Read Back To School Murder #4 Online

Authors: Leslie Meier

Back To School Murder #4

PRAISE FOR LESLIE MEIER AND HER LUCY STONE MYSTERIES

TURKEY DAY MURDER

“Funny and smart…Leslie Meier is a dab hand with a plot, and her clever whodunit is perfect for those who like their deduction clean, with no gore and plenty of puzzle.”

—
The Globe and Mail

CHRISTMAS COOKIE MURDER

“As usual, Meier deftly combines a realistic depiction of Lucy's life as a hard-working mother with a satisfying mystery plot.”

—
Publishers Weekly

VALENTINE MURDER

“Leslie Meier has created a town I'd like to live in and a sleuth I'd love to meet.”

—Jill Churchill, author of
Much Ado About Nothing

BACK TO SCHOOL MURDER

“Fans of Jessica Fletcher and her hometown of Cabot Cove will find the same type of pleasure in Leslie Meier's BACK TO SCHOOL MURDER.”

—
The Midwest Book Review

TRICK OR TREAT MURDER

“Enjoy Halloween with Lucy Stone and a wicked mystery.”

—
Mystery Lovers Bookshop News

TIPPY TOE MURDER

“A solid mystery.”

—
San Francisco Chronicle

“A surprising and intelligently constructed plot.”

—
Cape Cod Times

MISTLETOE MURDER

“Meier writes about Christmas in a small town with sparkle and warmth.”

—
Chicago Sun Times

Books by Leslie Meier

Mistletoe Murder

Tippy Toe Murder

Trick or Treat Murder

Back to School Murder

Valentine Murder

Christmas Cookie Murder

Turkey Day Murder

Wedding Day Murder

Birthday Party Murder

Father's Day Murder

Star Spangled Murder

New Year's Eve Murder

Bake Sale Murder

Candy Cane Murder

St. Patrick's Day Murder

Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation

A Lucy Stone Mystery

Back To School MURDER
Leslie Meier

http://www.kensingtonbooks.com

CHAPTER ONE

“U
nexpectedly, at home,” typed Lucy Stone. “Chester Neal, aged 85 years.” She paused and brushed away an annoying strand of hair. It was stifling in the newspaper office and it wasn't even nine o'clock.

“Ted? I'm not sure about this wording. Shouldn't we put ‘suddenly' instead of ‘unexpectedly'? How can death be unexpected when you're eighty-five?”

“I'd say it was pretty unexpected for Chet,” replied Ted Stillings, the fortyish publisher, editor, and chief reporter for
The Pennysaver
.

“Really? How did he die?” asked Lucy, leaning back and fanning herself with the press release from McCoul's Funeral Home.

“Fell off a ladder.”

“A ladder? What was he doing on a ladder at his age?”

“Picking apples, of course.”

“Oh.”

“And from what I hear, the family's pretty upset. Especially his father.”

“His father!” exclaimed Lucy.

“Just kidding,” said Ted, patting his pockets. “Camera bag, beeper, pens, notebook…I think I've got everything. I'll be over at district court, covering the arraignments. The morning after Labor Day is always pretty busy. If something comes up, call my beeper number, okay?”

“Okay,” said Lucy, turning back to the obituaries. Poor Chet would be missed by a lot of people in the little seaside village of Tinker's Cove, Maine. He belonged to the Masons, the Chamber of Commerce, the Men's Forum, and the Village Improvement Society. He was also a deacon at the Community Church and a trustee of the Broadbrooks Free Library.

“Hi, Lucy! Isn't this weather awful?”

Lucy looked up from the computer and welcomed Karen Baker with a broad smile. Karen's face was pink with the heat, and her blond pageboy hung limply.

“Hi, Karen. Never fails. As soon as summer is officially over and the kids go back to school, we get a heat wave.”

“You know, I think you're right. What are you doing here? I didn't know you were working at the paper.”

“It's just for a few days. Ted asked me to fill in for Phyllis. Her mother's sick. What can I do for you?”

“I've got an announcement for the PTA Bake Sale this weekend. Am I too late for this week's paper?”

“Not a bit,” said Lucy, quickly checking the scribbled announcement for date, time, and place.

“What have you done with little Miss Zoë?” asked Karen. Her daughter, Jennifer, and Lucy's next-to-youngest daughter, Sara, were best friends. Zoë, Lucy's two-year-old, was a favorite with both Jenn and her mother.

“She's at the new day-care center, over at the Rec Building. It's pretty nice.”

“That's what I hear,” said Karen.

“Actually, I'm wracked with guilt,” said Lucy, casually propping her chin on her hand.

“They'll take good care of her. Sue Finch is in charge, isn't she?”

“It's not that. I'm suffering guilt pangs because I don't mind leaving my baby. Not one bit. I love it here. Isn't it great? I feel as if I ought to be wearing a little hat like Rosalind Russell in
His Girl Friday
.”

“I never noticed it before, but you're right. This place sure has plenty of atmosphere,” said Karen.

Lucy followed her gaze as she took in the dusty venetian blinds that hung from the plate glass window, and the framed front pages commemorating
VICTORY IN EUROPE
,
JAPAN SURRENDERS
, and the famous Niskayuna Mills fire that hung on the walls. The space behind the counter was divided into two areas: Ted's with its ancient oak roll-top desk and swivel chair, and Phyllis's, temporarily Lucy's, with an ugly battleship gray steel desk topped with a computer. A police scanner sat on the counter, occasionally emitting hisses and cackles.

“Notice that smell?” asked Lucy. “That's hot lead. From the old linotype machine. Ted says you only smell it in hot weather. But the best part is the bathroom. I get it all to myself—nobody follows me in.” At two, Zoë liked to follow her mother everywhere.

Karen chuckled sympathetically. “I know what you mean. It's been a long summer, hasn't it? Seemed like the kids would never go back to school. I had to restrain myself when that beautiful big yellow bus pulled up this morning…I was tempted to kiss Moe!”

Lucy grimaced. Moe was a very ugly, very fat school bus driver. “So, how are you going to fill your idle hours, now that the kids are back in school?”

“Well, this morning I took a long shower, and then I had a second cup of coffee and read the newspaper. But I can't really afford to continue this fabulously luxurious lifestyle. I've got to give Country Cousins a call.” Like a lot of women in Tinker's Cove, Karen worked part-time for the giant catalog retailer, Country Cousins. “What about you? Are you coming back this year?”

“Probably.” Lucy sighed. “‘Thank you for calling Country Cousins. My name is Lucy. How may I help you today?'” she recited. “You know what I'd really like? A job that's not just a job. Something interesting and challenging, you know?”

“Sure. Why do you think I've stuck with the PTA all these years? There, I'm somebody. I'm Madam President. Not just ‘Karen-what-would-you-like-from-our-catalog.'” She shrugged and tucked a strand of damp hair behind her ear. “Good jobs are hard to find around here.”

“I know,” agreed Lucy, pausing a moment to listen to the scanner. Just a routine traffic stop. “If I went back to school, I could teach English. I only need a few credits, you know.”

“That's a good idea, Lucy. Quite a few of the old fossils at the high school are coming up for retirement.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. And you could substitute in the meantime. It's decent pay, and no commitment. If the kids are sick or something, you don't have to go in. School schedule, too. You only work when the kids are in school.”

“Maybe I will sign up for that course.”

“Which one?”

“Over at Winchester. Tuesday and Thursday nights. ‘Victorian Writers (1837-1901), with a special focus on Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning.' I saw it when I typeset the ad. I was so tempted—I majored in English lit, you know. But it seemed awfully expensive.”

“Education is a good investment,” said Karen. “Especially if you could eventually teach. They start at over twenty thousand, plus benefits and summers off. Why, that new assistant principal at the elementary school—Carol Crane—I bet she's barely thirty and she's making forty-two thousand.”

“You're kidding.” Lucy turned to listen to the scanner. Her attention had been caught by a change in the dispatcher's tone. Usually flat, reciting routine phrases and codes, it had suddenly become imperative.

“Seventeen and Nineteen, report to One-One immediately. Do you copy?”

“What's One-One?” asked Karen.

“Let me see,” said Lucy, reaching for a laminated sheet tacked above her desk. She scanned the list and raised an eyebrow. “The elementary school.”

“All available units, report to One-One stat, do you copy?”

The two women's eyes locked as they listened to a chorus of voices responding with the single word, “Copy.”

“Uh, base, this is Seventeen.”

“Seventeen's the chief,” explained Lucy.

“Copy, Seventeen. Go ahead.”

“Uh, we need fire and rescue over here.”

The two women simultaneously took a quick breath.

“Copy. Will relay that message.”

“Uh, base?”

“Copy, Seventeen.”

“Call the state police for assistance—uh—just get the bomb squad out here real fast! Copy?”

“A bomb at the elementary school?” Karen was incredulous.

“That's what it sounded like,” said Lucy, a catch in her throat.

“Jenn's there. And Sara. I'm going over there,” announced Karen, hurrying out the door.

“Damn. I'll be along in a minute. I have to call Ted.”

Lucy scrabbled frantically among the mess of papers on her desk for the Post-it with Ted's beeper number. She finally found it and punched in the digits. Then she waited, hand on the receiver, for Ted to call back. Her fingers tapped nervously as the minutes ticked by. Sirens filled the air and emergency vehicles screamed down Main Street, blurs of red and yellow as they raced past the office. It was all she could do to wait. She wanted to get to the school, to make sure Sara was all right. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was only two minutes, the phone rang.

“Ted! It's about time you called—there's a bomb at the elementary school!”

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