In the seventh of the Charlotte Diamond mysteries, retired FBI senior investigator Charlotte and her significant other, box office senior movie star Brenda Boynton, return from a Florida Everglades movie shoot to an economically distressed village, Hopewell on the Choptank, on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay shore. A scheme by New Jersey mobsters to build an illegal casino resort has collapsed but not before half the village has been leveled and the local business owners have committed to overexpansion.
Brenda comes with a saving plan to use lottery winnings to establish a retirement community for destitute movie industry retirees in the village. While both Brenda and Charlotte bring this plan to fruition, Charlotte contends with a flurry of auto thefts, a murderess on the loose, a sixty-year old bank heist buried treasure, the return of her former husband and his acidic mother, and a group of old movie folks so ungrateful and motivated by revenge that soon someone swings from a chandelier, threatening to return the village to chaos and Brenda and Charlotte’s dreams to dust.
They split up out in front of the bakery, with Brenda turning north toward her Federal mansion across the street and Charlotte and the two dogs moving south toward the point. She wanted to check on her own cottage, and the bulldozed land at the end of the street was a perfect place to walk Sam and Rocket. Twilight had fallen, and it was dark on the street. The village was too small to have street lamps except on the two-block main business street, although some of the houses, including Brenda’s, had lamps on poles down at the street.
The dogs were prancing merrily along until after Charlotte had checked her cottage and come out onto River Street. Then the two lifted their heads, began to bark, and, together, pulled her toward the middle collapsed house across the street from hers.
Charlotte wondered what had attracted them until she too saw the light of a flashlight, which switched off as soon as it was apparent that Charlotte and the dogs were headed in that direction.
Charlotte came around the side of the collapsed house in time to see the gleam of moonlight reflecting off metal and the fleeting image of a figure in dark clothing disappearing into the tree line at the back of the lot. She clicked the flashlight she was carrying on and found fresh shovel marks at the back edge of the wreckage of the house. Moving around the house she saw that this wasn’t the only place where recent digging had been going on.
Yet another mystery, she thought. Not back in Hopewell for more than two hours and already there was another mystery facing her. She was either blessed or cursed, she thought. Cursed, because she was trying her best to retire from sleuthing, but possibly blessed because, as Brenda kept telling her, she was energized by a good case to solve—and, she had to admit, a lot easier to live with during those periods. When she had retired, she had assumed that she now had time to read all of the nineteenth-century romance novels that had intrigued her in the abstract. She had found that they weren’t all that special in reality, but had denied this for a long time before Brenda had pointed it out. Sometimes Charlotte thought that Brenda knew her better than she knew herself.
As she neared Brenda’s house, she saw that Brenda was still there, standing at the entrance of the detached garage. Just standing there and looking in the open door.
“It’s gone,” Brenda said in a small voice as Charlotte approached.
“What’s gone?” Charlotte asked.
“The Jag is gone,” Brenda said in a disbelieving voice, referring to her vintage Jaguar XK-E sports convertible. “You didn’t want me to leave it parked in the airport lot because it might be stolen there, so we left it at home. And still it’s gone.”