Chapter 4 - All Hammers Look the Same
I gripped the doorframe to anchor myself. I felt as if I were floating above the scene, watching it from a great distance. Someone spoke, but I couldn’t make out the words. I heard only the rushing noise in my ears. My vision became white around the edges, and I could only see the body and the blood. I would not pass out. I would not pass out.
Movement from the corner of my eye caught my attention. Aunt Coco’s silver hair. Oh no. My elderly aunt shouldn’t look at this scene. What if she had a heart attack from the shock? It took all of my strength to drag my gaze away from the bloody hammer.
I felt a snap like I came back inside my body. I swiveled my head and found Aunt Coco inches from Fiona, hunched over the body like she was on the forensic team. Luckily, she had the sense to not touch anything.
“Aunt Coco, get back here,” I whispered. For some reason, it felt wrong to speak normally around a dead body. “What are you doing?”
Chief Blunt jerked up from staring at the body. Her face was ashen. She still gripped her gun like she was expecting a shoot-out. For a second, I felt bad for her. How many murders had she investigated in Mirror Falls? Her job probably consisted of directing traffic during the tourist season, arresting drunks, and busting up wild parties. She blinked and put the gun back into her holster.
“Everybody, back onto the street,” Chief Blunt said. Her voice came out gruffer than usual. “Do not touch anything.”
All of us stumbled outside. Duncan, with a dazed expression on his face, collapsed onto the wooden bench on the boardwalk.
Aunt Coco pulled me aside and whispered, “How did the hammer get inside the coffee shop?”
It took me a second to register what my aunt was asking. “That can’t be our hammer. We were both on the street the entire time. We have witnesses. Even the most incompetent police work couldn’t have us at two places at the same time.”
Aunt Coco chewed her lower lip. “It sure looked like the hammer from the tea shop.”
“All hammers look the same,” I said in full denial mode. This was like a car accident where the first person to admit fault was automatically the guilty one. I shook my head. “No, this had nothing to do with us.”
Aunt Coco grabbed my hand and tugged me toward the tea shop. “I have an uneasy feeling about this. Let’s go check.”
My aunt’s hand was clammy. She might look fine on the outside, but she was shaken up. And she seemed genuinely concerned about the hammer. Now I was worried as well.
There was the sound of an approaching vehicle, and someone called out, “Hey, Coco. Is this the lumber?”
Aunt Coco glanced at the person and waved. “Luke, dear, come here.”
So, this was the Skywalker in my aunt’s contacts list. He was about my age and tall, with a lanky frame that suggested he was used to physical activity. His dark black hair was gray at the temples and short but still had enough length to be tussled by the wind. He definitely would be my pick for a blind date.
Luke got out of the car, and I kid you not, he had on a stereotypical lumberjack outfit—red and black plaid shirt and dark blue jeans with work boots, except he was Asian, probably Korean or Japanese. He climbed the steps to the boardwalk. His brown eyes met my gaze and then he ignored me. He addressed my aunt, “What is it?”
“Is your last name Skywalker?” I asked, stepping in front of him so he couldn’t ignore me.
“That’s a joke between me and your aunt,” Luke said, not bothering to make eye contact.
I raised an eyebrow. He knew who I was, which meant my aunt had been talking about me to him. I wonder what else my aunt might have told him. Hopefully, she didn’t say anything about my marital status. I wasn’t embarrassed, but the divorce was still so recent that I couldn’t handle any sympathy or anger about the situation.
I held out my hand. “I am Cedar Woods.”
Luke stared at my hand for a long moment as if debating whether or not he could ignore it.
I wasn’t sure why, but I bristled at the look of distaste on his face. Was he a germophobe? Or just socially awkward? Or maybe I was embarrassed by my initial attraction and his obvious rejection of it. I couldn’t explain why, but I wanted Luke to acknowledge me.
“Sora Kai, but I go by my middle name,” Luke said.
So, he was Japanese. His name literally translated to the sky and the sea. I knew those three years of Japanese in high school would amount to something. By this time my hand had been dangling between us for far too long for me to withdraw without obvious embarrassment.
Luke glanced at my aunt. “You want me to move the lumber to the back alley?”
“Something important came up,” Aunt Coco said. “We need to find a hammer.” She disappeared inside the tea shop.
With that, Luke strode after my aunt. I dropped my hand and followed the two of them. I wasn’t sure how I had offended Luke, but I was irritated with the man. I set the thought aside. There was time to noodle on this later.
I was equally curious to see if our hammer was the murder weapon. The front door of the tea shop was visible the entire time we were out on the street, and I didn’t see anyone near it.
At the doorway to the office, Aunt Coco cried out, “The hammer. It’s gone.”
I joined my aunt to stare at the empty spot on her desk. A sense of dread settled in the pit of my stomach. I shook my head in disbelief. Did someone set me up as Fiona’s murderer?
Up until this morning, I didn’t even know the woman. But since Fiona had been busy telling everyone I had threatened her with a hammer, this would make me the prime suspect. Except, I had worn gloves, and the only fingerprints on the hammer belonged to my aunt.
Maybe someone was trying to set up my aunt? But how did this person know my aunt’s fingerprints would be on the hammer?
No, this setup wasn’t a personal attack on me or my aunt. It was an opportunity the murderer had taken advantage of to throw the cops off the real trail. Yes, this made more sense.
Luke glanced at the desk and then back at the two of us. “I got a hammer in the back of my truck.”
Aunt Coco’s eyes flicked from side to side as if looking for an explanation. “Someone must have come in from the back door.” She moved as if she was going to check, and I grabbed her arm to stop her.
“We don’t want to touch anything,” I said. “This could be a crime scene. Let’s go back out front and wait for the forensic team.”
“What forensic team?” Aunt Coco said. “Your brother’s the county coroner, and he’s at the conference. Everly will have to ask the feds for help. That might take days, if not weeks.”
I blinked, not quite sure what to think. I knew a small town had limited resources, but didn’t they have people to process a crime scene? No wonder crimes became cold cases and innocent people were railroaded for crimes they didn’t commit.
I pressed a hand to the fluttering in my stomach. What if Evil Bun wanted to throw me in jail? Was she related to Fiona? Maybe there would be a conflict of interest, and Evil Bun would have to step aside from this investigation.
It didn’t matter. I was still a suspect. They would say I killed Fiona to aid my aunt. Or they might say my aunt and I were in it together. One or both of us would be going to jail.
Luke studied my aunt with a worried gaze. “What’s going on here? How can I help?”
I gave Luke a sideways glance. Sure, there was a thing called small-town hospitality, but he was a stranger to me. But then again, I didn’t know the nature of his relationship with my aunt. For all I knew, they might regard each other like family.
Aunt Coco quickly summarized what had happened next door.
Luke’s brown eyes widened in disbelief. “I knew it, Coco. You’re going to jail.” He ran a hand through his black hair. “How am I going to explain this to Josh? He’s going to kill me.”
“What does my brother have to do with it?” I said.
Luke ignored my question, and I wanted to stomp my feet in frustration. Why wasn’t someone filling me in? Who was Luke, and how was he associated with my brother?
Wait a minute. Was Luke in a relationship with my brother? Was this why my brother never got married? I couldn’t believe that I’d never suspected this.
“It wasn’t my fault,” Aunt Coco said, dragging me from my thoughts.
One glance at my aunt’s taut face was enough for me to refocus on our current situation. The most important thing at the moment was to make sure we weren’t hauled off to jail.
“I didn’t antagonize Fiona on purpose,” Aunt Coco said. “She came over this morning shouting about how the construction in the tea shop was driving away her customers. My contractor isn’t even working today.”
“So there was no reason for her to complain?” Luke said.
Aunt Coco nodded. “And what customers? Who would want to drink that nasty coffee? And with that prickly personality, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fiona had enemies up the wazoo.”
My aunt had gotten over her shock and was now in full rant mode. She did that from time to time, to let off a little steam. All of us were amused by her tirades, and life went on as usual once she got it out of her system.
However, the fact that Aunt Coco had recovered so quickly also got me worried. What if Evil Bun used this as a sign that my aunt had something to do with Fiona’s death?
The three of us jumped at the sudden racket. Someone was pounding on a metal door.
“Someone is at the back door,” Aunt Coco said. She hurried out of the office.
I was hot on her heels. As my aunt reached to push the metal bar to unlatch the door, I blocked the move.
“Wait!” I said. “What if there are fingerprints from the hammer thief?” Using my elbow, I pushed open the back door.
Chief Blunt was on the other side, glaring at us. “Looks like I got my killer.”
I ignored her comment and opened the door wide, holding it in place with the kick stop. I stepped into the alley behind the shops, and Evil Bun had to back up or I would have stepped on her toes. Now that we were standing side-by-side, she towered over me in her work boots by a good five inches, which made her about five foot nine. Oh, joy.
Luke and Aunt Coco followed me outside. The back alley was wide enough for a small delivery truck to get through. Wood fencing ran the length of the alley, marking the side yards for the homes on the other side. A dumpster located in the middle of the alley serviced all the shops on this block. There was nothing remarkable about the alley, and nothing to point to my aunt’s shop as the home of the murderer. Evil Bun was probably blowing smoke, hoping we would crumble with fear.
Luke folded his arms. “I wouldn’t make any accusation until you’re done processing the crime scene. Josh is at a conference this week. Who is collecting the body?”
Aunt Coco looked as if she was about to argue, but promptly closed her mouth. Smart woman. As a modern, independent woman, I didn’t need a man to fight for me. However, sometimes it helped to have one throw his weight around. It moved the focus of attention away from me, and I could do my thing in the wings.
I shifted to peer at the front side of the door. There! A bloody spot on the handle. I couldn’t make out a fingerprint, and that was probably the intent. Its job wasn’t to help find the murderer, but to point the finger at us—in case the hammer didn’t do the trick. That low down dirty dog.
“I need the three of you to sit on the bench in front,” Chief Blunt said. “If you leave before I say you can, I am getting a warrant for your arrest.”
The three of us traipsed back through the tea shop as instructed and sat next to Duncan on the wooden benches like naughty children. I glanced at the display screen on my cell phone. It was already noon, and foot traffic was picking up. All the town folk greeted my aunt and gawked at the crime scene tape closing off the coffee shop and tea shop. This wasn’t the homecoming I had envisioned.
“Kelly isn’t gonna like this,” Luke muttered to himself.
“Who is Kelly?” I asked, fully expecting him to ignore my question like earlier.
“Your aunt’s contractor,” Luke said. “He’s already nickeled and dimed your aunt for the work. I was out of town and didn’t get a chance to look over her contract, or I would have recommended someone else. The guy talks a big game but rarely delivers.”
These were more words than Luke had said to me previously combined. Maybe he was warming up to me.
“I’m sure we can resume work on the tea shop in another day or two, when the police finish processing the crime scene,” I said. “This shouldn’t put us too far behind schedule.” I didn’t know much about construction, but I did know that time was money.
“Have you forgotten about the comment about borrowing resources from other jurisdictions? Your aunt will probably lose her deposit and her contractor.”
“I won’t let that happen,” I said. “This money is Aunt Coco’s retirement.”
“I don’t see what you can do about it,” Luke said.
This time I ignored his comment. In a town where everyone knew everyone’s business, I was sure we could put together a list of suspects. While I preferred to mind my own business, I didn’t have a choice here. But if the killer knew I was investigating Fiona’s death, I might be next on the hit list.
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RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 1, 2023
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