End of the Lane

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A Dear Abby Cozy Mystery Book 1

 

Chapter One

 

 

“…If I had to do it over again, I would use a knife instead of the scissors. I now realize it would have been more dramatic but I got caught up in the spur of the moment and it was all I could think of grabbing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a violent person…” Abby’s voice rose above the latest news report announcing the discovery of yet another body. That made it two within the last three hours.

“Someone’s been busy.” She changed radio stations only to find more of the same.

 

… Police have yet to confirm the identity of the latest victim or make any comments about the similarities…

 

A serial killer on the loose? “So just be on the lookout for anyone acting suspiciously,” Abby said in a sing-song tone, now more than ever becoming aware of the isolated stretch of road she’d been traveling on.

Seeing a car approaching, she told herself to look the other way, but a mixture of instinct and curiosity took over. “Red pickup. Male driver wearing a blue baseball cap. Scruffy looking. Nothing but your average looking suspicious person.” She took note of the time for good measure and, brushing a hand across her face, decided she’d been on the road for too long. Worse, she’d been talking to herself for hours now.

Unclenching her jaw, she smiled at the crusty ball of fur she’d picked up a few miles back. The dog watched her in silence. “Don’t worry, I’ll get you back to your owner as soon as I figure out where to start looking.”

The last time she’d checked the road map she thought she’d seen signs of the end of her journey, but according to the GPS in her new secondhand car…

“Hang on. I think that’s a sign up ahead.” Abby leaned forward. “Yes. Welcome to Eden. Population 2,153. Soon to be 2,154. This is it. The end of the line for me. The town where no one knows my name. This is your fresh start, Abby Maguire. From here on end, everything will work out for you exactly as planned. With no surprises, thank you very much.” She’d had enough of those to last her a lifetime.

The pregnancy test kit… Not hers.

The sudden dip in her shared savings account. Not her doing.

The velvet case with a sparkling diamond ring. Not for her.

Shredding her ex’s favorite suit…

Abby grinned. She’d definitely had a hand in that.

Unfortunately, the run of bad luck hadn’t stopped with her private life. The newspaper she’d worked for in Seattle had been sold to the highest bidder leaving more than half the staff out of a job.

Again, not her doing.

“This, however, is entirely my doing.” Her bright idea. A complete sea change. And why not?

“A job is a job and countless newspaper moguls began their careers in a small town press.” Not that she had illusions of ever taking over the world.

While her sights had never been aimed very high, she’d always managed to work for major newspapers or magazines. Now… Abby decided there was something adventurous about doing the complete opposite to what she should be doing.

Abby spotted a building up ahead which turned out to be a derelict looking house. She glanced down at the dog. “Do you remember if that man at the last gas station we stopped at mentioned anything about an old house as a landmark? Yes? No?” He hadn’t said much. In fact, he’d been too engrossed with the news breaking over the airways to pay any attention to her.

Abby shivered. “One of my first jobs as a reporter involved covering a murder trial. I found the experience gruesome enough to put me off for life.” The stray huffed out a breath and rested his chin on his paws. “Back then, I’d been on a lucky streak and managed to make an effortless move to a lifestyle magazine to write about celebrity house makeovers.” She glanced down again. “What? Not impressed. This newspaper job I’ve lined up for myself won’t be glamorous, but I’m looking forward to a quiet break writing feature articles about the weekend’s bake sale and interviewing locals for the face of the town series.” Abby grinned. “I pitched the idea during my phone interview.” And it had sealed the deal for her.

“Hey… here we are. Blink and you miss it. So pay attention.” As her new stomping ground came into view, Abby slowed down, although a part of her urged her to put the pedal to the metal and keep going. “Oh, look. A café. That means coffee. No need to panic.” She smiled and immediately perked up.

The main street looked like any regular town with a variety of stores including a hardware store, a café and a couple of restaurants, a grocery store and, her destination, a pub.

She could not have missed it even if she’d tried. Painted fire engine red, it had what looked like a ship’s figurehead hanging next to the main entrance. The Gloriana had been the only place offering rooms. The alternative had been a bed and breakfast just outside of town, but that had been fully booked.

“First thing first. I’ll shake off my jetlag with a wander around the town and then…” She looked down at the stray dog curled up on the passenger seat. His large brown eyes peered up at her. “Okay. Slight revision to my plans. First thing on my to do list is to find the local vet and have you checked over. Who knows how long you’ve been wandering around lost?” She reached down and gave him a scratch behind the ear and was rewarded with a lick. “After that, I might as well present myself at my new job.” The Eden Rise Gazette. It had a nice ring to it. Like a burst of sunshine to cast away the gloom that had been hanging over her head these last few months.

Pulling up outside the pub, she gathered the stray in her arms, and stopped the first person walking by to ask for directions to the nearest vet’s clinic.

“… Across the street. Next to the Gazette…”

Perfect. “See Buddy, things are falling into place for us.” The stray answered with a slight quiver. “We’ll get you sorted out in no time.”

Seeing the Eden Rise Gazette, she slowed down. It looked like a regular store with large windows facing the street. As she strode past it, Abby glanced inside. Wood paneled walls were covered with framed news articles. A young woman sat behind a desk talking with a man in a dark gray suit. Their eyes connected briefly. The woman smiled, but it looked distracted.

When they came up to the clinic, the stray gave a little whimper as if sensing they’d arrived at a place he didn’t much care for. Inside, an elderly woman was being reunited with her cat, Smidgen, and a young man sat in a corner, his dog curled up between his feet.

“Hello, what have we got here?” The receptionist came around the desk.

Abby tucked a loose tendril behind her ear, a habit she’d often tried and failed to break. “I found this little guy by the side of the road. He looked exhausted. I’m guessing he’s a long way from home and hasn’t had any food in a while.” Feeling a slight twinge of reluctance, Abby handed him over. “I’ve been calling him Buddy.”

“If he belongs to a local he’ll have an ID chip. Hang around a sec, I’ll take him through and I’ll come back and get some details from you.”

A few minutes later the girl reappeared. “Pete Cummings, that’s the vet, had a quick look. No broken bones. No signs of external injuries, but he looks dehydrated. He wants to keep him overnight. We’ll clean him up for you.” The girl smiled at her. “I haven’t seen you around here before. Are you passing through?”

“I’m actually new in town. I’m Abby Maguire. I’ll be working at the Eden Rise Gazette next door.”

The girl introduced herself as Katherine. Her short crop of hair mirrored Abby’s, right down to the same shade of chocolate brown. “Do you want us to contact you about him?”

“Yes, please.” She wrote down her cell phone number and left thinking it would be nice to see what Buddy looked like underneath the layers of crusty mud.

Outside, she took a moment to gather her thoughts. Her body and mind remained on a different time zone 8300 plus miles away. Less than a day ago she’d been sipping a coffee in Seattle. Now… she looked around the small alpine town of Eden and thought about the research she’d done online.

The highest mountains in the state were found here boasting stunningly beautiful views with dramatic mountain landscapes, wild rivers…

Fantastic if you liked the great outdoors.

She’d arrived in mid-season. In a few weeks, winter would settle in and the local ski resorts would start their roaring trade. Of all the places she could have landed in Australia, land of beaches and sparkling sunshine…

Abby smiled to herself. If she wanted beaches, she could have them by hopping in her car and driving for three hours. Right now, this was it. Home away from home. With a slight time difference and, so far, no rain…

If she checked in at the pub now, she’d collapse and sleep until who knew when. Deciding to keep herself awake until a more reasonable hour, she went into the newspaper office.

The young woman she’d seen talking to the man in a suit was now on the phone. She looked slightly flustered, her eyebrows drawn down, her lips pressed tightly together. Seeing Abby, she disconnected the call.

Abby hoped she hadn’t arrived at a bad time. Smiling, she introduced herself.

“We’ve been expecting you. I’m Faith O’Keefe. Dermot left instructions to send you straight to his place when you arrived. He’s been working on his memoir and doing research at home.”

Dermot Cavendish, the owner of the newspaper, had given her the job a day after she’d applied for it, while the one hundred and twenty seven other job applications she’d sent out to various other newspapers, including her home town one in Iowa, remained unanswered.

“Does he live nearby?”

“You can walk to his place in under five minutes. I’ll draw you a map. If you like I can give you a tour of the office first. Although there’s really not much to it. In fact, this is it.”

Filing cabinets lined one entire wall. A large desk, probably antique or at least as old as the building, sat at one end, while a large table, another antique, by the looks of it, with newspapers and magazines stacked in neat piles, occupied most of the remaining space.

“The printing room is at the rear. The weekly issue comes out on Fridays…”

That gave Abby a few days to get settled. She looked around the quaint looking space with its storefront facing the street.

For years, she’d worked in a high-rise building. Being eyelevel with the pavement would be a welcome change.

“There’s a lot of foot traffic and we get people dropping in all the time.”

And waving as they walked by, Abby noticed.

“Dermot mentioned you’ve worked in a large newspaper. The slower pace will probably take some getting used to. I hope it doesn’t put you off. He’s been thinking about retiring for a long while now. I think having you here is his way of easing back and slowing down.” Faith got busy writing down the directions for her. “Here you go. It’s straightforward. You can’t miss it, just think of Edgar Allan Poe.”

As she strode along the street, Abby wondered how much of today she’d remember. She’d barely slept a wink during her twenty odd hour flight and wouldn’t be surprised if she woke up the next day in a daze.

“And in desperate need of a coffee.” She sent a silent prayer to the Gods of Caffeine. If the local café couldn’t provide her with a decent cup, and by that she meant something that conformed to the standard she’d become accustomed to, she’d have to rethink this entire adventure. She didn’t ask for much, but there were some essentials in life she couldn’t do without.

Checking the map Faith had given her, she counted three turns. She’d drawn an open book in one corner to signal the first turn.

“Paige’s Bookstore.” Abby stopped for a moment to look at the window display. Her attention bounced between a book that caught her interest and the reflection on the window of people striding by.

Abby nearly caved in to the temptation to double back and find a café, take time out and refuel before meeting her future boss. Instead, she forged ahead.

As she stepped away from the bookstore she collided with a woman hurrying by, her shoulder connecting with hers.

“Sorry,” she offered.

The woman grunted something incoherent and straightening her pale blue jacket, she hurried off.

Quaint Victorian houses were lined up one next to the other along Edgar Street. Abby turned into Allan Street and decided this had to be the older part of town with cobbled streets and…

“A strange sense of humor. Take a right into Poe Lane and keep going until you reach the end of the lane.” Faith had been right. Just think of Edgar Allan Poe. Ironically, she saw a raven swoop down and fly off.

Abby wished she’d taken a moment to run a comb through her hair. She’d spent most of the drive here raking her fingers through it, worrying and wondering if she’d made the right decision. The contract had been signed, so she’d already made the commitment to spend the next twelve months here, far away from everything and everyone she knew.

Reaching the house, she was about to knock on the front door but hesitated when she saw it was partly open. Abby looked around her but didn’t see anyone on the street and there weren’t any signs of activity such as gardening tools lying around in the postage stamp sized garden. “Maybe Dermot Cavendish stepped out for a moment and the wind blew the door open,” she said under her breath.

Except… there wasn’t a lick of wind.

“Hello,” she called out. The windows were open and she could hear a light piano tune playing in the background. It sounded familiar but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Giving the door a slight nudge, she called out again.

The tune ended. Abby listened to the silence. She took the opportunity to knock on the door again. “Hello, Mr. Cavendish. It’s Abby Maguire. We spoke on the phone a few days ago. I’m the new reporter at the Eden Rise Gazette.” She didn’t know why she’d thought to tag that last bit on. Dermot Cavendish was well into his eighties, but the man she’d spoken with had been sharp witted and eloquent.

Abby looked at the neighboring houses and wondered if he’d stepped out to visit a neighbor.

If she’d been watching a movie, Abby would have screamed at the screen. “Whatever you do. Don’t go in.” Because the moment she did, Dermot Cavendish was bound to appear and probably think she’d been snooping around. Or worse. What if she caught him by surprise and gave him a heart attack?

Abby’s toes curled inside her boots.

One quick peek inside won’t hurt.

“He might be sharp witted but he is eighty plus,” she reasoned. What if he’d fallen?

Scooping in a big breath for fortitude, she eased the door open. “I’m coming in, Mr. Cavendish,” she called out. Another thought struck. What if he’d slipped and fallen in the shower? That would make an awkward first encounter and set them off on the wrong foot.

She took a couple of tentative steps inside and sent her gaze skating along the bookcases lining the narrow hallway. To her right, a set of double glass doors opened to a sitting room. As she strode in, a floorboard creaked beneath her feet. In that split second, she looked down only to whip her gaze back up.

“This does not look good,” she whispered. Her heart gave a hard thump followed by an urgent hammering against her chest.

Dermot Cavendish sat on an upholstered armchair, his head tilted to the side, his mouth gaping open. She knew it was Dermot because she’d seen photos of him when she’d researched the job. Abby settled her gaze on his chest and held it there for several seconds waiting to see it rise.

It didn’t.

“This doesn’t look good at all.” Her voice shook, right along with her fingers. She drew out her cell and dialed 911 only to remember she wasn’t back home. “Think. Think.” She’d skimmed through some basic information during her flight. Contrary to popular belief, kangaroos did not roam freely through the streets. Also, cars were driven on the left hand side and the steering wheels were on the right hand side. The country played host to the deadliest critters around. Spiders. Snakes. Even octopuses with pretty yet deadly blue rings.

Among all that information, there had been a list of emergency services.

Her gaze bounced between her cell phone and Dermot Cavendish. She still couldn’t see his chest moving. But she had to be sure. Even as she did a quick search for the local emergency number, she pressed her fingers against his neck.

She stood there gazing at his vacant eyes then stepped back and dialed 000.

The sound of a distant voice pulled her out of her stupor.

The operator asked which emergency service she required. A simple enough question. For someone who made a living out of playing with words she suddenly struggled to think of anything appropriate to say. “I think he’s dead. In fact, I’m sure he is.”

Abby took a few stumbling steps back until she came up against a wall. She looked around the room as if searching for something. Although what, she had no idea.

Her new employer… dead.

 

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Copyright ©2018 Sonia Parin/All Rights Reserved

 

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