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The first three Pineapple Port Mysteries - Murder, romance & laughs strike a Florida retirement community full of characters you'll never forget!Book One: Pineapple LiesGrowing up in one of Florida’s fifty-five plus communities, Charlotte never expected life to be wild. Golf cart racing with her surrogate mothers Mariska and Darla was about as nutty as life got...until she found the hot pawnbroker’s mom buried in her backyard. Talk about making a lousy first impression. Armed with nothing but her wits, Pineapple Port’s questionable cast of characters and a growingcrush, Charlotte is determined to solve the mystery of Declan’s mother’s murder. Hey, at least this guy’s skeletons aren't in his closet. Book Two: Pineapple Mystery BoxWhen a giant inflatable Halloween witch goes missing in the Pineapple Port retirement community, Charlotte’s eager to nab the culprit. Before she can lift a fingerprint, someone threatens to kill a new neighbor who looks like an adorable Pomeranian but possesses a disturbing talent for revenge. Moments later, a stranger demands the return of a mysterious wooden box… or else. Charlotte's boyfriend, Declan, isn't having a great morning either. His calculating ex-girlfriend has returned to claim she's the rightful owner of his pawn shop. She’s livid he’s found a new lady, too.Eh. Things could be worse. At least Charlotte doesn’t know that a mojito-swilling killer who fed his grandmother to a cat is on his way to Pineapple Port…Book Three: Pineapple PuzzlesThe infamous Puzzle Killer returns to Charity, Florida, in search of a rival murderer, and when two serial killers battle, Charlotte, Declan, Seamus and a naked cat find themselves on the chopping block!
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Table of Contents
Book 1 : Pineapple Lies
Book 2: Pineapple Mystery Box
Book 3: Pineapple Puzzles
About the Author
©2015 by Amy Vansant. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, by any means,
without the permission of the author. All characters appearing in this
work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is
Library of Congress: 2015905485
Vansant Creations, LLC / Amy Vansant
Cover art by Farik Osman - http://www.sexytoonpinups.com
Copy editing by Carolyn Steele.
To Pineapple Port. Y’all are nuts.
Charlotte jumped, her paintbrush flinging a flurry
of black paint droplets across her face. She shuddered
and placed her free hand over her heart.
“Darla, you scared me to death.”
“Sorry, Sweetpea, your door was open.”
“Sorry,” echoed Mariska, following close on
Charlotte added another stroke of black to her wall
and balanced her brush on the edge of the paint can.
Standing, her knees cracked a twenty-one-gun salute.
She was only twenty-six years old, but had always
suffered bad knees. She didn’t mind. Growing up in a
fifty-five-plus retirement community, her creaky joints
provided something to complain about when the
locals swapped war stories about pacemakers and hip
Charlotte wiped the paint from her forehead with
the back of her hand.
“Unlocked and open are not the same thing, ladies.
What if I had a gentleman caller?”
Darla burst into laughter, the gold chain dangling
from her hot-pink-rimmed glasses swinging, and then
sobered beneath the weight of Charlotte’s unamused
glare. Another pair of plastic-rimmed glasses sat
perched like a baby bird on her head, tucked into a
nest of champagne-blonde curls.
“Did you lose your other glasses again?” asked
Darla nodded. “I did. They’ll turn up.”
Charlotte tapped the top of her head. “I’m sure.”
Darla’s hand shot to her head. “Oh, there you go.
See? I told you they’d show up.”
Mariska moved closer to Charlotte, nudging Darla
out of the way. She threw out her arms, her breezy
cotton tunic draping like aqua butterfly wings.
“Morning hug,” she demanded.
Charlotte rolled her eyes and relented. Mariska
wrapped her in a bear hug, and she sank into the
woman’s snuggly, Polish-grandmother’s body. It was
like sitting in a favorite old sofa, rife with missing
springs, and then being eaten alive by it.
“Okay. Can’t breathe,” said Charlotte.
“I’m wearing the top you bought me for
Christmas,” Mariska mumbled in Charlotte’s ear as
she rocked her back and forth.
“I saw that.”
“It’s very comfortable.”
“This isn’t. I can’t breathe. Did I mention that? We’re
good. Okay there…”
Mariska released Charlotte and stepped back, her
face awash with satisfaction. She turned and looked at
the wall, scratching her cheek with flowered, enameled
nails as she studied Charlotte’s painting project.
“What are you doing there? Painting your wall
black? Are you depressed?”
Charlotte sighed. Darla and Mariska were
inseparable; if one wasn’t offering an opinion, the
other was picking up the slack.
“You’re not turning into one of those dopey Goth
kids now, are you?” asked Darla.
“No, it has nothing to do with my mood. It’s
chalkboard paint. I’m making this strip of wall into a
“Why?” Darla asked, her thick, Kentucky accent
adding syllables to places the word why had never
considered having them. Her mouth twisted and her
brow lowered. Charlotte couldn’t tell if she
disapproved, was confused, or was suffering a sharp
gas pain. Not one guess was more likely than any
“Because I think I figured out my problem,” said
Darla cackled. “Oh, this oughta be good. You have
any coffee left?”
“In the kitchen.”
Darla and Mariska fell into line and waddled toward
the kitchen like a pair of baby ducks following their
mama. Mariska inspected several mugs in the cabinet
above the coffee machine and, finding one, put it
aside. She handed Darla another. Mariska’s mug of
choice was the one she’d given Charlotte after a trip to
Colorado’s Pikes Peak. She’d bought the mug for
herself, but after Charlotte laughed and explained the
double entendre of the slogan emblazoned on the side,
I Got High on Pikes Peak, Mariska had thrust it at her,
horrified. Mariska remained proud of her fourteen
thousand foot spiraling drive to the peak however, so
she clandestinely drank from the offending mug
whenever she visited.
Charlotte watched as Mariska read the side of the
mug, expelled a deep sigh, and poured her coffee. That
heartbreaking look was why she hadn’t broached the
subject of Mariska’s I Got Baked in Florida t-shirt.
The open-plan home allowed the two older women
to watch Charlotte as she returned to painting the wall
between her pantry door and living area.
“Are you pregnant? And after this you’re painting
the nursery?” asked Darla.
Charlotte grimaced. “No.”
Darla sighed. “You’re the youngest woman in
Pineapple Port. You’re our only hope for a baby. How
can you toss aside the hopes and dreams of three
hundred enthusiastic, if rickety, babysitters?”
“I don’t think I’m the youngest woman here
anymore. I think Charlie Collins is taking his new wife
to the prom next week.”
Darla laughed before punctuating her glee with a
grunt of disapproval.
“Stupid men,” she muttered.
Charlotte whisked away the last spot of neutral
cream paint with her brush, completing her wall. She
turned to find Mariska staring, her thin, over-plucked
eyebrows sitting high on her forehead as she awaited
the answer to the mystery of the chalkboard wall.
“So you’re going to keep your grocery list on the
wall?” asked Mariska.
Charlotte shook her head. “Not exactly. Lately, I’ve
been asking myself, what’s missing from my life?”
Darla tilted her head. “A man. Duh.”
“Yeah, yeah. Anyway, last week it hit me.”
“That your life was missing a chalkboard wall?”
Darla paused, mug nearly to her lips, waiting for
Charlotte to continue.
Charlotte set down her brush. “No. It hit me that
my life was missing a purpose. I need to figure out what
I want to be.”
Darla rolled her eyes. “Oh, is that all? I think they
had that on sale at Target last weekend. Probably still
Charlotte chuckled and busied herself resealing the
“So you’re going to take up painting?” asked
Mariska. “I’ll take a chalkboard wall. I can write Bob
messages and make lists…”
Charlotte stood. “I’ll paint your wall if you like, but
starting a painting business isn’t my purpose. The wall
is so I can make a to-do list that will lead me in the
Darla sighed. “I have a to-do list, but it only has one
thing on it: Keep breathing.”
“I’m going to make goals and write them here,” said
Charlotte, gesturing like a game show hostess to best
display her wall. “When I accomplish something , I get
to cross it off. See? I already completed one project.
That’s how I know it works.”
There was a knock on the door and Charlotte’s gaze
swiveled to the front of the house. Her soft-coated
wheaten terrier, Abby, burst out of the bedroom and
stood behind the door, barking.
“You forgot to open your blinds this morning,”
“Death Squad,” mumbled Darla.
The Death Squad patrolled the Pineapple Port
retirement community every morning. If the six-
woman troop passed a home showing no activity by
ten a.m., they knocked on the door and demanded
proof of life. They pretended to visit on other
business, asking if the homeowner would be attending
this meeting or that bake sale, but everyone knew the
Squad was there to check if someone died overnight.
Odds were slim that Charlotte wouldn’t make it
through an evening, but the Squad didn’t make
Charlotte held Abby’s collar and opened the door.
“Oh, hi, Charlotte,” said a small woman in a purple
t-shirt. “We were just—”
“I’m alive, Ginny. Have a good walk.”
Charlotte closed the door. She opened her blinds
and peeked out. Several of the Death Squad ladies
waved to her as they resumed their march. Abby stood
on the sofa and thrust her head through the blinds, her
nub of a tail waving back at them at high speed.
Mariska turned and dumped her remaining coffee
into the sink, rinsed the purple mug, and with one last
longing glance at the Pikes Peak logo, put it in the
dishwasher. She placed her hands on her ample hips
and faced Charlotte.
“Do you have chalk?”
“No.” Charlotte had been annoyed at herself all
morning for remembering to buy chalkboard paint
and forgetting to buy chalk.
Darla motioned to the black wall. “Well, there’s
your first item. Buy chalk. Write that down.”
“Oh. Good point.”
“Anyhow, shopping lists don’t count,” said
Darla chuckled. “Oh, there are rules. The
chalkboard has rules, Mariska.”
Mariska pursed her lips and nodded. “Very
“Well, I may not have a chalkboard, but I have a
wonderful sense of purpose,” said Darla putting her
own mug in the dishwasher.
“Oh yes? What’s that?”
“I’ve got to pick up Frank’s special ED pills.”
She stepped over the plastic drop cloth beneath the
painted wall and headed for the door.
Charlotte gawked. “ED? You mean for his—”
“Erectile Dysfunction. Pooped Peepee. Droopy
“Got it,” said Charlotte, cutting her short.
“Fine. But these pills are special. Want to know
“Not in the least.”
Mariska began to giggle and Darla grinned.
“She’s horrible,” Mariska whispered.
Darla reached into her pocketbook and pulled out
a small plastic bottle. She handed it to Charlotte.
“Read the label.”
Charlotte looked at the side of the pill bottle. The
label held the usual array of medical information, but
the date was two years past due.
“He only gets them once every two years?”
“Nope. He only got them once. Ever since then I’ve
been refilling the bottle with little blue sleeping pills.
Any time he gets the urge, he takes one, and an hour
later, he’s sound asleep. When he wakes up, I tell him
everything was wonderful.”
Charlotte’s jaw dropped. “That’s terrible.”
Darla dismissed her with a wave and put the bottle
back in her purse.
“Nah,” she said, opening the front door. “I don’t
have time for that nonsense. If I’m in the mood, I give
him one from the original prescription.”
Darla and Mariska patted Abby on the head, waved
goodbye and stepped into the Florida sun.
Charlotte shut the door behind them and balled her
drop cloth of sliced trash bags. She rinsed her brush
and carried the paint can to the work shed in her
backyard. On her way back to the house, she surveyed
her neglected yard. A large pile of broken concrete sat
in the corner awaiting pickup. As part of her new life
with purpose policy, Charlotte had hired a company to
jackhammer part of her concrete patio in order to
provide room for a garden. The original paved yard
left little room for plants. With the patio removed,
Charlotte could add grow a garden to her chalkboard
wall. Maybe she was supposed to be a gardener or
work with the earth. She didn’t feel particularly earthy,
but who knew?
She huffed, mentally kicking herself again for
forgetting to buy chalk.
Her rocky new patch of sand didn’t inspire
confidence. It in no way resembled the dark, healthy
soil she saw in her neighbors’ more successful gardens.
Charlotte returned to the shed to grab a spade and
cushion for her knees, before kneeling at the corner of
her new strip of dirt. It was cool outside; the perfect
time of day to pluck the stray bits of concrete from the
ground before the Florida sun became unbearable. She
knew she didn’t like sweating, so gardening was
probably not her calling. Still, she was determined to
give everything a chance. She’d clean her new garden,
shower, and then run out to buy topsoil, plants and
“Tomatoes, cucumbers…” Charlotte mumbled to
herself, mentally making a list of plants she needed to
buy. Or seeds? Should I buy seeds or plants? Plants. Less
chance of failure starting with mature plants; though if
they died, that would be even more embarrassing.
Charlotte’s spade struck a large stone and she
removed it, tossing it toward the pile of broken
concrete. A scratching noise caught her attention and
she looked up to find her neighbor’s Cairn terrier,
Katie, furiously digging beside her. Part of the fence
had been broken or chewed, and stocky little Katie
visited whenever life in her own backyard became too
Charlotte watched the dirt fly: “Katie, you’re
making a mess. If you want to help, pick up stones and
move them out of the garden.”
Katie stopped digging long enough to stare with her
large brown eyes. At least Charlotte thought the dog was
staring at her. Katie had a lazy eye that made it difficult
demonstrating the process with her spade. “Stop
making a mess or I’ll let Abby out and then you’ll be
Katie ignored her and resumed digging, sand arcing
behind her, piling against the fence.
“You better watch it, missy, or the next item on the
list will be to fix the fence.”
Katie eyeballed her again, her crooked bottom teeth
jutting from her mouth. She looked like a furry can
“Fix your face.”
Katie snorted a spray of snot and returned to
Charlotte removed several bits of concrete and
then shifted her kneepad a few feet closer to Katie.
She saw a flash of white and felt something settle
against her hand. Katie sat beside her, tail wagging,
tongue lolling from the left side of her mouth.
Between the dog and her hand sat the prize Katie had
been so determined to unearth.
Charlotte froze, one word repeating in her mind,
picking up pace until it was an unintelligible crescendo
Skul . Skul skul skullskul skul skuuuuulll l…
She blinked, certain that when she opened her eyes
the object would have taken its proper shape as a rock
or pile of sand.
The eye sockets stared back at her.
Hi. Nice to meet you. I’m human skull. What’s up?
The lower jaw was missing. The cranium was nearly
as large as Katie and a similar off-white color, though
the skull had better teeth.
Charlotte realized the forehead of this boney
intruder rested against her pinky. She whipped her
hand away. The skull rocked toward her, as if in
pursuit, and she scrambled back as it rolled in her
direction, slow and relentless as a movie mummy.
Katie ran after the skull and pounced on it, stopping
Charlotte put her hand on her chest, breathing
Her brain raced to process the meaning of a human
head in her backyard.
It has to be a joke… maybe some weird dog toy…
Charlotte gently tapped the skull with her shovel. It
didn’t feel like cloth or rawhide. It made a sharp-yet-
thuddy noise, just the sort of sound she suspected a
human skull might make. If she had to compare the
tone to something, it would be the sound of a girl
about to freak out while tapping a metal shovel on a
“Oh, Katie. What did you find?”
The question increased Katie’s rate of tail wag. She
yipped and ran back to the hole she’d dug, retrieving
the skull’s lower jaw.
“Oh no… Stop that. You sick little—”
Katie stood, human jawbone clenched in her teeth,
tail wagging so furiously that Charlotte thought she
might lift off like a chubby little helicopter. The terrier
spun and skittered through the fence back to her own
yard, dragging her prize in tow. The jawbone stuck in
the fence for a moment, but Katie wrestled it through
and disappeared into her yard.
“Katie no,” said Charlotte, reaching toward the
retreating dog. “Katie—I’m pretty sure that has to stay
with the head.”
She leaned forward and nearly touched the jawless
skull before yanking away her hand.
Whose head is in my garden?
She felt her eyes grow wider, like pancake batter
poured in a pan.
Hold the phone.
Heads usually come attached to bodies.
Were there more bones?
What was worse? Finding a whole skeleton or
finding only a head?
Charlotte hoped the rest of the body lay nearby, and
then shook her head at the oddity of the wish.
She glanced around her plot of dirt and realized she
might be kneeling in a whole graveyard. More bones.
More heads. She scrambled to her feet and dropped her
Charlotte glanced at her house, back to where her
chalkboard wall waited patiently.
She really needed some chalk.
The Sheriff’s deputies allowed Charlotte to stay in her
home while they oversaw the removal of human
remains from her garden; the garden she now lovingly
referred to as The Garden Never to be Touched Again. It
wasn’t as catchy as The Garden of Eatin’; the nickname
one couple in Pineapple Port had dubbed their
screened-in porch area, but it would have to do. It was
still better than lanai. Everyone in Pineapple Port had
a lanai. Outside of Hawaii, calling a porch a lanai
smacked of Sun Belt snobbery. As if Florida sun
porches were more exotic than those in Maryland or
Maybe they were. Her fellow Floridians could grow
palm trees and dwarf fruit trees in their southern
porches. Maybe it was okay to call a porch a lanai. I
mean if it makes everyone happy…
Charlotte rubbed her eyes.
No wonder I never get anything done. I spend time thinking
about the dumbest things. A human head was sitting in her
garden and all she could think about was whether she
had the right to call a porch a lanai.
Priorities, Charlotte, priorities.
Outside, two young deputies stood in drab tan
uniforms watching the dig with little interest. Frank
Marshall, Darla’s husband and the Manatee County
Sheriff, stood beside the diggers, clearly wishing he
could be anywhere but standing in the Florida sun
watching nerds excavate a body one brushstroke at a
time. Whenever Charlotte trotted water to the crowd
in her backyard, Frank released an exasperated sigh
that conveyed his deep preference for ice-cold beer.
When she offered him a bottle, he glanced at his young
companions and declined.
“I couldn’t possibly have a bottle on duty Charlotte,”
he said, retrieving a handkerchief to swab his sweaty
forehead. “Not a bottle this early.”
Frank tilted his head and peered at her from
beneath his brow, encouraging a second guess.
Charlotte considered the emphasis Frank had put
on the word bottle.
She popped back into the house, poured the bottle
of beer into a coffee mug, and returned.
“How about coffee?” she asked, handing Frank the
He glanced at his younger officers. “Oh, sure. I
would love some cof ee.”
“It’s good, I grind the beans myself.”
“Do you, now?”
“They have a nutty, almost hoppy taste, don’t you
Frank glared at her. “Mm,” he grunted, taking a sip.
“You should probably go back in. I don’t want you
contaminating the scene.”
She grinned and went back inside. Abby barked as
she entered and ran toward the front of the house.
Charlotte followed her.
“What is it girl? Is Timmy down the well?”
The police had stretched a length of yellow crime
tape across Charlotte’s front gate and a line of
chattering neighbors stretched from one side to the
other. The police might as well have sat in the front
yard with a bullhorn screaming, “Scene of the crime!
Come see the scene of the crime!” Like sharks to
blood, the people of Pineapple Port smelled gossip-
fodder from miles away.
Charlotte wasn’t only the youngest resident of
Pineapple Port, she was the most famous. Growing up
in a retirement community made her the local oddity.
If she purchased a different brand of coffee, within
two hours, the whole neighborhood knew. Crime tape
She’d moved to Pineapple Port with her
grandmother, Estelle, at age eleven, following her
mother’s death from cancer. Estelle had died nine
months later. Mariska and Darla were her
grandmother’s best friends, and they conspired with
Darla’s husband Sheriff Frank, and Pineapple Port’s
founders, Penny and George Sambrooke, to allow
Charlotte to remain in her grandmother’s home. She
spent most of her time at Mariska’s, until her teens,
when she officially moved back into her
grandmother’s home. Though she lived alone, she had
everyone in the community as foster parents, with
Mariska and Bob, who lived directly across the street,
as primary caregivers.
Growing up in a fifty-five-plus community had
pros and cons. The con was having endless nosey
grandmothers watching her every move. The pro was
access to golf carts. Everyone in the neighborhood
had a cart, some quite fancy. Access to souped-up golf
carts was a child’s fantasy, and as a child, she’d
dreamed of becoming a professional golf cart racer.
She’d been horrified to discover there was no such
thing. All other career options paled in comparison.
As an adult the pros and cons of living in the Port
shifted. The neighborhood scrutiny contributed to her
lackluster love life. That was a huge con. The one time
a man spent the evening at her home, she’d been
greeted by winks or scowls by nearly everyone in the
neighborhood the following day. In retrospect, she
wished she’d worn a t-shirt that said, We kissed a little
and then he slept on the sofa.
On the pro side, she never wanted for jams, jellies
or crocheted items of any kind. People without an
endless supply of homemade jelly really didn’t know
what they were missing.
Charlotte returned to her kitchen and watched the
men dig, drinking the rest of Frank’s beer from her
own coffee mug to calm her nerves. The Sheriff wasn’t
the only one trying to avoid scrutiny.
Frank peeked through the window and she held up
her mug in cheers. He reciprocated.
As they enjoyed their beers, the forensic team
removed and labeled each part of a single skeleton.
Charlotte watched a tech dust and place what looked
like a toe bone into a baggie. She took another sip
from her mug.
“I’m her mother,” said a voice.
Charlotte’s head swiveled toward her front door as
the sounds of arguing grew. She recognized one voice
as that of the female officer guarding her front door.
The woman had a terrible demeanor, and her sharp
bark was undeniable. The other voices sounded even
more familiar, particularly the one claiming to be her
Charlotte drained her mug and put it in the sink.
She walked to the front door to find Darla and
Mariska on her porch, their faces twisted in agitation.
From the conversation, she deduced the two were
attempting to gain entry by claiming to be her mother
and grandmother, but they’d forgotten to agree upon
who would play which role, and neither wanted to be
“So, you’re both her mother? Or you’re both her
grandmother?” asked the officer.
Charlotte opened her door just as two other
neighbors, Penny and Bettie, joined Mariska and Darla
on her stoop.
Mariska put a hand on Charlotte’s arm. “Dear, I
was so worried for you. What’s going on? Tell Mama.”
Darla glared at Mariska. “Your grandmother and I are
very worried,” she said, stepping on Mariska’s toe.
Penny attempted to push pass the officer. “What’s
going on? I demand to know what’s going on.”
Charlotte knew she’d have to tell Penny everything.
Pineapple Port’s matriarch ruled all the important
committees and planned all the events worth
attending. Those who disappointed her were doomed
to a lifetime of weak bridge partners.
Behind the three louder women stood five-foot-
nothing Bettie “Bettie Giraffe” Dahl, adorned in her
trademark giraffe-print blouse.
“Hi Bettie, you’re back,” Charlotte said,
unsurprised to see her. Bettie had no permanent place
of residence. She visited friends until it was time to
hop to the next host home, and appeared in Pineapple
Port two or three times a year.
Bettie waved. “You look beautiful, Charlotte.”
Bettie never had a bad word to say about anyone,
didn’t mind if other people did all the talking and her
obsession with giraffes made holiday shopping for her
a breeze. Her collection of friends was no mystery.
The officer turned to Charlotte, her thumbs
hooked in her belt and her demeanor hovering
somewhere between annoyed and simmering volcano.
She was clearly a woman of many moods, all of them
variations of cranky.
“Two of your mothers are here. Should I be on the
lookout for any more?”
Charlotte shook her head and stepped outside,
leading her four visitors away from the door and
toward the crime-taped gate.
“What’s going on?” asked Mariska, as Charlotte
half-beckoned, half-dragged her away from her front
door. She herded the three instigators until they
arrived on the edge of her property, as far from the
officer as possible. Bettie, Charlotte knew, would
follow wherever the others went.
“Are you okay? There’s tape everywhere. We
thought you were murdered,” said Darla.
Charlotte grimaced. “I’m fine. I was going to call
you, but the police showed up so fast I didn’t get a
chance. Did you read the tape?” Charlotte pointed to
the yellow strips draped across her gate. “It says, Do
“It’s on the fence,” said Penny, punctuating her
comment with a sniff. She had a sniff for every
emotion, from a level one Not Really Listening to You to
a level ten Fury. This was about a two: Don’t Waste my
Time. “They didn’t go across your door with the tape.
It’s a mixed message at best and a fine symbol of their
Charlotte paused, waiting for a level five Why is
Everyone so Stupid? but Penny instead chose a well-
timed hair flip, which, according to the body-language
thesaurus, landed somewhere between a sniff and an
“We didn’t cross the tape,” said Darla.
“We didn’t cross it,” echoed Penny.
“I didn’t cross it,” said Bettie. She looked at
Charlotte with large brown eyes. “I didn’t, did I?”
Charlotte smiled and patted Bettie on the shoulder.
“No, you didn’t cross it, Bettie. None of you did.
But we need to disperse this crowd. You’d think Justin
Bieber was throwing a concert in my backyard.”
“Who?” asked Penny.
“Oh, he’s that awful Canadian kid. Needs a good
kick in the pants,” said Darla.
“But what’s going on?” asked Mariska again.
Charlotte looked around to be sure no one but her
immediate crowd stood within hearing distance.
“After you two left this morning I went to work on
my garden and found bones.”
Charlotte said found bones in a dramatic whisper.
She didn’t mean to; the word bones just inspired drama.
Mariska’s eyes grew wide as silver dollar pancakes.
Those particular pancakes were half-price on John F.
Kennedy’s birthday at the local diner. Charlotte knew
all the deals in town. She didn’t mean to, but living in
Pineapple Port she just naturally absorbed that sort of
information. Coupons, promotions and deals made up
twenty percent of local small talk. Fifty percent was
medical related; the remaining thirty was a mixture of
bragging about grandkids, disapproval, gossip and
“Whaddya mean, bones?” asked Darla.
“Dog bones?” asked Bettie.
Bless her heart.
“Well, it was a Cairn terrier who did the actual
finding, but not dog bones. Human bones. A skull, to
All four women put their hands to their mouths,
except Penny, who put her hands on her hips and
cocked her head hard enough to send her short bob
Charlotte shrugged. “It’s true.”
“There was a body in your yard? A whole body?”
“No skin or clothes, just bones, but yes. When they
removed the concrete for my garden, the bones were
underneath. They’re old. The police and some forensic
guys are back there processing the scene.”
“Ooh, is Frank there? I’ll get the whole story from
him,” said Darla, visibly giddy that she’d found a
source of information.
“He’s there. He isn’t happy about it, but he’s there
with two other officers.”
“Two policemen?” asked Bettie, touching her hair.
Bettie was an incorrigible flirt.
“Did they bag and tag him yet?” asked Darla.
Darla watched an inordinate number of crime
shows. Charlotte could see she was giddy at the
opportunity to use her crime slang. Telling food store
employees to bag and tag a sack of potatoes just wasn’t
“Are you a person of interest?” asked Penny.
Charlotte realized the local gossip mill would have
her labeled as an escaped convict/serial killer before
Jeopardy! aired that evening. Even sharing what facts
she could would spare her little in the imaginations of
“From what I’ve overheard, the bones are at least
ten years old,” Charlotte said, taking a moment to
make eye contact with each of the women, except
Bettie, who had already lost interest and was watching
a Blue Jay hop around the azalea bushes. “And I can
promise you they’re at least fifteen years old, because
that cement has been there since my grandmother
moved in. When I was eleven. I didn’t kill anyone and
tunnel them under my grandmother’s porch like some
kind of psychotic Lord of the Rings dwarf.”
Penny squinted at her, her expression cold. “You
were always a precocious child.”
“Is it a man or a woman? What age?” asked Darla.
“I hope it isn’t a child,” said Mariska.
“I think I heard one of the nerds say the bones were
female, but to be honest, I’m not sure. I can tell you
the skull was a normal adult size.”
“Oh, that’s good,” said Mariska. “I mean, not good,
“Do you think we all have bodies in our yards?”
asked Darla, glancing down the street toward her own
house as if it were a party guest she’d just found
lurking near her good jewelry.
Penny huffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. This land was
nothing but swamp when George and I expanded
Pineapple Port, not a grave site.”
“I told you not to build this place on an Indian
burial ground,” said Charlotte.
Mariska gasped. “What? It was?”
“I’m just kidding. Poltergeist reference.”
The women stared at her with blank expressions.
“You know… Little girl gets sucked into the TV?
Their house was built on an Indian—”
“Precocious,” muttered Penny.
Charlotte sighed. “Look, never mind. Bottom line
is I don’t know much yet, but I’ll tell you everything
when I find out. You all go home and let me do the
snooping. Maybe if you leave, some of these others
will wander off.”
Charlotte watched a woman slowly pass her house,
Dachshund in tow. It was the tenth time she’d passed
by and the stubby-legged dog looked tired. One more
circle and the poor thing would be dragging behind
her like a deflated party balloon.
None of the women moved.
“Hello?” repeated Charlotte. “Did any of you hear
Darla and Penny remained planted on the sidewalk
just outside Charlotte’s gate, trapped in a contest to
see who could purse their lips more tightly. Bettie’s
attention wandered down the block, and Charlotte
followed her gaze to find a tall, athletic-built man
headed in their direction. He had dark hair; not shaggy,
but long enough that Charlotte suspected it took real
effort to keep it so perfectly in place. As he neared, his
mouth curled into the sort of charming grin that could
melt the icing off the ladies’ best church bazaar
He made eye contact with each woman, spending
no more or less time on each, and then glanced at the
yellow tape half-heartedly hugging Charlotte’s picket
“This must be the place,” he said.
The four women watched, silent, as the young man
slipped past them and walked toward the stoop. The
grim keeper of Charlotte’s doorstep turned toward
him as he approached, preparing for battle.
Charlotte cocked an eyebrow. Good luck with her,
After a short conversation, the officer stepped aside
and allowed the tall stranger to enter her home, her
dour puss replaced by two rows of teeth arranged in
the shape of a genuine smile.
She giggled as he passed.
Charlotte would have bet money the woman had
never giggled in her life.
Noticing eight eyes upon her, the officer’s face
collapsed like window blinds, shifting back to her
usual mask of disapproval. She crossed her arms over
her chest. Charlotte wondered if the officer had just
given her home to the dark-haired man and now
planned to keep her out while he redecorated.
“Who was that?” Charlotte said aloud, not
expecting an answer.
Darla, Penny and Mariska all answered in unison.
Charlotte passed the disapproving gaze of the officer
at her door without turning to stone and reentered her
home. She found the handsome stranger in her living
room, bent over, scratching Abby behind her ears.
Abby stretched and groaned, shifting her butt toward
the man in order to offer him more spots for attention.
He apparently had a mystical power over all women,
regardless of species.
She glared at Abby, who remained oblivious to her
failings as a watchdog.
Charlotte rolled the man’s name over in her mind.
She’d heard it before. He was the one who always
swept in and bought all the best things at the estate
sales Mariska and Darla loved to peruse. She’d heard
Mariska lament that she missed all the good stuff
because ‘Declan had already picked it over.’ She’d
pictured him older.
Declan looked up, gave the dog one last pet and
straightened. He scratched his nose, and Charlotte saw
he had large hands; each of his long, elegant fingers
ending in perfectly clipped, buffed nails. She
wondered if Declan had a woman in his life who
worked at one of the four hundred nail salons in the
area. He wore no wedding ring. Of course, if he were
married to a nail technician, she probably would have
told him to do his own nails by now, so that didn’t
Declan’s face was suddenly very close to hers, his
bemused smile working the laugh lines on either side
of his mouth to maximum visibility. He peered into
her eyes and used the hand attached to those elegant
fingers to wave, as if she were a window and some
small child stood on the opposite side of her skull.
Charlotte took a step back to better focus. Declan
smelled like mint and expensive aftershave. It was not
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“You called me. Then you sort of phased out.”
Watching him approach outside, she’d guessed
Declan to be about six feet tall. Now, to scale with the
other things in her home, including herself, she
decided he might be closer to six-three. She wondered
if he liked being that tall or if it made life difficult.
Sitting in plane seats was probably uncomfortable, his
knees pressed against the seat in front of him; but on
the other hand, he had full access to high cabinet
shelves, where most people could keep things only
“You did it again,” said Declan.
“What? I did what? Called you or phased out?”
“I did not.”
“Did not, what? Call me or phase out?”
“Yes, you did. Both. The phasing bit you did twice.
You called me once.”
“No, I didn’t.”
Declan opened his mouth and then shut it. He took
a deep breath.
“Let’s take this from the top. You just came in the
front door, right?”
Charlotte looked back at her front door and then
crossed her arms across her chest. She added a slight
head tilt and twisted her lips, adopting what she would
call “the disapproving parent” stare. This con man was
not about to convince her that she had called him to
her house. Who did he think he was? Who did he think
she was, that she would fall for such a scam?
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Answer me first. You just walked in, right?”
She thought about her answer, concerned it was a
trap. She couldn’t find the harm in responding.
“And you said ‘Declan’ right?”
Charlotte’s scowl released like a spring trap, her
mouth forming into a small ‘o.’
“Oh, you mean I called you…”
“You called me. Right. By name. See? Unless I’m not
Declan anymore and, well, I can check my driver’s
license…” He twisted his body, pretending to reach
for his wallet.
“No, no. I see what you’re saying. I did say your
“I thought you were saying I called you to this house.
Like on the phone.”
He stopped pantomiming the move for his wallet
“No worries,” he said, leaning forward and lightly
tapping her shoulder.
She scowled. Declan registered her disapproval and
pulled back his hand, smile failing for a nanosecond.
He ran his shoulder-tapping hand through his hair.
“How did you get in here?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean why did the officer let you in here?”
“I told her I was a consultant.”
“A consultant of what?”
“She didn’t ask.”
Charlotte’s scowl deepened as she recalled the
officer’s giggle. Abby wasn’t the only lousy watchdog.
“Anyway…” said Decaln, drawing out the word to
fill the awkward silence. “I know you didn’t call me
here. This was a false alarm. I figured when I saw the
crime tape, but I thought I’d double check.”
“Oh, sorry. Let’s start over.” He held out his hand
to shake. “I’m Declan, as you apparently know. I own
the Hock o’Bell Pawnshop in town.”
Charlotte shook his hand.
“Did you say the Hock o’Bell?”
Declan adopted a serious countenance, so serious,
it bordered on sadness. “It’s named after my dear,
departed mother, the Belle of Swansea.”
Charlotte squinted. “Really?”
“No. Just kidding. It’s a play on the restaurant. I
just moved the shop to an abandoned Taco Bell.”
Declan pulled his wallet from his back pocket and
retrieved a business card. He handed it to her.
She studied it and then put it on her counter,
mumbling, “Make a run for the hoarder.”
She smiled at the look of surprise that leapt to his
face. It was if he’d just noticed her standing there—as
if up to that moment, she’d been in a movie starring
Declan. Then she’d caught him off guard, diverted
him from his scripted lines and caused him to fall out
of character. Now he seemed lost.
“That’s funny. Make a run for the hoarder. Can I steal
that?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I’m not sure it’s me you need to clear
it with. You might need to talk to Taco Bell.”
Declan replaced his wallet and thrust his hands in
his pockets, still grinning and staring at her. Charlotte
found it unnerving. Her eyes darted to Abby, who lay
at his feet, her chin resting on his toes.
“Anyway, false alarm,” said Declan, picking up
where he’d left off. “I come around when the, uh,
residents… you know… move on. But this fellow
apparently passed a long time ago. Just as well.”
“What do you mean, just as well?”
Declan made a sweeping gesture with his hand.
“There isn’t anything of value here. It’s practically
barren. It looks like a dorm room. Like some kind of
crazy professor off his meds lives here.”
“Does it?” asked Charlotte, following his gaze as it
swept her home. She’d never noticed how empty it
was. Stacks of books leaned against the walls and
against each other. Two short sofas with different
patterns, a table, and a rickety dining room chair were
the only pieces of furniture. She made a mental note
to write decorate on her chalkboard wall.
She looked at the strapping gentleman insulting her
abode. She felt another scowl creeping down her
forehead, but was powerless to stop it.
“So you swoop in when old people die to buy their
worldly possessions for your shop?”
Declan winced. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be
insensitive. I actually pay good money for good items.
There are vultures around here who do try to steal what
they can, but I always try to be fair. That’s why they
call me Fair Declan.”
“No. But they could.”
“But they wouldn’t because it isn’t very catchy.”
“No, not really.”
He stared at her again. His head tilted to the right.
“Wait. How did you get in here? Are you visiting
your grandparents? Oh no… is this their house?”
Charlotte shook her head.
“Whew,” he said, putting his hand on his chest.
“Thought I might have put my foot in my mouth there
for a second. So… What are you doing here?”
“I live here.”
“In the area?”
“In the house,” she said sweeping her arm toward the
living room. “Home, sweet psychotic dorm room.”
Declan screwed his eyes shut as if in pain. “You live
here? You can’t possibly be over fifty-five.”
“No, I grew up here. I’ve been grandfathered in, so
His gaze swept over her piles of books. “Are you a
“No. I just like to read.”
“Ah. Jeeze, I’m sorry. I didn’t—I mean, it’s a nice
house. Uncluttered. Furniture is over-rated.”
He clapped his hands together. “I apologize for any
and all misunderstandings. I feel as though I’ve
overstayed my welcome and I’ll be on my way.”
He thrust out his hand to shake again. “Nice to
Charlotte was about to shake when one of the
officers from the backyard dig entered.
“Hey Declan, you’re still here,” said the deputy,
smiling and wiping his sweaty brow on his sleeve. He
gave his belt a hard yank to pull it over his belly.
“Yeah, Daniel, I was just heading out.”
Charlotte looked at the deputy and then back at
Declan, her hand now enveloped in his. Everyone
seemed to know the handsome pawnbroker. Maybe
Deputy Daniel tipped him about deaths in the
neighborhood. Declan probably had dinner with the
ambulance drivers every Thursday. Nevermind how
handsome he was. He was a ghoul. He made his living
from the death of her friends.
“We were just saying we had something for you,”
said the deputy, holding aloft a plastic evidence bag.
“Oh yeah?” Declan gave Charlotte’s hand one last
short shake before releasing.
Daniel nodded. “I mean, if it wasn’t evidence. We
pulled a necklace from the bone pile.”
The officer held up the bag for Declan to see.
Inside, Charlotte saw a sunflower, attached to a gold
chain. Even with dirt caked to the delicate petals, the
bright yellow and orange enamel glowed in the sun
that streamed through her front window.
“Think it’s worth anything?” asked Daniel.
Charlotte’s lip curled.
“Daniel, really,” she said, but the deputy didn’t
acknowledge her statement. He didn’t shift his stare
“Dec, are you okay? What is it?” asked officer.
Charlotte followed his gaze and saw the blood had
drained from the pawnbroker’s face. Declan
swallowed and took a step forward, his hand lifting to
touch the bottom of the evidence bag. Daniel released
the sealed bag into his open palm. Declan stood,
staring at the necklace, his thumb moving the bag
against the flower to remove more dirt from the petals
Pale, he looked at the deputy.
“I know who she is,” he said.
“You recognize the necklace?” Charlotte asked.
Declan nodded, his eyes never leaving the bag.
“I gave it to her.”
“You look like you’re going to fall over,” said
“I have to see,” Declan said, pushing past the
deputy and walking toward the back of the house. She
followed, with Daniel close behind.
Declan opened the backdoor and the three of them
filed out onto the screened-in porch.
“Whoa whoa,” said another deputy. “Declan, I told
you, you can’t come down here. You’ll contaminate
“Dick, I think that’s my mother,” said Declan.
Charlotte gasped. “They said the bones were about
ten years old? Is that right?”
Declan nodded. “She disappeared when I was
twelve. Fifteen years ago. We never knew what
He made a move to walk down into the yard as an
Officer Dick moved to block his path.
“You can’t come down here.”
Dick stood his ground. “I’m sorry. There’s nothing
to identify, just bones. You’ll have to go to the station
and then you can tell us everything you know. What
makes you think this is your mother?”
Declan held up the baggie. “This necklace. I gave it
to my mother for her birthday, not long before she
“What are you doing with that bag?” Dick shot
Daniel a dirty look and snatched the bag from Declan.
Daniel’s eyes cast downward. “Sorry. I had to give
it to him. He looked like he’d seen a ghost.”
“Where is Sheriff Marshall?” asked Charlotte.
She hoped Frank might let Declan closer to the
body if she asked. After all, she’d given him a coffee
mug of beer and mowed his tiny patch of lawn for
years as a teen. Without her, who would point out on
a daily basis that Sheriff Marshall was ridiculous and
clearly he should have become Marshal Marshall? He’d
stolen from her the chance to greet him each day with
“Marshal Marshall Marshall” in her best Jan Brady
imitation. He owed her a favor or two.
“He left, ma’am, and I’m in charge,” said the reedy
officer. He had a humorless disposition. Charlotte
wondered if the female officer in her front yard was
Standing on the porch, Declan craned his neck to
see, doing his best to gain a bird’s eye view of the
excavation. Most of the bones still lay half-buried in
the dirt. The body lay flat on its back, head missing.
Nearby, the skull sat in a clear plastic bag. The
jawbone was in the bag as well. Katie had lost all her
Dick opened the door to the porch and ushered
Declan and Charlotte back into the house. Daniel
“I want them out of the house,” said Dick to his
partner. He looked at Charlotte and Declan. “Go get
a cup of coffee or something.”
“It’s my house,” said Charlotte, feeling Dick was
trying too hard to live up to his name. She’d met him
when he was a brand new deputy, green as an M&M.
She’d watched him drop his gun while trying to spin it
on his finger like a gunfighter. He had a lot of nerve
pretending he was large and in charge now.
“This house wasn’t even built when she was buried.
There aren’t any clues to protect here,” she said.
“Yeah, well, I don’t want to have to keep an eye out
“Fine, we’ll go. Just don’t try and do any fancy
tricks with your gun while we’re gone. I don’t want
holes in my walls.”
Dick pressed his lips into a hard white line and
pointed toward her front door.
That’s right. You remember now. I saw you try to spin that
Declan’s face was still ashen.
She touched his arm. “Declan? Let’s go. We can go
to Mariska’s. She’s like my mother. Okay?”
Declan nodded and allowed himself to be led from
the house. Charlotte paused to clip a leash on Abby
and then navigated them past the female officer. She
wasn’t surprised to find the ladies still gathered near
her gate. Charlotte caught Mariska’s eye and motioned
to her. Mariska nodded and waddled in fourth gear to
catch up to them. She had bad legs, so at that pace she
looked like a hyperkinetic penguin racing after the last
“They kicked you out, dear?” asked Mariska as she
grew near. “I don’t know who they think they are. Was
it Dick? He’s not the sharpest cheese in the
refrigerator, that one. They don’t think you have
something to do with the body, do they?”
“No, nothing like that. They just want the house
clear while they finish up.”
“You didn’t kill that lady who cut your car off the
other day, did you?” asked Darla, chuckling as she,
too, arrived at Charlotte’s side.
Declan looked at her. “I think it’s my mother.”
Darla chuckled and then, registering the look on
Declan’s face, covered her mouth with her hand.
“Oh, I am so sorry. I should know better than to
joke about something like this. Oh, I feel terrible.”
“Declan, this is Mariska and Darla,” said Charlotte
stopping to point to each in turn.
He shook their hands. “Declan Bingham.”
Charlotte turned to Mariska. “Is your door
unlocked? I think he should sit down for a bit.”
“Yes, yes,” said Mariska hurrying to open the door.
They went inside. Mariska’s pound mutt, Izzy, ran
up to greet them and Charlotte had to scramble to
unclip Abby’s leash before they all became entangled
and fell to the ground like hog-tied calves. Released,
the two dogs raced around the house together,
narrowly missing furniture and knees. Part Dalmatian,
part rat terrier and part wildly over-fed, Izzy looked
like a black-speckled body pillow with radar dishes for
Charlotte walked past the kitchen counter to the
living room and motioned for Declan to sit in a large,
cushy La-Z-Boy chair. Every house in Pineapple Port
had running water, electricity and a La-Z-Boy with the
shape of the man of the house worn into it.
“Can I get you something, Declan?” asked Mariska,
tight on their heels. “Water? Milk? Soda? Tea?”
“No, thank you,” he said.
“Do you have any coffee left?” asked Darla.
“I do. Let me brew you a fresh pot. Declan, I have
coffee and some milk. It’s two percent… or
creamer… I have hazelnut creamer.”
“No, thank you.”
“What about a donut? I have donuts. Oh, I have
some wonderful muffins from Publix. Do you want a
“Have you tried their pineapple coconut muffins?
They are to die. Simply to die,” said Darla.
Mariska shook her head. “I haven’t. I’ll have to get
some. That sounds wonderful.”
“Nothing, thank you,” said Declan.
Mariska barreled on. “Corn muffins? I might have
corn. No… No, I think Bob ate the corn muffins with
the chili last night. Cinnamon apple? I do have a
“No, thank you.”
“I could cut a banana. Or I—”
Charlotte held up a hand. “He doesn’t want
Mariska paused and looked around her kitchen. “I
have some leftover chicken…”
Charlotte shot her a look and she shrugged.
“Well, I do,” she mumbled.
Mariska went to the coffee pot and dumped that
morning’s remains into the sink to start afresh. She
didn’t like to drink coffee more than three minutes
old, and she didn’t expect her guests to have to put up
with nonsense like that either.
Charlotte removed a fake cat from a nearby chair
and sat down. The cat was black and white and curled
in a ball as if sleeping. Declan looked at the cat as she
set it on the floor.
“That is terrifying,” he mumbled.
“I know. I can’t tell you how long I’ve begged her
to get rid of it. Used to give me nightmares.”
Declan offered a half smile and rubbed his face
with his hands.
“I’m sorry. I’m acting crazy. It was just a shock.”
“I can’t imagine. Did you—never mind.”
Charlotte shook her head and waved her hands to
say she was dropping the question.
“Nothing, I… I was going to ask if you’d thought she
was still alive. Before today.”
Declan sighed. “I don’t know. I guess part of me
thought she was. Honestly, now I’m not sure if this is
better or worse. It hurt to think she ran out on us.
Now I know she didn’t leave on purpose, but she’s
dead. Part of me hoped she was living a happy life
Mariska slipped a small plate on the table next to
“It’s sharp cheese and pepperoni and crackers,” she
“They’re Pepperidge Farm,” said Mariska in a huff.
She turned and disappeared to the back of the house.
Darla walked by and took one of everything on the
Charlotte watched her. “Darla, you’re encouraging
“Why wouldn’t I encourage people to feed me?”
Charlotte turned her attention back to Declan.
“Sorry. She means well.”
Declan chuckled and took a cracker and a slice of
pepperoni. “Oh gosh, don’t apologize. I talk to old—
Declan glanced at Darla, who arched an eyebrow.
“Tread lightly, mister.”
Declan cleared his throat. “I mean, I talk to mature
ladies all day long. They invite me to their houses to
look at their antiques and they’re always trying to feed
me. I’m used to it.”
“I bet they do,” mumbled Charlotte.
“Well, you’re so skinny. Both of you need to eat,”
said Mariska from the kitchen.
“I eat plenty. Don’t you worry,” said Declan.
“And I live across the street from you, Mariska, so
you know I’m not going to starve any time soon.”
Charlotte saw the hint of Declan’s five o’clock
shadow against his pale complexion. His hair was dark
but his skin was fair for a Florida boy.
“Black Irish?” she asked.
“Your name, your hair… I’m guessing you’re
“My father was from Dublin. Right off the boat.”
“Was your mother from Ireland as well?”
“My mother was a plain old American. But Irish
and German heritage, I think. I got my height from
“You are tall,” said Charlotte. Declan looked at her
and she looked away, embarrassed.
You are tall. What a stupid thing to say.
“I mean, I’m tall so I notice when other people
are,” she added.
“What was her name, your mother?” asked Darla.
“That’s a pretty name.”
The room fell silent, but for the sound of Darla
crunching on crackers.
“I should probably go,” said Declan after a minute.
He tried to stand, but it took several rocks back and
forth to dislodge himself from the deep cushions of
“Are you sure?” asked Charlotte, standing with
him. “Do you feel okay to drive?”
“I’m fine. Thank you. I appreciate you taking care
of me. This just isn’t what I expected to find when I
came to your house.”
“No, you expected to find me dead,” said Charlotte.
“No—well, yes, I guess I did,” he said, the left side
of his mouth hooking into a tiny smile.
He looked at her and she noticed his eyes were a
brilliant green with brown edges around the iris.
How did I not see those gems earlier?
She suddenly felt very aware of herself and rushed
to squash the uncomfortable silence. “So, for me, the
day turned out better than expected. I’m alive.”
Charlotte raised her hand to cover her mouth,
realizing how tactless her statement had been.
“That didn’t come out the way I meant it. I
“I know what you meant,” said Declan, letting her
off the hook. He put out his hand and she shook it,
eyes locked on her toes.
“Nice to meet you. Hope to see you again soon,”
“Nice to meet you, Darla.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Darla, popping another
cracker in her mouth. As he headed for the door she
met eyes with Charlotte and smiled, waggling her
Charlotte wrinkled her nose and waved her away.
As Declan passed the hallway that led to the back
of the house he called out to Mariska.
“I’m leaving. Thank you for everything.”
Mariska burst out of the bedroom with the dogs
exploding forward on either side of her. They raced
down the hall and Declan jumped to his right to avoid
“Oh, my pleasure, dear. You take care of yourself.
Do you want a muffin to take home with you?”
“No, thank you.”
Declan offered a last wave to everyone before
From the door, Charlotte watched him walk down
the street to his car.
“He has nice posture,” she said. “I mean, for a tall
Darla nodded. “He has nice a lot of things. I can tell
you his posture wasn’t the first thing I noticed.”
“What? I meant his face. Now who has the dirty
mind? Didn’t you think he was handsome?”
“I guess. Why didn’t any of you ever tell me about
Darla raised her eyebrows. “Oh, darlin’, he’s so
gorgeous and polite… we all thought he was gay.”
Charlotte grabbed her towel and headed to water
aerobics at the Pineapple Port pool. It wasn’t so much
aerobics as it was swinging limbs back and forth, but it
served as the epicenter of some of the best community
gossip. She stopped in front of her chalkboard wall
and picked up the chalk she’d finally purchased the day
before. It had taken the police until eight p.m. to finish
removing Erin Bingham’s bones from her yard, and
she’d gone shopping to kill time. She didn’t buy
seedlings or plants. It would be a while before she’d
consider gardening again. She could officially remove
gardener and archeologist from her potential career
Charlotte wrote find Erin’s killer on her wall. It
seemed dramatic, so she erased it and replaced it with
solve mystery. The statement was vague enough that if
someone saw it, they wouldn’t jump to the conclusion
that she was nuts. She could say the mystery was the
location of a missing earring, or the clicking noise her
Speaking of which…
She added fix dishwasher clicking to the board.
It had been twenty-four hours since she’d found a
skeleton in her backyard, and while life went on as
usual, she felt strange in her own home. She fought a
persistent urge to peek out her back window. A
tingling feeling on the back of her neck made her
suspect that at any moment, she’d find Erin Bingham
standing in her lanai.
But in what state? Would she look like she did when she
was alive? Or a zombie? Or would she find a skeleton with a
broken mandible tapping on her door?
She couldn’t stop thinking about the poor woman
or her handsome son. She felt terrible for Declan.
She’d lost her own mother at a young age, so she
empathized. To relive his loss through such a
gruesome discovery; she could only imagine what
impact that might have on the enterprising
Maybe the body wasn’t his mother’s? It would be a
while before the officials identified the remains, but
the appearance of the necklace didn’t bode well.
Maybe, the necklace wasn’t unique. He’d only been a
child when he bought it for her, surely, it wasn’t very
expensive. Maybe a local store had sold hundreds of
Her mind was still racing through the possibilities
of both necklace sales and hauntings when she found
Mariska and Darla waiting outside her home in their
swimsuits and floral cover-ups. Mariska sat behind the
wheel of her light blue golf cart, Darla in the passenger
seat, her nose slathered in bright yellow sun block.
Charlotte hopped on the rear seat and set her towel
“Any news on your bones?” asked Darla.
“No. Any details from Frank?”
“Oh, you know that man. Getting him to talk is like
pulling teeth. I told him about Declan’s mother and he
just grunted at me and asked what was for dinner.”
Charlotte grimaced. “He’s our only hope. I don’t
think the police are required to share information with
the person who found the body. That would be a dog,
Mariska stomped on the pedal and the cart lurched
forward. “It’s just so awful. You never think this sort
of thing is going to happen in your neighborhood. The
next thing you know we’ll have the Dateline people
Darla grinned. “Ooh, I hope so. I like that Keith
Morrison. He’s like sexy old saddle leather.”
Charlotte squinted at Darla. “I don’t even know
what that means, and I do not want an explanation.”
Mariska made a sharp right. “Do you think this will
lower our property values?”
Charlotte closed her eyes and enjoyed the artificial
breeze created by the moving golf cart. “Yes. I think
our homes will plunge tens of dollars.”
The community pool sat to the right of the large
multi-purpose building in the center of Pineapple
Port. It sparkled in the sun, beckoning, clean and
warm. Retirees possessed ample time to lodge
complaints, so the community workers always keep
the pool in tiptop shape.
Mariska stopped the cart in front of the community
bulletin board to look for news. A thumbtacked-
notice printed on neon pink paper announced a new
Darla shook her head. “Another club. This place
has more clubs than a deck of cards.”
Charlotte read the notice, her eyes growing wider
with every word. “The Corpse Committee. A committee
to get to the bottom of the mystery behind the body
found in the backyard of Miss Charlotte Morgan.”
Darla looked at Mariska. “I guess we’ll have to join
“I did this morning. I saw it when I walked Miss
Izzy. I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about it, though,
“Well, I don’t feel great being named as the
benefactor of the Corpse Committee, but what can I do?
I assume this is Penny’s handiwork?”
Darla wrinkled her nose at the name of the
community founder’s wife.
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