Della and her friend Jenny are remodeling Dream Weaver, turning their shared business space into two separate shops. But after the work is completed, building inspector Howard Swanson refuses to grant Jenny the permit to reopen her coffee shop. Determined to get to the bottom of the hold-up, Della heads to Howard’s office to defend Jenny’s livelihood, only to find the inspector dead—and the police spinning a yarn about Della being responsible.
Although Della’s boyfriend, Matthew, an ex-FBI criminologist, claims there’s no need to worry, Della is convinced that the cops have it in for her. Now she must nab the real killer before she’s shuttled off to jail….
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Read an Excerpt
Today was the day. After two months of remodeling, Dream Weaver, my craft shop, would finally be getting a fresh coat of paint—the finishing touch in a long series of steps before reopening. The work had taken twice as long and almost three times as much money as I’d been promised. I’d have to sell a lot of place mats and dish towels to recover my costs.
I flew through my morning routine and ran down the stairs, two at a time, from my apartment to my store. I knocked on the door of Coffee, Tea and Destiny—the shop right next to mine—and signaled to my good friend Jenny that I’d be right back, and hurried on to the newspaper dispenser two blocks away. Minutes later, I tapped on her window again and waved her over. Then I walked into my shop.
Soon, the door swung open, throwing the bell above the door into a tizzy. Jenny walked in. “Rather late coming in to work this morning, aren’t we? I take it you decided to laze around in bed for a while?” Jenny said with a twinkle in her eyes. “Were you alone? Or, perchance, did you have company?”
I felt the heat rise to my face. I tried to hide my embarrassment by glancing at my watch. “If what you’re asking is whether Matthew spent the night, the answer is no. He was in New York yesterday for a meeting with his publisher.”
Matthew and I were still a relatively new item, and thrilled as I was that he seemed to be as smitten with me as I was with him, I didn’t feel comfortable discussing the romantic details of our relationship, not even with my closest friend.
“He should be landing in Charlotte right about now, but he won’t be home for at least another hour and a half.” Eager to change the subject, I looked around.
I was standing in the middle of what used to be my weaving shop. At the moment it looked more like a war zone than a high-end craft boutique. My lovely pendant school lights had been taken down and were now hidden behind the counter for safekeeping. The gorgeous old wide-plank wood floors were covered with brown construction paper. My beautiful lead glass windows were lined with newsprint, and every one of my handwoven pieces was gone—stored upstairs in my apartment. The only things still in the store were a few of my larger display cases, empty and wrapped in plastic. But what really made the place look like hell was the layer of plaster dust that covered everything. It was so thick it looked almost like snow, except that this powder had a life of its own. Every step I took sent another cloud in the air. But none of that mattered anymore, because, today was the day.
“Isn’t this exciting?” I said. “The painters should be here any minute. Why don’t we start cleaning up for them? We can save some time.”
“I think maybe we should wait.”
There was something in her voice that made me suspicious. “Uh-oh. I don’t like that tone. What’s up?”
“I don’t know any more than you, but Syd called a few minutes ago, saying he had something to talk to us about.”
This did not sound good. Syd, our contractor, had originally told us the work would take no more than a month—at the most. But, like clockwork, every week he’d come up with another story as to why the work would take even longer.
I groaned. “I don’t know about you, but I could use a cup of coffee.”
“I just made a fresh pot. Come on over,” she said, heading back to her shop. She paused in the doorway. “I still can’t believe I have my very own shop.”
“You’ve already had your own shop for a year.”
“Yes, but it feels different now.”
A couple of months ago Jenny and I had the bright idea of remodeling our shops, so that our businesses would be side by side rather than both sharing the same space. Until then, we had shared, with hers in the back of mine. We discussed it at length and decided that logistically, the project should not be too complicated. All we wanted was to divide the floor space by building a wall running from the front to the back, and then creating a separate entrance for Jenny’s side. That way we would each have our own display window. But more important, our clients would be able to enter directly into each shop, and would no longer have to cut through my boutique to get to her café.
The only disadvantage was that I’d lose the occasional extra sale I’d make when one of her clients bought an item while on their way into the coffee shop. This had seemed like a small price in return for all the advantages we’d both gain. Besides, there was one more benefit. With Jenny having her own entrance, I would no longer have to open at the same time she did. (Eight o’clock. Whoever heard of starting work at such an uncivilized hour?) I’d open at ten, like the other shops in town, and enjoy two extra hours of sleep every morning. Heaven.
So, after analyzing the pros and cons, we had done what any wise businesswomen would. We’d gone for it.
We interviewed contractors, requested a slew of quotes and hired Shuttleworth Construction, which had given us the cheapest price. I should have known that selecting a contractor based on the amount he charged was not the smartest way to do it. But what else could a struggling entrepreneur do?
Now, I just knew that Syd was about to drop another bomb on us. Good grief. My good mood of a moment ago was slipping fast.
I locked my shop and followed my friend to hers, stepped in and looked around.
“I hate to say this, but your place doesn’t look much better than mine.”
“What do you expect? We’re renovating,” she said, handing me a fresh cup of java. “You can’t have the improvements without dealing with a mess first.”
“It still doesn’t make it any more pleasant.”
“Just think how beautiful everything will be once it’s all finished.”
I was just taking my first swallow of coffee when the door opened and Syd ambled in, wearing his work overalls over a light blue T-shirt and looking ill at ease.
“What fresh hell are you visiting on us this morning, Syd? Every time I think you’re done, you come up with, ‘just one more thing,’” I said, making air quotes.
“I don’t blame you for being upset,” he said, avoiding my eyes. “But don’t worry. It’s just a small setback—no biggie.” Maybe not for him. “Once everything is all completed, you’ll see it was worth it. Right now, the mess makes it look way worse than it is. Once all the dust and debris is gone, this place will look great.”
“It’s not the mess,” I said. “It’s the business we’re losing.” I crossed my arms. “So I’m right? You’re telling us there’s something else that needs doing?” He looked down. “What is it this time?” I asked, trying hard not to lose my cool.
“There was a problem with the occupancy permit,” he said, and raised his hands in a pacifying gesture. “I know this comes as a disappointment to you, but I’ll have the problem fixed in no time.”
“You can’t be serious,” Jenny said. “No occupancy permit?”
He shuffled from one foot to the other. If he’d been holding a cap in his hands he would have been twisting it. “It’s not all that bad.”
I swallowed hard. I just knew we were about to get another convoluted excuse. “Give it to me straight.”
“The good news is that your side is ready to go, Della. All I have to do is stop by city hall and get the permit signed,” he said, looking at me. “The inspector stopped by at seven o’clock this morning and approved it, but couldn’t find the paperwork. I can get you his John Hancock by the end of the day. But that shouldn’t be a problem ’cause you still have to get the place painted. So, no rush, right?”
My scowl melted. And then, suspecting what the bad news might be, I frowned. “What about Jenny’s store?”
He dropped his gaze to the floor. “Well, that’s where the problem lies. But, honestly, it’s not my fault. I did everything according to code—or, rather, according to the old code.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, I just found out that there’s been a change in the code. I’ll have to move the electrical panel to somewhere in full view. Turns out they don’t allow them inside closets anymore.”
“You have to relocate the electrical panel?” Jenny said. “Isn’t that a huge job?” I knew that tone. Any second now, she would be having a meltdown. “But Mr. Swanson approved our plans two months ago, and everything was done accordingly. He can’t do that, just change the code and enforce it on a project that he already okayed, can he?” Her eyes swung from Sydney to me, as though looking for my support.
Howard Swanson was the building inspector. I had glimpsed the man only once—thin face, darting beady eyes and a tight mouth. He reminded me of a rodent. I wasn’t in the habit of taking an instant dislike to people, but for him I’d made an exception.
Sydney shrugged, looking miserable. “I’m afraid he can. He’s got the power to do pretty much whatever he wants.”
“Why is he doing this? Is he trying to make me go bankrupt?” Jenny’s voice cracked. I moved closer and patted her back.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure I can get it done real fast,” Sydney continued. He looked nearly—but not quite—as miserable as Jenny. I wasn’t at all certain it was sincere.
“If I don’t reopen soon, I’ll never get my clients back from Good Morning Sunshine,” she said, her voice tight with controlled emotions. “For all I know, it might already be too late.”
“Your clients love you,” I said. “They’re just waiting for you to reopen. As soon as you do, you’ll see, they’ll be flocking in again.”
“I sure hope you’re right,” she said, sounding no less worried. I hoped I was right too.
But Jenny had every right to be concerned. The previous owner of the shop up the street, called The Coffee Break at the time, had closed her business and moved to Charlotte after her husband’s death about a year ago. That had left Jenny’s shop the only game in town. Then, one week after Sydney had started demolishing our space, the other shop had suddenly reopened, renamed Good Morning Sunshine. The timing couldn’t have been worse for Jenny, or better for them.
Over the next few weeks, while Jenny put up a brave front, her old customers kept dropping by to share more disheartening news. The new owners, Jim and Lori Stanton, were newlyweds. They just moved to town to be closer to family. They were lovely and everybody liked them.
I had caught a glimpse of the Stantons a few times over the last few weeks. She was an attractive brunette, still dressing more city than small town, as I had when I’d first moved here. It had taken me nearly two years to adopt a more casual style. Now, slacks and sweaters were the norm rather than the exception. But I’d never been able to give up my four-inch heels, but that was because of my height—five feet nothing. I liked seeing the world from a little higher.
Jim Stanton was a pretty boy. He looked like he spent a lot of time in suntanning booths and gyms—he was golden brown and sported lots of muscle. The story was that they had come to Briar Hollow to visit family, and happened to drive by the shop. They’d taken one look at it and fallen in love with its possibilities.
Within weeks they had moved into the house in back. Then after putting up a new sign, showing a bright yellow sun with rays beaming down on the name, they’d thrown an opening party and announced that Good Morning Sunshine would be offering coffee, tea and light meals, putting itself in direct competition with Coffee, Tea and Destiny. Except for Jenny and her closest friends—namely Marnie and me—it seemed the whole town had gone.
Marnie and I tried to cheer her up. “A lot of restaurants open, but few of them make it. I bet they won’t last six months,” I said.
“They’re city folk,” Marnie had added. “They won’t be able to stand the small-town life. You’ll see. They’ll be gone before you know it.”
Then, as if the universe had conspired to keep Jenny’s hopes down, an old customer had dropped by and announced that the couple had just been to a lawyer and signed the papers. They were no longer renting; they had just purchased the place. The Stantons were here to stay. I thought Jenny would have a heart attack. But all she did was smile and nod. I wasn’t sure how long she could keep up the good front. And, truth be told, I was worried about my own situation too.
I faced Syd, with my hands on my hips. “How much is this going to cost me?” I couldn’t see how I could come up with more money. “I’ve already spent way more than you originally quoted.”
Because the building belonged to me, and Jenny was my tenant, I was responsible for all carpentry, electrical and plumbing costs. She was responsible only for the cosmetic work of her space—namely, her share of the painting.
Sydney dug his hands in his pockets, bobbing his head from side to side. I could almost hear the gears clicking in his mind.
“I feel bad for you guys,” he said. “I know this turned into way bigger a job than we first anticipated. But that’s what happens when we open up old walls. We never know what we’ll find in there. I had no idea when I made my calculations, that all the electrical wires were knob and tube and would have to be replaced.” He paused. “How about this? I’ll charge you only the cost of the materials, and I’ll pay the electrician out of my own pocket.”
“You will?” I said, only slightly mollified. Technically, this latest delay might not be his fault, but as the contractor, he should have been better informed about the city’s construction code. Still, I could live with the arrangement he proposed. But I couldn’t help wondering why he would make such a generous offer.
“That’s very kind of you,” Jenny said. She always saw the good in everyone. “You shouldn’t have to pay.”
“No. I insist. And I don’t want you to feel guilty about taking me up on it,” he added.
I didn’t, but I kept that thought to myself.
“I give my electrician a lot of work,” he told her. “So he’ll give me a good deal.”
“How long will it take?” she asked.
“I swear it’ll get done in record time. I’ll make sure I have a team of electricians here first thing in the morning.”
There was no sense in belaboring the point. So, “I’ll hold you to that,” was all I said.
“Well, I’d best be going if I want to start getting things organized,” he said, picking up his electric saw. “And remember. This is not my fault. It’s Swanson’s, the city inspector.”
“Hold on a second,” I said. “Where are you going? You said you were going to start painting today. You might not be able to do Jenny’s shop, but you can start on mine.”
He gave me an apologetic smile. “Gee. I’d like to, but there’s no point in starting one side before the other. I’d only have to come back again in about a week. I’d rather wait and do both at the same time.” And without waiting for a reply he was gone.
I closed my mouth, which had been left hanging open after his answer. “Can you believe this guy?”
It occurred to me that Jenny had been uncommonly quiet these last few minutes.
“What are you thinking about?” I said, studying her. “If you’re worried about your business, don’t. You know—”
She cut me off. “No, that’s not it. There’s something that man isn’t telling us. Normally his aura is blue, but it changed to muddy gray just now when he mentioned the city inspector again. I have the feeling he’s hiding something.”
I-have-a-feeling comments were typical of Jenny. Two years ago, when I’d left my career as a business analyst in Charlotte and moved to Briar Hollow, Jenny was one of the first people I’d met. We had formed an instant friendship, even though she and I couldn’t be any more different. She was one of those naturally beautiful women—tall, blond and slender. Standing next to her at my full height and in my highest heels invariably made me feel like a midget.
And our differences were not only physical. Jenny believed in things like tarots, crystals, tea leaves and auras, and regularly made predictions about the future.
With my background as a business analyst, I was a pragmatist. I looked at all that woo woo stuff as a whole lot of nonsense. But I also knew better than to make light of Jenny’s convictions. She did not take well to anyone making fun of her.
So all I said was, “Really?” keeping a straight face. She stared at me, trying to read my mind no doubt. I gave her my most sincere look.
“Can you believe it? All this time and money and we’re still not ready to open. All he had to do was build a darn wall and put in a new door.” One quick glance at her told me she was as unamused as I was.
Jenny’s shoulders drooped. “I guess things could be worse,” she said, nodding toward the New York Times next to her coffee cup on the counter. “Whenever I feel as if the weight of the world is on my shoulders, all I have to do is read the paper. There’s nothing like a good dose of world news to remind me just how good I’ve really got it.”
“Amen to that. But I’d rather not even read depressing news first thing in the morning. At least in the local paper, the worst news one is likely to read about is a house fire.” I was referring to a recent tragedy. A house fire had erupted during the night, killing a mother and severely injuring her two children.
“Did you hear anything new about that story?” she asked.
“I haven’t even opened my paper yet.” I was in the habit of picking up a paper every morning, but I’d been so excited about the prospect of seeing the end to the renovations, that I hadn’t so much as glanced at it yet. It lay unopened next to the telephone. “How’s Ed?” I asked. Ed, Jenny’s boyfriend, was a doctor. He worked at Belmont General, the closest hospital in the area.
Before she could answer, the door swung open and Marnie Potter came bursting in carrying a package that she set on the dusty counter. Marnie was a flamboyant redhead who had recently lost about forty pounds on what she called “the heartbreak diet.” She swore if she’d known a breakup would cause her to shed so many pounds, she would have gladly gotten dumped ages ago. But she must have been getting over her broken heart because the pounds she’d lost had already started coming back.
As to Marnie’s exact age, that was a mystery; however, judging from her frequent hot flashes, I gauged her to be in her early – to mid-fifties. Today she wore cherry red pants with a fuchsia tunic and purple earrings. On anybody else it would have looked ridiculous. Somehow, on her it looked only cheerful.
“Morning, sunshine,” she called out, and then she glanced around, wide-eyed, at the construction mess.
Jenny instantly said, “Please don’t use that name in here.” Marnie looked confused for a second.
“Sounds too much like a certain coffee shop up the street,” I said.
A flash of understanding lit her eyes. “Oh, sorry. It never occurred to me. I guess I’ll have to find new endearments for you.” And then, looking around, she planted her hands on her hips. “What happened? I thought the place would be finished today. I came over to help you bring all the stock back down from your place.”
“It is finished,” Jenny said. “At least Della’s side is—except for being painted. But it seems the inspector won’t give me a permit until the electrical panel gets completely redone.”
“I thought the electrical was all done?”
“It seems they changed the code. They don’t allow electrical panels to be installed inside closets anymore. Can you believe it?”
“What? That’s just plain ridiculous.” She must have remembered that I’d had mine installed in plain sight, because she said, “Did you know about this?”
“I didn’t. The only reason mine is in full view is because I don’t have a closet. I was going to place an armoire in front to camouflage it. I wonder if that will be okay.”
Marnie waved my concern away. “Once you have your permit you can go ahead and do whatever you want.” She crossed her arms over her ample chest, looking thoughtful. “You know, there’s a reason these inspectors are so disliked. I was just talking to Norma at her house—”
“Norma?” I said. “Do I know her?”
“Oh, that’s right. You never met her. She’s a neighbor of mine who lives a few doors down. She was in a snit a few weeks ago because she wanted to have a new window installed in her basement suite. She felt that, in case of fire, a window would give her tenant an extra exit. But the building inspector turned her down. He says—listen to this for weird reasoning—it’s too risky because, if her tenant happened to crawl out the window when somebody was coming up the walk, they might collide.”
Jenny frowned. “He thinks the possibility of two pedestrians colliding is worse than the danger of burning alive? That doesn’t sound very logical.”
“I swear that’s what he said to her. Anyhow. I didn’t come here to complain about the inspector. I want to help you get things organized. We won’t be able to get your place ready, Jenny, but we can start on Della’s at least.”
“I’d love to,” I said. “But I still have to get the place cleaned and painted. And Sydney won’t do it until Jenny’s place is ready too.”
“Bah. We don’t need him. We can do it ourselves.” She waved her arms around. “Look. The floors and windows are already covered. All we have to do is clean up the dust, tape the edges and get going. Have you picked out your paint colors?”
“I’ve got them.” They followed me to my shop where I marched over to my armoire, lifted the plastic sheet and got the color chips from a drawer. “I’m not changing anything. I’m staying with the same buttery yellow I already had on the existing walls. That way I won’t have to repaint the whole store. And here is the soft blue I’ve been using for the ceiling, and the white I used on baseboards, window trims, and doors. What do you think? Is that okay or should I go for a complete change?”
“It worked for you up till now, so why change it? Your merchandise always looked amazing against those colors,” Marnie said.
I had originally chosen yellow for that very reason. Everything looks happy in a yellow space.
She picked up the swatches. “Here’s what I can do. I’ll go pick up the paint, rollers and brushes, and meanwhile you two can start with the masking tape. The sooner the place is finished, the sooner I can come back to work.”
“Ah, so that’s the reason you’re so eager to help,” I said. “You’re bored at home by yourself.”
“You’ve got that right. I’ve been going crazy these last few weeks with nowhere to go. You wouldn’t believe the amount of weaving and baking I’ve been doing.”
Marnie was my right hand in the shop. As a talented weaver herself, she was one of my suppliers from the day I’d opened, regularly bringing in beautiful pieces of her work. And then a bit over a year ago, she’d finagled herself a job as my assistant. As she’d pointed out, it made sense. I may not have had the budget for full-time help, but I did need someone part-time. The arrangement was good for her too, she insisted. She was lonely by herself all day. And she could just as easily weave here, on one of my looms, as she could at home. That way, she could do weaving demonstrations in the shop, showing customers the amount of work that went into each piece. And to make sure I couldn’t turn her down, she’d insisted on charging me only for the time she helped with sales.
Marnie was also an incredible baker. And being an insomniac she thought nothing of whipping up a couple of batches of cookies and muffins during the night. A year ago, when she’d heard about Jenny’s plan to open a coffee shop, she’d hightailed it over with an assortment of tasty treats for Jenny to sample. The two women had made a deal on the spot. Now Marnie was one of Coffee, Tea and Destiny’s best suppliers of baked goods. The only problem with all of this was that Jenny and I could have used another Marnie—or two.
“The one good thing from all the time off I’ve had,” Marnie told Jenny, “is that I did so much baking, I have enough goodies in my freezer to keep you supplied for the next few months.” Turning to me, she added, “And don’t you worry. I’ve got some pieces ready for you too. I must have a dozen sets of place mats.” Place mats were the one item I could never keep in stock.
“Great. I won’t have to bug you for a while. But before we get started, I really should wait for Syd to come back with my permit.”
“I thought you already had it,” Marnie said.
“I do. I mean, he approved it, but he didn’t sign it while he was here.”
“Where does Syd have to go to pick it up?”
“City hall, he said.”
“So, why wait for him? Go get it yourself. In the meantime, Jenny and I will have plenty to do.”
“I think I should change first,” I said, noticing my jeans were covered in splotches of red paint, stains I’d gotten repainting my front door a few days earlier.
“Who are you planning to impress?” Marnie asked.
I shrugged. “I suppose you’re right. It shouldn’t take long. Be back in half an hour or so.”
Marnie crossed her arms and gave me a suspicious look. “Come on. Out with the truth. You’re just trying to weasel out of doing the cleanup, aren’t you? You’re hoping that by the time you get back it’ll all be done.”
I laughed. “Now that you mention it, that’s not a bad idea. Don’t worry if I’m late.” I grabbed my raincoat and took off.
Like many small towns, Briar Hollow could not afford its own infrastructure. Instead, it shared the city hall, police, fire department and hospital with the nearby town of Belmont. That was where I was heading when I hopped into my Jeep and took off. The drive there would be no more than fifteen minutes on a normal day, but the way I drove, it would take only ten. Along the way, I pictured how wonderful my remodeled shop would look with my new merchandise.
Being closed for two months had been frustrating; however, it had allowed me one luxury—the luxury of time, which I’d used to prepare an entire new collection of pieces. During all my years of weaving, I’d mostly worked classic weaves and traditional pieces. This collection was different from anything I’d ever done. It didn’t even resemble any merchandise I’d carried in my shop before. And because I wasn’t sure how it would be received, I’d kept it secret.
The inspiration had come a few months ago when I’d visited a museum collection of Native American art. Among the many spectacular pieces were Navajo blankets, some almost two centuries old, each more stunning than the last. The colors were bright, the patterns sharp geometrical designs that dazzled the eye. I had been entranced.
It was after that visit, when I couldn’t get it out of my mind, that I first contemplated preparing an entire collection based on Native American weaving. Over the following weeks I thought about it, going online to learn more about the specialty. Had I not been able to keep my attempt private, I would never have dared to try. But, by the time the shop renovations began, I was ready to take the plunge. And now, in just a few days, I would be unveiling my new work for the whole town to see.
To say that I was happy with the results was to put it mildly. They went far beyond my expectations. Now I was planning an entire window display around it. I only hoped everybody else liked it as well as I did. Something told me that with the new direction my shop was taking, I might have a few rough months, but everything would turn out all right in the end.
As for Jenny, I was certain her store would do well, too. Maybe she could do some kind of opening-day promotion, something that would attract all her old customers back. But what?
Of course, she had a core group of clients that I had no doubt would return. But after being closed for so long, there was a good chance the majority of her old regulars had made Good Morning Sunshine their new haunt. We’d simply have to come up with something.
The City of Belmont WELCOME sign flashed by. I slowed to thirty and drove along Main Street all the way to the other side of town until I spotted the old city hall building. I was just pulling into its parking lot, when a car came careening out of the driveway, straight toward me. I swerved, narrowly avoiding a collision, then swiveled in my seat, watching the car and its driver speed away.
Idiot! I mouthed, my heart still racing at the near miss. Somebody should arrest that guy. The whole thing had happened so fast, all I was left with was the vague impression of a driver wearing large sunglasses and a light blue baseball cap, in a silver hatchback with a bumper sticker proclaiming something about judgment day. Well, if that was the way that person always drove, no wonder he was worried about the hereafter.
Probably some teenager with too much testosterone and not enough brains.
I gathered my scattered wits and continued on into one of the parking spots. Although I had already been here a few times, I still marveled at the lovely old building. It had been built almost a century earlier—a one-story redbrick structure with a pitched roof, blue doors and white trim. From the front it looked deceptively small, but from the parking lot in the back one could see the building jutting out in two long wings.
I made my way to one of the back entrances, where I rattled the door a couple of times before accepting that it was locked. I then retraced my steps and rounded the building to the front. I walked in and found myself in a lobby that opened into a large room. It reminded me of a bank, with a gray marble counter, behind which were only a few employees. By the far wall a long lineup of customers waited for the next available teller. I was debating if I should join the queue, when I noticed that there was an information panel across the room.
I followed the directions to the building inspector’s office down a dimly lit corridor with flickering lights. Not in a million years would these pass the current building codes, I thought. And had I not needed Howard Swanson to give me a permit for my own building, I might have been tempted to point this out to him.
The corridor made a sharp turn, and another twenty feet farther I found myself before an office marked BUILDING SERVICES. I looked at the exit door nearby. Unless I was mistaken, that was the same door I had just tried from the parking lot. I could see now that it had one of those automatic locks that allowed it to open only from the inside. I turned back to Swanson’s office and knocked.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I noticed how quiet this part of the building was. There were no telephones ringing, no sounds of voices from the lobby, not even the hum of office machines. I looked back down the hall I’d just come from. There were half a dozen other offices—every one of them was closed. I shrugged off the spooky feeling, and waited a few more seconds before I knocked again. Then I pressed my ear against the door.
Then, it hit me. Swanson, being an inspector, was probably out inspecting, and I should have made an appointment with him before coming. But seeing as I’d come this far, I could at least write him a message before leaving. To my surprise, when I tried it, the door swung open, and I found myself looking into a large dimly lit room.
“Hello?” Again, I was met with silence.
I glanced out into the hall, and seeing nobody, I made up my mind. I felt along the wall and flipped on the lights. The place was a mess. Along one side, the room was lined with industrial-beige file cabinets, above which were stacks and stacks of rolled-up plans. It was a wonder the man could find anything in there. In the center of the space was a heavy metal desk that looked not much younger than the building itself. On it were masses of envelopes, some opened, some still sealed. Good God. Hadn’t the man ever heard of filing?
I stood in the doorway frozen with uncertainty for a few moments, and then I gathered my courage and marched over to the desk, looking for a piece of paper on which I could write him a note. I was tearing off a page from a message pad when something caught my eye. I glanced at the floor, and yelped.
There was Swanson, not three feet away. He was lying on his back in a pool of blood, his eyes staring blankly at the ceiling, his mouth half open, as if in surprise. I had no doubt that he was dead. Even his complexion was gray. I was swept in a wave of guilt as I remembered all the unkind thoughts I’d had toward him earlier this morning.
All at once I became aware of my stomach, roiling dangerously. If I didn’t get out of there fast there’d be more than just a bloody mess for the biohazard team to clean up. I dashed blindly down the hall with my hand over my mouth. As I ran through the main room an older gentleman had the misfortune of stepping in front of me. I bumped right smack into him and we both went crashing to the floor.
He was back on his feet as quickly as I was, and was starting to apologize, but I was already racing for the entrance. I made it outside in the nick of time and was still bent over, gagging and gasping, when a trio of city employees wandered out to check on me.
“Are you all right?” the same gentleman I’d mowed down asked. He took a few steps closer.
I waved him away. It was embarrassing enough to be caught bent over and throwing up, without having anyone come too close.
“Poor thing—she’s sick,” the woman said. Rummaging through her pocket, she came out with a tissue, which she handed to me. “Would you like to come in and sit down?”
I wiped my mouth, and shook my head. I was taking long deep breaths, and my stomach was slowly settling.
She turned to the others. “Somebody get this lady a glass of water.”
I suddenly noticed the spittle of vomit on my jeans. Embarrassed, I wiped at it and excused myself. I hurried to my jeep and slipped into my raincoat. When I returned to the group, the younger man was back with a paper cup.
“Here, drink this.”
After a few sips of water I began feeling more like myself. “Thank you.” The three of them stared at me with worried eyes.
“She’s looking a little less peaked,” the old man said. He was tall and slender and had gray hair.
“We have to call the police,” I blurted. “Mr. Swanson is dead. There was so much blood. I think he might have been murdered.” There was a collective gasp.
“How can you be sure he’s dead?” the woman asked. “What if he’s just passed out? Maybe we should call an ambulance.”
Should we? I wondered. But I had seen death before and knew what it looked like. There was no question in my mind that Swanson was dead. But it wouldn’t hurt to agree. “Yes. That’s a good idea. I could be wrong.”
“He can’t be dead,” the younger man said. He looked like he was in his early – to mid-thirties, and was dressed like a professional in a suit and tie. “I just saw him yesterday.” He no sooner had said this than he marched toward the building, as if intent on proving me wrong. He had just entered the building when the gentleman said, “I think I’ll go with him.” He hurried after him. I was wondering if I should join them too, when the woman placed a hand on my arm.
“I’ll wait here with you,” she said. “You’re just starting to recover from the shock. There’s no point in getting yourself all worked up again.” She was right. The nausea had passed, but I still felt weak. “Oh, it’s just too terrible,” she continued. “Poor Mr. Swanson. Surely you’re wrong about him being murdered. It had to have been an accident. Who would want to hurt him? I simply can’t believe it.”
She had blond hair, blue eyes and the quirkiest eyebrows I’d ever seen. They were penciled in an odd shape. Her dress was too short. She wore a heavy layer of foundation on her face and her oddly bouffant hair was bleached blond. I had the impression of a middle-aged woman trying to look half her age. She gave me a friendly smile.
“There, there. You’ll be fine.”
Over the last few minutes more people had come out of the building. Some must have overheard our conversation because there were now half a dozen observers standing around looking shocked and whispering among themselves.
“Do you think anybody called an ambulance yet?” I asked the woman.
“Oh, dear. I have no idea. I’ll go do that right now.”
“Never mind,” I said, rummaging through my bag. “I have my cell right here.” In my rush to dial, I dropped my phone not once but twice before I got through.
“Nine one one. Do you need the police, an ambulance, or the fire department?” the operator asked.
“Police, please—and ambulance,” I added.
“What’s your emergency, ma’am?”
“I’m calling to report a . . . er . . . I think he’s dead but I could be wrong,” I said, trying to keep the tremor out of my voice. “It’s Mr. Swanson, the building inspector at city hall. There’s a lot of blood, and I’m pretty sure he was attacked.”
“I’ve got an ambulance on its way,” she said, and proceeded to ask me all the pertinent information.
“Are you with the victim now?”
“No. He’s in his office, where I found him. There was so much blood, I had to get out.”
“Has anybody taken his pulse?” At that moment the two men stepped out of the building, wearing grim expressions. They made their way over.
“Not me, but the men who just went to check on him are coming back. You can ask them.” I handed the phone to the older man. He took it, a question mark in his eyes. “It’s the emergency dispatcher.”
“There’s no point in standing here. Come on inside and sit down,” the woman said. “You look a little wobbly on your feet. We have a staff room. We might as well wait in there for the police.”
I followed her into the building to a small room with a coffeemaker and two worn sofas. She offered me a cup of coffee, which I gratefully accepted.
“You’re getting a bit of color back in your cheeks,” she said after I’d had a few sips. “Are you starting to feel better?”
“I am. Thank you. I’m Della Wright, by the way.”
“I’m Johanna Renay. I’m a clerk for the department of revenue.” She shook her head, her eyes tearing. “I can’t believe it. Why, just yesterday Howard was talking about the new house he was planning on buying. It was his dream house. Oh, his poor wife will be devastated.” Hearing the sorrow in the woman’s voice as she spoke of him, and knowing the man had a loving wife made his death all the more tragic somehow.
The two men walked in and the older one handed me my phone. I introduced myself again.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Tom Goodall,” the gentleman said. He shook my hand and turned to Mrs. Renay. “How are you doing, Johanna. I know you and Howard were close.”
“I’m all right,” she said, not very convincingly.
The younger man introduced himself. “Ronald Dempsey,” he said, adjusting his tie and raising his chin self-importantly. He wasn’t a city employee as I’d first thought. I recognized his name as that of a local builder. And if I remembered right, this was the same man who was financing a project right here in Belmont—a new development of luxury houses. I hadn’t seen the prices, but judging by the advertisements all around town, they were in the stratosphere.
“I’m the owner of Prestige Homes,” he added, as if reading my mind. “Mr. Swanson was buying one of my houses—the Mountain View model.”
This surprised me. I’d always thought city employees earned modest salaries. How much did a house in the Prestige Homes project cost? I wondered.
“Aren’t you going to take your coat off?” he asked me. “You must be getting hot.”
“I’m fine. Thanks.” I was just beginning to get over the shivers. The shock, I supposed.
“And by the way,” Dempsey said. “You were right. Swanson is as dead as a doornail.”
Mrs. Renay was taking the news terribly. She wiped the moisture from her red-rimmed eyes, and when she spoke, it was with a tight throat. “Poor man. I can’t believe somebody killed him.”
“I can,” Dempsey said. All eyes turned on him.
“What would make you say such a horrible thing?” Mrs. Renay said.
“The man was impossible to work with. He nearly drove a lot of contractors out of business, having them demolish and rebuild things that were perfectly fine, and making them wait and wait for their permits,” he said, looking as if he was dying to name names.
“Like who?” I asked.
“Smithy, Clarkson, Shuttleworth.”
“Shuttleworth?” I said, shocked. “You mean Syd?”
“I don’t mean him in particular,” Dempsey said, now backtracking. “You have to understand, in real estate, time is money. Builders have to pay interest on their loans. An extra year on a project is enough to eat up all a man’s profits.” I only half listened to what he was saying, my mind preoccupied with Syd Shuttleworth. Dempsey’s words supported what Syd had told us, that the inspector had caused all the delays in the project.
“Weren’t you worried he’d find flaw after flaw to complain about in any house he bought?” asked Mrs. Renay.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Weaving Mysteries
“I really love it when I find a new series and can’t put down the book until I finish it.”—MyShelf.com
“Engaging characters, a puzzling mystery, and the promise of romance.”—Amanda Lee, author of Thread End
“Sufficiently devious.”—Fresh Fiction
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Couldn't stop reading, lots of twists and turns.
I should know I tried the first book last week and caught up with the series yesterday. The characters seem human and real as well as quirky and likeable. The mysteries are complex enough to keep you interested and reading. The characters learn, grow, and change. Looking forward to the next one.