A heat wave has struck Hampstead, Kansas, and Susan Wren, police chief of the sweltering town, has a vile flu. She struggles to keep up with work piling on her desk, while also dealing with a troubled teenage girl, a delusional World War II veteran, and a rookie cop who needs to be fired before her enthusiasm and inexperience get someone killed. If this weren't enough to contend with, trouble from the outside world enters the small town.
Cary Black is new in Hampstead, hiding out from her abusive policeman husband, Mitch. The woman she was to stay with has disappeared, and Cary, not wanting to alert the police, assumes the woman's identity. Mitch will stop at nothing to recover his wife, but when he tries, he'll be on Police Chief Susan Wren's turf.
This seventh entry in the highly praised series is the most thrilling and suspenseful yet. Charlene Weir weaves an intricate tale and Susan Wren encounters every obstacle she meets with courage and resourcefulness.
About the Author
Charlene Weir's first novel, The Winter Widow, won the SMP/Malice Domestic Contest for Best First Traditional Mystery Novel. She lives in El Cerrito, California.
Charlene Weir lives in El Cerrito, California. Her first novel, The Winter's Widow, won the SMP/ Malice Domestic Contest for Best First Traditional Mystery in 1991.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter One Two years later Nothing like firing somebody on a Monday morning to start the week out right. A scratchy throat, sharp pains above the bridge of her nose, and a throbbing earache put Susan Wren smack in the mood. The officer in question, recently hired Ida Rather, had performed an unforgivable sin, disobeyed a direct order from a superior. Ida--tall and slender, dark, feathery cap of hair, oval face, dark eyes, high cheekbones--stood so stiffly at attention in front of the desk that Susan worried she was in danger of falling like a board in a hard wind. Which, God knew, there was plenty of in Kansas. Jaw clenched so tight any fillings were in danger of shattering, eyes staring straight past Susan's shoulder at the flag behind the desk, Ida bravely waited for the axe. "Your actions could have gotten Demarco seriously injured," Susan said. Ida, tightening her lips into an even thinner line, dipped her head the merest fraction to indicate she'd heard. "You have no experience. No knowledge. You don't think, and you don't listen." Another small dip of the head. Susan suppressed a sigh. Ida had finished second in her class at the academy, she was fit, eager, ambitious, smart, and willing. Unfortunately, she was also impulsive, overly self-confident and ready to dive into the fray. Had Ida made even the merest hint of an excuse, Susan would have dropped the axe on the back of that stiff neck. But Ida standing there bravely, expecting to get her career chopped to an end before it had barely begun, made some evil genie in Susan's head hold her tongue. Maybe she was partly to blame. She shouldn't have partnered Ida with Demarco, who had a problem with women and a big problem with women in law enforcement. She should have placed her with Osey. Kind, patient, gentle Osey. The disadvantage there was, at first sight, he didn't command respect. Scarecrow with no brain was the impression. False impression. Except for the scarecrow part. He did look like a scarecrow, but his brain worked like lightning, even if his mouth didn't. "We'll mark this up to a learning experience," Susan surprised herself by saying. Ida was so startled her faraway stare fell to Susan's face and a rosy flush spread over her cheeks. "Thank you," she stammered. "You won't regret it. I'll--" "Save it. Don't make rash promises." "Right, yes. Shut up. No, I mean myself . . ." "Back to work." Forgetting about the pain that would occur when she bent her head, Susan gave a gesture of dismissal. "Yes, ma'am." Ida wobbled out, wilting with shock and relief. Susan picked up the phone and held it against her left ear, the right one being mostly deaf. When the dispatcher responded, she said, "Hazel, get Osey in and tell him he's responsible for the care and feeding of our fledgling." "Got it. I thought you were going to let her go." "So did I. I'm not sure why I didn't." "Ours is not to see the future. Maybe she's meant for something special." Susan grunted. "Meantime I hope she doesn't get Osey treed, with the hounds slavering at his heels." "That image doesn't quite work." "I'm not at my best today. I've got an errand to run. Anything you need while I'm out?" "Yeah, you might bring me some coffee filters. I'm tired of chewing on coffee grounds." "I can do that. Anything else?" Susan swallowed experimentally, hoping to find the scratchiness gone. No such luck. And the pulsing in her right ear echoed like the hollow sounds of an indoor swimming pool. She eyed the listing pile riding her in basket, trying to gauge the time it might take to work her way to the bottom. Many, many hours. "If you want something in your coffee besides that white powder stuff, you might get some milk." "Okay." Like the rest of the country, Hazel was suddenly weight-conscious and using milk for the communal coffee instead of cream, much to the irritation of the rest of the troops. Not that Hazel need be concerned about weight, she was five feet tall and thin as a pencil. "Whole milk?" Susan said. "Ha." "Right. Fat-free. I'll be back in an hour or so. Call me if anything comes up?" Hazel had been with this department far longer than Susan and could, no doubt, run it without help. Susan grabbed her shoulder bag from the coat tree and fished out her keys. With a wave to Hazel as she passed, she plodded down the hallway and out to the parking lot. The heat wave was hitting its third week, the temperature had topped a hundred before nine a.m., and the always-present wind slapped hot air at her face. The gas gauge in the pickup hovered around empty and she made a stop at Pickett's service station to fill the tank before she forgot again. Besides being tired all the time, lately she was getting forgetful. She never used to forget things. The Barrington medical building, a square, red brick building, was new, with none of the charm of the old limestone buildings around it, bank, fabric shop, antique shop, and bookstore. She parked in front of the bookstore. Inside the medical building, the air-conditioning prickled goose bumps on her sweaty skin. Taking the stairs had her breathing heavily by the second-floor landing. "Hi, Holly," she said to the sweet young receptionist as she entered the doctor's office. "Chief Wren." Holly smiled, a pert smile that showed off her dimples. "Doctor Eckhard will see you in just a minute. Have a seat and I'll call you." Susan sat, picked up an old New Yorker and flipped through, glancing at cartoons. Not as funny as they used to be. Or was it that she'd lost her sense of humor? "Chief Wren?" Susan looked up, dropped the magazine, and followed Holly down a corridor and into an examining room where her temperature was taken, her blood pressure checked, and her pulse counted. A minute or two later Dr. China Eckhard came in. Forties, attractive, brown hair held in a clip at the nape of her neck, no-nonsense manner, sharp intelligence. "Thanks for seeing me at such short notice, China," Susan said. "I think I have an ear infection." "I'm supposed to say that." China stuck an otoscope in Susan's right ear, peered in, then looked at the left. "You have an ear infection." She straightened and put the instrument on a tray. "You look tired." She stuck a tongue depressor in Susan's mouth and had her say ah. "Throat sore? Headache?" Headache was an understatement, more like agonizing spikes being pounded in her skull. China snatched a prescription pad, scribbled on it, and tore off the top sheet. "Antibiotics. Not the most broad spectrum, but we need to save the big guns for the big problems. Take them all. If you aren't any better at the end of ten days, give me a call and we'll try something else." "I can't hear a thing in this ear," Susan said. "Not surprising. It's full of fluid." "When will that clear up?" "Take the antibiotics and wait. Now, get out of here so I can tend to people who are really sick." Susan got out of there and stopped at the pharmacy to drop off the prescription. "I'll pick it up around seven," she told the pharmacist. When she came out, she noticed Jen, her fourteen-year-old friend and neighbor, slouching toward the library, backpack sagging on slumped shoulders, arms full of books. Nobody but a reluctant teenager moved that slowly. What was the matter with the child? Jen was a bright energetic girl, always on the lookout for new interests, and this sullen lump of misery wasn't like her at all. "Jen?" Startled by the interruption of her thoughts, Jen dropped her books. Susan bent to help them pick up books. "Are you all right?" Jen started to shake her head, but switched to a nod. "Aren't you supposed to be in school?" "It doesn't start for another week." Her tone said any doofus knows that. With August coming toward an end, she hadn't been around much, and Susan assumed she was busy winding up studies for her summer classes, and hanging with friends. Physically small and mentally occupied with myriad interests, Jen had been slow advancing to typical adolescent behavior, but maybe she'd simply turned into a teenager. The thick braids that used to hang down her back had been hacked off and now her brown hair was chin-length, with streaks of fuscia. "Wish we could have lunch, but I have a desk piled high with stuff. You okay?" Jen nodded. "You sure? Somebody bothering you?" She shook her head, thin arms clutching the books closer to her chest. "I need to go." "Can I give you a ride somewhere?" Jen shook her head. "Mom's picking me up. She went to see about Grandpa. He got away again." Jen's grandfather had Alzheimer's and periodically slipped away from the caregivers. "Well, my pickup's over there. Okay, if I walk that far with you?" Jen blinked and raised her shoulders in a shrug. "I guess." When Jen trudged up the library steps, Susan turned to the pickup and climbed in. She almost forgot coffee filters and milk and had to backtrack to pick them up. "Anything happen while I was gone?" She handed the grocery bag to Hazel. "Injury accident on Post Street." "Serious?" "Bad. Kids racing. Tim Baker pulled out of a parking lot to make a left turn. T-boned by one of the speeding kids. Tim's car sent skidding into oncoming traffic. Two cars rammed into it. One exploded and set off the others. All three are toast." "Jesus. How many hurt?" "By some miracle, only Tim seriously hurt," Hazel said. "Poor kid. Rushed to the hospital in critical condition." Susan rubbed the spot above her nose where pain was jabbing like a woodpecker. "Anything else?" "A woman called saying she's been trying to reach her sister and the sister never answers her phone. She's left messages, but the sister hasn't returned any." "Woman's name?" "She wouldn't give a name." Hazel looked at her pad. "Sister's name is Kelby Oliver." "She wouldn't give her name?" A woman calling to ask about her sister wouldn't give her name? How weird was that? With her head so muzzy, Susan couldn't track the thought any further. Family feud, maybe? "I assume this Oliver woman is an adult, mentally competent, and can go and do what she wants, including not return the sister's calls, or go away on vacation, if she so chooses?" "That would be my take on it," Hazel said. "And with this sister, I wouldn't return calls either. Talk about pushy." "That it?" "The day's still young." "Right." Trying to swallow coffee with her raw throat turned out to be a bad idea. Susan set it aside and attacked the files on her desk. Shortly after six, just as she was piling a stack of work to take home, her phone buzzed. "Yes, Hazel?" "Osey called in and wanted to know if you could stick somebody else with Ida. She nearly got him killed." "The first day?" Copyright © 2006 by Charlene Weir. All rights reserved.