After Hours (Poppy McGuire Mysteries #2)

The second book in the Poppy McGuire Mystery Series finds Poppy and Alex on another murder case, this one a little sexier than normal.

While life in Sunset Ridge is quaint and charming during the day, what happens after the sun goes down might shock the citizens of this small town. Things are heating up in Poppy McGuire’s home town, and it isn’t just the July weather.

Poppy and her new partner Alex have their eyes opened to the realities of Sunset Ridge after dark when a traveling salesman is murdered in his room at the Hotel Piermont, a common destination for cheating spouses on the outskirts of town. When they find out what he sells, the mystery gets even more interesting.

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Murder victim found stabbed in his room at Hotel Piermont Room 307. Meet you there.

A.

I knew I shouldn’t be so thrilled at the news that someone had been murdered, but for a detective, this was the world series of crime and I got to work alongside the starting pitcher who had already headed out to the mound, so I needed to get myself over to the Hotel Piermont.

Located just outside the main town area of Sunset Ridge, the hotel had a reputation as a common spot for rendezvous between lovers. It wasn’t rundown and shabby as much as the kind of place that screamed secret sex. If someone wanted to cheat on their spouse in this town but didn’t want to go too far, the Hotel Piermont was their destination.

And with that, our newest case became one hundred times more interesting.Five minutes after tearing out of my office at The Eagle, I arrived at the Hotel Piermont and parked my car as close as possible beyond the three police cars, the ambulance, and the coroner’s vehicle already there. This place wasn’t used to all this activity, and parking spots were at a premium after the handful of spaces just outside the building had been taken, so I had to walk nearly a block to reach the scene.

I saw Craig standing outside doing his usual job of keeping nosy people away and doing it well, as always. Since normally he only had to make sure the usual gossips didn’t get themselves involved in the all-too-common neighbor disputes that were the usual police cases in town, his excitement at once again working on a case with an actual murder was written all over his face. He grinned at me as I approached the double glass front doors where he’d positioned himself as guard.

“I had a feeling we’d see you here today, Poppy. This one’s got juicy details written all over it.”

“Craig, I had no idea you loved that kind of thing. Juicy details. I learn something new about you every time I see you.”

“Alex asked me to send you up as soon as you got here. They’re all up on the third floor. Room 307. We’ve been here for nearly a half hour, so you might have missed some things.”

“Then I guess I better hurry. See you later!” I yelled back at him as I strode through the front doors of the hotel.

The lobby of the Hotel Piermont instantly reminded me of what I imagined Hollywood hotels looked like in the 1920s and 1930s, just without the glitz and glamour. A round royal blue upholstered seat directly in front of the doors with a huge planter in the middle offered tired travelers a place to rest as someone arranged their room. At least that’s what it seemed like it would be for, but I couldn’t imagine many people who’d driven any real distance ever staying at the Hotel Piermont.

A glass chandelier hung from the ceiling in the center of the lobby, but since nearly half its lights had long ago burned out, it had a creepy, haunted house feel to it that didn’t do much to illuminate the area. On the far left, the front desk took up the entire length of the wall, another grand touch that seemed to belong to another time.

Behind the check-in desk were small wooden cubbies with room numbers stuck above them like the type found at home stores to use on mailboxes. Each cubby contained an old-fashioned room key attached to a black plastic fob with the words Hotel Piermont 650 Serpentine Trail Road, Sunset Ridge, MD and a room number written in white. While every other hotel I’d ever visited had changed over to the plastic credit card style room keys, the Hotel Piermont stayed with the old-time style for theirs, which only made the place feel even more like somewhere from another time period.

I saw Derek walking down the worn royal blue carpeted stairs and approached him eager to hear any details he wanted to share. All smiles for me, like usual, before I could get the words out he pointed behind him and said, “Room 307. Your partner is already up there.”

“I was going to say good morning, you know, before I asked anything.”

“Well, that’s a change. The last time I saw you, I didn’t even get a hello or anything,” he said in a tone full of skepticism.

That morning I’d overslept and he’d seen me as I hurried to meet Alex for our morning coffee before I had to see my boss. I’d raced right past Derek with barely a wave on my way to our usual table at the back of The Grounds. Being late, I hadn’t thought much of it, but now as he stood in front of me, I felt a twinge of regret at how rushed I’d been.

“Sorry about that. I slept through my alarm. I didn’t mean to be so rude, though, Derek. You know me too long to think that, right?”

He rolled his eyes and pointed up the stairs. “Room 307, and the next time I see you at The Grounds, I’ll take a coffee to make up for this morning. Regular roast, black.”

I filed that detail away and patted him on the shoulder as I moved past him on my way to the third floor. “Black it is. I would have thought you were a sugar kind of guy, though. And did I happen to mention how distinguished you look in your chief uniform lately?”

He turned and winked at me as I hit the landing and rounded the corner. “Flirting isn’t going to get you out of it, Poppy. Just remember that.”

“Got it!” I yelled back as I took the stairs by two to reach the crime scene where the officer standing guard at the door happily let me pass.

I found Alex standing in Room 307 with the coroner discussing the man hunched over the desk on the far wall with a kitchen knife sticking out of his back. The room looked orderly, other than the fact that a dead man was the focal point of it. The bed with its green and yellow geometric print bedspread neatly stretched across it looked as if no one had slept in it recently, and the victim’s single piece of luggage sat open and neatly packed on the stand near the closet just inside the door.

All in all, if there wasn’t a murder victim sitting there, the entire scene would look perfectly normal, albeit a bit too OCD for my taste. After spending months learning from my partner, though, I knew by the intense expression he wore as his eyes scanned the room that what surrounded the man with the knife in his back was anything but normal.

The coroner, an older man named Donny, smiled at me as he returned to examining the victim. Alex walked over to where I stood in the doorway, and in his usual calm way asked, “What took you so long?”

As I reached into my bag for a pair of gloves, I explained, “My boss. He’s a talker, so I couldn’t get here any sooner. Sorry.”

He smiled and nodded toward the coroner as he flipped through an empty brown wallet. “No problem, but I had to ask Donny to drag his feet since I wanted you to see this before he carted the victim off to the morgue.”

“Sorry, Donny. So what do we know?”

Alex thumbed through his little notebook and began reading. “As the victim sat at the desk doing work, the murderer stabbed him in the back with a knife from his room service tray he’d had delivered earlier last night around seven, according to the hotel. He was also stabbed about a dozen times more, all on various locations on his back. He was found by housekeeping at ten this morning when they came by to clean the room and didn’t see a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. We’ve dusted for prints, and I’ll be waiting to hear from the lab about them.”  

“That’s a lot of stabbing. Seems like overkill.”

Looking up from his notes, he gave me a look that told me my flippant remark wasn’t helping. “So what do you think happened to Mr. Canton Walters here?”

I slipped on the same kind of blue latex gloves Alex wore and moved across the room. Looking over the thin man with curly blond hair and a knife in his back, I said the first thing that came to my mind. “I think this guy had at least one enemy who finally took that last step last night. Maybe something he did pushed them over the line. If I had to take a guess, I’d say a female.”

“Really? Why?”

I turned back to face Alex and knew he was quizzing me in his own way, so I took the challenge. “Men are more forthright and aggressive. There’s something sneaky to stabbing someone in the back as they sit at a desk doing work. That screams a woman to me.”

Donny lifted his head at my explanation and gave me a skeptical look. “She’d have to be a pretty strong woman. It takes some power to get a knife of any kind through muscles, and this knife is in there deep.”

“Well, I amend my statement then. A big woman. Maybe there’s a female weightlifting team staying in the area?”

Alex guided me toward the windows and out of the way of Donny and his men as they prepared to cart the body out. “I’ve never been to this place until today. You’re my resident historian on this town, so what can you tell me about it?”

“Think midnight rendezvous between secret lovers. Remember Dominick told us that he and Geneva used to meet at a hotel? It’s that kind of place. I’ve only been here once, but I can tell you it looks pretty much the same as when I was here years ago.”

“Have you really?” he asked, his dark eyes wide with interest as he stared down at me. 

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