Her marriage over and career gone bust, Arly Hanks flees Manhattan for her hometown: Maggody, Arkansas. In a town this size, nothing much ever happens, so Arly figures she’s safe as the town’s first female chief of police—until the husband of one of the local barmaids escapes from state prison and heads for town. And that’s not all. An EPA official with ties to polluting the local fishing hole has suddenly vanished off the face of the earth.
As if two manhunts aren’t enough to contend with, a body has been discovered at the pay-by-the-hour Flamingo Motel, shot clean through the neck with an arrow. For some reason, Maggody’s residents—all 755 of them—have gone tight-lipped, stonewalling Arly’s investigations, and Arly hasn’t a soul to trust but her half-wit deputy. Now, as Maggody’s finest, she’ll have to show a little muscle and a lot of cunning to curtail the inhospitable mountain malice that’s overtaken her town. And she’ll have to watch her own back every step of the way.
From Agatha Award–winning author Joan Hess, Malice in Maggody is the novel that introduced police chief Arly Hanks—the indomitable sleuth of the popular and long-running Maggody series.
Malice in Maggody is the 1st book in the Arly Hanks Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Malice in Maggody
An Arly Hanks Mystery
By Joan Hess
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 2013 Joan Hess
All rights reserved.
"It's shit — pure and simple shit, no matter what they call it in those goddamn reports," Jim Bob Buchanon said, slamming his fist down on the counter of the Kwik-Stoppe Shoppe hard enough to rustle the cellophane wrappers of the beef jerkies. "Just 'cause some fish-brained bureaucrat at the EPA office in Dallas calls it 'suspended solids' doesn't mean it ain't shit!"
"'Course it's shit," Larry Joe Lambertino said soothingly, "and they know it, too. But the EPA is supposed to know what they're doing, and they swear it won't affect the water quality in Boone Creek. According to them, the water from the new sewage treatment plant will be cleaner than what we've got now."
"Bunch of fish-brained bureaucrats," Jim Bob snarled. The box of beef jerkies again rustled in their plastic wrappers as his fist hit the Formica. "No, I take that back. I know a lot of fish smarter than those old boys in Dallas. The other day I caught sight of this old granddaddy catfish that must've weighed fifty pounds. He was in that pool down back of Raz's dog pen, just twitching his whiskers and watching me watch him."
"Did you try a wad of chicken liver?"
"Yeah, but that old fish didn't even blink. I swear I could hear him thinking what a goddamn fool I was to even try. But I'll be damned if I don't get him one of these days." Jim Bob paused to contemplate his chances with the venerable fish, then went to the refrigeration unit and pulled out a can of beer from the dark recesses. "Want one?"
Larry Joe shook his head. "Naw, I gotta get back to the high school. There's some PT of A crap tonight, and I need to mop the halls so the juvenile delinquents' parents can track mud all over 'em. Then I got to rush home and change clothes so that I can stand around the shop room telling them what fine potential Little Johnny has as a welder. I don't tell them he'll most likely work in a chop shop over in Platte County."
Jim Bob ran his fingers through the short stubbles of hair on the top of his head, hissing "shit" under his breath as if an unseen puncture was allowing a steady escape of air. A flash of light outside caught his attention. His eyes narrowed as he gazed through the plate-glass door at the gas pumps, and his lips pursed thoughtfully. "Look, Larry Joe, there's some damned state car out there. Wonder who it is?"
Obediently Larry Joe looked, as he always did when instructed to do so by anyone with more strength of character. It happened too often to keep track of. "Appears to be someone too stupid to figure out how to put gas in his car. You'd better send Kevin out to help him before he puts two or three gallons of unleaded down his trousers."
"Kevin!" Jim Bob roared. "Get your ass out to the pump and help that customer!" Despite his volume, he continued to gaze with a pensive frown at the scene outside.
Kevin Buchanon stumbled out of the store room, his face flushed and his prominent adam's apple bouncing in his throat like a red rubber ball. At the last second, he managed to avoid the artful pyramid of paper towels at the end of the narrow aisle. "Gee, Jim Bob, he's at the self-service," he protested in a pubescent squeak. "He's supposed to do it hisself. If he were at the full-service, then I'd be supposed to put the gas in —"
"Get out there before I rip your ears off the side of your head," Jim Bob said without anger. "God knows it wouldn't be hard — they're almost bigger than Dahlia's jugs."
Larry Joe waited until Kevin stumbled out the door, tripped on a black air hose, recovered, and approached the white sedan with the telltale circle on the door. "That boy is a walking disaster," he said. "Him and Dahlia still playing doctor in the storeroom half their waking hours? I hope he don't put a bun in her warmer."
"The boy's a day late and a dollar short, and he doesn't have the sense to zip his fly in a tornado. Dahlia's been trying to tutor him in the manly art of screwing, but I don't know if she's actually convinced him to stick it in her yet."
Dahlia O'Neill, the girl under discussion, sauntered out of the storeroom, a half-eaten candy bar in one hand and a rolled magazine in the other. The dark blue tent draped over the three hundred pounds of flesh was dusty and wrinkled, but her face was as serene as that of any madonna who had recently submitted to immaculate conception. "How you doing, Mr. Lambertino?" she said in greeting as she went behind the counter.
"Go check the soda pop supply," Jim Bob said.
"Checked it this morning." She popped the late bit of chocolate into her mouth and daintily sucked her fingertips. Her bovine eyes remained on Larry Joe.
"Check it again. There's lots of kids in on Friday afternoon," Jim Bob said, turning back to the door. "Now that's a car from the interagency motor pool. Sure ain't the governor, sure ain't the highway commissioner or no tax man from the state revenue office. Just who do you reckon it might be?"
Larry Joe shrugged, his bony shoulders hunched as though he were taking the shape of a long-range missile. He did not, however, look nearly as lethal. "I don't know why you're so all-fired interested in that car and that fellow. He looks real ordinary to me, Jim Bob. He's probably some fool paper pusher from Little Rock."
Before Jim Bob could offer his thoughts, Hobert ("call me 'Ho' ") Middleton pulled up, his flashy black Cadillac shuddering as he slammed on the brakes inches short of the leaded, regular, full-service. It took a few seconds for him to extricate his plump body from behind the steering wheel, managing during the process to leave his lush gray hair unscathed. He tugged at the crotch of his plaid trousers as he entered the Kwik-Stoppe Shoppe.
"Hey, Ho," Jim Bob said. "You look more worn out than Dahlia's public access ramp. Want a beer?"
Hobert flapped a newspaper under Jim Bob's nose. "Did you have a chance to look at the Starley City paper this morning?" he demanded in a melodious voice that rippled with indignation. "On the front page, just under the story about the Miss Starley City beauty pageant."
"A story about the beauty pageant?" Larry Joe said, leaning over Jim Bob's shoulder to look at the newspaper. "Joyce and I almost decided to go, but one of the boys upchucked on the middle of the living room carpet and she had to stay home so she could clean it up. It liked to never come out of the green shag. Is there a photo from the swimsuit competition?"
Jim Bob made a noise in his throat. "Listen to this, Larry Joe. It says that the EPA office in Dallas has finally agreed to Starley City's application, and they're going to let them sign the construction contract with that firm up in Kansas City. They're sending a contract approval fellow up today to finalize the deal, and they're hoping to break ground real quick."
"You got it — or you're going to, right soon." Jim Bob paused to read in silence, his lips quivering over the longer words. "It talks about the public meetings and the petitions and protests we sent, but it says that the EPA office has evaluated the so-called community input and environmental impact reports and decided to approve the application anyways. In a year or so those chickenshits in Starley City will be dumping their suspended solids in Boone Creek. I'll have over a hundred acres of frontage on a sewage ditch, and that old catfish will belly up before I can catch him."
Hobert took back the newspaper and tucked it under his arm. His face, somewhat mottled at best, turned a deeper red. "That's right on the button, Mr. Mayor. I got nearly that many acres myself, and I don't like shit any better than you. Now, exactly what do you aim to do about it?"
"I put in another call to Senator Fiff, but he's still on his fact-finding mission to Las Vegas. Be back Tuesday, according to some snippety secretary with the charm of a pig getting castrated. If he can't stop this, I don't think we have a grasshopper's chance in a hen house. Next time this year we'll be flycasting for turds."
Kevin came back into the store, followed by a slender man in a three-piece suit. The man handed Kevin a ten-dollar bill, nodded to the three men watching him, and disappeared down one of the aisles. With a youthful thirst for knowledge, Kevin headed for the storeroom.
Jim Bob inclined his head in the man's direction. "He's got a car from the state pool, Ho. You know what I think?"
"You think he's from the Dallas EPA office? One of those engineer fellows who's been coming up here all year to take water samples?" Hobert Middleton was nobody's fool. He reminded people all the time, if they thought otherwise.
"It says in the paper that Starley City is expecting someone today to approve the contract at some damn fool ceremony at the city hall. I think that's him. State car, polyester suit, slick expression. Bet you a case of Bud that's the man what's going to deliver the shit to Boone Creek. We got to think of a way to stop him from okaying the construction contract until Fiff gets hisself back from Las Vegas and throws a monkey wrench in this mess."
"You honestly think Fiff can do some good?" Hobert asked.
"I don't know, but it's our best goddamn shot. Once everything is signed and tied up in pretty pink ribbon, we can whine as loud as we want, but nobody'll listen." Jim Bob poked a finger into Larry Joe's concave chest, which was conveniently at eye level. "Keep that government man here till I get back. I'm going to go fetch Roy Stiver so we can have a quorum for a special meeting of the town council."
"A special meeting?" Hobert raised two bushy silver eyebrows. "I don't have time to stand around, Jim Bob. I got a fellow bringing in a load of new models and I need to be there to make sure the merchandise ain't dirty or damaged. I got a reputation for selling the cleanest cars in the county, you know —"
"Back in a minute." Jim Bob hurried out the door and cut across the driveway toward a row of buildings.
The man thought to carry the desecration of Boone Creek in his briefcase found a path out of the aisles. Blinking in the fluorescent glare, he cleared his throat and said, "The young man who pumped my gas said I could heat a burrito in the microwave. Would either of you know exactly how to operate it?"
Larry Joe and Hobert nodded.
Raz Buchanon stomped into the police department, his watery, red-rimmed eyes snapping and his whiskey chin several inches ahead of his nose. An aroma of sourness swept in on his heels. "Perkins stole my dawg, Arly! He plumb took it right out of my pen, and I want to know what in blazes you plan to do about it!"
I put down the block of wood I was whittling into a semblance of a duck. "Now, Raz, you need to calm down. How do you know Perkins took your dog? Maybe the dog jumped the fence and went looking for a bitch in heat."
"That dawg is a bitch — and that son of a bitch took her." Raz glanced around for a can to spit in. He settled for a dusty corner and sent out a glistening amber stream.
I will admit I winced. Having been the chief of police for more than eight months, I should have grown accustomed to such things. Some things may take years. "Do you have any proof to back your accusation, Raz? I can't just arrest Mr. Perkins and send him to the penitentiary on your say-so."
"You can, too. Perkins is a low-down lying thief; everybody in the county knows it but you, Arly Hanks. He done it so that he can run the dawg during deer season and pretend it's one of his from the last litter. I know for a fact he ain't had a decent dawg in two years." One cheek puffed out ominously, then receded. "Ain't had a deer, neither," he added with a cackle. He looped a misshapen thumb through the strap of his overalls and waited for me to join in the general merriment.
"I have to have proof."
"The hell you do! Jest ask Jim Bob if Perkins ain't a dawg thief. I'm guessing you'll take the word of the mayor."
Would you take the word of the mayor of Maggody, Arkansas, population seven hundred fifty-five?
"You can sign a complaint if you want to, Raz, and I'll send Paulie out to Perkins's place to investigate. But I can't file charges unless the dog is discovered on his property." I took out a form and pushed it across my desk.
Raz wiped his mouth on the back of his hand as he stared at the complaint form. "Iz that paper for dawg thieves?"
"That's right," I replied with a sober expression. "I have a different one for each species of stolen animal. This one is for dogs. If the animal were a cat, I'd use the green form." It was, of course, nonsense, but Raz couldn't read a word of it. I had to do something to amuse myself during the eight-hour shift.
"You jest send Paulie Buchanon out there to get my dawg," Raz said, backing toward the door. "I don't need some damn fool paper to say Perkins stole Betty."
"Officer Buchanon will report the facts of the case at his first opportunity," I said. "In the interim, stay away from the pen so that you won't destroy any evidence. We may need to make plaster casts of the footprints and dog residual in order to convict Mr. Perkins of this heinous kidnapping charge."
"I got to feed the other dawgs. How in thunderation am I supposed to do that if'n I stay away from the pen?"
I gave the dilemma serious thought. "The only solution, Raz, is throw the dog food from your back porch. Otherwise, Perkins will get away with the crime and you won't be able to regain custody of Betty."
Raz showed me two toothless gums. "Thankee, Arly."
"My pleasure, Raz." I picked up the block of wood, which had not transformed itself into anything remotely resembling a duck. Perhaps an elephant, or dog residual. The creative juices were clearly not bubbling, so I put my knife away and replaced the wood in a drawer. I then opened my purse, reapplied lipstick, breathed on my badge and polished it with my cuff, and went to see my mother.
Ruby Bee's Bar and Grill is situated at the north end of Maggody, exactly one-half mile from the south end of Maggody, which gives you an idea of the entire scope of said town. Unlike more picturesque communities snuggled in the verdant valleys of the Ozark Mountains, Maggody despondently straggles along both sides of the state highway. After the half mile, it peters out with a few dilapidated billboards and a sign that welcomes Rotarians, Lions, Kiwanians, and Masons. Maggody possesses none of those, but it does strive for a friendly note.
The population has decreased steadily since the turn of the century. I know from personal experience that the dream of every Maggody teenager is to move away as quickly as possible and, with luck, never come home again. Some do; others never quite find the nerve to venture into the land of dragons and freeways. Yes, I did, and I ended up back where I started, at least for a time while I recuperated from an ugly divorce and a bad case of the ego-shakes. After all, my advertising-hotshot ex-husband did leave me for a model who specialized in foot commercials — dear Veronica something-or-other of the sculpted toes. I wished them happiness, herpes, and bunions in what used to be my Manhattan co-op, dining on my china and sipping champagne out of my crystal goblets. I walked out empty-handed but with my pride intact. No one uses much crystal in Maggody.
I'm the chief of police only because I was the one and only qualified person to apply after the last chief snuck out of town with Dahlia O'Neill's older sister. Paulie Buchanon applied, but the town council felt obliged to take me. Paulie hasn't been to the police academy yet, while I'd done so and also had several years of experience with a private security firm. Nothing to do with police work, naturally, but I didn't share that with the town council. Hell, I needed some entertainment while I sorted things out. It was a good thing I didn't need much money.
If all the Buchanons are confusing you, good luck. Half the residents of Stump County are Buchanons. Inbreeding and incest have produced the beetlish brow, beady amber eyes, and thick lips. Nothing in the way of intelligence has been produced. Buchanons are known for a certain amount of animal cunning, but nothing that would outwit an above-average raccoon. The other half of the Maggody PD and my loyal deputy, Paulie Buchanon, is smarter than most of his relatives; he's terribly sincere and determined to escape Maggody via the state police academy. Jim Bob's no dummy, either, if holding the office of mayor for thirteen years is any indication. He pulled enough horse trades to put up the Kwik-Stoppe Shoppe (known to locals as the Kwik-Screw) and to build a big brick house on a hilltop overlooking Boone Creek. He may have made an error when he married Barbara Anne Buchanon, his second cousin from over in Emmet. Everybody calls her Mrs. Jim Bob, a local and inexplicable tradition that's not worth dwelling on.
Excerpted from Malice in Maggody by Joan Hess. Copyright © 2013 Joan Hess. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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