The Salty Taste of Murder: Foodie Files Mysteries Book One

Chapter 1

A few beads of sweat had started to form over my brow. Now, they were dripping into my almost nonexistent eyelashes, stinging my eyes with a fierceness.

It was a hot and steamy fall morning—pretty much the norm in this part of Georgia, even in October. This was a warm-up mile, the first of four, and meant to help stretch the legs and get the morning kinks out. The first mile was always the hardest. Despite the stinging sweat, I started to hit my stride, and I picked up the pace a bit. It was time to get down to business.

I ran for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, it was therapy. Free therapy. I let the upheaval of the past week go. I breathed it out just like my body filtered the toxins out with this sweat.

The first Thursday of the month tended to be a fairly hectic one. This one was no different. My latest restaurant review was hot off the presses—the virtual and print. I knew most readers would see the post on Facebook, then read from there, much unlike my grandmother whose copy of the Lanai Gazette was off her doorstep by 5 a.m. each morning. She’d have already read it, twice.

This month’s review was sure to get more than my usual responses. I was certain that red number beside my email was growing larger with each step on the pavement.

I had been tasked with reviewing our charming town’s latest restaurant, The Southern Depot, a southern tapas place which had restored Lanai’s old railroad station, outfitting the old ticket counter as a bar and gutting the insides to install a state-of-the-art kitchen.

The concept had excited me. Southern comfort food was a favorite. And tapas were great for reviews because it’s so easy to order an assortment of what the menu had to offer—without needing a wheelbarrow to make it out to the car.

As expected, when I had told my mom about the assignment, she was a little worried. She even had the audacity to ask me if I could be impartial.

“Of course, I can,” I had retorted, maybe a little too quickly.

“Allie, I remember that heartache she put you through,” Mom had said to me. “We must’ve gone through three gallons of ice cream that month.”

* * *

It had been over a decade. Poor, young, naïve Allison Treadwell—I’d worn my heart on my sleeve. Too bad that sleeve had been hidden from anyone else but Mom. Or else things may have been different.

It was something silly. Really, it was.

Jessica and I had moved on since then. But apparently, my mom could never, or would never, forget what Jessica’s actions had put me through.

I’d known Jessica practically forever. We’d had several classes together, shared a few of the same friends, and we were always friendly toward each other. But we weren’t exactly friends.

It wasn’t her fault, nor was it mine. We just didn’t have all that much in common.

Then junior prom happened. Oh, dear, sweet junior prom.

I was convinced that Jeff Olsen was going to ask me. I had the biggest crush on him. Since he moved to my little corner of the universe in ninth grade, we’d become fast friends—and just friends. The crush lingered on. We made each other laugh at lunch. And who better to go to prom with than someone I had fun with every day?

Well, apparently, I was not the date for him.

He asked Jessica. It tore me up inside. And ever since then, things had always been a little tense when I bumped into her around town. Though, who was I kidding? It was probably just in mine and my mother’s heads. There was no way Jessica knew about my crush. And after senior year, Jeff moved away to Athens. He never looked back and was never seen or heard from again. At least, not by me.

Over the years, the tension of seeing Jessica had dwindled. After all, Jessica was a married woman now. Married to Miller Hayes, an actual childhood friend of mine. Growing up, I never pictured them together, but seeing it through my thirty-year-old eyes, it made sense.

* * *

The night of the tasting, almost a week ago, I had brought along one of my closest friends, Kate McAllister. Kate’s my go-to girl for most things. An investigative reporter for the local news station, her impeccable taste in everything helped me be an impartial and fair judge of the tasting experience. That, and she’s good company, to boot. The conversation always flowed—sort of like the cocktails into Kate’s glass.

We arrived during the Saturday evening rush. The twinkling lights and ambiance of the place made us both share a look. Kate whispered an “ooh, fancy” into my ear as we walked inside.

The hostess promptly greeted us. Always a good start. She grabbed two menus and a wine list, then asked for us to follow.

On our way to our table, I saw Jessica for the first and only time that evening. She froze for a second, gave me a curt smile, and attempted to do an about-face. But she accidentally dropped a stack of menus she was returning to the hostess stand. Quickly, she picked them up and deposited them there. Then she scurried toward the kitchen.

If I had to guess, she did so to tell Miller, her husband and the head chef, that he would need to be on his A-game because I’d arrived.

Our server came over only a moment later with water and a basket of bread and butter. She was chipper but seemed ever so slightly nervous, with a nervous fidget here and there and very little small talk. Jessica must have told her, as well, that I was here to do a review of the restaurant.

Clearly, she wanted to earn good marks. Usually my reviews didn’t focus on the service unless it was truly bad. And honestly, it would have been better if she’d have relaxed just a bit. Rigid and methodical service is fine, but when I’m dining, I prefer a nice back and forth—for the server to tell me their favorites on the menu, not just rattle off the specials.

We ordered drinks. Per usual, I got water to help keep a nice fresh, clean pallet. Kate ordered their signature cocktail. Kate always preferred to try something new, something the person running the bar thought they were really good at making. More often than not, she discovered a wonderful new drink. But I have had to hold her hair in at least two restaurant bathrooms.

We ordered seven plates to share—the beauty of tapas. And then a dessert each. You only live once, right?

I wanted to like it all. I really did.

The plating was on point. The drizzle of sauce, the garnishes added a vibrant spot of color. I snapped a few photos of each. But the food was just meh. The fried food wasn’t crispy enough, and the coating did not want to stay put. Salt was apparently an enemy of the chef. My readers knew that a lack of salt was always a reason for me to drop one fork from the overall dining experience.

Kate was my witness. I really tried to like it. And she did too.

But when I added everything up, it was just two forks. Two forks out of five… For a local restaurant owned by the beloved Miller and Jessica Hayes, this wasn’t the best start. The married couple would both be disappointed in the review. I wondered if they would accept it and move on.

Jessica would probably assume it was personal. But I had checked my baggage before writing the review.

Miller would just be hurt. The kitchen was his domain, and the kitchen was where The Southern Depot was lacking the most.

My last memory with him was surviving two years of Mrs. King’s Spanish class. He made jokes in that class I’d still laugh at to this day. He was always such a good guy. I felt sorry for every word typed.

But it was an honest review.

* * *

Once I hit send yesterday afternoon, those two forks were cemented forever.

I continued down the road, pavement pounding against my sneakers.

A few puffy clouds rolled past the sun, offering some shade from the beating sun as I was coming up on my last mile. The wind started to pick up a touch. Now this was more like the weather I liked for my jogs.

But a dog bark off in the distance startled me a little, forcing me to focus in on the sounds surrounding me. The steady pace of my feet hitting the pavement. My labored breath. A leaf blower’s drone. Was I good to keep going my normal path or was this dog going to send me the long way home?

One more faint bark told me I was good to go home the normal way.

It was Thursday. I needed to come up with an idea of what to write for the blog this weekend. Writing for the local paper was rewarding, but The Foodie Files was my passion project, my baby. I worked hard to bring good food into the homes of my readers. Inspiration for my posts was all around me. Sometimes an idea was struck upon as I walked down an aisle in the grocery store or sometimes with just the change in the weather. And, often, with a lack-luster meal that needed to be revamped.

Hmm, I thought. What was something that The Southern Depot disappointed me with?

On the blog, these were called a Bad Bite Makeover.

Fried green tomatoes—that was it. The ones at The Southern Depot were just mush.

I could fry up some tomatoes, come up with a couple of spreads, snap some photos. The blog almost wrote itself on this last mile.

Yes, I thought confidently, this is a post I can complete by Sunday night. Easy.

The last phase of my run was the cooldown. I entered my neighborhood, my legs feeling a tad lactic and heavy. It was a quaint little place with cottages and bungalows, all unique. Well, except for the porches and fences. They were all the same. Each had a gorgeous wrap-around porch with a white picket fence. This porch was what sold me, at least from the outside. The porches are what sell everyone.

“Good morning, Allison,” Mrs. Jeanie from next door called out. She waved to me while sitting on her front porch sipping coffee.

“Morning,” I said as cheerfully as one could muster at the end of a four-mile jog.

The therapy session was a success. I worked through my to-do list for this morning, already scheduling the goals for the weekend.

My front door squeaked open as I made my way into the kitchen. I pulled out a cup from the old painted cabinets and filled it up with water from the fridge. This kitchen was downright charming, I might add. I loved showcasing it on the blog. The natural light flowed right through the picture window, and the old butcher block counters only got more unique with age.

Wearily, I made my way to the couch. I always liked to watch a little Good Morning America after my morning runs. I picked up the remote and flicked on the TV.

Then I woke up my laptop, which was still sitting on the coffee table from a late last night binge session of Netflix.

My email was full already. Who has time to open all their email? No one, that’s who. I had a theory that if I devoted two minutes to every email I ever received, I’d never have enough time to eat or sleep, let alone work.

My voicemail, I knew, wouldn’t be any better. I chose to skip listening to it for now. One of those calls was sure to be Mom. I could hear her now, “Are you sure you couldn’t have given it at least three forks? Three forks sounds so much better. And, Allison, it’s just one extra fork.”

No, Mom. No, I couldn’t.

I took a large gulp of water. I expected to hear the soothing sounds of GMA, maybe a weather forecast from Ginger Zee, but GMA wasn’t what I found.

Instead, a local news brief flashed on the screen. There was my gorgeous friend Kate. Her long flowing blonde locks curved around her oval face. She looked a little somber today, her expressions more serious than her regular news face.

I hoped everything was okay…

Hey, I know where you are, I thought. We were just there last week. But what was she doing at The Southern Depot? Did the two forks really warrant a live news story? One to interrupt Good Morning America?

“This has been Kate McCallister reporting live from Lanai, Georgia. We will keep you up to date as we find out more details in the tragic death of local restauranteur, Jessica Hayes.”

The TV flickered back to the smiling faces in Times Square just as if that news report never happened. I crumpled down onto the couch.

Jessica’s dead?

How did this happen? Why did this happen? I couldn’t believe it. Then I thought about the paper. Those two forks were going to be shoved into her friends and families faces.

I’d never felt so guilty about a review.

 

Chapter 2

The trill sound of my phone ringing alerted me back to reality. Who was it going to be first? My mom? Kate? Or complaints over the insensitivity of the review?

The timing couldn’t have been worse. My review was published the same day as Jessica’s death.

Kinsey, the scatter-brained editor-in-chief, lead reporter, and whatever else she could do in a day part-owner of the Lanai Gazette, would already be scrambling for details about the death. She’d probably forgotten all about the review by now. Her inbox would remind her, eventually. It was a good thing Kinsey was the type to let it fill by the hundreds before replying to them all in one long binge session.

How I wished it would be pulled from the site and every available paper yanked from the newsstand. I was sure to be painted as crass when really it just boiled down to terrible luck.

Relief washed over me as Kate’s name and picture appeared on the phone.

“Kate,” was all I could muster.

“Allie, I don’t know if you’ve heard yet or not…” Kate’s voice wasn’t nearly as even as it had been on TV.

“I, uh, I just heard,” I said. “Actually, you just told me.”

“Gosh, I’m sorry. That’s not quite how I wanted to break the news to you.”

“News?” I objected. “I only heard the tail end. What happened?”

“I got a call early this morning,” Kate replied. “They told me there had been a death at The Southern Depot, and I needed to be the first on the scene. I had no clue it was Jessica, well, not until I arrived on scene.”

“I guess that comes with the territory. But do you know anything? What happened?”

I was really wondering why a death, even that of a young woman, could warrant interrupting live TV.

“Allie… They think it’s a murder.”

My heart skipped a beat. My mouth too.

“Allie? You still there?”

“Yeah… sorry. How’s everyone doing?” I tried to come up with something more to ask, something better to say. Come on, Allie, can’t you come up with a better question than that?

“What kind of murder?” I asked and then regretted.

“We’re not sure,” Kate answered. “There’s been no real info just yet. The police haven’t released a statement. I’m sure there’ll be a press conference in the next few hours. You know I’ll be there, but with that we’ll get the same news at the same time.”

“Come on, Kate. I know you better than that,” I responded. “There’s a reason you put emphasis on the word when you say you’re an investigative reporter. So, who are you going to try to get the answers from first?”

Kate didn’t respond right away. I imagined her scoping out the scene. Then I could almost hear her smile. “Look,” she whispered, “there’s a new detective in town—from Atlanta. He hasn’t had much to do just yet, but I’ve seen him around. I think I’ll ask if he’s up for a quick interview.”

“Nice! He won’t see what’s coming until you’ve got answers. Keep me posted!”

For once, I wanted to be informed about Jessica Hayes. And jealousy wasn’t the root of my curiosity. Pure and utter heartache was. I thought of Miller and Jessica’s mom and dad—all people I’d known forever.

“Will do,” Kate said. “I’ll text you later, all right?”

“Sure—” My words were cut off, and with a brief beep, I was left with dead air. The sounds of GMA still played low in the background. But I could’ve cared less about what Robin or Michael or Amy had to say.

* * *

Realization of what happened still hadn’t fully sunk in. I felt close to it, yet at some oddly safe distance away.

The thing about small towns like Lanai is, in reality, we’re all close. I sank deeper and deeper into the couch, and into thought. What a tragedy. This was the kind of thing that happens somewhere else—to people I don’t know. This felt all too personal.

Glued to the couch and lost in thought, my day drifted away from me. It was easy to veg out with the distractions of TV and posts on Facebook. To the rest of the world, this story was of inconsequence.

The phone rang a few more times. I let the voicemail handle it. I didn’t bother checking my email either.

Eventually, I flipped the switch down on the side of my phone, silencing it and rested my eyes and my head on the soft pillows of the couch. I didn’t—I couldn’t sleep. I may have been there ten minutes or an hour, my mind whirring with thoughts.

Who would do such a thing?

In an effort to get my thoughts off of Jessica, I sat bolt upright and grabbed my trusty leather-bound notebook from the coffee table. A ribbon held the next blank page ready for me. Quickly, I scribbled “Fried Green Tomatoes” at the top. Anything to get my mind off the murder. In reality, I knew this recipe by heart.

“Ingredients,” came next. I scribbled down each line. Tomatoes. Cornmeal. Flour. Salt. Pepper. Oil.

The basics of a fried green tomato.

I skipped a line and penned the word “Directions” next.

Slice the tomato in quarter-inch slices.

I’d always just eyeballed it. I second-guessed, wondering if that was thick enough to ensure they weren’t too soggy.

But thinking about a knife brought me back around to Jessica.

What happened?

Was there a disagreement in the kitchen? Maybe her killer grabbed a knife and stabbed her?

Every southern kitchen has cast iron frying pans—is that what killed her? Or was it far more premeditated than that? Had her killer used a gun?

These thoughts were all pretty disturbing for a normal girl like me. I was barely used to people dying from old age, heart disease, and cancer. Let alone something like this…

My phone buzzed, just two quick skips on the end table. Kate had texted.
No luck with my interview from the detective earlier. Tightlipped but hunky. You should meet him. He even smelled good (a drastic change from what you’re used to :P). News conference coming up at 6:00. Hopefully, they’ll let us know something before then…
It was almost six. I turned the TV back on and waited.

Ribbons flashed across the bottom of the screen. A familiar face, John Rodgers, announced they were going to a live report at the Lanai police station.

The screen flickered over to what was surely a musty, mostly unused room with a podium at the center. Multiple law enforcement personnel stood scrunched behind it. Police Chief Richard Hausman stepped forward behind the podium.

“Last night,” he cleared his throat, “a tragedy struck our community. We lost a citizen, Jessica Hayes, well before her time. She was murdered in what should’ve been a safe place—her place of business.

“Right now, we are still working to build a timeline around her death. Anyone who has any leads as to what may’ve happened there at The Southern Depot last night are urged to call into our community hotline.”

Immediately, another red banner appeared below him with the hotline number.

“For the time being, The Southern Depot will be closed. And I’m sorry, but at this time, we will not be disclosing any further details. We ask that our community comes together, not only in mourning, but to bring justice for Jessica.”

Disappointed that I had waited all day for literally no information, I turned the TV off. I threw the remote down on the floor in a small fit of rage. The back came loose and the batteries both scattered across the wooden floor.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

The door rattled. I nearly fell out of the couch, I was so startled. But only one person I knew knocked on the door like that.

“Mom, use your key!” I hollered. “Come on in.”

Her face was sure to crumple at that.

Keys jingled outside, and she must’ve used the wrong one twice. I smirked despite myself.

“Really, Allison? Is that how you greet your guests now?”

“No, Mom, that’s just how I greet you.”

I didn’t bother getting off the couch.

She slipped her shoes off at the door, her arms full. She carried a large teal purse in one arm—the kind that could double as a carry-on bag on an airline. And in her other arm was the unmistakable yellow plastic baggy of BF’s Curb Market.

Thank goodness. Mom came bearing gifts, or one gift, depending on if it was eaten in one or two sittings—a pint of Chunky Monkey. A cure-all. Boy problems, Chunky Monkey. Bad day at work, Chunky Monkey. Ugly comments online from trolls… You guessed it, Chunky Monkey.

A love of ice cream wasn’t the only thing we shared. I looked a whole lot like my mother, with only slight variations from my dad. She’s brunette where it isn’t graying. Not that I didn’t find the occasional gray hair, but those were plucked out on sight where Mom’s grew in wide strands around her face. It made her look dignified, or it would if she didn’t like to wear gaudy sets of reading glasses picked up at the Dollar Store—ten pairs could be found in that massive purse at any given time.

Our eyes were both brown. And where Mom’s nose was long and thin, mine was round.

She walked across the room straight for me, bent down, and I was quickly enveloped in a hug. I didn’t know how badly I needed that hug until my mom’s arms wrapped tightly around me. My head went straight to her shoulder.

Then the tears started flowing.

“Now, now, Allie. It’s going to be okay. I mean it’s not going to be O-K. But you are. Honestly, why couldn’t you have given that poor girl and her husband at least three forks?”

Snorting a bit, then choking on my own snot, I said, “Come on, Mom. If I knew this was going to happen, I would’ve given them four.” I wasn’t saying I gave them a bad review, just that after that had happened, I wished I given them more than I did.

“Why would someone do this to her? Really, who would be so vicious?” I asked.

“Sweetie, I don’t know. That’s for the police to figure out. There will be justice. I’m downright sure of it.”

That was a comforting thought. A marginally comforting thought. It gave me the creeps just thinking that right now there was a killer on the loose in my small town.

Peeling the plastic off of the top of our pint had never felt so therapeutic. “Kate’s working the case,” I told Mom. “So hopefully she’ll keep me in the loop with it all.”

“She always does, sweetie. She always does,” Mom reassured.

Bite-by-bite we devoured all the creamy banana goodness. It eased our sorrows, even if it was only by a microscopic amount.

“Do you need me to stay the night?” Mom asked. “You know I will. All you have to do is ask.”

“No, Mom,” I said, “I’m going to go to bed right this minute. You’ve got to get home to your puppies. Just tuck me in, and we’ll talk tomorrow.”

Most adults might be embarrassed to be tucked in by their mommy. Not me. Nothing beat it. With a kiss on my forehead, she bid me adieu.

Jessica needs justice, I thought, and then turned the pillow over, resting my head on the coolness of this fresh side.

My mother locked the front door with a click. Her keys jingled off into the distance.

* * *

TO: Foodie Allison <allie@lanaigazette.com>

FROM: Concern <redacted>

SUBJECT: Slander
Dear Allie,

I just wanted to say your review on that steak place in Thomasville was spot on. However, yesterday’s review should be struck from the record. How dare you slander that poor girl!

I’ve been a subscriber to the Gazette for twenty-eight years. I don’t know if I can support it another day with writing such as that.
Sincerely,

Concerned Citizen

Chapter 3

A night of fretful sleep meant I was in desperate need of a caffeine fix. And I wasn’t the only one. A text from Kate came earlier than usual. Only one word.
Coffee?
About twenty minutes later, the door jingled behind me as I walked into The Java Hutt. The one and only coffeehouse Lanai had to offer. The place had the coziest vibe. The music was at just the right level, enough to be heard but not interrupt. The chairs were actually meant for sitting. And the smell. Oh, the smell.

Kate glanced up from her latte and offered me a confident smile—or at least the same million-dollar grin as seen on TV. It was a welcome sight after the mentally tough day prior.

Another wonderful thing about The Java Hutt was I didn’t even have to order my drink by name.

“The usual,” I said, smiling briskly.

Gertie, the barista, just nodded. She whipped up my regular caramel macchiato and called my name almost as quickly as I’d ordered. I took the paper cup by its warm center and grabbed the cozy chair across from Kate, sinking down into it with the hot coffee steaming like a sauna in my face.

“I know you knew her…” Kate’s smile vanished. “But you weren’t really friends, right? Listen to me,” she said, flustered. “What I’m getting at, or trying to, is are you okay?”

“Not really,” I admitted. “It’s strange. I know. But I knew Jessica my whole life—or most of it. It’s crazy for her to be gone, and in those circumstances. Maybe I’m just feeling bad about that two forks review…”

“You have nothing to feel guilty about,” Kate insisted. “I was there with you. That was a two forks dinner if I’ve ever had one. Cross my heart, hope to die.” Kate said it with a wink. Then she realized her mistake and made a funny face.

“Too soon!” I said, chuckling at her misstep. “Thanks though. The timing is the worst.”

“But is there ever a good time for someone to die?” Kate contended. “No. But it happens. It happens every day.”

I nodded back to her.

Kate had a special place in my heart. She was always dependable. And she was great at helping to solve personal problems. She just didn’t get overly emotional about things. It’s probably why she was so good at her job. She’s as objective as they come.

Jingle. Jingle.

Another customer came inside the shop. It must have been a man, a very handsome man because Kate’s eyes widened, and a smile spread across her cheeks.

Turning to see who it was, I discovered I had no idea. I’d never seen him before. The badge on his hip gave me a clue. I just couldn’t remember what she’d said his name was.

Kate’s eyes weren’t liars. He was handsome. Tall, dark, and dreamy. The fairy tale kind of handsome. He placed an order at the register. Then he walked over to our table.

Typical Kate, just one smile, and the guys come running.

“Good morning,” Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome said. “It’s Kate, isn’t it?”

“That’s right. Kate McCallister. From last night.” She nodded. Kate’s smile never faltered. “Fancy seeing you two days in a row,” she said. “Oh, and this is my good friend, Allison Treadwell.”

“Nice to meet you.” My hand instinctively shot out to shake his, and an eager school girl’s grin graced my face.

He smiled, and I have to say, his smile was better than Kate’s.

“Hello, Allison. I’m Detective Javier Portillo. It is nice to meet you.” His voice was as smooth as velvet and deep like an ocean. His strong hand enveloped mine, and I’ll admit I might’ve gotten lost in the moment.

His sweet patchouli scent wafting in my direction knocked me back to reality. Kate must’ve seen me swoon—she gave me a suggestive wink behind Javier’s back.

“So, is there anything you can actually tell me about the case today?” Kate asked, drawing the detective’s attention back to her. “I mean, besides who the victim is and where she was found? We know those facts already. Everyone in town does.”

Kate wasn’t playing games. She was usually good at getting answers. She scooped her town rival, Clara Clearwater, weekly. But Javier Portillo appeared to be her kryptonite.

Handsome Javier sat down adjacent to us, and he pulled a little notebook out of his pocket. He flicked through the pages and came to a stop with his thumb. He completely disregarded Kate’s question.

Kate’s jaw clenched, and she took a hasty sip of coffee.

He raised his eyes to meet mine. “Allison Treadwell?” he asked, looking as if the name rang some bells. “The Allison Treadwell of the Lanai Gazette?”

I nodded cautiously. “Freelance, but yes.”

“Actually, you’re just the lady I was looking for. I have a few questions for you.” He barely glanced around but made a show of doing so. “Though it might be a little too crowded here right now. Do you mind joining me at the station?”

“Umm, no, that’s fine,” I answered, hoping it was only me who heard the tremor in my voice. “Meet you there, though, right? I don’t have to be escorted or anything, do I?”

“Why?” he asked speculatively. “Do I need to bring you in with me? You ready to confess to something?”

“No. No,” I said. “I’ll definitely make it there on my own.”

My response was good enough for him.

“Great. Thanks!” He smiled again. He nodded a goodbye to Kate and me, and in one flowing motion lifted himself from the chair and made his way out, of the coffee shop.

Floored, I looked at Kate. “What on earth does he need to ask me? And why?”

Kate pursed her lips. It was obvious that she was still perturbed that the detective had just blown her off.

“I don’t usually sugarcoat things,” she said, “so, I won’t now. You know Jessica. You two had a history—even if it’s an ancient history. And your negative review came out around the same time as her body was discovered. They need to make sure you had nothing to do with it. Rock-solid alibi, no motives, that kind of thing.”

Never before had I been so glad to have an investigative reporter for a friend. At least I knew what to expect when I got down there.

“You do have one, right?”

“One what?”

“A rock-solid alibi…”

“Yeah.” I sighed, thinking. “I’m a single girl, just turned thirty. I totally have one of those. I mean, does Netflix count?”

“Sure, that probably counts.” She smirked. “And Allison, please do something with your hair. Throw on some lip gloss. I saw the way you looked at him.”

“It wasn’t just me,” I countered.

She rolled her eyes.

I stood up biting my lip and pushing a piece of stray hair behind my ear nervously. I was ready for my date with destiny. Well, at least a questioning with a handsome detective. That would have to do for today.

“And don’t wear your running shoes!” Kate called out.

“I like my running shoes. And what’s wrong with a ponytail?” I asked under my breath, the door closing behind me.

The warm summer slash autumn Georgia air hit my face and my hair. But I would take a shred of Kate’s advice. The perfect pink lip gloss was hidden somewhere in my purse. And I was confident if I actually put in some effort this time, digging down to the utter depths of the purse, I’d find it.