THE LORD GIVETH, AND THE LORD TAKETH AWAY.
Since leaving Louisville's homicide division to become the only P.I. in Pigeon Fork, Kentucky, Haskell Blevins regrettably spends more time helping out at his brother's drugstore than solving crimes. So when he's interrupted from shelving deodorant to discuss a "very private matter" with Brother Tallman, the preacher at the Pentecostal Church, Haskell can barely suppress a hallelujah.
It seems someone has been making unsolicited deposits into the church's bank account to the hymn of a quarter of a million dollars -- a real blessing, until that same someone started making withdrawals. Brother Tallman wants Haskell to discreetly find out who's tampering with the church funds. But as Haskell gets closer to the truth, it looks more and more like members of Brother Tallman's sanctimonious congregation have committed adultery, money laundering, and murder. And with every soul a suspect, solving these crimes will be a miracle.
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Taylor McCafferty is the author of twelve novels (including five Haskell Blevins mysteries), and several short stories for national magazines. She lives in Lebanon Junction, Kentucky.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Private eyes and preachers have a lot in common. I might not have thought so a few months ago, but nowadays, after everything that's happened, I know that it's true.
Folks tell both private eyes and preachers the kind of secrets they wouldn't even think of telling anybody else. Folks turn to both of us for help only when they're in big trouble -- and even then, usually as a last resort. And folks often seem to expect both of us to work miracles.
Of course, none of this came to mind on that cold, dreary Wednesday in February when Brother Tallman, the preacher over at the Pentecostal Church of the Holy Scriptures on Highway 60, walked up to me in my brother Elmo's drugstore. All I realized at that particular moment was that Brother Tallman was interrupting me, and I was busy. As the only private eye in the bustling metropolis of Pigeon Fork, Kentucky, I was working on a real big case.
A real big case of women's deodorant.
I was working on emptying out the case and restocking the shelves in the women's toiletries aisle. I was also cursing out my brother under my breath. "Damn you, Elmo Blevins, damn you, damn you, damn you."
I know this doesn't sound all that brotherly of me, but I had good cause. It had just dawned on me, as I was reaching into the carton for yet another Ban roll-on in the country fresh scent, that it had been exactly two years to the day that Elmo had made me an offer I couldn't refuse.
Elmo had offered to let me have the office over his drugstore totally rent-free. The only stipulation had been that I'd agree to help out in the store during my slow times. It hadn't even occurred to me back then to wonder why Elmo was suddenly being so all-fired generous, especially considering the fact that Elmo had not exactly been leaping for joy at the prospect of my finally doing what I'd always dreamed of -- opening up my own private detective business. In fact, ever since I'd moved back to town, Elmo had been pestering me to join him in what he often referred to as "the exciting world of drugstore management."
Of course, back then I'd been under the impression that Elmo understood English. This, I now realize, had been my first mistake. Having said again and again quite clearly that drugstores did not figure prominently in my plans for the future, I'd just assumed that the subject of my drugstore career was pretty much closed. In fact, far from putting two and two together, right after Elmo had made me his offer, I'd practically fallen all over myself, thanking him and telling him how much I appreciated his generosity.
As Elmo himself used to say when we were kids, mimicking Bugs Bunny right after Bugs made Elmer Fudd look like an idiot for the millionth time: What a maroon.
I hate to say it, but I was a maroon, all right. My only excuse was that I'd been working homicide in Louisville for the eight years immediately preceding this particular chat with Elmo. I reckon I'd clean forgotten just how slow a town the size of Pigeon Fork could be. Let me tell you, with a total population of 1,511, Pigeon Fork is not exactly your hotbed of criminal activity. In fact, on some days, Pigeon Fork doesn't seem to have any activity at all, criminal or otherwise.
All this could possibly explain why in the last six months the only kind of cases I'd worked on were the cardboard kind, much like the one right in front of me.
There was also something else that could possibly explain it. I suppose, if I were to be brutally honest, I'd have to say that I don't exactly fit your typical private eye mold. When folks start thinking about hiring themselves a private detective, they pretty much have in mind somebody who looks like Magnum P.I. Or maybe Paul Drake, that suave, handsome guy who did all the detective work for Perry Mason on the old classic TV show. I can't say I resemble either one of those private eye types. I have been told more than once that I do resemble a television star, however. Unfortunately, the star everybody always seems to have in mind is not exactly suave, and not terribly handsome either -- it's Howdy Doody.
Can you believe folks actually said this to my face? Frankly, I always hoped that the folks who told me this were just being cruel, and that Howdy and I really don't have all that much in common. It does depress me, though, to have to admit that Howdy and I do both have red hair. And we both wear checked shirts and blue jeans quite a bit. And, yes, between Howdy and me, we have enough freckles to spatter the entire population of Rhode Island.
So, OK, I reckon it is possible that the Howdy Doody issue might've contributed a tad to how slow my business had been over the last few months.
Mostly, however, I think business was slow because Pigeon Fork was slow. A thing I do believe Elmo had to be extremely aware of long before he made me his so-called generous offer. "Damn you, Elmo," I muttered again under my breath, lining up the Ban roll-ons on the middle shelf so that all their labels faced out, "you got me to come into the drugstore business whether I liked it or not. Damn you, Elmo, damn -- "
I immediately stiffened. I knew, of course, without even turning around exactly who had spoken. For one thing, the voice was pretty distinctive. It's real deep, real loud, and it always seems to be quavering some. So that every word vibrates with emotion. With a voice like that, you could make reading the phone book sound like a sermon.
For another thing, there aren't too many folks in town who call me Brother Blevins. Hell, even Elmo doesn't call me that, and he really is my brother. Nope, the only folks around these parts who address everybody they see as Brother Somebody and Sister Somebody Else are folks who are members of the Pentecostal Church of the Holy Scriptures.
I got to my feet and turned to face my visitor. Sure enough, it was Brother Isaac Tallman, minister of the aforementioned church. The reverend was in his late forties, so he was only about a dozen years older than me, and yet he always seemed a lot older. I reckon it was on account of his giving sermons and all. Anybody who has figured out what's what so well that he can lecture other people on it, well, he has got to be a lot older than me.
For a man with a name like Tallman, he was only about five feet, eight inches tall. The way I figured it, this was no doubt one of the reasons he'd gone into the ministry. As a short kid called Tallman, he'd probably been teased and ridiculed in school on a daily basis from kindergarten on. Having done the whole martyrdom thing as a child, I reckon he decided it just naturally followed that he would be a preacher.
Today the reverend was wearing his usual: a black shirt, black slacks, black boots, and a black suit coat. On more than one occasion I'd heard Brother Tallman go on and on about the evils of country music. I'd never quite had the heart to tell him that he dresses just like Johnny Cash.
Now that I got a real good look at him, I realized that the reverend was dressed spiffier than usual. Instead of the usual black coat, he was wearing what looked to be a brand-new, black double-breasted jacket with a gray pinstripe. His sharply creased slacks looked to be of designer quality, and his shiny black Western boots sported tips that looked as if they might very well be genuine sterling silver. As if all this wasn't enough, he was also wearing a wide-brimmed black wool hat that cast a shadow over his face.
I couldn't help staring at that hat. The last thing you'd expect a man of the cloth to be wearing is a black hat. Hadn't anybody ever told the reverend that the men wearing the black hats in all the old movies were always the bad guys? Not to mention, hadn't anybody ever told him that folks generally didn't wear hats indoors? I put a big smile on my face anyway. "Why, Brother Tallm
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Book Description Pocket Books, 2000. Mass-market paperback. Book Condition: New. Mass market (rack) paperback. Glued binding. 304 p. Haskell Blevins Mysteries. Audience: General/trade. Bookseller Inventory # Alibris_0019753
Book Description Pocket, 2000. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0671001299
Book Description Book Condition: Brand New. Book Condition: Brand New. Bookseller Inventory # 97806710012921.0
Book Description Pocket, 2000. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110671001299
Book Description Pocket. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0671001299 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW6.0324461