Friday, August 9, 2013

Trudy, Madly, Deeply (Working Stiffs Mystery Series) by Wendy Delaney

Trudy, Madly, Deeply (Working Stiffs Mystery Series) by Wendy Delaney

Available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Human lie detector Charmaine Digby is having a bad year. After eating her way through a divorce, she's out of work and up to her eyeballs in debt. In need of a life makeover Char comes home to the senior citizen haven of Port Merritt, Washington, and is ecstatic when she parlays her eye for lies into a job as the County Coroner's new assistant. But her joy is short-lived when a hunky doctor at the hospital reports the suspicious death of Trudy, Port Merritt's beloved Story Lady. Even more stunning, Trudy isn't the only recent patient whose heart mysteriously stopped.

Is it mad to think that dear old Trudy could be the latest victim of a serial killer?

With no physical evidence of foul play, Char's on the case, much to the irritation of Detective Steve Sixkiller, who doesn't want her to stick her pretty nose for trouble in his investigation. But she's a woman on a mission to uncover the truth, and she'd better keep her eyes open or the next body on the way to the morgue could be hers....


Chapter 1

My life of crime began at seven twenty-eight this morning.
Nothing hard-core. But judging from the steely-eyed gaze Chimacam County Prosecutor, Francine "Frankie" Rickard, was leveling at me, I knew some hard time could be in my immediate future.
"What the hell are you doing?" she asked as I entered her third floor office in the stately courthouse overlooking the Port Merritt waterfront.
She'd asked the question du jour-what I'd been asking myself ever since I hijacked her Friday morning doughnut order.
I'd been a good girl, never before prone to vigilante acts against pastry. But after a year without a regular paycheck, I was done with playing it safe.
I needed to make the most of this golden opportunity for some one-on-one time with my potential employer, so I shot Frankie my best smile and set the Duke's Cafe bakery box on the corner of her oak desk. "Special delivery!"
Leaning back in her desk chair, she squinted at me over her wireframe bifocals. "Duke has you making deliveries now?" she asked, a wary glint in her slate-blue eyes.
In the last two decades, the population of the former mill boom town of Port Merritt, Washington, had dwindled to a tight-knit community of just over five thousand. Like Frankie, most everyone who frequented the waterfront was well-acquainted with my great-uncle, the Duke-Darrell Duquette, owner of Duke's Cafe, the best breakfast and burger joint in town.
The fact that Duke had me around this summer for cheap, temporary labor was supposed to be working in this delivery girl's favor. Instead, I felt like I'd been caught with a sticky-fingered hand in the tip jar.
"Deliveries, waiting tables. I'm just filling in wherever I'm needed until I can find something full-time," I said, hoping she'd take the bait I was dangling in front of her.
Despite the August sunshine filtering through the arched window behind her, haloing her upswept auburn-gray hair, sixty-year-old Frankie didn't look the least bit angelic as she folded her thin arms against the pleats of her cranberry-red jacket. "Well, I have to admit I'm disappointed, Charmaine. Since I could use someone with your . . . ability in this office, I'd hoped to entice you to work for me."
My ability had earned me a local reputation that had been following me around like a chain-rattling ghost ever since Heather Beckett labeled me as a freak back in sixth grade. If it could also pay off in the form of a steady salary, I wasn't too proud to do a little rattling of my own.
"You did. I submitted an application for the open position you told me about last week," I said, trying to ignore the telltale quirk of irritation pulling at Frankie's lips.
After completing the online application process, I'd spent the next ten days jumping at every ring of my cell phone like I was once again a teenager in need of a prom date. Much like fifteen years earlier, when Frankie called to ask me to babysit that Saturday night, my phone had rung just once about a job.
The offer had come from an old classmate who managed the Roadkill Grill, home of the You kill it-We grill it t-shirt that all the line cooks wore.
"Free t-shirts!" he said as if this were a coveted job perk that every thirty-four-year-old woman should have her sights set on.
Seriously, if I'm ever that desperate to save money on my wardrobe, I want someone to shoot me.
I met Frankie's gaze, my heart pounding with anticipation. "But since I never heard anything back about the job . . ."
She puckered, accentuating the fine lines surrounding her frosted strawberry lips. "No one called you for an interview?"
I shook my head.
Frankie pushed back from her desk, rising to a height almost eye level to my five foot six with the aid of the two-inch heels on her taupe pumps. "Come with me."
I followed her past the cluttered desks of two watchful assistants clicking on computer keyboards to a smaller office four doors down a threadbare hallway, where Ben Santiago sat in front of a laptop dwarfed by his massive mahogany desk.
"Ben," Frankie said as she and I stood in the doorway. "May we interrupt you?"
It was obvious from the cordial smile that didn't reach his hooded walnut brown eyes that the Deputy Criminal Prosecuting Attorney thought we already had.
Ben Santiago's gaze tightened when it landed on me, making me regret opting for the ponytail instead of taking an extra ten minutes with my blow dryer to tame my raggedy brown mop of curls. At least my white chambray shirt was clean. If you didn't count the smear of egg yolk on my right sleeve.
He removed his horn-rimmed glasses and pointed with them at the two black leather captain's chairs facing his desk. "Please."
The leather chairs appeared to be cheap and utilitarian, like they'd been ordered out of a discount office supply catalog along with the bank of black file cabinets to his right. Aside from the red tones in his desk, the worn rust-brown carpet, and the windowless eggshell-white wall featuring two sepia-tinted street scenes of Port Merritt in its late nineteenth century heyday, the monochrome office looked as warm and inviting as a loaf of five-day-old white bread.
And that included an unsmiling, fiftyish Ben Santiago-a burly, onyx-haired fireplug in an off-the-rack charcoal gray suit.
Frankie sat in the chair to my left. "Have you met Charmaine Digby?"
Standing a couple of inches taller than me, he reached across his desk and shook my hand with a firm, warm grip, projecting professionalism blended with a dollop of guarded disinterest. "Not officially."
I'd served this guy lunch at Duke's at least a dozen times in the last couple of months while I filled in for one of the waitresses on maternity leave. He took his coffee black, preferred ranch dressing with his fries, and wanted his double beef bacon cheeseburgers served without a side order of conversation, so I wasn't surprised to hear I hadn't made the grade of official acquaintance.
"Charmaine is interested in the level one assistant position we have open," Frankie said.
Especially since it was the only employment nibble I'd had in the last nine weeks that didn't require me to have Rocky Raccoon roadkill stretched over my C-cups.
Unfortunately, although Ben Santiago smiled and nodded, the crinkle of annoyance etched between his thick eyebrows suggested that I should ring my buddy to give him my shirt size.
"She's the one I was telling you about, but it appears she was never called for an interview." Frankie dismissively flicked a wrist. "Probably because of some clerical error."
Ben's mouth flatlined for a fraction of a second.
Clerical error, my ass. Clearly, some barrel-chested prosecuting attorney with a receding hairline had played a part in that error.
"Since you've been conducting the interviews, I thought you could take this opportunity to chat with her," Frankie stated, making it abundantly apparent that an answer of no wasn't advisable.
"Sure. I'd be happy to." Ben sounded as enthusiastic as my then-husband the last time I suggested we head up to the Pacific Northwest and spend the holidays with my grandmother.
"I'll sit in on this if you don't mind." Frankie smiled, folding her arms and sending her deputy prosecutor the none-too-subtle message that she didn't care what he thought. "Just to expedite the process."
With the tug of displeasure at the edge of his tan lips betraying his emotion like a tell in a poker game, Ben turned his attention to me, his pinstriped tie rising and falling with each deep breath he took.
"Charmaine, I'm sure you're busy and need to get back to work, so what do you say we get right to it?"
Obviously, Frankie wasn't the only one who wanted to do some expediting.
"Since I haven't seen your resume . . . ." He glanced at Frankie like he wanted to convince her of that fact, making it ring less true. "Tell me about your work history, Charmaine, aside from being a waitress."
"Most recently I worked as a process server for a private investigator in San Mateo, California."
The PI was the father of a friend I met at culinary school. She and I had both worked in four-star restaurant pressure cookers-probably why she thought I could handle the door-to-door verbal abuse, usually inflicted by irate soon-to-be-ex-spouses, pissed at being served with notices to appear. But it had its upside. I got to exchange being yelled at by the resident kitchen czar for a daily dose of California sunshine while I waited for my divorce to become final.
"I did research and ran background checks," I said, making sure that I hit some of the key duties of the level one assistant job description, "and I served as the assistant office manager." Which meant that I was the low man on the totem pole in charge of picking up the PI's dry-cleaning, but at least I had a title.
"And before that?" Ben asked, sounding like a food critic with zippo interest in the menu I'd just offered him.
"I co-managed an Italian bistro in San Francisco. Supervised the kitchen, handled the payroll."
Actually, I collected the staff's timecards and handed them over to my former mother-in-law, who wouldn't let me touch her computer. But to get myself into an office at the courthouse, I figured a sprig of creative garnish could only help my cause.
A flicker of disdain at the corner of his pursed mouth signaled that I was wasting his time. No doubt because I'd served him a double beef bacon cheeseburger last week.
"Before that, I was a pastry chef for ten years," I volunteered to cut to the chase.
Blowing out a breath, he stared at his boss as if she were forcing him to eat his vegetables.
"She has other skills, Ben," Frankie stated. "One in particular that could come in very handy around here."
The Criminal Prosecuting Attorney shot me a fake smile. "I'm sure you do."
I hadn't had this kind of confidence boost since my husband won a top chef contest on TV, then came home to announce that he was trimming the fat in his life-namely me.
Frankie peered at me over her bifocals. "You'd better show him."
"Okay." It wasn't the first time someone had trotted me out as if I were their trick poodle, but I could guarantee this guy wasn't going to like the show.
I scooted my chair closer to sit directly across from Ben Santiago, and he scowled like I was invading his space.
"Is this going to take long?" he asked Frankie. "I'm due in court in ten minutes."
Doubtful. Until now he'd shown no indication that he was in a hurry. No surreptitious glances at his wristwatch. Nothing.
"Sorry, Mr. Santiago, but I think the truth is that you just want me out of here."
Getting into a man's face and calling him a liar is a lot like poking a bear-often not good for the one doing the poking. Since I didn't want the grizzly behind the desk to toss me out of his office, I thought it best not to use too sharp a stick.
His tie slowly rose and fell while a crease between his thick black brows punctuated his thoughts.
"I see that I'm right about when you're needed in court," I said.
"I'll mention that to the judge when I see him."
"When? In an hour or two?" I was guessing, taking a wild swing with my stick.
His eyes narrowed into a squint worthy of Dirty Harry.
Bingo. "Right again, huh?"
"I see what you're trying to do, but trust me, I don't have time for games."
"Really? You seemed to be playing one earlier when you said that you hadn't seen my resume."
His tie stopped moving. "I-"
"Lied to me. You saw that I lacked the depth of experience you're looking for, and you didn't want to waste any more time on me. Would you like to tell me I'm wrong?"
His lips thinned. "You're awfully sure of yourself, aren't you?"
Not lately. But I still had faith in my bullshit barometer. "I'm only telling you how I'm reading you."
He tapped a thick index finger several beats against the surface of his desk. "Listen, I appreciate that you have . . . some skills," he said with a headshake that told me otherwise. "And this is nothing personal, but-"
"Nope. Sorry. I think it's very personal and has a lot to do with the fact that I'm the one who's been taking your lunch orders at Duke's."
"That has nothing to do with this."
His mouth quirked. "Okay, maybe it has a little bit to do with it. A waitress isn't exactly a natural fit for someone working in this office."
I couldn't disagree with him. "But I'm a natural at identifying deceit. I've been shown hundreds of interviews and correctly interpreted thousands of flashes of expression in two university studies to prove it."
I'd participated in the deception detection studies as a favor to my former sister-in-law, who was working on her doctoral thesis in clinical psychology, but the results validated Heather Beckett's claim. Compared to the perceptive abilities of the average person, I really was a bit of a freak.
Ben's eyebrows arched with interest. "That may be true," he said, "but-"
"I'm a hard worker and a quick study." I would have added that only one percent of the population had my level of deception detection accuracy, but I didn't want to sound like a used car salesman trying to make a hard sell. "I might fit in better than you think."
The look he gave his boss told me that he still wasn't sold.
"You already know how I feel about this," Frankie said. "But as head of the Criminal Division, your team would also work with her, so it needs to be a joint decision."
He leaned back, his desk chair creaking under his weight as his gaze swept over me.
I placed my hand over the yolk stain on my sleeve. "I'm good at what I do, Mr. Santiago." Despite all appearances to the contrary.
The pinstripes on his chest rose and fell. "Call me Ben. And we'll see about how good you are."
Not the most enthusiastic job offer I'd ever received, but every fiber in my being was singing a hallelujah chorus.
He looked at Frankie. "Thirty-day trial?"
"Fine," she agreed without hesitation.
Ben shrugged. "Then it looks like you just found yourself a new assistant."

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