Title: The Newspaper Code
Author: Lisa J Lickel
Genre: Inspirational Cozy Mystery
Judy Wingate's NOT-BFF, Olivia Hargrove of the Robertsville Reporter, discovers a Civil War-era secret newspaper code that may lead to the recovery of a badly needed seven million dollar-windfall
Not long after Judy and Hart's baby is born, Judy and Ardyth stumble onto another murder. This time it's 99-year-old Esme Espe, the maven of the Petunia Society, Robertsville's Garden Club. Esme's gruesome murder by garden claw soon catches the attention of the Robertsville Reporter's chief editor and nosy correspondent, Olivia Hargrove.
Clueless Olivia decides to befriend Judy and burrows into her life. Judy still holds a grudge but in order to learn more about Olivia's secret project with the dead Esme, Judy reluctantly agrees to spend time with Olivia who is in desperate need of advice...and a makeover. Circled letters of a Civil War-era newspaper vex Olivia, and when she learns Esme found an historic discrepancy in the town treasury, she and Judy must solve the riddle in the newspaper and race for the treasure before the murderer gets to it first.
Judy's best suspect is the new guy in town. But how can she tell Olivia her boyfriend might be a murderer?
Olivia wasn’t the only person following the commotion. Judy recognized several neighbors and a few shop owners from nearby businesses gathering around, whispering and pointing. Their colored summer tops and shorts made a strange bouquet against the white sidewalk, gray street, and green lawn. To top it off, Judge Hampton, black robes flying in the breeze, was right on schedule on his way to the courthouse. Judy checked her watch anyway. Yep, same time as always. Seven fifty a.m.
The reporter skidded to a stop. “So!” Olivia jumped right to business, no pussy-footing or niceties from her. “Found another body, did you? Who’s the victim? Say, Judy, you’re kinda always in the middle of all the excitement, aren’t you? What happened?”
“I’m not exactly a homicide magnet.” Judy edged closer to Ardyth and Barry. “Um—”
The chief rescued her. “We’ll have a statement soon’s we know what’s up, there, Olivia. Right now, you need to stay back.”
“Homicide?” Olivia scribbled a note.
Barry attempted to quell suspicion in his most soothing quiet-the-prisoner voice. “She was just making a general comment, now.”
They turned to watch the EMTs unfold a gurney and wheel it toward the statue. Officer Grayson approached, skirting Olivia as if keeping a respectful distance from a rattler.
“She’s cold, Chief,” Grayson said, waving at Esme’s body. “The ten-seventy-nine’s, uh, Tina’s, on her way. Want me to call the team?”
Olivia stuck her nose right in the thick of things. “Who’s cold? What’s the coroner for?”
“It’s for…” Grayson eyed Olivia before wagging his brows at Barry, who shooed them all off the sidewalk, using his megaphone voice.
“Okay, folks, you all need to clear the area, let us work. There’s been an incident. We’re investigating. That’s all we can say right at this time. You need to stand back so’s you don’t contaminate the scene. Officer Grayson will secure the area. Don’t make our work any harder, now.”
Judy looked around for a place out of the sun. Where was the stroller?
“Wait a second, there,” Barry called. Judy looked up to see him nod at Grayson. “Be right with ya.”
The chief chucked Elizabeth under the chin. “I’m sorry you had to go through this, with the baby, and all. I’ll be in touch to get your statement soon. You should take this little one home.”
“Yeah, okay. I simply don’t understand who would want to kill Esme.”
Barry’s eyes widened and he looked to her left. “Shh!”
“Esme Espe?” Olivia’s breath stirred Judy’s hair. “She’s been murdered?”
“Oh, man,” Judy whispered. “Sorry, Barry. I better leave now.”
She scurried after Ardyth who held the handle of her wagon while she chatted with Laura Reynolds. Mrs. Reynolds looked as perfect as always, this time in an apple green pencil skirt and black stilettos, even at eight o’clock in the morning at a murder scene. In her haste to dodge Olivia, Judy bumped into the judge.
“Say, there.” Judge Albert Hampton grasped her elbow. “Why, it’s Miss Elizabeth and her mommy. Did you hear what’s going on? Anything I need to know?” He looked toward the statue where Grayson planted poles around which Barry wound yellow police tape.
Judy shifted Elizabeth in her arms. She needed to go home before she overflowed. The baby moved restlessly, a sure signal of her second act, a maelstrom to come. “I really can’t talk about it, Judge. You understand. Excuse me.”
She turned, only to stop short of running into the squeaky-wheeled wagon.
“I called Hart on your cell thing,” Ardyth said. “Not so tough to figure out, after all. Your hubby’s bringing the truck. Should be here any sec. I oughta buy me one of those things. They’re handy. It just seems everyone else has one, so I don’t bother.”
What, a truck or a husband? You already… Ardyth with a cell phone? Merciful heavens… Pull yourself together!
“Judge,” Ardyth said, “I guess you won’t be able to rub knuckles for your good luck charm this morning.”
Hampton’s thick wiry hair ruffled in the breeze as he replied, “So it appears. Say, what do you know about all this?”
“Nothing more than Elizabeth.” Judy received a wink from her.
“So let me get this straight!” Olivia had caught up and cut in, waving a voice-recording pen like a miniature saber. “Give it to me in chronological order. You both come down here early this morning” —she jabbed at the wagon— “to water flowers. You find Esme Espe murdered in cold blood—”
“Who told you that?” Ardyth sniffed. “And there were three of us. No—four. No comment.” She took Judy’s elbow, baby and all, and pulled her along to the curb. Hart pulled up with a screeching halt.
Judy wanted to return to the farm in the worst way. Elizabeth was highly displeased by the whole morning, hungry, and…yes, squishy wet, and let everyone know in maximum baby decibels.
Judy’s husband took one tight-lipped look at her, glanced at the crowd and the yellow tape making Robert Roberts look like he was being prepped for some kind of paint by numbers project, and wordlessly took Elizabeth. Ardyth had already taken the wagon to the back of the truck so he could stow it after he loaded the baby.
Judy, grateful to sit down, slid onto the front seat. Wherever the stroller had ended up mixed in Barry’s crime scene, she didn’t care. Everyone knew Elizabeth, the baby born on the banks of Mascen Stream in July. She trusted Robertsvillagers…Robertsvillers…Robertsvillains.
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The Newspaper Code showcases the sum of all fears—first-time parenthood, potential loss of job, spiraling death of home town, rumors of missing city funds, and guilt over not particularly liking a person in desperate need of a friend. When an elderly community member—the one who knows where all the skeletons are buried—is murdered, Judy must face all of her fears, and worse yet, team up with the naïve and clueless newspaper editor Olivia who’s decided they are best friends.
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Lisa Lickel is a Wisconsin author of inspiring fiction who loves books, collects dragons, and travels. She writes novels, short stories, feature articles, and radio theater, and loves to encourage authors through mentoring, coaching, and leading workshops. Lisa is a member of the Wisconsin Writers Association, the Chicago Writers Association, and instructor for Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp and Writing Retreat, Inc. She is an avid book reviewer and blogger, and a freelance editor. Find more at www.lisalickel.com.
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