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All You Need Is Fudge
By Nancy Coco
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Nancy J. Parra
All rights reserved.
I don't find a dead body every time I take Mal — my bichonpoo puppy — for a walk. Really. In fact, it had only happened once. But finding dead people seems to be a theme for me since I returned to Mackinac Island to run the historic McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop. It was no surprise to anyone that I had 9-1-1 on speed dial on my cell phone.
"9-1-1. What is your emergency?"
I could tell it was Charlene on the phone. She worked long hours. In fact, so many hours I had begun to think she was a workaholic like me. "Hi Charlene," I said as brightly as possible. Water dripped down the side of my face and I wiped it away.
"Allie McMurphy, is that you?" she asked.
"Yes, it's me," I replied, trying to slow my heavy breathing. I was soaked and my muscles shook from the stress of dragging a dead weight out of the water and over the three foot marina wall.
"Who's dead now?" Charlene asked.
I think she was kidding. I wasn't. "I'm not quite sure," I said and stared down at the purplish face of the woman I had just pulled from the lake. Something was vaguely familiar about her, but it was hard to tell. People looked different when they were dead.
"But there is a dead person," Charlene stated. "Seriously?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so. Can you contact Rex?" Officer Rex Manning was my go-to guy whenever I found trouble ... which seemed to be often.
"Where are you?"
"I'm at the marina off Main Street near the coffee shop."
"Allie, it's yacht race week. A dead body in the marina would be disastrous."
"Well, I didn't put it there." I stifled a shiver. Yacht racing happened a couple times on Mackinac Island. It was the first of the season and people were gearing up for the influx of boaters and boat enthusiasts. In fact, just yesterday I was at the yacht club with my best friend Jenn Christensen helping to coordinate an event.
Jenn was the event planner, not me, but I went along for support and because I was doing everything I could to gain access into Mackinac Island society. Small business was about community and I was working hard to become a part of the tight knit community that was Mackinac Island.
"Rex is on his way," Charlene said, "along with a crew of first responders. Are you sure the person is dead?"
I noted the pallor of skin and that the open eyes looked glazed over and colorless. "I think she's been dead a while." A shiver took me. It was a cool morning. The sun had just started to come up when I began the walk and now that I was soaked through, the wind felt cold against my skin.
"Okay," Charlene said. "I'll stay with you until Rex gets there."
"Thanks." I brushed my currently seaweed-like strands of hair out of my face. Mal was having a good time sniffing the girl I'd managed to drag mostly onto the grassy knoll in front of the marina. I hugged my lake water–soaked, legging-covered knees to my equally soaked shirtdress-covered body. "Mal, come here."
I snagged my dog away from the dead girl and held Mal to me. Her warm little body was a comfort. It was still early. The first ferries had yet to arrive with their boatload of tourists. It was quiet. Some of the maids and groundskeepers had started their walk from the workers' quarters to the hotels to start their day. The shops would not open for at least another hour and a half.
"Your puppy is with you?" Charlene asked. "Is there anyone else nearby?"
I looked around. "No. The marina is pretty quiet. Mal alerted me there was something in the water. As soon as I saw the woman, I jumped in to save her, but it was too late. She really is quite cold and stiff."
"She's most likely in rigor," Charlene said. "I never thought I'd ever say that out loud in my life. But I've been brushing up on my dead body terminology a lot since you moved here."
I winced at the tone of her voice. "Like I said, Mal found her." I looked at my puppy. She was nearly six months old and wagged her little stub tail at the sound of her name. "She has a good nose."
"You two are quite the pair," Charlene said.
The first time I ever called 9-1-1 Charlene had not believed me. She thought I was a prank caller. Now all I had to do was say my name and she assumed the worst. In fact everyone on the island assumed the worst.
"What were you doing near the marina?" she asked.
"Mal needed her morning walk and I wanted to see the yachts that came in for this weekend's race." A glance over my shoulder showed me that the marina was full of large sailing boats. Some people on the boats had begun to stir. A gentleman in shorts and a T-shirt came out on his deck with a coffee cup in hand. I watched as he stretched and looked at the lake then did a slow turn. I shuddered when he did a double take at the sight of me and Mal and the pale bloated body of a woman wearing a bright blue and orange, color-blocked dress. Her feet were bare. She had painted her toenails robin's egg blue.
"A guy on his yacht spotted us," I told Charlene and waved at the guy who stared with his mouth wide open. I suppose seeing a dead body first thing in the morning would be a bit of a shock for anyone.
"Don't let him get close," she warned. "We don't need a crowd messing up the crime scene."
In the distance I heard the siren of the ambulance. The state of the art ambulance and fire truck were the only motor vehicles allowed on the island. Other transportation on the island that time forgot was limited to horse and carriage, bicycle, or foot traffic.
"Is everything okay down there?" the man hollered from the deck of his yacht.
"Things are under control," I called back and pointed at my cell phone. "I've called 9-1-1."
"What happened?" Police Officer Rex Manning had pulled up on his bike, hit the kickstand, and walked carefully toward me.
Mal, of course, having no respect for possible crime scene evidence, wiggled out of my embrace and raced up to greet him with a twirl and a nose bump. Rex absently patted Mal as he walked to where I sat next to the body.
"I pulled her out of the water," I said and trembled. "I tried pushing water out of her lungs, but she was already gone."
"Long gone from the looks of her," he said as he squatted down beside me. "She was in the lake?" He didn't look at me as he took a pen out of his pocket and lifted the hair away from her face. Rex wore his uniform well. He had the chest and shoulders of a man who worked out regularly at the gym. I always thought of him as having that action hero kind of look with his shaved head and gorgeous eyes.
"Yes, she was in the water near the pier where the coffee shop is." I pointed toward the spot. "I didn't see her at first. Mal pulled me to the edge so I went to see what she was fussing about."
"Your pup has a good nose for death." He frowned. "I think I know who this is."
"Is that good or bad?" I asked and bit down as my teeth started to chatter.
He glanced at me. "You need to get warm." Standing, he waved down the EM Ts.
George Marron came down to where we were with a blanket in one hand and a med kit in the other.
"She might have hypothermia," Rex said to him.
George draped the blanket around my shoulders. "Whenever I get a call with Allie involved, I automatically bring one." He was a little taller than me and Rex. He had high cheekbones, long, black hair that he wore in a braid down his back, and black eyes that spoke of his native ancestors.
I huddled in the warmth. "I don't think it's shock this time," I said with a touch of pride in my voice. "I'm soaked."
"The water's still cool this time of year," George agreed. "Even for mid-July." He checked the pulse at my wrist. "Your lips and fingers are a little blue, but you're right, you're not shocky."
"I'm fine." I smiled at him to reassure him that I didn't need an exam, and huddled into the blanket. "Just wet." My teeth chattered as if to emphasize my words.
Rex stood and waved the second EMT with the stretcher over toward the body. "You pulled her out of the water all by yourself?"
"Yes, mostly," I said as Mal curled up in my lap. The woman's legs still dangled over the retaining wall. "I didn't have the strength to finish the job, I'm afraid. I wanted to get her far enough that I could try to push water out of her lungs and start CPR."
"Okay, tell me exactly — step by step — what you did." His cop's gaze noted all the details of the marina as it started to wake up.
George and the other EMT pulled the body all the way over the retaining wall. A pair of squawking gulls swooped by. Officer Charles Brown showed up and stayed near the road to keep back the slowly gathering crowd.
"I knew the yachts were coming in for race weekend and thought I'd take Mal for her morning walk down here. The coffee shop was open and Frances had told me that she likes the blueberry scones they serve so I figured I'd stop in and pick up a few for the staff."
"What time did you leave the McMurphy?" Rex asked.
"I finished my last batch of fudge around five forty-five and left right after that. So however long it takes to put Mal's halter and leash on and stroll down here." The marina was across from the yacht club and the Island House Hotel about half a mile from the McMurphy on Main.
"So around six AM?"
I nodded. "That sounds right." I hugged Mal. She wanted to greet everyone and help the EMTs with the body.
I, on the other hand, knew she'd be in the way so I hugged her to hold her in my lap. "We walked down this way. I didn't see anything unusual, just the boats and the sunrise. We walked the lower path near the retaining wall and headed down the dock to the coffee shop. About halfway, Mal started barking and pulling me toward the water."
"She must have smelled the body."
"Something," I agreed. "When I saw the girl floating, she was faceup. I thought maybe she was swimming. Then I noticed how pale she was. I called out, but she didn't answer."
"And I jumped in. I didn't think about it much. I thought she needed help. I was a lifeguard in high school and instinct kicked in. I put my arm around her torso and swam to the wall. When I could stand, I put my hands under her arms and pulled her over the wall. It's harder than you'd think."
His blue gaze twinkled. "I know. I'm still trying to picture how you did it."
"Honestly? I sat on the wall and grabbed her and pulled. When I got her up high enough, I scooted back. I was able to bring her far enough onto the grass that I knew she had solid earth beneath her. Then I used my palms to push water out of her lungs, but it didn't help."
"She was dead."
"Yes." I pushed my slowly drying hair out of my face. "When I realized she was stiff, I took out my phone and called 9-1-1."
He tilted his head and drew his eyebrows together. "Didn't your cell phone get wet?"
"Yeah," I said and lifted it up. "But it's waterproof. You know I'm pretty clumsy and have a tendency to answer my cell phone when I'm in the bathtub."
He grinned. "Yeah, I know."
I felt the heat of embarrassment rush up my cheeks, but worked to ignore it. "Jenn made me buy one of those waterproof, cell phone covers. I can't take the phone diving, but it will survive getting wet."
Thankfully, Jen had come up for the summer to help me manage my first season at the McMurphy. My Papa Liam was supposed to be here to train me, but earlier this year, he'd gone nose down while playing cards at the senior center and they hadn't been able to revive him. Jenn came up to fill the void. She was actually better at making friends on the island than I was. All in all, she took good care of me.
"Huh," Rex said. "It's a good thing, then, I guess."
"Mal seems relatively dry," he pointed out.
I made a face. "She didn't follow me into the water. She stayed on the pier and barked. Then she raced over here when I managed to pull the girl up on land."
"Should we call Shane?" I asked. Shane Carpenter was the local CSI guy who also happened to be dating Jenn. I liked to think that I was the one who introduced them. In fact, if the relationship worked out in the long run, I would claim that it was all my doing.
"Charlene already did. The body has clues," Rex said. "He'll want to know the water temperature and see what else is floating in the water. And he may need those clothes you're wearing."
"Oh, right." I glanced down at my dress and leggings. My white Keds were gray from water. "Wait. Is it okay to move the body?" I pointed at the guy holding the stretcher. It was folded up so that you couldn't see the wheels. A body bag was on the ground beside the body and open, ready for them to roll her onto it.
"You pulled her out of the water so she has already been moved," Rex pointed out. "I don't want to leave her out here for gawkers." His eyebrows were drawn together and his mouth rested in a flat line. He was a handsome man and had two ex-wives to prove it. His hands were large, square and efficient as he did a simple check of the body. He motioned for the EMTs to bring over the stretcher. "You said she was faceup in the water?"
"Yes. It seems weird, right? I mean usually when you think of dead bodies in the water you imagine them facedown."
"Sure." He eyed the surrounding area and made notes on his notepad. "Maybe she was dead when she hit the water and floated up."
"Maybe." I watched as they rolled the dead woman over carefully, inspecting her back for contusions or anything else that might tell us whether it was a simple drowning or something more sinister before they would tuck her into the body bag and roll her onto the stretcher.
Gail Hall from the coffee shop walked down from the pier with her hands full of coffees in a paper carrier. "You guys look like you could use some strong coffee."
Mal stood on her hind legs to greet Gail.
"Sorry pup. No coffee for you." Gail was tall and large-boned and wore her dark brown hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. She handed coffee to the first responders as they stood around a moment to take in the scene. Squatting down by me, she patted Mal on the head with her free hand while handing me a coffee with her other hand. Remnants of black paint covered her cuticles.
"I saw you jump into the lake," she said, her brown eyes filled with concern. "You gave me quite a scare. I had no idea what you were doing. I thought maybe you'd finally had enough of island life and I'd have to come out and get you." She tilted her head. "I wasn't looking forward to jumping into the lake myself, so I called 9-1-1."
"Oh," was all I could say in answer. I sipped the coffee. "That's why Charlene knew it was me when I called."
Gail nodded. "Yeah. I saw you pulling someone out of the water. I would have come out sooner, but I had to wait for Emily to get in to cover the shop."
"You look like you were painting." I pointed at her hands.
"Spray paint," she said and rubbed at the spots. "This is from last night. I've been painting an old dresser. Gotta love the do-it-yourself look. Mine is a bit worse than what you see the pros do on TV." She paused and watched as they zipped the woman up in the black body bag. "It's weird to think you could be painting a dresser one day and dead the next. Just like her." She turned to me. "How did you know she was there?"
"Mal," I replied and pointed at my dog. "She's got a good sniffer."
"She smelled her from the pier?"
"Yes. Crazy, right?"
"Right. Creepy to think some girl was floating dead a few feet from my shop and I didn't know it. Any idea who she is? I couldn't see from the shop."
"Ladies, no details until I get your stories." Rex drew his dark eyebrows together in a look of concern.
"Right." Gail stood. "I've got to get back."
"I'll be in the coffee shop in a few," Rex said. "Thanks for the coffee."
She smiled. "You're welcome. Take care, Allie."
"I will. Thanks."
We watched her walk back to the coffee shop. She was probably ten years older than me — so in her mid to late thirties — and pretty in her black slacks and navy-blue top.
Rex squatted down beside me and absently patted Mal as he looked out over the crowded marina. More people had begun to emerge from the boats to prep for a day of sailing. "Do you know who you pulled out of the lake?"
"No," I said with a shake of my head. "I sort of recognize her, though. Is she a local?"
"Yeah." He looked at me. "Carin Moore. Her family's been on the island for generations. They're members of the yacht club. In fact, see that big yacht — third one down on the more expensive pier?"
I glanced across the boats. "The one that says Daddy's Girl on the side?"
"Yes," Rex said with a short nod. "That's her family's boat."
"You said she might have been faceup because she was dead when she hit the water." I chewed on my bottom lip. "Do you think she was killed on the boat and pushed in?"
"I'm not going to speculate," Rex said.
"She had a nice cocktail dress on." I closed my eyes as I pictured the color-blocked silk dress. "I bet it was designer." I paused and looked at Rex. "She wasn't very old, was she?"
Excerpted from All You Need Is Fudge by Nancy Coco. Copyright © 2016 Nancy J. Parra. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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