Top of the Hour, the third book in the Poppy McGuire Mystery Series, has Poppy and Alex delving into the world of talk radio with the murder of one of Sunset Ridge’s most famous people.
Controversy sells as much as sex, and nobody knows that better than the local radio morning DJ who loves to talk politics. His shows enrage people, but who hated him enough to shoot him point blank and leave him for dead in the woods outside of town?
Poppy and Alex have no shortage of suspects and for once aren’t at odds on who they like for the crime. This time, murder has brought with it a new love interest for Poppy, but her partner isn’t happy with this turn of events.
Will Alex lose Poppy, the one person he trusts in Sunset Ridge?
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Alex’s call came in just after seven PM, rousing me from a painfully dry article on winemaking I’d been trying to get through for the past two hours. I knew by the sound of his voice when he said my name that our newest case was no ordinary stolen decorative scarecrow taken from someone’s front porch. Jumping in my car, I raced up the road past the Hotel Piermont to a wooded area teenagers had long used as a not-so-secret place for their parties after football games and parked next to two police cruisers and the coroner’s van.
The air smelled earthy from the decaying red and yellow leaves that carpeted the ground beneath my feet. I loved this time of year for just that smell alone, but it was more than that. Autumn in Sunset Ridge wasn’t like it was in New England, where I was sure every picture ever taken of fall had been snapped. There as you crunched your way over fallen leaves, your cheeks were treated to the brisk wind and chilly weather and the nights got downright cold. The fall season in the mid-Atlantic region, on the other hand, was best described as the best of both summer and autumn. Our days still warmed to the high sixties and sometimes even the seventies, and nighttime temperatures made a sweater necessary but not much more.
It was with all these thoughts rambling through my brain that I trudged up the hill toward where Alex, Craig, and Donny stood surrounded by lights all focused on a spot just beyond them. As I reached the three men, I took a deep breath of that heady dead leaf smell and exhaled, surprised at how winded that short walk had left me.
“Whew. I need to get into shape, it seems. No more danishes from The Grounds from this point on,” I joked as Alex and Craig chuckled in response.
“At least you’re in better shape than this poor guy,” Alex said in a somber voice. “No more anything for him.”
I looked down at the ground and saw a man lying face down on his stomach about five feet away. Dressed in jeans, he also wore a dark sport coat with an unmistakable bullet hole and bloodstain through the center right between his shoulder blades. A white bullseye drawn around the hole directed my gaze to it immediately.
Turning to look at Alex, I asked, “Someone think we needed help figuring out what killed him? I’m feeling like we should be insulted.”
He gave me a tiny smile as he tried to remain more professional. “I think the killer had something else in mind. This is Lee Reynolds.”
My head pivoted back to look at the dead man in front of us and I stared down to see something familiar in the body. Lee Reynolds had been the local version of a morning shock jock on AM 790 WXSN for the past five or so years. Offending people on a daily basis had become his trademark. Now the bullseye made sense.
“Wow, I didn’t realize that before now. Did you ever listen to his show?”
Craig leaned around Alex and raised his hand. “I did every morning. It was pretty addictive, actually. I didn’t even agree with most of his opinions on anything, but after the first couple shows, I couldn’t stop myself from listening.”
Looking over at Craig and then over at me, Alex mumbled, “Yeah, like a verbal train wreck. It looks like we’re supposed to believe one of those people he angered with his opinions finally got to him.”
He stood silently looking down at our latest victim and shrugged. “I believe nothing right now other than Lee Reynolds is dead and someone shot him. Until I hear anything more, that’s all I can believe.”
Donny looked up from where he crouched next to the dead man and said, “Well, I can tell you it was a .38 that killed him and the murderer drew around the wound with what looks like regular sidewalk chalk like kids use to draw with.”
“Did we find the piece of chalk he used?” Alex asked no one in particular.
Craig shook his head. “Nope, not yet. There’s a lot of brush and leaves here, so it might take us a little while.”
“Search this entire area within a few hundred yards. Our murderer may have thought they were smart and threw it as they ran away, assuming they threw it at all.”
“Got it. I’ll let you know what I find,” Craig chirped as he switched on his flashlight and took off to begin his search.
“Can you tell us anything else, Donny?” I asked, hoping some kind of forensic evidence might help us start our investigation.
Even though he didn’t have to answer to me, the coroner for Sunset Ridge always did and always with a smile. “I’m guessing he’s been dead for a couple hours.”
“Why?” I asked as I stepped closer to the body, curious why Donny was able to be so precise. It was completely uncharacteristic for him.
He pointed at Lee Reynolds’ shoulders with his pen. “Rigor mortis has begun to set in. See how stiff he is up here especially? That tells me the murder likely took place around dinnertime, say four or five.”
I heard a voice come over Alex’s radio announcing a car accident had occurred at the corner of Simpson and Ford Streets. Distracted for a moment as he answered the call, I returned my attention to Donny and asked a question I realized Alex may have asked already.
“Did the murderer take anything from him, Donny? Did you find anything on him?”
He shook his head. “There’s nothing on the body but his wallet with some money, pictures, and credit cards. It doesn’t look like they took anything.”
“Alex, I’ll come back with Jason and search for that chalk after I handle the fender bender over on Ford,” Craig yelled as he ran toward his squad car.
Nodding, Alex answered, “Okay, but get back here as soon as possible. I don’t want it raining before we have a chance to find that chalk.”
As Craig sped away, I nudged Alex’s arm. He looked down at me and with a smile I told him what the weatherman had happily announced that morning as I watched the seven AM local news.
“They’re not expecting rain for at least the next four days. I saw it on the weather this morning.”
“Good. We need to go speak to Lee Reynolds’ wife, so we don’t have time to go searching the forest floor for a piece of kids’ chalk.”
“Are we doing that now?”
He looked at Lee on the ground at our feet and took a deep breath. “Yeah. No point in putting off the inevitable. I’m hoping she’ll be able to tell us something about who might have wanted to do this to her husband.”
We turned to walk back down the hill and I asked, “Are you thinking she’s the prime suspect at this point?”
“That’s usually the case, but I’m not thinking that this time.” He turned to look at me and smiled. “I’m keeping an open mind until you tell me what you know of Mr. and Mrs. Lee Reynolds.”
I watched where I stepped to avoid tumbling down the hill and landing flat on my back. Once we reached level ground, I headed toward my car as I broke the news to him that I couldn’t help him with any juicy tidbits this time.
“Not a thing. I’ve never spoken to either of them, and that morning rabble rouser thing isn’t my shtick, so I know nothing of him at all, other than what he did for a living.”
Alex opened his car door as I reached mine. Shaking his head, he put on a look of disappointment I knew was fake. “You’re letting me down, Poppy. I can’t be on the top of my game without you clueing me in behind the scenes about the sordid details of people’s lives.”
I chuckled at his teasing. “Officer Montero, if I’m not mistaken your former job title was detective. Looks like you’re going to have to detect the clues this time.”
“It’s not the same,” he said with a smile. “I’ll meet you at your house and we’ll go from there, okay? See you in five.”
I gave him a salute and hopped into my car to head back to my place. As I drove there, I tried to remember if I’d ever seen Lee Reynolds or his wife in McGuire’s, but I couldn’t think of a time they’d ever been in. He was something of a local celebrity, so maybe he’d spent his time at Diamanti’s instead, but I’d never seen them there either. Perhaps his fame made going out in public difficult. Local radio DJ wasn’t much, but in a small town like Sunset Ridge, it was more than most people could lay claim to.
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