Authors: Anne R. Tan
© 2014 by Anne R. Tan
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Anne R. Tan
Author’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Men and Corpses
Book 1 of the Raina Sun Mystery series
Graduate student Raina Sun is trying to keep her head above water as the bills roll in when her dashing college adviser cons her out of several months of rent. But her quest to get her money back sets into a motion a streak of bad luck.
First, she finds the dead body of an ex-lover and becomes the prime suspect to his murder. The only man she ever loved reappears as the lead detective to the case and wants to reignite their passion (or at least he’s sending out smoke signals).
Her life careens out of control as her grandma moves into Raina’s postage-stamp-sized apartment, dragging a red suitcase and trouble.
Raina summons her sleuthing skills to extract herself before things get dicey. There is no place for an amateur when it comes to murder.
For readers who like cozy mysteries, quirky characters, and a dash of humor.
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for reminding me that dreams can fly,
but only if I give them wings.
against the coral restroom stall, Raina blotted the sweat off her face and wished for an attack of diarrhea or food poisoning. Anything to delay the upcoming confrontation, but delay was the last thing she could afford. She pulled her shirt away from her body and sniffed. No B.O. Just the industrial strength Pine-Sol and cloying lemon cleanser.
While she’d eventually recover from being a fool in love, no way would Raina let herself lose two thousand dollars to learn this lesson. Not when she had lawyer’s fees gobbling up her savings and bald tires giving her heart palpitations every time she got behind the wheel.
For the first time, Raina wished she were more physically commanding. Her petite frame wasn’t a real threat to anything larger than a pygmy goat and even then the claim was questionable. If only she were the type who walked around threatening to break people’s kneecaps as casually as some people cracked their knuckles. Holden would beg to pay her back then. It was time to up the ante and to pester him like a fly on a fresh pile of crap. She wasn’t walking out of this meeting empty handed.
Raina splashed water on her face and toweled it off, hoping it would reduce her flush. The trek from the bus stop to the history building in this August heat had turned her curly black hair into a fuzz ball. A Chinese girl with an Afro. Not exactly the image of a ballbuster. Grabbing the curly strands and stuffing them into a hair tie, she made one last attempt to look in control.
She glanced at her cell phone. Holden lived by his clock. He would be ruffled by the time she strolled through his office door ten minutes late. Taking a deep breath to calm her fluttering stomach, Raina banged open the restroom door in a show of bravado that echoed through the hall. A paunchy student glanced in her direction but returned to his study of the bulletin boards. She stalked into her graduate adviser’s office, prepared for a disparaging remark about her tardiness.
Holden continued scribbling on his yellow legal pad and gestured for her to have a seat. “Let me finish this thought.” He chewed on his pencil and wrote a couple more sentences.
Raina dropped onto the chair in front of his desk and folded her arms across her chest. So much for ruffling his feathers. The scratching of the pencil and the ticking clock tightened the knot in her stomach. She shifted in the chair, wondering how she should bring up the loan. Her upbringing had made discussing money taboo, and even as an adult she had trouble talking about it.
Just ask for the money back,
said a small voice in her head.
Her skin itched at the neatness in his office. Books were alphabetized by subject and authors’ last names on the shelves lining one wall. No crammed volumes on the space above the shelved books like in her apartment. On the opposite wall, framed covers of his published books hung in neat lines, forming a perfect grid. As in previous visits, she resisted the urge to nudge a frame by a small degree just to see how long it would take for him to notice.
A place for everything and everything in its place, just like the blond man with the crisp collared shirt sitting in front of her. The pale light filtering in from the dusty windows behind Holden gave him a tarnished halo. He was a tall man with strong shoulders and a confident aura. She’d once found his heavy-lidded brown eyes mesmerizing. Now he just looked tired, but he was still spit-and-polished within an inch of his life.
Holden placed the pencil on the center of the pad and folded his hands on the desk. He cleared his throat. “Have you decided which countries you want to focus on?”
Raina unclenched the twin fists resting on her lap. So he was going to pretend they were nothing more than professor and grad student. “Not yet. China and Japan look to be a good option.”
“Good choice. You’ll certainly have an advantage with your background. Unfortunately, you’ll need to take beginning language classes with the undergrads. Too bad most of the classes from your undergrad engineering degree are not applicable towards your graduate degree.” He turned to open the low filing cabinet underneath the window and pulled out several sheets of paper. “We need to declare your area of focus before the end of this semester.”
Raina scowled at his back. If he wanted to pretend nothing had happened between them over the summer, she could do the same…after she got her money back.
She smoothed her face and tugged at her earlobe. “My car is having problems. When can you pay me back?” Darn it. She sounded like a pansy.
Holden flashed a commercial-worthy smile. “Sorry. You’ll have to wait. I don’t get paid until the end of next week.” He scribbled on the margin on the top page of the pile and pushed the stack toward her. “Here’s the information for this semester.”
Raina took a deep breath to calm her rising irritation. He made it sound like she was asking him for favor. “That’s what you said last time. Why don’t you post-date a check for me? I’ll deposit it next week.”
“Sorry, I don't have my checkbook with me.”
She forced her face into a smile, hoping it would keep the anger from her voice. “Why don't you log into your bank online and post-date a bank check? I can wait.”
He tapped his pencil on the desk. “Look, I don’t have time—”
“I’m pregnant. I really need my money.” Raina widened her eyes for emphasis at “really.” She sagged against the chair. The knot in her chest tightened until it strangled her voice. Where did that lie come from?
Holden licked his lips and his knuckles whitened on the hand gripping the pencil. “I…I don’t know what to say. Are you sure?”
Raina nodded, not trusting her voice.
, said a voice in her head. She cleared her throat and opened her mouth. To do what? Threaten to expose their affair or explain the lie? She closed her mouth, waiting for his next move.
They stared at each other, and the clock leisurely swallowed the minutes and filled the silence between them.
“The money?” Raina finally asked.
Heels clicked on the hallway floor and someone knocked on the opened door.
Holden jerked up like a tangled puppet, and his chair scuffed against the floor. He grabbed the pile of papers in front of her and knocked over the mahogany pencil caddy Raina had given him for his birthday.
Raina glanced behind her.
Gail, the history department’s secretary, stood at the door. Her thick brows were a tight line across her forehead. “Sorry to interrupt. Holden, you’re late for your meeting with the Dean. He’s waiting for you in the conference room.”
Holden squeezed Raina’s shoulder as he stepped around his desk. “We’ll finish our discussion later,” he whispered.
Raina stared openmouthed at his back. What was that about? The fluttering returned to her stomach. She resisted the urge to brush the feel of his hand from her shoulder.
“Are you okay, hon?” Gail asked.
“Yes. I…” Raina nodded. “Yes, thank you.”
“Just let me know if I can help.” Gail left the room and the sound of her clicking heels faded in the hall.
Raina took a couple of deep breaths, staring at the tiny window in front of her. With shaking hands, she tucked a curl behind her ear. What if he thought she still wanted him? A sudden stab of guilt twisted her gut. Why should she feel guilty about wanting her money back? Asking nicely for the last month hadn’t worked. He had this coming. This was his fault as much as hers.
Her eyes flicked to the knocked-over pencils and the small framed photograph next to them. She turned the frame around and her eyes widened in surprise at the blonde. New girlfriend already? He sure got over her fast enough. She replaced the frame facedown on the desk. Yes, it was petty, but she’d never claimed to be gracious.
Raina left the office and trudged toward the computer labs for her shift. She didn’t expect Holden to pay up with a smile, but now things were even more complicated between them. Tomorrow‘s fundraiser committee meeting would be awkward with a fake pregnancy hanging over them. Awkwardness she could power through, but her lawyer wasn’t going to work for an IOU.
he sky was turning
pink when she drove home through the downtown area. Most of the mom-and-pop shops were closed, but there were still people frolicking in Hook Park, enjoying the Delta Breeze after another hot record-breaking day. The strands of lights in the outdoor seating areas and the few bicycles rolling leisurely next to parked cars were part of the charm that made Raina seek refuge in the small town of Gold Springs. Far enough away from her family in San Francisco, where the two-hour drive back was a convenient excuse to skip out on birthday parties and last minute family gatherings.
At the corner of Second and B Street, Raina slowed and squinted at the bank’s parking lot. Was that Holden? The two heavyset men on either side of him wore bored expressions, while Holden seemed to have diminished since this morning. His shoulders drooped and his wide eyes had the trapped expression of an animal in a cage. The three of them got into a shiny black SUV with chrome spinners.
The car behind her honked, and she drove through the intersection. By the time she circled the block, the black car was gone. She shook her head. Whatever was going on was no longer her business. She needed to stop obsessing over why he left her with no more explanation than a good-bye text.
Raina drove the rest of the way home on autopilot. She lived in a small complex on the edge of the downtown area, which consisted of two strips of four units facing each other like the little green houses on a Monopoly game. She threw her purse on the narrow side table and turned on the lamp next to her olive-colored sofa. The soft glow filled the living room and cast shadows into the breakfast nook.
Above her TV, the goldfish clock with gilded kois swimming around the dial said it was past dinnertime. Her failure to get her money back meant ramen until payday, and she wasn’t in the mood for another noodle meal. She shifted on the thick cushions of the sofa until she didn’t feel like she would get lost between the cracks of the padding. Raina had no idea why her petite sister, Cassie, favored furniture built for linebackers, but then an expensive new-to-me sofa was better than a cheap sagging one.
She was immersed in the world of Middle Earth when there was a sharp knock on her front door. Cocking her head, she waited, in case it was dressed up church people trying to convince her to give up her Sunday mornings. The knock came again.
Raina glanced at the gap between the closed drapes of the big window above her sofa. Her friend, Eden, peered in with her hands framed around her dark round face like a peeping Tom. No church people, but Raina wasn’t sure an inquisitive reporter who didn’t know how to leave her work at the office was much of an improvement.
“Did you get it back?” Eden bustled in and dropped a pizza box on the square Goodwill dining room table. “Got any soda? Never mind. Be back in a sec.”
Her graceful friend turned and her silky brown weave fanned out like a shampoo commercial, glittering in the dim light. The scent of lavender lingered in the air even after she hustled across the courtyard toward her apartment. Eden returned with a can of soda.
Raina told her friend everything that had happened on campus and the strange incident at the bank. “I know I haven’t seen Holden in two months before today, but he seemed diminished somehow. A little less larger than life.”
“It’s called taking off the rose colored glasses,” Eden said. “I’m surprised he didn’t shove a check in your hands and tell you to get rid of the pregnancy.”
“That’s what I was hoping for, too. He sounded almost wistful. I’m not quite sure what to make of it.”
“He’s just playing mind games with you.”
Raina grimaced. “You should have snatched those glasses from me and smacked me on my nose.”
Eden rolled her eyes. “As if you would have listened.”
“So when is Phil supposed to pick his CIE trainee?” Raina asked.
“Assistant Chief-in-Editor. Not trainee. Unofficially, the position is supposed to be his replacement when he retires. I need a story that’ll make me stand out.” Eden gave her a sideways glance. “I’m thinking about resurrecting some old gossip…about Holden and Olivia.”
Raina gave her friend a sharp look. “I just want to move on. If this fake pregnancy doesn’t light a fire under his butt, then…” She shrugged.
“This has nothing to do with you. It’s just perfect timing with the annual Christmas fundraiser coming up in a few months.”
Raina nodded. Of course it was. “I’ll bite. What are the rumors?”
“Holden spent fifty percent of this huge grant that was supposed to be divided among the other professors.” Eden wiggled her eyebrows. “He spent far too much time in the boss’s office to be strictly professional.”
“Olivia is old enough to be his mother!”
“I’m just repeating what the wagging tongues said.”
Raina’s face burned as she focused on the salty and cheesy taste in her mouth.
“This was before you came on the scene,” Eden added after glancing at her. “But that’s not the interesting part.” She paused. “Another twenty percent of the grant money grew legs.”
“And that’s the million-dollar question you want to find out. You think Holden has anything to do with the missing money?” Could he use some of that grant money to pay her back?
Eden shrugged. “But it would be juicy if he did.”
After Eden left, Raina sorted her mail. On top of the pile of junk mail was a cream-colored envelope from her lawyer. Apparently another cousin had decided to join the suit contesting the inheritance from her grandfather.
At the rate things were going, the lawyer fees would swallow up the entire three million dollars. Had Raina known in advance that agreeing to pay “a small token” amount to retain the lawyer would add up to several thousand dollars, she would have kept searching for a representative who would be willing to defer the entire payment. And to top it off, she wouldn’t even get to keep the inheritance. She was just a temporary caretaker if she decided to honor her granddad’s wishes.