Death and relaxation, p.2
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       Death and Relaxation, p.2

           Devon Monk
 
“No. But he knew I was going to enter the contest this year. Knew I was going to beat him in the drink category. Rhubarb root beer. It’s gonna make me millions.”

  It was probably terrible, but I nodded and pulled out the notepad I kept in my pocket. I clicked the pen and jotted down Chris’s name.

  “He threatened me!”

  “When? What exactly did he say?”

  “Yesterday. At his place.”

  “House or business?”

  “Brewery. Bum sleeps there in the boat. Did you know that? That must be a health violation.”

  I knew exactly where Chris slept, and why. Saltwater creatures always stayed near water.

  “He threatened you at the brewery?” I said in an attempt to derail his next rant.

  “Yes! He said, this is what he said. He said, ‘Bring it on, old man.’” Dan stabbed a finger down with each word as if he’d just hammered the last nails into Chris Lagon’s coffin. “He wants me out of the picture. He wants the rhubarb trophy.”

  I doubted Chris wanted anything other than to get Dan out of his hair.

  “Can you tell me when this happened?”

  He might be angry and bitter, but I was the chief of police. It was possible he had information that would lead me to who in town felt the need to interrupt my morning coffee with an explosion.

  “Six o’clock.”

  “Were there witnesses?”

  “Yes. Yes, there was. Ryder Bailey was there. You can ask him. He saw it all.”

  My heart skipped at the mention of his name.

  I’d had a…what did one call a crush that started when one was eight and that one still hadn’t been able to shake? Obsession? Longing? Sickness?

  Love, my treacherous heart whispered.

  I ignored it.

  But whatever it was, I’d had that for Ryder for years.

  It had just never worked out for me to ask him if he wanted to date. Either he’d be in the middle of a relationship, or I would. Or we were too busy with school, jobs, and family—or in my case: monsters, gods, and exploding rhubarb—to ever make a step forward.

  It was probably better that way. Less complicated.

  “Anyone else?” I asked, keeping it cool. Keeping it professional.

  “No, but he was there. He knows Chris Lagon blew up my rhubarb in cold blood, and tried to kill me along the way. I demand you arrest him.”

  Following demands wasn’t in my job description. Still, I gave him what I hoped was a reassuring smile.

  “I’ll stop by Ryder’s place after I’m done here. Now, why don’t you tell me where you were when the explosion went off?”

  Ben and Jame had the fire under control and I was just about to call my sister, Myra, for some help with the crime scene when she showed up.

  Myra always showed up when she was most needed. It was her thing.

  “Hey there, chief,” Myra said. “Brought you some coffee.”

  I gave her an appreciative nod and took the paper cup.

  If someone lined up us three Reed sisters, one might think we all came from different parents. But if one paid attention to our eyes, one would realize we were most definitely our father and mother’s girls.

  I took after Dad the most: straight brown hair, square cheekbones, athletic build, and a mostly easygoing, responsible nature over a temper I’d learned to mellow with humor. I was in shape from the job and jogging habit, and never went out of my way to wear makeup or heels. The one time Jean had forced me into a push-up bra, she’d whistled and told me I should wear it during interrogations because people would lose their minds faced with the dangerously sexy cleavage it gave me.

  I’d slapped her phone away before she took blackmail pictures, and gave her back the damn bra.

  Myra was the middle sister. Her hair was dark, almost black, and the blunt bangs over her eyebrows only accented the blue of her eyes. Her face had softer edges and a more generous mouth. Even without a push-up bra, her figure was curvy perfection that the square-cut uniform she was wearing couldn’t hide.

  She had also inherited a lot more of Mom’s practical thinking, to the point that some people might say she was cool or clinical, though I never saw her that way.

  Jean, the youngest, had deep blue eyes and was always dying her hair with colors not found in nature. She was the most petite of the three of us, had a wicked sense of humor, and an elbows-out attitude about life.

  “Where do you need me?” Myra asked.

  “Get some pictures of the scene and the blast area. I’m almost done with Dan’s statement, then I’ll talk to the neighbors.”

  “No problem.” Myra pulled a camera out of the bag on her shoulder and got busy with that.

  There probably wouldn’t be any chance of finding actual footprints in the dirt. Dan and everyone else who had been out here before I showed up would have tromped right over them. Still, Myra had a hell of an eye with that camera. If there was something that could be seen, she’d see it.

  It didn’t take long to interview Pearl and the other neighbors. None of them had seen or heard anyone coming or going. They heard the blast, saw the light, and even the quickest to respond—Pearl—had only seen Dan out by the burn pile, spitting mad.

  Ben and Jame both waved to me as they packed it up. They stopped at the back of the truck and argued over who got to drive. Ben flashed fang, Jame snarled and then they just stood there staring into each other’s eyes, neither willing to back down.

  I held my breath and watched them, wondering if I was going to have to break up what could be a very messy, very bloody fight, or a very hot make-out session.

  The sexual tension rolling off those two could have scorched thin air.

  At some unseen signal, they leaned away from each other just enough to make room for their clenched fists.

  Rock, paper, scissors.

  Ben threw paper, Jame rock. Ben jeered. Jame tossed his hands up in utter frustration and then growled and pointed at Ben like he was going to kick his ass, before he stomped to the passenger side.

  Ben’s head lifted and his gaze crossed the distance from the road to me. I could see a fire burning in him under that intense stare. Something more than lust.

  Love, I thought. And a hollow need stretched out in me. Not a need for Ben or for a vampire like him. Just the very human need to see that light, that passion that he had for Jame, in someone’s eyes for me alone.

  Then he blinked, breaking our contact, and his cocky grin was back.

  Jerk. He’d known I was looking at them, had probably felt my attraction to their fight, to their connection, and couldn’t help but tease the new police chief. So he’d given me a little peek of my own desire, just for kicks.

  Vampires had a strange sense of fun.

  He swung up into the driver’s seat, fluid and fast. I thought I saw a scuffle in the cab, then Ben ducked down and there was a moment of intense stillness. When he popped back into view he ran one thumb over his lower lip, wiping away a smile and maybe a drop of blood before he started the engine and sent the truck rumbling down the road.

  Chapter 2

  I LEFT Myra to finish up and deal with Dan, who wouldn’t run out of righteous steam for a couple hours at least, and headed to Jump Off Jack Brewery. It was four a.m. straight up when I got there, but I knew Chris wouldn’t mind me dropping in.

  The brewery crouched on the edge of the working bay just south of city limits in what used to be a crab-packing plant. Chris had taken over the property fifty years ago. Half of it was still a packing plant, though it catered to tourists and locals now instead of international shipping.

  What had started as a hobby—microbrewing—had landed Jump Off Jack’s smack dab in the top-ten-rated beers in the Pacific Northwest, something that still seemed to surprise and amuse Chris.

  I crossed the parking lot and knocked on the big red metal door of the warehouse. Waited. I knew Chris would hear that, even if he was in the far side of the building or upstairs. He had excellent hearing.
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  Sure enough, the latch turned and Chris pulled open the door.

  “Chief Reed,” he said in that lilt that always brought to mind New Orleans. His paperwork, filed back when my grandfather was in charge of such things, said he was from Louisiana but that his family originated from the Amazon. “What brings you out tonight?”

  Chris was a creature. The polite term was gill-man, and if he had a few beers in him, he went to great lengths to explain the difference between his type and the other aquatics, such as mers and selkies.

  Dark skin and hair, long, muscular build under jeans and tank top. When he was out of the water, the main physical difference between him and a human was his deeply set, heavily lidded brown eyes, which gave him a lazy smolder.

  The scaling along his neck and back of his hands had been enhanced by a tattoo artist who knew how to keep his mouth shut. The scales looked like they were tattooed on, and Chris just looked like he was a man who was really into ink.

  That Hollywood movie with the guy in the rubber creature suit had really sold Chris short in the looks department.

  “There was an explosion,” I said.

  He nodded and stepped aside, letting me walk into the building. It was a working brewery and I inhaled the nutty yeast fragrance as I followed him down the roped-off pathway between huge metal tanks. “I heard. Up north of here?”

  “Dan Perkin’s place.”

  He chuckled. “Idiot. Always thought high blood pressure would be how he went out.”

  “He’s not dead.”

  “Oh.” Chris paused at the bottom of the narrow wooden stairs that led to the bar and restaurant on the second floor. “Well, good. Wouldn’t want to lose such a valuable member of our community.”

  I snorted and took out the notebook, clicking the pen. “So where were you tonight? Exactly.”

  He clomped up the stairs and into the main room. Unfinished wood and timbers racked the ceiling and walls. Decoration was limited to giant chalkboards that listed the brew options, flags, and photos of the place when it was first being restored into a brewery. The rolling metal garage door at the far end was closed. I knew it just opened to the catwalk that let tours stare at the vats and machinery from above.

  Large windows that looked over the fishing boats in the bay took up the length of the building and at the end opposite the garage door was the bar.

  Chris glanced that way, toward the bar, and the little door in there that was easy to mistake as a cleaning closet. I knew that door contained a private set of stairs that led down to his boat.

  “I was here tonight. In bed.”

  A little too much hesitation in that statement.

  “All night?”

  He caught the edge of my tone and gave me a very steady stare. “All night. Listen, Dan Perkin doesn’t like me. Something about the Rhubarb Rally contest? But I don’t care if I win—I’m brewing up that rhubarb cranberry lager as a marketing stunt. Speaking of which, how about an opinion on what to call it. Do you like the sound of Rhuberry Lager or Cranbarb Beer?”

  “I like the sound of you getting on with telling me what happened between you and Dan.”

  He shook his head, each thumb slowly dragging across the back of his index knuckle. It was a nervous habit I rarely saw out of him.

  “Nothing happened. I’ve won a lot of other awards—important awards. I don’t care enough about a local festival to actually try to kill someone for it.”

  “Not even Dan Perkin?”

  “Tempting.” He flashed a smile. “But not even him. I know the rules. I listened the first time when your grandfather was chief of police. I would rather outlive Perkin than risk being thrown out of town.”

  “Things change. So do people.”

  “Maybe. But I’m not exactly people.”

  “Close enough. He mentioned Ryder was here when you talked to Dan.”

  “Earlier in the evening, yes. I saw him.”

  “When did he leave?”

  Chris glanced up at the ceiling. “I think he left around one a.m. or so.”

  “Huh.”

  “Problem?”

  “I didn’t know he was closing out the place.”

  “He had some things on his mind.”

  “Did he happen to mention them?”

  “We’re friendly, but he didn’t have much to say.”

  “Any of it pertain to a bunch of rhubarb getting massacred?”

  “Not that I recall, no.”

  “All right. Well, I’m sorry to get you out of bed at this hour. If there’s anything else that I need to know, I’ll get in touch.”

  “Happy to help, chief.” He glanced again at the door. There was something back there making him nervous. Something he didn’t want me to ask him about.

  “Oh, and one more thing?”

  “Yes?”

  “What’s behind the door?”

  “That door?” He pointed.

  “No, the other door you keep looking at like a nervous schoolboy with a closet full of smuggled porn.”

  “Right. That door. Just my bed.” He walked across the long room, his bare feet making no noise against the old timbers. He tugged on the latch and opened it.

  I followed him. Glanced out at the railing and wooden balcony. The heavy scent of salt water and green things curled up around me. The floor was a hatch and it was shut. I bent, yanked it up on hinges that moved easily.

  Stairs stepped downward into darkness. Water, wrinkled and black, rolled, lit by the thin yellow light from his boat anchored right beside the building.

  “What don’t you want me to see down there?”

  “Nothing, I suppose.”

  “Or?”

  “Well, I’m…entertaining tonight. Or I would be if you’d get out of here.”

  “Do I know this person?”

  He shook his head. “We met up at the casino a few weeks ago.”

  “She have a name?”

  “Margot Lapointe.”

  I frowned, searching my memory. “Blonde in a cowboy hat? Has those purple feather extensions woven in her hair?”

  He nodded. “That’s her.”

  I’d seen her around town, down with Lila Carson, who used to own an interior design store and here in the bar once or twice. “I need you to tell her to step out where I can see her.”

  He raised his eyebrows. “Now?”

  “Yes.”

  “Really.”

  “Yes.”

  “Because you don’t believe me?”

  “Because I either hear her say you’ve been here all night with her, or I search the premises for signs of explosives, starting with the boat.”

  “Without a warrant?”

  “If you’ve got nothing to hide, it’s more of a friendly look about.”

  “They teach you that in cop school?”

  “Nope. I learned to be a good friend in kindergarten.” I gave him a winning smile.

  He sighed. “I don’t know how fast you think I can get across town to blow something up, but trust me—I’m not one of the beasts in Ordinary gifted with super speed.”

  “Not even in a rubber suit with flippers?”

  He scowled. “Like I’d need one. And if I did, it’d at least be aerodynamic. Millicent might have been an artist, but that monster suit…” He just shook his head in disbelief.

  “Price of living a secret life. You don’t get to complain when you’re portrayed incorrectly in a movie. You gonna call Margot out now so you can alibi out of this?”

  “Since you asked so friendly-like.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket, typed something into it, turned the screen.

  It said: Margot, could you come out on the deck? Have a friend who wants to say hi.

  “See? Friend,” I said.

  “Didn’t want to tell her the cops are here. We aren’t really at the tell-me-about-your-past-convictions stage of the relationship. Before you ask, she’s been here since about eleven.”

  “Ryder saw her with you?”
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br />   “Yes.”

  The light swung wildly against the pilings, as someone walked out onto the aft of the boat. A face bobbed into view. Blonde, pretty, no cowboy hat. The lavender feathers in her hair shifted in the breeze. Margot had a beer in one hand, a lantern in the other, and no pants on under a large red Jump Off Jack T-shirt that reached her knees.

  “Hello?” Margot called. “Chris?”

  “Hey, Margot. This is my friend Delaney. She just wanted to make sure we weren’t breaking the law.”

  Margot laughed. “I promise I’m over twenty-one, officer. Do you need to see my license?” She put down the lantern, and in so doing lit up the inside of her T-shirt so that every very naked curve of her was accentuated in shadow play against the thin cloth.

  She had a good body.

  Chris grunted like someone had punched him in the gut.

  “Where’s my purse? Hold on, let me get my hands free.” She straddled the lantern now, and downed the beer in one long continuous pull before looking around for where to put the empty bottle. She was a little wobbly on her feet. I wondered how many beers she’d had.

  “You done with the questions, chief?” Chris asked, his voice gone low.

  “Margot, have you been here all night?”

  “Up there in the taproom for drinks. Down here for dessert.” She giggled. “Wait! My purse is next to the bed. Should I get it? I have a gun.”

  “What?” Chris and I said at the same time.

  “Glock 19. A girl can’t be too careful.”

  Chris’s eyes went a little wide. Then he just grinned again. Apparently he liked a woman who knew how to look after herself.

  “Are you licensed to carry?” I asked.

  She nodded and gave me what she probably hoped passed for a serious look. “Gun range every month. Safety first. But I’m a little tipsy. Don’t wanna take it out of the holster.”

  “Is it loaded?” Chris asked, taking the words out of my mouth.

  She chuckled. “Not much use to me if it isn’t.”

  “Do you have anything else with you, Margot?” I asked. “Explosives, maybe?” Yeah, I knew she couldn’t have gotten out to Dan’s house and back here in the amount of time it took to set off the explosion, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to see if she had another line of defense in her Louis Vuitton.

 
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