Dying in the Dark: A Tamara Hayle Mystery (Tamara Hayle Mysteries)

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9780345468062: Dying in the Dark: A Tamara Hayle Mystery (Tamara Hayle Mysteries)
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Valerie Wilson Wesley’s Tamara Hayle mystery series featuring Newark, New Jersey’s number one private investigator are loved for their smart, sexy protagonist who “has a way with a wisecrack that is positively lethal” (Washington Post). Now in Dying in the Dark, Hayle is entrenched in a sinister investigation that will demand her best detective work yet.

Tamara Hayle’s past has come back to haunt her–literally. She’s been plagued by terrifying dreams about Celia Jones, an old friend whose walk on the wild side led her to a horrible death. Celia’s teenage son, Cecil, begs Tamara to find his mother’s killer . . . only to end up dead himself, stabbed through the heart.

The search for Celia and her son’s killer pulls Tamara deep into her friend’s troubled love life, where everyone adored her but somebody held a murderous  grudge. There’s her bullying thug of an ex-husband; a handsome ex-lover who woos Tamara with charm and lies; and an angry, jealous woman who claims that Celia broke her heart. And those were just the obvious people with axes to grind.

Despite her better judgment and the admonitions of the police department, Tamara refuses to back away from the mystery surrounding her old friend’s death and the tragedy that met her son. All clues lead to the past Tamara shared with Celia Jones, and Tamara fears that that past will threaten her own son. But she uncovers more than she bargained for–and unearths secrets someone would kill to keep in the shadows.

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About the Author:

Valerie Wilson Wesley is the Blackboard bestselling author of six Tamara Hayle mysteries. Her recent novels include Always True to You in My Fashion and the novel Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do, for which she received the 2000 award for excellence in adult fiction from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. A former executive editor at Essence magazine, she lives in New Jersey.

Visit the author’s Web site at www.tamarahayle.com

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER ONE

“Don’t never talk to haints,” my grandma used to tell me. “Haints” are what the old folks call ghosts, and when she’d say it, my daddy would roll his eyes and shake his head. But I knew what she was talking about. “If one comes knocking at your door, you just turn your head, look in the other direction, and never listen to what it has to say.” My grandmother has been dead since I was a kid, but her words still rang true even though Celia Jones wasn’t an ordinary “haint.” She wore green eye shadow, too much rouge, and enough Tabu cologne to make a preacher forget his calling, and the door she knocked on wasn’t the kind you walked through. She started showing up in my dreams about a month after she’d been murdered. For three nights straight.

Celia was the closest thing I had to a sister after Pet, my real one, pulled up stakes and split. The two of us would run the streets like wild things: sneaking out, bumming cigarettes and joints, sharing everything from drawers to dudes. We talked smart to men we had no business knowing and hung out places we had no business going. But I had my brother Johnny, may his soul rest in peace, to cool my heels and keep me out of trouble. He was always there when I needed him, even before he became a cop. After that, he’d warn any hardheaded Negro who looked my way to keep his eyes—and hands—off his baby sister.

Celia wasn’t so lucky. Her mama was dead, her papa didn’t give a damn, and her brothers and sisters were so glad to get out their daddy’s house, they steered clear of anything or anybody who reminded them where they came from. Celia was on her own, kicking ass and taking names all by herself. I loved her like she was kin because she was strong, smart, and knew her way around.

Over the years, I hadn’t thought too much about her until I saw the headline in the Star-Ledger: “Woman Shot, Killer Unknown.” It was the kind of story that caught my attention, since I make my living finding out who has done what to whom, and when I saw her name, I lost my breath. Celia had been shot full of holes on New Year’s Day in her ground-floor apartment in a dilapidated building off South Orange Avenue. I knew the place, and it made me sad to know she’d ended up there. She was identified as a waitress in a bar on Bergen, the kind of low-life dive you think twice about walking past in broad daylight. There were no suspects, the newspaper said, and no leads. And there were no follow-up stories. I looked every day.

I can’t say I shed any tears when I read it. We had known each other a long time ago and not parted as friends. We fought over a man, the dumbest thing in the world two women can fight over, so she’d gone her way and I’d gone mine. The last time I saw her, she was climbing into the driver’s seat of a midnight blue Lincoln. She had a Virginia Slims cigarette dangling out her mouth and a men’s T-shirt covering her high pregnant belly. I called her name, and when she turned in my direction, I saw a bruise the size of a silver dollar on the left side of her mouth. She looked straight through me. When we were kids, she used to say she’d kill any man who laid a hand on her, so I couldn’t believe what was on her face. I called her again and ran toward the car, and she pulled away from the curb so fast I had to jump out the way to keep from being hit.

“The hell with you, too, Celia Jones!” I screamed into the dust she left and that was that. In that instant I decided I didn’t want any part of any trouble she’d gotten herself into. My brother was dead, and I’d just married DeWayne Curtis, my son’s father. I was still young enough to think “true love” solved everything, and that that was what I had with DeWayne. I sure didn’t want somebody’s sorrow shadowing the happiness I’d found. So I let her and her pregnant self go wherever the hell she was going.

Maybe we still had unfinished “girlfriend” business. Maybe I should have searched for her, gone back to some of our spots, found a way to help her. Maybe that was why she came back to haunt me. But, then again, it could have been those ribs I’d bought at Costco’s and wolfed down like a fool two nights in a row. Pork will do that to you, if you’ve sworn it off like I had. Or maybe it was just seeing her name like I had in the paper and wondering who had taken her life so cruelly. It’s hard to say what brought Celia back, but I was pretty sure why she’d come.

The dream always started the same. I didn’t see her at first. All I saw were hands, calloused and ugly, squeezing deep into the hollow of her slender, brown throat. Her fingernails, with the bright red polish she always wore, were digging into the hands, trying hard to pull them from around her neck. Then I saw the locket I gave her when we graduated from high school. We bought lockets for each other the same day at Bamberger’s, the big department store that used to take up half of Market Street but that moved to the suburban malls in the early eighties. The one Celia gave me had a sapphire in the middle, cut glass no doubt. God knows what became of it. The one I gave her had a “ruby” because it was red, her favorite color. We’d both inscribed them with “From your best friend” on the top. In my dream, her locket was pulled tight around her neck, slashing her skin as her body arched. I could feel her choking, fighting for breath, for her life. That was when she looked at me, her green-shadowed eyes bright with fear, her shiny red mouth wide open. I could smell the Tabu.

“Help me!” she said.

I’d wake up then in a sweat, glad to be out of that place and in the safety of my own bedroom.

The first night I dreamed it, I jumped out of bed and ran to my son’s room to check on him. The second night, I went downstairs and made myself a pot of Sleepytime tea, then drifted off to sleep on the couch. The third night, I downed two shots of bourbon and wondered why the hell the girl was picking on me. Dreams are nothing but dreams, I reminded myself.

Or so they say.

Then they stopped, and after a night or two, I didn’t think about her anymore. After two weeks, I’d forgotten about the dreams altogether. I had other things on my mind, and on the top of my list was buying myself a new car. My dependable blue Jetta, aka the Blue Demon, may she rest in peace, had met a tragic end in a parking lot in Atlantic City, so I was taking cabs and public transportation until I could find a good deal on another one.

So when the kid knocked on my door that Monday morning, I was sitting at my desk, sipping coffee, and going through the used-car ads in the Star-Ledger. He came in before I could open it, slumping down in the chair in front of my desk like he had an appointment. It only took a minute to recognize him; his cheekbones and pretty slanted eyes were straight out of his mama.

“You Tamara Hayle?” He had a growl of a voice, too grown for such a skinny kid.

“You’re Celia’s boy, aren’t you?” He nodded and the shy little grin his mama used to pull when she needed to charm somebody spread out on his chapped lips. He was older than my son Jamal, but not by much. I knew he must be that baby she’d been carrying when I last saw her. He was dressed like a gangsta: loose, sloppy pants, bulky sweater, polished Timberland boots, a rolled-back stocking pulled over his soft wavy hair. Celia’s hair. A square-cut diamond ring in a platinum setting glittered on his right hand, which was far too big for his delicate fingers.

“Did you hear about my mama?”

“Yes. I’m so sorry. Do they know—”

The rage that came into his face was so intense it made me stop midsentence. Then his eyes watered so quickly I was sure he was going to cry, but he was too big for that. He balled his right hand into a fist and hit the palm of his left hand three times. If he hadn’t been a kid, I would have been scared of him. His eyes got hard, and he stared straight out my dirty office window to the buildings outside. When he shifted his gaze back to me, tears were still in his eyes, but he didn’t try to keep them back this time. My first impulse was to offer some comfort, but knowing teenage boys like I do, I knew that was the last thing he would want from somebody else’s mama. So I sat back and watched them roll down his hollow cheeks straight down to his just-grown beard.

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Cecil Jones.” He raised his chin in an odd show of defiance.

“Cecil Jones,” I repeated his name, wondering about the father whose name he didn’t carry. “What can I do for you today?” I asked, but I knew what he wanted and that there wasn’t a damn thing I could do for him.

“I want you to find out who killed my mama.” There it was anyway.

“What have the police told you?” I asked the predictable question.

“Fuck the police.” He gave the predictable answer, colored with so much anger I was sorry I’d asked.

“What made you come to me?”

“My mama wrote your address down in her book, and it was open to the page with your name on it the day she died.”

“Why do you think that I would be able to do more than the police can?” He looked puzzled, then hurt, then he narrowed his eyes.

“How much you want?” he asked.

“It’s not about the money, it’s—”

“How much you want?” His voice grew louder, more demanding.

“Nothing,” I said in exasperation.

“You work for free?” He looked doubtful,...

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9780345468079: Dying in the Dark: A Tamara Hayle Mystery

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Thornd..., 2005
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