Eve Appel Egret is adjusting to married life with Sammy and their three adopted sons in Sabal Bay, Florida. While still running her consignment stores, she is going pro with her sleuthing by becoming an apprentice to a private detective. Until her marriage, Eve's only "family" was her grandmother Grandy, who raised her after her parents died in a boating accident.
Now, in addition to her husband and sons, she has a father-in-law who clearly dislikes her. Sammy's father, a full-blooded Miccosukee Indian long presumed dead, has emerged from the swamps where he's been living like a hermit, and he isn't happy about Eve's marriage to his half-Miccosukee, half-white son. As for Eve's family, are her parents really dead? A woman named Eleanor claims to be Eve's half-sister, born after her mother faked a boating accident to escape her abusive husband, Eve's father.Then Eleanor's father turns up dead in the swamps, stabbed by a Bowie knife belonging to Sammy's father, Lionel. Strange as Lionel Egret is, Eve knows he had no motive to kill this stranger. In order to clear him, Eve must investigate Eleanor's claims, and she might not like what digging around in her family's past uncovers.
Book 6 in the Eve Appel Mystery series.
About the Author
Lesley A. Diehl retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida--cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle--a place where spurs still jingle in the post office, and gators make golf a contact sport. Lesley is the author of a number of mystery series and mysteries as well as short stories. For more information, go to www.lesleyadiehl.com.
Read an Excerpt
I looked around the old detective's office. The top of the desk no longer overflowed with paperwork, the floor was as clean as a heavy-duty cleaner could get it, and the paperwork was neatly filed away in the cabinets. I knew Crusty McNabb would hate what I had done to the space, but he had told me to make myself at home while he was gone. He was visiting his daughter, whom he hadn't seen in over a year, and wouldn't return for a few days. I was his apprentice now, somewhat eager to learn the private-eye business, and I had the blessing of all my family — my grandmother Grandy, her husband Max, my husband Sammy, and our three adopted sons — Sammy's orphaned nephews — Jason, Jerome, and Jeremy. Even my best friend and business partner, Madeleine, and the police detective Frida Martinez had blessed my PI career path.
The only one with misgivings was me. I still wasn't real keen on the use of firearms, although I had been going to the gun range to practice with the pistol Crusty loaned me. My instructor there said I'd soon be a crack shot, no problem, but, he added, opening my eyes when I fired the durn thing might help my aim.
Well, I lied about me being the only one with doubts about my new career path. So did my friend Nappi Napolitani, who was a mob boss, or that's what we all thought — I mean, how do you ask a mob boss for his crime credentials to determine if he's genuine? Anyway, it seemed clear to me that he had something he wanted to say to me about my PI license but hadn't gotten around to saying it yet. And then there was my ex-husband, who worried I'd take this opportunity to pistol-whip him or arrest him for transgressions against me while we were married. There were many, but getting revenge for those wasn't a priority right now.
I heard a knock on the door and turned to see a man peering through the store window. He rattled the knob.
"Sorry, the office is closed until the end of this week. Mr. McNabb will be back on Friday."
"Are you Ms. Appel?"
This was silly, having a conversation through the closed door. I walked over and opened it. "I'm Eve Appel, but I —"
"Then you're the one I'm looking for. They told me next door I'd find you here." He smiled and held out his hand. "Henry Montrose."
He was a slender man with thinning, brownish-gray hair. He wore a beige knit shirt, khaki pants, and sneakers. I noted the beiges did not work together. That was just me, quick to make a fashion judgment.
I shook his hand, curious about his reasons for seeking me out.
"If it's detective work you need, I'm just Mr. McNabb's apprentice. I don't do cases on my own, so you might want to come back when he's here. Like I said. End of this week."
"I need someone to find my daughter."
"Have you reported her missing to the police?"
"Well, no. You see, I'm not certain where she's missing from. Or whether she just moved away. We lived in the Northeast, but we left. But not all together." He wasn't making a lot of sense, and as he talked, he began to show signs of distress. His voice was shaky, and he twisted his hands so tightly together I thought he'd remove the skin.
"Maybe you should sit down for a minute." I offered the usual but seemingly useless glass of water. He collapsed into the chair in front of Crusty's desk.
"What police department do I notify? The one up North or the one here? See, I know my daughter was headed here."
"So you've heard from her?"
"No, but this is where she'd come. I told her that her mother might be dead, but my daughter insists she's still alive." He shook his head. "That woman, my wife, has nine lives, it seems."
I was more and more confused by his tale. "Uh, I have a friend on the police force here. Maybe she could help. I can call her, if you'd like."
Frida might be able to make better sense of his story than I could. And she'd know the legalities of missing persons.
Someone walked past the front windows and caught the attention of my visitor.
"No, never mind. I have to go now." Without another word, he jumped up from the chair and ran out the door, stopping on the sidewalk, looking in both directions and then running toward the street. I lost sight of him when he turned left into the alleyway at the end of the strip mall.
Weird. Just plain weird, but Crusty said that PI work could be unusual, although he warned me that most of it was just plain boring.
I shrugged and decided to tackle cleaning the tiny bathroom. It looked as if Crusty hadn't taken a brush to the toilet bowl since he'd moved in. As I scrubbed — with rubber gloves on, of course — I thought over my decision to move from Connecticut to rural Florida.
I'd chosen to open a consignment-shop business with Madeleine Boudreaux Wilson, my best friend forever and forever. The shop was here, right next door to Crusty's detective agency. Some might question why I'd located a consignment business specializing in high-end fashions and classy home goods in rural Florida, where you're more apt to run into a live alligator than a designer alligator bag. We set up our shop to remedy that, not by doing away with the alligators, but by buying apparel and furnishings from the matrons of West Palm Beach, who rarely wore their clothes more than once or twice. Since none of these wealthy ladies would consign their items close to home for fear of someone recognizing the merchandise, we stepped in to take anything they no longer wanted off their hands. They liked having "mad" money to use any way they pleased without conferring with hubby or leaving a credit card trail for him to grump about. To our surprise, our consignors often slipped off the coast and visited our shop just for the fun of it. They didn't buy much. They preferred to sell, but they liked to pick up tips about where they could find entertainment not offered in upscale West Palm. Nothing kinky, you understand. Just good old country two-step in our local bars with some mighty handsome cowboys or airboat rides with a member of the Miccosukee Indian tribe piloting the boat (that would be my husband, more handsome than any cowboy). I'd also turned the gals on to a local dude ranch. They sometimes dragged their husbands along for a trail ride.
So why was I in training to become a PI? Was selling used items too tame for me? Well, yes and no, and that's a long story, but here's the truth. I am a snoopy gal. I get it from my grandmother, who is the queen of curiosity. Over the years I've "intruded" in a number of murders in rural Florida — at least that's the word you'd hear used to describe my investigations by my family, friends, and Detective Frida, who is also a friend of mine when she's not moaning about my interfering with her cases. From my perspective, I've been more than a little helpful tracking down clues and bringing the bad guys (and gals) to justice. A former lover and private detective Alex Montgomery thought I had a nose for murder and the brain to match wits with any killer. Although he resented my meddling in his business, he respected my sleuthing instincts so much, he suggested I get a PI license by learning the trade from Crusty.
My life was so full of family and business that the very last thing I needed was to learn the professional sleuthing trade, yet the restless side of my nature was intrigued. With Grandy helping Madeleine at the store and Shelley McCleary, our new dressmaker, assuming a growing role in the shop as tailor and junior partner, I figured I had time to try my hand at the detecting business. I yearned to sink my teeth into a big murder as my first case. Why waste my skills on small potatoes? When I excitedly talked with Crusty about murder investigations, he laughed.
"What you get in the private-detecting business is routine: surveillance of cheating spouses, insurance fraud, and some work for the police department when they need to hire out part of their investigation. Most of the work entails a lot of sitting on your butt in a car. I sure hope you don't have a tiny bladder."
I reminded him that I'd been key in solving several murders in the county.
He did a dismissive flap with his hand. "Well, maybe you've taken out all the bad dudes in this county, and the rest of us will be left in peace."
I squeezed some bleach gel into the sink and began to scrub at the grimy brown stains. I ran water and rinsed out the bowl. When I turned to extract a new bar of soap out of the cabinet behind me, I bumped into the person standing there. I jumped.
Damn. I'd forgotten to lock the front door. A fine detective I'd make.
The person standing inside the entrance of the small bathroom was a tall, slender woman with long frizzy brown hair. She looked somehow familiar, although I'd never met her before.
She smiled sweetly. "Hello. I'm your sister."CHAPTER 2
I opened my mouth to reply, to let her know she was mistaken, but she stepped closer and said, "I know you don't believe me, but it's true. We've never met, but we have the same mother. Different fathers, of course." She spoke with firm certainty.
I finally found my voice. "How old are you?"
"Younger than you. You could say I'm your kid sister." She continued to smile.
"How old?" I persisted, because she looked to be at least a decade younger than me. She stood uncomfortably close. I moved forward, thinking I could move her back. She didn't budge.
"You're upset, aren't you? This is something I shouldn't have sprung on you without some warning."
"Eve?" Grandy called from the front of the office. "Are you here? Someone is looking for you."
"It seems she's found me." I put my hands on the young woman's shoulders and steered her out of the bathroom. The smile on her face stayed put, but she let me walk her toward Grandy.
"Hello," she said to Grandy, who was inspecting the newly clean and organized space.
"Hi there. I'm sorry, Eve. I didn't know you were here with someone."
"You said someone was looking for me."
"I meant a man was looking for you. He seemed to be interested in investigative services." Grandy's gaze took in the woman. "You're busy, Eve, and I'm interrupting. I'll leave you two alone to get on with it."
"Oh, I don't want to hire Eve or anyone to do investigations. Well, not now, anyway. Maybe later. I just dropped in to say hi. I'll just leave and be back some other time."
Before I could stop her, the young woman slipped around Grandy and made for the door. As she opened it, she waved a cheery goodbye and was gone.
"Wait a minute," I yelled and tried to run after her, but when I threw open the door, she had disappeared.
"A reluctant client, I see," said Grandy. "I guess people do sometimes change their minds about hiring a PI. Do you think she'll be back? I hope I didn't chase off your first client."
"I hope she's gone for good. She's not who stopped by the shop to see me?"
"Nope. Like I said, some guy. Older man, slim, kind of nondescript-looking."
"Yeah, he was in here, too, but left in a hurry. They both took off without explaining why they were here. Although the woman had some weird story about being my sister. She said we shared a mother. Mom would have been ... uh, gone before she was born."
Grandy dropped her gaze, shuffled her feet, and finally shook off whatever had made her uncomfortable. "Well, Crusty did tell you that some of his clients were a little odd."
"I guess I should have expected one of the weird ones would show up when he was gone. I'll make a note on the calendar."
"What you've done to this place makes it look a lot more professional and welcoming. It doesn't smell like cigar smoke anymore," said Grandy. "I can see the desk's surface."
"Crusty will hate it, and when my back is turned, he'll be smoking up a storm and playing havoc with the file cabinets."
"Listen, honey, I'd better get back to the store. Shelley's there, but she has some alterations due tomorrow, and we've got customers to wait on. Are you coming in soon?"
"Yep. I've done all I can here. It does smell better, but I had to use some heavy-duty cleansers and air deodorizers to get the smoky smell out, and they're getting to me. I'll leave a window open to air it out." I looked around the office, pleased with my work, though my visitors were still on my mind. Two weird people in one afternoon. What were the odds of that, even with Crusty's warning that PI's worked with unusual folks?
"Eve. Eve!" said Grandy. "Did you hear me?"
"Sorry, Grandy. My mind was elsewhere."
"Thinking about the return of Sammy's father from a thirty-year absence in the swamps, weren't you?"
I shook my head. "No, I was thinking I don't believe in coincidences, and having two spooky folks in here the same day doesn't bode well. What were you saying?"
"I said, don't forget to come back and close the window before we leave for the night. Crusty's files contain confidential information that should remain under lock and key. There's no sense in inviting a thief in with an open window."
"Well, here's another point you should consider. I know everybody is excited and thrilled to have Sammy's father back, and I know I should be giving him some latitude when it comes to his adjustment period among all of us, but that is one strange dude, Eve. He acts particularly creepy when he's around you."
"'Strange' and 'creepy' are pretty strong words to use, Grandy."
"Maybe they're not strong enough. I get crawlies up and down my spine when he's around. I know he must feel out of place after not being around other humans for so many years, but...."
"Give him a chance." I was surprised at Grandy's attitude. I'd never known her to be so judgmental. She gave everyone a second chance, and a third. Especially someone in Mr. Egret's unfortunate circumstances. I followed Grandy out the door, then locked it behind me.
"Well, I'm just going to say it, then. I don't like him much. He frightens me, with his never-smiling face and that wicked big knife always at his belt. It's as if he thinks someone is out to get him and he needs to be armed at all times. He gives me the willies." Grandy pulled her sweater around her as if a cold wind had come up.
"I feel ..." I began, but a shadow fell between Grandy and me.
"Am I interrupting?" It was Lionel Egret, Sammy's father, materializing as if out of the ether. I hoped he hadn't heard what Grandy had said, and I was glad I hadn't replied because I also found his presence unsettling, and I felt guilty about not being able to warm up to him. I had to try for Sammy's sake and for my sons, his grandsons.
"Mr. Egret. I didn't know you were going to pay us a visit today. Come on into the shop, and I'll make you a cup of tea."
His lips moved slightly with what I hoped was an attempt at a smile, but it could as easily have been a frown. He wasn't as tall as his son, his long black hair was streaked with white, and his face seemed to be perpetually set in stone. Sammy's features resembled his father's, but where Sammy was considered handsome, his father was not. His countenance was almost frightening. Sammy was known to be a generous man, but his father had lived for no one but himself for too many years. His dour face, his off-putting manner — it was all perfectly understandable. He had taken to the swamps to live alone, punishing himself for what he perceived as his responsibility for a friend's murder. The man was hard on himself. There seemed to be little warmth in him. To his credit, however, my sons adored him, and he returned their affections, taking them out in the canoe and on hunting expeditions into the swamps, even attending their school events.
"You've had a number of visitors today," he said.
"Potential clients," Grandy interjected.
"I don't think so. I think they are troublemakers. I'd be careful."
Without another word, he began walking away. Grandy and I looked at each other, and both of us shrugged. When we turned our heads to watch him walk off, he was gone.
"What the hell?" said Grandy. "Where did he go?"
"It's as if he's still hiding out in the swamps. He seems to appear and disappear without warning."
Grandy and I walked the short distance to the consignment shop in silence, both of us spooked by Mr. Egret's peculiar behavior.
She opened the door to the shop and ushered me in. "That's what I mean. The guy is strange."
"Who's strange?" asked Shelley, the young woman who did the tailoring for our shop. Shelley had lost her mother over a year ago and had come to work for us shortly after. She was attending a fashion institute in West Palm at night and working here a few days a week. Madeleine and I both thought Shelley might become a partner in the business one day. With my taking on the PI apprenticeship, we needed to lay out some concrete plans with Shelley, but we were waiting until she got her degree and was in a better position to consider her future. For all I knew, she wanted to leave the area. Her mother's murder and a love relationship that didn't work out may have convinced her that the memories here were too unpleasant for her to stay put.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Killer Tied"
Copyright © 2018 Lesley A. Diehl.
Excerpted by permission of Camel Press.
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