Dead In Bed
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by Edna Curry
Description: Dead in Bed is a cozy mystery story, also set in the St. Croix river valley, but in the present day. Lacey, the PI featured in "Dead Man's Image" is back. She gets into all kinds of interesting situations as she tries to prove her client innocent of murdering his wife. Lacey is struggling to make a go of her business. Most of her clients want her to find proof of their spouses' infidelity. Now she's asked to solve a murder case that turns out to be very dangerous. Will this case help her save her business or cost her life?
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: June 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [283 KB]
Reading time: 182-254 min.
5 Stars! "As a cozy mystery reader, this is the first of Ms. Curry's books I have read. I had fun trying to figure out just who killed Clara, and as usual, I had the wrong person. I really connected with Lacey. She is the type of carefree, no-matter-what kind of girl, always in jeans and a sweatshirt; a dress is just not in her picture. I like that she did not let the sheriff intimidate her, and she had a way of getting an answer from people when they least expected it...although at times, she let it slip what she was working on. She reminded me of a female Colombo. The book is cleanly written, with just a quick hint at a sexual situation but great for an afternoon cozy read." Reviewed by Lynn F. for Readers Favorite
"Why do you put up with it? You know Sam's cheating on you."
"Yes, Mama, I know."
Clara's gut clenched with the familiar pain of Sam's betrayal. He'd been spoiled as a child and was accustomed to having everything his heart desired. Now, as an adult, he couldn't seem to break the habit.
"Let's not talk about it again, okay?" Clara pleaded.
Helen's wrinkled lips pursed tightly.
"If that's what you want, dear. I just want what's best for you."
"I know, Mama." Clara reached across her kitchen table, giving her mother's hand a loving pat. "Want more coffee?"
"No, we'd better go to our meeting. The other committee members promised to be there promptly this morning."
I sat at my office desk adding up a stack of bills. My stomach clenched as I punched the numbers in again. No matter how I manipulated the totals, the bottom line came out on the minus side of the ledger. I needed another client soon or my private investigating business was in big trouble.
I arched my back, stretching my stiff shoulders, then rose, heading for the sideboard for a cup of coffee from the pot I kept going all day. As I took a sip, I walked to my window, gazing at the blue Minnesota Lake lined with evergreens. A gentle breeze dappled the dark surface of the water as sunlight shimmered off it. Closer to my window, fallen yellow leaves from a nearby maple tree covered the hillside. My small fishing boat gently bounced on the waves, making me yearn for time to fish for some sunfish or walleyes.
The sound of tires on the crushed rock of my driveway alerted me to a visitor. Since my business was open to the public, I didn't lock my office door. Whoever it was would let themselves in.
The front door to my house flew open, slamming hard against the wall. I sucked in a quick breath, then spun around toward the violent sound, spilling some of my coffee. "What in the world?"
Scamp, my golden-lab mix, rose from the rug beside me, barking a warning, the fur on the back of her neck standing up straight.
My pulse jumped as I looked up the stairs. A scowling, dark-haired man stepped onto the landing. He was neatly dressed in a dark business suit. He strode down the steps toward me.
I drew in a sharp breath, then instinctively stepped forward, on my guard against trouble, keeping the desk between me and the tall newcomer. I'd had to defend myself a couple of times in the past and the memory wasn't pleasant. Better to be safe than sorry.
My Smith and Wesson lay inside the top desk drawer. As I tried to control my erratic breathing, I inched closer, setting down my coffee, then dropping one hand. I eased the drawer open, ready to grab the weapon if the need arose. My mind quickly ran over my current cases. Had I pissed anyone off lately?
I eyed the man. On closer inspection, he looked troubled behind that scowl. Did the scowl mean he was worried or angry? Or afraid? Of what? His eyes were red-rimmed like he'd been crying.
My pulse pounded. I swallowed to ease my dry throat, finally finding my voice. It trembled slightly.
"Quiet, Scamp. May I help you?"
"You're Lacey Summers? Landers' lady PI?"
His forehead smoothed but his voice came out in a croak. He ignored the dog, then cleared his throat. He stopped on the other side of my desk, swiping his gaze over me speculatively.
He appeared calmer now, so I relaxed at the question. A potential client? Everyone in this little Minnesota tourist town called me the Lady PI. It's not exactly a derogatory term. Most of them respect me now that I've been in business for a while, although some still resented me doing what they consider a "man's" job, especially the part about carrying a gun. Not that I carry it all the time.
"Yes, I'm the Private Investigator."
"I need to hire you."
Now his voice had determination in it as well as fear and nervousness.
"Oh?" I let out the breath I'd been holding, then waved a hand at the chair on the other side of my desk. "Sit down and tell me about your problem."
I dropped into my own chair with a sigh of relief as he finally sat. He was less intimidating at eye level.
Scamp uttered a plaintive woof, then settled back onto the rug beside me, watching him.
The man perched on the edge of the chair. I watched him expectantly from across my desk. He had a long, thin face, not as handsome up close as I'd first thought. More rugged than handsome. In fact, now that I'd calmed down a bit, I realized I'd seen him before, though I couldn't quite remember where.
The man just sat there.
"First, I'd better explain my rates, in case they're not acceptable to you."
He shook his head as I rattled them off. "It doesn't matter. Whatever they are, I'll pay them."
I lifted a hand, rubbing my jaw as he pulled out a checkbook, then wrote a check for my retainer. Apparently, money was no object. Good to know.
Still, I felt hesitant, though I wasn't sure why.
"First, tell me what you need me to do. Then I'll decide if I think I can help."
The man lifted a sad gaze to me.
"Sheriff Ben thinks I killed my wife. I didn't do it, but he's not looking for any other suspects, so I'm in big trouble. I need you to find out who really killed her."
My office chair squeaked as I shifted uneasily, my stomach muscles tightening in warning. I usually stay away from murder cases. They stir up way too many emotions in me after having to investigate my Uncle Henry's death.
"I see. And your name is?"
Oh, oh. Owner of Carter Manufacturing, in Canton. Now I remembered where I'd seen him. At last year's Chamber of Commerce Christmas party. Landers and Canton's Chambers had combined for a joint party.
My teeth clenched as I realized this was about the woman found dead in bed this morning, Clara Carter, one of Canton's society women.
I really needed the work, so I nodded, taking the check and tucking it into the desk drawer beside my unneeded gun. I hoped I could I help him so I could cash it with a clear conscience.
"Mr. Carter, I can't guarantee anything. The most I can promise is to do my best to find the truth," I explained.
"Call me Sam. Yes, of course, I know you can't guarantee to prove my innocence. However, I have to try. I need help."
Sam's mouth twisted. For a moment, I thought he might cry. I'm not good at dealing with other people's emotions. Or my own.
I needed a distraction. "How about some coffee?"
I took my mug with me as I got up, pulling another cup and saucer from the little cupboard on the wall, thinking a business owner rated a fancier cup than my everyday mug. I poured us each some, then carried it back to my desk, putting his down in front of him.
"Thanks," he said, picking up the cup and saucer and taking a swallow.
I sipped my coffee, pleased he appeared more in control.
"Sam, let me say, if you think Sheriff Ben considers you the prime suspect in your wife's death, maybe you're in the wrong office. You need a criminal attorney."
He shifted in his chair, crossing his legs, then uncrossing them again.
"Yeah, I suppose. I will hire one if he arrests me, but I need to know what really happened, so I need you, too."
"All right," I said. "Let's start with the details. Give me your full name and address, then tell me exactly what happened."
I pulled a fresh steno pad toward me, writing Clara's death and the date, November tenth, on the first page. I'd rather put all of the info into a file on my computer; however I've found looking around a monitor as I'm typing inhibits clients from talking freely. So, I took the extra step of handwriting my notes, then typing them in later, which had the advantage of making me take a second look at all the info the client had given me.
I took a small tape recorder from my desk drawer, laying it between us.
"Do you mind if I record this? Sometimes, listening to a conversation again later helps me catch something I missed the first time."
He shook his head.
I punched record on the machine, then looked encouragingly at him.
Sam drank some more coffee, swallowing audibly.
"My name is Sam B. Carter. I live at 260 State Street, Canton, MN. When my mother-in-law came over to our house this morning, she found Clara, my wife, dead. I was at work, but Sheriff Ben seems to think I killed her."
"I'm sorry. Your wife's name is Clara Carter and she died of carbon monoxide poisoning?" I asked, writing down the info.
"Yes." Sam eyed me sharply. "You've already heard, then?"
I nodded sympathetically. "Yes, I heard about it at the Flame this morning."
"Naturally, the gossips at the coffee shop would have the story already."
Sam's voice was bitter.
I lifted a shoulder. Honestly, didn't he know better than to question such a thing? Then I remembered Sam had been raised in the city; maybe he didn't really know how a grapevine worked.
"Landers is a small town, Mr. Carter. Canton's only a few miles away, and lots of Lander's folks work for you, so people are naturally interested in whatever happens there. And you and Clara are prominent members of the local business society."
He shot me a disbelieving look.
"Clara was, you mean. I'm only the factory manager. She was the boss and the one who went to all of the meetings, did all of the charity work and had the local family connections."
I didn't want to argue the point. It had nothing to do with the current problem anyway.
"I heard the coffee shop version. Why don't you tell me your side of the story?"
"Why not? I've told it to Sheriff Ben and his deputies a half a dozen times already."
I smiled at him in what I hoped was an encouraging way.
"Can you start at the beginning?"
"I got up and got ready for work around six as usual this morning. I had some cereal and coffee while I read the paper. Like I always start my day."
He glanced at me as if he thought I should object to his little routine.
I nodded, playing with the pen in my hand.
"Clara was still asleep. She sets up the coffee maker the night before as she rarely gets up with me in the morning. I kissed her goodbye before I left at a quarter to seven. I swear she was fine then. She was warm and breathing, I'm sure."
"And then?" I prompted.
"My car has been having brake problems, so the mechanic was supposed to pick it up later today. Clara told me last night she was going to a meeting today with her mother and could ride with her, so she didn't mind if I used her car while mine was in the shop. I couldn't find my ring of keys, so I picked up her set off of the dresser. We both have keys to both cars."
He glanced at me. I met his gaze, puzzled. Did he think I should think it odd that they both had keys to their cars? Didn't most couples? I nodded, motioning for him to continue.
"Then I drove to work and started my day at the office as usual."
"Did anyone see you leave your house this morning? Did you see any of your neighbors outside, or wave to anyone?"
"I didn't see anyone, and I don't know if anyone saw me. Agnes Melonn, next door, watches everybody in the neighborhood, so she probably did. She's a real busybody."
"Yes, I'm quite familiar with the type."
I mentally put her on my list of people to interview.
Sam drank the last of his coffee, then set the cup back into its saucer. He tipped the cup a bit, jiggling it back and forth in the saucer. He was staring into space, so I was sure he didn't even realize he was making the repetitive motion.
I reached out a hand, stopping the grating sound.
"May I take your cup, or would you like more coffee?"
With a start, he stopped the motion, handing the cup to me.
"No more, thanks."
I took our dishes to the sideboard, then returned to my desk.
"Was anyone at your factory when you arrived?"
"Sure. My assistant and some of the other employees were at the factory when I got there. They saw me. That's all I knew until Sheriff Ben called me home, saying my car was running inside the closed garage and Clara was dead because of it."
His voice broke over the last couple of words. He dug out a wrinkled handkerchief, then blew his nose. I could see a blue embroidered C monogram on one corner of the expensive white cotton. It fit with the gold Rolex watch on his arm and the expensive leather shoes he wore, though he slouched in his chair as though he didn't care about his appearance at the moment.
"I'm sorry. That must have been quite a shock to you."
He appeared to be in shock.
Sam nodded and sniffed. He shifted uneasily in his chair, blowing his nose again, then shoving the wadded up handkerchief back into his pocket.
"Good thing Ben sent a deputy to pick me up at work and drive me home. I probably wouldn't have made it in one piece if I'd had to drive myself."
"You said Clara's mother found her?"
"Clara was still in bed, then?"
"Yeah. Clara's mother, Helen Henderson, comes over for coffee lots of mornings. They like to talk and plan committee stuff they work on together."
"Sure. But if Clara was still in bed, wouldn't the door be locked? You locked it behind you when you left, didn't you?"
He frowned. "I'm sure it was. We always lock it at night and nobody else had left. I went out through the garage, so I didn't unlock it."
I lifted my left hand to my mouth, working the skin on the knuckle of my forefinger between my teeth as I tried to picture that scene.
"Then how did Helen get in?"
Sam gave me a crooked "you know how it is" smile.
"She has a key, of course. I didn't think she should have one, but she's a controlling mother and Clara always gave in to whatever she wanted."
"Ah," I said.
Was Helen that kind of mother? If so, did Sam resent it? He sounded like he did, most men would. What man would like having a mother-in-law able to walk in anytime she wanted to? I tried to imagine Nora, my fiance Paul's mother, having a key to my house--I shuddered. Even though I really liked Nora, I wouldn't want to take the chance of her walking in while we were making love. Why had Clara allowed it?
"Just so I understand the situation here, Sam, both cars were parked in the locked garage overnight?"
"Yes. Our house has two floors with the double garage, recreation room and laundry on the first floor and the main living area of the house on the second floor. I swear my car wasn't running when I left."
"It seems likely you'd have noticed."
His face lit up earnestly.
"That's just it. In a closed garage, a running motor echoes quite a bit. I know I would have heard it, and I didn't, so I'm sure it wasn't running. Besides, I'd have smelled the exhaust, too."
"Okay." I nodded in agreement, so he'd continue.
"I used the button by the garage door to open the door behind her car, backed out, then closed it from the remote on the visor inside the car before I drove away. I know I glanced back to make sure it had closed--I always do that."
"So the garage would have been locked again after you left? No one could get into the garage without a key?"
Sam looked startled. I was sure he hadn't thought of that before now. His brow furrowed, as he seemed to be trying to figure it out.
"No, no one could get in. When the door closes, it automatically locks. You need to have a remote opener or a key, or be inside the garage to open it with the electric button on the wall."
"So you're saying that someone had to have come into the garage to start your car after you'd left, right?"
He rubbed his lip with two long fingers. I couldn't help noticing he had a professional manicure. I noticed because I dearly loved getting them myself and could seldom afford it. He also wore a wide, gold wedding ring. It looked expensive.
"I don't see how else it could have happened, Ms. Summers."
"Who else has keys to your car?"
"Nobody, but me and Clara, but I couldn't find mine this morning. I must have lost them."
He'd lost his keys? What a coincidence. My stomach knotted. Was he pulling my leg claiming to be innocent? Was this a convenient ruse?
"When did you last have them?"
He got up, pacing, then stopped at the window to stare at the lake, his brow dipping in concentration.
"I drove home yesterday afternoon, so I had to have had them then. I must have laid them down somewhere in the house."
I rolled my office chair around to watch him.
"But if they were in your house, someone would have to have been in your house to find them?"
"Oh, yeah. I suppose." He turned back to me, a puzzled expression on his face. "Then how could someone else have them?"
"That's what we need to figure out. Did you have any visitors since you came home last night?"
"No. Oh wait, yes. Clara's mother and brother, John, stopped by for a little while right after supper. Helen dropped off some addresses for some church project she and Clara are--were going to work on together. Clara and I spent the rest of the evening alone. We watched TV awhile, then she went to bed early, saying she felt a migraine coming on."
"Does she take medication for migraines?"
He came back and sat in the chair across from my desk again.
"Yeah, she has some pills. They usually help, but make her sleepy. She took one, then said she was tired and going to bed. That was our last evening together."
He bent his head, his hands between his knees as he drew in a deep breath, appearing to fight tears again.
I waited a moment for him to regain control. "Clara worked at the factory, too?"
"Yes. But she only came in for a few hours each day. She liked to oversee things, especially the personnel. Like, keep her hand in. She'd walk through the factory, talking to everyone, keeping up with their lives, being friendly. She liked to know who was working there and how they were doing. I do most of the day to day management stuff."
He looked directly at me, then leaned forward, his hands between his knees, his gaze down at his shoes. A confused expression crossed his face as he muttered to himself, "Why would someone do this? My Clara is gone. What am I going to do without her?"
I gave him a moment to recover his composure.
"Who would want Clara dead, Sam?" I asked bluntly.
His head popped up, his voice holding an indignant squawk.
"You don't have any enemies?"
His lips pushed out in a tight circle.
"Well, Clara's had to fire a few people over the years, so not everybody loves us, of course. That's the problem with being the owner of a business. Nothing's ever perfect. But no one would kill her over losing their job. Our jobs aren't that highly sought after. They're just factory work, for cripe's sakes! Most positions don't even need special training, just the on-the-job training we do ourselves."
He stared at his shoes again, his thoughts far away.
I decided I had gotten all I could for now. I switched off the recorder, stood, then held out my hand to him.
"I'll do what I can, Sam."
"Eh? Oh, yeah. Thanks."
He rose, then shook my hand.
"Can I get a list of people you've had to fire in the last year or so? Just to check them out."
"Oh, sure. Sandra, my assistant, can give you those. Here's the office number. Call her." He pulled a business card from his pocket, then handed it to me. "Just find out who did this."
"I'll try. Keep in touch. I'll walk you out," I said, leading the way up the stairs to the front door.
He got into a silver Mercedes that I assumed was Clara's car, since he'd said he was driving it.
Out of habit, I memorized the license number, then watched him drive off down the graveled lane. A leaden weight settled in my midsection.
I'd gotten involved in another murder case. Sheriff Ben would be furious with me. Had I just made a big mistake? I turned to gaze down the hill toward the lake.
My office is on the lower floor of my house, which sits just yards away from the water. It's built into the hillside, so the level my office is on is underground, under half of the house, but not on this end where the hillside dropped toward the beach. I loved being able to stand at the window in my office, watching the waves on the lake, people fishing and waterskiing in summer.
Evergreens lining the banks hid the numerous other well-maintained homes circling the lake. Most of their owners were rich bugs living in the Twin Cities. They only came out to the lake on weekends through the summer and some didn't even come at all during the winter. I liked it quiet and peaceful. I'd inherited the house from my Uncle Henry who'd had an antique store in Landers for many years. I'd loved the crotchety old man and had lived with him off and on after my mother, Kate, had married a rich jerk I couldn't stand. Kate and Carl had moved to Florida. I'd stayed with Uncle Henry on weekends and vacations throughout my college years and while I'd first worked for a PI firm in Minneapolis.
Then, Uncle Henry was murdered. Solving that case had gotten me started doing investigations on my own. He'd left me his antique store; the money from selling it had paid off all my college loans, helping me start up my business and buy the little red Chevrolet I drove. At first, people had been wary of trusting a woman PI with their personal problems, but now, they were beginning to accept me. I'd invested everything I had into this business. I had to make a go of it.
I watched the waves lap at the shoreline, wondering how much of what Sam had said was true. Many clients lie to me for one reason or another. It was time to start checking everything out. However, a little scuttlebutt from the local gossip mavens would give me leads on where to look for answers.
I knew who would have the skinny on Sam--my friend Marion Sanderson: she owned the local dress shop. She knew everything there was to know about everyone who lived around there.
I walked back inside and called Marion for a lunch date. She agreed to meet me in an hour.
I used that time to get on the internet, searching out everything I could find on Sam and his wife. He was just over fifty-years old and ran Carter Manufacturing, a local factory that produced a myriad of small parts for various manufacturing companies. Apparently, they were quite successful and employed over a hundred people on a regular basis. They had a reputation as a good company to work for, and both Sam and Clara's late father seemed to have done well. Maybe their factory jobs weren't especially sought after, but the management jobs must pay well.
The car he'd been driving was registered to Clara just as he'd said. I could find no police records or even traffic tickets for either of them. In other words, they were disgustingly clean.
I called Sandra, Sam's assistant, asking for the list of people he or Clara had fired lately. At first, Sandra was reluctant to give out the info, but then, Sam had apparently walked into the office. I could hear her voice going soft and friendly as she talked to him. Finally, she came back on the line, promising to look them up and email them to me.
I thanked her, then hung up. Would she do it?
She gave me the impression she was a stubborn woman who did things her own way. It sounded as if she liked Sam just fine, but had she liked Clara?