Coconut Layer Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke: Exclusive Excerpt
By Joanne FlukeFebruary 21, 2020
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“Oh, Hannah! You look absolutely lovely,” Lynne complimented her as Hannah came down the stairs.
Hannah remembered what her mother had taught her about accepting compliments and gave Lynne a big smile.
“Thanks, Lynne,” she accepted the compliment gracefully. “Mother gave this to me for my birthday.”
“It’s perfect for you.” Lynne took the cookie tin that Hannah handed to her. “Cookies?”
“No, I made Chocolate Peanut Butter Toffee for you.”
A broad smile spread over Lynne’s face as she pried off the lid and looked inside the round tin. “This is my very favorite candy! You used to make this for me every Christmas when we were in college.”
“It’s a little different this year because I couldn’t find Nabisco Chocolate Wafers.”
“But it looks like there’s chocolate on top.”
“There is. I melted chocolate and drizzled it on the top.”
“It’s pretty.” Lynne took a small piece of toffee and bit into it. “It’s just as good without the chocolate wafers, Hannah. Actually, it may be better. It tastes like there’s more chocolate.”
“That’s because there is more chocolate. I used a layer of chocolate chips on top of the crackers.”
“There’s more salt, too. And I like it.”
“I used Club Crackers and they’re salted. The salt side is up and that adds more flavor to the chocolate.”
“You’re right. It’s just wonderful!” Lynne reached for another piece and stopped herself just in time. “I’d better save this for later or I won’t be hungry when we get to the restaurant.”
Hannah motioned to the staircase as she spotted her mother. “There’s Mother. It looks like she did something to her hair.”
“My guess is Maria had something to do with that,” Lynne told her. “She was a beautician before she married Robby.”
Hannah didn’t comment aloud, but she wondered if Maria could do something to improve her hairstyle. She’d often joked that she should start using a curry comb on her hair. Unlike Delores with her dark hair, her younger, light blond sister Andrea, and Michele, the youngest of the Swensen sisters, whose nickname had been Jeanie with the light brown hair, Hannah had inherited her father’s almost unmanageable curly red hair, along with his physique. Lars Swensen had been tall and burly with a tendency to put on weight. Hannah, unlike her mother and sisters, was quite tall and what her mother politely called substantial. Delores had declared once that Hannah could put on several pounds just walking past the candy store at the mall and staring at the display in the window.
“Am I late?” Delores asked, crossing the room to join them.
“Not at all,” Lynne assured her.
“I’m here, Mrs. Larchmont.” Robby appeared in the hallway. “I have the car out front if you ladies are ready to go.”
“We are,” Lynne said. “Perfect timing, Robby. I know that Hannah and Delores must be starving after having nothing but airplane food all day.”
* * *
“Good heavens!” Delores gasped, catching sight of the woman who’d just walked into the French Room. “Is that . . .”
“Leslie Towers?” Lynne guessed.
“Yes! I saw her in Peachtree Forever and she was just wonderful! It’s not polite to ask for an autograph, is it?”
Lynne shook her head. “No, but that’s not Leslie Towers. Everyone always thinks that, but her name is Gloria Denning and she’s my neighbor.”
Delores looked disappointed, but then her expression changed to one Hannah could only classify as cagey. “I don’t suppose she’d pose for a photo with me, would she?”
Lynne laughed. “Only if you promise to tell people she’s Leslie Towers. Gloria loves to do that, but she draws the line at signing Leslie’s name if people ask her for an autograph. Shall I ask her if she’d like to have lunch with us so that we can take a few photos?”
“That would be wonderful!” Delores answered immediately and Hannah began to grin. Doc had been right. It was clear that her mother was starstruck.
“I’ll be right back,” Lynne said, rising from the table and hurrying to intercept her neighbor. After a short conversation, Gloria came back to the table with Lynne.
“Gloria won’t be joining us for lunch,” Lynne told them after she’d introduced them.
“It would have been fun, but I’m meeting someone in a few minutes,” Gloria explained. “I’ll be happy to pose for photos, though. It’s fun to pretend to be someone famous.”
Hannah watched as Lynne posed Gloria and her mother, and took the photos. She could tell that her mother was having the time of her life, and she wouldn’t be surprised if Delores went straight down to Rod at the Lake Eden Journal when she got home and asked Rod Metcalf to put one of the photos in their hometown newspaper.
“How about you, Hannah?” Gloria asked when the photos with Delores had been taken. “Would you like to pose with me?”
For a moment, Hannah wasn’t sure what to say. Would Gloria be insulted if she said that she really wasn’t interested in having her photo taken with famous people, either lookalikes or real celebrities? Luckily, the perfect answer occurred to her.
“Thanks so much for offering, but I wouldn’t want to spoil my mother’s exciting moment. I’ll be happy to let her have all the celebrity photo-ops for today.”
Lunch had been wonderful, but Hannah noticed that her mother’s eyes had closed several times during their trip back to Brentwood. “Are you tired, Mother?” she asked as they entered the house.
“Yes, I am,” Delores admitted. “I was up late last night, waiting for Doc to come back from the hospital, and I didn’t sleep well. If you girls don’t mind, I think I’ll go up to my room and take a nap.”
“That’s a good idea,” Lynne said. “Traveling can be very tiring and it’s been a long day for you.”
“Then that’s what I’ll do as long as you don’t need me,” Delores declared, heading for the staircase.
“Are you tired, too?” Lynne asked Hannah.
“Not really. I think I got my second wind. Of course, sleeping all the way here on the plane might have something to do with it.”
“As long as you’re not as exhausted as your mother, stay and have another glass of champagne with me.”
“That sounds nice, but just one glass,” Hannah told her.
Lynne stood up and motioned to Hannah. “Let’s go in the den. It’s cozier. And we can have some of your Chocolate Peanut Butter Toffee for dessert. I carried it in there before we left the house and it’ll go well with champagne.”
Hannah followed Lynne down a long hallway. There was a door at the end and Lynne pushed it open. “Here’s where I come to study my lines. Have a seat, Hannah. I’ll get the champagne.”
There were two leather chairs in front of the fireplace with a small table between them. Hannah took one and waited while Lynne opened a small refrigerator and took out a bottle of champagne. She opened it, poured two glasses, and carried them over to the small table. “It’s Taittinger,” she said. “That’s my favorite champagne. If your mother had joined us, I would have opened a bottle of Perrier Jouët.”
“Mother’s favorite,” Hannah confirmed it with a nod. Lynne sat down in the second chair. “Do you have a favorite champagne?”
“Not really. I don’t know that much about champagne. Norman’s the expert when it comes to things like that.”
“But Norman doesn’t drink . . . does he?”
“No, but he’s still an expert.” Hannah didn’t go into details about the reason that Norman didn’t touch alcohol. He’d told her, but that was a confidence between the two of them and she wasn’t about to break it. “Norman brought me a bottle of champagne called . . .” Hannah stopped, trying to remember. “It was French, and he said some people referred to it as The Widow.”
Lynne nodded. “Veuve Clicquot. That nickname refers to a woman who inherited a winery from her husband and made their champagne into a success. Which champagne do you like best, Hannah? Norman’s or mine?”
“I don’t know. I think I’d need to have them side by side to compare them. I like your champagne very much, though.”
“Good. I was hoping you would. Let’s have a fire in the fireplace. It’s a little chilly here today.”
Hannah’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. It seemed nice and warm to her, but perhaps Lynne had lost her tolerance for cold since she’d lived in California for so long.
“This is so handy,” Lynne said, picking up the remote control that sat on the table, the one Hannah had assumed would operate the flat-screen television set on the wall. But Lynne didn’t swivel in her leather chair to face the television set. “Are you going to turn on the television?” Hannah asked, thoroughly puzzled.
“No, just watch. I think you’ll enjoy this,” Lynne told her, aiming the control at the fireplace and pressing a button.
Hannah watched as the multicolored crystals in the bed of the fireplace began to glow. A moment later, small flames licked up between the crystals to make the colors even brighter.
Hannah knew she must have looked every bit as amazed as she felt. “That’s beautiful!” she breathed.
“I know. This is the place I always sat when Tom was gone. And he wasn’t here with me very often. He had a luxury apartment downtown in the financial district and when he wasn’t traveling, he spent most nights there.”
“Why?” Hannah asked, and then she wished she hadn’t asked. Perhaps the reason was too personal for Lynne to divulge.
“Sorry,” she apologized. “If you don’t want to tell me, I’ll understand.”
“That’s okay. I can tell you.” Lynne paused to take a deep breath. “I asked Tom why he bought the apartment and Tom told me that sometimes he was really tired after a late meeting with a client and it was exhausting to drive back here if the traffic was heavy.”
Hannah was surprised. “The traffic here is that bad?”
“It can be, especially coming from downtown if there’s a convention or a sports event.”
“Did Tom ever take you to see the apartment?”
“Yes, it’s on the top floor and it’s completely renovated. The view is just breathtaking.”
“And you helped him furnish it?”
Lynne shook her head. “No, he bought it completely furnished from a stockbroker he knew. Tom said the man made a fortune in hedge funds. He was moving to London and he planned to buy new furniture when he got there.”
“I guess that makes sense. It probably costs a lot to move furniture to another country.”
“Yes, it does. I believed the whole story until Tom showed me the bedroom.” Lynne paused to take a sip of her champagne.
“The first thing I noticed was the red velvet bedspread on the bed. Tom doesn’t like red. It’s his least favorite color. When we furnished this house, he told me not to buy anything red.”
“Did you ask Tom about the red bedspread?”
“Yes, the second I saw it. He said he hadn’t gotten around to replacing it yet, but this was a good three months after he’d bought the place. I found it hard to believe that someone like Tom, who hated the color red that much, would wait that long.”
“Perhaps he was too busy with his clients?” Hannah suggested.
“That’s the excuse he used. But then I noticed the bottle of perfume on the dresser. I’m almost certain that the stockbroker who’d owned the apartment wouldn’t have worn Chanel.”
“Oh, dear! Did you ask Tom about it?”
“No, I didn’t mention it.”
“I really didn’t want to know, at least not for sure. Then, when Tom started spending more and more time at his apartment and less and less time with me at home, I knew our marriage was falling apart.”
“And that’s why you wanted Tom to come to Lake Eden with you?”
“Yes, I hoped that we could work things out, but . . . that didn’t happen. I’m just glad that Tom gave me this house when we got married. I’m working with a real-estate agent and she’s going to sell it for me.”
“But . . . will you need money to move?”
“No, I’m okay financially, Hannah. Most of the commercials I’ve done have gone nationwide and the residuals are good. I used the signing bonus that Gibson Girl Cosmetics gave me as a down payment on Tori Bascomb’s condo.”
“So you won’t have to work?”
“Oh, I’ll want to work eventually, but I have enough for this move. I’m not going to take any of the big furniture, just some small pieces that I don’t want to leave behind. Everything else can be sold with the house.”
“So we’re just packing dishes and things like that?”
“Yes, and I’m going to take some of the artwork that I especially like. I have to remember that I’m downsizing and there’s not room for everything in the condo. That’s one of the reasons I asked you and Delores to come out here and help me. You and your mother have been in Tori Bascomb’s condo, and you can help me judge what will fit and what won’t.”
Hannah thought about that for a moment. “Mother will be better at that than I will. She spent a lot of time at Tori’s condo. They used to have coffee every morning.”
“I know. She told me. But there’s a second reason I wanted you to come out here, Hannah.”
“What is it?”
“I need to find out if we can still be friends after what happened. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t want anything to do with me.” Lynne took a deep breath and Hannah could see that she was upset. “After all, Hannah . . . my husband, Tom, did some horrible things. And I was so immersed in my own problems, I didn’t even suspect that Tom was involved!”
“Of course you didn’t!” Hannah reached out to pat Lynne’s arm. “I didn’t suspect Tom, either. I had no idea it was Tom until I put all the pieces together that day at The Cookie Jar.”
“Then you’re not mad at me for failing to warn you? Or to tell you something that might have made you suspect that you were in danger?”
Hannah shook her head. “Of course not! I didn’t suspect what Ross had done, either. It’s almost impossible to suspect someone you love and trust enough to marry.”
Lynne looked thoughtful. “I guess you’re right. I’m sorry, Hannah. If I’d known, or if I’d had even the slightest suspicion, I would have told you.”
“I know,” Hannah said, and then she smiled. “So we’re still good friends, right?”
“The best!” Lynne gave her a happy smile.
“Good, because I need to ask you for a favor.”
“Of course. What is it?”
“Don’t let Mother see your fireplace.”
It was clear from her expression that she was puzzled.
“Because she’ll want one just like it. And she’ll needle Doc until he goes out and orders one for her.”
Lynne Larchmont’s Home
Several days later
Lynne looked around at the boxes that were stacked in the living room, and groaned. “I’m taking way too much! There’s never going to be room for all this in the condo.”
“That’s why we didn’t tape the boxes closed,” Delores told her. “Leaving them open gives you a chance to reassess and make a final decision.”
“I guess I don’t really need more than a dozen Waterford crystal champagne glasses,” Lynne said with a sigh. “Unless . . .” She turned to Delores. “Would you like the other four dozen, Delores?”
“Oh, my!” Hannah recognized the amazed expression on her mother’s face. “I . . . I’d love to have them, but I want to pay for them.”
Lynne shook her head. “No, I’m giving them to you as a gift. They were a wedding present from one of Tom’s clients and I won’t be entertaining in Lake Eden the way I did out here. I want you to have them, Delores. It’s a small price to pay for all the help you’ve given me during the past five days.”
“Well . . . if you’re sure . . .” Delores gave a little nod. “If I take them, you have to promise to come to all my dinner parties. And I promise not to partner you with any unsuitable men.”
Lynne laughed. “It’s a deal. I love to go to dinner parties.” She turned to Hannah. “When we’ve finished packing, I’d like you to look around at the things I’m leaving behind. If there’s anything you want, just tell me and I’ll arrange to have it trucked to Lake Eden for you.”
“Thank you, Lynne!” Hannah was impressed with Lynne’s generosity. “You’re going to sell everything else, aren’t you?”
“Yes, my real estate agent will check with the buyers. If they want anything, she’ll set a fair price and add it to the sales price. Anything that’s left will go to Robby and Maria. I’ve already promised that they can hold an estate sale and keep whatever money they make.”
Lynne’s cell phone rang and she picked it up and glanced at the display. “It’s my agent,” she told them. “I’d better answer this.”
“What are you going to take, Hannah?” Delores asked as Lynne walked out of the room.
“I don’t know. I don’t really need anything, Mother.”
“But Lynne has some beautiful things.”
“Yes, she does.” Hannah thought about that for a moment. “Maybe I’ll just ask her to choose something for me. I know she’ll choose something she really likes and if she has any regrets later about giving it to me, she can have it back.”
“That’s a marvelous idea!” Delores said, just as Lynne came back into the room.
“I’m really sorry, but we can’t keep our lunch reservation today. I have to go to the studio for a final commercial. Gibson Girl Cosmetics decided that they need one more for their flight of commercials to be shown next month.”
“That’s all right,” Hannah said quickly. “Work comes first, Lynne.”
Delores nodded. “Yes, and I’m not really hungry after three pieces of that marvelous coffee cake Hannah made for breakfast.”
“Thanks for understanding. And I do have a little surprise for you. The director agreed to let the two of you come on the set when we’re filming the commercial. Would you like to go with me?”
“Oh, yes!” Delores responded immediately. “I’d love to go!”
“Hannah?” Lynne turned to her. “And if you go, would you bring a couple of pieces of that coffee cake for the director? He’s wild about home-baked goodies.”
“I’ll go. And of course I’ll bring some coffee cake with me,” Hannah said, but she added another sentence in her mind. I have to go so I can keep Mother in line. She’s so starstruck that I may have to tie her up to keep her from asking everyone there for an autograph.
Hannah was surprised as she followed Lynne and her mother into the building that contained the sound stage. It was a huge warehouse, seemingly empty except for the section at the far end containing a set that duplicated a cosmetic counter in an upscale department store, complete with stocked shelves and makeup chairs in front of the counters.
“I thought it would be more glamorous than this,” Delores confided to Lynne.
“It’s a working set,” Lynne explained. “Gibson Girl Cosmetics rents out this part of the building and this is where they shoot all their commercials.”
Hannah noticed that Delores still looked puzzled. “But . . . I thought there’d be people with clapboards and all sorts of costumed actors and actresses running around.”
Lynne shook her head. “Not here. This sound stage is set aside for filming commercials, and the production company moves in their own sets. They just rent the space, that’s all.”
“Oh,” Delores said, looking very disappointed.
“Before we leave, we’ll have lunch in the studio commissary. I have a pass to the executive dining room. It’s on the second floor and we’ll ask for a table on the balcony that overlooks the commissary. There’ll be all sorts of actors in full makeup and costume down there.”
“That would be wonderful!” Delores looked excited at the prospect. “But do the stars actually come to eat in their makeup and costumes?”
“Yes, if they only have a short lunch break and they’ll be filming again when it’s over. It takes a long time to put on makeup, especially if it’s elaborate. Even some of the minor characters in science fiction or fantasy movies have to come in hours before they start shooting.”
“Lynne!” a voice called out. Hannah turned to see a tall, thin man with dark hair hurrying toward them. “You’re here early!”
“Yes, I wanted to introduce you to two of my friends from Lake Eden, Minnesota.” She gestured toward Hannah. “This is Hannah Swensen. You’ve heard me mention her. And this is Hannah’s mother, Delores Knight. I’d like you two to meet our director, David-Paul.”
“Hannah,” the director acknowledged her, “and Delores. Lynne’s mentioned both of you. Would you like to watch while we shoot the commercial?”
“We’d just love to!” Delores answered for both of them. “It’s so exciting being in a real movie studio!”
“Not if you work here every day,” David-Paul said with a laugh. “It’s just a giant warehouse, and even with air conditioning, it can get hot under the lights.” Just then his cell phone rang and he pulled it out of his pocket to answer it. “Excuse me for just a moment, will you?”
“It’s late notice, Harry,” Hannah heard him say as he walked away. “Our lead is here already.”
Lynne and Delores began to talk about the upcoming commercial. Hannah listened with mild interest, but she was much more interested in watching David-Paul’s face. The conversation he was having with the person named Harry must have been irritating because he was beginning to scowl.
“She’ll never work for me again!” Hannah heard him say, and then he jammed the phone back in his pocket and walked back to them.
“Cynthia can’t make it,” he said to Lynne. “Something about her husband being in the emergency room. Sorry, Lynne. Looks like I got you all the way out here for . . .” He stopped and moved a step closer to Delores. “How old are you?” he asked her.
“Excuse me?” Delores just stared at him. “A lady never tells her age!”
As Hannah and Lynne watched, David-Paul began to smile. “Perfect!” he said. “You’ll do just fine.”
“I’ll do what?” Delores asked him, bristling slightly.
“You’ll play Lynne’s mother in the commercial.”
Delores’s mouth fell open and she looked as if someone could knock her over with a feather. “Me?”
“You. Yes, you’ll be perfect.” David-Paul stopped short and began to frown. “You’re SAG, aren’t you?”
“Delores isn’t an actress,” Lynne said quickly, since Delores seemed to be incapable of speech.
“That’s okay. We’ll work that out later. She looks the part and I’ll rewrite the script. Just take her to the makeup trailer, will you, Lynne? And tell Julia that she needs bags under her eyes and a couple of grey streaks in her hair. The way she looks now doesn’t look natural for her age.”
Hannah gave a little gulp. She had to say something fast or she’d be forced to spend the remainder of the day assuring Delores that her hair looked perfectly natural and no one could possibly guess that she had it colored.
“Grey streaks would work,” Hannah said with a nod. “Mother’s supposed to look older in the commercial, isn’t she?”
“That’s right,” David-Paul agreed quickly. “Nobody will believe she’s Lynne’s mother if we don’t age her up a bit.”
“Of course,” Delores said, obviously pleased. “I didn’t think of that.”
Hannah breathed a sigh of relief as her mother began to smile. She watched as Lynne led Delores out of the building, and then she turned to David-Paul. “That worked,” she said. “Nice recovery on your part.”
David-Paul laughed. “Thanks! And thank you for cueing me in. I tend to say what I think and that’s not always a good thing. I’m going to have some coffee. You want some?”
“Coffee would be good,” Hannah said, following him over to the corner of the building, where there was an alcove with a coffeepot and a long table with chairs. “Are you hungry? I brought half of an Apricot Coffee Cake.”
“That sounds great! I was going to buy some doughnuts for breakfast, but I was running late and I didn’t have time to stop off at the doughnut shop this morning. Where did you buy your coffee cake?”
“I didn’t buy it. I baked it this morning and we had some for breakfast.”
“You baked it yourself?”
Hannah came close to laughing out loud. David-Paul sounded shocked that she’d actually baked it. “Yes, I baked it. I own a bakery and coffee shop in Lake Eden, Minnesota.”
Hannah unwrapped the coffee cake and set it on the table. Then she reached inside the tote bag she’d brought with her and took out paper plates, plastic forks, and a knife. “I’ll cut a piece for you. I already had mine this morning.”
David-Paul began to smile as Hannah cut a big piece for him. “Are you trying to fatten me up?” he asked her.
“No, but you said you hadn’t had time for breakfast and everybody says it’s the most important meal of the day. You’re hungry, aren’t you?”
“Yes, and I’m getting hungrier by the minute. Your coffee cake smells delicious, Hannah.”
“It is. I got the recipe from my partner’s aunt. Aunt Nancy collects recipes, and every one she’s given me has been wonderful.”
Hannah reached into her tote bag again and pulled out a tub of softened, salted butter and a plastic knife.
“Would you like butter on your coffee cake?”
“I don’t usually eat . . .” David-Paul stopped in mid-sentence and began to smile. “Why not? I’ll have some butter. I think that I’ve already blown my daily calorie count by just looking at the huge piece of coffee cake you cut for me.”
Once David-Paul had eaten his slice of coffee cake, he leaned back in his chair and gave a satisfied sigh. “That was great! I wish I lived in . . . what was the name of your town again?”
“Nice name. If I lived there, I’d come into your coffee shop every morning.”
“That would be nice,” Hannah said, but her mind had another response that she didn’t voice. If you moved to Lake Eden from a big city like this with glamorous parties, hectic schedules, and exciting things to do twenty-four hours a day, you’d probably be jumping on the first plane back here before the moving truck even came with your furniture!
“Thanks again, Delores,” David-Paul told her as he poured her a second glass of wine. “You really helped me out of a rough spot today.”
“Me too,” Lynne added. “I really don’t know if I could have shoe-horned in the time to make that last commercial if we’d had to reschedule it.”
“I’m glad that I could help,” Delores told them, but Hannah noticed that she was glancing over the balcony rail to watch a group of actors who’d just come into the commissary below. “Isn’t that the cast from One More Time With Feeling?”
“Yes.” David-Paul smiled at Delores. “Would you like me to ask Troy to come up here so you can get his autograph?”
“That would be wonderful!” Delores began to smile so widely that Hannah wondered if the street makeup that Julia had applied to her mother’s face before they’d left the studio would crack.
“I’ll text him for you,” David-Paul said, pulling out his cell phone.
As Hannah watched the handsome actor at the table only a few feet below them, he picked up his cell phone, glanced at the display, and pushed back his chair. A moment later, he
was climbing the stairs to the executive dining room. His rapid response reminded Hannah that she’d turned off her cell phone during the filming of the commercial and she hadn’t turned it back on again. She did so immediately and when she glanced at the display, she saw that Michelle had called her three times in the past hour and she’d left messages each time. All three calls were marked URGENT, and Hannah knew that there must be something drastically wrong back home in Lake Eden.
“I’ll be right back,” she told them, slipping her phone back into her pocket and rising from her chair. “I have to return a phone call.”
“Is there something wrong?” Delores asked immediately.
Not wanting to spoil her mother’s obvious delight at meeting a big television star, Hannah cracked a joke. “Yes, they ran out of sugar at The Cookie Jar.”
Delores looked at her blankly for a second, and then she began to laugh. “You’re joking, aren’t you, dear?”
“Yes, I’ll be right back, Mother.”
There was a directional sign at the back of the room and Hannah headed for the ladies’ room. It would provide a quiet, private place for her to return Michelle’s calls. She pushed open the door to the ladies’ room, stepped inside, and smiled as she realized that she was alone in an anteroom filled with chairs and a long makeup table with mirrors. She seated herself on one of the chairs, pulled out her cell phone, and punched in Michelle’s cell phone number.
“Hannah!” Michelle answered on the first ring. “Thank God you got back to me! You have to come back to Lake Eden right away! It’s an emergency!”
Hannah could feel her blood pressure rising. “Is something wrong with Moishe?”
“No, Hannah. Moishe’s fine, but he’s with Norman. I tried to bring him here to the condo, but he didn’t want to go inside.”
“Because I wasn’t there?”
“That could have been part of it, but he yowled at the foot of the stairs and kept on yowling, even when I picked him up to carry him. I went up a couple of steps, but he was shaking so hard, I turned around and took him back to the car. Of course I’m not sure, but I think Moishe feels the same way you do about the condo. Something bad happened inside and he doesn’t want me to go back there again.”
Hannah wondered briefly if Michelle was anthropomorphizing, but her sister had a valid point. Perhaps it would be different if she’d been there to carry Moishe up the stairs, but they wouldn’t know that until the renovation was finished and she tried it.
“So did you take him back to Mother and Doc’s place?” Hannah asked.
“No, I thought he’d be lonely with Mother gone and Doc at the hospital all day. I called Norman and he said he’d come right out to get Moishe and take him to his house.”
Hannah drew a sigh of relief. “Oh, good! Moishe loves playing with Cuddles. He’s still there, isn’t he?”
“Yes, and Norman told me that Moishe and Cuddles have been playing practically nonstop. Everybody’s fine here, Hannah, except”—Michelle’s voice broke and she stopped speaking to clear her throat”—except Lonnie.”
“What’s wrong with Lonnie? Is he sick?”
“No. There’s been a murder, a woman Lonnie knew from his high school class, Darcy Hicks. And Lonnie . . .” Michelle choked up again, and then she began to sob.
“Calm down, honey,” Hannah said, trying to make her voice as comforting as possible despite the alarm she was feeling. “Tell me what’s wrong with Lonnie.”
“It’s awful, Hannah!”
“I understand,” Hannah said, but of course she couldn’t possibly understand if Michelle didn’t tell her what was wrong.
“Whatever it is, it’s going to be okay. I’ll catch the first flight out and come right back to Lake Eden if you need me.”
“I do! I need you, Hannah! There’s nobody else who can help! And I’m too upset to do it alone!”
“Do what, Michelle?”
Hannah realized that her youngest sister was almost hysterical, but Michelle still hadn’t told her what was wrong.
Somehow she had to reassure Michelle so that Michelle would explain what had happened.
“All right, Michelle. I promise you that I’ll help Lonnie. I’ll come right back and do whatever I can for him. But first, honey, you have to tell me what’s wrong.”
“Oh!” Michelle sounded shocked. “Yes! Of course I do! I’m just so rattled, Hannah. Just give me a second . . . okay?”
“I’ll give you as long as you need. Get a drink of water, try to calm down, and then tell me exactly what happened. Just put down the phone, go get some water, and I’ll be right here when you come back.”
Hannah heard Michelle put the phone down. There was the sound of a chair being pushed back. Then a cupboard door opened with a bang and there was the sound of water running. Michelle must have been in the kitchen at the condo when the phone rang. A chair creaked as Michelle sat down again, and Hannah heard her take a deep breath. Then she took another deep breath and picked up the phone.
“I’m back,” she said, and her voice was steadier. “You’re there, aren’t you, Hannah?”
“I’m here. Now tell me.”
“Lonnie’s classmate, Darcy Hicks, has been murdered. And Lonnie’s the . . .” Michelle swallowed audibly, took another breath, and managed to choke out the words. “Lonnie’s the main suspect!”
Copyright © 2020 Joanne Fluke.
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