A woman hiking the shoreline of Lake Superior fears she's having a heart attack and gives an exquisite necklace to a good Samaritan who comes to her aid. "Don't tell a soul," she warns, "except Molly Berg." When the woman is brutally murdered, the young female hiker becomes a target for death and must run for her life.
Why would someone kill a loving grandmother on a beautiful summer day? How does that crime connect to the New Year's Day disappearance of the woman who designed the necklace? What about the designer's husband who vanished the same day? And how does it all link to a 1984 murder in Minnesota's Scott County?
When Laura Kjelstad begins connecting the dots of the crimes, she becomes the next target. The necklace leads her to Sedona, Arizona, where she uncovers dark secrets and corruption on a global level. Only a handful of people know that she's gone to Arizona, but a friend who accompanied her is kidnapped in Prescott and is terrorized on a harrowing trip down the mountain to Camp Verde. Someone knows the answers and has turned his sights on Laura.
A young widow, Laura is the first woman mayor of a small town in northern Minnesota. In the midst of a blistering reelection campaign, her opponents deal in hostility, misinformation, and outright lies. Her rival calls out the Internet trolls to defeat her, but Laura leaned from her Norwegian grandparents how to deal with trolls.
Peterson deftly handles both pacing and plotting and ties the subplots together superbly. The reader is rewarded with a genuine understanding of the strongly drawn characters and gains insights into the real life of small town politics in all its decency and ugliness. The book is balanced with a bit of romance and gentle humor that enriches the novel.
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Murder for MayorA Laura Kjelstad Mystery
By Andie Peterson
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Andie Peterson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneScott County, Minnesota July 4, 1984
"In the car," Matt Ankarlo ordered. The ever present toothpick in his mouth moved with the cadence of his speech. "In the front seat, eyes straight ahead." Ankarlo waved to the two men who had brought Vaydich to him. "Time for you to disappear. I'll handle it from here."
Carl Vaydich stared out the windshield of the black Corvette, sweat pouring from his forehead and down his nose. He wiped his nose with his sleeve, then brushed aside the tears that filled his eyes. He had wanted to make it big when he moved to Minneapolis, make enough money to help his family buy a nice house and own a decent car. After college, he had landed a job with one of the biggest corporations in Minnesota. Now he was going to die.
"Could I explain what happened?" asked Carl. "I didn't do anything wrong. It was an honest mistake."
"Honest mistake? I don't do honest."
Carl's throat tightened. He tried to ignore the mounting terror, but he knew Ankarlo was a professional executioner. "Can't we at least talk about what happened? I didn't know those guys were FBI. I swear."
"You take me for an idiot? You think I don't see someone heading for the FBI? But I'm feeling generous today. You won't feel a thing. I'll make it quick."
"Where are we going? Does Heskan always follow you?" Carl struggled to organize his thoughts. Maybe there was a way to escape the madness.
"Heskan watches my back. What were you doing in the private office going through the books? Doesn't sound innocent to me."
"I had found some discrepancies in the audit. That was my job. Working on the revenue side of things." Carl trembled, stretched his legs and pushed against the floor to steady the shaking. He didn't want Ankarlo to see the fear mounting.
Matt Ankarlo, in tan chinos and blue denim shirt, was well-groomed, with his rusty hair cut with all the appropriate angles and flair. Tall, good looking, great smile, and handsome presence all belied the coldness of the man. A lack of conscience empowered him; it was a madness that sent terror into the souls of everyone who knew him. Ruthless, controlling, and smart, Ankarlo was a dedicated killer.
Traffic was heavy on Highway 169, but Don Heskan managed to follow the speeding Corvette. He touched the camera to make sure it was still there. Ankarlo liked to keep photos of his victims. Heskan had watched Ankarlo work. Assassin. Executioner. Hit man. All of the above. He didn't intend to be on the receiving end of the weapon of choice. Everyone had to obey one simple rule. Never irritate Ankarlo.
Heskan's agenda was simple. Follow orders, deliver goods, watch Ankarlo's back. He'd been doing it for a long time and he knew he always had to pay dues to the boss. Carl had followed the same path he had at that age. Innocent and then in over your head before you knew how deadly that could be. No escape. Ever.
The Just in Time Antique Shop was on St. Charles Boulevard, set in the midst of the Woodland Hills neighborhood. Ankarlo pulled into the alley and signaled Heskan into the antique shop. Minutes later Heskan returned to his car carrying a bag that held a Smith & Wesson .44 stolen from a local gun dealer. Ankarlo made a point of never having a gun in his car. Never have a weapon that could be traced to him.
Ankarlo made a slight motion of the hand and Heskan knew to follow at a discreet distance. Heskan speculated on how the kid was dealing with the terror that must be gripping him. Nothing anyone could do once Ankarlo had the job.
As soon as they turned south on 169, Heskan understood that they were going to the farm that Matt owned. Lots of land, an abandoned farmhouse, and a great slough that had turned into a graveyard. Ankarlo loved playing the cat, taunting his prey, playing with emotions until he could smell the fear. Sometimes Ankarlo talked for a long time, letting the terror build until the victim was begging. He always liked to see them beg.
In turn, Heskan had learned to hate Matt Ankarlo. He was something less than human; he was a bottomless piece of hell.
"My family needs me," said Carl, his voice cracking. "I've got a couple of sisters still at home. Mom and Dad don't have a lot of money. Give me a chance. I didn't know those men in the bar were FBI. I swear before God."
Ankarlo shrugged. "I don't bargain. You're a damn whistleblower."
"No, I'm not."
No use, thought Carl. He looked in the side mirror; there was no way to signal for help, no hope. He knew too much. Too smart for his own good was what the boss told him. Sweat beaded on his chest and under his arms; the smell of fear turning acrid.
After twenty minutes, they turned off the highway onto a narrow dirt road winding its way through a cornfield. The farmhouse was stark in contrast to its past beauty. At one time the house was grand; porches, big trees, gardens, and a big yard where children played and picnics were held. Ankarlo had let it die, just like everything else he touched.
Looking for any way to escape, Carl kept an eye on the land. Twenty-four years old and in good physical shape, he ran every morning, lifted weights, and swam several times a week. The layout of the land wasn't promising. Knee-hi corn on the Fourth of July. Nowhere to hide. How do you outrun a bullet?
Ankarlo stopped the car at the end of the driveway. Heskan parked twenty yards away, effectively blocking any entrance. Lifting the bag from the back seat, he started toward Ankarlo.
"My dad is in the slough," Ankarlo told Carl. "Took my car keys away. Everybody thought he'd died in an accident. I loaded up his fishing equipment, drove his car into the St. Louis River near Duluth with the driver's side door open. The police thought he'd been washed down stream with the current. The car was in drive mode. Everyone knew my dad was always forgetting to put the car in park. More than once he had to chase the car down someone's driveway." Heskan threw the toothpick, grabbed another one from his pocket, and clenched down hard. "That's what I told the police anyway."
"So how did you get back to Minneapolis?" asked Carl. Be friendly, he thought. Maybe the guy would give him another chance.
"Rented a car under a different name. Paid cash. No big deal. Behave yourself, kid, and it won't take long. Don't get your hopes up. No one escapes."
"Sure," Carl said. "Whatever you say."
Ankarlo started talking to Heskan, his back turned on Carl in an act of arrogance. Carl wiped his eyes again and caught sight of the keys dangling in the ignition. Why should he do the whatever you say crap? In one swift movement he grabbed the keys and ran toward the slough.
Running at full speed, Carl was covering a lot of territory. Heskan watched in amazement. What the hell was the kid doing? Heskan gestured toward the farmhouse and started talking to Ankarlo. Keep him busy. Let the kid have a final act of freedom.
Hope had abandoned Carl Vaydich, but the keys in his hand propelled him with exceptional energy. He felt exhilarated, powerful and free, even if it was for his final seconds.
Something caught Ankarlo's eye. He turned, cursing, as he watched the car keys sail into the murky slough.
Chapter TwoParkside Neighborhood St. Paul, Minnesota 10:00 a.m. - January 1 Present Time
"Looks like everyone is sleeping in this morning," said Jim to no one in particular. "I didn't hear any ruckus last night so things must be all right in the neighborhood." He went to the drive-up window and began washing the glass. "A few cars on the street, but lots of empty parking spots."
Snow glittered on the ground and the morning felt good and clean and brisk. Ned Tryzanie sat by the fireplace in Jim's Coffee Shop, blowing on his coffee, and reading the St. Paul newspaper. It was a winter without much precipitation and he had hoped for a heavy snowfall. Instead there had been a dusting of snow and he watched the clouds dissipate and move to the east.
Not the usual activity for the area that was filled with shops, restaurants, and galleries. New Year's Day in Parkside was quiet. Ned looked around the room. The only noise was the clicking of keys. Most of the people drinking their morning coffee had laptops perched on their tables, intently scanning their screens for messages or playing Internet games.
Ned's cell phone beeped.
"Sloan here." The voice sounded urgent. "I'm concerned about the letters and photos you told me about. I'm worried about that Tryzanie. Don't wait. I did some research on my own. Looked through the old files. I know it's a holiday, but I'd feel better if we could meet earlier today. How does two o'clock sound?"
"I thought you had company coming."
"I do. All I want is to get those boxes into headquarters. Locked up. It'll take ten minutes. We can meet again in a couple of days after I've looked through everything."
"Sounds good," said Ned. "Make it three o'clock. I'm going for a hike with my wife, then I have to get the boxes out of hiding. I'd sure like to get them off my hands."
"On a hike. When you're holding potentially dangerous material. Risky to hang on to it."
"My wife doesn't know that. I'm not going to let the poison spread to her."
"You're sure no one else knows about any of this."
"I have no idea what information my grandpa gave anyone. That's a big question mark."
"Why'd your grandpa give them to you? Why not just have the attorney deliver everything directly to us?"
"Maybe he didn't want anyone to know how important the boxes were. His attorney does get a little talkative. Or maybe Grandpa didn't trust certain cops."
Sloan gave a dismissive grunt. "Well, anyway. See you at two o'clock."
"I'll be in the office at two in case you want to unload them early. Think about it." Sloan disconnected.
Ned continued looking at the newspaper, although his mind was preoccupied with the boxes his grandfather had bequeathed to him. Grandpa Tryzanie had died in October, but he had left explicit directions that the boxes were to be given to Ned after Christmas. His grandpa lived only a few weeks after the liver cancer diagnosis. In the end, he was kept comfortable while family visited and prayers were said.
"I have some unfinished business," Joseph Tryzanie told his lawyer. "Give the boxes to Ned after the Christmas festivities are finished. No need to mess up his holiday with my haunted past."
Now Ned was in possession of that past. Haunted indeed. He had made an appointment to meet with Detective Sloan. Part of Joseph's plan. Grandpa Tryzanie had taped a letter to the top of one of the boxes with explicit directions to contact Sloan.
Anxiety rested on Ned as he thought about the consequences of mistakes. But the sealed notebooks and ledgers inside the boxes were no mistake. Grandpa had it planned. Calculated. Get them to Sloan. That was specific. End of his responsibility. End of nightmare.
The coffee shop door opened and a short, rather robust lady entered. There was something slightly old-fashioned about her, a by-gone look that seemed appealing. Her clothes were smart enough, though the frilliness of the jacket was a contrast to the bright red boots she was wearing. Her permed hair was gray, her eyes keen, but friendly, and she clutched a capacious red leather handbag.
Kate Blassingame's smile lit up the room. "Good morning, Ned," she said. "Happy New Year. Isn't it just beautiful out today? You look like you're ready for a walk."
"We're hiking the Cliff Trail," said Ned. "It's such a pleasant day. Newly fallen snow with a hint of sunshine."
"The perfect magazine cover day," said Kate.
"How are you doing?" asked Ned.
"Quite well. I had a wonderful Christmas with all the kids and their families over in Woodbury. I stayed a few nights so I didn't have to drive back and forth. Still, there's something I like about this community. I know my neighbors for one thing. And I have my own routine. There's something special about St. Paul, don't you think?"
"Absolutely," said Ned. "Great place to live."
"Where's your lovely wife?" she asked.
"Shirley opted out of coffee this morning."
Kate moved to the counter, picking up a newspaper as she went. "Probably see you here tomorrow," she said.
Within five minutes Shirley and Ned were in Ridgeview Park in the eastern part of the neighborhood. It was at the top of a narrow ridge overlooking Sandy Creek. Old growth oak trees edged the trail, forming a shady canopy in the summer. Now those oaks were imperial in their nakedness, a sprinkling of snow giving them a majestic bearing. Large rocks clung to the side of the ridge and the city had to periodically push a stone down the hill to avoid an accidental slide.
For a brief moment they stood at the edge of the hill, watching the creek transform as the sun flickered through the clouds. At the edge of the parking lot, a young couple walked past, holding hands and laughing.
They both turned at the sound of an approaching car. A man got out, looked at them, and reached into the back seat. He was wearing a yellow anorak, blue jeans, and a red ski hat.
"Looks like we'll have some company on the trail," said Ned. "Not everyone was out partying all night."
"He's staring at us," whispered Shirley.
"Probably one of the solitary types that doesn't want to get too close. We can go slow and he'll move ahead of us."
A woman jogger rounded the curve ahead of them, waved, and kept up a steady pace. Shirley turned to catch a glimpse behind her and saw the man was waving at another car.
"Looks like he's meeting someone."
A flash of reflected sunlight caught the barrel of a revolver. "Gun," shouted Ned. "Whatever he's after, we had better not be in the way."
"What in the world?" Shirley looked around. "There's no one here, but us. Why would he have a gun?"
"He's aiming at us. Run. Head down." Ned grabbed Shirley by the hand and they both ran as the sound of gunfire and snapping branches exploded through the air. The gunman shot one round that ricocheted off a rock, a second shot caused Shirley to stumble face first onto the ground.
Shirley wasn't moving. Ned could see the snow grow crimson. He crouched beside her, grabbed her under the arms, and began dragging her toward the edge of the cliff. Another shot slammed through the trees and Ned dropped.
Kate Blassingame rushed to the porch when she heard the gunfire. "I've called the police," she yelled. "They're on their way."
Sirens wailed in the distance, but not soon enough to keep Kate Blassingame safe. The gunman was moving toward Kate. The door to the coffee shop opened and strong hands pulled Kate inside and onto the floor.
"Arrogant SOB," said Jim. He had grabbed his .38 Smith & Wesson and fired, hitting the shooter exactly where he'd intended. Upper right shoulder, flesh wound. Enough to let him know that Jim meant business. Rocks flew as Jim fired warning shots into the ground. "I'll put the next shot in your fool head."
Sirens were closer now. Jim could hear the distinctive shrill of police vehicles and the pulsating howl of the ambulance. A car pulled alongside the wounded man, hands wrenched him inside, and they raced north as the police moved in from the west.
Taking careful aim, Jim fired one last shot before police cars pulled alongside the coffee shop. "Got the back fender." As quick as Jim had pulled the gun from an empty cookie jar, he replaced it and stuck it under the counter. "No one saw that, did they?" he asked the customers. Heads nodded a collective no.
"Is anyone hurt?" asked the first officer to the porch. "There was a report that someone was shot. We have an ambulance coming."
Kate pointed toward the Cliff Trail. "I think both Ned and Shirley were hit. They're at the top of the hill."
Officers Phil Stern and Greg Lanigan sprinted in the direction that Kate indicated. Jim was close behind the officers, his face grim as he gave directions.
"Over to the right," shouted Kate as she pushed her way up the hill. "Shirley fell by the rock. Ned was helping her when he was knocked down. It had to be a gunshot that propelled him back."
Jim looked down at the blood splattered snow, then started walking around the area. "They went down here."
"Shirley," called Kate. "Ned. Where are you?"
"We need to ask you to go back to the coffee shop," said Officer Lanigan. "We have to secure the area. This is obviously a crime scene."
Excerpted from Murder for Mayor by Andie Peterson Copyright © 2010 by Andie Peterson. Excerpted by permission.
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