Authors: Leighann Dobbs
Tags: #Paranormal, #Ghost, #New Hampshire, #Mystery
|Leighann Dobbs - Mystic Notch 03 - A Mew to a Kill|
|Number III of|
Mystic Notch Mysteries
|Leighann Dobbs (2015)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Cozy - Paranormal - Ghosts - New Hampshire|
|Mystery: Cozy - Paranormal - Ghosts - New Hampshirettt|
“I just know I’ll win first prize with these,” Paisley Brown's red-tipped nails clawed the pages of the binder open to reveal the most unfocused and unappealing photographs I’d ever seen. “Don’t you think so, Willa?” She searched my face with heavily mascaraed eyes.
“Umm … sure.” I stared at the photos. Win? I didn’t think so. The pictures were horrible, but I couldn’t say it to her face no matter how abrasive and annoying Paisley was.
Besides, I was just there to collect the portfolio, not to pass judgment. That would happen next week at the fifth annual Mystic Notch Art Show, of which I’d had the unfortunate honor to become one of the judges. We had a last-minute spot open up and Paisley seemed to be under the impression that her work was just the thing to fill it.
“I’ve titled the series
Main Street Reflections
.” She flipped the binder shut and held it out to me. “The photos are all of reflections in the Main Street windows during some of the town events.”
“How clever.” That explained why they were so blurry.
I took the binder and she brushed past me, her cheap perfume tickling my nose as she wriggled down the aisle of her photography store in a tight jean skirt and short-sleeved pink cashmere sweater bursting at the buttons. My brows jumped up a fraction of an inch as I watched her. I was no prude, but her clothing choice was a bit revealing for someone her age, which I guessed to be mid-forties. But then, I’d heard Paisley liked to flaunt it.
I couldn’t help but glance down at my own choice of attire. The faded jeans and loose gray tee-shirt provided a sharp contrast to Paisley’s outfit which, I had to admit, didn’t look all that bad on her. She had a good figure. Curvy. Mine, while not as curvy, wasn’t too bad either, especially considering I had a good six or seven years on her.
have looked good in her outfit if I’d wanted to. It just wasn’t my style.
I brushed a smudge of dirt from the hem of my shirt. Being a bookseller that specialized in used and antique books, I came in contact with lots of dirt and it frequently found its way onto my clothes. You wouldn’t believe the condition of some of the books people brought into my store—straight out of the attic or basement and loaded with decades of grime. But that was what made the job so much fun. You never knew when you’d find a rare book under all that dirt.
I glanced across the street at
Last Chance Books,
the bookstore I’d inherited from my grandmother. The name was a clever play on our last name, ‘Chance’, and the fact that the store sold used books, giving them a last chance at being read.
A feeling of pride washed over me as I admired the books stacked in the squeaky-clean display windows. The oak door sat in the middle of the two windows with my name,
Wilhelmina Chance, Proprietor
, proudly displayed. My feelings of pride soon turned to trepidation as I saw my cat’s face pressed against the glass of the bay window to the left of the door. She was glaring back across the street at me, a gleam of malice in her golden-green eyes that promised some sort of retribution for leaving her alone in the store.
That reminded me—I’d better get going to the meeting so I could get back in time to open my store before the morning rush of tourists looking for something to read was over.
“I’ve already bought the tents and tables for my display and am putting these frames together so they will all match.” Paisley had made her way to the center of the studio and was pointing to a pile of wide, black lacquer frames.
“Those look expensive.” I inched my way backward toward the door.
“They were, but I think the investment will pay off in spades, especially if I win the blue ribbon.”
I took another step backward, my heart tugging just a little for Paisley because I knew she had probably wasted her money. I didn’t know why I felt the urge to help her out. I barely knew her and what I did know, I didn’t like. Guess I was getting soft in my old age.
“Maybe you should wait until we award that last spot before you spend more money,” I suggested.
The art show was a juried show that ran for a week before the judges voted and awarded the twenty thousand dollar prize to the best in show. We’d actually already picked twelve artists, but one had to bow out and we had a last-minute opening. There had already been several prospective applicants whose portfolios we’d reviewed. Paisley was the last one we would look at before making our decision.
I thought of Neil Lane, the reclusive artist. Rumors abounded about his secretive past. I didn’t know what he had done before, but
he painted gorgeous watercolors. He was the favorite so far for that open spot and I was sure he would beat out Paisley.
“Oh, don’t be silly. I
I’ll get a spot in the show,” she said with the certainty of a snake charmer who has an ample supply of anti-venom.
“Well, I’m just saying…”
She leaned toward me, her lips parted in a smile that didn’t quite reach the rest of her face. Her eyes crinkled at the corners, but not in a wrinkled-from-years-of-smiling way … more in a wrinkled-from-years-of-manipulating-people way.
“Honey, I’ve learned that to get ahead in life a girl has to do whatever it takes to get what she wants.” She winked one mascara-clumped eyelid at me. “I
that spot in the art show, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting it.”
The door to her shop opened and she turned her attention to her new customers, leaving me free to make my getaway. I gladly exited and crossed the street to my Jeep. I tossed her portfolio on the passenger seat, my forehead wrinkling as it flipped open to one of the pictures—a shot of the reflection from the double windows behind the sidewalk tables in front of the
. It must have been taken during the Founders Day parade because I could see the sign announcing the café's Founders Day specials. The photograph was neither artistic nor interesting. Barely better than a child could do. There was no way this work would be chosen for the art show, would it?
Yet, Paisley had been so certain and I got the impression it wasn’t just her overly inflated self-confidence talking. Glancing back across the street, I couldn’t help but wonder just what Paisley Brown had done to be so sure the judges would vote for her.
The Mystic Notch town hall was a two-story wooden building with long, tall windows. It sat at the end of town in a lot filled with giant oaks and maples—trees that were mature even when the hall was built in the mid-1800s.
I parked in front and let myself in. The two-story-high foyer reminded me of school field trips that I’d attended as a child. It still looked the same as it had back then. In fact, it hadn’t changed much in over a hundred years except for the recently painted mural depicting the town that ran along the corridor leading to the back rooms. The front of the building still had the original wide, pine plank floors and old wooden moldings, now scarred with age. The white trim paint around the windows had been applied in so many layers over the years that the corner details on the moldings were slightly rounded now instead of the sharp angles they’d once been.
I headed toward the back of the building, pausing to look at the mural as I passed. It had been painted by resident artist Maisie Beardsley who must have been a hundred if she was a day. A smile tugged at my lips as visions of her standing on a ladder to paint the tree tops flooded my mind. At her age, she probably should have kept her feet planted firmly on the floor, but anyone that offered to help her was admonished with a whip of her brush and harsh words.
“I’m not an invalid!” she’d barked at anyone who'd dared try to get her to stop climbing up on the ladder.
No one knew how old Maisie actually was. She’d been around since anyone could remember. I knew she’d been friends with my neighbor Elspeth Whipple since they were young. As Elspeth put it, they’d been friends ‘since before they put the bell in St. Mary’s church’. Whenever that was.
I ran my fingers over the surface of the painting, feeling the thicker blobs that made up the tree tops. I marveled at how Maisie had captured the whole town in amazing detail with seemingly few brush strokes. I continued down the hall, my eyes on the map following the street from my bookstore downtown through Mystic Notch to the house I’d inherited from my grandmother.
A pang of sadness pierced my heart as I remembered Gram. When I was a little girl, we’d been close and I’d been racked with guilt when she’d died. Guilt over being too obsessed with my job as a crime journalist down in Boston to come back and visit rustic Mystic Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire much more than once a year.
But then, my former life had changed suddenly. A near-fatal car accident had given me a reason to question the direction my life was taking as well as a few odd side effects, including an injury to my leg that was starting to hurt now as I walked down the hall.
Gram's death shortly after the accident and her bequest of the house and bookstore in Mystic Notch had sealed the deal and I’d moved home for good.
I had been back a few years now and was fitting in well, though I wasn’t sure how I’d ended up judging the art contest. I really wasn’t qualified, but apparently someone thought my crime writing days in Boston lent me an air of celebrity and here I was.
I turned from the mural and continued down the hall. The wide pine flooring turned to manila-colored utilitarian tile and the doors from quarter sawn oak to metal with square windows in the center.
I stopped in front of one of the rooms. The other judges were already seated in metal folding chairs around a Formica table. They looked up as I opened the door.
Maisie Beardsley narrowed her eyes at the binder in my arms. Her lips puckered, the crosshatched skin on her upper lip wrinkling like a prune. “What’s that?”
I slid the binder onto the table. “It’s the portfolio from Paisley Brown.”
“Paisley Brown?” The pencil thin brows of Nina Lovejoy, the high school art teacher, tugged together. “What would we want with that?”
George Witt cleared his throat. “She’s submitting her work for the art show.”
Brenda Parrish pulled the binder in front of her and bent over it. Her long, brown hair which was severely parted on the right shadowed the left side of her face as she flipped slowly through the book. The charms dangling from a dainty bracelet on her wrist glinted in the light.