Authors: Laney Monday
After my steaming shower, I put on my flannel pajama pants and my fluffiest, thickest hoodie. There. Now I was toasty enough that I could actually consider enjoying some ice cream. I wrapped a towel around my head and came out to the living room. Sammi was sitting there, watching old reruns of
Murder She Wrote
. One of her feet was on the coffee table and Blythe was carefully applying purple nail polish to her toes.
Blythe looked me up and down. “Cozy?”
“Aren’t you hot?” Sammi said.
“What. Ev-er,” Sammi mouthed.
I ignored it and nodded at the TV “
Murder She Wrote
Sammi shrugged. “It’s kinda cheesy and lame, but it’s interesting too. Besides, there’s nothing else on right now that will help me with my goals.”
“I’m going to go to college and major in Criminal Justice and be a detective.”
Blythe lifted her chin and smiled proudly.
Sammi said, “We decided Tyler doesn’t fit with my goals.”
So, that was the punk’s name. “Neither does smoking in the alley, I hope?”
“No, smoking kills. And second-hand smoke isn’t much better.”
Well, well. Here, I’d figured Blythe would be the one to talk to since she knew a whole lot more about boys than I did, but Blythe had managed to steer Sammi toward higher goals. I’d go so far as to my sister bordered on boy-crazy. She was always noticing guys and had always had a boyfriend. Then she’d married my long-time judo coach, Jake, and he’d left her for an even younger woman after just a year. The divorce had only been final for a few months. As soon as we got to Bonney Bay, a local reporter, Ellison Baxter, had caught her eye. But that would-be romance had ended with his murder. And that, along with some other really creepy stuff we’d discovered, had put a damper on the guy appeal for Blythe. She’d gone two months without gushing about a single good-looking guy. Maybe prodding me to get together with Will was helping her cope.
I couldn’t help wondering if Sammi was playing Blythe. She’d gotten free ice cream, and now a mani-pedi. Hopefully this “change of heart” was real, and would last more than a few days.
There’s no easy cure for getting dumped by your own mother. Hey, there’s no easy cure for being almost twelve. But maybe we were on the right track. I was pretty sure Sammi would do plenty of stupid things in the near future, but if we got more involved with her, if we were there to help get her back on track—to help her even see there
a better track—maybe it would work out okay for her in the end.
I stumbled to the utility closet and got out the sprayer. I put a clean cover on the mop and leaned it against the wall for Blythe. She’d be down here in the dojo to help in just a minute, after she took a shower. I’d kind of accidentally used all the hot water, and she had to wait to take hers. Blythe was pretty ticked off. But even though it was Tuesday, two days since the incident, I still hadn’t forgotten the freezer. I’d dreamed about it, and then woke up feeling chilled.
I pumped up the sprayer. We sanitized the mats every morning, as well as before the evening classes started. We were careful to make sure no one walked on the mats with their shoes, but kids were germy creatures. I suspected most of them ran around barefoot in the summer. When germs get tracked onto the mat, people can get all kinds of nasty rashes and infections. The last thing I wanted was a ringworm breakout—or worse, staph. Ringworm is an itchy fungus that’s pretty common among kids. They can even get it from their pets. Usually, it’s not a really big deal, just itchy and unsightly. But in a sport with so much skin contact, with faces often touching the mat, it can get out of control fast. As for staph, that could be very serious. Either one could shut us down and discourage any potential customers from joining in the future.
Someone rapped on the glass doors. My eyes automatically went to the sign in the window. It was still flipped to
. Who would be here so early? I looked at the doors. Oh, it was Will. In uniform. I put down the sprayer and waved. He held up a cup from Espresso on the Bay and smiled. I don’t know what warmed my heart more, the dimples or the thought of that delicious cup of coffee. I grabbed my keys from the desk and strode to the door.
“Good morning,” he said.
morning. What’s going on?” I held the door open for him. He had a coffee in each hand.
“Just stopped by for a minute. Half an hour before your kids come, right?”
“Cold or hot?” Will said. In his right hand was something icy and topped with whipped cream and caramel drizzles. In his right, something steamy.
, I wanted to say.
You are definitely hot
“I didn’t know which way to go. It’s early, but it’s going to be a warm day.”
Hmm. The cold coffee did make me think of the freezer a little bit, but that caramel and whipped cream looked really good, and it was already warming up in here. “Cold,” I decided. “Thanks, Will.”
“You’re welcome.” He took a sip of the hot coffee.
“I’m sorry…about the way I’ve been acting lately.”
“Don’t worry about it. There’s a lot going on. You’re working a lot. With kids. And I know you liked Millie.”
“It’s been hard. But that’s no excuse for being a jerk.” I dipped the straw through the hole in the whipped cream dome, scooped out a blob of caramel, and sampled it. Scrumptious. “So, how’s the investigation going?” I dared to ask.
“What investigation?” He blinked at me innocently, and I knew he was kidding.
“The one I texted you about. Thanks for answering, by the way,” I said sarcastically.
“You’re welcome.” He took another drink, then said, “Glenda deleted the picture.”
“She what!” I put my hand in front of my face just in time to shield him from the whipped cream spraying out of my mouth. I swallowed. “Sorry. How could she delete the picture?”
“She was very apologetic. She said it was a new camera and she hadn’t quite figured out ‘this digital thing’ yet.”
“I thought she was a bird-watcher/photographer.”
Will held up his pointer finger and put on a stern, teacherly expression. “Don’t forget ghost-watcher. Very important. But unfortunately the photography part is a new hobby for our newly retired Glenda and our
I couldn’t help laughing. So, Ford had given Will the same impression he’d given me. But poor Millie. Will suspected foul play too. At least he must think it was a possibility. And the best evidence available had been destroyed. “So, now what?”
“Well, before they left town, Glenda gave me a description of what she captured in the photo, and what she thinks she saw. And I need to interview anyone else who might’ve seen that picture before it was destroyed.”
“Ah. So that’s why you’re here in that handsome uniform, officer.”
I didn’t flirt much. I really wasn’t sure how to do it, after years and years of sending the
don’t mess with me
message to men from Rome to Tokyo. But that had just slipped right out. Will Riggins had all kinds of strange effects on me.
Will raised his eyebrows. His mouth twitched in a smile. I almost started to be embarrassed. But Will’s expression filled with a deepening warmth. He wasn’t laughing at me. He was quite pleased with my flirtatious comment. His eyes made me want to inch closer. Without thinking, I did.
He lifted his hand to my cheek. It was warm from holding the hot coffee cup. He said softly, “Well now, Miss Battle. Don’t be too disappointed. My official business won’t take long.”
“And then what?”
Will’s dimples deepened. He brought his lips to mine. His kisses were sweet and soft. My whole body relaxed. I almost dropped my coffee. Some of the ice cold liquid dripped over my hand. I didn’t care. I kept kissing Will.
A siren blipped. I jolted, and the coffee went flying. Whipped cream and precious, caramelly slush shot out in an arc. My hand had instinctively squeezed the plastic cup as it slipped out of my hand at the sound of the siren, forcing the dome lid off. Then the whole thing slid out of my hand. Will swore and jostled his coffee, but managed to only spill a little bit on the floor.
I stared at the sad, sad, mess I’d made, then out the window. The police car disappeared, leaving a wake of loud laughter behind. “What the…? Who was that?”
“Pfeiffer. I’m gonna kill him.”
My face burned with embarrassment and outrage. I have to say, I would’ve paid good money to see Will beat the stuffing out of Officer Tony Pfeiffer. But…“Oh, no. He’s all mine.” It would be much more satisfying to do it myself. Skinny Officer Pfeiffer had enjoyed entirely too many laughs at my expense. The very first time I’d seen him, I’d humiliated myself. And found out my sister was being questioned for murder. Pfeiffer was not my favorite cop, and not just because Will Riggins had that spot locked up.
“I’m sorry, Brenna.”
“No, it’s not your fault. I can’t believe I dropped that. I just wasn’t expecting…I guess I was a little distracted.”
Will suppressed a smile. “Sorry about that,” he said again.
I looked away. I didn’t know what was worse—the untimely destruction of a beautiful caramel frappuccino thingy or the fact that Tony had seen me kissing Will like that. Kissing Will like I never wanted to do anything else. And then, of course, he’d been richly rewarded by watching me spurt coffee all over the dojo floor.
“I’ll get you another coffee when we’re done here.”
I nodded, but I was too mad to speak. I grabbed a roll of paper towels and a container of wipes from a nearby shelf. We kept them handy for nosebleeds and other mishaps. Will set his coffee on the desk and knelt next to me to clean up the mess. When the last sticky streaks had been wiped, he reached over the pile of used paper towels and wipes between us and covered my hand with his. He pulled me closer. And then the door to the stairwell opened. I pulled back like I’d just put my hand on Blythe’s hot curling iron.
“Did you mop already?” Blythe said. Her hair was blown dry and pulled back in a perky pony tail. “Oh, hi, Will.” I could tell she wanted to smirk, but she was too polite for that. She liked to think she’d played matchmaker with Will and me. She was very proud of her budding success.
“Hi, Blythe,” Will said. He cleared his throat. “Maybe we should sit down…so we can concentrate on business,” he said to me.
I nodded and scooped up the dirty towels and wipes. I told Blythe, “No, I didn’t spray yet either. I, uh, spilled some coffee. We were cleaning it up. Will needs to talk to me about that picture Glenda took.”
“Okay, you guys talk. I’ll spray.”
“Thanks.” I threw away the garbage and headed for my desk.
Instead of sitting in the chair placed across from my desk for parents, Will helped himself to Blythe’s desk chair. Hers was right beside mine. He swiveled toward me. “Okay. What do you remember about the picture?”
“A big blur. Definitely human, but a total blur.”
“How big was the blur?”
“I can’t really say. I couldn’t make out the ladder or anything else to give me a size reference.”
“Okay, what was the person wearing?”
“It looked like a red hat and a black shirt and dark pants. I got the impression the person wasn’t very dark, but not very pale either, but that could be wrong.” Great. That was helpful for sure.
I thought carefully, trying to focus on my own memories, to forget anything I’d heard at the store. “I thought male, but I couldn’t really say why. You know, there was another color. Bright green.”
Will nodded. “Glenda described a person wearing a lime green apron and a bright red baseball cap.”
“A Cherry Bowl employee?”
“It fits the description.”
So, the employees were right. The police suspected one of them. How could it be one of them? How awful. How could one of them have shut me in the freezer last night, either? I shuddered. I knew many of the employees. Blythe and I talked to them all the time while we were shopping. Sure, we were really busy with the business, but even though I was an introvert, I started to feel a little starved for adult conversation sometimes. Besides, we were trying hard to be friendly and get to know our neighbors in Bonney Bay.
Are you okay?
his look said. “Creepy, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is.” Not to mention really, really horrible sitting here looking right at this guy I adored, this guy who I knew would want to know, and not telling him one of those employees had tried to turn me into an ice cube last night. Maybe just to scare me…or maybe they’d left me for dead.
He wouldn’t believe me anyway
, I told myself. Roberta hadn’t. But I wasn’t so sure. Will believed in me more than was sensible. Like Blythe.
“Can you do me a favor?”
“Brenna, I can’t tell you—”
“It’s not about the investigation. It’s not about Millie. It’s about Sammi.”
“What about Sammi?”
“Just keep an eye out for her. And let me know if you see her just…hanging around. By herself or with the wrong people.”
“Sammi hates me, remember?”
I waved my hand dismissively. “It’s all an act.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, she hated me, and she got over it. But anyway, she doesn’t have to like you. Just, send me a text and tell me if you see her around, up to no good. Especially at night.”
Will frowned. “Sure. What’s this about?”
I told him about Sammi and Tyler, the smoke blower.
“I know who that kid is.” Will’s expression darkened. “Don’t worry. I’ll keep an eye on him, too.”
“It’s your turn to make dinner,” Blythe said. “I think we have some pasta in the cupboard.”
“Okay. Just give me a minute.”
The camp kids were gone, and our evening classes didn’t start for another two hours. I put my bare feet up on my desk and sat back. My quick-dry shorts and rash guard were still damp with sweat. “Do we have any more of that spicy marinara?”