Gone in a Flash

Table of Contents

Cover

A Selection of Recent Titles by Susan Rogers Cooper

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

A Selection of Recent Titles by Susan Rogers Cooper
The E J Pugh Mysteries

ONE, TWO, WHAT DID DADDY DO?

HICKORY DICKORY STALK

HOME AGAIN, HOME AGAIN

THERE WAS A LITTLE GIRL

A CROOKED LITTLE HOUSE

NOT IN MY BACK YARD

DON’T DRINK THE WATER

ROMANCED TO DEATH *

FULL CIRCLE *

DEAD WEIGHT *

GONE IN A FLASH *

The Milt Kovak Series

THE MAN IN THE GREEN CHEVY

HOUSTON IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR

OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES

CHASING AWAY THE DEVIL

DEAD MOON ON THE RISE

DOCTORS AND LAWYERS AND SUCH

LYING WONDERS

VEGAS NERVE

SHOTGUN WEDDING *

RUDE AWAKENING *

HUSBAND AND WIVES *

DARK WATERS *

*
available from Severn House

GONE IN A FLASH
Susan Rogers Cooper

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

 
 

First published in Great Britain and the USA 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.

eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited

Copyright © 2013 by Susan Rogers Cooper

The right of Susan Rogers Cooper to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Cooper, Susan Rogers

Gone in a flash. – (An E.J. Pugh mystery; 11)

1. Pugh, E. J. (Fictitious character)–Fiction.

2. Women novelists–Fiction.

3. Women private investigators– United States–Fiction.

4. Detective and mystery stories.

I. Title II. Series

813.6-dc23

ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8292-9 (cased)

ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-446-1 (epub)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This eBook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.

ONE
SATURDAY

W
e were the lead car in a caravan heading for Austin. I should say lead truck. Willis and I were in his huge, four-ton pickup with the ridiculously fat tires that even I, at five feet and eleven inches, had to use the sissy bar and the running board to get into. Before he bought the new love of his life, back when he was a thinking man, we used to laugh at trucks like this, what a friend had dubbed ‘Texas Clown Trucks.’ And to add insult to injury, this one was painted mustard yellow (or, alternately, depending on to whom I was speaking, baby-poop yellow). We were in this monstrosity because we needed the cargo space for all of our son’s stuff. In the next car in the caravan, a 1993 Toyota Celica, was our son Graham with his more personal stuff and, in the last car of the caravan, a Volkswagen so old even my VW snob husband approved, was Leon, Graham’s best friend since the second grade, and his personal stuff. Our cargo area also carried some of Leon’s bigger items.

Where were we going with all this stuff ? To Dobie Hall on Guadalupe Street in Austin, right on the edge of the University of Texas campus. U.T. has no dormitories on campus – they’re all off. Dobie was very close, within walking distance to most of the buildings where undergraduate classes would be, and was the dorm I lived in when I went to U.T. The bottom floor, street level, was filled with fast-food places and the basement held a theater. Fortunately they played mostly art films, so my ‘if the lead doesn’t have superpowers then it really isn’t a movie’ son probably wouldn’t spend a lot of time there. I tried not to dwell on the fact that he was going to be in the same dorm where I drank my first whiskey, smoked my first weed, and lost my virginity – at least the latter part was down to my son’s father, who deflowered me shortly after we met. These are not the kinds of things a mother wants to think about.

It took an hour and a half to drive there, and then we had to eat at Threadgills, the original, on North Lamar, where Janis Joplin was known to show up unannounced and do a duet or two or three with Mr Kenneth Threadgill himself. Their second location, in the southern part of the city, was practically a museum for the old Armadillo World Headquarters, the first of the premier music venues in a city self-proclaimed as the ‘live music capital of the world.’ Unfortunately the Armadillo had been torn down in 1980, several years before I made it there for my freshman year. And Janis’s days at Threadgills had been even longer ago than that.

If I actually
lived
in Austin, Threadgills could be my downfall. Even though I’d been able to keep off the thirty-five pounds I’d lost last winter, I couldn’t help but order the chicken fried steak and cream gravy (the best in Texas and Texas has the best in the world), the San Antonio squash, and the broccoli rice casserole. And all this with plenty of melt-in-your-mouth yeast rolls and cornbread.

Even though we knew the boys were eager to get started on their new lives, Willis and I lingered over coffee and a shared dessert – buttermilk pie. We hadn’t discussed it, but both of us needed to slow this whole thing down, keep our baby boy with us a little bit longer. An extra minute or two. Because this would be it. He’d come home for a weekend here or there, and holidays, but after four years and his degree, he’d probably stay in Austin – so many graduates of U.T. did. There would be more work for him there and, let’s face it, Austin was an exciting city, a hell of a lot more fun for a young adult than Black Cat Ridge. We’d had the pleasure of his company for eighteen years, and now it was time for the world to get to know Graham Pugh, and for Graham Pugh to get to know the world.

I was able to keep the tears contained as we unloaded the two new roommates, found their room – a carbon copy of the one I’d had back in the eighties – and got them semi-unpacked. And then Willis and I just stood around for a while.

And the boys stood there and watched us standing there.

And we watched them watching us standing there.

And so on.

‘Well,’ Willis said.

‘Yeah,’ Graham said.

‘See ya!’ Leon said.

‘I guess we should be going,’ I said.

‘Ya think?’ Leon said, and I wanted to take him over my knee and beat the crap out of him. Of course, I’ve wanted to do that for eleven years and have yet to succumb to the internal pressure.

‘Leon, shut up!’ Graham said. To us he said, ‘Come on, I’ll walk y’all down.’

And so he did. Except we took the elevator. The stairs would have taken longer. We should have taken the stairs.

And we stood by the shotgun side of the truck, all three of us, until a very pretty girl walked by and both Graham and his father turned their heads to watch her pass.

‘OK,’ I said, hitting Willis on the arm. ‘Go meet her,’ I said to my son. ‘We’re out of here.’

I hugged Graham to me, still surprised at how I had to reach up to get my arms around his shoulders. And I kissed him on the cheek. OK, maybe more than once.

‘Call!’ I said, my voice breaking and the tears starting to flow.

I jumped in the passenger seat and tore my eyes away from my husband and my son embracing. Then Willis was in the driver’s seat and I looked out of the window to see my son’s retreating back.

I looked at Willis. Tears were brimming in his eyes. ‘Shit,’ he said. ‘I wish I had a cigarette.’ This from a man who had quit smoking right about the time he graduated from this same university.

SUNDAY

The next morning, we packed our overnight bags and headed downstairs to breakfast. We’d made plans and reservations to stay overnight at the Driscoll Hotel, a beautiful old hotel downtown with lots of history. The night before we got to our room, we went downstairs to the dining room and discovered we were both too bummed to eat. Turned out later we were too bummed for sex, too.

Willis sat on the edge of the bed, elbows on knees, and said, ‘We should have just driven straight home and saved the money.’

‘Yeah,’ I said, too bummed to even argue the point.

By morning, his appetite had improved considerably, as revealed by his purchase and consumption of half the menu items, but my stomach was still processing the pain of losing my son – and maybe the over-indulgence of the whole Threadgills experience. I had coffee and fruit; he had enough food to feed a high-school football team.

He ran away from them as fast as he could, but he’d had that knee operation last year and he wasn’t as fast as he used to be. Rounding the corner in the parking garage, he saw one of those great big trucks with the even bigger tires, this one painted mustard yellow. It had one of those silver boxes attached to the bed, right at the back by the cab. He knew from having seen his brother-in-law’s truck that there was a space underneath that. He threw the satchel in the bed of the truck, shoving it under the big silver box.

Two men, one big and beefy, the other smaller and more agile, but both light in the intelligence department and heavy in the following orders department, rounded the corner just as the first man shoved the satchel under the box. Seeing them, he turned and headed away, up, up, and up the winding ramp of the parking garage.

The two men communicated silently, the smaller one following the first man up the ramp, the other heading for the pickup, just as a couple came out of the elevator two cars away from the pickup.

‘You can’t be hungry, we just ate,’ the man said.

‘You ate! I just had coffee,’ the woman said.

‘And fruit,’ the man said.

‘Well, it wasn’t filling,’ she said.

‘I’m not stopping between here and home, and that’s final.’

‘Says you.’

‘Yeah, says me,’ he said, throwing the bags he was carrying into the cargo area of the pickup. He clicked the remote and the two got into the cab of the mustard-yellow truck, still arguing.

The man who had been heading for the pickup hid between two cars. Taking a felt-tip pen out of his shirt pocket, he wrote the license plate of the truck on the palm of his hand.

Then, when the pickup had gone around the corner, he came out of hiding and ran up the ramp after his partner and their quarry.

We’d just left the parking garage adjacent to the hotel, hauling our bags ourselves since my cheap-ass husband hadn’t wanted to pay valet parking the night before. We headed east, back home to Black Cat Ridge, where our three daughters were being watched over from next door by our neighbor Elena Luna, the cop. All three were a little in awe of her, which I hoped meant they’d behaved themselves.

What had been an hour-and-a-half trip yesterday took about an hour today. Speed limits? Willis Pugh didn’t need no stinking speed limits! Not now that his son was gone. We reached the house and I got out, letting my husband deal with the bags. Sometimes I play the southern belle card. Not often, but when it’s needed, like not hauling crap, I know it’s available to me. And as I walked in the back door into the family room, thoughts of my son zoomed out of my mind.

‘I didn’t say you could wear it!’ Megan yelled at Alicia.

‘You didn’t say I couldn’t!’ Alicia yelled back. I smiled. Alicia’s our foster daughter and I was happy she was finally getting enough spunk to yell at Megan, who usually needed to be yelled at.

‘You’re supposed to ask!’ Megan yelled.

‘And you’re supposed to pick it up off the living-room floor! Anything I find in a communal room I shall deem wearable!’

Good one! I thought. ‘Hey, girls!’ I said.

‘Hey, Mom,’ came a new voice from the sofa. Bess, our adopted daughter, was lying there reading a book.

‘How can you read through all this?’ I asked.

She pulled earphones from her ears and said, ‘Huh?’

‘Mother! Alicia’s wearing my sweater and she didn’t even ask to borrow it!’ Megan wailed.

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