Gemma comes out of the stairwell and gasps for breath, the elevators already having opened to let all of the gurneys out. Police are struggling to keep the crowd organized while those in charge set up quieter interviewing areas in the bar and restaurant. Whispers about the massacre are flowing through the hotel while people look for any reporters that might give them a few minutes of fame. Many take pictures of the parade of body bags that are heading for a small group of ambulances outside, the images appearing on their social media sites within seconds. A black-haired woman comes out last, the muttering figure strapped to a wheelchair. Dried blood covers her entire face, which stares ahead without blinking even when camera flashes go off a nearby. Those in the front row try to back away when she is brought too close to a gurney and begins to violently gag in an attempt to vomit. Her feet hit the floor and she fights against the EMT’s pushing, her eyes widening with horror even when she pukes. It takes the help of two of the more muscular cops to lift the wheelchair and carry the woman away.
Spotting Dawn near the entrance to the pool, Gemma tries to make her way through the crowd. She attempts to sneak around people and come at the other woman from the side of her eye patch. The erratic movements of the excited gawkers makes it impossible to control her approach, her requests for space going unanswered. Gemma comes out of the crowd a few feet in front of Dawn, the hotelier waving happily to her hand-picked adversary. Sipping at an iced latte, the brown-haired woman offers a matching drink to the detective and leans against a small palm tree growing out of a large pot.
“What is the point of playing a game when you don’t give me a chance to win?” Gemma asks in a low voice. Sniffing at the coffee, she risks a sip and begrudgingly enjoys the delicious taste. “I haven’t even been here a day and you pull off a massacre. Not a clue or a hint to direct me toward the bachelorette party. Was it the jacket you sent me? Maybe I had to go to your party to learn about your targets? Give me one reason why I shouldn’t drag you by your nose to the nearest empty jail cell.”
“For one thing, I haven’t finished my coffee yet,” Dawn replies before draining the cup. She throws the container into a nearby bin and pulls a second drink out from behind her back. “Need at least ten cups to be perky. Not talking about my personality since that’s always a beautiful ray of moonshine. By the way, I had no hand in this gorgeous mess. Everyone saw me at the party and I haven’t gone to bed yet. Didn’t see a reason since my husband is away. Give me some credit about playing fair. Unicorns only come to those who are honest and pure.”
“I thought you lost your unicorn,” the detective mutters, hoping to get under the woman’s skin. Feeling a small pinch at the base of her skull, she rubs the area and is surprised to find some blood on her fingers. “Must have cut myself while getting out of the pool. So, you have an alibi and no motive. Who do you think did this?”
Grinding her toes against the floor and putting her arms behind her back, Dawn pretends to act shy. “I have an alibi, but I do have a motive. The bride’s betrothed is a lawyer who is trying to sue me for ten million. He claims I did something illegal to put Heaven’s Nest up here and there are witnesses. Keeps saying that he knows where my bodies are buried, which I know is a lie. Even I don’t remember where all of those are, except for a puppy that I had to put down. The lawsuit could bankrupt me and put the hotel out of business. At the very least, I’d have to move away and start again. I don’t like doing that unless I want to and this city is too much fun. Still, I wouldn’t go after her. She’s an innocent babe with nothing that would gain my attention. Easy prey if you will.”
“So your husband could have done it.”
“Yes, but he was busy elsewhere.”
“Are you covering for someone?”
“One of my hostesses called in sick, so I’ll be helping out today.”
“That’s not what I-”
“Awww, he’s so sweet.”
Gemma follows Dawn’s pointing and watches the police drag one of the chefs out of the restaurant. The man has a bleeding bump on his head, which matches the broken nose of the cop shoving him ahead. Several reporters are getting in the way to ask questions and take pictures, the mob pushing in enough to pause the arrest. When he sees an opening, the chef tries to escape the officer and nearly disappears into the crowd. He is tripped by a piece of luggage left in the middle of the lobby and slams face first into the angel statue. Before he can climb back to his feet, three policemen pounce on the man while more shout for everyone to clear a path to the exit.
“I did it for you, Ms. Addison!” the chef screams when he sees Dawn. Biting one of the cops in the face, he makes another escape attempt before he is tasered. “Nobody threatens my muse! I would kill and die for her. I accept my fate with pride!”
“I remember talking to him and he was obsessed with you,” Gemma says before she takes another sip of coffee. She sees Max among the interviewing detectives, her partner showing no signs of having noticed her. “Given what you just told me, I assume he wanted to protect you and the hotel. Even so, this is only two days after Carl Anders jumped to his death. You can’t deny that something is suspicious in your hotel.”
“Probably the shrimp in the buffet, so I’ll have the cook make a fresh batch,” Dawn replies as she munches on a cookie. Dialing the chef’s number, she curses when the call goes directly to voicemail. “That’s strange. He always picks up right away. Guess I’ll have to fire him and get somebody new. Very rare that I have to replace an employee. We have a low turnover rate around here. Too bad the same can’t be said for the guests. You really should find the person who keeps killing my customers.”
“You claimed it was you,” the detective hisses through clenched teeth. Throwing the rest of her coffee into the garbage, she rubs her eyes and tries to stave off the start of a headache. “I’m tired of your nonsense, Ms. Addison. Not even sure why I’m staying here because my curiosity and patience are running out. Tell me what’s going on here or I’m going back to work and investigating every piece of your life.”
“I’m very sorry, kitty,” the hotelier says, turning her eye patch until it is back in its original position. With a high-pitched whistle, Dawn gets her employees to draw away those who are of no interest the cops. “I am young and old. My kingdom made from circles, squares, and triangles. Many blindly praise me when I create smiles. Others despise me when I forge tears. That’s the riddle to my next victim. Good luck, kitty, and I will give you a few days to figure it out. Wouldn’t be fair to give you something so complicated and make my move an hour later. Besides, I need to hire a new chef since the old one will never be coming back. Shame because I loved these mini-pizzas he made.”
“Maybe he can make you some when you’re both in jail,” Gemma taunts with an empty smile. The way Dawn shakes her head makes the detective suspicious, her hand falling to where her gun would normally be. “What do you know that I don’t?”
“I don’t like people taking my toys away.”
A loud crash and several screams erupt from outside, causing Gemma to sprint across the lobby. Elbowing her way through the crowd, she comes to a stop in the doorway and covers her mouth to hide her gagging. A police car sits in front of the hotel with a flagpole piercing the roof and driving all the way to the pavement. Visible through the broken windows, the chef remains sitting with the metal rod impaling his entire body. Those with a clear view of the body are stunned by the wide smile plastered on his lifeless face.