Copyright © 2007 by Donna Andrews. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief...
The Penguin Who Knew Too Much
"Meg! Guess what I found in your basement?"
I looked up from the box I was unpacking to see Dad standing in the basement doorway, his round face shining with excitement.
"A body?" An unlikely guess, but Dad was a big mystery buff—perhaps if I amused him, he'd stop playing guessing games on moving day.
"Oh, rats—you already knew? Well, how soon will the police get here? I need to move the penguins—we don't want them any more upset than they already are."
He disappeared down the basement stairs without waiting for an answer. I abandoned my unpacking to call after him.
"Dad? I was joking. Did you really find a body? And why are there penguins in our basement? Dad!"
No answer. Should I go down to see what was happening, or call the police? Damn! I closed my eyes and counted to ten. Normally counting to ten calmed me, but today it just gave me time to realize how much more could go wrong elsewhere in the house. On cue, I heard the crash of something breaking, followed by a sheepish "Oops!" from my brother, Rob, in the front hall. In the living room, Mother ordered a brace of cousins to move the sofa to yet another location. She'd been at it for an hour, and so far only three pieces of furniture had made it from the truck to the house.
In the dining room, Mrs. Fenniman, Mother's distant cousin and closest ally, was singing an Italian aria, changing pitch every dozen notes, which meant she'd had a few martinis already and we'd have to redo the walls after she'd painted them.
I'd only reached seven when Rob interrupted me.
"Meg? You know that big cut-glass punch bowl? Is that a particular favorite of yours?"
"Don't you mean was it a particular favorite?" I asked as I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket. "And no, but Mother was quite fond of it, so see if you can sweep up the pieces before she notices. Broom's over there."
I dialed 911. I wasn't sure the situation quite warranted 911, but I hadn't memorized the nonemergency number for the Caerphilly Police Department and I had no idea which box contained the phone book.
"Hello—Debbie Anne?" I said when the dispatcher answered. "This is Meg Langslow."
"Meg! How's the move-in going? And what's the problem?"
"Slowly. And the problem is that Dad says he's found a body in the basement."
"Oh, Lord," Rob said. He stopped in the doorway, broom and dustpan in hand, the better to eavesdrop.
"Is he serious?" Debbie Anne asked after a moment. "I mean, if it's just some kind of practical joke—"
"He sounded serious," I said. "And I thought I should call you first instead of wasting time going to look myself, and possibly disturbing a crime scene."
"I'll tell Chief Burke you said so. If it turns out to be some kind of mix-up ..."
Her voice trailed off. I knew what she was thinking. Quiteapart from the major-league practical jokers in my family, there was Dad, with his well-known mystery obsession.
"If it's a mix-up, I'll call back right away," I said, and hung up.
"Did he really find a body?" Rob asked.
"So he says."
"Don't you think you should have checked before calling the cops?"
"If he was pulling my leg, I'll let him explain it to Chief Burke."
"I still think you should check for yourself."
"I'm going to—want to come?"
Rob, who fainted at the mere idea of blood, shook his head and hurried back to the hall.
I took the stairs to the basement.
The smell hit me first.
Not the rank smell of a decaying body or the tang of newly spilled blood, both of which I'd had a chance to experience while tagging along after Dad—less while he pursued his medical...