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Authors: Brianna Bates

Flea Market Fatal

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Missy DeMeanor just found the perfect cabinet to repurpose for next week’s Tri-County Flea Market. Too bad she also just found the owner of said cabinet dead in his house.

She hasn’t seen her high school sweetheart, Tyler Brock, in years, and under normal circumstances she’d be excited to reconnect with him. But these aren’t normal circumstances because Tyler is now the local chief detective and Missy is the prime suspect in the town’s first murder in years.

Now with the help of her best friend, Noreen, and her mother (assuming Mom will actually share everything with her), Missy must prove her innocence and find the killer. But as she delves deeper into the investigation she uncovers some shocking secrets about the town, and her own family.

Can this big, beautiful woman find the killer in time…and still be ready for the Flea Market?

Flea Market Fatal
is the first in the new Missy DeMeanor cozy mystery series. Look for
Book Club Bloodshed
,
Diet Club Death
, and
Scrapbooking Slaying
also.

Flea Market Fatal

 

Brianna Bates

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Chapter One

 

Melissa, a.k.a. Missy, DeMeanor pulled her dark, wavy, red hair back into a ponytail and examined herself in the mirror. Her cushions, as her last boyfriend had referred to them, seemed like they’d gotten bigger. The padding around her thighs, the cute but wobbly tummy, and especially her hips looked fuller.

“You’re built for comfort, not for speed, Missy,” she told herself in the mirror. Normally the old saying brought a smile to her lips but today it made her a little sad. She had waged a war of attrition against her weight for years, actually, for as long as she could remember.

When she tried to tug on her favorite pair of jeans, her struggle confirmed her fears. She’d put on a little weight in the last week. But how? She didn’t remember eating more than usual and she’d exercised three—no four!—times.

She fought the top button of the jeans closed and reexamined her curves in the mirror with a sigh. It had taken most of her life to get to the point where she was comfortable in her own skin. Missy was full-bodied, voluptuous, curvy, big and beautiful, whatever you wanted to call it. But every once in awhile (like now!) the old feelings of shame and shyness and self-consciousness surfaced. How much she envied her friends who didn’t seem to
ever
worry about food and figure…especially her best friend, Noreen, who could eat a lot of anything and never gain an ounce…

“That’s enough wallowing,” she told herself in the mirror. “Tonight you’ll do an hour on the elliptical.”

She put on a compensatory t-shirt, one that flaunted her chest and drew attention from her belly, even though her plans today consisted of checking out the garage sales on the other side of town, tinkering with the two pieces she’d bought last week, and watching the Flea Market Flip marathon on cable. She had plans to meet up with Mr. Switzer, the recently divorced fifty-five-year-old who always went out of his way to be nice to her, frequently stopping in the bookstore where she worked because he was an avid sci-fi reader. She didn’t want to take advantage of his kindness, but she really had to talk him down from his price on the cabinet he wanted to get rid of. Not exactly the itinerary to get dressed provocatively for, but the t-shirt made her look good.

Missy jumped into her dad’s old truck and got on the road. This was the first Saturday she’d been off work in awhile, and the weather was perfect. Blue skies and seventy-five degrees in September, some of the leaves just beginning to change color. She loved this time of year in Pennsylvania, especially in her small town. It brought a smile to her face.

Grove City was a small town so it only took her fifteen minutes to get to the older part of the hamlet where the garage sales were being held today. On the way she decided to stop at Mr. Switzer’s house last. She didn’t think anybody else would buy the cabinet she was eyeing up for as much as he was asking, and she figured the longer it sat in his driveway not selling, the more likely he’d come down with his price.

Five houses later, she’d parted with sixty dollars. An old sewing machine that didn’t work and a beat-up tea cart now sat in the flatbed of the truck, secured to the sides with bungee cords. She’d spent a little more than she wanted but thought she could turn the sewing machine into a nice piece of furniture and the tea cart just needed some sprucing up…if she was lucky she could sell both refurbished for a couple hundred bucks…

Her cell phone buzzed on her way to Mr. Switzer’s. “Hey, Noreen.”

“You shouldn’t drive and talk on the phone. It’s against the law.”

“How do you know I’m driving?”

“Because your truck is louder than a rock concert.”

Missy laughed and pulled over. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“What are you up to?” Noreen asked.

“In the middle of planning to take over the world.”

“One flea market at a time?”

“Funny. What’s up?”

“Slow day at the store,” Noreen said. “But you know who stopped in?”

“Who?” Missy already had a good guess. Ever since her old flame, Tyler Brock, had come back to town, Noreen brought him up every day.

“Tyler.”

“Uh-huh.”

Noreen laughed. “You are the worst actress ever.”

“That may be true, but I wasn’t acting there.” Missy wondered why he’d stopped in the bookstore. She had dated him back in high school and knew from their time together that the only thing that man read was the sports page. “What was he doing at the store?”

“Shopping.”

“Get out of here.”

“No, really.” Noreen dragged this next comment out. “And he also asked about you.”

“We did date for almost two years.”

“I watched him in the store. He kind of walked around for ten minutes before he even started looking at books. He was just waiting to see if you were on break, I could tell.”

Tyler Brock. The man, the myth, the ex-boyfriend. He’d been
sooo
hot back in high school. But then college happened and…

He’d been back in town for a month. He’d been a detective in Philadelphia for years before coming back here to work at the local precinct. There were so many rumors circulating about why he’d left his job, Missy had lost count. But now he was back.

“Yeah, right,” Missy said, after realizing she’d been silent way too long.

“Have a nice trip down Memory Lane?” Noreen asked.

“Shouldn’t you be working right now?”

“Probably.”

“Alright, I’m headed over to Switzer’s place now.”

“Hey, you know that new ice cream place finally opened on Main Street finally? Wanna go tonight?”

Without even realizing it at first, Missy put a hand on my belly. It was hanging over my jeans a little bit too much.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do tonight.”

“How about I come over? I’ll bring some wine and we can watch Meg Ryan movies.”

“You silver-tongued devil, you.”

“And I mean it,” Noreen said. “They’re really cracking down on using phones while driving, ever since Casey Praul rear-ended Tom Sanders a couple weeks ago. So be careful.”

“Thanks, Mom.” Noreen always had her best interests at heart when she offered unsolicited advice. But still, sometimes Missy had to let her know she didn’t need a second mother.

Noreen laughed. “Unless you
want
Tyler to pull you over. Wouldn’t
that
be hot?”

Chapter Two

 

Mr. Switzer lived in a ranch house with a big detached garage. He spent as much time tinkering in the garage as he did in the house. Normally he had two or three projects going at once. His wife of thirty years had recently divorced him and moved in with her new beau, a real estate attorney who was significantly younger than her. Missy felt bad for Switzer. It must have been awful to lose someone you were with for that long, even if the relationship had fizzled. Maybe it was naïve and idealistic on her part, but she always thought you were supposed to be with your spouse forever and that your golden years together were supposed to be special.

Missy had spent more than she wanted and Switzer’s house was in the opposite direction from her house. She didn’t feel like driving over there to haggle with him if he wasn’t going to move on his price. So she thumbed through her phone and found him in her contacts.

“Hello?” he said, even though she knew he was using a cell phone which would have had caller ID.

“Mr. Switzer, it’s me, Missy.”

“Well, hello there. You coming over?”

“That depends on whether you’ll take forty dollars for that cabinet.”

“Forty!” He sounded outraged, but she could tell it was an act. “I’m asking for seventy-five!”

“That’s really the best I can do. One dollar for every years it’s aged.” Forty bucks was pretty generous. She’d seen it before and knew it needed work.

“Do you know how difficult it is to say no to a pretty lady?” he asked. She could hear the smile in his voice.

If her dad was still alive, the pair of them would have been about the same age. But still, she could tell the flirting was harmless so it didn’t creep her out.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Switzer, that’s—”

“How about fifty and let’s call it a day?”

“I don’t know…”

“Missy, didn’t your parents ever teach you to be fair to your elders?”

She laughed. “Alright, alright. Fifty it is.”

“Great. You come on over then. I’m going through some of my wife’s old things in the house, and I’m expecting company. So if I’m not outside, just leave the cash in the mailbox, okay?”

“See you in fifteen.”

As she drove to Switzer’s house, Missy found herself thinking about Tyler again. She had run into him at the grocery store last week. The years had been kind. His face had filled out, but his body was still trim. She could tell he’d continued with his exercise regimen.

Tyler had been her first real boyfriend. The first boy she’d ever told she loved (the first of only three, actually). She couldn’t help but wonder what he was like now, if he was still the same carefree, joking guy she’d known in school, or if his job had hardened him, made him into something else. The many rumors circling about him also included stories about his wife and general disagreement on whether they were divorced or separated or neither. She wondered what type of woman she actually was and what type of woman would give a man like him up. Missy had
sort of
given him up a long time ago and, truth be told, had regretted it ever since.

The windows of Switzer’s house and the big garage door were wide open. The screen door was slightly ajar and squeaking on its hinges. Switzer’s wares were spread out in his driveway. Missy parked on the quiet street in front of the house and immediately spotted the cabinet she wanted sitting just off the driveway in the shade of the big maple tree in Switzer’s front yard.

She got out of the car and stepped into the driveway. Might as well check out what else Switzer had out. There were a couple other pieces of furniture, including a rocking chair that looked pretty good, but mostly it was old clothes. Missy gave the items one more look before leaving just to be sure there was nothing else she could use, then she walked over to the cabinet.

Switzer’s dog, a beautiful Irish setter, came bounding out of the house. Her russet fur breezed as she raced to meet Missy.

“Hey, Cody girl.” Missy crouched as the dog practically collided with her. Cody gave a little whine as Missy rubbed her side. She wondered if the dog had gotten hurt somehow. Cody barked once in her face, which was unusual. Normally she was low-key. In fact, Missy couldn’t remember her ever barking before.

“You okay, girl?” Missy rubbed Cody behind the ears. The dog licked her wrist before turning and racing back toward the house. She jumped onto the porch and looked back at Missy to bark again.

The dog was acting strange.

Missy cupped her hands around her mouth. “Mr. Switzer!”

No response.

Missy was starting to get nervous. Cody was barking at her and Switzer wasn’t answering. Then the dog nosed the screen door open and disappeared inside. She thought about following the dog, but that didn’t feel right. It wasn’t her house and besides, Switzer was notoriously hard of hearing. He probably needed a hearing aid but as far as she knew had never gotten one. Then she remembered Switzer mentioning he was expecting company.

There was only Switzer’s car in the driveway and Missy didn’t see any other vehicles parked on the street like her. So whoever it was hadn’t arrived yet. Maybe he was just busy inside and being hard of hearing, probably didn’t hear her shouting.

Better not to intrude.

Missy went over to the cabinet. The one hinge needed to be replaced, and there were some nicks in the doors but overall she thought she could make it work. She had some old chairs that would go well with it. With some tender loving care, she could repurpose and sell it along with the chairs. She thought it would make a great drink cabinet.

Missy bent and wrapped her arms around the cabinet. It was heavy—like all old things!—but she’d always been strong and was able to get it into the flatbed by herself. She took a moment to secure it with one of the bungee cords, then went to the passenger seat to get her purse.

When she opened it, she remembered: she only had two twenties and a hundred dollar bill on her. They had agreed on fifty.

Missy looked back to Switzer’s house. Who knew what he was going through in there? She really didn’t want to disturb him, but at the same time she didn’t feel comfortable leaving him forty with a promise to return later…and she really didn’t want to leave the hundred and have to come back later for change.

Missy closed the passenger door and with the cash in hand walked up the lawn. As she stepped onto the porch, she heard the faint sound of voices. She wondered who Switzer was talking to, until the laugh track kicked in. He had the TV on, tuned to some old show.

The screen door was still ajar but she didn’t feel comfortable just walking in. Missy knocked twice.

Cody barked from somewhere in the house. Even if Switzer hadn’t heard the door, he must have heard his dog making a racket.

But she waited and waited. Switzer didn’t come to the door.

Missy opened the door a few feet and poked her head inside. “Mr. Switzer! It’s Missy DeMeanor!”

Again, Cody barked. Again, Switzer didn’t respond or come to the door. That feeling of panic she’d had a few minutes earlier came flooding back. There was something really wrong about this situation…or maybe he was just in the bathroom. Maybe it was nothing.

“Mr. Switzer?”

She waited another fifteen seconds, and getting no response finally stepped inside. The screen door squeaked almost-shut behind her. As she stepped into the foyer, Cody appeared in the dining room to her left and inclined her head to bark again.

Only this time she didn’t stop.

“What is it, Cody?”

The dog was freaking out, and now Missy was too. She had a horrible feeling about what she was going to find in this house. Immediately she thought that Switzer had fallen and broken a hip or had a stroke or maybe a heart attack. It might have just happened too, and she’d wasted five minutes dawdling outside. She knew that every minute counted when it came to a heart attack or stroke, and now her desire to help overcame her initial fear.

She stepped instinctively toward the dog and Cody immediately stopped barking and hurried off. Now she understood: the dog wanted her to follow. Missy felt like such an idiot. She should have realized that when Cody had come out of the house earlier.

She followed Cody through the dining room into the den where the TV was still on. There were boxes covering the floor, most of them open, and lots of papers spread out on the coffee table and end tables. Missy at first didn’t understand what else she was seeing, but then her eyes made sense of the senseless and she registered everything else.

Switzer was sprawled on the floor between the cardboard boxes. His blue eyes staring vacantly at the ceiling, his jaw open and slack.

He was dead.

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