Table of Contents
Praise for the first novel in the Scumble River
Murder of a Small-Town Honey
“Denise Swanson has created a likable new heroine reminiscent of some of our favorite childhood detectives—with a little bit of an edge. Swanson’s writing is clear and precise as she recreates the atmosphere of a small town that everyone who has ever lived in one will recognize.
Murder of a Small-Town Honey
is a fresh, delightful, and enjoyable first mystery.”
Charlotte Austin Review
“It’s a charming debut novel that rings with humor, buzzes with suspense, and engages with each page turned. . . . An impressive first novel worthy of praise.”
Kankakee Daily Journey
“This mystery contains everything I like in a cozy. . . .Murder of a Small-Town Honey
is a super debut; you can’t get any better than this.”—Myself.com
“The story clearly belongs to Skye, who makes this novel soar.”—Harriet Klausner,
Under the Covers
“The start of a bright, new series.”—
“Swanson’s first effort, and a lovely one it is, too. With a light touch she’s crafted a likable heroine in a wackily realistic small-town community with wonderful series potential. I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of Denise Swanson and Scumble River.”
“Skye is smart, feisty, quick to action, and altogether lovable.”—
I Love a Mystery
Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane,
London W8 5TZ, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood,
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road,
Auckland 10, New Zealand
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England
First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.
First Printing, April 2001
Copyright © Denise Swanson Stybr, 2001
All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the prouct of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE AT QUANTITY DISCOUNTS WHEN USED TO PROMOTE PRODUCTS OR SERVICES. FOR INFORMATION PLEASE WRITE TO PREMIUM MARKETING DIVISION, PENGUIN PUTNAM INC., 375 HUDSON STREET, NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10014.
eISBN : 978-1-101-10026-4
To my grandparents,
who all died perfectly natural deaths.
Kathryn Votta 1906-1960
Albert Votta, Sr. 1902-1973
Laura Swanson 1902-1997
William Swanson 1900-1977
To Purrcie the Cat,
who inspired the character of Bingo.
Scumble River is not a real town. The characters and events portrayed in these pages are entirely fictional and any resemblance to living persons is pure coincidence.
I would like to thank the following people: Joyce Fla herty for her continuing belief in my talent; Ellen Ed wards for extraordinary editorial expertise; my fellow Deadly Divas Susan McBride, Letha Albright, and Sherri Board for their efforts as promo group extraordinaire; Jane Isenberg, Aileen Schumacher, Laura Renken, and Mary Jane Meier, fellow writers who shared the ups and downs; Cindi Baker, Andrea Pantaleone, and Valerie Mc-Caffrey, friends who let me talk endlessly about my ideas and aspirations; the Windy City Chapter of RWA who are always supportive; Marie Swanson and the late Ernie Swanson, who understood my need for time to write; and, finally, my husband, Dave Stybr, who supports me through this new adventure.
Hey, Diddle, Diddle, the Cat and the Riddle
Skye Denison warily studied the hostile faces of Gus Yoder’s parents. As a school psychologist, she often attended uncomfortable meetings, but this one was murder.
Scumble River High School principal Homer Knapik was seated to her right, and every time she glanced his way, her attention was drawn to the hair growing out of his ears. The long, wiry strands quivered like the curb feelers on a car’s wheels. Skye had heard the students call him Mr. Knitpick behind his back, and she was beginning to understand why. The man could not make a decision to save his life . . . or hers.
Across the table Leroy Yoder raged, threatening the school with everything from a lawsuit to an atomic bomb. He and his wife, Charlene, had come in demanding that their son be allowed to graduate with his class, and nothing either the principal or Skye said seemed to penetrate their anger.
Homer and the parents had been posturing and snarling for more than an hour, with no sign that they would stop anytime soon.
Skye watched in hypnotized fascination as a drop of sweat danced on the tip of Leroy’s off-center nose. In Illinois, even the first day of June could have temperatures reaching into the nineties. The underarms of her own blouse were soaked and she squirmed uncomfortably in the plastic chair’s too-small seat. She thought longingly of her morning swim, the last time she’d been truly cool.
Tucking a loose chestnut-colored curl behind her ear, she narrowed her green eyes and tried once more to intervene, rephrasing what she had been saying over and over again since they had first sat down. “Mr. Yoder, Mr. Knapik and I have told you that whether or not your son graduates is not up to us. It is a matter you must bring up to the school board. Since we have only a week of school left, you need to request a special hearing so you have a decision before graduation night.”
Homer glared in Skye’s direction and Charlene Yoder hunched farther down in her chair, looking as if she would like to cover her head with her arms.
Leroy Yoder swung his massive head toward Skye and pinned her with his frenetic stare. “I want my son to graduate. Gus passed all his courses. You got no right to keep him from getting his diploma with everyone else.”
She felt sorry for these parents. Like many others, they couldn’t let themselves believe that their child could do the awful things of which he was accused. “As Mr. Knapik and I have explained, our handbook states that a student who is in the process of an expulsion is not eligible to participate in any school activities, including graduation. This is a school board policy. We have no choice in the matter.”
“You people should never’ve started this whole thing. Gus didn’t do nothing wrong,” Leroy shouted.
“He tried to rape a girl at knifepoint, and was found with drugs in his possession,” Skye stated calmly.
Charlene Yoder started to speak but was interrupted by her husband, who sprang out of his chair and lunged across the table, bringing his face to within inches of Skye’s. His breath was like a furnace belching rotting eggs, and she unconsciously moved back.
He grabbed her upper arms and dragged her halfway across the conference table. “My son didn’t touch that girl.” Yoder gave Skye a shake as if to emphasize his point. “The boy didn’t have no weapon.” He shook her again. “And Gus don’t use no drugs.”
Skye tried desperately to free herself from his grasp. Her breath was coming in shallow gasps and she felt light-headed. She couldn’t get her voice to work.
Homer seemed paralyzed. Nothing moved, including his eyes.
After a final shake, she was abruptly dropped back into her chair as Leroy Yoder continued, “The whole business will be thrown out as soon as we get ourselves a hearing.” Ignoring his wife, he stomped out of the room, his words trailing behind him: “Let me make myself clear. Either Gus graduates with the rest of his class or you two don’t see another school year.”
It was a relief for Skye to return to her office at Scumble River Junior High. She slid down in the chair until she could rest her head on its back. From this angle, all she could see was the stained white ceiling. The odor of ammonia was strong today, brought out by the humidity, but at least she was spared the sight of the battered, mismatched furniture in the claustrophobic six-by-six foot room.
Skye didn’t dare complain about the conditions. It had taken a minor miracle to get what she had. In the elementary and high schools, she had to scrounge for any open space each time she needed to work with a student. That meant she had to lug any equipment she needed from school to school like a door-to-door salesman. Still, she counted her blessings. She knew of many psychologists who had it worse.