The 99 cent HARMFUL INTENT Father’s Day weekend sale is well under way. Here is a free excerpt: Chapters One and Two. What better way to see if you want to invest a buck in this rollicking, fast paced detective novel.
A Veronica “Ronnie” Ingels/Dawson Hughes Novel, Book One
By Nike Chillemi
Crime Fictionista Press
Copyright @ 2014 by Nike Chillemi
PRAISES FOR HARMFUL INTENT…
Who’d a thunk it? Nike Chillemi’s New York gusto in Texas. HARMFUL INTENT is a mystery/suspense delight, mixing Nike’s New York flavor, the quirkiness of the South, a mystery to die for, and laugh aloud humor. I couldn’t put it down. ~ Fay Lamb, author of STALKING WILLOW and BETTER THAN REVENGE.
Nike Chillemi delivers another gritty ‘who dun it’ in her signature no nonsense style, with just the right amount of humor to lighten it up on occasion while keeping it real. ~ Tracy Krauss, award winning and bestselling author of numerous novels including WIND OVER MARSHDALE
Echoing the best of pulp fiction of generations past, Chillemi’s new contemporary series will please readers of romantic suspense. HARMFUL INTENT introduces a modern day big-city female PI armed to the teeth and ready to draw when faced with danger in Texas. The best of both worlds happens when east coast meets southern charm in the hunt for cold-blooded killers. ~ Lisa Lickel, author of The Burried Treasure series
HARMFUL INTENT in a nut shell…
Betrayal runs in private investigator Veronica “Ronnie” Ingels’ family. So, why is she surprised when her husband of one year cheats on her? The real shock is his murder, with the local lawman pegging her as the prime suspect.
Ronnie is a Brooklyn bred private investigator who travels to Texas hill-country, where her cheating husband is murdered. As she hunts the killer to clear her name, she becomes the hunted.
Deputy Sergeant Dawson Hughes, a former Army Ranger, is a man folks want on their side. Only he’s not so sure at first, he’s on the meddling New York PI’s side. As the evidence points away from her, he realizes the more she butts in, the more danger she attracts to herself.
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY
May, Day One, Morning
Veronica Ingels, Private Detective
I unstrapped the banker’s special Colt .22 from my ankle, then leaned against the bureau in the one bedroom condo I shared with my husband, Mark.
Massaging my temples did nothing for my whopper-headache. Infidelity surveillance. So many of the bodies-in-the-buff I’d snapped shots of were much less impressive than might be imagined. Awful way to make a living, but couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Catching the guilty party in the act had almost become a mission.
This past week, the job that had me living out of a suitcase in a nondescript motel on Long Island had been particularly icky. The sleazoid owner of a repo agency cheated on his wife, my client. He, thought himself to be super macho, with this sandy buzz-cut and a six pack pushing through his black silk-tee. He took one look at the blond bombshell who thought she shouldn’t have to make payments on her Caddy, and… ahem… they’d made an arrangement.
Due to their total disregard for modesty and all caution, the job ended several days ahead of schedule. I dropped the incriminating photos off with my boss at the detective agency. Thankfully, I didn’t have to sit across a desk from the wife and show the evidence to her. Well, it’s what she’d paid for.
Earlier in the morning, on my way home from the stakeout, the Southern State Parkway had made like a parking lot. I maneuvered through stagnant, rush-hour traffic on my way home, trying to erase the images of those two lowlifes in all their glory. Sliding an Adele CD into the drive and turning the volume up had helped somewhat.
Silence met me as I opened the door to our condo. Mark’s Sports Illustrated magazine lay perfectly aligned with the corners of our rectangular, glass coffee table. Right where Mr. Fastidious had set it before he left for his speaking engagement.
I left the suitcase in the entry way, tossed my keys on top of the magazine, and it slid off the table with the keys and onto the floor. I left them, as Mark wouldn’t return for another two days. That was par for the course in a marriage with a motivational speaker.
I usually begged off on out-of-town assignments, but with Mark away, I had taken the surveillance on Long Island. So why was my scowl mocking me in the mirror above the bureau? “Okay, he’s always on the road… so just suck it up.”
After disregarding package directions and downing four Extra Strength Excedrin, I picked up the gold-framed wedding photo of Mark and me. There we were, on a glorious spring day, locked in an embrace. Smiling, we gazed into each other’s eyes on the granite steps in front of the arched, red doors of my mother’s church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. My blond hair was in a French twist adorned with baby’s breath, not the high ponytail I threw it into for work. And, my dream dress… a Battenberg lace sheath with a sweetheart neckline and a flutter train… had transformed me into something elegant.
I did a quick two-step with the photo clutched to my heart. One year later and it felt as if we were still on our honeymoon. If only Mark didn’t travel so much.
I pulled the Glock pistol from my conceal and carry shoulder bag and took the clip out, opened our closet, knelt and retrieved the gun lock-box from the far corner. Time to put the weapons away and morph into my wifey role. I’d make a trip to the supermarket and pick up a couple of steaks to have on hand when Mark came home. Then a stop at Henry Schwartz Tobacconist for Mark’s favorite, a couple of Arturo Fuente Anejo cigars.
I was about to unlock the box when I spied one of Mark’s shirts crumpled in the opposite back corner. It must have fallen off the hanger ’cause Mr. Neat would never have dumped it there.
I snagged it off the floor with the tip of my Glock, gave the garment a good shake, and was about to return it to a hanger when I spotted deep-red lipstick on the collar. My hand trembled. I wore soft pinks or muted pinkish-browns, if I bothered with lip-color at all.
“No.” Deep in the reptilian part of my jaded private investigator’s brain, I knew the signs. I walked stiff-legged toward my bedside lamp and switched it on.
“Can’t be.” I examined the shirt. Definitely lipstick and there was a heavy musky scent as well. Not at all like my signature ocean-breeze cologne. I sniffed again, willing it to smell like my light scent. No such luck!
I dropped the Italian, custom tailored shirt on the floor and backed away as if it were a viper about to strike. After taking several calming deep breaths, I reloaded the Glock and shoved it back into my purse. With two swift steps, I swept the Colt off the bureau and secured it in my ankle holster. I don’t always carry concealed, but in this instance, the weapons made me feel secure.
Rushing for the door, I snatched my keys off the floor, kicked the magazine across the room as if I were a quarterback, then struggled to keep my balance. I stumbled over the silver, hard-sided weekender I’d lived out of during the infidelity surveillance, and tumbled to the floor, skinning the heels of my hands on the hardwood. In the process, my cell phone slid across the highly polished flooring. I crawled after it.
It needed a charge, but the call to my boss went through. I kept the details of my sad story to a minimum, and he gave me a week off.
After squelching the urge to scream, I grabbed the weekender, rushed out the door and took the elevator down. My hands shook as I pulled my topaz-metallic Chevy Cruze Eco out of the building’s underground parking garage. Mark had said the car matched the blue of my eyes. A tear ran down my cheek. I had to get away from here… needed time to think.
I headed for the airport.
Parking at JFK had been a nightmare. Security queues were extremely long and TSA agents testy. Flights were delayed due to a storm front moving toward the east from the Midwest.
I stood at the American Airlines ticket counter. “Yes, that’s right. Veronica Ingels. The return… um… make it one week from today.”
“Certainly.” The young woman dressed in navy with a red and white scarf around her neck smiled and in short order handed me my tickets and boarding pass.
“Excuse me.” I zigzagged through throngs of weary passengers on my way to the women’s room. A busty woman in black leggings and a zebra print tunic hurtled past me on her way out of the lavatory.
I sidestepped her, entered a stall, and sat. I fished around inside my hard-sided weekender for the two portable gun cases still in there from the surveillance job. I made sure my weapons were unloaded, and locked them in the cases, then shoved them into my luggage and closed it. I hurried to the counter to declare the weapons and sign the necessary paperwork before boarding. TSA would take a hard look at my weekender and it would be stowed in the hold. Wouldn’t have to worry when I landed since I was licensed to carry in Texas.
Just last week, my best friend from college had said over the phone, “Come on down, honey, any time. I’ve got the sweetest guest room overlookin’ the pool.” An offer she’d made many times.
Of course, as per usual, workaholic me begged off, citing a crushing load of cases at the agency. However, if there ever was a time to take her up on her offer, this was it.
By this time my cell phone had died, and I’d left my charger in my car in long-term parking. I found a store on the concourse selling chargers, but the lines at the register were so long I had to abandon that plan and run to board my plane.
The pilot battled turbulence, advising us to keep our seat belts fastened, as we flew through western storm clouds. I pulled out my pressed-powder compact and using its mirror applied fresh lipstick, light pink. What I saw appalled me… a pasty white pallor, dark circles under my eyes. Not surprising, as I was all but ready to reach for a barf bag.
After changing planes in D.C. and Dallas, hoping they didn’t lose the stowed-bag with my weapons, I arrived at my destination. Abilene.
“Good evenin’, ma’am.” The clerk at the rental car counter smiled, drawing his Texas twang out as if we had all the time in the world. That type of easy-going attitude had New Yorkers virtually twitching when they went out of town.
I tried to mold my lips into a smile. Hadn’t eaten anything in hours, except peanuts, although the flights had been so rough I probably couldn’t have kept anything down. Focused? I hardly knew the time zone, couldn’t put two coherent thoughts together, and wound up with what had to be the ugliest car on the lot, a lime green Smart Coupe.
I threw my weekender into the pint-sized trunk and in twenty minutes arrived at Cassidy’s Bridal Couture. The heavy glass door silently opened, and I stood in a gossamer world of white. For the first time since leaving Brooklyn, I felt safe.
Rushing toward the back, I made my way through an ocean of gowns, mostly bridal. Some mother-of-the-bride, bridesmaids, and prom.
As I approached the bridal veil display, I tripped over my own feet, disbelieving my eyes.
Mark held my college BFF, Cassidy Renault, in his arms, his body pressed up against hers with insistence, kissing her. Or, was he performing a tonsillectomy? When they came up for air, he had a deep-red lipstick smudge at the corner of his lips.
I ducked behind a rack of sale dresses, gasping for breath.
“This won’t do, darlin’.” Cassidy reached over, her talons matching the smudge on his lips and snatched a tissue from a faux gold dispenser on the ornate highly polished Louis XIV desk. She purred as she wiped his face.
I hurled myself in their direction. No doubt, my body went into near spasms and conveyed all the emotional turmoil coursing through me. Fear, anger, even self-loathing gnawed at me.
“Ronnie, what on earth are you doing here?” Mark took a backward step and his voice registered shock, but not even a hint of contrition.
“Me! I think the better question is why did I find you here, Mark, with my so-called best friend?”
Cassidy stepped closer to my husband and held onto his arm. “Now, honey, I’m real sorry you had to find out this way, truly I am. But since you have, you’ve got to face facts.”
I had heard stories about ultra-feminine southern belles who were made of steel. Here stood the woman I’d shared secrets with in college showing not a scintilla of embarrassment. I waved a finger in that witch’s face. “Don’t you call me honey.”
She pursed her painted lips, looking like a red grouper. “Ronnie, nobody wants to hurt you. You’re lovely as the girl next door, but Mark has moved on.”
It was a good thing my weapons were locked in that stupid little car, because in that moment I wanted to shoot them both through the heart with a single bullet. Truth be told, my aim is that good.
Mark wrapped a protective arm around Cassidy’s shoulder. “Ronnie, I was going to talk to you when I got home from this trip.”
That explained why his shirt with the lipstick stain had been left on the closet floor. He had no reason to hide anymore. Maybe he wanted me to find it.
“Oh, I see and just what kind of motivational speaking have you been doing all this time?” My voice dripped sarcasm.
He took a step forward. “It’s something you’re just going to have to deal with, I’m afraid. I’m asking for a divorce.”
I pivoted, tripped over my feet again, and this time knocked over the veil display. Took something with yards of tulle halfway through the store before I shook it off. Tears streaming down my face, I raced blindly out the door, probably looking like a mad woman.
South Abilene, TX
Day One, Evening
Veronica Ingels, Private Detective
I hit the gas pedal of the lime green Smart Coupe harder than intended and peeled out of the parking lot. With the car’s tires screeching, the headlights swept a sheriff’s patrol car as it pulled in.
Red and blue lights atop the sedan flashed and the siren flared for a moment. My foot trounced the brake, causing the miniscule car to violently jolt forward and then rock back as it settled.
The sheriff’s deputy rolled down his window, turned on his overhead light, and fixed his piercing eyes on me. A grin played at the corners of his mouth. “Careful there, little lady, ‘fore you hurt yourself.”
Something akin to red ants racing up my spine took me by surprise. Who’s he calling little lady? I’d about had it with men today, but this was the law, so I tossed him the sweetest smile I could muster. “Thank you, officer, for keeping an eye out for me.”
He tipped his buff-colored Stetson, raised the window, and drove into the mall parking lot.
Half a mile up the road, I pulled the Smart Car to the shoulder and pounded on the steering wheel, sending fiery prickles surging into my already tender palms. Tears streamed down my face. I fought the plastic covering off the phone charger I’d purchased when I landed and punched a speed dial number while my cell phone charged.
A grating voice, thick with a Brooklyn accent, answered. It was as if he was doing the caller a favor by speaking. “Jack Cooney Investigations.”
“Jack, I don’t know what to do.”
“Slow down, babe. I thought you were taking a week off to clear your head.” He was the only one who could get away with calling me babe, mainly because I hadn’t been able to break the big-lout of the habit.
“I was, but when I got here, I found my loving husband groping my so-called best friend.”
“Ouch. Sorry, kid, that’s gotta hurt real bad.”
“He wants a divorce. The two of them stood there looking at me as if I was nobody. Just wanted me to accept the facts.” I switched the cell phone to my other ear, my hand shaking so violently I clonked myself in the head. Not a great idea when I already had a pounding headache.
The piercing stabs nearly thrust me into another dimension, or rather, another time. Emotional or physical, I couldn’t tell. My mouth went dry as Jack’s voice seemed to fade away. Had my mom felt like nothing?
“If I were there, I’d knock some sense into him for you.” His voice brought me back.
“I’ll bet you would, Jack. But at this point, I don’t know if I could forgive him even if he came back on bended knees.” I wasn’t my mother. Wouldn’t put on a brave front for public consumption. Besides, no matter how good an actress she’d been, I always knew something wasn’t right. Then out of the blue, when I entered junior high school, Dad asked for a divorce.
“Hey, I know this guy in Bensonhurst. We could put a hit out on him.” Jack’s cackling laughter pulled me to the present for the second time.
“Get real, Jack.” But I couldn’t help chuckling at the thought.
“So, kid, what’re you going to do?”
“I can’t go home. Can’t sit in that apartment while he’s here with Cassidy. And I sure can’t stay with her like I planned. Guess I’ll look for a hotel.”
“Listen now, I’ve got an old Army buddy in a one-horse town just outside Abilene. Bet you could stay with him for a while. Alone at a time like this is not good.”
We hung up and Jack phoned his buddy, Hoot Dagney, to make the arrangements. As it turned out, the man owned a diner and his breakfast waitress had just taken leave to tend to her ailing mother. The place could use an extra hand and I needed somewhere to lick my wounds and recuperate.
“Hoot, who ever heard of a name like that? Probably as much of a pain as Jack is,” I grumbled, tears streaming down my face as I peered at my GPS.
After a half an hour drive into arid rolling-hills, I discovered I’d taken a wrong road somewhere. Overwhelming darkness engulfed me, something us city gals are not used to, or comfortable with. Still, I managed to backtrack and after another half hour found the Chuck Wagon on dusty Main Street in Arroyo, a tiny village named for the dry creek bed circling it.
The diner looked like something transplanted from an old-west frontier town replete with a hitching post outside. I parked in front and killed the headlights. Getting out I smacked my head on the doorframe of the Smart Coupe.
A man in his late fifties, who had an uncanny resemblance to Gabby Hays, stepped from behind the counter. “Welcome to the Chuck Wagon, Veronica, I’m Hoot.” He tipped his beat-up prospector’s hat. “Bet you’re wonderin’ how I figured it was you?”
“Is it because I don’t have that western look?”
“Rightly so. You’re a smart little lady, ain’t ya?”
What was it with this little lady stuff? “I can’t thank you enough for taking me in.”
“Well, now, if you’re a friend of Jack Cooney’s, you’re a friend of mine.”
“Actually, Jack’s my boss, but a friend as well. And by the way, Jack calls me Ronnie.”
“Ronnie it is.” Hoot grinned. “There’s somethin’ about you makes me think you’re not Jack’s secretary neither.”
“Jack doesn’t have a secretary. Scared a few away, but no, he hired me as a private eye.
“Hoot pushed his hat back on his head and pulled it forward, revealing thinning hair on his crown. “If he hired you, I know you’re good.”
I settled in. The tiny bedroom, on the second floor, near the back stairs, featured a twin bed with a chintz floral spread and a small window covered with a similar but not matching calico print curtain. Not my style, but it was neat and clean, and the bed didn’t sag.
Bertha, the lunch and dinner waitress, who brought to mind the classic war-movie saying Big Bertha, occupied the larger middle bedroom. As I settled in for the night, through the wall, I heard her humming some melody I didn’t recognize. Perhaps an old folk tune or spiritual. Kinda hokey, but also strangely comforting.
Hoot and his coonhound Rascal had the front room. We all shared a bathroom with a shower in a claw-footed tub that sported a shower curtain around it.
At breakfast the next morning, Hoot had me jump right in. I ran a super deluxe pancake special to a cowboy named Pete sitting in the back booth. Five buttermilk flapjacks slathered in butter with a small pitcher of hot pancake syrup on the side, three country sausages and two eggs over easy on a side plate, as well as unlimited coffee. Pete had a scar running the length of his chin. I later found out he was a clown in the rodeo who, when bull riders were thrown, drew the attention of the raging, thousand pound beast to himself.
Pete grinned at me and scratched a chin that needed a shave. “Thanks, little lady. I hear tell they rush around like a banshee’s a chasin’ ’em where y’all come from, but honest, Hoot’ll let you walk with them orders.”
That’s how it went all morning, with nearly fifty percent of the men dubbing me little lady and a fair number of women calling me honey. Wouldda been useless to fight it.
Guess waitressing’s like riding a bicycle. I hadn’t forgotten how from the jobs I’d held during college. I did pretty well, only mixing up one order and was feeling proud of myself when the sheriff’s deputy with the piercing eyes came in but didn’t take a seat.
He stood in the doorway, his Stetson low on his brow, and his steel-gray orbs focused on me.
Something about his gaze set alarms off in the depths of my mind. I approached him. “Can I help you? Table for one?”
“Actually, table for two. I’d like you to sit with me.” The resemblance was uncanny to that country-western star I’d seen on the cover of People magazine wearing a black ten-gallon hat and looking fantabulous in a tux.
Hoot strode out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on the butcher’s apron tied around his waist. “Well, I’ll be. Deputy Dawson Hughes, what brings you to the Chuck Wagon this early? Your fancy coffee maker broke?”
The deputy gave a short nod. “Hoot, good to see you. I need to talk to Mrs. Ingels, if you don’t mind.”
Hoot frowned. “Since you know her last name, I reckon this is an official visit.”
“That it is.” The deputy motioned to an empty booth.
My gaze followed his hand, then I walked over and slid onto the seat.
He sat after I did.
I cleared my throat. “How did you find me here? Nobody but my boss knows where I am.”
He chuckled. “You’ll know anyway soon as you talk to Hoot. I live in Arroyo. Spotted that green go-cart you drive on my way in to work.”
“I see.” Why did I feel the last thing I needed was Hawkeye in the neighborhood?
He drummed his fingers on the tabletop. “Ma’am, is Mark Ingels your husband?”
“I’m sorry to be blunt, but it so happens he died last night of a gunshot wound to the head.”
“No.” I gasped. Despite my anger, I couldn’t deny my deep feelings for Mark. That’s why his betrayal hurt so badly. “Wa… was it a robbery?”
“It doesn’t appear to be. On the surface, it looks like suicide, but that could’ve been staged. On the other hand, it might be a professional hit, as y’all say where you come from.”
Jack’s joking around yesterday flitted into my mind, and I pushed it away. This wasn’t funny. Not at all.
“I can’t believe this.” I hugged myself as a shiver raced down my back. Was the deputy trying to rattle me? If so, he was doing a good job.
“Cassidy Renault, owner of the bridal shop in the Mall of Abilene, says you’re an excellent shot.” He removed his hat, revealing a full head of thick, wavy brown hair.
“I’m trained with weapons. It goes with my profession.” My mind ran through every possible scenario and immediately ruled out suicide. This had to be a random shooting, a matter of extremely bad luck. What else could it be?
He grinned but the effect was mirthless. “Ah, yes, a New York City lady PI.”
Heat flamed my cheeks. He’d obviously interviewed my nemesis and come away with the wrong impression. “Sounds like Cassidy told you a lot about me.”
He hiked one shoulder in a noncommittal half-shrug. “You were once sorority sisters in college?”
I let out a sigh that seemed to come up from my toes. “And best friends. Inseparable, actually. Then my family finances took a down turn… mom’s and mine that is. I had to leave college here in Texas and go back home.”
“Ms. Renault said your parents divorced.”
Anger lodged in the back of my throat choking me. I swallowed twice. “She had no trouble airing my family’s dirty laundry, did she?”
He offered a wan smile. “By the story she told, I’d guess she’s not your biggest fan.”
The throbbing behind my eyes intensified. “Let me set the record straight. My dad was a successful stockbroker. He divorced my mom when I was in high school and she got a very nice settlement. I guess he got tired of making payments. During my freshman year at college, he hid his income and declared bankruptcy. I came home, finished my associate’s degree in Criminal Justice at the local community college, and went to work first as an armed security guard. Then Jack Cooney Investigations hired me.”
He had a way of not breaking eye contact. “Well, that’s a might different than the way Ms. Renault told it.”
“I’ll just bet.” I took a deep breath, then clamped my jaws shut. As much as I wanted to turn the tables on Cassidy by telling him about her cheating heart, I put the brakes on my tongue. I’d already told him way too much about my life and broken one of my cardinal rules. During an interrogation, answer only questions asked. Never volunteer anything to the cops.
His eyes bore into me. “I believe it was you I saw barrelin’ out of the Mall of Abilene parking lot yesterday. You had quite a head of steam on. Where did you go after that?”
I related the call to Jack, getting lost in the hills, and finally arriving in Arroyo.
He drummed his fingers on the table. “Did you bring any weapons to Texas?”
I shifted in my seat. “I’m licensed to carry here. I brought my Glock and a Colt twenty-two.”
He sat back, and his eyes bored into me. “You came after your cheatin’ spouse and you brought two guns with you?”
“I didn’t come after anyone. This was the last place I thought he’d be. I came to see a woman I thought was my best friend.” My voice raised an octave.
“When you got here, you found out Cassidy Renault wasn’t the friend you thought she was.”
“You got that right.”
He leaned forward. “I’m going to have to take possession of your weapons as well as the clothing you wore last night.”
Fear ran through me, leaving a metallic taste in my mouth. “You’re going to test the handguns to see if they’ve been fired and test my clothes for gun powder residue.”
He nodded. “I see you know the drill.”
The deputy followed me upstairs to my room.
I handed him both weapons as well as the jeans and the big shirt I’d worn on the flight. “The guns are clean, haven’t been fired recently. But, I’m sure you know as well as I do, the test for gun-powder residue is unreliable. Residue hangs around. It’s likely on every garment I own. My shoes and handbags might have it on them as well.”
“My job is to bag the evidence and have it tested. If it goes to trial, ma’am, you’re defense attorney will have to make that argument to a jury.”
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