Thad broke the silence on our way home from the police station. “We’ll have to post a sign, letting people know when we’ll be open again. And update the homepage.”
I sighed. “Browne told us to expect about a week for all the evidence processing. What will I do with myself for that long?”
“You could always learn to relax.”
“You could always solve the case before Browne,” I shot back.
He cocked an eyebrow at me. “Make that ‘we’ and you’ve got a deal.”
“You’re the one with contacts, not me. I’m not a people person.”
“Time you added that skill set, babe,” he said, parking the car in front of our house. Misty’s car was in its usual spot; she had beaten us home, despite being the person who found the corpse.
After we all were comfortable in our chairs, with coffee or water nearby, we discussed what had happened.
“So, what did they ask you?” was Misty’s first question.
I reeled off a partial list. “Let’s see — how many employees did we have, how long everyone’s worked at the bookstore, did we trust them, see anybody who looked sick, depressed, otherwise ‘not normal,’ our hours of operation . . .” I sipped my coffee, trying not to guzzle it all at once.
“That man didn’t look like he’d been murdered,” Misty snorted. “There wasn’t any blood splashed anywhere. I would’ve noticed.”
“She’s right,” Thad confirmed. “While you were talking to Browne, I talked to some of the forensic techs. And then Browne thinks the guy may have died from some virus.”
“Now that you mention it,” I said, thinking, “I didn’t see any blood on the man. Didn’t smell any, either. Just a whiff of cinnamon.”
“Cinnamon? Where did that come from?” asked Thad.
I shrugged. “Don’t know. But I know I smelled it.”
“You sure the smell wasn’t coming from that Waffle House up the street?” asked Misty.
“Pretty sure. I didn’t smell cinnamon until the bag was unzipped.” I sipped some more coffee. “So, tell us what happened. I mean, we kind of know, but I’d rather you told the story rather than the cops.”
“I pulled up at the store between 8.30 and 9.00, I think. I wasn’t paying attention to the time. Unlocked the doors and waltzed in, just as I normally do.”
“Did you lock the doors behind you?” Thad interjected.
Misty looked offended. “Of course I did! I practice safety better than the two of you put together!”
I nodded, hiding my grin. “What did you do next?”
“I went to the back, sprayed Endust on the duster, started in. You told me to dust, remember?”
“I guess I dusted for awhile,” Misty continued. “Then all that water I drank earlier caught up with me, so I stopped to pee. When I came out of the ladies’ room, I heard something.” She fell silent.
“Well – what did you hear? Can you describe it?” Thad prodded.
“I’m gettin’ there! Just hold your pants on,” she retorted.
For once, Thad didn’t badger her.
“It sounded like a —- sigh,” she muttered.
“But someone sighing isn’t loud,” I pointed out. “Not unless you stand right next to them. Or they have a microphone.”
“I know, I know, but there’s something else that’s funny — funny peculiar.”
We waited. She looked at us, brow crinkled, mouth tight. “It’s kinda like I heard the sound in my head. Like a mental sigh.”
We stared at each other, speechless. I wondered if Misty was losing her grip on reality, outside of her usual propensity to embellish tales. What made her description even harder to question was the conviction in her voice. Sometimes, even she believed some of her outlandish stories. I wanted to think she was accurate, but really, how many people have psychic whiffs of the graveyard? I knew a few, but Misty had never seemed like one to me.
According to Misty, the mental sighing prompted her to enter the men’s bathroom, where she immediately spied the corpse, crumpled up in the corner like an empty suit. She first thought I had placed the body there, as a joke.
“How could you think that?” I demanded.
“Well, he didn’t look real, you know,” she explained.
Thad cocked his eyebrow at her and opened his mouth. Misty cut him off. “Yes, I do know real people from dummies. Now hush up ’til I’m finished.”
Misty had approached the body, casually admiring the quality of the suit, then bent down to pick it up. “As soon as I touched him, I knew it wasn’t no joke,” she said. “I had grabbed his hands first, and they were all clammy cold, but not stiff.”
“Did you smell anything?” I asked, curious if she had smelled the sharpness of cinnamon as I had.
“No, not that I recollect. But honey, at that time I started gettin’ scared.”
“But he was dead, Misty,” Thad interrupted. “You must’ve known he wasn’t going to hurt you.”
“There was just something creepy-crawly about him,” Misty replied, shaking her head, her gray hair gently bobbing. “And I didn’t tell the cops I tried to move him or how I felt, either. You know they would’ve asked me why I thought you puttin’ a dead body in the bathroom would be a good joke.”
“Thanks. Telling them I have a morbid sense of humor wouldn’t have gone over too well, I bet.”
Thad nodded, smiling slightly as he looked at his coffee mug. “Did you look for evidence of why or how he died before you called us?”
“Well, sort of. I looked around, but didn’t see anything that looked like a clue. Everything looked clean, no scuff marks, dents, weird trash or otherwise. I called the cops first, then I called you.”
I added my story to hers. “Before I left, I let out Brian and Jane. All three of us had already checked the store. I walked back through the store to spot-check, got my stuff, got the deposit, closed up the safe, checked all the locks, turned off the lights, set the alarm, and left out the front door. Went to the bank and came home. As far as I know, no-one was in the store when I left, and that was, gee, I can’t remember if it was 6.30 or 7.”
“You got home this morning about 7.15,” Thad said.
“OK. I must’ve closed at 6.45, then.” I looked at Misty. “And you think you got to the store between 8.30 and 9.”
“That leaves about a two-hour gap,” I mused.
Thad’s eyes darkened. “Plenty of time for a killing.”
“Don’t be such a professional,” Misty griped.
“Yeah – plenty of time for murder,” I agreed, ignoring her comment. “But it’s a locked-door mystery.”
“Looks like it.” Thad creaked out of his chair, stretched, and polished off his coffee. “I’m starved. Let’s get some thinking food.”
Misty snorted a laugh. “For you, that’s a cheeseburger and french fries. What if we want something else?”
“Yeah, but I’m buying. You coming or not?”
That got us moving. Come to think of it, a cheeseburger and french fries didn’t sound bad.