Read Chapter 1 here.
Chapter 2 - Drunken Sailor
Lucy blinked, but the image in front of her didn’t go away. The strange man still lay on the asphalt of the parking lot. Did her cousin say he was dead?
The world became a fuzzy gray, and her vision narrowed until she only saw the man lying on the ground. She shook her head, hoping to clear away her confusion. The bile rose from the back of her throat again, and she swallowed the bitter tang. No, no...not again. The clanging in her head grew louder, drowning out everything.
“Lucy!” Stella called out, but it sounded as if her cousin’s voice came through a bad phone connection. “Put your head between your knees and breathe.”
Lucy did as instructed, feeling thick and clumsy in her crouched position. After a few moments, her vision cleared, and she could see the tiny pebbles on the asphalt. Somehow the burlap bag had wiggled across the short distance between the dead man and Lucy. It writhed and moved against her leg. Maybe a small pet was trapped inside the bag.
As Stella returned her attention to the man, Lucy reached for the bag. The knapsack had a small pocket in the front and two buckles that held a flap over the main compartment. Lucy opened one buckle and jerked back with a yelp.
A chicken head popped out and started squawking. The beady reddish-brown eyes glared at Lucy. The bright red wattles under its beak swung from side to side.
“Is that a rooster?” Stella asked, glancing up from the man on the ground.
Lucy couldn’t tell the difference between a hen and a rooster by looking at its head. “I don’t know if it’s a rooster, but it sure sounds like one.”
“Don’t let it get away. It might give us a clue to the man’s identity.”
Lucy eyed the chicken nervously. She didn’t want to get anywhere near its beak. “The other buckle is still on. It can’t get out of the bag.” She glanced at the door of the vacant shop. “I better look for Damien…”
As if speaking his name invoked his presence, the reporter appeared in the doorframe. Lucy frowned. Why did it take Damien this long to come outside? Did he find something in the shop?
A vehicle pulled up next to the curb, and a door opened and slammed shut from behind them.
Lucy dragged her eyes from the door frame to the curb behind her. The mayor stared at them with his jaw wide open. She blinked. This couldn’t be happening. How could she explain this to the mayor?
“What’s going on over there? Did someone get hurt?” the mayor called out.
“Stella! Call nine-one-one while I stall the mayor,” Lucy whispered.
Her cousin’s gaze swiveled between Damien, the dead man, and the mayor. Her eyes widened at the strange situation, and a look of panic flashed across her face.
Now it was Lucy’s turn to be the strong one. “Take a deep breath. It will be okay. Just call nine-one-one. Damien can take care of himself, and I will explain things to the mayor. Just talk to the dispatcher.”
Stella swallowed and nodded. “Okay. I can do this.”
“Why don’t you make the call inside the PI office?” Lucy suggested.
Stella nodded again and got up. Lucy trotted toward the mayor.
Alexander Frasier, also known as Sander to his friends, had held the mayor position for more than a decade. He was in his late fifties with salt and pepper hair, but his full beard was snow white. With his icy blue eyes and a full belly, he was the town’s year-round Santa Claus.
The butterflies in Lucy’s stomach fluttered nervously. What if the mayor drove off after he found out there was a dead man in the parking lot? While most people might stare at an accident, no one wanted to be on the side of the road talking to the police.
Lucy cleared her throat. “Um, Mr. Mayor, we have a situation here. The Chicken Man came out of the vacant—”
“Who is the Chicken Man?” the mayor interrupted.
Lucy blinked. She hadn’t realized she had named the dead man. “The man on the ground. He had an accident. Can we reschedule for another day? The police will probably want to talk to me and Stella. I’m sure you’re too busy to wait.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” the mayor asked, his face full of concern.
Lucy shook her head. “Everything is under control here. Once we are done, I’ll call your secretary to reschedule.”
In the distance, sirens blared and got louder by the second.
“You might want to get out of here before the emergency vehicles block traffic,” Lucy said, hoping she sounded helpful rather than desperate. The longer it took the mayor to find out about the dead man, the better. If she had more time, she might be able to neutralize the bad news.
The mayor gave the parking lot another glance. “Good point, Lucy. I don’t even know CPR. Let’s see if we can meet later this week. I need to decide on the museum’s temporary location before the next town council meeting.”
As the mayor drove off, Lucy breathed a sigh of relief. Okay, she only had to get the Chicken Man off the premises, and everything would be back to normal. She could still salvage this situation and get the lease for the town’s temporary museum.
She turned back to the parking lot and saw Damien crouching over the Chicken Man. From this angle on the curb, she couldn’t tell what the reporter was doing. Was he performing CPR on the Chicken Man?
Lucy marched back to the parking lot, scanning the window of the PI office. Stella was nowhere to be seen. Did she go inside the vacant shop next door? Lucy’s gaze returned to Damien’s back.
He reached for the knapsack, opening the remaining buckle. The chicken’s head popped out of the bag and pecked his hand. He jerked back and fell onto his rear. The chicken squawked and jumped out of the bag.
“Don’t let the chicken run away. It could be evidence,” Lucy called out, sprinting the last few feet. As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized her subconscious had decided this was a crime scene. After all, the Chicken Man had slurred his words and dropped dead in the parking lot. Either he was drunk or he was poisoned.
Damien glanced over his shoulder. “What?”
The chicken flapped and raced around the building, disappearing from view. Lucy ground her teeth and picked up her pace. She was not built for moving at this speed. Her breaths came out in puffs, and her lungs burned for air.
The chicken raced through the narrow strip of pavement on the side of the building that led to the back of the strip mall and the employee parking spots.
Lucy pumped her arms harder, hoping it would help propel her forward. Sweat streamed down her face. If she didn’t stop soon, the emergency responders would find her collapsed on the pavement too.
The chicken squawked again and dashed for the woods behind the building. It ran, hopped, and flapped, wobbling on its skinny legs like a drunken sailor on a wooden peg.
“Hey, come back,” Lucy gasped, holding onto the side of the building.
The chicken ran into the woods without a backward glance.
Lucy shook her hand in the air. Stupid chicken. She took another deep breath and straightened. Now that she was no longer focused on chasing the chicken, she realized sirens were coming from the parking lot. It was time to talk to the police.
She spun on her heels and headed back to the front of the building. A police cruiser, an ambulance, and a fire truck blocked the driveway to the shopping plaza. Between the flashing lights and the group of ladies gathered around the window at the yarn shop, it looked like they were having a block party.
The police chief, the firefighters, and Stella were huddled in a group in front of the fire truck. Two emergency medical technicians checked on the Chicken Man.
Surprisingly, Damien was nowhere in sight. Maybe the sight of a dead body up close was too much for him. Even as soon as the thought floated to the surface, Lucy dismissed it. Damien was a reporter after all. And reporters were known to see all walks of life.
Stella glanced up from the group and gestured for Lucy to join them. As Lucy crossed the parking lot, the medical technicians loaded the Chicken Man onto a gurney.
Lucy paused mid-step. Why were the medical technicians moving the Chicken Man? Shouldn’t the coroner check out the body first? “Where are you taking him?” she called out.
“To the emergency room,” the emergency medical technician said. He returned to his task, turning his back to her.
Lucy gaped at the EMTs. The Chicken Man was still alive? Holy Toledo! Didn’t Stella have enough medical training to tell if someone was dead or alive? Weren’t pharmacists as good as a doctor in some parts of the world?
The firefighters got back into their truck, waved to the crowd, and left. Max DeWitt, the police chief, trotted toward the ambulance and chatted with the EMTs.
Stella joined Lucy and whispered, “I thought only someone from the coroner could touch the body.”
Lucy gave her cousin a sideways glance. “He’s going to the hospital. Apparently, the Chicken Man isn’t dead.”
Stella flushed, a deep crimson that covered both cheeks and her nose. “You couldn’t give him a more original name?” Her voice sounded petulant.
Lucy struggled to keep the grin off her face. Her cousin was embarrassed at her misdiagnosis. “I went for the obvious. Maybe I can visit him tomorrow when I stop by to see Mom.”
“I couldn’t find a pulse or a heartbeat. I couldn’t tell if he was drooling or if he had ingested poison. No way was I putting my lips over his,” Stella said, crossing her arms defensively.
“Maybe Damien resuscitated him,” Lucy said. She couldn't hide the doubt in her voice. Where was the reporter? This was big news for their small town.
“Did you see Damien give the Chicken Man CPR? He had to be pretty brave to get over the—” Stella’s hand circled the air above her mouth, indicating the lower half of the man’s face.
Lucy frowned. Did she see Damien give the Chicken Man CPR? After all, Damien was hunched over the Chicken Man. “I assumed he did. But if he was so concerned about saving the Chicken Man’s life, why did Damien waste time by letting the chicken out?”
Stella gave Lucy a sharp look. “I know that tone. You have suspected Damien in the past of nefarious deeds, but he has turned out to be innocent. Are you reading more into things because you’re looking for an excuse to keep him at arm’s length?”
Heat rose to Lucy’s face, and she averted her gaze. Was she afraid to have a closer relationship with Damien? “Now you’re reading too much into things. Damien and I are just friends.” She nodded at the police chief. “Besides, I like keeping my options open.”
Stella raised an eyebrow. “Is that right? Good girl. I wouldn’t want you to tie the knot with the first man that shows interest.”
“I have dated plenty of men before.” Lucy knew she sounded exasperated, but this was no time to talk about her love life. It was bad enough that her foster grandma was always trying to set her up, even from afar.
“Promiscuous? Even better. It’s not fair that men get to sleep—”
“Look! They are leaving,” Lucy cut in.
Stella glanced up to see the ambulance driving off. The police chief went to inspect the spot the Chicken Man had lain on the parking lot floor. He returned to his police cruiser, grabbed a couple of cones and crime scene tape, and blocked off the area even though the only thing visible was the empty knapsack.
Max trotted over. He was in his mid-thirties—a few years younger than Lucy—blond, well-muscled, and close to six feet tall. His moss-green eyes squinted against the sunlight, crinkling the skin around his eyes. In his uniform, he was the boy next door. Too bad he was too young for her.
“Will you still be around in a bit?” Max asked. “I want to take photos of the parking lot before folks move their cars. There’s not much to see, but I want to note the man’s location just the same.”
Lucy nodded. “Can I go inside the vacant shop? Or do you want to see it first?”
“Let’s go inside together. It’s your shop, but I want to check for signs of a break-in.”
“Come and get me when you’re ready. Stella and I will be in the PI office,” Lucy said.
They left Max to do his work. As they approached the PI office, Lucy glanced next door at the newspaper office. Through the window, she couldn’t see anyone, though Damien’s car was still in the parking lot. It wasn’t like the reporter to be missing in action, especially in the middle of a story. Where did he go? And why didn’t he want his presence known?
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