Table of Contents
Also by Elaine Viets
A D E A D - E N D J O B M Y S T E R Y
A SIGNET BOOK
first Dead-End Jo b mystery,
Shop till You Drop
“Elaine Viets has come up with all the ingredients for an irresistible mystery: a heroine with a sense of humor and a gift for snappy dialogue, an atmospheric South Florida backdrop, a cast of entertaining secondary characters, and some really nasty crimes. I’m looking forward to the next installment in her new Dead-End Job series.”
—Jane Heller, national bestselling author
“Elaine Viets’s debut Dead-End Job mystery is a live wire. It’s Janet Evanovich meets
as Helen Hawthorne takes Florida by storm. Shop no further— this is the one.”
—Tim Dorsey, author of
The Stingray Shuffle
“I loved this book. With a stubborn and intelligent heroine, a wonderful South Florida setting, and a cast of more-or-less lethal bimbos,
Shop till You Drop
provides tons of fun. Six-toed cats, expensive clothes, sexy guys on motorcycles—this book has it all.”
—Charlaine Harris, author of
oppy Done to Death
“Fresh, funny, and fiendishly constructed,
Shop till You
gleefully skewers cosmetic surgery, ultraexclusive clothing boutiques, cheating ex-husbands, and the Florida dating game, as attractive newcomer Helen Hawthorne takes on the first of her deliciously awful dead-end jobs and finds herself enmeshed in drugs, embezzlement, and murder. A bright start to an exciting new series. This one is hard to beat.”
—Parnell Hall, author of The Puzzle Lady
crossword puzzle mysteries
ALSO BY ELAINE VIETS
Shop till You Drop
A SIGNET BOOK
Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand,
London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, Cnr Rosedale and Airborne Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.
Copyright © Elaine Viets, 2003 All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
For booksellers everywhere:
Your job is harder than it looks.
Your influence is greater than you’ll ever know.
Page Turners and its staff are purely imaginary. No such bookstore ever existed. But I worked at the Barnes & Noble in Hollywood, Florida, for a year to learn the business. I want to thank manager Pam Marshall and her staff for their help and kindness.
Thanks also to Joanne Sinchuk at south Florida’s largest independent mystery bookstore, Murder on the Beach in Delray Beach, for her book-world expertise. And to bookseller John Spera for his support.
All writers thank their spouse, their agent, and their editor. But I could not write this book without my beloved husband, Don Crinklaw, my pitbull agent, David Hendin, and my enthusiastic editor, Genny Ostertag. Thanks also to the New American Library copy editors and production staff, who were so careful.
So many people helped with this book. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out.
Thanks to my loyal friends Valerie Cannata, Colby Cox, Diane Earhart, Jinny Gender, Karen Grace, Kay Gordy, Debbie Henson, Marilyn Koehr, and Janet Smith for their advice and encouragement.
Ed Seelig at Silver Strings Music told me what a Clapton fan would have in his home.
Mark at Safetyman SCBA and Safety Equipment gave me SCBA information.
Terri Magri advised me about dreads.
Thanks to Bob Brown at Truly Nolen’s Hollywood, Florida, office. Bob drives one of those funny yellow mouse cars. I nearly drove him crazy asking questions. Thanks also to Truly Nolen’s Darryl Graves, fumigator and man of infinite patience, who let me follow him around while he tented a building. Leon A. Johnson, roof man, performs amazing feats of strength on Florida rooftops, and Brandon A. McFarley clamps the sides of tented buildings.
Thanks to Detective RC White, Fort Lauderdale Police Department (retired), who answered countless questions on police interrogations and procedures. Captain Kim Spadaro, commander of the Broward County Main Jail Facility, and Deputy Deanne Paul gave me a tour of the Broward County Jail. Thanks also to author and police officer Robin Burcell, who wrote
Any procedure mistakes are mine, not theirs.
Jerry Sanford, author of
and federal prosecutor for the northern district of Florida, answered many complicated legal questions.
Thanks to public relations expert Jack Klobnak, and to my bookseller friend, Carole Wantz, who could sell iceboxes in the Arctic Circle. Special thanks to Anne Watts and Sarah Watts-Casinger, who are owned by Thumbs the cat.
“Helen, where the hell are you?” The creep used the intercom, so everyone heard.
“I’m in the back, stripping,” she said. Now they all heard her reply.
“I don’t care what you’re doing, get out here,” he said. “Now.”
Helen Hawthorne quit stripping and wished she could start ripping. She wanted to rip out the black heart of Page Turner III with her bare hands.
He knew where she was. He also knew she couldn’t complain when he played his little games. He was Page Turner, literary light and owner of Page Turners, the book chain with his name. Page was a multimillionaire, but not because of the three bookstores. The real family fortune came from mundane moneymakers such as pancake houses and muffler shops.
Page ran the bookstores because he had the same name as the founder. That was all Page had in common with his book-loving grandfather. The current Page Turner couldn’t sell a book to a boatload of bibliophiles.
Helen flung open the stockroom door, expecting to see Page. Instead she collided with Mr. Davies, the store’s oldest inhabitant. Mr. Davies showed up every morning at nine, when the store opened, and stayed until it closed at midnight. He brought two peanut-butter sandwiches, one for lunch and one for dinner, and drank the free ice water in the café. All day long he read books. He bought one paperback a month, when his Social Security check arrived.
Helen liked him. He was as much a fixture as the shelves and chairs.
Mr. Davies was a small gray squirrel of a man, with big yellow teeth and inquisitive brown eyes. Now those eyes were bright with disappointment.
“You’re dressed,” the old man said.
“Of course I’m dressed,” Helen said. “What did you think I was doing in there?”
“Stripping,” he said hopefully.
“I was stripping the covers off paperbacks,” she said.
Mr. Davies was more shocked than if she’d been stark naked. “That’s terrible, a pretty girl like you mutilating books,” he said.
“I agree, sir,” Helen said.
Mr. Davies scurried off to his favorite reading chair, holding his book protectively, as if Helen might strip it, too.
Helen couldn’t tell Mr. Davies why she’d been stripping. She’d been dealing with yet another of Page’s mistakes. He’d bagged Jann Hickory Munn, the hot fiction writer, to sign at Page Turners on his national tour. But Page did no advertising, so six people had come to Munn’s signing. Page was stuck with cases of books.
The unsold hardcovers were sent back. But most publishers didn’t want paperbacks returned. The shipping would cost more than the books. Instead their covers were stripped and counted like scalps. The author paid for Page’s miscalculation in lost royalties. Someone else always paid for Page’s mistakes.
Page stood in the middle of the store, arms folded across his chest. He looked more like a boxer than a bookstore owner. A boxer gone to seed. Too many nights spent drinking with best-selling authors had transformed Page’s barrel chest into a beer belly. His chiseled chin was buried in fat. His Roman nose was red and veined. But he still had wavy blond hair, and at six feet, he was a commanding figure.
“I need you to ring,” Page said to Helen like a lord granting a boon to a peasant. The book buyers didn’t know Page could not work his own cash registers. They were too complicated for him. Page retired to his quiet, comfortable office lined with his grandfather’s priceless first editions.
Helen faced the horde of impatient customers. Another bookseller, Brad, was already ringing, but the line of customers was almost out the door.
“Next, please,” Helen called as she opened her register.
The man who stepped forward was talking on his cell phone. He could have been a young Elvis with his thick black hair, heavy-lidded eyes, and sexy sneer. His black silk shirt showed a hint of tanned chest and no gold chains. Tight jeans. Narrow hips. Strong hands. Helen checked for a wedding ring. Nothing. How had this one stayed on the shelf?
The Hunk snapped his cell phone shut, another point in his favor. Some customers talked on the phone while Helen rang them up.
He threw two paperbacks on the counter. One had a cracked spine and curled cover. The other was crisp and new. “I’m exchanging this,” he said, pointing to the sad specimen, “for this.” Sexy voice, too. Soft, caressing, polite. He was a sweet talker, all right.
The Hunk plunked down the new Burt Plank thriller, and smiled like a man who always got his way. He would this time. Most stores would not take that battered book back, but Page Turners had a liberal return policy. The Hunk started to take the new Plank thriller and walk away. Helen grabbed it.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “I need to ring this up as an exchange and get a manager’s approval.”
“Why? They’re both the same price.”
Because Page Turner’s pet computer nerd developed an overcomplicated system, Helen thought.
“Because we have a computerized inventory system,” Helen said.
“This is ridiculous,” the Hunk said, and suddenly his caress had claws.
He was right. It was ridiculous. Page Turners required more signatures for a simple book return than a bank loan.
“I can’t believe this,” he said. “What’s taking you so long, lady?” He slapped his hand on the counter. Helen jumped. Her fingers slipped on the computer keys.