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by Elaine Macko
Description: Alex investigates murder in a mannequin factory. When Alex Harris, owner of the Always Prepared temporary agency, stumbles over the body of Mrs. Scott, nothing will ever be the same. And when the police investigation leads right back to her, Alex decides that it's time she took matters into her own hands before the real murderer strikes again and really ruins Christmas. Along with her sister and partner, Samantha Daniels, and their assistant, Millie Chapman, the Winston Churchill-quoting, M&M-popping Alex probes and plods through red herring after red herring uncovering a lot more than murder. Investigating with a bulldog tenacity that would make Winston proud, Alex doesn't let anything interfere with her sleuthing. Not even a midnight caper in the factory and an attack from a mechanical mannequin gone berserk can keep her from finding out the truth to the deadly deeds lurking within. In this, the first Alex Harris Mystery, follow our heroine to Christmas night and the murderer's home where Alex unravels the secrets in Mrs. Scott's past, and manages to get clobbered in the bargain!
eBook Publisher: L&L Dreamspell/L&L Dreamspell, 2011 London, Texas
eBookwise Release Date: October 2011
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [376 KB]
Reading time: 242-339 min.
The first indication my day would be a bad one was finding my reserve stash of M&Ms empty.
The second thing that cinched the deal was the dead body at my feet eight hours later. Literally. At my feet as my soggy shoe touched the hem of the dead woman's pants.
Maybe I should start at the beginning. My name is Alex Harris and along with my sister Samantha Daniels I own the Always Prepared temporary agency. Business hasn't been so good lately. As a matter of fact things have been pretty boring around our office, hence the empty stash of candy, so when an urgent call came in from one of our clients, the Poupee Mannequin factory, I took the assignment. Truth be told I just wanted to run off to the store for more candy, but figured I might as well go help a client. I handed off my only appointment of the day to my assistant, jumped in my car, and despite blinding snow flurries, happily drove over to the factory--after a quick pit stop for reinforcements in the guise of a two-pound bag of M&Ms.
While at the factory I hoped to talk with the owner, Mr. Poupee, about an upcoming job but luck hadn't been on my side and instead I found myself confronted by his unusually flustered assistant Elvira Scott.
"Please have a seat, Ms. Harris," Mrs. Scott said formally. "I'm sorry you had to be dragged out on such a day but we need to get our mailing out today."
I leaned forward. "It's no problem. As I told you on the phone, I wanted to see Mr. Poupee. I know I don't have an appointment, but, well, I've tried to make one." I paused. It wouldn't do me or my business any good to get on bad terms with Mrs. Scott. "I've been busy myself."
I smiled, trying to soften my position. "I thought this might be a perfect opportunity for us to discuss the upcoming expansion."
Mrs. Scott clasped her hands tightly together on the desk. "I told you I'll speak with him as soon as I can."
"I understand. Just let him know I--"
"Ms. Harris, please!"
I drew back at the shrill sound. Mrs. Scott could be difficult but I'd never heard her raise her voice before. It seemed we were both having a bad day.
"Why don't I get you started on the mailing and I'll see if I can arrange something for this afternoon. Will that do?" Mrs. Scott released her hands from their white-knuckled grip and stood up.
I followed her to the mail room where I folded and stuffed, occasionally giving a wistful look at a paper cut, wondering if the blood loss was sufficient to warrant a trip to the emergency room and a reprieve from folding and stuffing. My only help had come from the mail room clerk who lent a hand in between his other duties.
At five-fifteen Mrs. Scott returned, looking more exhausted than she had earlier. "Oh. I did say I'd check on you, didn't I? I'm sorry, I forgot." Mrs. Scott sighed, her thin shoulders sagging beneath her sweater and her beleaguered expression belying the efficient executive assistant I knew her to be.
"No need to apologize. Andy's been a great help," I smiled at the young clerk who looked more like he should be modeling underwear for GQ. "I should be done in about forty-five minutes. I could drop them off on my way home."
"No need. I don't live far from the post office," Andy offered.
Mrs. Scott shook her head. "Andy can take them. I need him to drop off some other packages. Here's some petty cash." She handed Andy an envelope. "Send them out Priority and leave the receipt on my desk."
I usually dealt with her over the phone. Today was the first time we met face to face in quite some time. Her thick salt-and-pepper hair covered her ears in a becoming style. The frames of her bifocals looked out of date and her blues eyes behind them tired. I studied her eyebrows for a second having never noticed how rounded they were. They seemed to give Mrs. Scott a sort of surprised look and the few age spots high on her left cheek gave the impression of a spotted owl.
Andy grabbed his coat and looked at me expectantly.
"You go along, I can handle the rest by myself," I assured him while trying to keep the annoyance out of my voice. I should have been done with this job hours ago, but the old copier jammed three times and ran out of magenta toner and Andy had to run out and get more. I realized volunteering for this assignment hadn't been one of my brightest ideas. At least I had my bag of M&Ms. I had been pretty much popping them all day. Did I mention I'm an addict?
Mrs. Scott turned to me. "Alex, we don't usually do this, but since we know you well and you're a friend of Mr. Poupee, I'm going to leave a key with you for the front door. You'll be the last to leave so just press the red button on the security panel right by the door and it will set itself. I think Ruth is still here but she'll be leaving in a few minutes and the factory's been closed for an hour."
She left before I could protest.
I shook my head and pursed my lips. "I could just kill her! She's got a lot of nerve leaving me alone," I huffed while I shoved yet another set of flyers into an envelope I had already filled. I tried to calm down, but since patience was never a virtue I possessed I didn't see much hope in achieving that goal. Sitting up a bit straighter I intoned, "'Give us the tools, and we will finish the job,'" and wondered if Winston Churchill had been stuffing envelopes in a mannequin factory when he said it in 1941. I've been reading a lot about World War II and old Winston had something to say about everything.
With a sigh loud enough to compete with the grumblings of my sustenance-deprived stomach, I shoved another handful of candies into my mouth then hunkered down and had the mailing boxed and in the trunk of my car an hour later only to find the tires packed in with snow.
After trying to dig my way out with ungloved hands I went back to the building to find something I could use as a shovel, and now stood in the darkened, deserted factory. The glow from the lights out in the parking lot peeked in from a window high on the wall to my left and gave the cavernous room enough light to cast eerie shadows. I made out arms and legs hanging from hooks in the section closest to me while further into the factory I could see torsos of various sizes stacked against a wall.
It couldn't have been creepier.
That's when I stumbled. I stepped further into the factory, my eyes straining to see a broom or anything else I could use. My foot hit something and I tried to press forward but the object wouldn't budge. A sense of dread started its slow creep up my body.
I took a deep breath and looked down at Elvira Scott, her beautiful hair matted with blood.
I moved my foot slightly and cupped my hand over my mouth as hot bile worked its way into my throat. My heart raced and my breathing reduced to quick gasps. I took another quick look at her face. Maybe she wasn't dead.
Eyes that only an hour ago reminded me of a spotted owl with their rounded eyebrows now looked straight up at the ceiling. No living human could keep a stare going that long.
A deep red trickle from her lips had stopped at her chin. Next to Mrs. Scott's head lay a mannequin arm, the metal joint at the shoulder covered with blood. And I knew for certain, as the factory closed in and draped me in claustrophobic horror, that Mrs. Scott had been murdered.