Cover: Maid for Murder by Barbara Colley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Title: Barbara Colley's Charlotte LaRue Mystery Excerpts

Death Tidies Up
by Barbara Colley

 

Chapter One

The cooler, dry air was invigorating, and Charlotte LaRue sighed with pleasure as she stepped onto the front porch of her Victorian double.

The first touch of fall had finally arrived, but not without a battle. Just before midnight she'd been awakened by the clash of thunder and lightning as a cold front fought its way south. Then the rain had begun, torrents of it from the sound it had made beating against her roof. But the rain hadn't lasted long, just long enough to wash away any remnants of the heat and humidity that typically smothered New Orleans.

Of course, by the time the so-called cold front reached the city, it wasn't cold any more. It was simply cooler. But cooler was good. She'd gladly take what she could get.

Charlotte sighed again. Today would have been the perfect day to raise the windows and air out her stuffy house. Too bad, she thought. Her aging air-conditioner could use the rest, and she could use the reprieve from her outrageous electric bill as well.

But duty called. Today she had to go to work, and for the sake of security, she didn't dare leave the windows open without being there. For the first time in a long time, she'd be working through the weekend as well, but Sunday might be a possibility, if she finished up the job on Saturday.

"Probably won't last till Sunday," she muttered. Unlike other parts of the country that had a real, honest-to-goodness fall season, October in New Orleans could be as mercurial as a woman going through menopause.

Charlotte winced at the mental analogy, but she had no illusions about the source. Aging . . . menopause . . . change of seasons. Change of life. Another year passing. And with another year, yet another birthday.

But not just any birthday. This one was the big one, the one that made her insides shrivel and tighten with dread every time she thought about it.

Turning fifty had been bad enough, a half century bad enough, including menopause and all of the cliched jokes about being over the hill. But there was just something about even the sound of sixty . . .

Charlotte shuddered. Then, with a determined shake of her head, she lifted her chin and straightened her shoulders. She'd read somewhere that aging was a state of mind, the difference between thinking positive and negative. You're only as old as you think. Or maybe that was feel? You're only as old as you feel.

"Whichever," she murmured with a shrug. Think . . .
feel . . . It didn't really matter. What mattered was concentrating on keeping a good positive attitude instead of dwelling on the negative. She should be grateful for all of the good things about her life, she thought. She had the love of her family and friends, and her health. Her maid service had grown by leaps and bounds, so much so that she'd had to expand and hire help.

Charlotte blinked several times and frowned. Her left eye itched. Though she loved this time of year, unfortunately, her allergies didn't. She reached up to rub her eye. Then, clenching her fist, she quickly lowered her hand.

Rubbing the eyes could cause wrinkles. Yet one more thing to be grateful for, she decided. Thanks to good genes, she didn't have that many wrinkles. Not yet. And the bit of gray in her hair still blended naturally with the dark blond, giving it a highlighted look. Her daily walk and her line of work helped keep her physically fit--her muscles were toned, and she could still wear a size ten petite dress.

Her daily walk . . . Charlotte took a deep breath, savoring the cool air, then let it out in a sigh full of longing. Oh, how she missed her early-morning walks. There was something really special about getting out when everything was still fresh.

Yet another change. Everything changes and nothing stays the same, she reminded herself. It had been five months since she'd begun working for Marian Hebert on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Unlike her former clients, the Dubuissons, who had been content with her showing up at nine, Marian wanted her at work by eight. At first she'd set her alarm clock an hour earlier each morning so she could still take her walk. She was not an early riser by nature, though. Getting up earlier had lasted only a week before she'd decided to content herself with walking in the evenings instead.

"Oh, well," she murmured, glancing around for the newspaper. There was no use in worrying about any of it. The only thing to do was learn to roll with the punches.

Worrying about turning sixty wasn't going to change the outcome. Whether she liked it or not, unless she died or the world came to an end, her birthday would come. And worrying about having to change her walking time wouldn't change anything either, not if she wanted to keep her newest client.

Still searching for the newspaper, Charlotte stepped closer to the front of the porch. She spotted it on the second step from the bottom. The paper was enclosed in a clear plastic bag that still held small pockets of water from the rain. She bent down, picked it up, then shook off the excess moisture. Just as she slipped it out of the plastic wrap, she heard the click of the deadbolt on the front door of the other half of her double.

"Oh, no!" she whispered, glaring at the door. Thoughts of making a run for it flitted through her head. The last person she wanted to see and the last person she wanted to see her this early in the morning was Louis Thibodeaux.

She still couldn't believe that she'd given in and rented out the other half of her double to him. After the last tenants she'd had, she'd decided against ever renting to anyone again. But Louis was different, and knowing his stay would only be temporary had been the deciding factor.

The house he'd owned Uptown had sold before he'd finished building his retirement home on Lake Maurepas. Once he'd finished his lake house, he would move out.

Charlotte eyed her own front door and calculated her chances. No way would she make it in time, not without breaking her neck on the slippery porch in the process. With a resigned sigh, she faced the door at the other end of the porch as it swung open.

Louis Thibodeaux was a stocky man with gray hair and a receding hairline. Though not pretty-boy handsome, he was an attractive man, in a rugged sort of way. And unlike most men his age, his belly was still nice and flat instead of hanging over his belt.

"Hey, there, Charlotte," he said. "I thought I heard you out here."

Great, she thought, wondering if her hair was sticking up all over the place and wishing she'd at least pulled on a pair of sweats instead of her old ratty housecoat.

In contrast, Louis had already showered, shaved, and dressed, and every gray hair on his perfectly shaped head was combed and in place.

Charlotte forced a smile and held up the newspaper. "Just getting the paper." She stepped back up onto the porch. Noting that he was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt instead of his usual khaki slacks and dress shirt, she tilted her head and frowned. "You off today?"

"Today and tomorrow." He held up crossed fingers. "I'm just hoping that nothing major goes down to interfere."

Charlotte suppressed a shudder. Louis was a New Orleans homicide detective, and to Louis, "major" meant murder and death.

"Since Judith is showing my replacement the ropes," he continued, "I thought this would be a good time to take some vacation days."

Charlotte frowned. "Your replacement? Already? But I thought you weren't retiring until the end of the year."

"I'm not, but the end of the year will be here before you know it."

And so will my birthday. Charlotte immediately shied away from the depressing thought. "How is my niece, by the way?" Better to think about Judith than to think about turning sixty. "I haven't seen or heard from her since last Sunday."

"She's okay." He shrugged. "It's been kinda rough on her, breaking in a new partner, but hey--she's tough, and she'll survive."

Survive! Charlotte didn't like the sound of that, but before she could question Louis about it, he switched subjects on her.

"I'm glad I caught you before I left," he said. "I'll be working out at the camp for the next couple of days, but I'll have my cell phone on, just in case anything comes up. We finally got the roof on last week, so I'm ready to start on the inside. If everything goes as planned, I should be able to move by the end of next month."

Charlotte nodded but gave him a sharp look. "What exactly did you mean by 'survive'?"

His expression abruptly grew tight, and a warning cloud settled on his features. "I didn't mean anything, Charlotte. It's just an expression. The new guy will do just fine. Judith will do just fine," he emphasized. "Besides, he comes highly recommended by the brass."

The last was said with a slight edge in his voice, and that, along with Louis' expression, could mean almost anything.

"Stop it, Charlotte. Get that look off your face and stop it right now."

She narrowed her eyes. "If there's something wrong with Judith or this new partner of hers, I have a right to know, so you just stop it. This is my niece we're talking about, a girl I helped raise. And you and I both know that a good partner can mean the difference between life and death for a police officer."

"Judith will be just fine." He separated and emphasized each word as if he were talking to a stubborn two-year-old. "I don't have time for this right now. I've got things to do, and I'd like to get on the road before traffic backs up."

Before Charlotte could protest, he stalked past her, stomped down the steps, and made a beeline for his car.

For long seconds, she stood glued to the spot, fuming, as she watched the detective drive off down the street. Something was going on, something he didn't want to talk about. And just like a man, any time they didn't want to talk about a subject, they either headed for the sanctuary of the bathroom or they simply left the premises.

Finally, with a frustrated shake of her head, she headed inside. But as she passed her desk, she eyed the phone. "I should give Judith a call and find out for myself about this new partner of hers." She glanced up at the birdcage near the front window. "What do you think, Sweety Boy?" she asked. "Should I call her?"

The little parakeet cocked his head to one side, let out a chirp, then began prancing back and forth along the perch inside his cage, squawking out the only word he knew. "Crazy! Crazy!"

"Well, you're no help. And that's enough of that. Why can't you say something nice, something like 'good morning' or even just 'hello'?" For months she'd been trying to teach the silly parakeet to talk, but the one word that he had chosen to say wasn't among the few phrases she'd repeated over and over.

Go figure, she thought as she eyed the phone again. Just about the time she'd made up her mind to dial her niece, the cuckoo clock on the wall over her desk signaled the half hour. Six-thirty.

Charlotte glared at the parakeet, then burst out laughing. "You're right, Sweety. I would be 'crazy' to call this early." Knowing her niece, she probably wasn't even awake yet.

In the kitchen, armed with her first cup of coffee, Charlotte seated herself at the table. She removed the Lagniappe Arts and Entertainment insert that came with each Friday's paper and set it aside to read later. Though she normally read the paper at the end of the day, she always took time to scan the headlines over her first cup of coffee.

Flattening out the rest of the paper, she began skimming the front page. When her gaze reached the bottom right-hand corner, she froze, her eyes riveted to the caption.

"Dubuisson Murder Trial--Jury Selection to Begin."

She'd known it was coming, but the shock of actually seeing it in bold print still stunned her. For long seconds, she stared at the paper, mesmerized. The five months that had passed since the scandalous Dubuisson murder evaporated like rising steam, and she blanked out everything but the horrific events behind the headline.

Like a video on fast-forward, the horrible memories unfolded in her mind in rapid succession. And she saw it all again, beginning with the day she'd first learned that someone in her former client's household had been murdered and ending with her horrifying brush with death that had finally precipitated the arrest of the murderer.

Only recently had her nightmares eased. Only within the last month had she finally stopped reliving her own near death experience because of her association with the Dubuissons.

Charlotte shivered. When it happened, she'd been lucky that the police kept her name out of the papers. This time, though, she wouldn't be so lucky. First the jury selection, then the trial. And with the trial, the D.A. would subpoena her as a witness for the prosecution. Not only would her name be in the papers, but she'd have to relive it all again, all of it, blow by blow, the whole sordid, ugly affair.

"Wonderful," she muttered, feeling as if the weight of the world had suddenly descended on her shoulders. "Just what I needed this morning." Not only did she have her sixtieth birthday to look forward to, but now this, something else to dread.

 

Excerpt from Death Tidies Up
Copyright 2002 by Barbara Colley

Kensington Publishing
February 2003


Excerpt Index: Dusted to Death | Wash and Die | Scrub-a-Dub Dead | Rachel's War
Maid for Murder | Death Tidies Up | Polished Off | Wiped Out | Married to the Mop


 


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