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All Fudged Up
By Nancy Coco
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Nancy J. Parra
All rights reserved.
I figured that, after ninety-two years of living, Papa Liam probably had some skeletons in his closet. I had no idea they were real.
Not that Joe Jessop was a skeleton ... yet. But the man was definitely dead and lying in my second-floor utility closet.
I don't think I screamed when I found him. You know how they always scream on television when they find a dead body. I was certainly startled when I turned on the light. I'll admit that. Who wouldn't be when they walked in on a person lying against the shelves with dried blood all over his face and looking, well, lifeless.
It took me a minute to figure out what to do. Should I rush to him and feel for a pulse and try to give him CPR? The idea made me gag since the guy was a funny color and puffier than the last time I saw him. Mostly I stood there thinking about what the right thing to do was. It was only for a few seconds. I was in shock. I'm certain.
My next thought was I should probably run out screaming, but that seemed silly since I hadn't screamed at first glance and I was the only person in the building. I would have to run the length of the hall, down two flights of stairs, and out the building screaming and waving my hands. Yeah, I'm not really that kind of person.
I always thought of myself as more practical. After all, when Papa had died suddenly, I'd managed to step into his shoes with only a few bumps in the road.
After his funeral, it'd taken me two weeks to sublease my Chicago apartment, put my car in storage, and pack up my stuff. The plan all along had been for me to arrive on Mackinac Island in late April to help Papa Liam open the McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shoppe for the season. This was to be the summer when my papa would give me all his best advice, see me through the day-to-day handling of the property, and turn over the keys to the family business.
Unfortunately, I was now on my own to figure out how to keep the family business going. Papa'd been at the senior center playing pinochle, drinking whiskey, and laughing when he'd suddenly fallen face-first into the table. Just like that. He was gone.
Sort of like Joe Jessop. One minute he was doing who-knows-what in my closet, and the next moment I was not screaming at the sight of his dead body. Life was a mystery that way.
I took my cell phone out of my pocket.
"9-1-1, this is Charlene, what is your emergency?"
"Um, I opened my closet and there's a guy on the floor. Well, not really on the floor, but mostly on the floor." I inhaled. "I think he's dead."
"Is this Sarah Jane? I'm not taking any more of your practical jokes, girl. You're wasting the taxpayer's money."
"Wait—" The phone went dead in my hand. Well, not as dead as Joe, but dead.
Joe stared at me accusingly. I noted that his eyes were bloodshot and his pupils pinpoints. Don't the crime shows say strangulation causes bloodshot eyes—or was that poison? I wasn't about to step farther into the scene and contaminate it to find out.
"9-1-1, this is Charlene, what is your emergency?"
"Hi, yes, Charlene." I tried to be reasonable. "This is Allie McMurphy over at the historic McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shoppe."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance, Allie. I'm a big fan of your papa's fudge, but, you should know that this line is for emergencies only. If you want to talk to me, you need to call dispatch at 906.555.6600. Bye now."
"Wait!" Charlene hung up on me again. "I'm trying, Joe," I muttered to the dead guy. He didn't answer, but then I would have run screaming if he had ... Which would take care of the whole "proper way to act when discovering a body" thing. For the third time, I punched numbers into my phone. This time I called the dispatch number. At least I hoped it was the dispatch number. I was a bit rattled and wouldn't be surprised if I accidently called my mother instead.
"Dispatch, this is Charlene, how can I help you?"
There was a moment of relief that it wasn't my mother on the line, although she might have been a bigger help. Except for the part where the cops ask why I didn't call 9-1-1.
"Yes, Charlene." I tried again. "This is Allie McMurphy."
"Hi Allie, how are you? I was sorry to hear about your Papa Liam passing suddenly like that. At least he went doing what he loved to do best."
Did she mean cheat at cards? I sighed and glanced at the dead guy. Did Joe wink? Okay, that thought creeped me out a little. I took a step back. "Thanks, Charlene, listen, I want to report a dead body in my utility closet. Well, at least I think he's dead."
There was a long moment of silence on the other end of the phone.
"Allie, why didn't you call 9-1-1? Everyone knows if they find someone hurt or, God help us, dead, they call 9-1-1. They don't waste time on the dispatch number."
Was it worth pointing out that I had called 9-1-1? No. "I promise to do that next time. Can you get someone over here?"
I turned my back on the "crime scene" out of respect for the old guy. I mean, he might have been Papa Liam's oldest rival, but that didn't mean his death didn't affect his family.
"I can indeed," Charlene said. "Stay on the line." I could hear her searching through drawers. "Hold on, one second. I need a pen."
A pen? Didn't they have some kind of computer database? Or was Mackinac Island that backward? I didn't think of the place as backward. Touristy maybe. Purposely laid-back in an island sort of way, certainly. But not backward.
"Found it." I heard Charlene click a pen. "Okay, now let's start with your name."
Really? "Charlene, it's Allie. Remember?"
"Yes, of course, I remember ..." It sounded like she was writing something. "Allie McMurphy called at nine PM to report a possible DB. Allie, where are you?"
I glanced back at Joe. Was he laughing? Was I laughing? Someone was giggling like a crazy person.
"Allie," Charlene shouted. "Get ahold of yourself."
That straightened me up. If this call was being taped, I'm sure everyone would be wondering why I was laughing when faced with a dead man in my closet. "I'm sorry." I tried to breathe in and out and pretend I wasn't hysterical. "What did you ask? Oh, right. I'm at the McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shoppe on the second floor in the utility closet."
"All right," Charlene said as her pen scratched away. "Stay on the line. I'll send Officer Manning over along with the EMTs."
I swallowed the laughter that threatened to spill out again. "Okay, um, should I go downstairs and let them in?"
"That's probably a good idea," Charlene said. "Unless the guy's not dead. Did you check for a pulse?"
That sobered me up. I turned to the puffy, blue/white, blood-encrusted face. "I, um, didn't touch anything."
Charlene made a sound very close to a snort. "Then how do you know he's dead? For goodness' sakes, you scared the devil out of me and all for no good reason."
"Oh, no, he's dead."
"How can you tell?" Her tone sounded impatient.
"He looks dead." Now I was getting impatient back.
"Have you ever seen a dead body before?"
I suppose that was a good question, but it didn't make me happy. I wanted to lie. I really did. "No." I tried not to sigh too loudly. Then a thought occurred to me. "Wait! I have seen a dead body." Papa Liam, of course.
She harrumphed. "One that wasn't prepped by the mortuary?"
Crap. "Give it up, Charlene. I'm not touching him. In fact, I'm going downstairs right now to wait at the door for the police."
"Fine." Charlene huffed. "But Officer Manning'll be pretty upset if this turns out to be a drunk asleep in your closet."
Wait, isn't that as bad or worse than a dead body? It would mean that some strange man was sleeping it off in my closet. There was a lock on my third-floor apartment door, but still. I'm the only one in the hotel before the season opens. I could have been attacked or worse. The dead body could have been me. That thought made shivers go down my spine as I scrambled down the stairs.
"Please tell me someone's really on their way over here." I'm afraid my voice was a tad breathless by the time I reached the bottom of the flower-patterned carpeted stairs.
There was a knock on the glass front door of the shop, and I screamed ... a little.
Charlene snickered in my ear. "He's there," she said. "You can hang up now."
"Great." I practically ran to the door. "You've been a big help, Charlene. Thanks."
"You're welcome, dear."
So much for sarcasm, I thought as I answered the door.
The man outside had all the right gear on, a complete blue officer outfit. It was dark out, but I could see in the lamplight behind him the official police bicycle complete with flashing light and siren. I had a sudden thought that the local police ought to have a flashing light on the top of their hats. A giggle slipped out.
"Are you all right, Miss?" The officer narrowed what could only be described as pretty blue eyes. They were that soft baby blue and ringed with thick long eyelashes that curled. "Miss?"
"Right." I opened the door wide and waved for him to come inside. "I may be in a bit of shock. I'm Allie McMurphy."
He took off his hat and uncovered a wide bald pate that was attractive in that "tough-guy" way. "I'm Officer Rex Manning," he offered. "Charlene told me you might have a dead body situation."
Situation? I swallowed. "Um, upstairs, second-floor utility closet. Follow me."
He did, following me through the under-construction first-floor lobby to the twin staircases that led to the second floor.
"Is it okay if we take the stairs? The elevator repair guy is coming in the morning."
"That's fine," he said. I noted that his nice gaze took in the details of the building, including the renovations. "Is there anyone else in the building?"
"You mean besides the dead guy?" I climbed the stairs. My fingers brushed the cool, worn-smooth banister. The rubber of my athletic shoes snagged at the flowered carpet. "No, the crew working on the renovations left at six PM."
"It's a big building with lots of places to hide," he pointed out.
I stopped on the second-floor landing and drew my brows together. "Are you thinking the killer is still inside?" Suddenly there wasn't anything funny about the situation. I'd only been on Mackinac Island for a month, but it really didn't seem like the kind of place you had to keep your doors locked for fear of a serial killer. Not like Chicago, anyway.
I mean, on an island with five hundred to six hundred year-round residents, you could spot a serial killer a mile off. Couldn't you? Weren't they usually the quiet-keep-to-themselves-neighbor? Wait, was that me?
"All I'm thinking is that it's a big building," Officer Manning said with a nonchalant tone.
I pursed my lips. His words weren't encouraging. "All the rooms are locked." I lifted the master key I had in my hand. The hotels on island still had metal keys. It was quaint and fun. The keys were locked up in a key cabinet in Papa Liam's office. Once the renovations were done, they would hang from hooks behind the reservation desk. "I'm the only one with a key."
"Okay." The word was flat and monotone. I tried not to infer anything from it. "Where's the body?"
"Over here." I walked down the hall. Somewhere in the late seventies Papa had put down a green carpet with a raised flower pattern. It was a little worn now. Okay shabby, but I had it on my to-do list to replace. In the center of the hall was a set of elevator doors. Across the hall from there was the small utility closet where Joe Jessop died. The door was still open, and the light shone into the dimmer hallway.
"Yep, that's a dead body." Officer Manning stood in the doorway, his expression serious as stone. My shock-crazed brain registered that he wore a bulletproof vest underneath his shirt, giving his pleasant girth stiffness. Even though we stood eye to eye, he looked strong.
I was glad of that because if there was a killer in my home, I wouldn't think twice about letting Officer Manning get between me and him. I mean, that's what they paid him to do, right?
He stepped carefully into the room. I knew he was a brave man because he knelt down and checked Joe for a pulse even though we both knew that ship had sailed hours ago. Officer Manning looked around, then reached up and made a call on the two-way radio that sat on his shoulder. "Charlene, get Doc Hamlin over here. We need a coroner on site. We have a DB."
Sure, Charlene sounded completely professional when talking with the officer.
"Did you touch anything?" He stood and took pictures with his cell phone.
"I opened the door, turned on the light, and stepped inside." I hugged my waist, trying to quell the shivering that threatened to take over my body. "He was kind of hard to miss."
"He's a big guy," Officer Manning agreed absently as he took more pictures. "Did you touch him? Check for a pulse?"
All he did was nod at that. His cell phone clicked away. My teeth chattered. I clamped down hard trying to stop them, but the sound caught the officer's attention.
"Sit down!" He said it sharp and tight, and I obeyed without thought; my knees gave way, dropping me to the hall floor. He moved lightning fast because the next thing I knew he was beside me. "Put your head down."
"Okay," I muttered as the shivering took over. I put my forehead on the floor. He must have grabbed a blanket off the shelf in the closet because he draped one over me. I tried not to think about it too much as I worked to hold myself together. The vibrations of more footsteps reached me or it could have been my teeth rattling my bones.
"What do we have?" a new male voice asked. A shot of adrenaline went through me. The sound I made would have been a scream except my throat closed up the instant I realized that I had not locked the door behind us when we came upstairs.
"Was that a squeak?" the new male said. "Or a laugh?"
"She's in shock." I heard Officer Manning reply.
Could a person die of embarrassment? Maybe if I buried my face in the carpet and drew the pale blue blanket over my head, it would all go away.
The two hunkered down beside me. Someone put a hand on my back. It was a comforting gesture. I would have said something nice about it if I weren't afraid of biting my tongue with my stupid chattering teeth. Tears filled my eyes. I'm sure it was frustration. I mean, I don't cry easy.
"Miss, can you sit up?" the second voice said gently, causing more tears to track down my cheeks. Shoot. Don't be nice to me. Don't you know that nice is the worst thing you can be to a girl on the verge of losing it?
I sat up and wiped the tears off with the sleeve of my chamois work shirt.
The second voice belonged to a guy with deep brown eyes and the high cheekbones of a true local. He wore a blue uniform as well, but this one said "EMT" on it. He was lean with broad shoulders and competent hands. My vision narrowed, and I saw stars.
Mr. EMT had me flat on my back with my feet higher than my head before I knew what was going on. Shoot, he hadn't even bought me a drink first.
"Thanks," I muttered through gritted teeth as he adjusted the blanket around me and then pulled out a blood pressure cuff. With silent movement, he pumped up the cuff, released it a little, and pumped it again as he listened. I have no idea what he heard as all I could hear was my heart pounding in my head. He put his fingers on my wrist and checked my pulse. I noted that his name tag said George Marron.
"Take a deep breath. In through your nose and out through your mouth."
I did what he said and concentrated on his soulful eyes until I could talk. "Not used to finding"—breathe in, breathe out—"a dead person in my closet is all."
George's calm gaze watched me. It was kind of embarrassing getting all this attention when there was a dead man down the hall.
"Was I right?" Officer Manning asked as he stepped out of the crime scene.
The EMT nodded.
"Do you want to take her down to the clinic?" Officer Manning tipped his head and studied me as if I were a specimen in a zoo.
"No!" I tried to sit up, but George put his hands on my shoulder and kept me down.
"She'll be fine."
"See." I huddled under the blanket. "I'll be fine."
Officer Manning frowned. "Is there anyone you can call?"
"Um, why?" I had to ask. "It's only a little shock. I don't need a ba ... ba ... babysitter."
"You can't stay here tonight," he pointed out. "This is a crime scene."
"Oh." It was my turn to frown. "The whole hotel?" Distracted by this new development, I was able to use my elbows to hold myself up. The blanket pooled around my jean-covered lap.
Excerpted from All Fudged Up by Nancy Coco. Copyright © 2013 Nancy J. Parra. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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