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Summer Snoops and Cozy Crimes

featuring Just Lost and Found (Lucy Fong #1.5)

Available July 24, 2018

I will contribute a Lucy Fong short story to this charity anthology. All proceeds from the sales will go to the no kill shelters of AniCira and Jefferson SPCA.

Only $0.99. Preorder now!

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Chapter 4

As Lucy drove back to the PI office, Stella checked the newspaper’s online forum on her cell phone. “Dave was telling the truth. There’s a picture of the monkey statue and over two hundred comments in the post.”

Lucy’s thoughts drifted back to the scene of Damien North opening the locked chest at the lighthouse. He had picked the lock too expertly. 

From the little she knew of Damien, she would say he was a jack-of-all-trades, but mostly working for an eccentric rich uncle. But why would the uncle purchase a failing small-town newspaper in the first place? She had no idea. She didn’t find much in the proprietary databases available to a PI. But most perplexing of all, she wondered why she had cared enough to research his background.

“Damien must have a spy camera. He didn’t use his cell phone,” Stella said.

“That’s not unusual. You can get anything on the Internet these days.”

“There weren’t that many people on the cliff when Raspberry disappeared. If Damien is our kidnapper, why would he post the picture on the Internet?”

“To widen the suspect pool?”

“Or maybe he is just doing his job, and the kidnapper recognized the statue’s value from the photograph.” Stella said.

“Now this narrows the suspect list considerably,” Lucy said. It took a lot of willpower to keep the sarcasm out of her tone. This meant everyone in the Historical Society—including Stella—was a suspect.   

“There have been shipwrecks and rumors of hidden treasures in this area for over two hundred years. It wouldn’t take much for someone to jump to conclusions. After all, a rare artifact is even better than winning the lottery.” 

“You’re not helping the situation. I’m trying to close in on someone, and you’re just casting a wide net.” 

“Sorry, but it’s part of the job description for a sidekick.” Stella grinned. “Since your grandma isn’t here, I promoted myself to sidekick. Being a henchwoman doesn’t quite have the same glamour as a sidekick.”  

Lucy sighed. She was getting a headache from this roundabout logic. She pulled into the parking lot, and they hustled into the PI office. She left the “open” sign off. They didn’t need any more clients until they found Raspberry the Scamp.   

Once inside the inner office, with another closed door between them and the eyes of the public, Lucy checked the safe in the closet. The monkey statue was still in the treasure chest.   

Stella collapsed onto a chair and pulled out the ransom note. “The statue for the cat. Tomorrow at the keeper’s cottage at dawn,” her cousin read out loud. She tossed the note on the desk. “Not very original.”  

Lucy shut the closet door. “This isn’t fiction. The kidnapper doesn’t need to wow us with his sentence structure.”  

She took the chair across from her cousin and pulled out her notebook to make her suspect list: Damien North, Dave Michaels, and the EMT guys. She mentally added the task of checking her cousin’s house for signs of a cat. After all, her job was to leave no stone unturned. She hated herself for being so suspicious.  

Stella glanced at the clock on the wall. “We won’t have time to question everyone.”

“I know, but I have to try. I can’t let anything happen to the cat. My sister will never speak to me again.”

“But if you give the kidnapper the statue, the mayor will have you arrested for stealing city property.”

“Or he might not.”

Stella gave Lucy a sideways glance. “He will. Trust me on this. We go way back. He takes his duty as the town’s steward seriously.”

Lucy groaned, covering her face with her hands. Now what? She didn’t want to go to jail, but maybe for some things, it was worth the jail time. She straightened and grabbed her purse. “I’m going next door. I need to make lemonade with what I got.”

Stella raised an arm and slowly closed her fist. “It’s squeezing time.”  

Lucy headed for the front door. “It’s squeezing time? Really?”

“It’s what your grandma would say.”

“Not like that.” Lucy kept her hands at waist height and flexed her wrists. She wiggled her brows and leered at her cousin. “It’s squeezing time.”

“Are you aiming for the crotch or the behind?”

Lucy shrugged. “I don’t think my grandma cares what she gets her hands on.”

“But what if she gets her hands on an old goat?” Stella shuddered. “I think I want to throw up.”

“Do it next door. Maybe it’ll distract Damien long enough for me to search his desk.”

* * *

When Lucy and Stella strode into the newspaper’s office, Damien North was typing on his laptop. The reporter wore dark blue jeans and a white polo shirt opened at the neck. With his reading glasses perched on the edge of his nose, he looked nothing like an old goat.   

He glanced up and waved. “Give me a minute. I need to finish typing this post.”  

Lucy and Stella cooled their heels on the chairs by the front door.  

Her cousin leaned over and whispered, “Let me be the bad cop. I’ll ask him the tough questions. You should get a little teary-eyed when you talk. Men love to help a damsel in distress.”  

Lucy opened her mouth to reply—  

“How can I help you, lovely ladies?” Damien said, approaching them. He stayed on the other side of the counter that divided the reception area from the rest of the office space.  

Stella bolted from the chair and marched over to him. “How dare you! You can’t post pictures of the statue on your website without permission.”  

Lucy gave Stella a sideways glance. Her cousin was a good actress. Good enough to hide her tracks?  

She shook her head to dismiss the thought. Her cousin would never kidnap Raspberry. Why would she want the monkey statue in the first place? After all, Stella had roots here. She wouldn’t be able to show her face if it came out that she stole from the town.  

Damien’s eyes widened, and his hands flew up. “Whoa! It was just a picture.” He glanced pleadingly at Lucy as if hoping she would interfere with Stella’s tirade.  

Lucy gave him an apologetic smile and shrugged, hoping she looked helpless and wimpy.  

Stella shook a finger at Damien’s face. “The city’s attorney will have a field day suing your—”  

“Unless you give us the IP addresses of the visitors who viewed the post on your website,” Lucy cut in. She didn’t want the interrogation to devolve into a brawl. “And you’ll have to take down the post.”  

“The public has a right to know,” Damien sputtered. “A treasure of this magnitude hasn’t been seen in this area for generations.”  

“How do we even know it’s a priceless artifact?” Lucy asked. She hoped her voice sounded naïve enough for her cousin, who was undoubtedly taking acting lessons from her grandma.  

“I’ll need a court order or something,” Damien said, crossing his arms. He straightened so that he towered over the women.  

“You’re getting a letter from the city’s attorney,” Stella said, leaning toward him.  

Lucy groaned inwardly. This was getting them nowhere. “Damien, I need your help. With everyone buzzing about this hidden treasure, no one is looking for my sister’s cat. Can’t you resurrect the post later?”  

He frowned, tapping absentmindedly on the countertop. “You’re asking me to take down the most exciting news we’ve had since the murder in your sister’s apartment.”  

Lucy gave him a puppy dog look. “Pretty please. I’ll buy you a pastry from the Shoreline Bakery.”  

“She’ll take you out on a date,” Stella said.  

Lucy partially covered her face with a hand and glared at her cousin. “No,” she mouthed.  

Damien beamed at the two women. “Consider the post gone. So when are you picking me up, Lucy?”  

“Seven?” Stella asked.  

Lucy didn’t have time for this matchmaking business. “I have a cat to find. I don’t have time for this right now.”  

“I could take a rain check,” Damien said. “If you want, I’ll even help you post flyers.”  

Stella ran back to the PI office to grab the remaining flyers.  

Lucy shifted from foot to foot. This was not going as planned. “Do you think the monkey statue is worth anything?”  

“It doesn’t matter,” Damien said. “As long as we can get somebody to say it’s special, then it’s worth seeing. And some tourists are ready to believe anything because they are so bent on having a good time on their vacation.”

“So you think it’s worthless?” Lucy pressed.

“I don’t know. I’m just a small-town reporter.”  

Lucy raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I think you’re more than that. You’re too squeaky clean to be squeaky clean.” Yikes! She sounded like a dork.  

Damien lowered his voice. “Have you been checking up on me?”  

“No!” Lucy flushed. The answer came out too quickly. “I mean, I looked at the lease agreement you have with my mother.” Which was true enough.

Stella came back into the office with a stack of flyers in her arm. Her eyes shifted between the two of them. “Am I interrupting something?”  

“Your cousin was telling me that she thinks I’m too squeaky clean,” Damien said, smirking.  

Lucy grabbed the flyers and set them on the countertop. “Thank you.”  

As she dragged her cousin through the front door, Stella called over her shoulder, “She’ll pick you up at seven.”

“I can’t wait,” Damien said.  

Once in the PI office, Stella shook loose. “What was that about?”  

Lucy glared at her cousin. “Why are you trying to set me up with Damien?”  

“What better way to keep an eye on the suspect than to have dinner with him?”  

“And how is that going to help me find Raspberry?”  

“You keep him busy, and I’ll search his place.”  

“And how are you planning to get in?”  

Stella gave Lucy a Mona Lisa smile. “He’s not the only one that can pick a lock.”

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Summer Snoops and Cozy Crimes

featuring Just Lost and Found (Lucy Fong #1.5)

Available July 24, 2018

I will contribute a Lucy Fong short story to this charity anthology. All proceeds from the sales will go to the no kill shelters of AniCira and Jefferson SPCA.

Preorder now!

Barnes and Noble

iBooks

Kobo

Amazon

​Chapter 3

At the urgent care center, the doctor said Lucy only had a hairline fracture on her wrist and there wasn’t a need to cast her arm. He immobilized the hand and wrist in a brace and told her to wear it for a month. He didn’t think she had a concussion, but urged her to stay with someone that evening.

Afterward, Lucy and Stella returned to the lighthouse. They spent the rest of the early evening looking for Raspberry. After a quick dinner, Lucy dropped Stella home to pack an overnight bag. She would come over later in the evening to stay with Lucy for the night.

To keep busy so she wouldn’t fret about the cat, Lucy took photos of the golden monkey statue and called her foster cousin, who was finishing up her master’s degree on ancient Chinese history.

“Hi, Lucy. Have you had dinner yet?" Raina Sun asked.

Lucy smiled even though her foster cousin couldn’t see her. She loved the traditional greeting. It always made her feel like a welcomed member of the Wong family. “Yes, I did. How are you doing?”

“It’s been crazy. The wedding details are driving me nuts. And they even have a planner to help them. I can’t believe the bride is renting the entire winery.” Raina paused dramatically. “For the entire week.”

Lucy’s jaw dropped. Why would anyone need to rent a wedding venue for more than a day or two? “Are her parents that loaded?”

“My uncle owns a chain of Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area. I’m sure they can afford the bill. I’m surprised they are willing to spend it like this. They are usually frugal, as in Chinese frugal.”

Lucy laughed. Chinese frugal meant the parents would save the take-out ketchup packages and squeeze them into the ketchup bottle at home. “That bad, huh?”

“Yep. I don’t know how I got roped into helping with this wedding.”

“Duty is heavier than a mountain.”

Raina snorted. “And speaking of duty, how can I help you?”

“I found a gold statue in a chest. I think it’s the Monkey King.” Lucy said. “Hold on. I’ll email you some photos.”

Lucy opened the mail app on her cell phone, attached the photos to a message, and hit the send button. She could hear her cousin clicking the mouse through the phone line.

“Interesting,” Raina muttered to herself. The mouse clicked some more. “Can I call you back in a minute? I want to call one of my professors.”

Lucy’s hand tightened on her phone. What was interesting? Was the statue a rare artifact? Could this be the answer to a prayer to help the town’s declining economy? She told herself not to get her hopes up. “Okay.”

While she waited, she went into the kitchen to take her vitamin cocktail and brew a Chinese herbal tea to help her sleep. She had a feeling she might spend the night tossing and turning. She bypassed the Zyrtec. There was no point in taking allergy medication with no cat in the house. Though the remaining dander might trigger an attack, she was willing to risk it. She hated the side effects of the medication.

She went back to her attic room and powered up the laptop and put together a “Lost Cat” flyer. As she typed in the details about Raspberry’s disappearance, her elation deflated. What would she tell her sister if she couldn’t find her cat? And how would this impact their tenuous relationship? She saved the file to a USB drive and dropped it into her purse. She would need to stop by the printers in the morning to get copies made.

Lucy’s cell phone rang, and she picked up the call. She cleared her throat, hoping her cousin wouldn’t pick up on her mood. “Hello, Raina?”

“What’s wrong, Lulu?” Raina asked. Her voice was gentle with concern.

Lucy’s eyes filled with tears. She refused to cry over a stupid, ungrateful cat. The scamp didn’t even like her. “I’m such a horrible pet sitter.” She told her cousin about the escapade at the lighthouse, her voice quivering with emotion.

“He will turn up. The two of you are connected,” Raina said.

“But how? There’s no food along the cliffs—”

“Just have faith. The cat will turn up.”

Lucy swallowed the lump in her throat. Her cousin had spoken with such absolute conviction that Lucy couldn’t help but believe her. “Did you find out anything more about the statue?”

“It’s definitely the Monkey King. The crown around his forehead and the staff on his hand are his usual accoutrements. You said the statue is made of gold. Is there an artisan stamp on the bottom?”

Lucy turned the statue upside down. “Yes, there are Chinese characters on the bottom. I’ll send you a picture.” She snapped a photo and emailed it to her cousin.

A few seconds later, Raina gasped. “I can’t believe it.”

Lucy’s pulse increased. This could save her hometown. “What is it?”

“It’s the name of an artist from the Song Dynasty. If this statue is real, then it’s priceless. If you bring it to me, I can carbon date it with the equipment at the university.”

“I’ll have to ask the mayor. The statue belongs to the town, and he might not want to let it out of his sight.”

“Then you better hope no one finds out about the monkey statue until it’s secured,” Raina said. “A find like this hasn’t been seen in years. People will flock to the town looking for other treasure.”

* * *

The next afternoon, Lucy and Stella were stapling a “Lost Cat” flyer on the bulletin board at the Shoreline Bakery when they ran into Dave Michaels, the Historical Society’s president. The retiree was what Lucy’s grandma would call a silver fox. His trim figure and tan skin suggested he liked outdoor activities. No wonder her cousin Stella did his bidding with nary a complaint.  

As Dave made his way toward them, Stella’s eyes tracked his progress. A smile curled at the corner of her lips.

“Will you stop it?” Lucy whispered. “You look like you want to crawl into his lap.”  

Stella gave her a sideways glance. “Stop being such a grump. Just because you’re in a dry spell doesn’t mean I have to join you.”

Lucy raised an eyebrow. The sassy words sounded like they came straight from her grandma’s playbook. Before she could reply, the distinguished gentleman was in front of them.   

“Hello, beautiful ladies. Can I join the two of you for lunch?” Dave asked. His warm blue eyes twinkled.  

Lucy shook her head, already inching toward the doorway. “You two go have lunch. I need to post up the rest of the flyers.”   

Stella’s gaze shifted between Dave and Lucy. She chewed her lower lip. “A half hour wouldn’t make much of a difference.”  

Lucy kept her expression neutral. This felt like a setup, and she wasn’t in the mood to be polite about it. The president of the Historical Society sought her out to get his hands on the golden monkey statue...and her cousin was in on this. “No, thanks.”  

She pulled open the glass door and stepped outside. They followed after her like little ducklings to Lucy’s car in the parking lot behind the bakery. She spun around. “Seriously, go and have lunch.”  

Dave shifted from foot to foot. “I came by because of the golden monkey statue.”

Lucy gave her cousin a deadpan stare. “Is that right?”

Stella flushed. “I only told him we would be at the bakery this morning. I don’t know how he found out about the statue.”  

“Sorry for ambushing you,” Dave said. He didn’t sound apologetic at all. “I could help you evaluate its historical significance. Before my retirement, I was a history professor.” When he mentioned his previous occupation, he straightened.  

Lucy wasn’t impressed. She loved this age she was in. Still young enough to be cute, but old enough to not put up with bull. “No, thanks. I already had an expert in Asian artifacts look at it.” She emphasized the word Asian. She was starting to sound rude, but he was wasting her time. She had a kitty to find.  

“Is this wise, my dear? The gold monkey is a rare artifact. Do you have permission to let someone have it? What if it disappears into someone’s private collection?” Dave said.  

Lucy bristled at his tone. “I am not your dear. Who told you about the statue?”

“Damien North posted a picture on his website. Everyone is curious about this million-dollar statue,” Dave said. “I’m disappointed you let the priceless artifact out of your hands without consulting the mayor.” His tone held a hint of disapproval.

Lucy slid another glance at Stella. What in the world did she see in this judgmental man?

Stella wasn’t paying attention to Lucy. She was glaring at her former crush. “Lucy showed photographs of the monkey statue to the expert.” She sounded like a mama bear who just got told she had an ugly baby.

Dave held up both hands as if he was surrendering. “That’s very sensible, ladies. I better go get my lunch.”

Stella sighed after his retreating back. “We could have been good together.”

Lucy snorted and rooted in her purse for the car keys. “I call it a lucky escape.”

Stella pointed at Lucy’s car. “What’s that?”

Lucy glanced at the windshield. A sheet of paper was stuck to the blade of her wiper. “Probably an advertisement.” She grabbed the paper. “I can’t believe Damien North would open his big flap about the monkey statue. I’m surprised the mayor didn’t call with instructions on what to do with the artifact.”

“He’s”—Stella made air quotes with her fingers—“training in Palm Springs on the golf courses. I doubt he’ll check his voicemail or answer his emails for the next couple of days. If anyone asks about the statue, we’ll tell them we’ve turned it over to the authorities.”  

Lucy nodded. They didn’t need anymore treasure hunters coming out of the woodwork. She got into the car and tossed the sheet of paper on the dashboard.

Stella frowned, reaching for the advertisement. “Is that a drawing of a cat?” She dug into her purse. “Where are my reading glasses?” she muttered under her breath.

“Let me read it for you,” Lucy said, reaching for the paper. She unfolded the paper and gasped. She blinked to make sure she wasn't imagining it.

"Is it an advertisement for a pet shop?" Stella asked.

Lucy shook her head. “It’s a ransom note. The Monkey King statue for Raspberry.”

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Summer Snoops and Cozy Crimes

featuring Just Lost and Found (Lucy Fong #1.5)

Available July 24, 2018

I will contribute a Lucy Fong short story to this charity anthology. All proceeds from the sales will go to the no kill shelters of AniCira and Jefferson SPCA.

Preorder now!

Barnes and Noble

iBooks

Kobo

Amazon

Chapter 2

When Lucy became conscious again, she heard a low murmuring from above her. There was also the sound of clamoring and clicking but no cat meowing pitifully. Where was Raspberry?  

She opened her heavy eyelids and saw a light at the end of a long tunnel. She blinked. There were jagged ends on the rotten floor boards above her. Faces appeared at the opening—the police chief, the fire chief, and her cousin Stella.

“Lucy! Are you okay?” Stella called out. “Anything broken?” 

“Gimme a minute,” Lucy said, trying to take inventory of her injuries.  She moved her legs, and they seemed fine. When she tried to push herself off the ground, a sharp pain ran up her arm. She bit her lower lip to stop from crying out. “I might have a broken arm.” 

“Sit tight,” Stella called out. “The fire department is setting up to lower somebody down to rescue you.” 

Lucy gave her cousin the thumbs-up sign even though she wasn’t sure her cousin could see her in the dim light. “Take your time. I’m not going anywhere.” 

She sat up, cradling her right arm close to her body.  The room spun in front of her, and her stomach did a flip-flop.  She patted her head tenderly and found the lump on the back of her head. A broken arm and a concussion seemed like a small price compared to a broken neck. 

“Stella, is Raspberry up there with you?” Lucy asked.

“I can’t find him anywhere. I don’t think he’s in the house anymore,” her cousin said. 

All this trouble and Lucy still didn’t have her sister’s cat. She was an idiot for rushing into a dilapidated cottage the way she did. But as her foster grandma would say: no pain, no fame. 

She would definitely have her fifteen minutes on the front page of the weekly  newspaper.  The incident would be discussed in detail at the newspaper’s online forum tonight. Casserole dishes would appear at the PI office the next morning because folks wanted to see her full body cast. Things had a way of exaggerating a hundredfold on the Internet.

Lucy reached for her cell phone.  The screen was cracked, but the flashlight app  still worked perfectly fine. She moved the beam of light around her. The space she fell into was about the size of a 10 x 10 room dug into the ground. The thick layer of dried leaves and twigs were probably why she didn’t break her neck. In the far wall—an aged red brick that would fetch a pretty penny among the urban yuppies—was a cavernous opening much like the tunnel boarded up underneath her mom’s PI office.   

While Morro Cliff Village wasn’t a mining town, it was home to pirates and smugglers long before California became a state. There were rumors of a network of tunnels connecting the sea caves, cliffs, and the basements around town. Lucy wondered if the previous lighthouse keepers knew about this tunnel and where it led. 

She shifted so she could shine the light behind her. There were barrels and half-rotten burlap bags in one corner like someone had tried to tidy up. The beam of light from her cell phone fell on the shadow behind a barrel. Her mouth dropped open. Was that shadow a treasure chest?  

She got up on shaky legs and shuffled toward the object. Her hand reached out and touched the aged wood. The chest was about the size of a three tiered jewelry box with one opening on top. Her hand ran along the smooth surface until it encountered the iron lock. She jiggled it, but it didn’t budge. This was no gimmick. She was able to lift it awkwardly with one arm. It weighed about ten pounds.  

“Holy Toledo, I found our tourist attraction,” Lucy whispered. Even if there wasn’t anything of value inside, she could spin a yarn about its significance to the generations of lighthouse keepers. 

A few minutes later, the fire department wrenched Lucy and the treasure chest from the hidden chamber of the lighthouse keeper’s cottage. The emergency medical technicians strapped her arm in a sling and asked her various questions about her medical history. They wanted to take her to the emergency room, but a trip to urgent care would be cheaper and faster. By the time they released her, the other first responders had packed up their equipment. Since no crime was committed, the police chief admonished her to be more careful and left with the firefighters. It was all done in less than an hour. 

Damien North, the town’s newspaper reporter, had shown up with the rescue squad. He was in his early forties and about five feet eleven. His black hair, doe-brown eyes, and tan skin suggested Hispanic genes in a distant branch of the family tree.

Lucy had heard him calling out for Raspberry along the cliff while the EMTs worked on her arm. “No sign of the scamp?”

Stella shook her head.

Damien picked up the chest and the three of them made their way to the meandering dirt path to the parking lot. “I’m sorry that I can’t find Raspberry for you.”

Lucy cleared her clogged throat. “The rascal will turn up. He has nine lives after all.” Though she wasn’t sure how many he had left. She was not crying over him. It was from the pain in her broken arm.

Damien slung his other arm around Lucy’s shoulders and gave her a quick squeeze. When she glanced at Stella on the other side of Damien, her cousin gave her a mischievous smile and thumbs up with her hands. Somehow her cousin had picked up the role of matchmaker.

The EMTs were eating sandwiches on a large boulder by the parking lot. Their ambulance was a few yards away, parked next to a gray Buick. When they saw Lucy's party, they did the manly chin nod. Damien returned the head tilt, and Stella waved.

Damien set the chest on the pavement next to Lucy’s car. “Let’s open the chest. I’m curious to see what’s inside.”

“We need to get Lucy to the urgent care center to get that arm set properly,” Stella said.  

He glanced pointedly at the strap around Lucy’s arm. “Another ten minutes won’t make much of a difference.”

“It’s locked,” Lucy said. She was curious, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to open the chest in front of him. After all, the mayor might not want the reporter to spread the news about what was inside the chest before City Hall had a chance to decide what to do with its contents. “If this is an artifact, I don’t want to break the lock.”

Damien handed the chest to Stella. “I have a set of lock picks in my car. I can open it without damaging anything.” He opened the glove compartment in his car and returned with a small leather bag.

Lucy exchanged a glance with her cousin. Why did he have a set of lock picks in his car?

Damien didn’t seem to notice the exchange; he was too busy examining the lock and selecting the tools he needed. And sure enough, in less than five minutes, he removed the lock from the chest. He rolled his hands in a ta-da motion. “Lucy, will you do the honors?”

Lucy exchanged another glance with her cousin. The man was full of surprises.

She lifted the lid. Nestled in thick red velvet was a gold monkey statue in an ancient Chinese warrior outfit. A thin band crossed his brow, and he held a staff. Underneath the statue was a layer of ancient Chinese coins— circular like the modern-day coins, but with a square cut into the center.

Stella peered into the chest. “Looks priceless.”

Damien’s eyes gleamed and held the statue up for a closer inspection. “I wonder if the Monkey King is an original?”

Lucy held out her hand. “Give me the statue. It belongs to the town.”

Damien reluctantly put it back in the treasure chest. “Better lock it up before the treasure hunters get wind of this.”

Lucy glanced pointedly at Damien. “Not a word to anyone.”

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