Guidebook to Murder by Lynn Cahoon
In the gentle coastal town of South Cove, California, all Jill Gardner wants is to keep her store–Coffee, Books, and More–open and running. So why is she caught up in the business of murder?
When Jill’s elderly friend, Miss Emily, calls in a fit of pique, she already knows the city council is trying to force Emily to sell her dilapidated old house. But Emily’s gumption goes for naught when she dies unexpectedly and leaves the house to Jill–along with all of her problems. . .and her enemies. Convinced her friend was murdered, Jill is finding the list of suspects longer than the list of repairs needed on the house. But Jill is determined to uncover the culprit–especially if it gets her closer to South Cove’s finest, Detective Greg King. Problem is, the killer knows she’s on the case–and is determined to close the book on Jill permanently. . .
Empty shops are the death knell for small businesses. The thought nagged at me as I read, curled up in my favorite overstuffed armchair. Wednesdays were notoriously slow for all the South Cove businesses. Not many tourists included the day in an impulsive California coastal weekend getaway, but I liked to be open, just in case a random busload of quilting seniors decided to stop for a shot of espresso and a few novels to read while they traveled to their next stop on the tour. It had happened.
The mortgage papers on the building listed me as Jill Gardner, owner of Coffee, Books, and More, the only combination bookstore and coffee shop within sixty miles. But as anyone who’s gone through a divorce or lawsuit knows, paper only tells half the story. I might own the shop, but I’m also one of the world’s biggest suckers.
When I moved to South Cove five years ago, I realized to survive in the small tourist town I’d need to patch together a few different jobs. So I’d jumped at the chance to serve as the business liaison between the local businesses and the city council.
Now I regretted my impulsive nature. And as if to highlight my error, the fax machine on the back counter beeped and started printing out a message.
It could be a catering order coming in. Hope springs eternal and all that. I jumped up from my chair to glance at the half-printed page.
The South Cove city letterhead sparkled on the top. Then Mayor Baylor’s scrawl appeared over the sheet. Short and sweet, he wanted the agenda for the next Business to Business meeting in his office by five on Friday.
As the new kid in town, I’d been honored when the city had offered me the position. I should have known there was a catch, because none of the other more-established business owners wanted the job. Working with His Honor The Mayor was a nightmare. But I was stuck with the job—at least until I could sucker the next victim into taking it on. Planning this month’s get-together had been on my to-do list for three weeks. I wrote it there myself, right after I’d left the last meeting. I left the fax on the machine and went back to my book.
With a steaming hot mocha within reach on the table, I snuggled in to devour the latest installment from my favorite mystery author. Customers could come tomorrow. The mayor and my to-do list could wait another day. The sunshine warmed my skin, and the smell of deep, dark coffee hung in the air. I tried to ignore the nagging going on inside my brain.
I’d read two pages when the phone rang. My plans for a quiet morning of reading weren’t working out. Running the few steps to reach the phone, I felt breathless when I answered. “Coffee, Books, and More, how can I help you?”
“Jill, is that you?” Miss Emily’s high-pitched voice blared over the phone line. Man, for being in her eighties, the woman could really project.
“Yes, it’s me. What’s going on?” My heart slowed a few beats. I needed to get into better shape. I grabbed a dust cloth, happy for the cordless phone. Conversations with Miss Emily were never short.
“Those rats at the council are at it again.” Miss Emily’s ongoing argument with the city was a popular topic of discussion not only with me, but with anyone who stopped by her house to visit.
“What did they do now?” I walked over to the closest bookshelf and started to wipe away the dust that had already settled since I cleaned yesterday. I loved my little store but sometimes I felt like it owned me, my time, and what was left of my rapidly shrinking savings account.
“They want me to sell out to some charlatan who’s building an apartment complex for wealthy seniors. And they’re offering me a condo at a reduced price in the complex. Can you believe it?” Miss Emily sounded near tears.
“They can’t make you sell.” I tried to calm her.
“The letter says they can. It says the council can condemn the property and just take my house. Can they do that?” Miss Emily rattled the pages hard enough that I could hear the crinkling over the phone.
“Just put that letter away and I’ll look it over on Sunday. When do you have to answer?” I was starting to worry. The council had never threatened to condemn her property before. I’d have to check with Amy, she’d know the details. Having the city planner as a friend came in handy.
“The end of the month.”
“We have plenty of time. We’ll call some lawyers on Monday if we need to.” One more thing on my to-do list.
“I’m buying a rifle to keep those carpetbaggers off my land,” Miss Emily declared.
Lynn Cahoon’s a multi-published author. An Idaho native, her stories focus around the depth and experience of small town life and love. Lynn’s published in Chicken Soup anthologies, explored controversial stories for the confessional magazines, short stories in Women’s World, and contemporary romantic fiction. Currently, she’s living in a small historic town on the banks of the Mississippi river where her imagination tends to wander. She lives with her husband and four fur babies.
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