Read Partnerships Can Kill: The Third Charlie Parker Mystery Online

Authors: Connie Shelton

Tags: #charlie parker mysteries, #connie shelton, #female sleuth, #mystery, #new mexico, #private investigator, #southwest mysteries

Partnerships Can Kill: The Third Charlie Parker Mystery

Partnerships Can Kill

The Third Charlie Parker Mystery

By Connie Shelton

Smashwords Edition

Copyright © 1997 Connie Shelton

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What others are saying about the

Charlie Parker Mystery Series

“Charlie is a fabulous amateur sleuth.”
–Midwest Book Review

“Shelton can only expand her fan base with
this solid effort.” –Publishers Weekly

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bookstores and online book retailers.

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www.connieshelton.com

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Chapter 1

The Albuquerque airport has an ambiance all
its own. Wooden chairs with leather seats fill the waiting areas.
They are stiff and uncomfortable as hell, but no one would consider
changing them because they have that “Southwest chic.” Accents of
turquoise and terra cotta set this airport apart from the
look-alike terminals in other cities. As a lifelong resident of
this southwestern city, my memories are of my brothers and myself
as kids sitting on a low adobe wall, watching planes take off and
land on Sunday afternoons. Coming home again makes my throat feel a
little tight.

Emotions aside, if I’d known what lay in
store for me within the next few days, I would’ve probably stayed
on the plane.

The 737 rolled to a slow stop. There was a
distinct
chunk
as the jetway connected. Sleepy passengers
moved slowly, gathering belongings. I unfastened my seat belt. The
remnants of my last pain killer were wearing off, and my head began
to throb.

It was after ten o'clock, and only a handful
of people waited. They stood in an eager clump. Eager to meet loved
ones, or eager to be back home in bed, I couldn't say. My brother,
Ron, waited for me. He wore a muted plaid shirt, scuffed brown
roper boots, and his straw Stetson, which he favors because it
hides the fact that his hair is thinning on top. His faded Levis
bore permanent creases across the front and a whitened wallet-sized
square on the right rear pocket. I hadn't seen him in ten days, and
it seemed to me that his gut was perhaps a little less obvious over
the top of his silver belt buckle. Ron dieting?

"Hey, kiddo, how was Hawaii?" He reached out
to take my carry-on bag.

“It was murder.” I could hear the tiredness
in my own voice. We trailed the straggling crowd toward the
escalators.

"I'll bet. All that lounging on the beach,
all those mai-tais. Rough life."

"I meant that literally. It was murder." I
lifted my hair in back to give him a glimpse of the fourteen
stitches at the base of my skull.

"Charlie,
what happened?
"

"I'll tell you about it later," I promised.
This would take longer than a walk through the airport would allow.
"What's new around here?" I asked.

Did I imagine it, or did he actually
blush?

"Ronnnn...?"

"Well..." He
was
blushing.

"It's a woman, isn't it? Tell me, or I'll...
I'll... I don't know." I moved slightly ahead of him, and turned
around, walking backward so I could watch his face. Ron has a
stubborn streak a mile long that won't allow him to let his little
sister push him around. He would stall a while longer, just to make
it clear that telling me was his idea, not mine. I fell back in
step with him, and kept quiet.

"Her name is Vicky." His voice started out
quiet, but I could hear the enthusiasm grow as he talked. "She's
pretty and has such a bubbly personality. We have so much in
common, although she is a little younger than me."

"
How
little?" Ron is thirty-six,
divorced, father of three. Responsible, dependable, but a prize
catch?

"We met at Denim and Diamonds," he continued,
"and we really hit it off, right from the start."

Picked up a girl in a bar? Really, Ron, in
this day and age, where is your caution? I didn't have to say it;
he got the message from the look I flashed him.

"I know, I know."

We arrived at the baggage carousel just as
its obnoxious horn started whonking. Two little kids scurried off
the stainless steel edge where they had been balancing on tip-toe.
The crowd was pushy, it was late, and my head was beginning to
throb. I let Ron watch the bags revolve around the giant lazy
Susan. I took a seat to the side, on a slatted wooden bench that
dug into my butt in strange and painful ways.

I had only one suitcase, and luckily it was
among the first to come off the line. Ron was gentleman enough to
carry it for me toward the parking garage.

"I can't wait for you to meet Vicky," he
said, as he started his Mustang convertible. "She's really
vivacious and fun-loving. I think you two might have lots to talk
about."

I made some polite noises, but truthfully, I
was beat and in no mood to talk about Vicky. There was a time when
I could travel for days, eat rich food, stay up three nights in a
row, and still go to work the next morning. No more. I was ready to
get home, settle in, and pop another of my pain killers.

"Did you check in with Gram?" I asked.

"I sure did. Called every day, and stopped by
twice," he assured me.

"How was Rusty?"

"Rambunctious as ever."

I had left my sixty pound dog in the care of
my ninety pound, eighty-six year old neighbor. I wondered which one
of them would be happier to see me by now. I only hoped Rusty
hadn’t shed too much hair, lifted his leg on her begonias, or
otherwise made her life stressful during the last week.

Ron successfully guided us through the low
ceilinged airport parking garage where. We emerged to a clear
night, which was probably full of stars, except that there were too
many bright lights around the airport to see them. I let myself
sink back against my seat, the cool desert night air streaming
through my hair, while he joined the sparse flow of traffic on
I-25. Fifteen minutes later, we pulled into my driveway.

I'm probably one of the few thirty-year-old
people anywhere these days who still lives in her childhood home.
They called it a ranch style house back then, white brick with a
shallow pitched roof. The three bedrooms, two baths, spacious
living room, and big airy kitchen are really more than Rusty and I
need, but a modern little box in an upscale part of town wouldn't
come with the fifty-foot sycamores in the back yard, or my mother's
Peace roses, whose canes are now thick as small tree trunks.

The living room lamp glowed behind the front
drapes, operated by a timer, just as I'd left it. Ron carried my
bag inside for me.

"You gonna feel like coming in tomorrow?" he
asked. He wanted to ask about the cause of my fourteen-stitch
headache, but refrained.

"I'll be fine," I assured him. "Some food and
a good night's sleep are what I need right now."

"Okay, see you there."

Right now, I wanted to see Rusty. Without
bothering to carry my suitcase to the bedroom, I headed for the
back door. I had no sooner switched on the back porch light than I
saw the one next door come on. Elsa Higgins, Gram to me and my
brothers, was obviously watching for me, probably anxious to get to
bed. Leaving my back door standing open, I walked toward the break
in the hedge between our two properties. I had not quite made it to
the edge of her porch, when the big red-brown energy machine
bounded out. His thick tail whipped my legs, and he rubbed against
me, covering my hands with slobbery kisses.

He grinned at me with that special smile of
his that people frequently take for a snarl. With most people, I
just let them think that.

Elsa stood in her doorway, looking smaller
and more frail than I remembered. She lives alone, cleans her own
house, plants a garden every summer, and makes lap rugs for the
“old people” at her church. She’s feisty and opinionated, and I
want to be just like her when I grow up. She’s been next door to me
all my life, and saved my ass more than once since I lost my
parents in a plane crash my junior year in high school. I wasn’t
sure whether I detected a certain amount of relief in her
expression as she watched Rusty and me reunite.

"How was the trip, Charlie?"

"Fine. I brought you something, but I'll have
to unpack to find it." I walked a bit closer to her, staying just
far enough back that I wouldn't have to get invited in. "How about
coming over for breakfast in the morning? I'll tell you all about
it then."

That seemed fine with her. She's not much of
a night person, anyway. Rusty and I headed back through the hedge.
I was starving, and would have loved a plate of Pedro's sour cream
chicken enchiladas, but I couldn't summon up the energy to get in
the Jeep and drive the six blocks just now. The long flight and my
throbbing head had taken a lot out of me. The only milk in the
fridge smelled ten days old, so I settled for a bowl of granola
with yogurt on top instead. Rusty flopped out on the kitchen floor,
his brief moment of joy at my arrival long over. For him, it was
like I'd never been gone. They say dogs have no sense of time. It
must be true—he acts the same way if I walk out to the mailbox.

I rechecked all the windows and doors, then
dragged my suitcase down the hall to my bedroom. I'd save the real
unpacking for morning. Right now, I only wanted to have a shower
and some sleep. Emerging from the steamy bathroom, I took one of my
prescription painkillers, and climbed between the cool sheets.
Rusty took up his usual post on the rug at the foot of my bed. I
slept like a dead person until the light coming through my window
got my attention about seven.

Chapter 2

My head felt a hundred percent better, and in
a sudden burst of perkiness, I made my bed, unpacked my suitcase,
got dressed, and moved toward the kitchen to start the coffee. Elsa
showed up about five minutes after I raised the kitchen window
shade. It's been our signal for years, to let each other know when
we're up and at 'em. Bless her heart, she brought a fresh carton of
milk, and warm blueberry muffins.

"I knew you wouldn't have time to go to the
store yet," she said.

The smell of the Kona coffee I'd brought from
Hawaii filled the kitchen, making my knees weak. I poured a couple
of mugs full, and let the caffeine course through my veins while I
watched butter melt into the blueberry muffin. I filled her in
briefly on the vacation, skimming lightly around the part about my
head injury. I didn't want her to think I'd put my life in danger
as a result of my acquaintance with the handsome helicopter pilot
I'd met there, although I had. Drake Langston was a unique sort of
man, whose illuminating smile and tender love-making had gone
straight to my heart. He'd left me at the airport (was it only
eighteen hours ago?), with the promise that we'd see each other
again. Well, we'd see. Life had taught me that such promises are
easily made, and rarely kept.

By eight-thirty, Elsa had come and gone. I
figured I was as ready as ever to get going to the office. I
retrieved my briefcase from the front bedroom I now use as a home
office. It was the boy's room when we were kids, but now I have my
desk, computer, and a file cabinet with a few personal files in it.
Rusty waited by the front door, beating his thick tail against the
doorjamb.

"Okay, buddy, let's go." He nearly went into
a frenzy before I could get the screen door open. He raced for the
Jeep, wanting to ride up front in the passenger seat. I made him go
to the back.

In ten minutes we covered the mile to our
office which occupies an old Victorian house just off Central
Avenue. Huge trees, leafed out in pale spring green, formed a
canopy over our quiet side street in this partly residential
neighborhood. Lilac and snowball bushes flanked several doorways,
filling the air with their sweet perfume. The yard service had
apparently visited our gray and white gingerbreaded place in recent
days. The lawn was freshly mown and the shrubs trimmed. I pulled
into the narrow concrete drive that follows the left edge of the
property to an old carriage house in the back yard. The Jeep edged
into its regular spot between Ron’s red convertible and Sally’s
imported four-by-four. The tiny flowerbed beside the back door
sported freshly planted pansies. I smiled at their little purple
faces.

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