The Hanged Man’s Noose: A Glass Dolphin Mystery by Judy Penz Sheluk
An amateur sleuth mystery with an edge.
Small-town secrets and subterfuge lead to murder in a tale of high-stakes real estate wrangling gone amok.
Journalist Emily Garland lands a plum assignment as the editor of a niche magazine based in Lount’s Landing, a small town named after a colorful Canadian traitor. As she interviews the local business owners for the magazine, Emily quickly learns that many people are unhappy with real estate mogul Garrett Stonehaven’s plans to convert an old schoolhouse into a mega-box store. At the top of that list is Arabella Carpenter, the outspoken owner of the Glass Dolphin antiques shop, who will do just about anything to preserve the integrity of the town’s historic Main Street.
But Arabella is not alone in her opposition. Before long, a vocal dissenter at a town hall meeting about the proposed project dies. A few days later, another body is discovered, and although both deaths are ruled accidental, Emily’s journalistic suspicions are aroused.
Putting her reporting skills to the ultimate test, Emily teams up with Arabella to discover the truth behind Stonehaven’s latest scheme—before the murderer strikes again.
Emily Garland stared at the blank white page on her computer screen. Less than five hours to meet her Urban Living deadline, and she still hadn’t come up with a new way to spin the same old condo stats.
She blamed the lack of concentration on her upcoming meeting with Michelle Ellis. Why would the editor-in-chief of Urban Living Publications want to meet with her in person? Outside of the obligatory appearances at builders’ conventions and awards galas, Emily couldn’t remember a time when she’d met with Michelle face-to-face. Certainly she’d never been invited to her office.
She glanced at her Timex Ironman watch. 11:03 a.m. Time to get writing.
While it’s common knowledge the Greater Toronto Area’s (GTA) high-rise market is through the roof, most people don’t realize how far along it has come: as of this reporting period, high-rise condominium suites make up approximately 60 percent of total new homes sold.
According to the Urban Building Association (U-BUILD), several factors are behind the condo surge, including a shortage of land. With limited supply, the cost of detached, semis, and townhouses has continued to escalate.
“Condominiums are a practical alternative,” said Garrett Stonehaven, a prominent real estate developer and CEO of HavenSent Developments, Inc. “Builders are also ‘right-sizing’ to create more space-efficient and, thus affordable, units.”
Right-sizing for affordability. What a bunch of hooey. After ten years of writing about the residential housing industry, Emily had been around Garrett Stonehaven enough to know he didn’t have an altruistic bone in his handsome, six-foot tall body. At least not once the television cameras stopped rolling.
But it didn’t matter what she thought. The camera loved him. The readers of Urban Living loved him. Which was why Emily quoted him, every chance she got. It was called job security, a precious commodity to a freelance writer. She wrote a while longer and then honed in on the closer.
“As the builder/developer of CondoHaven on the Park, we are interested in foreign and local investment potential,” said Stonehaven. “But our primary focus is, and always will be, building homes for people to come home to.”
– 30 –
Complete blather, Emily thought, entering the somewhat archaic -30- to denote The End. She looked at her watch. There was still plenty of time to get in a five-mile run.
Emily arrived at the offices of Urban Living Publications at promptly five p.m., punctuality being both the curse and the reward of living life eternally on deadline. The offices took up a generous portion of the forty-fourth floor. Someone was doing okay. The going rate for commercial real estate in the financial sector was in the nosebleed section of dollars per square foot.
A petite fifty-something bottle blonde in a navy blue power suit marched out of a glass-walled office. “Emily, dear, so glad you could make it.”
“Michelle. Good to see you.” Emily held out her hand before Michelle could get into the whole hugging, air-pecking-on-the-cheek business.
“Come to my office. We need to talk.”
The office was far more luxurious than Emily could have imagined. Emily had always thought editors and publishers were crammed into windowless, paper-infested cubbyholes. This was definitely a far cry from the cramped Queen Street quarters where she’d interned for a small press publisher right after graduation. Those offices had mounds of manuscripts threatening to buckle battle-scarred tables and bookcases overflowing with titles from past to present, bestsellers and busts and dreams turned to dust.
Michelle’s office, on the other hand, featured a bank of windows with a view of the city’s waterfront. A handful of sailboats dotted the late season waters.
The remaining walls were covered in paintings, although none were immediately recognizable, at least to Emily’s untrained eye. She suspected they might be by up-and-coming artists. She’d heard Michelle was heavily into the art scene. A massive mahogany desk—real mahogany, not the laminate look-alike she had in her own home office—held nothing but a twenty-seven-inch iMac, a twisty-looking acrylic sculpture in shades of gold and cobalt blue, and a silver-framed photograph of a fine-boned teenager, his straw-colored hair and peach fuzz whiskers glinting in the noonday sun, his clear blue eyes looking up with adoration at a tall, handsome teenager standing next to him.
“My son and his best friend,” Michelle said. “The sculpture is from an Aboriginal artist in Northern Manitoba. But enough of the pleasantries. I’m sure you’re curious to know why I asked you here, Emily, dear, instead of sending the usual email. Or calling.”
“A little curious.” Hoping for the best, expecting the worst. Already a little tired of the “dear.”
“I’m assuming you’ve heard the Huntzberger acquisition rumors?”
Word on the street had Michelle and a couple of silent partners in negotiations to purchase Huntzberger Publications. Emily debated feigning ignorance but instead opted for the truth. Publishing was a small world. No way Michelle would believe she hadn’t heard. “Yes.”
“They’re all true. Like many publishers these days, Huntzberger has been bleeding red ink. With the possible exception of tabloid journalism, people simply aren’t buying print like they used to. But Huntzberger’s loss is Urban Living’s gain. My partners and I believe that properly managed, and with some innovative investments, publishing can be more than profitable, it can be lucrative.”
Once again Emily wondered why she’d been summoned. As a freelance writer, she wasn’t exactly privy to any corporate secrets. “I’m sure it’s a wonderful opportunity.” She straightened her posture and attempted to look suitably impressed.
“More than you can imagine. The official announcement of the acquisition was sent to all the media outlets earlier today, embargoed until tonight’s six o’clock news. From that point onward, we’ll be known as Urban-Huntzberger, Inc. My partners are in the process of preparing our IPO. These things take time, but we’re hoping to get listed within a few months.”
Preparing an Initial Public Offering, getting listed on the stock exchange. It had definite possibilities. Maybe Michelle was going to offer her a full-time job, one with benefits: dental, medical, paid vacation. A girl could dream. “Who are the partners?”
“They prefer to remain silent investors for the moment, though that will change when we go public. But you needn’t let such things concern you. I’ll remain editor-in-chief for all Urban-Huntzberger publications, and you’ll continue to report directly to me on any assignments. Which brings me to today. We would like to offer you an assignment. But this one is a bit, hmmm, different.”
Emily shifted forward in her seat. “Different?”
“It would involve relocating.”
“Relocating?” Emily realized she was beginning to sound like a bit of a parrot. “To where? For how long?”
“To Lount’s Landing. For as long as it takes. Probably three to six months. Possibly longer.”
Lount’s Landing? Emily searched her brain for any sign of recognition. None came. “Where exactly is Lount’s Landing?”
“About ninety minutes northeast of Toronto. A charming little hamlet nestled along the shores of the Dutch River. We’ve arranged for a monthly lease on a Victorian row house within walking distance to the town’s Main Street. Even better, we’ll cover the rent for the course of the assignment.”
Emily tried not to stare. Urban Living Publications, or rather, Urban-Huntzberger, had rented a Victorian row house? In a town called Lount’s Landing? For a long-term assignment? What on earth?
“I know, dear. It’s all rather overwhelming, but we specifically selected you for the assignment. You’re a talented writer. A thorough researcher. A hard worker. Utterly reliable. More importantly, you know the business from top to bottom.”
Maybe the last five years of trying to put a new spin on the same old condo stats hadn’t gone unnoticed after all. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. But permit me to be perfectly frank. There was one other important consideration. You don’t appear to have any ties to hold you here.” Michelle turned to her computer, pulled up a document, and began reading. “No siblings. Both parents deceased. Father when you were fourteen. Stomach cancer. Mother two years ago.” She paused. “Accidental overdose.”
Emily went from stunned silence to outright indignation. They had been investigating her? Knew, or at least suspected, about her mother’s suicide?
And what was all that nonsense about not having any ties in Toronto? Sure, Kevin might have dumped her for that blonde bimbo who called herself a personal trainer, but it wasn’t like she didn’t have a friend to her name. Besides, she’d known it was over with Kevin for a long time. But she’d invested so much time and energy in him, trying to make it work. And then for him to up and leave her, as if she had been nothing more than a meaningless diversion…
“If you’re trying to portray me as a loner loser —”
“Not at all, dear, not at all. We understand the healing power of solitude. We also know you privately loathe Garrett Stonehaven. Not without cause, if our research into your mother’s situation can be trusted. All things considered, we believe you’re the perfect candidate for this assignment.”
All things considered? What did that arrogant SOB Garrett Stonehaven have to do with an assignment in Lount’s Landing? His turf had always been in Toronto’s downtown core. More importantly, what did all this have to do with her mother’s death, accidental or otherwise?
“We particularly enjoyed your exposé of the Kraft-Fergusson brownfield development,” Michelle continued. “And you’re always saying how much you enjoy the investigative side of journalism. We’re simply willing to provide the opportunity, albeit at a much higher level. We’re also willing to compensate you handsomely for the privilege, including benefits and stock options.”
Emily thought back to her coverage of the brownfield scandal, the weeks of investigative research, trying to learn all she could about the types of hazardous waste and chemical pollutants industries like Kraft-Fergusson left behind. Remembered the long days of chasing down leads, the hours of writing and rewriting.
It had been one of the most rewarding—and frustrating—experiences of her career. Rewarding because she had finally been taken seriously as a journalist. Frustrating because, despite the fact that HavenSent Developments owned the Kraft-Fergusson land, she’d never managed to pin any of the toxic dirt on Garrett Stonehaven. Thanks to his accountant, Eldon Thornbury, a vile man who slithered through loopholes and then sewed up the ends, HavenSent, and Stonehaven by association, had been completely exonerated of any wrongdoing. Had been lauded, in fact, for their utmost co-operation with all authorities.
“You have my attention.”
Michelle reached into a drawer and pulled out a contract.
“First, Emily, we need you to agree to our terms and conditions, the usual confidentiality and exclusivity verbiage. I assure you, nothing sinister is behind the offer. We have only your best interests at heart. Of course, if you don’t want the gig, there are plenty of other writers who would jump at the opportunity. Kerri St. Amour, for example.”
Kerri say-no-more? They were comparing her to that backstabbing hack? Emily glanced at the numbers in front of her and thought hard. Get the goods on Stonehaven and get paid for the pleasure. There was enough money on the table to stop renting, put a down payment on a place of her own. Maybe take a few months off, write the historical romance she’d been dabbling with for years. It might be therapeutic to start over, go to a place where nobody knew her, a place where she wasn’t Kevin’s somewhat pathetic ex-fiancée. But was it all too good to be true? There had to be a catch. In her life, there was always a catch.
“What would I have to do?”
“HavenSent Developments is exploring a development opportunity in Lount’s Landing. Nothing unusual, though it is a bit far afield, even for someone as ruthless as Garrett Stonehaven. But our source tells us there’s more to Stonehaven’s latest plan than meets the eye. Much more.”
“Where do I fit in?”
“The town has a monthly magazine, Inside the Landing. It’s a promotional glossy, similar to Urban Living, albeit on a much smaller scale, with stories about businesses in the community. Runs about forty pages, could be more if the ad revenue was there. It now falls under the Urban-Huntzberger umbrella. The previous owner had been ready to sell out and retire for some time.”
“And my role?”
“You would be responsible for all the editorial content, make some much-needed improvements to the publication. In fact, we’d encourage it as part of your cover.”
Ah ha, catch number one. Part of my cover. Mind you, it did sound intriguing. “If I agree?”
“You’d move to Lount’s Landing. Get to know the town, the people, make some friends. Find out what Garrett Stonehaven’s up to. And write us an exclusive that will have Urban-Huntzberger’s stock market value skyrocketing higher than the latest GTA condo.”
Emily suspected this went way beyond a publisher trying to make money. What had Stonehaven done to warrant a Michelle Ellis sponsored witch-hunt? Who was Michelle’s source of information? She cursed herself for wanting to find out, when every instinct told her to run.
“And the source?”
“Better you don’t know. That way you can observe everyone with the same degree of neutrality, although we have arranged for you to connect with a Johnny Porter. He’s the chairman of the Main Street Merchants’ Association. He seems keen to keep Inside the Landing operational, although that’s all he knows. It would be best for all concerned if you kept it that way.”
Emily nodded. It certainly sounded as though Urban-Huntzberger had everything covered. She wondered whether she should study the contract, contact a lawyer. Take a moment to decide whether this was the opportunity of a lifetime or an act of insanity. “How long do I have?”
“We need an answer ASAP. You’d move in by the end of the month, sooner if possible. The rental house has been recently renovated and is currently available.”
Michelle stood up. “Emily, you’ve been in this business long enough to know this kind of assignment doesn’t come along every day. Work with us. Get rich with us. And help us to expose Garrett Stonehaven for the lying, cheating, bastard we both know he is.”
Definitely more to this scenario than meets the eye. Emily pulled a gold-plated pen out of her handbag, a graduation gift from her mother a dozen years ago. She twirled it between her fingers, remembering how proud her mom had been, her daughter the first one in the family to go beyond high school. Remembered the way her mother had looked the last time Emily saw her, shell-shocked and shattered.
“Where do I sign?”
Lount’s Landing appeared to be a town in transition. Nestled among the Victorian architecture and the freshly painted shops with cutesy names like “Book Worm” and “Second Hand Rose”—the former a bookstore, the latter a consignment clothing shop filled with vintage and designer fashions—there were telltale signs of more radical change, starting with the “For Sale: Development Potential” real estate sign on an old elementary school at the foot of Main Street.
Emily’s first order of business was a meeting with Johnny Porter, owner of It’s a Colorful Life, chairman of the Main Street Merchants’ Association, and her key contact—not that he knew the real reason behind her move to Lount’s Landing. As far as Johnny was concerned, she was simply the new editor of Inside the Landing.
It’s a Colorful Life was a throwback in time, the sort of store you’d expect to find Jimmy Stewart wandering into in Bedford Falls. Plastic paint trays hung from the ceiling like oversized Christmas ornaments. Every wall surface was covered with clusters of paint chips, a kaleidoscope of reds and blues and golds and ochers, of greens and purples and pinks and whites. She wedged her way between aisles of metal bins overflowing with rollers and brushes and sandpaper and masking tape, dodging paint cans piled high into pyramids.
The faint scent of vanilla filled her nostrils. “Pure vanilla extract, the real stuff, not the imitation kind,” a man’s voice called from the back of the store. “Stir one tablespoon into a gallon of paint and you get rid of that new paint smell. I add it to every gallon I sell.” He came out into the open, held out his hand, and smiled. “Emily Garland, I presume.”
The main thing Emily noticed about Johnny Porter, beyond the fact he was roughly her age and drop-dead movie star gorgeous, were his eyes. Eyes so dark brown they looked black. Miner’s eyes, her old pals at boarding school would have called them, the kind of eyes that could dig their way into the depth of your soul. Emily made an effort to collect herself. Acting like an infatuated high school student was not the way to start off her new life in Lount’s Landing.
“And you must be Johnny Porter.” Emily shook his hand, noticing his grip was firm but gentle. Thought his hand lingered a moment longer than necessary. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Johnny said, although Emily got the distinct feeling he was assessing her. She wondered if she made the grade.
“I wanted to thank you, Johnny, for all your efforts to make my transition from Toronto easier. Getting the office space ready, arranging for the house rental with Urban-Huntzberger, all your notes about the businesses and shops along Main Street. I can’t imagine what I would have done without you.”
“Nonsense,” Johnny said, waving aside her accolades. “That’s what we call good, old-fashioned small town hospitality. As chairman of the Main Street Merchants’ Association, I consider it part of my responsibilities. It’s in the Association’s best interests to have the editor of Inside the Landing championing our cause.”
“Thank you, anyway.”
“You’re welcome, anyway.” Johnny smiled. “So I take it the house is good? You’re the first renter. The owner, Camilla Mortimer-Gilroy, purchased it a few months ago, a bank foreclosure. It was in tough shape, and that’s putting a gloss on things. She had it renovated from top to bottom, paint, new countertops and cabinets in the kitchen and bath, refinished all the floors.”
“The living room walls are bit greener than I’d like, but it’s nothing I can’t live with. It’s just a short term rental.” Emily stopped. Day one and she had almost blown her cover. She would have to be more circumspect if she stood any chance of keeping her assignment a secret. “Then again, I may live there for quite some time. I’m hoping to save up some money and buy a fixer-upper of my own.” No need to mention the planned fixer-upper was in Toronto.
“Then there’s no reason to live with a paint color you don’t care for. I told Camilla not to go with Warm Winter Wheat. Sounds lovely and soft and golden, but it always looks green in a north facing light. Hay Bale would have been a much better choice for the room’s exposure. It would warm up the room completely.”
“Wow, you know a lot about color.”
“I should, owning a paint store,” Johnny said with a grin. “But the truth is color has always fascinated me. Did you know that in Victorian times, flowers were used as a way for men to communicate their feelings to the women they were courting? Social conventions restricted conversations for a variety of reasons, but sending flowers of a certain color or type allowed secretive messages to be sent. There were even floriography dictionaries.” Johnny laughed. “Listen to me, going on and on. What I’m trying to say is that people should enjoy their surroundings, and choosing the right paint color is one way of adding to that enjoyment.”
“You’ve sold me on the Hay Bale, though I should probably check with the owner first.”
“Don’t you worry about Camilla. We go way back. I was a friend of her late husband, Graham. I can still remember when Camilla moved to Lount’s Landing to become mistress of the Gilroy Mansion. Created quite a stir. Everyone had expected Graham to marry a woman with connections to the family and plenty of her own money.”
“I gather she had neither.”
“At least none that anyone was aware of. After Graham died, Camilla turned most of the mansion into a Bed and Breakfast. Created more talk, not that she had much of a choice. Graham liked to live large on the family legacy, and he didn’t have much in the way of insurance.”
“When did he die?” Always the journalist, a bit too pushy for her own good, but this time she needn’t have worried. It appeared Johnny liked nothing better than to talk. She made a mental note to be careful of what she said around him.
“He died about five years ago, snowmobiling accident. Rode out on the Dutch River before the ice was safe and sliced straight through. By the time anyone found him, it was already too late.”
“What a horrible way to die.”
“Doing what you love?” Johnny shook his head. “No, Graham would rather have died snowmobiling than doing anything else. He was always a risk taker. And he’d been riding on thin ice for years—quite literally, and in more ways than one. It was just a matter of time. I’ve often wondered if his death really was an accident.”
“But what about Camilla? She must have been devastated.”
“She was, although to be honest I was never quite sure what devastated her more, Graham’s death or the fact he left her penniless. They’d been married less than a couple of years, and I think Graham kept his financial affairs close to the vest. But Camilla’s got a keen business sense. She started out by fixing up one room and bath and renting it out. Five years later, she’s got one of the finest Bed and Breakfasts in this part of Ontario.”
“I’m looking forward to meeting her. Camilla sounds like she’d be a great interview. Readers love those sorts of stories.”
“I’ve suggested as much to her, but she’s publicity shy. Says she had enough of the media hounding her after Graham died.”
Emily could understand that. Some reporters—like Kerri St. Amour—were positively ruthless. She would wait, be sure to try a gentler approach when the time was right.
“I’ll remember that when I call on her.”
“Someone you definitely want to interview is Arabella Carpenter.”
Emily thought back to the notes Johnny had provided. “The owner of the new antiques shop on Main Street?”
“The Glass Dolphin. The grand opening is this weekend.”
“What good timing. Covering the opening will give me some material for the publication. Plus it would be a great networking opportunity. I’m assuming other business owners will come by to support her.”
“They will—at least everyone who belongs to MSMA—but I have to warn you. Arabella’s an expert when it comes to antiques, and she’s a charming woman, but she can also be a tad irascible. Proceed with caution is all I’m saying. If she thinks you have an ulterior motive, you’re toast.”
An ulterior motive? What was Johnny hinting at? Surely he didn’t suspect…
“I don’t think networking is an ulterior motive, but thanks for the heads up.” Emily looked at her watch. It was getting late in the day, and she wanted to reread her notes about Arabella before heading over there. “I’ll pay Arabella a visit first thing tomorrow morning.”
“As long as you’re going there, can I ask you for a favor? Would you deliver this invitation to Arabella? It will save me the trip. Not to mention a confrontation.” He handed her two cream-colored envelopes. “There’s one for you, too.”
A confrontation? Interesting. “What’s it for?”
“A presentation about a proposed new development. I understand from your boss that you know the presenter. A man by the name of Garrett Stonehaven.”
Her boss, Michelle Ellis, had assured her their agreement was confidential, but she couldn’t escape the feeling that Johnny was testing her. She contemplated her options and decided to go for surprise.
“Stonehaven’s in Lount’s Landing? I’ve covered his condo developments in Urban Living for years. He never struck me as a small town kind of guy.”
“Consider this your opportunity to find out more.” Johnny smiled and Emily thought she detected a hint of relief in his eyes. “Oh, and one more word of warning.”
“It would be best if you gave Arabella the invitation as you were leaving.”
“Let’s just say Arabella has been more than vocal about her vision of what’s right for Main Street. And I don’t think Garrett Stonehaven’s plans play any part of it.”
The alarm clock radio came on at exactly seven a.m., the sounds of Hey Joe filling the room. Arabella Carpenter pushed the snooze button, not just for the extra ten minutes of sleep it might afford her, but to drown out the music. She mostly loved the Classic Rock Q107 played, but she had never understood the appeal of Hendrix. Especially at seven a.m. on a Tuesday.
Arabella dragged herself up and into the shower before the allotted ten minutes were up, knowing she had a busy week ahead. Saturday was the grand opening of The Glass Dolphin, her new antiques shop on Main Street.
There were some, among them her know-it-all ex-husband, Levon, who might say this wasn’t the time to invest heart and soul—not to mention her hard-fought life’s savings—into brick and mortar when so much of today’s antiques trade was negotiated online. But while Arabella had considered hiring a web design firm from Toronto to “enhance her online presence,” replacing lemon oil and old leather with search engines and live bidding was as foreign to her as relinquishing the tactile feel of page and paper for a Kindle.
She squeezed into a pair of faded jeans and threw on a souvenir sweatshirt from the Royal Ontario Museum. Raked her fingers through chin-length auburn curls, glad she’d abandoned her fling with the flat iron. A pair of sneakers, a down-filled jacket, and she was out the door.
Arabella’s walk from her midtown rental to the Glass Dolphin took about twenty minutes, including a breakfast stop at the Sunrise Café for a take-out coffee and a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel. She enjoyed the journey to and from each day, even if exercise wasn’t exactly on her top ten to-do list. She’d also come to appreciate the finer points of the town, though when Levon had dragged her here from Toronto a dozen years ago she couldn’t see it. Her favorite part of these walks was seeing the gradual transition of Lount’s Landing, the way the town was embracing its history. She loved the idea of being part of the revival.
Her route took her past the Main Street Elementary School. Two years ago, the school board had put it on their deaccessioned list, claiming the early architecture was too costly to modernize for the few children in the area. A few months ago a “For Sale” sign had been posted on the property. Last week the sign had been replaced with a large billboard announcing, “Another Property Sold by Poppy Spencer.”
Arabella hoped a cutting-edge developer would convert the space into loft condominiums. She could imagine herself living there, the school grounds home to green space, some picnic tables, a pond with ducks and geese, maybe a fountain that lit up at night. She’d read about other schools being repurposed. Why not in Lount’s Landing?
She arrived at the Glass Dolphin to find a slender woman in a thin coat shivering by the front door. Arabella had made similar wardrobe miscalculations in November, a month where the prevailing Lount’s Landing winds could be as unpredictable as an eBay auction.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, but we’re not open until Saturday.” Arabella pointed to a sign in the window. Something was vaguely familiar about the woman, though she couldn’t stick a pin in it. Early thirties. Hazel eyes with a bit of a fleck. Dark brown hair tied into a ponytail, a red knit beret sloped back from her forehead. She wears it well, Arabella thought with a touch of envy. Her own attempts at beret wearing had resulted in the rather unflattering look of a Victorian shower cap crossed with a tea cozy.
Mind you, the Coach handbag Beret Girl carried was definitely a knockoff. The single rows of Coach’s signature C’s, versus double, the way the C’s didn’t quite line up at the center. It was a dead giveaway.
Arabella prided herself on her ability to spot the real from the reproduction. The antiques world was full of fakes. But not the Glass Dolphin. Within her walls, everything would be original, from the exposed beam ceiling and the carefully restored pine plank floors to the merchandise she sold.
“I’m sorry to intrude,” the woman said. “My name’s Emily Garland. I’m—”
That’s where she’d seen her before. “I thought I recognized you. You’re the writer from Urban Living. They always include your photograph under the Contributors section.”
Arabella opened the door. “Come in, you’re starting to look a tad blue. Ignore the myriad boxes. This week is all about unpacking and setting up displays. The larger pieces of furniture will be delivered from storage on Thursday.”
“Thanks, I’m frozen solid. I’m surprised you read the Contributors page. I always figured only folks who looked at it were family members and envious writers. But what’s an antiques shop owner in Lount’s Landing doing reading Urban Living?”
“The better question would be, what’s a writer for Urban Living doing in Lount’s Landing?”
“Fair enough.” Emily handed Arabella a business card. “Actually, I left Urban Living. I’m the new editor of Inside the Landing.”
“You’re the one. I heard the owner finally sold the magazine. Wanted to retire for a while, but it turned out to be a bit of a tough sell. Not surprising. It was a bit tired. Not many people bothered to read it, went straight from the porch to the blue bin.” Arabella blushed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been so blunt.”
“No worries, you’re absolutely right. I wouldn’t have read the old magazine either. But I have big plans for a new format. More coverage of local events, plenty of photographs, in-depth interviews with local business owners. Give it a bit of a personality.” Emily shrugged. “It seemed like a good opportunity.”
“It sounds nice. Or at least nicer.”
“I hope so. That’s why I’m here. I was talking to Johnny Porter.”
Arabella nodded. Johnny was good people, and a strong advocate for the businesses on Main Street. He’d even started the Main Street Merchants’ Association, of which she was now a proud member. If she had her way, history would be making a comeback in the Landing.
Emily said, “Johnny tells me you’re planning a grand opening on Saturday and Sunday. I’d like the Glass Dolphin to be Inside the Landing’s first big feature story. I could cover the entire weekend, include some background information. The story behind the store. What do you think? It’s free PR for you, and it would give me the kick-start I need.”
Arabella contemplated the offer. No question the Glass Dolphin could use the free press. As long as it was free. She’d heard of publications that offered free PR and then tried to upsell it with a paid advertising pitch. Then again, outside of the unfortunate choice of fake purse, Emily appeared to be perfectly legit. And she knew from personal experience how difficult it could be coming to a small town where everyone knew one another. If it hadn’t been for Levon, she might have gone back to the city within a few short weeks.
“We can try it, Emily, see how it goes. I’m opening at eleven on Saturday, but I wouldn’t mind showing you around on Friday. Everything will be set up by then. Why don’t you come by after lunch, say about one o’clock? I can give you the grand tour. That way, come Saturday, I won’t feel as if I have to entertain you, and you’ll be able to meet other folks from town without worrying about following me around.”
“Sounds like a plan. And I promise, there are absolutely no strings attached.” It was as if she’d read Arabella’s mind. “Now let me get out of your way.”
Emily was halfway out the door when she turned around. “I’d forget my head if it wasn’t attached. I have something for you from Johnny Porter.” She reached into her purse and handed over a cream-colored envelope.
Arabella opened the envelope the minute Emily was gone. Inside was an invitation to a “Special Presentation” the following Tuesday, hosted by real estate developer Garrett Stonehaven of HavenSent Developments, Inc. A nice, handwritten note from Johnny encouraged her to attend.
Garrett Stonehaven. Wasn’t he the Toronto developer Emily Garland was always writing about in Urban Living? And now the two of them were in Lount’s Landing. Which could have been a coincidence. Except for one thing.
Arabella didn’t believe in coincidence.
About the Author:
Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published July 2015. Her short crime fiction is included in The Whole She-Bang 2, World Enough and Crime, and most recently, Flash and Bang, the first anthology by members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Find Judy at www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she blogs about the writing life and interviews other authors.