Saturday September 19 11:00 AM / 10:00c

This Old Homicide: A Fixer Upper Mystery Book Excerpt - Chapter 1

I walked down the driveway and through the back gate to my kitchen door. But then I hesitated, recalling Dad’s comment about Jesse. It wouldn’t hurt to check up on the old guy since I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen him. Maybe three days ago? Four? I recalled glimpsing him out in his yard, kibitzing as usual with Mrs. Higgins from across the street. I remembered because I had just come back from Emily’s, where we’d looked through home magazines together so I could get an idea of what she wanted for her new house. Her closing was this coming week. Two weeks had passed in a hurry.

What if Jesse had been sick for the last few days? The least I could do was find out if he needed a ride to the doctor. Or I could offer to deliver an emergency quart of chicken soup from the diner.

I changed direction and headed next door to his place. Jesse’s house was one of the smaller ones on the street, a blue-and-white, one-and-a-half-story Victorian with the prototypical pitched roof and wide porch, but it featured a charming white-railed widow’s walk that was accessed by climbing out the attic window. Jesse had always talked about turning the attic into his version of a man cave, but he hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

His place had grown a little shabby around the edges over the years and I’d repeatedly offered to spruce it up for him, to no avail. Once in a while when I was mowing my lawn, I would go next door and clean up his yard, but it needed a lot more help than that. The front porch was begging for a paint job, and one of the dining room shutters had been missing a few slats for the longest time. Maybe I’d sneak over and fix a few things as a favor to him, especially if he was sick. I could certainly mow his lawn again because it was getting shaggier by the minute.

I knocked on the front door and waited. After a minute, I knocked again. I really hoped he was feeling okay. The old man was crotchety, set in his ways, and had a tendency to tell huge, whopping fibs—or tall tales, as he called them—but I adored him. He’d never married or had children, but he’d always been close to his niece, my friend Jane.

I knocked once more, louder this time, because Jesse seemed to be getting a little deaf. For good measure, I shouted, “Jesse, are you here?”

After another full minute, I took the hint. He obviously wasn’t in there. I headed for home, but as I stuck my key into the kitchen door lock, my conscience wouldn’t let me relax. What if Jesse was inside the house, sick or in pain? What if he’d fallen down and couldn’t reach the telephone or the front door? Darn it, I couldn’t walk away without making sure he was all right.

“He won’t thank me for this,” I muttered, but my decision was made.

Years ago, after a house down the street caught on re, my father and a few of our neighbors had exchanged house keys to use in case of future emergencies. Dad kept them all on a key ring in the kitchen “junk drawer.” Even though he had moved out of the house and into his RV ve years ago, I’d never cleaned out that drawer. It was impossible to throw some of those things away because you just never knew.

Pushing aside a stack of yellowed appliance catalogs, an old tape measure, and a dried-up tube of superglue— okay, I definitely needed to clean out this drawer—I found the key ring. Happily most of the keys had small, round descriptive tags attached, so I checked until I found the key that was tagged Jesse’s place.

I jogged back to his house and unlocked the front door, feeling a momentary pang of guilt for invading his privacy. I knew he would hate having anyone walk into his house without his permission, but what could I do?

“It’s for your own good,” I said under my breath. Later, I planned to lecture him on keeping in better touch with his neighbors.

The house was dark and quiet. It was musty, too, from being closed up for a while. I was tempted to open some windows, but I figured that would be going a little too far.