If you missed the first chapter, start here!
Penelope stumbled to a walk at the end of three miles, the German Shepherd on the other end of the leash glancing up at her and then reluctantly settling down to the slower pace. “Sorry Heidi, we’ll go faster tomorrow,” Penelope said, massaging the stitch in her side.
“Rough day?” a gruff voice questioned from the other side of the picket fence on the right, startling both woman and dog.
Penelope looked over, then down, finally seeing the elderly man on his knees digging around the base of the lavender. “Some days are a little harder than others,” she admitted. She stopped and looked at his face under the wide-brimmed hat. “Mr. Kinsey?” She hadn’t seen him in almost five years, ever since he resigned from the city council. “How are you doing?”
“The damned grub beetles are going to kill everything, but other than that I can’t complain.” He struggled to his feet. “Can I interest you in some lemons? You can take some home to that young man you’re seeing.”
Penelope smiled at the thought to letting Jake know he was her “young man”. “Thank you, I’ll take a few if you have extra.” She headed back along the fence to the gate and walked Heidi through, shortening up on the leash to keep her off the pristine lawn. “I didn’t realize you lived here,” she said as she followed the old man to the back yard where a small orchard of fruit trees provided shade.
“We moved here a few months ago. Had a place in the country but it was getting too much for us.” He ducked under a low branch from a fig tree. “Heard you were the one that found that Jezebel woman dead.”
Penelope waited a moment, then decided his last sentence had been a question. “Yes. Did you know her?” He was the first person to use her full name, or at least her full alias.
“Knew her enough to know I didn’t want to know her. Knew her a whole lot less than others.” He made a strange choking noise and it was only when Penelope caught up to him on the far side of a heavily laden Meyer lemon tree that she realized he was laughing.
“I think I missed the joke.”
He shook his head. “Didn’t you ever wonder why everyone on the council agrees to everything he proposes?”
Penelope folded her arms across her chest. “I assumed it was because he was paying them off, but I could never prove anything.”
He paused in snipping lemons off the tree. “That’s right. You lost your house through that eminent domain scam he cooked up a few years ago. I heard about that.”
“What did Jezza have to do with all that?” Penelope folded the bottom of her t-shirt into a pouch and took the lemon he handed her. Whenever the topic of the mayor had come up, Jezza had always made it clear that she’d had nothing to do with his business deals.
“Right after she came to town with her new husband, they made a point of going out to drinks with each of the councilmen. Dinner, drinks, a few more drinks, then a hotel room and then later ‘we have some pictures that your wife might find interesting if you don’t vote yes on this motion.’”
Penelope stared at him, automatically adding another lemon to the growing pile. “Blackmail?” She’d spent months looking for financial motives, but blackmail had never crossed her mind.
“Oh, they were careful enough to use it rarely, but there it was. I didn’t find out about it until last year or I might have tried to stop him.” He looked over at her. “Before you decide I’m some paragon of virtue you should know that his wife’s charms were lost on me and the mayor wasn’t committed enough to try for me himself.”
Penelope thought about the current makeup of the city council and how the mayor’s power had waned since the last election. “Having two unmarried women voted in must have really been a blow.”
The gasping laughter returned. “I wish I’d seen his face on election night. Now can I interest you in a few oranges while you’re here?”
By the time Penelope walked Heidi home, her shirt was stretched out by so much produce it resembled a lumpy pregnancy, but it wasn’t until she opened the door and unclipped the dog’s leash that she wondered where all the pictures were.
(Comments, requests, and suggestions all welcome!)