“Are you sure you want to eat that?”
I froze with the bacon burger halfway to my mouth. It wasn’t often that I caught judgement for my eating habits—Sleepy Creek was a town of food enthusiasts and watching weight was not high on the agenda—but the woman judging was so vile, she’d use even my burger as a weapon against me.
“A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips,” she crooned next to me.
If she said anything else, I might wind up getting a lifetime behind bars. Shameful for a Boston homicide detective, even one on a break.
I purposefully took a bite of the bacon burger and chewed. Delicious flavors exploded over my tongue—the salt of the bacon, the savory of the meat, the crunch of lettuce, and the creamy ooze of the cheese. I raised an eyebrow at Mona Jonah. “What are you doing here?” I asked.
“It’s a diner, Watson,” she replied, plumping her faded yellow hair. She set down her massive tote bag—leopard print, of course—on the bar top. “Open to all? Or perhaps you were too busy making out with that burger to notice.”
“We’re particularly sassy today,” I said, putting down the burger and licking off my fingers. I grabbed a napkin and finished cleaning up the little cheese sauce I’d spilled on my hand. “Haven’t you caused enough trouble already?”
“Excuse me?” Mona pursed her lips.
She was lucky the Terrible Twins hadn’t come in to take their usual spot in their favorite cushy booth. Missi had it in for Mona in a big way.
“You heard me,” I said, going brazen instead of using my ‘tact’ to get answers out of her. “Megan’s dead, and a little birdie told me you’ve been doing some snooping of your own.” I tapped a fingernail on the counter.
Mona’s expression didn’t change a whit. She kept it completely still.
“So,” I continued, “why don’t you tell me what’s really going on here. Why were Janine and Kensington McCree arguing in front of the Burger Bar yesterday? And why were they so focused on—”
Griselda burst out of the kitchen doors, her eyes wide as burger buns. She gasped for breath.
“There you are, you lazy girl,” Mona said, hastily—clearly she was up to something, switching the focus so I couldn’t interrogate her further. “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting an eternity for a pumpkin spice milkshake and I demand a—”
“Christie,” Grizzy said, ignoring Mona.
My eyebrows arched. Griz was always focused on customers first. “What’s wrong?”
“You have to come. Quick. I just found something in the… just come.”
I lurched off the seat, leaving an angry Gossip Queen in my wake, and followed Grizzy through the kitchen. Jarvis stood in his usual spot, flipping burgers, his apron somehow immaculate despite the grease.
Griz babbled incoherently, tugging me out of the back door and toward the dumpster. She pointed at the closed lid.
“What is it? Use your words.”
Grizzy shook her head.
Carefully, I lifted the dumpster and peered inside.
A pumpkin head stared up at me. Empty and plastic. Next to it was a long black cloak. And next to that… a gun. It was the murder weapon. I’d never been surer of something in my life.
“Grizzy,” I said. “I think you should—”
“Yoohoo!” The call came from the alleyway around the side of the Burger Bar.
The Terrible Twins waved at us, approaching at rapid speed and arm-in-arm. Missi’s expression was alive—a good sign that she wasn’t in one of her classic grumpy moods—and Virginia’s sharp blue eyes focused on me.
“There you are, Christie, dear,” she said, stopping next to me. “What on earth are you doing back here by the trash?” She wrinkled her nose.
“Rummaging through it apparently.” Missi arched a silver eyebrow and leaned over peering into the dumpster. “Throwing out a costume before Halloween? That’s strange, even for you, Watson.”
“Your opinion of me has grown ever higher since we’ve met.”
“It’s not my opinion, it’s a realistic assumption based on all the strange things I’ve seen you do.” Missi leaned forward and made to reach into the dumpster.
“Whoa. Don’t touch. This might be part of a crime scene.”
Missi’s gaze flickered over the contents and spotted the gun. “Oh my heavens. I didn’t see it.” She snatched her hand back to her side. “What’s it doing here?”
“That’s what we need to find out,” I replied. “The crime was committed in the alleyway across from the Burger Bar.” I gestured to the high wall separating us from the crime scene. “It seems the murder returned to dispose of the costume.” By why here? It seemed like such an obvious place.
“Maybe they were trying to pin the crime on you, dear,” Vee whispered, patting her plum-colored locks. “You were at the scene to discover the body.”
“Might be true.” I frowned, stepping away from the dumpster.
Grizzy had already retreated and sat down heavily on the top step in front of the Burger Bar’s kitchen door. She was pale and trembled slightly. “I can’t believe someone would do this.”
“Griz, can you call Liam and Arthur?” I asked. “They’ll need to see this, right away. They’ll need to take it into evidence.”
“Of course.” She rose and hurried back inside. I knew my best friend well—she was the type of person who needed something to do in times of crisis or she’d wind up coming over faint.
“All right,” I said, once the back door to the restaurant had closed. “What are you two ladies doing back here?”
“We came to tell you the news,” Vee said, tearing her focus from the dumpster. “We thought you’d like to know what we found out about Megan’s murder. Or rather, some information that might pertain to it.”
“We’ve been keeping an ear to the ground each,” Missi put in, conspiratorially. “Apparently, Megan was next in line to the throne.”
“Pardon?” I blinked. “She was part of the British royal family?”
“Of course not,” Missi snapped. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Then what do you—?”
“The Gossip Circle, dear,” Vee replied. “Mona’s Gossip Circle. She had fast become Mona’s greatest confidant, and it seems that a few ladies might have taken exception to that. That’s the word on the street, anyway.”
That might’ve given Mona reason to murder her—perhaps, she hadn’t wanted to be replaced. Or one of the other ladies. Like the two I’d seen arguing in the street? Janine and Kensington.
“Thank you,” I said. “That gives me a few leads.”
“Let us know if we can do anything else to help, dear,” Virginia replied.
Missi nodded. “I bet it was Mona. Wouldn’t that be nice? Mona locked away for all eternity for her evil ways?”
“I don’t think there’s any part of murder that’s nice, Missi,” I said.
Vee wrinkled her nose. “Speaking of which, shall we move away from the dumpster full of evidence?”
“Right.” We moved back toward the back of the restaurant, and the normal small-town sounds, the distant passing of cars and the occasional shout or drifting chatter, was interrupted by the wail of a police car. “Here they come,” I said. “Hopefully, they’ll get prints off the costume or murder weapon.”
“What are you going to do, dear?” Vee asked.
“Me?” I tapped my chin. “I’m going to go have a little chat with a few Gossip Circle members.” And I could only imagine how that would go…