Authors: Terri L. Austin
Tags: #Suspense, #cookie429, #Kat, #Extratorrents
Praise for Terri L. Austin’s Diners, Dives & Dead Ends
“Austin’s debut kicks off her planned series by introducing a quirky, feisty heroine and a great supporting cast of characters and putting them through quite a number of interesting twists.”
“This traditional mystery captured my attention from the opening pages to the exhilarating finale...this was an enjoyable read in this debut series and I look forward to more adventures with Rose and the gang for years to come.”
-- Dru Ann Love,
The Cozy Chicks Blog
“I predict this will be a long and successful series...I strongly recommend picking a copy up to read this summer. I know I am looking forward to reading more books by this author. Five stars out of Five.”
-- Lynn Farris,
National Mystery Review Examiner at Examiner.com
“What a blast!
Diners, Dives & Dead Ends
is a fast-paced mystery loaded with wonderful wit and humor that had me laughing and loving every page. Terri Austin will hook you right away and keep you riveted until The End. I want more!”
-- Ann Charles,
Author of the Bestselling Deadwood Mystery Series
LAST DINER STANDING
A Henery Press Mystery
Digital Kindle edition | December 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Henery Press, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
2012 by Terri L. Austin
Cover design by Kendel Flaum
Author photograph by Lauren Snedden
This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Printed in the United States of America
To Colter and Austin.
Can’t imagine my life without the two of you. I love being your mom. Thank you for being such great kids.
Even though writing can be a lonely endeavor, getting a book into the hands of readers is a group effort. So many people have been helpful and supportive as I wrote and edited this book. I thank you all and give you a big, fat, virtual smoocheroo!
To Aaron Pilant—police officer extraordinaire. Thanks for all the chop shop knowledge. You’re a crime-fighting super hero!
To Larissa Reinhart—You have become such a great friend and co-conspirator in many a shenanigan. Don’t know how I’d get along without you, girl. I’m so glad we met.
To Sara Attebury—Thank you. I heart you in a big fangirl way! You’ve been so supportive and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. You rock my Hello Kitty socks off!
To Kathy Collins—A legal genius and a wonderful crit partner. Love you and everything you are. Which is awesome.
To Alta Durrant—An amazing crit partner who doesn’t judge my comma issues. And I have many. So thank you! My life is happier with you in it!
To Shannon K. Butcher—You’re such a wonderful mentor and friend. Your kindness touches me and I’m so blessed to have you in my life.
To Sarah Skolaut—I love your gracious spirit. You’re one of the good ones!
A great big shout out to my Little Read Hens—Larissa Reinhart, Anise Rae, Jennifer Tanner, Susan M. Boyer, and LynDee Walker. Love you ladies! Your support has been invaluable! Glad we’re in this together!
To my fellow Henery Press chicks—Larissa Reinhart, Susan M. Boyer, Christina Freeburn, and LynDee Walker. Thank you for your help in getting the word out about the books! You’re the best!
To Kendel Flaum—Brilliant editor and cover queen! You’ve been so patient and gracious. Thank you for holding my hand through the whole process.
To Art Molinares—Henery Press’s savvy marketing guru! Thank you for your time and patience. You’ve been terrific.
And a special thanks to my family—Jeff, Colter, and Austin. Without you guys, my life would be a sad, lonely place. I love you.
There are some absolutes in this life that are irrefutable. If you leave the house looking like crap, you’ll see someone you know, usually an ex-boyfriend. If you’re running late for an appointment, you’ll hit every red light on the way. And a three a.m. phone call is never good news. Either someone’s dead, in the hospital, or you’re a drunken booty call. But that Saturday morning, I discovered another reason to avoid the ringing harbinger of bad news.
“’ello,” I answered, my eyes still closed.
“Rose, I’m in jail, girl.”
I sniffed and sat up on my futon. “Janelle?”
“Of course it’s Janelle. Get your shit together. They think I tried to kill Asshat.”
Scrubbing a hand over my eyes, I glanced at the clock. “Asshat?”
Janelle lowered her voice. “Rose, wake up and listen. I’m in jail, Asshat’s in a coma, and they’re saying I tried to kill him. I need help.”
Her dilemma finally penetrated my sleep-fogged brain. “Oh my God. Where are the kids?” Janelle had two, Damon, nine, and Sherise, seven. Both so cute you wanted to pinch their little cheeks. But I wouldn’t recommend it—that Sherise was a biter.
“They’re staying with my cousin, Sondra. But I got to get out of here. If they think I’m spending Christmas in jail then I’m Halle Damn Berry.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Call that fancy lawyer you know. He’ll figure it out.”
Dane Harker. “I’ll call him and come see you in the morning. Will they let me bring you anything?”
“Cigarettes and toiletries. These bitches trade everything for cigarettes. And Rose? Thanks.”
Oh my God, my study buddy, Janelle Johnson, was in jail, accused of trying to kill her ex-husband, Asshat. I’d never found out his real name, but his moniker seemed apt. When Janelle found him in her bed one afternoon, diddling another woman while eating a drumstick, the marriage was over and the name Asshat was born.
I flipped on the lamp and stood, stretching my legs. I didn’t want to call Dane, especially in the middle of the night. For one thing, we kind of dated until a few weeks ago. But he quickly figured out I was too complicated, and I decided he couldn’t handle my kind of awesome. And by awesome, I meant crazy dysfunctional drama.
And then there was the fact that I killed a man. Six weeks and one day ago. That sort of thing tended to wither romantic connections pretty fast.
To be fair, the guy I killed was a psycho stalker who would have killed me first. And I didn’t feel guilty about. Really.
I was determined to move past it and return to my regularly scheduled life. I had just aced my finals and signed up for two classes next semester. I showed up for work every morning and hung out with friends on the weekends. And I put that night out of my mind.
Mostly. Okay, sleep was sometimes elusive. Two nights ago, I took a toothbrush to the grout on my bathroom tile. Almost passed out from the bleach fumes, but my bathroom sparkled.
What happened, happened. I was alive and I wasn’t going to apologize for it.
I dialed Dane’s number. Due to recent events, I’d updated from limited minutes to unlimited with all the texts my fingers could stand. My budget winced in pain, but it was worth it.
He answered on the fifth ring. “Yeah?”
I heard rustling sounds—sheets shifting around. “Who is this?”
“It’s Rose Strickland.”
“Rose, what’s wrong? Are you in trouble?” He’d gone from sleepy to worried in three seconds flat.
“No, I’m fine. But my friend, Janelle, was arrested for attempted murder.”
“There’s no such thing as attempted murder in Missouri. Assault with deadly injuries perhaps, the law’s differ—”
“She’s in jail and we need to get her out.”
“When’s the bail hearing?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Do you know the extent of her charges?”
He sighed. “Does she know I charge four-fifty an hour?”
“I was kind of hoping you could give her a discount. Like a freebie.”
I heard some teeth grinding.
“Fine. I’ll meet you outside the courthouse at nine. We’ll go see your friend together and I’ll be able to tell you more then.”
“Hey. I’m glad you called.”
I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I went to work a little early—around four-ish. Ma’s Diner was an institution in Huntingford. We served breakfast from six to one. That’s it. No burgers, fries, or chicken sandwiches. Just breakfast.
Ray, my boss, was already in the kitchen preparing cinnamon rolls and biscuit dough. I loved the warm yeasty smell of the kitchen early in the morning.
He glanced up as I walked in. “No sleep?”
Ray was a man of few words. More of a grunter than a talker. In his early fifties, he was a gentle giant with a protruding brow and blond-turning-gray hair he kept in a hairnet.
“Nope. You need help in here?”
He mumbled and shook his head. In Rayspeak that meant, “No thank you, Rose. I’m fine.”
I patted his arm on the way to the dining room where I flipped on the lights and started the coffee. The aroma was sharp and rich and comforting as it filled the small room. Saturdays were always busy, so I hoped Ma didn’t mind if I left for a few hours to see Janelle.
I’d finished rolling silverware into paper napkins when Roxy Block, a blue-haired fashion plate and my bestie, walked in from the kitchen, chomping gum. She’d quit smoking almost two months ago and now she and her nicotine gum were inseparable. Her short, black skirt was patterned with kittens and playing cards and yarn balls.
“Couldn’t sleep again, huh?” She tied an apron around her waist and headed for the coffeepot.
“Not this time. Janelle’s in jail.”
Roxy’s mouth hung open for so long her gum fell on the floor. “For what?” She bent down and scooped it up, stared at it for a second, as if she might pop it back in her mouth. But with a sigh, she walked to the trash can in the corner and threw it away.
“Asshat’s in a coma, the police think Janelle tried to kill him. Dane and I are going over to see her this morning. Cool?”
“Yeah, of course.” She poured a cup of coffee and glanced up. “Do we think she’s guilty?”
Janelle was capable of many things. Putting sugar in Asshat’s gas tank? Naturally. Super gluing his dork to his stomach? Of course. But murder? That just wasn’t her style. “No, I can’t see her killing anybody. Not even Asshat.”
“Me neither,” Roxy said. “But I can totally picture her beating the shit out of someone.”
Our conversation was brought to an end when Ma Ferguson barreled through the connecting door and paused in the doorway, looking like a vengeful goddess in sweatpants. Her short white hair stood on end, her eyes narrowed behind large-framed trifocals.
“That man will regret this, I tell ya.”
“What’s going on?” I asked.
She stormed the rest of the way into the dining room. I’d only seen her this worked up when she lost the iPod raffle on casino night at St. Mary’s. “Two words, girls. Rudy. Jorgenson.”
“Rudy of Rudy’s Roundup Restaurant?” Roxy asked.
Ma nodded, her lips pressed together. “That’s him. He’s decided to serve breakfast. He’s had that place for twenty years and now all of the sudden he’s opening early? He must think I’ve grown soft, but I’ll show him. Breakfast my rump.” She marched around the diner, taking mismatched chairs off the pink Formica tables and setting them down with a thump.
Rudy’s, a slightly bigger place up the street, served bland spaghetti with Texas toast and chicken fried steak smothered in lumpy gravy at dirt cheap prices. “Ma, so what?” I asked. “He’ll never touch Ray’s pancakes.”
Roxy bobbed her head. “And we have eggnog French toast on the menu. You know that’s a favorite.”
Ma flipped the open sign. “It’s not enough. Maybe we need to start making hoity-toity coffee, like that Starbacks.”
“Starbucks,” Roxy and I corrected in unison.
“Ma, calm down,” I said. “Everything will be fine.”
“Oh, yes it will.” She grinned, her thin lips exposing her dentures. A vicious smile. “Rudy Jorgenson is going down, girls. And I’m the one who’s sending him there.”
I really hoped she wasn’t being literal. I didn’t want to have to visit Ma in jail, too.
I met Dane outside the police station at nine on the dot. He looked handsome and professional in a dark suit and pale blue tie. Usually when Dane smiled, cute little dimples popped out on either side of his cheeks. He wasn’t dimpling today.
His baby blues swept over me. “How are you, Rose?”
“Great. Things are really great.”
He stared at me in uncomfortable silence. “If you ever need to talk—”
“Really, Dane, I’m fine. And just so you know, Janelle’s innocent.”
He looked like he wanted to say more, but nodded instead. “Okay, let’s see if we can help your friend.” He placed his hand on the small of my back and led me into the building.
A uniformed officer escorted us into a small room with a table and chairs. Janelle shuffled in wearing white socks and ugly indoor/outdoor slippers. She had smooth cocoa-colored skin and long braids that brushed her apple bottom ass, but her most spectacular feature, her boobs, were now encased in a bright orange jumpsuit and stood out like two gigantic traffic cones.