As a fan of Christa Nardi’s Cold Creek Mystery series, I was glad to hear that the main character, Prof. Sheridan Hendley, is back in A New Place, Another Murder (A Sheridan Hendley Mystery Book 1), which was released last month.
Christa Nardi is an accomplished author of cozy mysteries. Christa’s background is in higher education and psychology, much as her protagonist, Sheridan Hendley in the Cold Creek mystery series.
In addition, Christa collaborates with Cassidy Salem on a YA mystery series featuring teen sisters. The first book, The Mysterious Package – A Hannah and Tamar Mystery, was released in October 2016. The second, Mrs. Tedesco’s Missing Cookbook, was released in April 2017. The Misplaced Dog was added in August 2017. The fourth in the series, Malicious Mischief released in April 2018.
My complaints to my close friend, Kim, about boredom were interrupted by the slamming of the front door and I ended my call. Probably something I’d have to get used to as step-mom to a teenager. In the kitchen, I found Maddie, her backpack thrown on the floor. She was stomping around the counter island, her face in a pout.
“What’s up Maddie?”
“You won’t believe what happened today. It’s unbelievable. I still can’t believe it and I was there.”
Her voice rose an octave as she vented and I had no clue what she was talking about. Maddie went to a variety of activities during the week. They were called “camps” but that seemed a misnomer to me. Robotics, theater, and computers were not quite what I thought of as a “camp.” I waited a few seconds and she ranted some more.
“Alex was accused of stealing money from the office. It was in his backpack, but he didn’t steal it. They didn’t even give him a chance to explain. They called his mom and took him away. He was mortified.”
“Calm down and help me understand. Can we back up please? Who’s Alex?”
“He’s one of the kids attending all these camps with me. Of all the kids, he’s been the nicest to me. I don’t understand why they don’t believe he had no idea how the money got in his backpack.”
She finally simmered down and plopped into a chair, a grimace on her face.
“You may be upset for nothing. Once they got him to the station with his parents and got more information, they may have figured out they made a mistake. But why would they think he stole the money and why are you so sure he didn’t do it?”
“I don’t understand why they picked on him. The officer walked in and asked for him. Then asked where his backpack was. Alex pointed to his pack and the officer went over, opened it and pulled out an envelope and money fell out. It wasn’t even hidden. Then they grabbed him. He looked around but nobody helped him. I didn’t know what to do to help him.”
“What makes you think he’s innocent? How else would it get in his backpack?”
“You don’t understand! Alex’s nice. He … He wouldn’t do that.”
“How do you think the money ended up in his backpack then?”
“I’m not sure and Dad says I shouldn’t accuse people without facts. When the police came and asked for Alex, two other boys snickered and fist-bumped. I think they set him up. All our backpacks stay in the main room while we go in and out. They could have stolen the money and stuck it in his pack. Then they must have called the police and made an anonymous report or something. We’ve got to help him.” She stomped around the kitchen some more and kicked her backpack.
“Maddie, is your backpack in the same place as Alex’s and the others’?”
She turned to me and nodded. “Yeah, why? They’re all together in the main room.”
“Humor me, okay? Can you dump everything out of your backpack and make sure that the only things in there really belong to you?”
I cleaned off the table and she emptied her back pack onto the table. Books, brush, hair ties, crumpled up papers, pens, pencils, stale cookie, and an envelope.
“What? Where did that come from?” Her eyes opened wide. She went to grab the envelope and I caught her hand.
“Don’t touch it. You don’t know where the envelope came from or what’s inside?”
She shook her head, eyes wide. “Am I going to get arrested now, too?”
“I don’t think it will come to that. Your dad will be home in a little while and we’ll show him what we found. He’ll decide what to do. But don’t touch the envelope in case there are fingerprints or something else that might help identify who handled that envelope, okay?”
She nodded and sat down, staring at the mess.
“Is that everything? What about the pockets? Everything out, even the crumbs.” I realized this was going to be the cleanest this backpack had been since she got it almost a year ago. Maddie emptied and gasped as she found another envelope in one of the outside pockets.
“Sheridan, there’s another one here. Oh, no, I touched the edge!”
“It’s okay. Let me see if I can find something…” I rummaged through the kitchen drawer and pulled out serving tongs. “I’ll use these tongs and pull it the rest of the way out.” It took a few tries, but I managed to get the envelope out and dropped it with the other one. Then I released the tongs and left them on top.
“Why don’t you go through all the stuff you just dumped here and either throw it away or put it back in the backpack. Except the two envelopes. In the meantime, I’ll work on finishing up the meatloaf and potatoes for dinner. Later, after we talk to your Dad, you might wipe the whole thing down with a sanitizer.”
She made a face. “This cookie doesn’t look so good. Did you make any more today?”
I looked at the cookie she’d picked up out of the pile. “That one bit the dust. Yes, there are more cookies over on the counter – only one, please. We’ll be eating in an hour.”
Somehow, my boring day seemed preferable to the drama. The idea of the camps was giving Maddie something to do. A big benefit, the camps provided an opportunity for her to make friends before starting at her new middle school in the fall. As with most 13-year-olds, middle school was a big deal. It was convenient she attended the camps at Clover Leaf Middle School where she’d be a student. And it had been working until then.
Maddie and I finished the dinner preparation and set the table as Brett pulled in the driveway. He raked his hand through his dark curly hair. That was a sure sign that he was tired or stressed. This situation with Maddie would push him over the edge, likely add a few gray hairs. Meeting him at the door, we kissed and that at least brought a smile to his eyes.
He looked past me to Maddie. I followed his gaze. Shoulders dropped and mouth quivering, she’d lost her independent teen, “I can take on the world” attitude.
He’d barely got the words out and she was in his arms, sobbing. Her long brown hair fell over her shoulders.
“Maddie’s friend, Alex, is in trouble. He’s been accused of stealing money. Maddie thinks he’s been arrested. The police found an envelope with money in his backpack.”
“Do you want me to see if I can find out what happened with your friend?” He caught my expression and his jaw clenched. “That’s not all, is it?”
“Afraid not. Maddie is sure he was set up, that somebody put the envelope in his backpack. When she told me both their backpacks were unattended in the room, I had her empty out hers. We found two envelopes that aren’t hers.”
His jaw clenched, he mumbled. “We’ll figure this out. Let me call Chief Peabody and have him send someone over.”
“I’ll finish putting dinner on the table. I imagine they’ll be tied up for a while.”
Brett nodded and walked down the hall to our office. Maddie moved as if to follow him and I stopped her. “He’ll take care of it and you can help me in the kitchen.”
A few minutes later, he joined us. “There was a shooting. It’ll be a while. Envelopes under the tongs?”
“We used the tongs so we wouldn’t touch them.”
He nodded. It was a quiet dinner, the envelopes grabbing our attention and dampening our usual dinnertime banter. We cleaned up and waited.
A New Place, Another Murder. Copyright © 2018. All rights reserved.