Every Last Secret: A Mystery (Skeet Bannion Series)

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9781250005458: Every Last Secret: A Mystery (Skeet Bannion Series)

Half-Cherokee Marquitta "Skeet" Bannion thought she was leaving her troubles behind when she fled the stress of being the highest-ranking woman in the Kansas City Police Department, a jealous cop ex-husband, and a disgraced alcoholic ex-cop father. Moving to a small town to be chief of a college's campus police force, she builds a life outside of her work. She might even begin a new relationship with the amiable Brewster police chief.

All of this is threatened when the student editor of the school newspaper is found murdered on campus. Skeet must track down the killer, following trails that lead to some of the most powerful people in the university. In the midst of her investigation, Skeet assumes responsibility for a vulnerable teenager when her ex-husband and seriously ailing father wind up back on her hands. Time is running out and college administrators demand she conceal all college involvement in the murder, but Skeet will not stop until she's unraveled every last secret.

In award-winner Linda Rodriguez, mystery fans will find a unique voice and a gifted storyteller.

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About the Author:

Linda Rodriguez is a winner of the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. As a poet, she has won the Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence, the Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, and the Midwest Voices and Visions Award. She enjoys knitting lace shawls, spinning alpaca wool, weaving tapestries, and gardening with herbs and native plants. She is currently working on a book of poetry based on teachings from her Cherokee grandmother and another mystery novel about Skeet Bannion. Linda lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with her husband, a Plott Hound, and a domineering cat.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER 1
 
 
I look back and second-guess myself about Andrew McAfee, imagine I could have seen further into the cloud of dangerous secrets that surrounded him. But I know nothing that happened can be changed, no dead brought back to life. I had no way of recognizing the tangled webs all around me at the very time I thought I had found sanctuary.
*   *   *
A middle-of-the-night call used to mean a dead body. All that changed when I moved twelve miles out of Kansas City to this little college town. Not only did I trade the war zone of inner-city policing for a peaceful college campus, but I owned a house, a dog, and plants that were actually alive. Now, my collie, Lady, was barking at the ringing phone, unaccustomed to disturbances at two in the morning.
I jerked awake in practiced reflex. My first thought was of murder, but my new reality came back to me. Couldn’t be Homicide. Was it my ex-husband to tell me my dad had wrecked his car while driving drunk?
I grabbed the phone from the bedside table. “Bannion here.”
“Chief! It’s Dave Parker. I found a body!”
On automatic pilot, I swung out of bed, wondering how the hell that brand-new hire for the campus police had managed to find a corpse on Chouteau University’s pristine campus. Wilma Mankiller, the survivor cat I’d brought from the city, jumped from her side of the bed and hid. She knew the phone ringing in the middle of the night meant I’d be storming around with no patience for pets.
“Where? Report, Dave.” I pulled underwear and a sweater from drawers.
“Sorry. I just never...”
I seized one of my old black Homicide pantsuits from the closet and started to dress. “Slow down and breathe, Dave.” I heard him take several uneven breaths. “Now, report.”
“Sorry, Chief. I was making rounds, going past the News offices like you wanted.”
I had asked the whole department to keep a special eye on the Chouteau University News editor in chief, Andrew McAfee, after breaking up a fight between him and his news editor and hearing from the faculty adviser about sexual assault and theft claims against him. My second-in-command belittled me in front of night and morning shifts for using woman’s intuition. Frank Booth thought I stole the chief’s job from him—though they’d never have hired him since he lacked investigative experience. I retaliated by claiming I was using detective’s instinct. Then, I insisted everyone keep watch for trouble from McAfee.
“A light was on in the inner office so I opened the door,” Dave continued. “To make sure it wasn’t someone it wasn’t supposed to be. It was McAfee. I thought he’d just fallen asleep till I got close enough to see the blood. God!”
Blood. Damn! I fastened my belt and put on my shoulder harness. “Manner of death, Dave?” Pulling open the drawer in my night table, I checked my gun before holstering it.
He took a long, deep, steadying breath. “Back of his head’s smashed in.”
“Did you touch anything?” My voice jerked as I ran down the stairs to the front door.
“Just the door. When I went in. Once I saw him, I backed out quick into the hall and ... I guess I panicked. I haven’t called it in to Dispatch yet or anything. I called you because it was like you knew. Having us keep an extra eye on him and all.”
That extra cop-sense at the back of my skull had niggled at me ever since my run-in with Andrew McAfee. I’d lived down the street from him, his wife, and his stepson, who walked my dog and mowed my lawn, but I’d never really met Andrew until breaking up that fight and learning he was probably stealing money from his student reporters.
“Your first time finding a body is hard, Dave. You’ve done fine. Kept the scene intact.” I reached my car and unlocked it. “Call Dispatch and have them contact Gil and the coroner and the county evidence techs. Tell Dispatch not to send anyone else over there. I’m on my way to you. I don’t want anyone messing up the scene. Keep everyone out till I get there or Gil does.”
“Okay, Chief.” His voice sounded less strained.
“And, Dave,” I added, as I started the car and peeled away from my peaceful house into the night, “you did fine.”
*   *   *
My name’s Marquitta Bannion, but everyone calls me Skeet. Don’t ask. My mom is Cherokee and nutty. They’re not necessarily connected, but I’m not responsible for what she decided to name me. I left the Kansas City Police Department six months ago after becoming their highest-ranking female officer, and I’m now chief of the campus police force of Chouteau University in nearby Brewster, Missouri. Some, like my ex-husband, might see it as a comedown. My best friend and surrogate mother, Karen Wise, tells me not to worry about what they think, but she’s the one who talked me into coming here in the first place. I wanted to get away from the city and the job that ate my life—and, most of all, my dad and the Internal Affairs investigation that led to his retirement. Between Big Charlie and me, the name Bannion used to mean a lot in the KCPD. I didn’t like seeing that change, so I left—force, father, and ex-husband. It was an easy decision.
My Cherokee grandmother always said, “If you’re waiting for things to be perfect in life, young lady, you’ll be waiting a long time.” Though I’ve always ignored what my mother told me and finally learned to ignore Big Charlie, I listen to Gran. I’ve learned not to wait.
*   *   *
I made that short drive back to campus in record time and parked illegally in front of Moller Hall. Using my master key to let myself in, I paced through the dark, echoing building, carrying my crime scene kit from the trunk of my car.
The shadows moved with me as I headed to the offices of the university’s student-run newspaper. At the end of the hallway, Dave Parker stood nervous watch in the gloom surrounding the pool of light that poured through the office door. With his young face, he could have been one of our students, if not for the uniform.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
Beads of sweat stood out on his ashen face despite the chill of the hallway. Dave had recently graduated from the regional police academy and joined our department just two days earlier. Night patrol had seemed a safe, innocuous place for him to start.
“Are you going to be okay here? Or should I ask Bill to trade with you? He’s seen dead bodies before.”
Dave shook his head resolutely. “I’m okay. You don’t have to drag the sergeant out. It was just a shock at first.”
I nodded and smiled to reassure him. “What have you done, and what have you touched?”
“I left the lights on,” he said. His hand twitched in the direction of the light twice before he got it under control. “I turned on these in the newsroom as I went through to the office where I saw lights already on. When I came out, I left them on.” He grimaced. “I didn’t think to turn them off at first. I just wanted to get out and call you. Then I figured it’s best if I don’t add any more fingerprints.”
“That’s fine. No sign of anyone?” I set my kit on the floor and opened it.
He shook his head vigorously. “I checked pretty good.”
He probably had, dismayed at standing watch alone in a place that might be hiding a murderer. I squatted on the cold tile floor and dug through my bag to pull out surgical gloves. “So you just touched that light switch and the door to the office?”
“And the body. I checked for a pulse. That’s what we’re supposed to do, right?” He looked at me, frowning and biting his lip.
“You handled this like an old pro.” I stood and slipped on the gloves.
His face relaxed and regained some color. “I sure didn’t want to mess up something this major.”
I smiled at him. He was going to be worth bringing along. “Was the exterior door to Moller locked when you entered?”
Dave nodded. “Had to use my master to open it.”
I frowned. Either the killer had an office in Moller or access to a Moller key or master.
Closing my kit, I picked it up. “Is Gil on his way? And the coroner?”
Dave nodded. “Dispatch said she’d send them out and notify the sheriff’s office for techs.”
“You keep watch here. Only those people get in. Call Bill to cover the front in case the media show up. He can keep them out.”
As Dave nodded and pulled out his radio, I headed into the newsroom of The Chouteau University News, eyes scanning the room. To my left, a bulletin board fluttered with flyers, a large poster from the movie Front Page beside it. On the next wall, another bulletin board held the last issue of the News, comments in ink scribbled all over the pages. The work of the faculty adviser, I assumed. Six desks crowded the room. The staff would tell us if anything was out of place.
I took a deep breath before moving through the door opposite the hall. No matter how many I’ve seen—a lot—I never get completely used to corpses. I’d never have made an undertaker.
Facing me in the shallower room inside was a beat-up wooden desk. The body sat behind it, bloodied head resting on the desk surface. Moving into the room and to the side, I smelled the coppery blood scent and the odor of feces and urine, an inevitability of death. Another reason for the deep breath before entering. Death stinks.
I could see the face of the dead man, Andrew McAfee. Since the blows damag...

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