Raincheck For Love
by Lois Carroll
Widowed Torie Bond reports a man's body near her home. Fraud on the dead man's ranch leads to an archeologist's murder and a break-in at Torie's costume shop. Divorced Police Lieutenant Jack Brewer investigates. A surprising strong attraction between them results.
Curious about the case, Torie helps a friend of the murdered archeologist investigate. Jack is angry with her for the chances she takes. The mystery nearly takes Torie's life, but it brings them new love even though they thought they'd never love again. But work conflicts mean th
Then Torie is kidnapped by the murderer. How can Jack save her when the murderer wants her dead and Jack doesn't know where she is?
Release Date: July 30, 2019
Genre: Romantic Suspense
~ A White Satin Romance ~
My home on a mountainside in the southern Arizona desert near Tucson has a gorgeous view as the morning sunlight slides like flowing water down the mountainside, highlighting each cactus, boulder, and struggling tree, and then racing on. Seeing a body stretched out among the rocks not far from the road really ruined it for me one morning before Halloween.
I thought at first that a neighbor was decorating the mountainside with a gruesome manikin. But as it turned out, their decorations did not intentionally include the dead man in pajamas, an old plaid bathrobe, with one boot on and one boot missing. The discovery so close to my home left me shaken, but I have to admit I was strangely curious as well. I reported it, of course, but I couldn't wait around to learn the gory details. I had to get to work and got no orders to the contrary when I told the sheriff's deputy where he could reach me with any more questions.
I spent my days, a lot of evenings, and Saturdays too, in my Tucson costume and tuxedo rental shop where no other event in the whole year came even close to Halloween for being a perpetual, euphoric, condition red. The weeks leading up to it passed in a work-induced blur for the shop owner, me, Torie Bond. Last fall, the third year I owned the shop and the Halloween season when the body appeared in my mountain view, was like no other.
I'll never forget it because I almost didn't live through it.
Normally, the folks in Tucson, and especially the students at the University of Arizona that was within walking distance from my shop, took exception to anything interfering with their celebration Halloween. Nearly everyone went all out in decorating their homes, storefronts, and when the big day came, their bodies too. Anyone even thinking of having a party during the fall season planned it for around Halloween—which was fine with me. These festivities meant an incredible number of rentals and sales of costumes and accessories in my shop.
I carried the real thing when it came to costumes, not the flimsy discount store wear-it-once-and-throw-it-away kind. Alarming as it was to the businesswoman in me, I made more than half my annual income within the month of October.
Since losing my husband to a surprise heart attack three years ago when I was only 40, I was determined to make my store succeed. It had to. My son was in grad school at Arizona State University in Tempe. My home was paid for thanks to Peter, but I was the sole support for the two of us now. Widowed after many more-happy-than-not years with Peter Bond, attorney at law, I wasn't ready to get active in the dating scene. Maybe I felt just too old for it, I don't know. Anyway, I had lots of time to spend on my business.
By closing time on that Saturday, the day before Halloween, the racks and showcases in my shop were nearly empty, which made me feel good. My one full-time assistant and great friend, Suze Thurston, finally shooed out the last customer nearly an hour after the posted closing time. My two temporary clerks shed their smocks and grabbed their purses and slipped out. Okay, they ran out. They had been working hard during the frantic week and wanted to go celebrate. I locked the door and turned off the overhead lights to discourage any more latecomers.
“Well, boss, this has to be the best Halloween ever,” Suze announced, doing a little hip swinging dance, and clapping her hands over her head.
“And I couldn't have done it without you,” I said gratefully.
“What are friends for?” she asked with a laugh. “Say, do you want to celebrate with a quick dinner out?”
“In theory that's a fun idea, but no.” I shook my head. “If I start eating that far from my bed, I'll never make it home. I think soup and a sandwich in my kitchen followed immediately by twelve hours of deep sleep would be better but thanks. How about a raincheck?”
“Sure,” she said as she leaned one hand against a rack for support as she raised a foot and rotated it at the ankle before doing the same with the other one. “I hope the party tonight isn't all dancing. I didn't get a chance to sit all day.”
“I can't believe you're still going to that party.”
“Hey. It's Halloween weekend.”
I rolled my eyes and laughed. “I don't know how you do it—other than the fact you’re several years younger than I am.”
“Like that would make a difference. No, it's gotta be my karma.” She raised her arms high again and swung her hips in another cha-cha across the store. I couldn't help but laugh.
“I'll check the dressing rooms,” Suze volunteered as she danced in that direction.
Actually, after weeks of such hard work, a party sounded like fun, but it wasn't for me this time. Maybe next year I would hire more help and end up less tired. But the shop was new enough to be an unknown as to what I needed. I didn't know how business would be until it walked in the door. That made buying stock and hiring help a gamble.
I headed to empty the cash register. When the store was busy and the cash flow greater than usual, Suze waited and walked out with me to our parking spots in the alley behind my store. Leaving with a lot of money in my briefcase made me nervous, but my store was way too small to hire an armored car, for Pete's sake. Oops. Sorry, dear, I thought in a mental apology to my late husband. I've been trying to stop using that phrase because it's not the way I want to be reminded of him. Besides, it's so old-fashioned that I shouldn't use it anymore.
Suze was spending more time at the back of the store than I expected. When I finished running the daily tally and had my briefcase packed with the cash and costume rental contracts, she was still by the dressing rooms. “Don't tell me you've fallen asleep back there,” I called as I dodged the circular garment racks that dotted the showroom floor on my way to find her.
“Come look at what I found,” she called.
She was sitting on the short bench at the end of a low bookshelf that we used to display shoes. A rectangle of light shining from a dressing room hit her like a theatrical spotlight. As I approached she held up a broken piece of a dingy-beige pottery dish that would have been about four or five inches across if whole. The gently curled-up sides were decorated with a narrow band of simple designs in a darker brown that was worn away in places. Sitting on bubble wrap in front of her on the floor were smaller shards of similar pottery. From where I stood to see it, I couldn't tell if they were parts of the bowl in her hands or not.
“This is crude but kinda pretty,” she concluded. “Don't ya think? These other pieces don't look like they're from this bowl though. They each have a different design on them.” She held the bowl closer to the pieces so I could compare them for myself and I agreed.
“Hmm. They look ancient,” I added, speaking from no expertise whatsoever except visits to museums on vacations with Pete. “Where'd you find ’em?”
“They were packed in this box way under there,” she said, pointing to the rack with the remaining ancient 1960's light-blue tuxedos and matching blue ruffle-front shirts. “I would never have even seen it if the rack hadn't been half empty. No name on it so I opened it to see what it was.”
“Do you think it fell from a student's backpack set on the shelves?”
I glanced up at the empty shelves over the shoes. We asked students to leave their backpacks there before they entered the dressing rooms. I hated not being able to trust people, but I hated being robbed more.
“Who knows? We had a fellow here this week from the Archaeology Department or was it Anthropology?” She shook her head. “He could have dropped it, but he would have been more careful handling a real artifact, wouldn't he?” Suze asked.
“You'd think so, and there have been dozens of backpacks on those shelves since the last time we had time to mop the floor.” I sighed, impatient to get home. “Pack it up again, would you? Someone will come back for it Monday, I'm sure.”
And they'd have to wait until Monday. I'd decided early on to be closed on Sundays. I needed a day to catch my breath even if it was part of Halloween weekend.
Suze wrapped up the pieces and switched off the dressing room lights while I went to the workroom to stuff the day's small change into a fake paint can where I always left it instead of carrying the extra weight in coins home each night. As we were leaving, I noted the stack of dirty smocks the temps had been wearing all week.
“Can you grab those?” I asked Suze as I unlocked the back door. “I'll throw them in the washer at home and bring them back clean on Monday for when the rentals all come back.”
“Sure. Where do you want the bowl I found?”
I only took a moment to decide because the bowl and fragments intrigued me despite my fatigue. “Bring it to the car too, okay? I'd like to get a better look when I'm not so pooped. I'll bring it back Monday, too.”
The phone rang as I was locking the door after our exit. “It might be whoever dropped the bowl,” I suggested, still holding the store key in the lock.
Suze shrugged. “They'll hear the store hours in the message and call Monday. It can't be so important that they'd need it before then or they wouldn't have left it here.”
I nodded, pulling out the key after turning it and leaving the call to the answering machine. In the narrow parking area, Suze laid the smocks in the back seat of my SUV and tucked them around the box to keep it from sliding off and dropping to the floor.
“Sleep tight,” she said with a smile as she shut the door and climbed into her own car parked beside mine.
“As if I could do anything else,” I called with a laugh as I climbed up behind the wheel. “You have fun tonight.”
“As if I could do anything else,” she mimicked with a grin and a wave.
* * *
My prediction of an unexciting evening for myself was right on. Living in the beautiful middle of nowhere on the side of a mountain east of Tucson, I never had any trick-or-treaters make the climb to my door. However, I always bought a bag of tiny candy bars just in case, and then stashed them in the freezer November first to have for the moments when I needed a chocolate pick-me-up. I often brought a few to the store for Suze who thought chocolate was one of the major food groups.
Standing in my kitchen, I decided to skip the idea of soup and ate a hastily made peanut butter and banana sandwich. I left the knife in the sink and fell into bed not fifteen minutes later. I hadn't even thought to eat one of the chocolate treats.
I settled in comfortably, but for some reason I couldn't fathom, sleep was not in the cards. Was it possible to be too tired to sleep? Eventually giving up, I rose and headed for the stack of local newspapers I hadn't had time to look at all week. Flipping on the gas fireplace for warmth in the cool desert night, I curled up on the couch opposite it, my feet tucked under my velour robe.
The first news story I read was about the body I'd reported seeing below the road. Even after being the one who discovered it, reading the details was disturbing. I'd never known there to be a murder so close to my home before. Occasionally down in Tucson, as in any city, but not up here on the mountain where the houses were few and far between. Apparently, after I left for work that morning, Sheriff Mike Reyes had come to the scene in person with his deputies to investigate my call.
Mike is his first name, but don't get the idea you could call him that. He's Sheriff Reyes. He runs the county outside the city limits as if he owns it—a great showman. He's appeared at more public functions than the number of long-lost relatives on an Arizona Lotto winner's doorstep. Once you'd seen him, and I had on occasion years ago with Pete, you would know him anywhere. His broad-brimmed cowboy hat denting a ring around his snow-white hair and his long salt-and-pepper mustache made him look like he stepped out of an historical western movie.
He'd been the sheriff as long as I could remember. Despite his costumed appearance, he was well known for his up-to-date communication and scientific detection systems including quick computer access to all sorts of data for crime solving. The Sheriff's Department was written up in the Sunday supplement of the Tucson Daily Star about a year ago. They said he had one of the best setups in the whole country. Made us proud and made us feel safe living in Pima County.
But as for me, not so much now that I had discovered a body in my yard.
After reading on I was relieved to learn that the death had not occurred so close to my house where the body lay, but at some other yet-to-be-discovered location. That bit of news left me definitely feeling better about my piece of the desert being murder-free. I remembered that the body had only one boot on and noted they'd found the other one up the hillside a ways, closer to the road. I guessed it must have fallen off as the body rolled down.
Flipping through the stack, I found the next day's paper that reported the deceased was Fred West, whose small ranch was farther south of my place. He had died several hours before the body was found. I was pleased to see they wrote that it had been spotted by a “homeowner in the area”. I'd asked them not to release my name, but you never know. The sheriff had known Pete. Maybe that made a difference.
I couldn't help but wonder why the dead man was dumped far from his home in his jammies. Made me wonder about lots of other things too: like why did the killer pick my backyard? Could be no reason other than you could pull your car up to the side of the road there and easily drop the body over the edge of the drop off beside the pavement. In the dark the houses below on the side of the mountain might not show up. None of us can have much in the way of outside lights because of the observatory on the top of one of the peaks not far to the south. No streetlights out here either. The men and women peering into the night sky liked it dark, and it sure was.
But I was frowning. Why leave the body here in plain sight to be seen easily? There are lots of hiding places in the county. I mean places to leave a body where it wouldn't be easily found. Did someone want it found? If so, why?
If West had been killed at or near his home, I thought the sheriff's deputies should be able to locate the murder site with no trouble. But maybe the murderer didn't know how good our sheriff's department was. That thought made me feel better. I easily concluded that the bad guy was probably from somewhere else. I definitely wanted him to go back where he came from so my view could resume being sans bodies.
My interest in the case was more than I expected, but I did love reading mysteries. Reading about a real one was more intriguing. To be involved in it was exciting.
I looked through the stack of remaining papers for the continuation of the story. The next paper I saw was one Suze had brought to the shop to show me a story about a police officer talking to a local businesswomen's group about self-protection. She was all for learning more about it and wished we could go, but the store was open at the time he was speaking. We had been way too busy to leave it to the temps. I remembered peering over her shoulder at the picture accompanying the article. “Oh, I know that guy from somewhere,” I'd said.
The man wasn't in uniform, but a police badge was clipped prominently on the breast pocket of the sports jacket that he wore over a knit turtleneck shirt. “If I'm not mistaken, I saw him several years ago. Yes, I associate him with Pete for some reason.” Strange that I would still remember him when I was sure I'd never met him.
“Gosh, you know that stud muffin? No kidding,” Suze remarked, looking up at me with a grin.
“Yeah, I think so.” I leaned closer to read more. “Hmm, he's Jack Brewer, a Tucson policeman, a lieutenant.”
Suze laughed and looked up at me again. “Torie, I think you're the last person in the world to call them policemen instead of cops or something worse.”
“Maybe because I was formerly a lawyer's wife?” She raised an eyebrow as she looked at me and I frowned. “No, just showing my age, huh? I'll try to mend my ways.”
She still eyed me suspiciously. “But how do you know him?”
I smiled as I realized my mistake too late. Suze worked for me, but we were good friends too. Had been for years, and she didn't think I dated enough now. Each time I expressed any interest in, or knowledge of, a male-type being anywhere near my age, she put on her matchmaking hat and went to work. I regretted my mention of knowing the lieutenant, but it was too late to drop it.
I scrunched up my forehead, trying to remember more. “I don't recognize his name because I don't think I ever knew it. Oh, I know. He saw Pete just before he died about a divorce. One day I arrived to steal Pete away for lunch just as this Jack person was leaving his office. He paused inside the doorway to allow me to enter. Barely looking at me, he nodded, and passed by. He's good looking, I'll grant you that, but he seemed sooo intense.” I shook my head.
Suze shrugged and looked back at the paper. “Hey, if he was getting a divorce, maybe he was under stress or even angry.”
“Hmm,” I said to agree as noncommittally as I could.
I didn't dare tell Suze that the reason I still remembered Jack Brewer's face was his eyes. I'd never seen any like them before or since. They weren't clearly gray or pale blue in my memory, but the irises were impossibly light. Anyone had to notice them because they were in startling contrast with his dark hair. Actually, his eyes looked like he was wearing costume contacts that came in all colors and designs, but I'm certain that this guy's were the real thing.
In the few seconds our gazes locked at Pete's office entrance, I'd felt like a butterfly pinned to a pad and being examined. He was probably very good at his police work because I imagine nothing ever got past him. But then again, maybe it did once in a while. He had been in Pete's office seeking help with a divorce, after all.
“Hey, and he's still in Tucson. I wonder if he's available.”
“That was years ago, Suze. He could be married again with two kids by now.”
“Give me a break here!”
I couldn't help but laugh, as I often did in Suze's company. She was a delight to have working for me, and a great friend. “Here I thought you were thinking of him for me! Far be it from me to rob you of your daydreams.”
“Can I help it if I'm drawn to every attractive man in sight?” She leaned closer as if to share a confidence. “Honey, the day I stop noticing attractive men is the day you can wrap me up and bury me six feet under.”
“I'll try to remember that, Suze, but please, not until after Halloween.” She laughed as I had intended.
“But actually, I was thinking he's the perfect type for you. Dating a police lieutenant could make you feel safe.”
“A personal armed guard. Suze, I don't think life in Tucson has gotten that dangerous. Besides, I'm just getting my life together. I'm not ready to have a man in it yet.”
“Well, then if you aren't interested...” She grinned and looked at the photo again.
Suze had shared little about her disastrous marriage and divorce earlier in life, and I'd never wanted to stir up the pain to ask about details. I only knew that the divorce had been her choice, and that now, only in her late thirties, she didn't let it slow her down. Suze had gone to wait on a customer after that and our conversation about Lieutenant Jack Brewer ended.
I dropped that paper on the growing pile on my great room floor beside my chair and saw another story about the body on the front page of the next day's paper. They had labeled Fred West's death as a murder—as if there could be a question.
All this had to be hard on his wife. I remembered Suze talking about her. “I heard that with her husband gone, Mrs. West is moving to live near her sister in Phoenix. Seems she's already gotten an offer for the ranch that's too good to refuse,” Suze had informed me though I couldn't find that in the article now. Suze did have a finger on what was happening in and around Tucson.
“She's lucky to sell a ranch so quickly with the real estate market down, don't you think?” I asked.
“Probably sold it to somebody who wants to develop the land and turn it into a townhouse farm,” Suze guessed, shaking her head. “Houses pop up on the market around here as fast as weeds. Everyone wants to move to Arizona. Say, ya know, come to think of it, their ranch is not far from your place.”
“A few miles, and it's not on the mountain, though it's close enough that their pastures do have an incline. A long way to the grocery store though. Who'd want to buy it to build houses way out there?”
“Hey, some people are used to driving hours to and from work. Maybe they could make them all ranchettes with room for a few horses.”
I found myself thanking Pete again for buying our house on the mountainside years before he passed. He'd wanted a nice place away from his office, a private piece of the surrounding desert paradise. I couldn't afford to buy it now, but thanks to the life insurance policy that paid it off, it was mine to enjoy and to share with our son Luke when he came home from ASU. I wish he came home more often, but he was studying hard in the Biology Department up there. Even though we were only about three plus hours apart, depending on traffic, he seldom made it home except for holidays that involved a lot of good food or gift giving. I didn't mind, really. I'd raised him to be independent. He was doing great in school, and I was very proud of him.
Feeling sleepy at last after looking through the papers and thinking of Luke and my sweet memories of Pete, I turned off the fireplace and light, and shuffled back to bed where I finally relaxed into a dreamless sleep.