Authors: Emily Page
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Cozy, #Animals, #Women Sleuths, #Two Hours or More (65-100 Pages), #Literature & Fiction
© 2016 by Emily Page
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
indy Cove got
its name for a reason. The wind practically roared up on the rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean. In Windy Cove, nearly every house sat right on the seaside, and Tim Skimmerhorn’s was no different. His back door practically opened onto the sand, but the old man had wandered to the far edge of his property where the land moved steadily upward and ended in a cliff overlooking the crashing waves. It was a beautiful view, but Tim wasn’t enjoying it.
The wind whipped what little of his white, candy floss hair he had left. He was breathing heavy from both the exertion of walking up the hillside and the heated nature of his conversation. His Rottweiler, however, seemed to be having a great time lolloping at his side.
“I just won’t do it!” Tim yelled over the roar of the wind and the crash of the waves.
Down on the beach, a seagull that had been inspecting an empty shell looked up to the cliff where Tim was standing rather closely to the edge with the dog at his side. The gull eyed them both a little warily.
Had anyone but the nervous gull been watching from this vantage point, they would have thought perhaps Tim was talking to the dog. Anyone who knew Tim wouldn’t find this out of the ordinary. Cupcake was the portly old millionaire’s one tried and true friend.
“The bed has been made. I won’t change my mind.”
Cupcake barked and bounded out of sight.
“Wait! Watch out! You’re going to—”
Tim’s scream made the gull’s feathers ruffle. When Tim Skimmerhorn’s body smacked the shallow waves and the rocks underneath, the gull squawked and took flight.
, Julie, you think you’ve got it?” said Georgia, trying to portray more confidence than she actually felt.
“Easy peasy, sis. Quit worrying,” said Julie, swiveling back and forth in Georgia’s office chair.
“Please remember what I said about the computer. Take it slow. Don’t press a button unless you know exactly what it’s going to do. Got it?”
Julie Mason was just as lovely and well-dressed as her older sister. She was the fairer of the two, inheriting their father’s milk chocolate eyes and dark brown hair, whereas Georgia had their mother’s black hair and dark eyes. Their mannerisms were rather different though. Georgia moved with elegance and refined grace, whereas Julie was much more bouncy and expressive. They both had the same bright, wide smile, though, and Julie flashed it at Georgia.
“Don’t worry, Gee-Gee. Your kingdom is safe in my hands,” she said.
Georgia wasn’t so sure. Julie ran her own hand-crafted jewelry business in a town just a few hours from Port Grace, so managing a business wasn’t anything new to her. Georgia’s staff would take care of most of the nitty-gritty details about the properties and clients of the Mason family’s real estate business in Georgia’s absence, but Julie had a serious problem with computers. She liked them, and she used them often, but mostly just for Google and social media, and she still managed to post comments on the wrong pictures and accidentally post Google searches like ‘how to cook salmon’ as Facebook statuses.
“Just…stick to the telephone as much as possible,” said Georgia.
“Yeah, yeah. Relax, Gee-Gee,” said Julie.
Georgia wished, not for the first time, that she had someone with better computer skills and a large knowledge of real estate to leave in charge, but she still hadn’t been able to find a new department head to replace Bruce Fowler. A few months earlier, Bruce had been murdered by his wife, who had the help of his two mistresses, one of who was his secretary and the other a promising young agent. Georgia had helped solve the crime, but it had meant even more work for her. She had found a new secretary rather quickly, and she had very recently managed to find a bright young man named Matthew to replace the murderous agent, but finding someone with managerial skills, people skills, and the right attitude to run the Port Grace office had proved harder than expected.
She looked at her sister and sighed at herself for being so uptight.
“Thanks, Jules,” she said. “You’re really saving my butt here.”
Julie leaned back in the chair and gave Georgia a sneaky smile.
“I love you too, Georgia,” she said with a wink.
“I’m hoping I won’t be gone long at all,” said Georgia, “but from the conversations I’ve had with this guy, he seems high maintenance. He may make the sale difficult.”
“I’ve got Clark in charge back at home in the shop,” said Julie. “I can stay as long as you need.”
Georgia headed for the door but stopped with her hand on the knob.
“I really do love you, Jules,” she said. “Thanks again.”
Matthew was waiting for Georgia by her car. He was coming with her to Windy Cove to help her buy a wealthy old business tycoon’s mansion for one of her VIP clients in Chicago who wanted a summer beach house. She’d only hired him a few weeks ago, and he was still in training.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said, unlocking the car.
“No problem. It’s nice out here today,” said Matthew.
When he said things like that, Georgia knew he was the right choice. He was upbeat, and he always looked at the cheery side of things. A good real estate agent needed to put his clients at ease and make them feel happy about the sale or purchase, and Matthew could certainly do that. He reminded her of a cheery little bird singing its heart out in the sun. He had small features and a pointy nose, and his hair was the color of sparrow feathers.
They arrived at the mansion in under an hour.
“Wow! This place looks like it belongs in Hollywood,” said Matthew as they pulled into the drive of the massive, white-columned mansion surrounded by a regular Eden of palms, blossoming trees, and bushes.
“All right, Matthew,” said Georgia as she extracted a key from a potted plant by the door, just where the owner had told her it would be, “the owner has business today until one. We’re going to do a walkthrough as part of your training while we wait. Here’s all the information I have on the place.” She handed him a folder. “Sell me this house.”
Matthew smiled and took the folder. “All right. Sounds fun.”
Once he had scanned in the information, Georgia opened the door.
“Welcome to your new dream home, Miss Mason,” said Matthew, ushering her inside. “It’s a mansion fit for a Hollywood star. As you can see, the foyer floor is made of freckled marble. You don’t see that very often in residences anymore. You also don’t see spiral staircases much either. This home not only has one, but it’s also wide enough that moving your furniture upstairs won’t be a problem. The rest of the house has polished hardwood, although the marble is still present in both the kitchen and bathroom countertops. There are five bedrooms, four baths. The master bath even has a waterfall in the tub, but we’ll get to that later.”
Matthew continued like that throughout the house. Georgia was impressed.
When they moved out into the backyard, Matthew pointed to a quaint little structure just a little ways from the home and said, “It even has a guest house with a kitchen, living room, bedroom, and loft, so no need to worry about keeping that pesky uncle or nagging mother-in-law in the house over the holidays.”
Georgia laughed. “You’re doing really great, Matthew,” she said. “One tip: Try to add in tidbits about the area while you talk about the features of the house.”
“Got it,” said Matthew. “Windy Cove is the ultimate beach front location. The sand is just a short walk away. This section of beach is even part of the property, so you’ll own your own little oasis. Let’s go check it out.”
Georgia took off her heels and followed Matthew down to the beach.
“The town itself is like an oasis,” said Matthew as Georgia took her first step onto the soft sand. “All the homes are on the beach, and in the middle is a gorgeous main street with locally owned shops you can’t find anywhere—oh my God!”
Georgia followed Matthew’s gaze and gasped. She ran toward the figure lying facedown on the beach with her heels swinging in her hand.
It was an old man in a very expensive, tailored shirt and khaki shorts. Both were marred by blood, sand, and salty water. He had a number of gold rings on his hands and a solid gold chain on his neck.
“Matthew, call 911,” said Georgia, rolling the man over so that his face was out of the reaching waves.
Matthew took out his phone and said, “You don’t think it could be the owner, do you?”
“I don’t know,” said Georgia, checking the man’s pulse and feeling nothing. “I’ve only talked to him over the phone and email. I looked him up, but all the pictures on his business’s site are from when he was young.”
Matthew put the phone to his ear, and Georgia stepped away from the man so as not to further contaminate the scene. He was beyond help.
They waited at the front of the house for the police to arrive. Georgia was surprised when only one cop car pulled into the drive.
From the front seat came a short woman with silver hair cropped just below her ears. Her face was rounded and kind looking. A middle-aged man with a walrus mustache and a stomach that threatened to pop his uniform buttons stepped from the passenger side and opened the back door of the cruiser to let out a wiry man with a ludicrous handlebar mustache that devoured his thin face.
“You the ones who called it in?” said the woman.
“Yes. I’m Georgia Mason. I’m here to buy the house on behalf of a client. This is my employee, Matthew Munch.”
“I’m Chief Crimbleton, and these are my deputies, Rutherford and Peak.” She pointed to the large man and the wiry man in turn. “Windy Cove’s police force.”
“You don’t mean—”
“The entire police force. Yes, ma’am,” said Crimbleton in the voice of a stern but beloved grandmother. “We’re all this little town needs.”
“Oh,” said Georgia, trying not to look doubtful. “Well, Chief, we found the body while doing a walkthrough. We aren’t sure if it’s the owner or not.”
“Let’s take a looksee,” said Crimbleton, hiking up her pants by the belt.
Georgia and Matthew led the cops to the body. Rutherford made a gagging sound and put a hand over his mouth.
“Oh my God! There’s blood,” he said, his voice muffled by his hand.
One of Georgia’s eyebrows rocketed toward her hairline.
“That’s Tim Skimmerhorn all right,” said Crimbleton. She crossed her arms and looked up the jagged cliff outcropping above the washed-up body. “Looks like he took a tumble.”
“The crazy old man was always wandering around yapping to that psycho dog,” said Peak. “Probably wasn’t watching where he was going.”
“That seems unlikely,” said Georgia. “Why would he get that close to the edge in the first place?”
“Great view up there,” said Peak with a shrug. “Unless we find a suicide note somewhere, I say we write it up as an accident, Chief.”
“Don’t you have to at least consider other options?” said Georgia.
“Those ‘other options’ don’t happen around here, ma’am,” said Crimbleton.
“You mean it doesn’t happen often. It’s still possible,” said Matthew.
“No. I mean it doesn’t happen. In my forty-plus years on this force, I’ve never seen a murder.”
Georgia’s jaw dropped. The man she’d intended to do business with was now dead on the beach, and these local cops had never done a murder investigation.
“Well, I have seen homicides,” said Georgia, “and I’ve helped solve them. Just six months ago I helped Port Grace police catch the people who murdered my company’s manager, Bruce Fowler.”
“I thought you looked familiar,” said Crimbleton, squinting at Georgia. She sighed and said, “She’s right, boys. We can’t just right this off without evidence. Wouldn’t be professional. Let’s go have a looksee up on that cliff.”
“Do you mind if we come along?” said Georgia. “I think I can help.”
“Honey, I’m in my sixties,” said Crimbleton with a sweet smile. “If there was anyone fit to replace me, I would have retired years ago. I’m not as sharp as I used to be, and age will teach you to take all the help you can get.”
While Rutherford grumbled something like, “I’m fit,” Georgia said, “So, that’s a yes?”
“Come on,” said Crimbleton, leading the way.
Walking back to the yard and around to the cliff brought them close enough to see the neighbor’s house and the impressive garden in the back. A man looked up from pulling weeds and ran over to them. He had bright red hair and freckles all over his face and arms.
“What did that old loon do now?” he said. “Are you finally going to arrest him, Chief? Or, better yet, put that menace of a dog down?”
“Skimmerhorn’s dead, Jerry,” said Crimbleton.
Jerry blinked, slack jawed. “What?”
“You didn’t like Mr. Skimmerhorn and his dog, Mister…?” said Georgia.
“Uh,” said Jerry, taking in Georgia’s high-waisted pencil skirt and blue blouse, “Wiseman, and no. The guy was crazy. Always complaining about something. And that mutt tore up my garden I don’t know how many times. When I told Tim to get that dog a fence, you know what he said? He said that Cupcake wasn’t trespassing because part of my garden was technically on his property line, which is bogus.”
“Cupcake?” said Matthew.
“His Rottweiler. A boy Rottweiler named Cupcake. That should tell you something.”
“So, you two had a fight?” said Georgia
“A fight?” said Jerry, red as a tomato. “The old coot threatened to sue
for trespassing on his land! Then, yesterday, I get a summons to appear in court for a land dispute. He set the whole thing up and didn’t even tell me!”
Georgia pulled out her cell and made a note.
“There wasn’t a dog in the house,” said Matthew.
“We’d better find him, then, after we check out the cliff,” said Crimbleton.
“Cliff?” said Jerry.
“Yes,” said Georgia, locking eyes with Jerry. “The cliff he may have been pushed off of.”
Jerry went white, and Georgia followed the others without another word. At the top of the cliff, a beast of a Rottweiler lay with its head on its paws, whining. When it heard them approach, it bounded up with its stump of a tail wagging and went straight for Georgia, leaping up to put its paws on her shoulders and lick her face. The force would have knocked her down had Matthew not grabbed her elbow.