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Sneak Peek: Just Lost and Found – Chapter 4

Summer Snoops and Cozy Crimes

featuring Just Lost and Found (Lucy Fong #1.5)

Available July 24, 2018

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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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