A Mid-Summer Murder
Book 2 in the Shop 'Round the World Cozy Mysteries
This small Pennsylvania town once again becomes a hotbed of secrets.
Only Angel Warren, a retired Navy Pilot and owner of Shop ‘Round the World, can turn a summer day at the river into a murder investigation. But when her brother Bryce’s unicorn float snags on a corpse’s hand, suddenly Angel and Bryce are suspects. It doesn’t help that Angel knows the victim and was one of the last people to see Hank Price alive, or that Angel witnessed a disturbing argument between Hank and his wife. Plus, she and Bryce may have heard the shot that killed Hank.
Once more, Angel inserts herself into the middle of the investigation, this time with her best friend Detective Trinity Colson’s tacit approval. Who could have wanted Hank dead? Angel soon discovers Hank had a secret life that included sketchy business dealings and a gambling addiction.
The question isn’t how Angel will juggle her sleuthing alongside managing her gift store during the height of tourist season, family drama, and a burgeoning romance. It’s how will Angel solve the crime without stumbling into the killer’s sights?
Heat Level: Smooth Sailing
A Mid-Summer Murder
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A Mid-Summer Murder
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A sudden, sharp tug on the left side of my tube sends me into a slow spin. I sit up, wondering why I’m suddenly moving backward, toward the bank. Bryce curses and starts splashing.
“What’s going on?” My heart’s pumping irrationally hard. My internal scanner, my situational radar, has been on overdrive since Frannie’s murder.
“I can’t move!” Bryce screams. My heartbeat thuds in my throat, as I’m already on alert from the firecracker. Have I been a fool to think the creek is a safe place?
“Calm down a minute. What’s going on?” I put my Navy training to work. One of us needs to stay focused and it’s not going to be my brother, who looks like a caricature of his cartoonish self.
“Uma’s hit a snag. I can’t get her to move, not without risking a tear.”
“God forbid Uma sinks,” I deadpan.
He grunts. “Let me get up and fix it.” He twirls his beefy arms around, his belly baring itself between his KNITTING KEEPS ME FROM STABBING PEOPLE T-shirt and his print Bermuda swim trunks. “I’m stuck! Damn tube.”
“Hang on!” I flip myself out of my tube. I land on all fours, the water lapping my shoulders. Sharp gravel stabs into my knees, my palms. Scrambling to my feet, I discover the water’s close to thigh-deep, and not as easy to walk through as it was closer to shore because the current is stronger.
All three floats are connected by the nylon line and carabiners. I inspect the lines one by one, from my tube to Bryce’s, from Bryce’s to Uma. Now that I’m out of my float, it’s bobbing atop the water, going nowhere fast. Bryce’s line to Uma is taut, keeping us from going anywhere as long as the unicorn inflatable is stuck.
“Hang on. I’ll get Uma. Don’t let go of the line, and don’t tug on it. She’s right in the middle of the dig area. Probably stuck on a rock,” I say. Our inflatable cooler holder is in a precarious spot. She’s tilted at an angle, and I’m not certain the cooler’s intact but I keep my observation on the down-low. I don’t want to get Bryce more worked up than he already is.
“I won’t let go, trust me. First, help me up!”
“Fine. Heaven forbid I do it all myself.” I sigh, very dramatically if you ask me, and wade to my brother. One annoying thing about returning home is that no one seems to realize that I do have a fair amount of life skills that don’t require a sibling’s or parent’s help.
“Here.” I hold out my arms.
He reaches up for my hands, and I employ all I know about bending my knees and using my legs, not my back, to tug him to his feet.
I lean back as far as I can, and Bryce begins to lever out of his tube. For a precarious second, we’re suspended over the creek, Bryce half out of the tube and me hovering over the water’s surface. It’s as though we’re doing an ice-skating trick on our frozen backyard pond, except we’re forty-five and forty-seven, not eight and ten. But leverage wins and Bryce stands up straight, relieved of his temporary immobility. I let go of his hands and shake out my arms.
“Oh, my back!” Bryce cries out the minute he’s upward and clutches his lower spine.
“Stand still, take a deep breath.” I know from hours in a helicopter seat that lower back pain is no joke. “Where does it hurt?” I step closer, ready to massage whatever’s cramping.
“No, please, don’t touch.” He’s speaking in a whisper. “It’s my sciatica.” He whispers the word as though he’s saying “bubonic plague.” He turns his head toward me, and his grimace says it all. Uma or no Uma, our float trip is over before it began, dang it.
“It’s okay, we’ll get you home. You’ll be fine. Can you stand up straight?”
He grasps my hand again and I use my core (thank you, yoga class) to center myself, slightly bending my knees so that I don’t mess up my spine, too. Slowly, slowly, Bryce stands up, sweat pouring down his face. He’s really done it this time.
“Okay, now, stay here and I’ll pull Uma free. Then we’ll walk over to the creek bank together, okay?”
“Yes.” His eyes are closed, his face pale, but his voice is strong, hands on his hips. He’s thrown his back out before and I know he’ll cope.
I scan the area, and note that we’re alone out here, and halfway between the two shores. Uma is stuck about fifteen yards closer to the north side. “Tell you what, if you can start walking, follow me when you’re ready. I’ll get Uma and we’ll get out over there.” I point to a shady area under a large willow tree with low-lying branches.
“Okay. Just go. I’ll get there.”
“Are you sure you’re all right for now?” I don’t want him to hurt more than he has to.
“Yes. Please. Go,” he whispers.
Don’t have to tell me twice. I slosh on over toward Uma, my tube dragging behind me. I’ve clipped my end of the line to the back of my fanny pack, where my phone’s stashed in a plastic bag. This kind of situation is exactly why I’m so careful about taking my phone and keeping it dry. I look over my shoulder to make sure my motion isn’t pulling on Bryce’s tube yet. True to his word, he’s holding his end of the line firmly, and has it attached to his shorts, too. There’s a lot of slack, so I keep walking.
I’m where the right side of the weir begins and notice more signage that we didn’t see while floating. The signs face the shore and warn that the area is off-limits to anyone but the Penn State archaeological department. “Mom really has been busy—there are Penn State signs here, too. Did you know that?”
Bryce doesn’t reply, and from the way his face is pinched in pain, he may not have even heard my observation. Poor guy.
As I approach Uma, I see that she’s tilting because her right side is deflated. Her head is folding backward, making her unicorn horn look like…well, let’s say her horn looks odd.
“What on earth did you get stuck on, girl?” I know, talking to inanimate objects seems weird but it’s a holdover from my Navy pilot days, when my helicopter was indeed my best friend. At least during a mission.
Uma doesn’t answer, of course, but I see that the front part of the tube is up against the sharp edge of a large rock, the same kind of miniboulder that sprinkles either side of the creek, making some areas off-limits to tubers and kayakers because of the hazard. Something white is sticking out from under Uma’s belly, and I assume it’s another fold of the deflating float.
I bend over, take Uma by her flaccid horn, and tug. No dice. She doesn’t want any part of being set free, so I grab her neck, my slippery fingers digging into the deflating plastic. I hear a dismaying rip as I haul Uma out of the water, followed by a definitive plop that splashes water over both me and the float.
It’s then that I see that the “something white” I saw a few seconds earlier, what has made the splash, isn’t connected to the float. It’s a hand.
A human hand.