Title: Mistletoe and Missing Persons – A Mariposa Café Holiday Mystery
Author: Teresa Michael
Genre: Cozy Mystery
It’s the holidays and Libby Marshall and the Mariposa Café have a new neighbor – gallery owner Steve Devereaux. But, as the Mariposa Beach shopkeepers begin decorating their stores for the holidays there’s a lot more than crystal ornaments with mistletoe to focus on. Mr. Devereaux has a skeleton in his closet… literally. Could it be the remains of a teenage girl who disappeared from the town over forty years ago?
A former prosecutor, Libby finds herself in the middle of yet another murder investigation. And no worries, she’s still involved with super-hot detective Jack Seiler. Will they be able to solve the identity of the skeleton before ringing in the new year? With the help of their quirky, but talented friends, they just might be able to figure it out.
Excerpt from Chapter 3- The Discovery
“Looks like demo day,” Libby said, gesturing to the half-disassembled storage closet in the building that used to be Eleanor’s Gift Shop and soon to be The Devereaux Gallery.
“I decided to start breaking down that closet. Once I get it cleared out, I want to go ahead and open up this room,” Steve said.
“I have a few minutes before I need to get back to the café,” Libby said. “I can give you a hand for little while. It looks like you could use one.” She reached for the hammer.
“That looks like a fresh scar on your hand. Are you sure you’re up to pulling down boards and drywall?” he asked, taking her hand and looking at it.
She pulled her hand away and slipped it behind her back. “I cut myself with a knife back in August. It’s healing fine. Besides, it would probably be good rehab for me to do something like this. Mimi hasn’t let me handle anything sharp since the accident.” Libby left out the part where she was held hostage and that she’d cut herself in the process of stabbing her captor.
“If you’re sure, I could use the help.”
Steve tossed Libby a pair of work gloves, and she gripped the board he had been trying to remove. He hit the other side with a hammer, and the nails finally came loose. She pulled the drywall and board off and laid it on the floor. They removed more drywall, revealing an open space between the drywall framing and a brick wall that was the main wall between Steve’s building and the clothing boutique next door.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“What?” Steve asked, stepping in behind her.
“There’s a good deal of space in here,” she said, stepping inside the area between the brick wall and where the drywall had been. “This is a false wall. Maybe it had to do with the way the closet was built.”
“Wow, look at that brick. That would be an awesome accent wall,” Steve said, running his fingers across the red brick. “Let’s pull off more and see what we have.”
Continuing to pound and pull off drywall from the false wall, they soon uncovered insulation bunched together inside a four-by-four-foot framed-in section. They removed the boards from around the framed-in area and pulled out the insulation. When they finished pulling off all the drywall around the area, they stopped, stood back and surveyed what remained. Rolled up plastic was stuffed inside the smaller framed-in area. It was as if someone had built a compartment just for this roll of plastic tarp taped up with silver duct tape.
“What are you two doing to Eleanor’s store?”
“Fletcher Smith,” Libby gasped, her hand coming to her throat. “You scared the living daylights out of me.”
Fletcher was in his early seventies and wore a golf shirt and a cap from the Mariposa Beach Country Club pro shop. He had just come from the café where he had had lunch with his three companions whom Libby called the ‘The Company’ as she was almost sure they were retired spies.
Smith introduced himself to Steve and offered his hand.
“Steve Devereaux,” Steve said, pulling off his glove and shaking Smith’s hand.
“What have you uncovered?” he asked, moving past them to take a closer look.
“I’m not sure. I was helping Steve remove these boards when we uncovered this plastic tarp. I’m almost afraid to go any further,” Libby said.
“It’s probably just a bunch of junk stuck in there,” Steve said, starting to pull at the duct tape that was wound tightly around the plastic tarp. “Just like every other bit of space in this building.”
“Wait,” Smith said.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Libby asked. Before moving to Florida from Ohio more than three years ago, she had spent five years working in the County Prosecutor’s Office.
“I think so,” Smith said. “Let’s proceed very carefully.”
“I don’t understand,” Steve said, giving the tarp another yank.
“Stop,” Libby called out. “Mr. Smith and I think it could be a body.”
“A dead body?” Steve asked, turning from Smith to Libby. “What would a body be doing inside my wall?”
“Good question,” Smith said as he picked up a box cutter from the work table and started slowly slicing through the first layer of the tarp.
“Just open it up enough for us to see what’s in there,” Libby said. “If it’s nothing, we’ll have a good laugh.”
“It’s probably some junk my aunt stuffed in there maybe when they built that storage closet.”
“We don’t know what could be in there or how long it’s been in there. It could have any kind of bacteria growing in there,” Smith said.
“Seriously? Why would you two think it’s a body?” Steve asked.
“Past experience,” Libby said. “Recent past.”
“Oh, my,” Steve said. “Would that have anything to do with your injured hand?”
“Inadvertently,” Libby murmured, watching Smith as he carefully continued to slice the tarp, taking care not to cut too deeply while making meticulous slices with the box cutter. Finally, he cut through the edge of the tarp and the duct tape. He carefully pulled apart the edges.
When Smith uncovered an empty eye socket, Libby gasped, and Steve turned away.
A dusty, earthy, rotting smell emanated from the opening. Steve covered his mouth and choked. Libby stepped backward as her hands flew to her face covering her nose and mouth. Smith cut the tarp a little higher to reveal a skull with strands of long, blonde hair attached to a scalp that was barely clinging to the bone.
“Libby, what has taken you so long? I should have…” When she realized what she was seeing in the wall of Eleanor’s gift shop, Mimi let out a blood curdling scream.
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“Mistletoe and Missing Persons” is a short, fast read to get you into the holiday spirit and solve the mystery along with Libby and the gang—regardless of the month or number on the thermometer. Doesn’t everyone have a skeleton in the closet especially during the holidays?
One lucky reader will win a $75 Amazon (US) gift card.
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Runs July 1 – 31
Drawing will be held on August 2.
Teresa Michael is the author of the Mariposa Café Mystery Series. She is a fulltime author since recently retiring from a career in health information management and technology. She enjoys reading, writing, chocolate chip cookies, nature walks, planning road trips and travel adventures with her husband, children, and grandchildren. She has visited 49 states having spent 9 years on the road working for a healthcare software vendor and many years as the Team Manager for the US Archery Team for the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games and other national and international tournaments. She is a member of Florida Writers Association, Mystery Writers of America, Women Fiction Writers, and Sisters in Crime and is currently President of the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Teresa lives in Sarasota, FL with her husband and two cats and is working on the next Mariposa mystery, developing a new mystery series, and hoping to someday make it to that 50th state.
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