The Popsicle Tree (A Dick Hardesty Mystery, #9) (ebook) by Dorien Grey

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ISBN: 9781611878561
Pages: 225

Following the death of the parents of Jonathan’s four-year-old nephew Joshua, Dick and his partner find themselves in a new role: parents. As if fatherhood didn’t bring enough of a set of challenges, the mother of one of Joshua’s new friends is murdered, sending Dick on a trail to find out who killed her and why. With a list of suspects ranging from a lesbian ex-partner to the boy’s race-car-driver father, Dick is soon embroiled in a case so complicated that child-rearing begins to look easier than solving the case.


“Hi,” he said, cramming more charm into one syllable than it was meant to hold, and giving me a smile that made me wish I’d brought my sunglasses. “I’m Clint. See anything you like?”

Don’t go there, I warned my crotch before it could say anything.

I was aware that the question was one he undoubtedly used on every male gay prospective customer.

“Perhaps…” Damn, that was my crotch talking out loud, not me! “…in a few minutes,” I hastened to add. “I’m looking for Mr. Cramer right now.”

“Sure,” he said, still smiling. “He’s in the office. Just let me know when I can be of some help, Mr.…?” He held out his hand.

“Hardesty. Dick Hardesty.”

Yeah, like you had to include your first name! one of my mind-voices—the one in charge of being a pain in the ass—snorted.

“And I’ll do that,” I added as I took his hand. There was just the slightest hint of an extra squeeze before he released it. Damn, this guy was good!

Leaving Clint, however reluctantly, I made my way to the office. There were two empty desks, and three doors other than the entrance, two of which were closed. Through the third door I could see a very large man seated behind an equally large desk. He looked up as I approached.

“Mr. Cramer?”

“Come in!” he said jovially, getting up from his chair and extending his hand.

“Dick Hardesty,” I said as I took it.

“Have a seat, please.” He walked around me to close the door, then returned to his chair.

“Let me say first off that I am not a bigot,” he said, apparently by way of getting right to whatever point he was trying to make. “A man’s sexual orientation is his own private business and no one else’s. I don’t judge a man by who he sleeps with.”

And who might we be talking about, here? I wondered. Me, Clint, or…?

“I’ve got one straight salesman,” he continued, “Dean Arbuckle, and I suspect he is ripping me off, though I can’t prove it. I don’t want you to think I suspect him just because he’s straight.” I smiled, both inside and out. Ah, the world, it is a-changin’.

“And you have no other straight employees?”

He shook his head. “Just one of my mechanics and my niece, Judi, my brother’s daughter. She’s the bookkeeper.”

There was a knock at the door.

“Come,” Cramer said, and a rather mousy young woman entered. She seemed startled when she saw me.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were busy.” She hastily laid a manila folder on Cramer’s desk, said, “Excuse me,” and, without ever having looked directly at me, she left.

Judi, I assumed. No wedding ring.

Let’s see…straight salesman maybe ripping off the boss, plus single female bookkeeper…. Gee, ya s’pose?

Well, obviously the possible connection went right over Cramer’s head; she was his niece, after all. I looked out the window into the lot.

“How many salesmen do you have?” I asked.

“Six. There’s a photo of all of us on the wall right by the door as you go out. Dean’s the third from the left, brown tie. They rotate days and hours—we’re open eight a.m. to ten p.m. every day. Dean is off today, which is why I was anxious to talk to you without his being around.”

“And what makes you think he’s ripping you off?”

“Because things just don’t add up. I mean, the figures do—I’ve gone over the books very carefully—but starting about two months after Dean was hired, our profits have been noticeably and consistently down in ratio to our sales. Clint has only worked here about a month, and sales have really increased since he’s been here, but the profit margin is still down. Jerry has been with me since we opened, and the rest have worked here for quite a while. No problems until Dean came along, so I’m sure it’s him. I just want to find out how he’s doing it.”

“Have you spoken to your niece about it?”

He shook his head. “No. Before I hired Judi to do the books, I did them all myself and I know exactly how much profit we should make on every sale. It’s been steady for years. And as I said, I just went over them all very carefully in case Judi might have missed something or made some sort of mistake, and all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s crossed. And I didn’t want to stress her…she’s kind of fragile.”

He paused, looking at me. “So will you look into it? See what you can find out?”

“I’ll do my best, though I can’t guarantee…”

“I understand that, but you have a pretty good reputation, from what I understand. What percentage of your cases would you say you solve?”

Good question! No one’s ever asked me that before.

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