DEATH BY THE FINISH LINE (Abby McCree Mystery Series Book 5)
by Alexis Morgan
December 28, 2021
ISBN-13 : 978-1496731272
ASIN : B091M8HQ62
When a dead body turns up on a race route, Abby McCree hits the ground running to catch a killer...
Overcommitted Abby has once again been drafted to use her organizing superpowers—this time for a 5k charity run that's part of the Founder's Day Celebration in Snowberry Creek, Washington. At least she has help, albeit from an unlikely source: Gil Pratt, a member of her handsome tenant Tripp Blackston's veterans group and co-owner of a motorcycle repair shop with his brother. Abby and Gil may seem like an odd couple, but they work great together.
The event seems to be running smoothly—until city council member James DiSalvo is found murdered in a ravine along the race route. Unfortunately, Gil's brother Gary had a very public argument with DiSalvo minutes before the race, making him the prime suspect. Now the two race organizers must again team up to prove Gary's innocence—before the real killer makes a run for it. But one wrong step and Abby may be the next one to come in dead last...
"A charity race sends Snowberry Creek, Washington, newcomer Abby McCree running for cover… Abby's work-free lifestyle gives her plenty of time to do what she does best: investigate crimes the police have got wrong." —Kirkus
"A fun read that kept me turning pages to conclusion. Well done to the author." —Cozy Cat Reviews.
"I love this series! It's one of my must reads and never disappoints. From the cozy setting to the big good dog, what's not to love when it's combined with a solid whodunit? Can't wait to see what the next book brings!" —Goodreads review
"I absolutely loved this book, and I adore this whole series. Alexis Morgan has a way of pulling the reader in to her plot and characters by making it engaging, silly and relatable." —Goodreads review
Five months ago
At ten o'clock on a weekday morning, the coffee shop in Snowberry Creek was blissfully quiet. Abby McCree sipped her favorite dark roast coffee and studied the puzzled expression on her companion's face. Finding it a bit worrisome, she asked, "Hey, are you all right?"
Her mother stared down at her own coffee and sighed. "All this time you've told me how you somehow ended up in charge of one committee or another without knowing how it even happened. To be honest, I never really believed it. You're no pushover, so I thought it was just your way of making excuses for jumping in to take on yet another major time-sucking project."
At this point she finally dragged her gaze up to meet Abby's head-on. "But after meeting Connie Pohler this morning, I get what you've been trying to tell me. The mayor's assistant is a lovely woman, so warm and friendly. At the same time, she has an absolutely terrifying ability to convince someone that they want nothing more in life than to help organize a charity run."
By that point, Abby couldn't help but laugh. She'd seen that same dazed expression on her own face on several occasions after talking to Connie. When her mom looked a bit put out by her reaction, Abby grimaced and apologized. "Sorry, Mom, I probably shouldn't laugh, but I warned you not to make eye contact with Connie. The second you do that, she's got you under her spell."
Abby pointed to the two plates on the table. "That's why I brought you here to Something's Brewing. The only way to console ourselves is with a great cup of coffee and a big piece of Bridey's best gooey butter cake. Besides, you only agreed to help on the weekend of the event. I'm in charge of the whole dang thing."
Throwing her hands up in frustration, she sighed. "What do I know about organizing the Founder's Day Salmon Scoot? The closest I've ever come to serious running is watching Tripp set off on his daily crack-of-dawn jaunt."
It couldn't be any fun to get out of bed to pound the pavement every day, rain or shine. But her handsome tenant, Tripp Blackston, rarely blew off his morning runs. He claimed that after twenty years in the army, the daily runs had become a habit he couldn't break. She wished he would try harder, mainly because she felt guilty for not dragging herself out of bed to join him.
Her mother managed a rueful smile. "Well, at least Connie did say she had someone interested in co-chairing the race with you. Maybe that person knows more about this kind of thing. At least you won't have to do everything by yourself."
If only that were true. "That would be nice, but it all depends on who it is and how much time he or she is willing to put in on the project."
Honestly, she'd rather do it all herself than have to nag her yet-to-be-named partner to make sure everything got done on time. More than one person—including Chad, her ex-husband-had pointed out Abby's control-freak tendencies over the years. It wasn't as if she didn't know that about herself, but those same people had benefited from her compulsion to make sure things got done right and on time. Unfortunately, it was also the reason she was near the top of Connie Pohler's list of favorite people to call on whenever a new project crossed her desk.
For now, Abby took solace in rich coffee and a decadent dessert while her mother did the same. She refused to feel guilty about consuming so many carbs. Earlier, she'd promised her furry roommate a long walk after she got back home, so she could work off at least a portion of the calories before the day was out.
A low rumble coming from out on the street drew their attention to the front window of the shop. A few seconds later, a double line of motorcycles rolled past, all being ridden by tough-looking men in black leather vests. Their presence in town didn't come as a surprise. The local motorcycle repair shop had a reputation for quality work, and people came from all over the area to get their bikes fixed.
What was a surprise, though, was seeing one of the bikes peel off from the pack to park right outside of Something's Brewing. It wasn't as if she thought bikers didn't drink coffee, but she'd spent a lot of time in Bridey's shop and had never seen any come in. She recognized this one, though, as soon as he dismounted and took off his helmet. It was Gil Pratt, co-owner with his brother of the repair shop.
She'd crossed paths with him several times since her move to Snowberry Creek. Gil might be a little rough around the edges, but he'd always been nothing but polite to her. Still, he seemed like the kind of guy who liked his coffee black, extra strong, and preferably brewed in a coffeepot that hadn't been thoroughly cleaned in years. But after setting his helmet down on the seat of his bike, he headed straight toward door of the coffee shop. Once inside, he stopped to look around. As soon as he spotted Abby, he smiled and headed over to the counter to place his order.
"Do you know that man?"
Her mother sounded a bit horrified by that prospect. That came as no surprise. There was a lot about Abby's decision to make her new home in Snowberry Creek that her mother disapproved of, starting with the fact she'd become embroiled in four—count them, four!—homicide investigations since moving there. While her mother didn't blame Abby for divorcing her now ex-husband for cheating on her, she did question her decision not to immediately dive right back into the corporate world in Seattle. But thanks to a sizable inheritance from her late aunt, Abby had no need to rush things. For now, she was content to take her time setting down some deep roots in her new home.
"Yes, Mom, I know him. Gil is a member of the same veterans group as Tripp, and we've run into each other at a couple of functions. He and his younger brother own a very successful business here in town."
Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but she didn't want her mother to base her opinion of the man solely on his ponytail, scuffed boots, and leather vest. Meanwhile, Gil picked up a tray holding three cups of coffee and headed straight for them.
She did her best to hide her surprise at his approach, offering him a quick smile when he stopped a their table. He gave each of them a quick nod as he set the coffees down. "Hi, ladies. I asked Bridey to make you another of whatever you were drinking."
Before they could respond, he hustled over to the counter to pick up a muffin that the barista had heated up for him before returning to their table. Clearly, this was no chance encounter. Abby's weird-o-meter was starting to register some pretty strange vibes, but she didn't want to jump to any conclusions. Falling back on the good manners both her mother and her late aunt had drilled into her, she pointed at the empty chair next to her. "Won't you join us, Gil?"
"Thanks, I don't mind if I do."
After he got settled, she said, "I don't think the two of you have met. Gil, this is my mother, Phoebe McCree. Mom, this is Gil Pratt."
He smiled at her mother. His eyes twinkled, suggesting he had a good idea of her mom's reaction to having a biker join them. "Nice to meet you, ma'am. I can sure tell where Abby gets her good looks. She has your dark hair and pretty hazel eyes. I do hope you know your daughter here has been a real godsend to our veterans group and others here in Snowberry Creek. She also helped me out of a bit of a rough spot a few months back."
One look at her mom made it clear she'd likely be grilling Abby on that particular subject later when they were alone. Great. All she'd done was to make sure the police knew Gil hadn't thrown the first punch when a bar brawl had broken out when she and Tripp had been at a local hangout playing pool with their friends. To her surprise, Gil had shown up on her front porch the next day with a bouquet of flowers to thank her for her efforts and for keeping him out of jail. Of course, she'd also secretly been checking him out as a possible suspect in a murder case, but what was a little suspicion among friends?
Somehow she doubted her mother would find that amusing, so she changed the subject. "Do you come in here very often?"
He gave a rusty laugh as he glanced around the room. "No offense to Bridey, but it isn't exactly my kind of place. Gary and I do stop in regularly to load up on some of her pastries, but we get everything to go."
After taking a careful sip of his coffee, he set the cup back down. "Actually, Connie Pohler thought the two of us should talk and that I could probably find you here."
By that point, Abby's brain was screaming "Mayday, mayday!" Even so, she thought she sounded pretty calm as she asked, "Well, you found me. What's up?"
Gil drew a deep breath and then slowly let it out as if bracing himself to deliver some bad news. "I'd like to partner with you to organize the run for the Founder's Day celebration, but only if you would be willing to work with me."
Without giving her a chance to respond, he added, "Look, I don't mean to put you in an awkward position, and I'll understand if you'd rather find someone else. Don't feel like you have to say yes."
She might have believed a negative answer wouldn't matter all that much to him, but it was hard to miss the tight hold he had on his coffee cup and the lines of tension bracketing his mouth. Even if she had qualms about accepting, she did feel compelled to give his offer some serious consideration.
"I have a couple of questions for you first, if that's okay."
He released the death grip on his coffee and eased back in his chair. "Ask away."
"Connie assured me a lot of the preliminary work is already done. Even if that's true, organizing something like this takes a lot of effort. Considering you own your own business, will you have the time?"
Gil nodded. "Good question. My hours are flexible. As long as we set up a regular schedule to meet, it won't be a problem. That's true even when we get closer to the actual race and need to meet more often. Gary knows I want to do this, and he's on board with paying a friend of ours to help him out at the shop a few hours a week if the work piles up a bit."
So this wasn't a spur-of-the-moment offer, and he'd given the matter some serious thought. Feeling more optimistic, she asked her next question. "Have you ever done anything like this before? It will involve keeping track of a whole bunch of information. At this point, I don't yet have a clear idea what all it will entail."
Gil leaned forward, elbows on the table and looking more relaxed. "I worked in supply back when I was in the navy. I tracked inventory, filled orders, and dealt with various suppliers to maintain stock. On a smaller scale, I do the same at our shop. I also keep all the books for our business, including doing our taxes. That's a pretty roundabout way of saying I've got a knack for tracking information."
Better and better. "How are you at riding herd on people? We'll need to recruit a bunch of volunteers to help, but unfortunately not all of them will be as reliable as they should be."
He shot her a wicked grin. "Try dealing with bikers day in and day out. Anything else?"
She found herself laughing at that, and even her mother was smiling by that point. "Yeah, I have one more question. Do you know anything about what this kind of event entails?"
Bless him, he was already nodding. "Actually, Gary runs in races several times a year, most longer than this one. I've helped him train and even volunteered to help out the day of the races a few times."
Wow, he'd just ticked all the boxes on her spur-of-the-moment questionnaire. She'd be foolish to turn down his offer to help. She stuck her hand out. "Well, Gil, if you're sure, then let's do this."
His callused hand gently engulfed hers and gave it a quick shake to seal the deal. She only hoped he didn't come to regret his decision.