Listed and Lethal Mysteries

Murder on Moon Mountain (#2)
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Murder On Pea Pike (#1)
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Murders By Design Mysteries

The Design Is Murder (#5)
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Rooms To Die For (#4)
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Killer Kitchens (#3)
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Monet Murders (#2)
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Designed For Death (#1)
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The Barefoot Queen

In The Lion's Mouth

Chapter One

     I slit the envelope with my Colonial pewter-handled letter opener, slid out a thin sheet of lined paper and read,

To Mrs. Deva Dunne,
     My name is Number 24601. I’m also known as Mike Hammerjack, a guest of Florida State Prison. I’m in for embezzlement, 10 to 20, with time off for good behavior. After a few detours you don’t want to hear about, I’m trying to do my best. That’s why I’m writing to ask a favor, not for me, for my fellow inmates. Like me, most of these guys don’t belong behind bars, but that’s another story.
     As a reward for cooperation, some of us work in the carpenter shop, making custom-designed furniture—chairs, benches, tables, desks—mostly out of pine, in different finishes.
     Here’s where you come in. Everything we make is up for sale at very reasonable prices, with the money going to prisoners’ families. Little kids, exes, etc. I read an article about you in Design Magazine and hope you can use our pieces in some of your projects.
     If you’re interested, contact Warden Bill Finney here at Florida State, and he’ll send you pictures and info about our products.
You won’t be sorry.

Sincerely yours,
Mike Hammerjack, President
Help-a-Con Program

      Written in a tight, crabbed hand with fancy flourishes, the letter wasn’t easy to read, and I had to wade through the squiggles twice to understand it.
      Despite the poor handwriting, the letter was obviously the work of a focused person and, for some reason, I believed Number 24601 was sincere in writing to me. Then again, I tend to root for the underdog. I’m from Boston originally, and the Red Sox are my beleaguered team. Though they seldom make it to the Series, I love them anyway.
      As for a guy in prison reaching out to help his fellow cons, he deserved a break, didn’t he?
      “Of course, he does, darlin’,” echoed in my head. Dear Nana again, though she’d been gone for fifteen years now. “Help the lad, if you can.” Gone but not silent.
      I put the letter on my desk with a sigh. God only knew what prison-made furniture looked like. Clumsy most likely. Knocked together by big, rough hands. Still...
      The Yarmouthport sleigh bells on the entrance of my interior design shop suddenly did their job, jangling like mad as the door opened, admitting a distinguished middle-aged gentleman. What else would you call a silver-haired man cradling a Maltese puppy in his arms, and wearing a silk suit and cravat on a hot July day in Southwest Florida?
      I rose from behind my desk to greet him.
     “Are you Ms. Dunne?” he asked without preamble.
     “Yes, I’m Deva Dunne. How may I help you?”
     He took a step forward and said, “Do forgive me for not offering my hand, but Charlotte won’t let me put her down.” He caressed the dog’s head. “Will you, dearest?”
     The dog licked his fingers. I guess that was a no.
     “She’s adorable,” I said, sort of meaning it. A tiny white scrap of a pooch, Charlotte didn’t look like she’d ever heard of “paws on the floor,” or “stay” or, perish the thought, “roll over.”
     “I’m sure she’s easy to indulge, Mr....”
     “Stahlman. James Stahlman.”
     I gulped. Hard. His name wasn’t one easily forgotten, not after being plastered all over the Naples Daily News for days on end. That had been some months ago, yet the cloud hovering over him then still lingered. Had he, or had he not, killed his wife?

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