The Best American Mystery Stories 2013

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9780544034600: The Best American Mystery Stories 2013

A best-selling novelist and Edgar Award winner, Lisa Scottoline brings her mastery of the thriller genre as well as her wit and heart to this collection of the must-reads in mysteries. 

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About the Author:

OTTO PENZLER is a renowned mystery editor, publisher, columnist, and owner of New York's The Mysterious Bookshop, the oldest and largest bookstore solely dedicated to mystery fiction. He has edited more than fifty crime-fiction anthologies. He lives in New York.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

TOM BARLOW    Smothered and Covered
      from Needle
The young girl walked into the Waffle House, alone, at 3 a.m. on a Thursday morning. We all looked up from our coffee and cigarettes, waffles, sausage and hash browns. She stood on her tiptoes to take a seat on a counter stool, picked up a menu and held it close to her face, like one of the 6 a.m. retirees without his bifocals.
   Sandy, the night shift waitress, looked at me and raised her eyebrows. I knew the look; she gave it to me four or five times a week. It meant, Do you think I should call the cops?
   I considered the idea. The girl looked no more than twelve, black, slim, but composed. Her hair was platted so tight I wondered if they tugged at her eyebrows. Her perfume, spicy with a hint of sandalwood, cut through the onion and batter odors of the diner. She wore clean, well-fitted jeans, a pink fuzzy sweater over a lime green top, and new-looking Nikes. Gold chain, oversized plastic watch. Not enough clothes for February.
   She displayed no fear or uncertainty, which struck me as odd. Twelve-year-olds are always uncertain around adults.
   I turned to look outside. The day manager had finally replaced the broken lights in the lot, so our cars were brightly lit. There were none I didn’t recognize, and I would recognize a new one. I’d been running into the same people at the same hour of the night for almost three years, and had come to know them by their cars, the sound of their nasal congestion, and their bathing habits. We rarely spoke.
   “What you doing here this time of morning?” Sandy asked the girl.
   “I’m here for the atmosphere,” the girl said, keeping her nose in the menu. The sarcasm in her voice sounded bitter as a fifty-year-old’s.
   Sandy looked at me again. This time she was asking me if it would be okay if she dumped a pot of hot coffee on the girl’s head. Sandy’s skin got pretty thin by 3 a.m.
   I shook my head. “The lady’s just trying to be friendly,” I said to the girl. “No need to be rude.”
   The other regulars stared at their plates and cups, but I could tell their ears were locked in, the same way they had been a couple of weeks before when the place was held up.
   “Mind your own business, old man.” The girl pronounced it bidness.
   Sandy laughed. She knew the “old man” would piss me off. “I like that, Tim. From now on I’m calling you ‘old man.’”
   “You suppose you could take my order?” the girl said to her. Not a hint of a smile to soften her words.
   “What’cha want, honey?” Sandy said. “Lucky Charms? Count Chocula?”
   “Two waffles, hash browns smothered and covered, coffee with cream, bacon, crisp.” She folded the menu and stuck it back in the chrome holder next to the napkins.
   Sandy didn’t write it down. “You got money, honey?”
   The girl shook her head in disgust, reached two fingers into her back pocket, pulled out a Visa card, and flashed it toward Sandy like she was trying to blind her with a hand mirror.
   Sandy rolled her eyes toward me but turned to the grill. Otilio had gone outside for a cigarette ten minutes ago, but this time of night, it often took him forty-five minutes. His girl, who worked at the Wal-Mart next door, took her break about then as well, and they liked to pooch up in his old Chevy van.
   The show apparently over, I returned to my book, the last one Ed McBain wrote before he passed. I read another ten pages and drank another half cup of coffee before I heard a car horn outside. I looked up to see a bright red Escalade parked as close to the front door as the curb would allow. Through the heavily tinted windshield I could make out the driver, a white man, bald, fortyish, tan coat with a thick white wool collar. His nose and right ear were pierced.
   The girl seemed to expect the car. She made eye contact with the driver, smiled, pointed to her plate, and crammed a piece of bacon in her mouth. The rest of us stared at the car.
   The guy opened the car door, slid off the seat and onto the curb. When he closed the door, I could see his beefy shoulders, leather pants, sharp-toed cowboy boots. He wore a Fu Manchu mustache that had overgrown his chin and hung loose like a couple of air roots.
   When he first pulled up, I’d assumed daughter and grandfather, but she didn’t appear to have any white blood, and he didn’t show any black. Everyone but Sandy, the girl, and me stared down at their tabletops as the guy entered, probably sensing the same threat vibe I had. An old couple, Vernon and Viv, regulars—she the western omelet woman, whole wheat toast, dry, he the pecan waffle, sugar-free syrup, two link sausages, decaf—began buttoning up the layers of shirts and coats they wore until midsummer.
   The man ignored us and walked to the girl’s stool. She swiveled to face him, still chewing her toast. He leaned over until his mouth was at the level of her ear. I could hear him saying something, couldn’t make out the words, but the tone sounded tense—not commanding, not pleading, something in between.
   Sandy retreated behind the swinging door to the storage room and office and watched through the window in the door. When she saw me looking, she held up the cordless phone. She obviously sensed something wrong about the guy.
   I shrugged my shoulders. I was slowly easing my way to the edge of my booth, my hand lightly holding the glass ketchup bottle.
   As I shifted my weight, though, I could feel the stiffness in my knee. My shoulder, the one not completely fixed by surgery, creaked, and the roll of fat around my middle wedged me between the tabletop and the booth seat. And I had so much money tied up in my new bifocals that I couldn’t afford to replace them.
   Still, if the girl had appeared frightened rather than pissy, if she’d shrunk away from the man, if she’d looked around for help, I’d have stepped in. I’m sure I would have helped.
   Instead, she stood up, not looking at any of us. He pulled out the wallet chained to his belt and threw a ten on the counter. As she walked out he followed so close behind her it looked like they were glued together, back to chest.
   He kept his hand on her back as she climbed into the Escalade, shut the door behind her before getting in the driver’s side. Before he drove off, he turned to me, winked, and gave me a two-finger salute from his temple, like a Boy Scout.
   Sandy wrote down the license plate.
   “Should we call the cops?” she said, refilling my coffee. I noticed her hand was shaking. Her hair, usually neatly pulled back and pinned with one of a variety of barrettes, had escaped and hung loosely on the shoulder of her yellow and black uniform.
   “Tony’ll be here in half an hour,” I said. Tony and his partner usually took their breakfast break about 5 every morning. We all felt comfortable when their cruiser was in the lot.
   Sandy nodded. “She wasn’t much older than Iris would have been.” The comment caught me by surprise. Our daughter would have been twelve, but I carried a picture from Iris’s eighth birthday party, so I tended to remember her as that age.
   Tony stopped by a short time later with a cadet on ride-along, a fish-faced woman who couldn’t sit still. She kept swinging on the counter stool. At this hour of the night, we saw a lot of speed freaks at the Waffle House, and cops weren’t immune. Especially ones new to night shift.
   Tony listened to our story, took the license plate info, and handed it to the cadet. She returned to the cruiser to call it in.
   Tony worked on his waffle and bacon, chatting quietly with Sandy. I figured they were working their way toward a half-assed affair. I’d seen it before, from both of them.
   The cadet returned a moment later, her hand resting on the grip of her pistol in its holster. She stared at Sandy until she walked away from Tony, picking up the coffeepot to take a refill swing through the dining room. Fishface then whispered in Tony’s ear.
   He whispered back, finished his coffee in a single gulp, and pulled a tablet and pen out of his breast pocket.
   “Nobody leaves till we talk to you, okay?” he said to the room in general.
   The young guy in the corner who spent every night muttering and writing in a ratty spiral notebook muttered a little faster.
   Tony told us the girl had been spotted jumping out of the Escalade at a light at the Hague Road exit to the freeway, on the other side of Columbus. The driver chased her on foot to the top of the overpass. Just as he was about to grab her, she jumped over the railing and landed on the freeway right in front of an eighteen-wheeler hauling corn syrup. From the timing, the whole thing, from the time they left, must have been a matter of half an hour. After the cops finished questioning us, I stayed to help Sandy make some closed signs. Since Waffle House never closes, they don’t have any. The front door lock, seldom used, wouldn’t work, so we wedged a ladder under the door handle to hold the door closed and left via the back door, the one that had a working lock.
   I walked her to her car, a ratty old Escort. I gave her a half-assed hug, which she tolerated. My roommate, a Mexican guy that had answered my local roommate-wanted ad, worked days at the local brake replacement place, so he was still asleep when I arrived back at the house. He yipped and muttered in his sleep, one reason I spent my nights at the House. I turned up the television until I could hear Katie Couric over his snores.
   I slept like shit, which I always do when I’m sober. It had been almost three years since my last sound night’s sleep. The girl was still on my mind when I woke later that afternoon. I surfed the television for news until my roomie arrived home from work. He went by the nickname Texaco, which fit since he wore ostentatious cowboy boots tooled with pictures of rattlesnakes and longhorn steers.
   “Hey,” he said, the extent of our usual conversation, since he didn’t speak much English. He carried a plastic gallon jug of milk out the back door onto the landing, where I heard him light a cigarette. He spent hours leaning on the railing, watching dumpsters and alley cats, drinking milk from the jug.
   I got nothing off the TV, so I dressed and walked next door to the library to use their computer and Internet access.
   According to the web edition of the Columbus Dispatch, the girl’s name was Nancilee Harper. Local girl, city school, basketball player. An angel, but aren’t they all, when they’re dead? No parents mentioned. Her grandmother’s picture was up on the home page, a pencil-thin black woman with carrot-orange hair and a bombed-out look in her eyes; maybe they caught her on the way home from the clubs. She looked younger than me.
   According to the lead story, Nancilee had no enemies. She attended the Baptist church on the east edge of downtown. Good grades. She’d been asleep upstairs when Grandma left that evening for work. Grandma, Phara Johnson, waited tables at Caddy’s, a near eastside dive. Grandma returned home at 7 a.m. to find her front yard full of cops and reporters.
   No mention of the white guy, the Escalade, no artist’s sketch of a person of interest. I figured he was in the can already or two states away with his pedal to the floor. The license plate we’d written down was no doubt in a dumpster somewhere.
   I signed off and drifted to the magazine room. I never knew what to do with myself late afternoon, early evening, the time when families would be regathering after school, work, errands, fighting for the remote, doing homework, arguing about dinner.
   My disability check didn’t cover entertainment, so the library was my second most frequented haunt. I was sitting by the picture window reading the latest Popular Science when Sandy called.
   “You see the news?” she said.
   “The girl? Nancilee?”
   “Yeah.” I knew she was leaning against the door frame in the hallway between her kitchen and dining room, probably twisting her index finger through the phone cord. She never sat down when she talked on the phone. I once asked her why. She told me her father used to sneak up behind her, take up some slack from the cord, and pull it around her neck like a garrote. All in fun, he’d said.
   “We should’ve called.”
   “We couldn’t have known,” I said. An old man across the table, holding a copy of Home and Garden an inch from his face, pulled it down to glare at me.
   I ignored him. “She went with that guy like she wasn’t worried.”
   “I’m going to call on that girl’s grandma. It’s the least I can do.”
   “Don’t. You don’t have anything to tell her that would be a comfort to her.”
   “She’d want to know,” Sandy said, her voice rushed, breathy. “I wanted to know.”
   “Talking to the EMTs only made it worse for you.” One EMT had told Sandy he thought I had alcohol on my breath. That one off-the-cuff remark had driven a stake through our marriage. I never realized when I was a kid that every day of your life is a high-wire act. Twenty years you can say the right thing, and then pow—one casual comment, one inattentive moment, and you’re in freefall. Ask Karl Wallenda.
   “Would you go with me?” Sandy said. “In an hour or so?”
   I saw Tex walk out of our apartment building toward his Civic. He was dressed to kill, clothes tight and shiny, the silver on his belt buckle sparkling under the streetlights.
   I agreed to go with Sandy. Not because I wanted to, but because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I was also perversely drawn to pain, and I assumed there would be plenty there.
   I looked through my closet for something more formal than blue jeans. I considered my black suit but decided it might suggest I was claiming grief I didn’t deserve, as I’d only met the victim that one time. I settled on gray slacks, a dark green checked shirt, and a black sport coat, no tie.
   Sandy picked me up twenty minutes later. The temperature had dropped back into the twenties, and the heater in her car was broken, but she wore only a thin overcoat. Her teeth were chattering.
   “Where are your gloves?” I asked as I pulled the door shut and belted myself in. I had given her a nice pair of kid leather gloves for Christmas a couple of months before.
   She pulled away from the curb right i...

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Book Description Best American Paper, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. New.. Language: English . Brand New Book. A best-selling novelist andEdgar Award winner, Lisa Scottoline brings hermastery of the thriller genre as well as her wit and heartto this collection ofthe must-readsinmysteries. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780544034600

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