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Death Clause: A Mackenzie Quinn Short Mystery

Death Clause: A Mackenzie Quinn Short Mystery

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An unplanned homecoming turns to homicide...

Zee never expected to move back to her hometown to live with her parents. (And definitely not at the age of forty.) Then again, she never expected to stumble across a dead body either.

She thought when she left Toronto for the quiet, small-town life, she had left her problems behind.

But both cats and a killer have other plans...

Meet Zee Quinn (only her mother calls her ‘Mackenzie’)—prodigal daughter of Ashwood, Ontario, and amateur sleuth with a secret—in this introductory short novel from the Mackenzie Quinn Canadian cozy mystery series.

(This adventure takes place before the first novel in the Mackenzie Quinn series, The Author of His Demise.)

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Whoever came up with the idea of forty being the new thirty was full of it. Either that, or they were on something. I mean, even at thirty, my mother had a twelve-year-old daughter—me. (She and my dad got started early, but soon decided that one headstrong child was more than enough.) By the time my mom was forty, I was off at university.

Even though I had recently crossed the threshold of my fourth decade, I couldn’t imagine having a twelve-year-old of my own—never mind a kid away at school. Especially when I had just been fired from said school and was on my way back to my childhood hometown in the hopes of finding a bed at my parents’ place. (Nothing like moving back in with your parents twenty years after you had moved out to make you feel like a real grownup. Maybe forty was more like the new twenty.)

Then there was the whole finding a dead body thing…

The dead body thing hadn’t happened yet. At this point, I was still focused on the getting fired thing, and how I was going to tell my parents about it during the long drive back to Ashwood as the sun sank behind me in my rear-view mirror.

I kept one hand on the steering wheel and reached down for the large plastic vessel in the car’s cup holder. The drink had lost its chill long ago, coating the sides of the cup with warm perspiration. It almost slipped out of my hand as I picked it up. I jammed the straw toward my mouth while keeping my eyes on the road. I hadn’t reached the highway turnoff yet, and driving from downtown Toronto out to the ’burbs during rush hour was not my idea of a good time.

The straw missed my mouth on the first try, jabbing my cheek instead. I uttered a sigh and tried again. This time I found my target. I took a long sip, filling the car with unladylike, rattling slurps that told me the cup was empty. All I managed to get was some warm air and a few slushy bits of mango pineapple smoothie. They slammed into the back of my throat, nearly triggering a coughing fit. I jammed the empty cup back into the cup holder. The tangy McDonald’s drink was an addiction of mine (minus the yogurt). I tried to limit myself to two of them a day. This was my third one, and I would probably pick up a fourth once I got into town.

It had been a rough day.

It wasn’t exactly my fault I had been fired. I mean, what two grown men choose to do with each other has nothing to do with me. I really didn’t see how it was the university’s business either. But since both men were professors, and relationships between colleagues were supposed to be a big no-no, it had become a Situation.

I had been Professor Marston’s teaching assistant in the Creative Writing Department for years. Of course, I had known his secret. And I had kept my mouth shut. (What his wife made of it, I had no idea.) And since I hadn’t come forward to rat him out, and no one could possibly believe I hadn’t known about the affair when a jilted coworker finally blew the whistle, I had been fired along with both professors as collateral damage.

Mom was going to be pissed. I knew I would bear the brunt of it at first. Then she would turn on the university. I knew I would have to hold her back from composing some scathing email to the Toronto newspapers, or calling the faculty board to give them an earful. Maybe it would be better not to give her any details…

I finally arrived at the Ashwood exit and made my turn. I slowed to a stop at a red light and tried to ease some of the tension from my shoulders. I wasn’t exactly excited about the idea of moving back in with my parents, even temporarily. But I had few friends downtown, and no desire to run into any of them—or my former students—and have to explain my awkward situation. It was bad enough I had spent so many years as a teaching assistant without making a move toward professor. (Not that I didn’t have my reasons.)

So I had packed up my little blue Corolla with all the essentials from my downtown apartment and hit the road. I had already paid rent for the rest of the month. I would worry about getting the rest of my stuff later. In the meantime, I would use my parents’ spare bedroom as a base of operations until I found a place of my own somewhere in town. Of course, I would also have to come up with a way to explain how I could afford a place of my own now that I was seemingly unemployed…

A loud honk jarred me back to reality.

“Son of a narwhal!”

The words tumbled from my lips. My heart was hammering in my chest. (Even when I had just had the bejeezus scared out of me, I still couldn’t shake my mother’s deeply ingrained no-cursing rule. Or my unconventional work-arounds.)

I blinked and realized the traffic light had turned green. A filthy pickup truck that might have been yellow blared its horn again—an obnoxious, long blast. I offered a half-hearted wave of apology and made the left-hand turn that led into town. The truck followed me through the turn, practically on my bumper. I scowled at it in my rear-view mirror.

“All right, no need to be a jerk about it,” I huffed, even though I knew the driver couldn’t hear me.

I had hoped I had left most of the yahoo drivers somewhere back on the highway. I had forgotten the locals could be yahoos too.

I picked up speed, but the truck remained glued behind me, even though it now had enough room to change lanes. I could barely make out the shape of a driver behind the truck’s grime-coated windshield. My palms began to sweat on the steering wheel as I started to wonder whether they were ever going to lose interest. I gritted my teeth and sped up a bit more in an effort to create some distance.

The truck roared past me with a final blare of its horn. I watched it go by with a mixture of fear and relief.

Then the police car pulled me over.

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