The Mystery of the Moving Image

Snow & Winter: Book Three

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Emporium Press

February 15, 2020

Cover art: Reese Dante

Genre: Amateur sleuth mystery, romance

If there was one thing I’d taken away from the last six months of murder and mystery, it was to expect the unexpected.

Max Ridley and I stared at a four-foot-tall wooden crate that had been delivered to the Emporium that morning. Neither of us had spoken for a good minute.

“Five bucks says there’s a dead body inside,” he finally said.

I shook my head. “We’d smell decomp.”

“A normal person wouldn’t say that,” he replied, not looking away from the box.

“Normal is relative.”

“Let’s not get into a philosophical debate before 10:00 a.m.”

I took a step forward and snatched the shipping label from the plastic envelope slapped on the front of the crate. I unfolded it and held my magnifying glass up to the small print.

“Who’s it from?” Max asked.

“I’m not sure.”

“Should I call 911?”

I glanced up. “The last time we did that, they sent a vigilante who tried to kill me.”

“That’s true.” Max held up his cell. “But I know three cops and an FBI agent by proxy, so we have options.”

“Calm down.”

“I don’t trust mystery packages, Seb. Not anymore.”

I looked at the label again. “It came from a shipping company on the Upper East Side.”

“But no name?”

“No.”

“Is it addressed to you?”

“Owner,” I clarified.

“I’m calling the cops.”

I looked at Max, reached out, and put my hand over his cell. “Calvin probably just ordered something for the apartment.”

Ah yes, that had been one bit of good to come out of losing my home to an explosion back in February. It’d taken just over two months of searching and Realtor harassing, but as of yesterday, Snow and Winter were the new tenants of 4B—a loft apartment in the East Village above a coffee shop and hippy-dippy clothing store. And despite the insurmountable odds, I was able to tick off every single one of my neurotic must-haves and still keep to a rent that wouldn’t bleed me and Calvin dry.

I mean, it was by far more expensive than my old, cozy, rent-controlled place, but seeing as how I was putting my name on the bills with a guy I liked a lot—yeah. Seemed worth the extra cash.

“Call him and ask,” Max replied.

“He’s busy with manly stuff,” I answered.

“What?”

“Unpacking, lifting heavy things, inserting tabs into slots….”

“I’ll quit.”

“Jesus, Max—”

“Just call him.”

I let out an annoyed huff, took my phone from my back pocket, pulled Calvin up in the recent contacts, and called.

“Hey, baby,” Calvin answered.

“Hey,” I said. “Got a second?”

“For you? Several.”

“Aren’t you cute.”

Calvin laughed. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah. I just had a package delivered here at the Emporium and was wondering if you’d ordered something big—like, a chandelier—for the apartment?”

“And had it shipped there?” he asked, sounding unsure.

“Uh-huh.”

“No.”

I frowned and glanced sideways at Max. “I’ve got a four-foot-tall mystery box in the middle of my showroom.”

“Since when has that ever stopped you, Hercule?”

I smiled a little. “Ohhh….”

“Like that?” Calvin asked.

“I do.”

“I knew you would.”

I laughed, much to Max’s displeasure. “Figured I’d check in with you before cracking it open. I tend to get a lot of junk this way. People cleaning out grandma’s attic ship me garbage and say ‘keep it until it sells,’ like I’m a warehouse.”

“No return address, then?” Calvin asked, and in the background, I could hear tape being torn off a cardboard box. I’d offered to close the Emporium to help him finish unpacking the apartment, but he’d politely kissed my forehead and shoved me out the front door that morning.

“Some shipping and supply office way the hell uptown.”

“Huh.”

“Were you expecting a housewarming gift?” I tried.

Not that anyone in Calvin’s family even knew we’d moved in together. They’d completely stopped talking to him at Christmastime when he’d come out—the exception being Calvin’s Uncle Nelson. Nelson was a sweet old guy. I’d said hello on the phone a few times. He was nothing like the impression I had of Calvin’s father, a retired military man who hated me on principle alone.

“No,” Calvin answered.

“I’m going to tear into this crate.”

“Don’t let me stop you.”

“I’ll see you tonight,” I said.

“I’ll be the big sweaty guy in the house,” Calvin replied.

“I love when you’re sweaty.”

Boss,” Max interrupted, and I swear I could hear his eye-roll.

Calvin chuckled. “Bye, sweetheart.”

“Bye.” I stuffed my phone into my pocket.

“When’s the honeymoon?”

“Stop it,” I muttered.

“It’s not Calvin’s, then?” Max asked.

I shook my head. “Nope. Would you grab a hammer from the office?”

“All right,” he answered a bit reluctantly. Max left my side, hiked up the stairs, went past the register, and disappeared into my closet-sized office. “But if there’s anything inside that’s dead, dying, or threatening to kill either of us, I’m burning this place to the ground because it’s totally cursed.”

“I’m not sure whether you’re trying to save me or screw me over,” I said, mostly to myself, but Max heard me.

© 2015-2020 C.S. Poe