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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?”

“Yeah.”

“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.”

She nodded.

“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.

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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.

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I wandered around the bookstore, glancing at titles, browsing the shelves, straightening books, re-alphabetizing:  you know, the stuff bookstore employees do.

“Do you work here?”

I didn’t look up.  “No.  I do this for fun.”

“Oh.”

Silence.  After about 30 seconds, I looked up.

Good.  The voice and its owner were gone.  I detest obvious questions.  Before you get all indignant about lousy customer service, let me point out what I was wearing:  Black T-shirt with our logo “The Vampire Bookstore” on the front, in blood-red Gothic lettering, with 2 small drops of blood hanging off the final ‘e.’  On the back of my shirt in red letters was the phrase, “I work here.”

If someone has to ask that first question, I figure the person is illiterate, blind, or clueless.  The first 2 types I can handle.  They won’t usually go away, but instead, will ask more questions.  The last category?  No.  Humor, sarcasm or irony, escapes them like a supersecret Stealth bomber.  They are not people who belong in my bookstore, at any rate.  Let them curse some other unfortunate.

The sun was just peeking on the eastern horizon when I set the alarm and locked the front door.  Normal people were just waking up to start their day.  I was just finishing mine.  Like the Tarantino movie, my bookstore’s open “from dusk ’til dawn.”  Amazing how many night people live in the Dallas/Ft Worth area.  Last night we were busy.  Must’ve been the full moon.

On my way home, I thought about what needed to be done in the next few days.  Scheduling, new book displays, one of our book buyers promising “a virtual treasure trove of literary genius” and some readings from literary geniuses who hadn’t been discovered yet.  Mostly, I just wanted to unwind for a few hours before catching some sleep.  But I had barely closed the front door when Thad gave me a swift kiss and hug.

“You really need to see this,” he said, smiling.

I heard a muted wheezing winding down the hallway.  “That’s not Misty, is it?” I asked.  “And don’t you mean ‘hear,’ not ’see’?”

Still smiling, he nudged me down the hall.  I looked in the back bedroom.  Toy, our fluffy black cat, snuggled so close to Misty’s neck that her feather-duster of a tail draped across Misty’s face.  Each snore ruffled the long black fur.  Toy’s purring was loud, but Misty’s snoring was louder.  Snickering, we retreated to the kitchen for coffee.

“So, who’s got the store today?” Thad eased into his kitchen chair.

I swallowed coffee — nectar of the gods.  “It’s Misty’s turn.  She’s scheduled to dust.  I’ll go in later this afternoon.”

“I’ll let you wake her up with that news.  You know she hates to dust.”  Thad sipped his coffee, not budging from his chair.

I sighed and headed back to Misty’s room, this time banging on the door almost as hard as I could while shouting “Dusting day!  Rise and shine!  You’re burnin’ daylight!”

Misty’s eyes flew open, glaring.  “The way you treat an old lady is a pure-d shame.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.  You only use that line when you don’t want to do something.  The rest of the time you say that “old” is always 20 years more than you are now.”  I waved my hand at her and went to bed to catch a few hours of sleep.  There’s always stuff to do at a bookstore, especially when you don’t just work there, you’re the owner, too.

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