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Spotlight on Unexpected Outcomes by Carolyn Ridder Aspenson

by
Spotlight on Unexpected Outcomes by Carolyn Ridder Aspenson Unexpected Outcomes by Carolyn Ridder Aspenson
Series: Angela Panther Mystery #4
Published by the author on September 19, 2017
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 219
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When a frantic 911 call stumps a suburban Atlanta police department, psychic medium Angela Panther steps in to assist. Without a body or a ransom note, the cops question whether there's even a case, but Angela's certain the woman's dead.

With the help of her best friend Mel and celestial super sleuth mother, Angela searches for proof of the woman's murder.

Desperate to connect the dots, she rushes her intuition and comes face to face with the killer, only this time, she's on her own.

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

“I can’t believe I’m gonna die. Please, no. Why are you shooting at us?”

I pulled the trigger and watched as the bullet raced through the air, smacking my best friend in the center of her chest.

I bolted upright; sweat dripping from my forehead, tears streaming down my cheeks, my heart beating faster than ever. I’d just dreamed I’d shot my best friend. My best friend. “It’s just a dream,” I mumbled. “Just a dream.”

My husband, Jake rolled over and rubbed my leg. “You okay, Babe?”

I lay down and snuggled into him. “I just shot Mel in my dream.”

He squeezed his arms tight around me. “We both know that would never happen. You’d be lost without her. It was just a dream. Don’t let it upset you.”

I glanced at the clock. It was four AM, and I knew I wouldn’t fall back asleep, so I kissed Jake and got up for the day, resigned to the fact that I’d be exhausted before nightfall. I shuffled to the bathroom, closed the double doors, and flipped on the light. My eyes sunk like anchors in the blue and black pits swelling below them. Sleep eluded me most nights, and the nights I did catch a few z’s, were restless and fitful, and it showed.

Downstairs I made a fresh pot of coffee and while waiting for it to finish, replayed the dream in my head. Nothing was clear except Mel. Images of gravel and trees flashed briefly, too fuzzy and indistinct to identify with any clarity. My gift was communicating with the dead, not predicting the future, and half of me thought the dream meant nothing. The other half though threw red flags up all over the kitchen, practically screaming Danger, Will Robinson. That half knew the Universe didn’t have a rulebook and the fear of what it could mean crushed my heart like a ton of bricks. Six months ago I couldn’t feel what a ghost felt, but that had changed, so I knew anything was possible, and that scared the bejesus out of me. I powered on my phone and pounded out a text to Mel.

“I had a bad dream,” I wrote.

It didn’t take long for her to respond. That’s how best friends worked. No matter what time it was, they were there when we needed them. “Wow, me too. It was so strange. I shot you.”

My heart raced into the anaerobic zone. I snatched my keys from the key box, slipped on my tennis shoes and bolted out the door and into my car in the garage. Both of us having the same dream wasn’t a coincidence. It meant something, and I didn’t need my spidey sense to tell me that.

I sped fifteen miles over the speed limit and made it to Mel’s house in record time. I killed the lights as I drove into her driveway, and sent her a text. “Don’t freak when the garage door opens; it’s just me.” I’d had the code for years, just like she had mine because best friends shared that kind of stuff.

She met me in her kitchen, her long black hair pulled into a bun, and her feet snuggled into the fuzzy teddy bear slippers I’d bought her for Christmas last year. “It’s a little early for coffee, doncha think?”

I couldn’t speak. I just flung myself at her and wrapped my arms around her neck, holding on for dear life.

“I…I…you’re cutting off my oxygen.”

I softened my vice-hold but didn’t let go.

She broke free and raised her eyebrows my direction. “I’m sorry I killed you, but it was just a dream.” She shuffled over to her coffee maker and grabbed the pot. “Flavored or regular?” Clearly, ending my life didn’t impact her as much as her death did me. Then again, she didn’t know I’d bumped her off too. The double sucker punch would surely knock her out, or at least I’d hoped it would.

I sat at the counter feeling a bit embarrassed for freaking out but based on the changes in my life over the past few years; I was justified. “Either is fine.”

She rinsed the pot and asked again why I’d showed up at such an ungodly hour.

I knew Mel’s dream increased the probability of the Universe giving me a message I didn’t want to hear. Was Mel going to die? Was I? And by whose hand? I couldn’t imagine any situation where I’d kill my best friend, but then again, a few years ago I couldn’t imagine talking to dead people, and that was a daily occurrence.

She placed a fresh cup of coffee next to me. I held it to my nose and took in the spicy, fruity smell, stalling to answer her question.

“So you gonna spill it or are we gonna sit here and pretend you’re just here to hang out at butt-early o’clock?”

“How did you kill me?”

“Why? You do something that would cause me to carry through?” She giggled, but I didn’t think it was funny and my expression told her so. Her smile flipped over. “Come on, what’s going on?”

“I dreamed I killed you too.”

She dropped into the seat next to me. “Well, that’s alarming.”

I nodded.

“I shot you twice in the chest. Some place outside, but I’m not sure where. It was a quick dream.”

“Mine too, and it was the same.” I sipped my drink. “Did I say anything to you?”

She tightened her bun. “I think so, but I can’t remember.”

“I can’t believe I’m gonna die. Why are you shooting at us?”

She pointed at me. “That’s really freaky.”

It was.

“But,” She rubbed my shoulder. “We didn’t shoot each other, and we’re not going to, so it’s all good. Now can you go home so I can go back to sleep? I’ve got a busy day tomorrow. Deadlines.”

“It means something. I know it does.”

She stared into her cup. “I know you’re right, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that we can’t rush the powers that be into telling us what we don’t know. If you’re supposed to find out, you will. If you’re not, you won’t. But I don’t think one of us is gonna bite the bullet anytime soon.” She grimaced. No pun intended.”

“I would never shoot you.”

“Of course not. You don’t have a gun.”

“There is that.”

“But I do.” The left side of her upper lip lifted. “And I know how to use it.”

“So in other words, don’t tick you off.”

“If I didn’t shoot my cheating ex-husband, there sure as heck ain’t any reason I’d shoot you.”

“You didn’t have a gun then.”

“Good point.”

I guzzled the last bit of my coffee and when I stood, hugged her again. “I love you.”

“Who doesn’t?” She joked and squeezed me back as hard as I’d squeezed her. “Love you too.”

I drove home thinking about the dream, the air in the car replaced by an impending doom so thick, if I’d had a knife, I could have sliced it into pieces.

* * *

“I can’t believe I’m gonna die. Please, no. Why are you shooting at us?”

I jumped high enough out of my seat I nearly smacked my head on the ceiling of Detective Aaron Banner’s office. “Oh, my gosh, last night Mel and I dreamed we said the same things to each other.”

He smacked his hand down on the stop button of the recorder, and we locked eyes. “Care to explain?”

I did.

He rewound the tape and played it again from start to finish. The boom of a gunshot echoed through the recorder. Something heavy dropped onto the ground with a thud. A woman screamed. “No, why? Oh my God, no.”

A man’s voice mumbled something I couldn’t make out. Then another man muttered something else, but I couldn’t understand him either. Whatever happened, happened in real time, and it was abominable.

“Why? Please God, don’t kill me. My babies. They need me. I can’t believe I’m gonna die. Please, no. Why are you shooting at us?”

The line went dead.

I rubbed my neck. The call had come into the dispatch center earlier that morning, and Aaron called me in to help.

“It’s hard to listen to. Sounds like maybe two men and a woman, but I’m not sure. Thought you might be able to help us with her identity or maybe the location. We don’t know if it’s a robbery or an assault or if the woman is dead—nothing.”

The woman on the line never spoke to the operator directly, and never said her name. It appeared she was just trying to give clues to what was happening. Because of the shots, time was important, and we didn’t have much of it.

“The operator called back once the line went dead. Got a voicemail for a girl named Sarah.”

“Can you trace the call or find out the billing address for the owner?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Track phone. They’re not traceable. We’ve been calling the number back since we received the call, but it just goes straight to voicemail.” He paused and played the recording one more time. “Usually the phone company doesn’t keep the information on the purchaser, but the carrier gave us the number for the last call. Belongs to a man by the name of Stu Walker.” He tapped a pencil on his desk.

“Have you called him or sent anyone out there?”

“Got voicemail on his line, too. Sent a squad out twice already but no one’s been home. Thought I’d call you and have you come out with me.”

I stood. “Let’s go.”

Aaron and I met a few years back when a little boy’s spirit asked me to give his parents a message. I’d been able to communicate with spirits for some time, though according to my mother Fran Richter, I’d done it as a child too, but as I aged, the gift lessened until it disappeared completely. It resurfaced when my mother died and decided to test the psychic waters. When her ghost appeared to me, I thought I’d flipped my lid. It was even harder when other ghosts came around asking for help with their earthly business. I wasn’t thrilled at first but eventually realized the curse was truly a gift. Ever since Aaron saw my gift up close and personal, I’d been his psychic medium consultant, off the record and free of charge. We’d also become friends, and I was grateful for all of it, but for the friendship most of all.

We arrived at a shabby brown stucco house on the outskirts of town, where the city had yet to pilfer all the farmland from its owners and stack two hundred plus home nearly on top of each other in an upscale, amenities-laden subdivisions. The house was in disrepair, with shutters hanging by a hair and a boarded up window in the garage. A Pitbull sat chained to a tree near the gravel driveway. It was thirsty and tired. I wanted to unleash it and take it home with me. The whole scene matched the stereotype image other parts of the country have of the south. I said a silent thank you to the Universe for the blessings in my life.

Aaron knocked on the door and a young man, maybe in his twenties, with a shaved head and a dark, brown, at least six-inch long beard, opened it. “Yeah?”

My spidey senses sent a smidgen of a tingle zipping down my spine.

Aaron flashed his badge. “You Stu Walker?”

The man’s shoulders curved inward just a bit. “Yessir.”

“We understand you made a call to a woman named Sarah at about 9 AM this morning. Can you tell me anything about that woman?”

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Uh, yeah. Sarah Rochen. My cousin. Why you asking?”

“We’re trying to locate her whereabouts. Do you happen to know where she is?”

I caught his eyes widen for a millisecond. Had I blinked, I would have missed it. It sent my spidey sense shooting back up my spine like a just lit firework.

He examined the ground near his feet and then shook his head. “I haven’t talked to her since this mornin’, but you might could talk to her ma.”

Aaron took down the mother’s phone number. “Thank you, Mr. Walker. What was your conversation with Ms. Rochen about?”

He rubbed his head. “I told her I might could get her a new car, and she was supposed to call me back later today to go and see it before she went back to Savannah.”

“Do you know why she was going to Savannah?”

“That’s where she lives.”

“Do you know what she was planning to do today or why she was in town?”

He shook his head. “Something ‘bout seeing her kids.” He hemmed and hawed and kicked at the ground. “I don’t know anything about it really, but her ma might know.”

Aaron cut the meeting short. “You got an address for her mother?”

“I don’t know the address, but I could get you there from here.”

“It’s okay. I can get it through my department. Thank you for your time. You have a nice day.”

I smiled at him and followed Aaron back to the car.

In the car I gave Aaron my two cents. “Something’s not right about that guy.”

“He’s just a good ol’ country boy.” He got on his car radio and asked to have an address run on Sarah Rochen’s mother’s cell number. “You have time to go there, too?”

“Sure.”

Based on the address, her mother was only fifteen minutes from where we were. Dawsonville was growing, but there were still a lot of traditional neighborhoods and farms instead of designated subdivisions like mine. Sarah’s mother, LuAnn Jacobs, lived in one of them. Her house, a blue and white, hardieplank sided ranch, sat on a small, weed infested hill. Aaron trudged up the gravel and dirt driveway, and the bumping from the holes in it agitated my sciatica. I rubbed my leg to relieve the throbbing.

LuAnn Jacobs answered the door immediately. “We’re looking to convert, but thanks.” She slammed the door before Aaron could respond.

I giggled under my breath. Aaron however, did not.

He tapped on the door once more. “Mrs. Jacobs, I’m Detective Aaron Banner.” He flipped his badge toward where the closed door met the frame.

She cracked the door open, snuck a peek at the badge, and then swung it open again.

“G’moring, ma’am. Earlier this morning we received a 911 call from a woman who we now believe to be your daughter, Sarah Rochen.”

Aaron explained that the call was disturbing, but didn’t go into any detail. “Have you heard from your daughter, Mrs. Jacobs?”

“Uh, not since breakfast. What’s going on?”

“Do you know why Sarah was in town?”

She clasped her arms across her chest, and in a sticky, almost too sweet voice, said, “Yeah. Uh, she and her husband Larry, they came up from Savannah yesterday, for a visit and maybe to buy a new car.”

A man stood in the doorway behind Mrs. Jacobs. His greasy brown hair was long enough to be pulled into a ponytail at the base of his neck. We made eye contact, and I shivered. The man was scary.

Mrs. Jacobs chewed a piece of gum the way Emily did, her mouth open, making juicy, chomping sounds while she spoke. “Just for a visit. They came to visit.” She explained that they’d come to see their two daughters, and they’d hoped to take them home if they could get approval for the new car.

I forced back the anger brewing in the pit of my stomach. My misophonia—generally coined the hatred of human sounds, and particularly those related to eating—fought to get the best of me, but I refused to let it, instead, focusing on the task at hand.

“Can you explain why her children are here in town?” Aaron asked.

“The county took them away, and they’re living with family ‘til Sarah and Larry get their house in order. They came here so they could get a safe car. Stu was supposed to get them a deal on one.

“When did they arrive?”

“Yesterday.”

“When was the last time you saw your daughter?”

“Last night. She came by to visit with Ashley.”

“Is that one of her daughters?”

“Her oldest. She’s been living with us,” she angled her body toward the man behind her and placed her hand on his shoulder. “My husband Johnny and me, ‘til this whole mess is handled.”

I glanced back at the man and caught him eyeing me again, but he cut away and focused on his wife. The hairs on the back of my neck shot to attention.

“What happened when she came by last night?”

“Nothing. She came by to visit Ashley, and Larry stayed back at the hotel so she could have some alone time with her kid. Also because we don’t want that man here at our house.”

“Why is that?”

“He’s not good enough for my kid or her babies.”

My brain wrestled between her words and the juicy chomping. I wanted to reach into her mouth and yank the clump of gum out like I used to do with my kids, but of course, I couldn’t. I had to force myself to focus on her words, not the chomping.

She said they’d decided to stay at a hotel somewhere about halfway between her house and Sarah’s cousin, Jenny’s house, where her other daughter, Lizzie stayed. LuAnn explained that Sarah told her they’d planned to see Lizzie the next day.

“They got that little two-door thing, and those back seats just aren’t big enough for two car seats, and the seatbelts don’t work neither, so they hoped to get a minivan or an SUV. Stu said he knew someone who could give them a good deal.”

“Is Ashley here with you now?” Aaron asked.

She nodded, and I noticed her husband’s facial expression shift. If I’d blinked, I would have missed it. “She’s in the kitchen eating pancakes. You wanna see her?” She poked her husband. “Johnny, go fetch Ash for them, will ya?”

He stood there for a second, his eyes drilling into his wife’s.

She grimaced. “Please?” Chomp.

A minute later a petite, strawberry blond haired girl ambled over to the door, Johnny’s hand squeezing her left shoulder. She kept her eyes glued to the ground, even though I’d raised the tone of my voice several octaves when I said hi. Her skin was so pasty, I assumed she hadn’t seen the sun in months, and it was unlikely she’d had a good meal in that time either, her face shallow, her cheeks barely there. It made my heart hurt. The good news was she was safe with her grandmother, even though she didn’t appear happy about it.

“Okay,” Aaron said. “So they stayed at the hotel last night?”

“Right, and then they were going to her cousin’s to see Lizzie. I just…I just talked to her a bit ago. She was happy. She was excited to possibly be getting to take her babies home with her.”

“What kind of car were they driving?” Aaron asked.

“Lemme think about that for a bit.” She chewed on the gum like a cow.

“Johnny, what kind of car they do they have again?”

“One of those old Datsuns. A 240Z, I think.”

“That’s right. A gold one. Larry loves that car. He’s torn up that they have to sell it. Too bad for them. Shouldn’t have bought something like that with the babies.” She rubbed her hands together. “Is my baby okay?”

“We’re doing our best to find out, ma’am.” Aaron asked for Sarah’s cousin’s contact information, wrote it down, and then closed his notebook. “We’ll be in touch as soon as we have more information. In the meantime though, if you could write any phone numbers you have for Larry and Sarah, as well as their address, I’d appreciate it.” He handed her his notepad and pen. “And if you hear from your daughter or think of something that might help us, please call me right away.”

She wrote out the information and handed him back his things as he gave her his business card.

As LuAnn closed the door, her husband pushed it back open and stepped outside. “I was you, I’d be looking at Larry Rochen for doing something he ought not to do.” He spoke as if he’d just had a tooth pulled, and his face was still numb, except from the looks of his teeth, it was obvious he hadn’t been to a dentist in years.

Aaron had already stepped away from the door, but he paused and flipped back around. “Why is that?”

He pushed back his shoulders. “Marriage was doomed from the start.”

LuAnn Jacobs opened the door and stepped partially out. “Everything okay out here?”

Johnny Jacobs’s face morphed into a snarl like one of a dog ready to attack. “Get inside, woman.”

Her jaw tensed, and I caught her hands form into fists. She noticed me notice them, released them, and did as she was told.

Back in the car, Aaron called in the make and model of the Rochen’s vehicle and got the tag number. “Set up a BOLO for the vehicle and notify the surrounding counties,” he told his dispatch. He dialed Jenny’s number and put the call on speaker.

“She’s not here,” Jenny said. “She called and said she had something to do before she came by, and she’d call on her way.” She confirmed Lizzie was still there.

Aaron asked her to notify him if she heard from her cousin, but didn’t give any details as to why. I assumed he figured the word would get out soon enough.

“Do you think Larry’s involved?” I asked. “Johnny Jacobs sure threw him under the bus. Actually, LuAnn Jacobs didn’t seem like that big of a fan, either.”

“We usually look at the spouse first in domestic cases.” He headed south on the highway. “We’ll go back to the department, and I’ll find out what we can about him and his family. I’ll get the DA to ask for a warrant to get their financials. See if there’s been any recent transactions since the call, or shortly before. You get anything from the mother?”

I exhaled. “I’m pretty sure I’ve explained the difference between psychic and psychic medium before, so…”

He nodded. “I know the difference, but you’ve got a good—what does Mel call it?”

“Spidey sense?”

He snapped his fingers and pointed at me. “Spidey sense. Figured it was worth a shot to ask.”

“Actually, spidey sense is my term, and I did notice LuAnn didn’t refer to Johnny as Sarah’s father, but other than that, not really. But there’s definitely something off about him.”

“You don’t have to be psychic to notice that. I’m guessing he’s a stepparent.”

“Did her chewing grate on your last nerve?”

He laughed. “The kinds of things I see every day, that’s nothing.”

“Yeah? Well, someone needs to teach that woman some manners. Five more minutes and my brain would have imploded.”

“Glad you didn’t leave me with that mess.”

“You should be. It would have been massive.”

“I bet.”

He dropped me off at my car in the department’s parking lot, and I headed home, calling Mel on the way. “Just hung out with your boy toy.”

“Without me? Rude.”

“Deadlines, remember?”

Aaron and Mel had been a couple for some time, and things were serious between them. They were happy, and I was happy they were happy. After Mel’s husband cheated on her with a younger woman—whom he knocked up and married—she definitely deserved happiness. Though the relationship was a bit awkward for me at first, her dating my uno

“Did you give him a sloppy kiss for me?”

“Yup. A big one, wet, tongue-wrestling one. I think he liked it, too.”

“Oh goodie, because that’s all he’s getting today. These deadlines are gonna be the death of me.” She heavy-sighed.

“You’re working a lot lately.”

“Don’t I know it.”

“I miss hanging out with you. ” My voice bordering on whiny.

“Right back atcha, and you can blame the cheating rat bas—“ She cut herself off. “My ex for that. I don’t get to spend a lotta time with my kids either.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It is what it is. I just don’t like it a whole lot.”

“Neither do I, but you’re providing for your kids and showing them how a single mother steps up, and that’s important.”

“Can you tell them that, please? All they do is complain about me never having time for them.”

“They’re young. They’ll understand eventually.” I knew that didn’t matter at the moment, but it was all I could think to say.

“Well, eventually better come soon because I can only handle so much.”

I decided not to tell her about the 911 call and the connection between our dream since she already had enough on her plate. “Anyway, he’s got me helping him with a possible case. Lemme know when you’ve got time to discuss.”

I made it home just in time for my oldest kid Emily, to ignore me. She’d been on a roll as of late, only talking to me when it was an absolute must. She felt she had reason and to a point she sort of did, but it’d been going on for months, and my patience bucket had reached its limit and teetered on its edge.

A few months back her boyfriend Mike’s mother was killed in a car accident. He was at our house when I found out, and since the Universe had a wicked sense of humor, that’s when his mother’s spirit decided to make an appearance. As the saying goes, the poop hit the fan.

Emily didn’t know about my gift. Jake and I had decided to keep it from her because she bordered a bit on ridiculously overly dramatic to the hundredth power, and what she didn’t know wouldn’t make us crazy. With the death of Michelle Stevenson, Mike’s mom, she’d obviously found out. I’d been working to re-establish trust with her ever since but to no avail. Emily got her stubbornness from me, and sometimes dealing with her was like looking into a magical mirror and glimpsing bits of teenaged Angela and middle-aged Fran and their relationship. It made me want to apologize to my mom.

Repeatedly.

I’d chosen to handle Emily’s latest angst with a slow and steady approach. It hadn’t worked, but I refused to give up. It was better than the alternative; losing my cool, which never worked either, and usually just caused more drama. “Hey Em, how’s it hangin’?” Ugh. My attempts at being cool, calm and collected had such an 80s air to them.

She sat on the couch, I assumed, planning creative ways to ignore me.

My mother shimmered in beside her. “Ah Madone, this kid ain’t ever gonna forgive you if you don’t try and make her.”

I’d already told Emily her grandmother was present more often than not, but she couldn’t see her, and that just made her even more angry with me. Knowing her brother, Josh also had the gift made it a billion times worse, too.

“Your grandmother says I should use force to get you to stop being mad at me.”

“I didn’t say that. I said you oughta make her forgive you.”

“Okay, I stand corrected. She’s saying I should make you forgive me. Apparently, there’s a difference.”

Emily scanned the room for her grandmother. When she couldn’t see her, she huffed and stood. “Can you not? It’s really bizarre, you like, talking to Grandma.” She stomped to the stairs and pounded up them to her room where she drove her point home by banging her bedroom door closed.

“That went well,” I said.

“You oughta drag her back down here by her ear lobe. Time she stops acting like a two-year-old.”

Well then, Ma’s patience had plummeted to rock bottom too, but she was right. I initially thought I’d give Emily some time to adjust to the news, to deal with the fact that ghosts actually existed, and that some of them, her grandmother included, showed up at our house. It turned out my gift didn’t impress her, and she already believed in ghosts. She was peeved we’d kept it a secret, but wouldn’t fess up to what bothered her the most, so all I could do was assume it was that Josh shared my ability. And that was somehow my fault because apparently, I could control what the Universe did. “Why is everything always my fault with that kid? It’s impossible to change something I can’t control.”

“That right there is whatcha call karma. You did the same thing to me when you were her age.”

I rolled my eyes. “I didn’t blame you for everything.”

“You gotta be kidding me. You blamed me for your wavy hair, those child-bearing hips, and remember that whole 1966 red Mustang thing? That was my fault too.”

“Well, actually that kinda was. Had you married that guy I could have had it.”

When I was sixteen, her fiancé Buddy died, she briefly dated a wealthy man who wanted to marry her so badly he told me if I could convince her to, he’d get me a 1966 red Mustang. I gave it my best shot, but couldn’t close the deal, and I never let her forget it.

“I didn’t love him, and I couldn’t help that. I wanted my Buddy, and no one else compared.”

I didn’t understand that until I met Jake. If something–God forbid—ever happened to him, I’d spend the rest of my life alone. My stepmother Helen once said something about my father, and it made sense to me. She said, when you’ve had the best, no one else could live up to that, so why bother trying? I realized my mother never dated anyone after Buddy died, and I understood why.

“I know, but it was a red 1966 Mustang.”

“But it was a red 1966 Mustang. Madone, and it woulda been a loveless marriage.”

“I know, and I get that now, but then all I cared about was myself. What you wanted didn’t even cross my mind.”

She raised her eyebrows.

The irony hit me. I dipped my head back and sighed. “I hate it when you do that.” I poured myself a glass of water and plopped onto a barstool. “I don’t know what to do.”

“You gotta show her that she’s got a bit of the gift, too.”

“But she doesn’t.”

“That don’t matter.”

“Okay then, how do you propose I do that?”

“Ya know, give her a few signs, make her recognize them. Like you got mad at me for doing before.”

Ma had tossed a few pillows, moved a few things on Em’s dressers, and one time she ripped the sheets off her bed after a miracle had happened, and Emily had actually made the thing. Instead of getting the hints, Emily just accused a family member—me—of deliberately messing up her room and of course, snooping. But now that she knows her grandmother is around if Ma did it again, she might realize it’s not me, but her Grandmother, and maybe she’ll think she’s got a little bit of the gift. Maybe being the operative word in that sentence.

“That’s not a bad idea,” I said. “But it’s probably—”

Before I could add to that, she interrupted me. “I’m on it.”

I chuckled, figuring she’d probably headed up to her granddaughter’s room to toss a pillow or two.

I snatched a Diet Coke—affectionately known as Diet Crack in my house—from the fridge and headed to the deck, my place for contemplation and focus. I wanted to try and connect with Sarah Rochen. If she was dead, and I was pretty sure she was, I might be able to concentrate on her spirit and find her. If I was wrong, and she wasn’t, then I was out of luck.

Summoning spirit wasn’t tops on my list of things to do. I could do it, but I didn’t like it, so I avoided it as much as possible. Mel once asked me what I didn’t like about it, and I couldn’t come up with anything other than it made me feel icky. Feeling icky wasn’t reason enough not to do something except workout, so I centered my mind on the photo LuAnn Jacobs gave Aaron and gave it a shot.

“Sarah, can you hear me?” I closed my eyes and thought about the things she’d done since coming to town. “Sarah? Hello? You there?”
The dream played like a movie in my mind’s eye. Me holding a gun pointed at Mel. Mel on her knees, begging me not to shoot her. The gravel, the trees. Pulling the trigger. The booming sound of the bullet exploding from the gun.

I flinched, and my eyes burst open. Sarah was definitely dead. I just had to figure out what was trying to tell me through the dream. Whatever it was, was key to what happened, where we’d find her body, and the answers to the questions running through my mind. And I wouldn’t stop trying to find out until I figured it out.

***

Excerpt from Unexpected Outcomes by Carolyn Ridder Aspenson. Copyright © 2017 by Carolyn Ridder Aspenson. Reproduced with permission from Carolyn Ridder Aspenson. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Carolyn Ridder Aspenson

Carolyn Ridder Aspenson currently calls the Atlanta suburbs home, but can’t rule out her other two homes, Indianapolis and somewhere in the Chicago suburbs.

She is old enough to share her empty nest with her husband, two dogs and two cats, all of which she strongly obsesses over repeatedly noted on her Facebook and Instagram accounts, and is working on forgiving her kids for growing up and leaving the nest. When she is not writing, editing, playing with her animals or contemplating forgiving her kids, she is sitting at Starbucks listening in on people’s conversations and taking notes, because that stuff is great for book ideas. (You have officially been warned!)

On a more professional note, she is the bestselling author of the Angela Panther cozy mystery series featuring Unfinished Business An Angela Panther Mystery, Unbreakable Bonds An Angela Panther Mystery and Uncharted Territory An Angela Panther Mystery, The Christmas Elf, An Angela Panther Holiday Short, The Ghosts, An Angela Panther Holiday Short, The Inn At Laurel Creek, a contemporary romance novella, Santa’s Gift, a Cumming Christmas Novella and 8 To Lose The Weight, a lifestyle eating program. Carolyn is also a freelance writer and editor with Literati Editing.

For more information, visit http://carolynridderaspenson.com
www.facebook.com/carolynridderaspensonauthor
Carolyn Ridder Aspenson Author on Pinterest
Carolynridderaspenson on Instagram
Twitter: @awritingwoman

 

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Spotlight on In It for the Money by David Burnsworth

by
Spotlight on In It for the Money by David Burnsworth In It For The Money by David Burnsworth
Series: Blu Carraway Mystery #1
Published by Henery Press on September 12, 2017
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 278
Buy on Amazon
Add on Goodreads

Lowcountry Private Investigator Blu Carraway needs a new client. He’s broke and the tax man is coming for his little slice of paradise. But not everyone appreciates his skills. Some call him a loose cannon. Others say he’s a liability. All the ex-Desert Storm Ranger knows is his phone hasn’t rung in quite a while. Of course, that could be because it was cut off due to delinquent payments.

Lucky for him, a client does show up at his doorstep—a distraught mother with a wayward son. She’s rich and her boy’s in danger. Sounds like just the case for Blu. Except nothing about the case is as it seems. The jigsaw pieces—a ransom note, a beat-up minivan, dead strippers, and a missing briefcase filled with money and cocaine—do not make a complete puzzle. The first real case for Blu Carraway Investigations in three years goes off the rails.

And that’s the way he prefers it to be.

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Lowcountry, South Carolina, early June, Thursday morning

The old rotary phone sitting on the desk refused to ring. No matter how much Blu Carraway wanted it to. He looked out the window of his makeshift office at the surrounding marsh and sighed. Crumpled up in his right hand was the latest tax assessment, in his left was an electronic cigarette. Without thinking, he took a hit off the vaporizer, which replaced Camels as his only vice. Well, that and pirated satellite TV.

And still the receiver remained silent.

One more good job.

It was all he needed.

Then Charleston County would be happy for another year, and he’d get to keep his little island home. Just. One. Good. Job.

The hula girl on his desk a Desert Storm buddy had given him when he first hung out his PI shingle bobbled at him as if to say, “How long did you think you could keep this up, tough guy?”

He swatted her off the desk with the tax bill. “At least another year, Dollie.”

As the plastic figure skittered across the old plank flooring, Blu heard the sound of tires on his crushed shell drive. With the sole air-conditioning being a ceiling fan and open windows, he heard everything happening on his little slice of paradise. But he suspected his tenure there was on borrowed time. The house and land, which had been in the family for next to forever, were his free and clear. Except nothing was free and clear. He still had his yearly rent payment to the county, which seemed to think nine acres of mostly sand and marsh with a small herd of free-roaming scraggly horses was worth one helluva lot. Even though they neglected to consider it relevant enough to route the mosquito sprayers anywhere near the place.

A black Mercedes, the new big one, sliced between two live oaks and rolled to a stop beside his ancient Land Cruiser. Blu watched as the driver’s door opened and a man in a suit and tie exited the car. Just as Blu was about to run outside to greet him, he noticed the man walk around the expensive German machine, open the rear door, and extend a hand to assist whomever was in the backseat.

A pale white hand grasped the driver’s. After a moment, a woman with shoulder-length gray hair and sunglasses stood beside the car as the driver shut her door. She was not unattractive—in a wealthy, snobby kind of way. Her pose accentuated thin, but not frail, limbs and a torso hinting at personal trainer visits. Her crème-colored sleeveless blouse, tailored slacks, and shoes his daughter had once told him were called wedges exuded confidence. The woman held what looked like an expensive pocketbook.

Blu walked outside and approached the pair. “Can I help you?”

The woman, who was more attractive up close with high cheekbones, a small nose Blu guessed was natural, and a perfectly- proportioned neck adorned with modest pearls, said, “I’m looking for a Mr. Carraway.”

“You found him.”

“Good.” She turned to the driver, who upon closer inspection had an athletic build with a slightly visible shoulder rig beneath his suit coat. “Told you this was the place.”

He said, “Yes, ma’am.”

It didn’t sound like the man was convinced.

Two of Blu’s horses, at least he called them his because they wouldn’t leave his property even though there was no fencing, clomped around the house and approached. These were the curious ones from the herd, and not the brightest. He’d named them Dink and Doofus.

The woman’s mouth opened in surprise.

Her driver, apparently startled, reached inside his jacket where the shoulder rig was.

Blu said, “Don’t mind these two. They’re harmless. But if you see a black stud, best keep your distance.”

The woman watched the horses approach. Dink, the brown male with a tangled mane, lowered his head and sniffed. Doofus, his coat best described as dirty snow, lumbered up to the woman. In a past life, these two must have been canines.

Blu said, “Come on, guys.”

As if the horses just noticed he was there, they both raised their heads and snorted. Doofus gave his mane a quick shake.

The woman reached out and touched Dink on his nose.

The horse granted her hand a big lick before she could retract it.

Dink and Doofus didn’t approach just anybody. Blu had recognized this trait in them a long time ago. They liked this woman. Or else they just thought she had a treat for them.

Blu said, “What can I do for you fine folks?”

“Mr. Carraway,” the woman said, maneuvering around Dink and offering a business card. “I’m Cynthia Rhodes.”

Blu held the card. “That’s exactly what this says.” It also gave a Charleston, South Carolina address. South Battery, no less. Big money.

Real big money.

She said, “Yes, well, I’d like to talk to you about employing your services.”

Tapping the card on his open palm, he said, “I appreciate your effort to get here, Ms. Rhodes. I would have gladly met you somewhere closer to Charleston. Saved you the forty-minute trip.”

The driver stepped forward and the horses retreated to the other side of the vehicles. “There must be something wrong with your phone.”

An image of a stack of unpaid bills came to mind, specifically the one marked “third and final notice.” Blu didn’t reply.

Cynthia Rhodes said, “Is there someplace we can sit and talk?”

Coming to his senses, Blu said, “Of course. I’m sorry. I don’t normally receive clients out here. Please come this way.” He ran through a mental checklist: the office was one chair short for this group, the desk was a mess, the hula girl was on the floor, and the bathroom hadn’t been cleaned in, well, he couldn’t remember when.

Ms. Rhodes and her driver followed him, all of them crunching on the shell drive, up the porch stairs, and into the office he’d created out of the living room of the one-story bungalow his great- great-grandfather had built.

His guests didn’t comment on the disheveled appearance.

The driver pulled out the single client chair in front of Blu’s desk and Cynthia Rhodes sat.

Blu made an assumption the man would prefer to remain standing seeing as how his role could best be described as armed chauffer. Walking around his desk, being sure to step over the hula girl on the floor, and noticing the crumpled tax bill flittering in the wind of the ceiling fan, Blu sat on the ripped cushion of his ancient captain’s chair. It gave a long, un-oiled squeak. “Okay, Ms. Rhodes, tell me why you think you need my services.”

Cynthia Rhodes removed her sunglasses and held them in her lap.

She looked at him with deep blue eyes. “Mr. Carraway, I have a situation I’m not sure how to handle.”

The horses’ intuition and this woman’s bold and transparent acknowledgement of uncertainty regarding her situation had him trusting her almost immediately. Well, those reasons and the big tax bill he had to pay.

“Can I get either of you something to drink?” he asked. “I’ve got tap water or cold—I mean iced—coffee.” Cold was a more accurate statement, but he didn’t think it sounded sophisticated enough.

Cynthia Rhodes said, “No, thank you.”

Meeting her deep blue gaze, he guessed she was mid-fifties, about ten years his senior. He asked, “How can I help?”

“I was told you could be trusted.”

“By whom?” he asked.

“Adam Kincaid.”

With the name, Blu immediately understood the depth of her need, if not the specifics.

She continued. “He said you got his daughter back for him when those awful men took her.”

“More or less.” Kincaid’s daughter was returned to her father intact, physically if not emotionally, without paying any ransom. And the world had lost a half-dozen kidnappers. “Has your daughter been kidnapped?”

With a tight-lipped smile and a slight headshake, she said, “I have a son.”

He said, “What is it you think I can do for you?”

“He’s missing.”

“How do you know?”

She looked down. “My son and I have a strained relationship, to say the least. The only way I know he’s okay is because he makes withdrawals from his trust fund.”

Blu said, “He hasn’t made any in a while?”

“Two weeks.” She looked at him. “I was told you handle unique situations. That they were your specialty.”

Her driver smirked.

Blu said, “You don’t want the police involved?”

“No,” she said. “I mean, not yet.”

He sat back. “What would you like me to do?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” she asked, her voice breaking for the first time.

“You’d like me to find him?”

“Yes.”

It sounded more like a question.

He said, “I can do that.”

“My son is a sweet boy. He likes art—painting. If something’s happened to him, I’m not sure what I’d do.”

Blu had a hunch the real reason she was here was about to surface.

She said, “Mr. Kincaid told me you made the men who took his daughter pay for their sins.”

“You think someone did something to your son?”

Folding her arms across her chest, she said, “I hope not.”

Blu shook his head. “Anything that may or may not have happened in Mexico was a by-product of the goal of the job, which was to get his daughter back.” It was a true statement, but not really the truth.

Cynthia Rhodes reached into her pocketbook, removed a check, and handed it to Blu.

Chapter Two

The amount written in neat, precise cursive would do a lot more than just pay his property tax for the year. He handed the check back, trying hard not to show any reluctance to do so. “I don’t take on blood jobs.” Another true statement which wasn’t the truth.

Sometimes they ended up that way—bloody.

Her eyes were wide. “But you’re my last hope.”

Blu laced his fingers together and placed his hands on the desk. “That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.” With a slight head jerk, he motioned to her driver. “Why not send trigger-happy Rick, here?”

Blu already knew the answer. The man was mostly show. He appeared to be in shape. But he did not have a killer’s gaze.

She looked at her driver who shifted his weight between his feet as if he were nervous.

Holding a hand up, Blu said, “You don’t want to have things too close to home. I understand. Better to hire some schmuck and make him do the heavy lifting.”

“You’re mistaken,” she said. “I heard you were the best.”

“I am the best,” he said. “Can’t you tell by the crowds of folks lining up for my services?”

With a smile breaking the tension in the lines of her face, she said, “Adam also said you had an odd sense of humor.”

Blu didn’t know what to say, so he kept quiet. Filling voids in conversation only gave away too much.

Cynthia Rhodes filled in the void for him. “If it isn’t enough money, I’ll double it.”

The Kincaid job had netted enough to keep Carraway Investigations solvent for three years, with only a modest contribution from an insurance or surveillance job here and there. And lately, some day laboring. The offer in front of him was eerily similar. Of course, Blu and his partner, a biker and fellow Ranger named Mick Crome, had barely made it out of Mexico alive with Jennifer Kincaid. Blu was three years wiser now, and he enjoyed the cliché “getting older by the minute” more than the one about “being worm food.”

He ignored one of his golden rules: Decisions made under duress were usually tainted. “Okay. I’ll look into it. But if all you want is a trigger puller, I’m out.”

And then he lied to himself about it not being because he needed the money.

 

After Cynthia Rhodes signed a standard, boiler-plate contract, which had jammed Blu’s ancient printer twice in the process, and gave him a picture of her son, she and her driver left. Happy to be working again, Blu headed into town, taking the decade-old photo of Jeremy Rhodes with him, the most recent one his mother had. It showed a good-looking, normal kid with clear eyes and a boyish smile and dimples.

The drive into Charleston gave Blu time to think. A few things about this new job already bothered him. First: Cynthia Rhodes, the kid’s supposed mother, didn’t have a current picture of her son. Second: For all he knew, Jeremy could be trying to run away from dear old mom.

Cynthia Rhodes had no idea where her son was and couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen or spoken with him. When Blu asked about drug use, she seemed flippant. All she knew was Jeremy had gone to the College of Charleston and majored in Liberal Arts, graduating two years ago.

Frankly, if it weren’t for the money and his lack of it, Blu wouldn’t have been so eager to take the job. The fact she’d doubled the offer erased any hesitation he might have had.

When he turned onto King Street, he found a parking spot at a meter in front of Willie’s Music Shop. He put some change in the meter and walked inside. His friend Willie Day had owned and run the place since the eighties, weathering Hurricane Hugo and urban blight. Willie always seemed to know what was going on no matter what Blu asked about. After Willie had passed on to the other side not too long after 9/11, his daughter took over, running the store during the city’s current rejuvenation. And, like her father, she had connections all over town.

Billie Day stood beside a wall display of Fender guitars, talking to a very early twenty-something white male. A black tank top and a short crop of hair exposed Billie’s light brown arms and neck. Her jeans accentuated curves that always put Blu in a good mood. She gave him a slight nod but kept her main focus on the customer.

Blu rotated his sunglasses to the top of his head and pretended to browse while he waited for Billie to make the sale. Desert Storm had done a number on his hearing, but he distinctly heard the sum “thousand even” and silently congratulated Billie.

After the kid had paid and walked out with his purchase protected in a nice case she’d talked him into buying, Billie walked over to Blu.

With hands on nice hips, she said, “What can I help you with?”

What she said was a little more formal than Blu had been looking for in a greeting. Apparently, Billie was more than a little pissed at him for not calling. It had been six months, right about the time his tax situation derailed him.

He said, “Hi, Billie.”

“Hi, Billie? Is that what you’re going with?”

“Um—”

She put a finger to his lips. “Don’t even try to dig yourself out of this one, Blu.”

He looked into powerful, deep brown eyes and almost winced.

Her gaze lightened. “Why didn’t you just tell me your tax troubles?”

Blu looked down. He should have assumed she knew.

She lifted his chin. “Friends help each other. They don’t shut each other out.”

“It’s my problem to fix,” he said.

“But it doesn’t have to be, baby. You made it so.”

A lot of thoughts ran through his stubborn head. Like how someone five years his junior had it so much more together than he did. And how someone could care about him so much after all these years.

He said, “I’ve got another job now. A good one. Hell, the retainer alone is enough to pay off Charleston County and then some.”

“You’ve got a job now, huh? Is that why you’re here?”

“Not the only reason.”

She patted his chest. “Before we get to that, you’ve got to make this up to me.”

“I—”

With a nudge from her hip, she said, “I don’t want to hear excuses. I want you to take me out and treat me proper. Everything has a price. My price for being ignored is a date. Take it or leave it.”

He’d always loved this woman. The timing was never right. He’d come back from the war all screwed up and she’d just turned eighteen—bad timing.

By the time he’d gotten his head screwed back on straight, she was twenty. And he married someone else—bad timing.

When he’d been about to get a divorce, his wife turned up pregnant. They stuck it out another five years before ending it just in time for Billie to marry someone—bad timing.

And then Billie divorced, she and Blu were set to be together, and his money problems started—bad timing.

But now he had this new job, his money problems abated, and she was still available. He just hoped he wouldn’t mess it up this time. So, in answer to her request for a date as restitution for him being a complete moron, he said, “Okay. I’ll take it.”

“Good,” she said. “Pick me up at eight.”

He thought about going ahead and asking her if she knew Jeremy Rhodes, but he decided not to push his luck. She wasn’t his only source, just his favorite.

He smiled and gave her a peck on the cheek.

She said, “Are you going to call Crome?”

Chapter Three

Blu stepped out of the music store and onto the broken sidewalk of upper King Street. The nice shops had been encroaching this direction for some time and had almost made it. Willie’s Music had always been a novelty. Now it was a novelty on prime real estate. And Billie had politely turned down several decent offers to sell. Blu couldn’t blame her. The business held its own, and she liked what she did.

Her asking if he was going to call Crome meant she was more than a little concerned about the job.

Mick Crome, his sometime business partner, had vanished with his half of what was left of the fee after expenses from the payout of the Kincaid job. The last Blu heard, Crome had ridden his Harley all the way down to Key West and hadn’t come up for air since. And not a day went by that Blu didn’t think about his friend.

He’d give Crome a day or two. The guy had a knack for showing up at the right time. If he hadn’t returned to Charleston by then and things got out of hand, Blu would make a few calls.

The picture Cynthia Rhodes gave him of her son didn’t help as he would have to assimilate what Jeremy looked like now, most likely factoring in extensive drug use as an age agent.

What he needed was a current picture, at least one more current than ten years. Because he’d let his cell phone plan expire when he ran out of money, he bought a prepaid “burner” phone at a drug store. The teenage girl who rang up his purchase helped him set it up and he gave her a five-dollar tip.

Using the cigarette lighter in the Land Cruiser to power the phone, he dialed a number from memory.

It went to voicemail.

When prompted to leave a message, he said, “Gladys, this is Blu Carraway. I know it’s been a while, but I could use a favor. Call me when you can.” He left the burner’s number and closed the phone.

With that accomplished, some theme music was required. He selected a cassette and loaded it in the Land Cruiser’s tape deck. After a moment, the bass riff from “The Waiting Room” by the punk band Fugazi played through the speakers—what a band.

The phone vibrated on his leg. He turned down the music volume and answered the call.

Gladys said, “Certainly has been a while, Mr. Blu Carraway. What lowlife are you after now?”

Ten years ago, about the same time the picture of Jeremy Rhodes was taken, Blu intervened in a domestic abuse situation. Gladys found him through a friend and tried to hire him. Apparently, none of the other local private investigators would bother to talk with her, much less take her job. At the time, her husband was taking out his frustrations for being a bakery delivery man on Gladys. When Blu found out she worked at the DMV, he handled the job pro bono, figuring the connection was worth it. In the end, a police investigation confirmed her husband had died while trying to beat her again—a clear case of self-defense as far as anyone was concerned. Blu didn’t lose any sleep over it when the police found the knife sticking out of the man’s neck with Gladys’ prints on it. In Blu’s mind, any man who struck a woman in anger deserved no less. Gladys had done the deed, but only after Blu suggested she already had enough evidence to prove self-defense. He’d been a stone’s throw away when it happened, which most likely also encouraged and empowered the woman to take action.

And Gladys, with her connection to every licensed driver and registered vehicle in the state of South Carolina, had indeed proved helpful. The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of ’92 protected a driver’s information from getting outside the appropriate government agencies. But it didn’t apply to licensed PI’s like Blu who had a wide range of access. Through experience, Blu found an inside source usually trumped his own sleuthing skills. With her abusive husband gone, Gladys’ life had changed dramatically for the better. He knew she would happily keep returning the favor.

He said, “I need a photo of someone.”

“Let me get something to write with.” A pause, then, “Okay, shoot.”

He gave the name and approximate age of Jeremy Rhodes.

She said, “I get off work in two hours. Buy me a milkshake at the Chick-fil-A down the street.”

“You got it.” He ended the call.

With time to kill, Blu had two things in mind. One was to research exactly who Cynthia Rhodes was. And the second was to squeeze in a workout at the gym. His first stop was the local library where he signed onto a computer and looked up his new client. Normally he would have done this before accepting the job, but her check was awfully big.

Cynthia Rhodes was indeed a Charleston socialite. She managed a charitable organization named Lowcountry Second Chances and booked fundraisers all year long. A major benefactor for the charity was a shelter in North Charleston.

Once divorced, her ex-husband being one Jack Rhodes who had passed away five years ago from a heart attack, Jeremy was their only child. Jack had been a big deal in lowcountry real estate up until his passing.

Jeremy Rhodes, unlike his mother, had done a good job of flying under the radar. There was quite a bit on both of his parents on the web, but nothing about him except a few notifications of past showings of his artwork at some of the local coffee shops.

Being a private investigator wasn’t in and of itself difficult work. Blu felt he had to keep his mind sharp and be able to think on his feet. And he had sources providing a lot of what kept him ahead of things. But it was also physical—he had to stay in shape. Quitting smoking, or at least switching to vapor, had several benefits, one being he could no longer afford it anymore anyway. And it also helped him breathe better during workouts.

With the preliminary research complete, Blu went to the gym. He kept a bag of gym clothes and gear in his truck, because he never knew when he’d get the opportunity. While his cardio had gotten a lot better since he switched to vapor, he still preferred the weights and got a good hour set in. Even with his money troubles, the gym membership would have been one of the last things to go.

 

Gladys faced a pink-colored milkshake in a booth in the restaurant when Blu sat across from her. A lot of people spent a lot of money to fight against looking their age. Gladys was not one of them. Past fifty, she had thick strawberry-framed glasses, gray hair, and a healthy dose of paunch. She had a few more years before she’d have her time in with the state and she could retire on a full ride. When that happened, Blu would need another source. Gladys made it easier than having to deal with a lot of red tape, even though he also knew a lot of cops.

She sipped from the straw and slid a nine-by-twelve-inch envelope to him. Her short, plump body was mostly hidden by the table. “They know me here. I told them you’d be paying. You gotta go to the counter.”

Blu stood, went to the counter, ordered a sweet tea, and paid for their drinks. He got his tea, sat across from Gladys again, picked up the envelope, and slipped out two sheets of paper, one an enlarged driver’s license picture and the other a vehicle registration for a late model Volkswagen Jetta. Listed was the South Battery address on the business card his mother had given Blu.

Gladys remained quiet.

Unlike the clean-cut boy in the photo Cynthia had given him, in this picture Jeremy Rhodes had black hair shaved on one side of his head with the length on top combed over to the other like an upside down mop. It contrasted with pale white skin like his mother’s—obviously not a beach dweller. He also had quite a few piercings: ears, nose, eyebrows, and both cheeks.

Blu pushed the photo back into the envelope. “Thanks.”

“Kid looks like a degenerate, you ask me.”

He hadn’t asked her, but let it go. “How’s your mom?” Last time he spoke with her, she was in the hospital.

“Dead.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Gladys nodded but didn’t reply. Aside from the results of her lethargic and static lifestyle, she really did look much different from when she first walked into his office. Her usual grumpy demeanor aside, he knew she’d become a new woman, quite content with who she was. With her newfound freedom from the abusive husband came what he’d observed to be inner strength.

She said, “One more thing. I checked around. The car’s in impound. Been there a week.”

“Thanks,” he said, “Anything I can do for you?”

She finished another round of slurping, licked her lips, and swallowed. “Nah. I’m good.”

Blu slid out of the booth and was ready to roll when she said, “They got good sandwiches here.”

His first thought was she didn’t want to eat alone. Even though he wanted to get back to the job, he said, “Why don’t we get something to eat? I’m buying.”

She smiled for the first time. “Okay by me.”

After they ate chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, and he listened to her complain about her sister, Blu left the ray of sunshine that was Gladys and drove back into the city.

He wanted to check out the kid’s car, and he knew someone who would give him access, but it was too late in the day. First thing in the morning, he’d make a call.

The feeling Cynthia Rhodes wasn’t telling him everything weighed heavy on him. Gladys had said Jeremy Rhodes looked like a degenerate. It wasn’t his call to make, but Blu wouldn’t hire the kid to pick shells on the beach, much less do anything requiring responsibility. If he was alive, what was the kid doing for money? It wasn’t as if he’d ever had to work for anything.

 

At suppertime, still an hour before he had to leave to meet Billie, Blu filled the water trough for the horses with a garden hose. His grandfather had made the first mistake a long time ago when he gave one of the animals an apple. Since then, the herd of Carolina Marsh Tackeys, a breed indigenous to the lowcountry, had slowly become family, and caring for them had grown from a novelty to a chore. His father and Cuban mother had continued the practice while they lived there as well. The horses still fed mostly on the vegetation of the property and took care of themselves, the exception being when it froze. During the one week a year it got frigid in the lowcountry, Blu bought a few bales of hay to carry them through. Trying to get them into a barn would be a waste of time. They’d sooner trample him than be corralled.

By the time he finished and put the water hose away, he heard tires on the crushed shell drive.

“Twice in one day,” he said to no one in particular.

He didn’t know how prophetic the statement really was until he watched Cynthia Rhodes’ shiny black Mercedes cut between the trees and pull up next to his old Land Cruiser, as before.

The driver got out of the Mercedes but didn’t open the rear door. Instead, he marched toward Blu. Same dark suit and tie and bright white shirt. He wore sunglasses, just like Blu. It looked like Trigger Rick had come alone this time.

Dink and Doofus kept their distance.

When Trigger Rick got close, Blu said, “Howdy.”

The man didn’t look happy. But then again, he didn’t look happy the first time Blu had met him either. “Howdy yourself, Carraway.” He thumb-pointed to himself. “I could do the job. I’m not sure why Cynthia thought she needed the help of some washed- up dick who hasn’t had a real job in three years.”

Blu didn’t reply. What was there to say?

Trigger Rick continued. “The reason I’m here is because Cynthia wanted a way to be in contact with you.” He reached into his jacket pocket and handed over a smartphone.

“I don’t like those things,” Blu lied. More like he couldn’t afford a smartphone. The service plans required monthly payments, something he hadn’t been in a financial position to commit to in a while.

“Like I care.’”

Blu held it out for the driver to take back. “Still, I can’t accept it.”

“You can and you will.” He retreated to the car. “You think I’m going to go back and tell Cynthia I didn’t give it to you?”

Blu watched the man start the car, turn around, and drive away. Then he looked down at the phone in his hand. It was a nice iPhone.

While he was examining it, the device vibrated in his hands. He almost dropped it.

The name “Cynthia Rhodes” displayed on the screen.

Blu touched the green answer button and held it up to his ear.

“Mr. Carraway?” It was her voice.

“Yes.”

“Good. I hope you don’t think me presumptuous, but I wanted to make sure we had a way of communicating.”

Blu watched as Dink, Doofus, and a mare named Molly Mae drank from the trough. He said, “I appreciate the gesture, but I can’t accept this.”

“I insist.”

“What I mean is I need to get myself one for my business anyway.”

“Consider it a part of our deal and a bonus afterward. It’s unlocked, and I’ve paid forward enough to last the rest of the year.”

He realized he wouldn’t have to worry about getting the landline reconnected. It showed several bars of coverage even on his own slice of paradise located forty minutes away from anywhere else.

She said, “I also managed to get the last four digits to spell out ‘blue.’”

“Oh.”

“That’s okay, isn’t it?” she asked. “I mean, you can use it as a marketing gimmick if you want. You know, like ‘don’t feel blue, call Blue.’”

He wondered how long she’d worked on that one. Hopefully not too long. He decided not to correct her spelling of his name. “I really appreciate the gesture, Ms. Rhodes.”

“Call me Cynthia.”

Her driver had called her Cynthia. How close were they?

He didn’t mention that either. Instead, he said, “Okay. And you can call me Blu.”

“Good.”

“Cynthia?”

“Yes?”

“How long has your driver been working for you?”

“Rick? Around two years. Why?”

If Blu handled this poorly, it could jeopardize being able to continue calling her Cynthia. He said, “Why isn’t he looking for your son? I can tell he believes he’s capable.”

After a pause, she said, “Mr. Carraway. That is precisely why I hired you.”

The call ended.

And Blu wondered if he could still call her Cynthia.

***

Excerpt from In It For The Money by David Burnsworth. Copyright © 2017 by David Burnsworth. Reproduced with permission from David Burnsworth. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

David Burnsworth

David Burnsworth became fascinated with the Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel. He is the author of both the Brack Pelton and the Blu Carraway Mystery Series. Having lived in Charleston on Sullivan’s Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife call South Carolina home.

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Clink Street Blogival: The Expansion by Christoph Martin

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Clink Street Blogival: The Expansion by Christoph Martin The Expansion by Christoph Martin
Published by Clink Street on May 2, 2017
Genres: Thriller
Pages: 273
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In politics and big business, truth is a matter of opinion.

Straddling the storyworlds of Panama, Washington and London, The Expansion follows British-born geomatic engineer Max Burns, whose revolutionary water-saving system wins him the esteemed position of head engineer for one of the 21st century’s most politically contested megaprojects: the expansion of the Panama Canal.

For Max it is a dream come true: not only is he able to work closely with construction giant and old high-school friend Godfredo Roco in one of the most beautiful tropical environments, but it’s the kind of job Max has been working toward his entire career.

Yet in the arena of global trade and diplomacy, stakes are high, and when a senior official of the Panama Canal Administration is found dead, Max finds himself in the frame for sabotage and murder, and at the centre of a web of political intrigue and betrayal that reaches far beyond the idyllic shores of Central America. The only person Max can trust is his new-found love, Karis Deen, a scientist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Except Karis herself holds a secret that could not only destroy Max, but could change the entire balance of world power.

The Magic of Collaboration

The Expansion is the first in a series of political thrillers written by a collaborative writing team: Christoph Martin Zollinger and Libby O’Loghlin. Here, Christoph and Libby talk about the collaborative writing process.

Christoph Martin Zollinger

I came up with the idea for The Expansion book while I was in the air, on a flight from Panama to Switzerland, and I knew it was going to need to be a collaborative effort from the beginning, because the scope of the story is huge! It starts in the UK, moves to Switzerland, then to Panama and the US (Washington, D.C.), and amongst all that we have a cast of very colorful characters who carry the story through all the politics and clandestine twists and turns behind the ‘seemingly’ straightforward project: the expansion of the Panama Canal!

One of the best aspects of working as a writing team is that Libby’s and my skills and strengths are very complementary, but we have also had very different life experiences—we’ve both lived and worked in different countries—so we were able to bring a lot of points of view to the process and to the characters.

In 2015, we travelled together to Panama to visit some of the locations that would play a part in the story. That was great, because we then both had impressions of Panama that we could draw on when we were creating scenes. It meant we could also discuss the geography easily. So if, for example, a character had to drive from A to B, we both knew what that looked like and how they’d get there.

We also visited the site of the canal expansion itself, which is breathtakingly huge! And we were able to talk to a range of people in Panama, including the Director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and even some ex-street gang members, who had lived through very violent times on the streets of Panama City, and who now run tours of the Old Town.

For the next book, we have been doing a lot of reading about Russia and the Cold War, and I’m planning a trip to the Arctic … perhaps that will give you an idea of the scope of the next story!

Libby O’Loghlin

Before The Expansion project I hadn’t ever written a collaborative novel before and, from a writing perspective, I found working with Christoph to be a great way to ‘level up’ my writing skills, and to get better at moving consistently forwards. We expect to be working together for some years, so it’s great to have a strong working dynamic as a basis for that.

Apart from being a lot of fun, collaboration is a great process for learning to be able to critically assess the relevance and usefulness of your own ideas—without getting too attached to them. You get really good at ‘killing your darlings’, as the saying goes. Christoph and I always respect each other’s inputs and creative ideas, and we always discuss everything until we’re in agreement about which way it should go, with the bottom line being: Would this character do/say that? And will it move the story forwards?

I’m a big genre reader/watcher (Le Carré, Ludlum, Goldman, etc.), so I love that I’ve had a chance to tackle the political thriller genre. And there’s no denying that having two minds on a story (especially one that has a huge geopolitical scope) opens up whole worlds of ideas and perspectives that I’d never be able to imagine if I were writing on my own. I think that’s really the magic of collaboration.

Read an Excerpt:

This is the moment the protagonist, Max Burns, has secretly longed for, ever since he shared one night of bliss with the beautiful paleontologist Karis Deen, on the night his team won the contract to expand the Panama Canal. Except things don’t go quite as Max had hoped, and we start to see a different side of the usually easy-going Max; that the great prestige that’s associated with his job as the Chief Engineer on the canal expansion project doesn’t make up for the loneliness of the lifestyle.

“Max, I feel like I should apologize to you.”

He shook his head. “No, no, you don’t need to—”

She interrupted him with a short laugh. “Just wait and listen, Dr. Burns!”

“I’m sorry … what do you mean?” He steered the car across the intersection.

“Max, I’m not apologizing about our night together, or about the fact that I haven’t been in touch.” She seemed amused by his confusion. “I’m apologizing because I want to talk about work, and I realize it’s after hours for you.”

“Ah. I see.” Max kept his eyes firmly on the road as the reality sank in: she was more interested in Max-the-engineer than in Max-the-person.

But that had been his experience generally over the past year or so: everyone seemed to want to talk to him because he was the one the media had blithely labelled ‘the expansion’s brainchild’—the expert engineer that everyone called on for comment. He’d almost become the CISCO spokesperson. Wearily, he switched back into work mode.

“So let me guess: you’re back because of the prehistoric feeding grounds. You’re not the boss, but you figure you’re on a first-name basis with the chief engineer, so you want to find out how much we can massage the schedule to allow you to excavate at the site as long as possible. Am I close?” He glanced at her.

Karis nodded. “Good guess. You’re not just a pretty face.”

Suddenly, he felt irritated. It had been a long few weeks where he’d been at loggerheads with Paco over the timeline for the concrete pouring and, frankly, he didn’t think he had it in him to try and decode whether the woman was flirting or not. Mixed messages were tedious at the best of times.

“I’ve negotiated four weeks already,” he said drily, as he came to a stop for a red light. “I can’t give you longer. There are too many stakeholders that can’t be put off at this stage.”

Karis nodded. “I thought you might say that. Oh, well, it was worth a try.”

About Christoph Martin

Christoph Martin is the writing team of Christoph Martin Zollinger and Libby O’Loghlin. Christoph Zollinger is a Swiss entrepreneur whose career spans legal, military, corporate and private enterprise. Christoph graduated with a law degree from the University of Zürich, after which time he went on to live and work in Panama in corporate and private enterprise for more than a decade. In 2012 he returned to Switzerland with his wife and children. He divides his time between his home in Zürich and a tiny Alpine village in Graubünden. Libby O’Loghlin is an Australian novelist and prize-winning short story writer who has a career in narrative media production, including film and television, as well as print and digital publishing. She has lived in the UK, USA and Malaysia, and she now lives with her family in Switzerland.

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