My immediate crisis was a humongous black Suburban driving too fast in the slow lane by a driver obviously too young, and too stupid, to have been allowed out on a day like this. She’d gone whipping past me moments earlier, cell phone to her ear, and now, having come upon a driver driving slowly and carefully in the slow and careful lane, had discovered she couldn’t shove herself into my lane because it was already occupied by a truck. She’d stomped on her brakes and the resulting chaos was ensuing.
Ah. ABS brakes. The responsive shudder, the car’s pulsing attempts to stop. Good, but not miraculous. The black babe-mobile fishtailed, swung into the breakdown lane, caught a wheel in a wave of slush, and flew back across the lane, heading straight toward me.
Luckily the lane to my left was open, and I steered carefully over the slush ridge and into it, while she squiggled and swirled, missing me by inches and sending drivers careening in all directions. It happened with stunning speed and passed just as quickly when the SUV flew across two lanes and spun out in the snow beyond. The rest of us, grateful to be alive and undamaged, were not minded to stop and help.
There was a rest area ahead. I pulled in and stopped to let my heart rate slow and to unclench my poor burned hands from the steering wheel, thinking I’d sooth myself with a nice café mocha. I noticed other cars from the same almost pile-up pulling in to decompress. I was getting out to get my coffee when the black SUV pulled into the parking space beside me. The stupid young driver got out of the car, still on her phone, laughing as she said, “And I like, spun out and almost ran into like six cars. It was so funny!”
It wasn’t funny. She’d caused fear and misery and put a blight on many people’s days. I very ostentatiously pulled out my phone and snapped a photo of her—yoga pants, Uggs, elaborate model hair that she must have gotten up at four a.m. to style, and a wholly impractical puffy white jacket—and then of her license plate. To the person on the other end, she said, “Hold on,” and to me, “Hey, like what do you think you’re doing?”
She couldn’t, like, tell?
“Taking a picture of your license, and of you. To go with my report to the state police about your reckless driving.”
“Oh, right. Sure you will. Like you really think they’ll care?”
She said into her bejeweled pink phone, “Hey, Shy, I gotta go. Some old bitch is giving me a hard time about my driving.”
Old bitch? I knew this job was aging me, but was it really that bad?
She shoved the phone into an oversized red purse. “Look, lady,” she said, all chin-jutting, butt-twitching attitude, “what’s your problem?”
“My problem? I like people to pay attention when they’re driving. You could have killed someone. You should be ashamed and apologetic, not proud of yourself.”
She waggled her yoga-panted butt and tossed her hair. “You’re like not really going to tell the police, are you?”
“I absolutely am.” I like, really already had.
People had gotten out of their cars and were standing behind me. One said, “Honey, you nearly ran me off the road, and I’ve got a baby in the back.” There was a tremble in her voice. The terror of the experience hadn’t left her. “And I did call the police.”
An older man said, “Girlie, don’t you get it? You can’t drive like that on winter roads.”
“Honestly.” She drew the word out to about six syllables. “It’s no big deal.” A flounce of her hips. Another toss of her hair. “The cops aren’t going to care.”
“I think they might,” I said. “My husband is a state trooper.”
But that wasn’t why I thought the police might take an interest. I’d spotted one of those stealth unmarkeds the police were using. A gray Camaro. The staties were already here.
I gave up on coffee. I walked away from her sputtering, got in my car, and headed back to the turnpike, my fog lights painting the tunnel made by my headlights an eerie yellow. Proving what an old fart I was becoming by wondering how we could turn the world over to her generation, to a kid without the decency to apologize to the woman who’d experienced terrible fear for her baby’s life. Before I got to the exit, the ignorant babe sped by me like she was being chased. And behind her, poised for the right moment to stop her, was a state trooper in a mean gray muscle car.
Sometimes the gods are good.
You can read more about Thea in Death Warmed Over, the eighth book in the “Thea Kozak” mystery series.
Arriving to view what will hopefully be her dream home, Thea Kozak finds her real estate agent, Ginger Stevens, tied to a chair, surrounded by fiery space heaters. Just before the woman dies, she utters the indistinct words: Bobby. So long. Safe. Sorry.
Then a stranger, claiming to be Ginger’s boyfriend, corners Thea, demanding a package that Ginger gave to her, a package Thea never received.
Determined to get justice for Ginger, Thea begins her own investigation. Ginger’s colleagues know little about her, her apartment has been professionally sanitized, Ginger Stevens is the name of a child who died many years ago, and the Maine police have no idea who real-estate agent Ginger Stevens really is.
But Thea is sure the two men following her know Ginger’s true identity, and will stop at nothing to keep her from uncovering the truth behind the woman’s dying words.
Thea Kozak is a tall, thirty-something woman who consults to private schools. She’s Jane Wayne, the trouble-shooter they call in when there’s a campus crisis. She loves her work, but right now, she’s tired of apartment living and longs for a house, and to find more time in life for her husband and activities other than work. But her dream home is forever tainted when she finds her realtor, Ginger Stevens, tied to a chair, surrounded by glowing space heaters. While she’s trying to help the police figure out who the mystery woman who claimed be Ginger Stevens is, she’s also up to her ears in a crisis at a client school, and heading out on slushy New England roads to help them manage it.
“Maybe it’s because Flora’s books are so thoroughly grounded in reality and accurate in detail that Thea Kozak never really slips the surly bonds of real life –though she sure pushed the envelope. Her exploits smack of the superhuman, but her emotions, thoughts, feelings, reactions and responses are instantly recognizable to the rest of us ordinary beings.” – Carolyn Marsh, editor of the Camden (Maine) Herald
Janet Evanovich says: Thea Kozak is a terrific, in-your-face, stand-up gal in the moving and compelling story of a grown-ups who fail the students in their care. Stephanie Plum and Thea Kozak would have a lot to say to each other.”
S.J. Rozan says: “If you like your heroines smart, brave, tough, and exuberantly aware of the possibilities of the human heart, look no further than Thea Kozak.”
“I’ll follow Thea Kozak anywhere. She is simply one of the most refreshing and original heroines in mystery fiction today. And Kate Flora is the rare, graceful writer who pays close attention to how long it takes the body and the heart to heal.” Laura Lippman, NYT Bestselling Author
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About the author
Maine native and recovering attorney Kate Clark Flora writes true crime, strong women, and police procedurals. Led Astray is her latest Joe Burgess police procedural; Death Warmed Over is her latest Thea Kozak mystery. Her fascination with people’s bad behavior began in the Maine attorney general’s office chasing deadbeat dads and protecting battered children. In addition to her crime fiction, she’s written two true crimes and a memoir with public safety personnel. October will bring Shots Fired: The Myths, Misconceptions, and Misunderstandings About Police-Involved Shootings, co-written with former Portland assistant chief Joseph Loughlin, and a story in a collection entitle, The Obama Inheritance. Flora has been an Edgar, Derringer, Agatha and Anthony finalist and twice won the Maine literary award for crime fiction.
Visit Kate at kateclarkflora.com.
All comments are welcomed.