The following morning…
I sat at the counter at the back of the Burger Bar, my morning Breakfast Burger already finished. I picked at my fries, dragging them through ketchup and then mustard—my mother’s favorite method of eating them—and occasionally chomping down on one.
“Is something wrong with the food?” Grizzy asked.
“Of course not,” I said. “It’s as delicious as ever. I’m just lost in thought.”
“About what Dolores said?”
“Exactly.” I abandoned the last of my fries, tapping the basket aside. “I’ve decided on a course of action. I’m going to tail both of them.”
“Surely, not at the same time.”
I snorted a laugh. “No, of course not. Well, maybe. It depends on whether they’re together or not.”
Grizzy swept a cloth over the countertop, cleaning it even though it already sparkled. It was a nervous habit of hers. “I heard that, you know, now that Megan’s gone, Kensington and Janine are the next in line to be Mona’s second-in-command.”
There was a thought. What if the murder had been caused by infighting? But were women in the Gossip Circle really that desperate? Did they want to be close to Mona? I could imagine no fate worse… apart from death. Or having to go shopping for pink, frilly lampshades—Grizzy had made me do that last week.
“They were arguing on the day of the murder,” I said, “Janine and Kensington.”
“Well, you never know.”
Perhaps, Grizzy had a point. What if Kensington, who was a part of Dolores’ Halloween group, had decided that she wanted her rightful position as the heir to Mona’s… pink plastic sunglasses?
But how did that involve Ray? He had to be involved. I’d found those glasses at the border of his property.
I shook my head, trying to clear it, then pushed myself off the stool. “I’m going to see if I can find them,” I said. “I’ll catch up with you later.”
“Be careful, Chris.”
I waved off the warning and slipped out into the sunshine. The street bustled with Sleepy Creek activity. People strolled by, nodding to me as they passed, or chatting amiably. Now, if I were a Kensington or a Mona, where would I be? Probably at their homes. Or at the Sleepy Creek Gazette’s headquarters.
To the paper’s offices we go.
I set off, my thoughts turning over the potential suspects and their motivations. There was Ray who had been dating Megan and now appeared to be dating Kensington. Perhaps, Kensington had had the motivation to murder Megan? For love? A crime of passion?
My feet carried me forward, and I lowered my gaze, frowning. I rounded the corner and slammed into something very solid.
“Whoa, there.” Liam’s warm voice drifted down from above. “Don’t go falling for me.”
I blinked up at my boyfriend then managed a laugh. “Oh. Hi.” He was the last person I wanted to run into now. He’d try stop me from going ahead with my mission—tail the suspected murderess.
“Where are you going?”
“Nowhere,” I replied. “Nowhere, uh, special, I mean. I’m just walking.”
“Nice. Then we’ll walk together.”
How could I say no to that?
Liam fell into step with me and we rounded the block and headed back toward the Burger Bar. “I have some intel for you,” I said.
“Oh? I’m interested to hear it.”
I broke down what Dolores had told us last night. Liam’s eyebrows rose the more I spoke. “Now, that is interesting. I’ve just come from Kensington McCree’s residence.” He paused. “She’s just reported her Jack-O-Lantern costume stolen. Apparently, the last time she remembered seeing it was a week before Megan’s murder.”
“But she doesn’t have an alibi for that day, does she?”
“She does. She was at the General Store. I have surveillance footage of her there during that time frame.”
I sucked in a breath. So, it wasn’t Kensington. But that had to mean…
“Look, I have to get going,” Liam said, and drew me into a hug. “I’ve got more work to do. But give me a call if you think of anything else that might be relevant.”
“I will.” I kissed him on the cheek, butterflies swooping through my stomach, then watched him walk off. The joy of having been around him faded fast, and my focus turned back to the case at hand. Kensington had an alibi, and her costume had been stolen.
What did that mean?
Surely, that the list of suspects was, once again, wide open. Anyone might have stolen Kensington’s costume in order to frame her for the murder. Anyone, that was, who had the motive to see her go down.
I tucked my hands into the pockets of my jeans and strolled down the road again, heading for the Burger Bar. If I’d had a few more clues, this would’ve been so much easier. But I had nothing apart from a pair of pink sunglasses and the conviction that this definitely had something to do with either Ray or the Sleepy Creek Gossip Circle.
The Burger Bar was full up with customers feasting on Jarvis’ delicious burgers. The twins were inside, Missi pointing at something that Vee was reading, both of them shaking their heads. I’d meant to go to the paper to confront Mona or Kensington, but that seemed futile now. And I certainly didn’t want to sit inside and be questioned about what I knew so far and who I thought might have done it.
If only I had more evidence.
Instead of heading inside, I entered the breezeway that ran between Grizzy’s Burger Bar and the store next to it. I scuffed my heels on the paving a few times then shook my head at myself and squared my shoulders.
I’d been plenty stumped before. This was a minor setback. Maybe, if I had a look at the crime scene, something would stick. It would jog my memory or give me an idea.
I rounded the corner and stopped dead in my tracks.
Mona was bent halfway over the dumpster, peering into its depths. The very same dumpster that had contained the murder weapon and the stolen costume that the murderer had used to conceal their identity.
“Hey!” I yelled. “What are you doing?”
Mona snapped upright, a flash of guilt passing over her face. She spotted me and her lips peeled back in a rictus. “Who do you think you’re talking to, Watson?”
“I’m talking to you, Jonah. You’re the one rummaging through the Burger Bar’s trash.”
Mona bent and lifted her leopard-skin print tote from behind the dumpster then slung it over one shoulder. “It’s none of your business what I do in my spare time.” But her voice warbled a little. She knew that she was in trouble on this one.
“I’m going to tell Griselda. And the cops. That dumpster contained evidence.”
Mona took a step forward and raised her finger. “You say one word about this to anyone and you’re going to regret it.”
“Are you threatening me while standing next to a dumpster that contained bloodied evidence from a previous murder? I just wanted to be sure because if you are… that’s a really stupid thing to do.”
“You and Griselda think you’re so smart,” Mona hissed. “Well, you’re not. You’re interfering idiots, and I swear it, I swear it on my grandmother’s grave that I’m going to bring you both down for messing in Gossip Circle business!” She strode past me, her high heels grating on the concrete, and disappeared around the corner.
I peered into the dumpster, but there was nothing there.
But that didn’t matter. I officially had my next lead.
Miss. Mona ‘Destroy You’ Jonah.
Things were about to get very interesting.