Sid came with me to the store that morning. He didn’t say so, but I got the feeling that he didn’t want to be around my father any more than he had to, and certainly not at all without me around. Motley came too.
Sid came dressed to work in a light blue chambray work shirt and his tight jeans. Mama and I had both told him not to worry about it, but he insisted. A big shipment had come in on Monday and I hadn’t gotten that much done on the stockroom shelves.
As I unlocked the back door, Motley squeezed past me and went straight to the rough cellar door. I turned on the lights as he whined and scratched at it.
“What’s that all about?” Sid asked.
“Beats me.” I dropped my purse on the desk and dug out the bug finder. “He did that several times yesterday, too.”
“What’s behind the door?” Sid walked over to the door.
“Desperation storage. It’s basically just a hole in the ground lined with boards.” I turned the bug finder on. Nothing.
“Phew!” Sid wrinkled his nose. “Smells like something died down there.”
“Probably a rat. It’s happened before.” I aimed the bug finder into the main store. Still nothing. “We’re clean.” I looked around the room. “We got the summer stuff down yesterday. Why don’t you unpack those boxes from yesterday and pack the summer stuff in there? Wait. We’ve got to check it against the packing slip and then the order.”
Sid pulled a plastic envelope off of one of the cases.
“Let me guess. You unpack something, find it on here and check it off.”
I grinned. “After counting to make sure you have as many as you’re supposed to unless there’s a back order, which should be noted on the packing slip.” I checked my watch. “I’d better get the money in the register and go open. I can do the balance up front.”
Sid went to work. At ten thirty, UPS came and delivered six more large cases. Sid shook his head.
“Where are you going to put all this stuff?” he asked as the brown van drove off.
“Why don’t you put the summer stuff in the cellar when you’re done packing it? That will get it out of the way at least until we can get the rest of this squared away.”
Sid folded his arms and grinned. “Why do I get the feeling you’re trying to get me to take care of that rat?”
I shrugged. “Just because I don’t like corpses.”
I went out front and Sid went back to work.
Shortly before noon, Alice Martin wandered in.
“How’s it going?” she asked, smiling and leaning on the counter.
“Fine.” I smiled back. “What are you doing here today?”
“Just thought I’d say hi.”
“Don’t you have school?”
“I got a lunch pass.”
It puzzled me that Alice would suddenly be so friendly. But I didn’t get much time to think about it. Sid came in from the stockroom.
“You’d better call the police,” he said grimly.
“Why?” I asked.
“There is something dead in your cellar, but it’s not a rat. Personally, I’m betting it’s Murray.”
“Oh my god,” I gasped.
“What?” screeched Alice. “Are you sure?”
Sid shook his head. “I have no way of knowing.” Which wasn’t the truth, as I found out a minute later. “I’ve never seen the man. Lisa, maybe you-”
“No,” I snapped. “I’m sorry, Sid, but please don’t make me. I can’t.”
Alice bolted for the stockroom.
“It’s just a dead body,” said Sid, ignoring her. “It can’t do anything to you.”
“I know.” I swallowed. “You can’t handle plumbing. I can’t handle stiffs. We all have our little weaknesses.”
“Alright.” He lowered his voice. “He looks like he’s been dead long enough to have been killed Friday, which was the last time anyone saw him, I believe.”
“Any hints as to what killed him?”
“A nice bloody soft spot on the side of his head.”
“Oh, great.” I crossed myself as I sank onto the stool behind the register.
“And unless somebody switched wallets, that’s Murray down there.”
I gagged. “You searched him?”
“It wasn’t fun, but yes. We can’t count on getting stuff from the police and every little bit helps.”
“You’re right.” I picked up the phone and dialed. “You were lying for Alice about not recognizing him, weren’t you?”
“In a manner of speaking. We can’t afford to look too competent.”
Alice cursed loudly from the stockroom.
“I’d better check on her,” said Sid.
They came out as I was hanging up the phone. I picked it up again and dialed the front desk at my parents’ place. Alice looked a little pale and a little excited.
“It’s him,” she whispered. She was obviously shook but also looking forward to telling her friends all about it.
Mary answered at the desk and complained that Daddy was somewhere about the place, and couldn’t I call back, and what kind of emergency was it, and oh alright, she’d try to find him. It took less than a minute.
“Hello?” asked Daddy’s gravelly voice.
“Daddy, it’s me. You’d better come down to the store right away.” I paused. “We’ve found Murray.”
“That’s good. Where’s he been?”
“In the rough cellar. He’s dead, Daddy.”
There was a long pause. “I’ll be right down.”
The police and the ambulance arrived a minute or two later. Sid took them back. I had to stay up front. The detectives were very interested to find Sid involved but upon questioning him, decided that it was a coincidence. They were very nice about the whole thing really.
The morgue wagon showed up, then Daddy drove up just as the lab truck did. I was being questioned about how I found the store Saturday. Detective Simons was none too pleased when he found out Sid and I had rearranged everything.
“We had no way of knowing,” I said. “Everything looked like it normally does, except that one shelf was messed up. But there was nothing strange about it.”
“Alright.” Simons sighed and nodded at the woman from the lab. “We’ll have to get prints from you and your friend and anyone else who has a legitimate reason to be here.” He looked up. “Afternoon, Mr. Wycherly. You down here for any particular reason?”
“Same reason as you, I expect,” Daddy said. He wrinkled his nose. “It sure smells in here.”
“We’ve got the doors open, Daddy,” I said.
“Get on one of them down vests, Lisle. It’s pretty chilly in here.”
“All clear out there?” called someone from the back. “We’re bringing him through the front.”
“Why?” Simons called back.
“We can’t get the gurney around the shelves back here.”
I just saw the edge of it, gasped and, trembling, turned my back. Daddy came up and hugged me.
“Honey, y’all can’t see anything. He’s in a bag.”
“I don’t care,” I sniffed. “It’s just too… weird.”
Daddy held me close and patted my back.
“Mr. Wycherly, can I ask you a few questions?” asked Simons.
Daddy looked at me. “They got him in the wagon. You gonna be okay?”
Daddy went with Simons over to the other side of the register. I could see another detective questioning Alice next to the front door. She still looked excited and pleased by the attention, but I also got the feeling she didn’t like talking to the police. Passersby on the street stopped and stared. I’d closed the store as soon as the police had arrived, so no one came in. Sid slipped up to my side.
“What’s going on in the back?” I asked.
“The usual. Photos, dusting for prints.” He shook his head. “I hope they don’t send ours in.”
“Funny messages pop up when they do, and it will completely blow your cover as a nice local girl gone to work for the writer in the city.”
I swallowed. “They want to take ours.”
“Then we’d better hope they find prints that don’t belong, or it’s going to be pretty interesting.” His eyes landed on Alice. “I don’t know about her. I could have sworn I saw her searching Murray’s body.”
Sid shrugged. “It’s possible she wasn’t.”
“Today’s her day off, too. But she was pretty surprised when Murray turned up.”
“And I don’t think she faked it either.”
“Oh, my god. I’ve got to call Rita.” I picked up the phone and pulled it around the stockroom door to the phone list.
She answered in two rings.
“It’s Lisa, Rita. This is really weird. Murry turned up dead in the rough cellar.”
“Oh, the poor thing.”
“Yeah, well, the police are here now and it looks like they’ll be here for a while. Anyway, they said something about taking everybody’s fingerprints, so you may as well come on down. I don’t know if we’ll be open tonight.”
“I hope not.” Rita paused. “I’ll go ahead and leave now. Poor Murray. Do they know how he died yet?”
“I haven’t the faintest,” I lied. The last thing we needed was to hint to anyone that we might have some experience dealing with stiffs.
“Well, see you in a few.”
We all got fingerprinted shortly after I hung up, and then it was mostly just waiting around. Alice tried to stay.
“I can help put things away in the stockroom,” she said.
“The police aren’t going to want us messing around in there,” growled Daddy. “Now, you get on back to school.”
“Yes, Mr. Wycherly.” Downcast, Alice left.
Rita watched her go. “She sure has been hanging around a lot. She came in last night, too. Said she wanted to know if we’d heard from Murray.”
“Hm.” My eyes met Sid’s briefly.
“I guess I’ll be taking off myself.” Rita adjusted her purse on her shoulder.
“Thanks for coming down, Rita,” said Daddy.
“Anytime, Bill.” Rita left quickly.
Sullen, Daddy stepped into the stockroom and looked around.
“Did you get those shelves straight, Lisle?”
“Sid did, Daddy. He’s been working really hard and got a lot done. We’re almost ahead of things back there.”
Daddy looked at Sid, then ambled to the front door.
“Sid did, Daddy.” Sid mimicked me in a sour voice. “Will you please quit trying to sell him on me? If the man doesn’t like me, there’s not much I can do.”
My stomach growled loudly.
“Is that you?” asked Sid.
I checked my watch. “Yeah. It’s way past lunchtime.”
Motley whined from his corner by the register, where he’d stayed the whole time. I went over and cuddled him.
“Oh, you poor baby,” I crooned. “Your master’s dead. What are we going to do about you?”
“I probably shouldn’t,” sighed Sid. “But I’ll call Whiteman about him.”
Whiteman is Sid’s lawyer.
“You will?” I asked, smiling happily.
“I’m not saying we’re keeping him. I merely want to know our legal position, just in case.”
Daddy came up. “I’m going to see about getting some lunch from the deli. What y’all want?”
I got a cold cut sub. Sid opted for a six-inch turkey sub. While Daddy was gone, Sid called Whiteman. The lawyer said that since dogs are considered property who had rights to the dog all depended on whether or not Murray had left a will. In the meantime, we should inform the police that we had the dog and would continue caring for it until a decision could be made. I looked at Sid. We didn’t say anything, but we both had a strong feeling Motley would soon be residing with us.
A twelve-case shipment arrived from Sunland Products around two. The police worked around it. Motley sniffed at each of the boxes. I chuckled and nudged Sid.
“I know,” replied Sid. “He did that this morning to the UPS stuff.”
“He did that to the other cases, too.”
Motley scratched at a box and whined. Sid and I looked at each other. I called Motley off.
“He knew Murray was down in that cellar,” I muttered.
“I know. But we can’t do anything with all these cops around.”
So we waited. The police finally took off just after three. Daddy said he’d take off, too.
“We’ll try and get some of this straightened up,” I said.
“I’ll tell your Mama you’ll be home by six,” said Daddy. He left.
Sid already had the box knife out and ripped into the box Motley had scratched. It was filled with smaller boxes of trail food. Daddy stocks it year round for the snow packers, and he’s about the only one that does. Not that many people like to hike and camp out in eight feet of snow, but we get a lot of summer business from the ones that do and they bring their friends.
As Sid unpacked the boxes, he laid them out. Motley sniffed each one, then scratched at one that looked remarkably like the one Della had dropped in my purse. Sid opened it while I praised Motley.
“Well, what do you know,” said Sid, pulling out the plastic-wrapped white powder. “Old Motley here’s a coke sniffer.”
“Are you sure?”
Sid shrugged. “Well, I’ll have to run it through my kit, but I’d give good odds. It would appear there’s snow in Tahoe all year round.”
“Great. Now, what do we do?”
“Good question.” Sid tucked the plastic bag back into its box. “This could be a good motive for Murray’s murder.”
I grimaced. “It just doesn’t make sense. I’ve known him for years. The gambling I understood, but dealing coke?”
“His dog found the stuff and was obviously trained to do it. Who else in this store had more control over the stock?”
I sighed. “It’s from Sunland, too.”
“Wait a minute.” Sid got up from the floor and paced. “Maybe Della didn’t miss her connection, or rather she thought she’d made it.”
“What are you saying?”
“She connected you to this store almost immediately. And now that I think about it, she said she was surprised that I wasn’t doing drugs.”
“In other words, she dropped her package on me thinking I was the person she was to deliver it to.” I flopped into the desk chair. “So Murray must have been the connection. But why is he dead, too? And what does any of this have to do with stolen secrets?”
“Both excellent questions, my dear.” Sid thought. “However, the answers are beyond reach for the moment. We’d better get as much of this stuff put away as we can so your father doesn’t wonder why so little got done and jump to the wrong conclusion.”
I rolled my eyes. “Daddy knows I’m not going to do that.”
“Perhaps.” Sid looked me over with that hot little smile of his. “On the other hand, if there’s one thing your father and I have in common, it’s an acute awareness of just how much I want to make love to you.”
I looked away, flushing. “And he knows how much I don’t want to.”
“And how very much you do.”
He just being honest. But the words caught me funny. I was already getting hot and bothered as it was, and then to have to face it. I shoved through the cases looking for the packing slip.
“Sid, don’t.” I turned and looked at him with a weak smile. “We both know if I tried to compromise myself it wouldn’t work. There are times when I think I’m really being an uptight prude, and yet I know I have to accept you the way you are, and I do. It’s just that if we were sleeping together, it’d be awfully hard to accept your running around.”
“I wish I could understand that. It really wouldn’t mean anything.”
“Then why do it?”
“It’s a basic human need.”
“I seem to be doing fine without it.”
He smiled softly. “And I don’t understand that either. We’d better get to work.”
We made it home in plenty of time for dinner. Daddy was a little late.
“I was talking with Les Stevens,” he announced, sitting down.
“Oh, is that Darlene’s young man?” Mama asked happily. “Darlene is our new cook’s assistant, Sid. Her young man just graduated from Davis and wants to come live here in Tahoe to be near her, but hasn’t found a job yet.”
“So he’s going to take Murray’s place?” I asked.
“Yes.” Daddy smiled at me. “Unless you want to take the store yourself, Lisle.”
“Now, Bill, you shouldn’t joke like that,” said Mama with a quick smile although she knew as well as Sid and I did that Daddy wasn’t joking. “You know Lisle’s very happy working for Sid. Aren’t you, Lisle?”
“It’s great,” I said. “Sid’s a terrific guy to work for.”
Sid sent me a totally disgusted glance.
After dinner and clean up, I went out to the back porch where my father was on the wide steps. He looked briefly at me, then out again at the cabins and the starlit woods.
“Did the wimp take off again?” he asked.
“Daddy, do you have to?” I groaned.
“You’re not so old I’m gonna take back talk from you, young lady.”
“Sorry.” I plopped down next to him. “Sid went out.”
He hadn’t planned to, but apparently, our little discussion in the store about our mutual desires got him a little pent up.
“Where’d he go?”
“Beats me. I didn’t ask.”
There was a pause.
“When’s he coming back?”
“I don’t know. Probably late. I’ll wait up for him and lock up.”
I took a deep breath. “Daddy, can I be honest with you?”
“Aw, Lisle, you know you can.”
“You haven’t been very nice to Sid.” I watched as he picked up a twig and shredded it. “I know you haven’t said anything to his face, but you do insinuate a lot, and you glare at him all the time. You’re really not being very fair to him.”
“Honey, you don’t understand.”
“I understand a lot, Daddy. Okay, his values are different than ours. You don’t have to agree with them or condone them. But you could try to come to some sort of an understanding with him.”
Daddy glared at his twig shreds. “What do you want me to do?”
“Talk. Just sit down and try to talk out your differences and be honest. I’m not saying you two should be buddies. I just hate all the tension when you two get together.”
Daddy tossed the shreds into the night. “If that’s what you want, I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thanks, Daddy.” I squeezed him and kissed his cheek. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Lisle.” His squeeze was strong but warm. I enjoyed its comfort, then got up and went into the living room to read on the sofa.
My eyes were getting heavy when Mama and Daddy went to bed around eleven. I fought it and continued reading. Or tried to. The words had blurred on the page and my eyes had shut when I heard a soft, familiar, masculine voice in my ear.
“Mmm.” My eyes wouldn’t open.
“Time to go to bed.”
“Why don’t you go, Sid. I gotta lock up.” I snuggled deeper into the sofa.
“I already did.”
“Richmond and Murbles are in your parents’ room. Motley is here, ready to follow you.”
“Door locked and bolted?”
“Good.” I rolled over, facing the sofa back.
He chuckled softly and I felt myself being lifted. I snuggled close against the smooth silk broadcloth of his shirt and the firm chest underneath. Half a minute later, he laid me down on my bed, removed my shoes, and pulled my blankets over me.
His soft lips gently, briefly caressed my forehead.