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While we ate, I gloomily thought about all the problems that accompany finding a dead body in one’s store.  Calling people who booked reading groups; the book-buyer coming with advance reader copies; posting an announcement on our website and Facebook about closing for the next few days; and scheduling a cleaning for our ventilation system, plus . . . ugh.  I thought about persuading Thad to weasel information from the crime scene techs.  That made me smile.

Later that afternoon, I was talking to Claire Hart, a local writer who helped us run the monthly Vampire Bookstore Writers’ Group (or “Vampies” as the group affectionately called themselves), explaining why the group’s regular time was re-scheduled, when Thad appeared in the kitchen doorway, yawning.  I flicked a wave at him.

“Oh, my God,” Claire was saying.  “How weird is that?”

“On a scale of 1-10, I’d say a 12,” I replied.

“You know, Tip, I don’t know whether the Vampies will be able to re-schedule for the month.”  Doubt crept into her voice.  “I know they say they’re dedicated, but that’s only partly why they come.  If you’ll remember, that scheduled day is the only date we could get them all to agree on.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said, heart sinking.  “But if I just call them all and tell them no meeting this month, I’m afraid that will lead to decreased attendance and then having the whole group fizzle out.  And I really don’t want that to happen.”

The conversation stopped as we both thought what to do next.  I drank my hot tea.  Thad slid onto a bar stool, sipping coffee.

“Ooh, wait, we still might be able to salvage this month!” Claire burst out.  “I’ll handle it; don’t worry.  We can tell’em it’s a story from someone else, and see if they can guess how the guy was killed!”

“I guess that could work,” I said slowly, wondering how much trouble I would be in if Detective Browne found out.  Screw it, I thought.  I didn’t think any of the Vampies were murderers.  “But they’re gonna want to know the ending to that ’story’ as well as the author, and where to buy it.”

“I bet we can get by with just saying it’s a work-in-progress.”

“Okay.  You sure you want to handle the details?”  I hoped she said yes.  I hated calling people on the phone, even people I knew and liked.

“No problem.  This will be fun,” she said, and hung up.

Couldn’t have been fun for the dead guy, I mused, ending the call.  I rubbed my eyes, and drank the rest of my tea, grimacing.

“More coffee?” asked Thad.

“No thanks.  I’m having tea.”

“Why the change?”

“Not enough sleep.  Made my throat scratchy, is all.”  I crossed the next item off my list.  Looked at Thad.  “So, when are you going to call people you know who know some people who know some crime scene techs?”

He choked, sputtering, on his coffee.  “Me?  It’s your bookstore.”

I didn’t say anything, just looked at him.

“Alright, already.  I’ll do it.  I can’t guarantee the response time.”  He raised his hands defensively.

I didn’t say anything, just looked.

“Yes ma’am.  Anything you say.  I’ll get on it today.”  He grinned, sipped his coffee.

I’ve got to remember how to do that look.  Sure gets results.

I spent all afternoon and early evening calling, rescheduling, talking, and explaining.  I felt like someone had stuck a blowtorch down my throat.  I quit drinking hot tea and turned to plain old hot tap water.  But even that was painful.

Thad hadn’t returned yet from talking to “his people,” and Misty was visiting friends.  I had finally finished the calls and posting announcements, and decided to catch up on sleep.  It was only when I tried to stand up that I realized how shaky I was.  I took a few steps away from the kitchen bar, and everything went yellow and black haze.

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