Just A Lucky Break-In (Raina Sun Mystery #2)
A dead body. A crazy chicken. And a Chinese artifact. Morro Cliff Village will never be the same again.
Lucy Fong is keeping the family's private investigation firm afloat while her mother is in a coma. When a man collapses outside the PI office, Lucy is once again drawn into another murder investigation.
Who is the dead man, and why does he have a crazy chicken in his knapsack? How did he get inside the secured building owned by Lucy's family?
It's a race against time to find the murderer before danger catches up with Lucy. Join Lucy and her friends in this fast-paced cozy mystery.
Chapter 3 - Picking Sides
Lucy went to the inner office and powered on her laptop, plugging in the monitor on the desk and the USB dongle for the mouse and keyboard. Since Stella had spread the word about Lucy’s former profession, Lucy had gotten more work helping the local businesses revamp their websites and setting up online shopping carts than she did as a private investigator.
She logged into the hosting company and pulled up the draft of the website for the Business Chamber of Commerce. She opened the folder on her hard drive, uploading photos to the media database.
“Ah-hem,” Stella said loudly from the doorway.
Lucy glanced up from the monitor. “Is Max ready for my statement?”
Stella usually occupied the desk in the front room, acting as the receptionist when necessary, but mostly clicking on dog photos on social media. She was a dog person, which was how Lucy ended up cat sitting Raspberry for her sister. When they had an appointment, they would switch desks for the meeting with the client since Lucy was technically still a private investigator trainee.
“Do we need to talk and get our story straight?” Stella asked.
Lucy blinked. “Why would we need to collaborate on our story?”
“For one thing, we don’t want to incriminate ourselves.”
Lucy still didn’t understand what Stella was talking about. The truth was already strange enough without having to make something up. “We didn’t do anything to the Chicken Man. He’ll be lucky we don’t charge him for trespassing.”
“He could sue us for falling on the parking lot.”
“Let’s worry about it when we cross that bridge,” Lucy said. She didn’t want to borrow trouble before she needed to. She returned to her typing, hoping her cousin would take the hint.
Stella flopped down on the client’s chair across from the desk. “Do I tell the police what your boyfriend did to the Chicken Man? When I spoke to the dispatcher, I saw the whole thing through the window from inside the office.”
Lucy sighed inwardly, clicked the save button, and logged out. “He’s not my boyfriend. We’ve only gone out to dinner a few times—as friends. What was Damien doing? Searching the body?” As soon as the flippant remark came out of her mouth, she snapped it shut. Holy Toledo! Was that what he was doing?
Stella’s eyes widened. “Did you see him do it too? I don’t know what to tell Max. The whole thing might be innocent. I don’t want to get Damien into trouble. He’s such a nice man.”
Lucy chewed her lower lip. If Damien had searched the Chicken Man’s body and didn’t find anything, it would explain why he had reached for the knapsack and, probably inadvertently, let the chicken out. But how did they know he was searching for something?
“We don’t know what Damien was doing,” Lucy said slowly. “We could be misinterpreting the entire thing. I don’t want to accuse him without more evidence. Maybe he was looking for a wallet to get the Chicken Man’s identity.”
Stella nodded in agreement. “We can decide what to do after you talk to Damien. If we need to, we can tell Max we recalled this detail later.”
“Why do I have to talk to Damien? Why don’t you go next door and look for him?” Lucy said, recoiling inwardly.
While she thought Damien was a great guy, there was something about him that wasn’t available. Like he carried a deep secret or painful past. Her past wasn’t exactly perfect either, but she had been open about it, answering his questions. He, on the other hand, tended to skirt around the issue, leaving her with no more knowledge than before. Was this why she wasn’t interested in a romantic liaison with the man?
Stella straightened in her chair. “But he’s not my boy—”
“Lucy! Are you in here?” Max called out from the front room.
Stella got up from the client chair in front of the desk. “We’re here,” she called out. She lowered her voice to a whisper and said, “I’ll follow your lead.”
Lucy sat back in her chair. Fabulous. In other words, Stella wanted Lucy to handle the omission.
Max came into the room, his gaze shifting between Stella and Lucy. “Can I get your statements individually before we go next door to check out the vacant shop?”
Stella headed toward the doorway. “You can interview me out here. I have an errand to run after this, but Lucy can go with you.”
The two of them left Lucy to stew while they spoke in the front room. With the door closed, she couldn’t make out what they said. She had a feeling Stella wouldn’t mention Damien’s role in the incident, leaving it up to Lucy to decide if she wanted to involve him.
A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door, and it opened. Max grinned at her. “Ready to go next door?”
Lucy got up in a jerky motion. She still hadn’t decided on what to say to the police chief yet, but moving sounded like a good idea. “I thought you wanted to interview me.”
“We can talk while we're looking around. Stella gave me her side of the story, and I don’t think yours will deviate much from hers,” Max said.
As a former assistant district attorney, Max had a good memory for details. Though he sounded casual about the interview, Lucy had to consider her words carefully if she didn’t want to incriminate Damien. Darn the man for putting her in this position.
As they headed toward the vacant shop, Max asked, “Do you have any idea how the man got inside your property?”
Lucy shrugged. “The last time I checked, both the front and back doors were locked. Stella couldn’t find the key, and the windows were painted shut. The locksmith just gave me the new keys.”
“I’m surprised the transient picked the vacant shop. There are always people coming and going in this shopping plaza. With the mild temperature, he would be better off sleeping outside somewhere.”
Lucy didn’t want to tell Max the PI office wasn’t generating any foot traffic. “Do you think he targeted this place in particular?”
“I guess we’ll find out when he wakes up. After this, I’ll swing by the hospital to see how he’s doing.”
She had never thought about the duties of a small-town cop. With only two full-time staff, Max probably worked a lot more hours than what the town officially paid him.
Lucy was about a foot away from the entrance when the smell hit her again. Yuck! She breathed through her mouth and followed Max inside. She glanced around, but other than a thin layer of dust on the countertop, there was nothing in the room.
The carpeted floor showed a set of footprints. From the way the footprints seemed to sway and drag on the dust, the Chicken Man was already in some distress when he staggered toward the front door, probably hoping to get help.
Lucy and Max went into the back room, which could serve as an office space or storage area for the tenant. In one corner was a restroom with a toilet and a pedestal sink, both of which were clogged. Lucy shifted her gaze from the lumps in the putrid liquid. The smell probably came from there.
In the corner opposite to the restroom was a well-used sleeping bag and a half-eaten sandwich on plain white waxed paper and a fountain drink cup. The Chicken Man was in the middle of eating lunch. Too bad there were no business logos on the waxed paper or the cup.
Lucy breathed through her mouth. Didn’t the smell bother the Chicken Man?
Max glanced around, frowning. He pulled on a pair of plastic gloves and tried the small window. It didn’t budge. Next, he tried the back door. It was locked.
“Now how did he get in here?” Max mumbled to himself.
Lucy shrugged. Maybe the Chicken Man came in through the tunnel system underneath the building that connected to much of the town. But she wasn’t giving away a secret the founding families didn’t want the public to know.
Besides, there were no loose floorboards or holes on the ground. The only unit in the building with access to the tunnel system was the PI office. And she certainly didn’t want the police going through the rest of the premises.
“On the news, they once mentioned a man climbing into a vacant building through a grease trap,” Lucy said, trying to be helpful.
“There’s no kitchen here, so it wasn’t a former restaurant. I don’t think you’ll find a grease trap outside the building.”
“Let’s look out in the back. Maybe we’re missing something,” Lucy said, gesturing to the back door.
Max opened the door and held it open for her.
As Lucy stepped through, she glanced around, looking for any clue as to how the Chicken Man got into the building. She took a deep breath of the fresh clean air.
There was a parking spot for each of the units. In the far corner of the premises was a dumpster. Since only the tenants came out here, no one made any attempt to hide the dumpster behind a concrete wall or to fancy up the place. It was just a black top lot with a few stripes designating the parking spots, and a single bulb above each door on the wall of the building.
At the edge of the pavement, thick trees and underbrush rose in front of them. As a child, Lucy had spent many happy hours playing in the woods while her grandfather and mother worked at the PI office.
Max stepped out after her. “Look at those trees. A person could easily get lost in there.”
Lucy gave the sheriff a sideways glance. “Sometimes I forget that you’re a city boy.”
“You’re a city girl, too. What’s your point?”
“Touché,” Lucy said with a smile.
“Sorry. I’m just a bit on edge. We have a break-in and no idea how the suspect got inside the building. And to top it off, he passed out in the parking lot. This is just strange.”
“Strange things happen in the boonies,” Lucy said. “And don’t forget, this town has a history of pirates and smugglers, many of whom became the founding fathers.” She didn’t add that her family was one of them long before they crossed over to the other side of the law.
“And I’m too much of a city slicker to understand what’s going on here?” Max’s tone was half teasing, but his question was not.
Lucy shrugged. “I lived in the city for more than half of my life. I’m sure there are things here that I’m just not catching.”
She should tell the police chief about Damien searching the body, but the words just wouldn’t come out. She wanted to give the reporter a chance to explain his side of the story. After all, what kind of person would she be if she didn’t help a friend out?
“Is there something else? There’s this frown on your face like you’re trying to puzzle out something,” Max said.
“I was thinking about cleaning up the shop. When do you think I can call in a cleaning company?” Lucy said. She winced inwardly at the white lie. Max was her friend too, and she was hiding something that could potentially help him solve the break-in.
“Can you give me until tomorrow afternoon? I’ll take some fingerprints and photographs. If I don’t finish, I would like to come back tomorrow morning,” Max said.
Lucy nodded. “That sounds fine.” She left Max to do his work.
She strolled through the alley to the front of the building. When she got to the PI office, she glanced over at the newspaper office again. And like before, Damien was nowhere in sight, and there was a “Closed” sign on the door. His car was gone from the parking lot.
Stella glanced up when Lucy walked inside the office. “Did you guys find anything?”
Lucy shook her head. “There’s no sign of a break-in.”
“You don’t think it’s the tunnel sys—”
“Shhh! I don’t want to reveal the secret unless we have to.”
“If the Chicken Man has died, it would be good publicity for us to investigate his death.”
Lucy raised an eyebrow. “To advertise Faye Investigations?”
“We need to let the town know we’ve still got it even with Dahlia in the hospital.”
“I’m sure the Chicken Man prefers to live even if it’s an inconvenience to us.”
“Aren’t you curious about the possible link between the Chicken Man and Damien?”
Lucy was more than curious, but she didn’t want to admit it. “Not one bit.”
She would try to talk to Damien tomorrow, but if she didn’t hear from him by the end of the day, she would have to tell Max. Friendship or no friendship, it was the right thing to do.
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