Artful Dodger (Maggie Kean Mis-Adventures)

ARTful Dodger

Copyright 2011 by Nageeba Davis

Published by
Barrel Boat Enterprises

Cover art and Ebook Formatting by
Indie Designz

 

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved.  This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

First Edition 2001

Berkley Prime Crime, New York

a division of Penguin Putnam

To Paul, my husband and best friend.

Praise for...

 

“First-time novelist, Nageeba Davis, is going to win lots of fans with ....  She not only creates likable characters involved in a suspenseful case, but she has included a nice amount of sexual tension.”

—Romantic Times

 

“A brilliant debut mystery.  Readers will welcome Nageeba Davis to the real world where the road rules are that she must return with a second tale starring the magnificently mouthy Maggie.”

—Midwest Review

 

“Say hello to Maggie Kean, a witty, irreverent and reluctant sleuth who’s too smart for her own good.  ... is a cracking good mystery with more unexpected turns than a winding mountain road.  So buckle up and enjoy the excitement!”

—Margaret Coel, national best selling novelist

 

“A humorous voice and a teasing romance carry this...cozy by first-time author Davis.  Maggie is...endearingly funny (and has a) feisty repartee with (love interest) Villari.

—Publishers Weekly

Chapter One

 

It was one rotten day.

I’m talking beyond rotten. It started out badly and sped rapidly downhill. I burned my toast twice in the chipped enamel toaster with the broken pop-up. I tripped over the base of the six-foot halogen lamp and stubbed my toe on the back of the couch, the same toe that was already missing a nail. Out of ten toes, what are the odds? And that was before eight o’clock.  A.M., that is. I didn’t care if the sky was blue and the birds were singing. The way my life was going, I fully expected to run out of deodorant, find a hole in my shoe, back my bald tires over a rusty nail, and plow into someone’s fender while using the rearview mirror to put on my mascara. But I didn’t expect to find a dead person.

Who does?

Who would think a quick visit to the toilet could set off a whole slew of incidents that would eventually lead me right here, wilting on my front porch step and staring up into a pair of flaring nostrils?

“What made you decide to check the septic tank?” This was Mr. Nostrils talking.

“I told you already. I told your partner and I told that guy over there.” I pointed to the man with the shaggy mane of dark hair standing with a group of policemen huddled in the middle of my yard.

“Bear with me, Mrs—” He thumbed through the papers on his clipboard.

“Kean. Maggie Kean,” I repeated for the umpteenth time that morning.

“Uh, yes, that’s right.”

Yes, I know.

 “Mrs. Kean, I’m—”

“It’s Ms.”

“Huh?”

“It’s
Ms
. Kean.” I’m not usually a stickler for all that feminist protocol stuff, but exhaustion had simply worn me down.  At this point I’d gone over the story so many times I wanted to strangle this large, bumbling idiot who was sucking up all the oxygen within a five-mile radius through nasal passages the size of sewer pipes.

“Ms. Kean,” Vacuum Nose repeated, patiently exaggerating the
Ms.
, “I’m just trying to make sure I have all the facts. Anything you remember, even the smallest detail, could help. Something that may seem insignificant now can make or break a case.”

I took a deep breath, counted to ten, and let it out slowly. I wasn’t trying to be uncooperative, not intentionally, at least, but how many times could I say that I didn’t know anything? Putting a hand up to shield my eyes from the sun, I looked around my patch of yard now covered in blue uniforms, badges, yellow tape, and an ambulance, its red emergency lights still flashing. I was tired and frustrated. And completely confused.  But there wasn’t a damn thing I could do. 

“There aren’t any other details, Officer,” I said, squinting to read his nametag, “Mailer.”

“I’m sure it seems like you covered everything, Ms. Kean, but I’d like to go over your story one more time just to make sure I have it all down.” He touched my arm. “Look, why don’t you sit back and try to relax a little. Then just start from the beginning.”

Okay, I know the guy appeared to be solicitous and he sounded nauseatingly sincere, but I wasn’t buying his act. I mean, I wasn’t exactly a neophyte at this sort of thing. Not that I see dead people or decomposing body parts on a daily basis, but I do like a good mystery and I've watched my share of CSI in multiple cities. I've got enough television smarts to know that the “you can trust me” act is all crap.  It’s a simple ploy cops use to break down a witness’ defenses and I wasn’t about to fall for that old trick. These guys breathe down your neck asking the same questions over and over, scouring for holes or discrepancies in your story. Then they scratch their heads and shuffle away, leaving you with sweaty palms and dripping armpits. And just when you start to breathe a little easier, they turn back, like they just remembered something, and point out the small misstep that lands your butt in jail. For life.  Assuming you’re guilty, of course.

“Why don’t you read me your notes and I’ll stop you if I remember anything new,” I suggested helpfully.

“Ms. Kean, I understand this is unpleasant, but—ˮ

This was more than unpleasant, Vacuum Nose.

“And I’m sure this has been a frightening experience for you.”

No kidding, Einstein.

“But I have to follow police procedures. If you could try and help me a little here, this will be over before you know it. Let’s start with why you decided to get your septic tank pumped today.”

I shrugged. “I heard there were a lot of attractive, eligible men on the service crew and I thought I might be able to scare up a date for Saturday night.”

Okay, I’ll admit to being a little obnoxious, but in my defense, I’d been scared out of my wits.  Evidently, Officer Mailer didn’t like my answer because he started to snort and grunt like an angry bull.  I leaned back on the palms of my hands, trying to put as much distance as I could between the two of us, seriously contemplating the chances of a quick getaway.

“I’ll take it from here, Tom.”

Officer Mailer stiffened at the deep voice and reluctantly turned away, but not before boring two nasty holes in me with his beady little eyes. So much for the concerned approach.

“I take it you’re pretty shook up.”

The voice belonged to the shaggy-haired guy, the only one who wasn’t wearing a uniform. He stood in front of me, placing one cowboy boot on the bottom step, a black shadow swooping in like a modern-day Zorro.

“Not really. What’s a body or two floating around in a septic tank?”

Zorro chuckled. “Tell me, are you always this difficult?”

“You caught me on a good day.”

He leaned forward. “Look, I know this isn’t easy, but we’ve got a dead body on our hands.  A particularly gruesome murder, to be exact.  The faster we get some information, the faster we can clear out of here and let you get back to normal. But in the meantime, we need your cooperation.”

I gave him my best expressionless poker face.

He sighed. Waving me over, he sat down next to me on the porch step, rubbed his palms over his face, and dragged his fingers through his unruly mop of hair, a mop of wavy hair that was simply too sinful to waste on a guy. Especially a cop.

“I know this is the last thing you want to hear, but you’ll have to tell the story again... and probably again after that. Do it now and everything will be a lot easier for all of us.” Coffee and cigarette smells clung to him. “Otherwise, I’m going to have to drag you down to the station, where people aren’t quite as friendly.”

“Is this where we play good cop/bad cop?”

He gave me a grim smile. “Honey, this is as good as it gets. I’m being a real sweetheart right now. Much more of this and we’re going to play ‘Lock the Bad Lady Up.’
Capisce?”

“Oh, God, you’re Italian.”

He lifted his left eyebrow until it disappeared under a lock of hair that had fallen over his forehead. Okay, so I was fixated on the man’s hair.

“You’ve got a problem with that?”

“Not a problem exactly. My ex-husband is Italian and I just believe that one Italian in your life is more than the average Joe should have to put up with.” I tossed my head in a casual gesture of indifference. “But then again, there isn’t much you can do about your heritage. You’re pretty much stuck with what you get.”

“You make it sound like a curse.”

“More like a disability...a handicap that keeps you from functioning like a normal person.”

The edges of his mouth twitched. “A normal person like you, I assume?”

I shrugged. “Not to brag, but that would be a big step up for you, or any Italian, actually.”

The twitch turned into a full-blown grin. And it was a humdinger. This guy with the unknown name had full lips and straight, sparkling teeth.

“Did your husband—”


Ex
-husband.”

“Sorry. Your
ex
-husband. Did he ever mention your lousy habit of changing the subject?”

“Maybe once or twice.”

Zorro shook his head. “I’ve got to congratulate you, lady. You’ve got a great way of scooting under, around, and over a subject.”

“Thanks.”

“But as much as I’ve enjoyed this little chat, my patience is running a bit thin here.” He stared straight into my eyes, no blinking. “What you saw frightened you badly, more than badly. Believe me, I understand that. But unfortunately, I don’t have time to babysit you while your nerves rattle around inside. Do us both a favor. Start the story, and finish the story, in one straight line with no detours.”

Fine. I was no idiot. This guy was getting irritated and I knew all about Italian tempers from personal experience. Besides, he did have a crime to solve and apparently I was the biggest clue they had at this point. Leaning forward, I wrapped my arms around my knees and started rocking a bit. My Italian inquisitor probably thought I was more than a little wacko, but at that point, I didn’t much care.

“There isn’t much to add to what I’ve already said. My toilet had been acting up—”

“When did this happen?”

I turned to him. “You really want to hear everything?”

“Every last gory detail.”

“Yesterday morning. It started when I woke up and went to use the bathroom. I noticed that the toilet was bubbling a little and wouldn’t flush very well. It didn’t surprise me because I’d been hearing sounds lately—gurgling sounds in the bathroom pipes and the shower, so I already knew there were problems.  Anyway, I tried using the plunger, but that didn’t do anything, so I poured a bunch of Drano down the toilet. I guess it was too much to ask that it would work miracles like it does in the commercials.”  I dropped my chin onto my knees and stared out into the yard. “But I guess the problem turned out to be much bigger than a pipe clogged with hair.”

“So you called Waste Management.”

I nodded. “Yeah. He got here late yesterday afternoon.”

“Who got here?”

I pointed to the man standing next to the juniper bushes talking to a cop. “That guy over there wearing the green-and-white-striped uniform with
Waste Management, Inc.
written in bold letters on the back of his shirt.”

An errant nail that wasn’t completely hammered into the step was gouging a hole in the back of my thigh and I shifted my bottom a couple of inches to ease the pressure.  “If that was your idea of a tough question, then I’ve got a bad feeling we’re looking at a future episode on
Unsolved Mysteries
.”

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