Anticipating a boring day of paperwork, I opened the Coping after Crime Foundation’s email account. I’d created the nonprofit to give Annalynn a suitable job after her husband’s violent death (Show Me the Murder). I hadn’t anticipated being stuck running CAC while my lifelong friend finished an appointment as sheriff.
The first five subject lines invited me to meet Russian women and enlarge an organ I’d never had. The sixth, “Despirit,” puzzled me. I opened the email and read, “Im despirit. My boyfiend drove my car into a tree drunk and the ensurence won’t pay. A money order for $1000 will do fine. Thx.”
Dealing with CIA informants and venture capitalists had taught me many ways to say no. I chose the direct approach: “We won’t give you any money.”
My cell phone chimed, Annalynn’s emergency ring. I flashed back to the call that had taken us to a fatal shootout with bank robbers (Show Me the Gold). “What’s up?”
“I don’t know,” Annalynn said.. “Walmart reported three young men are buying thirty pre-paid cell phones—burners—with cash.”
Not against the law, but surely intended for illegal use. I reached for my Glock. “I’ll be in the store in eight minutes.”
“No, please take Achilles to their car—a red Nissan in row 9—to sniff for drugs.”
Clever. “You’re looking for probable cause to hold the buyers.”
“Right. Wear your bulletproof vests, and carry your reserve deputy ID. Bye.”
I whistled for my Belgian Malinois and took our vests and my jacket out of the closet.
Achilles barked in excitement—or dread. He’d learned the despised vests meant danger during our pursuit of a murderous burglar (Show Me the Ashes).
Speeding toward Walmart in my banged-up Camry, I speculated on who wanted so many burners. A terrorist cell? Unlikely. Stupid to risk such a conspicuous purchase. Drug dealers? More likely. Meth still plagued rural Missouri (Show Me the Murder). Small-time entrepreneurs? Possibly. They could resell the burners to illegal immigrants, dopers, suckers.
I turned into the store’s lot and parked two rows over from the red car. Annalynn’s unmarked SUV sat in the same row closer to the store. “Let’s go find, Achilles.”
His good ear flicked forward. He’d flunked out of K-9 training, but he loved to sniff out drugs (Show Me the Deadly Deer) and explosives (Show Me the Gold). He stayed close to my left side as I sauntered over to row 9. Passing the red car, I took out my phone, pretended to answer a call, and said softly, “Find, please, Achilles.”
He circled the car and those on both sides of it and returned to my side to await the next command.
I rang Annalynn. “No drugs. Now what?”
“Get out of there. They’ve left the store. They’re wearing red letter jackets.”
I disconnected and spotted one black and two white teenagers striding toward me, each carrying a plastic bag. I would have expected them to be using fake IDs to buy beer, not burner phones. What were they up to? I held my phone out in front of me and exclaimed, “Damn it!”
The boys turned aside to walk around Achilles and me. “Excuse me,” I said with the overly loud voice of the hearing impaired. “Would you guys happen to have a cell phone I could borrow for half a minute?”
The two shorter boys—football players judging from their broad shoulders and thick necks—doubled over with laughter, and the tall blond one smirked.
The tall boy jumped back and sobered. He drew a smart phone from his jacket pocket. “Sure, ma’am. Calm down your dog.”
Snout extended, Achilles stared at the boy’s pocket.
I stroked his head to signal I’d received his message. I punched in Annalynn’s number and said, “It’s not in the car. He must have put it in his coat pocket.”
“On our way.” She disconnected, and I heard car doors slam.
To hold the boys’ attention, I shouted into the phone, “No, you idiot, I looked there.” I stepped back as Annalynn and a deputy ran up with their service weapons drawn.
“Hands on your head, gentlemen,” she ordered. “Our K-9 deputy has signaled that you possess illegal drugs.”
“Just one joint,” the blond boy protested.
I studied his phone. He had two calculator apps, one too many. I opened one, gained access by solving an equation, and hit pay dirt: a nude photo of a girl about fifteen. “They’re collecting and selling photos of underage girls.” I handed Annalynn the phone. “He gave this to me voluntarily. It’s admissible as evidence.” I doubted that was true, but the boys’ alarmed faces showed they believed it.
This incident hadn’t posed the intellectual challenge of proving a confession false (Show Me the Ashes), but preventing teenage girls from becoming victims made my day.
Show Me the Ashes is the 4th book in the “Show Me” mystery series, published by Five Star/Gale, Cengage, March 2016.
Ex-spy Phoenix Smith puts aside paperwork to chase a dangerous burglar and investigate an imprisoned young mother’s confession to manslaughter and arson in Show Me the Ashes, the sequel to Show Me the Murder, Show Me the Deadly Deer, and Show Me the Gold (Five Star/Gale, Cengage).
All comments are welcomed.
About the author
Carolyn Mulford worked on five continents as a nonfiction writer and editor before beginning the award-winning “Show Me” mysteries set in her native Missouri. Her character-driven series features three women: a former CIA covert operative, a newly widowed civic leader, and a struggling singer. They grew up together in a small town, separated for decades, and reunite to face personal crises and solve crimes. A Belgian Malinois assists them with both. To read the first chapters of all four “Show Me” books and the upcoming YA historical Thunder Beneath My Feet, go to www.carolynmulford.com.
Giveaway: Leave comment below for the chance to win an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of SHOW ME THE ASHES. US and Canadian entries only, please. The giveaway will end January 15 at 12 AM EST. Good luck everyone!