It’s Thriller Thursday! Please welcome friend and fellow author Frederick Lee Brooke and one kick-ass heroine Annie Ogden in Collateral Damage. How could I resist? I’m honored to be a part of the tour.
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Monday, June 24 Shannon Mayer- Ch. 1
Tuesday, June 25 Scott Bury- Ch. 2
Wednesday, June 26 Raine Thomas -Ch. 3
Thursday, June 27 Emily Walker – Ch. 4
Friday, June 28 Simon Jenner – Ch. 5
Saturday, June 29 Amberr Meadows – Ch. 6
Sunday, June 30 Anne Chaconas – Ch. 7
Monday, July 1 BestsellingReads – Ch. 8
Tuesday, July 2 Tyler-Rose Neath – Ch. 9
Wednesday, July 3 Naomi Leadbeater – Ch. 10
Thursday, July 4 Mohana Rajakumar – Ch. 11
Friday, July 5 Martha Bourke – Ch. 12
Saturday, July 6 Marilou George – Ch. 13
Sunday, July 7 J.C. Martin – Ch. 14
Monday, July 8 Corinne O’Flynn – Ch. 15
Tuesday, July 9 Tawdra Kandle – Ch. 16
Wednesday, July 10 Helen Hanson – Ch. 17
Thursday, July 11 Connie M. Chyle – Ch. 18
Friday, July 12 Cyndi – Ch. 19
Saturday, July 13 Kenneth Hoss – Ch. 20
Sunday, July 14 Andrea Kurian – Ch. 21
Monday, July 15 Andy Holloman – Ch. 22
Tuesday, July 16 Marilyn Diekman – Ch. 23
Wednesday, July 17 Christine Nolfi – Ch. 24
Thursday, July 18 Jennifer Chase – Ch. 25
Friday, July 19 Patricia Sands – Ch. 26
While I waited for June to come and pick me up, I called Salvatore.
“Are you at the airport?” he said by way of greeting.
“I’ve got news,” I said. I gazed at my ring while telling him about Michael being arrested for murder. I left out the parts about Michael wanting to spend the rest of his life with me and the banner with three hundred hearts on it.
“Hey, you should really call your sister. She’s driving me up the wall,” Salvatore said when I was done.
“Did you hear what I just told you? Michael’s in jail. Husker is dead.”
“I’m just saying your sister keeps bugging me.”
“I’m trying to prioritize a little, here, you know?”
“She thinks we should both go down to Florida and babysit you.”
“She treats me like a child,” I said. “Makes her feel important or something. Anyway.”
“Actually I was wondering if you would come down and help with the investigation.”
“The police had one look at Michael’s priors and threw him in the lockup. Plus his fingerprints are on the murder weapon.”
“Let me guess. You don’t think he did it?”
“I know he didn’t do it.”
“How do you know?”
“I was with him when the murder was committed. We left the party and went to have a little dinner. Husker was alive when we left. We’ve got people that saw us.” I could imagine Salvatore rolling his eyes. I didn’t care. I knew Michael. He couldn’t have killed Husker. “I know it’s true. There’s other evidence,” I added for emphasis, assuming it was true.
“Let me ask you this. If you’re so sure he didn’t do it, why are the police holding him?”
“They think it’s open and shut. They just don’t have a motive. The other problem is it’s political because of the senator. There’s other stuff I can’t tell you on the phone. I wish you would come down and help me, Salvatore.”
I heard him sigh.
“It’s because it’s Michael, isn’t it?”
“No, I can put that aside. It’s just that…”
Salvatore didn’t finish. So it was that. He was happy to have Michael behind bars. Threat eliminated.
“I thought you had a bigger heart. I’m committed to you. I told you I was committed to you. All I want to do is help a friend and make sure justice is served.” I was embarrassed at being reduced to begging. But what choice did I have? This time he didn’t make me wait long.
“What makes you so goddamn sure he didn’t do it, Annie? That’s what bothers me. Not the fact that you guys were once lovers. You’re wrong.”
“There is stuff I can’t say on the phone,” I said. “I’m in a public place. This is a political hot potato. My lawyer said it could be dangerous. There are some possibilities we could follow up on, but I can’t do it alone. It’s too much for me.”
“Well, find a more private place and call me back.”
At that moment, June drove up. I walked out of the building lobby and got in her car. What an annoying stalemate. He was upset that I wasn’t coming home, and I was irritated that he wouldn’t come down. We had a case, here. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t prepared to help me figure out who the real murderer was. I never realized how stubborn he could be.
Salvatore had just the right combination of street smarts, toughness, and technological savvy to take a crack at clearing Michael. Having been a cop probably influenced his feelings about Michael. Salvatore may be a puppy dog to me, but when it came to repeat offenders, he was a pessimist. I couldn’t say I blamed him, in general. Why couldn’t he see Michael was the exception?
“How did it go? Was he good?” June asked.
“He seems like a total idiot. I’m a little confused. I need to think.”
“I know a place we can have lunch. It’s quiet, and they have good food.”
“Don’t you need to get back to the bakery?”
June smiled. “Quiet day. My people can hold down the fort. I’ve got them working on the big party for next Thursday. I figured you and I could do something today, take our mind off things.”
A few minutes later, we walked into a garden restaurant with ceiling fans and indoor potted palms two stories high. We ordered iced teas and salads and sat back. We were seated next to each other in a giant rattan chair for two that was more suited for romantic couples than a couple of friends like us. But there was no one within ten feet of us, and I decided to tell June about the case.
“Let’s go back to Papaya,” she said when I’d finished. “If the lawyer’s going to leave everything up to the police, we can at least go and ask around. Would you recognize anyone you saw there?”
“There was a waiter who took care of us. That’s about it, actually.”
June ate a chunk of pineapple from her salad. “There’s a real problem with meth in this town. They’re constantly arresting dealers and closing down meth labs. I always have the feeling it’s the tip of the iceberg.”
“We don’t have to solve all the drug problems in Tampa. We just have to get Michael out of jail.”
“I get it,” June said. “You want to dig around in Husker’s contacts and see who he might’ve had a conflict with?”
“That would provide a motive, wouldn’t it?”
“And a murderer, maybe.”
June’s phone wiggled on the table between us. “Do you mind?” she asked, looking at the number. “This is June. Hi, Todd.” I couldn’t hide my distaste when I saw her happy expression. I looked around at other people in the restaurant. My own partner was sitting this one out. From a thousand miles away, he had decided Michael belonged in jail. Michael was an ex-con, the police had arrested him, and so he was probably guilty. It burned me up.
June and Todd didn’t talk long. When she put the phone down, she gave me an irritated look. “Annie, I need your help with something, okay?”
“Sure, whatever you want.”
“I know you don’t like Todd. I’m sure you have your reasons. I respect that. But let me live my life, okay? Maybe there’s a little something there, and I don’t want you coming between us.”
She had told me yesterday about her relationship drought. I couldn’t very well keep an open mind about my brother-in-law, but I could keep my mouth shut.
“You’re right,” I said. June had thirty confirmed kills in Iraq, so he’d better keep his head down if he messed with her. Besides, I didn’t want to be like my sister, bossing people around.
We went back to her bakery and she set me up in her office. I wanted to do a little research on Husker’s brother Russell. This turned out to be easier than I expected. Using the search words Russell+Mathers+Tampa resulted in eighteen Google pages with about ten links on each page. The problem was not going to be finding information. The problem was going to be sorting it.
Russell Mathers was the successful businessman par excellence. Several websites contained his life story in a nutshell. Having graduated with a degree in business from Florida State University, he’d worked as an accountant before changing to a sales job in a car dealership. When Lexus opened its first dealership in Tampa, Russell Mathers got the franchise. He’d married a college sweetheart, and by the age of thirty-five owned a dozen companies, only two of which, from what I could find out on the Internet, had anything to do with the car dealership.
One company, Tampet Inc., seemed to be in the real estate business. It owned houses, office buildings, and strip malls all over the city. I noticed Tampet Inc. owned the building where my lawyer’s office was located. On a hunch, I did a Google search on the little house where Michael and Husker had been living. Two hits came up. According to a police report in the Tampa newspaper, a meth lab had been closed down at that address less than a year ago.
Different scenarios were occurring to me. Maybe Husker had advertised the party in such a way that dealers had found out about it, people he might’ve had conflicts with. They had used the cover of the party to murder him.
Meth users could be violent and unpredictable. If we could portray the murderer as a double-crossed meth user, high when he arrived, someone who happened to find Michael’s bayonet, maybe we could get Michael released.
“Someone at the party must have seen the killer,” I said when June came in to check on me. “Husker was killed in his bedroom. Who went in there? Who saw them go in? Someone must have seen them. Was the bayonet already in there? This was a crowded party. If only we knew the answers to some of those questions.”
“The police must’ve talked to people.”
“The ones that hadn’t left yet,” I said. “Guess who was probably the first to leave.”
“The murderer probably didn’t stick around.”
“That’s one thing,” I said. “The other thing I keep coming back to is Husker’s brother. This is one seriously powerful dude. He owns half of Tampa.”
The rhythmic noise of some cutting or stamping machine in the bakery right outside June’s office drowned out our conversation for a few seconds. Then the air conditioning kicked in again, and the noise outside stopped, and I felt a stream of cool air on my face.
“Everybody knows that,” June said. “He’s like a local godfather. Gives a lot of money to charity. The university. Rotary. The United Way. It doesn’t really make sense, you know. Why would a guy like that get involved in drugs?”
“Maybe his businesses aren’t doing as well as everyone thinks?”
June gave a massive shrug. “How would you ever investigate that?”
“Salvatore’s good at ferreting out financial information. You’d be surprised how many people’s tax returns can be found on the Internet.”
She laughed. “Not Russell Mathers. I mean really, Annie.”
“Something bothers me there. Why did he allow his brother to get into so much trouble when he got home from Iraq?”
“What makes you so convinced he had control over his brother? I think the idea of a double-crossed dealer is more promising,” June said. “Even if there were problems between the two brothers when Husker came home, that doesn’t mean Russell had anything to do with his murder.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Russell’s got to be grieving just like the rest of us, even more.”
“I keep coming back to Michael being arrested even though he wasn’t there when Husker was murdered. It’s not right. They’ve got the wrong guy. Don’t you think his older brother would want to know about that?”
“What do you mean?”
“We should go and see him. The police probably told him they’ve arrested Michael. If this guy is so powerful, I want him on Michael’s side.”
“You mean drop in? On Russell Mathers?”
“I’m not local, remember. I’d never heard of the guy till yesterday.”
“People like us just don’t just drop in on people like him.”
I disagreed. “We fought with Husker side by side in Iraq. We were at the party. And Husker’s best friend was my boyfriend in Iraq. We’re not just some riffraff, June. I say we give him a call. Better yet, let’s drive to his house.”
“You mean right now?”
Frederick Lee Brooke is the author of the widely-acclaimed Annie Ogden mystery series, which includes Doing Max Vinyl, Zombie Candy, and Collateral Damage. The books do not have to be read in order. Having lived in Switzerland for the past two decades, Brooke has taught English, run a business and learned French, German and Italian. You can find him online at www.FrederickLeeBrooke.com. Sign up for his newsletter and read all about his travels, recipes, and upcoming works!