A Small-Town Cozy Mystery
Chapter 4 - Blast from the Past
When I imagined my grand homecoming to Lake Falls, it went a little differently in my head. Okay, so a parade in my honor and the mayor handing over keys to the city might be a tad unrealistic but I expected at least a little hoopla. Instead, I found myself sneaking around side streets, wearing sunglasses to hide my identity, and checking into a motel under a pseudonym.
Talk about shattered fantasies.
Granted, the cloak and dagger, laying low thing was my own doing but I didn’t want my first return home as a real actress to be under such gloomy circumstances. I wanted my friends and family to be proud of me not pity my financial woes.
As I drove my rented car down Main Circle, advertisements and colorful banners for Pioneer Day brought me back to my childhood. Seeing one of the hundred annual town events was comforting and reminded me that not everything changed.
I gripped the wheel tighter as I pulled onto a side street. If I managed to quickly catch the fake Becky, I might have time to celebrate. Next to Halloween, Christmas, and Lake Day, it was one of my favorite events. Everyone dressed up like cowboys and cowgirls and local ranchers organized a cattle drive straight through town.
Shaking off the daydream, I parked the car. Stop making plans. She isn’t caught yet. Yet being the keyword.
I solved murders for a living. I took down a dangerous team of art thieves. I could find one person pretending to be me and clean up my embarrassing mess. After all, I had the home-court advantage.
And next time, I’d come home the right way.
Despite my pep talk, I didn’t feel any better. I felt like a loser. My Scooby Gang was back in L.A. and I refused to bother my hometown friends with a silly problem. And as I strolled along the sidewalk, the loneliness finally sunk in. I didn’t have a partner to banter with or someone to run theories with. And more importantly, I didn’t have backup if things went south.
My eyes darted to the address scribbled on a piece of paper. So, why was I walking down a deserted alley after dark? The clue would keep until morning.
I shook my head. The faster I found the woman who stole my identity, the more likely I escaped from town unnoticed. Mostly unnoticed.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Lake Falls and I was thrilled to be home in time for Pioneer Day. But small-town gossip had a way of spreading like wildfire. All it took was one person to hear about my trouble and by morning my attorney mother would be on the case… and not in a good way. My old high school nemesis would make a special trip just to mock my failure. And my reputation would be ruined.
I unfolded the scrap of paper and squinted at my messy handwriting. The last charge on my stolen credit card came from this address but as far as I could tell, it was an abandoned warehouse. And I’d never heard of a place in town called ‘Criminal Alias’. The name alone made my spine tingle.
Voices argued on my shoulder, reminding me of the cartoon with the angel and devil. “Why are you here alone? This is one of the stupidest things you’ve ever done.” The other voice shrugged. “You’re supposed to be a bigshot detective; show a little backbone and stop complaining.”
Neither voice was all that sympathetic.
I wandered to the front door of the warehouse and found it chained with a Master Lock Speed Dial. My kryptonite of locks. I steadied my flashlight and inspected the mechanism. Trickier than the typical pin and tumbler by a longshot. The Speed Dial featured an endless combination of up, down, left, and right options, and couldn’t be shimmed. I’d have better luck cutting through the chain with a blow torch… or did one use bolt cutters to break a chain? Whatever the case, I wasn’t getting in the warehouse through the door.
I tipped over a trashcan and not so gracefully climbed on top. I stretched to peek inside a window as the base wobbled. A shadow cut in front and eyes glowed. I screamed and fell backward into a pile of garbage.
Was that her? The woman pretending to be me? Anger coursed through my veins. I had to find a way inside the warehouse.
I rolled over and my elbow squished in three-day-old Chinese food. “Ew, ew, ew.” I brushed off my clothes and my nostrils flared as I caught a whiff of the stench. “So much for stealth, now she’ll smell me coming.”
Taking a step back into the alley I examined the windows. Burlap covered a broken panel on the second floor. I cringed. Wasn’t there anything closer to ground level?
A neon exit sign flickered over a side door. A beacon of hope. I sprinted the length of the warehouse and found the door propped open with a brick. The fake Becky’s escape hatch?
Before I could think better of it, I squeezed inside, careful not to make a sound. I kept my flashlight off but in the ready position as my eyes adjusted to the darkness.
A clatter echoed through the empty space, metal against concrete. My head swiveled as I tried to trace the source. Taking silent steps on the balls of my feet, I inched toward where I saw the glowing eyes. From there perhaps I could trace my imposter's steps.
My pulse raced and my heart thumped so loudly I couldn’t hear anything else. Get a grip Beckers. You’ve been in way worse predicaments.
I stepped on something cylindrical like a rolling pin and lost my balance. My arms windmilled but it was too late. I sailed backward and my head smacked into a concrete wall.
My vision blurred and a loud moan reverberated as I rolled over in amazement. Nothing felt broken. Abandoning my attempt at being stealthy I flicked on my flashlight.
I scanned the vast, empty room as I struggled to my feet. The warehouse spun and I stumbled to my knees. My hand landed on something warm and fleshy. I jerked back and let out a silent scream.
The woman I spotted in the window sat motionless on the floor. She looked peaceful, almost like she was asleep, but I knew better. “Hello? Miss?” I brushed her blonde hair aside and checked her pulse. Nothing. I moved my icy fingers to her wrist and something fell from her coat pocket. I nudged the wallet open with the end of my flashlight, careful not to disturb the potential crime scene.
I sighed. “Just great. The dead woman is carrying my driver’s license.” I squinted at the photo and then the woman in front of me. Did I know her from somewhere? She looked oddly familiar.
I fumbled for my phone and rehearsed what I would say to the dispatcher. This wasn’t my first time finding a dead body. You’d think I’d have an explanation at the ready but no matter how many times I went through this, I always worried about how it looked. This time my fears might not be unfounded.
How would it look for me to call in the suspicious death of a woman pretending to be me? I had motive, opportunity, and no one to corroborate my alibi.
I covered my eyes. I was getting ahead of myself. Perhaps she wasn’t murdered. Any number of factors could have caused her death – a heart attack, stroke, overdose. But would any of those make her appear peacefully asleep? Maybe she ate a poisoned apple or pricked her finger on a spinning wheel.
Whatever the cause, I couldn’t pretend I didn’t find the body. The genie was out of the bottle. And if my identity thief was murdered, I needed to find out why.
Before I could dial 9-1-1, red and blue lights shined in the windows. Lake Falls’ finest rushed into the warehouse. Their flashlights bounced across the walls.
“Over here.” I held my hands in the air so as not to appear threatening in the dark.
A chubby man with a bushy black mustache approached. “Becky Robinson?”
I smiled, happy to see a familiar face. “Deputy Durwood, thank goodness you’re here. This woman is dead.”
“I can see that.” Durwood removed his cuffs from his belt.
My brow furrowed. “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like, Becky? I’m arresting you.”
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