THAT TOUCH OF INK
Mad for Mod Mystery #2
Hardcover ISBN: 9781941962060
Paperback ISBN: 9781940976099
Audio ISBN: 9781520063911
Madison Night returns with another twisty page-turner!
“The suspense is intense, the plot is hot, and the style is to die for,” Catriona McPherson, national bestselling author of the award-winning Dandy Gilver Mystery Series
When a rare five thousand dollar bill arrives in the mail, interior decorator Madison Night knows it’s a message from her past. In happier times, she once joked that she could be bought for $5000—how could she deny a bill with her name on it?
Suspecting the bill indicates trouble, she consults a numismatist. They set up a meet, but upon arrival she finds an abandoned office, a scared dog…and a dead body in the kitchen. The twist? The victim isn’t the numismatist; it’s a John Doe.
The police are on the case, but it’s Madison who discovers the victim’s identity. But where’s the numismatist? Before long, she uncovers a kidnapping plot, a unique counterfeit operation, and the true price of her own independence.
Can Madison drop her emotional boundaries to save the person who broke her heart?
That Touch of Ink is the second twisty Madison Night mystery. If you like smart, stylish cozies that keep you guessing, you’ll love Diane Vallere’s suspenseful book.
Buy That Touch of Ink to get lost in atomic angst today!
The money arrived on a Tuesday. Five thousand dollars, wrapped in a sheet of newsprint. It wasn’t a stack of carefully counted bills. It wasn’t a check. Nobody owed me money. But the fact that this sum of five thousand dollars came with the rest of the mail, in the form of one bill, made the situation all the worse. Only one person in the world would send me a five thousand dollar bill.
Brad Turlington. The man I thought I knew better than anyone I’d ever known in my life, until the day I learned he was a stranger.
The five thousand dollar bill was in good shape inside a clear plastic sandwich baggie. I flattened it out with the side of my hand. Under the bill, a phone number was scrawled across the newsprint. The familiar area code did little to soothe my mounting anxiety. It was the same area code I’d had when I lived in Philadelphia, before I’d moved to Dallas. I looked at the envelope. It was addressed to me, Madison Night. The address was mine, the handwriting his, the postmark Dallas. If it’s true that money talks, then I didn’t like what this five thousand dollar bill told me: Brad was alive, he knew my price, and he had found me.
To my untrained eye, it looked like Monopoly money. I set it on my dining room table and stared at it like it was going to do tricks, though the mere act of arriving in the mail, uninsured, in a plain white envelope should have been trick enough. The fact that it delivered a message from a ghost was the cherry on top of the sundae. Or the straw that broke the camel’s back. Sometimes, when you’re trying to justify your past to your present, it’s hard to tell.
I put the bill into a new business-sized envelope and sandwiched it between the pages of the latest Atomic Ranch magazine. There would be time to question Brad’s motivation later. Right now it was time to repaint my living room. I pulled a slightly damaged pink hat over my light blond hair and tucked a few of the longer strands under the band like I would a swim cap. The hat was vinyl, cracked in several places. I’d picked it up at a local secondhand shop for a dollar. It was too beat up to wear outside, but it was the perfect complement to my painting attire: white overalls and a T-shirt printed with yellow and pink daisies.
Two gallons of daffodil-yellow paint, aluminum trays, rollers, and trim brushes sat at the ready.
Rocky, my fluffy caramel-and-white Shih Tzu, bounded out of the bedroom. Sunlight filtered through the window and highlighted stains that had appeared as if by magic on the once new apartment-grade carpeting. As long as I was redoing the walls, I might as well have at the floors too. Considering I owned the building, my decorating therapy was tax deductible.
I turned on the TV and pushed the furniture to the middle of the room. A weatherman predicted the ten-day forecast. Seventy degrees in February. I’d been in Dallas for over two years now, and I’d never get used to it.
After a couple of commercials, a local newsman reported about a traffic jam on Loop 12, a domestic abuse case, and finished with a human interest story about two boys who had found something special while picnicking at the Dallas Arboretum. It was a piece of a five thousand dollar bill.
Repainting the living room was going to have to wait.
The reporter gave a brief history of the bill. First printed in 1928, it remained in circulation for forty-one years, until 1969 when the secretary of the treasury announced that the Federal Reserve would stop distribution of high-denomination bills. At the time the bill was retired, the government had explained that secure transfer technology eliminated the need for large bills, which were originally intended for bank transfer payments. But it was widely rumored that the decision was actually part of President Nixon’s efforts to interrupt the dealings of organized crime. The reporter added the irony that James Madison himself had renounced the value of paper money, but was the president pictured on one of the most coveted bills on the collector’s circuit.
He turned his attention to the boys. “Now, which one of you found the bill?”
The chubbier boy pulled the microphone from his brother’s hand. “We had a picnic. I was cleaning up. I found this stuck to one of the plants near the trash cans.”
The other boy took the microphone. “Dad said it was play money. We spent hours looking for the rest of it, but our parents said we had to leave.”
“Do you know what it’s worth?”
The boys shook their heads.
“I’m sure your parents will help you find that out. Can you hold it up for the camera?”
The chubby one held the scrap in front of him. The reporter straightened up and addressed the camera. “The James Madison bill is one of the more collectible units of American currency. Hard to say what a piece of one is worth, but if this had been a complete bill, it might be worth one hundred thousand dollars.”
I felt as if someone had turned the temperature down twenty degrees. It was too much of a coincidence, these boys finding a piece of a five thousand dollar bill the same day one had arrived in the mail. A coldness snaked over my bare neck and down my spine. Coincidence, I could have handled.
I moved to the desk chair. A Google search confirmed what the reporter had said about the value of the bill, but even Google couldn’t tell me why Brad had sent the $5000 bill to me in the first place. The only place I could look for answers was my past, which meant dredging up memories. Memories I’d learned to block, to ignore, to pretend had never existed.
“I have one, you know. In the back room. Framed. Mr. Pierot must have gotten it in one of his estate buys, but it’s not exactly mid-century, so he never displayed it. If you want it, I’ll buy it for you.”
“Keep it. If you ever need me, and I mean, really, really need me, you know my price.”
A tingling sensation radiated from the center of my chest to my fingers and toes, replacing the chill. I didn’t want to accept the truth even though it sat right in front of me. The $5000 bill meant one thing.
Brad really, really needed me.
I closed my eyes, and the memories played through my mind like a classic movie that’s been watched enough times to be familiar.
“Are you saying you can be bought?”
“Under the right circumstances, with the right motivation, anybody can be bought.”
“Sure, but you’re not just anybody, Madison.”
Memories flooded back to me. The sheets, on the dark cherry wood double bed in the back of Pierot’s, the furniture and interior decorating business in Philadelphia where we first met. The bed was part of the store’s inventory until Brad and I christened it. One night, he carved our initials into the wood, a silly gesture that slashed the resale value. Two perfectly good apartments, two consenting adults, and we spent three nights a week in a double bed in the back of a mid-century modern furniture store like a couple of teenagers in the back seat of a soccer mom’s SUV borrowed for a date.
I shook my head to make the unwanted memories go away. Rocky danced around my feet. I ruffled the fur on top of his head and leaned down to plant a kiss in the middle of it. “We’re okay by ourselves, right Rocky? Our life is perfect just the way it is.”
“That’s too bad. I was kind of hoping you’d be happy to see me.”
The voice was as familiar as if I’d heard it yesterday. I straightened up and turned to face the front door. Brad Turlington—former love of my life, former breaker of my heart—leaned against my open front door with a fist full of daisies.
I was suddenly awkward. I reached for the ladder for balance and knocked the gallon of yellow paint over. I fumbled to right it but failed, spilling most of it on the drop cloth, the carpet, and myself.
Brad set the daisies on the desk and stepped into the room to pick up the paint can.
“You’re the only woman I know who looks good in overalls.” He put a hand alongside my face and brushed his thumb against my cheek, smearing a trace of yellow paint. I didn’t want to look at him, didn’t want to fall into his dark brown eyes, hidden behind square tortoise shell frames, but I couldn’t look away.
The last two years had been good to him. The planes of his face were still angular, and a few more strands of silver had threaded their way through his curly black hair. Top Brass had always been his styling product of choice, and it gave his thick mane a glossy appearance. Today was no different.
“It’s been a long time, Madison,” he said. “I’ve missed you.”
I pushed him away. “I can’t do this.”
“This.” I motioned back and forth between his chest and mine. “Us. I’m not the same person I was then.”
“Neither am I. But you can’t deny how perfect we are for each other. I bet I’m still the one person who knows you better than you know yourself.”
“I think you should leave.”
He stood in front of me, smiling, waiting for my anger to subside. He would be waiting a long time. I said nothing more.
“I’m not letting you go a second time, Madison. I promise you that.” Finally, he stepped backward into the hallway and left.
Yellow paint was splattered over the drop cloth. A daffodil-colored pool of semi-gloss soaked the carpet. I poured myself a large glass of cold white wine and pulled Atomic Ranch off the desk. I pulled the five thousand dollar bill out of the center of the magazine, turned it over, and then set it back down.
Brad coming back into my life was too much to process. Two years ago, Brad had lied to me. I’d turned off my emotions and had built a whole new life. Only recently had I learned the lie was the lie. He’d been protecting me from dangerous men who were after him, and he needed me to leave in order to know I’d be safe.
I didn’t know what to do with the emotions his return had triggered. I didn’t know where he’d been for two years. But I knew this: if he’d sent me the bill, it was because he was in trouble. I couldn’t ignore that. I picked up the daisies from where he’d left them on the table and tossed them in the trash.
I returned to the Internet and found the address for a local numismatist. It was five-thirty. I called the number and a nasally voice answered.
“Paper Trail, Stanley Mann speaking.”
“Hello. My name is Madison Night. I recently came into possession of a unique bill and I’d like to find out about it. How late are you open?”
“Let me check my schedule. Hold, please.”
The line clicked into silence, and I wondered if the man on the other end had accidentally hung up on me. I watched the second hand sweep two laps around the face of my ball clock and considered hanging up and redialing just as Mr. Mann returned.
“I have an opening tomorrow at four.”
“Can you see me any sooner?”
“Nope. I’m going to Plano to view a collection in the morning. You said you have one bill you want me to appraise?” He blew his nose like a foghorn. “Maybe I can give you some information over the phone. What is it?”
I hesitated for a second. “Mr. Mann, it’s a James Madison five thousand dollar bill.”
There was a slight pause. “How soon can you get here?”
I changed from my overalls into a pink polyester twin set with white piping, a pair of matching corduroys, and navy blue canvas sneakers. I left the five thousand dollar bill in the envelope and put the whole Atomic Ranch magazine in my handbag.
It was late in the afternoon. I drove my Alfa Romeo down Gaston to Garland Road, turned left, then right, then drove another half mile until I spotted the sign for Paper Trail. I followed the signs for parking in the rear, parked, and rounded the building to the front door on foot.
The door was wood, a flat rectangle, with a small square of glass in the middle. As a decorator myself, it always surprised me that people didn’t consider the exterior of their business or house as part of their design philosophy. Stanley Mann had ignored the first impression his business would give to the people who approached his front door. I would have expected more grandeur from someone who studied valuable coins and bills. But maybe that was the thing. Maybe the nondescript front door, the small office attached to the house that sat off the road, maybe it was all part of flying under the radar, attracting the right kind of attention while avoiding the wrong.
I pressed the doorbell and was answered with sharp, staccato barking. I waited for the better part of a minute for a reply and rang the doorbell again. No one came to the door. The west-facing windows were protected from the hot Texas sun with thick, lined curtains on the inside. I couldn’t see past them. I tapped on the glass and waited for an answer. Nothing.
With zero evidence that the numismatist was there, I was tempted to go home, shower, change, and crawl into bed early. I stepped away from the front door and looked around. A small silver bowl, half-filled with water, sat to the side of the door. A block of wood carved to look like a dollar bill read “In Dog We Trust.” It hung from a piece of twine tied to two screws that protruded from either end.
I pressed my face up to the glass pane on the door and shut one eye, trying to make out the interior. Inside was a tidy living room. A mustard-yellow sofa was pushed up against the left-hand wall, facing a television on a small, metal TV cart. A collection of owl figurines sat on an end table next to the sofa. A worn braided rug in shades of mustard, orange, and brown decorated the highly polished wood floor. A small rawhide bone, pockmarked with bite marks, protruded from halfway under the sofa.
To the right of the living room was a long, narrow kitchen. A stove, microwave, and refrigerator lined the left side. The right counter held a toaster, meat slicer, and ceramic containers labeled flour, tea, and coffee. I started to move away from the door when something inside moved. I pressed my face back up to the glass. A small furry brown face looked at me from a room beyond the kitchen.
I tapped on the glass. The dog took a few tentative steps toward me but stopped when he reached the rug and turned back. He looked into the darkness behind him, then back at me. He repeated the short, staccato barks I’d heard earlier.
I knew animal behavior. He was trying to tell me that something was wrong.
Next to him was a silver stockpot on its side. Something dark chugged from the pot onto the kitchen floor.
I hurried around to the back of the building. The barking grew more agitated. It pained me to think an animal was in trouble. I scanned the back windows and found one that was missing the screen. I checked the windows but they were locked. I looked by my feet for something heavy and settled on a rock about the size of a misshapen baseball. In my high school days I’d played baseball, and although it had been thirty years since I’d pitched a no-hitter, I hoped it was like riding a bike.
I stepped about fifteen feet away from the window, shrugged my shoulders front and back to loosen them up, took a deep breath, and threw a stinger. The rock crashed through the glass, making more noise than I anticipated. I used a second rock to knock away enough shards around the edge to allow me to feed a hand through the window and unlock it, then pushed it up and crawled through.
The small, dirty dog met me at the doorway to the house, tracking paw prints of marinara behind him.
“Shhhh, it’s okay. I’m trying to help you,” I said. I reached down, and he stepped away from me. He was scared. I took two steps into the room and held out a hand so he could sniff me. He turned away and scampered into a dark room that I hadn’t been able to see earlier. I tiptoed into the room with him and tripped over something lying on the floor. I pushed myself into a sitting position and blinked a few times, forcing my eyes to adjust to the darkness.
The room smelled like spaghetti sauce. Something wet soaked through my pink corduroys and I shifted my legs, feeling around the floor through spilled tomato sauce to find out what I’d tripped over.
I screamed when my hand connected with a leg.