“I think I’ll head over and see what’s going on across the street. If you don’t mind.”
“If you trust me to handle things here while you’re gone,” Ginny said, somewhat testily.
Tricia ignored the remark. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Ginny nodded, and Tricia headed out the door, already dreading her return.
She turned the brass door handle and pushed open the heavy wood and glass door to the Happy Domestic. Cheerful harp music played on the store’s stereo system, belying the sadness she felt at entering the comfortable, eclectic shop she knew so well. Deborah had done a wonderful job with her displays, and the scent of potpourri was never overpowering. Everything was perfect—just the way Deborah had left it the day before.
Elizabeth stood next to a set of glass display shelves, feather duster in hand. From somewhere in the back of the store, Tricia heard little Davey singing an unintelligible version of the alphabet song.
Deborah’s mother turned, her eyes bloodshot and puffy. She looked as though she hadn’t slept in a week. “Tricia. Thank you for coming over.” She lurched toward Tricia and embraced her in a tight hug. Tricia patted her back, not knowing what else to do.
At last, Elizabeth pulled back and wiped her eyes.
“I was surprised to see the open sign,” Tricia said.
“David wanted me to close the doors for good, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t know what to do with myself, either. I mean, it’s up to David to make the”—her voice broke—“funeral arrangements.” Fighting tears, Tricia reached out, rested a hand on Elizabeth’s arm, waiting for her to recover. She sniffed and straightened. “He’s made it clear he doesn’t want any input from the rest of Deborah’s family.”
“When will the service be held?” Tricia asked.
“David’s scheduled it for tomorrow morning at nine over at the Baker Funeral Home.”
“Tomorrow?” Tricia repeated, disbelieving.
“That hardly gives my girls Paige and Terry time to get here to say good-bye. Although . . . it won’t be an open coffin.” Elizabeth’s lower lip trembled and her eyes filled with tears.
Tricia reached out again and placed a comforting hand on Elizabeth’s arm. She didn’t even want to imagine the horrific injuries Deborah had incurred. The rescue workers had shrouded the crash site with tarps, keeping the curious at bay, and then removed the bodies in black zippered bags.
Scheduling the funeral an hour before all the stores opened meant the owners, many of whom did not have employees to cover for them, would not have to forgo the service or close their stores.
A stuffed blue bunny sailed through the air and landed at Tricia’s feet. A baby gate held little Davey penned in the small office at the back of the store. She picked up the toy and returned it to its owner, who promptly began to chew its ear.
Tricia studied the wooden baby gate that stood about three feet tall and kept Davey from entering and destroying the delicate glassware and other items on the shop’s shelves. Could that be the gate that Julia had mentioned the day before? It didn’t seem likely.
Elizabeth wiped her eyes and sniffed. “Davey lost his blankie a few weeks back, and it takes real effort to get him off to sleep. Last night was the worst. I don’t know if it’s just because he misses Deborah or he doesn’t like being in a strange crib at night.”
“He’s been with me since . . . since yesterday.”
“Shouldn’t he be with his father?” Tricia said, then instantly regretted it. Her tone had held a touch of reproach.
Elizabeth shrugged. “David says he can’t deal with the baby right now. Not with everything else on his mind. I can’t say I blame him.”
That seemed wrong on so many levels.
Elizabeth sniffed again, turning to look down on her grandson. “Any day now, Davey’s going to figure out how to scale that barrier, and then I don’t know what I’ll do. I can’t watch him and run the store.”
“I thought Deborah had hired help.”
“I had to let Cheryl go. Until I know what’ll happen with the store, I can’t afford to spend money foolishly.”
Tricia remembered a conversation she’d had with Mr. Everett earlier in the summer. He’d been willing to help out at Deborah’s store. She imagined he’d be even more eager to help out now. Back in June, he’d won the New Hampshire Powerball lottery and had since been hounded by people looking for handouts. “I spoke to Deborah at the beginning of the summer about loaning her one of my employees at no cost to her. That offer’s still open.”
Instead of replying, Elizabeth leapt forward and hugged Tricia once again. “Thank you. I don’t know how I can ever repay you, but I’ll gladly take you up on it.”
Tricia pulled back. “As it happens, Mr. Everett is looking for a change of scenery in the short term. This should work out well for both of you.”
Elizabeth managed a weak smile. “Thank you for being Deborah’s friend. She always spoke well of you.”
Tricia fought back a tear. “I’m glad I can help.” She swallowed hard, trying to appear strong. “I’d better get going. I have a store to run.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Thank you for stopping by. And thank you for sending Mr. Everett. I can sure use the help.”
She walked Tricia to the door and closed it behind her.
Tricia looked right and left, intending to cross the street, then noticed someone standing within the cordoned-off village square. The NTSB investigator? There was only one way to find out. Tricia struck off for the park.
The carnival rides and other equipment had already vacated the small park, leaving behind trampled grass and scattered litter. Tricia paused on the sidewalk to watch as a man with a clipboard walked the perimeter of the park. He jotted down a note and then raised the camera that had been slung around his neck. “Hello,” she called.
The man looked up.
“Are you the NTSB investigator?”
The man frowned, and his gaze shifted suspiciously. “Why do you ask?”
Tricia’s gaze moved to the rut in the ground where the plane had ripped up the sod before coming to rest. “My friend was killed here yesterday.”
The man stepped closer. “Mrs. Black?”
Tricia nodded, and held out her hand. “I’m Tricia Miles. I run the mystery bookstore here in the village—Haven’t Got a Clue.”
The man shook on it. “Steve Marsden. Sorry about your loss.” The words were mechanical, what everyone who deals with the bereaved is trained to say. Still, Tricia appreciated hearing them said.
“Have you determined what happened?” she asked.
Marsden’s cell phone rang. “Hang on a minute. I’ve got to take this call,” he said, opened the phone, and turned away. “Yeah, what have you got for me . . . ?”
Tricia sighed. He wasn’t going to get away without answering some of her questions. She turned, looking for one of the benches that wasn’t within the roped off perimeter, and saw Cheryl Griffin sitting on one. Tears streamed from beneath the woman’s glasses. She held a damp tissue against her nose, her gaze focused on the bare patch of ground where the plane had come to a sudden halt the day before.
Tricia felt herself drawn to the grieving woman, who’d worked for Deborah for the past month or so. She didn’t know her well but had met her a couple of times when she’d stopped in the Happy Domestic. “Cheryl,” she called softly. “Are you okay?”
Cheryl looked up. “Tricia?”
Tricia sat down next to her. “Can I help?”
“Not unless you’ve got a job opening.”
The question caused a chill to run down Tricia’s neck. “Sorry, not right now.”
Cheryl nodded and blew her nose. “I talked to every bookseller on Main Street before Deborah hired me. I doubt they have openings, either. Deborah could only afford to pay me minimum wage, but at least it was money coming in, you know?”
Tricia nodded, feeling sorry for the thin, pitiable woman—and a little guilty. She had to be about the same age as Tricia. Deborah had commented that she had little in the way of marketable job skills, but that she was better than having no one working with her at the Happy Domestic.