When Jill's elderly friend, Miss Emily, calls in a fit of pique, she already knows the city council is trying to force Emily to sell her dilapidated old house. But Emily's gumption goes for naught when she dies unexpectedly and leaves the house to Jill--along with all of her problems. . .and her enemies. Convinced her friend was murdered, Jill is finding the list of suspects longer than the list of repairs needed on the house. But Jill is determined to uncover the culprit--especially if it gets her closer to South Cove's finest, Detective Greg King. Problem is, the killer knows she's on the case--and is determined to close the book on Jill permanently. . .
About the Author
Susan Boyce is the award-winning narrator of over 140 audiobooks. A veteran variety theater performer, she is also one half of the song-and-dance team of Jones & Boyce. Susan can be heard in phone trees, in computer games, and as the voice of the pink "Care Bear." She lives in St. Augustine, Florida.
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GUIDEBOOK TO MURDER
A Tourist Trap Mystery
By LYNN CAHOON
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Lynn Cahoon
All rights reserved.
Empty shops are the death knell for small businesses. The thought nagged at me as I read, curled up in my favorite overstuffed armchair. Wednesdays were notoriously slow for all the South Cove businesses. Not many tourists included the day in an impulsive California coastal weekend getaway, but I liked to be open, just in case a random busload of quilting seniors decided to stop for a shot of espresso and a few novels to read while they traveled to their next stop on the tour. It had happened.
The mortgage papers on the building listed me as Jill Gardner, owner of Coffee, Books, and More, the only combination bookstore and coffee shop within sixty miles. But as anyone who's gone through a divorce or lawsuit knows, paper only tells half the story. I might own the shop, but I'm also one of the world's biggest suckers.
When I moved to South Cove five years ago, I realized to survive in the small tourist town I'd need to patch together a few different jobs. So I'd jumped at the chance to serve as the business liaison between the local businesses and the city council.
Now I regretted my impulsive nature. And as if to highlight my error, the fax machine on the back counter beeped and started printing out a message.
It could be a catering order coming in. Hope springs eternal and all that. I jumped up from my chair to glance at the half-printed page.
The South Cove city letterhead sparkled on the top. Then Mayor Baylor's scrawl appeared over the sheet. Short and sweet, he wanted the agenda for the next Business to Business meeting in his office by five on Friday.
As the new kid in town, I'd been honored when the city had offered me the position. I should have known there was a catch, because none of the other more-established business owners wanted the job. Working with His Honor The Mayor was a nightmare. But I was stuck with the job—at least until I could sucker the next victim into taking it on. Planning this month's get-together had been on my to-do list for three weeks. I wrote it there myself, right after I'd left the last meeting. I left the fax on the machine and went back to my book.
With a steaming hot mocha within reach on the table, I snuggled in to devour the latest installment from my favorite mystery author. Customers could come tomorrow. The mayor and my to-do list could wait another day. The sunshine warmed my skin, and the smell of deep, dark coffee hung in the air. I tried to ignore the nagging going on inside my brain.
I'd read two pages when the phone rang. My plans for a quiet morning of reading weren't working out. Running the few steps to reach the phone, I felt breathless when I answered. "Coffee, Books, and More, how can I help you?"
"Jill, is that you?" Miss Emily's high-pitched voice blared over the phone line. Man, for being in her eighties, the woman could really project.
"Yes, it's me. What's going on?" My heart slowed a few beats. I needed to get into better shape. I grabbed a dust cloth, happy for the cordless phone. Conversations with Miss Emily were never short.
"Those rats at the council are at it again." Miss Emily's ongoing argument with the city was a popular topic of discussion not only with me, but with anyone who stopped by her house to visit.
"What did they do now?" I walked over to the closest bookshelf and started to wipe away the dust that had already settled since I cleaned yesterday. I loved my little store but sometimes I felt like it owned me, my time, and what was left of my rapidly shrinking savings account.
"They want me to sell out to some charlatan who's building an apartment complex for wealthy seniors. And they're offering me a condo at a reduced price in the complex. Can you believe it?" Miss Emily sounded near tears.
"They can't make you sell." I tried to calm her.
"The letter says they can. It says the council can condemn the property and just take my house. Can they do that?" Miss Emily rattled the pages hard enough that I could hear the crinkling over the phone.
"Just put that letter away and I'll look it over on Sunday. When do you have to answer?" I was starting to worry. The council had never threatened to condemn her property before. I'd have to check with Amy, she'd know the details. Having the city planner as a friend came in handy.
"The end of the month."
"We have plenty of time. We'll call some lawyers on Monday if we need to." One more thing on my to-do list.
"I'm buying a rifle to keep those carpetbaggers off my land," Miss Emily declared.
"Don't buy a gun!" Miss Emily sounded determined. Determined enough to shoot anyone who knocked on her door and ask questions later. Maybe I should close up shop now and go over to keep her out of trouble.
The bell over the door announced a customer, taking the option out of my hands.
"Someone just came in, I'll see you Sunday?" I nodded a friendly greeting to the woman in a white sundress. The woman's eyes passed over me as she headed toward the bookshelf filled with local history books. Tourists loved the "local charm" books, as I called them. I stocked as many as possible as they flew off the shelf faster than any other category. I focused back on the phone call. I had a couple of minutes before I'd be needed.
"Don't worry, I'll behave myself, as long as they don't come on my property."
"Miss Emily!" I walked back toward the coffee counter to greet the woman who was now wandering around the shop, a couple of books tucked under her arm.
"Go take care of your customer, I'm joking." Miss Emily chuckled and then hung up on me. I would have been worried except she ended all of her phone conversations that way. No good-bye, just dead air. Even when you weren't done talking.
The woman pushed her Jackie O–inspired sunglasses to the top of her flowing blond hair. She portrayed a more Hampton feel than central California coast girl.
"What a quaint little bookstore." The fashion Barbie leaned down to her purse and talked into the bag.
What the heck was she doing?
Today was turning out to be anything but slow. Working with people made me like my books so much more. I put on my retail smile. "Can I help you?"
The woman jumped as she turned to the sound of my voice. "Oh, there you are. Precious and I didn't think anyone was here." She walked toward the counter, books in hand.
"Precious?" She'd named her purse?
"Precious, meet—I'm sorry, I didn't get your name." The crazy Barbie clone focused on me.
"Jill, Jill Gardner. I'm the owner. We're the only bookstore and coffee shop in South Cove," I said with not just a little pride. I loved the little shop I had built over the last five years. The shop and South Cove felt like home more than any place had felt in my entire lifetime.
"Precious, meet Jill." The woman pulled out a red, toy-sized Pomeranian from her tote bag.
I never knew Coach made dog carriers. "Nice to meet you, Precious." I reached out to pet the cute little dog.
Precious took one look at my approaching hand and curled his neck back like a cobra and struck.
"Ouch." I pulled back my bleeding hand. Walking back around the counter, I went to the sink to rinse off the blood.
"Bad boy." The woman and her evil dog came closer to the coffee counter. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, thanks for asking ..." I stopped talking, realizing her comments had been to the devil dog, not me. People. I wanted this woman to leave so I could get back to my book, or write the agenda for the mayor, or even clean the stockroom. One lost customer wouldn't hurt. Instead, I took a deep breath, then asked, "Can I make you something?"
"Iced coffee, skim, no whip. Put in an energy boost. I'm dragging today." The woman slipped "Precious" back into his bag, but I could hear him growling through the leather. "I'm missing my coffee shop at home, they have the best supplements, I swear."
"Sorry, I don't sell supplements." I started making the coffee, hoping to get this nightmare out of my shop. "Are you visiting South Cove? There's a great place down the street where you can watch them blow glass."
"My boyfriend is working out a deal on some sort of development here. We won't be in town long. You'll be amazed at how he can take a run-down town like this, bulldoze it over, and have nice, new, clean buildings back up in no time." Precious's owner ran a finger over my counter, holding it up to look for dust.
"I'm sure bulldozing buildings isn't part of any plan the city would approve. Most of these buildings are on the historic register. South Cove's development plan is based on renovating existing structures to modern uses." No way would the council approve a slash-and-burn development.
Fear gripped my stomach, twisting the mocha I'd sipped on all morning. Could this be the complex Miss Emily had mentioned? I'd call Amy to get the real story, right after this woman left. I handed her the iced coffee. Then I glanced at the books she'd set on the counter. "This book on South Cove history was written by a local. His son still runs the Main Street Bed and Breakfast."
"Why, that's where we're staying." She thumbed through the book. "Maybe he'll have some stories to add."
"I'm sure he'd love to talk to you about his father's research." I pointed at the other book. "This one tells the history of all the Spanish missions on the coast. The author did a road trip when this book was first published, stopping at all the mission sites. The launch was quite the production."
"I'm sure it was." She glanced at her watch. "So what do I owe you?"
I guessed girl bonding time was over. "Three-fifty for the coffee and thirty for the books."
"I can't believe how cheap everything is here. You'd be shocked at what I pay for a coffee in Santa Barbara. You just got a regular customer. Besides, you're much nicer than that other place." The woman counted out thirty-five dollars in bills. "Keep the change."
"Thanks for stopping by." I tried to sound a little friendly.
"I'll see you tomorrow." She headed to the door, then turning back, she struck a pose and smiled. "By the way, I'm Bambi."
Bambi, of course.
"See you." Maybe it was time to hire staff so I could avoid selling Bambi her daily iced coffee.
Bambi didn't hear my response; she was too busy talking to Precious. "Aren't you the little pit bull, protecting Mommy? What a good boy."
The bell on the door rang again, announcing their exit from the shop. I grabbed the phone and dialed Amy's number at the city office.
"City of South Cove, Amy Newman." Amy served as city planner, historian, secretary, and part-time receptionist for South Cove. By combining a lot of the little jobs, she had carved out a full-time position allowing her to use her architectural design degree without living in the big city. Besides, working for Mayor Baylor gave her plenty of time for her true love, surfing.
"Can you meet me?" One customer for the morning was enough.
"I can be at the diner in about ten minutes?"
"See you then." Amy would blow a gasket if she found out the mayor or the council had talked to Bambi's boyfriend/developer without getting her input as city planner. Having her out in public might lessen the steam that would flow out of her ears when I told her.
I hung up and went to the window to post the CLOSED sign. I grabbed my purse and locked the door behind me.
Main Street was empty. A few cars sat parked on the redbrick street, but no one walked down the sidewalk on this side of town. I caught a glimpse of the woman who owned The Glass Slipper, washing the inside of her display window. Another thing I needed to do soon.
The brightly painted flower planters were overflowing with summer annuals, including my favorite, petunias, making the small business district look more like a Swiss Alp resort than a California coastal town. But I loved the old-fashioned lamp posts the council had put in last year. The lamp posts added to the European flair of the downtown core, and a lot of customers had told me how much they loved walking through the town.
Diamond Lille's was the only restaurant in South Cove (unless you counted my coffee shop). Lille and I have an understanding; she doesn't make caramel mochas and I don't serve dinner. That way I can close early and she can open late. Lille has the upper hand in the compromise. She's been a part of South Cove culture for over twenty years. Everyone ate at Diamond Lille's at least once a week. I'm still working on developing regulars after five years.
"Hey!" Amy waved at me as I walked in. Like I couldn't see her among the tables filled with farmers eating their lunch. The smell of apple pies baking floated out of the kitchen.
I slipped into one of the red tufted booths lining the back wall. Diamond Lille's had been decorated as an old-fashioned western saloon meets rocking fifties diner. An iced tea with lemon waited for me, the humidity from the restaurant condensing on the outside of the glass. I took a long sip. "Thanks, I needed this."
At thirty, Amy got carded more than most twenty-one-year-olds we knew. Her short blond hair was cut into a pixie. Perpetually tan from spending her weekends surfing the California coast, her obsession also kept her stick-thin. I, on the other hand, carried an extra twenty pounds because I spent my weekends reading and tanning on the roof of my building. That is, after I closed down the shop on Saturday.
"So what brings us to lunch on a Wednesday? Usually you are too deep into your latest book to even remember to eat." Amy closed the menu, when our hostess appeared at the side of the booth. "Hey, Lille, what's up?"
"Oh, the stories I could tell. People are just weird, that's all. Some girl tried to come in with her dog. I had to throw her and the mutt out." Lille peered over her glasses. "So, ladies, what can I get you?"
I was dying to hear more about Bambi's appearance, but I knew if I pushed, Lille would just clam up. So I settled for ordering lunch. "I'll have the Asian chicken salad with the dressing on the side."
"Give me the house burger with everything. And fries." Amy handed the menu back and shrugged her shoulders at me. "What, don't look at me like that, I had a small breakfast."
Sure, probably a three-egg omelet, sausage, and bacon with a side of hash browns.
I shook my head. Watching Amy eat made me feel like I was doing something wrong with my perpetual dieting. And I probably was—not exercising. Who had time? "I met the girl Lille threw out."
Amy sputtered through a sip of her strawberry milk shake. "What? When?"
"Just before I called you. She and her dog, 'Precious'—who is anything but—came in for an iced coffee." I stared at the milk shake, imagining the creamy drink cooling my mouth. I don't like strawberry, I reminded myself. "Then, after the dog bit me, she told me her developer boyfriend was going to bulldoze the town and rebuild better stores."
"She said what?" Now Amy wasn't interested in her milk shake. Maybe she wouldn't notice if I just took one sip.
"Yeah, that's what Bambi, her name and description, said after she ran her hand down my counter to check for dust." I took a long sip from my iced tea. I love iced tea, I tried to convince myself. "Seriously, I would have thrown her out if she wasn't my only customer of the morning. So, what have you heard about a new developer being in town?"
"Nothing." Amy appeared shocked at my announcement. "Really, there isn't anything going on, except ..." She took another sip of her shake. When Amy played poker or lied, she had a tell. Amy stalled.
"Except what?" This couldn't be good news.
Amy sighed and leaned back while Lille slipped the platter filled with burger and fries in front of her. I could the smell the grease from the fries. My salad looked wilted.
"The council wants to issue Miss Emily another letter about her yard. I've held them off for a while and told them I'd talk to you. But I can't hold them off forever. She's got a week before they meet again."
"Crap. I've been meaning to find someone to mow. It's not easy. She's gone through all of the teenagers who live in the area; none of them will even walk by her house now."
"It's not just mowing. They want her to replace that fence in the front." Amy dug into her burger, ketchup running out of the side of her mouth.
Excerpted from GUIDEBOOK TO MURDER by LYNN CAHOON. Copyright © 2014 Lynn Cahoon. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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