Lord Acton once said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
I wouldn’t know. I have no power.
My name is Joey and I’m an unabashed bumpkin. I live in a quaint and quirky country town named Deer Hollow. We’re pretty simple and laid back in the Hollow. But that doesn’t mean the occasional murder can’t happen here. It’s just that when it does, it seems more surprising somehow.
Especially when a corpse turns up in the mayor’s kitchen.
(Psst! If you’re keeping track, he does have power.) But don’t worry, we’re on it. By “we” I mean me, the Greek deity (my boyfriend Hal), and my sweet Pitbull Caphy. Yeah, I didn’t include my snooty Siamese cat, LaLee or our adorable pot-bellied pig Ethel Squeaks. Not because I love them any less. But let’s face it, the cat isn’t going to get her paws dirty delving into a messy murder, and the pig…well…she tends to hoard all the evidence in her little tent in my kitchen, so…
5 Stars! Another Exciting Nonstop Action Pack Laugh Out Loud Cozy Mystery!!!
“I said I didn’t want peas,” a cranky elderly woman I didn’t know barked out. “They give me gas. I wanted the green beans.”
I bit back a retort and apologized, grabbing the plate back. “I’m sorry. I’ll go fix it.”
“Miss!” I barely made it two steps before one of the pre-teens in booth four waved me over.
I forced myself to smile. “Yes?”
“We asked for catsup twenty minutes ago. Our fries are cold now. We want new fries.”
I looked around the table and fought panic. Six plates with burgers and fries. I’d have to drop off the pea-phobic lady's plate and come back. It had been a long time since I’d hustled plates, and I wasn’t sure I could carry six of them at once. That meant two trips, and my dogs were beyond tired.
Max came up behind me and handed the kids a bottle of catsup. “Stop torturing Joey,” she told the complaining teen, glowering down at him. “Or I’ll tell your mom I saw you kissing Missy Palentine outside the library last night.”
The boy’s pimply face paled, and he slumped in his seat.
I fought a grin. Whispering, “Thanks!” to Max, I hurried to the kitchen for a pea-extraction. Stopping in front of the pass-thru window, I was surprised to see Hal working the grill. “Where’s Tom?”
Hal looked up, his handsome face flushed from the heat of the grill. His dark eyes twinkled as he looked at me. “Cigarette break out back. I think he’s smoking a whole pack. He’s been gone for a while.”
I frowned. “You doing okay?”
He actually grinned. “I’m having a ball. Did I ever tell you I worked in a place a lot like this to put myself through college?”
“You did not.” I grinned back. “But now that I know, I’m going to make you do all the cooking from now on.”
He arched a midnight brow. “I already do all the cooking. Even, it seems, when we go out to eat.”
I laughed. He wasn’t wrong. “Can you swap out these peas for green beans, please?” I leaned in. “Peas give her gas.” He grimaced and quickly made the switch. Handing it back to me, he said, “Even if Tom’s heading for Mexico right now, I’d rather be back here than dealing with all those people out there.”
“You have no idea,” I whispered. “It’s an angry crowd.”
I took the plate back to the old woman. “Here you go.”
“About time,” she groused.
I turned away so I wouldn’t say something about how rude she was. The booth nearest the door was empty, and the table was covered in dirty dishes. I went to get the bin and started filling it.
The door jangled, and I looked up to find a familiar face coming through the door. When the server from the mayor’s house spotted me, she blanched, glancing at the door as if she was considering making a run for it.
I gave her a smile and picked up the now-full bin. “If you’ll give me just a minute, I’ll wipe this down and get you menus.”
I hurried away, hoping she didn’t leave. I’d love to question her about what she saw in that kitchen. When I returned, the woman was sitting down across from a dark-haired man who was around the same age. They were both wearing the white shirts and black trousers of the catering crew.
“Sorry,” I said, offering another smile. “Apparently, there’s a flu going around, and poor Max was short of help.”
I handed them menus.
“You work here?” the woman asked, looking surprised.
“Just for tonight. What can I get you to drink?”
By the time I brought two sweet teas to the table, the couple was ready to order. I took their orders and hesitated. The woman’s expression turned wary. “I’m sorry, I just wondered if you were doing okay? Finding that guy was…” I shuddered.
She chewed her bottom lip. “It was gruesome.”
“You and your friends seemed pretty chill about it, though.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. Telling her that I found bodies all the time probably wouldn’t go over very well. I settled on, “We date cops.” The truth. Sort of.
As if that explained everything, she nodded.
I offered my hand. “I’m Joey.”
The woman shook it. “Karinne Magness.” She nodded at her dinner companion. “That’s Prince.”
“Nice to meet you, Prince. I love your music,” I quipped.
He gave me a flat stare in return. “Whatever.”
Alrighty then. I nodded toward his clothes. “Looks like you worked the party too?”
“I did. I was on the dessert table.”
“My favorite place,” I said, grinning. Talking about food made my stomach rumble. I was really going to enjoy that banana cream pie Max had set aside for us.
He shrugged. Clearly, the guy had no sense of humor.
“It’s quite a shock about your boss, huh?”
Karinne shuddered. Prince frowned at his silverware.
“Do you know of anybody who might have wanted him dead?”
Prince snorted. “That list is long. The guy was a jerk.”
Karinne glared at him. “That’s not fair, P. He was understandably nervous since the client threatened him like that.”
My spidey senses perked. “Mayor Robb threatened Jonathan Calliente?”
Karinne looked irritated by my question. “I told that cop this.”
I fought not to cringe. If she refused to tell me because she’d already told one of the deputies her story, there’d be nothing I could say to get her to open up. I couldn’t exactly say I was a cop. Though, I might be able to throw the PI card at her.
Fortunately, I didn’t need to go that far.
“The cop didn’t seem all that interested. But I think it’s important. Jon was a nervous wreck after the argument.” She glanced at her companion. “He was a little short with everybody because of it.”
“This was before the party?”
Shaking her head, Karinne clarified. “Just after it started, I guess. That woman got right in John’s face and told him he’d never work in the area again. She said the mayor would see to that.”
“I don’t know her name. The petite blonde. She works for the mayor. You know her. She was with you in the kitchen this afternoon.”
I blinked. Cecily? “But you said the mayor threatened him.”
Karinne gave me a sigh of exasperation. “She’s the mayor’s right hand, isn’t she? You don’t think a man like Robb would do his own dirty work, do you? I’ve had experience with these politician types. Believe me, they’re not going to stick their necks out. And they’re used to taking what they want.”
Karinne was bitter. That was obvious. I wondered what kind of experience she’d had. But I didn’t want to get her off track by asking. Besides, she was right. I didn’t think Robb did his own dirty work if he could help it. In fact, I knew he didn’t. But what if the dirty work was Cecily’s own? “Do you know what it was about?” I asked. “What did he do that made her threaten him?”
Karinne shook her head. “I have no idea. All I heard was her telling him he’d never get another job.”
Prince fidgeted in his seat, drawing my gaze to his guilty face.
“What?” I asked. “Do you know something?”
The order pickup bell jangled. “Order, Joey,” Hal called out.
Prince nudged Karinne’s arm. “Come on, I’m not hungry anymore.”
Not wanting to chase after them and cause a scene, I watched them walk out of Sonny’s with a sinking feeling in my gut.
Prince knew something that might throw light on the murder. And I’d just lost my chance at finding out what. “Jeezopete!” I said under my breath, heading to the window to pick up my order.