When Reagan Summerside turned the first floor of her old Victorian home into a consignment shop, she never imagined she’d be harboring a fugitive in her attic. But after a dead man is found in a bathtub and local lawyer Walker Boone is accused of doing the dirty deed, she suddenly has a new houseguest.
Having the lawyer who took her to the cleaners in her divorce settlement—and who has been getting under her skin ever since—in close proximity is enough to drive Reagan to distraction. For the sake of her sanity—and Walker’s freedom—they need to put their heads together to find out who is trying to get the lawyer out of the picture . . .
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THE convertible top was down, a crescent moon hung low over the marshlands, and the night sky was filled with a bazillion stars as I drove Walker Boone’s precious red ’57 Chevy toward Tybee Post. It was a perfect spring night except that my palms were sweating, my heart was rocketing around in my chest, I shook so bad it was hard to keep the car on the road, and there were one, two, make that four police cars on my bumper, their red and blue lights flashing in my rearview mirror.
Of course I wouldn’t be in this fix if Conway Adkins hadn’t been found dead in his very own bathtub and Boone hadn’t gotten himself accused of the murder. Taking Boone’s Chevy and heading off in one direction to get the cops off his tail while he took my new cute-as-a-button pink scooter and escaped in the other direction seemed like a really good idea . . . till now.
Figuring I’d pushed the surely you can’t be after little ol’ me routine as far as I could, I pulled to the side of the road, careful not to drown Boone’s car in the swamp and wind up gator food. As the string of cruisers lined up behind me, illuminating the dark like fireworks on the Fourth of July, and traffic slowed to snap iPhone pics that would make me an instant Savannah celebrity of the wrong kind, the gator-food option looked pretty darn good.
“Get out with your hands raised” blared from the cop’s bullhorn. Teeth chattering and knees knocking, I finally wrenched the car door open and stood, arms up. Immediately they were handcuffed behind me. Okay, I’d expected this to happen, but the real deal was downright terrifying. Breathe, I ordered myself. Think calm and cool and try not to babble like you always do when scared spitless.
“You’re not Boone,” a cop growled as he spun me around. “Where is he?”
A loaded question if ever there was one. I gave Officer Deckard—least that was what his name tag said—the innocent-and-clueless arched-eyebrow expression. “Why now, I have no idea where Walker Boone is and can we make this quick, I got to get home to let my dog out to pee.”
Deckard’s lips thinned, the little capillaries in his eyes ready to pop. He yanked the collar of Boone’s much-too-large-on-me leather jacket and whipped the Atlanta Braves ball cap off my head and tossed it into the cattails. “You know where he is. You wanted us to think you’re Walker Boone.”
“Me? I run the Prissy Fox consignment shop in Savannah.” Was that squeaky voice really mine?
“And I’ve heard about you. You’re a total pain in the ass, always sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong.”
“There is that.”
Deckard picked me up by the collar, my frightened gaze now level with his really-pissed-off one. “We both know Boone’s wanted for murdering Conway Adkins. We have Boone’s gun, we know he did the deed, and here you are helping him get away by driving his car and wearing his jacket and hat, and leading us on a wild-goose chase.”
“Would I do that?”
That got me the how’d you like to rot in jail for the rest of your natural life cop glare. “If you’re not helping him, how’d you get the keys to his car?”
“They were in the ignition.”
“You stole his car?”
“He took Princess.”
“A scooter. It’s new and pink and the helmet smells like cotton candy on the inside, I had to pay extra for that, and that’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but—” That got me tossed in the back of a cruiser. I think the cotton-candy part pushed Decker over the edge, and twenty minutes later I was sitting across from Detective Aldeen Ross in the Dumpster-green police interrogation room back in Savannah. This night was not improving.
I knew enough not to touch under the table, avoid anything wet on top of the table, and step around slick spots on the floor. The reason I possessed this valuable information was that this was not my first time in the police interrogation room on Habersham Street or my first time meeting up with Ross. Fact is, Aldeen Ross and I were sort of buds depending on which side of the law I happened to be standing on at the moment and whether one of us was willing to share a six-pack of sprinkle doughnuts from Cakery Bakery.
“Boone can’t hide forever, you know,” Ross said to me in a flat matter-of-fact voice even though the look in her eyes suggested that Boone probably had enough street smarts to hide forever if he wanted to.
“He didn’t kill Conway,” I said. “He isn’t a bullet-between-the-eyes kind of guy. He’s an attorney, upholds the law, I doubt if he cheats on his taxes, and there’s the little fact that Conway was Boone’s daddy. He’s not about to kill his own father, for Pete’s sake, even if the piece of crud deserved it.”
Ross sat back in the chair, her navy poly jacket pulled tight across her pastry-enhanced girth. “The way we see it,” she said, “is that Conway the elder walked out on Walker when he was a baby, married money, had nothing to do with Walker all his life even when he was living on the streets, and never claimed him as his own. Conway the elder had nightmares of burning in hell for all eternity for his sins so he told Walker who he was, left him the Old Harbor Inn in his will to make up for being a first-class ass, and then Walker did Conway in before he could change the will back. Plus Walker had thirty-four years of ticked-off under his belt to egg him on. Sounds like motive for murder to me.”
“Except you and I both know that Boone doesn’t egg, and if he did Conway in no one would ever find the gun or the body, and what about everybody else who hated Conway? They aren’t going to be erecting statues in his honor anytime soon around here.”
Ross stood and leaned across the table toward me, her voice low and her brown eyes intense. She put her hand over the little microphone that recorded the conversations in this room. “Keep in mind Boone’s got his share of enemies, and they’re tickled pink he’s on the run, and they’ll be even happier once he’s rotting behind bars. Somebody framed him, and if they think you’re out to rectify the situation you’ll be the next one in their crosshairs. The best way to find out what’s what is to act like you hate the guy, and that’s going to be real tough with that dopey look on your face when you mention his name.”
“He kissed me.”
“Forget the kiss.”
“It curled my toes.” I rolled my eyes up. “Singed my brows.”
Ross pointed a stiff finger at the door. “A cold shower and a bad memory is your only hope. Now get yourself out of here; I’m late for my midnight doughnut and if you find out where Boone is you better tell me.”
“Only when necessary.” I hurried out the door before Ross changed her mind about setting me free. Personally I didn’t think there was enough cold water in the Arctic to kill the aftereffects of a Walker Boone kiss, but unless I wanted to go the lobotomy route it was worth a shot.
It was late and I was tired to the bone as I stepped out into the police parking lot. I hated that Boone was on the lam, I really did, but the upside was it gave me some time to think about what that kiss meant. Another upside was that I had myself a car, a really sweet car. No one had reported the Chevy stolen, so the police gave me back the keys and here it was parked right in front of me. It was all nice and red and shiny as if waiting for me to take it home and tuck it into my garage, which had been carless since I’d divorced Hollis the Horrible, who drove off with the Lexus I paid for.
I lovingly stroked the ragtop, unlocked it, and sat behind the wheel, inhaling the scent of fine leather and a hint of residual exhaust that graced sublime vintage cars. I cranked the engine over, listening to the low rumble, feeling the vibrations up my spine and across my neck. I eased the gear into drive, inching forward so as not to hit the cars or either side or nick the Chevy.
Then I put the car in reverse and put the Chevy back to where I found it. That one of the Chevy’s fins took out the front light of an old tan pickup parked next to me was testimony to just how little I knew about being the captain of a vintage boat. I killed the engine, got out of the car, and left my contact info on the truck.
Here’s the thing: If I drove out of the police station in Boone’s car, the reporters hanging around would see it and follow me and ask a bunch of questions about Boone that I didn’t want to answer. They’d probably hunt me down later, but if I snuck out of here now that would give me time to figure out what to say. Wouldn’t you know it, after two years of schlepping myself on and off buses and hoofing it from one end of this city to the other, I finally get a car to tool around in and I couldn’t even use it.
A cruiser pulled into the lot and parked by the rear entrance to the police station. Two uniforms wrestled one of Savannah’s drunk and disorderlies from the backseat, and I used the distraction to slip out of view of the reporters, slink across Hall Street, and fade into the shadows. I headed down Habersham, flanked on each side by restaurants and bars closed for the night. It was a darn shame they weren’t open, as a Reuben from the Firefly would taste really terrific right now.
I cut across Troup Square, one of the twenty-three parks in Savannah. This one had a doggie fountain where Bruce Willis, my four-legged BFF, loved to socialize with the other canines and— Holy cow! BW! He hadn’t had a potty break in hours. I could picture him howling by the door with his back legs crossed. I took off in a run, cut through Whitfield Square with moonlight filtering through the big oaks draped in Spanish moss, and darted around the gazebo that every bride in the city used as a backdrop for wedding pics.
Hanging a left onto Gwinnett, I caught sight of the light in the front display window of the Prissy Fox, my consignment shop on the ground floor of my less-than-pristine Victorian. Someone was sitting on the decomposing front porch steps. Either it was a green alien with round things poking out of its head or it was my Auntie KiKi dolled up in night rollers and face cream.
“Lord have mercy,” she said in a stage whisper so as not to disturb the residential quiet around us. “I thought Ross done locked you up and swallowed the key.” Auntie KiKi hiccupped and saluted my presence with her martini.
KiKi was my only auntie, my next-door neighbor, and more often than not my partner in crime solving. She was also the local dance instructor for such things as cotillions, weddings, anniversaries, and coming-out parties of any variety. KiKi was a nondiscriminatory kind of dance teacher.
“What are you doing up at his hour? Uncle Putter’s got to be wondering where the heck you are.”
KiKi patted BW, who was sprawled out beside her and snoring like a hibernating bear. “Poor thing was cutting up such a ruckus over here with his barking and whining I had to see what the problem was. He peed like a racehorse once I got him out by the bushes. Putter’s asleep with his headphones and Dreaming Your Way to Long Drives and Short Putts blaring into his brain.”
“Martinis?” I looked from KiKi’s glass to the silver shaker. “It’s after two.” I wedged myself between KiKi and BW, and KiKi handed me a glass. “And three olives?”
“Honey, from what I’ve seen it’s a three-olive night.” KiKi pulled her iPhone from the pocket of her yellow terry robe that matched her yellow terry slippers. She tapped on the little blue birdie app and pulled up a video with me surrounded by the police and flashing lights, my hands behind my back and getting hauled off toward a cruiser.
KiKi slid the phone back into her pocket. “You need to be keeping yourself up if you’re going to be starring in social media like this. Your mamma is a judge, after all, and the Summersides got a family reputation to protect.” She took a long drink. “So, I’m thinking this has something to do with Conway deader than a mackerel in his own bathtub with a bullet between his beady little eyes and Walker getting the blame. Twitter knows all.”
This time I took a sip of martini, the cool alcohol sliding down my throat and taking the edge off a hair-raising night. “Here’s what’s going on,” I said to catch KiKi up on what happened. “The police found Walker’s .38 revolver and it was the same gun used to do in Conway Adkins, who we now know is Boone’s daddy. Best I can tell, Detective Ross doesn’t think Walker killed Conway, because earlier tonight she called Mamma to let her know what was going on and Mamma called me. Judge Gloria Summerside couldn’t very well get involved in this herself now could she, so contacting Boone got passed on to me. Anyway, I showed up on Boone’s doorstep to tell him the cops were on their way to arrest him and we came up with the I take his car and he takes my scooter plan to give him time to get away.”
“Did he kiss you?”
“How’d you know?”
“You say his name and get a dopey look. Got any idea who did in Conway?”
Here’s the thing with Auntie KiKi . . . She was family. Getting her involved in dangerous situations was something I really tried to avoid, but I seldom succeeded. Still, I had to try. “Uncle Putter’s not going to be happy if you get mixed up in this. It’s bound to be risky. He’ll have a hissy.”
KiKi took a sip of martini and gave me her devil smile. I knew I was going to lose the argument before she opened her mouth. “This is Walker Boone we’re talking about. He caught me when I fell off that there fire escape some months back, your own mamma put him through law school, and he showed Putter how to birdie the sixth hole out at Sweet Marsh Country Club, for which my dear husband will be forever grateful. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if Walker Boone was hiding under our bed this very minute with Putter’s blessing.”
“Uncle Putter would harbor a fugitive?”
“In the name of golf, all things are possible.” KiKi winked and poured a refill martini from the shaker. “While keeping BW company and waiting for you to get home, I’ve been making a list of who could have done in Conway. I didn’t know the man all that well, personally, but I got it firsthand that he was into doing the horizontal hula with the marrieds. Maybe a jealous husband did the deed. Then again, there was no love lost between Conway and his other son, Tucker. Tucker got raised in the big house with all the money and private school and the like, but maybe Tucker had enough of Daddy Dear driving him crazy for thirty-something years and pulled the trigger. Best I can tell from the kudzu vine is that Tucker and Conway never got along, and lately things had gotten even worse.”
“Murder’s a lot of not getting along.”
Something crashed inside the house, shattering the night quiet. I jumped, KiKi sloshed her martini, and BW didn’t flinch a muscle. KiKi’s eyes rounded, the white circles against the green facial goop giving the appearance of a hard-boiled egg in a salad. Sensible women would scream, call 911, grab the martinis and dog, and run like the dickens. Auntie KiKi and I were many things, but I don’t remember sensible being on the list.
I set my glass beside KiKi’s and grabbed Old Yeller, my indestructible yellow pleather purse that had saved my behind on more than one occasion. KiKi snapped up the silver cocktail shaker for either whacking or drinking; with Auntie KiKi it was hard to tell which. We stepped over the sweetest pet but worst watchdog on the planet and opened the door to the entrance hall and once-upon-a-time dining room just beyond.
Moonlight spilled in through the rear windows, silhouetting the racks of dresses to the left; blouses, pants, and jackets to the right; and the table in the center with jewelry and evening purses. I flipped on the switch for the chandelier.
“Who’s there?” I called out.
Footsteps skittered across the floor over our heads. I had either a big rodent problem or a break-in. Beady eyes? Whiskers? Skinny tail? Yikes! Truth be told, I was hoping for the break-in. I tore up the steps, with KiKi right behind me. We turned the corner at the top and faced a big guy with alcohol-infused breath and wild-looking bloodshot eyes that I could make out even in the dark. I had a break-in and a rodent problem. The guy took a swing at me and missed. KiKi threw the rest of the martini in his face and I added an Old Yeller uppercut to his jaw.
“I give up! I give up!” The guy stumbled back against the wall and slithered down to the floor as I switched on the hall lights.
“Tucker Adkins?” KiKi said as the guy swiped at his eyes. “What in the world are you doing in this here house uninvited? You should be home taking care of your family and your daddy’s funeral arrangements.”
“What I’m doing is taking care of my daddy’s killer.” Tucker staggered to his feet. “I’m here looking for Walker Boone. Why else would somebody like me be in a secondhand clothing store?”
I hadn’t seen Conway Adkins very often, but from what I remembered Tucker had his daddy’s rounded chubby face and receding hairline. Tucker pointed in my direction. “You were driving Boone’s car; you were wearing his jacket and helping him get away. I saw the whole thing on Twitter. I figured the cops would have you locked up for doing such a thing, and since you and Boone are obviously an item he’d be in your house hiding out. I saw green-curler girl here out on the porch with the mangy mutt so I got in through the back; it was a piece of cake. You really need a better hiding place for your key.”
“You’re here looking for Boone?” I asked.
“He killed my father, my own daddy, and he needs to pay for it and I’m going to find him.”
Drat! This was just what Ross said would happen. Because I was driving Boone’s car, everyone would think I was helping him escape the long arm of the law no matter what. On the other hand, if it seemed like Boone and I were enemies and I made up some spiel as to why I didn’t like him, others who had it in for Boone might confide in me and I could find out who had it in for him. Heck, it was worth a try.
“Are you kidding? Boone means nothing to me,” I blurted. “Fact is, we’re enemies. Yeah, big-time enemies.” I parked my hands on my hips and went for the ticked-off wounded-victim look. “Boone took me to the cleaners in my divorce a couple years ago, and this is my chance to see him knocked down a peg or two. That guy thinks he’s so special, that he’s hot stuff, a real know-it-all if ever there was one, and good-looking. Actually he really is good looking with dark eyes and he has a terrific butt and—”
KiKi kicked my ankle, snapping me back to the situation at hand, which was not fixating on Boone’s butt. “Look,” I continued, “I took Boone’s car because he owes me, and with him on the run this was my chance to even the score a little. I lost everything in that divorce, including my own car that I paid for. Do you believe that? I want Walker Boone behind bars as much as you. If he were here in my house I’d call the police myself and applaud as they hauled his very nice-looking butt out of here.”
Tucker leaned in a little closer. “You got kind of a dopey look on your face.”
“That’s revenge,” KiKi chimed in.
“Sure doesn’t look like revenge.”
KiKi dropped the shaker on my foot.
“Ouch!” I yelped, an expression of pain and agony now replacing the dopey look—least I hoped so.
“Boone’s hiding somewhere in this city,” Tucker said. “I’d bet my last dollar on it. He’s going to try his best to pin Daddy’s murder on someone else, and I’m going to make sure he’s the one who goes to jail like he deserves.”
“And I’ll help you,” I said, lying my little heart out as Tucker started for the steps. “I’m sorry about your father,” I called after him. “Even if you two didn’t get along, it’s mighty hard to lose a parent,” I added, doing a little digging of my own.
Tucker stopped and trudged back up the steps, his eyes trying to focus. “What are you talking about? My daddy and I got along fine. We were best of pals.”
“Except he left the Old Harbor Inn to Walker Boone and not you,” I said, remembering what Ross told me earlier at the police station. “There had to be a good reason why he did such a thing.”
“Yeah, there is.” Conway’s eyes got even angrier than before. “Boone talked my daddy into changing his will is what happened. Boone threatened him, and Daddy had to do what he said because Daddy was afraid of Boone. He was a gang member, for crying out loud. You don’t mess with the gang, everyone knows that.”
“If Boone was into extortion, why not just demand money? Why the inn?”
Tucker’s face reddened, his eyes blazing mad. “How the heck should I know? Ask Boone, he’s the guilty one.” Tucker stumbled down the stairs and out the back door, as KiKi and I stared after him.
“I really do need to find a better hiding place for my spare key,” I said to myself as much as KiKi. “Do you think Tucker was poking around here looking for Walker because he’s so distraught over his daddy on a slab over at House of Eternal Slumber?”
KiKi picked up the shaker. “I don’t know about the distraught part, but there’s no doubt that Tucker wants Walker in jail and the sooner the better.”
I grabbed a towel from the hall closet to mop up the martini. “What if he’s the one who set Walker up to take the rap for the murder Tucker committed? I bet Tucker didn’t much like that Daddy left the inn to Walker. That had to tick him off.”
“Except Tucker’s mamma was from money and left him the bulk of the estate when she died four years ago. It’s hard to imagine Tucker Adkins giving a hoot about fluffing pillows and room service. Maybe he truly is distraught over losing Conway.”
KiKi and I exchanged a yeah, when pigs fly look and KiKi added, “There’s some reason the old boy’s got a bee in his bonnet, and it’s more about finding Walker and putting him away than revenging poor dead Daddy. I wonder what Tucker Adkins is up to.”
“And how did Boone wind up in the middle of it?” I looked around the upstairs. “He’s out there, somewhere close.”
KiKi yawned and headed for the stairs. “You never know about Walker; he could be right under your nose and you’d never see him unless he wanted you to.”
EARLY-MORNING sun peeked through my bedroom window and a loud banging came from the front door. Prying open one sleep-deprived eye, I focused on the clock flashing six. My higher-math skills said that made for three and a half hours of sleep. That wasn’t sleep, that was a long nap, and nothing good came from door banging at six A.M.
BW stared at me from the hallway, his tail wagging and a yippee, it’s company look in his eyes. Usually BW and I shared the bed, but the hall was cooler and spring cool was fast becoming summer heat. More banging came from below, and BW and I poked our heads out the bedroom window to see cars pulling to the curb and people with cameras hustling up my sidewalk. The press had obviously realized I wasn’t being held at the police station, and to add to the joy of the morning a guy in a camo jacket was standing on the roof of my porch and coming my way.
“Say cheese.” He snapped my picture and petted BW.
“What the . . . You can’t do this. I’m a mess. I have on a Hello Kitty nightshirt with SpaghettiO stains.” And I didn’t have on a bra!
I hunched over to hide the obvious and the guy gave me a toothy grin and a thumbs-up sign and snapped more pictures as another photographer scrambled onto the roof, elbowing camo guy out of the way.
“You all are trespassing,” I said, as BW wagged his tail.
“So what are you going to do about it, chickie?” camo guy sneered.
I heard a soft creaking and some cracking, and then both photographers dropped straight through the roof butt-first, landing on the porch below. Four wide eyes stared up at me, the two prone bodies surrounded by shards of rotting lumber and old shingles. For sure I hated having a hole in my roof, but deep down inside a little voice said, See, jackass, that’s what I’m going to do about it. I added a thumbs-up gesture and toothy grin and that was good except for the reporters below snapping more pictures. This was clearly one of those always wear clean underwear moments that your mother warned you about. You put on something crappy with stains and you’re going to get caught . . . I was now living proof.
More pounding came from my front door as BW and I ducked back inside. I could call the police, except for the little fact that the police and I weren’t exactly on the best of terms at the moment and I didn’t have a phone. I pulled on a T-shirt and jeans, ran a comb through my hair and a toothbrush around my mouth, and then flew downstairs with BW trotting right behind me. “Are you ready for your fifteen minutes of fame?” I warned BW.
He wagged his tail harder and added a bark that I took as a yes, so I tore open the door to cameras snapping and videos whirling.
“Where’s Walker Boone?” one reporter asked, followed by, “Why did you help him escape?” Another added, “Why did he kill Conway Adkins?”
Oh yeah, this was the way I wanted to start the day . . . except maybe it was . . . sort of. “Look,” I said, holding up my hands surrender-style. “I don’t know where Walker Boone is.” Least that part was true enough. “I just want to see that no-good scalawag behind bars. He represented my ex in our divorce, and all I got out of the deal was this run-down house.” I pointed to the hole in the roof. “Now it’s my turn to see Boone sweat, and I’m loving it.”
“Don’t hand me that line of bull,” camo guy grunted, favoring his left leg. “You and Walker Boone have worked on the same cases; I’ve seen you around.”
“He’s an attorney; our paths cross and he gets in my way a lot and I usually have to end up saving his sorry miserable behind.” Hey, if I’m going to lie I should make it a humdinger, right? “I have no use for Boone other than to see him behind bars and end up being on the short end of the stick for a change. That’s why I took his car when I realized he was on the run. It’s my turn to be the winner. What’s he going to do about it, report the car stolen to the cops? That jerk owes me.”
“I think you’re lying,” the second guy who fell through the roof said, a lump forming over his right eye. “You two are an item and you’re sleeping together.”
“You’re kidding, right? You saw my Hello Kitty nightshirt. Not exactly come and get it, big boy lingerie.”
The guys nodded in agreement and I added, “I’m doing all that I can to find Boone and get him convicted for murdering Conway Adkins. In fact, if you all hear where he is or anything about the murder I’d appreciate you letting me know. I’d like to go laugh in his face.” Then I slammed the door shut and hoped to heck my big old lies took root.
I peeked out the front display window, which at present featured a blue pencil skirt and tan blouse with a cute cross-body bag. The cars and vans pulled away from the curb—yay for that—as Auntie KiKi scurried across her lovely front lawn that butted up to my front weed patch. Her hair was still done up in rollers, but the green face goop was gone.
“What in the world is going on now?” she asked as she shuffled up the steps in fluffy slippers. “I heard cars and a crash. How can I get my beauty rest with this racket around here?”
I nodded at the roof and pointed to the debris of the porch. “New skylight. The press was here.” I pointed to the roof. “And they were even up there. I fed them the same baloney about Boone that I dished out to Tucker.”
“The press? Sweet mother, you think they bought it?”
“I’m not exactly living in the lap of luxury here, so the part about the rotten divorce and getting taken to the cleaners rings true enough.”
KiKi sat down on the top step and we watched BW do his morning ritual of sniff and water the lawn. KiKi plopped her chin in her palm, closing her eyes. “I need a martini,” she mumbled.
“It’s six in the morning, not at night!”
“Well, I’ll be.” KiKi’s eyes shot wide open. “See, this is what happens when I go to bed late and wake up early; my internal clock is on the fritz. Maybe Cakery Bakery has a martini-flavored doughnut and that’ll take care of both of the sixes at once. Be ready in ten, we’re on a mission.”
Not waiting for an answer, KiKi headed for her house, and a few minutes later, sans bathrobe, she backed the Beemer down the drive. BW took the rear seat and I claimed shotgun. Leaving BW home during a doughnut run was never going to happen. Some dogs could sniff drugs, some found missing people, and some even sensed heart attacks. BW’s special gift was a doughnut run. He could feel the vibes in the air when fried chunks of yummy pastry were just around the corner.
KiKi hung a right onto Abercorn as the sun was just peeking through the live oaks. We watched Savannah come to life with the usual morning rituals of getting the paper, walking the dog, catching the bus, drinking Starbucks, and putting on makeup while driving. KiKi found a parking space a block away from the bakery, and we followed BW, his doggie nose hot on the doughnut scent.
“Mercy me, there’s a line?” KiKi gasped when we got to the green storefront with a cupcake etched on the glass double doors. We walked past the little white tables littering the sidewalk for al fresco carb indulging, then went inside.
“What in the world is everyone doing up at this hour?” KiKi huffed as we passed the customers sitting in wire-frame sweetheart chairs with matching marble-top tables. A ceiling light decorated with gingerbread cookies added to the delicious ambiance of the bakery, and a cupcake clock on the far wall ticked off the minutes. I swear I gained two pounds just surveying the décor. KiKi beelined for the display cases in the back, and her dismay over the crowd quickly gave way to the lure of things round, fried, and filled. She pressed her nose to the glass. “So many doughnuts,” she murmured, a bit dreamy. “So little time.”
“You! Reagan Summerside! Get out of my shop,” a voice called from behind me.
I spun around to face GracieAnn Harlow, the new owner of the Cakery Bakery. GracieAnn had gone pleasantly to plump as all bakery owners should, least in my opinion. She had on a pink dress, the Cakery Bakery uniform, and a white apron with an order pad and pencil stuck in the front pocket. GracieAnn was such a kidder these days, always poking fun and having a laugh . . . least that was what I thought till I got hit in the forehead with a raspberry truffle doughnut covered in a chocolate drizzle.
“Get out!” GracieAnn pointed to the door as drips of raspberry trailed down my nose.
“But . . . but we’re friends,” I said. “We’re buds. I rescued you, remember. And I’m one of your best customers.” I stuck out my tongue and captured a drizzle. “What’s this all about?”
GracieAnn pursed her mouth tight, her green eyes little slits. “For the record, it was Walker Boone, that darling hunka-hunka man, who rescued me, and you’re nothing but a traitor, a Judas, a double-crossing hypocrite. I saw the morning news on TV.” She pointed to a TV in the corner, as everyone in the shop nodded in agreement. “We all heard what you said. You want Boone behind bars!” A bear claw filled with vanilla custard went splat across my chest.
“You got this all wrong. I can explain.”
“We heard what we heard,” GracieAnn added, and the ticked-off looks on the other customers’ faces suggested that if I didn’t leave on my own they’d help me along.
I leaned across the counter and hooked my finger at GracieAnn to do the same. “I just said what I did to get Boone’s enemies to talk to me so I can find the real killer,” I whispered, our noses inches apart.
GracieAnn’s eyes got beady. “You’d say anything for a doughnut.”
“Okay, I can’t argue that, but I’m not lying.” I did the cross-over-my-heart routine.
“Hit the bricks.”
“Not even one glazed to see me on my way?”
“Out!” GracieAnn’s breath smelled of vanilla and cinnamon. I inhaled the scent of secondhand doughnut as GracieAnn glared at Auntie KiKi. “And what about you?”
KiKi studied the full display case and smacked her lips. BW fused himself to her leg and KiKi pointed to me. “I never saw that woman in my life and neither did this dog and that’s our story and we’re sticking to it and we’ll take two crullers, four sprinkles, and a coffee and a water to go, thank you very much.”
When it came to doughnuts and family loyalty, doughnuts won every time. Picking chunks of bear claw off my shirt, I plopped them into my mouth and headed for the door. I sat at one of the shaded little white tables on the sidewalk and waited for KiKi to come out. One of those sprinkle doughnuts she ordered better have my name on it.
“Lord have mercy, girl, what do you think you’re doing?” Mercedes said as she hustled up to the table and wedged herself into the tiny wrought-iron chair across from me. Mercedes was housekeeper extraordinaire by day and mortician beautician by night, meaning not much happened in this city without her getting wind of it. She drove a pink Caddy and dressed right out of Nordstrom’s catalog. Sprucing things up living or dead paid a heck of a lot better than running a consignment shop.
“Honey,” she said to me. “Are you trying to get yourself killed, and if you are you need to be touching up your roots for when they find your sorry carcass. What’s it going to be? Blonde? Brunette? Make a choice, ’cause right now you look skunk and you need better clothes. You run a nice consignment shop, for Pete’s sake.”
“I can’t afford my consignment shop.”
“I declare, girl, how do you keep getting into these messes?”
“So are we talking about that fire out at the lumberyard a few months ago, or when that house exploded and I sort of lost my eyebrows, or when I drove into the marsh with the alligators, or—”
“I’m talking about today, this very morning. You were on the news, big as you please. That’s how I knew you were here having doughnuts at the Cakery Bakery . . . where else would you go at this hour?”
“So, besides the roots and nightshirt, did I look all that bad?”
“You looked like we should be measuring you for a coffin.” Mercedes let out a long-suffering sigh. “You know Mr. Boone has friends, mighty good friends like me, who won’t be taking kindly to that crack about wanting to put the man behind bars.”
“I got a plan.”
“We’ll be sure to put that in your obituary.”
“Detective Ross said I had to act like I was anti-Boone so the suspects wouldn’t clam up when I started snooping around. If they suspected I was out to find the real killer I’d get nowhere fast.”
“Did you ever stop to consider the little fact that you’re not going to get any help from the pro-Boone camp, and that includes Big Joey, Pillsbury, and the Seventeenth Street boys? My guess is that particular group’s hunting you down this very minute. You need to straighten them out before you’re on the receiving end of more than flying doughnuts.” Mercedes swiped a glob of custard from my chin just as Auntie KiKi and BW pranced out of the bakery with a piled-high tray of goodies, having obviously seen Mercedes out here with me.
Without saying a word we set out the coffee and split the doughnut collection, and I put BW’s portion on the tray on the sidewalk. Simultaneously we all selected a portion of the sprinkle variety and savored the moment. It was the good-friends-plus-pup way of doing things around here.
Mercedes licked icing off her thumb and looked at me. “Okay, now that we’re sugared and caffeinated, we need to be thinking about who did in Conway and we need to be doing it quick before the cops find Mr. Boone. The man won’t go peaceful, we all know that, and it would be a crying shame if something happened to his fine self. He sure does offer up some nice eye candy around here.”
KiKi added another packet of sugar to the coffee just in case three packets weren’t enough. “If you want my opinion, Tucker Adkins gets top billing after breaking into Reagan’s house last night.”
Mercedes dropped her doughnut in her coffee. “Sweet mother. Why would he do such a thing?”
KiKi took a nibble of her cinnamon twist. “He says he’s looking to avenge his daddy dearest and put Boone in jail, but he’s more interested in the jail part than the daddy part, I can promise you that.”
Mercedes spooned her doughnut out of her coffee. “I know the maid over there at Lillibridge House. I help her clean on occasion when she gets overworked or they got a party going on. She told me that Tucker and his daddy were never close. Fact is, she said Conway got along better with Steffy Lou than he ever did with his own son. Tucker was a mamma’s boy, never worked a day in his life and walked off with a nice chunk of change when his mamma died. The thing is, after she died Conway told Tucker about Walker being his other son and he didn’t take it well at all.”
I stopped a sprinkle doughnut halfway to my mouth. “‘Didn’t take it well’ in that he’d kill him?”
Mercedes fed a chunk of doughnut to BW, his head in her lap. BW knew how to play a crowd. “Tucker Adkins likes nothing more than easy money and the good life. I can’t see the man risking jail over a half-brother he never knew he had. He might go ballistic and pitch a fit, but murder’s not his style, best I can tell.”
She hunched across the table, drawing us all close. “But I got another idea. I’ve been thinking maybe those gold-digger sisters did in Conway. Anna and Bella had me on the phone last night making sure I put both their names on my clean and casket list. I only got so many openings, and they know if they get me to do their houses now I’ll take special care of their husbands when they get over to Eternal Slumber, which those two are hoping occurs right soon. It’s what happens when feisty twenty-somethings marry rich eighty-somethings. Seems like a mighty big coincidence that with Conway dead and Boone on the run, two spots came available with neither of the octogenarian boys in the best of health, from what I hear.”
KiKi sipped her coffee and nodded. “And we all know that this being Savannah, there’s nothing more important than a proper funeral no matter who’s doing the dying, planned or otherwise.”
“Waitaminute,” I said. “You really think Anna and Bella would knock off Conway and frame Walker to get Mercedes to clean for them?”
“And bury their husbands proper when the time came so they wouldn’t get talked about,” Mercedes said. “Their grandma Annabelle was married three times, all to rich old men who wound up out at Bonaventure within two years of saying I do. Anna and Bella are legacy gold-diggers.”
“And maybe killers,” KiKi chimed in. “I’d say those two are worth a look-see. Besides, and I hate to say it, we have no one else on our who-killed-Conway list.” KiKi let out a deep sigh, polished off her coffee, snagged a napkin and flicked glaze off her peach blouse, and then checked her watch. “I got a cha-cha lesson with Bernard Thayer at nine. Mr. Savannah Weather is determined to get on Dancing with the Stars this year or bust a gut trying. Least he pays double, and I got my eye on a Gucci purse on eBay.”
“And I have a Tuesday house to clean,” Mercedes offered. “Then I’m heading over to the Slumber and take care of Conway as soon as the police release the body, and get him gussied up for the layout tomorrow. I owe him since I cleaned his place all these years. It’s going to take a mountain of putty to fill in that there hole between his beady little eyes. Getting shot with a .38 is nasty business, goes in like a BB and comes out like a potato. You should attend the funeral,” Mercedes said to me as KiKi and I stopped eating our last doughnut thanks to the potato comment.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the national bestselling Consignment Shop Mystery series
"A Southern comfort cozy with Yankee tension...A treat. Not to be missed."--Annette Blair, New York Times bestselling author of Tulle Death Do Us Part
"Brown deftly spins the tale of Reagan's many misadventures while sleuthing, fills her story with Southern eccentrics and offers up a magnolia-laced munificence of Savannah color."--Richmond Times-Dispatch
"A hilarious romp through a consignment shop where customers may end up with more than they bargained for."--Janet Bolin, author of the Threadville Mysteries
"A strong story, fantastic, well-developed characters and a great mystery...a stellar read."--Cozy Mystery Book Reviews