The kid tried to tell me that he hadn’t done anything. He was legal.
We stood in the snowy parking lot of the Easy Come & Go. I had a fresh cup of coffee, and the kid had a bottle of rum.
“Why don’t you let me hold that while you get out your ID,” I said.
He shook his head and shifted the bottle away from me. Then he yanked the wallet out of his back pocket, but he couldn’t undo the Velcro with only one hand. I hid a smile and helpfully relieved him of his purchase.
The rum runner finally got his license out and handed it over with shaking fingers. I was surprised. It was a good one. Steven Perkins, 5620 Pleasant Drive, Branson, Missouri. Age 23. The photo was spot-on, just more chiseled and mature than the baby face standing in front of me. Had to be an older brother.
“Hello, ‘Steve.’ I’m Hank,” I said. “And I’m a little worried about what you’re going to do with a bottle of rum on a Sunday afternoon.”
“Steve” did not have an answer for that one. He shifted from foot to foot and wiped his nose. I wanted to do the same. It was damn cold. Another storm was on the way, and I was hoping to be home drinking cocoa with the kids before it hit.
“We’re going to go back inside and return this alcohol,” I said. “And I’m going to keep this ID.”
The rum runner slumped in defeat, then straightened.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “Who are you, anyway? You … you can’t just take it. It’s mine.”
I opened my plain brown parka to show the badge on my belt. “I’m the sheriff.”
The kid bristled and took a step back. “No, you’re not. I know what the sheriff looks like. He’s a skinny old dude.”
I grinned. That certainly wasn’t me, in either respect.
“I’m new. Just took over the job. Do you want to be one of my first arrests?”
“Steve” very much did not want that. He also vehemently declined my offer to drive him home and have a chat with his parents. That left returning the liquor. Not Steve slouched into the convenience store and got a whopping $10.62 back. I hoped that when he finally did turn twenty-one, he’d be able to afford a slightly better quality rum.
I was just about to turn him loose when my cell phone rang. Sheila.
“This is ridiculous. I can’t stand that man. Doesn’t call the main line for assistance. Calls me, orders me around. Says they only want you–”
“Wait – what?” I still hadn’t gotten used to my chief deputy’s style. She was not one for keeping her opinions to herself. Or for taking any BS.
She sighed in exasperation. “Gallagher Enterprises. They just called and demanded that you – and only you – respond out to Table Rock Lake. You’re supposed to meet their guy out at a spot on the shoreline.”
“Why would I do that?” I said. “It’s freezing, and there’s a storm coming in.”
“I told them that – several times,” she said. “They finally coughed up a reason, then threatened me if I told anybody but you.”
“What could possibly be that big of a deal?” I said, climbing into my car and cranking up the heat. Even after all these years, I’d never gotten used to the wet, soak-your-bones cold of Missouri’s winters.
“It’s the paddlewheel. The old Branson Beauty showboat, out for its luncheon cruise. It’s run aground.”
That was unexpected. Hadn’t the boat been sailing the same course for years? It couldn’t be that stuck. I chuckled and pulled out of the parking lot, the iced-over snow crunching under my tires. I’d go out there, reassure the company man, watch as the captain figured out how to unstick the boat and be home in time for dinner.
Because really, how bad could it be?
The Branson Beauty is the first book in the NEW Sheriff Hank Worth mystery series, published by Minotaur Books, July 2016.
The Branson Beauty, an old showboat, has crashed in the waters of an Ozark mountain lake just outside the popular tourist destination of Branson, Missouri. More than one hundred people are trapped aboard. Hank Worth is still settling into his new role as county sheriff, and when he responds to the emergency call, he knows he’s in for a long winter day of helping elderly people into rafts and bringing them ashore. He realizes that he’ll face anxiety, arguments, and extra costs for emergency equipment that will stretch the county’s already thin budget to the breaking point.
But he is absolutely not expecting to discover high school track star Mandy Bryson’s body locked inside the Captain’s private dining room. Suddenly, Hank finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation, with the county commissioner breathing down his neck and the threat of an election year ahead of him. And as he wades deeper into the investigation, Hank starts to realize he’s up against a web of small town secrets much darker and more tangled than he could have ever imagined.
In her captivating debut novel, Claire Booth has created a broad cast of wonderfully compelling characters, and she perfectly blends humor with the emotional drama and heartache of a murder investigation.
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Meet the author
Claire Booth spent more than a decade as a daily newspaper reporter, much of it covering crimes so convoluted and strange they seemed more like fiction than reality. Eventually, she had enough of the real world and decided to write novels instead. Her Sheriff Hank Worth mystery series takes place in Branson, Missouri, where small-town Ozark politics and big-city country music tourism clash in, yes, strange and convoluted ways. For more about Claire, her books, and some of the true crimes she’s covered, please visit www.clairebooth.com.
Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a print copy of The Branson Beauty. US entries only, please. The giveaway will end July 24, 2016 at 12 AM (midnight) EST. Good luck everyone!
All comments are welcomed.