Today, we have an excerpt from Petty Cash, a contemporary suspense from Leeann Betts (a writing persona for Donna Schlachter, who writes historical suspense). This is book 7 in By the Numbers series.
“Ooh, some days I could just kill that man!”
Carly Turnquist, forensic accountant by day and wife, step-mother, and grandmother all the time, sighed and closed the computer file she’d been reviewing when Denise’s call came in. “Calm down, and tell me what’s going on.”
A long quiet filled the line—well, not exactly quiet, given the voices intruding in the background—from Denise’s end of the call. Don, her husband and Mike and Carly’s son-in-law, asked about a clean shirt. Margie, eight going on twenty-eight, nattered on at her younger brother Toby about not drawing on the walls.
Several gulping breaths, reminding Carly of a drowning goldfish, filtered through before Denise continued, her voice a notch lower than before. “Don’s partner. Maurice, but everybody calls him Mo.”
“Don is nearby, right?”
“Right. And I don’t want him to know I’ve been talking about Mo.”
“Why ever not?” Carly closed the cover on her laptop. If she didn’t, she’d think about all the work that needed doing and not concentrate on Denise’s call. Which would merely lengthen the conversation. “Is it a secret?”
“No, not exactly, but Don doesn’t want gossip to start. You know how it is in a small town.”
Carly resisted the urge to snort. Although married to a native for eleven years, the residents of Bear Cove, Maine, a tiny hamlet of less than four hundred souls at the height of lobster season, still didn’t think of her as “one of them”. “Understood. But it’s unlikely I’ll ever sit around and chat with folks from Riverdale.”
“True. But they do go outside the town limits occasionally, and since they don’t wear signage indicating where they live, you just might bump into one of them.”
Carly chuckled. Denise ran into much the same attitude about the fact she’d swooped in and stolen one of Riverdale’s most eligible bachelors, although the residents did at least treat her better than out-of-towners, as they called anybody not from Riverdale.
Unlike Bear Cove, whose town motto—if they had one—would be: if you don’t live here, go away.
“So what can you tell me? Other than you have homicidal thoughts about the man.”
“He has been so unreasonable lately.”
“Maybe he’s under a lot of stress.”
Now Denise did snort. “Stress? Why do you think people become dentists instead of medical doctors? No emergency calls. No late night outings. Closed on weekends. Four weeks of vacation every year.”
“Point taken. So if not stress, what?”
“I think he’s always been this way, and we’re just beginning to notice.”
“Unlikely but possible.” Carly chewed on the end of a pencil, wishing she’d brought in a granola bar and soda on her last trip to the kitchen. “What are you going to do about him?”
“Can’t do much, can I? He’s Don’s partner, not mine.”
“How has he been acting?”
“Coming in late. Leaving early.”
“Maybe he has a girlfriend.”
“The last time he asked a woman out on a date, he talked about it for a week before and two weeks after. But he never got up the nerve to ask her out again, so that was the end of that.”
Carly pulled open a desk drawer. Maybe she’d left a candy bar or a package of crackers. Nothing. She sat back in her chair. “Okay, so not a woman. What else?”
“He got angry at a patient last week for being three minutes late to her appointment. Her car wouldn’t start and she had to call a tow truck. She called the office, and the receptionist assured her she was fine. But he tore a strip up one side of her and down the other when she came in. Threatened not to treat her and to charge her for a missed appointment.”
“That does seem overboard.”
“And after he spent fifteen minutes haranguing her in the waiting room, in front of other patients, he finally agreed to see her.”
“Okay, so he had one bad day. What else?”
“Don says one minute he’s smiling and jovial, the next he’s sullen and moody. He said it’s like walking on eggshells around the office. And he’s taken to wearing these old red rubber boots everywhere. I saw him in the grocery store last week and commented on them. He looked down at his feet as though he didn’t know what I was talking about. And now Don said he wore them in the office and refused to change into his regular shoes. Said he left them home. But Don saw them under his desk.”
“I expect your hubby is bringing this stress home, and so now you’re unofficially involved. Well, has Don asked Mo what’s going on?”
“Sure. And Mo says everything is fine. Not to worry. Or he turns it back on Don and accuses him of meddling in his private life.”
“Could he be on drugs?”
“Don isn’t sure. But get this. This is the strangest thing of all.”
Carly leaned in as though Denise were in the room with her. “What?”
“Yesterday, Mo asked Don to meet him for coffee. Don went. In fact, he was fifteen minutes early. But Mo was walking out of the coffee shop, red in the face, angry. The veins in his forehead were bulging, Don said.”
“Maybe Don got the time wrong.”
“He thought so too, but as he walked in, he checked the text Mo sent him. He was early.”
“Maybe Mo’s fingers were faster than his brain that day. Happens to me all the time.”
Denise sighed. “Mo admitted Don was early. But he said he was done sitting around and waiting for Don to grow up and take responsibility. Implied he’d been carrying the practice all these years, and Don did nothing to bring in patients.”
“Well, Don and you and I know that’s not true.”
“Don tried to get him to sit down and talk like adults, but Mo took offense to that. He shoved Don aside and said he never wanted to see him again.”
Carly exhaled. That was one thing she liked about working alone—no partners or employees to deal with. “Sounds like Mo wants out of the partnership.”
“Sounds like it.”
“I’m sorry to hear about your troubles.”
“You’d think that was the end of it, but it isn’t. Today Mo texted Don and said he was sorry and wanted to see if they could patch things up between them. Invited us and our guests to spend a week on the Cape at his summer home. Said he has a six-bedroom house, and we can fill up five of them.”
“I’d take that as an apology and jump at the chance.”
“So we asked Tom and Sarah to join us, and to bring Bradley so he could spend time with our two. And we wanted you and Dad to come, too. I’d feel better if we had several calm males there in case Mo gets weird again. Please say you’ll come.”
Carly opened the joint calendar she and computer programmer husband Mike kept and scanned the days ahead. “When do you leave?”
“Wow, that’s not much notice.” She ran a finger along the week. “But our schedule looks pretty open for the next few days. I have to be back to testify in a big court case on the day after Labor Day, though.”
“Yeah, the kids start school that day, too, and Don has to be back to work, too. Tom and Sarah will also leave on Monday. I’m hoping we can at least have a party or picnic to celebrate the end of summer before we all scatter to the four winds.”
“Then we have a plan.”
“Great. Tom and Sarah are driving down today. They’ll stay here overnight, and we can connect with you at that restaurant on the highway in Augusta around ten. The kids will be ready for a bathroom break by then, and I’ll be glad for a coffee.”
“We’ll be there. Looking forward to seeing everybody. It’s been a while since we did anything together.”
Carly hung up and opened the cover of her computer. Mike would be home soon, and hopefully he’d be excited to hear about their impromptu vacation. Surely he wouldn’t blame her for looking for a mystery where none existed.
After all, this wasn’t her idea.
So if they found a mystery, it couldn’t be her fault.
End of excerpt
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