An amateur sleuth, Sheridan Hendley jumps at the chance to work with the defense when a favorite waitress is arrested for the murder of her ex-husband. Determined to prove Zoe’s innocence Sheridan probes into the victim’s past and why he chose to return to Cold Creek 15 years after the divorce. Personalities clash and Zoe’s family closes ranks as Sheridan attempts to unlock the carefully kept secrets of the family that owns and operates the Grill. The closer she gets to finding the truth, the more her own life might be in danger – a situation that strains her increasingly serious relationship with Detective Brett McMann.
I turned the radio on in the empty house for noise when I walked in. As I rolled my suitcase into the living room, I caught the newscaster’s announcement. A murder at the Grill? I searched for my phone, confident my best friend and colleague, Kim, would tell me what happened. She answered her phone as if she’d been waiting for the call.
“Hi, Sheridan! When did you get back? Today? I wasn’t sure if you’d be back today or tomorrow. Has it been a week already? No doubt you had a great time in Williamsburg.” She rambled at her usual quick pace and didn’t sound concerned about a murder or anything else.
“I got home around ten minutes ago. We had a great time. Took a bunch of pics. I’ll tell you about the trip for sure. The morning newsman reported a murder at the Grill? What did I miss?”
“I didn’t hear they determined it was murder. That’s not good.” I sensed the confusion in her voice, no longer as upbeat, and imagined her brows knitted together.
She paused before continuing, “Marty and I were eating an early dinner there last night when it happened. A man keeled over and Zoe screamed. The place was packed. Even the tables outside were filled despite the heat. Everyone just froze for a few minutes. Hirsch came in and an ambulance took the man away. He was dead for sure.”
She took a breath and continued in a more conversational tone. “I have trouble calling Hirsch ‘Chief’, but he took control. Hirsch and Doc Wellburn told everyone to leave their food. Doc told us to write down what we’d ordered and eaten. He cautioned us to seek medical attention if we experienced a headache, nausea, or other intestinal problems. Doc and Hirsch were concerned about food poisoning. Murder?” She finally stopped long enough to take another breath.
“That’s what the KCCX newscaster said. Anything strike you as strange?”
“Other than I wasn’t able to eat my meal and Zoe was hysterical, not really. One minute the man was yelling something and Zoe scowled at him. The next, he’s on the ground, writhing, and then dead. When the paramedics expressed concern about food poisoning, everyone freaked out and grabbed their stomachs.”
“Any idea who the man was?” My curiosity peaked. In my case, curiosity was both a good and bad thing and always active.
“Not at first. He sat in the back corner. You know the table out of the way, near the kitchen and restrooms? Someone said he’d been at the Grill most of Zoe’s shift and gave her all sorts of grief. Then later I found out he was her ex-husband, Jebediah.”
“Oh, how awful. Sorry this happened to Zoe.”
“Sher, Zoe’s worried. She was afraid someone might think she was responsible for the food poisoning. She delivered the food and waited on him. And they had words and she’s the ex-wife. She was upset. Now with murder instead of food poisoning, she’s liable to be the prime suspect. She probably had a motive. I sure wanted to kill my ex a time or two.”
I shook my head. Kim might have wanted to but murder and her personality didn’t match. She paused, not her usual approach. With a more subdued tone, “I volunteered us. I told her we’d help her if she needed it.”
I chuckled to myself. Kim and I are on the faculty of the local private four-year college. We aren’t detectives, yet somehow we keep getting involved in murders or at least in solving them.
“Zoe’s always been good to us. She may not need our help after all. I guess there will be more on the news later. Aside from the excitement, how are you?”
“Good. But I want to know about your trip. How about lunch? I’m guessing the Grill is closed. Chinese?”
In a small town like Cold Creek, there’s not an abundance of restaurants unless you want to eat at the national fast food chains. The Grill was our “go to” place. With it closed, Chinese sounded good. Besides, I’d just gotten home the night before and there weren’t a lot of groceries in the house.
“Sounds like a plan. I have to go pick up Charlie. About noon?”
“See you at noon. I can’t wait to hear all about your trip.”
Kim hung up and I finished my breakfast. As I sipped my coffee in the quiet of the early morning, I reflected on the past week. I met Brett McMann last fall when a colleague was murdered. We’d been dating ever since. After several months, the time came for me to meet his teenage daughter. Acceptance by Madison was as critical to our relationship as meeting parents. We’d settled on Williamsburg as neutral ground with a variety of activities to keep a teen occupied.
The trip with Madison went very well, despite some awkwardness. How do you figure out sleeping arrangements when the two adults – Brett and I – aren’t married and you’re travelling with an impressionable 13 year old? The solution we came up with was that Madison and I shared a room, with Brett in the room next door. Not all bad. Madison and I had some time to get acquainted with each other. Brett and I managed some alone time after Madison went to sleep. I tingled as I recalled some of those alone times.
As I replayed other parts of the trip, I laughed to myself over the silly things we did and a few of Madison’s comments and questions. Although as a psychologist I have worked with teens, the dad’s girlfriend was a novel role for me. A nerve racking and scary role, in fact. Add in Brett’s naiveté about teenage girls and the trip was full of surprises as well as laughs.
Madison lacked the finesse of an older teen and often blurted out whatever came to mind. Brett and I were both a little surprised at the questions she asked or what she seemed to know and what she was trying to figure out. It would never have occurred to me to ask my mother when to wear lace undies, but maybe that was why she asked me.
I don’t recall suggesting my mother get lacy undies either. I hadn’t packed anything remotely sexy for that trip. Everything I’d brought or worn had a GP rating. Maybe even milder, if that was possible. My selection may have prompted the questions. Then there were the questions prompted by the television ads for Viagra. Brett turned several shades of red over that discussion. I still wasn’t sure if some of Madison’s questions weren’t intended to get that reaction.
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