Family Jewels:Rose Gardner Investigations #1(6)

By: Denise Grover Swank


Although I’d retired the Lady in Black in February, my friendship with James had survived. We still met up weekly at the spot where I used to meet him and his right-hand man, Jed. James would tell me about the latest issues he was struggling to resolve, and I’d offer advice and sometimes force a vision to make sure he’d survive to show up the next week.

I was sure part of him longed to give up his position in the underworld, but he worried what his successor would do to the people of the county. He had a strict code of ethics, and from the multiple attempts at his crown, he was well aware there were far more ruthless and unconscionable men waiting in the wings. So he stayed.

About a month and a half ago, he’d caught wind of a new challenger. He’d told me about a guy named Wagner who was stirring up trouble, but James had refused to discuss him the last couple of times we’d met. I’d hoped he was no longer a threat, but the fact that James had been dodging my calls for the past two weeks had me more than a little worried. It looked like my concern had been justified.

I had all kinds of questions to ask, but I didn’t dare ask any of them in front of Neely Kate. “What’s goin’ on?”

“Can you meet me in three hours?”

I snuck a quick glance over to Neely Kate. I wasn’t sure how I’d explain leaving to meet him, but then, we’d skirted where I went every Tuesday night for the past three months. This time we’d be meeting much earlier than usual, which meant she might ask more questions, but I’d figure it out. “I’ll make it work.”

“Good,” he grunted. “I’ll meet you at our usual place.” Then he hung up.

Neely Kate put her hands on her hips. “What was that about?”

“Nothin’.”

A scowl covered her face, but she wasn’t about to let anything get in the way of our meeting with Raddy Dyer. She sucked in a deep breath and blew it out in exasperation before she said, “Are you ready to go?”

Stuffing my phone into my pocket, I squatted down next to Muffy and pulled the white flower petal collar over her head. I tossed it onto Neely Kate’s desk, then grinned. “Fine. But we’re getting coffee from The Daily Grind first.”

She tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulder. “I was the one who suggested we go there in the first place.”

I scrawled a quick note to Anna, apologizing in half a dozen different ways, and then kissed Muffy goodbye. We closed the door to the disaster zone behind us and locked it, although any potential burglars would take one look at the mess and assume someone had beat them to the place. Anna had a key.

The rain had turned into a light drizzle, but my hair was pulled into a ponytail and I’d given up fighting the weather today. I saw no reason to worry about how the rain might affect my appearance, but judging by Neely Kate’s long strides, she didn’t share my sentiment.

“So where do we find Raddy Dyer?” I asked as I followed her into the crowded coffee shop. Turned out half the courthouse was in the long narrow space.

“Archer’s Hardware,” Neely Kate said, searching the menu board as we took our place in the back of the long line. “He runs the plumbing department.”

“I’m not sure I should be goin’ in there,” I muttered. “You know they hate me now.”

The owner of Archer’s Hardware had been none too happy with Violet and me since we’d opened the nursery, although I wasn’t sure why. While they used to sell plants in the spring and early summer, they’d done a poor job of taking care of them. Each year had marked a new massacre—the plants would look fresh enough at first, but on each successive visit, another half dozen would have joined the crispy half-off shelf. Truth be told, that was part of the reason I’d agreed to open the nursery in the first place. There’d been no decent places in Henryetta to buy bedding plants.

Neely Kate waved her hand dismissively as she continued to search the menu. “It’s just the owner who’s ticked. Remember that thank-you card and five-dollar gift certificate we got from a few of the employees, telling you how grateful they were to not have to mess with the greenhouse and all those plants? They were gonna have a Garden Witch Day in your honor.”

I shook my head with a scowl. “I can’t help thinking that gift card was a trick to get me to come in, because I’m pretty sure the whole witch thing wasn’t a compliment, Neely Kate.”

“Sure it was. It was like calling you the Good Witch of the South. Just like in The Wizard of Oz.”

“Witch of the East.”

She gave me a haughty look. “I’m not sure what you learned in geography, Rose Gardner, but we’re in the South.”