Chapter One


“My mother will be hearing from me. This was supposed to be a belated honeymoon, not a new case.”

“I’m sure you’ll tell her what you think, but she knows you, and she knows you can’t pass up an unsolved murder. Besides, it’s an old case, not a new one.” Pete laid his hand on my arm, and his face said he was resigned to whatever was coming our way.

I shrugged it off and gave him The Look. You know, the narrowed eyes that say watch yourself, buddy. I needed a little time to unwind and regroup.

Should honeymoon time really be used to solve a murder? A very cold case?

~ * ~

My name is Sandi Webster-Goldberg. I’m a private investigator, and Pete is my husband, partner and best friend. I still go by the name Webster, for business purposes, and maybe there’s a little laziness in my reasoning – too many places to change names. Speaking of which, Pete’s name might be Goldberg, but he’s one hundred percent Italian. That’s another story for another time.

Pete and I were married about a year ago, but we didn’t take a honeymoon. We had too many cases we wanted to clear up. Our hope was to take our honeymoon when things were quiet. Ha! When was my life ever quiet? Even after our wedding we ended up working on a case, as well as working on and readying my parents’ bed and breakfast for business.

My parents had given us a trip to the Mossy Glen Inn as an anniversary gift with dates that couldn’t be changed so we’d have to take a rest – or so I thought. Driving to Battle Ground, Washington, was relaxing until we neared Portland, Oregon, which was similar to driving in downtown Los Angeles traffic. We should have turned off on the  I-205 to avoid the heavy traffic. It was early afternoon, so maybe we’d at least beat the rush hour traffic. If that was the case, I’d hate to see the busy time of day. Oh well…

However, once we reached Highway 503, we were in awe of the beauty of the area. I’d forgotten what so many trees and so much green looked like.

Battle Ground is a quaint little town and I saw several shops I wanted to visit during our week-long stay. There’s an old church that has been turned into a coffee house – Old Town Battle Grounds Coffee & Deli. I wanted to stop in and find out some of its history. There are antique stores, a hobby shop and some interesting looking restaurants. For such a small town, we could find plenty to keep us busy.

After driving through town and turning off, we found our dream bed and breakfast on N.E. 10th Street, which would turn into Heissen Road. We almost missed it because it was off to the right nestled in a glen in the pines on the outskirts of town. Big trees. Old trees. Green trees. The sign indicating we’d reached the B&B was small and handmade.

Mrs. Helms was sitting in front of the vintage house on a wraparound porch when we arrived, apparently waiting for us. The sun hadn’t gone down yet, but the house was lit up like a Christmas tree. I think she’d turned on every light in the place.

She walked out to greet us after Pete parked the Jeep.

“Mr. and Mrs. Goldberg?” she asked.

I nodded. “What a beautiful house. I think we’re going to enjoy it here. We almost missed the turnoff because your sign is so small.”

She fanned her arm in front of herself, indicating the scenery. “I have a professional sign being delivered over the next couple of days. There’s plenty for you to do here. We have walking trails, and there’s a creek not too far away. There’s a lake down the road, too. There are bicycle lanes on the road, and if you like to shop, there are some interesting stores in town. After you’re settled, I’ll tell you about some of the historic sites in the area.”

Pete took in everything. “I see there aren’t any other cars here. Are we the first to arrive or are the others out sightseeing?”

Mrs. Helms dropped her head and then looked up again. “Hmm. Your mother didn’t tell you?”

“Tell us what?” My suspicious nature stepped forward.

“You’re here for the grand opening. I had this old house renovated recently. Thankfully, it was in pretty good condition. I didn’t need to have too much done. The other guests won’t be arriving until the weekend. Your mother has been so helpful that I told her you could come early.”

My suspicions took a small step forward.

“Mrs. Helms – ”

“Please, call me Bea. Everyone says I look a bit like Aunt Bea from The Andy Griffith Show. Maybe they’re right. At least I have the same name.”

I studied Mrs. Helms while we talked. She did resemble Frances Bavier, or Aunt Bea, a little, although she was younger. My guess would be that she was somewhere between fifty and fifty-five. She was a little over five feet tall, with a chunky build, and she had strawberry blonde hair, pulled up into a ponytail. Maybe she was going for the Aunt Bea look, but with the ponytail instead of hair piled on top of her head.

“In what way was my mother so helpful?” I asked.

“Let’s go into the house,” Bea said. “We’ll talk inside.”

Pete and I each picked up a suitcase, and Bea grabbed my smaller case with make-up, shampoo and the other essentials in it.

“I can see why you call this the Mossy Glen Inn.” Pete had stopped and was gazing around at the area. Several trees and large boulders were covered with green moss.

Bea smiled. “It fits, doesn’t it?” She sounded like she truly wanted his opinion.

“That it does.” He took the smaller case from Bea’s hand which left her free to lead us into the house unencumbered.

Once inside, she climbed a set of stairs, apparently expecting us to follow. She stopped outside of the first room before pushing the door open.

“This is your room.” There was a note of pride in her voice, along with a look of worry on her face.

Looking around, I could see where the pride came from. She’d done everything possible to make the room homey and comfortable. It was certainly countrified, with an antique four-poster bed with a beautiful quilt on it, and an old mismatched dresser. There was a vanity on one wall with a small desk on another. Everything screamed old, but it had all been well cared for by someone. The patina on the furniture was perfect, as were the paintings she’d hung on the walls.

“This is beautiful,” I said. “I think we’re really going to enjoy our stay here.”

She smiled again, but it was one of those quick smiles that you’d miss if you weren’t looking at her. “I’ll let you put your things away and meet you downstairs. Dinner will be served in about an hour.”

She backed out of the room, watching us as she went. She appeared nervous.

Something was in the air, and it probably wasn’t all good. I could feel it.

“I wonder how Bubba is doing.” While I hung up some shirts and laid some jeans in a drawer, I thought about home. It felt strange not to have Bubba following us around. He’d love it here.

“He’s fine with Dolly.” Pete hung up a shirt or two and stuffed everything else in a drawer. “I’m more concerned about how Stan is doing.”

Bubba is our huge half wolf/half Golden retriever dog, and Dolly is our elderly neighbor. They adore each other.

Stanley works for us. He’s a bit of a nerd, and he’s somewhat clumsy, and we love him. He makes a surprisingly good detective. He and his wife, Felicity, are our closest friends, and even shared a wedding with us.

“He can handle things while we’re gone. After all, we’ll only be away for a week.” Pete shoved his bag in a closet and turned to me. “Okay, you and I both know something is up. Let’s go downstairs and talk to Bea.” He chuckled. “She was practically wringing her hands before she left the room.”

“I noticed that, too.”

Before talking to her, we explored the upstairs a little. There was a nice-sized bathroom which had been updated, but with vintage reproductions. For instance, to flush the toilet, you had to pull a chain. The bathtub was one of the old claw-footed tubs, but I didn’t think that one was a reproduction. A shower curtain and faucet had been added for convenience. There was an old-fashioned sink with a mirror in an antique frame hung over it.

Downstairs, we found Bea sitting on the porch again. She’d brought out a tray with ice-filled glasses, a pitcher of iced tea and sugar. A small plate held wedges of lemon.

We sat down around a round table and she filled the glasses, gently pushing the sugar and lemon in our direction.

“Okay, Bea, out with it. There’s something going on here, right?” I put a little sugar in my drink, ignoring the lemon wedges.

“You like to get right to the point, don’t you?” She tightened her lips for a moment and then relaxed them before adding sugar to her own tea. “Your mother mentioned that trait.”

“I know my mother, and somehow I have a feeling she’s in on this. What’s going on?”

She looked up at the porch ceiling before turning to me.

“Your mother is my inspiration. Did you know that?”

“No.”

Pete sat quietly and drank his tea.

“I took a vacation to Arizona and stayed at your parents’ bed and breakfast. I enjoyed myself so much that your mother and I had some long talks about me opening my own B&B. She gave me some very useful advice.” She took a drink of her tea and set it down.

I noticed her hand was shaking.

“What else? There’s more, isn’t there?”

“Well, yes. She also told me about your adventures while you helped them clean up the house.” She cleared her throat nervously. “I’d already bought this house, and I didn’t want to keep working a regular job. I’m an accountant, you see. Anyway, we talked about me turning it into a place for people to get away from it all. There’s just one problem,” she added.

“It’s haunted?” Pete set his glass down and laughed.

“No, that’s not it exactly.” Bea leaned forward in her chair. “In a way, you’re not that far off though.”

Here it comes, I thought.

“There was a murder committed in this house, many, many years ago.”

Of course there was, and that was the crux of the matter.

I tried not to sigh, but I couldn’t help myself.

Bea gave me The Look.

Marja McGraw

Having a Great Crime –
Wish You Were Here

A Sandi Webster Mystery
by
Marja McGraw


 

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