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Murder by Fireworks - Susan Bernhardt

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Back Cover

Cozy Mystery by Susan Bernhardt

Wedding bells are in the air, and so is murder.

Kay Driscoll's son's wedding reception for two hundred guests is in her backyard. As if that wasn't enough, a precocious and troubled twelve-year-old is foisted on her two days before the wedding. When the happy day arrives, one of the guests disrupts the event and is asked to leave: a womanizing member of Kay's book club.

A few days later, after a Fourth of July fireworks show, he is found dead on the beach. Kay and her ever-present friends, Elizabeth and Deirdre, investigate the death, which at first is declared a suicide. They believe this is a cover-up and go about to prove their theory, an arduous task because the potential suspects are many, and few (if any) will regret the victim's death.

Murder by Fireworks © 2015 by Susan Bernhardt

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or events, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

MuseItUp Publishing

14878 James, Pierrefonds, Quebec, Canada, H9H 1P5

Cover Art © 2015 by Suzannah Safi

Edited by June Diehl

Layout and Book Production by Lea Schizas

eBook ISBN: 978-1-77127-766-2

First eBook Edition *November 2015

For Bill

David and Nicole

Peter, Ashley, and Corbin

—With love—

Acknowledgements

I'm delighted to acknowledge and thank my friend, fellow author, Lorenzo Martinez, for his tireless reviewing of my chapters and sharing his valuable insight and imaginative suggestions.

My son, Peter Bernhardt deserves a special thanks for his excellent advisement on the beginning chapters.

I'd like to thank my husband, Bill Bernhardt for listening to my chapters and putting up with my brainstorming.

I'd like to thank my stellar MIU editor, June Diehl, my cover designer Suzannah Safi, and my publisher, Lea Schizas for giving me this opportunity.

It Takes a Village. There are so many people to thank. I have been blessed with an incredible support system; my wonderful friends and family who have supported me and my Kay Driscoll mystery series, my website and went out of their way to spread the word of Kay and Phil, Deirdre and Elizabeth. Some I've contacted for research. I've had awesome editors, my clever son, Peter Bernhardt and tension guru, Lorenzo Martinez.

Deserving special thanks are: Peter Bernhardt, David Bernhardt, Nicole Bernhardt, Bill Bernhardt, Lorenzo Martinez, Dave Bazan for his support and creative ideas, Rose Bazan, Reshma Lulla, Polly Keppel, Kris Rusert, Jean Baldikoski, Karla Long, Kathy Kind-Keppel, Josh Kindkeppel, Heather Kind-Keppel, Todd Hauser, Bob Keppel, Mary Beth Moeller Keppel, Mary Beth Keppel, Pam Kroska, Mikki Sadil, Linda Roden, Gary Roden, Monica, Sandra Bazan-Olson, Matthew Peters, Marsha R. West, Heather Brainerd, Helena Fairfax, Ken Hicks, Lisa Notarnicola-Engels, Peggy Ognacevic-Engels, Lisa Kelley, Mary Brown, Lisa Morin, Doug Burris, Ramla Zareen Ahmad, Jerri Cachero. 

I'd like to thank my readers, many of whom I have come to know personally, for their enthusiastic responses to my novels, their personal congratulations, the great reviews, and for buying my mysteries.

I am forever grateful.

MURDER BY FIREWORKS

A Kay Driscoll Mystery Series

The Ginseng Conspiracy

Murder Under the Tree

Murder by Fireworks

SUSAN BERNHARDT

MuseItUp Publishing

www.museituppublishing.com

Chapter One

Thursday, June 29

What else could I have said, Kay? Phil followed me into the kitchen. He sounded desperate.

I ran my hands through my short pixie style hair. You could have said no. You could have said that your oldest son was getting married in two days and that the reception is here, for two hundred people. You could have said that!

Phil grimaced. Loren's in the hospital. He's my cousin. He has no one else to take care of his daughter while he's recuperating from surgery.

I started clearing the breakfast dishes from the table. Since when are you so chummy? We've only seen him once at your aunt and uncle's since we've been here, over a year now. And what about them, his parents? His sister? They're available. They're coming to the wedding.

Phil took a plate off of the table and handed it to me. They don't get along. Loren said they think Janey's odd. Freaky.

I threw my hands up into the air in surrender. Then folded my arms. And she's coming here? When is she coming?

Phil looked at his watch. In thirty minutes. I clenched my fists. "Kay, it's only for a couple of days until her mother can come and pick her up. And Loren said his family doesn't understand her. She's just trying to find herself." Phil reached for my shoulders with a pained expression and hugged me.

I gently pushed him away. The wedding is in a couple of days. I glared at Phil, looking into his sultry brown eyes the color of chocolate, then rolled my eyes. And when did your cousin ask you?

Er, a week ago. Phil hesitated. Said he wasn't sure when they could get him scheduled.

I shook my head after Phil left the room. My oblivious husband was on summer break from luthier school. He had a two track mind: guitars and jazz. It wasn't that I didn't want to help out his cousin in his time of need, it was the timing, my time of need. I had already been pulling out hairs for the past six months trying to get our home and yard ready for the big event this Saturday. And now this!

The doorbell rang. I called out, Phil, I think she's here.

Deirdre was standing on the porch when I opened the door. When she looked at me her smile turned into a frown. Kay, what's wrong? I sense something's happened.

Deirdre could read me like a book. She was my spiritualist best friend, next door neighbor, and gardener extraordinaire who had opened a New Age herbal shop on the spring equinox. Her shop had taken off wonderfully, a total success. She was helping me get my flower gardens readied for the wedding, among other things, although she was busy as well with wedding preparations. Elizabeth, the third in our threesome of friends was marrying her fiancé, John Harrison, a week after Andrew's wedding. It was to be held in the garden patio behind Deirdre's Planetary Herbal Shop.

Oh, Deirdre. I gave her a hug, then heard a car door slam. I looked past Deirdre and saw Janey coming from a taxi with a suitcase and backpack in hand.

Deirdre looked at Janey approaching and then turned back giving me a perplexed look, her eyebrows squished together.

Janey, a precocious, cheeky twelve-year-old I had only met once, walked up to us. She wore her dyed jet black hair up to her ear on one side and shoulder length on the other. Her eyes were rimmed in black liquid eyeliner that matched her fingernails and she had dark, gothic red lips. She stood about five feet four inches to my five feet nine inch, medium frame.

Phil came out of the house, smiling.

Hello, Janey, I said. Nice to see—

She dropped her bags at my feet. Mrs. Driscoll, where should I put these?

Phil looked at me and shrugged his shoulders.

I noticed her pointed, enlarged canines. They didn't look real. Janey, please call me Kay. We're family here. You're only here because we're family. Be nice. I'm sorry to hear about your father's surgery.

She looked down at her bags. Thanks.

Janey, this is my good friend, Deirdre. She lives next door.

No response.

Hi Janey, Deirdre said, extending her hand.

Janey, good to see you, Phil said. "We're glad that you could come to visit. He emphasized the word, we're."

No response.

You can follow me, I said. You'll be staying in our guest room up the stairs, second door to the left.

Phil reached down to take one of her bags, but Janey grabbed it out of his hand and entered the living room, swinging her backpack into a table and knocking down a vase of flowers. Water and glass flew everywhere.

 Janey looked down at the mess.

Don't worry. It was an accident, I said, my thoughts instantly going to the wedding gifts in the next room piled high on the dining room and buffet tables.

She started climbing the stairs.

Phil looked at me, swallowed, and said, I'll get a mop.

Janey, I'll come up with you.

I can find the room myself, she muttered.

I went into the kitchen with Deirdre and poured us both a cup of coffee while explaining about the situation with Janey. I heard a loud thump overhead and looked towards the ceiling. I hope I make it through these next few days.

Deirdre clasped my hand and smiled. You will.

Having received the table and seating place cards from the calligrapher that morning, Deirdre and I started glancing through them. We had discussed the seating arrangements for the reception previously concerning where to seat James Ferguson, an obnoxious member of our book club. If there was a list of the ten most obnoxious personality traits, James would have all of them.

Phil walked into the room carrying his gear. All cleaned up. I'm leaving to practice with the boys. Phil's jazz band was part of the entertainment at the reception. Deirdre's husband Mike was one of the members of the band.

Can you take Janey with you?

Phil frowned. Kay, she can help you around here, getting the house ready.

I reached for the sugar on the table and added a couple of teaspoons to my coffee. I could feel my blood pressure go up. Help to get the house ready. Right!

I'm late already since I figured I should wait for her to arrive. And then I had to clean up the mess. He headed for the door with his guitar. See you later.

Why did you even invite him?

I looked at Deirdre. Invite who?

James. You know how he can get. Insulting, condescending. Deirdre took a sip of her coffee. No one's going to want to sit next to him or have him at their table.

I didn't think I could leave him out when I had invited everyone else from our book club. I was hoping he'd have the decency not to accept.

Deirdre took a sip of her coffee, then put the cup back down on the saucer. But the others are close friends.

That's pretty dumb to invite someone you didn't want to come. I looked up and saw Janey standing in the doorway.

Deirdre and I looked at each other. I suppose, Janey, it is, I said.

She walked to the refrigerator and opened the door.

When are the tent and tables and chairs arriving? Deirdre asked.

They'll be here tomorrow along with the caterers and the florist to decorate. Everyone else will be here by eight o'clock in the morning on Saturday. That gives them six hours to set up before we leave for church. I hope that's enough time. I glanced at Janey standing in front of the refrigerator. Janey, are you hungry?

No. Just looking.

I looked at Deirdre and slowly shook my head.

She smiled. Kay, I want to show you the dark pink hydrangeas and red and lavender roses in my garden. They're beautiful and will be at their peak this weekend for the tables. Perfect for Rose's deep purple theme.

I looked at the back of Janey who was still studying what was in the refrigerator. Janey, will you be okay if I leave for a few minutes?

Of course.

Taking the last sip of my coffee, I asked, Are you sure I can't get you anything? A sandwich perhaps?

No, I'm fine.

When I returned with Deirdre about twenty-five minutes later to look at the caterer's menu, the kitchen was in disarray. The refrigerator door was left open. Bread and different unwrapped cheeses lay across the table. After I closed the refrigerator door, I followed a haphazard trail of chips from the kitchen into the living room and saw that they continued up the stairs.

Deirdre shook her head. Oh, Kay...

I glared at her then went to the foot of the stairs and raised my voice. Young lady, come downstairs.

No answer.

I climbed the stairs and knocked on the bedroom door. Janey?

No answer.

I opened the door and saw Janey with headphones on, dancing on the bed, holding an opened bag of chips. She had changed her outfit. Clothes were strewn on the floor. How could she even have done all this in less than a half hour?

She saw me and pulled off her headphones with a pained expression. What?

There's a mess in the kitchen.

No response. She put her headphones back on and started dancing again.

I could feel my face heat up. I went over to her.

She removed one of the earbuds. You made a mess in the kitchen.

So?

Pointing to the door, I said, So, go downstairs and clean it up.

It's your house. I'm a guest.

Downstairs, young lady!

Dropping her headphones, she got off the bed, grimaced, and marched out of the room. I thought I heard her mumble something to the effect of, Some people need to lighten up.

My eyes started watering. I turned to Deirdre. How could Phil do this to me? And he's out playing with the band.

Deirdre put her arm around my shoulder and said in a calm voice, Kay, just take some cleansing breaths. Inhale through your nose, then take a long, slow exhalation.

I'll need to do that later.

She gave me a hug. Everything will come together. You'll see. Don't worry. You've been planning this wedding for months, doing renovations, making improvements, painting. It's all under control. She looked towards the bedroom door. Well, almost. She smiled. But you'll be fine. Remember, she waved her hand in the air, breathe and circulate the prana.

Prana?

She gave me a glowing smile. A cosmic energy...your life energy.

Sometimes I thought Deirdre just couldn't deal with reality. She was always talking about chakras, auras, psychic wavelengths, and now, cosmic energy. But she did make life interesting and you had to love her.

Glancing at the crumpled up bedspread, I saw something shiny on it. I walked over and picked up a digital recorder lying near the pillows and turned it over. My initials were on it.

What did you find? Deirdre asked.

I put the digital recorder in my pants pocket. I usually kept it in the upper right hand drawer of my dresser. Had Janey gone through my drawers and taken it?

Nothing important.

We went down the stairs and heard the television on in the family room. I walked in the room. Janey was lying on the ivory colored sofa with her dirty shoes on.

I turned off the television. Janey, the kitchen! I put my arm out and pointed her in the right direction.

I'd better get going, Deirdre said. I'll let myself out. She gave me an I'm-so-sorry-for-you smile. She turned around at the front door. Are you going to walk tomorrow?

I glanced at Janey. I'm not sure I can. I'll have to let you know.

Janey and I went into the kitchen and started cleaning up the mess. I told her about the wedding and how I would need her help for the next two days to get everything ready.

I'm not trying to be a pain in the butt. That's what my mother used to call me.

Where is your mother? I asked, wrapping up the cheese.

California. She married some computer nerd. She's coming to get me Saturday morning.

Phew! Thank goodness. Before the wedding.

Don't worry. I'll be out of your hair by the wedding.

Hmm. Psychic? Read my mind.

As Janey wiped off the table she said, I haven't seen my dad in almost a week.

Where have you been staying?

With a family friend.

I looked at my watch and said, I didn't know that. That must be hard. Would you like to go and visit your dad this afternoon? Thinking about all I still had to do, I added, Just for a short while.

She smiled for the first time, a smile that spread to her eyes. That'd be great. We could pick some of the flowers your neighbor was talking about to take along.

Oh, my gosh. "Or we could go buy a bouquet of daisies to bring your father. Such cheerful flowers. I know he'd be happy to see you."

While we were talking about leaving, Phil walked in the door.

You're back early, I said.

We broke for lunch. Did you mention something about seeing Loren?

Janey said she hasn't seen her father in a week.

When I talked to Loren yesterday—

I stopped drying a plate in my hand and placed it on the counter a bit too hard. "You talked to Loren yesterday?"

Yes, he called to make sure everything was set for Janey staying here. He said he wouldn't be up to any visitors for a while.

I glared at Phil, then looked at Janey. Her shoulders slumped. She looked down and stared at her hands.

Trying to sound cheerful, I said, "Janey, instead, I'll take you to my home-away-from-home. We have a great patisserie in town. How does a piece of luscious pastry sound?"

Janey looked up. A great what?

* * * *

Janey and I came back from Sweet Marissa's Patisserie to find four suitcases lined up in the living room, reminding me to confirm the honeymoon travel and hotel reservations, a wedding gift to Andy and Rose from us. I heard laughter in the kitchen.

Several huge boxes with the patisserie logo were on the counter. Andrew and Rose sat at the kitchen table putting bows on small cellophane packages in which a heart-shaped LOVE cookie was placed.

Hello. You've gotten started already?

Andy