Despite New Year's resolutions to avoid irritating houseguests and nerve-wracking cases, California P.I. Savannah Reid finds herself playing host to her assistant's cranky cousinin town for an unwanted makeover at a local spa. But when the spa's renowned plastic surgeon goes missing, murder's on the menu. . .
Voluptuous and proud of it, Savannah can't understand why any woman would diet in pursuit of beauty, never mind go under the knife. She likes herself just fine the way she is. Too bad her houseguest isn't as content. Abigail is livid that her cousin, Tammy, won her an extreme makeover at Emerge, San Carmelita's new luxury spa.
There's barely time to worry about Abigail when one of Emerge's owners, renowned plastic surgeon Suzette DuBois, goes missing. As she broadens her search, Savannah begins to realize that some of the employees at this temple of perfection harbor serious inner flaws. And when one of the suspects turns up dead, Savannah's had enough. She'd love nothing more than to wrap up this case and make friends with a nice strawberry margarita. But first, she'll have to stitch up a killer who cuts to the bone. . .
"A well-constructed mystery with several surprising twists that keep the reader guessing till the end."
"Savannah's as feisty as ever."
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Corpse SuzetteA SAVANNAH REID MYSTERY
By G.A. McKevett
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2006 G.A. McKevett and Kensington Publishing Corporation
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Wanna go watch Loco Roco?"
"I'll be there in ten."
"There" was the Patty Cake Donut Shop, which frequently served as a meeting spot for Savannah Reid and her old buddy, Dirk. Police work could be lonely when nobody in the department was willing to be your partner. And Detective Sergeant Dirk Coulter was frequently a lonely man.
But generally not for long.
Now a private detective, Savannah had once been his partner in another lifetime ... before she and the San Carmelita PD had parted ways under less than amiable circumstances. And once in a while, when she "got a yen," as her Southern granny would say, for an old-fashioned stakeout, she accepted one of his invitations.
He invited her constantly. He enjoyed her company and the homemade snacks she frequently brought along to fuel the long, tedious hours. She accepted once in a while ... when there were no good forensic shows on TV and no unread romance novels on her nightstand.
But she always accepted when the subject was Loco Roco.
She was every bit as determined as Dirk to catch that lowlife doing something illegal, immoral, or fattening and put him back in the joint where he belonged. Roco had made a lifelong career of robbing convenience stores and on his last job had pistolwhipped a clerk into a coma. With Savannah's help, Dirk had arrested him, only to have the most serious charge thrown out on a technicality: prosecutorial error.
They'd never gotten over the disappointment that Roco was back on the street after only eighteen months. They knew it was just a matter of time until he lapsed into his old pattern, and they intended to be there when he fell off the wagon and violated his parole.
They had been watching Loco Roco for weeks. So far, he hadn't even jaywalked or spit on the sidewalk. To their consternation, he was Mr. Law-Abiding Citizen, while his latest victim was still in physical therapy, relearning how to walk. But Savannah and Dirk weren't the sort to give up easily.
And that was why Savannah arrived at their rendezvous spot in eight minutes rather than the estimated ten.
When she pulled into Patty Cake's parking lot, she found Dirk sitting in his old battered Buick Skylark in the rear near the alley. She knew the drill. He was waiting to see if she had brought any cookies, pie, brownies, or cake before he went into Patty's. Cheapskate that he was, he was hoping he'd only have to buy coffee. His mood-which usually wavered between morose and sullen-would plummet when she emerged from her classic Mustang, bagless.
Her company didn't come cheap. The scintillating conversation, the benefit of her vast law-enforcement experience, the occasional slap upside his head to keep him awake ... it all had a price. And the cost was two maple bars ... or a giant chocolate-frosted Boston cream if she was in the throes of PMS.
He rolled down his window as she approached the Buick, a scowl on his face.
"No fried apricot pies?"
"You ate them all when you were over Saturday night," she said as she opened the passenger's door and brushed some Taco Bell wrappers off the seat and onto the floor.
"That was two nights ago. You've had plenty of time to make some more."
She slid in next to him and fixed him with a baleful eye. In her thickest Georgia drawl, she said, "Ye-eah, buddy ... and I've had time to go clean that filthy house trailer of yours, wash your pile of dirty laundry, and perform an unnatural sex act on you that I'm sure you'd just love. But we both know none of that's ever gonna happen, so go get me some donuts, boy. Two maple bars and a Boston cream. And make it snappy!"
Dirk's jaw dropped. "And?"
"Now you're just bein' spiteful."
She grinned and winked at him. "You think?"
* * *
Half an hour later they were parked across the street from Burger Bonanza, watching the rear door of the fast food joint, waiting for a skinny, grungy thirty-year-old named Roco Tessitori to exit.
"How sure was his parole officer that he's going to get fired tonight?" Savannah asked as she licked the chocolate frosting off her fingertips.
"Sure, sure. The manager here called the P.O. this morning and said he was gonna let Loco go as soon as his shift's over. Said he's been late every day, doing next to nothing on the job, and he threatened one of the girls who works here. The manager figures his public service obligation's been fulfilled. He's done hiring excons."
"And you figure our buddy's going to take his firing hard and go off the deep end?"
Dirk smiled, a nasty little grin that Savannah knew all too well. "Oh yeah. Loco's pretty predictable. When things don't go his way, he reverts to his old way of life. And besides, I'm feeling particularly lucky. I got two out of five on a Lotto scratch-off card this afternoon."
Savannah shot him a sideways glance to see if he was serious.
She decided not to mention that getting two out of five on a scratch-off was an everyday occurrence for most Lotto enthusiasts. No point in dampening Dirk's cheerful mood which for him was as rare as getting all five on a scratch-off card ... while sitting naked on the back of a bull elephant ... under a blue moon.
She took the last bite of her Boston cream and washed it down with her last sip of coffee. Okay. The food was gone; it was time for this stakeout to end.
"So," she said, "you figure he'll knock off another convenience store before the night's out?"
He took the empty donut bag, crunched it into a ball, and tossed it onto the back floorboard. "Tonight. Tomorrow night. Next Tuesday. It'll happen, and it'll be worth the wait. After all, I'm a very patient man."
Savannah sniffed. "Yeah, right. This from a guy who has a conniption if he has to wait three seconds for a light to turn green, who pitches a fit if a waitress takes longer than five seconds to refill his coffee cup, who-"
"All right, all right. I ... hey ... heads up."
He pointed to the back door of the burger joint, where their quarry had just emerged, wearing a bright red uniform with the white "BB" Burger Bonanza logo on the back. Roco stomped across the parking lot to an old, decrepit Chevy. Opening the trunk, he peeled off the shirt and pitched it onto the ground.
"The boy looks downright disgruntled to me," Savannah said with a snicker.
"Oh, he's had better days," Dirk agreed.
They watched as the guy dropped the red pants, kicked off his shoes, and yanked the trousers off his ankles.
"Well, would you get a load of that," Savannah said. "Right down to his bloomers, here in front of God and everybody."
"I oughta bust him for exposin' himself right now," Dirk replied.
Savannah took a pair of binoculars from the glove box and focused them on Roco's rear end. "Or for wearing those briefs. They say 'kiss me under the mistletoe' and Christmas was two weeks ago. That's gotta be some sort of fashion felony."
Roco had thrown the pants onto the ground beside the shirt, then retrieved a pair of jeans from the trunk. In less than a minute, he was wearing the jeans and a black sweatshirt, and his sneakers were back on his feet.
As Roco got into his car, Dirk restarted the Buick and Savannah fastened her safety belt, happy for a bit of action. If there was anything she hated it was a boring stakeout once the goodies were gone.
A few seconds later, Roco peeled out of the parking lot, going out of his way to drive over the discarded uniform. They followed him onto the freeway, where he chose the northbound entrance ramp.
"He lives south of here," Savannah said.
Dirk smiled. "I know. Like I said, I'm feeling lucky tonight."
"I don't know what to make of this," Dirk said as Roco disappeared inside Kidz Emporium. Having followed him to a strip mall on the outskirts of town and the large toy store, they had parked a discreet distance away and watched as he entered the establishment.
Savannah shrugged. "Do you figure he'd go shopping for a nephew's or niece's birthday or whatever, right after getting fired from a job he badly needed?"
"Can't imagine it. Maybe he needs a video game to while away the idle hours now that he's unemployed."
Savannah got out her cell phone and called information, then dialed the store's number. "Security, please. Yes, hello. I'm with the San Carmelita Police Department"-she gave Dirk a sideways smirk-"and I was wondering if you could discreetly surveil a gentleman who's just entered your store and let us know what he purchases, if anything. Yes, Caucasian, thirty, black hair, dark eyes, six feet, one hundred and forty pounds, jeans and black sweatshirt. Sure. I'll hold. Thanks a bunch, darlin'."
A few minutes later, Savannah thanked the security guard again, tossed the phone back onto the dash and chuckled. Elbowing Dirk in the ribs, she said, "You're right, big boy. Today's your lucky day. You're not gonna believe what that moron just bought."
Fifteen minutes later, they were still sitting in the car, but this time they were parked at the outer edge of a convenience store's lot. Roco was standing beside his car, fumbling with the small orange bag he had carried out of the Emporium.
"He's going to do it," Savannah said. "He's crazier than I thought. He's actually going to try to knock over a Quick Stop with a toy gun."
"I guess he's got some urgent bills to pay and can't take time to score a real piece on the street." Dirk shook his head and laughed. "Fine with me. Now I can let him go through with it and hang himself good before I have to intervene. Hell, he can't even give a clerk a decent pistol-whipping with a toy gun."
Roco tucked the plastic pistol into the front of his jeans, pulled his shirttail over it, and strode toward the store's entrance. Savannah and Dirk checked their own weapons in their shoulder holsters and got out of the car the moment he disappeared inside.
In seconds they were at the front door. They looked through the glass, ready to duck if he was facing their way. Having arrested him before, they were sure he'd recognize them on sight, and this was one crime they didn't want to interrupt ... at least, not at first.
Timing was everything.
They slipped inside unnoticed and made their way along the wall that was lined with soda-filled refrigeration units. Savannah glanced down each aisle they passed, but other than Roco and the elderly lady behind the counter the store appeared empty.
Roco was hanging out by the candy display, making a show of choosing some gum. With a couple of packs in hand, he made his way to the front.
Weapons drawn, but pointed at the ceiling, Savannah and Dirk followed him.
He approached the clerk and slapped the gum onto the countertop. "Gimme these," he barked.
The clerk was a petite, silver-haired woman with bright blue eyes that narrowed at hearing his rough tone. "And will that be all?" she asked with forced courtesy as she rang up the sale.
"No, that ain't all." He reached into his waistband and pulled out the toy weapon. Pointing it at the woman's head, he said, "Gimme the money in that register, too, while you're at it. And hurry up about it, too, or I'll blow your fuckin' face off."
For a moment, Savannah had a horrible thought: What if the old lady died of sheer fright? What if she had a heart attack and dropped dead then and there?
Maybe they should have intercepted him before he'd gotten this far!
But over Roco's shoulder she could see the woman's face and the hot fire of anger that leapt into the elderly lady's eyes. Savannah decided not to worry about this one. She had seen that look in her own Granny Reid's eyes, and she knew this woman wasn't one to be scared to death ... literally or even figuratively.
She felt Dirk tense beside her. He was ready to make his move.
She lowered her gun and trained it on Roco's back.
She wouldn't take the shot. Not with the clerk also in her line of fire. But Roco wouldn't know that.
In her peripheral vision she saw Dirk do the same. In another second, he would announce and then they would-
The explosion shook the store, and Savannah felt its reverberations throughout her entire body. Her ears rang as her brain tried to process. Instinctively, she dropped to one knee and ducked her head, her Beretta still pointed at Roco.
She knew the sound all too well.
She did a split-second mental check to see if she had fired. No. She hadn't put her finger on the trigger yet.
A quick, sideways glance at Dirk told her that he hadn't fired either. He looked as confused as she was.
Roco had fired a shot?
With a plastic gun?
Roco. She looked back at him and saw an ugly, dark red stain appearing on the back of his thigh. He was starting to shake, violently. Then he dropped to the floor like a sack of flour.
Now Savannah had a clear view of the old lady behind the counter ... all of her ... including the Colt .45 in her hand that still had smoke curling from its barrel.
"That'll teach you!" the clerk said as she slowly lowered the weapon and laid it on the counter. "Try to rob me will you! And with a toy gun?! You oughta be ashamed of yourself. I'll bet you thought I was just some poor, helpless old woman. Well, I served in the Women's Army Corps, buster! You just held up the wrong woman!"
Dirk wasted no time rushing the counter and securing the .45 before Annie Oakley, Sr. could do any further damage with it.
Savannah holstered her own weapon and turned her attention to Roco, who was lying on the floor, bleeding profusely from his leg wound.
So far, he hadn't said anything. He wasn't even moaning or groaning in pain. He looked like he was in complete shock as he stared up at Savannah with blank eyes.
"How bad is he?" Dirk asked her.
She looked down at the wound and saw that blood wasn't just flowing from it; it was spurting. Annie O. had hit an artery. "Pretty bad." Savannah turned to the clerk. "Do you have any sanitary napkins in here?"
"What?" The old lady looked confused. "I ... uh ... there are some tampons on that shelf there. I-"
"No, I need sanitary napkins ... pads ... if you've got them. To stop the bleeding."
"I don't carry anything like that."
"I got regular old napkins over there by the coffee machine," the clerk said, "but I'm not getting them for you if it's to help him."
Dirk ran to the coffee station, grabbed a handful of napkins, and thrust them into Savannah's hands. She used them to apply pressure to the wound but the blood quickly saturated them, welling between her fingers. She silently cursed herself for not having a pair of gloves. "Roco, my man, you better not have AIDS," she muttered. "Call 911," she told the clerk. "Tell them to get an ambulance here, code three."
The lady shook her silver head. "I'm not calling anybody. I hope he bleeds to death right there on that floor. Then he won't be holding up some other poor soul who hasn't served time in the military."
Dirk made the emergency call himself.
He also brought an entire box of the napkins over to Savannah, knelt next to her, and tried to help her staunch the flow.
She glanced down at Roco's ashen face, his dark eyes wide with pain and fear. She had to admit; she felt just a little bit sorry for the guy ... until she thought of his previous victims ... the guy he had pistol-whipped, who still couldn't walk.
Then she decided that maybe Lady Justice wasn't such a bad old broad after all.
"Guess this was my lucky day," Dirk said as he tossed away a handful of soaked napkins and grabbed some fresh ones. He looked down at Roco. "You, on the other hand ... you're going to the hospital and then right back to prison."
Savannah could hear sirens approaching. She could also hear the clerk talking on her cell phone. She was saying to somebody, "Yeah, I got him good. Right in the leg. He's the third one I've shot in only five years! Sure, let's get together tonight at O'Henry's and celebrate."
Savannah nudged Roco to keep him conscious. "Stay awake for me, there, buddy. Help's about here." She shook her head. "Boy, you're just havin' a bad night, aren't you? You get fired from a job, you pick the only convenience store in three states with a gun-totin' granny WAC behind the counter, you violate your parole and get a hole blown in your leg ... all in one hour. How piss-poor unlucky are you?!"
Excerpted from Corpse Suzette by G.A. McKevett Copyright © 2006 by G.A. McKevett and Kensington Publishing Corporation. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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