It’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit when the Santa Ana winds are blowing at a balmy ninety degrees. It’s also hard to live in a “Baywatch” world when you’re an overly voluptuous size 14. But Savannah Reid has never been one to believe that good things come only in small packages. Right now, the only present Savannah wants wrapped up is the one of a serial rapist who dresses as Santa. Thanks to a twisted brand of holiday visits, Savannah has a full-time job teaching self-defense to San Carmelita’s terrified women.
But the feisty detective is less than thrilled when Captain Bloss, her ex-boss from the San Carmelita PD, asks Savannah to be his daughter’s personal bodyguard. It seems the rapist has turned vicious cop killer, making the captain and his daughter prime targets. With enough chaos swirling around to make Tiny Tim grouchy, Savannah looks over her list of suspects to figure out just who’s been naughty. From the ex-con cop killer just released on parole to the bookie with more than a few debts to collect, Savannah considers them all, plus a few others, while she tries to keep danger from dropping down her chimney, and bringing a killer home for the holidays…
“An engrossing mystery that hits all the right notes.”
—Mystery Lovers Bookshop News
“Savannah Reid has a wicked humor, an intrusive appetite, and quintessential Southern sensibilities.”—Library Journal
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4:38 p.m. — December 10
"This is just too cool! I can't believe I'm getting paid to shop!"
Savannah Reid stood inside the cramped cubicle, generously called a fitting room, and watched while her friend and fellow private detective, Tammy Hart, wriggled into a size zero pair of jeans. Being overly voluptuous — at least, according to the latest fashion trends — it was all Savannah could do not to urp the double chili-cheeseburger and triple thick chocolate malt she had consumed for lunch.
Jealousy was an ugly emotion.
"You aren't getting paid to shop. You don't get to keep any of the goodies," she grumbled as Tammy admired her own teeny-tiny butt in the mirror. "You're getting paid to catch a rapist ... which we aren't likely to do in the ladies' dressing room, since his M.O. is to nab his victims in the parking lot."
Tammy's enthusiasm for life was only briefly dampened. Bottom lip protruding, she slid out of the jeans and dumped them on the floor. Savannah tried not to notice that the younger, slimmer, disgustingly cellulite-free woman was "not quite" dressed in a purple paisley G-string.
"Have you ever tried wearing a thong?" Tammy asked brightly, pulling on a pair of leggings.
Savannah scowled and shook her head. "Nope. Can't say that I have."
In the mirror Savannah saw two women who couldn't have been more different: an abundantly dimensioned brunette and a blonde with sadly diminishing assets. That was the way Savannah chose to classify them. Savannah was determined to embrace and adore her flesh — all of it — out of sheer rebellion toward an anorexic society that tried to make her feel less than gorgeous because she was a few pounds over what their charts said she should weigh.
Okay, more than a few.
That was her motto, and she lived by it.
"Oh, Savannah, you should try wearing thongs. They're wo-oonderfully comfortable."
"Thanks for the tip, but the idea of butt floss doesn't appeal to me." Savannah picked up the jeans and began to fold them while Tammy slipped into her blouse.
"No, really," Tammy continued, undaunted by Savannah's lack of enthusiasm for the subject. "They make your rear look so cute and —"
"They make your rear look cute, Tam. Buttocks the size of mine should not be allowed to flap freely in the breeze. It constitutes a public hazard."
She shoved the jeans and Tammy's purse at her. "Are we about ready to go, or what?"
"Sure. Let's boogie out to the parking lot."
Tammy "boogied" everywhere. And she never — well, almost never — took offense. Long ago, Savannah had decided those were Tammy's two most endearing qualities. And her most infuriating ones. Sometimes Savannah genuinely wanted to offend this perky, effervescent assistant of hers. But no matter how dark the insult, Tammy Hart continued to shine. With her golden California tan, glossy blond hair, and Miss U.S.A. personality, the girl was the quintessential sunbeam that sometimes required UV protectant shades.
Rarely, but once in a while, Savannah hated "perky." Especially when she was dead tired, like today. This gig was "wearing her to a frazzle" as her Georgian grandma would say.
"Did you buy enough loot to look like a serious shopper when you're walking through the parking lot?" Savannah asked.
"Yeah, if I get these jeans, too. They fit really great, don't you think?"
Savannah searched Tammy's face for some sign that she was operating in reality mode. No indication was immediately visible.
"Tammy, it doesn't matter if the jeans fit or not. As soon as we catch this guy, the job's over, and we have to return all this stuff to the mall. That's why I told you to be sure and save all your receipts. We're undercover here, trying to catch a rapist. It's fake shopping. Got it?"
Tammy sighed and pulled back the cubicle's curtain. "Of course, I understand, Savannah. Do you think I'm a bimbo, or what?"
Following her out of the dressing room, Savannah chose her words carefully. "No. I don't think you're a bimbo. But I think that maybe you think you are, because sometimes you ... well ... you sorta act like one."
Tammy stopped abruptly and Savannah nearly crashed into the back of her. "What kind of psycho-babble is that?"
"See. That's what I mean. A real bimbo wouldn't use the term psychobabble."
"Gee, thanks. I guess."
At the door they were stopped by the fitting room attendant, a bleary-eyed, middle-aged woman who appeared to be suffering from Holiday Overtime Meltdown Syndrome.
"Here you go." Tammy shoved three shirts and a dress in the attendant's direction along with the red, plastic tag bearing the number 5. "I'm keeping the jeans."
The woman took the unwanted garments from Tammy and tossed them onto a heap behind her counter. "Merry Christmas," she muttered in the same tone of voice usually reserved for bidding someone a speedy bon voyage to Hades.
Savannah was about to return the blessing, when a male voice began to speak — from the vicinity of Tammy's chest.
"What are you gals doing in there?" The words were gruff and static-fried. "You two are buying out the whole damned store while I'm roasting my chestnuts out here in the parking lot."
"Oh, my God! What was that?" The attendant's eyes bugged as though she had just witnessed irrefutable evidence of demon possession. Several plastic tags that she had been holding fluttered to the floor. "Did your ... your bra just say something?"
"Naw," Savannah told her in a lazy, Dixie drawl, "it's just her right boob. Sometimes it has political arguments with the other one about being too far left."
Tammy snickered, but the attendant gave Savannah the same animated look of a stale fish market trout.
"Cute," Tammy whispered to Savannah as they walked away from the woman without further explanation. "But I don't think she got your joke."
"Nope. Sailed over her head like an origami airplane. But she did have a point. Why are we hearing Dirk? He's only supposed to come through on the earpiece."
Ducking behind a rack of coats, Tammy pulled back her shirt lapel and exposed the tiny communication unit taped to her breast. "Dirk's police department reject equipment is fritzing out again. Big surprise there."
"It's not my equipment's fault," said the voice that sounded like it was broadcasting from a pan of sizzling bacon. "It's the ding-a-ling that's using it. You probably pulled the earpiece out when you were trying on all those clothes." Tammy traced the thin wire from the plug in her ear, beneath her hair and to the disconnected jack in her bra.
"He's right," she said. Dropping her voice to a stage whisper, she added, "Did he hear what I said about thongs?"
"Yeah, but he's half deaf," Savannah replied. "He probably thought you said songs."
"I don't care what songs you're singing in there," Dirk returned. "Get out here so you can get almost mugged, raped, abducted, or whatever. I ain't got all day, you know."
Tammy reached down and put her hand over the microphone. "I know he's your best friend, but that guy really gets on my nerves sometimes."
Savannah chuckled and guided Tammy toward the checkout stand. "He gets on everybody's nerves sometimes. Let's buy those jeans and get outta here. He sounds like he's about at the end of his three-inch patience tether. Besides, we've got a rapist who's not exactly spreading holiday cheer. And nabbing his mangy butt would really make my day."
Savannah and Tammy parted ways at the south end of the mall, near Burger Bonanza, with Savannah heading for the back parking lot, while Tammy and her carefully chosen purchases took the front.
They had been "mock shopping" all day, but now that the sun had set, Savannah insisted on patrolling the back where fewer shoppers, thick shrubbery and reduced lighting increased the likelihood of an attempted nabbing by the rapist. Tammy had made only a feeble objection. This gig was her first true decoy assignment and she, as well as Savannah, knew her limitations.
The moment Savannah opened the back door and stepped into the late afternoon winter darkness outside, she thought for half a second it was snowing. Then she caught a whiff of smoke and knew the flakes falling from the California December sky were ashes, the result of an out-of-control brush fire on the hill. From where she stood she could see, several miles away, the eerie, blood-red line of glowing flames that lit the dark horizon on the east side of town. Like some sort of grotesque, luminous serpent, it wriggled its path up the black hill, consuming a decade's growth of sage, marguerites, and miscellaneous scrub brush.
"It's a little hard to get into the Christmas spirit," she muttered to herself, "when it's eighty degrees and the hills are aflame."
She licked her forefinger and stuck it in the air. The breeze was coming from the ocean, an on-shore flow. That was a good thing, especially for the San Carmelita citizens who lived in the fancy houses with the best views in town — the ones at the top of the semi-charred hill. As long as the wind continued to blow east, they might sleep through the night without that knock at the front door, a fire department representative announcing an unscheduled, emergency evacuation.
Ah, the joys of being an upper-middle-class Californian, Savannah thought, congratulating herself on having the good fortune to be a lower-middle-class private detective. She lived smack in the middle of town, far away from the ocean view lots, with their fire hazards, or the seaside properties, with their potential for high-tide flooding.
Yep. Savannah was damned lucky to be poor. She wouldn't have it any other way.
Switching into her professional "Come-And-Get-Me-You-Ugly-Sucker" mode, she tucked her few packages under her arm and sauntered toward her car, which was parked in the far rear of the lot. She tried to look harried, absentminded, dog-tired and as wimpy as possible. A rapist's idea of the perfect date.
In her peripheral vision she watched an elderly lady climbing into her Cadillac parked in the handicapped space, the young couple pushing a baby stroller with a screeching child inside, and her most likely suspect, a scruffy guy wearing a T-shirt upon which had been scrawled in black marker the warm sentiment, "Shoot 'em all and let God sort 'em out!" The guy had his head stuck under the opened hood of an equally scruffy, long-past-its-prime Dodge Dart. As Savannah walked by on the way to her 1965 Mustang, he eyed her so lasciviously that she half expected him to start drooling down the front of his offensive shirt.
"White trash," she muttered as she passed him, echoing her Granny Reid's sentiments about men who couldn't keep their eyes in their sockets when a pair of boobs bounced by.
"What did you say?" Dirk asked in her earpiece.
"Nothing," she whispered. "Just talking to myself. Where are you?"
"By the food court."
"Now, why doesn't that surprise me? And how about you, Tammy? Is your unit working okay?"
"Yeah," came the reply. "I can hear you in my ear instead of in my blouse."
"That's an improvement."
"So, does anybody see our friend?" Dirk asked.
"I don't," Tammy answered. "The most suspicious character I see over here is a Girl Scout selling cookies and a Salvation Army lady ringing a bell."
"Nobody here either," Savannah replied, giving up on the yahoo with the broken-down Dart. Now that he had enjoyed his little "out of body experience" with her, he was back to scraping the corroded terminals of his battery.
"Wait a minute. I see somebody," Tammy said.
Savannah could hear the excitement mixed with fear in her voice. This might be for real.
"What is it?" she heard Dirk ask.
Instantly, Savannah whirled around and started back toward the mall. The jerk under the hood gave her an expectant look as she hurried by him, as though hopeful that she had changed her mind.
"A guy in a red and green plaid lumberjack's shirt," Tammy whispered. "With a long white beard!"
The Santa Rapist, as the newspapers were calling him, had abducted half a dozen women from this mall parking lot in the past month. The women had been driven to nearby orange groves, raped and badly beaten. All six victims had claimed the attacker wore a fake Santa's beard as a disguise.
"He's watching me," Tammy said as Savannah rushed back into the mall, past Burger Bonanza and out the front door. "He's coming this way."
"Just be calm, sweetie," Savannah told her. "We're on our way. Head for your car, just like we talked about. Open the trunk and slowly, calmly put your bags inside. But don't actually get into the car. Wait for us."
Savannah scanned the parking lot, looking for her assistant, but a big, yellow, Ryder truck was blocking her vision and the streetlamps were situated too far apart for good lighting and visibility.
"Is your car still in the front row, near the road, where we told you to put it?" Dirk asked.
Savannah could tell from his huffing and puffing he was running from the food court.
"Yes," Tammy mumbled. "I'm putting the stuff in the trunk. He's about thirty feet away. Watching me. Coming this way."
Savannah broke into a run. She still couldn't see around the truck.
"Savannah!" Tammy sounded like she was about to cry. "Savannah, I ... oh! Help!"
"Dirk! The kid's in trouble!" Savannah shouted. "Hurry!"
"I know!" he yelled back, panting. "I'm only halfway there."
Damn his hide, Savannah thought. Great time to take a taco and nacho break, half a mall away!
Savannah threw down her packages and pulled her Beretta from the shoulder holster beneath her jacket as she ran. "I'm coming, Tammy! Hang on!"
Just as she was rounding the front of the truck, Savannah heard a scream that sent her heart pounding up into her throat. It was a shriek of pain and fear — nothing like the fake screams in the movies. This one was for real.
But when she cleared the truck, she saw something that made her heart nearly stop altogether.
Tammy was bent backward over the hood of her Volkswagen bug. A man — just as she had described, with a white beard, wearing a plaid shirt — was bending over her, ripping her blouse open, clawing at her chest.
Savannah let out a roar of rage and threw herself onto the man's back. "Leave her alone, you dirty sonuvabitch!" she screamed as they both tumbled to the pavement.
She jumped to her feet and with karate expertise landed a solid kick directly to his groin. As he crumpled into a ball of pain, she gave him another chop to the back of his neck with her left hand.
It was only then she remembered she was holding her gun in her right. Proper procedure would have been to level the gun at him and calmly demand he release her assistant.
Yeah, well, to hell with proper procedure, she quickly decided. Sometimes hands-on, up close and personal contact was the only kind that satisfied the soul.
"Are you all right, honey?" Savannah asked, taking her eyes off her suspect for half a second to check out Tammy, who was still lying across the VW's hood.
"Oh, Savannah ..." Tammy was fighting for breath. "You shouldn't have. Owww! Oh, that hurts!"
"Hurts?" Savannah looked down at her groaning, moaning Santa look-alike. He was still writhing in the middle of a greasy oil slick on the asphalt pavement, holding his privates. "What are you talking about? What hurts?"
Tammy was tearing at her blouse, pulling the thing off. "It's this stupid microphone it ... ow-w-w! It's shorting out or something ... I ... ow-w-w!"
Dirk ran up to them, his face Christmas crimson all the way back to his receding hairline, sweat dripping from the end of his nose. Perspiration stained his T-shirt with dark circles under the arms and in the center of his chest, making him look even more bedraggled than usual. Dirk was no lightweight himself, and the race had just about done him in.
"What the hell's going on here?" he demanded as Tammy danced around, holding her now-shirtless chest and screeching.
"It's shocking her!" Savannah told him, still holding the gun on her suspect. "Get it off her! Quick!"
Dirk might have been a bit out of shape, but after twenty-plus years on the police force, his reflexes were still sharp. In half a second he had ripped the offending unit and tape off Tammy's chest, leaving her holding her bare breasts in her hands, blushing violently and deeply furious.
"And I suppose you enjoyed groping me while you were at it!" she yelled at him.
"You just couldn't pass up an opportunity like that! First you loan us lousy, faulty equipment, and then you molest me right here in front of everybody!"
He stared at her for a long time, then slowly shook his head. "You're a dingbat, you know that, Hart? A first-rate, certified dingbat!"
Excerpted from "Cooked Goose"
Copyright © 1998 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I started reading this the day before Christmas Eve. I like to read mysteries that fit a particular holiday when it arrives. Little did I know I was about to read for several solid hours! It was a great mystery. I am sure glad I had all the other Christmas errands done because I couldn't put it down until I was finished. I highly recommend this series and can't wait to get out and buy the rest.
Absolutely love this series: such fun quick reads, great characters, and interesting plot lines.
I love the stories and the characters I have come to love.
this was the first savannah reid book i read, i must say i really enjoyed reading this mystery.......can't wait to order the others thanks.