Death and relaxation, p.14
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       Death and Relaxation, p.14

           Devon Monk
 

  “Yes,” I said grimly. “I believe it does.”

  “But—but no!” Dan was on full defense now. “I don’t want the rally cancelled. I never said I wanted the rally cancelled. I just want a fair judge. An honest judge. I know you can find one.”

  Bertie was hardcore genius getting him to turn around like that.

  “I happen to have a judge in mind,” she said. “Someone who will absolutely follow the rules and laws of the contest.”

  She had him on her hook. Dan shifted the brim of his baseball hat, nervous as a worm. “All right. I trust you, Bertie. Always have. Who is it?”

  “Delaney Reed,” she said, “would you please do Ordinary the great honor of becoming a judge for the Rhubarb Rally?”

  Jean snorted. She knew I hated rhubarb. Ryder coughed, and I suspected he was covering a laugh—not coming down with sudden hay fever. Dan wasn’t the only worm on her hook.

  I opened my mouth to say no, but the slight twitch of Bertie’s eyebrow stopped me.

  I was wrong. She didn’t resemble a sparrow, she resembled a hawk. If I refused to judge, I was pretty sure she’d stab me with her apple knife.

  Maybe I could talk her into letting me judge the art or textiles. Something non-edible.

  “Sure,” I said. “I’d be happy to help out.”

  “Well, I don’t know…” Dan muttered.

  Seriously, nothing satisfied this man.

  “We could always ask Molly if she’d judge,” Ryder suggested. “She’s got a culinary school background.”

  Molly was Chris’s waitress. Nice girl. I was sure Dan had hassled her when he’d been at Jump Off Jack’s, just like he hassled everyone else. She’d probably be happy to throw him under the rhubarb bus.

  I resisted the urge to look over my shoulder at Ryder to see if he was making up the culinary school thing. I hadn’t known she’d studied.

  “Culinary school training is a very nice credential,” Bertie said.

  “But she works for Chris Lagon!” Dan said.

  “That’s right,” Ryder said, as if he’d forgotten. “Isn’t Grace Nordell a sommelier? She’s one of your neighbors, Dan.”

  “Grace?” he said with even more disdain. “That busybody and snoop?”

  “How about—” Ryder started.

  “No,” Dan said. “I supposed Officer Reed is as good a choice as any.”

  Jean took a breath that shook with suppressed laughter. I could see her shoulders trembling out of the corner of my eye, but her face was still and neutral.

  “Excellent!” Bertie’s voice was a cheerful gavel nailing down the silence. She stood, walked around the desk, and plucked at Dan’s arm as if he were escorting her to a dance.

  “I’m sure our very own police chief will be the most impartial of judges,” she said.

  “I suppose,” he said. “But—”

  She guided him out into the hallway and toward the door. “You don’t have any family entering into the contest, do you, Delaney dear?” she called over her shoulder. They were almost out of earshot.

  “Nope.” I followed them. “Jean and Myra will be working crowd control and emergency response. Don’t have time to do anything more.”

  “I’ll be sure to contact you with the judging schedule. I’m sure we can make it work with your other duties.”

  “I’m sure we can,” I agreed, wishing there were a way out of this. I glanced back at Jean, who was still in the office. Her finger was pressed to the tip of her nose.

  Brat.

  Bertie tugged open the outer door and disengaged from Dan with the grace of a dancer. “Thank you for coming by, Mr. Perkin. See you in a few days at the rally!”

  She shut the door in his face. “There.” She dusted her palms together. “That should keep him for a while. Can I help you with something?”

  “No, I needed to talk to Dan.”

  “Oh.” She stared at the door distastefully. “Do you want me to invite him back in?”

  “No need. I can talk to him outside.” I reached over for the door, and she placed the golden tips of her fingers on the back of my hand. Her fingers were warm and soft.

  “You hired Ryder?”

  I wondered how she’d heard about that already. Small town, big ears, I supposed.

  “Temporarily. He doesn’t know about…everything.”

  “If I can be of any help with what you’ve recently picked up, do let me know.” She was talking about the god power I’d need to offload onto some poor mortal in the next six days. Something I still hadn’t even started working on.

  It was on my to-do list. Right up there in the top ten.

  “I will.”

  “Mr. Bailey,” Bertie chirped.

  Ryder had sauntered up behind us, quiet and casual as a cat.

  “Want me to come along while you talk to Dan?” he asked.

  Jean lingered inside the office, a big grin on her face. She wasn’t going to help with Dan. “I don’t think—” I started.

  “Mr. Bailey.” Bertie swooped down on Ryder’s arm with a bit more relish than she had Dan’s. “Could I have a brief word with you?”

  Ryder threw me a questioning look, and I nodded.

  “It will only take a moment,” Bertie cooed, taking him back to the office.

  Valkyries. Couldn’t keep their hands off a hero. Ryder taking her side and shutting Dan up scored up there with Prometheus bringing the fire, though Prometheus insisted it had all been a big mistake, since he’d been drunk at the time and took a wrong turn.

  I slipped outside. I wasn’t going to ask Dan any questions Ryder couldn’t hear. But in case I needed to press the supernatural angle, I didn’t want to worry about what Ryder would think.

  Dan sat in his car, windows up, looking furious and talking to himself.

  Which was to say: normal.

  I walked around the front of his car and knocked on the driver’s-side window.

  He jerked and glared.

  “Can we talk?” I asked through the glass.

  His eyes darted to the right and left. He looked so nervous, I was about to stand back up and double-check that I didn’t have an axe murderer looming behind me. My eyes strayed to the handgun he had holstered under his console.

  Finally, he rolled down the window. “I have a license to carry,” he said.

  “I know that, Dan.”

  “It’s not loaded.”

  “Good, but that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”

  “Well then, I don’t know what you want from me. I’m doing everyone a favor coming here to demand justice. Demand we get what we deserve. A panel of fair judges. A fair contest.”

  “I didn’t come to talk about the contest either, Mr. Perkin. I want to talk to you about Heim.”

  He pressed his thin lips together. He was sweating a little too heavily for this cool weather. But then, he was always sweating, always worked up. So that was normal too.

  “I don’t have anything to say about him.” His gaze jittered.

  That would be a first.

  “I’m just wondering where you were last night.”

  “Why? Do you think I have something to do with… You think I killed him?”

  “I’m just wondering where you were last night,” I repeated calmly.

  “I won’t sit here while you prosecute me. I have rights, you know. I don’t have to tell you anything without a lawyer present.”

  “Dan,” I said. “Settle down. Of course you have rights. And if you want your lawyer present, I’ll give him a call and have him meet us down at the station so we can do this all formally and on the record. But we can do this friendly too. All I’m asking—all I’m asking—is where you spent your evening. That shouldn’t be a hard thing to remember.”

  “Of course I remember,” he said. “I was…I was at Jump Off Jack’s. I went in to talk to Chris, but he wasn’t there. If you ask me, he’s the one you should be talking to. He had plenty of reasons to kill Heim. There was the fish Heim
kept shorting him. That’s hard on a place as busy as Chris’s, though why people think his rundown shack is any better than the other bars in town is beyond me. Tourists are half idiot, half stupid.”

  “Tourists are the seasonal lifeblood of our town, Dan,” I said. “And it’s those tourists who are going to be trying out all the food and drink at the rally. It’s the tourists who are going to buy the souvenirs and whatnots, fill the hotels, buy the gas. When did you go to Jump Off’s? When did you leave?”

  “I don’t have to tell you that. I already answered your question.”

  “This is still friendly,” I said. “Answer a few more details and we can keep it friendly. Push me hard, and I will take you on in, lawyer and all.”

  He fiddled with the bill of his hat again. I checked his knuckles for signs of a struggle. No blood. No scratches.

  But he was more aggravated than usual. Could be the fact that he’d recently had his garden explode on him. Could be he wasn’t coming clean with me.

  “You went to talk to Chris around what time?”

  “Five,” he said shortly.

  “And left?”

  “I don’t know. Five thirty.”

  “Did you drive?”

  “Of course I drove.”

  “Did you talk with anyone else when you were there?”

  “That do-nothing waitress of his.”

  Molly. No love lost there. Ryder had certainly played that card right.

  “Where did you go after that?”

  “Home.”

  “Did anyone see you there?

  “Probably all my neighbors. They spy on me, you know. Grace is the worst. Pearl’s always stopping in to visit. They’re jealous of my property—I have the largest lot on the block, and they never let me forget I’ve got more than them. Well, I say damn them all. And damn Chris Lagon while He’s at it. You are talking to the wrong man, officer. It’s Chris that’s behind all this.”

  “How do you figure that?”

  “He wanted me out of the picture, so he blows up my rhubarb. He wanted Heim out of the picture because Heim was a judge. Chris cozied up to him, treated him like a friend. And all the while, it was just to buy off Heim. To make him give that piss-poor beer of his the prize. Have you even tasted that swill?”

  “No.”

  “Terrible! Worst thing you’ll ever taste in your life. He thinks he’s so above us. High and mighty. Entitled hipster is what he is. Smug bastard, thinks his beer is something special. Well, I’m telling you it’s not.”

  “You think Chris wants the prize enough to have Heim killed?”

  “I think he went out there—got on Heim’s boat all friendly. You know how he is, always on the water. Gets on his boat. Maybe they drink some beer. Maybe they talk, maybe it’s all nice and chummy. Then Chris tells him he doesn’t like the good catch going to Mom’s, doesn’t like competition. No, no. He can’t stand someone competing with him. It’s why he blew up my rhubarb. Afraid my rhutbeer would win the blue ribbon. So he sweet-talks Heim into giving his piss-poor beer a high score. Maybe tries to bribe him. But Heim—we all know he was a reasonable man, decent reputation, even though he slept with that Frenchwoman and drinks too much—Heim won’t take the sweet talk. Heim won’t take the money. Chris gets fed up, and…”

  He paused, looked at me, his eyes a little wide. “How did he die? Did Chris shoot him? Slit his throat? Stab him in the chest?”

  His heart was beating so hard, I could see the throb of his pulse at his neck.

  “I’m not convinced Chris killed anyone, Mr. Perkin. This is a very…thorough picture you’re painting. How do you suppose it all ended?”

  “Bang!” He pointed his finger at me, and I resisted the urge to reach out and break it.

  “Chris is a low-life coward and shoots Heim right in the back. Then he…he swims back to shore—you know how he’s always swimming. Says it’s good for the heart. Like he has one. I swear he’s part fish, the freak.”

  The freak was, actually, kind of part fish. I decided to steer the conversation away from that truth.

  “He’s a good swimmer. A skill that would have saved Heim.”

  “Is that…is that how he died?” His eyes darted to everything but my eyes. “Drowned?” He sounded worried. It was the first time I’d heard him worry about someone else. I tried out the idea of Heim and Dan having a friendship.

  Nope. Couldn’t picture it.

  “I don’t have the report back yet.” It wasn’t a lie.

  He rubbed his fingers over the bill of his hat three times, and then three times again. “Well, if it was drowning, you’d think a captain of a boat would know how to swim. Wouldn’t you? Anyone who spends their life on a boat should swim. Hell, I swim, and it’s been years since I’ve been on a boat. Back in my Navy days. When a man’s word meant something.”

  “All right,” I said. “That’s all an interesting story. But last I’d heard, he and Heim were pretty close friends.”

  “Friends,” he spat. “That doesn’t mean anything when there’s an award on the line.”

  “An award in a small festival in a small town? I don’t think anyone deserves to die for a blue ribbon, do you, Mr. Perkin?”

  “It’s not the blue ribbon. It’s the pride.” He jutted out his chin. “Chris Lagon is prideful as sin.”

  I heard footsteps approaching and glanced at the sidewalk.

  Ryder.

  My stomach filled with butterflies. There was something about the way he walked that drew my gaze. Hands tucked into his coat, stride fluid and easy, eyes flashing with a kind of intensity that set flecks of gold to glitter. Maybe it was his mouth, turned always at the corner as if barely containing a wry smile. Maybe it was the width of his shoulders, the thickness of his chest, all tapered down to lean hips and long legs.

  Maybe it was everything, and me wanting to know it all better.

  I only took a second to size Ryder up before I turned my gaze back to Dan.

  I could feel Ryder’s eyes on me, and had a moment to wonder what he saw. I was bent forward, my butt sticking out, my hips shifted on one bent knee, so I could lean far enough down to talk to Dan through the car window.

  I’d traded my jeans for my uniform slacks today, though my plaid button-down shirt tucked into my slacks wasn’t regulation. The slacks weren’t much for figure flattery, and frankly, neither was my shirt.

  “Did you hear Chris and Heim argue?”

  Dan frowned. Looked angry that nothing came to mind. “Lots of people hate each other quietly. For years. Plan their revenge. Quiet is best for revenge. Lots of people know that.”

  That wasn’t creepy.

  “One last thing, Mr. Perkin. I’d like you to put together a list of people who you think would want you harmed. People who would want to blow up your property.”

  “It’s a short list. Chris Lagon.”

  “No one else? No one at all?”

  “Nope. That’s it. He’s your man. Find him, and you’ll find your killer and your bomber. I promise you that, officer.”

  “Okay,” I said. “Thank you for your time.”

  “Bring Chris Lagon to justice,” Dan said. “For the good of Ordinary.”

  “I’ll do my job, Mr. Perkin. Don’t you worry about that.”

  I patted the doorframe and moved back. He started his car and drove away. He checked the rearview mirror an awful lot, his hand reaching up to stroke the bill of the hat again. Nervous about what I was going to do with that information, or maybe he had just developed a new paranoia since the explosion.

  Not that I would blame him.

  My gut said something was going on with him. Although he’d done nothing but talk, there was more he wasn’t saying. More he didn’t want me to know.

  Who did Dan Perkin have to protect in this? Who did he even care about enough to protect? What wouldn’t he want me to know?

  “Any breakthroughs?” Ryder asked.

  “Dan doesn’t like Chris. Newsflash.”


  He grinned, and I smiled right back. The world just took on a lot more sunshine when he smiled.

  “So about last night,” he said.

  I raised my eyebrows.

  “I was thinking maybe we could try that again tonight. The dinner part. My place?”

  There was no reason for me not to—other than a killer I needed to track down and a power I needed to give to some poor, unsuspecting mortal. Somewhere in the middle of all that I should have time for a life—my life—right?

  Not really. If I failed to give the power over to someone, the power would kill me, injure my sisters, then turn on the town. Flirting over breadsticks while trying to outrun a ticking time bomb wasn’t the kind of multitasking I was made for.

  Or was it? Dad had loved Mom through the years of carrying the bridge responsibility. He’d handled several power handovers and never missed one of our dance lessons or volleyball games. When he’d remarried, he’d had the time to love Kirali too.

  How did you make it all look so easy, Dad?

  “Or we could break up a fight,” he suggested. “See a sappy teen movie without explosions, go on a stakeout.”

  “What?” That was when I realized I’d been standing there silent, probably scowling at him like a hemorrhoidal lunch lady.

  No wonder I never got any dates. I had zero moves.

  “Tomorrow?” I blurted. There. That felt better. Also a little embarrassing.

  He tipped his head. It felt like forever before he answered. “I could do something, maybe.”

  “Dinner?”

  He shook his head. “Meeting with a client.”

  Right. He did have a business to run.

  “After dinner?” he suggested.

  “Dessert. My favorite meal. Where?”

  “Who’s open after nine now?”

  We’d lost the Sweet Dreams restaurant that opened late and closed early. It had been surprisingly successful selling specialty desserts and drinks. But when Ganesha had decided he was done with his vacation last year, he’d shut the business down.

  The loss of our all-night dessert shop had been mourned by everyone in the town, and nothing had taken its place yet.

  “Besides the bars and grocery store?” I thought of canned pudding and stale donuts.

  “Curly’s?” he suggested.

  Curly’s. I hadn’t thought about the homemade ice cream and dessert parlor for years. It was almost an hour’s drive to Netarts, where the little shop lorded over the tiny town’s boat launch next to the bay.

 
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