Second Shooter – Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

Whenever possible, I preferred to find a dead body in a public place. That made it easier to break in and investigate the crime scene later after the cops left for a doughnut break.

“Is the body still here?” I asked Katy, the manager of Pelican Bay’s historic bed-and-breakfast.

She tucked a piece of her blonde hair behind her ear as she led me up the grand staircase of said bed-and-breakfast. I was taller than Katy by a good three inches, but with our matching blonde hair and facial structures, we’d pass as sisters. Her best friend status made her a true sister from another mother in my eyes.

“Sorry, Vonnie. They took him over an hour ago.” She lifted a piece of thick yellow police tape in the hallway and ducked under it before raising it higher for me.

“Damn. Who knew they were so effective at the morgue?”

Katy nodded. “I heard they hired a new assistant.”

She stopped in the hallway in front of room twenty-one and hesitated by the door, giving the area behind me one last glance. Everything on this side of the closed door seemed in place—no obvious blood stains or bullet holes, but behind that door a different image waited.

Of course, without a body, it would be hard to visualize the scene. Last month, seeing Mrs. Jones sprawled out on her kitchen floor helped when I solved my first big murder case and added a new nightmare to my replay list. Dead bodies—always a good time.

Laughter from the lobby stopped us both in our tracks. Katy’s hand held the room key next to the door handle, but she hadn’t swiped it across the reader yet. We might still need to run.

The main front door opened, and a blast of chilly air swept over us through the open hallway, bringing with it the faint scent of snow in a small town. The door closed, leaving behind a dash of cold, and Katy’s shoulders relaxed.

She swiped the master key across the door reader and jerked on the golden handle, unlocking my future.

We stepped inside together and I let my gaze sweep the room. Blood droplets splattered the far wall. They’d dried a dark red color, appearing brown in the dim lighting.

“Be my lookout?” I asked as Katy propped open the door behind her and crossed to the window, taking in as much about the scene as she could.

Katy wasn’t only my best friend, manager of the bed-and-breakfast, and dating the local billionaire. She’d also spent the last two years training me in all things surreptitious. I had her to thank for my career choice. With less than a thousand hours remaining before I became a full-fledged private investigator, the dream was so close my out-stretched fingertips were grazing it.

Moonlight lit up the edges of the room and cast funny shadows on the tightly made bedspread. Katy tucked the curtains closed, and I waited until she’d finished before flicking on the light. The bedside lamp flickered on and I pinched my lips shut so I didn’t blurt something outrageous at my first view of the scene.

“Damnnn,” said Katy as her gaze followed the splatter on the wall.

Damn indeed. “How many bullets did you say he took?”

She shook her head. “I didn’t hear a certain answer. At least one since he’s dead.”

I inched closer to the room’s back wall to get a better look. Red splatters fanned out as if someone had flicked a paint brush too close to the gray wall. I spun in a slow circle, keeping my eyes open for more, but didn’t find any other blood evidence. Not even a drop on the carpet besides a small puddle to the left of Katy’s feet. He likely fell downward rather than backward. People didn’t normally fall backward after being shot. They normally twisted downward like this guy. At least that’s what Joe Kenda taught me on the ID Channel.

“Dropped like a stone,” Katy said as we stared at the spot.

“Uh-huh. And he was close to the back wall when it happened. As if they had backed him into the position.” So there’d been an argument. Or at least a short period of warning before they’d shot him.

Was he facing his attacker or had his back turned?

“Did you see the body before they took him out?” I asked, inching toward the middle of the room.

She shook her head and peeked behind the closed curtain, watching the traffic on Main Street. “Nope, they had him bagged and tagged on the way out.”

I’d have to wait until I visited the morgue to answer my questions. Good thing I had friends there.

“By the time I made it to the scene, the chief already had it locked down.” Katy flicked the curtain and watched a car as it slowly drove down Main Street and stopped at the bakery a block away. “Sorry I couldn’t get you in earlier than this.”

The chief was the first on the scene? Odd. He wasn’t known for his speedy police work.

“Don’t worry about it, babe. You got me in. That’s all I can ask for.”

In January I helped the police solve the latest Pelican Bay murder, but they’d forgotten to call me in on this case less than a month later. Weird.

I’d have to solve this murder as well, so next time they’d remember my outstanding skills. With Katy keeping my workspace safe, I stepped around the bed and headed for the other side of the room. There wasn’t much to see. Nothing but a standard hotel room. Everything said classic room—except for the blood stains.

“You got me a great rental across from the beach and a dead body. You’re my best friend,” I said before checking behind the flat-screen television. I’d recently taken over her lease and couldn’t wait to move in.

Katy tipped her head. “Aww. Thank you.”

Someone left the bathroom light on and I used the toe of my shoe to swing it open. The town’s only detective, Anderson, would have my ass if I left a fingerprint at the scene. He already had it out for me after a small misunderstanding regarding a piece of missing evidence from my first murder.

I leaned into the bathroom without stepping in to keep talking to Katy. “The room barely looks stayed in.” He hadn’t even touched the freebie bathroom supplies, and everyone swiped those first.

Katy held on to the curtain but took a step closer as if she’d be able to see into the bathroom from her perch. She couldn’t. “He’d only just checked in. Less than an hour earlier, and he didn’t have any bags on him. I marked him as suspicious but didn’t have time to investigate.”

Interesting.

“Any trouble before the shots? Arguments?”

She shook her head as I inched my way into the bathroom. “Not that I heard. The witness, Trish from the diner, said she heard someone yell and then gunshots.”

“Trish was here? Why?” She lived in Pelican Bay so why spend the money to rent a room a few blocks from her house?

Katy shrugged. “She comes every so often with a laptop. Says she’s writing a book and needs the change of environment. I don’t question the creative process.”

Double interesting.

A clean, antiseptic stench came from the bathroom, but with no other evidence of cleaning supplies in the space, I had to believe it was from Katy’s cleaning crew.

I peeked my head out of the bathroom. “So this was a meeting room and not a sleeping room.”

“Probably.” She ducked, and I saw her eyes widen from across the room. “It’s a freaking man hunt out there. I didn’t know the town had this many cop cars, but they’re circling every ten minutes.”

More than likely, they hoped the shooter would make a follow-up appearance. It sounded stupid, but shooters were often stupid. You wouldn’t believe how many criminals returned to the scene of their crimes, attended funerals, or talked shit about their exploits to friends. It happened so much that Anderson once told me sometimes they only had to wait for someone’s mouth to put themselves in jail.

With a bit of experience, I understood his point. Always ask for a lawyer and zip your lips until they get there.

I used my toe to open the bottom drawer of the bathroom vanity. Empty. “What about the cameras?”

Ridge Jefferson, local former SEAL with a budding security company, installed enough cameras in Pelican Bay to give us a reality show. He had to have picked up something.

Katy returned to guarding of the window with a headshake. “This hallway is still a dead zone.”

Hmm, despite his efforts, it seemed he hadn’t covered every square inch of town. “There are at least six bullet holes in the wall. That’s a lot of shots, not counting how many stayed in the vic. Ridge’s cameras had to catch the shooter as he ran.”

He didn’t just vanish from the hallway. A man running across Main Street waving a gun drew attention, even in Pelican Bay.

“Trish said it sounded like a firecracker. One shot on top of the other, and it happened fast.”

I nodded along as Katy spoke. Everything happens fast when you aren’t expecting a murder.

“Any other witnesses?” I asked and then used a covered elbow to push back the shower curtain. No dead bodies in the bathtub.

The bathroom was a bust, but to be sure, I peeked behind the toilet to guarantee they hadn’t stashed anything there, like the murder weapon or a detailed confession.

“Hey, Vonnie, where did you say you left Not Brent?” Katy spoke louder than she had earlier.

Did she really think I’d bring my adorable Jack Russell rescue to a crime scene? I was a better mother than that. “He’s with Broadrick.”

The newest SEAL in town made a shit ex-boyfriend—he refused to admit we’d broken up—but a decent dog sitter.

Normally.

Sometimes.

Okay, fine. I didn’t super trust him since last month he’d left Not Brent alone to sell stolen military weapons in the backwoods of town. But when Katy called about a murder, I had to make do with the lackluster accommodations. No one took up my suggestion to open a doggy day care since he came to live with me last month.

“You sure?” Katy asked.

That didn’t sound good.

I stuck my head past the bathroom doorway. “Yeah, why?”

Katy tilted her head to the left.

“Shit.”

The biggest barrier to my murder investigation wasn’t circling the block in a police cruiser. He was the military type, wearing military-grade boots and a tight-fitting black T-shirt that highlighted all those peck muscles I missed running my fingers over. Broadrick stopped the main room door from closing with his foot and crossed his arms over his chest.

He was mad at me?

No. He didn’t get to be mad at me in this situation.

“Where’s my dog?” I asked, tapping my foot against the carpeted floor.

Broadrick raised an eyebrow at the movement. “At home.”

I didn’t like how he said “home” like some implication we lived together. Totally not true. I sometimes let him hang out at my place because he gave me his Netflix password and brought takeout. We were not a couple. He’d ruined that by breaking up with me through email. Email!

“You’re a horrible dog sitter,” I said rather than argue about his presumptuous use of “home.” I’d save that fight for later. I had a list started… somewhere.

Broadrick sighed, and I made a mental note to add the sigh to our list of upcoming fights. “Vonnie, he’s a dog. He belongs at home. You, however, don’t belong at another crime scene.”

I didn’t like how he said “another crime scene,” like I just wandered around walking into crime scenes. It made me sound unprofessional. Like an ambulance-chasing lawyer. I’d only accidentally stumbled upon one murder. My network of tip finders, i.e., Katy, provided this one. It was totally legit.

“I’m kind of busy, B.” I tried to use my foot to open the bedside night stand but had to jump around to maintain my balance.

Broadrick stepped into the room and let the door shut behind him. “We talked about this.”

“Yeah, and we talked about you watching my dog, too.” Yes, I’d told him I only had to run to the bakery to pick up the new schedule, but he lied about staying home to watch the dog, so we were even in my book.

Katy dropped the edge of the curtain where she’d been keeping watch. “So, I’ll leave you two alone to hash this out, then.”

“Absolutely not.” I held out my hand as if I could stop her from across the room. “Stick with the lookout duty.” I’d almost finished with the crime scene, anyway.

Broadrick narrowed his eyes and his arms flexed.

“And a witness,” I said, glancing at him once and then back to the perfectly made bed.

He scoffed. “I’d never hurt you. I’m trying to keep you alive and out of jail.”

Not my intention.

“I meant for me. In case you continue to be lippy,” I said, grabbing the pen from my coat pocket and re-approaching the bullet hole wall. Katy would have a mess on her hands when it came time to fix this place.

Katy nodded. “No jury would convict her after I testified.”

I stuck the pen in a bullet hole at the top of the wall and followed where it pointed. To the left.

Broadrick watched me as I made my way to the coffee station in the room. I needed another pen. A black one with the bed-and-breakfast logo on it sat on top of a small notepad, and I snatched it from the small table in the corner. A stack of prepackaged coffee stirrers sat beside the unused coffee maker. I grabbed four.

A door somewhere in the hotel opened. We froze, our gazes meeting one another individually and then moving to the next. Each of us waited for the other to make the first move. Broadrick took a step backward, but Katy threw up a hand. A murmured voice seeped into the room.

“Stop,” she whispered.

Another door shut, and the voices cut off before any of us relaxed again. Who stayed at the damn bed-and-breakfast in the winter?

I sidestepped past Broadrick and made my way back to the bullet holes. The pen in the wall shook as I stopped beside it and shoved the hotel pen into a spot a few inches to the right.

“I have a box of chocolate for you in the car,” Broadrick said out of the blue. “For Valentine’s Day.”

Without looking at him, I shoved a coffee stirrer in another hole further down on the wall, but it was too skinny and plopped out. “Chocolates? Are you trying to kill me?”

Jalinda Jones died from poisoned homemade chocolates. Did her death give Broadrick ideas?

He laughed. “Don’t worry, that wouldn’t be my method of choice.”

It was my turn to raise an eyebrow at him. “Good to know.”

“You two are so weird,” Katy said with her head shoved behind the curtain so it muffled her words. She was one to talk. She and her boyfriend Pierce were crazy.

“Do you have another pen?”

“Not on me, sorry,” she said, and the curtains shook.

I glanced at Broadrick. He stared right at me without blinking.

That meant yes.

You didn’t date a man two years—even long distance—and not learn his tells.

“Hand it over,” I said, reaching out across the bed. “Please.”

“Then can we go?” he asked but shoved his hand in his pocket and handed over two more pens without letting his leg touch the side of the bed.

“Sure.” Nothing was left for me in the room.

I jammed Broadrick’s pens into holes in the wall and let them point in the shooter’s direction.

Except they didn’t agree. Either the victim—whose name I hadn’t learned—was shot by a fast-moving vampire, or something else fishy was going on here.

“You won’t identify the caliber of the gun from the hole like that, Vonnie,” Katy said.

I stepped back to review my work and line up the two distinctive directions the pens pointed. “Katy, do vampires exist?”

She snorted. “Only in a good romance book.”

“Vonnie.” Broadrick’s voice had lost all humor. He hadn’t started with any, but he was getting downright frosty sounding.

I stared at the bullet holes and then snapped a quick picture with my phone for later. Katy watched with her head to the side wearing a slight smile that mismatched Broadrick’s deep frown.

“What’s it mean?” she asked before returning to her post in front of the window.

“We’ve got a second shooter.”

Broadrick sucked in a breath, and Katy stiffened. The room turned cold, as if my words sucked all the warmth from them. One murderer was bad, but two meant double trouble.

Katy dropped the curtain and stepped away from the window like the blinds had caught on fire and burned the skin from her fingers. Her eyes were wild with fright. “The chief’s car just pulled into the parking lot. We have to go.”

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