The fourth novel in the ground-breaking series that shattered the boundaries of mystery fiction
Things are finally going well for PI Delilah West. She's got a new place to live and her own, thriving detective agency. Her latest case: she's hired to go undercover in the county supervisor's office to uncover a suspected embezzler. She finds the guilty party...but is it a dirty politics set-up? Delilah's determination to learn the truth makes her the target of a mad bomber. Maybe things aren't going so well after all...
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.44(d)|
About the Author
In 1972 she moved with her husband and two children to Orange County, CA, a long way from the cotton fields of her childhood. As a stay-at-home mom she began her writing career with short stories, including one to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine about a private detective named Delilah West, which predates both Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton's entry into the female PI genre. She published thirteen novels and a collection of short stories. She has been nominated for both the Anthony and Bram Stoker award. Her novels and short fiction featuring Delilah West were honored by the Private Eye Writers of America with their lifetime achievement award, The Eye, for her contribution to the field.
Read an Excerpt
A Delilah West Thriller
By Maxine O'Callaghan
Brash Books, LLCCopyright © 2015 Maxine O'Callaghan
All rights reserved.
I sat in my new Astro van on the street outside County Supervisor Sam Newley's office, waiting for Sandy Renkowski to make her daily messenger run to the Civic Center, not looking forward to what I was about to do. Well, it was my job. I didn't have to like it.
After two weeks undercover as a temp clerk in Newley's office, I'd have preferred nailing several people other than Sandy on his staff. Newley's assistant, Tony Vero, topped the list. Too bad Vero was the one who suggested calling in a P.I. to investigate the shortages in the cash contributions for the Save Our Parks Fund, Newley's pet project.
To make matters worse, not only was Sandy late, I had a much more immediate problem. I squirmed, sighed, adjusted the visor against the glare that wasn't completely blocked by the leafy shade of an old pepper tree, mopped the sweat trickling down from my hairline just in front of my ears, and wondered how much longer I could hold out before finding a bathroom.
A man can bring along an old mason jar. Jack used to, back when stakeouts were a team effort, back when I was the female half of West and West Detective Agency. Six years now. A long time ago.
Of course, on a real surveillance the rule is to forgo food and drink to avoid this kind of problem. But I hadn't planned on waiting for two hours. And, in addition, I'd made the mistake of stopping for breakfast earlier at Mom's Kounty Kooking. A little over a year ago I'd eked out a living with a side job there, and I still like to drop in and see my old friends. Happy to see me too, they keep the coffee coming. Thanks, guys.
Just when I was gloomily contemplating making a Port-a-Potty a standard addition to my stakeout survival kit, my cell phone rang.
"She's coming out," Vero said. "And, remember, Mr. Newley wants this handled as quietly as possible."
"I'll do my best. How about the police?"
"On their way."
"Any news on the subpoena?"
"It's ready to be served."
I was sure the subpoena being served on Sandy's bank would show recent deposits to her savings account because I'd already had a check done via computer. I don't like electronic snooping, and, frankly, I distrust the easy slyness of hacking. It's also illegal, but then so are a lot of other things in the P.I. trade.
I got out of the van, slung my purse over my shoulder, and trudged across the street.
No shade over there. The hot June sun burned down, and a strong tarry scent drifted up from the softening asphalt. Even in my Banana Republic open-weave cotton slacks and sleeveless shirt, I felt the brand of the heat against my skin. My .38 added a comforting weight to the purse. I certainly didn't expect to have to use a gun, but I'd made a few too many mistakes in judgment recently, so I needed the reassurance.
Sandy came out the front of the building and headed my way, squinting against the glare, putting on her sunglasses. She was petite and graceful, dressed in a melon-colored skirt and short-sleeved cropped jacket, her honey blond hair pulled up off her face with a banana clip. She moved over to let me pass, not recognizing me until I said, "Sandy," and stopped directly in front of her.
"Delilah? Sorry, I didn't see you there. I thought your assignment was over. Are you coming back to work?"
"Not exactly." I hesitated, but there was no easy way to say it. "Sandy, the police will be here in a minute. Until they arrive, I want you to stay right here with me."
She stared at me. "What?"
"Would you give me your handbag, please?" A precaution just in case she decided to throw it into a passing pickup, but no legal way I could insist if she refused.
"My bag? Police?" She sounded bewildered, but she did what I asked. "I don't understand —" It was coming to her, however, because after a moment she said, "But why? All I did was —"
She broke off because a squad car came barreling up, no sirens but moving very fast and sliding expertly into the curb. Two Garden Grove patrolmen made the actual arrest, checking her handbag for the marked money we had planted in the incoming contributions, reading her her rights.
Sandy's bewilderment gave way to rising panic. "This is crazy. I'm not a thief. Delilah —"
"Watch your head," one of the patrolman cautioned as they quickly and efficiently bundled her into the car. The last I saw of her was her stunned face turned abstract by the fierce glare on the car window.
By rights I should have gone on up and given my report to Sam Newley in person. But, client or not, and despite the fact that he had racked up a lot of great PR recently with his campaign to raise money to rejuvenate Orange County's budget-starved park system, I really didn't care for the man any more than I liked his assistant. And, besides, I had a more urgent problem. So I gave Tony Vero a terse accounting over the phone on my way to a pit stop at the nearest McDonald's.
One week and one well-heeled client later I decided I deserved a day off, so when Rita called and asked me to drive down to Laguna for lunch, I accepted. In honor of the occasion, I even abandoned my standard casual wear of blue jeans, tank top, and running shoes for a sundress and sandals.
Since this smacked of dressing up, I also felt obliged to add some blush, eye shadow, and liner for my beer-bottle-brown eyes. As for my hair, I'm wearing it wash and wear, short and punky on top, then layered to brush back at the sides. At thirty-six I'm already plucking an occasional white strand from the cinnamon brown. Depressing.
I went out to wait for Rita, just locking the door when she drove up in her new red Miata, right on time as usual.
Besides being a long-time friend, Rita Braddock runs the answering service I use for my office. In an age where even ten-year-olds have their own answering machine, she has found a select group of customers who still prefer to have their calls answered by a human voice and are willing to pay for the extra amenity — like me, although for old times' sake I get a discount.
Getting into her car, I said, "Nice."
She gave me a wry grin and gestured out the window at the condo complex where I live. "A long way for both of us, Delilah."
I nodded agreement. Our lives had changed radically, especially mine, so I could casually use all those magic words: Astro van, condo, cell phone. Eighteen months ago I could barely put gas in my old Mustang. In addition to moonlighting as a waitress, I had been camping out in my office and bumming bathroom privileges from my friends. Now I've hired an assistant, half-time while he finishes up his degree at UC Irvine with a double major in business and computer science. And I can afford to take a day off if I want to.
Rita's life had turned around three years ago when she met Farley Truitt, who was ten years younger. After she started sharing Farley's tofu and bean sprouts and his passion for aerobics, she dropped twenty-five pounds and looked Farley's age. Then about eight months ago she let him talk her into putting up the money for their own health spa, which I thought was financial suicide but turned out to be a first-class ticket to the good life in Orange County.
As for my own change of fortune, I keep telling myself it's because I'm good at what I do, and the word has finally gotten around. That works for a few insurance clients and worried women checking out a lover's financial background, but then, of course, there are people like Sam Newley. The big ones with money.
Rita and I made small talk as she maneuvered through the traffic — the health spa, my latest cases — although I avoided the subject of Sandy Renkowski, and she tactfully didn't mention my off-and-on relationship with Matthew Scott. Rita looked great in linen oatmeal slacks and a tropical-print blouse. Her hair was longer and several shades lighter, the kind of cut and curl that only money can buy.
She seemed a little tense, which was easily explained by the fact that it's always rush hour in Orange County these days, with clogged freeways and gridlocked streets. Or maybe she was nervous because of her spiffy new car. By the time we made Coast Highway and headed south, I thought it must be more than that. She'd stopped chatting and gripped the steering wheel, her gaze fixed intently on the view out the windshield, although I suspected she was thinking about something else, rather than enjoying the sweep of ocean bordering a rare piece of undeveloped land north of Laguna.
We made a fine pair, because I was having a sobering moment of my own as we passed a narrow asphalt road that angled off through the sunburned brush and wound up the coastal hills. I knew that, farther up, there was a guard gate, and I also knew just where to look to get a glimpse of the huge house with its ten-million-dollar view.
Erik Lundstrom lived up there, the man who had appointed himself my fairy godfather and was quietly making sure my name was mentioned in all the right places. I met Erik through my old pal, Charlie Colfax, as in the Colfax Agency, as in the largest private investigation firm in Orange County. Charlie was doing a favor for me, or so he said. Seems Erik had a security opening. Erik and I got along famously, and he offered me the job.
Giving up my agency was a necessary albeit painful decision. I planned to do it, to totally rearrange my life, and while some of this was economic necessity, I was also more than a little attracted to the wealthy, powerful, absolutely gorgeous Mr. Lundstrom and had reason to believe the feeling was mutual.
Then I discovered the job offer had been cooked up by Charlie and Erik to distract me from the case I was working on, and that Erik was involved with somebody else all the time he was batting those beautiful baby blues at me. I cut my connections with Erik quickly and cleanly. Or so I thought at the time.
I'm not sure if Erik helps me out of guilt or if he just can't bear to have a budding relationship end except on his own terms. Maybe he even has some romanticized notion of what might have been. I'm not sure I care. Because, in spite of Erik's behind-the-scenes assistance, I work hard and give a good return for my clients' money.
Like the job this week. And the one for Supervisor Newley. And never mind Sandy Renkowski's abject face through that patrol car window.
Well, forget Sandy. And Erik. And Matt, come to think of it, because even though we were "on" at the moment, I had the feeling we were fast sliding toward "off" again. This was my free day, and I was determined to enjoy the brilliant sunshine, an ocean full of jade green waves crested with frothy white, and air that blew across a thousand miles of water and smelled only of sea salt. After a bottle of wine and some fresh swordfish, I'd bet both Rita and I would feel a hell of a lot better.
Rita waited until we turned off Coast Highway, heading for the Beach House's valet parking to say, "I'm sorry, Delilah. I'm afraid this isn't just lunch for the two of us."
I groaned. "Please don't tell me I have to eat rubber chicken and listen to somebody talk about saving the whales."
Another side to Rita's relationship with Farley included Greenpeace bumper stickers and fund-raisers for every endangered species known to man.
"Nothing like that," she said.
The valet stood, holding her door open, waiting expectantly. This being Laguna Beach, he wore shorts and a T-shirt, and his teeth shone whitely against his surfer tan as he cast an admiring eye over the car.
We got out and stood there while he took the Miata off to parts unknown.
"Are you going to tell me?" I asked. "Or do I have to guess?" "Somebody's joining us. Her name is Bobbi Calder." She looked at me expectantly.
The name pinged dimly, but I didn't know why. I shook my head.
"Operation Slo-Grow," Rita added, and then I had it.
Besides being on the city council in Laguna, Bobbi — short for Roberta — Calder headed up a countywide organization to slow the development that was gobbling up the open spaces and strawberry farms.
"And?" I prodded.
"She's got some problems, and I think you're the one to help her."
"That's flattering," I said. "But I have a perfectly good office she can visit, complete with an assistant and a computer. I even have a new Mr. Coffee."
"I had a hard enough time getting her to meet you over lunch. The woman is even more stubborn than you are, Delilah, and that's saying a lot. Will you talk to her?"
The valet was back, giving us a curious look. The buildings walled off the ocean breeze and trapped the heat, so I said, "Fine. I'll be happy to. Just as long as I can do it over something cold with plenty of ice."
Eyeing the waiting people who spilled out into a grotto full of brilliant bougainvillea, I figured an hour's holding pattern, but Bobbi had already staked out a corner table next to the patio. The whole dining area was open-air, covered with canvas to cut the glare. Space heaters provided warmth on cold evenings and sliding doors gave protection from chilly ocean breezes. I don't know what happens when it rains. Today all the doors were wide open.
Bobbi stood up as we approached. She was tall, with the raw-boned leanness of a woman who would have plowed fields and raised a dozen children a century ago, and she wore a denim skirt and a white shirt that made me feel frivolous and overdressed. Dark hair streaked with gray was swept up in a knot on top of her head. She wore no makeup, not even lipstick, and looked at you straight on with dark, intelligent eyes. I expect she didn't give a damn about the crinkles at the corners of her eyes or the first fine crosshatching in her tanned skin. Her only jewelry was a pair of dangling Navajo earrings of turquoise and silver.
I was remembering some of her recent press now. During the latest attempt to carve up Laguna Canyon, she'd led a protest and lain down in front of the bulldozers, yielding a photo that ran in all the papers.
She waited until we were settled with menus, ice water, glasses of Chardonnay, and a basket of sourdough bread before she said, "I'm going to be straight with you, Ms. West. I'm only here because Rita kept bugging me about meeting you. In the first place I'm not sure I need a private detective."
Ms. West. Nice and polite. Also cool, distant.
"You need somebody," Rita put in.
"Maybe. Even so, I don't think Ms. West is that person."
The way she said it got my hackles up, or maybe it was something in that level gaze that classified me as some kind of creepy-crawly that she'd like to swat with a handy newspaper.
"You may be right. But I'm curious how you came to that decision after" — I checked my watch — "after knowing me about five minutes."
"I asked around," Bobbi said. "Frankly, I don't care much for the kind of people you work for."
Aha! I was beginning to get the drift. Remembering her press, I also remembered the ongoing feud with the County Board of Supervisors. "People like Sam Newley, for instance?"
"For one," she said shortly.
"He's a client," I said. "That doesn't mean we're buddies."
"And your job for him? Nothing about that bothered you?" I wasn't surprised that she knew about the incident involving Sandy. It was a matter of public record. To tell the truth, what really surprised me was that the press hadn't latched on to it yet.
"I caught a thief," I said, more angry than I had a right to be. "The woman was stealing money contributed by senior citizens and school children. But if you have a problem with my part in having her arrested, by all means find somebody else."
"Okay, enough." Rita glared at us. "I was right. The two of you are perfect for each other, a couple of stubborn mules. Bobbi, will you at least talk to Delilah about what's going on? And cut out the Ms. West shit."
A pause, then Bobbi admitted, "Somebody's threatening me.
"What kind of threats?"
When Bobbi hesitated again, Rita said, "A letter bomb. It came to her office."
"More like a letter fizzle," Bobbi said dryly. "It was just a hoax. I don't know why Rita's so worried about it."
"Maybe you ought to worry," I said. "Did you report this to the police?"
"I thought about it. To tell the truth, it was the publicity I thought about. Anything to generate sympathy for Slo-Grow. But I decided against it. Too many kooks out there. No sense giving them ideas."
"What if it was a warning? Maybe the next one will be for real."
A bold gull hopped in from the patio and regarded us with shiny black eyes. Bobbi took some bread from the basket, tore off a crust, and tossed it to him.
"I'm an old hand at protests." She watched the gull as it took the morsel, made a quick exit, and flapped off. "Civil rights. Vietnam. I've been kicked, beaten, tear-gassed, arrested. You have to decide early on if what you believe in is worth the price."
Excerpted from Set-Up by Maxine O'Callaghan. Copyright © 2015 Maxine O'Callaghan. Excerpted by permission of Brash Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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