Five weeks ago, I’d given my cheating ex and crumbling career in the San Francisco PD the proverbial middle finger, and moved to the Wild West…of Ireland. In that time, I’d learned to bake scones without burning them (okay, I still scrape off scorch marks), rescued a kitten trapped in a drainpipe (well, I’d helped), and solved a murder (that one really was me). All things considered, my time on Whisper Island hadn’t been the restful vacation my aunt Noreen had promised, but I’d had a blast.
On the Tuesday after I’d caught a killer, I schlepped a tray laden with blueberry muffins from the kitchen of the Movie Theater Café. I dumped it on the counter and wiped the back of my hand over my damp brow. “Man, that’s heavy. Are you planning to force-feed your customers, Noreen?” I waved an arm around the half-empty café. “We’ll never sell all of these muffins before closing time.”
My aunt regarded me over the rim of her spectacles. “They’re for the school bake sale, love. I told you about it yesterday evening, but you had your nose stuck in one of Mammy’s old magazines.”
I brightened at the mention of my late grandmother’s collection of vintage movie magazines. “They were awesome. It was like stepping back in time to the days of Old Hollywood.”
“Mammy’s magazine collection is huge,” Noreen said while adding milk froth to a cappuccino. “Philomena is storing them at her house. Ask her to let you borrow more.”
“I will. My only hesitation is in handling the oldest issues. They must be worth a chunk of change.”
“John thinks we should sell them on eBay.” Noreen snorted, emphasizing her disdain for her brother-in-law’s outrageous suggestion. “Typical man. If we’d discovered a stack of old car magazines, he’d be all over them.”
“Very true. Where did Granny find all of her movie magazines? A few in her collection are American. Modern Screen, for example. Were they sold outside the U.S.?”
“I’m not sure,” my aunt mused, “but I know Mammy got her copies from a friend who moved to Boston. They both loved the cinema, and they used to send each other magazines as a way to keep in touch over the years.”
“How sweet. It was almost worth getting the flu to have a chance to read Granny’s magazine collection.” As if on cue, I sneezed, and rooted in my apron pocket for a tissue.
My aunt shook her head and gave me a reproving look. “I told you to stay in bed today.”
“I’m feeling much better,” I said in a voice that would have been ideal had I had a penchant for making pervy phone calls. “Honestly. And I’m covering my hands with disinfectant every five seconds.”
My aunt clucked in disapproval. “After your adventure chasing a killer, I’m not surprised you got sick. You’ve been running yourself ragged since you arrived on Whisper Island. Take this as a sign that you need to slow down and take a break.”
I gave a wry smile. “Taking a break isn’t one of my strengths. I like to be busy.”
“Being busy is all very well, but I don’t want you infecting my customers.” With this statement, Noreen put the cappuccino on a tray next to an espresso and two berry scones, and bustled over to Bette Davis, one of the movie star-themed tables that were in keeping with the theme of a café housed in a renovated movie theater.
My phone vibrated with an incoming message. I slipped it out of my pocket and glanced at the display. I stared at the words on the screen and drew my brows together.
Maggie, would you please come by my office today? Or tell me a time and place we could meet? I’d appreciate your advice on a delicate matter, and I need you to be discreet. Regards, Jennifer Pearce
Why on earth did Jennifer Pearce, of all people, need my help? I’d met the uptight lawyer during the murder case, but we weren’t exactly besties. She was the last person I’d have expected to reach out to me in a crisis. On the other hand, I owed her a favor, and I always paid my debts. While my aunt served coffees and took more customer orders, I typed a quick reply.
Hey, Jennifer. Sure. I’ll swing by your place during my break. Say two-thirty? See you then. Maggie
After I’d hit send, I poured myself a glass of water and attempted to swallow two painkillers without my aunt seeing me. From across the room, Noreen’s eagle eye caught me in the act. “Go home, Maggie,” she barked. “Sister Pauline agrees with me. Don’t you, sister?”
This remark was addressed to my aunt’s good friend, and my cohort in a recent boat chase, Sister Pauline McLoughlin. In addition to her work at the church, the nun taught part-time at Whisper Island’s elementary school. I’d gotten to know her during my short time on the island and considered her a friend. This was borne out by her next words.
“Stop bossing Maggie around, Noreen. She’s old enough to know what’s best for her.” The nun fixed me with a steely gaze. “Which is why she’s going to be sensible and go to bed.”
Gee, thanks, pal. I pulled a face. “Oh, all right. You’ve nagged me into submission.”
If I were honest, coming to work today had been a lousy idea. Although my fever was gone, my headache and sore throat were not. But it was either drag my carcass to the café or stay in a bed shared with Roly, Poly, and their feline offspring. Until my new place was habitable, I was sharing Noreen’s cramped cottage with her eight cats (not counting the kittens), a wild puppy, and a menagerie of animals from her petting zoo. I loved my aunt dearly, but I was itching for my space.
My aunt returned to the counter and packed the muffins I’d brought out from the kitchen into two large plastic containers. “Can you do me a favor and drop these off at the school on your way home?”
“Su—ure.” Another sneeze sliced the word in two. Yeah, I needed sleep, with or without a cat-infested bed.
“I’ll put some of my chicken broth into a container for you, and you can warm it up at home.” Noreen grabbed a soup container from beneath the counter. “You need feeding.”
The last thing I felt like was food. “There’s no need—”
“There’s every need. You have to be fit for the dance on Saturday.”
I slow-blinked. “Dance?” I croaked. “What dance?”
“The annual Valentine’s Day dance at the town hall.” Noreen beamed at me. “Paddy Driscoll is looking forward to taking you for a spin.”
“Somehow, I highly doubt your grumpy neighbor wants me anywhere near him. He’s still sore about the dog getting in with his sheep.”
“Sure, Bran wouldn’t hurt a fly. The sheep came to no harm.” Noreen waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. “Paddy’s not a people person. He’ll get used to you after a while.”
My lips twitched. “After I’ve lived on the island for twenty-five years?”
My aunt’s expression grew smug. “See? I knew you’d decide to stay.”
“Hey, I didn’t say that. I’ve agreed to stay until the end of May, and then I’ll reassess the situation.”
Noreen headed for the kitchen. “Once you settle into your new home,” she said over her shoulder, “you’ll never want to leave. Sure, those new holiday cottages are gorgeous.”
As a thank-you to me for solving the murder case, Noreen and several other islanders had pooled their resources and paid the rent on a holiday home for a couple of months. The cottage was currently undergoing renovations, but I’d be able to move in by the end of February.
“We’ll see,” I said in a noncommittal tone. I was tempted to extend my stay on Whisper Island until the end of the summer, but I wanted to wait and see how I felt closer to the time. My gut told me to stay, but after the emotional roller coaster of my separation, I didn’t trust my instincts to make the right decision.
Noreen returned with a container filled with chicken soup. She sealed the lids of the muffin boxes and handed me the pile of containers. “I’ll send Julie a text to meet you outside the school in ten minutes. Sound good?”
I checked my watch. Two-ten. A little early for my appointment with Jennifer Pearce, but I wouldn’t make it back on time if I swung by the elementary school first. “Can you tell Julie I’ll be there in forty-five minutes? I have an errand to run first.”
“Okay.” My aunt pulled out her phone and typed a message to my cousin.
“Are you sure you don’t mind me borrowing your car again?” I asked. “I feel bad about constantly leaving you carless.”
Noreen glanced up. “Not at all. I can get a lift home with someone when I close the café. But if you’re staying on the island, you’ll need a set of wheels under you. Try Kerrigan Motors on the mainland. They have an excellent reputation for used cars.”
“Wait…what about the Knitting Club meeting? I’m supposed to serve tonight.” As a way to supplement her income, my aunt allowed various island clubs and special interest societies to use the café in the evenings. In return, the clubs agreed to buy food and drink from the café.
“Don’t worry about it. Philomena and I will manage just fine. Go home and get some sleep.”
“Okay. Will do.” I waved goodbye to my aunt and the café customers and stepped out onto the sidewalk.
A gale force wind nearly blew me off my feet. I struggled to the car with my load and piled the boxes neatly onto the floor of the passenger side and locked the car. I’d leave the car here and walk the short distance to Jennifer Pearce’s office.
Nesbitt & Son Solicitors was located on Lynott Lane, a side street off Greer Street, the main thoroughfare through Smuggler’s Cove. It took me five minutes to walk from the car to the corner of Lynott Lane.
When I turned into the lane, I froze in my tracks. A crowd had gathered in front of Jennifer’s office building. Everyone gawked at the police car that was parked haphazardly on the sidewalk, blue lights flashing. Sean Clough, the editor of the Whisper Island Gazette and next-door neighbor to Nesbitt & Son, nodded a greeting before returning his attention to the unfolding spectacle.
Before I could marshal my thoughts, the door to the lawyers’ practice swung open and Garda Sergeant O’Shea led Jennifer Pearce down the steps to the waiting police vehicle. As always, Jennifer was impeccably groomed in a sleek pencil skirt, blazer, and blouse, but the stray wisps of dark hair escaping from her elaborate up-do betrayed a chink in her armor. From the police sergeant’s body language and the lawyer’s chalky complexion, I knew this wasn’t a matter of Jennifer being asked to represent one of her clients during a police interrogation.
A moment later, Aaron Nesbitt, Jennifer’s boss, erupted out of the building, his cheeks blazing red. “This is utterly outrageous. Jennifer would never—”
His coworker’s warning look silenced the older lawyer, and Aaron Nesbitt’s words stuttered to a halt.
The newspaper editor peppered Sergeant O’Shea with questions, but his efforts were rewarded with a brusque, “No comment.”
Before she got into the police car, Jennifer’s gaze moved in my direction. My eyes met hers, and I read fear and desperation in their depths. She gave a slight shake of her head. I got the message: say nothing and wait.
Ignoring the newspaper editor’s barrage of follow-up questions, O’Shea closed the back door behind Jennifer, slid behind the wheel, and took off.
I stared at the space where the police car had been long after they’d left. Whatever Jennifer had wanted me to be discreet about, I had the feeling the cat was well and truly out of the bag.
From To Hatch a Thief by Zara Keane, Copyright 2017