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Sneak Peek: Just Lost and Found – Chapter 1

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.

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Chapter 1

As they made their way toward the lighthouse on the cliff, Lucy Fong suppressed her mild irritation at the sight of Raspberry snuggling in her cousin Stella’s arms. With her sister out of town, Lucy was assigned the task of pet sitting the white and gray Maine coon cat even though she was highly allergic to the beast. She was so drugged up on antihistamines, she shouldn’t care…except she did.

Raspberry returned her regard. He didn’t even protest when her cousin had cheerfully propped the cat against one hip and carried him like a baby. All the traitorous cat needed was a little bonnet to turn him from puss to wuss.

From behind her sunglasses, Lucy squinted against the bright glare of the sun’s reflection on the dancing waves. The lens on top of the lighthouse winked at their approach. She turned away from Raspberry. She didn’t care one iota that the cat ignored every attempt she had made to be friends. She was done bribing the animal with treats and toys. Her sister was returning from San Francisco in a couple of days, and it was good riddance as far as she was concerned. Sure, he was a comfort to have around the house in the last few days, but surely, it didn’t make up for his disdain.

“What do you think? Can we turn the lighthouse into a tourist destination?” Stella asked, breaking into Lucy’s thoughts.

Lucy frowned at the dilapidated circular stone column in front of them. Up close, moss clung to the nooks on the surface. The copper roof had long since disappeared. Probably stolen at one point. “Is it even safe? It’ll cost quite a bit of money to restore it.”

“It’s all that we have now that the plastic surgery center closed its doors. The town needs another source of revenue.”

“And how exactly did I get volunteered by the Historical Society to market this pile of stone?” Lucy asked, knowing full well it was her cousin’s doing.  

Stella was Mom’s younger cousin. In her youth, the over large ears and teeth had been the bane of her existence, but her recent pixie haircut and makeover hid and diffused these features. Lucy still wasn’t quite sure what to make of the situation. While she didn’t like walking around with the same haircut as her cousin, neither did she have the heart to tell Stella to find her own signature look.

The only saving grace to the matching haircuts was the different coloring. Lucy had inherited her Chinese father’s black hair and love for pastries. And from her mom’s side, she had gotten the height. She was tall by Chinatown standards at five foot six inches, though she was still four inches shorter than the heavyset woman next to her.

“Your grandma suggested advertising it as a bungee cord jump site,” Stella said.

Lucy raised an eyebrow. “The town can’t afford the liability insurance. How will the mayor get the funds for its restoration? The keeper cottage seems to be in good shape.” Once they removed the wood planks boarding up the house, some fresh flowers and new curtains would make the stone cottage picturesque. “Maybe the Historical Society could find some period household items for it.”

“The mayor thinks he can get us a federal grant. He wants to see tourists flocking to the lighthouse by the end of the summer.”

“That’s ambitious. Who else is working on this project?”

“Just one maintenance worker and the volunteers at the Historical Society.”

Lucy’s heart sank. One government employee and a bunch of retired seniors. “Seriously? That’s not much.”

Stella pulled out an old heavy iron skeleton key with a long shaft. She unlocked the wood door of the lighthouse and pushed it open. When she removed her hand, bits of wood fluttered to the ground.  

Lucy mentally added another task to the project. They would have to replace the door, but they might be able to reuse the original hardware. She stepped in after her cousin. “I’m willing to offer the mayor some advice on how to market the lighthouse, but I don’t have time to take on a project like this pro bono. I still have a PI business to run.”

The interior of the lighthouse was gloomy and smelled of mildew. The steps leading up to the lens at the top were narrow and uneven and missing its handrails. There were notches cut into the stone like medieval openings for arrows against an invading army.

“A bungee jump site is probably the right description for this place,” Lucy said. “We’ll have to get a photographer to get some photos of the structure at dawn and dusk. The colors reflecting off the ocean and onto the stone would look fabulous on the Internet.”

Raspberry squirmed on Stella’s arm and leaped to the floor. He bolted for the lighthouse keeper’s cottage behind them. Lucy spun around. The cat dashed in between the cracks of the wood planks nailed crisscross on the door frame.

Lucy ran after the scamp. “Why did we bring him?”

“The two of you need to bond,” Stella said, coming up from behind, slightly breathless.

Lucy sighed. When did her cousin become the cat whisperer? She squinted at the darkened interior of the lighthouse keeper’s cottage. With the windows boarded up, she couldn’t see any movement. “Raspberry, get your furry behind out here—now.”

“Oh, he’s real scared of that stern tone.” Stella snickered. “Just go in there and get him out.”

Lucy gestured at the planks. “How am I supposed to get inside?”  

“The mayor said the planks were just for show.” Stella removed one of the planks and rested it on the side of the house. It came off with ease. “Go on. Be careful of rotten floor boards.”

Lucy stuck her head into the doorway and peered at the gloom once again. “Here kitty, kitty. Come to Auntie Lucy.”  

There were hissing sounds and furious rustlings like two animals duking it out on a pile of dried leaves and twigs. There was a high-pitched meow. Then silence. The commotion seemed to be coming from the rear of the house.

Lucy’s pulse raced. The last time she’d heard her sister’s cat hiss was when he felt threatened. She ducked her head and climbed through the opening of the wood planks. The air was damp and heavy, an ideal environment for mold growth. She wondered briefly how many spores she was breathing in.

As she reached into her purse for her cell phone, she took a step forward. The wood floor creaked underneath her, and she paused. She cocked her head, hoping to hear the cat again, but there was silence. Judging from the dimensions on the outside, the cottage was about nine hundred square feet. It would still take a while to explore the rooms in the dark with the flashlight from her cell phone.

Raspberry whimpered, a low keening that raised the hair on the back of Lucy’s neck. He must be in one of the bedrooms in the back of the house.

Lucy charged forward. The flashlight from her cell phone bouncing with her movements. If something happened to the cat, she wouldn’t know what to do. While he might hold her with some disdain, she had grown quite fond of the rascal.

“Hold on, Raspberry! I’m coming,” Lucy called out.

“Wait!” Stella said from the doorway. “Be careful—”

Crack!

The floor fell away from under Lucy’s feet. Her arms reached out grabbing at the air. For a moment, she was airborne, and her stomach rose to her throat. Time slowed. She saw the shock and horror on her cousin’s face. When she opened her mouth to scream, dust filled it, and she ended up coughing. Her hair flew around her and covered her sight. Then she fell.

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