Death of a Modern King, страница 1часть #4 серии Stormy Day Mystery
Death of a
Stormy Day Mystery #4
JEFFREY BLUE PRESS | WWW.ANGELAPEPPER.COM
Inside the spacious kitchen of the mansion, Erica Garcia dropped a handful of roasted nuts on a cutting board and pulverized them with a sharp knife, releasing her frustration.
Erica had worked as a maid for the Koenig family for twelve years, three months, and five days. She’d witnessed a number of changes, but nothing had rattled her quite so much until now.
A disaster of these proportions was bound to happen, given how much Mr. Dieter Koenig loved his entertainment.
The family’s last name, Koenig, was German for king, and Dieter embraced his role as the unofficial king of Misty Falls. After the death of his wife, he’d taken to throwing grand dinner parties, inviting guests he found interesting.
Eight months ago, he’d brought in a fortune teller. She’d been murdered not long after her visit to the mansion. After that, a dark pall settled over the estate. Erica was the most superstitious of the staff, but even the non-believers couldn’t deny the fog of danger that filled the mansion’s rooms and rolled through long, darkened hallways. The once-boisterous staff now spoke in hushed tones and startled like mice over the clatter of a dropped knife.
Spring came, along with the public tours for the town’s Cherry Blossom Festival, but still the dark pall wouldn’t lift.
In June, Mr. Koenig threw a lavish, weekend-long party. He invited several guests, including a notorious local woman, an aspiring singer. Mr. Koenig, a man of seventy-five, fell for the singer’s charms and became as smitten as a schoolboy. Despite the protests of his children, Dieter began dating the woman, who was nearly fifty years his junior.
Now she’d moved herself into a guest room, wanting to spend more time with the man she’d revoltingly nicknamed Deets.
Erica tried to stay positive in the face of it all. She took pride in her work. She cared for the Koenig family as if they were her own. Every day for the last twelve years, three months, and five days, Erica Garcia had counted her blessings.
Today, though, it was difficult to see her blessings, much less count them. The new girlfriend was a magnet for drama. If she wasn’t at dinner, starting fights, the family was fighting over her. Dieter’s sons hated their father dating the woman, but only because they loved him so much. Or so they claimed.
Something dark moved at the edge of Erica’s vision. She whipped her head around guiltily. The darkness moved like wisps of smoke, taking the form of a pack mule. An omen of bad luck.
Erica’s heart raced. She clutched the medal of Saint Benedict on her necklace. The smoky dark apparition dissipated as quickly as it had appeared. She whispered a prayer to Saint Benedict, shook her head, and got back to work.
When Verity, the all-seeing head of the household staff, came in to check on the kitchen, she could tell something was bothering Erica.
“I’ll take over the breakfast service,” Verity told her sternly.
“I can handle this,” Erica insisted, clutching her Saint Benedict.
“You superstitious ninny,” Verity said with a sigh. “Your forehead is waxy, and you’re sweating. Are you coming down with something, or have you been seeing ghosts in the kitchen again?” She looked around as though expecting to catch a glimpse of a spirit. “What was it this time? Another demon chicken coming to peck out our eyes?”
Erica looked down at her hands and answered, “I saw a dark mule, over by the door. It means somebody could fall and hurt themselves.”
Verity sighed. “It must have been the spirit of Juan Valdez reminding you to grind fresh coffee beans.” She clapped her hands three times. “Let’s go, Erica. If you’re going to serve breakfast, get to it.”
Erica gathered the nuts into a serving bowl and added it to the tray with the other bowls. She checked her appearance in the room’s small mirror—her dark curls were frizzing their way out of her bun—before taking the tray through the hallway toward the conservatory.
The morning’s routine was not the usual one for a weekday. Mr. Dieter Koenig had sprung it on the staff that morning that he would be entertaining two mystery guests in the glass-walled room overlooking the pool.
Erica reached the door to the conservatory and found it locked. This door was never locked, so she didn’t have the key with her.
Switching the tray to one arm, Erica knocked on the door while pressing her ear against the wood. She heard movement. She knocked again. “Hello? It’s me, Erica. I’m just here to set up for breakfast, Mr. Koenig. Would you prefer that I come back in ten minutes?”
She tried the door handle again, but it was still locked. Furiously, she blamed the new girlfriend, who’d been giving Erica nasty looks last night at dinner.
Under her breath, Erica muttered, “Evil Brat. Trying to make me look bad again? I’ll show you.”
The other entrance to the room was from the exterior, from the courtyard, and she did have that key.
Nine serving dishes chattered on the tray as Erica marched down the hall and exited through an exterior door. She walked across the grass, along the paver stones, then through the opening in the hedge. As she passed the pool, she caught a glimpse of something dark in the water but refused to look. The smoky dark omens were just her mind playing tricks on her.
The exterior door for the conservatory was unlocked. She entered, leaving the door open for pent-up heat to escape while she arranged the tables and chairs to seat a party of four. The room wasn’t as hot as she’d expected. She turned on the air conditioning, unlocked the interior door leading to the hallway, and started closing the double doors leading to the pool.
Again, something dark in the pool caught her eye. With a glance, she identified the darkness as Dieter’s new girlfriend, with her long, black hair.
But the plume of darkness marring the turquoise-blue water wasn’t swimming. As Erica moved closer, she could see the darkness was red at the center. It seemed to be blood, coming from a body that floated, unmoving, near the bottom of the deep end.
Erica screamed. She kicked off her shoes and ran to the pool’s edge.
She screamed again, and then she dove in after the body.
"Drop everything, Stormy. We’re going to the Koenig Mansion for breakfast.”
Logan Sanderson was standing on my front step, grinning.
Was this really my life now?
Logan and I had officially become boyfriend and girlfriend at the Misty Falls Annual Cherry Blossom Festival, in the spring.
According to my best friend, Jessica, my kissing sessions with Logan under the falling petals put us in the running for Most Mushy Couple. Luckily for us, there was no such award given, or the entire town would have been treated to an acceptance speech by Logan.
If Logan hadn’t become a lawyer, he could have been an actor. He loved having everyone’s attention, whether he was telling a dirty joke for a group of friends or dramatically asking questions in a deposition. The support staff at his office jokingly called him Mr. Standerson, adding a T to his last name to make it a pun. Logan would never sit and ask questions when he could stand and ask those questions with more flair.
I didn’t hold his wit and charm against him. In return, he didn’t roll his eyes at my detective work. He loved that I was as busy as he was. Secretly, I wanted a little more playtime, but I didn’t dare slow him down.
In early August, Logan proudly announced that he was on retainer for the richest man in Misty Falls, Dieter Koenig. I was elated, because I would also be on retainer for the richest man in town.
It seemed I’d gotten my wish one Sunday in the middle of August, when Logan knocked on my door and told me to drop everything because we were going to the Koenig Mansion for breakfast. But then again, Logan was also a big tease and loved tricking me.
“Nice try,” I said, clutching my fragrant cinnamon bun, still warm from the oven. “If you want a cinnamon bun, help yourself. You don’t need to steal mine.”
He followed me into the kitchen and playfully yanked the pastry from my hand. “Don’t spoil your appetite,” he said. “Mr. Koenig might be uncomfortable if you don’t eat.”
I stole back my breakfast. “You’re going to be uncomfortable if you keep taking my food away.” I took a huge bite and started chewing.
He leaned against the kitchen counter and watched me, his blue eyes twinkling with amusement under his thick, black eyelashes. His dark beard had been trimmed to its summer length, just a bit longer than stubble.
After a minute, he said, “If you eat any slower, we’re going to be late.”
I set down the remainder of the bun. “You’re not joking. We really are invited to the Koenig Mansion for breakfast?”
He grinned. “Is that what you’re wearing?”
I looked down and laughed at the thought of entertaining anyone, let alone members of the Koenig family, in my tacky, multi-colored bathrobe.
Logan said, “You have two minutes to change,” and started a countdown.
I ran. I was spruced up and spiffy with ten seconds to spare, thanks to a little pink dress borrowed from Jessica’s wardrobe plus my no-fuss short hairstyle.
We got into Logan’s truck, and I actually clapped my hands with excitement. My new private investigation career was a blast, I was falling in love with a handsome lawyer, and we were going to share a meal with the unofficial king of Misty Falls. Could life get any better?
We pulled up to the iron gates for the Koenig Mansion. They opened for us automatically.
Logan reached over and squeezed my hand. We drove up the road, passing gracious trees gently waving in greeting.
“Not bad,” Logan said as the stately home came into view at the top of the hill.
The Koenig Mansion resembled a castle, with Romanesque arches, recessed entryways, and at least four cylindrical towers with conical caps.
I agreed. “Not bad for a little cabin near the woods.”
“A cozy summer shack,” he said. “It’s a shame they don’t have a mudhole for skinny dipping. I hear they have to make do with one of those heated, in-ground swimming pools.”
“Those poor souls,” I said.
Logan chuckled as he steered to the right, following the signs directing us to the Visitor Parking lot, which was empty.
“Turn around,” I said. “We’re too early. I don’t want to be the first to arrive.”
Logan parked and turned off the engine. “We are a bit early, but as far as I know, we’re the only guests.”
“How early are we? You can’t show up to someone’s house early. It’s worse than being late.”
He leaned over and kissed my cheek. “You’re adorable when you’re flustered. Don’t be nervous. Mr. Koenig is going to love you.” He pulled back and looked over my curve-hugging dress. “On second thought, do you have a jacket or a big scarf you could wear over that skimpy dress? You look cold.”
I smiled and unbuckled my seat belt. “Very funny. I hear he’s in excellent shape for his age.” I winked. “Not that I’m looking to trade up.”
Logan gasped with mock indignation. “Trade up? Hilarious. Even if he did steal you away from me, it would be more of a lateral trade.” He got out of the truck and circled around to meet me on the passenger side. “Not that Mr. Koenig is in the market for a new wife, anyway.”
“Oh?” I linked my arm with his, and we started toward the entrance. “Does he have a girlfriend? His wife passed away about three years ago, as I recall, so it’s not out of the question.”
Logan mimed locking his lips and throwing away the key. “I’ve said too much already. Do your best to act surprised if he mentions anything of a romantic nature at breakfast.”
“What’s this meeting officially about?”
“I don’t know,” Logan said. It was a phrase I didn’t hear from him that often. His usual style was to be so prepared nothing surprised him.
As we neared the door, he seemed to be lost in thought. He didn’t knock or ring the doorbell. I pressed the button for the bell and heard what seemed to be a woman screaming.
Logan turned to me, his eyebrows colliding like two dark trains on the wrong tracks. Doorbells didn’t usually sound like screams. We stared at each other in confusion, and then he reached up and rang the bell.
Again, there was the sound of a woman screaming.
“That’s not coming from inside,” I said.
I pressed the button a third time. There was only silence. If a doorbell was ringing inside the home, the door was too thick for us to hear it. Nobody opened the door.
“That’s ominous,” I said. “And those screams didn’t sound like kids playing.”
“Let’s check around the back.” He led the way, moving left along the large, castle-shaped building.
Jogging, we followed a path of paving stones that wove through lush gardens. The mansion was so large, it took ages before we turned the first corner, marked by a round tower.
Logan was breathing hard when I overtook him.
I called back over my shoulder, “You should come running with me and Jessica!”
He laughed between puffs.
I slowed for him to catch up. We cleared the side of the building and turned right. We hadn’t seen another soul, but I could hear people shouting nearby. The panic in their voices sent a chill up my back.
“The pool,” Logan puffed. “It’s on the other side of that hedge.” He pointed to the large wall of green that began at the path’s edge and stretched out of sight.
As we were looking, a figure in workman’s clothing and a hat emerged from the greenery about forty feet from us.
“Hey, you!” Logan yelled.
The figure jerked to attention and began running away.
Logan was off and running, before I could even warn him to be careful.
A woman wailed on the other side of the hedge, pleading for help.
I left Logan to his chase and ran along the path, emerging into a courtyard containing an enormous pool and a group of people dressed in staff uniforms.
I ran toward the cluster of staff, where I saw a familiar face.
Erica Garcia, a maid at the mansion, was sobbing and soaking wet, down on her knees.
Before her lay a trim man in swimming trunks. He wasn’t moving, or even breathing. Pale-blue eyes stared up at the cloudless sky, unseeing. A dark pool spread on the ruddy stones beneath his head.
“He’s dead,” Erica sobbed. She locked eyes with me. “Miss Day! Is your father with you?”
The three other staff members whipped their heads to face me.
“I’m here with Logan Sanderson,” I said, though he wasn’t technically with me at the moment. “He’s chasing after someone,” I added.
“Who?” Erica asked, but she didn’t wait for me to answer before she cried, “He’s dead, Miss Day! Mr. Koenig is dead!”
Mr. Dieter Koenig, the wealthiest man in Misty Falls as well as Logan’s newest client, was dead.
I did my best to comfort the maid, who was kneeling and visibly trembling next to the body. Erica Garcia was a thirty-seven-year-old woman who’d worked at the Koenig Estate for over a decade. I’d met her before, and she was familiar with my father from his days working as a policeman, which was why she’d asked for him when she recognized me.
“I think so,” she said shakily. “I mean, yes. I’m not a good swimmer, Miss Day. I don’t know what I was thinking, but there he was, and there was so much blood, and he wasn’t moving.”
“Did you scream? I heard two screams a few minutes ago.”
She nodded. “And there was a sign. An omen.” She clutched a coin medallion on her necklace and began to pray, too fast for me to catch the words.
Another member of the staff, a young man in kitchen whites, was trying to resuscitate Mr. Koenig. By the look on his face, he’d given up hope, but continued doing chest compressions.
A sharp-faced woman of about fifty kept watch as she spoke into her phone. After a moment, she dropped the phone from her ear and announced, “The paramedics are on their way.”
The fourth staff member, a soft-bellied man in his fifties, dressed in dark slacks and a half-buttoned white shirt, shuffled from one foot to the other with a stunned look on his face. With a flat voice, the man said, “I’ll go wait by the front door and bring the paramedics through the house to save time.”
The sharp-faced woman sniffed. “To save time?” She gave him a withering look. “He’s dead, Randy. Half his blood is currently staining the sides of the pool.”
Randy turned to the pool, where a dark stain lurked, spreading in one quadrant.
“I’ll drain the pool,” Randy said. “What else should I do, Verity?”
I had been kneeling next to Erica, but now I stood up. “Don’t drain the pool,” I said. “It’s evidence.”
Verity, the sharp-faced woman who seemed to be the head of staff, turned her withering gaze on me.
“You need to leave,” Verity said.
“But I had a breakfast meeting with—"
She cut me off. “I know exactly who you are, Miss Day. I think we can assume, given Mr. Koenig’s lack of proper attire, not to mention half his blood being in the pool, that your breakfast meeting is cancelled until further notice.”