Authors: Laney Monday
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Cozy, #Women Sleuths, #cozy mystery
Taking the Fall
Brenna Battle Mystery #1
Olympian Brenna Battle once had the fire. Now, she’s just burned out—and burned by love. She’s ready to retire from competitive judo and pursue a new dream in a new town, with her biggest supporter, her recently divorced little sister, Blythe. But on their first day in town, Blythe falls for local sleaze-bag reporter, Ellison Baxter, and their small-town welcome is stained by Baxter’s murder. The weapon—Blythe Battle’s hair brush.
In this fast-paced, fun cozy mystery, Brenna, the proud new owner of the building that formerly housed Bonney Bay’s lone recreational opportunity for kids, Little Swans Ballet, is ready to turn tutu-clad powder-puffs into little warriors by opening a judo school for kids in its place. But now she must clear her sister’s name and save her new dream from ending even more disastrously than her Olympic hopes. Brenna must deal with one crazy member of the local police force, who’s determined to see the sisters pay—and another cop, whose deep brown eyes just might drive Brenna crazy—in a way her battered heart just can’t take.
In my dream, I was lying flat on the floor of my high school gym, staring up at a giant disco ball. I was wearing only an oversized sleep shirt, which somehow had ended up all the way under my armpits when I fell flat on my naked rear end. It was hard to tell if the crowd around me was shrieking with laughter or with horror, with that annoying music playing in the background. The same tune, over and over.
I opened my eyes. It was still dark. My phone flashed and bounced on the floor next to me, blaring the obnoxious ringtone my sister had set for me, “Because you never hear your phone.”
I was in bed—which happened to be on the floor, since I hadn’t had time to buy an actual bed yet—and my T-shirt was indeed scrunched up way too high. I reached for the phone, and my hand collided with a glass of water and knocked the whole thing over. I scooped up the phone and tumbled out of my sleeping bag.
“Hello?” I grumbled.
“Hmm?” I grabbed a pair of socks from the floor and began to mop up the water. Of course it was my sister, she of the awful ringtone. Who else would call me at three in the morning?
“Bren, I need you.”
Ah, the guy-trouble whine-tremble. “Where are you? It’s that jerk, Ellison, isn’t it?”
Blythe was the brainy one, but there was one serious crack in her smart and classy armor. When it came to men, her life was one dumb mistake after another. Whereas in my life there had just been one man. One massive, disastrous mistake. But let’s not go there.
There was silence on the phone. A strange pause, during which I rubbed my eyes and looked around and remembered where I was, and that my sister was supposed to be there. Against my advice, she’d met Ellison Baxter for a drink. But then she’d come home and gone to “bed” right beside me, in her own sleeping bag. A sleeping bag that was now empty. So she’d gone back out, in the pitch dark, our very first night in a brand new town? What was my newly divorced sister turning into, some reckless wanna-be-teenager, sneaking around to meet up with a guy she’d just met?
“Blythe! Where are you? It’s three in the morning!” She didn’t answer. I took a deep breath. I was sleep deprived. I had Ellison on the brain because he’d driven me nuts yesterday. This couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Ellison Baxter.
There was a sniffle on the other end of the line. “Ellison’s … he’s dead, Brenna.”
I dropped the soppy socks and gripped the phone tighter. “Dead?”
“Oh, Bren, they think I did it!”
“I’m at the police station. They’ve taken me in for questioning. They even called in the Chief, in the middle of the night!” The last word turned into a little sob.
My own throat closed a little. My heart pounded. “I’m coming, Bly. I’ll be right there.”
I hung up and stumbled to the light switch. The jeans I took off the night before were hanging over a stack of cardboard boxes. I pulled them on and straightened my T-shirt. My hands shook as I grabbed the hair tie I kept wrapped around my belt loop and brought my hair back into a hasty ponytail.
Phone, purse, keys … shoes! Where were they? My judo bag lay half open at the foot of my bed, my frayed black belt spilling out. I spotted one of the electric blue plastic flip-flops I’d worn to practice sticking out from underneath it. I tossed the bag aside. Two flip-flops. Perfect. I stepped into them and sprinted for the door.
I pulled right up in front of the Bonney Bay Police Station, ignoring the
sign. Surely such idiotic directions did not apply to one whose traumatized little sister was being falsely accused of murder by a bunch of puffed-up jocks in this small town police department. Hey, as a former Olympian, when I run into a puffed-up jock, I feel qualified to call him like he is.
Officer Will Riggins. If he was involved in this … of course he’d be involved in this, even if he wasn’t on duty tonight. How many officers could there possibly be in this town? Did they even have designated detectives? How often did they have a murder to investigate?
. I shuddered, thinking of poor, jerky Ellison. Stabbed? Shot? Run over with his own prized boat?
The man was dead. At a time like this, I should be focusing on what was important—getting Blythe out of this mess. I marched into the tiny brick building, and instantly regretted my choice of footwear. The slap-a-slap-slap on the tile floor didn’t exactly convey the aura of authority—or, should I say, challenge to authority—I’d hoped for.
The scrawny officer at the front desk pushed his chair back with a loud scrape, as he bolted to his feet. His buzz-cut dark hair made his pea head look even smaller. He wore a name tag that identified him as
. “Will! It’s the sister!”
He might as well have said, “Will, it’s the plague!”
I paused and braced myself, half expecting him to pull out his stun gun and zap me. “My
is Brenna Battle,” I said calmly. “And yes, I’d like to see my sister.”
“Well, you can’t.”
“Has she been charged with a crime?”
“Well … ”
Firm, solid footsteps sounded, and Officer Riggins rounded the corner. His smooth, devilishly chiseled face looked uncharacteristically grim. His brown eyes were shadowed by irresistibly thick, dark lashes. The man was absolutely infuriating.
“Brenna.” He nodded at me.
I got right to the point. “Where’s Blythe?”
Will Riggins nodded to the hallway behind him. “Right now she’s just being questioned. We’ll have to do a more thorough search of the crime scene, and then wait on the forensics results.”
“But she’s a suspect?”
“Of course she’s a suspect!” the officer at the front desk cried. “She beat him to death with her freaking hairbrush!”
“Tony!” Will said.
“Her … what? The murder weapon was Blythe’s
Tony Pfeiffer folded his arms and narrowed his eyes. “She practically confessed!”
Riggins took a meaningful step in front of me. He met my eyes. “She confessed the hairbrush is hers, nothing more.” His eyes and his voice were so calm, so smooth. I couldn’t help nodding, retreating a step.
But then I imagined the scene. What a way to go, bashed in with a hairbrush. How do you even beat someone to death with a brush? I shook my head, picturing each of my sister’s hairbrushes in turn. Bright green, purple with sparkles, pink zebra stripes … all plastic. “You guys have no idea what you’re doing, do you? A plastic hairbrush?”
Riggins said, “A light object can do the job, with the right technique, applied to a vulnerable part of the body. I’m sure you know that.”
Right. Being a “martial arts expert” and all. “Of course I know that,” I snapped.
He nodded. “I think you were the one who explained to Walter how important it was to make sure he applied his chokes to the side of the neck, cutting off the carotid artery, instead of across the front, right on the windpipe.”
Yes, I’d made the mistake of joining one of the Police Athletic Club’s judo practices. And I’d ended up playing referee/ babysitter for a bunch of officers who were so inexperienced, they were likely to kill each other and they didn’t even know it.
“She whacked him with a hairbrush, right across his windpipe,” Pfeiffer said.
I turned to Riggins.
“That’s what it looks like,” he said, softly, warily. “One blow to his nose, which broke and spattered the hairbrush with blood, and another right across his throat, leaving blood smears there. It probably crushed his esophagus, though we’ll have to wait for the coroner’s report to find out for sure.”
It was unthinkable. Blythe wasn’t one to commit a crime of passion. Blythe didn’t even know how to
angry. I opened my mouth to argue, but a terrible wail came from the hallway.
“Blythe! What are you guys doing to my sister?”
Officer Riggins held a hand out to stop me. Now his calmness made me want to shake him. I ignored his gesture and strode over to him with the
look I normally reserved for European judo tour training camps. “Don’t think you can mess with the Battle sisters. If you’re up to any funny business with this investigation—”
I saw the red rising in Officer Riggins’s cheeks. He seemed suddenly transfixed by my feet.
Ha! Can’t even make eye contact, huh officer?
If that wasn’t the face of a guilty—
There was something strange about that frown, the way his eyes were now darting around the room. In search of an escape? Could he be that embarrassed? Was it worse than I thought? Were they trying to force a confession out of Blythe?
And then I caught his eye. And followed it straight back down to my foot. Yesterday’s underwear waved out of the cuff of my jeans like a pink polka-dotted flag of surrender. The treacherous undergarment had worked its way down my leg and out into the open. I’d never even noticed it had been left behind when I undressed the night before. I wasn’t really a pink kind of girl, but I’d been stuck in France with no underwear when the airline lost my luggage, and the polka-dots were all I could find in a pinch. And these undies
pinch, so I’d kept them.
I bent down, yanked the undies the rest of the way out, and stuffed them into my pocket. I heard Pfeiffer snicker. I spun and glared at him, and he sank behind his desk. I turned back to Officer Riggins, fighting the burn in my cheeks. His lips twitched a little. Before he could force the frown back on, I saw it. The dimple that only showed up when he smiled.
“Brenna! You’re here!” Blythe burst into the foyer with arms spread like an angel, swooping me out of the hole I’d just begged to open up in the floor and swallow me up.
A little sister who adored me was definitely preferable to being engulfed by humiliation. I blinked back tears of relief at having my sister safe in my arms. But what hole had I dug for Blythe? For both of us? Thanks to my bright ideas, we were new in town. Unwanted strangers.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll get you out of this.”
After all, I was the one who’d gotten both of us into it with my crazy scheme to move here, with my ridiculous hope that new dreams could come alive for us in this sleepy little coastal town.
Sierra Vista, Arizona, One Month Earlier
Blythe plopped down at my tiny kitchen table, chest heaving, like she’d run all the way here instead of screeching into the driveway behind my condo in her old, but meticulously maintained, Camry.
I handed her a heavily sweetened cup of coffee and sat down across from her.
“Well,” she managed, “that’s it.” I hadn’t seen Blythe so out of breath since the Black Friday shopping marathon she’d dragged me on last year.
Clearly this was about Jake. “It’s over?”
“Well. Finally! Good riddance!” I smiled encouragingly.
“But it’s o-o-over.” The gasp turned into a sob. My sister tumbled out of her chair and into my arms.
Dang it, Jake Lansing, you’re not worth it
, I wanted to say. Instead I said, “Shh.” It wasn’t just about Jake. She’d lost her dream, and that was something I understood all too well. I got up and fetched the box of tissues from the adjoining living area.