"Dashofy takes small town politics and long simmering feuds, adds colorful characters, and brings it to a boil in a welcome new series." - Hallie Ephron, Author of There Was an Old Woman
Zoe Chambers, paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania's tight-knit Vance Township, has been privy to a number of local secrets over the years, some of them her own. But secrets become explosive when a dead body is found in the Township Board President's abandoned car.
As a January blizzard rages, Zoe and Police Chief Pete Adams launch a desperate search for the killer, even if it means uncovering secrets that could not only destroy Zoe and Pete, but also those closest to them.
Praise for CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE:
"The texture of small town Pennsylvania comes alive in Annette Dashofy's debut mystery. Discerning mystery readers will appreciate Dashofy's expert details and gripping storytelling. Zoe Chambers is an authentic character who will entertain us for a long time." - Nancy Martin, Author of the Blackbird Sister Mysteries
"The author has struck gold by delivering a wonderful story... Betrayal, teenage angst, dysfunctional relationship and deep dark secrets will keep you turning the pages in this very enjoyable debut novel." - Dru Ann Love, Dru's Book Musings
"New York has McBain, Boston has Parker, now Vance Township, PA ("pop. 5000. Please Drive Carefully.") has Annette Dashofy, and her rural world is just as vivid and compelling as their city noir." - John Lawton, Producer/Director and Author of the Inspector Troy Series
"I've been awestruck by Annette Dashofy's storytelling for years. Look out world, you're going to love Zoe Chambers and Pete Adams, and Circle of Influence is just the beginning." - Donnell Ann Bell, Bestselling Author of The Past Came Hunting and Deadly Recall
"Dashofy does everything exactly right in this well-crafted not-quite-cozy: compelling plot, original setting and wonderfully rich characters. Her revenge-fueled tale of small town manipulation and murder will keep you turning the pages. This series is a winner!" - Hank Phillippi Ryan, Agatha, Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark Award-Winning Author
"An excellent debut, totally fun to read. Annette Dashofy has created a charmer of a protagonist in Zoe Cambers. She's smart, she's sexy, she's vulnerably romantic, and she's one hell of a paramedic on the job. It's great to look forward to books two and three." - Kathleen George, Professor of Theatre and Writing at the University of Pittsburgh and Edgar-Nominated Author of the Richard Christie Series
"This is a terrific first mystery, with just the right blend of action, emotion and edge. I couldn't put it down. The characters are well drawn and believable...It's all great news for readers. I can't wait to meet Zoe and Pete again in Vance Township, Monongahela County, PA." - Mary Jane Maffini, Author of The Dead Don't Get Out Much
Books in the Zoe Chambers Mystery Series:
CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE #1
LOST LEGACY #2 (September 2014)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all...
Author Bio: Annette Dashofy, a Pennsylvania farm gal born and bred, grew up with horses, cattle, and, yes, chickens. After high school, she spent five years as an EMT for the local ambulance service. Since then, she's worked a variety of jobs, giving her plenty of fodder for her lifelong passion for writing. She, her husband, and their two spoiled cats live on property that was once part of her grandfather's dairy. Her short fiction, including a 2007 Derringer nominee, has appeared in Spinetingler, Mysterical-e, and Fish Tales: the Guppy Anthology. Her newest short story will appear in the Lucky Charms Anthology.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Circle Of Influence
A Zoe Chambers Mystery
By Annette Dashofy
Henery PressCopyright © 2013 Annette Dashofy
All rights reserved.
Zoe Chambers eased the Monongahela County EMS ambulance to a stop next to a heap of dirty snow. The overhead dusk-to-dawn light revealed a fire hydrant poking through the mound, which explained why that spot remained vacant on a street otherwise packed with cars, trucks and SUVs. No one would ticket an emergency vehicle, though. At least, no one had in the dozen years she'd been a paramedic. She hoped tonight wouldn't be a first.
"This meeting is gonna be a disaster," Zoe said. But she and Earl were going only as observers, not medics. She hoped. "Look at the parking lot. Everyone in town is here. Who doesn't love a good riot, right?"
"It's our civic duty to stay informed. That's what I say." Earl fingered the radio mic and reported their location and in-service status to the Emergency Operations Center. "Especially when you never know what the local tyrant is going to pull next."
Zoe zipped her coat. "The Steelers didn't make the playoffs, and the Penguins don't have a game tonight. What else is there to do around here?" Personally, she'd rather return to the station and crash on the lumpy sofa. With the weathermen forecasting eight to ten inches of snow overnight, down time might be at a premium for a while.
"The way Jerry McBirney has the township residents pissed off, I still think this would be the big draw of the night."
That bastard Jerry McBirney. Another good reason to avoid the meeting. Earl was going to owe her. Big time.
A blast of frigid air smacked Zoe in the face as she opened the driver's door and stepped down, her work boots splashing in the slush. Winter in southwestern Pennsylvania bounced back and forth between snow and slushy slop. Icy white pellets swirled in the wind, reinforcing her trepidation that the winter storm advisory might not be an exaggeration.
Pulling the fur-trimmed hood of her parka over her head, Zoe jogged toward the meeting hall. Earl caught up to her and reached out to open the door. A cacophony of discontent blasted them as they stepped inside. He nudged her with an elbow and leaned closer so she could hear him above the clamor. "I'll catch you later."
She nodded, and he disappeared into the throng.
At an ordinary meeting, attendance might top out at a dozen residents. This evening, the room was filled to capacity. At the front of the hall, the rural township's three supervisors sat behind a long table, facing a few hundred angry locals.
The chairman, Jerry McBirney, pounded his gavel. "I demand order," he bellowed, glowering at his constituents.
Even the sound of his voice sent the muscles in Zoe's neck into spasms. From the back of the room, a slender woman waved both arms. Zoe lifted a hand in response and made her way through the crowd toward her best friend, Rose Bassi.
A man in a quilted flannel shirt stood. "You're claiming perks that no supervisor has ever gotten in the past."
The chairman tipped his head at a well-dressed woman seated to one side of the table. "Our township solicitor says otherwise."
"A solicitor you hired against the residents' wishes," another man said.
"This is getting us nowhere." McBirney cracked the gavel again. "Next order of business."
Zoe side stepped through a crowded row, avoiding knees and feet.
Rose moved her coat and purse from an empty chair beside her. "I didn't expect to see you here. Aren't you on duty?" she whispered.
Zoe settled into the cleared seat. "Earl loves political drama and just had to check out the action."
"Are you placing bets on who throws the first punch at Jerry?"
Zoe bit back a laugh. "Maybe. Where's your husband? If there are punches to be thrown at McBirney, I'd think he'd want to be in on it."
Rose checked her watch. "Ted must have gotten hung up at the fire station. He'll be here."
An older man with deep crevices carved in his leather-brown skin was on his feet. "Nothing's been done yet about that sign on the new four-lane. Folks keep exiting there, thinking it's the road to town, but they just end up stuck in the mud back in the game lands. I have to haul at least one car a week outta there with my tractor. And diesel ain't cheap no more."
McBirney waved a hand, dismissing him. "Joe, I've told you before, that's up to the state. You need to talk to PennDOT, not me. Next order of business." The chairman narrowed his eyes at the crowd. "Since I'm serving this township full time, I feel it's only fair that the township covers my health insurance costs."
A man Zoe recognized as the owner of the feed store leaped to his feet. "Are you kidding me? Vance Township supervisors don't qualify for township funded insurance coverage until they've been in office for two years. What you're proposing is clearly against the law."
McBirney again slammed his gavel against the table's surface. "Everything we do is legal and above board." He puffed up his barreled chest. "You people are just too stupid to understand the law."
"Oh, good way to make friends, Jerry," Zoe muttered under her breath.
McBirney continued as if everyone were in total agreement with him. "I move that we waive the two-year service requirement for the chairman to receive health coverage from the township insurance providers."
"I second the motion," said Matt Doaks, the supervisor seated next to McBirney, although the crowd all but drowned him out.
"I have a second. All in favor?" McBirney said.
"Aye," said McBirney and Doaks.
"Nay," said Howard Rankin, the third supervisor.
"Motion carries," McBirney shouted over the protests of the residents.
"Terrific." Rose huffed. "Anymore, it's not if he's going to pull something at each meeting. It's more a matter of what he's going to pull."
"I know. That's why we're all here," Zoe whispered back. "How does he keep getting away with this?"
Rankin stood up and winged an empty water bottle toward a trash can. He missed, and the plastic bottle skittered across the floor. He kicked his chair back and stomped into the VFW's kitchen.
McBirney glared after him. "We'll take a five minute recess while everyone regains their composure."
Zoe shrugged her shoulders, popping a knot of tension. "Who voted for McBirney, anyway?"
"Look around." Rose motioned to the crowd. "All these fine citizens fell for his line of bull about bringing change to the township. Well, we got change for sure. We now have a supervisor who's lining his pockets at our expense and acts as if the entire township was put here to do his bidding."
Dark memories she'd tried to forget for years swirled too close to the surface. "He's a beast." Zoe spoke the words so softly she didn't think anyone, even Rose, heard her.
But the look Rose gave her indicated otherwise. "You would know."
The room quieted except for the creak and scrape of folding chairs as some folks moved to gather in small groups. Others remained in their seats, fuming in silence. McBirney shuffled through a pile of papers on table in front of him.
Zoe forced her thoughts onto a different path. "How are the kids? Allison hasn't called me for a riding lesson in over two months."
Rose heaved an exaggerated sigh. "She's driving us nuts. It's like she's suddenly become possessed by the demon hormones. Have you seen her since she dyed her hair?"
"No." The girl had a perfect long auburn mane. Why in the world would she dye it?
Rose tugged at her own short red tresses. "Black. She's gone Goth. But that's not the worst of it." Rose leaned closer, speaking in hushed tones. "A month ago, we caught her with one of those high school jocks. A senior. And Allison was stripped down to her bra." Rose shook her head. "She didn't even seem embarrassed when we busted her."
"What did you do?"
"Ted tossed Mr. Football Star out on his ass. Then we took the door off Allison's room."
Zoe snickered. "Taking away her privacy? That's capital punishment to a teenage girl."
"She finally got her door back two days ago. It remains to be seen how long it stays. Oh. Here comes Ted now."
Rose sprang to her feet, waving. Zoe followed her friend's gaze. Near the door, Ted Bassi managed to spot his wife's vigorous flagging. He threaded his way through the crowd, toward them.
"Evening, ladies." Ted bussed his wife on the cheek before squeezing into the seat next to her. "Did I miss anything?"
"Just Jerry being his usual pushy self," Rose said.
Ted removed his fogged eyeglasses and wiped them with a bandana. "I saw the ambulance out front. I thought maybe something had happened."
"Not yet," Zoe said. "We're just hanging out here in case someone spills blood."
"Could happen. The way Commandant McBirney's been treating my mom lately, could even be me spilling his."
Rose patted his knee. "You promised to keep your cool this time, remember?"
Ted shrugged. "Did I? I don't recall."
Howard Rankin returned with a fresh bottle of water. Zoe noticed he hadn't brought any for his two compatriots.
McBirney cracked his gavel. "Next order of business." A smirk crossed his face. "I hereby call for the dismissal of township police secretary, Sylvia Bassi."
Ted's chair crashed to the floor as he leapt to his feet. "On what grounds?"
The smirk blossomed into a smug smile. "Theft of township property."
"What township property? My mother's never stolen anything in her life."
Zoe spotted Sylvia Bassi near the front, as the white-haired woman looked back at her son. Even from her seat in the back row, Zoe could see the shock in Sylvia's eyes.
"She stole a computer from the police department."
"I did not." Sylvia looked more like the township grandma than the township thief. "It was a junk computer. They told me to dispose of it, so I took it home for Ted's kids to play with when they come to visit."
"There. You heard it from her own lips. She admits taking it."
"But not stealing it," Ted said, his words drowned by the roar of outrage coming from the crowd.
"This is absurd," Rose said to Zoe over the din. "Why on earth would he ..."
Ted and everyone else in the hall were on their feet. Their words crashed into each other so that Zoe could hear nothing clearly. Jerry McBirney's face was as red as the letters on the exit sign above the door to his left.
Rose nudged her with an elbow. "Look who just walked in."
Zoe had to weave and bob to see around the people standing in front of her. Just inside the door, Police Chief Pete Adams dusted snow from his black jacket. Her pulse quickened. Tall, rugged, and impressive, if anyone could handle Jerry McBirney's idiocy, it was Pete.
The chairman also noticed the new arrival. "Chief Adams. I'm glad you're here."
You are? Zoe thought.
The room fell silent.
Pete Adams wore his poker face. The one with those unreadable clear blue eyes Zoe had studied at many Saturday night card games. They'd worked side-by-side in the years since he'd taken over as chief, dealing with everything from the mangled remains of traffic accidents to gunshot wounds to drunks passed out in the street. Theirs was a friendship forged of mutual respect and admiration.
"Take this woman into custody." McBirney pointed at Sylvia who clutched a tissue to her face.
"I have to get back to work," Zoe whispered to Rose. In truth, she hoped to catch a moment alone with Pete.
"Uh-huh." Rose gave her a knowing look. "Say hello to the chief for me. And tell him to trump up some charges against that maggot, McBirney."
Zoe's cheeks warmed. So much for hiding ulterior motives from her best friend. She edged her way out of the row, hoping to work her way toward Pete before things got ugly again.
"Now, Jerry." Pete fixed the chairman with an icy stare. "Why would I want to arrest Mrs. Bassi?"
"I want her charged with theft of township property."
"I'm sure we can talk about this." Pete's gaze swept the room, and most of the irate citizens lowered into their chairs.
"There's been enough talking. Arrest her. Arrest her now." McBirney's face had deepened from red to almost violet.
Pete looked weary. "Jerry —"
"Chief, must I remind you that you work for me? You follow my orders."
Zoe froze. The ugly history between Pete Adams and his new "boss" was no secret. Besides, throwing Sylvia Bassi in jail would be akin to arresting the police department's own personal den mother.
A soft rumble rolled over the room, as everyone murmured their theories and waited.
Then Pete stepped over to Sylvia and extended a hand. "Let's go outside and talk," he said with a sad smile.
McBirney stood rooted in his spot behind the table and appeared on the verge of stomping his foot. "I want her arrested," he boomed.
Pete fixed him with a steely stare and replied in a voice only those closest to him could hear. Whatever he said finally silenced McBirney.
Sylvia took Pete's hand and climbed to her feet. The police chief helped her with her coat and then held the heavy steel door for her. As soon as it drifted closed, the room erupted.
Zoe maneuvered her way along the wall. Noise and heat pressed in on her from all sides. When she slipped through the same doors that Pete and Sylvia had used moments earlier, the quiet and the cold of the January night offered glorious relief. The ice pellets had softened into white snowflakes. They drifted through the night air, dusting the grass with a powdered sugar coating and melting where they fell on salted concrete.
Zoe spotted Pete helping Sylvia into the passenger seat of his SUV. She broke into a jog toward them.
"What's going on?" Her breath created a cloud in front of her face.
Sylvia was twisting the strap of her purse. Pete met Zoe's gaze and rolled his eyes. He turned back to the older woman. "So tell me about this computer. And why is Jerry McBirney in such an uproar over it?"
"I've always been responsible for getting rid of the junk the township doesn't need anymore. That computer's been sitting in the back room for two years — since you replaced them with the new ones, remember?"
"Did the supervisors say you could take it?"
"No." Both Sylvia's lower lip and voice trembled. "But I didn't think I needed permission. No one had touched the thing in ages."
The doors of the township building burst open. Four people and a few hundred angry voices spilled out into the snow. Ted Bassi led the brigade toward the police vehicle. On his heels marched McBirney and Matt Doaks. Bringing up the rear, wobbling on stilettos not designed for rural townships' gravel parking lots, came Elizabeth Sunday, the well-dressed township solicitor. Zoe had only seen the woman sitting in meetings, calm, reserved and arrogant. In a stylish, but lightweight jacket — too lightweight for any winter night, but especially this one — and the kind of shoes that Zoe had only seen on television shows about cities and sex, Elizabeth Sunday had stepped out of her element the moment she'd exited the building.
"Terrific," Pete said with an exasperated sigh. "Here we go again."
Zoe motioned to two teenagers loping toward them from the opposite direction. "That's only the half of it."CHAPTER 2
The tall, scrawny boy jogged across the snowy parking lot toward them, holding up his oversized jeans with both hands. Logan Bassi reminded Zoe of the ladies in old western movies, hoisting their skirts and petticoats.
Behind Logan came an equally thin, but somewhat shorter, girl with long jet-black hair. Allison wore a bulky blue and white jacket with the high school's Blue Demons decal stitched to the front, and her faded jeans were as tight as her brother's were huge.
"Here come your grandkids, Sylvia," Zoe said.
The woman leaned out from her perch in Pete's passenger seat, looking wild-eyed toward the kids.
"Damn," Pete said with a growl. "This just gets better and better."
Ted reached the Vance Township Police vehicle first. "Don't you dare arrest my mother, Pete."
Huffing, McBirney trudged up behind Ted. "That computer contains vital township records."
"What?" Sylvia's voice creaked. Zoe wondered if the flush in the woman's chubby cheeks was a result of embarrassment or the cold.
"What are you doing with my grandma?" Logan demanded.
And then everyone, except Zoe and Pete, spoke at once. There hadn't been a mob scene like this in the VFW's parking lot since the drunken brawl last summer at the Morgan-Platt wedding.
Pete brought his thumb and middle finger to his lips. Knowing what was coming next, Zoe jammed her hands against her ears.
His whistle sliced the cold night air and probably stopped traffic all the way to the far end of town. It also brought a halt to the bickering.
Excerpted from Circle Of Influence by Annette Dashofy. Copyright © 2013 Annette Dashofy. Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
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