It’s never a good idea to start off your day thinking of ways to kill someone. For one thing, all that negativity can be a real joy suck. Not to mention distracting, because all I’ve been able to think about for the past twelve hours is not just how to kill this person, but how to get away with it too.
My intended victim?
Tara Bell, a producer for T.V.’s newest hit show, Battle of the Beach Eats, a reality competition that pits restaurants in the same town against one another.
Following a series of “tests,” the restaurants are eliminated one by one until they crown a winner. The second season is being filmed here in Whispering Bay, and The Bistro by the Beach, the café I co-own along with my friend Sarah Powers, is one of the “lucky” restaurants in the competition. If we win, we’ll be able to call our place the “Best Beach Eat in Town.”
Sounds like fun. Right?
Especially when you consider that besides all the awesome publicity, the winners receive a grand prize of twenty-five thousand dollars (which I could really use).
The not so fun part?
Dealing with Tara and her production schedule. For the past three days she’s made my life a living hell. Not only have I had to change my regular wake up alarm from four a.m. to three in order to get everything done, but she and her crew are also constantly in my way filming “pre-show material” as they call it.
I know I signed up for this. I know I gave her permission to film everything and be everywhere, but yesterday she went too far. Right in the middle of making my morning batch of apple walnut cream cheese muffins (my signature muffin) I got distracted by another one of Tara’s requests that I “turn this way for the camera.” As a result, I forgot to put in the walnuts.
What do you get when you forget to put walnuts in the apple walnut cream cheese muffins?
A lot of angry customers, that’s what.
So far, my revenge fantasies have included pushing her into my oven and closing the door (I know, very Hansel and Gretel of me), knocking her on the head with one of her own cameras, and my own personal ultimate horror: death by squirrel.
An image of Tara fleeing for her life from a pack of rabid rodents is interrupted by a voice asking me if I’m ready to start.
I shake myself back to reality.
This afternoon I’m being interviewed by Allie Donalan and Roger Van Cleave, co-owners of The Whispering Bay Gazette, our town’s local paper. They’ve been after me for an interview ever since I solved my first murder and managed to nab one of the FBI’s most wanted serial killers, The Angel of Death. Now that I’ve helped catch El Tigre, a notorious mob hitman, I’ve become more than just a local celebrity. I’m a curiosity. Or in other words, a freak. Everyone wants to know how I did it, but if I told them the truth no one would believe it.
Allie sits across from me on my living room couch peppering me with questions, while Roger works on getting the best lighting possible for a front-page photo op. Which, yikes. Not looking forward to seeing how that turns out.
I’m not being modest when I say that I’m not looking my best these days. Ever since filming started three days ago I’ve gotten a total of eight hours sleep in a seventy-two-hour period. So yeah, the term bags under one’s eyes have taken on a whole new meaning.
I’ve done the best I can though. I washed and blow-dried my shoulder-length dark brown hair so that it doesn’t look crazy and I’m even wearing mascara and a brand-new T-shirt that says FEAR THE MUFFIN TOP. It’s a bright blue color that makes my plain brown eyes sparkle a bit.
Allie, who looks fresh as a daisy, smiles at me. “Thank you so much for doing this interview, Lucy. I know how crazy things have been for you lately especially now with the filming going on for the show. So exciting!”
Roger stops fidgeting with the lights long enough to nod in agreement. “Yes, thanks, Lucy.”
“You’re welcome,” I say trying to sound bright and chirpy. Which normally, I am. Except you know, lack of sleep.
Paco, my little rescue dog who’s sitting next to me and has had no problem getting his beauty sleep in the past few days, barks happily like he’s joining in the conversation.
Allie laughs. “He’s so cute! Tell me again how you got him.”
I glance at the tape recorder on the coffee table, a not-so-subtle reminder that everything I say can and will be used against me in this interview.
Not that I’m worried Allie and Roger will write anything negative. Just the opposite. They’ll probably write some big fluff piece that will make me sound like a hero. Would I ever call myself that? Nah. But the rest of the town is calling me a hero, so who am I argue with them?
The thing about the tape recorder is that I have to be extra careful not to say anything that might give away the fact that:
A. I’m a human lie-detector. A “gift” I’ve had ever since childhood which has been a real pain in the gluteus maximus except it does rather come in handy when you’re trying to solve crime.
B. My dog is a ghost whisperer.
C. Isn’t A and B enough?
I reach over and scratch Paco in his favorite spot behind the ears. He’s a chihuahua-terrier mix with the biggest brown eyes you’ve ever seen. He’s adorable. And he knows it. His big ego is part of his charm.
“I kind of inherited Paco, or rather, he inherited me,” I say.
“He belonged to Abby Delgado, right?”
“Sort of. She dognapped him. He belonged to Susan Van Dyke, but after she died, well…it’s a long story.”
Allie nods and I’m reminded of those scenes from The Sopranos when Lorraine Bracco’s character nods sympathetically at Tony from her therapist’s chair. Just like Tony, I tell her the bare minimum she needs to know to do her job, while keeping the gritty details all to myself.
“I have in my notes that you’re allergic to dogs? How do you handle that?”
“Medication,” I say. “It makes me drowsy sometimes, but other than that, it’s helped tremendously.”
“So, no chance that you’ll give him up? He sure is cute.”
Paco’s ears stand on alert. Sometimes I think he can understand what the humans around him are saying.
“Oh no. He’s stuck with me.”
Paco’s little body relaxes.
No worries, buddy, you and I are a team.
He nods his head at me like he can read my mind. I’m beginning to think that seeing dead people is just the tip of the iceberg where his skills are concerned. Seriously, I think my dog might be psychic, as well.
“Let’s see,” Allie says going over her notes again, “Paco was with you when you found the dead bodies of Abby Delgado, and the three men that El Tigre killed. Correct? Is that a coincidence? Did he help you in any way?”
What I’d like to say is:
Actually, Paco is the one who found the dead bodies, not me. He’s a ghost whisperer. At least, that’s what the Sunshine Ghost Society thinks and from what I’ve seen, I have to agree.
But since I have no desire to get Baker Acted, I carefully say, “Paco was a huge help. Like most dogs, he’s got great instincts.”
There, that’s vague enough that I didn’t really say anything, but it should satisfy her.
Allie nods thoughtfully. “And Will Cunningham, our head librarian here in Whispering Bay, he was with you as well when you caught El Tigre?”
“Oh yes, if it wasn’t for Will and Paco I’d probably be at the bottom of the gulf swimming with the fishes.”
“You’ve known Will a long time, huh?”
“Just my whole life. He’s one of my oldest friends. My best friend, actually.”
Allie doesn’t say anything and for an instant I’m afraid that something in my voice has given me away. My best friend that I’m in love with.
Except, there was that kiss with Travis…
Travis Fontaine, the new hot cop in town, says he wants to date me. But not until I sort out my feelings for Will. Which is pretty confusing because with all that’s going on with this cooking competition, not to mention catching all these murderers, who has time for romance?
Allie flips through her notebook. “I took the liberty of asking your parents a few background questions. I hope that’s okay.”
“Sure.” I squirm a bit on the couch. I love my parents to death. Molly and George McGuffin are the best. But…occasionally, my mother can get a bit dramatic. “Um, what did they say about me?”
“Oh, you know, the usual. They said you were completely wonderful.” Allie’s eyes twinkle like she’s teasing, only I know this is probably exactly what they said. My chest swells with love.
“So, let’s see…you’re a local girl, born and bred. After graduating college, you went on to culinary school, then came back home to work here at The Bistro and eventually bought out the former owner. And now your restaurant is the front runner to win a national cooking competition. That’s quite a success story.”
“Well, we haven’t won yet,” I say trying to sound modest. “The rest of the competitors are pretty awesome. Off the record, my favorite place to eat in town is The Burger Barn. And really, running a business, especially a restaurant, is a lot of hard work. I’m lucky enough to live above the café so the first thing I do every morning, after walking Paco, is start baking the muffins. Sarah is here by five a.m. so we can prep for the breakfast crowd. We close at two, but then one of us does clean up. We have Jill, who helps us out part-time, but it’s still pretty much a ten to twelve-hour day six days a week for us.”
“Wow. How on earth do you find time to solve crime?”
“Since crime finds me, I don’t have much of a choice,” I joke.
“Your mother says you’re a member of your brother’s parish, St. Perpetua’s?”
“When your brother’s a priest, you can’t very well miss mass, can you?”
Allie chuckles and glances at her notes again. “She also said that you were quite active in Young Catholic Singles.”
Rats. I knew that lie was going to come back to bite me in the butt. I can’t very well have my mother read the truth in the local paper—that I’ve been lying to her all this time about being a member of Young Catholic Singles.
“Yeah, about that—”
A knock on my apartment door interrupts my thoughts. Without waiting for an answer, Gilly, Tara’s assistant barges in. Gilly Franklin is tall and lanky with dark hair pulled up in a ponytail that looks as if it’s on the verge of collapsing. “Sorry to interrupt but Tara needs you.”
“Now? I’m in the middle of an interview.”
“Yes now,” she says. The panic in her voice makes me sigh. Gilly is fresh out of college and this is her first professional job, so I try to cut her some slack. After all, she can’t help it if her boss is the real-world equivalent of Cersei Lannister (did I mention I’m a big Game of Thrones fan?).
“It’s okay,” Allie says. “We have everything we need. Don’t we?” she asks Roger.
“Sure. Go ahead, Lucy. And thanks for the interview. This is going to make a great front-page feature.”
I leave Allie and Roger to pack up their equipment, muster up a fake smile and follow Gilly down the stairs to the café with Paco on my heels. I swear if this is another one of Tara’s foolish demands… An image of Tara being run over by an ice cream truck playing Ding Dong The Witch is Dead over their PA system pops into my head.
At least now my smile is real.