Authors: Diane Bator
Tags: #Cozy, #Detective and Mystery Fiction
His jaw hardened. "I'm a cop. Besides, we're not talking about me anymore. We're talking about a cold-blooded killer."
"No, you're talking about one of the new instructors at the Phoenix school," she said. "What about his girlfriend? Did she tell you she's opening a new shop in town? Kane says it's a voodoo store, but it sounds more like a New Age place with crystals and stuff."
"Where's she setting up this shop?" Thayer asked.
Gilda shrugged. "No idea."
Fabio set his hand on her arm. "Gilda, I don't know what Thayer said to you earlier, but it has nothing to do with the situation we're in. I…we need your help to solve a murder, and you're in the perfect position to gather information. Will you help us or do we have to shut the new school down and get a warrant to search everything and everyone in the place?"
"You've already shut it down."
"Only for one day. I meant we'd shut it down long-term."
Gilda stared at the remains of her breakfast sandwich, no longer hungry. "It hasn't even opened yet. Besides, these are my friends you're talking about."
"I know." Fabio nodded. "I never said it would be an easy decision."
She sat back, her gaze out the window on a dark sedan. "Will I have to wear a wire?"
"That's not necessary at this point," Fabio said.
Thayer shook his head but kept his thoughts to himself, which was a first.
Gilda drew in a deep breath. "I'll do what I can to help. I'm only doing this so I can help my friends. You know that, right?"
Fabio patted her arm. "We know. I'll have undercover officers at the funeral, and everyone will be on full alert."
"You think the killer will go to Detroit just to appear at his funeral?"
"Stranger things have happened." Thayer shrugged. "Call it taking attendance. Maybe it's more who's missing we'll be looking at rather than who's actually there, especially since the funeral is here in town."
Gilda furrowed her eyebrows. "Wait a minute. Charlie's funeral is in Sandstone Cove? I thought he lived in Detroit."
"He did, but he grew up here and has family in town, which brings me to the next thing we need to discuss." Fabio took a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket. "We need to search your house."
"Why? I'm not a suspect, am I?"
"Mildred Palmer used to own your house before she died."
Gilda widened her eyes. "Excuse me? Who's Mildred Palmer and why would you need to search her old house?"
"She was Charlie Hunt's grandma," Fabio said.
A shiver ran down her spine. How creepy was that? "But I've owned it for the last two years. Why would you suddenly need to search it now that Charlie's dead?"
"We've heard some rumors." Thayer cleared his throat and sipped his coffee. "I can't say any more than that."
"I see." She huffed. "So this so-called exchange of information that may or may not put my life at risk is a one-way deal."
Thayer nodded. "Yup."
"No." Fabio scowled at his partner. "There's nothing for us to tell you just yet. We just want to confirm some suspicions."
"Suspicions of what?" she asked.
"That's the part you need to help us figure out." Fabio eased out of the booth and limped toward the door.
Once he and Thayer left, Gilda unfolded the search warrant. The paper was blank. A mere scare tactic or were they heading over to search her house illegally? She snorted and left the rest of the sandwich, grabbed her coffee, and headed for the door, glad to see both cops walk across the street and disappear into the police station.
If they planned on picking up a real search warrant, Gilda didn't want to be home when they brought it to her door. She turned left rather than right, walking past the Phoenix school toward Ponderer's Point. Charlie Hunt had been murdered along the point near the lighthouse, where she loved to hang out.
She couldn't help but stare at the spot where she'd found Charlie's body. No sign of blood or footprints, just soft gray sand. As Gilda shook off the image of Charlie's beaten face, she walked toward her favorite boulder then paused. A familiar figure had already beaten her to the same spot.
Doctor Ryan Graham, better known to the whole town as Doc, sat on a boulder with pipe smoke swirling into the September air. Taller than Mick, with white hair and a deep tan from the hot summer sun, Doc was dressed in his usual manner with Bermuda shorts, a bright Hawaiian shirt, and, more than likely, his Birkenstock sandals over black socks.
"Hi." Gilda strolled over, stopping just out of a breath of smoke. The scent reminded her of her dad, who'd passed away far too soon in the line of duty. When she was younger, he sat out on the porch in the evenings and puffed on a pipe while he watched the world go by. He was, in effect, Sandstone Cove's first Neighborhood Watch.
Doc nodded. "I wondered when I'd see you out here again. I've missed our little chats over the past few weeks. How are the renovations coming at the new school?"
"Done. The Phoenix is going to be amazing. Mick's hired a yoga instructor and someone to teach weaponry. We had our grand opening yesterday."
"Yoga?" He raised his bushy eyebrows. "Where do I sign up?"
Gilda laughed, hopping onto the boulder. "Really?"
"Young lady, I've practiced yoga since I was in med school. It's kept me in shape for all these years. I haven't had anyone to train with since my wife died, just my cat."
"In that case, I'll bring you a copy of our new schedule."
"I'd appreciate that." Doc released a ring of smoke. "So, what's on your mind today? Aside from the dead fighter you found on the beach yesterday."
Her face warmed. "Good guess."
"I know you too well."
Gilda glanced at Doc, her vision instantly marred by the brisk wind blowing her hair in her face. "I know you and the M.E. are good friends."
He puffed his pipe and shifted on the rock beside her. "Yes, but we never discuss specific cases, if that's what you want to know. Particularly current ones."
"Even if the man accused of murder is probably going to jail right now?"
"Kane Garrick. It doesn't sound like they have any physical evidence against him, just his long, sordid history with Charlie."
Doc met her gaze. "Kane Garrick? Wasn't he the guy Fabio and Thayer found waving a sword around on the beach and screaming like a lunatic?"
, not screams. He's a Japanese fencing teacher. He was training." She wasn't sure why she suddenly felt the need to defend a guy she didn't really like. "He wasn't yelling at anyone except imaginary opponents."
Both of Doc's eyebrows rose. "So he's crazy."
Gilda groaned. "No crazier than the rest of us. Well, not that anyone's scientifically proven anyway."
"Is Kane a friend of yours?"
She hesitated, unsure how to answer. "More like a coworker, I guess you'd say. He's supposed to teach weaponry classes at the school, which we'll have to put on hold now he's in jail. Ironically, that's the one class we have a long waiting list for."
Doc puffed his pipe. "I see. So you have a vested interest in proving his innocence."
"I guess so," she said. "He's a friend of Mick's. I just want to help."
He nodded, eyebrows raised. "May I remind you about the time you insisted my nurse was stealing drugs from my office?"
"I was fresh out of surgery and had so much medication in my system I was hallucinating. You said so yourself."
"And the time you set up a killer in the martial arts school and nearly got Mick killed."
She snorted. "That was not
doing. Mick and Thayer—" When Doc smiled, she paused. "Are you toying with me?"
"Of course." He patted her arm and slid off the rock. "I'm also trying to warn you to keep out of trouble. I know you have strong feelings for Mick and have an obligation to help, but—"
"But you don't want me to get in over my head again."
"Exactly." Doc emptied his pipe and spread the ashes over the rocks to cool then gave her a hug. "I like you just the way you are. Please don't get yourself beat up, or worse this time." He hopped over the rocks, making his way toward the hospital.
Once Doc reached the parking lot, Gilda frowned and turned to face the lake.
He made her sound like a serial crime solver. A habitual truth seeker. Maybe he was right. Maybe she needed to take up knitting or painting in her spare time and leave the crime solving in the past. Her dad had been the cop, not her.
Tears stung her eyes as they always did when she thought about him. Being killed while on duty during a bank robbery had made him a hero, but that didn't ease the pain of losing him.
"Hey, love. What's happening?" Kane ran toward her up the boardwalk as a blustery wind picked up. His hair was plastered to his forehead and his shorts were blotchy with sweat, while his bare, broad chest shone.
Gilda gave an inward groan. So much for not getting involved. "I thought Thayer already locked you up?"
"Nah." He slowed to a walk, wiping his forehead with the back of one hand. "He tried, and heaven knows Mena gave him more than enough ammunition against me. Mick convinced him to do a bit more investigating before he did anything rash."
"That's good," she said, not so sure she meant it.
Kane raised both eyebrows. "You don't look very happy to see me running loose around town, love. Would you rather I be locked behind bars?"
Gilda bit her lower lip and hesitated. "I don't know what to think. I heard you and Charlie trained together."
"He was my coach and mentor." He shrugged. "We trained. We sparred. We traveled. We did everything together."
"Everything?" she teased, raising her eyebrows.
"It was like we were married, but I never had to see him naked." Kane met her gaze. "We were a team. He was the brain. I was the brawn. He planned the matches. I just showed up and fought to win. We worked well together for a long time."
"Did he ever ask you to do anything you didn't want to do?"
He hesitated. "Daily."
Kane grinned. "You really don't want me to answer that, love. Let's just say I'm not the kind of guy who can look myself in the mirror much. Not the way your boyfriend can."
Gilda's stomach knotted as Kane started to walk away. Had Charlie made Kane lose fights, or take dives, on purpose, or had he turned Kane into a mob enforcer outside of the ring as well?
Kane paused. "Hey, where's Armadillo Street from here? I'm supposed to meet Mena there to check out her building, and I have no clue where the bloody place is."
Armadillo Street sounded like a great place for someone to curl up and hide. She gave him simple directions.
"Great. Thanks, love." He blew her a kiss, walking backward away from her. "Once I'm done with my run, I guess I'll head over there."
"Wait. What's her new store called?" she asked. "I might drop in sometime."
"Spirit something. Healing Spirit. Something lame like that. See you later, love."
As he ran down the boardwalk through the park, she sighed, filled with far more questions than answers. She needed to find Gary. If anyone had the lowdown on the fight scene, it would be a bookie.
After learning about Mena's new store from Kane, Gilda grew curious enough to make a detour on her way home. She crossed the busy street in front of the Phoenix school then headed two streets over and away from the lake. Armadillo Street held an eclectic blend of quilting shops, kitchen shops, restaurants, a sex shop that made her blush and face the other direction, and an old smoke shop which sold everything from cigarettes to cigars and paraphernalia from around the world.
Mena's store, Healing Spirit Gift Shop, stood between a fabric store and the tattoo parlor which had animal skulls and bamboo blinds half-covering the front window. Someone had painted the Healing Spirit storefront black with bright purple trim. The front door stood open wide and the scent of acrylic paint and incense hit Gilda in a stifling wave.
"Hello?" Gilda fanned away the fumes as she peered inside the store, surprised to see Mena on a ladder rolling paint onto one wall.
She glanced at the bare black shelves and dozens of plain brown boxes that filled the center of the store. Toward the front of the store sat a black granite-topped counter adorned with glittering purple and blue tiles all the way around. The front windows were dusty and grimy but bare, and someone had already painted the hardwood floors black.
To Gilda, it seemed an odd choice of colors to attract customers off the street. She hoped Mena had something amazing to put in her window display.
"Hey." Mena flinched. "What are you doing here?"
"Kane mentioned where you were setting up your new shop so I thought I'd check the place out." Gilda smiled as a shiver crept up her arm. "You have a nice location. I imagine the rent here must be crazy."
"That's none of your business. So you and Kane are suddenly buddy-buddy. Interesting." Her hands dotted with paint, Mena pushed a strand of dark hair out of her face with her forearm. "Be honest. The only reason you're here is to make sure I am nowhere near Mick."
Gilda sighed at Mena's defensiveness. "Look, I know Charlie was a friend of yours, and I just wanted to pass on my condolences. What did I ever do to you anyway?"
"Nothing." She set her roller in a paint tray and wiped pale purple flecks off her hands.
Gilda took a bracing breath. "How well did you know him? Charlie, I mean."
Mena snorted. "What does my relationship to Charlie matter? You didn't even know the guy."
Gilda's face warmed and she averted her gaze.
"Oh, wait." Mena slapped her forehead with one palm, leaving a few spots of paint behind. "I forgot. You're Sherlock. Isn't that what Mick calls you?"
Gilda fought the urge to run out the front door. "Yeah, he does."
"You're the nosy girl who tried to track down the last killer who came to town." She rolled her eyes. "Good luck solving this one, Sherlock. Charlie Hunt might have had great PR people, but the guy had more enemies than theatres have popcorn. If you want a list, you'll have to get it from that cute cop friend of yours."