Piper Blackwell #4
Sheriff Piper Blackwell’s three-day vacation with old Army buddies ends in tragedy. At the same time, a vile hate crime along a county road enrages her department. Their forces divided, Piper and her deputies must solve both cases before tensions boil and threaten the rural fabric of Spencer County, Indiana. Only eight months on the job, the young sheriff must weave together clues to uncover both a killer and a secret that could scar her soul.
“I’m probably not pronouncing it right, but I’ll have the cải xào nấm. And this looks new, the rau muống xào tỏi,” Basil said, glancing up at the menu above the counter in Phan’s Quick Stop.
“What is it?” Oren wondered. “That new one?”
“First time on the menu.” Nang grinned. “Rau muống xào tỏi, which Detective Meredith pronounced fine, is a special water spinach. I just discovered a market in Owensboro that carries it. I fry it with garlic. It is an excellent side dish. The cải xào nấm is bok choy served warm with shitake mushrooms over rice and with soy sauce.” He looked at Oren. “I recommend both.”
Oren liked Nang’s food, but he was iffy on ordering something that might have too many mushrooms. He didn’t care for them on pizza either. “It’s good, right?” He looked down at his cell phone and sent a text. “The spinach?”
“Very,” Nang said.
“Okay. I’ll try that water spinach then, but I’ll pass on the nấm. And give me three spring rolls.” Oren looked at the menu again. “And a bowl of beef pho soup. I’m hungry, skipped breakfast. And a big mug of coffee. Black, one sugar. No, two sugars. Maybe something for dessert. We’ll see.”
“Do you have green tea?” Basil looked out the window when he saw a red Mustang convertible pull up to the pump. The driver was an elderly woman under five feet, wearing a bright paisley headscarf. She got out, put on a white glove, and punched the Premium button as she grabbed the nozzle.
“The only brand I carry is Tan Cuong Green. Fragrant, and it has a sweet aftertaste. Most people want a jolt of caffeine.”
“He’s paying today.” Basil pointed at Oren. “And I don’t do much caffeine.”
“Sit. I’ll bring it over when it’s ready.”
The woman in the scarf came in to pay for her gas. She took off the glove and put it in her pocket.
“I see you got those pay at the pump things,” she said. “I won’t use them. I don’t trust them. I like cash.” She passed over a fifty and Nang gave her change. She pushed four dollars back. “And I want two scratch-off lottery tickets, the ones with flags on them.”
Oren—and most everyone else in Spencer County—knew that Nang was passing through Fulda a few years ago when he stopped at this station for gas and a lottery ticket. The Quick Stop was for sale at the time. Nang had won enough on the lottery ticket to buy the store, and did just that because he took it as an omen. The place previously had offered hotdogs, soft pretzels, and soda, and he was quick to take them off the menu.
Nang grew his three-table Vietnamese restaurant into a business that also catered reunions, weddings, and the like; installed two more pumps outside; recently added the pay-at-the-pump option with video surveillance; and opened a full-service garage on the property. Nang had a two-year automotive degree from across the river, but his passion was Vietnamese cooking: the Quick Stop let him use both professions.
“No, make it three lottery tickets,” she said, adding two more dollars. “You have a good week, Nang.”
“You, too, Margaret. Tell Ian hello.”
Oren knew that Nang sold a lot of lottery tickets to people hoping to catch the same lightning. He’d probably buy a couple on his way out. The ones with the flags on them.
They picked the closest table, and Oren sat so he could watch the front door … force of habit. Nang brought the tea and coffee.
The bell jangled and a twentyish couple holding hands came in, both in jean shorts and t-shirts, skin tanned, hair streaked by the sun. They ordered at the counter and picked the table closest to the restrooms. Then they pulled out their cell phones and started to surf. Oren wanted to tell them to talk to each other. Didn’t young people do that anymore?
He saw Basil looking at them, scowling, maybe likewise disapproving of the couple’s detachment. Then the detective stared at the space in front of him. The placemats had photos of Vietnamese temples on them. Basil’s displayed the Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi. He sipped some tea, took out a pen, and made random-looking doodles on the pagoda. Then he drew a swastika like had been painted on Anthony’s house.
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About the author
My home is filled with dogs and books. Lots of dogs and books. I wear worn out sandals to work every day. I’m a mystery writer living in a tiny Midwestern town that has a gas station, a Dollar General, and a marvelous pizza place with exceedingly slow service. I am always working on a new project or three. I have forty-some books published in the fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy and mystery genres. But I’m concentrating on mysteries now. In my spare time I dabble in roleplaying games and boardgames. And at every opportunity, I toss tennis balls to my cadre of dogs.
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