Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons Page 25

Marjorie Grace held up her hands. “Whoa there, slow down. No one’s gettin’ arrested. The judge is deciding whether to postpone the trial until the air conditioning is fixed.” She pointed to the back of the room where everyone gathered around a table. “In the meantime, everyone has been eating a lovely breakfast casserole that Mrs. Baker brought.” The way she lingered on the word lovely was enough to tell me to steer clear, no matter how much my stomach growled.

Bailiff Spencer walked through the door, hands on his hips. “The judge has decided to press on and try to get this trial over with.”

My stomach flip-flopped. A man’s life hung in the balance, an innocent man, and they were more worried about getting out of the heat and into air conditioning.

The morning dragged on. Mr. Deveraux called two witnesses who’d seen Bruce Wayne getting in and out of his crawl space. Bruce Wayne had made so much racket in the middle of the night that he’d woken several neighbors. There was also testimony from the crime scene investigator, who reasserted that blood that matched DNA from the victim was found on the crowbar, along with the defendant’s fingerprints.

As the evidence piled up, my frustration mounted. When was Mr. Yates going to defend his client?

We broke for lunch and I told Neely Kate all about my evening with Violet and Austin Kent and my subsequent fight with Joe, although I glossed over the details. Not that it stopped Neely Kate from trying to get information about the trial.

“Come on, Rose. Just give me something!”

“No.” I shook my head. “Don’t you know I could go to jail for telling you? And if I get thrown in, what’s to stop them from keeping me in there and letting me rot like poor Mr. Decker?”

Her eyes narrowed. “You know something. Spill it.”

I shook my head. “No. No way. I didn’t say anything.”

“But you just said—”

“Neely Kate. I can’t.”

She puckered her mouth into a pout, but I had learned enough about her to know it was merely for effect.

As soon as I returned to the jurors’ room, I could tell something was wrong. The smell, a mixture of sulfur and vomit, hit me first. I covered my face with my hand and found Marjorie Grace tending to a juror who hunched over his legs, his face pasty white.

“What’s going on?”

Marjorie Grace looked up with a frown. “Five jurors have thrown up and three more are hiding in the bathroom, taking care of business on the other end, if you know what I mean.”

Unfortunately, I did. “What happened? How did they all get sick at the same time?”

“Three words: Mrs. Baker’s casserole.” She walked over to another juror and adjusted the wet paper towels on his forehead. Turned out that wet paper towels were a staple in Marjorie Grace’s ancillary medical care.

“Food poisoning?”

“I’m no doctor, but that’s my best guess.”

It was also the best guess of the doctor who showed up thirty minutes later.

Court was adjourned until further notice, and I realized I had time to get some answers. The first place I planned to look was the hardware store.

I was gonna pay a visit to the murder scene.

Chapter Eight

I was smart enough to know I needed an excuse. I couldn’t just walk in and start asking questions. But as luck would have it, Archer’s Hardware was the only hardware store in town and just last night I’d thought about redoing Momma’s room.

Was redecorating your house a crime?

After I pulled into the parking lot, I watched the front entrance, the car’s air conditioning blasting my face as I pondered this decision. If I went in, the judge might consider it a crime. But Archer’s was the only hardware store in town. Surely I didn’t have to put off my improvement projects until the trial was over. Joe would call this rash, but then in Joe’s opinion, I should let Bruce Wayne rot in jail. I just couldn’t do that. I squared my shoulders.

This was crazy, even crazier than my usual stunts. I didn’t even know Bruce Wayne Decker, and I could pretty much guarantee he wouldn’t do anything like this for me. But the idea of sitting by and letting them send him to the big house didn’t settle well in my stomach.

I was going in.

I walked through the sliding doors, half expecting Officer Ernie or Detective Taylor to be waiting inside to arrest me. Instead, I was greeted by a girl with blue hair and a pierced lip who hunched over the return counter.

“Welcome to Archer’s Hardware.” Her monotone voice and droopy eyelids suggested she was about to fall asleep.

“Hi.” I headed straight for the paint department even though I wanted to wander the store and figure out where Frank Mitchell had been murdered. No need pressing my luck. Buying paint was believable. I wasn’t sure I could convince anyone I was buying a plastic tube to put under my sink.

While I studied the paint cards, I realized I needed a plan. First, I had to decide what color to paint Momma’s room. Next, I needed to figure out what questions to ask.

I’d painted my living room a pale yellow after Momma’s death to cover up the blood splatters, and I loved the airiness. I decided to go with a pale blue and maybe even splurge on a new comforter from Walmart.

Once I picked a color I liked, I took the card to the counter and handed it to the woman next to the paint shaker machine. “Hi, I’d like two gallons in satin.” Mercy, I’d come a long way since May! But how was I gonna find out information about the murder without looking too obvious?

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