Thrown Off: A Cozy Mystery (Brenna Battle Book 3) (9 page)

BOOK: Thrown Off: A Cozy Mystery (Brenna Battle Book 3)
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“Stop! I said stop it!” the fervent whisper came from Annalisa.

Allen sat right next to her, a great big smirk on his face. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye and did a sit-up. He made his face blank and innocent.

“What’s going on, Annalisa?”

She rubbed her foot. “He kicked me. I told him to stop, but he kept kicking me.”

“Allen? Did you kick her?” I knew he had. Annalisa didn’t make stuff up, and she wasn’t a tattle-tale. I just wanted to find out what he would say.

“No. I didn’t do anything,” he answered earnestly.

“Get up,” I said.

He did, and I moved him to the corner of the mat, outside the circle, where he couldn’t touch any of the other kids.

“Listen, Allen. I don’t tolerate lying. If you lie to me again, you’re going to be doing front-pulls. Like this.” I got down on my belly and demonstrated for him, reaching out with my arms, pulling them both in, to my chest at the same time, in order to drag myself along the mat. It was like a pull-up, but on the ground. The beauty of front pulls was that even the weakest person could do them; they just went a lot slower. “You’ll be doing that until I tell you to stop. Do you understand?”

He nodded.

“I don’t tolerate picking on little kids either. Or pestering anyone. You keep your hands and your feet and your face—and everything else—to yourself, unless it’s to do a judo move that we told you to do. If you pester anyone, you’re going to be doing front pulls, too. Do you understand?”

“I’m telling my mom.”

I crossed my arms. “Sounds good to me, Allen.”

He narrowed his eyes at me and didn’t say anything. Hey, this wasn’t a daycare. It was a judo camp. Following the rules was important, even more so than in most groups of kids. You can’t do judo without a partner. Almost everything you do involves doing something to another person. Picking them up and throwing them, pinning them down, turning them over. These kids needed to be good partners. They needed to be able to trust each other, and I needed to be able to count on them to follow directions so they didn’t hurt each other.

After warm-ups, Blythe worked on teaching the new boys how to fall, while I handled the rest of the kids. Holden and Allen spent a lot more time doing front pulls than trying to do falls. They kept getting up and running around, trying to mess with the window blinds, trying to punch each other, to sneak off while Blythe’s back was turned as she helped one of the brothers, and to pester the other kids.

Blythe moved on from falls even though they didn’t really get it yet, and began trying to teach the boys how to grip the gi and turn each other onto their backs and pin each other, starting from their knees. That kept their interest better, though they kept fighting back against each other when they were supposed to be cooperating so they could learn how to do the technique properly first.

“Boys!” Blythe took one of them by the sleeve, one by the collar, and pulled them apart.

I walked over to them. “I guess you guys really like those front pulls, huh?”

“It is a good exercise,” Blythe said cheerfully.

“Yes, it is.”

“You can’t make me,” Allen said.

“No, but I can call your mom and tell her that we’re going to have to remove you from the program.” Blythe’s face was the picture of sadness and concern. Her tone was soft but resolved.

The boys looked at each other. They got down on their bellies and started doing front-pulls.

“Darn,” I whispered. “I was hoping they’d take you up on that.”

“Weird. It seems like they really do want to be here.”

“Great.”

“Well, it’s something we can work with,” Blythe said.

“If they don’t suck every last drop of patience out of you. Let’s just throw them into
ne waza randori
,” I suggested. “You need a break.”

Blythe smiled gratefully. “Sounds good to me. I taught them the rules. Not that they’ll necessarily
follow
the rules…”

For ne waza randori, we paired the kids up, on their knees, and when I said
hajime

go
—they tried to turn their partners onto their backs and pin them. They were supposed to resist and fight back, within the rules of judo.

I matched Holden with Anthony and Allen with Martin. I knew neither of those boys would take any nonsense from the brothers.

The kids bowed to their partners, then turned so that they were back to back. I said, “Hajime!”

Instead of turning around and trying to get a grip on Anthony and turn him to his back, Holden spread his arms wide, launched up in the air, and belly-flopped on top of Anthony. Anthony still had his back turned partway when Holden landed on his back. He was probably trying to take it easy and give the new kid a chance instead of whirling around on him and wallopping him right off the bat.

Uff!
I heard the air go out of Anthony.

“Holden!” I cried.

“What?” he said, still on top of Anthony.

“You can’t do that. This isn’t the WWE.”

He looked at me like I was the one who didn’t know what she was doing, like I was nuts.

“Look, you need to hold onto the gi and turn him over onto his back like this.” But Holden was already looking the other way. “Holden, look at me.”

He spun in circles on his knees, arms out.

Our new member information form specifically asked about ADD, the autism spectrum, and other issues we should know about, and Jessie had checked
no
. We could work with most kids as long as we knew what accommodations they needed—and as long as there was a basic foundation. You know, like the concept that you listen to the teacher and try your best to do what she says.

Not that any kid was perfectly behaved, but as long as they got the idea and had parents who supported it, it worked out. Some of the four-year-olds especially seemed to not realize that when I told them to do something, it wasn’t optional. I got the feeling they either hadn’t been required to do something they didn’t want to do very often, or they just didn’t view judo as something where anything in particular would be required of them. Maybe they just saw it as play, and felt they could opt in or out of any particular drill or activity. But once I gently explained to them what I expected, they tried to comply.

With Holden and Allen, I suspected I had something very different on my hands. I put my hands on Holden’s shoulders and he looked at me. “Start over,” I said. “Face him, and try to do what Sensei Blythe taught you. Ready? Go!”

Again, Holden leaped up, arms out. But this time, Anthony moved to the side. Holden’s belly smacked the mat. Some of the kids stopped what they were doing and stared. They stifled laughter. Holden got a look in his eye like a cartoon version of a raging bull. Bright red, with stripes of madness spiraling inside. He pulled the same move, and Anthony moved out of the way again. Holden belly-flopped onto the mat even harder.

“Hey, Superman, take it easy!” Anthony said.

I’d like to say that was the end of Holden diving onto his partners, but that would be much too common-sense of a result for Holden. In the end, I had to bench him with an icepack for comfort. And I had to take a few trips out the back door to bust my own gut laughing. What can I say? If you can’t teach ’em, at least you can enjoy the show.

15

A small, bright green table cloth was spread over the picnic table under the magnolia tree. I’d come alone, as promised, but Lourdes wasn’t alone. Carlos was with her. I waved and jogged over. Lourdes and Carlos were huggers. They both embraced me.

Then Carlos said, “Sit, please.”

Lourdes pulled some paper plates and a large foil container out of a reusable grocery bag. She peeled back the foil top, and aromatic steam drifted up like ghostly banners of deliciousness.

“Homemade chimichangas?” My mouth was watering so much, I just about choked on my own spit.

“Don’t worry,” Carlos said. “The chips and salsa are right here.” He untied a plastic grocery bag and took out a clear plastic container. My mouth watered up a another storm.

Lourdes heaped my plate and I got lost in one savory bite after another before I remembered I was here under very mysterious circumstances.

“So, what’s going on?” I said.

Carlos said, “We, that is, I—I need your help with something.”
 

“Okay, sure.”

The look they exchanged with each other told me I might not be so sure once I found out what that something was.

“I am sorry, Brenna,” Lourdes said. “I know you’re busy. And you have been involved in enough trouble. But we don’t know who else to tell.”

Carlos nodded. “One of my Cherry Bowl uniforms, it is gone. My hat, my apron, my shoes…all missing.”

I knew instantly what that could mean. “Are you sure?”

“We’ve looked everywhere,” Lourdes said.

“We thought maybe…maybe you would know who might have taken them.”

I dropped my fork, taken aback. “You think I—”

“Oh, no! Of course not. We don’t mean that you took them. It’s just, you like to do a little snooping, yes?”

“Well…”

“You know Millie’s death is very suspicious. You thought so from the beginning. So maybe you have found some things out. Maybe you suspect someone, someone who could have taken my things.”

“I’m sorry, I really don’t know who could’ve done it.” Though I did know of someone I could investigate…

“But you could find out.” To say Carlos looked disappointed would be an understatement. He looked pretty close to crushed.

“I don’t know. I really should stay out of these things.”

Lourdes leaned forward. “You are so good at it, Brenna,” she said passionately. “It’s meant to be. You are a crime solver!”

I just smiled and dipped another chip in that awesome green salsa. The tomatillos had been chargrilled to perfection. There was just enough lime. A generous amount of cilantro.

“Brenna?”

I swallowed. Back to reality. “You have to tell the police about your missing uniform, Carlos. Before they find out themselves.”

“How can I do that? They’ll think I did it and I destroyed the evidence!”

“What if they don’t have any leads and they decide to start searching employees’ houses?”

“There is nothing for them to find in my house. There is only something missing. How can they find that there?”

I raised a chip at him, ready to argue, but…“You know, you do have a point there.”

Carlos crossed his arms and smiled. “Also, I have no motive. There is no reason I would kill Millie. No one will suspect me. But you see, they’ve been in our house! How can we be safe? We have to find out who it is.”

“Why do you think the killer chose to dress as an employee?” I asked.

Carlos narrowed his eyes knowingly. “Because he is not an employee.”

“So you think it was just to throw suspicion away from themselves?”

“Absolutely. Who are the police looking at now? Who are they questioning? The employees!”
 

“True. So it’s probably not an employee…”

“And it had to be a man,” Lourdes added.

“Not necessarily. It just had to be someone big enough to wear Carlos’s things. What size shoe do you wear?”

“Eleven,” Carlos said.

“So,” Lourdes concluded, “they had to be able to wear those shoes and run in them without them falling off. Their feet could be a bigger size, but they’d have to be able to cram them into Carlos’s shoes.”

A silence fell over us as we all ate and pondered the mystery.
 

“You will not tell your friend Officer Riggins, right?” Carlos said.

“The problem is, this is information vital to a murder investigation. How can I hide that?” Maybe the police already had a suspect, and searching for the missing clothes would result in their arrest. How could I keep my mouth shut and give them time to dispose of the evidence? “I’m really sorry. I have to tell him, Carlos.”

“You see, Lourdes? I told you this was a bad idea.” Carlos started to rise from the bench. He looked ready to bolt.

Lourdes patted his chest. “It will be okay,
Mijo
. Please, Brenna. You have to figure out who would take them first. Before you tell the police.”

“Riggins will investigate. He’ll be fair.”

“And meanwhile I will be in jail. I have an interview next week, for a scholarship.” Carlos’s eyes got misty and he swallowed hard.

“A scholarship?”

“Yes. I’ve been working at the Cherry Bowl, saving up money for college.”

“He’s going to get it,” Lourdes said. “He’s going to go to PLU and be a nurse,” Lourdes said proudly.

“PLU?”

“It’s a small private University not far from here. They have a good nursing program and it’s close enough Carlos can still live with me and save money on housing.”

“When will I get another opportunity like this? Even if I can reschedule the interview, if my name ends up in the news, what then? How long will it take to clear me? Who will want to give me a scholarship? They’ll give it to one of the other three.”

“There are only three applicants?”

“No, there were hundreds, but Carlos made it to the final three. See, Brenna? He is so smart. He should be a nurse and make our mama proud.”

“Two days,” I said. “I’ll give it my best. I’ll try to come up with the murderer before then. But on Saturday, you need to call the police and tell them, or I will.”

I couldn’t help thinking back to the first time I found myself looking at the residents of Bonney Bay as potential murder suspects. When Carlos told me about Ellison Baxter, he’d revealed a surprisingly bitter side to himself. Was Carlos really innocent? Or was he really, really clever? He could be manipulating me, trying to get me to lead Will and the rest of the Bonney Bay PD in the wrong direction. What about motive? It kept nagging at me. He
had
to have a motive. Why would anyone choose Carlos to frame if he didn’t have one? Unless Carlos was telling the truth, and he was right about not being framed, too.

#

Blythe pulled a fresh batch of cupcakes out of the oven and slid the pan onto the cooling rack. “Last batch!” she announced.

We’d started baking during our dinner break, after the campers went home and before evening classes started. Well, Blythe had started baking and I’d ordered pizza and gotten the frosting and cupcake toppings ready. It was eleven o’clock, and our kitchen counters were covered with trays of cupcakes in various states of cooling, frosting, and sprinkling. I shook some patriotic sprinkles onto the last one on my tray, then grabbed my third cupcake and collapsed on the couch.

BOOK: Thrown Off: A Cozy Mystery (Brenna Battle Book 3)
12.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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