Grounds For Remorse
A Tallie Graver Mystery #2
by Misty Simon
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Best friends Tallie Graver and Gina Laudermilch both seem to spend a lot of time around urns. For Tallie, they're part and parcel of the family business, Graver's Funeral Home. Even though she's traded ashes for dusting with her own cleaning business, she still works part-time for her folks and lives above the funeral parlor. For Gina, they're the vessels that con-tain her heavenly brew at her coffee shop, Bean There, Done That. And both women are learning that owning a business can make finding time for romance challenging.
But when Gina's new beau turns out to have a wife, who barges into the coffee shop to take him home, she can't contain her bitterness and loudly threatens to poison his cup or boil him in a vat of coffee. So when Mr. Wrong turns up dead at the bottom of a staircase inside Gina's locked home, she finds herself at the top of the police's suspect list. Tallie needs to sweep in to save her friend. But she'll need to watch her step, or she may go from being a funeral home employee to becoming their next client . . .
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home my parents and brother owned. It also helped that my father had installed soundproofing up here
at my request.
Tonight, though, I’d had a hard time falling asleep and had wandered to the window a few times to soak up the moonlight and watch the few cars driving on Main Street. I had been restless even with Max’s arms wrapped around me in the Murphy bed that I’d lowered from the wall.
So, it was no surprise that I heard it and shot straight up in bed. As softly as possible I removed myself from under Max’s arm and went to the front windows of my apartment, where I’d be able to see the direction the fire truck headed. The lights could be mesmerizing as they strobed across the brick
buildings of Main Street in our small town. Pennsylvania liked its sirens and its volunteer firemen.
But though the siren blared and the lights flashed, they didn’t get far. In fact, they pulled across the
street and stopped outside Gina’s.
What on earth?
“Max. Max!” I shook him, then ran to my closet for a hoodie to throw over my pajamas. No time to waste on a bra, and the hoodie would cover up any sagging. Plus, the dead of summer could still get a little chilly outside in the middle of the night.
He sat up, his hair going in all directions. “What’s going on?”
“The fire truck is in front of Gina’s house. I have to go over there.”
Points for him that he was out of bed and stepping into his jeans before I’d finished my second sentence.
“See if you can get a hold of her. She might not be able to answer, but maybe she can. Just check.” He
went to the window as he pulled a shirt on over his head. “I don’t see flames. But an ambulance just
“Oh no. That could mean anything.” They came out for all reasons, generally anything that involved a
call to the emergency line at the police station. What had happened? Was Gina hurt? Had I left her alone and Craig had come for her? My stomach tried to claw its way up my throat.
Stepping into shoes, I hit my Gina speed dial as I flew down the two sets of stairs to the main floor.
Max was right on my heels. By the fourth ring, Gina still hadn’t answered, but then it didn’t matter because I saw her standing on the sidewalk with her arms wrapped around herself and a blanket over
At least she was alive. While I’d booked it down the stairs, horrible visions had flashed through my head of Craig getting in her house and killing her in her sleep. Seeing her standing there alleviated that fear at least, but it didn’t indicate what had happened. I didn’t even look for traffic as I ran across the
street and jerked to a halt in front of her. I opened my arms and she stepped forward. But Chief Burton
put an arm out between us, keeping her from hugging me. The man was the bane of my existence.
He still held a grudge over the stuck-up, snobby bitch I had been for the past five years. I’d thought helping him with a double murder a few months ago might have softened him up, but that didn’t seem to be happening with the way his eyes were flinty and his stance forbidding.
“What are you doing?” I demanded.
“This is a crime scene, Tallie.”
“A what? What happened?” Quickly taking in the scene, I saw no blood and no broken windows. Nothing out of the ordinary, except my friend standing on the street with a blanket around her shoulders.
“Go home. We’re taking care of it. I need you to step back. We don’t want to contaminate anything
until we have all the evidence we need.”
“Gina?” I met her eyes. Max stepped up next to me and put a hand on my outstretched arm.
“Don’t leave me, Tallie. Please.” Her voice quavered with distress and I wanted to punch Burton in his shiny badge.
Instead, I glared at him and almost said the scathing words that were positively boiling on my tongue. But I did not want to make anyone even madder. I settled for taking a step back. “I’m not leaving. I won’t touch anything, but I’m not leaving.”
Burton sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. Not my problem.
“Do you want me to call your mom, Gina?” I asked. “God, no, please.”
“Can you tell me what happened? Why are the police and the fire department and the ambulance here?”
Burton stepped between us again. “You can stay, but I’ll be asking the questions. Right now, this is a
need-to-know basis and you are not someone who needs to know anything.” Burton stood with his back
to Gina, fully blocking her from my sight. Kicking him would be a very bad idea, I told myself several
times, while I fought down the urge to do just that. I tried a different tactic with the silvered-haired
man who was the strong arm of the law around these parts. “Can you tell me what happened then? I live in the neighborhood and would like to know what has happened to bring everyone out before dawn.”
He frowned at me, his bushy gray eyebrows pulling down to form a V. “There’s been a death and that’s
all you need to know.”
A death? I reeled back into Max’s arms, my brain now going to the threats Gina had made earlier
toward Craig. No way would she have done that. I knew it in my heart. Plus, I didn’t even know who was dead. I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions until I had more facts.
And then the gurney rolled past me and Max. A hand flopped out from under the sheet, the manicured
fingernails masculine and way too clean. It was Craig. To say this was not good was a gross understatement.
Cremains of the Day
A Tallie Graver Mystery #1
For Tallulah Graver, marrying wealthy Waldo Phillips seemed like the best way out of the family business, the Graver Funeral Home. But when her marriage falls apart and Tallie is left with next to nothing, she turns to cleaning houses to make ends meet. As humbling as it is to tidy the mansions of the snobby socialites she used to call friends, at least she doesn't have to be around dead bodies. Until . . .
She discovers one of her employers lying in a closet with a knife sticking out of her chest. This unpleasant shock seems to be part of a web of weird experiences: Tallie's friend Gina's shop is broken into, her ex is stun-gunned where it hurts the most, and now she's receiving flowers from the dead woman. Granted the deliveryman is handsome, but seriously, that's enough to cast a pall over anyone’s day. Now Tallie needs to dig deep to clean up this mess—before she finds herself in a grave situation.
“You’ll be cheering as the clues pileup in this creative cozy mystery.” --New York Times bestselling author Lynn Cahoon
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She was draped across the wooden café table with her hair swept to the side and her head on her arm as if she was taking a rest. Her wrists and hands disappeared over the side of the small wood table. When she didn’t stir at the sound of my voice, I spoke again, louder this time. “Hey, Katie! Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!”
I walked around the table to get a good look at the other woman’s face. Maybe Katie was drunk again and had come here to pass out. I couldn’t imagine Gina had let her cousin in and then let her stay when the shop was closed for the funeral, but stranger things had happened.
Four steps took me in front of Katie, where I got that good look, and took two stumbling steps back, crashing into the table behind me. I should call the police. Right now.
I had my phone in my hand to do just that when Katie’s eyes popped open and she started yelling behind the tape over her mouth.
Okay, first I would find out what she was doing in here, then I would call the police.
Katie’s eyes widened and the garbled words increased in volume as I grabbed the edge of the silver duct tape covering her mouth.
“Sorry,” I said before I yanked, thankful Katie was awake and alive enough to scream bloody murder.
While she took great big, gulping breaths, I patted her back and said all those nonsensical things people were supposed to say when someone has been traumatized. Unfortunately, while I had plenty of experience dealing with the bereaved, I had almost no experience with the traumatized still-living. I couldn’t pat Katie’s hand and give her a tissue and offer her solace for her grief. Unless she wanted to mourn the unfortunate caterpillar of hair I’d pulled off her upper lip.
Instead, I fumbled around and finally said, “I hope it didn’t hurt too much.”
“Christ Almighty, Tallie, it hurt like a bitch. I guess I won’t have to go to Andrea’s shop this week for my lip wax appointment.”
She was joking, which had to be a good thing, I thought, until I saw the way Katie’s arms shook on the table. “I should call the police.”
“No!” she yelled, then seemed to pull herself back under control. “I mean, not yet. I just need a minute before people come storming in here.”
I thought that was an odd response, but she was an odd person, and since all the cops I knew were over at the fire station, I figured I could indulge her request if only to get some more info for Gina. “Do want me to call Gina over? She’s just across the street.” I even pointed out the front window as if Katie had no idea where the firehouse was.
I might get family dynamics, but human interaction wasn’t necessarily one of my strong points.
Katie shook her head, holding up her hands.
They were bound too. Yikes.
“Can you just get these of f me and maybe not take any more hair this time? Free lip wax I can live with, but bare arms not so much.”
Quickly working the end of the yellow rope holding Katie’s wrists together, I kept a close eye on not stripping the fine hairs from the other woman’s forear ms. The knots weren’t hard to get at, which made my job that much easier. I stepped back as Katie stood and shook out her hands.
“Wow, my arms are tingling.”
I hadn’t thought the knots were tight enough to actually cut off the circulation, but what did I know? I had no idea how long she had been sitting there, passed out. But maybe I should find out along with whether someone had taken anything from Gina’s shop while I gave Katie a couple minutes to compose herself. Gina was not going to be a happy camper, no matter how this all worked out.
“What happened?” I asked. As I waited for an answer, I began prowling around the shop, making
sure the coffee maker and the milk steamer were all in their correct places. I didn’t have a key to the register, but knew Gina cleaned it out every day after closing the shop. Somewhere she had a safe. I didn’t know where that was and didn’t need to know. The only thing I saw out of place were some napkins strewn across the wood counter Gina stood behind six days a week. That wasn’t enough to spark my curiosity.
Using the back of her wrist, Katie swiped her big hair off her forehead, then looked at me from the corner of her eye. “Obviously, I was tied up and left for dead.”
Katie had always been the lead in any drama put on the stage or acted out in real life. I tried to shove down my skepticism. There was no refuting that Katie had been tied up. I would just leave the “left for dead” part alone.
“Okay, but who tied you up and how did you and they get in here?” The logical question seemed to stump her for a second. Perhaps I was being too harsh. Katie could be dealing with shock and I just couldn’t see the outward signs due to her bravado.
“I don’t know who tied me up. I was in the back alley on my way in for a few things Gina had asked me to pick up earlier, when all of the sudden I see this guy lying at my feet about a yard away from the door. I bent down to see if he was just sleeping off a drunk when another guy looms out of the darkness and shoves me into the store.
He tied me up and told me to shut up when I told him I wouldn’t say anything if he’d just walk away
without hurting me. And then he duct-taped my mouth shut and left out the back door.”
Since my cellphone was still in my hand, I bent to unlock it before Katie drew her next breath. A body in the alley and a tied-up woman in the café was not good, no matter how it happened. I should have called the police the first time I’d mentioned it instead of letting Katie talk me into waiting. Due to my anxiety over the whole situation, I fumbled the six simple numbers of my password three times. Sure, I’d been running on adrenaline and afraid Katie wasn’t breathing, but that was not going to be a good enough excuse to keep Chief of Police Burton from railing at me for my failure to do the right thing the first time.
“I think you’re going to want to check out the guy in the back alley before you call anything in,”
Katie said, interrupting my attempt to dial. I paused to peer at her in disbelief. She had been tied up and “left for dead” in her own words, and there could be a body out in the back alley. What more could she possibly want to talk about before I got the authorities involved? “Why would I want to do that?”
“Because I’m pretty sure your ex-husband is lying out there dead.”
What? I couldn’t have heard her right. Waldo would never come to this part of town and certainly not to the alley. As far as the dead part—he might not be the best of people, but I couldn’t imagine anyone would actually take the time and energy to kill him. What the hell could he have done to deserve to die out there? I was not proud of that last thought. But there had been a lot going on in our marriage I had
not known about. Perhaps this was just one more thing I should have been prepared for when the preacher had said for better or worse. Waldo’s worse gave a whole other meaning to the phrase.
“Wait,” I said, not wanting to go off half-cocked or call in some vague, possible crime based solely
on a “pretty sure” from the town’s drama queen. “Are you not sure if it’s Waldo, or not sure if he’s
“Both. Either.” She shrugged.
I dialed the next four numbers for my password and got it right on my fourth try. After hitting speed dial number six, I kept the phone to my ear as I headed for the back of the store and the door out to the alley. I wouldn’t touch anything, I promised myself. I shouldn’t have touched Katie at all to begin with and would probably get my ass figuratively handed to me for that once the police got here. Not to mention, I had seen enough crime-scene investigation television to know not to incriminate myself. But I had to make sure it really was Waldo out there, or make sure it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, I was going to bean Katie on the head and maybe stick some duct tape to her eyebrows. See how she liked that impromptu wax for giving me heart palpitations.
Using one of the messy napkins from the counter, I turned the knob on the back door and pushed slowly. I didn’t know where exactly the body was located. I certainly didn’t want to smash whoever the poor sucker was in the head with the door. He might not be dead at all, but regardless, I was not going to add insult to injury.
“Police station, what can I do for you?”
I stopped in the open door way and gave Suzy at the police station the lowdown of what had happened, or what I had been told happened. Suzy told me to stay on the phone. I heard a beep and took the phone away from my face long enough to see who on earth was calling. Great. Gina. She was probably wondering where in the hell her sauerkraut was.
“Suzy, I have to answer this call. I’ll get right back to you.”
“Chief’s not going to like it.”
“Tell Burton it couldn’t be avoided.”
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