Nuts and Buried (Nut House Mystery Series)

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9780425261484: Nuts and Buried (Nut House Mystery Series)
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Lindy Blanchard has enough on her hands at her family’s Texas nut farm with her new strain of pecan trees dying. Trouble is, people are dying too.  In a nutshell, it’s murder—from the author of Snoop to Nuts...

The Blanchards are invited to the gala event of the season. Lindy’s wealthy friend Eugene Wheatley—who’s just nuts about his new bride—is throwing a party to introduce his wife Jeannie to Riverville, Texas, society. The celebration is in full swing when Eugene is found shot dead.

Jeannie and her unscrupulous kin are the prime suspects, but the Blanchards aren’t convinced. Lindy and her meemaw Miss Amelia have heard just about enough from the local gossips gathering at the Nut House family store to realize that Jeannie needs their help. And when somebody shoots at Lindy during the investigation, things get real personal. Lindy and Miss Amelia are determined to unmask the killer party crasher and shell out some Texas-style justice...

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About the Author:

Elizabeth Lee is the author of the Nut House mysteries, including Snoop to Nuts and A Tough Nut to Kill.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Acknowledgments

Praise for A Tough Nut to Kill

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Elizabeth Lee

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Chapter Thirty-eight

Chapter Thirty-nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-one

Chapter Forty-two

Epilogue

Recipes from Miss Amelia’s Nut House Kitchen

Chapter One

That night I dragged myself, in noose and shroud, out of my dusty white pickup in front of the Wheatley mansion. I put the keys into the hands of a disgusted-looking man who waited to park it, or hide it, behind all the shiny brand-new pickups covered with chrome and expensive gun racks, and all the big Cadillac Escalades parked on a fitful lawn, back toward a wall of low, honey mesquite trees.

It wasn’t because I expected a murder at the party that I looked the way I did. My costume was a protest because I didn’t want to go to Elizabeth and Eugene Wheatley’s gala to begin with. They were throwing it to introduce Eugene’s new wife, Jeannie, to the “elite” of Riverville, Texas—or at least to a good number of the best and oldest citizens. I didn’t want to be one of those citizens. My friend Deputy Hunter Austen of the Riverville Police Department, a man who protected all those rich people, wasn’t invited, and if he wasn’t good enough to be asked to their costume party, then I wasn’t either.

I was mad at the Wheatleys and all my family, the Blanchards, and just about anybody who might get in my way that night.

“COME AS A FAMOUS TEXAN,” the invitation shouted, and I knew it was all Elizabeth Wheatley’s idea, owing to her expertise in Texas history, as she was eager to tell anybody and everybody since I first knew her back when I was in high school and she was already in college. She was Eugene’s sister, so I put up with her bragging and strutting and putting on airs because, after all, they were Wheatleys of the oil Wheatleys of Dallas, but living in Riverville for no good reason I ever got out of Eugene.

It was no skin off my nose if she wanted to play lady of the manor. Yet . . .

“I’m not going,” was what I first told Mama and Miss Amelia, my grandmother, the day before the party.

“The hell you’re not going,” Mama said and finished off her breakfast of scrambled eggs and Texas toast, picked up her coffee cup, and gave me one of those long stares that told me I was going to lose this battle.

My meemaw was saying, “Watch your mouth, Emma,” to Mama, which made Mama get red in the face and steam the way I was steaming. My younger sister, Bethany, saw what was coming and got up, dumped her dishes in the sink, and headed out to the event tent, where she saw to weddings and showers and graduation parties under our tall, old pecan trees. Justin, my older brother, who took care of Rancho en el Colorado, the pecan farm we lived on, grunted something about meeting up with his men for spraying and was out of there.

I liked Mama’s steaming because she was wrong, and it felt good puffing up like a pigeon because I was right. “I’m a grown woman and I can decide for myself whether I want to go to some awful costume party. You know Hunter’s my best friend. They could’ve asked him.”

“There’s always somebody has to be left out, Lindy. A house can only hold so many people.”

“Then let it be me. Anyway I feel cramps coming on. And I don’t have a costume. And some man from some European lab is coming to look at my trees. And . . . I just don’t want to go if they snub Hunter.”

Mama leaned back from the breakfast table, stretched her arms over her head, and then ran fingers through her cropped blond hair. “Me and your grandmother are Hastings—and proud of it. But here in Riverville we are also Blanchards—all of us. We’re invited to a party given by old friends where we have to dress up as a famous Texan. You a Texan or not?” she demanded, her hair now standing on end, making her look kind of wild. Who can take a woman seriously when she looks crazy and she’s your mother, but you are grown and should be able to do what you want to do in life?

My meemaw cleared her throat and knocked her clasped hands together on the tabletop. She had something to say, and when Miss Amelia made a pronouncement, it was somewhere up there near treason to go against her. Miss Amelia’s seventy-six, tall, stately (like our pecan trees), and sweet as an angel to customers in the Nut House, our store in town, where she sells everything pecan, and sweet to everybody in the family unless she comes at you with a “Bless yer heart” and “Why, you dear thing you—” That’s when the knife comes out and you better watch your back.

“Why, my sweet girl,” she said and the hair on my neck stood up. Right then I knew I’d lost, but I wasn’t going to make it easy on anybody. I knew who I’d go as and figured it would be the one costume at the party that would shock the devil out of all of them.

Chipita Rodriguez. That’s who I picked. Born in 1799, in Mexico. The only woman ever hanged in Texas; accused of killing John Savage with an ax, then hanged from a mesquite tree with her last words being “No soy culpable! (“I am not guilty!”) After I got my shroud together—old gray burlap wrapped around me and sewn, in places, to my jeans and T-shirt underneath—I tied my noose from a nice hefty rope and put it around my neck. I floured my face and wild hair then drew red grease pencil under my eyelids. I planned to walk around their big old ballroom intoning “No soy culpable,” but I knew I’d lose my nerve after Mama got a look at me.

*   *   *

I almost fell over the noose as I crossed the gravel drive circling in front of the huge old mansion. I hefted the noose higher, wishing I’d gone for a shorter, lighter rope.

Brave woman that I am, I was already feeling dumb and wishing I’d come as Barbara Bush with a string of pearls around my neck instead of a noose. I walked slower and slower toward the heavy front door standing wide open. I could hear music from the back of the house.

My bravado was kind of failing me. Nobody would know my costume was a protest against anything—like Texas hanging a woman, I told myself. They’d think it was just me, Lindy Blanchard, making a stubborn fool of myself though I was twenty-eight, had two degrees from Texas A&M, and was deep into biotechnology—genome selection—so the pecan trees on our ranch would grow and bloom and produce even in drought years. “A selfless deed,” I always told myself though I loved doing the work just for the doing. But wasn’t I helping my family and all our neighbors? And I was keeping a promise to my Daddy, who’d been proud of me back then, before he got killed out on his tractor, mowing under those big old trees.

Naw, when they got a look at me, they’d all say I should’ve known better.

The argument with myself was short. Too late. I took the rope and wrapped it around my upper arm a couple of times. I tried to smooth down my hair and brush a lot of the white flour off my face. Couldn’t do a thing about the shroud.

I walked across the portico with tall Ionic columns and through the open double doors, which looked like every doorway to disaster from every scary movie I’d ever seen. In the grand front hall I was met by a butler holding a silver plate, waiting for my invitation. I knew the butler as Roy Friendly, an old cowboy who hung out at the Barking Coyote Saloon. Roy looked embarrassed when I raised my eyebrows at his tux. He was smiling, though his rough and grizzled cheeks barely moved as he asked for my invitation. I said I didn’t have one because Mama came ahead of me and she had it.

All Roy did was shrug and pull uncomfortably at the collar of his white shirt.

“I gotta ask, Lindy,” he said while giving me the once-over. “What in hell’s name you come as? Is that Davy Crockett after the Alamo?”

He snickered and picked at his tongue as if he felt tobacco there. I ignored him and headed back toward the music. I wanted to see my family, make sure they knew I’d been there, say “Hi” to a few folks, and then get the heck on home while I had at least a little dignity left.

Chapter Two

First to spot me when I entered the high-ceilinged ballroom lined with huge, gold-framed portraits of every last Wheatley, and—I swear—golden chandeliers shedding golden light on the illuminati of Riverville, was my younger sister, Bethany, in her wide red hoopskirt with very tight embroidered bodice. She looked like Scarlett O’Hara to me, but since Scarlett didn’t live in Texas, I figured she was some other femme fatale or just all Texas femme fatales because she found the outfit before she thought out who she’d be.

Bethany threw her hands to her cheeks. Her mouth made a bright red oval. The fat blond curls on her head were puffed up larger than normal. She left the much older—bordering on ancient—man she was dancing with to come stand in front of me, wide-eyed, astonished, and unhappy.

“Who the devil you supposed to be, Lindy Blanchard?” she demanded in her best irate voice.

“Bunch of famous dead people,” I hissed back at her. After all, I was older than she was, a lot smarter, and didn’t like feeling dumb right there where other people could see.

“Are you out of your mind? You come to a wonderful party, with wonderful people, to celebrate their wedding—like that?”

“Second wedding. Sally was shot, remember? Remember Sally? I liked Sally.”

“I remember Sally. Loved her clothes. Sad—just a hunting trip over near Austen and then Sally gets a bullet to her head. But that’s history now. ’Course Eugene’s married again.”

I was finished with Bethany. I didn’t need my sister’s sibling stuff right then. “Hey, maybe you should go back to that dashing man you’ve got waiting impatiently there on the dance floor.” I nodded to where the old gentleman stood looking confused, as if Bethany had disappeared on him.

Bethany stuck her tongue out at me, put on a big smile, and clapped to the music as she hurried toward her very old and very oil-rich partner with many friends who might give parties in Bethany’s event tent, or could have political cronies needing a space to hold rallies and such. You had to give it to Bethany, since taking over our entertainment business she was never off duty.

Next it was Meemaw who blindsided me. Lady Bird Johnson, I guessed. Dressed in a very neat denim outfit with a cowgirl hat tied under her chin. Personally I thought Meemaw did Mrs. Johnson proud.

“Chipita Rodriguez, right?” Meemaw, as usual, was way ahead of me. Nothing gets by this woman who can look at a man in ragged jeans and an old cowboy hat and figure he’s a billionaire. Or look at a fancy cowboy in a ten-gallon hat, best boots ever, and whisper, “All hat. No cattle.” Or look into somebody’s eyes and know right away if they were capable of murder.

“Thought that was who you’d be. Maybe not going to impress any of the men here—as your mama hoped. Not with you looking like something pulled out of a moldy grave. But good for you, taking on somebody like Chipita.”

“Took the Texas legislature over a hundred years to claim she didn’t get a fair trial,” I groused as loud as I dared, wanting people around us, staring at me, to get it. “That’s famous enough for me.”

“Yeah, well, lot of men hung didn’t get that much attention. But I’ll tell you, Lindy, I had a friend back in Dallas who swore she saw Chipita’s ghost riding the river bottoms over to San Patricio County. Hope you don’t stir her ghost up around here.”

Meemaw looked well satisfied, passing on that small fact, and fixing me in her own way.

“Are you mad at me?” I leaned in close to ask because of all the people in the world I never wanted mad at me, Meemaw was at the top of my list. Along with Mama, I suppose, but there’s always been something very special between my grandmother and me, like we could look at each other and know what we were thinking.

“Mad at you?” Her faded blue eyes went wide. She rocked back on the heels of her sensible shoes. “How could I be mad at you, Lindy? You got all that feistiness straight from me. Wish I still had some of it. But I’ve got you. I’m awful grateful for that.”

I hid my embarrassment at pushing Meemaw to that extreme edge of grandmotherly love by turning to the tall, dark man standing behind me, a tray of barbecued shrimp with lemons heaped into a bowl of ice on his tray. He lowered the tray to within my reach as his dark eyes went over my costume and his nose wrinkled with distaste. Funny that I didn’t know the man. Weren’t many strangers in Riverville. From the look of him—with his dark curly hair and judgmental eyes, I imagine he’d been brought from Dallas with the Wheatleys. I’d say some old family retainer except he didn’t look old and that insolent stare . . .

Whew. I grabbed a shrimp on a toothpick and turned my back to him.

I was looking around for a place to stash my toothpick when Mama came up fast and mad in her Laura Bush chinos and flowered blouse, short blond hair brushed up pretty and neat. She had one of her big, phony smiles meant for the people around us as she put her hands out and grabbed me by the shoulders, pulling me into a big hug, then whispering in my ear, “Just what are you supposed to be?”

“Why, Mama! I’m the only woman ever hanged in Texas.”

She leaned back—phony smile stuck in place. She tipped her head to the side and said, around all those white teeth, “Really? Unless you want to be the second one hanged, you’d better ditch that noose pretty fast and get over there and talk to your hosts. If they ask, tell ’em you’re the ghost of a dead pecan tree. Don’t care what you say—just get over there.”

She smiled again and hugged me and blew on past, leaving me like a battleship on a lake—with no place to hide.

I looked over to where Eugene Wheatley, a man I’d known since high school days, and his new wife, Jeannie, stood. He must’ve come as some old politician, in his straight black suit and high white collar. Jeannie, well, I didn’t know for sure why, but she was wearing a lot of yellow.

The Chauncey twins stood with the Wheatleys. “The girls,” as everybody called Melody and Miranda, were over eighty and tough as nails. They ran their old family pecan ranch by thems...

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2017. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Lindy Blanchard has enough on her hands at her family s Texas nut farm with her new strain of pecan trees dying. Trouble is, people are dying too. In a nutshell, it s murder from the author of Snoop to Nuts The Blanchards are invited to the gala event of the season. Lindy s wealthy friend Eugene Wheatley who s just nuts about his new bride is throwing a party to introduce his wife Jeannie to Riverville, Texas, society. The celebration is in full swing when Eugene is found shot dead. Jeannie and her unscrupulous kin are the prime suspects, but the Blanchards aren t convinced. Lindy and her meemaw Miss Amelia have heard just about enough from the local gossips gathering at the Nut House family store to realize that Jeannie needs their help. And when somebody shoots at Lindy during the investigation, things get real personal. Lindy and Miss Amelia are determined to unmask the killer party crasher and shell out some Texas-style justice. Seller Inventory # BZV9780425261484

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2017. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Lindy Blanchard has enough on her hands at her family s Texas nut farm with her new strain of pecan trees dying. Trouble is, people are dying too. In a nutshell, it s murder from the author of Snoop to Nuts The Blanchards are invited to the gala event of the season. Lindy s wealthy friend Eugene Wheatley who s just nuts about his new bride is throwing a party to introduce his wife Jeannie to Riverville, Texas, society. The celebration is in full swing when Eugene is found shot dead. Jeannie and her unscrupulous kin are the prime suspects, but the Blanchards aren t convinced. Lindy and her meemaw Miss Amelia have heard just about enough from the local gossips gathering at the Nut House family store to realize that Jeannie needs their help. And when somebody shoots at Lindy during the investigation, things get real personal. Lindy and Miss Amelia are determined to unmask the killer party crasher and shell out some Texas-style justice. Seller Inventory # AAC9780425261484

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