a Rylie Keyes Mystery by Marianne Harden
The late Otto Weiner was thought to be a penniless Nazi concentration camp survivor with a silly grudge against Rylie. However, Otto was not a liked man by any means, and his enemies will stop at nothing to keep their part in his murder secret.
Forced to dust off the PI training she has to keep hidden from her ex-detective grandfather, Rylie must align with a circus-bike-wheeling Samoan while juggling the attention of two very hot cops who each get her all hot and bothered for very different reasons. And as she trudges through this new realm of perseverance, she has no idea that along the way she just might win, or lose, a little piece of her heart.
Title: Malicious Mischief (A Rylie Keyes Mystery)
Author: Marianne Harden
Genre: Mystery Romance
Length: 320 pages
Release Date: October 2013
Print ISBN: 978-1-62266-033-9
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-62266-032-2
Imprint: Entangled Select
Praise for Malicious Mischief:
Murder, mayhem, and irresistible fun! I loved Malicious Mischief, Rylie Keyes, and the Pacific Northwest setting. A clever romp of a mystery.” – Melissa Bourbon, bestselling author of A Magical Dressmaking Mystery Series
© 2013 Marianne Harden
~When the chips are down, the buffalo is empty~
Am I a flake? Sort of. But I’m trying to change. My grandfather has property tax issues, and what troubles Granddad, troubles me. Good thing I’ve held down a steady job for months. This is a major deal. Not the getting a job part—I’ve had lots—but the held down aspect. Somehow, I always end up unemployed, but not today.
Today, I am Rylie Tabitha Keyes, chauffeur to the seniors at Fountain of Youth Retirement Home (FoY).
It was dawn Sunday when I eased my employer’s van from one freeway onto another. After that, I concentrated on the wet asphalt up ahead. I didn’t want to think about my job history or our financial woes. Instead I focused on the summery sunrise over the Cascade Mountains due east. I stared at it a moment, charmed by its contrast to the more typical Bellevue, Washington gloom brooding overhead.
I should’ve been asleep, but I needed to toss trash from a fundraiser rolling around in the back of the van. Leland Rosenberg, my boss at Fountain of Youth Retirement Home, had asked me to dump the bags at his second business, Rosenberg Laboratory, as FoY’s Dumpsters were full from a recent remodel. His mood had been edgy, sort of insistent I dispose of them last night. I confess, before I could carry out this task, a minor traffic accident and an all-important overnight obligation had waylaid me. I didn’t bother to sigh over how blunders always seemed to pepper my work performance. Some things were fated to be. After all, I slogged at my job for money not joy. It isn’t that I don’t like working at FoY, it just isn’t my dream gig.
Sadly, at twenty-four, I have a résumé too long to recite from memory, but not because I’m aimless. For as long as I can remember, I have yearned to be a private detective, a Veronica Mars 2.0. Problem is my grandfather is against the idea. Dead set against it. “Rylie, it isn’t always pretty or exciting,” he had said. “The hours are lousy, the pay measly, and then there is the danger.” He stared at me reflectively, and I knew he was thinking of the two times he’d been shot on the force. “There is a lot of danger.”
“Danger is how I roll,” I said, grinning.
Granddad had pursed his lips. He doesn’t always appreciate my silly sense of humor.
“Detective work isn’t for you,” he’d decreed.
“Rylie.” His eyes misted when he looked at me. “Do this for me, please.”
Nevertheless, there was no good reason why as a grown woman I’ve caved to his demands, except one: I adore him. He’s always been there for me—right from the beginning when he took me in as newborn after my mother ran off. And with his health in decline from a recent heart attack, I cannot—will not—risk upsetting him.
So with the stench from the trash bags mounting, I steered FoY’s van onto the off-ramp and headed toward Rosenberg Laboratory just off the freeway exit. My mind was filled with thoughts of a steamy shower, maybe a few hours of shut-eye before punching the clock at nine. I stared forward, squinted due to the dimness. Then I iced over. Up ahead, traveling in the wrong direction a panel truck advanced, peeling rubber.
Zeroed in to hit me.
I whipped the van off the road, the red, white, and blue panel truck whizzing past. I slammed on the brakes, fighting to control the wheel. I wrestled with it, panicked, my mind flashing on one fortunate thing: no seniors were in the van.
Tons of hazards burst before my eyes. I struggled to absorb them. A mangled guardrail zigzagged up ahead, its many gaps from other out-of-control vehicles big as life. Worse was the wall of giant Douglas-firs growing beyond, lower trunks scarred, limbs low and swaying.
I was going to careen through the railing.
I was going to hit the trees.
I was going to die.
I shut my eyes, but terrified of dying in the dark, I forced them open. The van bulleted through the ruptured guardrail, shot toward the trees. I jumped when something brown hit the windshield, bounced off. Several horrific seconds passed before the van miraculously whizzed between two trees, hurdling into a shrubby field. No time to celebrate, not with a concrete wall up ahead.
The sound of steel hitting stone caught my ears, and glass shattered as the van sideswiped the wall. Then it rolled to a stop, right side billowing in cement dust.
I froze rock-solid before the shakes began. I shook in silence, a disbelieving, embarrassed silence. I wondered about having two auto accidents in less than six hours. I rejected the idea that someone wanted me dead. It amazed me how silly that sounded. No way was I important enough to murder. Sure, if I were a private investigator, killing me might make sense. After all, I may be a skinny redhead with tons of freckles, but I have a fair grasp of detective work after secretly studying on my own. So I could see me pissing off some baddy, making him snap and seek revenge. Only problem: I’m no PI, just a harmless chauffeur for a retirement home—
Or, at least I was a chauffeur for a retirement home. Leland would probably fire me. I’d have to stand in more unemployment lines. I’d have to schlep to more interviews. I’d have to tell Granddad I was out of work. Again.
The hardest part about losing this job was leaving friends. I liked the seniors, well, maybe not crabby Otto Weiner, who once grumbled to Leland about my driving. When my boss sided with me, I caught Otto draining the lizard on the van’s front seats. We had a pinky tussle where one of us ended up on our knees. Okay, so I will not be wearing those tights again.
With the wrong-way driver probably halfway to Seattle by now, I searched the van in the early morning light for my cell phone, only to realize I had left it along with my jacket at the abandoned train trestle downtown. I didn’t relish walking down the street in the damp to find an open convenience store with a pay phone, or calling the police once I found one. But it was necessary. I was a cop’s granddaughter and had learned early the importance of laws.
Then as though the universe took pity on me, a patrol car cruised down the street up ahead. I unclicked my seatbelt as the car pulled to the curb, roof lights dark and covered. I tried for laid back but failed miserably as my stomach nose-dived to my apple-green Converse. Weird. One would think I’d be cool around police since Granddad retired after forty years on the force, twenty of those as a Bellevue detective. But I squirmed like a bucket of worms.
When the officer climbed from the squad car, my heart followed my stomach. As difficult as it was being pathetic in the job department, it was harder to love an unattainable guy. Particularly, especially, Officer Zach O’Neil.
About a hundred feet lay between both vehicles, but they blurred away as Zach ran toward me, calling out my name. Dang, he was hot. And reliable. That practical thought skipped into my mind, and I snorted at the silliness of it, yet there was no denying his awesomeness.
“You okay?” Vague irritation crossed his face. “Everything in one piece?”
He leaned on the window frame, his dark butterscotch hair made radiant by the rising sun, and his tender gray eyes stealing my voice. I smiled my best 100-watter to cover my silence.
I studied his face: gentle, barely a shadow of beard, and a squared-off chin. I had known him for most of my life and loved him for eons. Not only did Zach know nothing of my crush, but also after he shot and killed an armed convenience store robber several months back, he’d made it clear he wanted no long-term relationships, not with anyone. Ever.
“Right as rain.” I bit my lip. Who was I kidding? Just look at him, those wounded eyes. I was a goner. “A panel truck ran me off the road.”
“You aren’t hurt?” He reached out and, with amazing tenderness, laid a finger on my forehead. “What’s with the blood?”
“Blood? On me?” As I suffered a dogged blood phobia and certain I would faint at the sight, I fought the urge to touch the wound. “Is it bad?”
He shook his head, but he didn’t smile. “I’m just kidding. It’s only a small scratch.”
I twisted to see my face in the side mirror. He was right—no blood, only a bit of red. I tried to grin but knew it came out a smirk. “It does hurt,” I said without a hint of poutiness. I was proud of that. “Head wounds can be tricky.”
He opened my door and pulled me close. “Any dizziness?”
I slid my hands inside his jacket, around his back. I felt something beyond love. I felt safe. I always did with Zach. “I’m okay, really.”
Then halfway into what I hoped was a sexy look, I hiccupped. Great.
Zach leaned closer in a conspiratorial whisper, “You smell fishy.”
Clearly, fish oil was not an animal attraction scent.
“It’s Leland’s new liquid vitamins. He has everyone at FoY taking them.”
“Leland amazes me,” Zach said. “Running the laboratory and FoY, making vitamins, and that new anti-frailty drug for seniors. The guy must never sleep. In fact, I know he doesn’t. All hours of the night I see lights on in his garage office.”
There wasn’t a lot of privacy on Lake Sammamish, and according to Granddad that was the beauty of our little lake, what made all us neighbors like family. Zach lived one house away from Granddad and me and my friend Solo, with Leland in between us.
“Tell me about it,” I said. “Those lights shine down through my bedroom window, and Solo says he can see them from the dock.”
Zach’s jaw tightened. “Solo will survive. Listen, it may be a rundown sailboat, but is it not time you charged him rent to live on it? He’s got a job, even if it’s only part time.”
“Full time,” I corrected. “And he pays rent now.”
Too much rent if you ask me, but he won’t hear of us taking less.
“Glad to hear.”
Zach was rubbing my shoulders, a new habit of his. It was both ecstasy and torture.
“So how—how have you been? It’s been weeks. Two, actually,” I said.
“Two weeks?” He frowned at this, but didn’t look surprised.
“Not that I’m counting. I would never count.” I stared at my feet. Truth was, after I’d stupidly deepened an innocent kiss between us after a small Lotto win, I worried he was dodging me. “You’re busy. I’m busy. Okay, moving on.”
His eyes darkened. “Better have that bump checked. You don’t want your grandfather to worry.”
“No, I wouldn’t want Granddad to worry,” I said, unable to squelch the sarcasm.
He frowned again; he’d heard the hurt in my voice. I dropped my gaze, ashamed. I needed no proof of his friendship. His love? Well, that was a different story. I would do most anything to hear those words, short of revealing my feelings first. I just couldn’t do that.
I looked up, a little lost. “When you got here, how’d you know it was me?”
“What else? This van, it’s hard to miss the bright orange color.” He stepped back, making more distance between us. “And the airbrushed seniors playing guitars are a dead giveaway.”
“I like it,” I said. A tiny lie, the flashy paint played havoc with my goal to appear older than twelve. “Leland says the color makes people remember FoY.”
“I’ll bet.” Abruptly he reached inside the van and turned off the ignition. “You know better than to leave a damaged engine running—” He broke off, shaking his head.
“I guess in all the excitement I forgot.”
He grabbed me by the shoulders. “Forgot? Rylie, you could have blown up.”
I caught the terror in his voice. Resolute, rebounding, like an echo from the night of the convenience store shoot-out when a stray bullet had ignited his squad car’s gas tank.
“You could have blown up,” he said again, softer this time, heartbreakingly so.
I wanted to ask about the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder he now suffered. But I knew better. He always got angry, except once during a weak moment when he’d revealed his fear of hurting somebody during one of his many flashbacks. “I’m not in danger anymore, Zach. The engine is off.”
There came a pause, a long sigh. “You’ve gotta learn to be more careful—” When his voice broke, he looked away. “A lot more careful.”
“There’s no chance of an explosion,” I said.
“Now,” was his only comment.
“Everything is fine.”
“Is it?” He paused again. “Don’t you realize it took me several minutes to notice the van’s engine was still on? Christ, it’s up to me to take care of you. I screwed up.”
Though his anguish made my heart skip, I shook my head. “It’s not your fault. I screwed up, not you. I forgot to turn off the engine.”
He made a noncommittal sound. “So why are you up so early?”
“Ahhh.” My Saturday night routine annoyed him, so I sidestepped. “Why are you?”
He narrowed his eyes, but didn’t push. “A quick break from the department’s information and complaint desk. First year on the force and I’m already ferrying squad cars.” He rotated his right shoulder—another injury from the shootout. “The good news is I’m done with physical therapy.”
“Then you’re better?”
“Yeah…yeah, I am…better.” He stared over my shoulder as early rising bees buzzed nearby in a clump of shrubs. “Much better.”
I decided to take a chance. “And the flashbacks, have they gone away?”
Those tender eyes of his locked on mine. “I’m not crazy. Killing a man changes a person, even when the shooting was justified.”
I drew in a bolstering breath, ready to broach another sore subject. “Talk to a department counselor again, and this time tell him the truth.”
“And risk being kicked off the force? Nothing has changed since the last time you brought this up. I know you’re worried, but I’m fine. The flashbacks are gone. Trust me, Rylie. They’re gone. Vanished. Nowhere in sight.”
He was trying too hard.
“That’s good,” I said, unconvinced.
“Paperwork is in, awaiting the captain’s signature. Soon I’ll be back on the beat.”
“Nice,” I said with a smile that felt almost natural.
“Nice? It’s freakin’ awesome.” His gaze slid to the van’s passenger seat where I had left the blanket, Thermos, and flashlight I had used overnight. He shot me a slanted look, paired with a faint frown. “Dawn Sunday. Overnight gear. Christ, not again. How many times must I tell you Suicide Trestle isn’t safe?”
I took a careful breath. “As it happens—”
“Suicidal jumpers need professional help,” he said. “Not amateurs.”
“Have you forgotten my suicide prevention training?”
“Two weeks preparing for the hotline doesn’t make you a professional.”
I caught his tone: frustration. “But you said I was perfect for the job.”
“And you’re the one who messed up your first call by answering ‘Poisons to go. At the end of your rope, we got your dope,’” he sing-songed.
“That is not fair, Zach.” Shame and irritation swamped me. “You of all people know that’s just not fair. I made a mistake. I accidentally leaned on the live button. I thought the incoming call was a practical joke, not the real thing.”
“You should have known,” he said simply.
I opened my mouth, closed it. It was all fine and good for him. He hadn’t been there, hadn’t been swept up in the staff’s amusing stories. He hadn’t heard about their pranks on rookies with phony emergency calls to soothe their nerves. I had just been going along. I’d wanted to fit in, be needed. Even so, his words made me realize something.
“You’re right,” I said. “I need to work on my observation skills. I’ll need those as a detective.”
He shook his head.
Seeing where this was going, I held up a silencing hand. “Whether you support me or not, I’m going to be a PI someday. Sheesh, why are both you and Granddad against me on this? Never mind. You’re entitled to your opinion, as mean as it is.”
“That’s me, a big meanie.” And for the first time this morning, he smiled.
I felt a flicker of guilt, knowing he was never mean and that like Granddad his resistance was out of concern. “I need to check the damage to the van.” I skirted around him, only to have him keep pace as we walked to the front bumper.
We took a good look. The right side mirror was gone, the corner of the windshield scrunched, and the right side dented and scraped.
“Tell me one thing,” Zach said, straightening. “You did take Solo with you last night?”
“Of course. Solo always comes along.”
My friend Solosolo Namulau’ulu is Samoan, but his shortened nickname is the only thing small about him. He is huge. And strong. Truth is I’m a little scared to patrol Suicide Trestle without him. Sure, I’ve taken a course on negotiation, and then there is my hotline training, but I have never actually used any of it. Whereas Solo muscles people into seeing things his way. Solo has lots of muscles, but inside he is a pussycat, one with a body like a Mack truck.
“Solo gets me,” I said.
Zach smirked. “Meaning I don’t?”
“I didn’t say that. But you could support me. If we save only one life, then all the sacrificed Saturday nights in the world will be worth it.”
“What if a jumper takes you with them over the edge? What then?”
“That’s where Solo comes in. Not many can overpower him. We’re a team.”
“A team of trouble.” He typed a text message on his phone. “I just let your teammate know you’ll be a little late getting home. Last thing you need is Solo waking up your grandfather, wondering where you are and why you’re not home yet.”
“Good thinking. We left the trestle at the same time, but he detoured to get something to eat.” I shifted my gaze to the van then back again. “Could Bondo fix this damage?”
Zach’s deepening grin raised a hint of dimples. “I have a theory, no proof, but it just might take more than bodywork to fix this mess. And two accidents in only a couple of hours just might be a record.”
“How’d you know about the other one?” Then I remembered the message I had left on his cell after the first accident, a call he hadn’t returned. I wanted to ask why, but couldn’t. His pledge had not been to avoid all hook-ups, just the permanent kind. If he’d been with another woman, I didn’t want to know.
“Has it occurred to you that you’re a magnet for trouble?” he asked.
“Neither accident was my fault. The delivery truck last night came out of nowhere. I’m lucky the truck just dinged the bumper.” I sighed, gave in. “Okay, I’m a magnet.”
He unlatched the hood, tugged, but when it rose only inches with a dismal moan, he let it drop. “The right fender took the main hit. Right hinge is crumpled.” He peered beneath the bumper. “Reserve tank is crunched. No obvious leaks, though. You got lucky.”
“Lucky for me, you showed up.” Even to my own ears, I sounded stupidly girlish. “What if Karl Lipschitz had driven by? He’d have arrested me on the spot.”
Zach straightened. “On what charge? Not been drinking, have you?”
Plaeezzze. I rolled my eyes.
He raised his brows.
“I drank way too much beer the night of the convenience store shooting, and because of that you feel the need to ask me that question?”
“Not your finest moment,” he said, chuckling.
I only groaned as the mist thickened around us.
“How was it you described time that night? Something Shakespearean about a bloody tyrant devouring our love.”
To his credit, he’d left out the part where I upchucked on his shoes. “Not love, silly. Life. Never love.” I angled him a look. “Why would you think love? Sheesh, that’s crazy. Can we never bring it up again?”
He was still grinning. “Sure. Anything you say.” He grabbed the side mirror from where it had rolled beneath the bumper. It was mangled, with the orange paint scratched off, and the gray primer beneath pockmarked and angry. “This isn’t good.”
My lips tightened. “Leland is going to fire me, isn’t he? We’ll lose our home. The tax assessor will auction it off if I miss another payment.” I took another deep breath. “I can’t let that happen. It would kill Granddad—”
Just then, a kickass red Vespa sped through the same gap in the trees as the van had earlier. Solo was at the helm and swatting the air with one gigantic hand. “When you texted Solo, did you tell him where we were?”
“Uh-huh,” Zach said, which explained how Solo had found us. “What’s he doing?”
Solo batted the air with both hands, and braced both feet on the handlebar to control the Vespa, balancing it over all the dips and bumps.
“If you think that’s wild, you should see him flip off the handlebars,” I said.
It was true enough that most would think it took a few loose screws for someone to give up an NFL offensive lineman position in order to pursue a dream of riding a circus bike for Cirque du Soleil. But that was Solo, and the reason his mother had kicked him out last year. After that, he came to live with Granddad and me.
Zach grabbed my hand and pulled me behind him. “Something’s wrong.”
“Nawgh—” Then I saw it. The Vespa was traveling too fast, on dead aim to hit the rear of the van. “Uh-oh.”
Solo launched from the bike, shrieking as his hulking frame took wing. At least it sounded like shrieks over a strange buzzing. He howled one last time, hit the ground, and rolled to his feet. The buzzing went on, as did the Vespa, straight toward the van, Zach, and me.
I yelped as Zach pushed me down on the dirt and dropped down beside me.
I lifted my head for a look-see, only to have Zach drag me closer.
“Keep down,” he said.
A split second later, the Vespa rammed into the van and pushed it forward. When the license plate missed my ear by millimeters, I gasped, my jaw dropping. A risky position as the reserve tank picked that moment to burst. I tried to scramble back, but Zach’s arm trapped me. Warm, sweet liquid drenched my face, flooded my mouth, and closed my throat.
“Spit it out!” Zach roared.
I coughed out some of the radiator fluid, drew in a gasping breath, and spewed the rest. “Geez, are you serious? I wasn’t going to drink it.”
He gave me a half-hearted grin. “You almost did, admit it.”
When I squinty-eyed him, he only mussed my hair.
I strained to see beyond him to Solo. Big as Sasquatch, Solo was cursing a Cat 5 as he ran around thrashing the air with his ham-like paws.
“Get ’em off. Get ’em off,” he shouted.
A busy black ponytail snaked from his helmet and his arms were the size of respectable tree trunks. Beneath a brown leather vest, he wore a screaming yellow shirt and a brown sarong-like skirt called a lava-lava.
Zach jumped to his feet, pulling me with him.
“What’s he swatting?” he asked.
I angled my head, focused on the buzzing. Then I remembered the brown thing that had bounced off the van’s windshield. How it might have been a beehive. “Oh, no, I think they’re bees!”
“Help me!” Solo yelled as he neared, his cries of pain fracturing across the field, deadening all other sounds. I started toward him, but he waved me off. “Wait. I was wrong. You’ll get stung. Stay back!”
Ignoring his warning, I searched the ground and grabbed a branch. It was light and full of dried needles. I wondered if swatting the bees would chase them away or enrage them even more. Frantic, frightened, tormented by his unrelenting screams, I closed the distance between us and went after the bees with the branch.
He tried to push me away, but his hands met with only air as I twisted and swooped down on the bees. The rough bark dug into my palms as I circled him, ineffective, and spinning my wheels.
“It’s no use. We need smoke,” I said.
“I have matches.” Solo knifed a hand into his vest pocket, missed, and snagged his lava-lava instead.
“I have another idea.” Zach said, and rushed toward the van.
Solo ran around in more circles, swapping, howling, and tossing his helmet aside.
I ran after him, slapping him with the branch. “Stop moving!” I cried.
“But I’m dying. Dying!” He found his pocket finally, hauled out a book of matches and—after a grab for the branch—he lit it.
“Wait—” I screamed, concerned by the chance of a wildfire, but it was too late.
Fast flames ignited the needles into a fiery ball. Solo and I jumped back, the branch dropping to the ground, the tall grass bursting into an instant inferno. Stunned, we gawked at the blaze for two seconds then got busy kicking dirt on it.
Zach appeared at my side, stomping his big ol’ size elevens on the flames as well. Smoke engulfed us, stealing our air, making us cough. Through the haze I checked around, the fire was beginning to wane. The buzzing was also fading. Solo paused, appearing to notice it, too. He let out a whoop of joy and, pirouetting like he does in his circus clown act, he whirled around in an enormous circle.
With two left feet, I shared in his joy by stomping a barn dance on the smolder. Almost out was all I had time to think before Zach took me to the ground. Again.
“Your skirt is on fire.” He rolled me once. Then twice, before he flipped me onto my stomach and patted down my backside, his hands firm but gentle as they stroked my bare legs.
I groaned, wondering the likelihood of being turned-on and terrified at the same time. “Should I roll over?” I asked like a lovesick fool.
His narrowed eyes met mine. “Rylie, we need to talk—damn!”
He grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet.
“The fire, it’s back!” His panic lashed out, frenzied. “Go to Solo. Stay with him.”
“But—” It was all I said before his arms—strong and quick like a snake attacking prey—seized me about the waist. Air whooshed out of my mouth as he carried me to Solo. He dropped me there, where my ankle gave way, and I tumbled back.
I righted, looked around. My knees weakened at seeing the flames whipping up, strengthening as it ignited the grass again. I started raving, wanting a fire extinguisher, unclear about whether one was in the van.
“Rylie.” Zach’s irritation showed only briefly. “Stay here with Solo.”
“But I can help,” Solo said.
Zach grabbed him by his vest. “Do as you’re told. Keep her safe.”
Solo didn’t struggle, he didn’t resist, but there came a tense moment while they stared at each other, when his face cemented at being roughhoused. Though he had Zach by a hundred pounds, he would not challenge him or fend him off. People assumed his massive bulk equaled violence. Not true. Not with tenderhearted Solo. He was more boy than man, more jester than warrior. As expected, his expression softened, and his dipped is head in agreement.
Zach’s fingers flexed and released his vest, but the sudden guilt in his expression stayed. “I’m sorry,” he said and took off in a run.
A blast of panic had me reaching for Zach. “Don’t go—”
But he left me standing terrified next to Solo, my arms out.
Gasoline. My mind noticed the smell, but not the source. The fire was guzzling a long line of grass and headed for the crashed vehicles. The flames looked to be thriving on a stream of leaked fuel from the Vespa.
Zach was sprinting to the van, possibly for the extinguisher. He wasn’t going to make it in time. Fear for him sliced through me, a cry to retreat strangling in my throat. He took a moment to glance sideways, toward the fire. Veering—thank God, he was veering away.
The Vespa exploded, sudden and deafening all at once, with flames and metal shooting skyward. Charred remains rained on the ground like black hail.
Zach was on the move again, skirting the burning patches and yanking one of the van’s rear doors open, only he had used too much force. I saw it immediately when the door hit the chassis, whipped back, and whacked him in the back of the head. He bent at the waist, grabbing the fixed door for support, shaking his head, his knees buckling.
I took off in a run, the fire swelling around me in a wide circle. As I drew near, Zach recovered enough to fish out the fire extinguisher from among the trash bags. He stumbled back, pulled the safety pin, and squeezed the handle. The force threw him to the ground.
I tried to grab the extinguisher but he fought me off. “Get the hell out of here.”
I tried again. This time I managed a better grip and yanked it free. Budding raindrops had me scanning the sky as I smothered the fire with dry foam. I barely took in the wet against my skin as the rain swelled to a downpour. Then out the corner of my eye, I saw something unbelievable: Zach shaking with laughter. I blinked, turned. His eyes were glued to my backside.
My mind was already shrieking when I twisted for a glimpse. The fire had left my skirt a no-show over my ass, and the scarcity of my pink thong made it a shiny moonbeam.
Zach climbed to his feet, shrugged off his jacket, and tied the sleeves around my waist.
“Could this morning get any worse?” I asked, sighing.
Bad thing, questioning fate. I heard a loud gasp. My lifting gaze tracked Solo’s raised and pointing finger as he drew near in hurried steps. A hairy forearm hung out of the van. By the age spots, I knew it was a senior, almost certainly male. A round scar, silver dollar size and ugly, marred the back of his hand. It was familiar, yet no other thoughts gelled together.
Zach rushed to the van. Solo froze, his finger still suspended. My head filled with a boatload of promises to God as Zach lifted the man’s limp wrist. I started praying big time, pondering and zeroing in on my worst habit. I mumbled bargaining words about not screwing up at work for a day, maybe two days if the G-man needed a bigger carrot. Please don’t let the guy be dead.
“Alive?” I didn’t blink, couldn’t.
Zach shook his head, pushed aside the trash bags, and leaned in. “He’s an old dude, small and bald. He has a mustache and white beard. And he’s very dead.”
My mind clicked. A Nazi bullet had caused the scar. “It’s Otto Weiner, isn’t it?”
“The Jewish guy from FoY?” Zach asked. “The one who wears the beanie?”
“Kippah,” I said, and drew his puzzled gaze. “It’s called a kippah.”
“He isn’t wearing one now, but it’s him. It looks like he suffocated. A plastic bag is taped over his head.”
I stared blindly at the ground. I heard a squeak like a chew toy and cut my gaze to Solo. His eyes were bright like doppelganger comets.
“I’ve heard baking soda helps with bee stings, or rubbing alcohol.” Not only could I not bring myself to believe Otto Weiner was dead in the van, but I was babbling like a stooge.
Solo wagged his finger. “Rylie, this is bad, really bad. What if they think you did it because of that fight?”
I sucked in air; it froze in my throat.
“That’s ridiculous,” Zach told him. “What fight? Rylie never fights.”
I inched my eyes his way. “I might have once.”
“With who?” Zach wanted to know.
My ears rang so loud they ached. “Otto Weiner.”
~Just when you think life’s a bitch, it has puppies~
Typical for the Pacific Northwest, the rain rushed away as quickly as it came. Zach was on his cell, notifying police dispatch and calling my boss. Dazed and numb over Otto’s death, I shuffled like a zombie to the driver’s side mirror to check out my bare behind. My skirt had flamed up like a small weenie roast, yet only a bit of red marred my skin. And my pink thong looked okay, too, but no such luck with my butt, little firmness there. It looked like a deflated beach ball. Time to hit the gym.
I readjusted Zach’s jacket around my waist, rummaged in the van for edibles to calm my nerves, and dug up some red licorice and a Thermos of coffee. I joined Solo a few yards away. His eyes shifted to mine, held. A muscle twitched under his right eye, but he never ceased to hold my gaze.
“What the hell just happened?” He tugged nervously on the tip of his ponytail. “My God, Otto was murdered. But why?”
I just finished reading Malicious by Marianne Harden and I am still smiling after quite awhile. The characters are funny and are continually getting into trouble. She really has a crush and has had one on her neighbor Officer Zach O'Neil. The trouble is he has said more than once that he is not interested. This is a cute friendship/ romance that has back and forth kidding back and forth that is truly amazing, as well as funny. Rylie Tabitha Keyes is the kind of person you would love to be friends with. I give this book a 4/5. I was given this book for the purpose of a review and all opinions are my own.