Malicious Mischief (A Rylie Keyes Mystery) (Entangled Select), page 1
A Rylie Keyes Mystery
“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
“With a fast-paced and witty writing style, Marianne Harden will keep her readers on the edge of their seats.”
—Heather Blake author of the Wishcraft & Magic Potion mystery series
“A sassy PI-wanna-be and a zany cast of characters will keep you in stitches throughout this hilarious caper.”
—Jen J. Danna, author of Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It
“With a quirky and diverse cast of characters, compelling Pacific Northwest setting, and fast-paced plot Marianne Harden’s Malicious Mischief is a welcome mystery debut. Fans of Janet Evanovich will want to put Harden on their autobuy lists.”
—Amanda Flower, author of A Plain Disappearance
“Marianne Harden will keep you in stitches!
—Macy Beckett, author of the Sultry Springs series
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Marianne Harden. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at www.entangledpublishing.com.
Edited by Libby Murphy
Cover design by Libby Murphy
Ebook ISBN 978-1-62266-032-2
Print ISBN 978-1-62266-033-9
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition October 2013
The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction: Dumpster, Veronica Mars, Thermos, Vespa, NFL, Cirque du Soleil, Twizzlers, Snapple, 7-Eleven, Slurpee, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Miracle Bra, Porta–Potty, Chevy, Maybelline, Jetta, Naugahyde, Mercedes, Ross, Wiis, Starbucks, Girl Scouts, Armani, BMW, The Godfather, Netflix, Pepto-Bismol, Jamba Juice, Seattle Times, Subaru, Audi, iPhone, Xena: Warrior Princess, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Ford Explorer, PETA, Porsche, Darth Vader, Google, Ritz Hotel, Vicodin, Codeine, Morphine, Trader Joes, Hummer, Hermes, Star Trek, Volkswagen Beetle, Ferrari, Jaguar, Viagra, Seattle Mariners, Ready Clinic, Aero Rental Car, Converse, Mack Trucks, Twinkies, Pike Place Market, Joe Friday, Ford Pinto, Chatty Cathy.
To my mother
Table of Contents
~When the chips are down, the buffalo is empty~
~Just when you think life’s a bitch, it has puppies~
~The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off~
~Life is short. Don’t be a dick~
~Don’t worry, ladies. There’s plenty to go around~
~Come to the dark side. We have cookies~
~Due to recent cutbacks, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off~
~There is a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot~
~I have the answer in my head. I just haven’t found it yet~
~Even if it kills me, I’m gonna smile~
~The first rule of holes: if you’re in one, stop digging~
~Behind every damsel in distress is a fire-breathing dragon~
~There Are Some Days Even My Lucky Underpants Can’t Help~
~Did I eat a bowl of smarts for lunch?~
~Well behaved girls rarely make history~
~Mean people suck~
~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 go
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 a
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.