** If you’ve not yet finished reading Of Mice and Murder, stop here to avoid spoilers **


EPILOGUE: Of Mice and Murder

Angela knocked on Bea’s door, but Bea didn’t answer. Though Bea should have been expecting her, Angela wasn’t completely surprised. The song “Dancing with Myself” was blasting on eleven inside Bea’s suite. It was so loud that it was almost unbearable for Angela in the hallway.

I guess you’re dancing, Bea. Cute song choice. Good thing there are no guests on this hall!

The inn was mostly empty again after a recent flurry of visitors for the Valentine’s Day weekend. It was an ideal romantic place for Christmas-loving couples to spend the February holiday. Many of the marrieds who visited had anniversaries on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth of December.

Angela tried again, this time balling her hand into a fist to knock louder.

“Bea? I know you’re in there,” she yelled. She upped her noise level by kicking the door with one foot and pounding with her fist.

Then something occurred to her.

“I’m going to give up soon!” she shouted. “Just one more try!”

Angela gave the door one final hard kick and punch, rammed against it with her shoulder, then jumped quickly backwards. Sure enough, the door flew open. A huge pile of pillows was once more on the floor of Bea’s suite.

“You’re not going to fool me with that trick again, Bea,” Angela said, laughing hysterically.

“Let’s see a few months from now, girlie!” Bea said, holding her hand up for a high five and yelling at Rebecca to turn off Billy Idol. “My big mistake was trying it again too soon.”

“I’ve got some news,” Angela said, stepping around the pillows to sit on the end of the bed.

Angela explained that McGregor had called to say that all the forensics indicate James Todd intended to kill Roberta right from the start. He’d planned for her to be trapped inside when the fire broke out in the playhouse. She’d inadvertently foiled him by not being there.

“He’d set up a fake donor meeting that evening. She emailed the fake address back to reschedule late in the afternoon. He didn’t see it because he was too busy sneaking around and setting up the fire.”

“Sounds pretty clear he wasn’t just out to scare her.”

“Yep. And there was another big clue,” Angela said. “Roberta’s Edie costume was tampered with—and it looks like something James and Emily collaborated on.”

The crime scene techs had discovered that the ties around Roberta’s neck had special patches sewn into them—patches designed to deliver drugs painlessly. They were dosed with even more insulin, which the cops found both Emily and James had repeatedly purchased and stockpiled.

“They massively increased the stream of the drug coming from Roberta’s main pump. Then when Lori yanked the ties of Edie’s blouse, even more was released. McGregor said that the uniquely sized patches were another of Paul Todd’s inventions. He’d been working on them as a medication delivery solution for hypersensitive children. They were designed not to itch and had other dosing features. Turns out poor Paul Todd had lived through polio as a kid. He remembered the experience had traumatized his parents. This was one of several of his inventions aimed at making it easier to protect kids. But, as always seemed to be the case, he had trouble commercializing the idea, and others beat him to it.”

“Insulin into every pore,” Bea cackled. “Like the belt and suspenders of murder.”

“Especially if you throw in the nail in the face from the sofa. I don’t think they could have counted on that, though.”

“Where does all this leave Lori?”

“McGregor said she was very cooperative and helpful,” Angela said. “She knew about the patch invention, for example. And there was no evidence she knew her cousin had murder in mind. She’s negotiated a plea deal for assaulting Roberta. Just probation.”

“I’ll let Lexie know. She and I should compile all our notes for the Ratcatcher crime story while they’re fresh in our minds. Would you believe we’re almost done drafting our secret super-tree story? Came together even faster than we’d hoped.”

“Would you believe I would believe that?” Angela smiled.

“The Sacramento Bee is going to have a hard time holding on to Lexie after these two books take off. I predict TV deals for both.”

“I think Lexie loves being a reporter too much to give it up, even if writing true crime books pays a lot better,” Angela said. “Listen, I’d love to chat more but I can’t stay. Tibby Velton will be here in a few minutes. I’m finally going to give her some marketing tips. Would you like to join us for lunch?”

“Fish eggs and bubbly water? No thanks!”

“Actually, Tibby asked to provide a special lunch. We’re having pizza and beer. And would you believe she’s stopping at your favorite pizza place on I-80 and picking up a couple of pies?”

“If one of them is double pep, I’m sold!”

Tibby brought the exact lunch she promised: bottles of fancy microbrewery beers and boxes of decidedly unfancy, supremely delicious pizza. Angela had set up a table near the French doors of the ballroom. It was an unseasonably warm day for late February, so she’d opened the doors to let fresh air into the room.

As they ate, Angela and Bea brought Tibby up to date on what had happened since she skipped out of The Ratcatcher in the middle of that fateful preview.

“I have a few updates for you, too,” Tibby said. “I’ll start with my dear Aunt Louisa. I don’t want to say that there’s a silver lining to any of this, exactly…. Murder can’t have a silver lining, can it?”

“I’m not so sure—” Bea said.

“Are you trying to say something good came out of it, Tibby?” Angela said.

“Yes, in a way. Louisa is heartbroken and ashamed that she was manipulated into setting Roberta up for murder—not to mention James and especially poor Grayson. And she admits she’d been stoking some of the unpleasant rumors about our family business, too. Addicted, desperate people can feel forced to turn on the people who love them most, it seems. She’s feeling the weight of regret. I guess you could say she’s hit rock bottom. The good news is, she’s in rehab.”

“That does sound like good news,” Angela said. “But are you sure she’s not being too hard on herself? James and Emily might well have found another way to get Roberta on that stage.”

“Louisa feels responsible for Emily joining Pinot Playhouse in the first place. As you may know, Emily’s mobile hair and makeup business was quite popular among wealthy ladies. Victoria, for example—she met Emily through friends. They all valued the privacy and luxury of having a stylist come to her. My mother was a client, too.

“During one of my mother’s appointments, Emily mentioned having gotten her start in theater work. In a lapse of her normal reserve, my mother asked Emily if she might be willing to work for Pinot Playhouse, with the goal of keeping an eye on her sister—”

“Your aunt Louisa,” Bea said.

Tibby nodded. “My mother offered to pay her on the side, knowing that Roberta would want Emily’s services for free. But Emily said no, she was too booked to consider it. Then—you guessed it—she showed up as Martina.”

“Don’t you see, Bea? I told you people tell hairdressers everything!” Angela cried.

“You’re right. It seems confiding in hairstylists is a thing with women, young or old or rich or poor,” Tibby said. “Another social thing I had no idea about.”

“Gossip does grease a lot of superficial relationships,” Angela said. “But I think many people learn the hard way to be more guarded. You’re not missing out. You’re years ahead.”

Tibby smiled. “My mother aimed to be vague with Emily about why she was so worried about Louisa. She thought she’d been very discreet, I’m sure, but it must have taken Emily no more than five minutes to figure it all out. All she’d have had to do was follow Louisa around a little.”

“Does that mean Emily was actually behind those threatening messages you were getting from ‘the crew’?” Bea said, grabbing a second slice of pizza.

“Well-deduced, and yes. Once she understood Louisa’s addiction, Emily had the same leverage those… those ‘lenders’ had. That’s something else Louisa feels sorry for. And actually—I have something to apologize for, too. That big hole in your backyard.”

“What do you mean?” Angela said.

“Yeah, I don’t think you owe any apology. We got the bearer bonds,” Bea cracked. “We didn’t even have to dig them up!”

“Fair enough,” Tibby said with a smile. “Still, none of the rest might have happened if Emily hadn’t had the treasure map—and she got it from our house. We have a collection of them, beautifully framed, in one of our dens. Charming antiques—that was all I thought they were. The one that represented your property was mislabeled in several ways, but Emily somehow deciphered the map-maker’s code.”

“So the mislabeling was actually misdirection?” Angela said.

“That Emily is a smart cookie,” Bea said. “Too bad she used her powers for evil.”

Tibby paused for a bite of pizza, then looked around the ballroom.“It’s nice to see how it normally looks. Very cheerful and Christmassy.”

“I’m glad it’s back to normal, too. We definitely won’t be offering up the ballroom as a theater again any time soon,” Angela laughed.

“That reminds me of something else you’ll be interested in. It turns out Roberta may have been overcharging the nonprofit for rent on the playhouse. The insurance company has been challenged to determine how to pay out the claim, and to whom. Some donors were suing, I guess. Anyway, a couple of donors actually stepped up to buy the property and rebuild—they’re going to relaunch as a children’s playhouse.”

“That’s a lovely idea,” Angela said, putting her pizza down and clapping her hands.

Bea had a sly smile on her face. “These donors—they wouldn’t be anyone we know, would they?”

Tibby grinned. “They are. It’s me and Victoria.”

“Cheers to that,” Angela said, raising her bottle.

“Thank you. Truly, I’m more excited about this than anything I’ve been involved with before in my life. Oh, and Louisa’s going to help once she gets out of rehab. She’s looking forward to giving something back, too.”

“It sounds wonderful, Tibby,” Angela said. “But it also sounds like a lot of work. Will you be able to do this alongside your laundromat ideas?”

“That’s something I needed to talk about with you today. You’ve been so kind about helping me with marketing. Thank you so much, Angela, from the bottom of my heart. But I think part of this nonprofit idea is me recognizing I should pursue something that fits my personality. And a business idea based on socializing,” Tibby said, starting to laugh, “well, I think we can all agree that’s a square peg and a round hole if there ever was one.”

“Being yourself without trying to be anyone else is highly underrated,” Bea said, holding her fist up and bumping it against Tibby’s.

“I had every advantage in the world, but my childhood was still never much fun. I’d like to provide a place where other kids who don’t fit in—whether they’re rich or poor—can feel like they belong and learn to make friends. Louisa’s just as excited by that mission as I am. She’ll bring her acting skill and passion to a good cause.

“I’m still happy to help you with marketing,” Angela said. “You’ll ask, won’t you, when the time’s right? Promise?”

“That’s very kind. Between me and Victoria, we’ve got enough funding to get started. Down the road, though, we may want to fundraise. I’ll have a lot to learn about marketing when we do.”

“I love it. Let other donors come to you for once!” Angela said. “They’ll want to be involved once they see the good work you’ll do.”

“That’s the idea. Doesn’t it seem crazy that I’ve been fighting so hard to give away my own money?” Tibby laughed. “Once we get the theater going, I’ve got other ideas I want to explore, like a pony sanctuary. After all, there was a time when ponies were my only friends.”

“And Victoria?” Angela said. “How will she be involved?”

“As my guardian angel, as always. I know she seems like such a tough old bird. She’s taught me to look at things more realistically, certainly, and that’s been such a help. But on the inside, she’s really a marshmallow. Sweet and soft. Everyone should have someone like that in their life, don’t you think?” Tibby grinned at Angela and took a swig of posh beer.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Angela said wistfully. “What do you think, Bea?”

Bea, for once, was speechless.

Then Angela imitated Bea’s exaggerated winking style and elbowed Bea gently in the bicep.

“Marshmallow?” Bea finally said incredulously. She unzipped her jacket and made a show of punching herself in the gut. “Solid as a rock.”

Angela laughed. “In your case, then, maybe you’re filled with hard candy.”




(c) 2022 Pepper Frost. All rights reserved.



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