Vanilla vices, p.1

Vanilla Vices, page 1

 part  #22 of  The Donut Mysteries Series


Vanilla Vices

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Vanilla Vices




  Donut Mystery #22 Vanilla Vices

  Copyright © 2015 by Jessica Beck All rights reserved.

  First Edition: December 2015

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Recipes included in this book are to be recreated at the reader’s own risk. The author is not responsible for any damage, medical or otherwise, created as a result of reproducing these recipes. It is the responsibility of the reader to ensure that none of the ingredients are detrimental to their health, and the author will not be held liable in any way for any problems that might arise from following the included recipes.

  The First Time Ever Published!

  The 22nd Donut Mystery.

  Jessica Beck is the New York Times Bestselling Author of the Donut Mysteries, the Classic Diner Mysteries, the Ghost Cat Cozy Mysteries, and the Cast Iron Cooking Mysteries.

  To those we’ve lost over the years,

  May they live forever in our hearts.

  When Crazy Dan, the junk man, is found murdered in his shop, Aunt Teeks, at first no one has any idea who might want to see the old man dead, but as Suzanne and Grace begin to dig into his life, they discover that there was much more to the man than they first thought, including several motives for murder.

  Chapter 1

  In my experience, when the phone rings after midnight, it’s rarely good news.

  At least the ringer didn’t disturb my rest. I was already awake, trying in vain to fall back asleep after waking up on a schedule that I wasn’t following at the moment. This was the first day we were testing out our new plan at Donut Hearts, the shop I owned and operated in April Springs, North Carolina. My assistant, Emma Blake, and her mother, Cheryl, always took over for me whenever I had to be out of town, but this was something new and different. I was giving up running my shop for two days a week in order to spend a little more time with my husband, Jake, who also happened to be the acting chief of police of our usually sleepy little town. So far, the new system had been less than a roaring success.

  Jake grumbled as he reached for his phone while I glanced at the clock I’d been staring at a few minutes earlier. It was three minutes past two, and on a normal day, I would have already been at the shop.

  “It’s for you,” I said, grinning, though he couldn’t see me that clearly in the dark.

  “Suzanne, why are you so wide awake?” he asked me sleepily as he squinted at his phone, trying to find the button that allowed him to answer.

  “I’ve been up for hours,” I said. “It doesn’t seem to matter that I’m not going into the shop; the habit of getting up in the middle of the night is ingrained in me.” The phone kept insisting that Jake answer it, but he hadn’t made any moves to see who was calling. “You should probably get that,” I added helpfully. “It must be important for someone to be calling you this late.”

  “Bishop,” my husband said after he finally found the button that he needed on his cell phone. “What?” All of a sudden, he was wide awake. “Where? Okay. I’ll see you in a few minutes.” After Jake finished up with the call, he got out of bed, stood, and then stretched. “Sorry about this, but I’ve got to go out.”

  “In the middle of the night? This is your day off. Besides, I thought your night crew could handle anything that came their way.”

  “They’re okay with noise complaints, traffic accidents, even domestic disputes, but not homicide, I’m afraid.”

  “Who was murdered?” I asked him, wondering which member of our town had been killed.

  “I can’t say,” he replied as he made his way to the shower. Our cottage had housed generations of my family, and I was happy to be sharing it now with my husband, though our hours didn’t exactly match up; thus the reason for my new schedule at work. I’d been looking forward to spending the day with him, but that was clearly not possible now.

  “Is it because you don’t know or that you shouldn’t tell me?” I asked as I followed him into the bathroom.

  Instead of answering my question, Jake said, “Suzanne, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, I’d love a cup of coffee, and maybe a piece of toast to go with it.”

  “I can do that,” I said. Jake wasn’t a big fan of being roused from a good night’s sleep, and I knew that until he got his first cup of coffee, my questions would all most likely go unanswered. I went into the kitchen and started the coffee pot while I made him toast and then scrambled a few eggs to sandwich between the slices for good measure. It wasn’t the best breakfast in the world, but at least I could feed him something. I enjoyed cooking for my new husband, and if that made me some kind of fifties throwback woman, then so be it. When I’d been married to my first husband, Max, he’d been lucky to get just the coffee, and if he’d wanted toast, then he’d have had to get it for himself, but for Jake, it was my pleasure. Part of that was because I knew that if our roles had been reversed, he’d be doing the exact same thing for me right now, though the toast would probably be burned and the eggs runny. I loved my husband dearly, but cooking was not one of his specialties. I didn’t mind. He more than made up for it in just about every other department.

  By the time Jake came into the kitchen, there was a hint of a smile on his face.

  “Is that grin for me, or is it for the coffee and breakfast?” I asked him.

  “Can’t it be both?” he asked before hugging me. After a quick kiss, he grabbed the thermos and the egg sandwich and kissed me again. “Don’t wait up for me. I might be a while.”

  “No worries,” I said. “Be safe, okay?”

  “Thanks for this,” he replied as he held up his breakfast. “Do you still want to know who was murdered, or will it keep you from going back to sleep?”

  “There’s no chance of that happening, so you might as well tell me, if you don’t mind.” In truth, I was dying to know, but I didn’t feel right about insisting on the information.

  “I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Crazy Dan the junk man is dead,” he said. “One of my people was out patrolling when they saw a light on in his shop after hours. When they investigated, someone ran away from the scene of the crime through the woods, and they lost him. That’s all I know right now.”

  For my entire life, I’d known the man in question as simply Crazy Dan the junk man, as though the names went together as naturally as peanut butter and jelly. He’d not only been a longtime customer of mine at the donut shop, but we’d struck up an odd friendship over the years. Dan had owned a junk shop named Aunt Teeks on the edge of town, buying and selling everything and anything he could scrounge up at the curbside set aside as trash, tossed away at the dump, or offered at one of the flea markets he attended religiously.

  “Who would want to kill Dan? He was a harmless old man,” I said softly.

  “That’s what I plan to find out,” he said. “I’m sorry for your loss. I know that he was a friend of yours, Suzanne.”

  “We didn’t exactly go to dinner or the movies together, but I always enjoyed his visits to Donut Hearts. The man loved vanilla in everything, from his coffee to his donuts. I even invented a vanilla bomb donut once in his honor that no one else would touch because it was so strong,
but Crazy Dan really loved it. I really have to stop calling him that. It sounds so disrespectful now that he’s gone.”

  Jake put his breakfast down on the kitchen table and hugged me again, stroking my back as he did so. “He was Crazy Dan the junk man to the entire town while he was alive, so you should keep calling him that now, if you want. He never minded the name, did he?”

  “Are you kidding? He loved it! He thought it made him sound quirky.”

  “It did at that,” Jake said. “Suzanne, I’m sorry, but I really do have to go.”

  “I understand. Thanks for telling me about him.”

  “Hey, there have to be a few perks to being married to the April Springs acting chief of police,” he said with the hint of a grin.

  After Jake was gone, I thought about going back to bed, but I knew that would be pointless. Another possibility was to go by Donut Hearts and see how the mother/daughter team was doing in my stead, but I knew instantly that was an equally bad idea. After all, I didn’t want to give Emma and Cheryl the impression that I didn’t trust them completely.

  It was chilly in the cottage, so I threw a few logs on the fire and curled up on the couch to watch the flames, with no real intention of falling back to sleep at all.

  The next thing I knew, sunlight was coming in through the front window, and when I glanced at the clock, I saw that it was nearly eight a.m. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do by myself with the day, since Jake’s time off had been cancelled by the murder, but I was sure that I’d figure something out.

  “I didn’t wake you, did I?” Grace Gauge, my best friend, asked as I answered her summons at the door a little later. She was dressed in a lovely suit, and her makeup was impeccable, which didn’t really surprise me, since she worked for a rather exclusive cosmetics company.

  “No, I’ve been up for a while,” I said.

  “Liar,” she said with a good-natured grin. “I woke you up, so don’t even try to deny it. I have to say, you’re taking this better than I thought you would.”

  “Just because I’m not crying doesn’t mean that I’m not upset,” I told her.

  Grace looked at me, clearly puzzled by my reaction. “Suzanne, I didn’t think you’d be that upset about not going in to Donut Hearts today. After all, you’ve missed workdays before.”

  I suddenly realized that we were talking about two different things. “You haven’t heard the news, have you?”

  “Did something happen? I haven’t spoken to a single soul this morning,” she replied. “What’s going on?”

  “Somebody murdered Crazy Dan the junk man early this morning,” I explained to her.

  “What? No. Why would someone do that?” Grace looked as surprised by the news as I’d been. If you’d asked me the day before, I would have said that he hadn’t had an enemy in the world, so why would anyone want to see him dead?

  “I don’t know, but it’s true. Jake is out at Aunt Teeks right now trying to figure out what happened to him.”

  “That’s terrible. You two were great pals, weren’t you?”

  Why did everyone assume that? Sure, Dan and I were friends, but he had to have had more acquaintances in town than just me. “You liked him too, didn’t you?”

  “Sure, but it’s no secret that he always had a sweet spot in his heart for you, Suzanne. I can’t believe someone would kill him. Did Jake say what happened to him?”

  “No, he got a call around two a.m., and I haven’t heard from him since.” I stared at the front door, wondering why he hadn’t checked in with me by now. He’d been gone for quite a while. What was going on?

  “Call him,” she urged me.

  “I can’t,” I said.

  “Use my cellphone, if your battery is dead again,” she said as she offered it to me.

  “I’m capable of doing it; I just know that I shouldn’t. He’ll let me know what’s going on as soon as he can,” I said.

  “Suit yourself,” she said. “I just thought you might like to start hunting for his killer right away. After all, we’ve been known to investigate a homicide or two in the past.”

  “Not this time. Jake is perfectly capable of figuring it out,” I said, supporting my husband. I had good reason to. He was an investigator of exceptional abilities, and I didn’t feel the need to crowd him every time someone I knew turned up dead.

  “I’m sure he is, but no matter how good he is, we know the people of April Springs better than he ever could. He married into our community; you and I were born into it.”

  “Don’t you have to go to work?” I asked as I eyed her outfit, trying to change the subject. “Please tell me you’re not dressed like that for your day off.”

  “No, I have a few meetings this morning, but I can be free by noon if you change your mind.”

  “Thanks for the offer, but let’s leave this one to Jake.”

  Grace stuck her tongue out at me and then grinned, quite the contrast from her genteel appearance. “I suppose I’ll just have to go to work then.”

  “Don’t take it so hard,” I said with a smile. “Why don’t we have lunch together after you’re finished?”

  “I thought you had plans with Jake for today.”

  “Plans change,” I said. “What happened to Dan is going to be his top priority. What do you say? Do you mind being my second choice?”

  “Mind? I’d think you were insane if I weren’t,” she said, grinning. “Lunch sounds great to me. See you then.”

  Grace hadn’t been gone more than ten minutes when my cellphone rang. I wondered if she’d forgotten something when I saw that my husband was calling.

  “Hey,” I said. “Did you have any luck?”

  “No,” he said. “Did you hear about it already?”

  “You’re not losing your mind, are you? You told me about Dan this morning, Jake.”

  “I’m talking about Linda Harold,” he said.

  “Who is Linda Harold? I thought Crazy Dan was the one who was murdered.” This conversation was getting more confusing by the second.

  “Sorry. Let me start over. From the look of things, Dan was slain during a botched robbery attempt at his shop. The same thing happened over in Copper Mill the night before last, and Union Square before that. Someone’s been targeting small businesses in the area that operate on the perimeter of their towns. Apparently they’ve been breaking in after hours to steal anything they can easily resell. I’m sure it was quite a shock to the thief finding Crazy Dan’s junk shop occupied. I’m pretty certain that the killer didn’t know that the owner slept upstairs. There was a bit of a struggle, and whoever killed him picked up an antique iron and hit him over the head with it. It had a price tag on it that matched everything else in the place, but it had been wiped free of fingerprints. The drawer to the cash register had been pried open with a crowbar and the largest bills were gone, but the pocket watches, rings, and some other jewelry weren’t touched. My first guess is that whoever killed him panicked and ran away after the confrontation. I don’t really have a say in the matter, though. The state police are getting involved, and I’ve been run off my own crime scene.”

  “You’re not going to let them bully you like that, are you?” Jake had been a top-notch investigator for the state police before he’d left them to spend more time with me, among other reasons, and his former boss hadn’t been too pleased with his decision.

  “I don’t have any choice. The other break-ins were outside my jurisdiction, so they have to be the ones to coordinate the investigation. I’m sorry, Suzanne, but it’s out of my hands.”

  “I understand,” I said.

  He paused before he spoke again. “Does that mean that you’re going to leave this case to the pros?”

  “Why would you think that?” I asked him. “As everyone keeps reminding me, Dan was my friend. I’m not going to let someone get away with killing him.”
  “You should know that there’s a new hotshot named Karina Black running things. She’s not going to be happy about you stomping around in the middle of her case.”

  “That’s her problem, not mine,” I said.

  “I can’t protect you from her. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”

  “I appreciate the warning,” I said. I’d deal with Inspector Karina Black when the time came, but for now, I had to get my husband’s mind off of the subject. “You mentioned a woman named Linda Harold,” I reminded him. “What’s her story?”

  “She’s eight months pregnant, and she’s missing,” he said gravely.

  “That’s terrible. What happened?”

  “That’s what everyone is trying to determine. Apparently she left the house in the middle of the night sometime around the time Dan’s body was found, and no one has seen her since. Her husband woke up this morning, and she was gone. There’s an APB out on her car, but it’s vanished off the face of the earth. Every available law enforcement officer within two hundred miles of Hudson Creek is out looking for her, and that includes all my available staff. I’m afraid that I’m going to have to join them, so that’s going to spoil our plans for today,” he said.

  “No worries. I’ll manage to find a way to occupy myself while you’re busy. I hope you find her, Jake.”

  “So do I,” he said. “Suzanne, please tell me you’re not going by Crazy Dan’s junk shop the second we hang up.”

  “I promise,” I said.

  “Hang on a second. For some reason, that was way too easy. Are you promising me not to go there at all, or just not this minute?”

  My husband knew me too well, and I wasn’t about to lie to him. “Jake, I won’t go straight there,” I said, “but I’m not going to let someone get away with murder.”

  “From what I’ve seen and heard, Karina Black is the real deal. Leave it to her. She’ll find the killer.”

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