When good intentions pull her into a toxic murder case, P.I. Savannah Reid’s days as San Carmelita’s most full-figured detective might be running out . . .
Savannah is shaken to the core when coroner Dr. Jennifer Liu appears on her doorstep late one night and admits to fudging an autopsy report to keep her friend Brianne’s suicide a secret—fulfilling a final promise made before the terminally ill woman administered a lethal drug cocktail. But after Dr. Liu finds the same unique mixture in a second body, she fears the deaths share a dark connection . . .
Apprehensive about concealing a felony, Savannah and the Moonlight Magnolia Detective Agency launch a discreet investigation into Brianne’s rare condition and the deadly concoction linking the two bodies. As chilling evidence points to an undeniable case of double murder, Savannah only hopes that, like Dr. Liu, her desire to help a friend won’t put her reputation at risk—or, worse, land her on the next slab . . .
About the Author
G.A. McKevett is the pseudonym of a well-known author, Sonja Massie. She is currently working on the next Savannah Reid mystery. Readers can visit her website at www.sonjamassie.com.
Read an Excerpt
Savannah Reid wasn't sure how she had pictured this wedding anniversary, the sacred celebration that would mark a year of wedded bliss to the love of her life, her soul mate, her blessed helpmate. But this certainly wasn't it.
True, Dirk wasn't the most romantic husband in the world — or even on the block. On their side of the street. Among the white, stucco houses with red tiled roofs. With a magnolia tree in the front yard.
When it came to planning a date night or buying a present, he tended to do the absolute minimum. Just enough to avoid matrimonial strife. Barely.
Their first Christmas gift-giving effort as a married couple had proven disastrous. For some reason, which he couldn't imagine, she had been less than thrilled with her new lawnmower. Pointing out the bonus trash bag- grade cover and the fact that it was a manual, push-reel model and didn't use "all that expensive gas" hadn't sweetened the package. Go figure.
Dirk was overjoyed with his beer-making kit, until he read the directions and realized that it was a bit more complicated than stirring a Kool-Aid packet into a jug of water.
Savannah had wound up making the brew herself — a major nuisance that took eight weeks. When it was finally ready, he sampled it and pronounced it, "Flat and tastes like cat piss."
In the interest of giving and receiving something that they actually wanted, and to avoid arguments about who might or might not have actually tasted feline urine over the course of their lifetime, he and she had decided that, rather than give each other one large thing, they would give each other several little things.
Hopefully, this would improve the odds of getting something one actually wanted, since "It's the thought that counts" didn't seem to account for much in the Reid/Coulter household.
At his insistence, she had shopped for him and herself online. It took a three-day weekend for her to read all the reviews of possible products, consider how many stars it had been given by how many users, and, after figuring in the various shipping costs, calculate the best bargain bangs for their bucks.
Once the research was finished, she had ordered the merchandise with her personal credit card, then collapsed into her comfy chair and consumed most of a box of chocolate truffles with some strong coffee, trying to recoup her normally cheerful spirit — the state of mind that did not include fantasies of strangling husbands.
When the boxes containing her things arrived, she placed them into his outstretched hand.
With a mighty sigh of soul-deep exhaustion, he shoved some cash into her bra and asked, "Am I gonna have to suffer through all this rigamarole again on Valentine's Day? Whatcha say we skip the presents crap and just fool around a little longer than usual?"
So much for domestic tranquility.
Considering their history and his memory lapses concerning romantic milestones, she had drawn an enormous red heart on the calendar on the kitchen wall, marking their anniversary. That way, a guy who could remember the month, day, and time of the next Light Heavyweight championship fight and the winning numbers of last Wednesday's Powerball, would have no excuse. As the day approached and the "Whaddaya want?" question hadn't been asked, she'd gone online, once again, picked out a book, some chocolate, and a stress-reducing meditation download for herself, along with his things.
Then she told him that his shopping was finished, the stuff was on its way, and she gave him the total owed. He'd been so grateful that she could've sworn she'd seen tears in his eyes, as he'd shoved the money down her blouse.
Someday, she would mention that she'd much prefer to have the cash placed in her hand rather than poked into her bra, Barbary Coast hooker- style. But it could wait. She hated to spoil a tender moment between a husband and his wife.
Now, sitting in her favorite chair, her two black cats on the footstool, curled warmly around her feet, she waited for Detective Sergeant Dirk Coulter to come home, so they could begin their anniversary festivities, whatever those might be.
A rooftop stakeout of a suspected drug house had kept him far longer than he had estimated. Having been a police officer herself at one time, Savannah knew all too well that part of carrying a detective's gold shield included the "joy" of never knowing when one's tour would end.
"You knew what you were getting into, Savannah girl," she whispered. They were words usually spoken by her sage grandmother.
The cats at her feet looked up at her, their pale green eyes glowing with anticipation.
When Mom spoke, there was always a chance that some sort of food treat might be forthcoming.
"Gluttons," she told them. "Always thinking about food. You'd eat treats for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if I'd let you."
She recalled one of the packages the UPS man had delivered — a cardboard box with dark chocolate truffles inside. The container that, along with its sister package, was not-very-secretly stashed behind the recliner upstairs in the guest bedroom, otherwise known as Dirk's "man cave." That was where he tossed the parcels containing her gifts, once she handed them to him. There they would stay, gathering dust, until the day arrived, when he would dig them out and proudly present them to her.
She looked at the grandfather clock in the corner. "It's almost eight, and I'm about to pass out from hunger," she told the cats. "If that boy doesn't show up soon, I'm gonna go find that box of chocolates and have them for supper."
At that moment, she heard the jingling of keys and the front door lock turning. One of the kitties, Cleopatra, sprang off the stool and headed for the foyer, tail twitching.
Savannah looked down at Cleo's sister, Diamante, who was watching her sibling's departure, black nose lifted with an air of contempt.
"I know," Savannah told Di. "She's plumb pitiful, a real daddy's girl, a sucker for a deep voice."
"Hey, how's my pretty girl?" came a male voice from the foyer as Cleo greeted her master by the door.
A warm, pleasant sensation trickled through Savannah. Cleo wasn't the only female in the house who was a sucker for a rough, tough guy with a bass tone and a soft spot for kitties.
She rose from her cushy chair, smoothed her blouse, fluffed her hair, and walked to the foot of the stairs and the guest closet, where force of habit predicted that her husband would be hanging his coat and stowing his Smith & Wesson and holster on the back corner of the uppermost shelf.
She found him in front of the closet door, holding and stroking Cleo. Instead of a smile at seeing her, he was wearing a disgruntled frown, not to mention his coat, holster, and weapon.
"Oh, no," she said, her heart, not to mention her hungry tummy, sinking. "You're going back out again?"
He nodded. "I'm sorry, babe. The captain caught me on my way out the door and told me that McMurtry called in sick. I'm supposed to babysit that burned-out shoe store on Lester. The front window's broke."
"What's to babysit? The place is a goner."
"Apparently, the owner's second cousin to the mayor or some such crap. Gotta make sure there's no looting."
"Yeah, there's a big demand for melted sneakers and scorched loafers that reek of smoke."
Savannah thought of the reservations they'd made at their friends' gourmet restaurant. She could practically see that delicious dinner sprout wings and fly south.
Apparently, Dirk was thinking the same thing. A look of abject grief, usually observed in funeral parlors and the weigh-in area of diet clinics, appeared on his face. "I'll bet John's making me that beef Wellington stuff that he's so good at."
Savannah nodded. "There goes my salmon soufflÉ. I'll call Ryan before he gets too far along with the preparations."
"I'm sorry, darlin'," he said, setting Cleo on the floor, then folding his unhappy wife into a bear hug. "My tour's over at midnight. I'll make it up to you when I get home."
"When you get home, my butt." She looked up at him with a twinkle in her eye. "I'm going with you. You can make it up to me in the back seat of that patrol car."
* * *
Okay. That was kinda nice, considering the cramped quarters, Savannah told herself, as she wriggled back into her recently discarded knickers. Very recently. Three minutes before, as a matter of fact.
Married sex, even anniversary sex, didn't last as long as newlywed sex, she had discovered.
Not even close.
Apparently, the back seats of patrol cars, like airliner seats, got smaller and less comfortable with every passing year, strangely enough, in direct proportion to the increasing size of her backside.
It wasn't a mystery Savannah cared to solve.
Her new, lacy, "for the occasion" drawers back in place, she glanced at her watch. All right, she told herself, only three more hours and fifty-seven minutes left until "dinner," whatever that might be.
As though reading her mind, Dirk said, "If all else fails, there's that all- night diner by the highway. They make a good burger, and the fries aren't bad." He grunted with frustration as he fiddled with his Harley-Davidson belt buckle in the dark car interior, parked in a dimly lit alley behind the shoe store he was to guard.
Remembering the greasy, cold burgers and limp fries she had been served in that less-than-stellar establishment on previous occasions, Savannah had a hard time summoning any enthusiasm when she replied, "I'm sure we won't starve. One of your presents to me is a box of truffles."
"Yeah." She decided to change the subject before a gift-giving argument ensued and dimmed the afterglow. "Exactly why did the captain stick you with this wonderful assignment? Since when is a detective given the dubious honor of guarding a burned-out shoe store?"
He coughed and cleared his throat. Reaching through the rolled-down window, he pulled the exterior handle, opening the door. Once outside the vehicle, he offered his hand and helped her exit with a tad more chivalrous decorum than usual.
Anniversary manners? she wondered. Or something a bit more diabolical?
Once they were settled into the front seat, and he had started the car and rolled up the back window without answering her question, she ventured a guess. "Did you do something in particular to get on his bad side?"
"Doesn't take much," was the curt reply.
Okay, that was a "yes," she decided. "What did you do?"
Dirk drove the patrol car out of the alley and around the side of the building to the front of the store, where the large plate glass display window was broken. A string of bright yellow police tape threatened anyone crossing the line with death and dismemberment.
Another cruiser was parked in front of the shop, and when the driver noticed them approaching, he waved and took off, obviously eager to leave his post.
"What did I do?" Dirk asked with one of the worst "fake innocent" tones she'd heard in ages. "Why would you assume I did something?"
Having been a police officer herself, Savannah was all too familiar with the old tactic of "Ask a Question While Trying to Come Up with an Answer." Whatever his offense, it must have been a doozy.
"Come on, spill it," she said, poking him in the ribs with a forefinger.
He grumbled something unintelligible under his breath as he pulled into the vacated spot and parked.
"Did he know it was your anniversary?" she asked.
He turned off the ignition, sighed, and ran his fingers through his hair. "Yeah. He knew. He had the date circled in red on his calendar, so's he wouldn't forget."
Savannah thought of the calendar in their kitchen with its red heart, but decided that, since the captain despised them both, he wasn't likely to have marked their special day just to remind Dirk to buy her a present.
"Are you telling me that he deliberately ruined our anniversary?" she asked.
"Something kinda like that." He gave her a quick, sideways, haunted look. "Okay, something exactly like that."
"Maybe because I ruined his."
"You ruined the captain's anniversary?"
"So he says."
She took a deep breath, but regretted it, as the interior of the vehicle reeked of Dirk's discarded fast-food wrappers on the floorboards. She rolled down the window to get some fresh air and asked, "How the heck did you manage that?"
"It wasn't easy."
"I can only imagine. Do tell." She filled her lungs with the cool night air, expecting it to be scented, in typical Southern California style, with eucalyptus, wild sage, orange and lemon groves. But instead, all she smelled was burnt leather and assorted scorched plastics from the store. Not a nice scent at all. She quickly rolled the window back up, opting for stale tacos and old tuna sandwiches.
Dirk slid down in his seat and rested his forearms on the wheel. In the dim light of the street lamp, he looked tired, and Savannah felt sorry for him. Her husband wasn't above making a dumb mistake or two from time to time, but he had a good heart, and she was sure that whatever malfeasance he might have committed, it was done with good intentions.
"Last month, Cap forgot his own anniversary," Dirk began, "until he went home, kicked off his shoes, and settled down with a beer to watch TV. His wife walked in, dressed up and ready to go out for dinner and ... well, she saw him and got all pissed off."
"Can you imagine such a thing?"
"Yeah, well ... so he snuck away to the bathroom and called me. He told me to leave the station house and go get him a dozen roses."
"Probably not enough to get him out of the doghouse."
"That's what he figured, so he wanted me to go by a jewelry store and pick up a ring for her, too. One she'd had her eye on. Said he'd already called the jeweler and set everything up. Then he told me to text him once I had the stuff, and he'd meet me at the corner on his block."
"Wow. I'm surprised he didn't tell you to pick up his dry cleaning while you were at it."
"I'm sure if he'd thought of it, he would've."
In the middle of their commiseration, a couple of teenage boys strolled by the front of the store, paused, and appeared to be having a conversation about some high-priced, if somewhat smoky, sneakers just inside the broken window. The shoes were well within their reach.
Dirk tooted the horn and, when they turned to look, he waved them along.
"Well, what did you do, pick up the wrong ring?" Savannah asked.
"Worse than that. Way worse."
Reaching across her, he opened the glove box and took out a baggy filled with cinnamon sticks. He removed one, stuck it in his mouth, replaced the rest inside the compartment, and slammed it closed.
"After I got the ring at the jewelry store, I was on my way to his house, but that's when I saw Loco Roco running outta that liquor store there on the corner of Main and Seaview with a pillowcase in his hand."
"Oh, I remember. That's the day you came home covered in Loco's blood."
"Yeah, I chased him down, found a bunch of cash and a ton of those little, travel-size bottles of booze in the pillowcase, and started to cuff him."
"They don't call him Loco for nothin'. He fought me. He lost and bled. A lot. I tossed him into the back seat — "
"— on top of the roses."
"How'd you know?"
"I know you. Go on. And ...?"
"He mashed 'em flat."
"And bled all over them?"
"I had to take him to the station house and book him before I got a chance to tell the captain."
"Who'd been waiting all that time on the corner?"
"So he informed me." He took a deep drag on the cinnamon stick. "After I had Loco all locked down and the report written, I went back out to the car and that's when I saw the mashed flowers and" — he gulped — "the empty ring box."
"You'd left the jewelry on the back seat?"
"With the roses."
"But didn't you search Loco? Didn't Booking search him?"
"Of course, we did. After I figured out he'd taken the ring, Charlie and me did everything but turn him upside down and shake him. Which means ..."
"He had 'secreted' it."
Dirk just nodded. One small, totally disheartened nod that told Savannah far more than she wanted to know.
"Gross," she said.
"Did the captain find out?"
"Charlie told him."
"Did it ever ... um ... show up?"
"Nope. Captain said, even if it did, he wasn't going to give his wife a ring that had spent time —"
Excerpted from "Bitter Brew"
Copyright © 2019 G.A. McKevett.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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