Death and relaxation, p.26
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       Death and Relaxation, p.26

           Devon Monk
 

  “Delaney, dear?” Pearl appeared in the hallway with a cup of tea. “I was just going to try to wake you up.”

  “Hey, Pearl.” I shuffled toward the bathroom. “Did Myra make you babysit?”

  “You know I’m always happy to help. I thought my medical background might be useful. I’ll change your bandage when you’re ready.”

  “Hold on a sec. I’ll be right out.”

  I made use of the facilities then stared at my reflection in the mirror while I washed my hands in warm water.

  I tended to freckle, but my job kept me outdoors enough that I maintained a tan under all my spots. Right now I was sheet-white against medium brown hair that seemed too dark, my blue-green eyes gone almost gray.

  If I had met me on the street, I’d say I’d had a couple of bad days. I’d also sit myself down and insist I eat a solid meal and get some sleep.

  My stomach was twitchy at the very idea of food, but I’d probably have to take my meds again soon anyway, and I hadn’t eaten anything since the half peanut butter sandwich at the hospital.

  I wanted a shower more than food, but I couldn’t remember if bathing was approved with the hole in my side.

  There was a soft knock on the door. “Delaney?”

  I opened the door. “Sorry. Moving kind of slow. What time is it?”

  “Twelve thirty.”

  “In the afternoon?” I asked, shocked.

  “Yes.”

  “Is it Friday?”

  “Saturday.” She held a cup out for me and I took it.

  The inviting fragrance of tea with sugar and cream wafted up to me, and I wondered why I never drank tea. I took a sip, then another, as warmth spread out from my chest and my fingers soaked in the cup’s heat.

  Pearl walked away, leaving me there to lean on the sink with my tea. When she came back, she was carrying a kitchen chair.

  “Sit there. I’m going to get a blanket, then take a look at your wound.”

  Pearl was kind and efficient and impossible to say no to. She checked my ribs, gave me my pills, then sent me into the shower, promising to re-bandage my wound when I was done.

  The combination of hot water, pain pills, and tea cleared my head.

  It was Saturday. I’d missed the sunrise blessing of the regatta that signaled the beginning of the Rhubarb Rally. I’d missed the first day, and now half of Saturday. The rally would be in full swing, with rides, food, entertainment, and local businesses representing their wares.

  Myra and Jean would be busy policing the crowd, probably with Ryder and Roy. No one would be at the station, except for Dan Perkin, who should still be in the holding cell.

  I got out of the shower and into the clothes I’d worn from the hospital. I wandered into the kitchen, where Pearl had a bowl of oatmeal waiting for me. She’d arranged the raisins in the bowl to make a smiley face.

  “I hope you like it that way.” She handed me a spoon as a not-so-subtle hint that I should eat.

  The buttery-smooth porridge was just the right amount of sweet and nutty. My appetite that had been missing in action suddenly roared back to life. “I need to fill out some paperwork on the shooting,” I lied as I finished the last bit, standing at the kitchen counter.

  Pearl walked toward me, her hands folded neatly in front of her. “Is that what you want me to tell Myra when she calls?”

  “Would you just tell her I’m on the couch sleeping?”

  “Delaney. I don’t think you are…steady enough to be on your own today. Are you doing something you don’t want your sister to know about?”

  “Maybe a little. I want to go talk to Dan. I think… I don’t think he’s really the kind of guy who would shoot someone.”

  Pearl looked down at her hands, and a frown tugged her mouth.

  “Do you know something about this, Pearl?”

  She shook her head, her eyes finally drawing back up to mine.

  “He’s… I know he’s a trouble maker. Too angry at…everything. But I’ve never seen him resort to violence before.”

  “Okay. That’s good to hear. Is there anything else?”

  “I don’t think Chris Lagon was responsible for blowing up Dan’s rhubarb patch.”

  It seemed like an odd jump in the conversation, but I followed along. “Do you know who might be?”

  She nodded, an almost imperceptible movement.

  I waited.

  “Dan,” she said.

  “Dan what?”

  “I believe he blew up his own rhubarb.”

  “He… Okay. Why would Dan do that?”

  “By accident. I think…” She seemed to make up her mind, and all hesitancy disappeared. “I think he had bought the dynamite and planned to blow up something else but changed his mind.”

  “What something else?”

  “Chris’s tanks. Not all of them, but the ones containing his rhubarb beer. I think he was experimenting with how much dynamite he’d need to take out his competition. Not Chris—just the beer. And it backfired.”

  It made a certain sense. Dan had jumped on the chance to lay the explosion blame on Chris—an easier and less violent way to take out his competition, which suited Dan’s style. But Chris had his alibi for not being available to set the dynamite in Dan’s yard. Chris was with Margot Lapointe.

  “Did Dan tell you that?”

  “No. But he mutters to himself when he’s angry. And he’s always angry.” She smiled almost fondly, and I found myself amazed at her capacity for patience. “I heard him while I was working in my flowerbeds. At first, I thought he was arguing with someone, but when I looked over in his yard, he was arguing with himself.”

  “About blowing up Chris’s beer?”

  “About if he should test it on his own rhubarb.”

  “Did he actually mention the dynamite?”

  “No. But very early the next morning, he was out in his backyard, and that was when the explosion happened. I hadn’t put together that he might have blown up his own garden. I mean, who does that sort of thing?”

  “Dan.” I sighed. “That’s the sort of thing I’d expect from him.”

  She nodded. “That’s what I’d been thinking. But I didn’t have proof. But if you’re doubting that he shot you, I thought you should know I’m doubting his story about the explosion.”

  “I’ll keep it in mind. Thank you, Pearl. It helps.”

  She folded her hands in front of her again. “You’re still going, aren’t you?”

  The song of Heim’s power was filling my head again. Not to the point of pain, but it was a pressure I couldn’t duck. I had two days to find the mortal the power belonged to and still had no idea how to do that. If I wanted any time alone with Dan, it would have to be now.

  Dan was the beginning of all this, and I’d just have to start with him and see if I could unravel the week’s events.

  I tucked my hair back behind one ear, wishing I had a rubber band. “Dan will be transferred to the valley on Monday. Now would be best. Plus there really is paperwork I need to work on. If I get tired, I’ll nap on the cot.”

  “I don’t like it, but it’s not like I can tie you up. Let me get your medicines.”

  “Thanks,” I said, getting into my coat. “Um, can I ask a favor?”

  She raised her eyebrows. “I won’t lie to your sisters.”

  “I know. Would you mind driving me home? I’m going to need my car.”

  Chapter 27

  IT TOOK three times as long as normal to drive the short distance to my house. The day had turned out pleasant and sunny. Good weather on a weekend meant people were pouring into Ordinary for the festival.

  That made for a nice spring kickoff for local businesses. But for the regulars who lived here, it meant suddenly living in an overpopulated town that wasn’t quite big enough to handle the influx.

  Pearl dropped me off in my driveway, and I ducked out of her car repeating that I was fine and I was going to be fine, and if I wasn’t fine, I’d call her.

&n
bsp; She drove off and I walked over toward my parked Jeep.

  Two steps across the crunch of gravel and a wave of nausea hit me.

  Dan screaming, holding the gun at arm’s length as if it were a stick he could stab me with. Death looming behind me, an oddly comforting shadow.

  Then Dan squeezed the trigger.

  I planted one hand on the hood of the Jeep and opened my mouth for air, pushing that visceral memory away. The scent of pine and salt tasted like blood on my tongue.

  Hold it together, I told myself. Take this one step at a time.

  I breathed until my hands stopped shaking, then crouched to pull the spare keys out from the magnetic holder in the wheel well. Once inside the car, I studied the area from a cop’s perspective. Dan had been standing in the middle of the cul-de-sac. Than and I had been near the stairs leading up to my house.

  There was a dark stain on the gravel that must be my blood.

  A sick chill washed over me, and I leaned my head against the steering wheel until the nausea passed. I was fine now. Everything was fine.

  I looked back up and wiped sweat from my forehead.

  Think. If Dan’s gun wasn’t loaded, where did the bullet come from?

  The end of the cul-de-sac was hemmed by coastal pines, Oregon grape, and salal bushes. Far below that was the beach and ocean.

  The house across the street was an empty vacation home built far enough off the road that several trees and bushes obscured the face of it.

  Someone could have hidden there on the walk, or porch, or behind the bushes. What were the chances someone with a loaded gun was lurking behind Dan?

  Out here in the light of day, it seemed like a far-fetched idea. But then, this was Ordinary. Far-fetched was sort of our middle name.

  “Dammit.” I dug a clean plastic sandwich bag out of my glove box and got out of the Jeep. I walked to the neighbor’s house, scanning the ground. The gravel didn’t seem disturbed. The bushes weren’t broken. I paced a grid of the cul-de-sac, slowly covering the area. Any evidence from the shooting would have been found by Myra, Jean, and the crime scene techs.

  The road was churned from the vehicles that had come and gone since I’d been shot, obscuring tire tracks and footprints.

  Maybe Dan did it. Maybe he was angry enough about not winning the contest that he shot me.

  The wind stirred and a flash of color under the glossy leaves of a salal bush caught my eye. I bent, groaned at the pressure in my side, and picked up the item with the baggy.

  It was a thin purple feather. Weird.

  I dropped the feather into the bag and tucked it in my coat. I scanned the area one more time, but didn’t find anything else. Time to go talk to Dan.

  Traffic was stop and go all the way down Highway 101, the frequent pedestrian crossings adding to the mess. Businesses lining the street had put goods on the sidewalk with big “sale” signs to lure shoppers. It was a town-wide festival and rummage sale.

  My heart lurched. Was that Ryder’s truck turning out of traffic and down a side road? The light changed before I could get a better look, but my heart still raced.

  Ryder Bailey was the last thing I wanted to deal with today, or ever. My plan was to ignore our night together, ignore our friendship, and ignore he existed until it no longer hurt to think about him.

  You dumped me while I was recovering from a gunshot wound. Jerk.

  What was it with men dumping me when I was at my lowest?

  I turned into the station and strode to the door. The sign on the door said: Closed. We kept the office locked up on festival days, since we usually pulled double shifts with crowd control. I keyed in the code and flipped on the office lights. The door snicked shut behind me. I didn’t lock it. I was in. If someone came by looking for the police, I’d be here.

  But first, Dan.

  I walked down the other hallway and keyed in the code for that locked door, which opened into our two-cell holding area.

  Dan sat on the edge of a small cot behind bars, his arms resting on his legs, his head hanging, fingers worrying at a hangnail. He was muttering quietly to himself—Pearl was right, he really did talk a lot—but stopped when he heard the door open.

  “Delaney!” He jumped up to his feet and grabbed the bars.

  My hand shot instinctively down to where my gun would be if I were carrying.

  Maybe Pearl was right. I wasn’t steady yet, still too jumpy from the last few days. I took a deep breath and tucked my hand into my pocket to hide how much it was shaking.

  “Hey, Dan.” I leaned against the wall farthest from him, my other arm across my ribs protectively. “We need to talk.”

  “I’m so sorry, Delaney,” he blurted. “I didn’t know! I don’t know how the bullets got there. I just wanted to scare you. That’s all. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.”

  He was babbling. I watched him plead with me. He might be faking it, his panic nothing more than realization that he had made a mistake and he was going to pay for it for a very long time.

  I didn’t want to believe him. Dan Perkin was a pain in the neck on pretty much all levels. He had no real friends in town, and I didn’t think anyone would feel the least bit of remorse if he were locked up for life.

  But my job was to look at the facts objectively.

  And I was damn good at my job.

  “I need you to calm down,” I said in the tone of voice I used when trying to talk Kressler and Wallery out of their garbage barrel battle. “Can you do that for me?”

  He scowled like he was about to go off on a rant, but then he looked me up and down and slumped, pressing his forehead against the bars.

  “Yeah,” he said. “I can be calm. Am I gonna need my lawyer here? Because I think she’s running the tie-dye booth.”

  “No, you won’t need your lawyer. I’m not trying to trap you. I just want to ask you a couple things.”

  He nodded, his forehead rubbing on the bar.

  “Did you buy dynamite and blow up your garden?”

  “I…” He licked his lips, his gaze skittering. “Yes,” he whispered.

  “Were you having thoughts about blowing up Chris’s beer vats?”

  He nodded.

  Okay, two for two. Pearl had been right.

  “Did you try to blow up Chris’s beer vats?”

  He shook his head, miserable, though I didn’t know if it was because he hadn’t had a chance to blow up the beer or because I’d asked him about it.

  “Did you kill Heim?”

  He jerked away from the bars. “What? No! Why would I do that?”

  “He was a judge in the contest, Dan.”

  “I’d never!” he sputtered. “Never! Kill someone? I wouldn’t. I can’t believe you would accuse me.”

  “You pointed a gun at me, Dan,” I said quietly. “And you pulled the trigger.”

  “I…I didn’t know it was loaded. I don’t know how that happened, Delaney. You have to believe me. I didn’t load that gun.”

  “If you didn’t, who did? Who had access to it? Who have you let handle it?”

  “No one. No one.” He shook his head and gripped the bars again.

  I waited, trying to decide if I believed him. I sighed. Even though I didn’t like it, I thought he was telling the truth.

  “Okay, so you were waving around an empty gun—not the smartest move, Dan.”

  He opened his mouth to argue, then, to my surprise, nodded. “I wasn’t thinking. I just wanted…wanted you to pay attention to me.”

  “You have my full attention. I need you to really think about this: who do you know that hates you enough to frame you for shooting me?”

  “I told you no one touched my gun.”

  “I believe you.”

  He was halfway into a syllable before he snapped his mouth shut. “You do?” He narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

  I nodded. “So if you didn’t put bullets in your gun, and if no one else did, then there had to be another gun with bullets on the scene. Who knew
you were angry at me? Who knew you would go to my house with a gun? Who would want you blamed for shooting a police officer?”

  He shook his head, his eyes open with a kind of wonder. “I don’t know. So many people hate me, it’s hard to say.”

  I smiled sadly. He wasn’t wrong.

  “Have you seen anyone around your place who isn’t usually there? Someone in the vacation home down the street? A car you’re not used to seeing around parking near your house?”

  He lowered his eyebrows, thinking. “No. I don’t think so, no. Well, those sisters are renting down the street.”

  “Sisters?”

  “Lila Carson and the blonde, Margie or Maggie, or—”

  “Margot.” I swallowed as a chill washed over me. “Margot Lapointe. How long have they been there?”

  “How should I know? I don’t keep track of every little thing in my neighborhood.”

  I just stared at him. Waited.

  He blushed. “Maybe a couple weeks? The blonde moved in first, I think. Then the other one. See them around everywhere. Well, the blonde. I think she was following me. Spying on me for that Chris Lagon. I have rights, you know. Rights to privacy.”

  I was listening with half an ear. I hadn’t even checked to see where the sisters were staying while they settled their business in town. I’d assumed they rented a hotel room.

  Still, renting a house near Dan didn’t exactly make them culpable in the shooting. It was a small town. Everyone lived near everyone.

  I rubbed at my forehead. “Okay. That might be helpful. I’m glad we had this talk.”

  “Wait,” he said. “Are you leaving me? You’re not leaving me here, are you? You can’t leave me.”

  “I can’t drop the charges yet, so yes, you are staying here until I can check your gun and see if a bullet was fired from it recently and whether or not that does anything to clear your name.”

  “You’d do that for me?” He sounded genuinely surprised.

  “If you’re innocent, I’ll do everything I can to make sure that you’re released. That’s how the law works.”

  I punched in the code and gripped the door handle to pull it open.

 
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