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Maggie couldn’t be more content with life. Her new microbrewery, Bunker Hops, was thriving after a year’s long hard haul, and now they had plenty of new orders in the books. Business was in full swing. The murder conspiracy last summer had plagued her first attempt at opening. But that was now behind her and things were looking up. For that, she felt grateful that people had faith in her and her business.

It was a balmy night, as summer hadn’t quite ended yet. Maggie was thankful for that too, as her new autumn brew wasn’t quite ready. This year’s summer brew, Tea Green, had done much better than last year’s. The Citrus Zap of last summer had been launched late in the season because of the homicides in town. Her autumn and winter brews were always a little moreish. This year’s would have flavours of pumpkin and maple syrup. It should go down well over the colder season.

Her best friend, Naomi, had popped in for a chat about an hour before and offered to help lock up the brewery. She was busy closing down the front end of the brewery, where the public entrance was situated. There were taster areas with large comfy couches, and also a small shop, though the tasting area was catered for invited guests, and not run as an open bar. They didn’t have a licence for that yet.

Maggie was closing the large double doors where the delivery vans loaded up. She was surprised her head brewer, Charlie, hadn’t closed them earlier, but it had been a warm day. As she went to flick on the switch for the outside light in the car park, she noticed that Cooper, her loyal and devoted dog, was nowhere in sight.

With the light now illuminating the car park, she could see where the concrete car park met the rough lands at the back. Behind her brewery was an open rough area where they'd pulled down a large building. No doubt Cooper had spotted something and given chase. When she heard his bark, it confirmed her suspicions and she whistled for him to return.

As she finished locking the delivery doors from the inside, she stepped back outside through a smaller door built into the larger door. As she did so, Cooper came running up to her.

“Where you been, boy?” she greeted him.

She could see that he had something hanging from his mouth. Taking a closer look, it resembled an item of old clothing, so she instructed him to drop it. Aware that young adults often hung out at the back, she assumed they got up to all sorts of mischief, as young people did.

“What is it, Mr Cooper? Give it here,” she commanded, and he dropped the rag on the floor, whining back at her.

Maggie picked it up and went to put it in a rubbish bin, but something about it caught her attention. Taking it inside, where the lighting was brighter, she inspected the rag.

“Naomi, come in here a minute, will you?” she called out.

“I’m done in the front anyway,” Naomi’s voice came to her as her friend stepped into the large brewing area.

“Come and look at this,” Maggie said. “I'm sure it’s got blood on it.”

“Eww... Where did that thing come from?” Naomi asked, scrunching up her nose at it.

“Cooper brought it in from the spare land at the back. What do you make of it?”

“Could be kids, cut themselves playing out there,” Naomi shrugged.

“I’m getting a torch," Maggie announced, heading over to some large torches hanging on hooks. "I'm off to a look around, or I’ll never sleep with this on my mind.”

“Oh no, here we go, again, Maggie Marple Investigations,” Naomi laughed, but she followed anyway.

“Whatever do you mean?” Maggie smiled, knowing full well what she meant. Only months earlier she had helped the police bring a dangerous criminal to justice.

Maggie called Cooper over. With the torch shining a beam of light in front of them, they made their way into the open land. Putting the rag to his nose again, she left him to walk off, hoping he might lead her to wherever he had found it.

They stumbled over loose bricks and rubble, large weeds, and broken glass. Eventually, Cooper stopped while Maggie and Naomi shone their torchlight around on the ground.

“Look, there!” Maggie called out, shining her torch on a pile of what looked like rubbish. “It looks like the same material as this rag.”

Maggie approached it with caution. There was something about the pile that filled her with dread. Scenes from an array of horror movies flitted through her mind, and she wondered what she was doing out in this open land in the dark. Was she going crazy?

Using her foot, she reached out to prod the pile: it was solid. Leaning in to take a closer look, she soon realised what it was. It caused her to jump back in horror as a squeal of shock escaped her lips.

“What’s up?” Naomi called over, moving closer to Maggie.

“I… I'm sure that pile… is… it’s a person,” Maggie said with a quiver in her voice. “I’m sure it’s a dead body,” she added.

Naomi approached the pile too, certain it was only Maggie's overactive imagination. Leaning over, she took hold of the material and slowly pulled on it. As she did, the object was revealed. Naomi found herself looking into the staring eyes of a dead woman.

Chapter 1

Summer was drawing to a close and September had arrived, along with a new season. Maggie had just finished creating a new recipe for a seasonal ale, ‘Mellow Yellow’. Her head brewer, Charlie, was busy mixing the first batch of the new autumn recipe. The aroma of pumpkins was permeating the whole brewery, as well as a malty chocolate smell. The perfect mix for the autumn season.

Entering the public area of the shop to open up, Maggie could see a hazy silhouette standing at the other side of the door. Unlocking it, she opened up to greet what she thought was a potential customer; except it was DI Ted Shaw.

“Ah,” Maggie said, half surprised to see him standing there. “So, it's you who's assigned to the case of the poor dead woman, is it?”

“The only other available detective is away on training,” DI Shaw replied, though he said it with a pleasant enough smile. “Mmm... that’s a tantalising smell coming from the brewery,” he added, as he took in a deep sniff of the lovely smell.

“That, DI Shaw, is the smell of Halloween and Bonfire Night. It’s my new autumn brew, ‘Mellow Yellow’, do you like it?”

“Yes, I get the notes of cinnamon, and… erm… is that pumpkin in there too?” Shaw asked as he followed Maggie into the brewery part of the building, situated behind the shop. “If it tastes as good as it smells, I’m sure it will go down a treat. ”

“Don’t worry, you’ll be invited to the launch when it’s ready.” Maggie smiled. “Now then, back to why you're here. Where shall we begin?”

"I’ve come to see if you can take me through your steps last night,” he said, raising his bushy eyebrows.

“The last time this happened, we were all dragged off to the police station,” she said, a little cynicism in her tone. “At least you’re not doing that to me this time.”

“To be fair, Miss Hopps, your cousin's body was found on your premises. That made all your staff, and you, immediate suspects on that occasion,” DI Shaw explained. "This time it’s a little different but you will still be under scrutiny, so expect to be questioned, along with your friend..."

“Hmm… well I'm not letting anything dampen my mood today or it might sour our new brew. Okay, I’ll take you through what happened.”

“It’s hard to believe that was only last summer, and here we are again in a similar situation,” DI Shaw uttered.

Maggie didn’t feel that she needed to reply to that and continued walking through the brewery. She waved over to Charlie, who had a radio blasting out music. He was busy measuring out the various malts.

Maggie might have preferred to stay at home today, as she’d only finished coming to terms with the murder of her mysterious cousin. Although she hadn’t even known the man, it had caused a great deal of turmoil between her and her mother. The finding of another body was bringing the memory of it all back again.

Once the investigation had ended, along with the arrest of the culprits, she’d spoken with her parents about her mum's secret half-sister. A would-be aunt for Maggie, and a cousin whom she’d never known. The secrecy had rubbed Maggie the wrong way. She'd always believed her parents were open about everything. That clearly wasn't the case and it had caused a rift between them.

Even her dad was in her bad books because he had known all along about his wife’s half-sister and had said nothing to Maggie. With her mind concentrating on building up her micro-brewing business, she’d been far too busy. That was her excuse for staying away from them, even though they lived in the same town.

“You know, I always regretted suspecting you of murdering your cousin back then.” Shaw broke her thoughts as he spoke. “Of course, it didn’t take me long to realise that it wasn’t you, but I couldn’t let you know that. A police officer’s work is often secretive. We can’t share information, even when we want to.”

“I know, Ted. You don’t have to explain it to me.” Maggie smiled back at him as she took him outside. They went through the large open doors that led onto the car park for deliveries.

“So, here’s where it was,” Maggie went on to explain the finding of the girl’s body the previous evening. “Cooper disappeared back there on the wasteland. When I called him, he arrived back with a bloodstained rag in his mouth. We followed him to see where he’d found it, though it was hard to make it out in the dark. Eventually, we stumbled on the body and called the police. That’s all there is to tell,” Maggie finished.

“When you say ‘we’ you mean yourself and Naomi Abbot?” Shaw asked, with a pen and notebook in his hand.

“Yes. And as you can see, her body was right there, covered by that tent,” Maggie said. She pointed over to where the forensics were finishing up gathering evidence at the scene of the crime.

“Naomi told me that she thought the woman had a head injury, so I assume you both touched the body?” Shaw asked in a serious tone.

“No, I wouldn’t go anywhere near it,” Maggie replied. “I’d had enough of that with my cousin’s death, and then Donna Cass.”

“Yes, I can understand that,” Shaw sympathised.

“Do you know the cause of death yet?” Maggie enquired.

“What did I say about police officers not giving out information?” Shaw replied, tapping the side of his nose as if it were a big secret.

“Well, I doubt she hit herself on the head,” Maggie said, pointing out the obvious. "All that blood points to another murder in my view, Detective."

“Yes, I’m afraid you’re right,” Shaw finally admitted. “Though we haven’t given the press much in the way of details yet. As of this moment in time, we haven’t released any personal details of the deceased. The press isn't even aware that it’s a suspected murder either. So, I’d appreciate you keeping that to yourself.”

“I wouldn’t speak to the press anyway. Though you do realise that it won’t be long before the locals put two and two together. I wouldn’t hang on to that information for too long,” she warned the detective. “They’re a canny lot, and they’ll soon realise who’s missing.”

“Until we’ve received the full report from forensics, my hands are tied," Ted told her. "The cause of death is still open until we have proof. So, lips must stay sealed,” he said, making a zip motion with his fingers over his mouth.

“Of course it’s murder. How can you think otherwise?” Maggie asked, surprised.

“By teatime today, we’ll be releasing a public statement to the media. All I’m only asking is that you don't discuss it with anyone for a few more hours, that’s all,” Shaw stated.

“I hope you find the killer soon,” Maggie spoke her feelings. “I’m not sure how the locals of Gosdown will take to the thought of another killer on the loose.”

“I know, who’d have thought it, eh?” Shaw sighed. “Three homicides over two years, all within the vicinity of this brewery. I imagine you’ll get a hard time about this, from the media, that is. So be ready for it.”

“When I saw it was a woman, my thoughts went straight to Donna Cass. The last woman to be murdered in this town.” Maggie spoke with a sadness in her voice. “I remember how the press and some of the townsfolk turned against me. I coped then, and I’m sure I'll manage this time too. You don’t need to worry about me.”

“You're a brave woman Maggie Hopps. I’ve seen many a big man crumble under the gaze of media scrutiny. That reminds me, I’ve heard that you’ve had a fall out with your parents over the whole secret cousin thing?” Shaw probed.

“Kind of. It’ll blow over. That’s it with loved ones, isn’t it, you soon forgive and forget their actions.”

“Good, that’s what I like to hear. A positive attitude.” Shaw smiled. “Right, then, I’d better be getting over to the crime scene. Thanks, Maggie. I’ve got your full statement, but I wanted to check with you personally. Let you know it's me on the case.”

“Thank you Detective, I’m sure you’ll soon be back to ask me a million more questions.”

“You’re most likely right on that one. Anyway, I know where to find you. Bye Maggie.”

Maggie watched the detective as he made his way across the wasteland. There weren't so many people left at the crime scene now. As she stood there paralysed, she was thinking of the poor victim. It was a breeze of wind that brought her to her senses, along with the smell of brewing hops. She turned and headed back inside. Maggie wanted the autumn brew to get out on the shelves on time, so she needed to get back to concentrating on work.

Chapter 2

That night Maggie found it difficult to push aside thoughts of homicide. Graphic images of the woman's blank eyes staring back at her as they had been illuminated by the torch, kept flashing through her mind.

The poor woman, she didn’t deserve to die in such a violent way. Questions were forming in her mind, as curiosity got the better of her. Was the woman murdered right under her nose? Or was she murdered elsewhere and dumped in that lonely spot?

It brought back memories of that haunting scream on that dreadful night, the night that Donna Cass, a local journalist, was murdered. Poor Donna, she hadn’t deserved to die either. What about the families left behind when people were murdered? It was so unfair.

That was it. Her mind made up, she picked up her phone to call Naomi. Without thinking, she stroked Cooper’s ear as he lay by her side on the sofa.

"Oh, Mr Cooper, you are such a faithful furry friend," she muttered in his ear as she heard her ringtone.

“Hey Maggie, how you doing?” Naomi’s voice came over the phone as she picked up the call at the other end.

“Hmmm… not too good right now. I’m feeling a terrible sadness over what has happened, even though I never knew the woman,” Maggie replied. “Will you go with me to give our condolences to the family tomorrow? I kind of feel that the people left behind in these circumstances are often forgotten. What do you think?”

“I knew the daughter more than the parents, but yes, if it helps you to cope with what happened, let’s do it,” Naomi agreed.

“I know you see death a lot as a nurse, but doesn’t it bother you more when it’s in your own town?”

“I felt terrible when we found her, but I guess I can switch off easier than you do. Besides, you’re right, it’s the people left behind that need the support, so I’m in. I can manage tomorrow, it's my day off.”

They agreed that Maggie would pick Naomi up, and they’d go together to the victim’s home. Maggie had convinced herself it wasn’t an intrusion. This was a small town and the residents needed to support each other.

Within ten minutes of collecting Naomi, Maggie was soon pulling up her blue VW Beetle car and staring at a traditional thatched cottage.

Naomi had brought along a beautiful bouquet of sweetly fragranced flowers. Maggie found it very thoughtful of her, making her feel a little guilty that she hadn’t brought anything. Knowing Naomi as well as Maggie did, she knew it was something her friend would do as second nature.

Naomi knocked on the white wooden front door. Maggie noticed the weathered antique-looking black T-hinges, lending the door an aged appearance. They didn’t have to wait long, as the door was suddenly opened.

“Hello, Mr Holzen,” Naomi said in greeting. “I… we would like you to know that we’re so sorry for your recent loss. I knew your daughter, Amy, from school. We wanted to offer our condolences and check if you needed anything.”

Mr Holzen stared back at them with tired, baggy eyes. Maggie guessed he must have been in his late fifties but thought he had striking features for his age. She interjected by holding out her hand in greeting, and he automatically accepted the handshake.

“I’m Maggie Hopps," she said, giving him a business card for Bunker Hops. "I want you to know that if there’s anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to call me. My number’s on there.”

Naomi felt a little uneasy at Maggie’s business-style greeting, so it was a good moment to hand over the flowers.

“We’ve brought these flowers as a mark of respect,” Naomi said as the man reached out to accept her offering.

“That’s thoughtful of you, but I need nothing,” he said.

“In case you’re wondering why we’ve turned up on your doorstep, out of the blue," Maggie began. "We were... erm... How to put this... the ones who found your wife,” she finished.

Naomi loved Maggie dearly, but sometimes she could throttle her for her insensitivity. That was information a grieving husband did not need to know.

“What my friend means is...," Naomi said, hoping to smooth over Maggie’s forthrightness. "We didn’t like to think of you all alone in your grief, so we came to make sure you had support. Is Amy home, by the way?”

“No… no, she doesn’t live in this town anymore,” Mr Holzen replied. “She knows what's happened. I'm sure she’ll be coming home soon.”

“Did your wife…” Maggie began, but Naomi knew all too well that her friend was about to stumble into uncharted territory. It was time to intervene.

“As my friend said," Naomi smiled. "Please don’t hesitate to call us if there’s anything you need help with.”

“Yes,” Maggie cut in. “We wanted to let you know that you’re not alone in this terrible tragedy. There are lots of people around you who care.”

Mr Holzen nodded, but he didn’t smile. It was clear that his mind was elsewhere as he closed the door.

Naomi took Maggie’s arm and led her down the garden path, away from the house. She walked around the car to climb into the passenger side and said nothing until Maggie was sitting in the driver’s seat.

“What the heck was all that?” she was quick to reprimand her pushy friend. “You can’t go telling a grieving husband that you found his wife’s body! You only wanted to go so you could probe around, didn’t you?” Naomi asked.

“No… but it might have helped if you’d have let me,” Maggie said, wondering why Naomi was so annoyed with her.

“You and your Miss Marple head,” Naomi uttered. “The poor man’s grieving. Anyway, why are you so curious?”

“Aren’t you?” Maggie asked, turning on the engine.

“No. You've got enough curiosity for the both of us,” Naomi said curtly, but she knew her friend well and was aware that Maggie didn’t mean anything hurtful. That’s how Maggie’s mind worked all time, forever probing, asking questions.

“I do feel for him, but do you know how often it’s the husband who’s the killer in situations like this?” Maggie said without blinking an eye.

“You can’t go around accusing people of murder,” Naomi said.

“I’m not,” Maggie said as if those words had stung her. “But…”

“There’s always a but with you," Naomi said. She was glad that she’d dragged her friend away before her insensitive questions ran away with her. "For that, you can buy me lunch, so I can tell you how insensitive you can be sometimes.”

Cooper whined in the back of the car as he sensed two of his favourite people were raising their voices.

“Oh, baby," Maggie said in a light tone, looking at her dog through the rear-view mirror. "At least you still love me, don’t you?”

“I love you too," Naomi pointed out. "But you’re too pushy. You should have become a detective, not a brewer.”

“Can’t I be both?” Maggie asked, smiling at her best friend. “If I buy you lunch, will you forgive me?”

Chapter 3

Maggie’s brain was like the cogs of an old-fashioned clock, ticking and whirring as time moved on. With every turn of the wheel, she had a question. Luckily the new business had kept her out of mischief. She’d been busy getting her brewery website and blog up and running. But it still wasn’t enough to stop Maggie from wondering over the ‘whys’ and ‘what-fors’ of this murder.

With that in mind, Maggie had decided to find out more about the victim, Tina Holzen. There was very little information about her online. She'd found a small mention of her as an employee at her place of work. Plus, a few pictures on her daughter’s Facebook account. The best place to start would be her place of work.

Parking on the high street, she strolled purposefully along, a woman on a mission. As Tina worked for a PR company, Maggie had the perfect ruse lined up as she opened the door to the office.

A young man dressed in a suit, minus the jacket, approached her. He introduced himself as Frank, along with a rather cheesy smile. No doubt he got a commission for every client he managed to sign.

“Hi Frank,” Maggie returned his smile. “I’m Maggie Hopps, I own Bunker Hops, the new microbrewery in town. I’m in great need of help with publicity. My friend recommended your company. Do you think you can help me?”

Another cheesy smile and he led her to his desk in the modern designed office space. Each worker had a booth with prospect dividers so they could see each other. It created a sense of space but gave them all privacy too. He pulled up a chair into his booth so they could chat.

“Of course we can help you.” He beamed, and it seemed that he wore a big grin on his face all the time. “It must be very exciting running a brewery and we’d love to get involved with your publicity. There are many things we can do for you, Miss Hopps.”

“Oh, I’m so pleased,” she replied, with a straight face; all this forced smiling was making her cheeks ache. “I knew one of your colleagues and I’m so sorry about what’s happened to her,” she added, watching for his response.

“You mean that you knew poor Tina,” he said, raising his voice so it attracted the attention of other staff in the office. For a few frozen seconds, it seemed that everyone looked their way. “Oh, it’s shocking what’s happened to her, and we’re all devastated, aren’t we guys?” he said, standing up to include his colleagues in the conversation. “Do you know about any of the details?” he added, showing his curiosity. "We hardly know anything about what happened to her."

Other coworkers were gathering around his desk. They seemed to have a morbid curiosity about their murdered colleague.

“She was a bit religious," a dark-haired, middle-aged woman remarked. "I know that she went to church just about every week. But she was a kind person too. I’m Rosie," the woman said as she looked at Maggie. "I was her assistant, so I knew her pretty well.”

“Yes, she was very quiet, you know," Frank added as he nodded his head in agreement with Rosie's words. "Not the type of boss who’s in your face all the time. Whoever hurt her deserves the death penalty if you ask me.”

“You say she was your boss?” Maggie asked, hoping they wouldn’t realise that she didn’t know a thing about Tina Holzen.

“She worked so hard for that promotion,.” Rosie was the one to reply. As she spoke she also turned to look over at a small office in the corner, with glass walls.

“Don’t you think that she started acting a bit odd though, once she got promoted?” an oldish, balding guy joined in. “I, for one, was getting a bit concerned about her. I wondered if the new responsibilities were too much for her?”

“No way, Eddie,” Rosie cut in. “How could you say that? She could do her job with a blindfold on. I'm more inclined to believe that something personal was bothering her. Something was going on at home, perhaps.”

“Well, it never helped that Emma was always in her shadow, did it?" Frank tutted, showing annoyance. "That woman was promoted before Tina’s even been buried. It's not right!” he added indignantly.

“How did Emma even get that promotion anyway?" Eddie asked. "She’s not even English. Bloomin' Eastern Europeans taking a job that should've been for one of us.” He joined in the 'Emma' bashing.

It seemed to Maggie that Emma wasn’t very popular among her colleagues. Was it because of racial issues, Tina’s death, or simply a case that Emma wasn’t a nice person? Although it annoyed her a little, these little towns never took to outsiders and that included anyone who came from over five miles away, let alone another country.

“Yeah,” Rosie continued. “Because she's Eastern European, her English isn't very good. How she got such a well-paid job is anyone's guess? It should definitely have gone to one of us.”

“Ha-ha… You’re so naïve, Rosie,” Frank smirked. “She’ll have been doing certain favours for the big boss, that’s how.”

“Never!” Rosie said with shock in her voice as her eyes went wide. “Do you think so?”

“We know so.” Frank gave one of his well-practiced huge grins.

All the while, no one noticed that Maggie wasn’t joining in the conversation. She sat very still, taking it all in. This lot seemed to have a great need to get something off their chests and it was great that they were doing it in front of her. Between them, they were helping her to build a picture of the office politics where Tina worked.

Finally, she managed to get a word in. “Who’s Emma?”

“Only the promotion grabber that took Tina’s job,” Eddie replied. “To be fair she’s been in the country about three years, but she's only been with us for about eight months. She’s always flirting with everyone.”

“I agree, Emma Poehler is a tart, and I have the misfortune of having to work closely with her.” Rosie frowned. “That’s her over there,” she added, pointing to the glass-walled office.

“It doesn’t seem right that she’s in Tina's office so soon,” Eddie said as he turned to walk back to his desk.

Everyone else returned to their workstations, while Maggie remained seated at Frank’s desk.

“Look, this has got me all emotional,” she said to Frank, looking for an excuse to leave. “I’ll come back, and we can talk about marketing then. Don’t get up, I’ll see myself out.”

“I understand, we're all a bit upset over poor Tina's death so don’t let this office chatter put you off. We’re a good team and we can do a great job of promoting your business.”

Frank didn’t get up from his seat, which allowed Maggie to leave the office via a different route. It was a busy office and everyone was either on a phone or looking at computer screens. It meant she could pass by the glass office and see if she could speak with Emma.

As she strolled through the open office space, she wondered why the staff were so antagonized by Emma replacing Tina. Was it really because she was seen as an outsider? Or were there other reasons underpinning their dislike of her?

She knew all too well that people living in a small town often behaved in such a gossipy way. Although she’d grown up here, she had managed to move out and live in London for a while. Yet, when she returned, it took her ages to feel like she belonged again.

Knocking on the glass door, Maggie noted the name on the door was Emma Poehler. On a whim, Maggie opened the closed office door without being invited in.

“Hi, I’ve been speaking with Frank over there, and I wondered if I could make an appointment to come and see you?” Maggie said the first thought that came into her head. She had to make her visit look legitimate.

As it turned out, it was a wasted effort because Emma was putting on her coat, readying to leave.

“Absolutely not,” Emma said scowling down her nose at Maggie. “I have a meeting to attend. No time to talk if you have no appointment now.”

Maggie noted that she did speak broken English as her colleagues had pointed out. The woman pushed her way past Maggie, who hadn’t managed to get any further than the doorway. Emma almost knocked her over in her rush to get past her.

Maggie looked on as Emma disappeared out of the office, giving her no apology. No wonder her work colleagues hadn’t taken to her, she had a very rude attitude. Gathering herself together, she left the office too, seeing no sign of Emma outside.

Maggie had an appointment herself: she was due to have lunch with Naomi. First, she had to pop home and pick up Cooper who needed a walk.

Chapter 4

There was a winter chill blowing outside, so Maggie and Naomi chose to sit indoors at their regular artisan coffee shop. Cooper was quick to settle on the floor beneath the table. There he would remain quiet, eagerly awaiting any crumbs which he would be quick to clear up.

“How’s Tony, I haven’t seen him in a while?” Maggie asked about Naomi’s boyfriend.

“We’re thinking of moving in together, but that would leave Mum on her own so I haven’t decided yet,” Naomi explained her dilemma.

“How’s his business doing? Owning a chain of sport shops has to be lucrative, no?”

“He said something about leaning more towards the warehouse and online orders. He still has four shops open though,” Naomi informed her friend. “We don’t talk much about work or business when we’re together, we have better things to do,” Naomi smiled, visualising her handsome boyfriend.

“You’ll both have to pop into the brewery to taste my autumn pale ale before the launch,” Maggie suggested, as the waitress arrived. “I value Tony’s opinions on my brews, I always find them helpful.”

Alison, their usual waitress, asked to take their orders.

“Oh, my, your bump's grown since we last saw you,” Naomi called out, a little surprised at how far into her pregnancy Alison was now.

Alison rubbed at her tummy. “Not long to go now,” she added, with pride written all over her beaming face.

“Do you know if it's a boy or a girl?” Naomi asked.

“Nope, it’s our first one, so we resisted the temptation. I don’t care what it is, I’m well prepared for both,” Alison informed them.

“Let us know when you have a baby shower. We'd like to come along. For now, we’ll have our usual, please: two cheese and pepperoni toasties. Also, we'll take the latest single origin coffee bean variety you’ve got on the board,” Maggie ordered for both of them.

Alison wrote the order on her pad and promised to invite them to her baby shower party, and then left them to chat.

“You know,” Naomi began. “I was speaking to Tony’s ex-wife this morning and I realised that I’ve never met her face-to-face, isn’t that odd?”

“Odd? It would be odd if you wanted to meet her! It’s a quirky affair when you speak about your partner's ex as though she’s a friend, if you ask me,” Maggie replied. “Are they even divorced yet?”

“Yes, that went through last spring, but I still speak with her now and then. We became like phone buddies, if there is such a thing,” Naomi joked.

They chatted some more about Naomi and Tony moving in together. At some point Maggie caught Naomi giving Cooper a piece of crust from her toasty.

“Don’t do that,” Maggie reprimanded. “He’s getting lazy with all the weight he’s putting on, aren’t you Mr Cooper?” she said as she rubbed his soft, velvety ear. “It’s for your own good,” she added.

“No, he's not fat, right Mr Cooper?” Naomi disagreed as she coed at him. “If it hadn’t been for him and his enjoyment of running around, we wouldn’t have discovered Tina’s body. She could have been lying there for days before anyone came across her.”

“That reminds me,” Maggie said as Naomi’s words brought back the memory of yesterday's event. “I forgot to tell you that I called into Tina’s place of work yesterday.”

“Uh-oh. Where's this leading to?” Naomi couldn’t help but act suspicious when it came to her friend Maggie.

Maggie had a reputation for asking too many questions. Not that she was nosy or even a gossiper, because she wasn’t either of them. She was one of those people who had to intervene in a crisis and sort everything out.

“Once I found out where she worked, I called in on the pretext of looking for promo for the brewery,” Maggie explained.

“No, you didn’t!” Naomi said a little louder than she meant to.

The café was busy and the couple at the table next to them looked over.

“Of course I did,” Maggie said, with a little pride in her tone. “I discovered there was a jealous rivalry between Tina and a woman called Emma, who’s a bit of a blonde bombshell.”

“Office politics probably,” Naomi brushed it off. “Can’t see how that’s relevant.”

“Never disregard anyone who has a valid motive,” Maggie whispered as she leaned over the table a little.

“There you go again, Detective extravagant Maggie Hopps. Why don’t you leave it to the police?”

“Hah! I would be serving life in some abominable prison if I hadn’t helped them with the town’s last homicide,” Maggie said, indignantly.

“They’d have got there eventually,” Naomi pointed out.

“I wasn’t taking any chances. If I hadn’t gone undercover for them, they’d still be chasing that crooked politician. They'd been trying to prove his illegal habits for years and I caught him because of his cruelness.”

“Yes, I heard that Joan Ogden got herself five years in prison for her part in it all,” Naomi said.

“She got off light if you ask me. I know Jeffrey did all the killing, but Joan aided and abetted him, even if it was under duress. Anyway, at least Jeffrey got life,” Maggie uttered. “He was the one with the real mean streak.”

“What happened to Powell, the MP?” Naomi asked.

“His trial’s still ongoing. The investigation into the murders brought up lots of new evidence on his money laundering. I doubt we’ll be seeing him for many years to come.”

“At least one good thing came from the whole sordid affair. With the cancellation of the new shopping complex, the local authority decided to redevelop the old shops on Hopewell Lane. It's about time they spruced up that street.”

“Yes. It’s back to being the hub of artisans like it used to be. Only people rent the properties now because they’re owned by the council.”

“You heard from Jack lately?” Naomi asked, changing the subject. “You'd think that by now you two would be romantically involved.”

“Well, we’re not,” Maggie said, trying to hide an obvious disappointment in her tone. “I’ve told you a million times, our friendship is platonic. Anyway, he’s too busy growing the hops for my brews, so I don’t want to risk that relationship. He’s my most trusted supplier.”

“Can't your supplier also be your… erm… boyfriend? It isn’t hard to be both, is it?” Naomi teased.

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” Maggie said, shyly. “What about you moving in with Tony? Now that’s good gossip.”

“Yeah, but leaving my mum alone is what’s stopping me. She’s having a biopsy next week.”

“Oh, no, what do you think it is?”

“It’s in her throat. She keeps losing her voice and her appetite’s not good. As you can guess, it’s not a good time for me to be moving out,” Naomi sighed.

“That’s understandable, but I’m sure she’ll be fine by herself if you visit regularly,” Maggie suggested.

“Yeah, like you do? Isn’t it time you made up with your mum?” Naomi dared to bring up the sore subject.

“I can’t get over my parents keeping such important secrets from me, their own flesh and blood. It turned out that this aunt who's my mum’s secret half-sister died a few years back. It’s so sad how that part of my family’s gone, and I’ll never get to know them,” Maggie finished.

“Yes, but you still have your parents,” Naomi pleaded. “They haven’t gone anywhere, and they love you to bits, even if you are a crazy woman.”

“Look, I’m going to Jack’s tomorrow,” Maggie said, wiping her hands on a serviette. “One thing at a time. I’m a very busy woman, you know. It’s hard working for yourself, ask Tony!”

“Oh, and it’s not hard running a ward all hours of the night and day? I have a hard job too, but I still find time for my mum and my boyfriend. You have to make up with them, Maggie. You know you miss them, and so does Cooper here, don’t you baby?”

Cooper didn’t need an excuse to put his paw on Naomi’s lap, once he’d heard his name. He knew all too well that it meant fussing time.

“I have to go,” Maggie announced, putting her jacket on. “I’ll get the bill, but it’s your turn next time. Don’t forget to call me about a taster for my ‘Mellow Yellow’.”

They said their farewells and went their separate ways, both feeling good for spending time together. Maggie knew it was up to her to make up with her parents and Naomi was right, she did miss them, and so did Cooper.

This Mystery is a part of Maggie Hopps Cozy Mysteries Series!

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Murder Brew Mysteries Box Set 2
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