Still scanning the park square, Nora wondered where the trolley passengers had gone. The lodge’s green trolley was parked in its usual place, but no lodge guests strolled the sidewalks or meandered from the row of quaint shops on Bath Street to the Pink Lady Grill or the Gingerbread House.
Just then, a flash of red caught Nora’s eye and she groaned inwardly as a tall, shapely woman passed in front of the bookshop window. The woman yanked the door open, ignoring the riotous clanging of the sleigh bells, and settled into the closest chair like a queen awaiting the adulation of her subjects. Her pouty lips curved into a cat-with-the-cream grin. “Consider your next bibliotherapy session canceled.”
“Hello to you too, Estella.” Nora picked up the stray paperbacks a customer had left on the table next to Estella’s chair. “I assume you’re referring to the man I met on the park bench. Why isn’t he coming? Did you scare him off?”
“Me?” Estella pretended to be affronted, but Nora wasn’t falling for the act. “I didn’t even get a chance to meet him. I was up at the lodge wasting my time on a man I thought had some potential, but he’s already making payments to an ex-wife and needs to send three kids to college. There’d be nothing left for me.” She waved a manicured hand in dismissal.
Nora was itching to reshelve the books and check on the coffee. Though she didn’t dislike Estella, she was rarely at ease in her company.
Recalling the strange sensation she’d experienced as the second train whistle blew, Nora felt an inexplicable prickle of dread. She jerked a thumb toward the window. “Where is everyone?”
Estella’s grin returned. “At the train station. They’ve been drawn there like flies to sugar. The sheriff rolled in a few seconds ago, and since he and I have never gotten along, I made myself scarce.”
Nora, who made it a point not to look people directly in the eye, forgot her rule and gave Estella an impatient stare. “What happened? Just spit it out.”
Crossing her arms in disappointment, Estella murmured something about no one being any fun, but eventually complied with Nora’s request. “When your man on the bench placed an order for one of Hester’s comfort scones, he asked her to box it because he was heading over here to see you. He left the bakery, box in hand, but he never made it to Miracle Books.” Estella leaned back in the chair and smoothed the skirt of her white sundress. “I’m sure he’d rather be sitting in this comfy chair than where he is now.”
Nora knew she wasn’t going to like the answer to her question, but it had to be asked. “Which is?”
“On the tracks,” Estella declared breathlessly. “Someone pushed him in front of the three o’clock train.”
With a jubilant bark, Charlie burst out of the bushes towards me. I let out a sigh of relief as he pranced back and forth, tantalizingly out of reach. Trying to calm down my racing heart, I held out the doggy treat. With a happy yelp, he took the treat from my hand. He only needed two bites to finish it off. Murmuring endearments, I scratched behind his ears as I tried to slip the leash over his head with my other hand. Thinking this was a great new game, Charlie snatched the leash and ran off.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I raced after him. “Charlie!”
The leash clenched between his teeth prevented Charlie from barking, so I needed to keep close behind him. But he not only was the size of a small horse, he could run as fast as one, too. Five minutes later, he disappeared. This was ridiculous. Needing to catch my breath, I stopped and fished my cell phone from the messenger bag slung across my chest. I didn’t care if Piper was wearing designer stilts. Charlemagne was her dog, and she was going to come in here and track down her monster puppy.
Before I could call her, loud barks broke out to my left. This time I was the one to burst through the bushes. He wasn’t getting away again. But Charlie stopped barking as soon as he saw me. I knew now why he had been quiet for the past few minutes. He’d been digging away in the dirt, which he resumed upon my arrival. I looked for his leash and spotted it a few yards away, half buried by the dirt he flung to all sides. I picked up the leash before Charlie could get to it
first. As soon as I did, I also spied what appeared to be an animal bone. Most likely a deer.
But when I turned to see what Charlie was digging up now, my heart sank. It was another bone, but not one belonging to a deer. In fact, it was far more than a bone.
It was a human skull . . .
Peggy’s house was across the street and down from mine, and when I saw one with the door open I figured that was it. I had two bottles of wine in my arms and a taut leash, thus not afforded the freedom to look up the address on my phone.
“Hellooo,” I said, walking in. “I come bearing wine and a lovable beast.”
I let Bardot loose and headed inside. It was awfully quiet. There were supposed to be something like six women in this club, but I couldn’t hear any voices. The drapes were closed and I was so busy trying to catch up to Bardot at the dark end of the hall that I didn’t see the telephone table until my waist hit it, forcing me to slump across the top. When I reached
the end, Bardot was scratching at the back door. It was locked from the inside with a deadbolt. I should know, every apartment door in NYC has at least three of them.
Strange. Did they all come in through the driveway? Then why is the front door open?
I turned the key and Bardot bolted out. When my eyes adjusted from the dark to the sunlight, I saw that she was anxiously circling a woman laying facedown on the grass . . .
The light was dim and had a yellow cast. Hannah immediately identified it for what it was, the little light that glows when a refrigerator door is open. Totally disregarding Mike’s instructions to stay put until he got back, Hannah got to her feet and headed for the kitchen, intending to shut the refrigerator door before Ernie lost any of his perishables.
But there was another perishable, one she wasn’t happy about discovering. Her beautifully decorated gingerbread Santa cookies were crumbled and scattered on the tiled kitchen floor. The cookies were labor intensive. It wasn’t the mixing and the baking. That was the easy part. It was Lisa’a hand decorating that took time and considerable talent.
Her glance shifted to the refrigerator and she got another shock. There was a foot sticking out behind the refrigerator door. The foot was wearing a dark blue tennis shoe with silver
laces, just like the ones Ernie Kusak had been wearing when he’d come into The Cookie Jar this afternoon.
This was bad.
This was very bad . . .
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