Murder of an Open Book: A Scumble River Mystery

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9780451472113: Murder of an Open Book: A Scumble River Mystery

New York Times Bestselling Scumble River Series

A nasty faculty feud leaves one Scumble River teacher belly-up. . . .

Her honeymoon may have been less than relaxing, but Skye Boyd née Denison is still high on marital bliss with her new husband, Wally. The fact that their family is about to get bigger is even more exciting, even if Skye is dealing with morning sickness—and trying to hide the news from her ever-meddling mother, May.

But Skye quickly comes crashing down from cloud nine when the body of one of her coworkers, science teacher and volleyball coach Blair Hucksford, is found in the school swimming pool. The troublesome trainer was on the bad side of almost everyone on staff and many of the girls on her team, leaving Skye to sort through a huge roster of suspects. Now she must figure out which wronged party was mad enough to kill, and quickly—before someone else in town gets bumped off. . . .

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About the Author:

Denise Swanson is the New York Times bestselling author of the Scumble River mystery series, including Murder of a Needled Knitter, and the Devereaux’s Dime Store mystery series, including Dying for a Cupcake. She worked as a school psychologist for twenty-two years before quitting to write full-time. She lives in Illinois with her husband, classical composer David Stybr, and their cool black cat, Boomerang.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Acknowledgments

CHAPTER 1

LOL—Laugh out Loud

Skye Denison-Boyd adjusted the straps of her bathing suit, then kicked off from the edge of the swimming pool. Her goal was to make it to the other end without losing her breakfast. Not that a couple of soda crackers and a cup of tea was much of a meal, but that was all she’d been able to tolerate in the mornings for the past month. And some days, even the saltines didn’t stay down.

Refusing to think about tossing her cookies—or to be more specific, crackers—Skye concentrated on improving her butterfly stroke. Seven years ago, when she first returned to her hometown and started working as a psychologist for the Scumble River school district, she had swum most weekday mornings and often on Saturdays and Sundays as well. In the summer, she used the local recreational club, a lake formed from a reclaimed coal mine. And when it was cold, she did laps in the high school’s highly debated pool.

Due to the source of its financing, the swimming pool was a hot topic among the Scumble River citizens. A while back, the district had received some extra tax money from the construction of a nearby nuclear power plant, but instead of buying more up-to-date textbooks or employing additional teachers, the school board had spent the funds on athletic equipment and a pool.

The board members had been hoodwinked by a fast-talking salesman and a group of parents with their own agendas. It was the one time in anyone’s memory that the board president, Skye’s godfather, Charlie Patukas, had lost a vote. Because of that, she’d always felt a little guilty when she used the facility.

Those ambivalent feelings had helped her make excuses to skip her daily swims until eventually she rarely, if ever, swam at all. But a couple of months ago, after returning from her honeymoon, Skye had vowed to get back to her previous exercise routine. And a little bit of nausea was not going to stop her. Besides, the doctor had said that swimming might actually help the morning sickness.

Which reminded her, when she wiggled into her bathing suit at home, she’d noticed a definite baby bump. Up until now, because of her already generous curves, there hadn’t been much danger that anyone would notice the three or four extra pounds she was carrying. Evidently, that anonymity was about to end.

She and her husband, Wally, would have to make some kind of announcement soon, or speculation would sweep the town. Scumble River’s main drag wasn’t known as Blabbermouth Basin Street for nothing.

Skye and Wally’s motives for keeping mum about the blessed event were due in part to Wally’s concerns about revealing the pregnancy prior to the completion of the first trimester. Furthermore, they hadn’t wanted to take the spotlight away from Skye’s brother and sister-in-law’s baby shower, which was scheduled for Saturday.

However, the most compelling reason for them to keep quiet as long as possible was Skye’s mother. May had a tendency to be a bit overbearing—okay, a lot overbearing. And as soon as she found out her daughter was pregnant, she would try to take over her life. Compared to May, D. B. Cooper was an amateur skyjacker.

May had waited a long time for grandchildren. Both Skye and her brother, Vince, had married relatively late—Skye had been thirty-six and Vince nearly forty—which meant May had been ready to be a grandmother for close to twenty years. And although Skye hoped her mother would be distracted by Vince’s baby, she was pretty darn sure May would find the time to drive her daughter crazy as well. As an equal-opportunity meddler, May would make sure neither of her children felt neglected. She wouldn’t want either of them to think the other was her favorite.

Wincing at the thought of her mother’s reaction to her pregnancy, Skye reached the opposite end of the pool. Performing a perfect flip turn, she started back, happy that she felt less queasy and determined to put May out of her mind.

Willing herself to relax and enjoy the sensation of the water sliding over her skin, Skye focused on her dolphin kick. Because the butterfly was one of the most exhausting strokes and she hadn’t yet rebuilt the strength to swim more than a few lengths of the pool before having to rest, she wanted to put the time she had to the best use.

March in Illinois had been chillier than usual, but in the heated pool, Skye could pretend that she was back on her honeymoon. Even though the cruise had been full of surprises—including a dead body—she and Wally had both been able to unwind from their demanding lives and have an unforgettable trip.

Wally, as the chief of the Scumble River Police Department, had been badly in need of a break. Although the town’s population was just a shade over three thousand, between the devious mayor and several murders, the community in no way resembled Mayberry. Which meant that Wally’s work was no Andy Griffith kind of job.

Skye’s position as the sole mental-health professional for the entire school district kept her stress level in the head-about-to-explode range as well. Add planning a wedding during the frantic Christmas holidays and her psych-consultant contract with the PD, and she, too, had been more than ready for a vacation.

Their honeymoon had been wonderful, but now that they’d been back for two and a half months, Skye had a feeling that their downtime was about to end. This was the final week before spring break, which in Skye’s world meant frazzled teachers and students with cabin fever.

For Wally, kids out of school required preparing his officers for hordes of unoccupied teens with way too much time on their hands. Not many Scumble River families could afford to take off from their jobs and jet off to Florida or the Caribbean. So while they were busy making a living, their offspring were often left unsupervised and looking for something to do.

Skye finished her fifth lap, and as she rested against the side of the pool, she checked the clock on the far wall. It was only six thirty. Staff was required to be on duty at seven twenty, while students started their school day at ten to eight. Allowing half an hour to style her hair, slap on some makeup, and put on her clothes, she had fifteen minutes before she had to get out of the water and start to dress.

Because of her nausea, Skye had been up an hour before her normal time, and she’d gotten to the pool much earlier than usual. When she’d turned in to the school’s driveway, there hadn’t been a single car in the parking lot. Even the custodian’s old red Silverado pickup wasn’t in its usual spot by the Dumpster yet.

She’d used her key to enter through the back door of the empty building and made her way to the gym. The pool area’s only entrance, except for an alarmed emergency exit, was through the student locker rooms. As she’d passed through the girls’ side, she’d stripped off her sweat suit and placed it and her bag on one of the benches. The locked duffel held what she would need to get ready for the school day, as well as her purse and the leather tote full of files she’d brought home on Friday to work on over the weekend.

Most mornings there were other staff members using the pool, but because she’d arrived so early, the place had been deserted. At the time, even though Skye knew she shouldn’t swim without a buddy, she’d been happy to have the water to herself. It was nice not to have to worry about colliding with another swimmer or slowing someone else down. However, now it felt as if she was no longer alone. Had someone else arrived to take a pre-workday dip?

Skye glanced from side to side. Almost the entire wall of the pool enclosure was made up of frosted blue safety glass. She squinted. Was that someone peering through the partition? She called out a greeting, but no one answered. That was odd. Her imagination must be getting the best of her.

She shoved her swim goggles up on her head and looked around for a second time. With the exception of a couple of safety rings and a pole with a hook on the end leaning against the wall, the area was empty. Taking a deep breath, she tried to calm her racing heart, but the scent of chlorine overpowered her. Uh-oh! Now she felt queasy again.

Swimming over to the ladder, Skye had just begun to climb out of the water when she thought she heard retreating footsteps. A chill ran up her spine. Had someone been watching her? No! That was silly. Why would anyone spy on her? Was pregnancy making her paranoid?

Skye shook her head at her own foolishness and heaved herself out of the pool. She hurried into the locker room and peeled off her swim cap. Catching a glimpse of herself in a mirror, she sighed. While the cap kept her hair dry, it also left it a snarled mess. Bending over, she ran her fingers through her long chestnut curls in an attempt to fluff out the strands.

She was busy trying to work out a particularly stubborn tangle when a hand descended on her shoulder and someone snapped, “You need to leave immediately.”

With a scream, Skye straightened. Clutching her chest, she said, “Blair! You scared me to death. What are you doing here?”

Blair Hucksford taught junior and senior level science and coached girls’ volleyball. Although she’d been teaching at Scumble River High for nearly four years, Skye didn’t know her very well. Blair hadn’t sought out Skye’s help with any of her students, and she rarely attended pupil personnel services conferences. PPS meetings, a multidisciplinary forum intended to assist students identified as exhibiting academic, social, or physical needs through supportive and preventative strategies and services, was Skye’s main contact with most of the school’s staff.

Blair’s expression hardened. “More to the point, what are you doing here?” She crossed her arms. “I booked the whole pool area for my team.”

“I don’t see anyone.” Skye looked around. She and Blair appeared to be alone. “Anyway, I’m going to get dressed right now, so I’ll be out of the way by the time they show up.” She smiled, sure Blair didn’t mean to be as nasty as she sounded.

“You can’t use the girls’ locker room.” Blair narrowed her jade green eyes. “As I just said, I’ve reserved it and the pool from six thirty until seven thirty.”

“Well, I don’t think the school board would approve of me using the boys’ side,” Skye joked. “Just let me take a quick shower, and I’ll finish getting ready in the teachers’ restroom.”

“No.” Blair tossed her coppery red curls and said, “The space is rightfully mine. You’ll just have to figure out something else.” She turned and marched away.

“Wait!” Skye ran after her. “This is silly. I just need five minutes.” The thought of trying to wash the chlorine off her skin without the benefit of a shower made her willing to beg. “I—”

“Not even one minute.” Blair stopped Skye. “You should have read the schedule. Your oversight is not my problem.” She put her hands on her slim hips. “The rules state that once a teacher signs up for a space, that faculty member has sole possession for the allotted time.”

“But . . .” Skye stuttered. Why was Blair being so mean? “Look, I—”

“It’s really rude of you to talk while I’m interrupting.”

“It’s a mistake on my part to be here. You’re absolutely right about that.” Skye gritted her teeth and forced herself to sound conciliatory. She really needed to use that darn shower. “And I’m sorry.”

“Of course you are.” Blair let out an exaggerated sigh. “But sustaining ignorance is hard work, and I’m not that industrious.”

“Are you always this sarcastic?” Skye was tired of apologizing.

“No,” Blair sneered. “Sometimes I’m asleep.”

“Seriously?” Skye crossed her arms. “You need to get over yourself.”

“I tried once, but no luck.” Blair smirked. “I’m just too awesome.” She turned her back, then said over her shoulder, “And you still have to leave right now.”

Skye put her hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. Trying one last time to make Blair see reason, she said, “Please. Two minutes in the shower. I promise to be out of the locker room before your girls get here.”

“Too late.” Blair moved out of reach, scooped up Skye’s duffel bag, put the strap over Skye’s shoulder, and thrust her discarded sweat suit at her. Grabbing both of Skye’s arms, Blair said, “I just heard the team arrive.”

“Take your paws off of me.” Skye tried to wiggle free of the fingers clamped around her biceps. For a skinny little thing, Blair was surprisingly strong.

Ignoring Skye’s outraged cries, Blair frog-marched her out of the room. As she shoved Skye into the hallway, she said, “Guess you’ll have to make do with a sponge bath in the faculty restroom. Maybe next time you won’t think that you’re above the rules.”

Skye stared at her, speechless at the teacher’s utter rudeness.

Blair smiled meanly and said, “I just adore the sound you make when you finally shut the hell up.”

CHAPTER 2

Sup—What’s Up?

Skye absentmindedly reached down and scratched her calf. White flakes fell on the dingy gray carpet and she frowned. It had been impossible to wash off all the chlorine without a shower. She wished she could have driven home and gotten dressed there. Unfortunately, that hadn’t been an option. The trip would have made her late for work, and then she would have had to face the wrath of Homer.

Homer Knapik, the high school principal, didn’t tolerate tardiness from his staff. He could be late for everything from parent conferences to faculty meetings. But if any of his faculty checked in even a second past seven twenty, the public haranguing was enough to make them reconsider their choice of careers.

And Homer had a special way of intimidating Skye for any infractions—either real or imagined. He threatened to give her office to one of the other itinerant personnel. Since there literally was no other space in the school, she was always fearful of losing such valuable real estate. She had only wrested it away from the boys’ PE teacher/guidance counselor a few years ago, after pointing out that he already had an office in the gym complex. Up until then, she’d had to beg, borrow, or steal space to evaluate or counsel students.

Glancing around, Skye silently tsked. Who would have thought that she’d have to do battle for a ten-by-ten room with no windows? It was painted an ugly shade of greenish yellow that was made worse by the overhead light fixture. The fluorescent bulbs cast a sickly tinge over the beat-up desk, battered trapezoidal table, two folding chairs, and wooden file cabinet. All the furniture occupying the meager space were castoffs. Her old leather chair and the metal bookshelves that held her test kits had been discarded by someone with a budget to upgrade to nicer things, but Skye was grateful to have them. Even secondhand, the stuff was better than anything she had at either the grade school or the junior high.

After another bout of itching, Skye hurriedly checked her appointment book. She was scheduled to stay at the high school until noon, then go to the elementary school for the rest of the day. Maybe she could drive home during her half-hour lunch. If she didn’t hit any traffic—and with only one stopl...

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Descrizione libro Berkley Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. New York Times Bestselling Scumble River Series A nasty faculty feud leaves one Scumble River teacher belly-up. . . . Her honeymoon may have been less than relaxing, but Skye Boyd nee Denison is still high on marital bliss with her new husband, Wally. The fact that their family is about to get bigger is even more exciting, even if Skye is dealing with morning sickness--and trying to hide the news from her ever-meddling mother, May. But Skye quickly comes crashing down from cloud nine when the body of one of her coworkers, science teacher and volleyball coach Blair Hucksford, is found in the school swimming pool. The troublesome trainer was on the bad side of almost everyone on staff and many of the girls on her team, leaving Skye to sort through a huge roster of suspects. Now she must figure out which wronged party was mad enough to kill, and quickly--before someone else in town gets bumped off. . . . Codice libro della libreria ABZ9780451472113

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Descrizione libro Berkley Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. New York Times Bestselling Scumble River Series A nasty faculty feud leaves one Scumble River teacher belly-up. . . . Her honeymoon may have been less than relaxing, but Skye Boyd nee Denison is still high on marital bliss with her new husband, Wally. The fact that their family is about to get bigger is even more exciting, even if Skye is dealing with morning sickness--and trying to hide the news from her ever-meddling mother, May. But Skye quickly comes crashing down from cloud nine when the body of one of her coworkers, science teacher and volleyball coach Blair Hucksford, is found in the school swimming pool. The troublesome trainer was on the bad side of almost everyone on staff and many of the girls on her team, leaving Skye to sort through a huge roster of suspects. Now she must figure out which wronged party was mad enough to kill, and quickly--before someone else in town gets bumped off. . . . Codice libro della libreria BTE9780451472113

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Descrizione libro New American Library, United States, 2015. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. New York Times Bestselling Scumble River Series A nasty faculty feud leaves one Scumble River teacher belly-up. . . . Her honeymoon may have been less than relaxing, but Skye Boyd nee Denison is still high on marital bliss with her new husband, Wally. The fact that their family is about to get bigger is even more exciting, even if Skye is dealing with morning sickness--and trying to hide the news from her ever-meddling mother, May. But Skye quickly comes crashing down from cloud nine when the body of one of her coworkers, science teacher and volleyball coach Blair Hucksford, is found in the school swimming pool. The troublesome trainer was on the bad side of almost everyone on staff and many of the girls on her team, leaving Skye to sort through a huge roster of suspects. Now she must figure out which wronged party was mad enough to kill, and quickly--before someone else in town gets bumped off. . . . Codice libro della libreria ABZ9780451472113

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