WHAT THE HATMAKER HEARD, A Missy DuBois Mystery by Sandra Bretting
When a groom gets murdered, Louisiana hat maker Missy DuBois must look behind a veil of secrets on a former sugar plantation . . .
Bride-to-be Lorelei Honeycutt is brimming with excitement over the elaborate headpiece Missy has created for her wedding but fears she won’t be able to maintain her balance when she walks down the aisle. She’s asked Missy to assist her during the rehearsal at Honeycutt Hall, a once grand sugar plantation now used as the family’s home. Missy’s trying to keep a cool head herself, as her own wedding is coming up in three short weeks on the Riverboat Queen. But after the rehearsal, she overhears the bride and groom quarreling. The next morning, Wesley Carmichael is missing. After searching the house and grounds, Missy discovers the groom lying at the bottom of an old, unused sugar silo—and now it’s up to the mystery-solving milliner to find an unbalanced killer . . .
The minute our conversation lagged, I remembered why I came outside in the first place.
“Say, Darryl, I’m afraid Mrs. Honeycutt sent me out here to help you. She’s worried sick about her daughter’s fiancé, and she thought I might be able to help you find him.”
His aqua eyes slanted a bit. “It don’ look good, ta tell you da truth. I covered da house from top ta bottom, and most a’ da fields out back.”
“Hmmm.” It seemed to me Darryl would have a handle on the best places for someone to hide if he wanted some peace and quiet. Especially someone who wasn’t feeling well. “So, what’s left to search?”
“I was abou’ ta look at da silos.” He nodded at the twin water towers that bookended the mansion. Two stories tall, they resembled thin, pastel pagodas that stood watch over the property.
“But how will you get inside?” I peered at the nearest one, which faced east.
“Look closer. Deys got doors on der backs.”
Sure enough, someone had carved three-foot-high doors into the backsides of the towers, and crude wood handles kept the panels in place.
“I see. Why don’t we divide and conquer? I’ll check the one on the right, and you can check the one on the left.”
He nodded, apparently satisfied with the plan. “Meet ya back here. And be careful, Miz Dubois. No tellin’ what’s inside dem.”
I gulped, since I hadn’t even thought about what could be lurking in the structures. For all I knew, the towers could be home to a family of possums, a fez of armadillo, or worse. At least the structures were close to the house, so everyone would hear if I let out a bloodcurdling scream.
We turned, and, like two gunfighters in a duel, we each took a dozen paces to our respective water tower. Being July, the ground had hardened, even with last night’s showers, and my flats slapped against the hardpacked earth. Once again, I thanked my lucky stars I wasn’t wearing stilettos, because my toe caught on the exposed root of a pin oak on my way to the tower, and it nearly upended me.
After I regained my balance, I appraised the silo in front of me. In addition to a simple door that covered the opening, a turret spiraled from the roof of the tower, and it was made of horizontal slats that allowed water to seep into a holding tank. It was quite charming, actually, given the sunny yellow paint on the walls and peacock-blue turret on top.
I paused in front of the door. One twist of the handle and it slowly swung open, emitting a loud and high-pitched squeak.
My, but it’s dark inside. I automatically reached for the flashlight app on my cell phone. Once I trained it into the darkness, it pierced the black with a shaft of light. I leaned as far as I could into the opening, since I had no desire to wiggle into the tank and come across a curious marsupial or two.
I waved the phone at the walls, but they all looked perfectly normal to me. A sheet of aluminum covered them, and mineral deposits freckled the surface. The storms last night had added about a half-inch of water to the tank, and a lone ladder stretched from the concrete floor to the roof. Apparently, no one had used it in quite some time, because cobwebs crisscrossed the ladder’s rungs.
Just when I was about to shut off my phone and cry “uncle,” I noticed something navy lying against the far side of the ladder. It looked like one of Darryl’s coveralls, which he must’ve tossed into the tower at some point and forgotten about.
“Interesting,” I said, more to myself than anyone else.
The voice startled me so much, I dropped my cell phone and it lurched toward the water.
“Oh, sugar!” I quickly dove for it. Luckily, my reflexes saved the phone from a watery death, and I scooped it up in the nick of time.
“Ya shouldn’t drop yer phone like dat.” It was Darryl again, who hadn’t moved from his spot behind me.
“And you shouldn’t scare the bejesus out of me.” I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. “Okay, then. Did you find anything in your water tower?”
“Nuthin’ but sum fresh rain and spiders. You?”
“Same. Oh, and you might want to check your supply of coveralls. I think you left one over there.” I pointed my cell into the maw, which illuminated the pile of clothing I’d spotted earlier.
“I don’ keep nuthin’ in here. I gots a supply closet for dat.”
Now it was my turn to look confused. “So, what’s that over there?”
We both reached the same conclusion at the same time.
“Aaaiiieee!” we screamed, the noise ping-ponging around the tower like machinegun fire.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sandra Bretting writes The Missy DuBois Mystery Series for Kensington/Lyrical Underground. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, she began her career writing for the Los Angeles Times, Orange Coast Magazine and others. From 2006 until 2016, she wrote feature stories for the award-winning business section of the Houston Chronicle.
The Missy DuBois Mystery Series follows milliner and bona fide Southern belle Missy DuBois, who becomes entangled in several unfashionable murders on the Great River Road in Louisiana. The first book, Murder at Morningside, debuted in 2016, followed by Something Foul at Sweetwater and Someone’s Mad at the Hatter in 2017 and Death Comes to Dogwood Manor in 2018. In 2019, All Hats on Deck released in September. The final installment—What the Hatmaker Heard—debuts July, 2020.
Learn more about Sandra and her books by following these links: