From THE BODY IN THE APARTMENT (due out March 17)
When Jazzi slid in beside Gaff, he waited for Ansel to pass him on his way to the garage before backing up to leave. “Thanks for going with me. I got the impression Donovan’s parents wanted someone to buffer my asking them questions.”
“I can’t blame them. It has to be hard to talk about your son’s death.”
Gaff drove to the southeast side of River Bluffs to a small subdivision of long ranch style houses. Everything was well-kept, the homes and the yards. They pulled into the drive to a white house with a white stone front and black shutters. Jazzi followed Gaff to the door.
A woman opened it before they rang the bell. She wiped her hands on her jeans. “I’m glad you got here so soon. The waiting makes me nervous.” She motioned them into a living room with pale green plush carpet and formal furniture. It didn’t look like anyone used it, it was so pristine.
“The kitchen and family room are a mess,” she told them. “I just couldn’t make myself clean them. I feel so empty right now.”
Jazzi reached out to touch her hand. “We’re so sorry for your loss.”
The woman blinked back tears. She walked to a chair next to the recliner her husband was sitting in. “Thanks for coming with Detective Gaff. I’m Maureen and this is my husband Ray. I work as a school lunch lady and Ray drives truck.”
“I’m Jazzi Zanders.” She took a seat next to Gaff on the sofa across from them.
Maureen had the same sandy colored hair and brown eyes as her son, but Donovan got his size from his dad, who looked to be five-ten with a medium build. Ray didn’t have the sweet expression Donovan had, though. His mouth and eyes had a sharpness that made him look like someone to steer clear of.
Narrowing his eyes, he looked Jazzi up and down. “You’re a looker. Wish Donovan would have fallen for you instead of that piece of trash he lived with for a while. Glad she dumped him. Heard he’d found someone new, but he didn’t bring her to see us.”
Jazzi wasn’t sure what to say. “I only recently met Donovan. He was the supervisor and trainer for my husband’s brother. Radley thought the world of him.”
Sneering, Ray was ready with another snarky comment. “Radley—yeah, we heard that name. Hung out with another guy Don worked with, a Thane, right?”
Disliking his tone, Jazzi stared and said nothing.
Gaff pulled out his notepad and pen before jumping into the conversation. “It would help me to know some background on Donovan. Who were his friends? Was there anyone he didn’t get along with? Did he run into trouble somewhere—have a gambling problem or anything like that?”
Maureen’s eyes went wide. “Donovan was a good boy. He never gave us trouble. His older brother went through a rocky streak before he moved to South Carolina. Got himself together, and now we never see him.”
“Our Donovan was a real do-gooder, didn’t approve of how much I drink. No wonder his first girl moved out on him.” Ray’s lips turned down. “She was a wild child, stayed with him until she got back on her feet, and then the minute her first boyfriend got out of prison, she went back to him.”
Maureen dabbed at the edges of her eyes. “Donovan thought he could help her, thought she’d change. You know how that works.”
Jazzi thought about her ex-fiancée, Chad. After they’d moved in together, he’d thought he could change her, too, talk her into staying home and raising babies. They broke up soon after that. Ansel was happy with her just the way she was. Of course, it was mutual. Who’d want to change Ansel?
The tap of Gaff’s pen filled the silence as he thought. “How long were Donovan and this first girl together?”
“They didn’t move in together right away,” Maureen said. “But she kept giving him her sad stories, and finally, he took her in. That lasted about a year.”
“How long since they broke up?”
Ray scratched his chin. “Maybe five months. He’s been seeing the new girl the last two months. Donovan couldn’t stop talking about how nice she was. We never met her, just heard about her. Heck, anyone would seem nice after Miss User.”
“Got any names for me?” Gaff poised his pen over the page.
“Brianne Buckley was the first one,” Maureen said. “Elspeth Smythe, with a y and an e, was the second.”
“Did Donovan have any friends who got into trouble?”
Maureen shook her head. “He chose friends a lot better than girlfriends.”
“Anything else you can think of that might help me?” Gaff asked.
They looked at each other and shrugged.
Pushing to his feet, Gaff motioned for Jazzi to join him. “Well, we’d better go now. And thanks for your time.”
Maureen grabbed hold of Jazzi’s hand as she walked past her. “We heard you’re the one who called 911 to get help for our boy. Thank you. You tried.”
Jazzi’s throat tightened again. She could still see Donovan stumbling into the hallway, bleeding heavily. “I wish I could have done more.”
Maureen’s voice hitched, ending on a high note. “You tried. There wasn’t anything anyone could do.”
Gaff put his hand at the base of Jazzi’s back and led her out of the house. “Thanks for coming with me. It helped them.”
From The Body in the Apartment:
Gaff drove Jazzi back to New Haven. When she pushed inside the Victorian’s kitchen door, Jerod, Ansel, and Bain were still sanding. She went to the staircase and tossed her coat over the railings, then donned her white work mask. Dust clogged the air.
“Any luck?” Jerod asked.
“Not much. Only learned that I wouldn’t trust Ronnie any farther than I could punt Ansel in a strong wind.”
Jerod laughed. “Don’t give my Franny any ideas.” He finished one strip of tape and moved to the next. “Where’s everyone going tonight for Thursday night out?”
“Thane, Radley, Bain, and I are going to the Tower Bar on State Street,” Ansel said. “Walker’s coming, too.”
“He is?” Jazzi didn’t think anything could pry him from Didi and River.
Ansel grinned. “Didi told him he either did what he usually does and stops fussing over them, or she’s taking River to a hotel.”
Jazzi liked Didi more the longer she knew her.
Jerod waggled his eyebrows. “Five big, strapping guys walking in to drink beers with no women on their arms. Good thing I won’t be there, or we’d have to fight women off.”
“I’m wearing a ring,” Ansel said.
“Like it matters. Sometimes, that’s a turn-on.” Jerod ran his hand over the wall to check to make sure the seam was smooth. “Walker’s hooked good, isn’t he?”
Ansel finished his seam and moved to the next one. “It took one look. That’s all.”
“That’s how it was with me and my Franny,” Jerod said. “Actually, I didn’t fall until she opened her mouth. I knew I’d met a woman who wouldn’t put up with my crap.”
Snippet from The Body in the Gravel: https://www.kensingtonbooks.com/book.aspx/37932
(and Happy Halloween from George!)
Jazzi stared out the car window at the rain. “I’m hoping for a mild Halloween.”
Gaff looked surprised. “Why? You don’t have kids. You won’t get any trick-or-treaters where you live. The houses are too far apart.”
“But Jerod, Ansel, and I take his kids to my mom’s neighborhood to go house to house. I stay with Mom and help her pass out candy while Ansel goes with Jerod.”
“That’s nice. Your family does a lot of things together.”
“I’d miss them if I ever had to move out of town. It would be awful to be like Walker and have a dad that was so mean, you had to run away from him.”
“The sins of the fathers . . .” Gaff shook his head. “Not a punishment from the heavens, just the way it is. It’s the kids who pay when the celestial lottery gives them crappy parents.”
Jazzi blinked at him in surprise. Gaff was getting philosophical on her. Who knew? “Your family’s close, too. Your kids must like you a little.”
He laughed. “Yeah, they didn’t turn out too bad, but it’s just us and the kids. Ann’s and my parents took off after retirement, followed the sun.”
They were silent a moment and the sound of the windshield wipers, swiping back and forth, caught Jazzi’s attention. They were getting close to Darby’s. Gaff’s expression changed to detective mode. When he turned in the long drive to the outbuildings, he said, “Let’s see what the drivers decide to tell us this time.”
Jazzi caught the word “decide.” She was quickly learning that omissions could be as misleading as out and out lies.
Snippet from The Body in the Apartment (due out May 4, 2020):
Gaff pulled in front of a cement block two-story. The gray rippled blocks had never been painted. They looked strong and solid. The screened porch door was open, so they entered the airy room to knock on the front door. A small withered woman with crinkly gray hair opened it and motioned them inside. She was so bent and tiny, Jazzi wanted to slide an arm under her to support her, but the woman cracked a smile and moved spryly to a velveteen sofa. She nodded for them to take the two chairs across from it.
“You’re here about my Ronnie.” Bright dark eyes studied them.
Gaff looked around the room. “He said that he’d meet us here while we talked to you.”
“Boy got in late last night. Got home from washin’ dishes about one in the mornin’, then stayed up playing on that game box of his half the night.”
Gaff gestured to Jazzi. “This is Jazzi. Ronnie asked if she’d be here when we visited you.”
“A nice lookin’ girl. Nice o’ you to come. S’pose you want to know about my grandson.”
When Gaff took out his notepad and pen, she said, “His mama left the boy with me when he was just a baby. Took off with some guy. I’ve raised him ever since. He was a good boy, never got in trouble, till he fell in with the wrong crowd in high school. Ain’t been nothin’ but trouble ever since.”
“Are those the men he went to prison with?” Gaff asked.
“This last time. Been a few short trips before that.” She shook her head. “Not sure what his mama took when he was inside her, but he didn’t come out smart enough to get a good job. Not attractive enough to catch a good girl either. He swears this time he learned his lesson, though. Swore he wouldn’t cross the law again. Says if he has to wash dishes for the rest o’ his life, at least he’ll be in this house with me and get plenty o’ love.”
Gaff raised an eyebrow. “Do you believe him?”
She cocked her head to one side and pursed his lips. “He means it for now. He’ll get the house when I’m gone. At least he’ll have a roof over his head if he wants one.”
“I need to talk to him,” Gaff said. “Mind if I go upstairs and wake him up?”
“I’ll get him. He’s a might grouchy at first. No need for you to see him like that.” She grabbed the stair railing to make her way to the second floor. A short while later, she returned with a man in his early thirties, a couple of inches taller than Jazzi, with lank drab brown hair, colorless eyes, and a flat face. He had a weak chin.
Gaff poised his pen above his notepad. “I came to ask you who helped you rob the drugstore that sent you to prison.”
Ronnie sagged onto the other side of the sofa and leveled a look at Gaff. “You already looked it up, but I’ll tell ya anyway. Gil drove the getaway car. Me, Jarrett, and Boscoe went inside. Boscoe kept gettin’ in fights in prison, or he’d have got out with Jarrett and me. Gil got knifed. I don’t ever wanna go back to the big house again.”
A car backfired outside and Ronnie jumped. So did Jazzi and Gaff.
Grandma frowned. “Did something happen?”
“It’s fine, Granny.” He shook his head at them. “Going deaf. Can’t see too well either. Glad I came back to keep an eye on her.”
Gaff asked him about other robberies he committed.
“Small time stuff. In and outta old peoples’ windows. Stole a car once for a joy ride. Nothin’ big.”
“What made you decide to try something bigger?” Gaff asked.
“Jarrett thought we was ready. We was, too, but we both think someone snitched on us. Jarrett’s pretty sure he knows who.”
“Care to share?”
Ronnie shrugged. “I ain’t got a clue. Not sure Jarrett’s right either.”
Gaff looked up from his notes. “You must have some idea who killed Gil.”
His grandma put her hand to her throat. “Gil’s dead?”
Ronnie pressed his lips together. “He died in prison, Granny.”
She shook her head. “That poor boy, he was always nice to you.”
“Sure was. He and this big guy got into it in the workroom when they were on laundry duty. The guy told Gil that I wasn’t pullin’ my weight, that maybe I needed a little extra motivation, but Gil said no one touched me, or they’d regret it.”
“So he stuck up for you,” Gaff said.
Ronnie nodded. “Gil always had my back. When we went out in the prison yard, though, the guy bumped into Gil on purpose to get stuff started. Big mistake. Gil knows how to box. Smart people left him alone.”
That’s what Didi had said, too. “What happened?” Jazzi asked.
“Everyone crowded around, tryin’ to get a better view. No one saw who did it. There was too much pushin’ and pullin’. Couldn’t be sure it was Gavin since Gil got shanked in the side.”
Gaff studied him. Maybe Gaff didn’t believe him any more than she did.
Snippet from The Body in the Apartment (book 4 due out March 17, 2020):
There was so much blood. It spread beneath him and oozed out of the exit wound in his back.
“We need to apply pressure to the wound.” Radley pressed both hands to Donovan’s back, pressing down hard. Relief flooded her when sirens approached the building and EMS techs hurried up the steps. Everyone stood back, out of the way, to let them do their jobs.
Walker’s voice shook when he asked her, “Is Gaff coming?” He’d worked with the detective when his dad, Darby, was killed. He respected him.
“He’ll be here soon.” She hoped it was only to solve a shooting, not a murder. She willed Donovan to hang on, to make it.
Walker leaned against the wall to wait. Ansel grabbed her hand, though, and pulled her after him. When she glanced back at the medics, Ansel tugged harder.
“What is it?”
“Where’s Bain?” His voice cracked with tension.
“Bain? He left.”
“Hurry!” He practically dragged her after him. They got out of the building before cops arrived. He headed straight to the back lot and found his brother searching through his pickup in near panic.
“Did you hear the shot?” Ansel asked.
Bain’s face drained of color. “Someone must have seen me walk back to my truck to put our gun in the glove compartment. It’s gone. Somebody stole it.”
Ansel stared. “I told you it was a stupid idea to buy a gun.”
“Dad bought it when we drove here for your wedding. He said every big city was filled with violence. He insisted I bring it to get Radley.”
Jazzi studied the glove compartment. No marks on it. No marks on the truck’s doors either. “No windows are broken or doors jammed. How did someone get in?”
Bain swallowed hard. “I never lock it. No need to on the farm or in our small town. I just forgot.”
Ansel raked a hand through his white-blond hair. “There’s no way to prove anyone took it.”
Bain pressed his eyes shut, rubbed his forehead. “But why would I shoot anyone here? I don’t know anybody in River Bluffs.”
“It’s Donovan, and you just argued with him. He’s lost a lot of blood. You’d better come with us. Detective Gaff is going to want to question you.” Ansel waited for his brother to follow him, but Bain stood rooted to the spot.
Snippet from The Body in the Gravel. Meet Colin, one of the suspects in Darby’s murder. He drove truck for Darby, but Jazzi’s pretty sure he didn’t kill him:
Colin considered Gaff’s question. “Darby did the same thing with the customers that he was doing to me. He kept blaming us for his mistakes. The old man was losing it. His fights didn’t even make sense. Sometimes he’d stop in the middle of them, scratch his head, and walk away. He knew was being stupid. Something was on his mind that he couldn’t shake.”
“Any idea what?”
Colin shook his head. “I’d be surprised if his brain wasn’t pickled. He drank too much for too long. I asked him once if he wanted to patch things up with Rose and his kid, that maybe he felt bad about how things had ended with them. He went ballistic.”
“Did he threaten to fire you?”
Colin laughed. “He did that every other day.”
“What if he meant it the last time?”
A shrug. “So what? The ski resort keeps wanting me to work year-round. I’ve never stayed in one place before. Spent a year at the most. It’s been nine here. If it’s over, I’ll move on.”
Jazzi frowned. She couldn’t figure Colin out. “Do you have family around here? Wouldn’t you miss them if they weren’t close?”
He barked a laugh. “My old man was fifty when I was born. Mom was forty-eight, didn’t think she could get pregnant. I came as a shock. She kept telling me I almost killed her, moved around a lot inside, and then she had a hard time giving birth.”
“Did they dote on you since you came so late?” He didn’t strike Jazzi as a kid who’d been spoiled.
“No, I just wore them out. I had ADD/ADHD and drove them nuts. When Mom hit fifty-five, she had one health scare after another. It was a relief when I moved out.”
Jazzi put a hand over her heart. She couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for him when he was a kid.
Snippet from The Body in the Gravel (available September 24th–so yes, this is a shameless plug:). And we all know cats rule. Inky doesn’t care about murders, only his food bowl:
A paw batted her cheek. Jazzi opened one eye and blinked. Inky had his face in hers, staring down at her. She glanced at the clock and pushed him away. She had another half hour to sleep.
When the cat jumped off the bed, she rolled over to get more comfortable. Thud! Something heavy hit the floor. She propped herself on her elbows in time to see Inky walk to the next bottle of perfume on her chest of drawers and whack it over the edge. He padded to the next bottle, raised his paw, and looked at her.
The little brat! She swung her legs over the bed, stalked to him, and tossed him into the hallway, shutting the bedroom door. She’d made it halfway back to her warm sheets and blanket when paws tried to turn the doorknob. Could he open the door? She hoped not. Then a body threw itself against the wood. Paws padded down the hall, ran, and leapt at the door again.
What in the world? She yanked the door open and Inky flew at her. He hit her midsection and dropped to the floor. He sat on his haunches and stared at her, unrepentant.
She glanced at the clock. In ten minutes, the alarm would go off. She might as well stay up. On the way down the stairs, she warned the cat, “If you do that again, you’ll be locked in the basement at night. Then you can’t get to our door.”
He glanced over his furry shoulder at her and stalked to the kitchen, unconcerned. He went straight to his food bowl and meowed. She stared. “You got me up to feed you?”
He meowed more loudly.
“You know there are outdoor cats who have to worry about owls and coyotes, don’t you?”
He didn’t look scared. She was filling his bowl when Marmalade came to wind around her ankles. What a nice cat. Affectionate, with good manners. She filled her bowl, too. When Ansel carried George down to join them, she poured two mugs of coffee while Ansel fed the dog.
“Little did I know pets would rule our lives.” She plopped four pieces of pumpernickel bread in the toaster.
Snippet from The Body in the Apartment:
Jazzi pointed at Donovan stumbling out of his apartment, his hand pressed to his chest. Blood covered it and dripped down his arm. As he tried to walk toward them, his knees buckled and he fell.
They ran to him. Jerod and Radley knelt beside him, and Jazzi reached for her cell phone to call 911. Then she called Detective Gaff. She’d worked with him on previous murders. More of them than she should ever have had to deal with.
“A man’s been shot at the apartments on Berry Street, apartment 2D,” she told him. “He’s in bad shape. I called 911. Are you on duty today?”
“I’m working a homicide not far away. Give me fifteen minutes.”
Jazzi wasn’t sure Donovan had that long.
Snippet from The Body in the Gravel:
Thane clenched and unclenched his hands. “If Walker left.”
Gaff’s pen poised over his notepad again. “You don’t think he did?”
Thane leaned forward, his expression intent. “When I started the internship with my company, I got paid while I trained and worked. I got an apartment and asked Walker if he’d like to be my roommate. That way, he wouldn’t have to spend any more time with Darby than he chose to. Walker turned me down, told me he loved the cement business and his mom, that he’d never leave her alone to deal with the old man. He meant to take Darby in his stride. But things got worse and worse between them. Then two years ago, he came to my place and we played cards for most of an evening. He left and I got a call from him late that night. He said his mom and him had to leave, that he couldn’t be around Darby anymore, that he needed a fresh start. I never saw him or Rose again. I called him over and over again, but he never answered. He and Rose just vanished.”
Jazzi stared. “That’s why you accused Darby of burying them somewhere on his property.”
“What would you think?” Thane curled his hands into fists. “If Darby thought Rose was walking out on him, he’d go berserk, especially if she was leaving with Walker. I drove to Darby’s place and demanded to know what happened, but he cussed me out and told me to get lost. I finally called the cops, told them my story, and they let me walk every inch of the grounds with them. They brought a dog trained to find corpses.”
“And?” Jerod demanded.
Thane shook his head. “We didn’t find anything, and somehow Darby convinced them that Rose got tired of him, ran off and took Walker with her.”
Earl rubbed his forehead, a worried scowl on his face. “Darby poured a cement slab a month after Walker left. Odd, because it’s stuck in a strange spot, doesn’t serve any purpose.”
Thane flinched and pinched his lips together in a tight line. “When I accused Darby of killing them yesterday, that’s when he punched me.”
Snippet from The Body in the Gravel (due out Sept. 24):
Gaff ate a handful of chips and took a few sips of pop before turning his attention back to the interview. “Okay, Earl, let’s start at the beginning. How many years did you work for Darby?”
“Earl Lahr. Me and two other guys drove for him. He paid us good wages. We had steady work except for the down season. Every cement driver has that. The business did better when Walker ran it. Since Darby’s been in charge the last two years, things have been slipping.”
Gaff frowned. “Why’s that? He ran it until Walker got old enough, didn’t he?”
Earl rubbed his chin. He glanced over at Thane. “Darby hasn’t been the same since Rose left. I don’t think he’d ever harm her, so I don’t think he killed her. He might not have been nice to live with, but she was his rock, his foundation. He’s been off kilter without her. He drank more, forgot to write down deliveries if he was in one of his moods, and just didn’t seem to care as much as he once did. We were beginning to wonder how much longer we’d have jobs.”
“How did you and the other two drivers get along with him?”
Earl rubbed his palms on his jeans. “No one got along with Darby. He could get under anyone’s skin. He could flip from laughing and joking with you to saying the meanest thing you’ve ever heard from one breath to the next. We used to joke that he was bi-polar, but then we decided he was just mean. Once he found your soft spot, he wouldn’t leave it alone.”
“Did he find yours?”
“The best he could do was call me a momma’s boy. He’d say I’d rather hang onto Mom’s apron strings than find a woman of my own.”
“Did that bother you?”
“Not much. I was married once. Met my wife when we were both studying to be dental hygienists.”
Jerod stared. “You worked in a dentist’s office?”
Jazzi rolled her eyes at him. Her cousin had no tact. Whatever thought flew through his mind had a chance of popping out of his mouth.
Earl glanced down at his flannel shirt and work jeans. “Hard to believe, isn’t it? I cleaned and X-rayed teeth for three years. Hated it. My wife loved it, but I didn’t like being stuck indoors. I wouldn’t have been happy doing any office work. When I quit to drive a truck, she filed for divorce. I made more money, but she thought it was a low-class job. I steered away from women for a long time after that.”
Gaff finished scribbling notes and asked, “Did Darby pick on his other two employees?”
“Anyone was fair game,” Earl said, “but he especially heckled Andy. He’s the youngest of us, and I got the idea that made Darby think he was more vulnerable. That, and Andy has a kid with autism.”
Jazzi couldn’t believe anyone would use autism to badger a parent. What kind of sadistic person would make fun of a father trying to cope with a child who had handicaps?
Gaff’s expression hardened, too. The detective was close to his two grown boys, Jazzi knew, and crazy about his three grandkids. He wouldn’t appreciate jokes about kids with problems.