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Authors: Peg Cochran

Tags: #Mystery

Berried Secrets (18 page)

BOOK: Berried Secrets
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Stevens shrugged noncommittally.

Monica knitted her fingers together in her lap. “I mean, it seems somewhat incredible that Cranberry Cove could have two murderers on the loose.” She took a deep breath.
“I have proof that Mauricio couldn't have killed Cora.” Monica looked down at her hands. “I should have called you right away. I'm sorry.”

“Seriously?” Stevens's expression changed from one of near amusement to something more serious.

“Yes. I talked with the VanVelsen sisters—”

“Who are—”

“They're the twins who own Gumdrops on Beach Hollow Road.”

“Okay. Go on.”

“Their cat Midnight had been missing for almost a week when a young man returned her the night Cora was killed. They were so grateful that they invited him to dinner. The young man was Mauricio.”

“And I'm gathering that the timing puts him at the house of these sisters during the period when we suspect Cora was killed?”

Monica nodded.

“Do you mind if we go over a few things? I just want to check some facts.” Stevens smiled.

“Certainly.” Monica tried to relax her hands in her lap. She didn't want Stevens to see how nervous she was.

“You arrived at Cora's home when?”

What had she told her? Monica momentarily panicked. But then she realized she had nothing to fear. She was telling the truth. “It was around five thirty
P.M
. or a little after.”

Stevens made a note. “And you went directly to Cora's, knocked on her door and then opened it?”

“Yes. No. I had a brief conversation with that neighbor of hers—Dawn. She said she had noticed Cora arriving home from work and hadn't seen her go out again.”

“And Cora's car was in the driveway?”

“Yes. If she'd gone out it would have had to have been on foot.”

“Dawn tells us that she didn't see anyone in or around Cora's trailer between the time when Cora got home from work and when you arrived.”

What was she getting at? Monica wondered.

Stevens suddenly changed tack. “The ME performed the autopsy.” She pinched the skin on the bridge of her nose with two fingers. “Of course it's inconclusive. Everything rests on the toxicology report now. However . . .” She paused and looked Monica in the face.

“Yes?”

“I managed to get him to hazard a guess. And that's not easy, I can tell you. It appears as if she had a seizure before she died. That, combined with the puncture mark on her arm, suggests she might have been injected with something. Something like insulin, maybe. An overdose would cause extremely low blood sugar, which could lead to a seizure and ultimately death.”

Monica nodded to show she was listening.

“So Cora arrived home and apparently did not leave her house. And,” Stevens rubbed a hand over her stomach, “we suspect she had a visitor based on the mug found in her sink. But the neighbor didn't see anyone go in or out.” She leveled a gaze at Monica. “Except you.”

“Me?” Monica pointed at herself. “Why would I want to kill Cora? I didn't even know her.”

“Please.” Stevens held up a hand. “I'm not saying you killed Cora. But it does seem rather odd, doesn't it?”

Chapter 18

Monica set her laptop on the kitchen table and powered it on. She brought up the product application from the Fresh Gourmet website and began scanning the questions. She rubbed her forehead. She was finding it hard to concentrate. Detective Stevens's visit had unnerved her more than she wanted to admit.

Half an hour later, Monica was no further along than when she had started. She was about to turn off her computer and put the task off until another day when she decided to visit her long-neglected Facebook page. She rarely posted anything, but it was amusing to see what old friends from Chicago, or even as far back as high school, were doing.

She scrolled through her timeline, laughing occasionally at the cartoons and jokes or frowning over the bad news—a high school classmate had died from cancer, an acquaintance from Chicago had been laid off, someone's daughter had developed diabetes.

Other posts were more upbeat—pictures of vacation spots with impossibly blue water and white sand beaches, and snapshots of happy family reunions or important wedding anniversaries.

Someone had posted a quiz. Monica usually ignored those, but she needed something to take her mind off things. This one created your punk rock band name by combining the color of your pants and the first object to your right. Well, she was wearing blue jeans . . . she glanced to her right. It looked as if her group was named The Blue Teacup. She laughed to herself. That sounded more like a senior citizen knitting club than a rock band.

Monica scrolled some more and came upon another quiz:
What Animal are You?
She clicked through the questions . . . “What is your favorite night out
?”
Staying in wasn't an option so she chose dinner and a movie. Then, “What's your favorite item of clothing
?”
Monica didn't really have one, but she chose her ratty old bathrobe because it was certainly the garment she'd had the longest. She finished the rest of the questions and then clicked on the tab to get the results.

According to her answers, she was a dog—faithful, loyal and protective. Monica laughed. Well, that was certainly true enough, although not terribly exciting or romantic. On the other hand, she'd hardly expected to be a lynx, jaguar or cougar. She was powering off her computer when the back door opened.

“It's just me.” Gina pushed open the door and walked in. She plopped into the chair opposite Monica.

Gina's casual updo was in disarray, but not the artful sort of disarray created by spending hours in front of the mirror—this time it was real. Her top had a fine dusting of sawdust on it, and there was a smudge of dirt across the bridge of her nose.

“What a long day,” she said, as she rotated her neck and flexed her fingers. “How did yours turn out?”

Monica fiddled with the latch on her laptop. “Detective Stevens was here again.”

Gina started. “What? Again?” Her face clouded over. “She wasn't after Jeffie, was she?”

“No. This time I seem to be the prime suspect.”

“You? But that's ridiculous.”

“That's what I told her, although not in those exact words, of course.” Monica gave a wry smile.

“If she can't see you're innocent, she's a fool.”

“The problem is,” Monica pushed her laptop away and leaned her elbows on the table, “neither Jeff nor I have an alibi. He was here for dinner, but unfortunately Culbert's murder took place sometime after that.”

“But what about that Mauricio fellow?” Gina rubbed her hands over her face, smudging her mascara. “His alibi didn't hold up in the end, and why would he lie if he wasn't guilty?”

“The problem is, he didn't kill Cora.” Monica pushed her chair back, got up and went over to the refrigerator. She opened it and rummaged around inside. “Would you like some cheese and crackers?” she called over her shoulder to Gina.

“Sure. Now that you mention it, I am getting a bit hungry.”

Monica retrieved a box of crackers from one cupboard and a cheese plate from another. “I'm afraid all I have is a block of common, garden-variety cheddar.”

“That's fine.” Gina twisted around in her seat to look at Monica. “You've said Mauricio didn't kill Cora, but how do you know?”

“He has an alibi. He was rescuing the VanVelsen sisters' cat and bringing it back to them. He was with them from
the time Cora supposedly arrived home from work till past the time I found her body.” Monica placed the cheese and crackers on the table.

“Well, rats.” Gina smacked the table, rattling the plate. “It would be so convenient if he were responsible.”

“I know. Although I'm glad he's not. He seems like a nice young man.” Monica pushed the cheese plate toward Gina. “Help yourself.”

Gina cut a slice of cheddar and balanced it on a cracker.

“Darlene told me something interesting today. I'm not sure what to make of it,” Monica said as she fixed a cracker for herself.

“Mmmm?” Gina mumbled around the food in her mouth.

“You remember how that carpenter at your shop told us about the mayoral election and how Greg Harper, the bookstore owner, lost to Sam Culbert?”

Gina nodded and brushed some crumbs off her top. “And he said Culbert cheated, which doesn't surprise me in the least.”

“Me neither.”

“So what did Darlene tell you?”

“She said that Greg and Culbert got into a huge fight about the election results.”

Gina's eyes widened. “You mean they actually came to blows over it?”

“Just short of that, I gather. But apparently Greg threatened to kill Culbert.”

Gina snorted. “From what I've heard, half the people in town have done the same thing.”

“Yes, but Darlene seems to think he meant it.”

Gina stabbed a finger in the air toward Monica. “But
what about Cora? You're forgetting about Cora. Why would Greg Harper want to kill her?”

“Who knows?” Monica shrugged. “We didn't think there was any connection between Mauricio and Cora, either, but we were wrong.”

“True.” Gina made a face. “But I don't want it to be him.”

Monica laughed. “We can't just choose who we want to be the murderer!”

“I know,” Gina said. “I was just making a joke.” She looked at Monica for a minute. “You look very tense.”

“I am.”

“Twilight is having a yoga session tonight that's focusing on relaxation. Why don't we go?”

Monica hesitated but then thought, why not? It would probably do her good. She'd gone to a few yoga classes in Chicago and had enjoyed them.

•   •   •

Monica dug around in her dresser until she found an old pair of leggings. There was a small hole in the knee, but she didn't really care. She pulled them on along with a T-shirt that said
Monica's
on it. She'd had the shirts made to drum up business for her café. Seeing it now was bittersweet. She missed having her own business, but she felt good about helping Jeff, and she enjoyed life in Cranberry Cove. Although she could have done without the murders, of course.

Gina was already downstairs by the time Monica was ready. She was wearing a psychedelic-looking pair of leggings with swirls of pink and mauve and a matching pink tank top.

“Ready?” she said when she heard Monica enter the room.
She screwed the top back on the bottle of polish she'd been using to touch up her nails.

“Yes.” Monica grabbed her coat from the back of the kitchen chair. A wave of tiredness nearly overwhelmed her, but it was too late to back out now.

Gina drove them—one hand on the wheel, the other gesturing wildly as she described her day and the construction at her new shop. A couple of times she turned and looked at Monica for so long that Monica had to remind her to turn her attention back to the road. Monica was a little embarrassed by the frightened mewling noises she made several times as Gina veered a little too close to the oncoming traffic.

Fortunately they arrived at Twilight in one piece. Monica couldn't imagine who in Cranberry Cove would be attending a yoga session, so she was surprised to see that quite a few people had already unrolled their mats on the floor of the room in the back of Tempest's shop. It was a diverse group of both young and old—everyone from the new waitress Monica recognized from the diner to the woman who sewed the tea towels and napkins for Sassamanash Farm. There was even one gentleman—he had long, frizzy gray hair tied back in a ponytail and was lying on his mat doing a very complicated-looking stretch. Monica hoped she'd be able to keep up with the class.

Scented candles flickered around the periphery of the room, and a fountain trickled softly in the corner next to a stack of folded blankets. Some sort of New Age music was barely audible in the background.

Monica and Gina unrolled their mats in the back and lay down on them. Monica hoped she wouldn't fall asleep before the class started. She had to suppress a yawn and was struggling to keep her eyes from closing.

Tempest took up a position next to Monica. She was wearing black yoga pants, a long-sleeved turquoise top with an Indian-inspired design on the front and had a matching wide, cloth headband holding back her dark hair.

Monica barely had time to say hello before the instructor took up her position in the front of the room. Monica was surprised to see that she was an older woman with gray hair pinned back into a tight bun. She led them through an hour of poses, and Monica marveled at her flexibility. Her own muscles were tight and stiff in comparison. Halfway through the class she found her mind quieting, and a sense of well-being washed over her. She was almost sorry when the class was over and the instructor bid them Namaste.

“What did you think?” Tempest asked as she rolled up her hot pink mat.

“I enjoyed it more than I expected,” Monica said.

Tempest turned to Gina. “You have a good practice. You've obviously been doing yoga for a while.”

“It helps to keep the stress level down,” Gina responded. “Otherwise I'd have to go around with a cask of brandy around my neck like one of those Saint Bernard dogs.”

Tempest threw back her head and gave a full-bodied laugh. “Things have been unusually stressful in Cranberry Cove lately, haven't they? Two unsolved murders—can you believe it?”

“Speaking of the murders,” Monica began. “I've been told that Greg Harper, the owner of Book 'Em, ran for mayor against Sam Culbert and lost.”

“That's true.” Tempest looked at Monica curiously. “Greg's a nice guy. I had my eye on him myself when I first got here, but I think I'm at the wrong end of forty for him.”
She shrugged. “But surely you don't think that he had anything to do with the murders?”

This time Monica shrugged. “I heard that he and Culbert got into a huge fight about it. Right in the middle of Beach Hollow Road. And that Greg threatened to kill Culbert.”

“Really? That's the first I'm hearing of it.” Tempest turned and waved good-bye to an older woman who had a bright yellow mat rolled up and tucked under her arm.

“So you don't know anything about the fight?” Monica asked.

Tempest shook her head. “No, and frankly I can't imagine Greg Harper threatening someone like that. I'm sure he didn't mean it, but even so, it doesn't fit with the little I know of him.”

“That's what I thought.”

“Do you think that girl is embellishing the story just a teeny bit?” Gina asked. “She doesn't seem like the brightest crayon in the box, if you know what I mean. I used to know someone like her back when I was working at Neiman Marcus. Always dramatizing events. I think she was bored, poor thing. Never went out as far as I could tell.” Gina shuddered. “She lived in this pathetic one-room apartment and spent her nights eating in front of the television.”

Monica felt her spirits lift. She really didn't want to think Greg capable of murder, and what Gina said made sense. Darlene was just the sort to make something like that up. Half the time she couldn't tell if Darlene was telling the truth or not.

•   •   •

By the time they got back to Monica's place, Monica was starving. She opened the refrigerator and scanned the contents.

“Would you like some pasta?” she called over her shoulder to Gina.

“Thanks, but Jeff is picking me up for dinner. He wants me to meet Lauren.”

Monica paused with her hand on the open refrigerator door. “That must mean they're getting back together.”

“You'd think so, wouldn't you? Jeff made some cryptic reference to ‘working things out.'”

“It's a good sign at least.” Monica pulled a half-full jar of pasta sauce and the makings for a salad from the fridge and pushed the door shut with her knee.

“I guess I'd better get ready.” Gina glanced at the clock. “I didn't realize how late it had become.”

Gina disappeared upstairs, and Monica began to boil water for her spaghetti. She was cleaning lettuce for a salad when Gina reappeared in a gauzy top over a pair of reptile-print leggings. Monica couldn't help but stare.

BOOK: Berried Secrets
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