Adina Donati, Accidental Sleuth Book 1
By Cassidy Salem Genre: Cozy Mystery
Good friends, wine and conversation… Great fun – until somebody turns up dead.
Adina Donati came to Washington D.C. to find excitement, not a dead body. When a friend is murdered, Adina is drawn into the middle of the police investigation. Tensions rise as the suspect list expands to include Adina, her friends, and colleagues at the prestigious think tank where she works. But every cloud has a silver lining. Between the nice detective, the hot new volunteer at the dog rescue center, and the newly available preppy ex-boyfriend, Adina’s dating dry spell appears near its end. That is, if she doesn’t become the next victim.
A refreshing breeze cooled the air at the end of the warm fall day. Rather than wait for the bus, Hilary and I walked to McSweeney’s in Georgetown. Located on Wisconsin Avenue, McSweeney’s Irish Pub has a great happy hour special, with the best free appetizers.
First order of business, as always, was to listen to Hilary vent about work. She was frustrated with her research and having some kind of trouble getting the information she needed. And her boss, Dr. Stickler, was giving her a hard time again. I sort of tuned out half way through her tirade, continuing to murmur what I hoped were encouraging responses.
Hilary had pretty much wound down by the time we reached McSweeney’s. A popular spot among men and women in their 20s and 30s, the pub was standing room only and the scent of Guinness hung in the air. Most of the guys were scoping the scene seeking out potential hookups – but that was nothing new. Petite and pretty, with strawberry blond hair and sparkly blue eyes, Hilary was a magnet for male attention.
We made our way to the bar and each ordered a glass of white wine. I even managed to grab a small dish of chicken wings for us to share. We did our best to eat, drink, and talk, while standing, constantly jostled by the crowd. Just as one guy was on the verge of striking up a conversation with us, we snagged a small table in the back corner.
More often than not I enjoyed watching the flirtations or even flirted a bit myself, but today my attention was on our conversation. Hilary’s mood had changed since our arrival. Seated at our relatively secluded table, she fidgeted in her chair. After we had both ordered a second glass of wine, Hilary took a few rapid sips, then confided, “Something’s going on with Duncan, he’s been acting strange.” She hesitated, then stammered, “Do you think he’s cheating on me?”
So how was I supposed to answer that question? I hated to lie, still neither Duncan nor I had ever mentioned to her that we had been an item a couple years back – a brief relationship that ended when his interest lagged. To add insult to injury, he had found a replacement for me before breaking it off. Duncan is hot; he knows it and he uses it to his advantage. Faithful is not his middle name.
A bit of a coward, I replied, “I don’t know. Has his behavior changed? Any special reason you think he might be seeing someone else?”
“Just a feeling I have, like there’s something he’s not telling me. He’s been almost secretive since his last visit home.” Hilary’s eyes welled up with tears. “I think maybe I should wash my face, freshen up before we leave.”
While I waited for her to return from the restroom, I finished that second glass of wine and did my best to drive any thoughts of Duncan and his cheating past out of my mind. My favorite strategy for accomplishing that was to check out the guys standing at the bar. Most of them were in their early 20s, with the standard Washington yuppie uniform – business-like suits or at least respectable jackets and ties. The only guy that stood out was wearing a Redskins cap and no jacket. I guess he didn’t know the local dress code. No one there struck my fancy, so I didn’t have to pretend I was going to work up the courage to approach anyone.
Bored and wondering what was taking her so long, I decided to check up on Hilary. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t hiding in there, crying her eyes out. It meant we’d probably lose the table, but I was about ready to head home, and a trip to the restroom before leaving wasn’t a bad idea.
The restrooms at McSweeney’s are way in the back, down a long narrow hallway a few feet past the entrance to the kitchen. The location was a bit out of the way, but someone had the foresight to put four stalls in the women’s room. There was rarely a need to stand in line, at least not this time of day. At night, when there is live music and the place is packed, well that’s another story.
When I pushed the door open, the sink area was empty and the stall doors were all ajar. Strange. So where was Hilary? As I pondered that question, something on the floor of the last stall caught my eye. I walked over to take a closer look and saw Hilary slumped over on the floor.
“Hilary, are you OK? What’s wrong?” She didn’t answer. I moved closer, going partway into the stall. She was leaning leftward, her long hair falling into a large puddle of blood. I screamed, quite loudly to judge from the size of the crowd that came running in response. I leaned over and tried to check her right wrist for a pulse. There was none. Shaking uncontrollably, I lost my balance and landed on my butt outside the stall.
Dying For Data
Adina Donati, Accidental Sleuth Book 2
A rival suitor and a deadly attack are enough to put a damper on any date.
A romantic evening with a hot guy goes downhill fast when dinner is interrupted by the scream of sirens and the arrival of Adina's favorite police detective. Afraid her bartender boyfriend might be accused of murder, Adina's neighbor enlists her assistance, and in the process exposes her to the seamier side of illegal immigration and crime in the city. Hard as she tries to limit her involvement, the more Adina learns, the more she needs to know - until a case of mistaken identity lands her in hot water. Will she uncover the truth before it's too late?
I shivered as we walked the short distance to our dinner destination. Although the cold wintry air provided some explanation, ingrained apprehension probably played a greater role than I’d care to admit.
Don’t get me wrong. The Provence Bar and Grill isn’t in the worst part of DC, still it’s not in a neighborhood where I’d feel comfortable walking alone at night. Of course, I wasn’t alone. Bruce was right there at my side. His green eyes sparkled as he watched me scan the streets for potential dangers.
“Adina, relax. It’s a regular neighborhood, with regular people.”
He clasped my hand as we walked the short distance to the restaurant. His nearness helped, but didn’t entirely assuage my fears as we made our way down the busy street, passing an eclectic collection of humanity, from well-heeled businessman to the occasional homeless person.
I’d been looking forward to dinner that night. It would be my third date with Bruce, and we planned to check out the restaurant where my neighbor, Elena, worked. She had lots of good things to say about the place, despite its less than lucrative location.
Elena was perched on a stool at the hostess station just inside the restaurant. Dressed in a short black dress that accentuated her fair complexion and long blond hair, she greeted us with a bright smile. “I am so glad you came. You are going to love the food here.” She leaned in close and added, “Rafael is working tonight, too.”
Elena and Rafael had been dating for three months, and she talked about him every time I saw her. I hadn’t met him yet and was curious to find out if he was as handsome and charming as Elena claimed.
A table wasn’t available so she led us to the bar, promising that she would seat us as soon as a table was free. She called Rafael over and introduced us.
“Rafael, this is Adina, my neighbor, and her friend Bruce. Take good care of them.”
She hadn’t exaggerated, at least not about his good looks. Tall, dark, and handsome, his Latino coloring was set off by an olive green shirt with the restaurant logo embroidered on it. His penetrating black eyes followed Elena as she returned to the hostess station at the entrance.
“So what can I get you guys?” He wiped down the countertop while he talked.
“White wine?” Bruce asked. I nodded, and he ordered Chablis for me and a Heineken for himself. Rafael brought us our drinks and stayed for a few minutes to chat.
“So you’re that Adina person Elena told me about. She really likes you. She doesn’t have a lot of friends so that counts for a lot as I see it.”
“She’s told me good things about you, too.”
“How do you like tending bar?” Bruce asked.
“It’s a lot of fun. Most of the customers here are pretty decent. And, of course, this is where I met Elena.” He smiled. “So where did you two meet?”
“Bruce and I both volunteer at a dog rescue center.”
“Cool. I like dogs. I’ve never had one. Too much work if you don’t live in a house with a yard.”
A couple sitting at the other end of the bar called him over, putting an end to our conversation.
“I’d better get that. The other barman is on his break. I’ll try and catch up with you later.”
I watched as he made a show of mixing up a colorful concoction in a tall glass for a well-dressed woman. She clapped her hands together like an excited child, making her appear far younger than the man at her side.
Before we had time to finish our drinks, Elena seated us at a cozy table in the main dining room. We took our time looking over the menu before ordering.
“When Elena recommended this place, I didn’t know what to expect. It’s quite nice. Don’t you think?”
The décor was simple yet pleasing — plain white tablecloths, olive green napkins, and white and green dishes. A lit candle set in a green and blue glass vessel completed the tableau.
He looked around and nodded. “Impressive range of options on the menu, too.”
The food was excellent. Our plates were almost clean when the peaceful atmosphere was shattered by the scream of sirens. Minutes later, a uniformed police officer entered and asked to speak to the manager.
Henri, the manager and owner, accompanied the officer outside and out of sight. The diners, ourselves included, watched the door for a few minutes before getting back to our food.
Around 10 minutes later, two uniformed police officers entered the restaurant. The older of the two announced, “Folks, sorry for the inconvenience but we’re going to have to ask you all a few questions before you leave tonight. In the meantime, feel free to finish your meal.”
A heavyset restaurant patron had just paid his check and demanded to go home. “But I’ve finished eating and paid my bill. You can’t make me stay here.”
“Sorry, but I can’t let anyone leave until I get the OK from the lead detective. He’ll be here soon.”
Seeing a uniformed officer posted on the other side of the glass entrance, the man scowled and stomped back to his seat.
The younger officer moved between the tables taking down names and contact information, while the other officer headed for the bar to talk to the some of the wait staff. I could see a short blond guy pouring beer from the tap, but Rafael was nowhere to be seen.
Henri returned around 10 minutes later. Head hanging low, he plodded over to the hostess station where Elena waited. They spoke for a few minutes before Elena dashed toward the door. Her face fell when she realized she couldn’t go outside.
Elena wobbled on her high heels as she walked in our direction. Bruce jumped up and caught her before she could fall. She burst into tears.
“Elena, are you all right? What’s wrong?” I asked.
“The police told Henri there was a fight in the back alley. Rafael is hurt and they won’t let me go outside to see him.” Her mild Russian accent came across stronger than usual.
The screams of another siren drew near and stopped, drawing the attention of restaurant staff and patrons alike. Soon thereafter, the flashing lights of an ambulance were visible through the restaurant window as it drove away. A somber mood had taken hold and people spoke quietly amongst themselves.
The next time the door opened, Detective Jonathan Saks walked in. The young detective took in the scene and cleared his throat.
“A violent crime has taken place behind this establishment involving a restaurant employee. For this reason, officers will be speaking to each of you before you leave. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Jonathan scrutinized the faces of everyone present. His eyes widened when he spotted me. Smartly dressed in a dark blue suit, he smiled as he sauntered over to our table. And then he saw my date.
Awkward. Very awkward. Jonathan and I dated a couple of times after our paths had crossed when a friend of mine was murdered. He’s a really nice guy. And I had kind of been avoiding him, which was easy to do considering his crazy schedule. I didn’t want to string him along, still, on the other hand, I wasn’t ready to slam that door shut.
Bruce stood up to greet him, hand extended. All business, Jonathan shook his hand and turned to me. “Good evening, Adina. You’re looking well. Sorry to interrupt your evening.”
Jonathan turned his attention to Elena, who was staring at the candle, almost comatose. Eyebrows raised, he looked back at me.
“Jonathan, I don’t think you’ve met my neighbor, Elena. She works here and suggested we check out the food.”
Elena looked up at Jonathan without speaking. Knowing it would come out sooner or later, I volunteered that Elena was upset because her boyfriend, Rafael, had been hurt and no one would tell her anything. That got his attention.
“When can she see him?” I asked.
He ignored my question. Instead, he led a dazed Elena to an empty table off in the corner where they could speak in private. He pulled out a chair for her and sat down on the opposite side of the table.
I adjusted my chair so I could observe their conversation. Not that I could hear what they were saying. From what I could tell, Jonathan was asking a lot of questions and Elena was doing a lot of crying.
Jonathan was still interviewing Elena when the young uniformed officer stopped by our table. Close up, it was hard to believe he was old enough to shave never mind be a policeman. I suppressed a laugh when he identified himself as Officer Young.
Despite his baby face, he was all business. He asked us whether we knew the bartender and whether we had seen anything suspicious, then noted down our contact details. He finished up and told us it was okay for us to leave.
“Bruce, I don’t want to leave before we make sure Elena is okay. Do you think we could wait and give her a ride to the hospital?”
Bruce nodded. “She could probably use a friend around now.”
Minutes later, Jonathan gave Elena his card and walked her back to our table. “You guys are still here? Hasn’t an officer spoken to you yet?”
“Yes, and yes. We thought Elena might need a ride.”
“Good thinking.” He smiled at me. “Well, then… I have a lot more people to talk to before the night is over.”
With a curt nod in Bruce’s direction, he headed toward the bar area to continue his interviews. Elena stood next to the table, showing no inclination to move.
“Elena, are you ready to go?”
“Yes. I suppose so. I’ll just tell Henri I’m leaving and grab my things.”
Adina Donati, Accidental Sleuth Book 3
Adina can’t resist snooping when someone she knows turns up dead. Again.
When a colleague at a prestigious think tank meets a violent death, Adina’s not convinced any of the obvious suspects disliked him enough to want him dead. Can the young research assistant, her quirky neighbor, and a lovable rescue pup help the police put together the pieces of the puzzle?
Killer Reputation is the third mystery in the Adina Donati, Accidental Sleuth Series by Cassidy Salem. The books are standalone reads and can be read in any order.
Bonzo’s insistent barking woke me out of a sound sleep. The glowing digital display on my clock radio showed it was 1:35 in the morning. Perched at the window, paws up on the sill, the dog focused his attention on the great outdoors.
I dragged myself out of bed, hoping to quiet him before he woke up my housemates. Tail wagging, he gave my hand a quick lick before returning to his vigil at the window. My bedroom was at the back of the house, overlooking a small fenced yard. I looked outside but neither saw nor heard anything out of the ordinary.
I called my loveable mutt back to his doggie bed, gave him a quick tummy rub, and went back to sleep.
I was in the kitchen when Lynda, my housemate, returned from her early morning run. Instead of heading straight for the shower, she burst into the kitchen. “Something must have happened down the street at Patrick’s place. An ambulance and a police car are out front.”
“Bonzo, I think it’s time for a walk.” I grabbed his leash and he sprinted to the front door. More often than not, I didn’t have time to take him for a proper walk in the morning. Instead, he had to make do with a quick romp in the backyard and do his business while I got ready for work. He was happy to reap the benefits of my curiosity.
A police cruiser was parked in front of the pale yellow house on the corner. The ambulance was nowhere in sight. We hadn’t even reached the curb when our next-door neighbor, Mr. Crockett, waved me over. A retired policeman in his eighties, Bartholomew Crockett lived alone and spent most of his time on the front porch.
He met me halfway down his flagstone path, an oversized, dark grey cardigan buttoned up to his neck and hanging over his pants. “A lot of excitement this morning. Something happened at the house where those two young guys live. Always having wild parties and such. You girls know them, don’t you?”
“Sure, we know them. Patrick works at the DIPPeR and Jared invited us to a party over there last month. Do you have any idea what happened over there? Or who was hurt?”
“One of the guys, I think. Couldn’t tell which one from here, and I didn’t want to get in the way – I’ll see what I can find out when the officers come back out.”
“And you’ll let me in on what you find out, I hope.”
I took Bonzo for a short stroll in the opposite direction before returning home. By then, Lynda had showered and was enjoying a steaming cup of java. She looked up when I came in.
“Find out anything?”
“Not much. I’ll tell you on the way to work.”
Lynda gulped down the last of her coffee, and we headed out to catch the Metro.
Lynda Lowell worked in the Publications Department at the Drake Institute for Public Policy Research – what we insiders refer to as the DIPPeR. That’s how we ended up as housemates. Lynda Lowell, Shari Moss, and I had been sharing a three-bedroom house in the northwest section of Washington, D.C. since February. So far, it was working out great, and a major improvement over the basement studio apartment where I had spent my first two years in the city. Especially since it meant I could have a dog.
“So, what did Crockett tell you? If anyone knows what happened, it’d be him.”
When we first moved in, it felt like he was always watching us. It was almost creepy. That is, until I started talking to him and realized he’s a kind-hearted, lonely old man.
“He doesn’t know much. Not yet, anyway. He said they took someone out on a stretcher. Thinks it was one of the guys who live there, meaning Patrick or Jared. He couldn’t tell who.”
“His eyes are probably not so good at his age.”
“In all fairness, from a distance, lying on a stretcher, would you be able to tell who was injured?”
“Anyway, Mr. Crockett did say he’ll try to wheedle some intel out of the police officers before they leave. I suspect he misses being a cop. Did you see Shari this morning?”
“Nope. She was gone before I went out for my run. She probably just had an early shift this morning.” A nurse at a hospital in Silver Spring, it wasn’t unusual for our housemate to be up and out of the house before we surfaced.
“She’s been spending a lot of time over there. I hope she’s okay.”
“I heard her come in late last night, so I’m sure she’s fine.”
Cassidy Salem has always been an avid reader. She is especially fond of mysteries (both cozy and traditional) and police procedurals. Over the years, her favorite mystery authors have included Agatha Christie, Kathy Reichs, Mary Higgins Clark, and John Grisham. When she's not reading, she enjoys music and spending time with family and friends, and travels with her husband and son whenever possible. Her travels have taken her to destinations throughout the United States, Europe, and Scandinavia.
Cassidy is the author of the Adina Donati Mystery Series, which includes Think Murder, Dying for Data, and Killer Reputation. Cassidy co-authors, together with Christa Nardi, a YA mystery series, which includes The Mysterious Package, Mrs. Tedesco's Missing Cookbook, The Misplaced Dog, and Malicious Mischief.