When her estranged husband is murdered, Stacie Maroni Noth is quickly identified as the main suspect. With divorce papers not yet signed, she may get a substantial inheritance – a clear motive in the eyes of both Noth’s family and the police. His family and law firm strive to keep up the pretense that all is above reproach and idyllic. In her quest to prove her innocence, however, Stacie discovers she’s not the only one with a motive for murder. Could it be a colleague at the prestigious law firm where he worked? Or is it tied to the victim’s stance on domestic violence? Or maybe even his threats to reveal family secrets? Whatever the true motive may be, it soon becomes clear that Stacie might be the next victim.
It had been a while since I’d gone to a bar by myself and I was nervous. It was a Friday night and the DJ joked about song titles and singles. Not too crowded, a few couples danced to the tune he played. Other couples and groups sat in booths or tables. The bar was long and I’d grabbed the last seat at the bar, a great vantage point for checking out the crowd.
Perched on a stool by the bar, I was on my second glass of wine when I spotted him. A dark-haired Adonis in snug jeans and a tapered polo shirt, he scanned the room. The wine did its job and I felt good. I caught his eye. My soon-to-be ex wasn’t the only one who could fool around. I winked and he smiled – his smile about knocked me over. My heart raced as he sauntered in my direction.
“Hi. Care to dance?” He extended his hand and I nodded. The DJ played a slow song and he was a strong lead. I couldn’t help but notice the woodsy scent of his aftershave as he held me in his arms and we danced. When the song was over, he walked me back to my spot at the bar.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
“Uh, sure. Viognier, please.”
I almost admitted that two was my limit but decided I could sip this one. Viognier isn’t the most popular of wines. That he didn’t question my choice surprised me. Ted certainly did. Often.
He signaled the bartender and ordered the wine along with a scotch and water for himself. “I’m Rick. Rick Murdock.”
I hesitated and answered with a smile, “You can call me Barbie.” If this was my once in my lifetime one-night-stand, I didn’t want to use my real name.
His eyes narrowed for a split-second before he nodded. The bartender delivered our drinks and distracted him from the name issue.
“Thanks!” I lifted my glass and he tapped it with his.
“Cheers! So, Barbie… what do you think of the music the DJ is serving us?”
I had to give him credit. It was better than the “Come here often?” I expected. Then again, Creekview Lounge catered to a different crowd than Rockies. We exchanged opinions on music and danced to a few more songs.
Along the way, I finished the third glass of wine, gained a better appreciation of the muscles in his shoulders and noticed his hazel eyes. As I tried not to stumble, he caught me.
“You all right?”
I licked my lip, flicked my hair over my shoulder, and tried for a flirty look. “I think some fresh air would help.”
His multi-watt smile came back at me and we walked outside. In the parking lot, we commented on how good the crisp cool air felt. He leaned toward me and I toward him. The wine had diminished my inhibitions and I responded when he kissed me. Then his hand was on my back and I burst into tears.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I just… I can’t do this. I’m not as slimy as Ted. I’m so sorry.”
He dropped his hands and put them up in front of his body as he stepped back. The smile was long gone. “No problem. No problem.”
I turned and ran to my car, still crying. After a few minutes and a little calmer, I drove to my empty townhouse. Thankfully, I didn’t get stopped by a police car or have an accident. It wasn’t that late – a little after midnight. That’s what I told myself as I called my best friend Jillian. I didn’t get any farther than “I hope it’s not too late” and I burst into tears.
“Stacie, what’s wrong?”
I was crying too hard to talk. I squeaked out, “I went to the Creekview Lounge. I thought I could be like Ted. That’s not me. I tried and I can’t do this this dating thing again.”
“Stacie, you are only 34 years old. You have a great job at Foster’s Insurance Group. You’re educated and smart. Maybe you could go back to school and get that graduate degree in counseling you wanted before Ted.”
“I don’t know about graduate school. What about all the weight I’ve gained? I’m not a size 6 anymore. Each day I find another gray hair. The thoughts of going out and trying to meet somebody is scary and tonight proved it.”
“You have beautiful dark brown hair and blue eyes, and so what if you’re a size 10 now. There’s a man out there – a better man than Ted. Did you see any prospects at Creekview?”
“Yeah, there was one guy. His name was Rick. He was a great dancer and when he smiled – wow!”
“So what happened?”
“Well, I said I needed a breath of air and then he kissed me. I just lost it. I mean I’m not even divorced yet. I burst into tears and sat in my car until I could drive. Then I came home and called you because you’re my friend.” I burst into tears again.
“Stacie, you know if this guy was even halfway good-looking and interested, there’s hope. Was he attractive?”
“Oh, he was easy on the eyes for sure. Tall, dark, and handsome. Muscular. And that’s not the alcohol talking. I only had a couple glasses of wine.”
“Was he drunk?”
“No, he didn’t seem drunk at all. He seemed like a nice guy and a good dancer. He wasn’t pushy at all and didn’t get mad when I freaked. Maybe because I met Ted there … that was 12 years ago. We were supposed to have a happily ever after.”
“Listen, Ted’s scum. You have a lot of years left for happiness. Look at me. I didn’t meet Wade until I was 30. My thirtieth birthday bash with you and Trina. Remember what fun we had that night?”
We talked more about the fun times. Jillian and I shared some laughs and by the time I hung up I felt much better. I surveyed my townhouse. It had been six months since I bought it and moved in, but it didn’t quite feel like home. The only pictures were of my parents and brother, and then a couple of friends. Ted insisted on keeping our dog, Jasper, and I missed him. Maybe I’d get a dog or a cat to keep me company.
The next week, my breakfast on the table, the doorbell rang. When I opened the door, the sight confused me.
“Ma’am. Mrs. Noth?”
“How did you find me?” I asked Rick Murdock as he stood on my front step. Even two weeks later, I hadn’t forgotten how good he looked or how humiliated I felt about that night.
“Ma’am. Your address was on the divorce papers. Can we come in please?”
My brain kicked in and I realized Rick wasn’t talking – it was the other man on the step. The balding stocky one in uniform with a scowl on his face, a smoker from the odor wafting off of him. And then I realized Rick was in uniform, too. He still looked good and gave off the woodsy scent.
“What’s going on?” My gaze went from one man to the other.
“Mrs. Noth, if you don’t want us to come in, we can go down to the station. We have some questions we need to ask you.”
I stepped aside so they could come inside. “I don’t understand. What kind of questions?”
My thoughts were running in circles. Could I have broken a law at the Creekview Lounge that night and not have remembered? Did Rick think I was soliciting? Did they catch me on camera drinking and driving?
“May we sit down? I’m Officer Flatt and this is Officer Murdock.”
“Sure… What’s going on?”
“Mrs. Noth when was the last time you talked to or saw your husband?”
“As I’m sure he told you, it was yesterday at a meeting with our lawyers. Is he still complaining I refused the ‘irreconcilable differences’ lies?” My anger at Ted surfaced once again.
“What time was that ma’am?”
“The meeting was at 3:30. I had to leave work early to make it there on time. He finally grabbed the papers and left, must have been after 4. I was home before the 5 o’clock news. I don’t understand. Is he accusing me of something? Are you here to serve me a gag order?” I huffed, my anger rising.
I glanced from one officer to the other. Rick avoided my gaze and shuffled his feet.
“No ma’am. Mr. Noth isn’t accusing you of anything. He’s dead and…”
I didn’t hear the rest of his sentence. “What? No!”
And then I passed out. I groaned and opened my eyes. Rick stood there with a glass of water. “Here, drink this.”
I sat up and looked to Officer Flatt. “I’m sorry. I don’t usually faint. Did you say Ted was dead? That can’t be. I just talked to him yesterday.”
“That is what I said. He was murdered sometime last night.”
“Ma’am. After you left your husband yesterday, what did you do?”
“I came home.”
“Can anyone vouch for that? Anyone here with you?”
“Huh? What? No one was here with me. It was just me and a half gallon of Rocky Road ice cream.” Then it dawned on me. This man suspected I’d killed Ted!
“Oh, my gosh. You think I killed him? I can’t even kill spiders.”
Officer Flatt shook his head a bit before he answered. “Calm down. We have to ask these questions.”
“I’ll get you more water.” Rick picked up my glass and disappeared into my kitchen. He came back with the water and nodded to Officer Flatt. “One empty Rocky Road carton in the trash.”
I glared at him. How dare he check my trash? “Just so you know, I didn’t eat it all at once.”
His mouth twitched, but he didn’t say a word.
“Just a few more questions. About your divorce…”
“Excuse me, but do I need to call my lawyer? I don’t think I should talk to you until I call my lawyer. Of course, he’s a divorce attorney, but he must know something about other kinds of law, right?”
Rick was back to staring at the ceiling and Officer Flatt studied the floor. Standing up, Officer Flatt put his little book and pen in his pocket. “We’ll be in touch or Detective O’Hare will be if there are any other questions. Here’s my card.”
He started to leave, Rick following his lead.
“Wait. Has anyone else been notified? Do I need to call his family? What should I tell them? Where is he? Who will take care of the funeral?”
Officer Flatt blinked before he answered. “You’ll have to talk with Detective O’Hare at the Beckman Springs Police Department.” He shook his head as he turned and left. Rick hesitated and then was gone.
My eggs were cold, but it didn’t matter. I’d lost my appetite.
I sat on the sofa, my head in my hands for I don’t know how long. I still held the business card and reached for the phone. Time to call this Detective O’Hare and then Jillian. A whole list of people to call came to mind.
“Beckman Springs Police Department, is this an emergency?”
“No, ma’am. Can I speak with Detective O’Hare, please? Officer Flatt told me to call him.”
“May I ask who’s calling?”
“Hold on while I transfer your call.”
There was silence as I waited. No elevator or perky music when you’re on hold for the police department.
“Hello, Mrs. Noth? This is Detective O’Hare.”
“Hello. My husband… two officers came by. They said he was dead. Murdered. They said … No, Officer Flatt told me to call you. I’ve been sitting here trying to understand. Are you sure it’s Ted? There must be some mistake.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Noth. There’s no mistake.”
I gasped and choked back a sob. “What do I do next? About notifying his parents and family? The funeral?”
“Mrs. Noth, I don’t have answers to those questions. As next of kin, you’re the only one we’ve notified officially. I do need to meet with you and get some additional information. Can you come into the station today, say around 11 o’clock?”
“I… I guess. I don’t understand what happened, Detective. The officers – they didn’t tell me very much.”
“We can discuss that when you come in, Mrs. Noth. I’ll have more information by then. Shall I send Officer Flatt back to get you or can you get here on your own?”
“Yes, I can do that.”
The call disconnected. That’s about how I felt. Disconnected. I called Jillian, but the call went straight to voicemail. I left a message that I needed to talk to her immediately and asked her to call no matter what time.
Then I called Nathaniel Heinemann, my divorce attorney. Again, straight to voice mail. This time I left a more pointed message. “Ted’s dead. Do you know any criminal lawyers? Call me.”
What I really wanted to do was climb back into bed and hide under the covers. My stomach growled and my head hurt. Rocky Road is not the best choice for dinner. I tossed the eggs and ate some cereal but didn’t taste a thing. Who identified Ted’s body? Who killed him? Why? Other than me, who had a motive?
I was dressed for work, but no longer planned on going there. I called and told Rosie, the receptionist, that I had a family emergency and wouldn’t be in. With another two hours before I’d need to leave for the police station, I started to make lists. Sooner or later someone – probably me – was going to have to call Ted’s family. Hopefully, they would take charge of the funeral and burial. Maybe they had a plot for him at the family gravesite. In ten years of marriage, somehow those topics had never come up.
Excerpt from Prestige, Privilege and Murder (A Stacie Maroni Mystery). Copyright © 2018 Christa Nardi. All rights reserved.
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. Murder at Cold Creek College is the first in this series set in a small, fictitious town in Virginia and Sheridan is an accidental sleuth called on to assist the detective in charge of a colleague’s murder. The fifth and last in the series, Murder and a Wedding, was released on August 10, 2017. Sheridan may be moving, but she still gets involved in mysteries. Look for the first in the Sheridan Hendley series in 2018.