Fudging the Books

Free Fudging the Books by Daryl Wood Gerber

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Authors: Daryl Wood Gerber
Alison. Such a fine young woman. What can I do to help? Anything?”
    “Call Cinnamon. Tell her what you know.”
    “I will.” My aunt petted my cheek and returned to the sales counter. “By the way, do you know the time of death?”
    “Sometime between the end of the book club dinner and when Coco returned home.”
    “Of course. Hard to pin things down.” Aunt Vera picked up the phone but immediately hung up when my father entered the shop with Bailey’s mother, Lola, the new love of his life.
    Dad was carrying a tool kit and a tube of paper. Lola held two to-go cups from Café au Lait.
    Lola said, “Jenna, darling. I heard about Alison. How horrible. And to think I just saw her last night at book club.”
    Dad nodded his condolences.
    “Word is out?” I asked.
    Lola said, “You can’t keep much from this town once the buzz gets going. Bailey must be torn up.”
    “She is.”
    “Where is she?”
    “Either at Coco’s house or the precinct. She wanted to offer Coco emotional support.”
    Lola whispered something to my father, handed him his coffee cup, and pecked him on the cheek. Then she hurried out of the shop.
    Dad, who was a handsome man in an aging leading man way, grinned with a devilish twinkle. “You’ve got to admit the woman has get-up-and-go.”
    “She does indeed.” I would never forget the first time I met Lola. I was five. She clutched me to her chest, rumpled my hair, and told me how pretty I was but that I should never rely on my looks. She was going to make it her mission to ensure I became an avid reader. I promised her that my mother and father were already doing that, but she wouldn’t let up. Every month, she bought me a Newbery Medal– or Honor–winning book, some with the most exotic titles, like
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Red Sails to Capri
. I attributed my love of reading to her. She opened new worlds. She and my father had started dating a few months ago. They were almost as perfect a match as my father and mother had been.
    My father finger-combed his silver hair. “I’m ready to be put to work.”
    “Work?” I said.
    Aunt Vera cut in. “I forgot to tell you, Jenna. I’ve asked your father to do a few tweaks around the shop.”
    Dad was an expert handyman. After retiring from the FBI and before purchasing his hardware store, he put in a lot of volunteer hours at Habitat for Humanity.
    “We have a squeaky door in the stockroom.” Aunt Vera ticked the list off her fingertips. “The register drawer gets stuck. And the phone line crackles.”
    Dad didn’t need the income from the handyman work—he had a tidy sum in his savings accounts—but he loved to fix things. Didn’t all men? Well, not all. My husband David hadn’t. He’d had no knack for that kind of thing. I was pretty sure Rhett could do whatever my father could—he whittled wood like a pro—but he used my father’s services instead. He had enough to do, running a thriving business.
    “By the way”—Dad jabbed the tube of paper in my direction—“don’t you, for one remote second, try to blame yourself for this twist of fate, Tootsie Pop.” He loved using the sobriquet he’d dubbed me when I was a tween. I felt somewhat foolish whenever he uttered it, but I would always be his little girl, and face it, what could I do? Tell him to stop? Like he’d listen.
    “She wouldn’t blame herself, Cary,” Aunt Vera said.
    I would, but I wasn’t. At least I was trying not to. When I was new to town and so many murders had occurred in rapid succession, I’d thought it was somehow my fault. Perhaps I had brought bad luck to Crystal Cove. I didn’t feel that way any longer. Maybe I was more like my father than I realized. He, unlike my aunt, was not a believer in hoo-doo, as he called it. On the other hand, he did profess that Crystal Cove had a spirit or an essence, if you will. That was about as far as anyone could push him into acknowledging an ethereal influence in his life. Each choice was

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