. Trent’s family owned one of the biggest stables on the island. Cars were not allowed, except for the ambulance and fire truck. People took horse-drawn carriages, rode bicycles, or walked everywhere they went. Horses were in big demand on the island.
“As far as I know,” Mr. Beecher said. “I see him . . . or saw him, most days when I walk by the stables. Seemed like a nice enough guy.”
“Did he have any family? Wife, children, girlfriend?”
“He was a confirmed bachelor,” Mr. Beecher said. “I think fishing was his first love.”
“Is this going to take long?” I asked Rex the moment I noticed he was free. “I’ve got a business to get back to and fudge to make.”
“You can go,” Rex said. “I’ll be by later to get your statement. I’m sure you know how this works.”
“I do,” I said, and stood, putting Mal down on the ground and attaching her leash. “I won’t speak to anyone about what I saw.”
“Good,” Rex said with a short nod. “Mr. Beecher, if you don’t mind, I need to take a statement from you.”
“Sure,” he stood as well. We had been seated on the back stoop of the McMurphy, waiting for Rex and his men to get the things they needed from the crime scene. Rex had taken the note into custody, but I remembered the chess move. A little research might tell me more about the chess move. Of course, that didn’t mean I could research what a killer meant by it.
“I’ll see you later, Mr. Beecher,” I said, and walked Mal inside the McMurphy.
“Where were you?” Jenn asked when I got in and let Mal off her leash. “You’ve been gone an hour.”
“Mal found a dead body,” I said with a deep sigh. “I can’t talk about it until I give Rex a statement. He was kind enough to let me come in as long as I promised not to say a word to anyone.”
“Oh, my goodness! Are you okay?” Jenn asked. “Is Mal okay?” She picked up Mal and gave her a squeeze.
“We’re fine,” I said, and checked the mail that sat on the receptionist desk. Frances Devaney was the hotel manager from way back and I had be. . .
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