False Fortune

False Fortune

by Twist Phelan


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781523617364
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 01/20/2016
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.59(d)

About the Author

Twist Phelan is a Thriller Award-winning author, peripatetic world traveler, and a former plaintiff's trial lawyer whose critically-acclaimed novels and short stories enthrall readers the world over. Find her at www.TwistPhelan.com.

Read an Excerpt

False Fortune

A Pinnacle Peak Mystery
By Twist Phelan

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2007 Twist Phelan, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59058-363-0

Chapter One

Monday, November 2

"I think we're being followed."

Hannah Dain adjusted her rearview mirror, trying to get a better view of the driver in the white SUV. Looking for a license plate would be pointless—Arizona didn't require them in the front.

"Of course we are," Shelby said. "This is the only road around the lake."

"I mean the car behind us. I saw it when we stopped for gas." Her sister glanced over her shoulder, then rolled her eyes.

"At the one station this side of town. Do you know how many SUVs there are in this state, especially white ones? Stop being paranoid." Shelby consulted the map print-out on her lap. "Anyway, we're almost at the fry bread stand."

"If you say so."

They hadn't seen a road sign for at least twenty minutes, not even a mile marker. In this part of the desert, land took a long time to change. If you didn't know where you were going, you didn't belong out here, Hannah thought.

The grill of the white SUV filled the side-view mirror, shining through the words stenciled in the glass: Caution: objects in this mirror may be closer than they appear.

No kidding, Hannah said to herself. If the hulking vehicle were any nearer, she'd be able to see the bugs splatted on its chromed front. She pressed down on the Subaru's accelerator, pushing the needle on the speedometer from fifty to fifty-nine. Landscape rushed by in a blur of desert colors—sagebrush green, red rock, yellow sand. The SUV grew smaller in the mirror until it looked like a toy car.

Shelby grabbed the door handle. "Hey! Slow down! These curves are making me sick."

Hannah eased up on the gas. The tortuous road was called El Espinazo del Diablo—the Devil's Backbone—and ran along an arête, with canyons nearing a hundred feet deep dropping off to either side. The canyon to the south was filled with volcanic rock dotted with cacti, the one to the north with water. The latter was dubbed Lake Lagunita, one of those bilingually redundant names like Table Mesa and Calle Road that Hannah found so annoying.

They came up on another vehicle. Hannah checked for oncoming cars, then steered around a pickup with a sheep in its bed. Unlike the four-lane parkway that carried casino patrons to the west side of the rez—the Tohono O'odham Indian Community—the road to the south entrance was single lane, and cars came at one another at great speed. Most of the traffic was tribe members, and alcohol-fueled crashes were frequent.

"So tell me more about your case," Hannah said.

All Shelby had said during last night's phone call was that she was co-counsel in a toxic tort case involving radiation contamination, and needed to video the old mines that had been used as dump sites. The mines were on the rez, reachable only by a barely maintained axle-busting dirt track—impassable with Shelby's red sports convertible, but no barrier to Hannah's trusty Subaru wagon. As Shelby had never learned to work a stick shift, Hannah would have to drive, too.

They were heading for the eastern shore of Lake Lagunita, directly opposite the area where Hannah paddled most mornings before work. She had taken up kayaking as physical therapy for her twice-injured shoulder. The man made lake straddled the boundary between Pinnacle Peak and the rez, and non-tribe members were restricted to the town-owned side, near the casino.

Her hard-plastic boat strapped to the roof, Hannah had met her sister at the boathouse that morning. Now they were on the south side of the lake, halfway to their destination.

"I don't know all that much. Daddy just told me about it," Shelby said.

Richard Dain was on leave from the firm, serving as a special prosecutor in a federal case back East. Dain & Daughters employed only four attorneys. With Olivia Parrish still on sabbatical in Africa and Hannah specializing in business law, Richard's pending cases had become Shelby's responsibility.

"Where did the radiation come from?"

"In the 1950s the tribe let the Department of Defense test some top-secret project on the rez," Shelby said. "Probably an atomic bomb, but no one will say for sure. Whatever it was, leftover uranium ended up being dumped into old mine shafts, and poisoned the groundwater. We represent the tribe members who lived next to the dump sites and drank the water. Lead counsel is Franklin Rowley. He and Daddy went to law school together."

"Toxic waste? Mass tort? Wow. Sounds like one of Elizabeth's trials."

Hannah regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth. Their mother wasn't an easy topic between the two sisters, and recent discoveries had made things even more complicated for Hannah. She had yet to tell Shelby about Elizabeth's affair—the one that had produced Hannah—or about her newly discovered half-sister, Anuja.

And Hannah planned to keep the secret for a while. Never close in the past, she and Shelby were finally intersecting, with a wobbly not-quite-friendship the result. In fact, since Hannah had rejoined the firm last month, Shelby had been almost nice to her younger sibling. Hannah didn't want her recent discoveries to jeopardize their fledgling relationship.

Besides, given how rocky things had been with Shelby, Hannah wasn't all that sure how she felt about having another sister. She and Anuja had exchanged several emails, and Hannah was content to leave it at that for now.

Shelby's voice broke into her thoughts. "Do you think she would have been a good mother?" Hannah blinked. Elizabeth Dain had died within days of giving birth to Hannah, twenty-eight years ago. "I...I don't know," she said.

"Everyone says she loved her work. And Daddy, too."

Hannah winced, then hoped Shelby hadn't noticed.

"But no one ever talks about her as a parent," her sister continued.

Was Shelby trying to tell her she knew about the affair? About Anuja? Hannah fixed her eyes on the line where the pavement disappeared into the horizon. "You were only two when she died, Shelby. She didn't have a lot of time to be a mom."

Hannah steered the Subaru around a pothole and the conversation back to a safer topic.

"Isn't the government going to say the radiation came from uranium that was already in the ground? How are you going to prove the contamination is the DOD's fault?" Hannah knew most of the radioactive ore used during the nuclear era came from mines in the Southwest. The tribe's water supply could have been polluted through natural causes.

"We don't have to. The government admitted liability, supposedly because of national security, though what can be so important fifty years later is beyond me. Franklin thinks it's because private contractors—who are also big political contributors—want to start mining on the rez again."

"For more uranium? I thought we won the arms race," Hannah said.

"This is about fuel for nuclear power plants. China and India are building reactors like crazy, and our government is pushing nuclear energy as an alternative to oil."

"So what will the victims get?"

"Anyone who can prove damages is entitled to reparations. Apparently, the side-effects of radiation poisoning are pretty ghastly—nerve damage, paralysis, blindness. Franklin thinks video of the mines and the plaintiffs' houses will make the jury more sympathetic. He wants to remind them of how things were on the rez before the casino."

Housing, schools, hospitals—Hannah knew they had all been made possible by the ka-ching! of slot machines and the clatter of chips on poker tables. Only after her temporary job with the tribe had she seen the dark side of such wealth.

A tote bag decorated with a designer's logo was at Shelby's feet. She took an atomizer from an outside pocket and spritzed both sides of her neck, something French and flowery.

Hannah wrinkled her nose. "Is that perfume?"

"Of course. I would never use eau de toilette. Want some?"

"No!" Hannah lowered the window halfway. "You're stinking up the car."

"And that would be a bad thing?"

With an expression of distaste, Shelby picked up a half-empty Gatorade bottle from the passenger-side footwell and set it in the cup holder. She glanced around the car's interior, taking in the paddling suit draped over the back seat, Post-its bearing scribbled training times stuck to the glove box, the partially eaten PowerBar protruding from the dashboard cubby next to an iPod with its headphone wires in a tangle. "You look ready for your Modern Squalor magazine photo shoot."

Hannah grinned. "I like my spaces to have a lived-in feeling."

Shelby snorted. "Don't you mean homeless?"

"This car is a temple to athletic endeavor."

"Not a religion I'd belong to." Shelby reached into the tote bag again, this time taking out a camcorder. She touched a button on the silver case and a lens emerged.

"Cool. Is that yours?" Hannah asked.

Shelby squinted through the viewfinder. "Jake's." The corners of her mouth curved upward. "Works indoors, even with the curtains drawn."

Hannah held up a hand in mock disgust. "I so didn't want to know that."

Jake Lyman was an EMT and volunteer firefighter whom Shelby had met while she was in rehab. Jake had been inspecting the premises for fire-code compliance. Even in sweats and no makeup, Hannah's sister was a head-turner. What had surprised Hannah was that Shelby had given Jake a second look. From blue-collar stock, he wasn't her sister's usual date material. And Hannah had been dubious about a relationship that began while her sister was supposed to be climbing the twelve steps. But the romance had taken hold, and was still going strong after two months, a long time in Shelby-years. Hannah was fine with it—she liked Jake. Maybe the new boyfriend, not the stint in rehab, was the reason for her sister's change in attitude toward her?

Romance was not on Hannah's agenda, at least not soon. She had broken up with Cooper Smith—for the second time—at the conclusion of the tumultuous events surrounding her brief career as a contract lawyer for the Tohono O'odham tribe six weeks ago. Too many pending family issues left her no time for someone else, she had told herself.

The road curved along the shoreline, and Hannah glanced at the lake. The water was green, the same shade as Cooper's eyes. She remembered what it felt like to lose herself in their depths and tightened her grip on the steering wheel.

"So are you and Jake going to move in together?"

"Why would you ask that?" Shelby's tone was sharp.

Hannah glanced at her sister, surprised. "Because he spends nearly every night at your place. That is, when you're not at his. Or is the reason you're wearing that gray suit two days in a row just because you like it so much?"

"Not that it's any of your business—" Shelby's eyes widened.

"Look out!"

Hannah yanked her attention back to the road. Two mountain bikers pedaled side by side, straddling the shoulder line. She jerked the wheel and the Subaru swung wide, narrowly missing the inside cyclist. In the rearview mirror she saw one of them raise his hand. But instead of the expected finger, he gave her a friendly wave. Eyes still on the mirror, Hannah noticed the white SUV had gained ground again. She watched it swerve around the cyclists, then shifted her attention back to the road ahead.

Shelby pressed a hand against her stomach. "I'm not feeling so great. Do you have any water?"

"No, but you can have the rest of that Gatorade."

Shelby looked at the lime-colored contents of the bottle and shuddered. "Now I am going to be sick." She peered through the bug-dotted windshield. "There's the fry bread stand. Pullin. They'll have something"—she forced a swallow—"not so fluorescent."

Hannah steered the Subaru across the opposite lane and onto a swathe of gravel. The car crunched to a stop, and Shelby threw open the door and dashed for the portable toilet next to the makeshift stall. A quarter mile ahead was the south entrance to the rez, where only tribe members and permit holders were allowed to enter.

Hannah got out of the car more slowly. She pressed her hands into the small of her back and stretched, watching the white SUV approach. Its speed slackened, and for a moment Hannah thought it was going to turn in. But then the car sped up again, and it roared by the turnout. As it passed, Hannah saw that the blond woman behind the wheel was talking on a cell phone.

No wonder she was tailgating. Hannah headed toward the fry bread stand, conceding that Shelby was right about the driver of the SUV. The events of the past summer and fall notwithstanding, there were enough bad people in the world without her having to invent them.

The fry bread stand—a latillo roof supported by four posts—leaned to one side, looking as though one more puff of wind would push it over. Two wooden tables with mismatched chairs were arranged in front of a flour-dusted counter. Sitting in one of the chairs was a small woman with skin the color of reddish earth. Broad-shouldered and wide-hipped, she was shaped like the jar of flour next to the griddle. A sign tacked to one of the posts said never too hot, never too cold. In smaller writing were the words in winter after hot and in summer after cold.

The Indian woman stood.

"Fry bread? Very good."

There was a pyramid of juice containers and bottled water in a Styrofoam container on the floor, ice cubes puddling around them.

"Just a water and an orange juice, please." Hannah opened her wallet.

"Can make with saguaro jam. Or like taco. Very good."

"The drinks will be fine."

The woman shrugged as if to say it was Hannah's loss for passing on the fry bread, and took the bills.

"Keep the change," Hannah said.

The woman shrugged again. "No coins."

Carrying the water and juice, Hannah walked over to the portable toilet's door and rapped on it.

"Shelby, you okay?"

"Go away," came the muffled reply, followed by a retching sound.

Shelby was barely a month out of rehab. Hannah knew post-discharge therapy often included a drug that would induce nausea if alcohol was ingested. Had Shelby relapsed? Hannah raised her hand to knock again, then paused.

Not that it's any of your business. Shelby's words echoed in her head. Although things between them were better, they were still far from great. Hannah didn't know her sister's favorite color, what movies made her cry—if any even did. How could she ask Shelby if she were drinking again?

Hannah turned away from the toilet door. She spotted another sign propped against a boulder. watch out for rattlesnakes. Doubting this one was a joke, she kept her ear tuned for the telltale buzz as she walked toward the far end of the turnout.

It was one of those perfect November mornings, the kind that could almost make her forget the summer and its sledgehammer heat. Horsetails of clouds trailed across nearby peaks, and the air was laden with the soapy pungence of creosote. A hummingbird cased her orange shirt, rejected it, and retired to a nearby bush.

A low wooden guard rail, more decorative than functional, rimmed the gravel parking area. On its other side, the ground dropped abruptly away. Hannah walked to the rail and looked over. Sixty feet below, Lake Lagunita lapped at the cliff base. A band of white mineral-stained rock separated the green of the lake from the red canyon walls. There was something surreal about the huge quantity of water and a nearly fifty-mile coastline in the middle of the parched landscape. The water was relaxed and clear, and Hannah could see the contours of the canyon that had been drowned when the river collected behind Diablo Dam. The gray boulders strewn across the bottom looked like sleeping turtles.

An engine growl broke the quiet, and Hannah glanced over her shoulder. The white SUV came into view again. It passed her and turned in to the graveled area, stopping on the other side of the fry bread stand next to the Subaru.

The blond driver got out and walked to a mass of brittlebush next to the drop-off. Squinting into the sun, Hannah made out a descanso tucked among gray-green leaves. The roadside memorials to accident victims dotted the Southwest's highways, reminders that mass times velocity squared often had a horrible outcome.


Excerpted from False Fortune by Twist Phelan Copyright © 2007 by Twist Phelan, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. 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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False Fortune 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hoping to forge a better relationship with her emotionally fragile sister, Arizona attorney Hannah Dain agrees to drive Shelby to a Reservation mine where the water may have been contaminated by uranium dumped by the Department of Defense during the 50s. Dain & Daughters are representing the tribe in a suit against the government, and with Shelby barely out of rehab for alcohol abuse Hannah finds herself drawn into her sister¿s case, especially when they witness an out-of-control SUV plunge into a lake, taking Hannah¿s car with it. Her involvement is ensured when the Tohono O¿odham nation severs its ties with the Dain firm by insisting on settling even though several of the mothers of contaminated and sick children demand their day in court. After having broken up (again) with fellow attorney Cooper Smith, Hannah also finds herself drawn to Jerry Dan Kovacs, a trial attorney who may be hiding too many secrets, including that of a hidden treasure with an actual treasure map. The Hannah Dain mysteries are always entertaining and exciting, with each novel featuring Hannah engaging in a ridiculously dangerous sport that the author herself enthusiastically pursues. The action and pace is nonstop as Hannah finds herself frequently in peril and facing the dangers of the Arizona desert. Hannah¿s secretary¿s determination to find Hannah a date online provides a welcome humorous note, as does the appearance of her previously unknown Hindu-practicing half-sister. Phelan reveals a deft touch at illustrating the influence, even as ¿grown-ups,¿ that family members have on another and how the relationships between sisters and their parents are complex, heart-breaking, and continually changing. This is a series that continues to grow and will be sure to please new readers and long-time fans.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Arizona attorney Shelby Dain adds her sister lawyer Hannah onto a suit against the Feds. The Tohono O¿Odham Native American tribe is suing the government for uranium pollution of Lake Lagunita. Hannah wants to be friends with her older sister so would do just about anything except tell her about a half-sister Anuya they have that she just learned exists.------------------ While feeling they are being followed on the road that circles the lake, Hannah notices a car plunge into the water. She along with Jerry Dan Kovacs rescues the driver. Soon afterward Hannah is actually named lead counsel on the uranium pollution case. Hannah realizes that someone does not want this case going to court and that unknown adversary will kill to insure that never happens. She wonders if perhaps her new friend Jerry Dan who showed up in the nick of time is the culprit or perhaps her half-sister Anuya who suddenly seems to be a target for no apparent reason. As she digs deeper, her doubts grow wider so that even her former boyfriend Cooper Smith, who has acted strang is a suspect as someone wants her off the case in anyway possible.-------------------- The latest Pinnacle Peak Mystery (see HEIR APPARENT, FAMILY CLAIMS and SPURRED AMBITION) combines a twisted family entanglement with a fine environmental legal thriller using the Arizona desert as a terrific backdrop to the action. Hannah holds the plot together as she struggles to connect with Shelby after years of estrangement and with Anya whom she just recently learned was her late mother¿s other offspring from a different father. Father ties aside, the environmental suit is relevant, complex and as convoluted as is the heroine¿s family relationships. Twist Phelan provides a strong Pinnacle Peak entry.------------- Harriet Klausner