Auto inventor Alastair Stubbins and his investment partner are found dead by carbon monoxide poisoning. Vista Hermosa Police Detectives Jonas Maple and Kimberly Collins have far more questions than answers and everybody has an alibi.
Time and my bike both wandered south. The scenery changed gradually from the small sprouts and vivid greens of the Northern late Spring to the full blooms and deep greens of a Southern Summer. It’s one of those little things you don’t notice when you sit still, but on the highway, nature isn’t just background. No, it’s a full character in its own story.
Speaking of characters and stories, it was closing in on a week since I killed Dexter Green. Saying it more often wasn’t making it easier to swallow. The more I think on it, dream on it, I don’t know how it happened. The parking spot was empty when I turned the truck around. I know it was. It had to be or I’da hit him full on. And I didn’t. I backed into him.
So where did he come from?
I was south of Natchez, Mississippi, following 10 toward Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My heart will always be in Indiana, by my stomach was born Cajun. I don’t claim to know how it happened, with the rest of me being from Blackford County, but my stomach was never happier than when it was working on étouffée, jambalaya, gator, crawfish…
Hear that? My stomach just growled.
The sign on the side of the road announced St. Francisville some miles ahead. I knew my bike was taking me back to some of the best memories Teresa and I had. You see, being in construction has afforded me the opportunity to see a good part of this great nation of ours. I spent a bunch of years working in Louisiana on all kinds of projects. I brought Teresa down here for vacations. Like I said, the eating is phenomenal. The hunting and fishing are world class, just like the people. One of our favorites was a lady named Anne Butler. She runs a bed and breakfast on her family’s plantation: the Butler Greenwood Plantation B&B.
I smiled those next miles, feeling a little like I was going home.
I slowed and turned off US 61 onto a drive lined with big old oak trees with their arms stretched out. Spanish moss hung down, creating a private tunnel where even sunlight couldn’t quite get through.
The blue house with butter cream trim, with it’s long, wide front porch and peaks over the second floor windows, was just as I remembered. A woman was on the front steps, a broom in hand. She’d stopped sweeping to watch me.
I parked at the end of the narrow brick walkway to the house, turned the motor off, and swung my leg over. She watched me and I her as I stowed my helmet. “Beautiful day,” I said, starting toward her.
“It is that. Welcome to Butler Greenwood.” Her smile was broad and welcoming, just as I remembered. “I’m Anne, what can I do for you?”
I told her who I was and when I was there last. She said she remembered me, which I didn’t doubt. I’m kinda a memorable guy. “I’m passing through and was hoping you had a bed I could use for a couple nights.”
“I do, with it being the middle of the week. Come on inside.” She turned and led me into the house. “How long have you been ridin’? You like somethin’ to drink? I have some fresh made lemonade or sun tea.”
Now there was a hard decision. The nice punch of real lemon or the kick of caffeine.
Anne seemed to hear the debate going on in my head. She laughed and said, “Arnold Palmer it is. I’ll be right back.” A man entered from a side hallway. “Hello Wyatt, this is Hippy. He just checked in. Would you like to join us in Arnold Palmers?”
The man was in his fifties, his dark hair just starting to get a little salty. He was average height with a build that said he earned his money behind a desk. “Thank you, Anne, that sounds perfect,” he said in an accent born in these parts.
We made our way to the sitting area and the Victorian-styled couches that were as much as much a part of the décor as they were functional. Wyatt Cambridge was a writer and Butler Greenwood Plantation was his retreat.
“I’m on a deadline. At home, I find all kinds of things to distract me from sitting down and working. Something about this place,” he said, looking around, “it’s like she’s my muse, you know.”
“I don’t know much about muses,” I said, “but I know what you mean about Anne’s place being special.”
“Anne is a writer, too. Her tastes are more varied than mine. Louisiana main streets, cookbooks, children’s fiction, true crime.” He chuckled at himself. “I wish I could do that. My head seems to get into one space and stay there.”
“And where does it stay?”
He leaned forward, his eyes shining. “Thrillers. I absolutely love putting characters in inescapable situations and see what they do to survive.”
It was a look that made me glad he played with words, not power tools.
“Here we go,” Anne said, setting a fancy silver tray down on the coffee table between us. She was an excellent hostess, helping Wyatt and me find things to talk about so the conversation never got dull. Not that I’ve ever had that problem.
People are too interesting for talking to get dull.
It turned out Wyatt had just gotten up and he was hungry. I’d been on the road for hundreds of miles and was hungry too. After thanking Anne for the tea, the writer and me took a short drive to Lawson’s Restaurant. It didn’t have the history Anne’s place did, but it had a reputation locals worked their butts off to keep secret. Lucky for me, Wyatt was local.
I climbed in his truck because he wasn’t climbing on my bike. He drove while I took in the scenery, not having to pay attention to the road. The restaurant was small and didn’t look like much. The parking lot was near empty, but it was an odd time between lunch and dinner. Me and Wyatt took seats at the counter. Wyatt pushed his menu away without opening it. “Go with the special,” he advised. “Doesn’t matter what it is. If Louie’s making it, you want to eat it.”
Being a man who believes in the “when in Rome” saying, I pushed my menu away.
The special of the day was crawfish étouffée with a slice of peach pie. Middle of the afternoon, there were only a handful of folks in the place. More than half had the special in front of them.
Wyatt ordered a Pepsi, me a Mountain Dew. The difference ended there. We ordered and those sitting to the left and right of us approved of our choices. The guy next to me, Earl if his shirt was to be believed, pushed his licked-clean plate away.
Me and Wyatt filled the time. I asked what his book was about, and he started telling. I’d been in his character’s position a few times in my life—up shit’s creek without a paddle. I shared how I got out of it and Wyatt, well, he was more than listening. He took out his phone and made notes.
The waitress set a large slice of peach pie with whipped cream on top in front of Earl. “Ohhh,” he said in a hungry growl of appreciation. “Love peach season in Louisiana.”
He dove in like a half-naked man on the high dive in front of Olympic judges.
Then somewhere in the middle, he lost his form and ended up cannonballing into the water.
I slapped him on the back to help clear what he choked on.
“Earl, for goodness sakes,” the waitress said running over. “Small bites, darlin’. Small bites.”
“That ain’t it,” Earl said when he could breathe again. He shoved the pie plate away. “Something’s wrong with the pie. It’s gone bad.”
She shook her head. “Not possible, Earl. Maude just made the pies his morning.”
“Well, you taste it and tell me that’s normal.”
So, she did.
And she spit it right back out. “Oh my. I don’t know what to say.” She removed the offending slice of pie and went to the pie rack behind the counter. The slice she served Earl was the first taken from that particular pie.
A man with the belt size you want in a chef came out carrying two plates with sides of bread. “Maggie, what are you doing out here? Didn’t you hear me ring that food was up?” Louie set the plates in front of me and Wyatt.
“Somethins wrong with the pies,” the waitress Maggie said in a whisper we could all hear.
“Can’t be,” Louie said, immediately rejecting the idea. “You’ve been serving them all day.”
“Earl’s was the first slice from the ones Maude made this mornin’. I tasted it, Louie. Somethins rotten in there.”
Louie grabbed a fork from the tray and, skeptic that he was, took a big old mouthful.
At least he turned away from us before he spit it out.
“I don’t know what’s going on with Maude,” he said sadly. “Take the peach off the menu—”
“But, Louie, it’s peach season!”
“We can’t. We’ll poison half the Parish,” he said, stating the obvious. “Check the apple and the rest first, then change the menu.”
Drama resolved, Wyatt and I dug into our specials. What Louie did in the kitchen would be rightfully described as art. If I was a little disappointed there was no peach pie in my future, the homemade spiced goodness in front of me wiped it away.
“Someone has to do something about Maude,” Earl said, begrudgingly accepting a slice of apple pie. “I would bet you the world the problem with the pie is those kids of hers.”
“Again?” Wyatt asked. “I thought her brother talked to them.”
“Talkin’” Earl said with a snort. “You can’t talk to deadwood and expect the world to change.”
“So true,” I said.
“I’ve a mind to pay her a visit.” Earl’s tone changed to worried. “Just to check in.”
Wyatt elbowed me. “We’ll come with you. Give us a few minutes here.”
In the time it took me and Wyatt to clean our plates, the two gave me the rundown on Maude’s situation. Her husband died about a decade ago. He’d put aside enough for her to get by. They always thought she was the best baker in West Feliciana Parish but then she went and won blue ribbons across the State. Now everyone knew Maude Fontenot was Louisiana’s peach pie queen.
She had two children. Her son, Marc, and daughter, Claudine, were in their forties with lives of their own. Marc was an independent insurance agent with a shiny convertible wrapped in a big picture of his face. Claudine stayed home, being a full-time mother to twin girls who were starting their senior year of high school. Putting it together, Maude wasn’t much older than me, though her kids were younger than mine.
Wyatt followed Earl, turning off the main road and then off the side road to a narrow strip of worn down ground only locals would consider a road. Maude’s house sat behind two oak trees with long drapes of moss. A large branch had fallen some time ago. It was half sunk into the earth and was in the process of being reclaimed by plants and critters.
The house was similar style to Anne’s main building, though roughly half the size. Most of the living was done on the first floor with two windows framed by peaks on the second floor. The porch was low and wide with a single tall back wicker chair near the front door.
From afar, it was charming. Up close, it needed work. I’m not judging, here, just describing that the home of Maude Fontenot was in need of new boards, some nails, paint, shingles, and the like.
Earl knocked on the screen door and announced himself. “Maude? It’s Earl LeBlanc.” He walked in then, Wyatt and me following. “You here, Maude.”
A woman poked her head into the hallway. “Earl?” She smiled as her small body stepped fully into the hall. “Well, isn’t this a nice surprise? Come in, come in. What can I get you? Coffee? Tea? How about a nice slice of peach pie?”
Earl tripped over a crack in the floor, but Wyatt picked it up smoothly. “If it isn’t too much trouble. This is Hippy, he’s from Indiana. Earl and I were telling him that he hasn’t had peach pie until he’s had yours.”
Maude liked that. She stood a little taller and escorted us into the kitchen. “You come right this way, Hippy. Rest your bones after such a long trip.” Like the outside of the house, repairs were needed. There was water damage in a corner of the ceiling, and something had snacked on some of the baseboard trim. But the room was cleaned ‘til it shined.
I liked Maude instantly. You’d have to be a heartless bastard not too. She brewed coffee made strong with chicory and served it beside four slices of pie. “Fresh made this morning,” she said.
Me, Earl, and Wyatt looked between each other.
“Go on, now,” she said, sitting down herself and taking a bit of pie. The color drained from her face. “Oh, no. How could I make such a stupid mistake?”
“It isn’t that bad,” Earl lied.
Maude glanced at him. A sharp woman, she knew. “The pies I sent to Louie’s. How many people?”
“Just me,” Earl said, not lying. “Louie and Maggie pulled the rest. They won’t tell no one.”
“Us neither,” Wyatt added quickly. “We were worried about you, Maude. That’s why we came.”
She squeezed his hand. “I have good friends. I was filling the pies this morning when Claudine came to visit. She is having dresses made for the girls for a cotillion. Claudine was short this month and needed help with the down payment to the dress maker. I told her no. We ain’t rich. If she wanted that kind of haute couture, she had to pay for it herself.” Maude hands trembled. “Well, that did not go over well, as you can imagine. Somewhere in all of it, I mixed up the sugar and salt. Stupid, stupid mistake.”
Maude aged ten years in telling the story. The happy, proud woman was reduced to embarrassed, ashamed.
“It was a mistake,” Wyatt said. “In a few weeks, you’ll look back and laugh. Mistakes make the best stories. No one wants to hear about the time everything went perfectly like it was supposed to.”
“You and yours stories,” Maude said, stopping when the sound of a performance engine came through the open windows. “That’ll be Marc.” She rose, smoothed her dress, and fixed a small smile on her face. “Well, it’s a day for surprises,” she called when he stepped onto the back porch.
Marc was dressed in a collared shirt and pressed pants and didn’t hide a disappointed expression. “Momma,” he said, coming into the kitchen and going to kiss Maude’s cheek. “I didn’t know you’d be entertainin’.”
“What entertainin’,” she said. “It’s just a few friends. You know Earl and Wyatt, and this is Hippy. He’s here all the way from Indiana.”
“Nice to meet you,“ I said. “Your mother is a charming woman.”
“She is,” he said, already done with me. “Momma, can I speak to you in the other room?”
Maude’s fake smile slipped. “Is something wrong?”
“No, ‘course not. It’s just family business.”
We couldn’t stop Maude from leaving the kitchen and Marc was bound and determined she would. The house wasn’t big and every door in it was open. With the three of us doing impressions of church mice, we heard every word the son-of-a-bitch said.
What a minute. That’s not right, ‘cause than would be Maude was a bitch. Let’s try again. . .
With the three of us doing impressions of church mice, we heard every work the asshole in insurance salesman’s clothes said.
“You promised you’d write the check,” Marc said in a tone a son should never use with his mother.
“I did not. You said I should write the check.”
“Well, I need it. Now.”
“Then go to a bank,” Maude said sharply, standing her ground.
“I can’t go to a bank. Where’s Daddy’s coin collection?”
“You are not touching your father’s things.”
“I’m going to inherit them eventually. What is the difference?”
“The difference is I’m not dead yet!”
The three of us were standing. I regretted not stopping at the Plantation for the Ka-Bar knives in my saddlebags. This boy needed a lesson.
“I can’t believe you. This conversation’s not over, Momma. I’ll be back for dinner. We’ll talk about it then.” The front screen door slammed shut.
Maude didn’t come back into the kitchen.
Quietly, the three of us went into her front parlor. Maude stood in the picture window, hands fisted, head bowed. Wyatt called her name. She shook her head without turning around.
We knew, we all knew.
Maude rode with Earl back to Anne’s. She settled into the room next to Wyatt’s and, between the three of us, she was set for the next few nights. While Anne tended to Maude, Earl, Wyatt and I contemplated her children.
“I know I’m new here but what I see is elder abuse. The sneaky, sleezy financial kind where the people who should be looking out most for Maude are bleeding her dry.” I looked from Wyatt to Earl. “Tell me I’m wrong.”
It was Earl who spoke first. “You’re not, but what can we do about it? She’s not going to go against her kids, and it won’t look like anything to the police.”
Wyatt agreed. “It’ll be our word against theirs and Maude will be stuck in the middle.”
I smiled. “That’s why we’re not going to the cops. We are going to teach those kids a lesson. Where can we find some climbing rope, fifty pounds of raw meat, and a couple of alligators?”
Wyatt was an artist, a creative type. What he lacked in mechanical capacity, he made up for in creativity. More than made up for. His idea was better than mine. More twisted if that’s possible.
Earl, it turned out, was a former ocean freight captain. He had skills that were illegal in some countries. He’d dealt with pirates, real ones. A couple greedy, grown-up children were tiny little blips on his radar.
And then you had me. An old contractor who specialized in getting in and out of tight places.
We split up, each with a shopping list. Earl’s son, Junior, met me at the hardware store. It took less than a half hour to fill the bed of his truck. He pulled around Maude’s house, picking out a choice spot under the thick branches of an old oak. For two strangers, we worked together well, building a six-sided pen that wasn’t sturdy enough to be permanent but would do the job.
Junior took on the job of climbing the tree, moving with the speed and confidence of a man used to being off his feet. He tested the strength of the tree limbs with his weight. I did the figuring and the rigging.
By the time his father and Wyatt arrived, we had our part ready.
“Shouldn’t we have something cooking in the kitchen,” Wyatt asked, shaking his hands to get rid of nervous energy. “They think they’re coming for dinner.”
“You can go ahead and cook if it makes you feel better,” I said, leaning back on a kitchen chair.
Wyatt opened the refrigerator and got busy. “What if Claudine brings her girls?”
“She won’t,” Earl said. “Maude stuck to the script. If we’re right and she is only interested in the money, she’ll come alone.”
A quarter to eight, the sun was getting close to the horizon. Blue was tending toward night to the east while the west was painted in all the colors of the rainbow.
Well, not green. But all the others.
We finished off the pork chops and gravy Wyatt fried up, each of us putting some bills on the table to repay Maude.
Earl put on his hat. “Come on, Junior. Time to get in position. They should be here in ten minutes or so.” Junior pulled on his own hat and followed his father out the back door.
“You know what you’re gonna do?” I asked Wyatt. In some ways, he had the hardest job.
“Not exactly, but I’ll get it done. Y’all just be ready.”
I left him to my own work. I double checked the rigging, making as sure as I could that everything was under control.
An engine approached. It was the same, smooth sound as in the afternoon. Marc Fontenot was in the house.
“Hey, Marc,” Wyatt called from the front of the house. “That is one beautiful car.”
“Wyatt.” Marc spat the name like a curse. “What are you doing here?”
“Maude invited me. Hey, can you help me with some firewood? Your mom thought a bon fire would be nice tonight.”
Wyatt came up the path next to the house, Marc trailing him to the large, neat stack of firewood. Wyatt filled Marc’s arms with wood which was when Earl and Junior set on him. Marc fought, but it was wasted energy. He was got. When he couldn’t overpower the men, well, he made enough noise to wake the dead.
Another engine neared, this one not nearly as smooth.
“Junior, Wyatt, get him in the house,” I ordered, revising the plan on the fly. “Earl, we’ll have to handle her.”
Marc shouted for his mother and then his sister as Junior bodied him into the house. The screen door slapped shut and that was the end of Marc’s noise. Earl sauntered up the driveway, stopped behind Marc’s car. He waited patiently for Claudine to kill the motor and get out of her vehicle.
“Hey, Earl, what are you doin here?” I couldn’t see her from where I was, but her voice was suspicious.
“Your mom invited me and Junior over for barbecue. I brought some steaks over from my cousin’s shop. We’re in the back.” He turned and started toward me.
Claudine followed him and soon I got a good look at her. She was her mother’s daughter, at least in looks. It was yet to be proven how far the peach had fallen from the tree. “I thought she wanted a private, family dinner?”
Earl shrugged. “Guess she changed her mind. Your brother’s in the house. This is Hippy. He’s from Indiana. Hippy, this is Claudine, Maude’s daughter.”
“Nice to meet you.” I held out my hand.
Claudine was the kind of woman who put make-up on whether she was leaving the house that day or not. She looked nice, and would be pretty when she smiled.
She wasn’t smiling now.
Good manners had been ingrained in her. So, want to or not, Claudine took my hand.
And Earl took her.
His arms locked around her, Earl lifted Claudine off her feet and carried her toward the stage we’d built. “Junior, bring Marc out.”
Marc marched out the back door, his hands up and his mouth shut. The cooperation came courtesy of a Colt .45 in his lower back. Earl stepped onto the stage we made and went to the chairs from Maude’s dining room. With higher backs and arm rests, they were made for the head of the table. Earl tossed Claudine into one.
“The other one is for you,” Junior said, giving him a shove.
I went behind the big tree, started the generator, then stood next to it, control box in my hand.
Claudine studied the four lengths of rope attached to her chair. In the dark shadows of the trees, the black ropes were invisible. “What the hell is this,” she spat.
“I don’t know,” Marc bit out, then looked to Wyatt, who stood front and center. “Where’s our mother?”
“With someone who cares for her. Don’t worry, she knows you’re here.” A small smile played at the corner of his mouth.
If I were them, I’d be afraid.
Marc sneered at him. “Whatever this is about, I’m not playing.”
He went to stand up, but I was faster. The ropes snapped taut and the chairs lifted into the air. It was only six inches, but Claudine screamed like it was a mile.
“What the fuck?!” Marc shouted while Claudine ordered, “Put us down.”
I raised the chairs slowly. Those two weren’t tied in. I did my best to make the lift smooth and balanced but they could be tipped. Junior and I proved it during testing. Lean to far in any direction and gravity did what gravity was wont to do.
So slow was the order of the evening. For now.
One foot. Two feet. Four feet.
Junior and Earl worked quickly, pulling the plywood flooring off the frame. The four gators, each good six footers, twisted and turned, leaping and snapped at the sudden change in environment.
“Holy shit! Holy fucking shit!” Marc screamed over and over, his head and body twisting until his chair looked like one of those swing rides at a fair.
“Stop, Marc! You’re gonna crash into me.” Claudine pulled her feet up and when her brother did swing her way, she kicked out at his chair. Then she glowered down at us. “Why are you doing this? What did we ever do to you?”
“Why do you think it’s acceptable to steal from your mother?” Wyatt asked the question, calm and civil.
“I never stole a dime.” Claudine leaned forward, hands on the front ropes.
“I didn’t either,” Marc shouted, leaning back, less sure of his weight.
Wyatt waved his hand, rolling it as though bored. “Whined. Begged. Coerced. Guilted. Pleaded. Tricked. Implored. Beseeched. She may have given it, but it wasn’t willingly. Drop them down, Hippy.”
I hit the down button, letting it go for one Mississippi of a second before punching the stop button.
They made as much noise as a pair of humans could, but there was noone but us to hear them.
“Shut. Up,” Wyatt ordered. “Do we have your attention?”
“I know where you live Wyatt Cambridge. You think long and hard about that before you do anything else.” Marc’s bravado was as solid as smoke. He barked with authority though, even foaming at the mouth some.
“And I know where you live, Marc Fontenot,” Wyatt said calmly. Then he shook his head. “What would your Daddy think of the way the two of you have been milking your mother? You have a lot to answer for and even more to be ashamed of.”
“Fuck y’all,” he said, pumping his legs to start his chair to swinging. “You have no say in our lives. No say in our mother’s.”
“Marc. Marc!” Claudine screamed over him. “Stop moving. The tree limb. I think it’s cracking.”
The two of shut up. All of our eyes were on the branch Marc hung from.
It was creaking all right.
Wyatt took advantage of the break to interrogate the witnesses. They didn’t deny what they did, siphoning money off their mother. But in their version of the world, this waan’t a problem. Their father had left a nice amount of savings, it was their inheritance. The house was paid off and between her pies and social security, their mother had enough to pay the bills.
What more did she need?
But them? They had needs.
Marc was over-extended on his business. Oh, he called it re-investing but, in plain English, he spent money he didn’t have. He already went to the bank. They were one of those knocking on his door for payment.
Claudine was under the delusion that she was re-living her teen years through her daughters. She talked in the ‘we’. When we do college visits…it matters what dress we wear to the dance…we can’t be seen in clothes from big box stores. We have standards to live up to!
The sky had been fully night for some time when Wyatt looked to Earl and then to me. “Shut her down, Hippy. We aren’t getting anywhere.”
“Finally, you’ve come to your senses,” Claudine said. “When the police hear about this stunt, your next chair is in a jail cell.”
I did shut the generator down and I locked the gear into position on the winch, leaving their feet hanging about four feet above the gators.
“You boys meet me back here around seven,” Earl said. “I promised I’d have these guys back home by ten tomorrow. Come on, Junior. Let’s go home.”
And then there were two. Wyatt and me.
“You’re gonna let us down, aren’t you Wyatt?” Claudine asked, infusing charm in her drawl.
Wyatt took a deep breath and shook his head. “I knew your father. He was a good, hardworkin’ man. Your mother loves you both, somethin’ I’ve come to know you don’t deserve. You’re gonna spend some time, now, thinkin’ about how to make this right.”
Marc decided to try a little sugar, too. “Be reasonable, Wyatt. You can’t leave us danglin’ over a gator pit.”
The two of them sat up there, on their chair swings, looking like they were auditioning for a circus or something. They twisted, swung, and turned. A breeze came in, rocking the branch.
I chuckled. “It’s like that old nursery rhyme. Rock-a-bye baby in the tree top, when the wind blows, the cradle will rock. When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and Maude won’t have to worry about no one messing up her pies any more.”
Wyatt, he laughed. “I think you got something a little wrong there.”
“Seems to be about right to me. Let’s go check on Maude.”
“What about us,” Marc shouted to our backs. “I’m sorry. Claudine is, too. We’ll…we’ll figure out a way to repay Mom.”
Promises followed us as we walked down the driveway. Then they turned on each other, blaming, complaining, and denying as we climbed into Wyatt’s truck. His engine finally drowned them out.
“That was intense,” Wyatt said, grinning ear-to-ear when we were on the road. “Woo!”
“You did good for a writer. Nice and calm.”
“This is going in a book. Hell, yeah, it is.” He backed off the speed when we bounded hard enough to hit our heads on the dirt road. “You think they’ll be there in the morning? They fall out of those chairs and the gators aren’t going to be happy.”
I shrugged, not that Wyatt could see it. “It’s in their hands. Just like it always has been.”
Before turning in, I gave Teresa a call. Told her where I was and how the Butler Greenfield Plantation was everything we remembered. She told me about her day. I did the same.
“That’s all you did today? Rode, ate crawfish, and saw some gators?”
“Why do you sound suspicious,” I asked.
“That just sounds too normal for you. I’m not going to go online tomorrow and find you at the center of some fantastic story, am I? Did you try wrestling those gators or something?”
“That hurts, Teresa. I’m rubbing my heart to take away the sting.”
“I met a coupla guys down here and helped them teach a lesson to adult children who never learned the one about not stealing. They were bad peaches, Teresa, and they were ruining the pies.”
“Do you hear how much sense you don’t make?” She sighed. “It’s been a week Hippy.”
“I know. I’m figuring it out.”
You probably can guess, but no alligators were harmed in the making of this episode. Can’t say the same for nasty children who steal from their parents.
The Butler Greenwood Plantation B&B is a real place and Hippy highly recommends it. Anne Butler is a real person and remarkably brave to let me and Hippy write her into this story. Thank you, Anne. Below are the links to Anne’s website. Check out her B&B and her books.
B&B Website: http://www.butlergreenwood.com/index.html
B&B Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063647916807
Books from UL Press: https://ulpress.org/search?q=anne+butler
Welcome to February, Josh. Remember Red Bull is not a food group. Godspeed.
Find Valerie J. Brooks
1 Last Betrayal is a thriller. Angeline Porter is picking up where she left off from the 2nd book in the series, Tainted Times 2, putting it all on the line for her half-sister. Bibi has disappeared and based on the last few texts, it wasn’t willingly. Angeline flies from Oregon to Florida to extract her sister from a hornets nest that includes a local detective, an ethically questionable FBI agent, a totally unethical mob queen, and a half-brother who only wants to be her family.
Bottom line: 1 Last Betrayal is for you if you like intricately woven plots that unravel one knot at a time.
Strengths of the story. 1 Last Betrayal checks a lot of boxes on the thriller checklist. First, the lead character being in mortal danger — check. Angeline, who is also called Ang, Angie, and Porter, is held at gun point, beaten, and kidnapped. She jumps from frying pan to frying pan, never quite knowing where the fire is. Second, the story has to resolve within a certain time — check. After 24 hours, most missing persons cases don’t end with a living resolution, according to the book. Three, the motivations of the other characters are hidden from the lead — check. Every one of the people helping Angeline has an ulterior motive, but those secrets are tightly held.
Where the story fell short of ideal: It is common in thrillers to have scenes from the point of view of multiple characters, enabling us readers to know what is going on and to be anxious on behalf of our heroes. 1 Last Betrayal is told only from Angeline’s point of view. In a story based on false motives, Angeline becomes confused about what is really going on. Without the ballast of other points of view for us to root in, the chaos element is dominant in the middle section of the book. For those who thrive on chaos, you’ll love it. For those who don’t, stick with it and enjoy the ride.
1 Last Betrayal is the 3rd book in a trilogy. I recommend reading the earlier books, Revenge in 3 Parts, and Tainted Times 2 first. Ms. Brooks last installment continues with characters and situations built in the first episodes. For maximum enjoyment, start from the beginning, likely an unnecessary recommendation as most of us wouldn’t conceive of starting a series anywhere but book 1. Links to all three books are in the show notes.
An accomplished lawyer is dead. The ME calls it an overdose; the lawyer’s wife calls bullshit. Now Detective Jesus De La Cruz has to determine who is at fault.
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I left Memphis early, meeting the sun somewhere around Jackson as I stopped for breakfast. If you ever wonder if the food at a diner was any good, just look to the spread of asphalt outside. If it’s nothing but stripes, keep going. But if it’s wall-to-wall taillights and license plates, that is a place worth stopping at.
This diner had three empty spots. Near, far, and really far.
Near looked like an option but it wasn’t. Close to the entrance, a big old passenger van with Missouri plates parked three-quarters in one space and one-quarter in another.
It would have fit in one spot, but the driver either didn’t have the skills or thought they were special. I was leaning toward the first given the number of dents on the white body. The mess of a parking job left plenty of space for my Ultra Classic.
But you don’t park a thing of beauty next to an idiot.
Far looked like an option, too. There a man sat on the parking block, feet planted wide, elbows on knees. In one hand he held a to-go cup of coffee; in the other a cigarette. A drag. A sip. Another drag.
I respect a man enjoying his breakfast. There was no need to chase him out.
Really far wasn’t a space so much as a triangle patch at the end of the line. It was made for a bike.
I parked and locked her then headed to the door, saying good morning to the coffee drinker on the way. Inside, the diner was hopping. I wanted the counter, but it was full. I settled for a table, taking the seat that let me see the whole place. People watching has always been a hobby of mine. Most people sat in two’s, like the diner was an ark and Noah himself seated them.
Two construction workers.
Two old men.
A mother and daughter, which still made two.
There was one group of eight, which sat as two tables of four. They were talking as much as they were eating as the waitress set the last of the plates on their table.
She left them for me. “Morning, Sunshine. Care for coffee?”
“Morning back to you,” I said back with as much enthusiasm as she gave to me. “Yes, to the coffee…Daisy.”
She smiled, showing off a perfect row of pearly white teeth. “We have a few specials this morning. The first is two eggs as you like ‘em with a side of biscuits and gravy. Then we have a—”
“The first is good for me,” I said, cutting off the list of things I didn’t want. Biscuits and gravy, well, that could have been my middle name.
“Miss? Miss? Could you bring more coffee?” The woman calling for Daisy was the mothering type. And the man she mothered was a tall and wore a suit.
He was a swan in a diner of ducks.
The twin quads – the two tables of four – became the entertainment I watched while I waited for my breakfast. The flock was made up of five women and three men. The swan was the center of attention, the ducks fussy about him. Every time the woman to his left went to take a bite of her pancakes, the swan interrupted.
Pass the salt. A pat of butter. Be a dear, two strawberry jams.
The twin quads kept Daisy hopping. Why was it that groups like them couldn’t get it together to ask for everything all at once?
When Daisy brought my breakfast, her disposition wasn’t quite so sunny. “Here you go, just as ordered.” She set two plates down with enough food to feed a crew. “Let me get you a warmup on the coffee and anything else?”
“It’s good Daisy,” I told her softly. “It’s all good.”
And it was. I’d put it second only to my own gravy.
My belly full, I paid my bill, gave Daisy a sunny tip, and rode east. It wasn’t long before a billboard caught my attention. A shooting range where you can bring your own or fire their collection of “old and unusual firearms.”
Bear Arms was a place for sportsman and lover of firearms. I count myself as both. My own guns were at home, so I had to take advantage of Bear Arms’ arsenal.
A 32 caliber Smith & Wesson No. 2 Army. A Colt Lightening 50 Express Carbine. A Peabody Martini Exhibition Grade Musket. A Winchester Model 1894 Rifle, a model I had in my own collection.
I spent a peaceful hour making all kinds of noise. The powerful release of gunpower and lead sung up my arm to my soul. It was that part of me that was hurting. I’d killed a man. Whether intentional or not, it was my wheels that ran over Dexter Green. My hand, or rather my foot on the gas pedal that killed him.
I took in a deep breath, looking to heaven as I rode. I have a tight relationship with God. I don’t expect he’s too happy with me right now. I know I wasn’t. Maybe the clean up I’d done in Memphis would count in my favor. I could only hope.
A couple hours later, I parked the Ultra Classic in another parking garage, this one attached to The Hermitage. In 1910, it cost a million dollars to build, which was probably something stupid like $110 million today. Now that I think of the costs of things, it was a pretty good deal.
The Hermitage was an architectural jewel, full of art and deco, marble and glass, arches and staircases. After checking in, I found a comfortable place in the main lobby to admire the scenery. I can do a lot of things, build nearly anything, but I can’t paint for shit. So, naturally, I respect the hell out of anyone who can. Given that my days were numbered, I took the time to appreciate the manmade beauty around me.
A couple about my age sat nearby talking about the prior day’s visit to the Grand Ole Opry and the Opryland Resort property. Teresa and I had been to Nashville years ago. We didn’t make it to the Opry, bad timing and all. So programmed the GPS, saddled back up, and made the short trip to the Grand Ole Opry.
The Opry is a performance hall, the roots of country music. It had re-invented itself more than a few times, keeping with the changes in style and technology. Nashville grew around it, including the Gaylord property with it’s small world inside our bigger one. It has a nice hotel with more than a few restaurants and a garden worth seeing whether you liked plants or not.
I bought the last ticket for the tour of the performance hall. It was a special ticket because of the behind the scenes peek at the stage and the seat to the show that came with it. If you weren’t aware, the Opry is a radio show. People traveled in from near and far to hear performances from country music stars past, present, and future.
Crossing the parking lot, one of those things that once you see, you can’t unsee, sat in front of me. It was luxury RV. On the side, in bold, colorful lettering was “Jesus Saves…and So Does Bob.”
I just shook my head. What else was there to do?
I walked on and through the awaiting door. To enter the Opry, you have to go through a metal detector. Not a surprise in this day and age, but something I wasn’t prepared for. A thin man in a security uniform slid a bowl to me. “Keys, chains, and so forth in the bowl, please. You can leave your belt and shoes on.”
I started emptying my pockets.
Chain to my wallet. I kept the wallet.
Ka-Bar knife I picked up in Memphis.
Six 30-caliber casings.
What was there to say? I looked up, waiting for the raised eyebrow and handcuffs. The guard took my bowl and handed it around his side of the metal detector. He didn’t say a word, so I walked through. It went off, so they wanded my belt and my boots. Then looked past me.
I turned, expecting to see someone wearing a badge.
I found a woman near to a hundred figuring out how to get her walker through the arch.
Another guard, the one who received my bowl, put it on a shelf and handed me a claim ticket. “The tour starts in the meeting room, down on the right.”
Huh. Not a word about the knives or the casings.
I took my time wandering down to the meeting room. I suppose with arrest imminent, half the people would spend time looking over their shoulder every twenty seconds. The other half would race point to point, never seeing the sights along the way. Me? I was in the third half, those who knew this, more than any other, was the time to smell the roses.
I studied the pictures. Artists I listened to. Some I sung along with. There was a lot of history in these walls. The pictures led to the meeting room minutes before the tour was to start. I entered and joined twenty-some others. About half were clustered in a group and who should be at the center but the swan from the diner. His ducklings were still fluttering around him.
The swan was dressed finely. He was tall, a good six-two. He wasn’t broad, which gave him the illusion of even more height, despite the size of his belly. His hair was styled with not a strand out of place. His cheeks were ruddy, laugh lines carved into the corners of his eyes. He wore a suit, one that had been tailored given the difference between his waist and his chest. He was a man of means.
His flock was just ordinary folks. The ladies wore dresses or nice pants with a blouse. The men for dress pants and button-down shirts. One wore a tie. They were neat and clean but there was a difference between the swan and his ducks.
The tour was led by a little blonde with a broad smile. “Hey y’all, gather round and we’ll get started. That’s right. Come in close. I don’t bite.”
We did as she said, surrounding the woman who couldn’t have broke five-foot tall. For the most part, people used their common sense, the taller letting the short up front.
The exception was the swan, who used an arm to sweep a woman behind him. It was the one who sat next to him at the diner. The one who he hadn’t let eat a bite without interruption.
“Welcome to the Grand Old Opry. I’m Dorothy and while this is not Oz, you should be prepared to be amazed.” Dorothy laid out the rules about staying with the group, keeping our hands to ourselves, and what we shouldn’t be doing with cell phones. Then we began to parade through the public and private spaces of the Opry.
“You were at the diner in Jackson,” said one of the ducks. “I’m Martin. We came all the way from Missouri.”
“Hippy,” I said, holding out my hand to shake his as I remembered the passenger van that took two spots at the diner. “I’m from a little bit of everywhere.”
Martin laughed. “I like that. Wish I could say the same.”
We started talking as strangers do. Been here before? No. Favorite country artist? Willy Nelson. Roy Clark. Porter Wagner. Johnny Cash. Wayland Jennings. Buck Owens. I could keep going.
Favorite song? See previous answer.
It was a pleasant conversation. One I enjoyed. Until the swan looked over his shoulder and saw Martin with me. Those waxed brows furrowed and he snapped his fingers. Martin looked guilty as a schoolboy and left me to take his place in the flock.
Our group continued down a corridor and stopped as Dorothy went into an elongated response to a question.
“Do you know where you’re going to spend eternity?”
The voice over my shoulder belonged to the swan. He looked down at me, both figuratively and literally.
“Yes, sir. I do,” I told him. “Do you?”
He tilted his head, a small grin on his face. It wasn’t a nice smile. It was more like he was royalty and I was a peasant. “I’m an ordained minister.I know where I’m going. Reverend Bob,” he said. “Maybe you’ve heard of me.”
I offered my hand. He accepted with a firm shake of a hand wearing two thick rings.
“Can’t say as I have. I’m Hippy,” I said. “Maybe you heard of me.”
His smile grew. “Mark this day on your calendar Mr. Hippy, because it is the day you are saved. It is the day you stood in the presence of the Lord’s greatness through his disciple and received his forgiveness.”
This man, with his fancy suit and waxed smile, stunk like a skunk. “How do you know I need forgiving?”
“We all come into this world needing forgiving,” he said. “We are human beings, born with the seed of evil. That seed grows as a man grows. Sins of the body, Hippy, those can be forgiven.”
Dorothy led our group on and we followed.
I’ve lived a long life and have made my peace with God. It took some time but what he said eventually got through this hard head of mine. I’ve been lucky to meet real people of God. People who give without ever asking for something in return. Preachers who bust their ass on the jobsite each day because the Lord’s gospels were their calling, not their paycheck.
I have stood in the presence of true goodness.
Which was why I knew exactly what Bob was.
“A water for you, Reverend Bob.” One of the ducks handed him a bottle. “Do you need anything else?”
Bob opened it and sipped. He sneered and handed it back. “It’s not cold.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Her face fell in embarrassment. “It must have gotten warm in my bag. Let me run back to the van and get one from the cooler.”
I waited for him to decline the offer. After all, we were in the middle of a tour. He did not. The woman left the tour group, heading out the way we had come in.
“Where are you going to spend eternity?” I asked him.
“At our Father’s side.” There was no hesitation in his voice, no doubt.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this man saw himself at the front of the line, but I was. He went on, talking about sacrifice and suffering, sins and forgiveness. The funny thing was, I got the impression, he wasn’t talking about himself. He was talking about everyone else.
The other man in his flock joined us. “Reverend Bob, did you—”
“Harry, can’t you see that I am in a conversation?” His tone was sharp as an ax and just as heavy.
“Sorry, Reverend. I’m sorry, sir,” he said to me.
“We’re good, Harry. I’m Hippy.”
Harry didn’t speak, looking to Reverend Bob for permission.
The Reverend didn’t give him the nod as his focus was on me. “You go to church, Hippy?”
Which was none of his business. “The world is my church and all in it my brothers.”
He snorted in laughter. “Godless men have only fire and brimstone to look forward to. Today truly is your lucky day.”
Now, it would have been easy to be insulted. What Bob didn’t get was that me and God, well, we were good. Like I said, I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled with me about old Dexter Green, but he wasn’t going to desert me any more than I was him.
I separated myself from Bob and started talking with the ducks. They were proud to count themselves among his flock and paid thousands of dollars a year for the privilege. They looked up to Bob and not just because he was taller. They looked up to him because he had convinced them they were below him and the only way to climb out of the hole of sin was to pray and tithe.
And not necessarily in that order.
A friend shared with me a simple way to tell if someone was good or bad. Good people raise others up. Bad people raise themselves up by pushing others down.
The flock? They were good ducks.
Bob? He was no swan.
But how to expose Bob for what he was? After all, the ducks weren’t going to listen to a stranger telling them their prophet on earth was a grifter. Hell, they’ve probably been told that. More than once. And by people they loved.
I pondered the dilemma as Dorothy took us backstage to a soft rising of oohing and aahing.
I did a root cause analysis, which is a fancy way of saying I thought down to the heart of the matter. Each and every one of the ducks was a good person—someone who lifted others up. Why would a duck ingratiate themselves to someone who took and never gave?
Someone with the letters PHD after their name could probably come up with a reason, but I couldn’t.
By the time Dorothy had us back to the meeting room, I was friendly enough with Bob and the ducks to get an invite to join them at the Opryland Hotel before the show. The hotel wrapped around a large area with restaurants, gardens, and a stream. It was topped with a steel and glass structure that must have been a pain in the ass to build.
Reverend Bob led the group to one of the restaurants. Like the self-possessed man he was, he dismissed without seeing people beneath him. He damn near snarled when he gave his name at the podium only to find out the reservation was under Mindy. Bob sat at the head of the table, his gopher woman, Mindy as it turned out, on his right and me on his left. He ordered appetizers for the table and the surf-and-turf for himself. The others ordered less lofty meals. For myself, I chose steak and potatoes.
“You say that you know you’re heaven-bound?” I asked him. I suspected it wouldn’t take much to get him talking and it didn’t.
“I do. Hippy, when you give yourself into God’s hands, there is nothing on this earth that can bring you down.” He went on to elaborate and made it clear as crystal that he was talking about himself. The rest of us, those who hadn’t been hand chosen, well the path was a longer and more expensive.
“It’s like a get-out-of-jail free card,” I said, making the analogy as ugly as I could. “Once you’re in, what you do here doesn’t matter. I like that idea, Reverend Bob. And I want in.”
His eyes swept from my head down. I guess I haven’t told you what I look like. Well, they don’t call me Hippy for nothing. My hair went white some time ago and is long, down to my shoulders. It stays in place thanks to a bandana. My moustache and goatee are long to match and don’t need a bandana to stay where they’re supposed to. I didn’t take many clothes when I left Indiana. Today, I wore a T-shirt from Stone’s Harley Davidson.”
Bob didn’t let what was going on in his head shine through. He’d be a mean one to go up against in a poker game.
“I inherited Mom and Dad’s house and the acreage,” I said. “I’ve been putting money aside since I started working.” I didn’t put a number out there. Anything he imagined was going to be better than what I could make up to tempt him.
“We’ll start addressing those sins with weekly sessions and get you on the path of truth and justice,” he said, leaping for the bait. “You’ll be expected to pray, to study the bible, to tithe. It’s not about the money, of course. It’s about what it represents.”
I nodded to cover that I’d just thrown up in my mouth a little.
“I’m in,” I said, pushing my empty plate away. “When do we start?”
Reverend Bob finished his wine, a fancy Italian one called Amarone. His plate was just as empty and he dropped his cloth napkin atop it. “Come to my RV and we’ll talk.”
I stood and pulled money from my wallet, more than enough to cover my share.
Bob did not.
The ducks started murmuring in a way that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. All eyes were on me, and they were wide. The whispers between neighbors seemed to say this invitation was a rare occurrence.
One I wondered if people walked away from.
Wanting to put some distance between me and Bob, I made an excuse to use the restroom and call the wife before meeting him at the RV.
He hesitated, then bowed his head. “I’ll have everything ready when you arrive.”
Oh, shit. Have you seen a horror movie? Like any movie? Ever?
Maybe I really should call Teresa. At least she’d have a chance of finding my body.
I went into the maintenance room. It wasn’t Bass Pro, but it would suit. I borrowed a duffle bag, removing the contents and putting them aside. Then I filled it with everything I could possible need…well, there was one more thing. And I bought that at the restaurant.
I knocked on the RV’s door maybe fifteen minutes later. Bob opened it. He’d lost the suit jacket and tie, and unbuttoned the top button. “Hippy, I was beginning to think the devil had had he way with you.”
“Not today, Bob.” I stepped up into the RV and I was right. Luxury wasn’t pretty enough word to describe the interior. Hand-crafted cabinets, multiple large screen televisions, quartz countertops. Steps to an upper level. “This is some spread you have here. You all travel in this together?”
Bob shook his head. “This is my oasis. My place to get away, collect my thoughts, refocus my energy. Please, sit.”
“I brought you something.” I set a bottle of the restaurant’s highest shelf Scotch on the table. “To show my appreciation for the interest you’ve taken in me. Where do you keep your glasses?”
Bob and I began to talk. I drank enough for a lifetime back in my twenties and kept with simpler things now. But I knew the power of the bottle and Bob? Well, he should of known it, too.
We started down the path he wanted, how my soul was black and blighted and he was the only way to the light. I nodded and followed where he wanted to go. Until…his façade started slipping, signs the alcohol was doing it’s job.
See, a little while back I learned some latin. In vino veritas. It means there is truth in wine. Or, what we all know, drunk people can’t lie.
I dug in the duffle and brought a little black puck. Not the kind you use in a hockey game. The kind you use to share a conversation to a Bluetooth speaker sitting outside the RV.
“What is this, Hippy?” Bob asked, his clumsy hands picking at disc.
“It’s a disseminator of truth. Whatever you say is transmitted for everyone to hear.”
He managed to pick it up and brought it close to his mouth. “I am . . . awesome.” He grinned at me.
I nodded. Seeing as he was just the right level of drunk, I pulled the Scotch away. “You are the hand selected instrument of God on earth?”
“I am,” he said with absolute certainty.
“Why do you think he picked you?”
He brought the mic to his lips. “Because . . . I am awesome.”
My mouth twitched. Couldn’t help it. “Help me understand your calling.”
Bob dropped the puck on the table, then caught it and set it right. “My calling is to collect together the lost souls of Missouri and shepherd them to heaven. It’s not easy. There’s too many people these days who only want God in their life when things are hard. God’s not like that, you know.”
“I do know. Bob, how much money do people give you for shepherding them?”
Bob’s answer on how full his offering plate was had me wishing for a drink. When I asked what he did with it all, I got an education in operating costs. The mortgage and utilities. The few employees who were paid below far market. The volunteers who were earning “God credit” through good deeds.
The numbers weren’t adding up. “Where does all the money go, Bob? Do you use it to help people struggling?”
He leaned into me. “Everyone is struggling, Hippy. Everyone. It’s part of the path. People need to struggle just like Jesus did. It’s the way to get through the eye of the needle.”
I leaned in, mirroring him. “Are you struggling, Bob?”
He snorted. “I’m his disciple.”
I understood the unspoken implication. Struggling was for everyone else. And with that, I’d had it. “I’m going to take this RV apart, Bob. I’m going to expose you for what you are.”
“Oh, you’re one of those.” Bob threw his head back and laughed. “And what exactly am I, Hippy?”
“You’re a man, Bob. Just like the rest of us.”
Well, Bob went real still at that. “You can’t do that.”
“Yeah, I can.” I leaned down and pulled a Stihl chain saw out of the duffle bag.
“Hippy, wait, can’t we talk about this?” Panic was sobering him up real fast.
“Go ahead and talk,” I said, pulling on the gloves and eye protection. “I’m not stopping you.”
And talk he did. He explained his twisted logic of the money and gifts being due to him. How others out there were worse than him. How destroying the RV would accomplish nothing.
For all his talking, he still didn’t get it.
It wasn’t about him.
It was about Martin and Harry and Mindy and everyone else in the battered passenger van. Good people who lived their lives lifting others up and didn’t see that they weren’t getting the same.
If he had said even a single, positive word about the ducks, maybe I’da changed my mind. But this swan in buzzard’s clothing was blind to his own ways.
I set the saw on the floor, put on ear protection, and prepared to pull the starter. If it didn’t start, I’d look the fool and maybe take it as a sign to stop.
It started on the first pull.
The motor roared in the small space. Bob’s eyes widened and he stumbled back. His mouth moved but I couldn’t hear what he said and didn’t care to lip read. I walked toward Bob. He crab walked back toward the cockpit. I took a right at the stairs to the exterior door. The blade went through the fiberglass like butter, making a Hippy-sized opening in the door.
The ducks were on the other side. When I went back to the restaurant for the Scotch, I tagged Martin and invited him to the show. Seven people stood on the other side of the door. Seven different reactions.
Disappointment. Shame. Embarrassment. Anger. Disbelief. Denial. Sadness.
One of the women pointed behind me. I turned as Bob came out of the RV. The chainsaw discouraged whatever he had planned. I went around to the back of the RV, the ducks followed.
The composite exterior was no match for the chain’s RPMs.
If I had thought this through, I’d done it from the inside out. As it was, the window I opened was only about three feet high over the RV’s floor. It was enough to look through to the opulent— hey, there’s a word for more than luxury —to the opulent interior.
Then I went to the side of the RV and did a little precision cutting.
Jesus Saves, it said.
And nothing more.
I called Teresa from my room at the Hermitage the next morning. “I went to the Grand Ole Opry yesterday. If they don’t hang me, we should come back and do the tour and the show. You would like it.”
“They don’t hang people anymore, Hippy. Even stubborn old goats like you.” Her voice trailed off like she was only paying half attention to me.
“What are you doing?”
“Looking up the Opry to see…Hippy! What did you do now?”
Never offer up the truth to a smart woman. “What does it say I did?”
“It says that someone exposed a preacher for misappropriation of funds to the church elders, who demanded the Nashville police arrest the man. The FBI has been called in.” She gasped. “Did you really take a chain saw to an RV?”
“Does it say I did?”
“Of course not, but I know it was you.” She paused and I could picture her shaking her head. “What am I going to do with you?”
No Bobs were harmed in the making of this episode. Same goes for ducks, swans, and buzzards.
The Hermitage Hotel just may be TG Wolff’s favorite place to stare at a ceiling. They also set the bar for awesome suite bathrooms. The Grand Ole Opry is one of the coolest places ever, even if you aren’t a country music lover, and The Opryland Resort is worth more than a few hours of your time.
We tackled a nasty bad guy in this episode and some of you might have gotten offended. If you did, first you might want to remember this is fiction and then ask why it bothered you. If you didn’t, then you’re doing just fine.
We hope you enjoyed the ides of January, Josh. Godspeed.
Murder at the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson. Released 1994 by Ballantine Books.
Murder in the Place of Anubis is a mystery set in ancient Egypt. Hormin is dead. The scribe with the bad attitude and nasty tongue is neither mourned nor missed. The problem is his body was found in a sacred place, which means his death is now the problem of Meren, the Eyes and Ears of the Pharoah. Nearly everyone Hormin knew had reason to celebrate his exit from this life. Hence, Meren and his son, Kysen, have no shortage of suspects.
Bottom line: Murder in the Place of Anubis is for you if you like traditional murder mysteries enveloped in non-traditional mystery settings.
Strengths of the story. The story is written as a modern telling of a mystery. Meaning the description of buildings and room, dress and roles, etc., are told as if these are commonplace and, as such, does not come off as a mystery set in a history book. The setting added to the dynamic of the mystery. The execution of mystery is rooted in the traditions of the Egyptian culture, which makes it interesting if not solvable for the reader.
Where the story fell short of ideal: From the end, looking to the front, the mystery story line itself is solid. My comment, then, comes from “getting lost” a few times in the movements of the investigators and a difficulty keeping some of the minor characters straight. For example, I find I ask “why did a character have to go there?” At times, it seems it wasn’t needed for the mystery but only added bulk to the story.
This was the debut mystery for Lynda Robinson. She had 6 in the series, released 1994-2001. I plan to continue reading.
Find Jode Millman
The Midnight Call is a legal thriller. Jessica Martin is a corporate attorney whose mentor, Terence Butterfield, is in big trouble – the bloody kind. Jeremy Riley is the past-his-prime defense attorney Jess brings in to defend Terence. Hal Samuels is the Assistant District Attorney pressured to make sure justice is a big, public win. But it’s not that easy – it never is. Past relationships cloud the facts until the web is indeed a tangled one.
Bottom line: The Midnight Call is for you if you like thrillers rooted in a court room with drama driven by personal choices of good people put in bad situations.
Strengths of the story. The story is told in three parts. In the first, we see firsthand the wheels that are set in motion by the midnight call. From the opening phrases through the Grand Jury, the story is well crafted, working through the angst and strategy of a murder trial. The middle part of the story shifts focus to the private lives of the main characters and how the publicity and pressure of the trial affects their choices and their families. The characters are put in difficult situations, and we watch as, for some, emotion overrules good judgement. The final sequence returns to the trial, where the lawyers roll up their sleeves and finish the job. The story telling throughout is detailed and reasoned.
Where the story fell short of ideal: Compared to other legal thrillers, The Midnight Call does not go deep into the detail of the law and courtroom procedures. This will be a plus for readers who love the air of a legal thriller without the grainy detail and a minus for those who like to get so granular, sand falls from the pages. With the story focusing on the three attorneys, the accused killer Terence Butterfield is not front and center, so we do not get his side of the story. While the story tied off the legal strings, it left me with a few unanswered questions.
DEATH IN THE BACK SEAT was written by Dorothy Cameron Disney and published by Random House in 1936. It is currently available from Wildside Press.
Jack and Lola Storm, artist and writer, respectively, move from New York City to Connecticut for the promised peace and quiet of country life to pursue their crafts. Life in small town Connecticut may not have the hustle of the big city, but New York didn’t have a domineering land lady, a quirky handyman, an arrogant romance writer, and a dead man right in their own back seat.
DEATH IN THE BACK SEAT is for you if you love a roller coaster ride of a mystery. It’s like a Midsomer Murder…only in 1930s Connecticut.
Strengths of the story. This is a tag-a-long mystery, meaning we follow along with the investigation, rather than try to solve it. It took a few chapters for the story to truly get started, and then it look off like a shot. I binge read the last 75%. The plot is marvelously crafted and displays a masterful use of foreshadowing that could be used in a lit class. The descriptions of the characters are particularly vivid, allowing me to keep them distinct in my mind. Nearly every time you think Jack, Lola and the local police have things in hand, well, they don’t. There is the thrill of the mystery, heroes in mortal danger, a little habeas corpus, and so much more. It is a fun, if deadly ride.
Where the story lacks compared to the ideal. Stories with twists and turns are always a lot of fun reading start to finish. But often, when at the finish and looking back, there are questions to be asked. My husband says these things bother no one but me…but he can’t be right. The actions of the characters in the midst of the story are solid. But I can’t say the same for the actions that kicked the story off. They are weak. There are a few point where the matters of resolution seem contrived only to leave us in the dark. And a dog is badly treated. No bueno, Dorothy Cameron Disney.
Dexter Wilde is a master in the art of the deal. A day on the charter boat Effing Fun Run is an ideal for catching a fish…and not just the kind that swim. But on this three hour tour, mixing business and pleasure leads to murder.
Listen Here or anywhere you get your podcasts.
This is a podcast where we combine storytelling with original music to put you in the heart of a mystery. This season contains original stories, structured to challenge you to beat the detective to the solution.
MOVE IT OR LOSE IT pays homage to the vehicles that propel mysteries forward. A train was the setting for Agatha Christie’s famed Murder on the Orient Express. A river boat then took center stage on Death on the Nile. Cars have been prominently featured in American crime stories with the glory of the get-a-way vehicle. Then there are the heists from carriages to trains to armored trucks.
A charter fishing boat. An ambulance. An ultra-tech sports car. A flat-bed tow truck. A shorty bus. An old school locomotive. A horse. An airport shuttle. A Winnebago. A carriage.
Join authors Ed Teja, Chuck Brownman, Colin Conway, KM Rockwood, Craig Faustus Buck, Erica Obey, Ken Harris, Karina Bartow, Kyra Jacobs, Jack Wolff, and TG Wolff for a mystery to die for. Episodes start dropping Friday, Jan 6, at 1:30p Eastern. Listen HERE or anywhere you get your podcasts.