I hope you enjoy this cozy mystery chapter!
Man, it’s cold, I thought to myself as I walked from the parking garage to the front door of Silk, my upscale women’s boutique. Although cold was to be expected during the month of February in Chicago, I wasn’t a fan. I only suffered through the months of January and February with thoughts of spring to keep me warm. Winters here could be brutal, thanks to Lake Michigan’s frigid lake effect. Though even in the winter the lake was beautiful, so I hated to complain too much.
Valentine’s Day was just about a week away, and for the past few days Silk had been extremely busy with men rushing in to buy their wives and girlfriends presents. Which is why I left Bella, my English mastiff home. I often brought her to Silk with me but not when it was busy. Molly, my friend and sales manager, had come up with an idea this year during our Christmas season to have our shoppers fill out a wish list. Then we sent postcards addressed to their significant others a couple of weeks ago, telling them to come in and buy items off the wish list for Valentine’s Day.
While I’d thought it was a great idea when she came up with it, I was pleasantly surprised—shocked, actually—at how many people were taking us up on the offer. Yesterday afternoon we figured about fifty percent of the wish lists we had on file had led to sales. We also had a lot of comments about how easy we were making Valentine’s shopping.
Today I’d come in extra early to process the shipment we got yesterday. We’d been so busy with customers we hadn’t had time to put the items on the sales floor. It was a great problem to have.
I entered the front door, closed it behind me, then walked through to the back room, where I stopped to switch on the lights before heading into my office to set down my stuff. I made myself a cup of coffee, and while the Keurig brewed something wonderful, I stood, hands on hips, surveying the mess. It hadn’t looked this bad when I left last night, but we were getting so much new spring merchandise and our back room was full. I needed to take some of this trash out to give myself room to process the rest of the stock.
I broke down the boxes and folded them up, stuffing them in a couple of the other boxes to minimize the space they would take in the compactor. Then I unlocked the back door, propping it open so I could carry the first box out. We shared a trash dumpster and a cardboard compactor with the other stores on the block, and I hoped it wasn’t already full, as that often happened. I crossed the alley to where the receptacles sat and, balancing the box on my knee, I opened the door. My eyes grew wide and a scream lodged in my throat as I stared in. The box slipped to the ground as I stood frozen.
There wasn’t room for my cardboard… because there was a body inside.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“My name is Presley Thurman and I’m calling from Silk at 5649 Park Street. I just discovered a dead body in the dumpster in the alley behind my store.” I tried to keep my voice steady even though I was shaking.
“Dispatching police now. Please stay on the line. Do you feel you are in any danger?” the operator asked.
I looked around. I was the only person out here. “No.”
“Can you tell if the victim is still breathing?”
I took a step closer to the opening and looked at the body. He looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place him. He also looked dead because of the chalky gray color of his skin, but I didn’t want to make any assumptions, so I hesitantly reached in and my shaking hand felt for a pulse on his neck. Just as I feared, nothing. I relayed this information to the dispatcher.
“The officers should be arriving any minute. Please stay on the line with me until they arrive.”
I said okay, but my hands were starting to go numb from the cold. I hoped they were close because I didn’t want to leave the body out here alone to go get my coat; it just didn’t seem right. After a few more seconds I could hear the sirens getting closer, and it wasn’t long before two cop cars pulled into the alley.
“They’re here,” I said. We hung up and an officer walked up to me and two went over to the dumpster and peered in.
“Are you the one who called 911?” the officer asked, even though it seemed pretty obvious to me since I was the only one standing out here. But I nodded just to be polite.
“I’m Detective Perry, and you’re…?”
“Presley. Presley Thurman.”
“Do you want to go inside? You look like you’re freezing.”
He told the other officers, who were taping off the area around the dumpster, that we were going inside, and then followed me back into the store. I immediately washed my hands and then walked over to my coffee that had finished brewing and picked up the cup, my hands appreciating the warmth.
“Can I make you a cup of coffee?” I asked.
“No, thank you. Is there a place where we can have a seat?”
I nodded and led him into my office, where I motioned for him to sit at one of the two chairs by the small table in the corner. Sitting in the other one, I looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to ask me questions. I took a sip of my coffee and he asked me to walk him through my morning, from arriving to finding the body.
I recounted my actions, which weren’t many, or helpful.
“So, you don’t recognize him?” The officer looked from his paper to me, his eyebrows raised in expectation.
“He looks familiar, like I may have seen him before, but I don’t know who he is. I just can’t place him.”
“Maybe you’ve seen him around here, maybe at one of the other stores on the block, or maybe he was one of your customers?”
I was pretty sure he hadn’t been in Silk before, but he did look familiar. The officer was silent, giving me a chance to think. Where had I seen this guy before? I mentally ran through the places in the area I frequented. Maybe he worked at one of the restaurants where I often ate lunch. Then it dawned on me.
“He works at The Flower Pot. It’s the flower shop two doors down. At least I think that’s where I recognize him from. Tammy is the owner. She could tell you.”
I was friends with Tammy and we often worked together to promote each other’s businesses. I was in there a couple of days ago to order some roses to decorate Silk for Valentine’s Day and I was pretty sure that was where I’d seen this guy. He’d been in her shop unloading flowers. I shuddered, thinking what a horrible thing to happen to an employee. Tammy was such a sweet person. This would devastate her.
“You have a number for her?”
I nodded and got up to grab my cell phone from the desk. “What’s your number? I’ll share her contact.”
He gave it to me, and I sent Tammy’s information.
He looked at his phone, tapping it to open up the contact, and then stood up. “Thank you for your time and I’m sorry you had to witness this. I may be in touch later if I have more questions, and please don’t say anything to anyone, since this is an ongoing investigation.”
I nodded, but I also crossed my toes, as I had already sent a text to Tammy saying, call me.