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Authors: G. A. McKevett

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Death by Chocolate

BOOK: Death by Chocolate
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Books by G.A. McKevett

 

JUST DESSERTS

BITTER SWEETS

KILLER CALORIES

COOKED GOOSE

SUGAR AND SPITE

SOUR GRAPES

PEACHES AND SCREAMS

DEATH BY CHOCOLATE

CEREAL KILLER

 

 

Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation

 

KENSINGTON BOOKS are published by

 

Kensington
Publishing Corp.

850 Third Avenue

New York, NY 10022

 

Copyright ©
2003 by G.A. McKevett and Kensington Publishing Corporation

 

All rights
reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means
without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used
in reviews.

 

If you
purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen
property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the Publisher and
neither the Author nor the Publisher has received any payment for this
“stripped book.”

 

All
Kensington Titles, Imprints, and Distributed Lines are available at special
quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotions, premiums,
fund-raising, and educational or institutional use. Special book excerpts or
customized printings can also be created to fit specific needs. For details,
write or phone the office of the Kensington special sales manager: Kensington
Publishing Corp., 850 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022, attn: Special Sales
Department, Phone: 1-800-221-2647.

 

Kensington
and the K logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.

 

First Kensington hardcover printing:
January 2003

First Kensington mass market printing:
December 2003

 

10 9 8 7 6
5 4 3 2 1

 

Printed in
the United States of America

 

This book is lovingly
dedicated to

Blanche and George Hald,

who have welcomed me so
warmly

into their hearts and their
family.

 

Acknowledgements

 

The author would like to
thank

the newest members of the

Moonlight Magnolia
Detective Agency

for their kindness and
expertise.

 

Jennifer Hald

Blanche Hald

Leslie Connell

And

Dan McLeod

Chapter

1

 

 

 

“Y
ou’re really not too bad-looking,
you know, for a chubby old broad.”

Savannah resisted the urge
to growl and bite her companion as the hair on the back of her neck bristled.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” she said in her sweetest, most demure imitation of a
Southern belle—a belle who might feed you your teeth after a back-handed
compliment like that. “But I am not old. I’m.... forty-something.... and in my
prime. And as far as chubby”—she turned in the passenger seat and stared at the
driver’s more than ample midsection—“in the years since I met you, that belly
of yours has gone from washboard-hard to duvet-poofy, so watch it, buddy.”

Dirk shot her a wounded,
highly offended look as he steered his ancient Buick Skylark through the ever
gathering morning rush-hour traffic. Though in the laid-back Southern
California coastal town of San Carmelita, traffic didn’t exactly rush—at any
hour of the day.

“Man, try to say something
nice and you get your head handed to you,” he said, reaching for a pack of
cigarettes on the dashboard. “And as for the chubby part, I just meant
that—dressed up like an old lady, even with that stupid gray wig on and the
extra padding under that flowery dress—you still look okay.”

“I’m not wearing extra
padding. This is all me.”

“Oh... sorry.”

She snatched the pack out
of his hand. “You said you were quitting.”

“I said I was thinking
about quitting. I’m still thinking.”

“You’ve been thinking about
getting ready to start thinking about quitting for the past fifteen years.”

“Well, no point rushing
into anything. Gimme those smokes, woman, before I fly into a blind rage.”

Sighing, she slapped them
into his open palm. “Roll down the window and blow it outside.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.... you
and your smoke allergies. What’s the matter with you, Van? You’re moodier than
usual.”

She opened her mouth to
protest, but then snapped it closed. He was right; she was in a foul mood. Had
been for several weeks. And her self-medicating regime of nightly bubble baths
by candlelight and chocolate truffles had provided only the briefest respites.

Once, for half a moment,
she had considered that she might be going through some sort of midlife crisis.
But, of course, that would have meant admitting that she was “middle-aged” and
maybe just a tad past her prime.

And if, indeed, her prime had
come and gone, exactly on what day had she supposedly peaked? She couldn’t
recall a twenty-four-hour period in the past forty years when she hadn’t felt
fairly dragged out and grouchy.

Then she had an even more
depressing thought: maybe a body only peaked for about five minutes. If so...
she had missed the big event.

“Come on.... what’s the
matter?” Dirk asked, reaching up to scratch under his own ratty gray wig. “Is
it because we didn’t nab somebody this time out?”

She looked down at the
senior-citizen sensible black shoes and baggy hose she was wearing. The giant
white patent-leather purse on the seat beside her. The monstrosity of a floral
polyester dress that she had purchased at the local thrift store for a buck.

“I do feel a mite
rejected,” she said. “There was a day when I could dress up in a black leather
miniskirt and fishnet hose and hook any bad guy in fifteen seconds. Now I go
out of my way to look the part of a sweet, totally vulnerable old lady hanging
around the ATM with her big ‘Come Snatch Me’ white purse, and I can’t even get
mugged. It’s a sad situation, Detective, this downward trend of mine. I used to
have to fight the boys off with a stick. Now they don’t even get within
smacking distance.”

“Eh.... what do you need
with more men in your life? You’ve got me.”

Mental pictures of Dirk
with his feet propped on her coffee table every Monday night, swigging her
beer, eating her pizza, watching
Monday Night Football
on her TV,
shoving her potato chips into his face and spilling crumbs on her sofa, using
her toilet and leaving the seat up, often missing the bowl.

He had a point there. Why
would she want more men in her life?

When she didn’t reply, he
nudged her with his elbow. “We’ll get ‘em tomorrow morning, Van. If you’re up
for going out. with me again, that is.”

She gave him a sidewise
grin, and he returned it, the smile softening his street-rough face. Being a
cop had taken its toll on Dirk.... as it had on her. Savannah Reid was all too
glad to be a private citizen again without the “Detective” in front of her
name. No badge, just a P.I.’s license and a lot less headaches—if you didn’t
figure in the stress of self-employment. Or rather, the even more nerve-racking
bouts of self-unemployment.

“Yeah, I’ll play decoy for you
tomorrow, too,” she said. “We’ve gotta get this guy before he really hurts
somebody. And as long as the San Carmelita P.D. is too cheap to assign you a
partner....”

She was giving him the
benefit of the doubt, blaming his single status on departmental frugality. Last
she had heard, everybody else in the squad avoided partnering with Dirk with a
vengeance. Having worked with him for more than fifteen years, on and off the
force, she understood that Detective-Sergeant Dirk Coulter was an acquired
taste.

She loved the crotchety
geezer. But she couldn’t think of any reason why anybody else would.

“Really, we gotta get ‘im,”
Dirk said, the gleam of righteous indignation lighting his bloodshot eyes.
“Even if it’s a water pistol he’s using, sooner or later one of these poor old
ladies is going to fall over dead of a heart attack right in the middle of the
robbery.”

She lifted her chin a notch
and nodded, her own eyes glittering with the same icy warmth. “Don’t worry.
We’ll put a stop to his nonsense, jerk a knot in his tail, and hang him up by
it.... somehow or another.”

For the first time in
several days, she felt a sense of well-being trickle through her... along with
the mental picture of herself slamming some scumbag over the head with that
white purse, which carried not some vulnerable senior lady’s social security
check, but a brick from her backyard. She’d stand by, grinning like a goat
eating briars, while Dirk cuffed him and read him his rights. Yes, that would
certainly brighten her day.

Maybe that was all that was
wrong with her. It had been too long since her last “Get the Bad Guy” fix.
Adrenaline and justice—it was a heady mix.

Dirk guided the Buick off
the highway and onto a palm-tree-lined street that led up the hill and away
from the ocean and the downtown area where they had been playing decoy.

“Hey, you’re not taking me
home, are you?” Savannah said, suddenly alert and suspicious.

“Well, yeah.” He nodded but
stared straight ahead, avoiding eye contact. “You said you were hungry and
wanted breakfast. I figured I’d get you home as fast as I could so that you
could scramble up some of those Western omelet things you make and maybe some
home fries and....”

“Don’t you even start with
me, Coulter. You head this buggy for the nearest restaurant... like the pancake
house on Luther Avenue. If I haul my tired butt out of bed and dress up in this
garb and stroll up and down in front of an ATM for four hours, the least you
can do is feed me.”

Dirk grumbled something
under his breath, and even though she caught only a couple of words, she got
his drift.

“No money on you is no
excuse. There’s a bank right there on Luther, two doors down from the Flap Jack
Shack. We’ll stop there first. And you’d better get a bundle while you’re at
it, ‘cause I worked up quite an appetite on that stroll.”

 

 

Rather than risk being
charged a fifty-cent ATM fee, Dirk pulled the Skylark into a spot in the bank’s
parking lot next to a meticulously restored 1963 Oldsmobile Starfire. “Hey,
look at that,” he said. “What a beauty! Same year as my Buick.”

Savannah sniffed. “It ain’t
the years, darlin’; it’s the mileage, and I can hear this poor jalopy of yours
groaning with embarrassment just to be sitting next to that lovely machine.”

She waited for him to flare,
as always, when she insulted his car, his driving, or his table manners. But he
sat there, his hand on the door handle, staring at the bank’s rear wall.

Or more specifically, at
one of the two small windows.

“Look at that,” he said.

“I’m looking.”

“What do you think?”

She studied the small,
crudely scribbled paper sign that had been shoved between the glass and the
Venetian blinds in the window on the right. “I think somebody’s a bad speller,”
she replied.

In writing that looked as
if it had been done by a five-year-old with a large black marker were the words
We’re being robed.

“Robed? Maybe they’re
having a pajama party. But I doubt it.” Dirk reached inside the old flannel
jacket that had completed his senior-citizen ensemble, and at the same time Savannah
checked inside the waistband of the flowered dress for her Beretta.

“You don’t have to have a
piece of this,” Dirk said. “I can call for backup and wait.”

“Maybe you can wait and
maybe you can’t.” She squinted against the late morning sunlight that was
shining on the glass door to the bank. She saw movement inside but couldn’t
make out details. “Depends on what’s going on in there,” she said. “If somebody
had time enough to write that sign and stick it in the window, it’s been going
down for a while.”

“One thing for sure,” Dirk
said, opening his door, “we gotta stop Grandma Moses there from joining the
party.”

Savannah saw who he was
talking about—an elderly woman shuffling toward the bank’s door with a walker.
Considering her lack of agility, she was making pretty good progress and had
nearly reached the entrance.

But Dirk was faster. He
bounded out of the car and across the lot with Savannah right behind him.

“Hey, lady,” he called out
to her, keeping his voice low. “Come back here. Don’t go in.... I think the
place is being—”

“Holy shit! ” the old woman
yelled as she stood outside the door and stared inside. ‘There’s a guy in there
with a gun!” She turned, wild-eyed, to Dirk and Savannah. “There’s two guys in
there! And they’ve both got guns! Really big ones!”

“Get away from that door.
Come back here, honey,” Savannah called to her. But the lady was already on the
move without aid of her walker, which she was holding straight out in front of
her like a lion-tamer would hold a chair.

She ran up to Savannah, who
grabbed her by the arm to steady her. “Is that your car, ma’am?” Savannah
pointed to the Starfire.

“Yes.”

“Well, go get in it and
drive away as quick as you can, okay?”

“You bet your sweet ass, I
will.”

For the briefest moment,
Savannah thought, Since when do grandmothers say “sweet ass” and “holy shit”?
But then she heard a woman scream inside the bank, then another.

“We’ve gotta get in there,”
she told Dirk. He nodded. Turning back to the lady, she said, “May I borrow
your walker?”

 

 

Rodney Flynn had never
robbed a bank before. Until this morning, he had stuck to knocking over
all-night convenience stores and the occasional gas station. But his cousin,
Ferris, had convinced him that if they hit just one bank a month, they’d make
more money in ten minutes than they’d both made in the past ten years. Flipping
burgers at Joe’s Grill wasn’t particularly lucrative for Rodney, and Ferris
hadn’t actually worked a full day at a real job in his life.

Rodney had told him he was
nuts, but then he got to thinking about how much money there was in those bank
tellers’ drawers, not to mention what they might get ahold of if they could
somehow get the safe open.

Besides, it would be on the
news. They’d be on the news. Not their names, hopefully, but a story about the
robbery. Rodney had been disappointed that his service station knockover hadn’t
even made the newspaper. Hell, they’d probably run those little commercials on
the L.A. stations: daring bank holdup in San Carmelita... daring robbers get
away with millions... film at eleven o’clock.

Maybe we should have worn
masks or pantyhose over our heads or something, he thought, as he stood in the
middle of the bank pointing his gun at a huddled bunch of terrified employees and
customers. In the corner of the room he spotted a little black box with a lens
sticking out of it—pointed right at him. Damn it, Ferris should have thought of
some kinda disguises. I got the car filled up with gas. I can’t do it all.

Ferris always acted like he
was the boss, strutting around with his nose in the air, taking charge, telling
everybody what to do, when to wipe their nose and not to. But what kind of a
boss forgot something as simple as masks, huh?

“Get that ring off her finger,
now!” Ferris yelled at him, waving his pistol in Rodney’s direction.

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