Death Bogart parked his ten-year-old Jeep Grand Cherokee on the back lot of a hot dog stand that had gone out of business a decade earlier. He looked around ruefully. Even the prettiest little towns seemed to have areas like this–dingy, depressed neighborhoods strewn with rundown businesses and ugly, old, abandoned buildings where the community betterment projects didn’t reach. A cold front was moving in, promising rain and threatening snow. The gray skies made the place just that much more depressing. Death popped his collar against the cold, locked his vehicle and headed for a narrow alley between a dingy car wash and an empty brick factory building.
The cell phone in his pocket buzzed. He looked at it to find a new message from his girlfriend, Wren Morgan. Death clicked on it and a picture came up. It showed a long, white spiral horn in a plastic bag against a bright splash of primary colors. A faded cardboard tag at the top read, “MAKE YOUR CAR A UNICORN! SUPER STRONG MAGNETS HOLD IT IN PLACE! TAKE THE MAGIC WITH YOU!”
Death replied, “???”
“We’re selling off a joke and novelty shop that went out of business,” Wren texted back. She was an auctioneer with a small, family-owned auction company. “Roy bought the most obscene lotion dispenser! I don’t know if he’s planning to prank his wife or his brother.”
A pause and then another text “Are you there yet?”
“Yeah. Just now.”
Her next text was a flurry of hearts. He smiled and tucked his phone away.
The old man was just where he expected to find him, bundled in old clothes and grimy blankets, nested in the shelter of a rusty trash bin. A filthy cardboard barricade guarded him against the wind. Death squatted down in front of him, ignoring the stench that might have come from the trash but probably did not.
“Winter’s coming on, Corporal Hutchinson. You need to be inside, out of the cold.”
“I like the cold.” Hutchinson’s eyes narrowed. “I never told you my name.”
“No,” Death said, “but you told me your stories. Where you served. Who you served with. That was all I needed to find you. I’m smart like that.”
“What was that?”
“I said smart ass, Sergeant. ‘Nam was a long time ago. I’m not in the Corps anymore. You don’t outrank me junior.”
“Yeah. I’m not in the Corps anymore either.” Death rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. His own combat injuries had left him with damaged lungs. Holding this position was making him short of breath and he shifted and rested one knee on the ground. “I found something else, too, though,” he said. “I tracked down your son.”
Because he was watching for it, he caught the quick intake of breath, the flash of hope swiftly hidden. “What the hell did you go and do that for?”
Death’s breath constricted in his throat. He spoke around it. “Man, if my dad was alive, I’d want to know where he was.”
“Yeah, well, Billy ain’t you. He ain’t gonna care.”
Death glanced back to the opening of the alley and the man now silhouetted there. “I wouldn’t be too sure of that.” He leaned in and slapped Hutchinson on the shoulder. “Semper fi, you old goat.”
He pulled himself to his feet and left without looking back. The man waiting outside the alley was as old as Death’s own dad had been. Tears streamed down his face. He and Death exchanged nods but didn’t speak.
Death was almost back in sight of his vehicle when his phone buzzed again. It was another text from Wren.
“He’s not you, Death.”
“He could have been.” He thought back to his life before he met Wren. He’d been disabled, homeless, broke and so alone.
“Maybe once. Not now. Never again. Come on home. I’ll have dinner ready.”
Busy walking and texting at the same time, Death didn’t look up until he reached his car. When he did, his heart soared and a smile tugged at his mouth.
His big, macho Jeep was sporting a white, spiral horn on the hood and a long, silky, rainbow-colored tail hung from the back.
Death and the Brewmaster’s Widow is the second book in the Auction Block mystery series, published by Midnight Ink, February 2016.
When firefighter Randy Bogart perishes in the arson fire at an abandoned brewery known as the Brewmaster’s Widow, Death Bogart and his girlfriend Wren Morgan travel to St. Louis, Missouri, to find closure. They discover that Randy left his badge behind at the firehouse before going to the brewery. But the coroner finds another badge on Randy’s body, leaving Death and Wren with more questions than answers.
Desperate to know what really happened, Death and Wren begin to investigate. Their digging leads to a connection between Randy’s death and the mysterious Cherokee Caves once used by nineteenth-century beer barons. But the Brewmaster’s Widow is jealous of her secrets. Prying them loose could cost Death and Wren their lives.
# # # # # # # # # # #
About the author
Loretta Ross is a writer and historian who lives and works in rural Missouri. She is an alumna of Cottey College and holds a BA in archaeology from the University of Missouri – Columbia. She has loved mysteries since she first learned to read. Death and the Brewmaster’s Widow is her second published novel. Visit Loretta at lorettasueross.com, on Twitter, Goodreads, and on Facebook.
Giveaway: Leave comment below for your chance to win a print copy of Death and the Brewmaster’s Widow. US entries only, please. The giveaway will end February 24, 2016 at 12 AM EST. Good luck everyone!
All comments are welcomed.