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Four-inch high heels should only be worn by a woman who's lying on her back," Savannah mumbled into the tiny microphone that was taped to her left breast, just below the lace edge of the ridiculous red, sequined bustier. The pointed toe of her accursed shoe caught in a sidewalk crack, and she had to perform a quick Highland jig to keep her balance.
"Hey, nobody said it was easy on the stroll," replied a gravelly male voice from the mini-earphone stuck in her ear. "They don't call them 'working girls' for nothing."
She glanced across the street at the pseudo-wino sprawled on the park bench and stuck out her tongue at him. It wasn't quite daylight, and she knew he couldn't see her, so the satisfaction was marginal at best.
"Working girls get paid," she reminded him in a down-in-Dixie drawl that was soft as a lilac-scented Southern night. "And as I recall, Dirk, this is a freebie."
"A favor to an old friend," the wino replied.
"You got the 'old' part right. Why didn't you ask someone who's still a real cop to help you out with this?"
"Mike and Jake look horrible in drag. They couldn't pick up a sand flea at a beach party. Besides, you and me ran this scam a hundred times when we were partners. What's the big deal?"
"I was on San Carmelita's Police Department payroll then. Now I'm a private investigator with —"
"With nothing better to do and nobody better to do it with. Otherwise, you wouldn't be out here at five o'clock in the morning with me, strutting your stuff with that Georgia peach waggle of yours."
"Why, sugar ..." With her hand on her hip, she struck a pose and giggled. "... you like my waggle?"
"Savannah, honey, I love your waggle. But at the moment I'd rather you waggle your butt than your tongue. It could go down anytime now."
Savannah scanned the nearly deserted downtown street of San Carmelita. So far, so good. Nothing stirred but a couple of palm trees, rustling in the predawn ocean breeze. Only one shop was open at this hour on Lester Street in the quaint, Southern California town — Andy's Adult Bookstore.
Dirk had received a tip that the porn shop was going to be the fifth in a string of downtown, late-night business robberies. The small convenience store two blocks over had been hit, as had the open-'til-two service station on Lester and a couple of bars. Andy was open all night; it was his turn by default.
Lonely for a bit of Savannah's verbal abuse, Dirk occasionally invited her to accompany him on a late-night stakeout. It wasn't exactly S.C.P.D. policy. But Detective Sergeant Dirk Coulter lived to snoop, and he had enough dirt on the "suits" to bend the rules from time to time and get away with it.
Savannah found it difficult to refuse him anything. For years he had been her partner. Even when she had been ousted from the department, he had risked his own career and defended her. But his most endearing quality was that in all that time he had never noticed that her "waggle" had widened. And if he had observed her increase in size, he hadn't mentioned it. Now that was Savannah's idea of a true gentleman.
The door to Andy's opened, and a customer emerged, a guy in his mid-thirties, wearing a city sewer worker's uniform and a sappy, sated grin on his face. Apparently, he had slugged a couple of tokens into one of Andy's peep booths. Nothing like getting the day off to a jump start.
Heading her way down the sidewalk, he spotted her, and his smile broadened as he gave her a thorough once-over. "Hey, lookin' good," he said as they met. "Wanna date?"
Great. This was just what she needed. A first-thing-in-the-morning, two-time Charlie. "Get lost," she told him, and kept walking.
He followed. "Ah, come on. That's what you're standin' out here for."
"You're not my type," she said.
She heard Dirk snicker in the earphone. He'd pay later.
The guy took a step toward her and grabbed her forearm. "I got money, baby," he said. "That makes me your type."
With one twist of her wrist, she broke his grip, grabbed his pinkie, and bent it backward. She heard and felt something crack. He let out a yelp.
"I said, get lost, perv," she told him.
Looking down, she saw the glimmer of a wedding ring on the finger next to the one she had just mangled. "What did you do, tell the wife you were going to work at the sewer plant a little early? Is she still back at home in bed snuggled up with the kiddies while you're in there, gettin' your rocks off in one of Andy's booths?"
He winced just a little. From conscience or his hurt finger, she couldn't tell. So, she decided to drive the shiv in a little deeper. "What would your mother think if she'd seen you five minutes ago, huh?"
For half a second, he flushed with shame. Then he recovered. "Look, sister, you ain't exactly nobody to talk, prancin' around in that getup."
"Yeah, and you're a disgrace to your uniform. Get the hell outta my face before I call a cop."
The guy mumbled a few obscenities as he walked away. And not a moment too soon. An old, blue-green Oldsmobile — early seventies with a bashed right front fender — came around the corner and pulled in front of Andy's.
"Looks like our boys," said Dirk in her ear.
Several witnesses had described the robbers as two Caucasian men, one skinny with short blond hair, one with a dark, stringy mop and a baseball cap, driving a green battleship of undetermined make and model.
"Yeah, looks like," Savannah whispered as she leaned nonchalantly against a lamp post and watched in her peripheral vision.
The blond guy exited the passenger's side and glanced up and down the street. For a moment, his eyes met Savannah's, and she did a quick mental estimation of his intelligence quotient. Probably on a par with his shoe size, she decided. And he didn't have particularly large feet.
After years in law enforcement and now as a private investigator, Savannah still hadn't gotten over the shock of seeing how different real criminals were from the ones portrayed on Hollywood screens. Oh, she had met a few cunning, shrewd characters; but, by and large, those who habitually broke society's laws were numskulls. She assumed this was because most rocket scientists knew better than to try to knock over an all-night adult porn shop for spare change.
One look in this guy's eyes told her that NASA wouldn't be recruiting him anytime soon.
After a two-second, salacious perusal, he dismissed her, turned around, and marched into Andy's.
According to some of the pair's previous victims, Bony-Blondie would enter the store, slip behind some sort of display rack, and don a black ski mask. Then he would pop out with a Saturday night special in his hand and demand their cash and jewelry. Savannah decided to be generous and give him 1.2 points for subtlety, 1.1 for originality.
But the jerk in the car — the one with the long, greasy locks, wearing wraparound shades, had slapped his girlfriend around last Friday night. She had confided in her fellow waitress, who passed the word along to a manicurist, who just happened to live in the same trailer park as Dirk.
Domestic violence didn't pay in a town as small as San Carmelita, where the native crops were avocados, lemons, and gossip. Not necessarily in that order.
Across the street, Dirk had risen from his bench and was drunkenly zigzagging a path in their direction.
"Atta girl," he whispered in her earphone. "Show 'im that waggle."
Employing her best Dixie sashay, Savannah strolled by the parked car, making sure that Creep Number Two had plenty of time to check out the merchandise. She had to work fast; Blondie wouldn't take long.
Once she was fairly sure she had piqued his interest, she meandered closer to the passenger's side. The window was down, so she leaned inside. The stench of stale sweat, cigarette smoke, and rotting fast-food containers prompted her to breathe shallowly.
Number Two was even uglier up close, dirtier, with bad skin, rotten teeth, a baseball cap turned backwards and wraparound sunglasses that were probably supposed to give him an air of mystery, but made him look like a pathetic Terminator wannabe.
It occurred to Savannah that Blondie might actually be the brains of the operation. Scary stuff.
"Hi there, handsome," she said without choking on her own words. Yes, for this Dirk would owe her – big time. "Wanna date?"
"Ah, no. Not now. I'm kinda busy."
She could tell he was weighing his one ounce of common sense against his more urgent needs that were arising, thanks to the abundant cleavage she was displaying in the open window.
"Don't worry, Babycakes. With a girl like me, you won't take long at all."
Ignoring his mumbled half-objections, she jerked open the car door and slid onto the passenger's seat. She allowed her short leather skirt to creep upward, displaying the tops of stockings and garter fastenings. Even through the dark lenses, she could see his eyes bug. Good. He was a stockings kind of guy. They were all stockings guys.
He shot a quick glance at Andy's front door, then at her legs. "I don't have a lot of money. Not yet, anyway."
"Then you're in luck, 'cause I don't charge much. Not for what you need. How about thirty bucks?"
"Well, I don't know. I —"
"Like I said, I'm sorta busy, and you...."
"And you've kinda got a big butt."
She resisted the urge to feed him his own face, feature by ugly feature. "Yeah, and you got zits and a beer gut. But then, we ain't exactly goin' on a date to the prom, right? Now, unzip it and let's get this show on the road."
After only a moment's hesitation, he muttered, "All right, I guess," and started to fumble with his fly.
"Not that, sweet thang," she said as she pulled her Beretta from her red, sequined purse and shoved the barrel against the side of his neck. "You can just leave your pants on for this one."
"Wh — wha — what?"
With her left hand, she jerked down the zipper of his decrepit Dodgers jacket. "It's your coat I want, and the cap and the glasses. Hand 'em over and make it snappy."
* * *
When Franky Morick — a.k.a. Frank the Crank, a.k.a. Creep Number One — exited Andy's Bookstore with his pillowcase of loot in one hand and his .22 in the other, he thought Buzz had taken off without him. The car was gone! That stupid —
But no, it had been moved a few yards down, toward the corner. Why, he had no idea, but he'd have a talk with Buzz about it later. And after they had that conversation, and Buzz got back from the hospital emergency room, he'd hire himself a better driver. Like one with a brain.
He ran to the Olds, threw open the door, and jumped inside. "Go! Go, you idiot!" he yelled.
But the car didn't budge. Neither did Buzz. He just sat there, staring straight ahead, wearing those stupid sunglasses, which were useless as the sun hadn't risen yet.
Frank glanced back at Andy's Bookstore and saw the shopkeeper's rotund form filling the doorway, taking down the license number, no doubt. Damn! He'd forgotten to switch the plates with his mom's, like he usually did before a job.
"Go, dammit! Don't sit there picking your nose for heaven's sake! Step on it!"
Still, Buzz didn't budge.
Frank shoved his pistol into the waistband of his jeans and tossed the pillowcase with the cash onto the floor. When he did, something caught his eye.
He blinked, sure he was seeing things in the dim semidarkness of the car's interior. Along with Buzz's lame shades, his baseball cap, and mangy Dodgers jacket, he was wearing black stockings ... garters ... and high heels.
"What the hell!"
Frank raised his eyes and stared down the cavernous barrel of a 9 mm pistol. Frank thought he had lost his mind completely. One too many cranks for Frank the Crank.
When "Buzz" lowered his glasses onto his nose and peered over the top of them, Frank found himself looking into the coldest, bluest eyes he had ever seen.
A soft, feminine voice with a Southern drawl said, "Put your hands on the dash, sweetie, before I rearrange your brain cells for you. Both of them."
"But you're a ... who are ... where's ...?"
"Where's your friend?" She chuckled and nodded toward the corner, where Frank saw Buzz standing beside a wino in a rumpled raincoat. Buzz didn't look happy, and Frank assumed it might have something to do with the handcuffs he was wearing.
"What the hell is this?" Frank turned to the woman with the blue eyes and the gun at his head. "Are you a cop or something?"
"I'm an 'or something,'" she said. "The bum's a cop."
"So, am I under arrest, or what?"
"At the moment, you're 'or what.' If you stick around, you'll be under arrest. And if you move, you're dead. What's it gonna be?"
She looked like she meant it.
Frank the Crank decided to just sit.
* * *
Savannah pulled her red 1965 Mustang into her driveway and cut the ignition, but the old car continued to chug, wheeze, and shudder, refusing to give up the ghost.
"Stop, or I'll take a sledgehammer to you," she threatened it, pounding the steering wheel. It responded with a rude honk that grated on her nerves.
"I must be getting old. These all-nighters plum wear me out," she mumbled as she pulled her tired body from the car and limped up the sidewalk to the quaint Spanish-style house she called home – when she wasn't calling it other, more foul, names because of leaking roofs, sagging foundations, and termite infestation. Actually, she was grateful for the termites. If it weren't for the fact that the little boogers were holding hands and square dancing under there, the whole house would probably cave in.
Halfway up the walk, she paused to pull off the spike heels. Tucking them under her arm, she saw her neighbor, nosy old Mrs. Normandy, peeking out her kitchen window. Once Savannah had tried to explain why she sometimes left the house dressed in strange garb. But Mrs. Normandy didn't seem to grasp the concept of "undercover."
That, or it was more interesting for the elderly woman to think she lived next door to a part-time private investigator/hooker. Mrs. Normandy was also convinced that aliens had abducted Jimmy Hoffa from her backyard, so Savannah hadn't wasted a lot of time trying to cajole her about the risqué costumes.
Savannah had just slipped her key into her front-door lock, when a cheery voice reached her from across the lawn. "Hey, Savannah! I'm hee-e-re!" The volume, born of unbridled enthusiasm, grated on Savannah's sleep-deprived nerves.
Glancing at her watch, she saw that it was exactly nine o'clock. Dadgum, that girl was punctual.
She turned around and saw her trainee-in-private-detection, Tammy Hart, jogging across the lawn toward her.
Savannah loved Tammy to pieces; the young woman was bright, good-hearted, and a whiz with computers — quite the opposite of the ditzy blonde she appeared to be at first glance. But Tammy had one major character flaw. She was a morning person.
Her golden ponytail bounced from side to side as she trotted up onto the porch, where she continued to jog in place, bouncing ... bouncing ... bouncing until Savannah thought she was going to be seasick just watching her.
She was wearing a smile that should have been illegal before noon, and a bright yellow short set that made Savannah wish she was still wearing that Buzz creep's sunglasses.
"Hope I'm not too late," Tammy pealed. "My bug wouldn't start, so I decided to just jog to work. You know, get the old blood flowing."
Tammy's classic Volkswagen bug was the only car on the planet that was less reliable than Savannah's Mustang. But jogging? It had to be nearly ten miles, and she hadn't even worked up a good sweat – just this nice, ladylike sheen that looked great on her golden, California tan.
Sometimes, Savannah hated her.
"Neat outfit, especially the shoes!" Tammy continued to bounce.
Savannah thrust the heels at her. "Here, you can have them."
"Gee, thanks. I wonder if they'll fit."
"They'll fit," Savannah growled, not adding the fact that their shoe size would be the only size they would ever have in common. Petite Tammy actually wore a minuscule size zero. Until Savannah had pinned her to the floor one day and turned her shirt wrong side out, looking for proof, she hadn't even known there was a size zero.
Savannah unlocked the door and found herself face-to-face with two hungry and unhappy felines. Diamante and Cleopatra were more like miniature black leopards than housecats, with appetites as healthy as their mistress's.
"Oooh, they're so pretty," Tammy cooed as she followed Savannah into the house and bent to pet the cats. "Good morning!"
Excerpted from "Killer Calories"
Copyright © 1997 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I like all her books and especially like the chemistry in the two main characters.
Another great read! I thoroughly enjoy the Savannah Reid series!
This is the 3rd in the series and the 3rd that I've read of G.A. McKevett. It's a fun, lighthearted series and a good mystery - this one in particular I had no answers until they were revealed. I will absolutely be keeping up with this series.
Loved the different possibilities of suspects .