Elliott Lisbon blends her directorship of the Ballantyne Foundation with her PI-in-Training status by planning parties and performing discreet inquiries for charitable patrons.
But when the annual Wonderland Tea Party makes everyone go mad as a hatter, Elli gets pulled into a shooting, a swindle, and the hunt for a Fabergé egg.
From seedy pawn parlors to creepy antique shops, Sea Pine Island’s other half prove to be as wacky as the wealthy. Elli falls farther down the rabbit hole and finds a scheming salesman, a possessive paramour, a dead donor—everything but a bottle labeled “Drink Me.”
As events evolve from curious to crazy, Elli gets lost in the maze and finds herself trapped in a house of cards with a killer.
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WHACK JOB by Kendel Lynn | A Henery Press Mystery. If you like one, you'll probably like them all.
About the Author
Kendel Lynn is a Southern California native who now parks her flip-flops in Dallas, Texas. She read her first Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators at the age of seven and has loved mysteries ever since. Her debut novel, Board Stiff, is an Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel. It features Elliott Lisbon, a mostly amateur sleuth who has a slight aversion to all things germy and is only five thousand hours away from getting her PI license. Along with writing and reading, Kendel spends her time editing, designing, and figuring out ways to avoid the gym but still eat cupcakes for dinner.
Read an Excerpt
An Elliott Lisbon Mystery
By Kendel Lynn
Henery PressCopyright © 2014 Kendel Lynn
All rights reserved.
(Day #1: Friday Lunch)
A guy walks into a bar with a satchel full of cash in one hand and a banana in the other. He approaches a man sitting at a corner table and asks, what will you give me for this banana? The man looks him over and says, how about this? He pulls out a gun and shoots banana guy point blank.
Unfortunately, there's no punch line. I know this because I was halfway through a corned beef on marble rye when the banana guy crashed into me. It took one second for the shooter to leap over the table, another second to grab the satchel, and two more to make it out the front door.
Chairs slammed into the hardwood floor and plates broke as diners hit the deck, even though the shooter was long gone. I struggled to get up from the sticky floor where I'd landed, and the long strap of my hipster handbag had tangled around my legs.
The guy with the banana was older than me by about ten years, but tall and solid muscle. Weighed a buck eighty easy and was now crushing the life out of my right arm.
I wiggled and kicked and finally twisted free while two ladies took turns screaming for someone to call 911. I grabbed a lunch napkin and frantically searched for the man's wound. My hands moved from his chest to his neck to his arms.
"My arm—it's my arm!" he hollered at me only an inch and a half from my face.
I recognized him. Gilbert Goodsen, local insurance agent and sometime donor to the Ballantyne Foundation, the warmest billion-dollar charitable organization in all the South where I served as director.
I pressed into Gilbert's right arm, high near the shoulder, using the balled up napkin. Only the napkin wasn't the thick fancy white kind; it was an old-fashioned dish towel. Its rustic nature may have blended with the bar's décor, but it soaked up blood faster than a sheet of Kleenex.
"Help! That hurts!" He tried to sit up. "Wait. Where'd he go? That wiley bastard stole my fifty g."
"Fifty g? Gilbert, are you crazy?"
What kind of fool carries around fifty thousand in cash? I accidentally squeezed harder and he screamed, so I pressed his wound harder, pushing him into the floor. It made the bleeding better, but his bellowing worse. I decided I could live with the bellowing but he couldn't live with the bleeding, so I pushed with everything I had.
"Stop! Oh good God in heaven, woman, what are you doing? You're killing me!" He smacked at me with his other arm.
The restaurant patrons crowded close, their feet crunching on the broken plates scattered on the floor. Sirens blared in the distance. The steady ebb and flow of sound recognizable to anyone in any town in any place. It couldn't have been more than six or seven minutes since the man in the baseball cap fired his gun and fled. The napkin in my hand squished with blood. I started to shake. Wooziness hit me. I was now kneeling on Jell-O legs.
"Ambulance on the way, Elli," Tug Jenson said. As barkeep, head chef, and owner, Tug put the Tug in Tugboat Slim's. He knelt down with a large towel in his hand. "Let me."
He took over compressing the wound and I tried to stand. The room tilted a bit to the left, then to the right. I glanced down at my palms, slick with blood. They smelled tinny, and a little sweet and salty. The backs of my hands were coated in Russian dressing, a cup of which I'd ordered with my sandwich. It may be a while before I eat corned beef.
I held my hands up like a surgeon headed to an operating suite and fast-walked straight to the ladies' room. With a butt-smack to the door, I rushed the two feet inside. One pedestal sink, two small stalls made of faded wood, and a large oval mirror. Barely a step up from a campground restroom, but it was clean and had a full soap dispenser. I used the inner edge of my forearm to turn on the water, then used the outer edge to depress the soap lever, pushing until at least an entire cup of thick liquid cleanser filled my palm.
Muffled sounds of emergency personnel filtered through the ladies' room door while I lathered up like a kid in a bubble bath. Except the bubbles were a muted shade of dark pink with red splotches. Some splashed onto my blouse. The image of the Gilbert's gashy wound where the bullet ripped the flesh stayed with me and my stomach sank. My whole body sank. I rested my head on the cool porcelain sink ledge. My knees shuddered and sweat pooled on my neck so fast, I feared a faint was in my future.
Someone knocked on the door.
I slowly turned my head to the left, squinting between my armpit and the basin. "In a minute."
The water still ran, dissipating most of the bubbles. I sighed and stood and grabbed a wad of paper towels and another massive blob of soap, then wiped the sink clean. With two big splashes of cold water on my face, I felt much better.
But I looked like shit. A mix of Russian Dressing—aka mayo and ketchup—managed to stain the top of my cotton voile blouse and both knees of my khaki capris. And from the strong tangy smell, I'm fairly certain I had a handful of pickles stuck someplace. I desperately needed hand-sanitizer. Or maybe all over body sanitizer. But my little lifesaver bottle was in my handbag way back near my splattered lunch.
The knock returned. With another long sigh, I tossed the last of the paper towels in the bin and whipped open the door, coming face to face with Lieutenant Nick Ransom.
He leaned against the plank wood wall opposite the door. "Hiding out?"
I took two blinks to gather myself, then stood tall. Confident, composed, fully unruffled. "Just a pit stop. Drank lots of Pepsi with lunch."
He nodded and plucked a bread and butter pickle from my hair. "You're looking good. Up for a few questions, or do you need a moment to put your head between your knees?"
Nick Ransom and I met twenty years earlier in a college forensics class. One where I slid to the floor in a dead faint during a crime scene slide show. He found my slight aversion to guts and gore amusing in light of my desire to fight crime and/or evil.
"I'm fine, Ransom. Ask away." I stalked across the short bar decorated in typical style befitting a joint named Tug Boat Slim's. Oars and nets on the walls. A giant clamshell. A large starfish. An enormous marlin which may or may not have been purchased off eBay.
I spotted my handbag on the floor, somehow unblemished, next to Gilbert on a gurney. I picked it up just as a paramedic jabbed an IV needle into Gilbert's arm.
Whoa. I spun around and slipped on a bloody napkin wadded on the floor. Now I had blood on my sneaker. I pointed to the side door. "Quieter outside," I choked out.
The fresh sea air saved my life. Or at least saved what little lunch I ate. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Once I hit the back patio, I kicked off my Vans and pulled a bottle of hand-sani from my inside my hipster. It wouldn't save my shoes, but it would help with my sanity.
Tug Boat Slim's is a local bar on the far north end of Sea Pine Island. It fronted a short harbor on the Intracoastal Waterway at the foot of the bridge to mainland South Carolina. It also sat behind the only combo RV, trailer, and boat resort on the island. Fisher's Landing Trailer Park and Yacht Club. As I sat on a long bench near the railing, I could see a faded turquoise single wide to my left and a shiny bright sailboat to my right.
"Please tell me how exactly you're involved in this shooting," Ransom said.
"Totally not involved," I said. "Just eating my lunch like everyone else."
"At the shooter's table? Do you mind telling me his name?"
"Not at his table. The table next to his. I faced the window and he faced the bar. So I guess we sort of sat across from each other. But I certainly didn't know him."
I actually only glanced up at the guy briefly when I sat down. I'm a big fan of privacy and have no problem eating alone. I just threw my hipster handbag over the side of the chair, slapped my notebook on the table, and studied the menu. "He wore a black t-shirt and a dark baseball cap. Not sure what it said, maybe a Cubs logo. I didn't see his face."
Ransom jotted down my meager tidbits of information while I spoke. He looked good. He looked great. All taut and sexy and dashing. Like a Harvey Specter, only he carried a badge instead of a briefcase. Our past was a bit speckled, Ransom and me. We didn't just meet in college, we dated. It was hot, heavy and heart-pounding. Until he left one night without notice and came back twenty years later. He took the Lieutenant's position at the Sea Pine Police Station some four months earlier. We'd gotten along pretty well considering he nearly got me killed less than a month after he arrived.
The warm breeze from the harbor blew scents of briny oysters and saltwater, along with the sweet, late-blooming jasmine growing beneath the deck.
"How was Columbia?" I asked.
The state police built a new training facility and had asked Ransom to teach a class on advanced hand-to-hand combat. I glanced at his hands. The last time we were this close, they were up my dress. That was the night before he left. A call from dispatch interrupted our make-out session and we hadn't spoken since. Like I said, our past is a bit speckled. He noticed me looking and my face flushed pink. "Miss me? Did you even try to stay out of trouble while I was gone?"
"No trouble," I said. "I'm telling you, Ransom, the island is quiet. That last incident was just a fluke."
"Incident, huh? You were smack in the middle of a murder. And now this shooting? It's just a coincidence you're here?"
"Absolutely. How would I know Gilbert would get shot and robbed before he joined me for lunch?"
His jaw tightened and he stared at me for a full minute. "Tell me, Lisbon. Now."
I shrugged. "Gilbert Goodsen asked me to meet for lunch. He got shot before he sat down."
Ransom stared some more.
I tried to stare him down, but my fifteen years working at a charity were no match for his twenty in the FBI. Besides, it's not like lunch was a secret.
"Gilbert wants the vacant seat on the Ballantyne Board." A spot opened up four months earlier in May with the untimely death of another board member, and as director of the charitable Ballantyne Foundation, it was my job to compile a list of replacement candidates. "I guess he's hoping I'll put him on the short list, but his soon to be ex-wife also wanted on, and with a divorce pending, not likely, but I agreed to meet for a quick lunch. I was taking notes for a different meeting I'm now late for back at the Big House, when I heard Gilbert ask the guy something weird about a banana."
"Yes, a banana. Like, what will you give me for this banana? Then the guy in the cap shot Gilbert, grabbed his bag of money, and took off. Though I didn't realize it was Gilbert until after he slammed into me. I admit I may have glanced over when Gilbert mentioned the banana." I didn't admit I eavesdropped purely out of habit, but judging by the way Ransom was looking at me, he'd already figured that part out.
"See? No involvement."
The ambulance team wheeled Gilbert out the back door and across the patio. His screaming had finally stopped, but he was still pale. They slowed as they approached us.
"I'll be by later this afternoon," Ransom said to Gilbert, who nodded vaguely in response.
Corporal Lillie Parker, the closest person I had to a friend on the force, and who I must have missed seeing inside earlier, waved to us both while the paramedics adjusted and checked and did paramedic type things with needles and bags and other scary medical implements.
Ransom tucked his notebook and pen back into his suit jacket pocket, never taking his eyes from mine. "Listen to me on this. Do not. I repeat, do not get involved in this investigation. Just because Gilbert Goodsen is a friend of the Ballantynes, does not make this your business or part of your PI pursuit. Do you understand me?"
I smiled. Sort of. With squinty eyes and scrunched up lips. I nodded and stood and watched Gilbert get wheeled down the ramp toward the waiting ambulance.
"Say the words," Ransom said. "Out loud."
"I will not investigate this shooting. Happy?"
He looked skeptical. When he stood, he towered over me by at least six inches. "Stay out of trouble, Lisbon."
I wiggled my fingers in a wave and walked back into the restaurant. Several officers were still interviewing witnesses, including Tug Jenson. I figured I owed him at least twenty bucks for lunch and at least a gallon of hand soap, so I pointed to my handbag and mouthed I'd be back later to settle.
I ditched my sneakers in a metal barrel trash can, then took the deck stairs—the same ones the shooter took when he escaped with Gilbert's fifty G's—to the side parking lot and hopped into my almost new blue Mini Coop convertible.
Lola Carmichael passed me on her way to the Fisher's Landing office. She lifted her arm in a wave and her plastic bracelets clacked and rattled.
I smiled back and made a mental note to stop by later. As resident manager and activity director, Lola may have seen the shooter. I stashed my hipster beneath my seat and slipped on a pair of flip-flops I kept in the car for beach emergencies, then called the Big House.
"Hey, Carla. Listen, start the meeting without me. I'm headed to the hospital to talk to Gilbert Goodsen. Seems a guy shot him this morning and stole a satchel filled with cash and I want to know why."CHAPTER 2
(Day #1: Friday Afternoon)
Sea Pine Island is shaped like a shoe. Or a foot. Or perhaps more accurately a foot wearing an unattractive ankle boot. The bridge to mainland South Carolina hooked on at the ankle and the Harborside lighthouse decorated the big toe. I was headed to Island Memorial Hospital, snuggled in around the heel area, from Tug Boat's up near the ankle—all connected by Cabana Boulevard. I contemplated Gilbert Goodsen's shooting while I drove, the glorious September sunshine easing some of my tension. A mild cold front blanketing the entire eastern United States lowered both our temperature and humidity. Still warm by most standards at eighty-two, but a perfect Labor Day weekend to me. I loved to drive with the top down, but can't for most of the summer. With a natural wave in my dark red hair, too much humidity exposure and I resembled Shaun White in his wildman glory days. Might work on the snowboarding circuit, but not on the fundraising circuit.
I turned onto the winding drive to Memorial Hospital, then parked the Mini beneath a sprawling oak and debated my options. Emergency visitors generally use the Emergency entrance. Which entails walking through a germy lobby, explaining oneself to the admissions clerk, then waiting a ridiculously long time for permission to enter the secure area. Or one could enter through the automatic doors in the ambulance bay with complete disregard to the posted Authorized Personnel Only sign.
With a quick step across the tiny lot, I hustled to the bay and through the doors, wearing a slightly panicked look on my face. Part worry, part shock: an aggrieved relative searching for a recent emergent situation. I glanced at the large white board posted on the wall midway down the hall. Spotted "Goodsen 12" written in sloppy black marker and kept on walking.
The rooms were conveniently laid out in sequential order. I found Goodsen's room just around the corner. Though "room" may be overstating. It had two solid walls and two curtain walls, one of which covered the entrance. Curtain 12 stood open.
"What have you done now?" a doctor said to Gilbert as I entered. The doctor wore a long white doctor's coat with Island Memorial stitched in blue above the left breast pocket. His name badge said Dr. Carl Locke and the accompanying picture must have been taken fifteen years earlier. Short gray hair now thinning on top; defined jaw line now giving way to gravity.
Gilbert noticed me in the doorway and waved away the doctor. "Hey, Elliott. Meet the doc, here. Worried about me, but I'm fine. I'm a trooper. Don't worry."
Excerpted from Whack Job by Kendel Lynn. Copyright © 2014 Kendel Lynn. Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
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