Gin Mill Grill -
A Sandi Webster Mystery
Warm, sunny Sundays in the fall are the best time to relax and do what makes you happy. In my case, I’d gone to church in the morning, and I decided to do a little work in the backyard when I got home. My husband was in the house watching a football game, his idea of relaxation. Relaxation? I’d often heard him yell at the TV like the players could hear him and they’d be willing to take his advice (or abuse).
Our dogs had joined me in the yard. Clementine is a Chiwienie, half Chihuahua and half Dachshund. She was rescued from a puppy mill by billionaire Andrew Trapper. Long story, but he ended up sending her home with us. Unfortunately, she originally went from the puppy mill to a good but lonely home out in the middle of nowhere. Until now, she’d never done any socializing with other dogs.
Enter Bubba, my half wolf and half Golden retriever dog who’s about the size of a small bear. Clem took an immediate liking to him and has a doggie crush on him.
They’re a pretty unlikely pair of dogs considering how small Clem is, and they keep me laughing. We all need a little comedy relief from time to time.
The little one is a barker, although I don’t think she started out that way. She just wasn’t used to the sounds of kids playing, traffic and neighbors. She seemed to think she owned the world now that she had a permanent and happy home. Her most annoying habit is licking, and I didn’t know how to break that habit.
I did a lot of thinking about my business while I pruned bushes and raked leaves.
I’m Sandi Webster-Goldberg, and my husband is Pete. We own a detective agency, Webster and Goldberg. That’s exactly what I needed to talk to him about.
Clem started barking, and I snapped at her, and immediately felt guilty. “I’m sorry, baby. I’ve just got a lot on my mind,” I said, scratching her belly when she dropped and rolled over on her back.
I walked into the house just in time to hear Pete yelling, “…you lazy bum!” while he shook his fist at the television.
I hoped he could interrupt his viewing time to listen to me. I sighed.
“Pete, is arf actually a word?” I asked. Maybe I could distract him.
“I don’t know. Why would you ask me something like that?” He pushed the Mute button on the remote control, but didn’t take his eyes off the television.
“Because Clem’s been barking all day, and without thinking I just told her I didn’t want to hear another word out of her.”
“Seriously?” Pete started to laugh.
“I guess I was distracted. Sometimes she makes me feel like we have a naughty child in the house.”
“That little mutt has your number.” He turned the sound back on.
“We need to talk,” I said, picking up the remote and muting the sound again.
“Oh? What’s going on now?” He reluctantly dragged his gaze from the TV to me, which was easy since I was standing in front of it.
“It seems like we’ve had too many cases that don’t involve a paying client. We need to drum up some business before we go broke.”
“Sandi, sit down. You’re right. We need to talk.”
“Trapper ended up paying us for our help when he was kidnapped, and he paid a lot. Not a fortune,” Pete said, “but a lot. Plus we got Clem from him.”
“I know,” I said, “but that money isn’t going to last forever. We can’t keep handling cases pro bono. We’ve helped my mother – twice. I can’t charge my own mother. And don’t forget that time we got stranded in Wolf Creek. Who’d have thought we’d find a mystery in a deserted ghost town?”
“You’re right, sweetie,” Pete said. “We were involved in a cold case in Washington, too, and we were there for our honeymoon. No one paid us for that one, other than the fact that our room was free. It was our own doing. It seems we can’t keep our noses out of things when there’s a problem.”
“Word-of-mouth is the best advertising, but I think we need to do some formal advertising. Maybe I can get Stanley to build us a website, too.”
Stanley works for us. He’s a computer genius and he’s helped us out on many occasions, along with his wife, Felicity, who’s actually a model. Stanley was one of our first clients and became a good friend, and employee. After all, who’d rather write verses for greeting cards when he could work as a detective? He preferred what we offered him.
“You know,” I said, “even if we don’t get paid for a case, we have to pay Stanley when he’s in on the action.”
“Good point. Okay, let’s talk to him tomorrow and see, between us, what we can do to earn our keep.”
Pete picked up the remote and turned the sound back on, motioning for me to get out of his way.
I sighed, once again, and wandered outside to try to stop Clem’s barking.
~ * ~
The next morning we arrived at the office to find Stanley already there and working at his computer.
We don’t often bring the dogs with us to the office, but this time we’d decided Clementine needed more socializing.
“There’s our new little girl,” Stanley said, picking her up and petting her while she licked his hand and slobbered all over him.
I explained the situation to him. “So, what would you think about building us a website?” I asked.
He grinned and put Clem down. “I thought you’d never ask. And I can do some other things on the Internet, too. Don’t forget about social media. You need to start interacting with others.”
Stanley glanced past us, toward the front door of the office.
“In the meantime, we have a new client. I think that’s her walking in the door right now.”
I turned just in time to see a grey-haired woman pushing on the door and not having any luck opening it.
Pete rushed over and pulled it open. “Sorry,” he said. “It sticks sometimes. I’ve got to fix it.”
She nodded at him without responding. I guessed her to be around sixty to sixty-five, average in appearance and height, and she had the bushiest dark grey eyebrows I’d ever seen on a woman. I had a feeling she didn’t own tweezers. At least she had a pleasant face. If she did something about the eyebrows, she might be kind of attractive.
Stanley stood and walked toward her. “You must be Mrs. Nutcase,” he said.
I shook my head. I must have heard him wrong, and I was shocked.
“It’s Mrs. Eloise Neuchase,” she corrected.
It actually sounded a little like she said nutcase.
“I apologize, but I had a stroke about a year ago and it caused problems with my speech. Sometimes I don’t speak clearly. Other than that, I’m fully recovered.”
“I’m sorry for your health issues,” I said. “I’m Sandi Webster and these men are my husband, Pete,” I pointed at him, “and Stanley Hawks, one of our operatives.”
She shook each of our hands.
“How can we help you?” I asked, offering her a seat.
“You have a reputation for handling cold cases, and have I got a beauty for you.” She stopped and pulled a tissue out of her purse before dabbing at her lips.
Because of the way the lights shone on her face, I’d noticed that as she spoke she tended to spray a little spit.
She waved her hand at me. “Beg pardon. I’ve had a bit of an issue with spitting throughout my life, not due to the stroke, and it’s only when I talk too fast. Well, usually that’s the only time. It’s something I can’t help, especially when I’m nervous. And I’m nervous now.”
“Why are you nervous?” Pete asked. “We’re here to help you. Try to relax.”
“Easy for you to say.” She dabbed at her mouth again.
I could see that Clem the Licker was studying Mrs. Neuchase’s ankle. I picked her up.
Bubba sat down in front of the woman and grinned his very toothy grin. I was about to shoo him away, but Mrs. Neuchase said, “Oh, what a wonderful smile.”
Most people thought he was baring his teeth at them, and it frightened them. This woman was perceptive. Score one for her.
She glanced at Stanley.
“You’re the gentleman I spoke with on the phone, right? And you haven’t told them about my problem?”
“They only arrived shortly before you,” he explained. “I haven’t had a chance to tell them anything yet. And, honestly, Mrs. Neuchase, you didn’t give me many details on the telephone.”
“Please bear with me. It’s been a horrendous few months for me, and I tend to get rattled.” She took a deep breath. “My father passed away in June. We were very close, and I miss him terribly, God rest his soul. He was ninety-five.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said.
She shook her head, making me feel that she didn’t really want to talk about her father’s death. “Anyway, I finally forced myself to start going through his things. I discovered a box filled with notes. As I read through them, I realized that he’d tried to solve a family mystery many years ago, but either he finally lost interest or he didn’t want to deal with what he found out, or he didn’t find anything.
“It involved the murder of one of his cousins and the disappearance of the other one – Horace and Harley Glosser. They were twins, although not identical. Horace was the one who was killed, and Harley was the one who disappeared – without a trace.”
“When did this take place, Mrs. Neuchase?” Pete asked.
“Oh, it would have been around 1932 or 1933, and please call me Eloise.”
“Briefly, what else can you tell us?” I asked.
She looked into my eyes, as though watching to see what my reaction would be.
“I live in the house where Horace was murdered. My husband – God rest his soul, too – and I bought it from an elderly great aunt when we first got married. And, no, it doesn’t give me goosebumps to know I live in a house of murder.”
“If you’ve lived there that long, I wouldn’t think it bothered you.” After all, I lived in my great-great-great grandparents’ house, and they had a history, too.
We all have some kind of skeletons in our closets.
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