Cathie John

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CARVE A WITNESS TO SHREDS

Reviews

"Colorful and sometimes exotic characters people this intriguing story and keep the reader absorbed in events ... I particularly enjoyed the development of Kate who, seven years before, had a radical mastectomy and is slowly becoming comfortable with her body. Also, in each book she grows a little and even learns to accept defeat from time to time, something that is difficult because she has always been wealthy and favored."
-Sally Fellows, Mystery News

"Top Pick! ... a refreshing character."
-Romantic Times Mystery Review

"The quick-moving tale falls squarely into the 'modern cozy' category: yes, there's a mystery, but the plot is secondary to the lives and relationships of the characters. This is one of the category's better exemplars, with a well-developed sense of place and a lively sense of irony. Kate (Cavanaugh) is an appealing character, realistic, determined -- without becoming the independent '90s superheroine -- quirky without seeming contrived. The supporting cast is believable as well. References to earlier cases indicate this is not the first book in the series, and the reader does feel a bit dropped into the middle of a conversation, but that's not unlike real life either, and besides, it's a motivator to find the earlier books."
-The Drood Review

Synopsis

"I HATE BEING PUT IN A BOX! THE LAST THING I WANT IS AN ORDINARY LIFE!" Kate Cavanaugh abhors routines and is always looking for new challenges. After surviving breast cancer and helping to solve two murders, the Cincinnati media have christened her "The Amazon Chili Heiress Detective." Kate is definitely not living an ordinary life.

Charlotte Oakley, one of Clairmont's blue blood residents, sees Kate as a preferable alternative to "seedy private investigators in rumpled trench coats" and asks her to investigate the background of flamboyant businessman Victor Lloyd. Charlotte's daughter is about to announce her engagement to his son, but rumors suggest Victor is in bed with organized crime and, in a community where pedigree is important, there is no greater smear on a family's reputation than to be "married to the mob." Kate searches for skeletons in the Lloyd family's closet, and soon finds herself on a trail that starts with a riverboat ride on the Ohio River, crosses into a world of gangsters and gambling, and slams up against the revelation that her own "respectable" family has a skeleton with ties to a notorious past.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

I'm an outsider, but I don't look like one. Some people think I'm a rebel, but I've never been the in-your-face kind. No matter where my travels take me, I find most people have to compartmentalize the world in order to deal with it. They make it into a landscape of black and white, with a box for everyone and everyone in their box.

I hate being put in a box.

I feel this hatred so deep in my bones that I'm sure when I die the undertaker will have to battle my flailing arms and legs to shut me into my coffin.

Even so, I sometimes think I've put myself into one of those suffocating little cubicles. Now that I have reached the mid-point in my life, I've been giving this some thought.

It seems a lot of people get a great sense of security from such neat, well-defined compartments. I suppose that's what they aspire to right from the beginning and then have no difficulty molding themselves, over the years, to fit. Then there are others who, upon reaching middle age, wake up one morning to the sudden realization, This box is killing me. They try to break out and the results are sometimes deadly.

Hell, I was almost murdered because of someone's mid-life crisis.

It all started that Monday morning when Charlotte Oakley visited me at Trail's End Farm.

 

Monday, August 16

"I want you to investigate Victor Lloyd."

I peered over my tea cup, not sure I'd heard Charlotte Oakley correctly. She perched in a tense posture on the edge of the overstuffed sofa in my sitting room. The grandfather clock in the foyer ticked softly.

"You want me to what?" I said, putting my cup back down on its saucer. Standing on the coffee table, next to the serving tray, was the antique brass elephant toy I'd brought back from India. He stared back at me. He'd been through a lot -- one ear was missing and his wheels were kind of wonky -- but his wide-eyed look seemed to say he was just as startled by Charlotte's request as I was.

Charlotte fingered her chunky, gold button earring and turned it back and forth. "I want to hire you to look into Victor Lloyd's background."

"You mean that developer? That Barnum and Bailey guy who's always doing some flamboyant stunt to announce his latest project?"

Charlotte tilted her head back, pushed her fingers into her streaked blond hair and swept it off her forehead. Each strand of hair seemed to know exactly where to land, like on those irritating models in the hair color ads.

With her chin still pointing at me, she said, "Yes. The same one you're reading about in The Enquirer -- the one with all the big ideas for the Kentucky side of the river."

"Charlotte, I'm a caterer, not a--"

"I've heard rumors he's connected with gangsters." She pushed her words at me as though she'd trumped any reasons I could possibly have for refusing.

But I had other cards. "And what does this have to do with you?"

"It's my daughter Melissa. She's about to make the biggest mistake of her life. Last night she tells me she wants to marry Mr. Lloyd's son, Eric. You know we have to be careful who our children marry. It's not a simple matter of falling in love with someone. There are things to consider. Like reputation, character, background--"

That sounded like something my mother, Tink Cavanaugh, would say. Even though Charlotte was the same age as me, forty-three, she was talking in old Clairmont matriarch lingo. Kind of a Tink-in- training. I don't have kids of my own, but I understood where Charlotte's fears were coming from. At the same time, I felt sympathy for Melissa. After all, I knew first hand what it was like to be pressured by your mother into choosing the suitable box to cram yourself into. Come to think of it, that's probably one of the reasons I'm still single -- I see marriage as a box.

I held my hand up to interrupt her. "I suggest you hire a private investigator. I'm sure, if you ask around, someone can refer you to a reputable one."

Horrified, Charlotte almost choked on her tea. "I don't want anyone to know I need a private investigator." Her cup clattered in its saucer as she deposited it on the table in front of her. "And I don't want any seedy stranger in a rumpled trench coat slinking around with his camera knowing my family's business."

"You'd be hiring him or her -- there are plenty of female investigators -- to snoop into Victor Lloyd's background. Not yours."

"Snoop? Oh, that's a nasty word."

I said, "Sorry," got up and walked over to the little gaming table in the corner of the room where I kept decks of cards and pencils and paper.

"Anyway, they're professionals," I called back to Charlotte. "They wouldn't be able to stay in business if they weren't discreet and didn't adhere to a code of confidentiality. Keeping their mouths shut is part of the service."

I pulled a sheet of paper out of the drawer, jotted down a telephone number, and returned to stand in front of Charlotte. "This is my Uncle Cliff's office number. He's a lawyer and I'm sure he's had many occasions to use private investigators."

Charlotte stared up at me with a pained expression on her face. I realized two things. One, she didn't like the answer I was giving her. And two, her neck was craned at an uncomfortably severe angle, and if I didn't bring my six-foot-three-inch frame down to her level she was going to need a chiropractor.

I sat down and laid the piece of paper on the table in front of her.

Charlotte didn't touch it. "But just the idea of a stranger having personal knowledge -- ooh--" She closed her mauve-tinted eyelids and shuddered. "It sends chills down my spine."

She leaned towards me, placing her delicate fingers with their mauve fingernails on my kitchen-beaten paws. "Besides, I know I can trust you. And you did solve a couple of murders this past year. I'm just trying to insure my daughter's future happiness. I don't want to wake up one morning to find she's married to the mob."

"But I wasn't hired to solve those murders. I was pulled in by the circumstances. I mean, those were my friends who were accused of committing those crimes. Their lives were going to be destroyed. I had to help them."

Charlotte jerked her hand from mine and frowned slightly. She looked a little miffed. "Aren't I your friend?"

Uh oh.

"Why Kathleen Cavanaugh! I was practically your next door neighbor for eighteen years. We went all through school together. I've known you all my life -- except for those few years you disappeared and never wrote to anybody. But still, I considered we were friends."

Damage control. "We are. But you're asking me to do something I don't think I have the training for."

"But you're already being called the Amazon Chili Heiress Detective and for years you've been catering all of Clairmont's important parties, listening to all the gossip and rumors -- you know everything about everybody."

She leaned forward again. "More importantly, people trust you because you keep your mouth shut." Her heavy charm bracelet jangled as she tapped my knee. "I think you're eminently qualified to take on this job."

The reason I hear everything, know everything, and don't talk about it, is because I'm always just an observer at these parties and don't involve myself in the antics and intrigues of Clairmont blue blood society. Charlotte seemed to think that because I was born here and understood the rules, I was one of them. But I never was. Even as a kid, though I was included in the popular groups, I felt different from the others -- partly because I physically towered over everybody, even the boys who called me Giraffe Face. But more than that, there was a rebellious voice inside me I couldn't shut up. It kept shouting, This is not enough.

Obviously, Charlotte had placed a big black mark beside Victor Lloyd's name because he was "not one of us."

I sighed. "I wouldn't know where to begin searching his background."

"Well, you could start by eavesdropping while you mingle at the party on his riverboat this Friday."

"How did you know I was invited?"

"Melissa told me. She said you, your mother, and your uncle," Charlotte looked down at the piece of paper on the table in front of her and picked it up. "Your Uncle Clifford would be representing Crown Chili. Melissa's ... um ... Eric Lloyd told her who was on the guest list. She's going to be there with him, of course." Charlotte slapped the innocent piece of paper back down on the table.

"Kate, Melissa's my baby. All of a sudden I'm being shut out of her life. She spends more time with that Lloyd family than she does with me and I don't even know who they are, what kind of people they come from. I've tried to get this Eric person to talk about his family tree, but he's been very evasive, mysterious. It's obviously something Eric doesn't want me to know about. The whole family makes me feel kind of edgy. They seem to be friendly and neighborly, acting like they're trying to be part of the community, but there's something phony about them -- not like us.

"Ever since that family moved into Clairmont four years ago, people have been talking about them. So all I have to go on is rumor and whatever I've seen of them in public. The Lloyds have never invited me over or said more than a few words to me. If you've ever been to some function with them, you'd know Mrs. Lloyd, Tammy," she rolled her eyes, "is a drunk. So when Melissa told me she and Eric were talking about getting engaged officially, I -- I just couldn't ... it's too much ... I'm at my wits' end."

Charlotte looked at me and nervously bit her lower lip. "But then, I had this brilliant idea: hire the most trustworthy person in Clairmont who also happens to be famous for digging up the truth. I will pay for your services, you know. Whatever the going rate is -- whatever is fair."

"Charlotte, I have no idea--"

She stood up and tried to smooth the wrinkles from her linen dress. "At least think about it. Give it a few days. Call me tomorrow."

I walked her out through the foyer to the front door. "Charlotte, I'm not promising anything."

She turned to me before stepping outside. "Well, even if the answer's no, you could still do me an enormous favor when you attend that riverboat party. I'd appreciate it if you would at least keep an eye on my precious little girl."

"Okay, Charlotte. I'll get back to you as soon as I can." I leaned my head against the door jamb and watched her walk down the flagstone steps towards her car.

I was used to the people of Clairmont hiring me to help them celebrate their children's weddings -- not prevent them from taking place. But over the past few months, an unhappiness had grabbed hold of me. I was getting tired of walking into my kitchen and trying to generate enthusiasm for that day's list of parties and the awaiting crowds of hungry mouths. Was it a case of career burnout? I don't know, but I couldn't even get psyched up for the big Casablanca theme party fast approaching on my catering schedule. When Charlotte first arrived that morning, I was steeling myself to drag out my book of menus and prices and cake designs.

At first, her plea for help caught me off guard. It had the surprising and unsettling effect of putting a finger on that very part of my life I was struggling with. I resisted what my gut was telling me. I know, in the past I said I had no intentions of changing my career from caterer to full-time private eye, no matter how many friends of mine became murder suspects. But as I'd sat listening to Charlotte, I'd realized my next meal might be my very own words. Not that I wished any ill will on Melissa Oakley or the Lloyds, but all of a sudden the idea of conducting an investigation appealed to me more than baking and decorating a wedding cake.

 

 

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