Authors: G.A. McKevett
Sugar and Spite
Peaches and Screams
Death By Chocolate
Murder à la Mode
Fat Free and Fatal
A Body to Die For
A Decadent Way to Die
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
WAY TO DIE
A SAVANNAH REID MYSTERY
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Copyright © 2011 by G.A. McKevett and Kensington Publishing Corporation
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Library of Congress Card Catalogue Number: 2010938481
First Hardcover Printing: February 2011
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Lovingly dedicated to Bruce,
who promised he would try his best to be
a good husband to me …
and has succeeded beyond my sweetest dreams.
I want to thank all the fans who write to me, sharing their thoughts and offering endless encouragement. Your stories touch my heart, and I enjoy your letters more than you know. I can be reached at:
and sakes, boy, my tailbone’s done taken root to this floor,” Savannah Reid said as she shifted from one side of her aching rear to the other. “Who’d have thought there wouldn’t be a solitary decent chair in this joint?”
Beside her sat Dirk Coulter, an only slightly apologetic look on his face. “If there was one, you know I’d let you have it,” he said.
“Yeah, sure. That’s right up there with, ‘If I win the lottery, I’ll give you half.’ Giving away something you ain’t got is easy as falling off a wet log.”
“Whatever happened to, ‘It’s the thought that counts’?”
“The thought counted two hours ago, when we still had snacks to eat and my butt didn’t feel like a shark was gnawing on it.”
With a sigh born of bone-deep weariness or moderate annoy-ance—with Dirk it was hard to tell the difference—he stood and walked to the other side of the small, dark pharmacy.
After bumping into a number of displays and rummaging around a bit, he plucked some items off a shelf.
When he returned, he dumped a rich assortment of candy bars into her lap. “There ya go … snacks. Compliments of the house.”
He peeled off his old leather bomber jacket, folded it twice, and slid the impromptu “cushion” between her back and the wall. “Lean on it or sit on it, whichever gives you the most relief.”
“Aww, that’s so sweet.”
“Just keep your bellyaching to a minimum—”
“And you were doing so well …”
“Shh,” he said. “I don’t want those numbskulls out there to hear us arguing in here and pass on the break-in.”
Savannah scowled up at him. “Maybe you should choose your words a mite more carefully. ‘Bellyaching’ is up there with ‘nagging’ and ‘female moodiness.’ They could get a guy smacked upside the head.”
Savannah handed him one of the candy bars and unwrapped another for herself. “And speaking of burglars … excuse me for stating the obvious, but didn’t you just steal these goodies off the shelf?”
Dirk shrugged as he bit into the bar. “I told the owner this moonlighting gig would cost him a couple hundred plus expenses. The candy’s a necessary expense.”
“And you get paid whether we catch the bad guys or not?”
“Yeah. Sweet, huh? Plus an expense account. Makes me feel like a private investigator, like you.”
“Only you’ve got a badge.”
Savannah tried not to sound bitter when she said those words. Most days she could convince herself that she was perfectly happy not to be a member of the San Carmelita Police Department anymore.
And some days she believed it.
She believed it on rainy days. Rainy days in July. Rainy days in July when the moon was in conjunction with the sun, Venus, and Jupiter … and she was struck by lightning twice before she got out of bed.
The rest of the time she experienced a small, nagging sadness that she was no longer a cop and Dirk’s honest-to-goodness partner in crime detection and bad-guy nabbing.
Though tonight was almost as good, staking out a small, privately owned pharmacy that had been burglarized three times in the past month.
When the harried proprietor had informed the police that he intended to keep watch, night after night, with a shotgun in hand and dispatch the repeat thieves to the Promised Land, Dirk had volunteered his services … and Savannah’s.
Dirk frequently volunteered her services. And, usually, she enjoyed it. When else did one get to play cops and robbers, eat pilfered candy, and manipulate a close friend into being deeply beholding all in the course of one evening?
“So, how much of that couple of hundred were you figuring to throw my way?” she asked, licking the chocolate off her thumb and forefinger.
His mood seemed to drop a few notches in spite of the recent sugar infusion. “Oh, I don’t know. How much were you thinkin’?”
“A good backrub, and I’d probably call it even.”
He brightened instantly. “Sure. I’d be glad to give you a back-rub.”
, sweet cheeks. A
massage. One you actually pay money for.”
She gave him a sideways glance and saw the slightly protruding lower lip. It looked ridiculous on a forty-plus, ruggedly hand-some—with the emphasis on rugged—grown man. A cop who, for more than twenty years, had rubbed elbows with society’s worst. Occasionally, fists and elbows, too.
Dirk didn’t complain much when having to chase, tackle, and cuff the unbathed, undeodorized, alcohol-marinated, chemically altered, and ethically deficient. But ask him to part with a dollar and his mood plummeted.
And Savannah found the whole process quite entertaining.
“What’s the matter?” she said, giving him a playful dig in the ribs with her elbow. “Don’t you think I’m worth it?”
“Yeah, I guess. But those massages are expensive.”
“Eh. About half of what you’re getting for this gig should cover it, plus a pedicure and maybe—”
“Don’t you shush me, boy. I—”
“Shh! I hear something.”
Then she heard it, too … the distinctive jiggling of a doorknob at the rear of the store.
She chuckled as a shot of adrenaline hit her bloodstream. “They think they’re actually gonna come through the door like regular customers?” she whispered.
“Why break a window and climb through if you don’t have to?” he replied as he stood and offered her a hand up.
“True.” She rose and shook the stiffness out of her legs. “If you’re gonna go to all that work, actually breaking in, a body might as well get a real job.”
The doorknob rattling had stopped, and they could hear the scuffling of footsteps in gravel beside the building as the burglars made their way around to a window.
“That’s how they got in last time, right?” Savannah said, her lips close to his ear.
“Yeah. And, more importantly, how they got out.”
“Then, let’s get over there.”
They hurried to the other side of the store, being careful not to bump into any of the shelves or displays in the semidarkness.
For some reason, Savannah thought of the old pharmacy in the tiny, rural, Georgia town where she had been raised … so far, in so many ways, from San Carmelita, the posh seaside resort in Southern California.
As a child, Savannah had often imagined how fun it would be to spend the night locked in that store, which was a combination drugstore and five-and-dime. Having the place to herself—the ice cream counter, the comic book stand, the candy shelves, not to mention the paper dolls and coloring books—would have been pure heaven to a poor kid without a cent to spend on such luxuries.
But as she took a position on the right side of the window and squatted behind a stack of boxed baby diapers, she had to admit: This was far more fun than any childhood fantasy.
Listening to the youthful male voices muttering to each other outside the window, she felt a teeny bit sorry for them … for anyone who was so poverty-stricken, or drug-addicted, or lacking in moral upbringing that they resorted to stealing as a way of life.
But she felt a lot sorrier for the guy who owned the place, whose insurance rates had skyrocketed because his store and the other businesses in the area were being continually burglarized.
Looking over at Dirk, who was crouching behind a display of paper towels and toilet paper rolls, she could see the same light of excitement that she felt, shining in his eyes. Though neither of them would admit it, they were hardcore thrill junkies.
They lived for these moments.
He reached for his sidearm, a Smith & Wesson revolver, pulled it, and pointed the barrel toward the ceiling.
She pulled her 9mm Beretta from her shoulder holster and did the same.
“Get a rock,” she heard one of the guys outside the window say.
“Here. This’ll do,” replied another.
She steeled herself for what was coming next. She turned her face away from the window, as did Dirk.
It didn’t take long.
A moment later, something heavy crashed through the window, spraying glass for ten feet inside the store.
Some landed in her hair. She shook it out.
“Reach through there and unlock it,” one of the burglars said.
“Window’s nailed closed. Don’t you remember last time?” replied his buddy.
“Oh, yeah. Give me a boost. I’ll climb through.”
Savannah heard a guy grunting as he lifted his companion.
, she thought,
so there’s a little bit of honest labor in thievery
A sneaker and a denim-covered leg poked through the broken window, followed by a butt, a torso, and then a head.
In the dim light, she could see the long, stringy, brown hair and the scraggly goatee. His black tank top revealed a large, distinctive tattoo of a vampire demon on his shoulder.
She knew him! It was Josh Murphy.
She and Dirk had busted Josh years ago, when she had still been on the job. He and his brother, Jesse, had robbed some high school kids on the beach on prom night. And Jesse had even gotten fresh with one of the girls, named Rosa Ortiz, adding sexual assault to his charges.
A few months ago, Savannah had run into Rosa in a grocery store. She’d told Savannah she still had nightmares about her prom night.
Suddenly, this assignment was a lot sweeter.
Sure enough … no sooner had Josh climbed through than Jesse followed. But as he was straddling the window pane with its jagged bits of remaining glass, he yelped with pain.
“Damn!” he said, grabbing his groin with his gloved hand. “I cut myself.”
“Yeah, whatever,” his brother replied. “Shoulda been more careful.”
“Thanks for the sympathy, you no-good sonofabitch.”
Savannah wondered if it occurred to Jesse that he had just insulted his own mother. Or if he would care.
, she decided. Her past, brief associations with Jesse Murphy hadn’t left her with an abiding faith in his intelligence or his respect for motherhood.
Remembering how Momma had jumped to her feet during her boys’ trial and screamed obscenities at their victims, Savannah decided maybe Jesse was right about his brother’s heritage.
“I’m not kidding,” Jesse said, hopping around, clutching his crotch. “I’m seriously bleeding here.”
Savannah cringed as Josh reached for one of the packages of toilet paper right by Dirk’s head. She saw Dirk duck as Josh’s hand nearly swiped him.
“Here,” Josh said, pitching the pack at Jesse. “Do what you gotta do, and let’s get on with this. We told Butch we’d have the oxycottons and percs to him tonight. You know how he gets when we stand him up.”
Jesse ripped off his workman’s gloves and tore open the package. He pulled out a roll of the toilet paper and jammed it against his wound. “Owww! Next time we’re goin’ in the door, or we ain’t goin’ in at all,” he said. “I’m getting too old for this climbing-through-the-window crap.”
But his brother was already in the back of the store.
Josh vaulted over the pharmacy counter, took a flashlight from his jeans pocket, and trailed the beam up and down the shelves.
When he found what he wanted, he grabbed a couple of plastic bags from beneath the cash register and began filling them with bottles and boxes. “You gonna help me out here,” he said, “or you gonna dance around, playin’ with Big Jim and the twins?”
Jesse tossed away one roll of blood-soaked toilet paper, got out a fresh one, and pressed it to his privates. “Screw you and hurry up,” he said. “When we get outta here, you gotta take me to the hospital. I mighta cut something off.”
“Nothin’ you’d ever need.”
“It could be hangin’ by a thread.”
“Story of your life, dude.” Josh crawled back over the counter, holding the bags filled with pharmaceutical booty.
“Let’s get outta here, man. I gotta go get sewed up,” Jesse said as he followed his brother back to the broken window, shuffling along with the roll of toilet paper clasped tightly between his thighs.
Savannah could hear her pulse pounding in her ears as they drew closer. Her hand tightened around the grip of the pistol.
“We ain’t goin’ to no hospital,” Josh said. “They report stuff like that to the cops, you moron.”
the idiot. That’s
they report. Not cuts on your nuts.”
“How’re you gonna explain that? It’s obvious you did it climbin’ through a broke window.”