I had so much fun talking cozy mysteries with all of you on my live chat this morning! It was so great to see all your brunch treats and drinks. Watch the video to listen to the new pages and hear how our cozy mystery spin-off wraps up. I also talk about the events for the upcoming release of the next book in my cozy mystery Bakeshop Mystery Series, Nothing Bundt Trouble, later in the video, so check it out. 😁
Don’t worry if you missed out on our cozy mystery writing project this time, because we’re going to be another one after the release of my next book! More details soon.
Richard stood and cleared his throat. “Good idea, Lance. I could use a drink.” He snapped at a waiter. “Bring us a vat of Bloody Mary’s and make them strong—like burn the back of your throat strong.”
Toni jumped from her seat. She reached for Richard. “Baby, honey, you have to believe me, I had no idea! None.”
Richard shook free from her touch. He looked to me and Juliet as we stepped down from the stage.
Again, I found myself in unfamiliar territory—feeling sorry for Richard.
“I suggest we don’t let this delectable spread go to waste.” I ushered Juliet toward the buffet table. “Let’s all gather round the table and break some bread together until the Professor returns.”
“Break bread together?” Juliet whispered. “That’s laying it on thick, even for you, Lance.”
I shrugged. “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
Everyone gathered at the table while Blood Marys were passed around. I helped myself to a bacon cheddar scone.
“What’s going on? I don’t understand any of this,” Brady voiced what I assumed most of us were thinking. “Hank killed Peter because Peter killed his mother?”
No one spoke.
Brady turned in my direction.
“Don’t look at me. The Professor wrote the script. Juliet and I simply lended our talent.”
Richard gulped his drink. “I think there’s one person at this table who knows the truth.” His bulging eyes focused like a laser on Toni.
She fanned her face. “No, you don’t understand. That wasn’t part of the plan.”
“Ah ha! You admit it, there was a plan.” He knocked back more of his cocktail.
I thought about cautioning him to pace himself, but Toni let out a wailing sigh and stood up again.
“Listen, if nothing else at least hear me out.” Her voice was breathless as if she was struggling to fight off tears.
Maybe she was a better actor than I thought.
Richard clutched his glass. “No one’s stopping you. At least not yet.”
Toni paced from one end of the table to the other. “Okay, I admit it. I was helping Peter. He had a plan to skim some money from the kitchen. That’s all, I swear. We worked together in Reno. He had successfully pulled off similar schemes before. I caught him in the act when we were working at the same hotel and he agreed to cut me in. We’ve made some decent money with the scheme. The plan this time was that I would distract you with the show and take your attention away from the kitchen. He used that area under the sink to stash the money and receipts that he’d been fudging. You have to believe me, Richard, that was it. I never thought a few thousand bucks would be a big deal to a guy like you.”
Toni massaged her temples with her index fingers. “No, seriously. That’s all I was in for, but then things took a weird turn. We made a list of some potential targets and Ashland made sense with the theater, but then Peter freaked out when we arrived in town. Now, I realize that must have been because of Hank. He wanted to get out of here ASAP, but I refused.” She stopped and stared at Richard. “Because of you. I fell in love with you. For real. It was an act at the beginning, but then it changed. I told Peter that the night he was killed. I told him that I was going to sign the prenuptial agreement and stay in Ashland with you.”
Prenup? I thought back to the fight I’d witnessed between Peter and Toni. They had discussed getting something signed, but if memory served correctly it was Peter not Toni who had insisted on getting a document signed.
As if reading my mind, Toni continued. “You see Peter wanted more time. He had set his sights bigger with this con. He said there was some loophole with the hotel that would allow him to gain total ownership if he could get Richard to sign a fake document. I told him I was out. I was done. I had fallen in love and I didn’t care about the money anymore. I only cared about you.” She batted her eyes at Richard.
He slugged back the last of his Blood Mary and reached for another.
Before Toni could say more, the Professor returned.
“Excellent. You’re all here.” He took off a pair of reading glasses and tucked them into his breast pocket. “I imagine you have some questions. I’ll answer anything I can.”
“I have a question,” Brady said with a puzzled look on his face. “How did the poison get in Peter’s glass? I delivered the drinks myself.”
“Ah yes, but remember you found Hank in the kitchen, correct?”
“Hank had already poisoned Peter long before you brought out the champagne. They had an exchange in the kitchen. Hank knew that Peter would sneak in for a couple shots of whiskey in the late afternoon. He added the poison to the whiskey bottle, which my team recovered in a dumpster out back. Peter ingested the poison and was already feeling the effects of the toxins streaming through his bloodstream by the time everyone toasted with champagne.”
Brady’s shoulders relax. “Oh, okay.”
“I have a question,” Juliet raised one finger. “How did you know about the deed and the hidden safety deposit box?”
The Professor nodded. “Yes, that’s a valid question. You see when we ran Peter’s name and prints through the system, we returned quite a history. It seems that Peter’s ties to Ashland run deep. His father used to own a number of properties throughout the plaza, which were purchased under less than ethical circumstances—including Hank’s mother’s tea shop. Peter’s father ended up bankrupt due to excessive gambling debts and Hank’s mother was able to re-purchase the property. Peter made it his mission to restore his family’s legacy.”
“What does that mean for the Merry Windsor?” Richard scowled.
“You are the rightful owner. We’ve confirmed that with the bank. There’s not much more I can say on the subject for the short-term due to Hank’s pending trial.”
Jules helped herself to a serving of the cinnamon roll French toast, then turned to me, “Yeah, how did you know about the old bank vault in the basement of A Rose By Any Other Name?”
“Moi?” I pointed to my chest.
“That’s easy. I have a similar key in my office. We shot some spooky shorts for a Hamlet promo in the vault a few years ago. I kept the key as a souvenir.”
Toni, who was still on her feet, spoke up. “Detective, I’m confused about Peter’s past. He killed Hank’s mom?”
“Indeed. In his attempt to rebuild his father’s real estate portfolio and his reputation. Little did he know that Hank’s mother’s estate didn’t include ownership of the Merry Windsor or the old tea shop. She had already sold both off.”
“Family feuds, avenged deaths, secret estates,” I interjected. “This has all the makings of a modern-day Romeo and Juliet.”
“Excepting the romance.” The Professor moved to the table for a cup of coffee.
“No!” Toni screeched. “There was romance. Right, Richard? Do you believe me now?”
Richard folded his arms across his portly chest. “Nope. And, I want you off my property—now.”
Toni threw her hands over her face and started to sob.
“Actually, I have some further questions for you,” the Professor said. “Let’s take a stroll to my office.”
They left with Toni still begging Richard for a second chance.
Who knew if she was telling the truth, but I had to give her credit for not breaking character.
Richard leaned against the chair. “Great. Now I’m out a show, a fiancée, and a chef.”
He sounded so dejected, I couldn’t help myself.
“I think we can help you out on at least a couple of those counts.” I nudged Juliet.
She gave me a funny look.
“Richard, you have a budding young chef right here.”
“Huh?” Richard furrowed his brow.
My God, the man was dense.
I nodded my head toward Brady. “The kid has mad kitchen skills, right Juliet?”
Juliet smiled at Brady. “Absolutely. He’s a natural in the kitchen.”
“And, we’re heading into the off-season. He could use some extra hours,” I added.
Richard’s chest puffed up slightly. “Yeah? You interested?”
“For sure. I mean I have a lot to learn, but I would love a chance.” Brady’s cheeks were flushed with excitement.
“Juliet would certainly continue to mentor you,” I said, bracing myself for a swift kick in the shins.
“That would be awesome.” Brady grinned.
“Torte is here anytime you need us,” Juliet offered, narrowing her eyes at me.
“Think of it, he can be our inside man,” I said in a hushed tone as Richard and Brady started discussing details. “A secret spy.”
Juliet rolled her eyes and chuckled. “Oh, Lance, what would I do without you?”
Richard stood. “Well, sorry that you wasted your time on the play. It would have been fun.”
“Before you go. I have a thought on that too. As I mentioned, things are winding down and the company always enjoys creative projects during the off-season. What do you say if I write something special just for the Merry Windsor? We’ll put on the production here, brunch fête and all.”
For a moment I thought Richard Lord might actually cry. Instead he made his body wide and pursed his lip. “Yeah, yeah. That would be something. What kind of play?”
I tried to contain my evil grin. “Hmmm. I have some ideas in mind. It will be a comedy with a shrewish female lead. I picture her with red hair and a shrill, cackling laugh. I’ll get back to you after I flesh this out with the rest of the company, but I can see the title now: By the Pricking of My Thumbs: Something Witty This Way Comes.”