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She’d managed to get rid of the boxes, storing most of them up in the attic—a perk most of the houses in the area didn’t have. She even had a basement, another rarity in the state. Going up to the attic and down to the basement had been a bit overwhelming. Why, she wondered, hadn’t she realized just how much stuff she would find there? Despite that, there had been plenty of room for her boxes. In time, she promised herself, she would check out everything that was already there.

She sat down at the piano in the parlor, feeling happy as she ran through the jingle herself one more time. She was ready to try out Allison Chesney’s sound, she decided, just as the doorbell rang.

Being smart, as she had promised everyone she would be, she looked through the peephole before opening the door. The young woman on the other side was a pretty brunette with flashing hazel eyes. As soon as Christina opened the door, she offered her hand with a shy smile. “Christina? I’m Allison.”

“Hi, great to meet you. Come on in.”

“This is your house?” Allison said in awe as she stepped inside.


“It’s fabulous.”

“Thank you. It’s been in the family a long time,” Christina replied. “Can I get you something before we get started? Tea? Coffee? A bottle of water?”

“Water would be great, thanks.”

“Make yourself comfortable in the parlor,” Christina told her, pointing the way.

She got a bottle of water from the kitchen and returned to find Allison standing by the piano, looking out the bay window.

“This is really spectacular,” Allison told her. “I grew up in a place just like this.”

“Really? Where are you from?”

“The Gainesville area.”

“It’s pretty around there.”

Allison laughed. “Pretty quiet.”

“It can’t be too quiet. It’s a university town,” Christina reminded her.

“Yeah, and that’s about it. But at least it’s close to the action here. Well, action Florida-style. I thought I was so good when I was a kid that I was sure I’d be a big deal in New York by now,” she said ruefully. “But that’s not the way it happened.”

“Don’t put yourself down. I listened to your demo,” Christina told her. “You’re good.” She sat down at the piano bench and smiled in return. “Or are you trying to tell me that doing jingle work is slumming it?”

“Oh, good God, no!” Allison said. “Not at all. It’s just that…well, I guess it’s this house and, quite honestly, you. What are you? About twenty-five?”

“On the nose.”

“And you’re so successful,” Allison murmured.

“I’m paying the bills,” Allison said, smiling.

“Did you ever want to compose great operas or something?” Allison asked, openly curious.

“Nope. I always liked writing little ditties. Must be my Irish heritage,” she said dryly. “Quite frankly, I just got lucky with my first jingle and found a good agent. My cousin Dan is an actor, though, and he’s still trying to get a break into the big time. Well, the bigger time, anyway.”


“He’s a few years older than I am, and he’s done some great shows, but you know how it is. Every time something ends, you’re looking for something new. At the moment he’s playing Raccoon Ralph at the new park, but he’s been promised a lead in their next main stage show, so he’s feeling pretty hopeful.”

“Cool,” Allison said, looking more relaxed.

“So…ready to get started?”

“Can I hear you do it first? Just so I can get a sense of how you hear it?”

“Sure,” Christina said, and sang, “Keep it off your hips, try our great new chips, Sanina’s is a trip if you’re looking for a chip.”

Allison smiled broadly as she finished. “Cool,” she said again, then apologized. “I’m sorry. There are other words in my vocabulary. Really.”

“Not to worry. There’s no reason to be nervous around me.”

“Sure there is. You can fire me.”

“I told you, I liked your demo. I really liked it. Okay?”

Allison started singing then, without waiting for the piano accompaniment. She had just the voice Christina wanted. Women would hear her and think they could be just like her; men would think there was suddenly something sexy about potato chips. Most important, people had to find it catchy enough to make them think about Sanina’s Chips frequently.

“Great,” Christina told her, and Allison blushed proudly.

They ran through it a few times with the piano, until Christina was more than satisfied that Allison could do the job.

“Okay, we’ve got an appointment with the Sanina’s people at the recording studio next Tuesday morning, nine o’clock.”

Allison nodded vigorously. “I wrote it all down the first time we talked. This is great. Thank you. Thank you so much!”

“Thank you,” Christina told her as she walked with her to the door.

“I’m going to be the voice for Sanina’s Chips,” Allison said happily.

“Let’s both hope they’re good, huh?” Christina said with a laugh.

Allison smiled and thanked her again, and Christina waved, then closed the door. As it clicked shut, she jumped.

Someone had played a note on the piano.

A single note.

A cold chill swept over her body. She swallowed hard. Something had fallen on the keyboard. That had to be it. Because there was no one else in the house.

She forced herself to turn and retrace her steps. She stood in the doorway and stared into the parlor. There was no one there. Of course not, she told herself. She’d known there was no one else in the house.

She walked into the room and looked at the piano. There was nothing on the keyboard. It was just as she had left it.

Feeling as if cold fingers were raking down her spine, she sat down and forced herself to hum the Sanina’s Chips tune as she hesitantly picked out the notes on the piano.

Suddenly she stood abruptly and walked into the kitchen, then back around to the other side of the house to check the library and the dining room.

It was only midafternoon. The sun was out. The day was sparkling.

She walked up the stairs and into every room. She paused on the landing before going downstairs again.

“This is my house,” she said aloud. “A good house, where good people, kind people, lived. And still live.”

I’m talking out loud to invisible spirits, she moaned inwardly.

“And I’m heading to the coffee shop,” she added aloud, then gave herself a shake. No more talking to the air.

Downstairs, she collected her purse and headed out, making certain that she locked the door behind her.

“Hey, it’s the local big shot,” Alex Mars, who had graduated with Jed from the police academy, called out.

“Hey there,” Hal Rather, Alex’s partner said, grinning and rising to shake Jed’s hand.

“Hey yourself,” Jed said, and looked across the room. Jerry Dwyer, looking haggard, was just coming out of the lieutenant’s office.

“Jed,” he said, grinning, as everyone in the room rose at once and came over.

“Hello, golden boy,” Sally Griegs, the communications officer, teased as she gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

Lieutenant Tiggs came out of the office when he heard all the noise. He was tall and slim but tough as nails, as Jed well knew. He’d seen the lieutenant in action, before his promotion to his current status. Tiggs been attacked in a bar and turned into Jackie Chan. His attacker had wound up on the floor, begging to be cuffed and taken away.

“To what do we owe the honor?” Tiggs asked him.

Jed shrugged. “Frustration?” he suggested.

“You got that right,” Jerry muttered.

“You’re a civilian now, Jedidiah,” Tiggs said, using his full name, just as, for some unknown reason, he always had.

“Licensed private investigator,” Jed reminded him lightly.

“Hired by whom?” Tiggs asked skeptically.

Jed shrugged again. “A writer who might have gotten it wrong.”

Tiggs stared at him and shook his head. “Has to be a copycat,” he said quietly.

“A damned good one, then,” Jed said.

Jerry shuffled his feet. “You know we can’t give you anything that hasn’t already been released—even if we had it,” he said.

“Can it, Jerry,” Tiggs said. “I know you had him at the autopsy.” He leveled a finger at Jed. “And I know you have copies of the old files. So if you find out anything…”

“You know damned well I’d never conceal pertinent information, Lieutenant,” Jed said.

“Sometimes I think I know damned well,” Tiggs said, “and sometimes I’m not so damned sure I know anything.”

“Kidd’s old partner—” Jed began.

“Retired. But of course I interviewed him,” Jerry said, then added, “But no one can stop you from talking to the man yourself, unless he refuses to talk to you.”

Jed looked at Tiggs.

“Be my fuckin’ guest. I’d take help from hell itself right now, if it was offered.”

Jed frowned. Sure, the new case had hit the papers like a bomb, but it wasn’t as if months had gone by with a high-profile case unsolved.

“Troopers just called in a second body off I-4,” Jerry said. “I…uh…I’m on my way to the scene now.”

Tiggs threw up his hands. “Screw it.” He stared at Jed. “If you don’t ask, I can’t say no.”

He turned around and headed back to his office.

Jed followed Jerry Dwyer out to the street.

Coffee cup in hand, Christina headed to a table outside the coffee shop. It was a pleasantly cool day. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and there was a gentle breeze just moving the air. Perfect.