Cathy Pickens Southern Fried

ISBN 13: 9780312995539

Southern Fried

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9780312995539: Southern Fried

Attorney Avery Andrews left her BMW behind in Columbia, South Carolina, along with her job at a high-powered law firm. She's come back home to Dacus where the vehicle of choice is a pickup truck with a dog chained in the back. Avery wants time to rethink her career and her life. What she gets is a bossy great aunt drumming up clients and dragging her to social teas. That's how Avery ends up hired by a local factory to help with a messy environmental problem. But she's at Luna Lake when divers find a car containing a corpse because an old high school classmate is trying to get her attention with a half-baked stunt. Now, the discovery of the dead body sweeps Avery into a red hot case...and into the sizzling secrets of small town life, where some people get away with murder.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Cathy Pickens is a lawyer by training and currently teaches at Queens University Business School in Charlotte, North Carolina. This is near the border with South Carolina, where her family has lived for the past three centuries.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Southern Fried
1 A couple of county cop cars and several pickups, one loaded with an air compressor, crowded around the boat landing at Luna Lake. Pudd Pardee, head of the county rescue squad, leaned against the front fender of a rust-red truck that sported a bumper winch. As I parked my dad's pickup alongside, Pudd jabbed his elbow into the ribs of a tall kid propped next to him. Judging from their gaudy laughter, they were sharing some guy humor. Pudd heaved himself upright as I strolled over. "Well, if it idn't Miz Avery Andrews, attorney-at-law." "Thought you boys were out here dragging the lake for a body," I said, tilting my head to stare up at Pudd's unimpressive fivefoot-eight height. "You're making it look like open-mike night at a comedy club." "You know how this bidness can be sometimes, A'vry. If we didn't keep our sense of humor, pretty soon these dead bodies'd git to us." Pudd punched his companion in the ribs and cocked him a sly look, then hitched up his jeans and arced a stream of tobacco juice past the bumper of his truck, barely missing his young buddy's work boot. "Pudd. Get serious a minute. The sheriff sent word. She's holding Donlee Griggs for murder? He's confessed to drowning Pee Vee Probert?" "So you're defending Donlee? Figured you would. Him bein' so sweet on you and everything. He's always been partial to that red hair of yours." I've always thought it more a burnished gold, but whatever. And Donlee developed crushes on any female unwary enough to smile at him. "Yep." Pudd sighed expansively. "He'uz sittin' around the table at Maylene's just last week, goin' on and on about how the overhead lights in the courtroom lit up your hair like golden sunshine." My eyes narrowed to slits, a look I practice to cross-examine particularly loathsome witnesses. Didn't faze Pudd, though. Up until two weeks ago, I hadn't seen Donlee since high school. Then I'd been appointed to represent him in a bail hearing on a drunk-and-disorderly charge. An unusual occasion for a class reunion, for sure. "Think you'll be able to get him off?" Pudd asked. "Or will you two be carrying on your star-crossed love affair through a wire mesh window?" That didn't deserve a response. I shoved my hands into my jacket pockets and mimicked his good ol' boy slouch, staring toward the lake and ignoring Pudd. Something about this rescue scene didn't register as real, thoughthe usual contingent of Ghouly Boys were present--the rescue squad guys and police scanner junkies. One old boy dangled his legs off the tailgate of his truck while he finished off a Bud. Another little clump included a couple of county deputies. Neither of them had missed many blue plate specials at Maylene's. In all, maybe fifteen guys stood around in various poses. And all pretended they weren't sneaking glances in my direction. Something odd about their collective casual air. Or maybe I just expected more intensity at a murder scene. Donlee had been stuffed into the backseat of a sheriff's cruiser parked at the far edge of the picnic area. His full-moon face brightened when he caught my eye. He lifted his cuffed hands and actually waggled his fingers at me, flashing a gap-toothed grin. Donlee had been a six-foot-seven goofball even in high school. I'd received my share of do-you-love-me-check-yes-or-no notes shoved through the vents in my locker. I couldn't quite believe he'd killed somebody. But isn't that what folks always say? "He never seemed like the type." I kept staring toward Donlee but didn't waggle my fingers back at him. "You know why he committed this heinous act, don't you?" Pudd asked, feigning seriousness and trying to pretend he didn't see Donlee making nose prints inside the cruiser window. "Tragic, itn't it? It 'uz his true love for you that drove him to it." Pudd's companion--a dark, lanky kid barely out of high school--snorted. When I turned my back on Donlee to glare at him, he shifted his attention to a puddle of Pudd's tobacco spit. At least my slit-eyed stare worked on somebody. But it didn't stop Pudd. He just kept smiling. He'd always liked a good joke, but I hadn't figured out the punch line on this one.Joking about this just seemed mean-spirited. So I ignored him. The Donna Karan suit I'd put on for my official lawyer visit with Donlee wasn't heavy enough for an early-morning visit to a boat landing. The November breeze off Luna Lake--which was really more of a pond--nipped through my silk blouse. "Any idea where the body is? Or how long it might take to locate it?" I tried to get Pudd to focus on the fact that somebody had died. Anything to avoid having to consult with my client. It was just too sad. Pudd kept staring and grinning and working his tobacco wad. The guys scattered in clusters around the lake's edge alternated between studying the water and sneaking looks over at us. They seemed to be eyeing us more than the activity on the lake. "Nope," Pudd said. The breeze wasn't strong enough to push up waves. Bubbles appeared at regular intervals on the lake's dark surface. "How long can those guys stay under there?" Even the thought of it felt cold. "Aw, they can swim all day with those suits. The ones freezing their arses off are those two numbskulls bobbing around in that boat out there." In a two-seater flat-bottom johnboat, two men huddled in camouflage-green jumpsuits and jackets. Every now and then, one would crane over the side as if he could see something in the greenish-brown water. Then, turtlelike, he'd poke his neck back into his coat collar. "Those guys love it," Pudd said. "Gives 'em a chance to practice." "Practice?" He wasn't taking any of this seriously enough. My next question was cut off by the arrival of another pickup. It slid to a stop behind my truck. The newcomer's door popped loudly as it opened, thensquawked shut. As soon as he slammed the door shut, I found myself face-to-face with the reportedly dead Pee Vee Probert. "Pee Vee!" Pudd threw up his hands in mock surprise. He had shifted from comedian to dramatic actor in the time it took Pee Vee to slam his door. "You're alive!" "'Course I am, nidjit. Heard you all 'uz dragging the lake. Come on the scanner. Found anythin' yet?" "Actually," I observed wryly, "you're not supposed to be here." He jammed his hands on his skinny hips. "Sez who? Hit come over the scanner." Like that was all the permission he needed. "No, I meant you're not supposed to be here." I pointed at the ground where we stood. "You're supposed to be there." With his lips pursed in his sun-dried face, Pee Vee's gaze followed my pointing finger to the lake. He stared for a few seconds at the small rivulets the breeze made on the lake and at the two guys sitting, like a couple of sillies, in the boat. Then he looked at me as though he might need to put some distance between himself and a crazy person. "What the--" Pudd couldn't hold it a second longer. Tobacco-stained spit spewed from his rubbery lips, and he doubled over as far as his protruding belly would allow, sounding like a Macy's parade balloon with the air hissing out of it. Pudd guffawed. "You ain't got sense enough to know you drowned, Pee Vee." Pee Vee looked bewildered. But I was a few hundred yards ahead of Pee Vee on this one. Not that that was hard to do. "Donlee Griggs apparently told these guys he drowned you in the lake," I explained. "He never!" Pee Vee's voice shrilled. "No, he didn't. But he--" "--called the dispatcher." Pudd pinched his thumb and forefinger across his eyes to wipe away tears of laughter. "Told 'em he'd held a gun on you, off the dock over there. Kept you swimming till you drowned. He said--" Pudd's voice cracked like that of a twelveyear-old in the church choir. "He said it 'uz over a woman." Pudd poked at his companion. The kid kept eyeing me nervously. " That woman," Pudd blurted, pointing at me. "I never!" As Pee Vee whirled on me, his indignation carried his voice up another octave. We'd drawn a crowd by this time. The rest of the crack law enforcement team who'd gathered around the boat ramp joined us for a close-up. "Donlee said seeing A'vry had rekindled the old high school romance"--Pudd's eyes were streaming from the effort of his tale--"said he needed to do something extry-ordinary to get her attention. Said a murder trial would let the two of 'em spend plenty of time together. Preparing his defense and all." Pudd pulled a handkerchief with a fraying hem from his hip pocket and wiped his eyes. "I never!" Pee Vee announced, but less shrilly. "Thank you, Pee Vee," I said as graciously as I could. My cheeks were burning. I hoped it looked like windburn rather than humiliation. I'd skipped breakfast for a stupid prank. I couldn't be angry with Donlee. He really was stupid. But Pudd and some of the rest of this crew would pay. I didn't know how or when, but they'd pay. I felt like the village idiot--or, worse yet, like little Avery Andrews playing mommy-dress-up. A gangly hometown kid, the brunt of a goofy, embarrassing joke. I might as well be making nose prints on the window myself. At least the rescue guys had gotten in some practice dives.Fuming, I turned toward my truck, careful not to skin my shoe heels on the gravel. Donlee could stay locked in the back of the cruiser awhile longer, for all I cared. Sudden movement on the lake caught my attention. Two divers broke the water's surface about fifty feet out, and swam furiously toward the boat ramp. Something about the urgency of their movements affected everyone. Several men migrated toward the point where the two swimmers would come ashore. One of the fellows out in the boat fumbled with the tiny motor, trying to catch up with the divers. They arrived practically together, and both flopped down onto the rough ramp with a recklessness that surprised me, considering they wore neoprene suits. That roughed-up concrete ramp could cut like broken glass. Carrying his fins, the first swimmer jerked his mask off, gasping. "A car," he croaked. His mouthpiece swung against his chest as he duck-walked in his booties up the ramp. "A car down there." The second diver had not joined the crowd on the ramp. Instead, he'd veered straight for the trash barrel chained to a pole at the lake's edge, flapping across the grass in his fins. He leaned over and vomited up his toenails, with expressive, ungentlemanly sounds. The older diver, the one telling the story, turned a peculiar peasoup color around his lips and spoke louder, trying to drown out the sounds from the trash barrel. "An old one, from the looks of it. At least a seventies model." He swallowed hard and glanced at his flippers. His timing was flawless. His companion with the weak stomach ceased his retching at the same moment he announced, "There's a body inside." A body. The crowd shifted, glancing at one another, moving a half step closer in--and closer to each other. "Been there awhile, I'd say. But it was--" He paused and swallowed. Pudd, who stood directly in front of him, took a step back. Just in case the guy got queasy. The diver, his face pinched into a tight circle by his rubber hood, shook his head. "It was--I've never seen anything--it's like a skeleton. But it's covered in this yellowy-white stuff. Looks like soap. It's--" The retching sounds at the barrel started up again, though weaker than before. My own stomach gave a slight heave. Some of the guys stared over their shoulders at the lake, their interest obvious. Others watched the older diver, now in the center of a loosely drawn circle. Everyone tried to ignore the guy at the barrel. "We need to get that thing lifted," Pudd announced. "See what we got. Let me pull the truck down there, see if that winch can do the trick." The onlookers stared alternately at the lake or the ground, talking with a quiet animation, not-so-secretly glad the show had taken a macabre turn. I counted quickly. The crowd had grown to about thirty Ghouly Boys--a couple of trucks with volunteer fire stickers on them, some county cops, some passersby, and a handful from the rescue squad. Not a lot of entertainment options on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I guess. "I doubt that winch'll do it," the diver commented to nobody in particular as Pudd maneuvered his truck, front end forward, onto the ramp. The younger diver, who'd been studying the inside of the trash barrel, now stood at limp attention beside the ramp. No one stood with him, whether to avoid his shame or the smell, it was hard to say. When Pudd stopped his truck and started to unwind the winch,the younger diver stepped forward to unhook the cable. Nobody interfered; everyone was anxious to let the guy redeem himself. The older diver waddled to the front of Pudd's truck. "Somebody ought to radio for a wrecker, just in case." "Aw, this'll pull a dump truck, Carl," Pudd huffed, bent over his task. "That thing's mired up right bad in the mud there. I'm not too sure--" Pudd cut him off. "We'll giv'er a try." The younger diver had already headed out into the water as the electric motor on the winch hummed, feeding out the cable. His partner shrugged, pulled his mask into place, took a couple of puffs on his mouthpiece, and flopped down the grass bank like a B-movie swamp creature returning to his own. Pudd might have every confidence in the superiority of his equipment, but obviously not everyone shared his optimism. From a county car to my right, I heard background radio squawks interrupted by a deputy calling to town for a wrecker. "We-ell." A drawling voice at my shoulder startled me. I'd been so focused on the figures disappearing under the murky water, trailing the wire cable, that I hadn't heard Dale Earnest come up behind me. "Mr. Earnest." He missed a beat when I offered my hand. In Dacus, women don't offer to shake hands with their father's barber. It would take me a while to relearn the social norms. "Good to see you, Avery," he said, clasping my hand in both of his. "Your dad told me, when he came in for a haircut last week, that you'd be coming home." How very diplomatic. Dale Earnest had certainly heard aboutmy coming home from sources other than my dad--sources less inclined to be charitable about the circumstances of my return. The quizzical look Mr. Earnest fixed on me, and the gentle, saccharine politeness of his tone, told me he knew more than my dad would've told him. The circumstances of my firing were too complicated to be adequately absorbed by the grapevine. So I wondered which tendrils had reached the cracked-leather pump chairs in Mr. Earnest's barbershop. "Came up to drain the water lines at the cabin," he said. "Wasn't expecting this much excitement." I smiled. I knew we'd both pretend that he knew nothing at all scandalous or questionable about me. A couple dozen cabins sat tucked back among the pines on needle-strewn winter-weedy banks around a small, still lake. Luna Lake, only twenty minutes north of Dacus, serves as a busy weekend getaway in summer but sits largely abandoned in cold weather. "Whoa!"

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