Every Broken Trust: A Mystery (Skeet Bannion Series)

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9781250030351: Every Broken Trust: A Mystery (Skeet Bannion Series)

A party to celebrate the arrival of George "Mel" Melvin, a Kansas City politician accompanied by his troubled teenage daughter, wealthy wife, even wealthier backer, and mysterious employee, rapidly turns into disaster when Skeet's best friend, Karen Wise, stumbles on a body in Chouteau University's storage caves and is attacked herself. Skeet gets to Karen in time, but she's still worried by Karen's increasing obsession with the dead man's drunken claim that her husband's accidental death years earlier was actually murder.

Skeet already has her hands full, serving as chief of campus police and also as the guardian of fifteen-year-old Brian. Brian's emotional entanglement with Mel's rebellious daughter, as well as Karen's fixation on who she believes to be her husband's murderer, frustrates Skeet's efforts to keep them both safe and out of trouble. Skeet must struggle against the clock to solve a series of linked murders before she loses Brian forever, and before her best friend winds up in jail―or worse.

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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 and the Midwest Voices and Visions Award. Her first mystery novel, Every Last Secret, was selected by Las Comadres National Book Club, was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick, and is a finalist for the International Latino Book Award. Linda is president of the Borders Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, a founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, Kansas City Cherokee Community, and International Thriller Writers. Linda lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER 1

 
“This won’t work!” I slammed the door to Forgotten Arts behind me, shutting out stifling late-August heat. Ignoring the bell swinging on red handspun, I glared at Karen Wise, who was hosting a party at my house because her farm was too far from town. She promised I just had to make my house available and show up. I’m not a party-giving woman. Now, I was hosting a welcome party for the new dean of Chouteau University’s law school.
Karen looked up from spinning the fluffy mass of gray wool into yarn, stopped the wheel, and wound a strand of wool over a peg, taking her time as I fumed. Normally, I enjoyed the spinning wheels and looms around us. I bought colorful yarn and fondled fiber from sheep, goats, and alpacas. This Thursday, I wanted to throw things.
“Lunchtime, Skeet,” Karen announced in her usual mild tones.
“How many more did you invite to this ‘little’ party?” I tried not to grind my teeth. “You’re out of control.”
Smiling, Karen strolled over to the wall, plucked a filmy lace shawl from a peg, and threw it over her sundress. “Look in the mirror for the out-of-control person.”
I huffed. “You’re not sticking to our agreement.”
Just before leaving my office at Chouteau University, I received more RSVPs for Sunday evening. I’d ask her to stop inviting people, reminding her she promised just a few. Then, more RSVPs would roll in, leaving me livid, Karen calm and cool.
She stepped to my side, taking my arm with a smile. I looked down at her dark, serene face. Years as a therapist had taught her to keep her countenance under control. I resented the heck out of it. “They’ll be waiting. You really don’t want to see Annette when she’s had to wait for lunch.”
I sputtered in exasperation. Karen laughed, tugging me toward the door. By the time we walked in blistering sun and thick air across the town square to the Herbal Coffee Shop, I was resigned. Sunday night would be a disaster, my house packed with people I didn’t know. The university carillon played its on-the-hour measure of Bach, sounding like a dirge.
“Sometimes,” I muttered.
“Perhaps,” she said. “But not now. Mel was Jake’s best friend. Many of these people were his friends. You’ll do it for Jake.”
I’d do this miserable party. For her late husband’s sake—and Karen’s.
Entering the Herbal’s air-conditioning was a relief. The cooler air filled with scents of mint, lemon balm, and angelica drained the last of my anger. Dolores Ramirez, the owner, and her college-student waitresses bustled back and forth between kitchen and tables, carrying plates of food, herbal iced tea, and fresh lemonade. Enough to calm any temper.
Maybe I was just irritated by Missouri’s late-summer heat. Maybe I’d hide out from the party in the kitchen, playing video games with my fourteen-year-old ward.
“Over here. We already ordered.” Annette Stanek waved us to the corner table she and Miryam Rainbow shared. Annette, a tall, heavy redhead, looked elegant next to Miryam, a blond former model.
Once settled in, I ordered curried chicken salad, and Karen ordered herbed walnut-quinoa salad. Annette and Miryam had already been served the special, Asian peanut slaw.
A scrawny old guy with a red-veined face called, “Karen.” He trudged over from the doorway, calling her again.
Karen muttered, “What’s he doing here?”
“Who?” I asked.
Karen faced me. “Leonard Klamath. I wouldn’t know him, if I hadn’t run into him at a fund-raiser. Amazing the damage alcohol causes.”
The man looked thirty years older than he had four years earlier when Jake died. This man could be that Leonard’s father.
He shuffled to the table. “I want to talk, Karen. Been thinking about this.”
“Leonard, sit down. Can we pull up another chair?” Karen placed her hand on his arm, looking into his worn face with concern.
I stood automatically, pulling an empty chair from the next table. “Here you go.” I pushed it from behind to help him into it. He looked disturbed. I wondered what happened to the man I used to know.
“Skeet? What are you doing here?” He peered into my face, frowning.
“She lives here now. I finally talked her into it.” Karen sounded and looked self-satisfied.
Leonard examined my face as if not sure I was really Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion. “Do you commute?”
“No, I left KCPD. I’m chief of Chouteau University’s police department.” My voice held a little defensive stiffness. I made a good decision for my life, but most folks I knew as a homicide detective and administrator with KCPD saw my move as a step or three downward.
“You still a cop?” Leonard struggled to his feet again.
“Always. You know me.”
He nodded. “What else could you be? Big Charlie Bannion’s daughter.”
I cringed. That’s what I’d fled—always being Big Charlie Bannion’s daughter, living in his shadow, tied to his name and his mistakes. Here in Brewster, no one knew Charlie. I could be myself, unshadowed.
Karen tugged at his sleeve. “Sit back down. You don’t look well. You want to talk to me. What is it?”
He brushed off her hand. “Changed my mind. We can talk Sunday. Can’t we?”
Karen looked puzzled. “Yes, but … If you want privacy, we can go to my shop.”
Leonard shook his head, looking at me rather than Karen. Frightened. He wasn’t when he arrived. Just determined.
“No. Gotta go back. See you Sunday.” He exited faster than he’d entered.
“Why did he change his mind?” Karen mused.
“Looked like he was scared of Skeet.” Annette gave me a long look. “Did you do something to him?”
I threw up my hands. “Not that I know of. We got along fine when he worked with Jake.”
“Of course you did.” Karen shrugged. “I’ll find out Sunday night.”
“Leonard’s coming to this party, too?” I tried to keep bitterness out of my voice.
“Are you two still fussing over that?” Miryam took a big bite of salad.
Annette gave me a disgusted look. “No one would guess you’re best friends. All over a party.”
“We’ve made up,” Karen said. “It’s all good.”
I tried to look like it was all good. “Change the subject.”
“I know.” Miryam bounced with delight. “Annette told me about this new mystery she read with a woman detective who’s a sniper in the army.”
I smiled. “They don’t allow women snipers in any of the services.”
Karen’s laugh was deep. “Maybe she’s a sniper in the Israeli army? Women do everything there.”
“They let women go into danger over there?” Miryam asked.
“We let them here,” Annette said. “Look at Skeet. Women police officers go into danger every day. It can be as dangerous on a city’s streets as any war zone.”
The waitress brought Karen’s lunch and mine to the table. Behind her stood Reverend Matt Lawson, waiting to get to his own table. He smiled, nodded as our eyes met, then moved on as his path opened.
“There’s someone who could tell you about women in the military.” I indicated Reverend Matt with my head. I’d grown up with folks who believed pointing a finger directed power. Rude and dangerous.
“He was a chaplain, wasn’t he?” Miryam watched Reverend Matt join his wife, Helen. “I’ve never figured out why such a handsome man married such a plain woman.”
We all looked at Matt with his thick auburn hair going slightly white at the temples and his clean-cut features with soft, full lips. Next to him sat Helen, ex-nun, graying dishwater-blond hair hanging limp to her shoulders, prominent nose, the rest of her features faded. Yet as she spoke, passion behind her words animated her face, making her look more alive than anyone in the room.
“It’s not all about looks.” Karen frowned. “Helen has lots of charisma.”
“Before he became a minister, Matt was a Ranger in Somalia and Bosnia,” I added.
“Black Hawk Down?” Miryam’s voice rose. “They should have had him in the movie. He’s better-looking than any of the actors. Except Orlando Bloom.”
Karen made a disgusted sound. “When will you learn life’s more than appearance?”
“How’d you hear this?” Annette stiffened. “I’m on the First Methodist council and didn’t know.”
“River running early in the morning. We’re not always out on the same days, but often enough we stop to compare battle stories. He downplays what he did overseas. I Googled him. He was given medals. I don’t think he likes what he did as a Ranger. Modest man.”
“I can see why he wouldn’t want to publicize any killing he had to do as a soldier,” Annette said.
“If it was like the movie, he had to do a lot of killing,” Miryam said in a cheerful voice and took another bite of slaw.
I smiled at Annette. “He’d agree with you that city streets are as dangerous as a war zone.”
“Don’t you miss the excitement of the streets?” Annette lifted her chin, examining me.
“Gran always said, ‘Happy’s lots better than exciting.’ Now that I’m older, I agree.” I took a bite of chicken salad.
“Still, your days here aren’t full of action like when you tracked down murderers in Kansas City,” Annette said wistfully.
“What about when she tracked down that murderer here last spring?” Miryam turned to me with an excited smile. “Maybe we’ll start having them all the time, like the city.”
I shuddered. “I can do without that.”
“Miryam, someone has to die for a murder.” Karen raised an eyebrow. “Maybe it should be you. Think of the excitement as you breathe your last.”
Annette laughed. Miryam stuck out her tongue.
I choked back laughter. “No, thanks.”
“Surely you miss the adrenaline from the streets!” Annette pointed her fork at me.
I shook my head. “That life was as boring as anything here and much more stressful. Even working Homicide, which I do miss, was nothing like your mystery novels.”
Annette stabbed her salad. “What’s the good of having a real police detective as a friend if she’s as boring as I am?”
“She’ll find the killer if someone murders you,” Miryam said with satisfaction.
Karen and I laughed. Annette pinched her mouth in exasperation.
“I promise to track down and imprison your murderer.” I laid my hand over my heart.
Karen shuddered. “Someone’s walking on my grave.”
I sat back as we continued to joke with one another. In Kansas City, I had few women friends. Since I worked mostly with men, my friends wound up being male cops. Here, Karen made me part of this group. My decision to relocate was paying off.
A short time with friends swept away my irritation. Still, the party hung over me like a distant threat.
*   *   *
At day’s end, I headed for my Crown Vic, fitted out with radios for city and campus police systems and a twelve-gauge shotgun. Not exactly a family car. Still, I was picking up my ward, Brian Jameson, from after-school tutoring. Thunder growled in the west. I stopped halfway to the car to see if a storm would finally bring us needed rain, but the air was thick and heavy, no promise of rain in its burned scent. In the distance, I heard a train, Brewster’s daily background music. Lightning flickered way across the Missouri River. I got in the car, throwing my briefcase in back with a frustrated sigh. Another false promise.
When I pulled up at the entrance to Ormond, Brian darted out of the air-conditioned building into the car, slinging book bag and flute case into the back.
“Watch that!” I ducked his backpack. “How was class?”
“We’re getting into real cool stuff. Pentatonic scale used in tribal folk music.” Brian leaned back against the seat. “It doesn’t look like much. So short. Professor Garton says it shows what you do, even with simple materials, makes art—not the materials themselves.”
“Sounds good.” I tried to sound interested.
Garton taught the university’s music students. He tutored Brian because he thought Bri, a gifted flautist and promising composer, could get a scholarship to Juilliard. He told me working with Brian made up for the dull students he had to teach. I’d have been one of those students, but Brian always came from class excited.
He chatted about his day as I drove College Hill Road’s narrow twists. Where it ran into Girlville (name given before the college turned coed), I turned left to the town square with its courthouse surrounded by beds of purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans. In the old days, I wouldn’t have known the flowers. My new life had turned me into a gardener, dog owner, and—well, mother might be too strong a word.
Once parked, we walked past shops as a train rumbled through town. We waved at Bob and Kathy Lynch on their B and B porch and hurried past, trying to get to Pyewacket’s before the wait became too long. I cooked at home more now that Brian lived with me. Simple food, pleasing to a fourteen-year-old. When I didn’t want to hassle with it, we went to Pyewacket’s.
Inside the restaurant, Pal Owens put names on a waiting list, long gray ponytail cascading down his back. Pal always wore tie-dyed T-shirts and bellbottom jeans with Birkenstocks. His wife, Sandi, supervising the kitchen and wait staff, wore the same.
The Owens kept themselves and the décor of Pyewacket’s locked in the sixties. The food, however, was twenty-first-century. Basil-tomato tartlets with lemon balm bread. Broccoli-potato torte with chives. A nice change from my cooking.
“Brian, Skeet, how’s it shaking?” Pal asked.
“How long’s the wait?” I looked at the crowd without much hope.
He ran his eye down the list. “Thirty minutes. Jumping tonight, babe.”
I sighed. “Put us down.”
“Sure thing.” He scribbled my name and greeted the couple behind us.
I stepped back, and Joe Louzon’s daughter Julie waved us to a place next to them. Waving back, Brian headed over.
Eleven-year-old Julie had her golden brown hair skinned back from her round face in a ponytail with several long strands hanging down, escaped from the elastic. Her mother had left her and Joe when Julie was a toddler, but Julie always seemed happy, no hidden shadows. Now, shadows appeared in that little face from her ordeal earlier in the year. Brian’s face and even mine held shadows from the same incident. Karen was helping us all make it through the shadows.
“How’s your day been, Skeet?” Joe said.
I shrugged. “Karen’s inviting crowds to a party at my house that I don’t want to give. The faculty senate wants me to stop building the desperately needed parking structure and give the money to them for European junkets. The half-hour wait to get in here’s just frosting on the cake.”
“We should be called next,” Julie said in an enthusiastic voice. “You can eat with us. I’ll tell Pal.”
She darted away on her errand of mercy, ponytail bobbing at waist level through the crowd. I took a deep breath of air filled with rosemary, garlic, and sizzling meats and began to relax.
“You know Julie,” Joe apologized. “She’d love to eat with you. She never stops to think you might not feel the same.”
Brian laughed. I smiled at Joe. “It’s okay. Company for dinner sounds good, doesn’t it, Bri?”
Brian nodded. “It’ll feel more like a family.”
I stiffened. Wasn’t I giving him a real family experience? I wasn’t much good at family stuff, never had been. But I was trying to do my best for him.
“I always wanted a sister,” Brian went on. “When we’re all together, it feels like a TV family.”
“I feel the same way, Brian.” Joe smiled at him, not looking at me. He wanted a relationship but didn’t pressure. One of many things I appreciated about him.
Julie dodged back through the crowd. “Pal says no prob.” She giggled. “I love his old slang. Groovy. It’s so fun coming here. Like walking into a sitcom.”
I...

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