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.You’re my friend, and if I choose to help you, there’s not much you can do about it.Now can I go back and eat my breakfast? I feel like a kid having to stay after school for something he didn’t do.”“Go on.Eat your donuts,” I said, laughing as I followed him back out front.George headed back for the table, but I stopped at Emma’s position behind the cash register.“Good, you’re relieving me,” she said.“Not quite.We have a few more things to discuss.You can handle things here, can’t you?”She gave me an exaggerated thumbs-up signal, then said, “If customer service is going to be part of my job description, then I want a raise.”“As for me, I’d like a pony,” I said, “but I’ve got a feeling neither one of us is going to get our wish.”The table was quiet as I approached, and they both looked expectantly at me.I took a deep breath, then said, “First things first.Are we all good right now?”I got two nods of assent, which is what I’d been hoping for.We were a team.“Okay, here are my thoughts.We need to look into Max’s disappearance, as well as Muriel’s sudden absence.While we’re doing that, we need to dig into Darlene’s life and see who might have reason to want her dead.We also need to look into Muriel’s life, because whoever killed Darlene could have just as easily been going after her.”Grace asked, “Can you honestly think anyone could make that mistake? The two women were as different as night and day.”“You didn’t see her lying on the ground,” I said.“I didn’t know until I saw that the wig Darlene had been wearing had slipped and some of her blonde hair poked out from underneath it.Remember, she was trying out for the lead in Max’s play, so she was emulating Muriel pretty closely.”“Okay,” George said.“Who gets what assignment?”“Here’s what I had in mind.Grace, I need you to ask around as delicately as you can about Darlene’s and Muriel’s finances.See if either one of them owed anyone any money, if they had large life insurance policies, or big savings accounts waiting to be inherited.Any angle that could involve money as a motive would be helpful.”“I can’t imagine Darlene Higgins leaving much of a financial legacy,” she said.“Honestly, I can’t either, but we shouldn’t guess.We need to know.”“I’ll do my best,” she said.Grace glanced at her watch, then she added, “Most of the people I need to talk with probably aren’t even up yet.I’ll have to wait a few hours before I make any calls.”George looked at me steadily for a few seconds, then asked, “So, what did you have in mind for me?”“Are you sure you want to do this?”He nodded.“Tell me what you need.”I took a deep breath, then said, “You have the hardest job of all.I need you to find Max and Muriel.”“Martin’s got his men working on it pretty hard,” George said.“I know that, but none of them have your experience and expertise.”“You don’t have to flatter me, Suzanne, I already said I’d help.” Though he was protesting the compliments, it was pretty clear he enjoyed them.“I’m just telling the truth,” I said.“Sure, whatever,” he said as he got up and headed for the door.He stopped halfway there.“What do I owe you for breakfast?”“It’s on the house,” I said.He nodded, and then he walked out the door.George had no problem taking free donuts, something that always made me laugh, given his past job experience, and the reputation cops had for loving donuts.That left me.I decided I needed to ask around town to find out any dish I could on Muriel and Darlene from the gossip mill, and there was only one place I could go for that, next door to Gabby Williams.It was too bad her shop wasn’t open yet.Grace must have had the same thought as I had.“We have to talk to Gabby, don’t we?”“Yes, but that comes later.The first thing we need to do is get our hair done,” I said.“Suzanne, do you really think that’s fair, since George is out looking for clues about what really happened?”I grinned at her.“I didn’t say where we were going, did I? I’m going to call and get us the next two appointments at Wilma Jackson’s Cutnip.”“That’s asking too much,” she said as her hands went protectively toward her elegantly styled coif.“Tell you what.I’ll take a hit for the team, and you can just come along for the ride.How’s that sound?”“Better for me than it does for you,” she said.“Why do you say that?”“Have you seen the women around town who all have the exact same hairstyle? They have one thing in common; they go to Cutnip to get their hair done.”“It can’t be that bad, can it?” I asked, as my own hands went to my beloved ponytail.“Maybe I’m just exaggerating,” she said.After a long pause, she added, “Then again, maybe I’m not.”My fingers trembled a little as I called Cutnip, and a part of me hoped they were booked solid through July.Unfortunately, they’d just had a cancellation, and could take me in the next fifteen minutes.When I told Emma I needed her to watch the front a little longer, she asked, “Where are you going? Why can’t I run your errand for you?”“I’m going to Cutnip to get my hair done so I can snoop around,” I said as I lowered my voice.“That’s okay, you go on ahead.Take your time, I’ll even close up at noon, if you want me to.”I shook my head, and I would have laughed if I wasn’t so worried about what was going to happen to my hair, all in the name of the murder investigation.I’d have to keep telling myself it was something I had to do.Maybe that would keep me in the beautician’s chair.Otherwise, Wilma was going to need a hefty set of straps to confine me as she tortured my hair.* * *I hesitated at the door of the salon as another woman came out.Her hair sported Wilma’s signature teasing, a big hairdo that looked more at home in the sixties than it did now.“You want to know something? I’m not so sure about this anymore,” I said.“Is it really worth it?”“Come on, don’t be such a baby,” Grace said as she started to give me a little nudge toward the door.“If I’m being a baby, why don’t you get your hair done instead of me?”She laughed low enough so only I could hear it.“Suzanne, do I honestly look that crazy to you?”Before I could come up with an answer that had just the right bite to it, it was too late; we were inside.There were five chairs in Wilma’s salon, and four of them were full, with one woman waiting.The place was certainly hopping.The one empty chair was covered with a black smock that had DARLENE embroidered in red on it.Wilma nodded in our direction as we walked in.A woman holding onto her forties with both hands, she was dressed in tight black stretch pants, and I could see hints of a leopard-print blouse under her smock.Her hair had been teased into a giant ball of henna, and I could see she didn’t have to look far for her inspiration.“As I live and breathe, it’s the donut lady herself,” she said [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]