DEATH BY INTERMISSION (Abby McCree Mystery Series Book 4)
by Alexis Morgan
Release Date: January 26, 2021
In USA Today bestselling author Alexis Morgan's fourth Abby McCree Mystery, Abby spends a summer showing family films under the stars--only to end the season with an unexpected slasher flick...
Ushered once again onto another committee by the mayor of Snowberry Creek, Washington, Abby is tasked with keeping the box office receipts of the town's Movies in the Park nights. Cut to the director's chair from where she's suddenly organizing the summer's last feature. From the opening scene through the final credits, Abby feels she's earned nominations for best volunteer, best movie date with her tenant Tripp Blackston--and best daughter for ignoring her mother Phoebe's own movie date with Owen Quinn.
Unfortunately, Abby and the others are treated to a post-credits scene: the body of local insurance agent Mitchell Anders. This discovery is followed by a plot twist revealing that the murder weapon comes from Owen's food truck. With her mother's boyfriend suspected of murder, Abby starts her own investigation determined to shine a spotlight on the real killer...
Enough was enough. Actually, it was way too much.
Abby McCree nudged her companion in the ribs with her elbow and whispered, "Switch sides with me."
Her friend and tenant, Tripp Blackston, had just gotten back from a refreshment run and looked a bit put out by her demand. Finally deciding she was dead serious, he grumbled and handed Abby his drink along with the huge tub of buttered popcorn she'd asked him to get. Ignoring the good-natured calls of "down in front" from the people seated on the ground behind them, Tripp shifted his big body around to the other side of their blanket while she scooted over to where he'd been sitting.
After they had everything rearranged to their satisfaction—or at least Abby's—Tripp leaned in close to ask her why the move had been necessary. She cringed, knowing he'd find her answer silly at best.
"Because it creeps me out, and I can't stand to watch." Tripp looked truly perplexed. "Do I need to point out tonight's movie is animated and rated PG?"
"Yes, I know." Abby bit back a big sigh before adding, "But it's not the movie I object to."
That much was true. After all, she'd convinced the committee in charge of the town's Summer Nights in the Park program to show that particular film because it was one of her personal favorites. The real problem was sitting on another blanket about twenty feet off to their left.
Abby reached for a handful of popcorn to avoid any further explanations, but Tripp instantly thwarted her plan by holding the tub out of her reach. Surrendering to the inevitable, she whispered, "I don't like watching my mother canoodling with that man."
There'd been a brief respite when Owen Quinn had disappeared for a short time, probably to check on his food truck. But now that he was back, the couple had picked up right where they'd left off. Meanwhile, Tripp's deep laughter rang out over the hillside, drawing way too much unwanted attention in their direction. She elbowed him again, this time with a great deal more oomph. "Hush, you idiot."
After a quick glance back over his shoulder toward the pair in question, Tripp turned his attention back to her, his grin still firmly in place. "Come on, Abby. Canoodling? Were you born in the 1850s?"
"Call it whatever you want, but how would you like it if that was your mother and some guy sitting over there all snuggled up like they're back in high school?"
That mental image had him wincing a bit. "Okay, I get that. However, they're both adults, and your mom has been single for a long time."
Abby was in no mood for logical arguments. "That may be true, but she also hasn't acted like this with anyone she's dated since she and my father divorced. I don't want to see her get hurt."
Resisting the urge to take another peek at her maternal parent, Abby continued, "Not to mention Mom barely knows that man. In fact, I haven't met anyone who knows much about Owen Quinn or where he comes from. He simply appeared in town one day and bought that hole-in-the-wall restaurant along with that rust bucket of a food truck. That thing is a real eyesore. Everyone says so."
"Yeah, but those same people also say he makes great barbecue."
Even Abby had to admit Quinn had a talent for barbecue. In fact, the local grocery store now stocked jars of his secret sauce and special spice rubs. By all reports, both were flying off the shelves. Well, it would take more than the right mix of chili powder and cumin to earn her trust, especially when it came to Owen Quinn.
When she held out her hand for the popcorn, Tripp set the bucket down between them. As she grabbed a handful, she said, "The ability to cook ribs doesn't provide much in the way of a character reference. Besides, Owen spends far more of his time out on his boat than he does running his restaurant."
In fact, the place was only open on the few days he didn't go fishing. What kind of business model was that? Of course, maybe he'd made tons of money in his prior occupation and could live forever off his investments. There was no way to know that, though, since the man was amazingly vague when it came to the details of his life prior to moving to Snowberry Creek. She leaned in 4 closer to Tripp. "Has he ever said anything to you about what he did before moving here?"
Before he could answer, a wadded-up paper bag came flying at them to bounce off the back of Tripp's head. The attack was accompanied by a familiar voice calling out, "Will you two please shut up? Some of us what to see how the movie turns out."
Tripp winked at Abby as he lobbed the bag right back at Gage Logan, the local chief of police and a personal friend. "Sorry, Gage. Didn't know you'd find cartoon characters so riveting!"
The brief conversation stirred up some more grumbling from other quarters, so they lapsed into silence while the rest of the movie played out on the makeshift screen strung between two trees. Abby knew most of the dialogue by heart, but that didn't make it any less funny. The fact that the humor in the movie worked on multiple levels was one reason that she'd recommended it for the last film in the town's summer movie-in-the-park series.
As the credits rolled, the people around them began packing up their blankets and lawn chairs. She and Tripp remained right where they were for a few more minutes. Since she was the one in charge tonight, she had to stick around to help with cleanup. When the crowd had thinned out, Tripp offered Abby a hand up off the ground. As she folded their blanket, she asked, "Well, did you like the movie?"
The former soldier looked a bit sheepish as he reluctantly nodded. "Yeah, way more than I expected to. It's been years since I watched a kids' movie, but evidently they've gotten a whole lot funnier."
She wasn't surprised that he hadn't kept up with animated films, considering he'd spent twenty years bouncing all over the world's hot spots as part of the Army Special Forces. It hadn't been all that long ago since he'd retired from the military in his late thirties to enroll at the local college to finish his degree. In fact, he'd arrived in Snowberry Creek only a short time before Abby moved there herself.
"Well, I own a few more you might enjoy. Maybe we can watch one the next time we have a beer and pizza night."
Tripp looked around to make sure no one was listening before he answered. "Sure, as long as you don't tell anyone I agreed to such a thing."
She couldn't resist teasing him a bit. "Afraid you'll damage your tough soldier image?"
Yeah, it was. But to make him feel better, she pointed out that several of his friends from the local veterans group were also there. "I think your reputation is safe considering Gage Logan, Leif Brevik, Pastor Haliday, and Spence Lang are all here tonight."
That information didn't seem to impress him much. "I'll go dump our stuff in my truck and then come back to help."
He started to walk away but stopped to add, "And for what it's worth, your mom is headed this way, and Owen is with her. Be nice."
She almost stuck her tongue out at him but took the high road instead. After pasting what she hoped was a genuine smile on her face, she turned to face her mom and her companion. "Did you two enjoy your evening?"
Owen grinned. "Very much."
Somehow Abby doubted he was talking about the movie, but she wasn't about to ask for clarification. Besides, it was time for her to get to work. "I've got to help the cleanup crew, Mom. It shouldn't take long, and then we can head back to the house."
Owen glanced around them. "What do you need us to do?"
Great. She should've known it wouldn't be that easy to get rid of the man. "We have to do a final sweep through the area to make sure that all the trash has been picked up. I've got the necessary supplies."
She paused to pull a flashlight, plastic bags, and disposable gloves out of her backpack. "We're supposed to separate the recyclables from the trash and keep an eye out for any personal items that got left behind."
Tripp was back, so Abby offered him gloves before putting on her own. He looked past her to where some of the volunteers were breaking down the tables that had served as refreshment stands. "Owen, want to give me a hand carrying some of those tables back to the parking lot?"
"Sure thing." He handed the plastic bags back to Abby's mom. "Phoebe, I'll catch up with you when we're done."
"I'll hang out with Abby until you get back."
After the two men headed off, Abby said, "It's nice of Owen to help, but it really isn't necessary. We already have a full contingent of volunteers."
Her mother stared after the two men. "Owen knows I wanted to help, and he's my ride home."
Abby knew she was losing the battle, but she couldn't seem to stop trying. "There's plenty of room in Tripp's truck for the three of us."
Her mother sighed. "Abigail, you're my daughter, not my chaperone. I want to ride with Owen. Deal with it."
Then she pulled on her gloves and looked around. "Now that we've got that settled, where should we start?"
Conceding the battle for the moment, Abby set her backpack down on a nearby picnic table long enough to put on her own gloves. From what she could see, the rest of the volunteers were already hard at work on the lower side of the slope. "It looks like we should cover the top of the rise up near the trees. If you'll go left, I'll go right and meet you in the middle."
From the look she gave Abby before starting up the slope, her mother wasn't particularly happy with her right now. It might take some groveling to get back into her good graces, but there would be time to worry about that later. Right now, she was ready for this evening to end. She'd really been looking forward to enjoying something close to a real date with Tripp.
Then, from out of the blue, her mother had called to say she was taking a couple of weeks off from her accounting job to drive down from Seattle to spend time with Abby. If that's what she'd actually done, Abby might've appreciated the thought. However, ever since her mom had met Owen Quinn a few weeks back at his restaurant, it was clear that he was the real reason her mom suddenly wanted to spend so much time in Snowberry Creek.
Admittedly, Owen Quinn was a handsome man, physically fit with silver-gray hair and sky-blue eyes. It was no wonder that her mother found him attractive. And to give her mom credit, Phoebe McCree was a good-looking woman in her own right. Thanks to her hairdresser's best efforts, there wasn't even a hint of gray in her dark hair, which she wore in a flattering short bob. Abby knew there was a strong family resemblance between her and her mom. Although Abby wore her hair longer, they both had the same reddish-brown hair coupled with hazel eyes.
Even she had to admit that her mom and Owen actually looked good as a couple, but that didn't mean Abby was comfortable with the way the pair had gone from zero to sixty in such a short time. But, as her mom had pointed out, Abby wasn't their chaperone.
Rather than worry about something she couldn't control, she concentrated on the job at hand and dutifully began scanning the ground for anything that had been left behind. Two pop cans and a popcorn bucket later, she'd almost reached the center point where she was supposed to meet up with her partner in trash gathering.
Her mom was making steady progress in Abby's direction. As she walked, she kept her flashlight focused on the ground, swinging it back and forth in big arcs and pausing only when there was something to pick up. Abby resumed her own search, slowly closing the distance between them.
When they finally met up, her mom said, "Sorry to take so long. I noticed several people were sitting just inside the tree line during the movie, so I've been scanning the ground a short distance into the woods along the way."
Darn, Abby hadn't been that thorough. "Thanks for reminding me. I'll do a quick sweep as we head back."
They'd only gone a short distance when she spotted someone sitting in a lawn chair about ten feet into the trees. If she hadn't happened to shine her light in just the right direction, she might not have noticed him at all. The man was slumped down in the chair with a hat pulled low over his eyes, making it seem likely he'd dozed off during the movie. The empty beer cans scattered at his feet might've had something to do with that.
Her mom moved up beside her. "Oh my. Should we leave him to sleep it off, or try to wake him up?"
Abby considered their options. "The park ordinarily closes at sundown. The city council made an official exception just for the movie-in-the-park program this summer. I'd hate to have him get in trouble just because he dozed off."
They continued to study the sleeping man, still maintaining a safe distance from him. "Do you know who he is?"
"I don't think so, but it's hard to tell with his hat covering half his face like that."
Abby was picking up some bad vibes about the situation, but that was probably just her own nerves talking. After stumbling over three dead bodies since she'd moved to Snowberry Creek, she'd developed an unfortunate tendency to imagine the worst. Even so, it never hurt to err on the side of caution. "Maybe we should get Tripp or Owen to deal with this."
"There's no use in hauling them all the way up here before we try to wake him up ourselves." Before Abby could stop her, Phoebe called out, "Hey, mister, the movie is over. Time to go home."
When he didn't respond, she tried again, this time a little louder. "Sorry to bother you, sir, but the park is closing. You need to pack up your stuff and head out."
She glanced in Abby's direction before creeping forward several careful steps to stand beside the still motionless man. Abby kept the flashlight aimed in their direction as Phoebe reached out to shake his shoulder. "Mister, it's time to head-"
Then she jerked her hand back. "What the heck?" Abby hurried forward. "What's wrong, Mom?"
Her mom grimaced. "Sorry to startle you. I wasn't expecting his shirt to be wet."
Abby looked around. "How would it have gotten wet? It hasn't rained tonight. Did he spill one of his beers?" "Maybe, but regardless his whole shirt is soaked." She had stepped back as if unsure what to do next. When she started to give his shoulder another shake, Abby stopped her. Her instincts were screaming that it was well past time to call in reinforcements.
"Mom, wait a minute. I need to call Tripp."
For some reason, that only increased her mother's determination to get the job done herself. "Nonsense. We can handle the situation ourselves. He's just a sound sleeper."
When Phoebe started to give his shoulder another shake, Abby followed the motion with the flashlight. As soon as the beam hit her mother's hand, she almost screamed, "Stop, Mom! Look at your hand!"
Phoebe froze in midmotion. "What about it?"
Then she looked at it herself. The palm of the blue glove was covered in dark red streaks. "Good lord, is that . . . is that what I think it is?"
The note of hysteria in her voice snapped Abby out of her own growing panic. "Stand back, Mom. Let me check him."
She stepped over a couple of tree roots to stand on the other side of the man's chair. Shining the flashlight directly on him, she pressed her gloved fingers against the side of his neck and prayed she'd feel the steady thump of his pulse. No such luck.
"Mom, you need to step away while I make some calls."
It was hard to tell if her mother had yet grasped the truth about the situation. At least she immediately retreated to the edge of the woods. From there, she watched as Abby pulled out her cell phone. "Are you calling Tripp?"
Abby nodded. "Him, too, but I need to talk to Gage Logan first."
That clearly surprised her mom. "The police chief? Why him?"
Seriously? Could she not connect the dots for herself? Turning her back on the man in the chair, Abby met her mother's gaze head-on. There was no use in sugarcoating the situation, especially when things were likely to get a lot worse before they got any better.
Wishing she had a more palatable explanation for the necessity of dragging Gage back to the park, she said, "I'm sorry, Mom, but calling the cops is the first thing you do when you find a dead body. Unfortunately, I've had some experience with this kind of thing."
"Well-executed, fast-paced drama that immediately grabbed my attention, quickly becoming a page turner." -- Dru's Book Musings