Today's Reading

CHAPTER ONE

This was the last thing she needed.

Arlo Stanley hurried around the building, barely missing the crumbling spot at the edge of the street. Her foot twisted, and a sharp pain shot from her toes up to her ankle. This was not the day to break in new shoes. And heels at that. Now she had a bum ankle to add to the equation. But she had already been dressed for work when the police called.

A dead body! Right there on the sidewalk! Directly in front of her bookstore!

Things like this didn't happen in their little town. Just. Didn't. Happen.

She could hardy grasp it. Yes, people died, but not on Main Street. At least not as long as she had lived in Sugar Springs. It was unthinkable.

And to make matters worse, this weekend was important to the residents of Sugar Springs and all the Main Street merchants. This weekend was the Tenth Annual All-School Class Reunion. Not many people usually came out for that sort of thing, just a few locals and whoever happened to be in the area. But this year they had a special guest, the most famous person ever to leave Sugar Springs, Mississippi: Wallace J. Harrison. Known as Wally to those who had graduated with him, he was an upcoming star in the mystery-suspense genre with ten consecutive weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list. Wally was a national sensation. And he was back in town.

Arlo had managed to convince Wally's assistant that he should do a signing at her newly opened bookstore. She was even going to host a special Sunday opening for the event. Now the store was currently sectioned off with bright-yellow police tape.

She picked up her pace, mincing along and trying not to grimace in pain. She needed to get to her shop as quickly as possible, but City Ordinance 52-B stated that all shop employees had to park in the alley behind their stores to allow for ample parking in the front for their paying customers. Joni, the town's petite meter maid—sorry, "traffic specialist"—was something of a stickler when it came to Main Street. So Arlo's slightly dented, vintage VW Rabbit was parked in the alley behind her shop.

Arlo groaned when she saw the crowd of people in front of her store. It might be 9:00 a.m. on Friday, but everyone was already out and about. No one was looking at the new display she had created of Wally's book along with choice murder weapons, making her window resemble an extra-large game of Clue. They were staring at the body. The one she could just see through their shuffling feet. Not quite a body, more a tangle of arms and legs, grotesquely twisted as if this poor soul had jumped from the third-story rooftop and fallen to the sidewalk below. Not just a death, but a possible suicide.

Arlo stumbled. A body. A real live dead body. On the sidewalk in front of her store. Goose bumps skittered across her skin. This was nothing like watching crime TV or reading about a death in the latest mystery. This was something altogether different.

There was one resident who wouldn't get to engage in the weekend festivities. Though she didn't know who it was. When the police had called, dispatch hadn't told her the identity of the person, only that it was a man and she needed to get down there fast. But Sugar Springs wasn't a big place. There wasn't any doubt Arlo would know the person who lay there on the sidewalk. Maybe she had even sold them a book. The thought was sad and sobering.

Yet she couldn't continue to stand there. She had to be professional, move forward, find out why this person felt the need to fling himself from the roof. See what needed to be done next. Keeping focus would help her handle the ordeal. At least she hoped it would.

Arlo tugged on the tails of her button-down shirt and smoothed her palms over the sides of her gray dress slacks. She pushed her waist-length, chocolate-brown hair over her shoulders and straightened her back. One deep breath in and she started forward.

"Excuse me." She nudged past Dan the grocer, Phil who owned the video store next door, Joyce the florist from across the street, and Delores the gum-smacking clerk from the jewelry store down the way. Arlo didn't bother with the niceties; she simply pushed through. She had to talk to Mads, the chief of police. She had to have him clear up this...mess? Disaster? Crime scene.

"Mads." She greeted him on a rush of air, then stopped when she got a good look at the body. "Is that...?"

He nodded, his normally stern face grim.

"But..." The one word was all she could manage. She looked back to the twisted form.

Wally Harrison lay dead at their feet.

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