The world always seems more vibrant to me at Christmas. It’s also a time when I love to curly up with a good novel and a cup of hot tea. For those of you who are like me, crime fiction lovers, let me suggest you try a deadly funny contemporary detective story, HARMFUL INTENT.
It’s humorcide…as mentioned before, deadly funny. Take a look-see at the first chapter. Now on sale through the New Year for 99 cents on your Kindle.
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY
May, Day One, Morning
Veronica Ingels, Private Detective
I unstrapped the banker’s special Colt .22 from my ankle, then leaned against the bureau in the one bedroom condo I shared with my husband, Mark.
Massaging my temples did nothing for my whopper-headache. Infidelity surveillance. So many of the bodies-in-the-buff I’d snapped shots of were much less impressive than might be imagined. Awful way to make a living, but couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Catching the guilty party in the act had almost become a mission.
This past week, the job that had me living out of a suitcase in a nondescript motel on Long Island had been particularly icky. The sleazoid owner of a repo agency cheated on his wife, my client. He, thought himself to be super macho, with this sandy buzz-cut and a six pack pushing through his black silk-tee. He took one look at the blond bombshell who thought she shouldn’t have to make payments on her Caddy, and… ahem… they’d made an arrangement.
Due to their total disregard for modesty and all caution, the job ended several days ahead of schedule. I dropped the incriminating photos off with my boss at the detective agency. Thankfully, I didn’t have to sit across a desk from the wife and show the evidence to her. Well, it’s what she’d paid for.
Earlier in the morning, on my way home from the stakeout, the Southern State Parkway had made like a parking lot. I maneuvered through stagnant, rush-hour traffic on my way home, trying to erase the images of those two lowlifes in all their glory. Sliding an Adele CD into the drive and turning the volume up had helped somewhat.
Silence met me as I opened the door to our condo. Mark’s Sports Illustrated magazine lay perfectly aligned with the corners of our rectangular, glass coffee table. Right where Mr. Fastidious had set it before he left for his speaking engagement.
I left the suitcase in the entry way, tossed my keys on top of the magazine, and it slid off the table with the keys and onto the floor. I left them, as Mark wouldn’t return for another two days. That was par for the course in a marriage with a motivational speaker.
I usually begged off on out-of-town assignments, but with Mark away, I had taken the surveillance on Long Island. So why was my scowl mocking me in the mirror above the bureau? “Okay, he’s always on the road… so just suck it up.”
After disregarding package directions and downing four Extra Strength Excedrin, I picked up the gold-framed wedding photo of Mark and me. There we were, on a glorious spring day, locked in an embrace. Smiling, we gazed into each other’s eyes on the granite steps in front of the arched, red doors of my mother’s church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. My blond hair was in a French twist adorned with baby’s breath, not the high ponytail I threw it into for work. And, my dream dress… a Battenberg lace sheath with a sweetheart neckline and a flutter train… had transformed me into something elegant.
I did a quick two-step with the photo clutched to my heart. One year later and it felt as if we were still on our honeymoon. If only Mark didn’t travel so much.
I pulled the Glock pistol from my conceal and carry shoulder bag and took the clip out, opened our closet, knelt and retrieved the gun lock-box from the far corner. Time to put the weapons away and morph into my wifey role. I’d make a trip to the supermarket and pick up a couple of steaks to have on hand when Mark came home. Then a stop at Henry Schwartz Tobacconist for Mark’s favorite, a couple of Arturo Fuente Anejo cigars.
I was about to unlock the box when I spied one of Mark’s shirts crumpled in the opposite back corner. It must have fallen off the hanger ’cause Mr. Neat would never have dumped it there.
I snagged it off the floor with the tip of my Glock, gave the garment a good shake, and was about to return it to a hanger when I spotted deep-red lipstick on the collar. My hand trembled. I wore soft pinks or muted pinkish-browns, if I bothered with lip-color at all.
“No.” Deep in the reptilian part of my jaded private investigator’s brain, I knew the signs. I walked stiff-legged toward my bedside lamp and switched it on.
“Can’t be.” I examined the shirt. Definitely lipstick and there was a heavy musky scent as well. Not at all like my signature ocean-breeze cologne. I sniffed again, willing it to smell like my light scent. No such luck!
I dropped the Italian, custom tailored shirt on the floor and backed away as if it were a viper about to strike. After taking several calming deep breaths, I reloaded the Glock and shoved it back into my purse. With two swift steps, I swept the Colt off the bureau and secured it in my ankle holster. I don’t always carry concealed, but in this instance, the weapons made me feel secure.
Rushing for the door, I snatched my keys off the floor, kicked the magazine across the room as if I were a quarterback, then struggled to keep my balance. I stumbled over the silver, hard-sided weekender I’d lived out of during the infidelity surveillance, and tumbled to the floor, skinning the heels of my hands on the hardwood. In the process, my cell phone slid across the highly polished flooring. I crawled after it.
It needed a charge, but the call to my boss went through. I kept the details of my sad story to a minimum, and he gave me a week off.
After squelching the urge to scream, I grabbed the weekender, rushed out the door and took the elevator down. My hands shook as I pulled my topaz-metallic Chevy Cruze Eco out of the building’s underground parking garage. Mark had said the car matched the blue of my eyes. A tear ran down my cheek. I had to get away from here… needed time to think.
I headed for the airport.
Parking at JFK had been a nightmare. Security queues were extremely long and TSA agents testy. Flights were delayed due to a storm front moving toward the east from the Midwest.
I stood at the American Airlines ticket counter. “Yes, that’s right. Veronica Ingels. The return… um… make it one week from today.”
“Certainly.” The young woman dressed in navy with a red and white scarf around her neck smiled and in short order handed me my tickets and boarding pass.
“Excuse me.” I zigzagged through throngs of weary passengers on my way to the women’s room. A busty woman in black leggings and a zebra print tunic hurtled past me on her way out of the lavatory. I sidestepped her, entered a stall, and sat. I fished around inside my hard-sided weekender for the two portable gun cases still in there from the surveillance job. I made sure my weapons were unloaded, and locked them in the cases, then shoved them into my luggage and closed it. I hurried to the counter to declare the weapons and sign the necessary paperwork before boarding. TSA would take a hard look at my weekender and it would be stowed in the hold. Wouldn’t have to worry when I landed since I was licensed to carry in Texas.
Just last week, my best friend from college had said over the phone, “Come on down, honey, any time. I’ve got the sweetest guest room overlookin’ the pool.” An offer she’d made many times.
Of course, as per usual, workaholic me begged off, citing a crushing load of cases at the agency. However, if there ever was a time to take her up on her offer, this was it.
By this time my cell phone had died, and I’d left my charger in my car in long-term parking. I found a store on the concourse selling chargers, but the lines at the register were so long I had to abandon that plan and run to board my plane.
The pilot battled turbulence, advising us to keep our seat belts fastened, as we flew through western storm clouds. I pulled out my pressed-powder compact and using its mirror applied fresh lipstick, light pink. What I saw appalled me… a pasty white pallor, dark circles under my eyes. Not surprising, as I was all but ready to reach for a barf bag.
After changing planes in D.C. and Dallas, hoping they didn’t lose the stowed-bag with my weapons, I arrived at my destination. Abilene.
“Good evenin’, ma’am.” The clerk at the rental car counter smiled, drawing his Texas twang out as if we had all the time in the world. That type of easy-going attitude had New Yorkers virtually twitching when they went out of town.
I tried to mold my lips into a smile. Hadn’t eaten anything in hours, except peanuts, although the flights had been so rough I probably couldn’t have kept anything down. Focused? I hardly knew the time zone, couldn’t put two coherent thoughts together, and wound up with what had to be the ugliest car on the lot, a lime green Smart Coupe.
I threw my weekender into the pint-sized trunk and in twenty minutes arrived at Cassidy’s Bridal Couture. The heavy glass door silently opened, and I stood in a gossamer world of white. For the first time since leaving Brooklyn, I felt safe.
Rushing toward the back, I made my way through an ocean of gowns, mostly bridal. Some mother-of-the-bride, bridesmaids, and prom.
As I approached the bridal veil display, I tripped over my own feet, disbelieving my eyes.
Mark held my college BFF, Cassidy Renault, in his arms, his body pressed up against hers with insistence, kissing her. Or, was he performing a tonsillectomy? When they came up for air, he had a deep-red lipstick smudge at the corner of his lips.
I ducked behind a rack of sale dresses, gasping for breath.
“This won’t do, darlin’.” Cassidy reached over, her talons matching the smudge on his lips and snatched a tissue from a faux gold dispenser on the ornate highly polished Louis XIV desk. She purred as she wiped his face.
I hurled myself in their direction. No doubt, my body went into near spasms and conveyed all the emotional turmoil coursing through me. Fear, anger, even self-loathing gnawed at me.
“Ronnie, what on earth are you doing here?” Mark took a backward step and his voice registered shock, but not even a hint of contrition.
“Me! I think the better question is why did I find you here, Mark, with my so-called best friend?”
Cassidy stepped closer to my husband and held onto his arm. “Now, honey, I’m real sorry you had to find out this way, truly I am. But since you have, you’ve got to face facts.”
I had heard stories about ultra-feminine southern belles who were made of steel. Here stood the woman I’d shared secrets with in college showing not a scintilla of embarrassment. I waved a finger in that witch’s face. “Don’t you call me honey.”
She pursed her painted lips, looking like a red grouper. “Ronnie, nobody wants to hurt you. You’re lovely as the girl next door, but Mark has moved on.”
It was a good thing my weapons were locked in that stupid little car, because in that moment I wanted to shoot them both through the heart with a single bullet. Truth be told, my aim is that good.
Mark wrapped a protective arm around Cassidy’s shoulder. “Ronnie, I was going to talk to you when I got home from this trip.”
That explained why his shirt with the lipstick stain had been left on the closet floor. He had no reason to hide anymore. Maybe he wanted me to find it. “Oh, I see and just what kind of motivational speaking have you been doing all this time?” My voice dripped sarcasm.
He took a step forward. “It’s something you’re just going to have to deal with, I’m afraid. I’m asking for a divorce.”
I pivoted, tripped over my feet again, and this time knocked over the veil display. Took something with yards of tulle halfway through the store before I shook it off. Tears streaming down my face, I raced blindly out the door, probably looking like a mad woman.