Thad’s hand on my shoulder, gently shaking.
“Wake up, babe. We’ve got a problem.”
“Crap. What is it?” I shrugged out of deep sleep, sitting up and yawning. He was already flinging clothes at me.
“Misty called. There’s a body in the men’s bathroom.”
Nothing like a murder to wake you up.
We straggled up the front walk to the bookstore. There was a chaos of lights, cameras, uniforms, and people everywhere. Spectators were gathering in the parking lot. An officer blocked our way before we were half-way to the front door.
“Bookstore’s closed, ma’am.”
I nodded while rolling my eyes at Thad.
“We know that,” he told the officer; “we’re the owners.”
By that time, I had dug out my driver’s license and waved it at the cop as I skirted around him. Thad smiled at the cop and slid by. We headed towards Misty, sitting on the front porch swing near the front door. Three big guys surrounded her. She didn’t look nervous or scared. She looked like . . .
“Is she flirting with them?” I asked.
Thad assessed the scene coolly. “Yep. That’s our Misty.”
“Hey, Misty!” I called.
Misty glanced our way and waved excitedly. “You’re just in time to ID the body!”
The cops looked at each other. I groaned under my breath. She didn’t have to sound so damn cheerful about it. Thad chuckled softly. “Take it easy, babe.”
He strolled forward, ignoring the people standing around, and sat next to Misty. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, I’m fine. It’s the old coot inside who’s dead as a doornail.”
The cops looked at us and looked at each other again. One of them opened his mouth, but Thad interrupted him, still looking at Misty.
“DId you scare him to death, or give him a heart attack?”
“Neither, and you know it,” she retorted.
At this, the cop with an open mouth took a step towards Thad, trying to loom over him. “Sir, I can’t allow you to ask questions like that.”
Thad turned his attention to the loomer, and narrowed his eyes. “Then I suggest you start briefing us about the situation.” His understated “I can kick your ass” attitude made the cop step backwards, bumping into the suit behind him.
“Watch where ya goin’, Marty,” the suit said, before turning to us. “I’m Detective Browne. You must be the owners. Right?”
I stuck out my hand. “Yep. Can I see the body?”
As we shook hands, the detective didn’t bat an eye at my request. “They’re just bringing him out, now,” he said, gesturing to the gurney rolling through the front door. He whistled at the techs, motioning them to bring the body over.
I was prepared to flinch from a horrible dead body smell, but when the bag was unzipped, there was only a whiff of cinnamon. I raised my eyebrows, peered closer at the face of an elderly white man, probably in his 70s, a full shock of silvery white hair framing a square, lean face. I caught a glimpse of a dark pin-striped suit and wine-dark tie against a shirt so white it made his hair look dull.
Thad glanced at the dead man and shook his head.
“Nope. We don’t know him,” I said.
“Are you sure?” Browne asked. “Take another look and think about it.”
“You mean am I 100% sure? Of course not. Are you 100% sure YOU haven’t ever seen this man?” I retorted.
Browne blinked, furrowed his brow. “No. But then I see dozens of people in my job . . .” he trailed off, looking at me thoughtfully.
I nodded. “Precisely my point. I can tell you he’s not a regular customer, or I would’ve said ‘Yes.’ ”
“I don’t recognize him, either,” Thad added. “All those old guys look alike.”
Browne waved away the techs, watching them as they rolled away the gurney to load the body in the waiting ambulance. As the ambulance moved away, curious on-lookers began to drift away, their excitement of the day over.
“Now,” I said to Browne, “what else do we have to do to help you do your job? And can we go inside for coffee?”
“Nope. In fact, I suggest you meet with your employees off-site somewhere. We’ll need to print the lot of you. Plus, who was the last person in the store before Misty?” He retrieved a battered notebook and pen from his pocket.
“I can call my employees, no problem. But what am I allowed to tell them? And for how long do I need the store closed? And, in answer to your last question, I was the last one. I closed up at, oh, I think it was around 6.30, 7.00 this morning.”
Browne scribbled away. Pursed his lips. Tapped his pen on his notebook. I waited, expecting more questions, wishing for a wonderfully strong cup of coffee. Something to take the edge off my craving.
“Anything else you want to add?” he asked, after it was evident I had quit talking.
I shrugged. “Not really. Not that I can think of.”
My answer did not please the detective. He cleared his throat. I stared at him until Thad bumped my shoulder. Reluctantly, I spoke up. “I’m a bit fuzzy right now. It’s 10.30 in the morning. I got home between 7 and 7.15am, went to sleep between 8 and 8.30am, and got woken up less than an hour after that. A cup of coffee would really help. I’m much more civil after some caffeine.”
Browne put away his notebook and pen, then told all 3 of us that we would need to make formal statements and be fingerprinted. And oh yes, all my employees needed to be questions and printed as well.
And I still needed more coffee.