Authors: Leighann Dobbs
Tags: #Paranormal, #Ghost, #New Hampshire, #Mystery
She nibbled a tiny piece from the edge of her scone and noticed my hesitation.
“Go on. There’s nothing magical about it, it’s just a regular tea. Not all my teas have special properties. Some of them are just for drinking.” She rolled her eyes as if I was being ridiculous to suspect her motives, then she leaned back into the couch. “So, tell me what’s going on over across the street.” She tilted her head towards the photography shop.
Between finishing up the rest of the scone and drinking the tea, which really was quite good, I filled her in on the whole story, starting with bringing Paisley’s portfolio to the art show judges’ meeting and ending with my recent conversation with Paisley’s ghost.
Pepper was the only one I’d told about my strange ability to talk to ghosts. I didn’t want people to think I was weird. Luckily, she didn’t think I was weird. In fact, she was fascinated, which was great because I didn’t have anyone else to share that part of my life with and Pepper was always a big help in the investigations that inevitably stemmed from my ghostly experiences.
“Do you really think it was George?” Pepper’s nose wrinkled when she said his name.
“He’s my only suspect.” I glanced out the window. “Unless you count Maisie Beardsley.” I’d told Pepper about Maisie’s parting words at the judges’ meeting.
“Oh, it couldn’t have been Maisie,” Pepper said. “Could it?”
“I don’t know. Her words weren’t really a threat toward Paisley, they were more a threat about her. At first, I thought it might even be Maisie in there. Like maybe she confronted Paisley and things went bad, but then Paisley’s ghost showed up here and I knew it was her.”
I noticed the binoculars I had been searching for earlier were on one of the side tables next to the chair. I grabbed them and went over to the picture window. It looked like the police were finishing up inside the photography store. I raised the binoculars to my eyes to get a better view. “We need to find out how Paisley died. That might give us a better idea of who could have done it.”
“Right. If she was bludgeoned or something, I guess Maisie wouldn’t have had the strength,” Pepper offered.
“Exactly.” Through the binoculars, I could see Jimmy Ford giving instructions to one of the CSI technicians. Jimmy had been an ally of mine in a previous case. He wasn’t nearly as stingy with the details of a case as Gus was. “Jimmy’s over there. Maybe he’ll come over after he’s done and give us some information.”
“That would be great.” Paisley sat back in her chair and straightened her cute-as-a-button purple and green plaid skirt. “Jimmy was one of my favorite transformations.”
I smiled to myself as I continued watching the store with the binoculars. Jimmy had been an awkward and self-conscious young deputy when we met him earlier in the summer. He was like a gangly puppy, eager to prove himself to Gus, and falling all over himself in the process. Despite his eagerness, he was sorely lacking in self-confidence.
Pepper had made some special teas for him and, over the course of the investigation, Jimmy did gain a lot of confidence and ended up playing a key role in capturing the killer. I figured it was just the added experience that made him more confident, but Pepper thought his transformation should be credited to drinking her tea.
“So, what’s your plan?” Pepper asked after a few more minutes of me staring out the window.
“I guess first we need to get some evidence. Of course, Gus was already over here telling me not to meddle, so I’m not sure how I'm going to do that. But Paisley did confirm that she and George were having a fling
he knew that she had pictures, so it makes sense that he would want to get rid of them. That’s what they were arguing about last night.”
I kept my binoculars trained on the shop, noticing that the techs were starting to pack up now and Jimmy was securing the doors. I wondered how I would get in to snoop around.
“Would Paisley have kept incriminating pictures of her and George in the shop, though?” Pepper asked as if she was also wondering how I would get into the shop to snoop around.
Something Paisley had said came back to me. “Maybe not. Paisley said she’d told George she would give him the incriminating photos next time they were at her house.”
Across the way, I saw Jimmy bend down to look at something on the floor. I pressed closer to the window, but I couldn’t see what he was doing as he was behind Paisley’s counter. I was squinting into the binoculars when suddenly my vision went completely dark.
I whipped the binoculars from my eyes and came face to face with Eddie Striker. Crap, he'd caught me spying.
My heart did a little flip in my chest. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see Striker. His dark hair, strong jaw and mesmerizing eyes were a welcome sight on most days—just not today. Not when I had binoculars trained on the crime scene. Because Striker, the sheriff of a neighboring county, often teamed up with Gus on murder cases and, just like my sister, he took a dim view of me getting involved.
Striker cracked that charismatic smile and waved his finger back and forth in front of my face while shaking his head. I gave him a smile and put the binoculars down while he walked over to the door and let himself in.
"Hi, Eddie," Pepper chirped. “How are you?”
Striker glanced over at the couch and nodded at Pepper. “Never better. How about you?”
“Great.” She lifted the tea pot. “Would you like some tea?”
Striker’s eyes narrowed at the teapot. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one suspicious of Pepper’s tea.
“No, thanks.” His eyes slid over to me. “I saw Miss Nosy over here with the binoculars and figured I’d come over and find out what you two were up to.”
“Up to?” Pepper plastered an innocent look on her face. “We’re just having some tea and scones. We ate all the scones, otherwise I’d offer you one.”
Striker came over next to me. He looked down at the binoculars, then out the window at the photography shop, then at my face. “Right. Just scones and tea.”
I nodded innocently.
“You guys wouldn’t be thinking about investigating what happened across the street, now, would you?” Striker asked.
“No, of course not. I was just curious as to what was going on.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “What
Striker laughed. ”You know you can’t fool me that easy, Chance.” He used his nickname for me which was a play on my last name. Striker thought I took a lot of chances. Considering some of the dangerous situations I’d gotten myself into investigating, he might be right. But he didn’t know about my ghostly visits and why I
to take those chances.
“We were just wondering,” Pepper paused to take a sip of tea and look at him innocently over the rim of her cup. “If the fire was started on purpose or not. It was probably just a terrible accident, right?”
“Maybe. I couldn’t say either way because it’s an ongoing investigation.” He reached out and wrapped one of my unruly red curls around his finger. “I just wanted to come over and make sure that you ladies knew not to get in the way. If it wasn’t an accident, that means it was murder and a killer is on the loose.” He dropped the curl and his voice turned serious. “And that killer might not like you guys investigating.”
“We wouldn’t want to anger a killer.” It was lame, but I couldn’t lie to Striker’s face and that was the only truthful thing I could think up to say.
Striker smirked and stepped back. “Anyway, I have to get back to work but I will see you tonight?” He directed the question at me and I nodded, trying not to seem too enthusiastic.
The shop door opened again and Jimmy came in. Pepper and I exchanged a disappointed look. It figured he would come in when Striker was here. Now we couldn’t grill him for information.
“Hey, guys.” Jimmy’s face lit up with a smile. As we exchanged greetings, he sauntered over to the window and leaned down to scratch Pandora. She meowed and stretched lazily. Then he turned to Striker. “We’re pretty much done over there, but I’ll wait until you come in and take a look before I lock up.”
“Looks like you got a lot of evidence over there,” I said, earning a sharp look from Striker.
Jimmy shrugged. “A little bit. That last picture Paisley took might really—“
Striker clapped his arm on Jimmy’s shoulder, cutting him off mid-sentence, but not before I saw Pepper’s eyes light up. Last picture? We’d have to look into that.
“We should get going.” Striker turned Jimmy toward the door. “The girls here don’t need any more information than they’ve already gathered. We wouldn’t want to tell them too much or they might go off investigating on their own and that wouldn’t be good, would it, Jimmy?”
Jimmy’s eyes went wide and he looked from me to Pepper and then back to Striker. “Oh, no, of course not. I wouldn’t give them information they weren’t supposed to have.”
“Good.” Striker opened the door and pushed Jimmy through. “Then I guess we better get over there.”
Striker turned, a dark look of warning in his eyes. He nodded at me, then at Pepper and then closed the door.
“Maybe I should come up with a tea that makes Striker a little more loose with his information,” Pepper mused.
“I don’t know about that,” I said. “If it has the opposite effect, we’ll never get anything out of him.” I didn’t want Pepper messing with Striker. Sure, it would be nice if he was a little more generous with clues, but I didn’t want to risk any bad side effects. I liked Striker the way he was.
should be able to easily get information out of him, Willa.” Pepper’s lips curled in a smile. “Maybe you need to work on your investigative technique.” She wiggled her brows and my cheeks started to burn. I felt silly—wasn't I too old to be blushing? Then again, at my age it was probably a hot flash.
“I don’t know about that. Striker’s tough. Jimmy’s an easier mark.”
Pepper nodded. “What do you think he meant by that picture remark?”
“I saw Gus put a camera in the evidence bag earlier. They must think there could be a picture of the killer on it. But it looked pretty burned. I don’t know if they would be able to get anything off it.”
“Right. We can’t depend on that anyway because I doubt they would tell us if they did get a picture. We have to go with what we know. And right now, it sounds like George is our best suspect.”
“According to Paisley, George would know that she kept incriminating pictures at her house.”
“So he’d probably go there and try to snag them. We should follow him or something.”
I glanced back out the window. It had been hours since the fire was set. “He’s probably already been there…”
Pepper was not to be daunted. “Maybe he left a clue there. We should go to Paisley’s and check it out.”
“Good idea. Do you know where she lives?”
Pepper shook her head. “No. Do you?”
“No, but I know someone who does and she might even be able to help us get in.”
“Who is that?”
“Her best friend. Opal Winters.”
I resisted the urge to run out and talk to Opal right away. Partly because I didn’t know where to find her, but also because someone needed to run the store. I had bills to pay and books to catalog.
Pepper had a friend on the town council and she promised to contact them and see if we could figure out how to get in touch with Opal. We parted ways and I went back to cataloging my books with an eye on the shop, expecting Paisley to show up and annoy me. She never did. The shop was clear of ghosts the rest of the day.
Thankfully, it wasn’t clear of customers and I had a large volume of traffic, many of whom cast interested glances over at Paisley’s shop as they browsed for books.
Toward the end of the day, Pandora got antsy. She paced back and forth in front of the back door.
Meow … Meow … meout!
Her cries escalated in volume and I felt bad for her despite the pain in my ears. “I know you want to go out, but I can’t let you. I have a date with Striker.”
Did she say no? Clearly I’d been spending too much time alone in the shop if her meows were starting to sound like words. But the truth was, I kind of shared her sentiment. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see Striker, it was just that I needed to start looking into finding Paisley’s killer and I couldn’t do that with him around.
The bells chimed over my door and I turned around to find Striker standing there as if my thoughts had summoned him.
“Hey, Chance … about our date …” He hesitated, looking down at his feet in that cute, boyish way that made my heart flutter. He sure did know how to pour on the charm when he was about to give me bad news.
My left brow ticked up. “Yeah?”
“I’m sorry, but we’re shorthanded at the station and I have to go back in and get some paperwork done tonight, so I don’t have a lot of time.”
He looked honestly contrite. I felt kind of bad for him but the truth was, it worked out just as well for me. I wasn’t going to let him know that, though.