The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum
A great new series full of quirky charm and lovable characters. I can't wait to read the next mystery featuring skeptic Maddie at the Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum.Gigi Pandian
USA Today bestselling author of the Accidental Alchemist & the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries
“Humor, hints of romance, and twists and turns galore elevate this cozy.”Publishers Weekly
“A clever combination of characters.”Kirkus Reviews
"A delightful new series."Library Journal (starred review)
A Perfectly Proper Murder
When Maddie Kosloski's career flatlines, she retreats to her wine country hometown for solace and cheap rent. Railroaded into managing the local paranormal museum, she's certain the rumors of its haunting are greatly exaggerated. But then a fresh corpse in the museum embroils Maddie in murders past and present, making her wonder if a ghost could really be on the loose.
With her high school bully as one of the detectives in charge of the investigation, Maddie doubts justice will be served. When one of her best friends is arrested, she knows it won't be. Maddie also grapples with ghost hunters, obsessed taxidermists, and the sexy motorcyclist next door as outside forces threaten. And as she juggles spectral shenanigans with the hunt for a killer, she discovers there truly is no place like home.
Release date: June 24, 2020
Publisher: misterio press
Print pages: 290
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The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum
Friendship can be a minefield.
Okay, terrible analogy. In a real minefield, it doesn’t matter how gingerly you tiptoe. If you step on a mine – boom.
But I was stepping carefully as I squinted at the watercolor my friend, Adele Nakamoto, had handed me. In the dim, golden light from the microbrewery’s stained-glass lamps, I had a hard time making it out. The drawing was supposed to be a design plan for her new tearoom. The blocks of pastel looked like something a talented kindergartner might have drawn.
Shifting in the booth, I glanced at our friend, Harper Caldarelli, for support. The red Naugahyde squeaked beneath my jeans.
Adele brushed a cascade of fine hair behind her ear and leaned toward me. Her open, Jackie Kennedy-esque blazer drifted close to a blot of barbecue sauce on our table. “Well?”
A roar of sound from the jukebox scorched my eardrums. “The colors are soothing,” I shouted. That, at least, was true. They reminded me of Neapolitan ice cream.
Harper snatched the drawing from my hands. Brow furrowing, she stretched back in her seat. Her leather jacket parted, revealing sleek curves beneath her tight, designer T-shirt. With her cascading, dark hair, sculpted cheekbones, and olive skin she looked a little like Penelope Cruz. But Harper’s eyes were a startling green.
A man at the bar gaped, beer dribbling down his chin.
I didn’t bother being jealous. Blue eyes and fair, freckled central European skin were my heritage. I carried an extra ten pounds since my abrupt departure from my job. And the three of us had polished off a wedge of pumpkin bread pudding. I was basking in the warm, contented glow of a full stomach.
Harper snorted. “This is an architectural drawing? It looks like paint samples.”
“Don’t be boring.” Adele made a face and crossed her slim legs, twisting her pink pencil skirt. “My designer is an artist. This is a representation of the essence of the tea house. You can’t expect one of those dull architectural drawings.”
“Actually,” Harper said, “you can.”
Happy to be home, I let their bickering fade into the background din. I turned the beer mat in my hand and stared at the microbrewery’s giant copper vat. Patches of it were tarnished. It looked like under the right conditions it might explode, pelting us with bolts and metal shards. Leather-clad bikers and rough and tumble cowboys rubbed shoulders along the polished wooden bar.
I was home.
Adele snapped her fingers in front my nose. “Earth to Maddie. Seriously, what do you think?”
Having no idea what they’d been talking about, I played it safe. “You’ve got great taste, and I’m sure it will be a success.” But a part of me wasn’t sure. The tearoom meant a lot to Adele, but she’d never run a business before. I hoped she wasn’t in for more heartbreak.
“Exactly.” Adele sat back in the booth.
The kid in the booth behind me kicked his heels, a rhythmic thump that rattled my teeth.
“My tea house will be an elegant and restful oasis from the hustle of everyday life,” Adele added.
Harper laughed into her beer, choking. “Hustle in San Benedetto?”
“You are both philistines.” Adele sniffed.
I couldn’t argue. I liked burritos and country bars and my ‘58 Ford pickup. Harper owned a successful financial planning business and had developed more refined tastes. But at root she, too, was a small-town girl.
My phone vibrated, and I checked the number. My mother. Turning the phone off, I jammed it into one of the slots in my canvas messenger bag.
Harper tapped the drawing. “So this is going into that building your father gave you as a wedding gift?”
Adele made a wry face, rubbing her bare ring finger. “My dowry. It’s a good thing Daddy doesn’t believe in take backs after you-know-who did you-know-what.”
You-know-who was her now ex-fiancé, Michael. Adele had caught him doing you-know-what with Christy Huntington in the back of an old sedan.
I’d never trusted Michael, but how do you tell that to a friend who’s in love? So I’d kept my mouth shut, and Adele had been hurt. How badly, she never quite let on.
She examined her French manicure. “I still can’t believe I misjudged him.” Her voice dropped, and I leaned closer to hear. “An affair is one thing, but doing the deed in an ‘87 Buick was just tacky.”
Harper turned the drawing upside-down. “Sorry, I’m still not seeing it. And these plans look too small for the space that held Chuck’s Chicken Shack and Paranormal Museum.”
Adele shuddered. “Please don’t mention the Chicken Shack. I am exorcising it from the town’s memory.” She reached below the table, her black hair swinging forward in a silky curtain.
Straightening, she pulled out two ebony wine bags from her Chanel purse. “Daddy wanted me to give you samples of his latest vintage with his new Haunted Vine label. Harper, return my drawing before you get ketchup on it.”
Harper swapped the drawing for the wine, and I drew my bottle from its sleeve. The bottle was almost black, with a ghostly image of a twisted vine. It was a zinfandel—no surprise since our tiny central Californian town specialized in that grape.
We were farmers who made wine—not like those snooty vintners in Napa. San Benedetto was off the beaten wine trail, but our wines could hold their own against our better-known competitors.
Adele’s family owned a vineyard and tasting room, thanks to which the three of us had developed an illicit taste for vino well before the legal drinking age.
“Why Haunted Vine?” I asked.
A furrow appeared between Adele’s brows. “It’s a play on San Benedetto’s second biggest tourist attraction, the Paranormal Museum.”
“I thought the giant flaming Christmas Cow was our second biggest attraction,” I said.
Every year the local dairy farmers association created a thirty-foot straw cow for Christmas. And nearly every year someone—I suspected high school kids—burned it down. I’d bring marshmallows if I knew the timing of the next cow flambé, but it was always a mystery. Last month, just when we thought the cow might survive the season, it went up two days before New Year’s.
“Back to your drawing,” Harper said. “It looks like your tearoom takes up the Chicken Shack space. So what’s up with the Paranormal Museum?”
“It’s...” Adele stiffened. “Oh, no.”
We tracked her gaze toward the entryway. Michael St. James had walked through the door. His business jacket was slung over one arm, his blue, striped shirt open at the collar. Tall and broad shouldered, he looked like he’d stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad. He looked around the microbrewery and caught Adele’s eye.
Adele’s expression turned stony. She sank back in her seat and gazed straight ahead. But hurt flickered in her dark eyes.
“We can go somewhere else if you want,” I said. Michael St. James wasn’t my ex-fiancé, but I could feel my blood pressure rising.
Adele’s jaw set. “We were here first.”
A shadow fell across our table. Harper and I looked up. Adele sipped from her empty beer glass.
“Adele, Maddie, Harper... hi,” Michael said. “Adele, can I speak with you alone?”
“No,” she said.
Harper’s eyes narrowed. Beneath the table, she made a strange rocker sign of the horns and stabbed it at the floor.
“Don’t be such a stalker,” Adele said, her attention riveted on a brass light fixture high on the wall. “We have nothing to talk about. And if we did, the answer would be no. Now please depart, go away, vamoose.”
“Adele...” Grimacing, Michael shook his head, his shoulders crumpling inward.
For a moment I almost felt sorry for him. And then I remembered that terrible day, Harper calling me with the news of his defection. My pity evaporated.
He opened his mouth as if to speak, caught Harper’s gaze, and seemed to think better of it. He walked away.
“Unbelievable,” Harper muttered, watching Michael’s exit. “It’s been less than a month, and he wants to be friends.”
“Well, that’s not happening.” Adele pressed her hands flat on the table and cleared her throat. “Anyway. My tearoom. It’s going to be elegant, sophisticated, modern. With teas I’ll blend myself.”
“What do you know about blending teas?” I followed Adele’s lead, moving the conversation to safer territory.
“Oh, please.” Adele tossed her head. “It’s simple. It’s not as if I’m cooking. I’ve already found a supplier for my scones and tea cakes, so I won’t have to wake up at an ungodly hour to supervise any food preparation.”
I smothered a laugh. The idea that Adele might do any baking herself hadn’t entered my mind.
Adele held out her hand to me. “By the way, Mad. May I have a dollar?”
“Sure.” I should have been suspicious. Adele was never short of cash. But like an idiot, I dug my wallet out of my purse and handed her a dollar.
She took the money and handed me an envelope.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“It’s the Paranormal Museum. You were looking for something to do, now it’s yours. Isn’t it marvelous? Now we can work right next to each other!”
“What?” I tore open the envelope and pulled out the legal document inside. “This isn’t... What is this?”
“You’re our witness, Harper. She paid me for the museum.”
Harper snorted beer, coughing. “I don’t think it works that way.”
“Oh, pleeease Maddie. I wanted to get rid of the thing, but Daddy forbade it. The mayor doesn’t want to lose the museum. They’ve had the Wine and Visitor’s Bureau running it for the last few months to keep it going. Besides, it’s not as if you have anything better to do.”
My chest hitched. I’d left my overseas job nine months ago due to a difference of opinions with the CEO and a longing for home. I was still unemployed. “This is really generous, Adele,” I said. “But I can’t accept it.”
“Well, that’s gratitude,” Adele huffed. “I’ll have you know Chuck made more money on that museum than he did selling chicken.”
“It was terrible chicken,” Harper muttered.
“Besides,” Adele said, “I can’t own a paranormal museum.”
“Why not?” I crossed my arms, knowing the answer. A paranormal museum was too gauche for Adele. She flitted through the higher echelons of San Benedetto society, doing good works and running the occasional wine tasting at her family’s vineyard.
Her dark eyes widened. “Because I’ll be too busy with the startup of the tearoom. Do you have any idea how much work goes into a new business?”
I resisted smiling. It was a smooth deflection, and it was all true. Adele would be busy. But there was no way she’d touch anything as lowbrow as a paranormal museum.
“The remodeling alone is nearly killing me,” Adele continued. “I had to fire my first contractor.”
“I told you not to hire Benny,” Harper said.
“But he was so cute. You can’t really say ‘no’ to someone who looks like a young George Clooney.”
“But you fired him,” I pointed out.
“Charm has its limits. Benny never started the project. We were a month behind schedule, and good looks will only go so far. Though my new contractor doesn’t exactly fall short in the looks department. So, what do you think? Will you take the place off my hands?”
“No.” I knew exactly what would happen. I’d get sucked into the museum, and my job hunting would get derailed. “I can’t buy your museum for a dollar. It isn’t fair to you—it’s got to be worth more than that.”
“Yeah,” Harper said. “It’s worth at least twenty. Dollars, I mean.”
We glared at her.
“Besides,” I said. “I can’t make that sort of decision over drinks. I’m job hunting, you know.”
Adele pouted. “But you’d be perfect for it. You always put on the best haunted houses and Halloween parties. And your tarot readings are amazing. You could go pro.”
“You know I read the cards once, for fun, and made things up as I went along. And there’s a big difference between a haunted house and a museum.”
“Not if the rumors are true,” Harper said. “They say the Paranormal Museum is haunted.”
“That’s not an argument for working there,” I said.
“I know.” Harper stood and stretched. At the bar, her admirer’s lips parted with longing. “It’s late. I’m headed out.” She dropped some bills on the table and left, wine bottle in hand.
Adele stared at me with feverish, over-bright eyes. Her hands fluttered. “The Wine and Visitor’s Bureau has told me they can’t manage the museum anymore. I’m desperate. If I don’t figure out a way to keep it open, Daddy says he’ll take my dowry back. The mayor is really leaning on him. Please? Please?”
My stomach tightened with guilt. “It’s thoughtful of you, but I don’t know if I want to be a paranormal museum owner. Plus, I’ve got applications out all over the Bay Area. What if I have to go in for an interview?”
An interview was looking less and less likely, but it could happen. I’d spent my first seven months in the States living and job hunting in spendy San Francisco. My bank account had dropped faster than a pair of shoes on prom night.
Two months ago, I’d returned inland to low-cost San Benedetto, where my aunt had offered me her garage apartment at bargain basement prices. But I’d recently applied for a job with a financial services company in the Bay Area that I was perfect for. I had a real shot. If they didn’t ask me for an interview, no one would.
“Okay, fine,” Adele said. “Don’t buy it now. But will you at least manage it temporarily and think about it? Just for a few weeks until I can get things organized? You can keep job hunting from the museum and see if you like it. The work’s not hard. You can submit resumes between ticket sales. And the museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays—you can interview then.”
My resistance crumbled. What was a few weeks? “Fine.”
“Thank you! You’re a life saver.”
“Have you seen the museum lately? It’s super spooky at night.” She rose from her seat. “Come on. Let’s go take a look, and I can show you my progress on the tearoom.”
She hustled me out of the bar. San Benedetto’s wide streets were dark and empty, the glow from the iron streetlamps blunted by low fog. Bare cherry trees lined the brick sidewalks, casting weak, skeletal shadows.
We walked past the stone library, past the hardware store, past the little park with its WWII-era cannon. I heard, but couldn’t see, the creek that cut along the other side of the park, rattling over stones, rushing against its high banks.
In front of the tearoom—once Chuck’s Chicken Shack—Adele fumbled with her keys. At the top of the building was the number 1910: not the address, but the year it was built.
The light from the motorcycle shop next door spilled onto the sidewalk. I stopped in front of the shop’s window, blowing into my clenched hands for warmth and admiring a baby-blue Harley. I’d never ride one—they were way too dangerous. But they sure were pretty.
“Got it,” Adele trilled. The paneled, wood door snicked open. “Isn’t the door marvelous? I considered updating it, but I love its shabby-chic feel.”
I followed her inside, and she flipped a switch. Above, a fluorescent lamp flickered to life. The Chicken Shack had been stripped to its concrete floor. Translucent sheets of plastic covered part of one wall, and they rustled in the draft.
Shivering, I jammed my hands in the pockets of my frayed, gray pea coat. I should have brought a hat. It was colder inside than outside.
Adele tugged me to the front corner of the room. “I’m going to build bay windows over here. And the counter will go there.”
She pulled out her drawing and frowned at it. “There will be white-painted shelves behind the counter with teas and tea accessories for sale. Probably some houseplants as well, because plants warm a room. I’m going to close up the wall next to the Paranormal Museum, build more shelves over there...” She pointed to the plastic sheeting and faltered.
Dutifully, I turned in that direction.
One corner of the plastic fluttered back like a tent opening. Beneath it a woman lay sprawled, her face angled away, her blond hair a golden tangle. A dark pool of blood stained the concrete floor.
Adele squeaked and grabbed me around the waist.
My reaction wasn’t any better. I stared, disbelieving.
Prying Adele loose, I hurried to the fallen woman on the cold cement. Her eyes stared, sightless. Shocked, I took an involuntary step back.
It was Christy Huntington.
This was bad.
I glanced at Adele, wide-eyed, frozen.
My hands went clammy, my muscles growing rigid. I didn’t need to take Christy’s pulse to know she was dead. But I did it anyway, squatting beside the fallen woman, pressing my fingers to her still-warm neck. “Call 911.”
“Dead. Call 911.”
Adele gulped and dug in her Chanel bag.
The plastic shifted again, covering Christy’s shoulders.
With the back of my hand, I lifted the makeshift curtain and peered into the darkened museum next door. The light filtering into it from the tearoom made weird silhouettes of the objects in the museum.
Christy’s torso lay on the bare concrete of the tearoom. Her legs sprawled on the Paranormal Museum’s checkerboard linoleum. It looked like she’d been leaving the museum when she’d fallen.
A charcoal-colored Egyptian obelisk, about eighteen inches long lay beside Christy’s red stiletto heels. Bits of blood and hair stuck to its base.
“Yes... yes...” Adele was saying into the phone. “The Paranormal Museum. Hurry.” She hung up. “Are you sure she’s dead? I know CPR.”
Something small and black shot toward me. I shrieked, wobbled, and fell on my butt.
A black cat arched its back, hissing at me, one of its paws raised as if to strike.
I clutched my chest to keep my heart from slamming free. “A cat. What’s that doing here?”
Adele hung up and hurried to my side, scooping up the cat. “Poor GD Cat. Did the big lady scare you?” Adele pressed her face to the cat’s side and turned from Christy’s body.
“What’s a cat doing in a museum?” Rattled, my mind clung to trivia. Christy. I’d seen her parents in the grocery store last week. This was horrible.
“It’s GD Cat.” Adele’s voice wobbled.
“GD for... gosh darned?”
“Ghost Detecting. Chuck claimed the cat can see ghosts.” Taking a deep breath, Adele put the animal on the floor and brushed black cat hairs from her jacket. “Okay. I’m calm. It’s an empty building. These things happen. This poor woman, a vagrant no doubt, broke in through the museum—”
“This sort of thing happens all the time. Not here of course, in San Benedetto, but it happens.”
Christy was no vagrant. Adele couldn’t see her face, turned as it was. But I wondered how much of this was denial. I cleared my throat. “What did the police say?”
“The dispatcher said they’ll be here in ten minutes. That’s enough time to move the body. Grab her feet.”
My head jerked back. “What? I’m not going to move the body!”
“Of course not. Not by yourself. We’ll do it together.” She pushed back the plastic. Heels click-clacking, she walked inside the museum, stopping by Christy’s feet.
“You’re contaminating a crime scene! We can’t move her. It’s illegal.”
“Madelyn.” Adele straightened and put her hands on her hips. Her dark eyes glittered. “A corpse cannot be found in my tearoom. We have to move her into the Paranormal Museum.”
“Adele, I think you’re in shock,” I said gently. “This isn’t you. You cannot be seriously suggesting we move the body.”
“Why not? It’s perfectly reasonable.”
“It’s a felony. Besides, the police will know in a minute what happened. There’s blood on the concrete in your tearoom.”
“We have to,” Adele wailed. “Don’t you see—a corpse is perfectly proper in a paranormal museum, but not in my tearoom!”
“Adele... It’s Christy Huntington.”
Adele’s face sagged. “Oh.” Emotions shifted across her face. Sadness. Horror. And... relief?
“What was she doing in here?” I asked.
“How should I know?” Adele’s voice threaded with hysteria. “She probably came to torment me, or steal my ideas, or sabotage the tearoom. I was telling Harper about a new menu item—a coconut cinnamon scone—while we were shopping yesterday. I caught Christy eavesdropping. She’s out to ruin me.”
I rocked back on my heels. None of that seemed likely. I didn’t know Christy well, though I knew firsthand she had a temper. But she was also a lawyer, and I didn’t think she was stupid enough to cross the line into criminal trespassing.
Adele looked down. “What’s this?” She reached for the obelisk.
She picked it up and stared at it, a crease forming between her brows. “Do you think it fell from one of the shelves and hit her?”
“Adele! That might be a murder weapon.”
“I certainly hope not. If it fell and hit her, you know someone will sue me for negligence. The museum is still mine—unless you took ownership before she died.”
I gaped at her from my crouch on the floor. “Adele!”
Distant sirens wailed.
Shuddering, Adele dropped the obelisk. It clattered on the linoleum. She covered her mouth with her hands and moaned. “I can’t believe I said that. I’m so sorry. What’s wrong with me?”
I clamped my jaw shut, wondering the same thing. “Wait outside. I’ll check the doors.”
“Alone? You can’t stay here alone.”
Clinging to my side, Adele watched me examine the museum’s front door. It looked okay.
“There’s a door to the alley too, through the tearoom,” Adele said.
We checked it out, and it didn’t look broken into either.
Wordlessly we went out front and stood on the brick sidewalk.
A black and white police car screeched to a halt at the museum. A uniformed cop jumped out of the car and jogged over to us. “What happened?”
“We found a body.” I pointed to the open tearoom door.
An ambulance, lights staining the street red, pulled up, followed by a fire truck.
“Stay here.” The cop hustled into the tearoom, one hand on the butt of his gun.
A black SUV rolled to a halt in front of us, and a long-legged blond stepped from the passenger side. Her hair was in a bun, and she wore a black windbreaker with a gold badge embroidered on its chest. A gun belt was slung low about her hips.
From the driver’s side an African-American man exited. Tall, high cheekbones, and a chiseled face. Our gazes locked. His eyes were a startling, golden color, and the connection jolted me. The moment froze, a hitch in time, and it seemed he looked all the way inside me. And then the seconds resumed, ticked forward. He walked past, into the building.
His companion strode to us and flashed a detective’s badge, a spark of recognition lighting her eyes. Scrunching my brows, I tried to remember how I knew her. She looked around my age—early thirties—and there was something familiar in her rolling strut.
A sense of defeat, humiliation, and claustrophobia wormed in my stomach.
Her lips thinned. She dug a notepad from her inside pocket and flipped it open. “What happened here?”
Adele gaped at the fire truck, her eyes dull.
I nudged her to answer.
When she didn’t respond, I picked up the slack. “We came to see Adele’s renovations,” I said, “and found a body in the building.”
“Kind of late for a tour, isn’t it?” the cop asked.
I glanced at Adele, still in the Land of This-Is-Not-Happening. “It was a spur of the moment thing,” I said.
“You two been drinking?”
I blew out a breath. “Just a beer. We came from the Bell and Brew. You can ask them if you want.”
“Thanks for giving me your permission.” Her upper lip curled.
Great. A cop with attitude. I could see where this was going and attempted to make nice. “I’m Madelyn Kosloski, by the way. This is Adele Nakamoto. It’s her building.”
“I know who you are. Did either of you know the victim?”
“Slightly,” I said. “It’s Christy Huntington. And, er, you are?”
Her pen paused over the notepad. “The same Christy Huntington who got caught schtuping your friend’s fiancé?”
Adele roused herself. “In a Buick.”
I didn’t know where Adele’s Buick obsession came from but didn’t think the detail helped.
“What was she doing in your building, Nakamoto?”
Color rose in Adele’s cheeks. “How should I know? She didn’t tell me she was coming.”
“How did she get inside?” The detective asked.
“She must have broken in somehow,” Adele muttered.
“How?” I asked. “The doors and windows look okay.”
“Who has a key?” the detective continued.
Adele looked at the fire truck. “Only myself, my contractor, and the Wine and Visitor’s Bureau. They’ve been running the Paranormal Museum during the transition.”
The detective sighed. “Does your contractor have a name?”
“Finkielkraut?” She spat the word, her lips twisting.
“What’s wrong with her contractor?” I asked.
Ignoring me, the detective turned to go. “I’ll be in touch.”
“Uh, it looked like Christy got hit in the head with a miniature stone obelisk,” I said.
“I’ll decide what she got hit with,” the detective snapped.
“I brought it up because Adele might have accidentally picked up the obelisk,” I said.
Mouth slackening, the detective rubbed her brow. Adele looked at me like I’d returned her favorite Manolo Blahniks covered in mud.
“She was sort of in shock,” I added.
“You two stay here.” The detective slapped her notebook shut and strode inside.
“Thanks a lot,” Adele hissed.
“They’re going to find your fingerprints on it anyway. Better you tell them now.”
“But I didn’t tell them. You did.”
I hunched my shoulders. “Sorry.”
Adele stared at her designer shoes. “No, you’re right. I shouldn’t have touched it. It was like the thing hypnotized me.” She crossed her arms. “Laurel must be loving this.”
“Laurel?” A coldness knifed my core.
I stepped backward, shaking my head. It couldn’t be.
“Laurel Hammer?” Adele said. “From high school? She was a year ahead of us? Ran with the smoker crowd? Had three tattoos by the time she graduated? Shoved you into your gym locker? How could you forget? The fire department had to pry you free.”
I swallowed. “I must have blotted it from my mind.” But I hadn’t. You didn’t forget being stuck inside your ninth-grade gym locker for over an hour, wearing only your ninth grade cotton underwear.
Laurel Hammer. She’d been shorter and bulkier in high school. But she still had the same hard edges.
My high school bully emerged from the tea shop with two uniformed officers. “We’ve got more questions.” She motioned toward the squad car. “Get in. We’ll give you a ride to the station.”
“No need,” Adele said. “My Mercedes is a few blocks from here.”
Laurel’s expression was granite. “Leave it. Gonzalez?”
One of the uniforms nodded and came to stand beside us. The other opened the back door of the squad car. Feeling criminal, I slunk inside. Adele, muttering, slid in beside me.
“Cheer up,” I said. “We’re not cuffed. They only want to talk to us.” But even I knew this wasn’t a good sign.
At the police station, they put us in separate cinderblock rooms, and I waited. And waited. The floor was green, and somewhere I’d stepped in something sticky. I lifted my boot experimentally, listening to it peel off the floor. Ewww.
The good citizen in me was programmed to help the police. And I wanted to help. A murder in San Benedetto was shocking. Of course the police had questions. What was Christy doing in Adele’s locked building? Why had we been there so late at night? The sooner I cleared things up, told them what happened, the sooner they could solve the crime.
I tried to think Zenlike thoughts and look innocent for the video camera high up in one corner of the wall. But the longer I sat, the more I thought about Christy and Michael and Adele. Picking up the obelisk had been stupid, and I half-wondered if Adele had done it intentionally.
Berating myself for my disloyalty, I propped my head in my hands, elbows on the table. It wobbled beneath me. Adele might be pampered, privileged, and pushy, but she was a good person at heart. She didn’t spend time at the head of all those charitable committees because she wanted to network. She cared about her projects. And she’d been a good friend, there for me for everything from my senior prom disaster to my latest career hiccup. Adele wasn’t a killer.
I’d know if she was a killer.
Laurel Hammer banged open the door to the interview room. “So, which one of you two idiots killed her?”
I sat up. “Um, neither?”
She sat across from me and braced her elbows on the table. I removed mine, and her end thumped to the ground.
She scowled. “If you cover for her, that makes you an accessory. It’s not looking good, Kosloski.”
My gaze darted around the room, landing on the metal door in front of me. I willed someone—anyone—to walk through it. If Laurel was playing bad cop, where was the good cop? Unless Laurel was the good cop, in which case Adele was in real trouble.
“I’m not covering for anyone,” I said. “We met for drinks with Harper Caldarelli at seven o’clock. We were at the Bell and Brew until nine. Then Harper went home, and Adele and I walked to the Chicken Shack. I mean the tearoom.”
“Adele wants me to run the Paranormal Museum. Taking me there was her way of talking me into it.”
“Must be nice to have a friend give you a business.” Laurel’s eyes narrowed with dislike. “Most people have to work for it.”
My voice hardened. “She isn’t giving it to me.”
“Right. Nakomoto said you bought it for a dollar.”
“I’m not buying it. I don’t want it. I’m doing a favor for a friend.”
“Like covering for a murder?”
“Of course not.” I ground my teeth into a smile. High school was more than a decade ago. I’d changed. Laurel had changed too, at least on the outside. She was only doing her job.
“Let’s go over this again.”
“I’ve already told you—”
“And I’m asking nicely. Let’s go over this again.”
And we did. And again.
I rubbed my eyes. “Detective Hammer, I can’t tell you anything more.”
“Don’t tell me what you can’t do.”
The door clanked open, and her partner with the remarkable golden eyes entered the room.
“She’s free to go,” he said.
Laurel jerked to her feet. “What? Slate, I’m in the middle—”
He silenced her with a look.
Her hands balled into fists.
“Thanks,” I muttered. Heart thumping, I scuttled past him.
He touched my arm, his expression impassive. “By the way, the Mayor wanted me to tell you that you can reopen on Saturday.”
I stared, taken aback. The Mayor? Was the Paranormal Museum that important? And how had the mayor found out about the murder so quickly? But the answer was obvious: Adele and her connections. My stomach bottomed. It was the worst sort of favoritism. If I were Laurel or her partner, I’d despise us.
I fled the station before they could change their minds.
Slumped on Adele’s snow-white couch, Harper stretched out her legs, bumping the briefcase near her feet. It wobbled but didn’t fall. She wore gray wool slacks and a starched white blouse, and I assumed she had an appointment later with a client. As a financial adviser, she set her own hours. I knew they were long.
“I can’t believe someone killed Christy,” Harper said. “San Benedetto hasn’t had a murder in at least a decade. What happened?”
“It looked like someone bludgeoned her to death.” I rubbed my eyes, gritty from lack of sleep. I gazed past her, through bay windows overlooking rows of grapevines, shrouded by morning mist. The living room of Adele’s Victorian was a study in white—white chairs, white shag rug, white-brick fireplace—as if the fog had made its way inside.
Adele was a contrast in black: black turtleneck, black pencil skirt, and black tights in black Jimmy Choos. I think she was going for a mourning look, but she looked chic. “They’re going to arrest me.” Her voice was flat, defeated.
Adele’s pug, Pug, snuffled my ankles, and I bent to scratch behind his ears. “No, they won’t,” I said.
Harper ran a hand through her loose dark hair. “What was Christy Huntington doing in your tearoom?”
“In the Paranormal Museum,” Adele corrected. “She was clearly attacked in the Paranormal Museum. It’s not my fault her body fell into my tearoom.”
“That’s sort of a moot point, isn’t it?” Harper asked. “You own the whole building. What was Christy doing inside?”
“I don’t know.” Adele gnawed her lower lip. “I don’t know how she got inside, or why she was there. The police said she had a key on her. They asked me if I’d given it to her and lured her there. If I wanted to lure her there, I wouldn’t have had to give her a key. But they think I have a motive. Let’s face it. They’re right.”
“But you were with us from seven o’clock on,” I said. “Christy was still warm to the touch when I tried to take her pulse. She couldn’t have been dead long.” My gorge rose at the memory. I crossed my arms over my chest. “When was the last time you were in the tearoom?”
“I met with Dieter Finkielkraut around three o’clock, and then I left. He usually works until five. Christy must have let herself in after then.”
Unless the contractor was the killer. Last night’s shock had been replaced by a sick, creeping feeling. I told myself that Christy’s murder had nothing to do with us. Adele and I were incidental to the crime. But my gut didn’t believe it.
I cleared my throat. “All right. You were with Dieter at three. Where were you between three and seven, when you met us?”
“I had a manicure at four. And then I went home and took a nap and had a light dinner before we went out.”
“Why do you always eat before we go out?” Harper asked.
“You know I dislike eating in public. What if someone sees me with half-chewed spinach between my teeth?”
“Forget the food,” I said. “Was anyone with you at home?”
“I was alone with Pug.” Adele picked him up and rubbed her face against his fur. He panted, tongue lolling, depositing fawn-colored hairs across her black sweater.
“So we need to hope she was killed when you were with us at the microbrewery,” Harper said. “Then you’ll be off the hook. I wonder how long it takes a body to cool?”
We scrambled for our phones and began tapping for answers.
“Okay.” I felt I’d won a prize for finding the information first. “A body normally loses one point five degrees of heat every hour, until it reaches the room’s temperature. But that varies by how the corpse is dressed, what it was lying on, etc. Half of Christy was on bare concrete, the rest on linoleum, and it was pretty cold inside.”
“She was dressed lightly,” Adele said, “in a blazer and slacks, like she’d come from work.”
“So we have no idea when she was killed—it could have been right before we arrived, or earlier.” I dropped my phone on the couch cushion.
“This is not making me feel better,” Adele said.
My phone buzzed. The number was my mother’s, and I rubbed my lower lip. I come from a family of overachievers, and my mother was losing patience with my extended unemployment. I was losing patience with it too. I sent the call to voicemail.
Harper checked her watch. “Client appointment. Gotta go.” She picked up her briefcase and rose. “Adele, if there’s anything you need...”
Adele waved her hand. “I know. Thanks, Harper.”
I stood as well.
“Mad,” Adele said, “I hear they’re going to let the Paranormal Museum open tomorrow. Seriously, can you manage it?”
“I’ve never run a museum before.”
“It’s easy. It’s not as if the exhibits do anything. All you have to do is take money and hand out tickets. You can keep the profits. It’d be like you owned the place.” She clawed a hand through her silky, black hair. “I know you’re not totally sold on the museum, but I don’t have anyone else.” She lowered her voice. “And I’ve got a bad feeling I’m not going to be around to help.”
I waffled. “Adele, you’ve talked to a lawyer, haven’t you?”
“Of course. Only an idiot would be interviewed by the police without one.”
I gave her a fixed smile, lips clamped together. I’d had no lawyer for last night’s interrogation.
“Then you’ll do it?” she asked.
“Until you can find someone to buy the museum.” Helping out at the museum might not be such a bad idea. I needed to do something.
She exhaled. “Good. Thanks.” She handed me a key from her purse. “On Saturdays, it opens at ten.” Her phone rang, and she grabbed it off the polished coffee table and checked the number. “Would you mind seeing yourself out? I have to take this.”
I felt strangely eager to see myself out.
Harper’s departing BMW had left dust trails settling along the dirt and gravel driveway. The air smelled faintly of cow manure, and I wrinkled my nose.
A blur of movement caught my eye—two crows harrying a red-tailed hawk. The hawk soared, plummeted, veered. The crows stayed on him. They were smaller, but it was two against one, and I hated unfair fights. The birds vanished behind a row of trees. I waited, watching, hoping to see the hawk escape, but the birds didn’t reappear.
It was kind of disturbing.
But the past twenty-four hours had brought all new dimensions to disturbing. I leaned against the hood of my beat-up red truck and listened to the message my mother had left.
“Madelyn, this is your mother. Big news about Melanie. She’s going to be singing at the Bolshoi in Moscow this summer! It’s too bad you quit that job—it would have been so nice for her to have her sister around. How’s your job hunt going? And I’ve got news about your brother as well. Call me.”
My sister, Melanie, was an opera singer. The Bolshoi. Good for her. I wondered about Shane’s big news. A promotion to ambassador? I smiled. The family gossip grounded me back in the normal world, where murder was just a news item, something that happened to people you didn’t know.
But I didn’t want to call my mother back. I knew that threaded between all the stories about my siblings would be questions about my own job situation. Questions I didn’t want to answer. With my mother living in San Benedetto, it was getting harder to avoid them.
I drove towards my studio apartment, past rows of grapevines and through downtown San Benedetto. The shops weren’t open yet, but a few people wandered the sidewalks in search of coffee or breakfast, bundled up against the cold.
A familiar-looking face stalked past, moving in the opposite direction. Adele’s ex.
I wrenched the wheel sideways, pulling into an empty spot on the street, and leapt out of my faded pickup.
“Mike!” I knew it drove him crazy when people called him Mike. He preferred Michael, no doubt thinking it sounded more dignified.
He turned, seeking the source of the shout.
I waved. I’d swear he spotted me. But he turned on his heel and strode in the opposite direction, hands jammed in the pockets of his elegant, black-wool coat.
“Mike!” I hurried after him but was no match for his long strides. I broke into a jog.
Shoulders stooped, he ducked his dark head. His hair was slicked-back, each strand in its place.
I reached out and touched his elbow. “Mike.”
He whirled. The fabric of his coat sleeve grazed my chin. “What? And don’t call me Mike.”
I stepped back. “It’s...” Now that I had his attention, my certainty drained away. I felt awkward, intrusive. “I’m sorry about Christy.”
He looked at me blankly, his expression slack.
“She told me you were engaged. You have my deepest sympathies.”
He didn’t move, didn’t speak.
“Um, have you heard about Christy?” I asked.
His lips whitened. “I heard. And you shouldn’t be talking to me about it. You’ll make things worse for yourself.”
“For myself?” Mentally, I scratched my head. A mother pulling two toddlers in her wake brushed past us, and I lowered my voice. “What are you talking about?”
“Christy told me what you did last week. I had to tell the police.”
“Last week? What?”
“Yeah,” he said bitterly. “She told me you’d deny it.” He left me standing on the sidewalk, gaping.
I hadn’t known Christy well—with all the travel I’d been doing at my old job, I’d lost touch with most of my friends. And frenemies.
My mind went to my encounter with Christy last week—the first and last time I’d spoken with her since I’d returned nine months ago. And I hadn’t done anything.
I’d run into her outside a bridal shop. She’d boasted that she and Michael had gotten engaged. Shocked, I’d burst out, “He was engaged to Adele a month ago!” It had been maladroit, and she hadn’t been happy.
But it had also been true.
Yet nothing had happened. No histrionics. No fisticuffs. No pistols at nine paces.
I hadn’t told Adele about the engagement.
But what had Michael told the cops? Stomach churning, I walked back to my battered pickup. I hadn’t even thought of getting a lawyer last night. I was innocent. A woman had been killed. I wanted to help. But maybe Adele had been right. Maybe I should have had a lawyer during last night’s police questioning.
As I approached my apartment, I saw an unfamiliar blue Mercedes in the gravel drive. Since I was living, for now, over my aunt Sadie’s garage, I didn’t give much thought to any visitors she might have. I trudged up the wooden stairs to my studio. The steps creaked beneath my feet. At the top I unlocked the door, walked inside.
My brother rose from the couch and spread his arms wide. “Hey, Sis.”
“Shane?” My messenger bag thunked to the floor.
He walked to me and gave me a hug.
I reciprocated, thumping him on the back. Shane was a cultural attaché for the US Embassy in Moscow. He was blond, chiseled, and his smile was as blindingly white as his shirt.
Did I mention I came from a family of over achievers? It held true in the genetics department as well, at least when it came to my brother and two sisters.
He took a step back, his hands bracing my shoulders. Shane was my brother, so I pretty much had to love him, but he made life seem effortless. When you’ve been dealing with nine months of rejections, that’s irritating.
“So you got Sadie’s garage,” he said. “Nice.”
He was right. I was lucky. The studio had distressed wood floors and my aunt had decorated it in a nautical theme of soft blues, whites and grays. We were over a hundred miles from the ocean, but my grandfather had been a sea captain. Shadow boxes with starfish and coral hung from the white-washed walls. Old mariner’s equipment worked as bookends. A telescope in a battered leather case. A sextant. A captain’s hat.
And then there were the stacks of boxes I hadn’t gotten around to unpacking. In my defense, with all Sadie’s maritime stuff, there wasn’t much space for my things.
“What are you doing back in California?” I managed to ask.
“Vacation. Moscow is miserable this time of year, and I wanted to see Mom. How’ve you been?” He jammed his hands in the back pockets of his expensive jeans and rocked on his loafered heels.
“Great,” I said brightly. “Just great. Great.” My gaze slid to the empty pizza carton on the coffee table, the bunched-up socks in front of the TV, the half empty bottle of wine. “Well, not really. Adele and I discovered a dead body in her building.”
“A dead body?”
“Yeah. Christy Huntington.”
He shook his head. “Should I know her?”
“Probably not. She was in my class at school.”
“So you knew her? I’m sorry, Mad. That’s terrible.”
“What’s terrible is that I’m more sorry for Adele and the people Christy left behind than for Christy herself. I didn’t really know her well, and I didn’t really like her much. But I can’t imagine losing a child. What must her parents be going through?”
We paused, thinking of our own loss—our father’s death—last year.
I pushed that thought away. Grabbing the bottle off the TV, I clutched it to my chest. “Drink?”
Sweat trickled down my back. I put the wine on the coffee table and tugged my earlobe. “So how’s Moscow?”
He frowned. “I told you. Cold. Mom told me you were career transitioning. What’s next for my little sis?”
Of course she’d told him. When she hadn’t gotten any good answers from me, she’d sicced my long-lost brother on the case. “I’m, er, talking to a museum.”
“About being a collector? That would be right up your alley—traveling the world, finding objects, swinging deals. I could put you in touch with some amazing folks in Eastern Europe.”
“More like a... curator.”
“Curator? Whoa, that’s high-powered stuff. Way to go, Mad. About time we got a curator in the family.” He grinned. “Mom will be over the moon.”
Yeah, when she heard about the Paranormal Museum she’d be over the moon all right. “Let’s not talk about it. It might not happen. I’m not even certain I want the job,” I fudged.
He winked. “Got it. I see why you haven’t told Mom. She’d brag to all her friends.”
I laughed feebly. “So how’s Moscow?”
“That’s the second time you’ve asked me.”
“Are you going to make me go for thirds?”
“Nothing’s changed. The city reeks of money, power, and organized crime. It was exciting at first, but now... Let’s say it’s good to be home. You know how it is.”
“Yeah.” God, what had I done? Why had I come home? I should have done what they’d asked and kept my job. But no, I had to get indignant. I had to have principles. I had to be an idiot.
I had to pull myself together. “Speaking of home, how long are you here for?”
“Three weeks. I might make a run down to San Diego to visit friends, but I’ve got to get back in time for a joint US-Russian exhibit the embassy is sponsoring. Moscow has a lively surreal art scene.”
“So how about I take you out to lunch? Hey, remember that wacky paranormal museum? If it’s still open, want to go take a look at it for old time’s sake?”
“It’s closed today,” I said repressively.
His brows drew together. “On a Friday? That’s weird. Oh well, we can do it some other time.” Draping one arm around my shoulders, he grabbed his leather bomber jacket off the back of the chair. “Lunch it is.”
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