Fixin' to Die by Tonya Kappes is the 1st in the new Kenni Lowry Mystery series, introducing Sheriff Kenni Lowry and her ghostly grandfather that helps her keep crime out of Cottonwood, Kentucky (Available June 14, 2016).
Kenni Lowry likes to think the zero crime rate in Cottonwood, Kentucky is due to her being sheriff, but she quickly discovers the ghost of her grandfather, the town’s previous sheriff, has been scaring off any would-be criminals since she was elected. When the town’s most beloved doctor is found murdered on the very same day as a jewelry store robbery, and a mysterious symbol ties the crime scenes together, Kenni must satisfy her hankerin’ for justice by nabbing the culprits. With the help of her poppa, a lone deputy, and an annoyingly cute, too-big-for-his-britches State Reserve officer, Kenni must solve both cases and prove to the whole town, and herself, that she’s worth her salt before time runs out.
“Calling all units. Calling all units.” Betty Murphy’s voice felt like a stiletto in my ear as it came over the police walkie-talkie.
The clock read seven in the morning. Betty couldn’t have been at the sheriff’s office long enough to already be calling all units.
Not a good sign for a Monday morning. I had yet to enjoy my cup of coffee.
“Damn,” I groaned, putting the coffee cup in the beanbag coffee holder that laid over the hump on the floorboard. It was too early for anyone in Cottonwood, Kentucky to be out and about, much less needing assistance from the sheriff’s department. Well, unless it was about the multiple coyote sightings that had been reported throughout the county, which weren’t unusual for this time of the year. In that case, I had my twelve gauge nestled on the backseat, ready to scare them away.
Duke lunged his front paws from the passenger side to the floorboard, licking up what little coffee had spilled. There was no way he was getting all of his ninety-pound body squeezed down on the floorboard.
“Kenni, you there?” Betty asked again before I could un-Velcro the walkie-talkie from my shoulder. “Calling all units.”
I wasn’t sure why she’d be calling for all units when the only unit was me, and Betty was well aware of that fact. Holding the steering wheel steady with one hand, I reached up and grabbed the police radio.
“Betty, I’m here.” I twisted the windshield wipers on to get what was hopefully the last of the lingering rain we’d had over the past few days. “What do you have for me?”
“Oh God, Kenni.” She sounded out of breath, rushing over my nickname, short for Kendrick. “I mean, Sheriff Lowry. I barely got in the door and put my pocketbook down before the phone started ringing.” She didn’t skip a beat. “Ronald Walton is dead and you better get over there before the rest of the town hears about it and beats you there.”
I jerked forward when I brought the old Wagoneer to an abrupt stop. I scooted up on the edge of my seat and looked out the windshield and over the hood to make sure the engine wasn’t lying on the pavement.
“What?” Shock came over me. I stared out the window. Betty had to be mistaken.
Doctor Walton had birthed over ninety-five percent of the population in Cottonwood, including me. He was old, but not casket-shopping old. And his death would be a blow to the community.
“D-E-A-D!” She spit out each letter for me as if I didn’t know how to spell. She sucked in a deep breath. “Where are you?” Betty asked through her sobs.
“I’m out on Bone Road going toward the festival grounds to make sure they haven’t flooded.” I swung the Jeep around and headed back to town. The unseasonable amount of rain had calmed to a slow drizzle. “I’m on my way.” My voice cracked with weariness.
I had just seen Doc Walton a couple of weeks ago for my annual physical and he’d looked healthy to me. “Gosh, I hope he didn’t have a heart attack.”
“What do you mean, heart attack?” Betty talked so fast, her false teeth clicked. “He is knife-sticking-out-of-his-neck dead. Far from a heart attack.” Her voice choked. “I’m talking murder.”
“M…M…” I couldn’t bring the word to form on my lips. I tried again. “Murdered?” I whispered in disbelief. “Betty, you need to call the state reserves. We are going to need some help.”
There hadn’t been a murder—or really any crime, for that matter—on my watch since I had been elected sheriff two years ago for a four-year term. The state reserve officers were available to small towns to help out with crime scenes like this. Especially when the town only required one sheriff and one deputy.
I pushed the gas pedal down, picking up a lot more speed. The scenery passing by was particularly dreary, as it had been just over two years ago when I had found Poppa dead of a heart attack while I was home for a visit.
“Toots Buford found him this morning when she got to work and immediately called 911,” Betty said, referring to Doc’s receptionist.
“Call her back and tell her I’m on my way,” I said, dread in my gut. “I also need you to call Wyatt Granger. He’s probably home, so wake him up and tell him to get over to Doc’s because it looks like I’m going to need some help.”
“Got it.” Betty clicked off and I put the walkie-talkie on the seat next to me.
Air. I needed air. I cranked the handle to roll down the window.
“Stop.” I pushed Duke, who would do anything to get his nose prints on my driver’s side window, back over to his side of the Jeep. Not a good day to have brought him to work with me.
I jerked my head around suddenly. I thought I’d heard a voice. I looked over at Duke. My eyes narrowed. The goofy dog was hanging out the window with his tongue flopping around in the wind, slobber flinging out of his mouth, splattering on the passenger window behind him.
I shook off the notion that Duke said something or I’d heard someone. I grabbed the old beacon police light, licked the suction cup, and slapped it on the roof of the Jeep, grazing the side with my finger to flip on the light and siren.
It seemed a little far-fetched that Doc Walton would be murdered. Who on earth would ever want to kill him?
The crime rate had gone down since I was elected…way down, to like none. I’d have liked to say it was because I was a known badass, but truth be told there just wasn’t any crime. And my one and only deputy had recently retired and was currently on a much-needed beach vacation with his wife, or I would’ve called him in to help instead of Wyatt Granger, the county jailer.
The Wagoneer rattled down Poplar Holler Road, picking up speed on the downhill.
It wouldn’t take me long to get to Doc’s house, where he had moved his practice after I had to take away his driver’s license. Cottonwood wasn’t all that big. I could get from one side of town to the other in less than ten minutes.
The rain all but stopped to a slow spit just before I got to Doc’s house. The old Jeep moved along Doc’s dirt driveway, kicking up mud behind me.
Wyatt Granger stood in the middle of Doc Walton’s yard already waiting for me. Wyatt’s old Chevy Nova and Toots Buford’s pink 1965 VW Bug were the only two cars there. For now.
I pulled down the visor and took a quick look in the mirror. I had planned on taking Duke home and getting a quick shower after I checked out the fairgrounds. My honey blond hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail and my day-old mascara was smudged under my eyes, creating the smoky eye look so many models seemed to want. Quickly I licked my finger and did a swipe to get off as much as I could to make myself a little more presentable.
My door swung open to Wyatt Granger standing on the other side. His wiry brows stuck up all over the place above his hooded eyes. His gray hair was cut high and tight. “You still using that old siren?”
“Still works.” I shrugged, trying not to stare at his stray eyebrows. I grabbed the walkie-talkie and strapped it on my shoulder. “You got here awfully fast.”
“I was just down the road when Betty called my cell. I’m glad you had her call.” His hand held the driver’s side door open and I grabbed my police bag from the passenger floorboard.
“What do you think we have here?” I asked.
“I’m not sure.” He shook his head, his lips turned down.
“You stay,” I warned Duke, and left the windows all the way down for him, even though it wasn’t hot and muggy yet. I shut the door and headed toward the house with Wyatt on my heels.
“Looks like someone wanted Doc dead and didn’t stick around to let us know who they are.” Wyatt’s head tilted to the side, shoulders shrugged. “I went ahead and made sure the premises was secured and told everyone that was here to stay put until you said it was okay for them to leave.”
I listened intently to what Wyatt had to say, stopping when I saw Sterling Stinnett on Doc’s porch.
“Good morning, Sterling,” I said.
He stood with his hands dug deep in the front pocket of his jeans.
“Mornin’, Sheriff.” Sterling spoke in a low voice reserved for dreaded things. A long-time Cottonwood resident, he stood over six feet tall and his black hair was freshly slicked back. He wore his usual outfit—a two-button Henley shirt, a pair of blue jeans, and an old pair of snakeskin boots that had seen better days. “It’s nice to see ya, but I sure wish it wasn’t under these circumstances.”
I nodded to him before I gestured for Wyatt to follow me into Doc Walton’s house. I pushed open the door.
“Are you sure about this, Sheriff?” Wyatt asked, spacing his words evenly.
Before I took my first step through the door, I looked back at him. The tone in his voice infuriated me, not to mention his question.
“I mean, it’s not fittin’ for a girl to see a dead body.” Wyatt stood firm with his hands crossed over his chest. He cleared his throat. “Besides, your daddy might kill me for letting you.” He let out a long breath. He took off his John Deere cap out of southern respect. “Especially the dead body of your baby doctor. The man that helped bring you into this world.”
“Then maybe the good folks of Cottonwood should’ve thought about my dear old daddy when they elected me to office two years ago.” I cocked my brow, giving him a “watch it” stare, daring him to say something else. I tapped the badge on the front of my brown button-up sheriff’s shirt. “I assure you my father will be fine.” I gripped the door handle, taking out my frustrations over Wyatt’s words by giving it a good squeeze. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a job to do, with or without you,” I said over my shoulder, and walked into Doc Walton’s house.
I scanned the room. Toots Buford was sitting behind an old wooden desk. Her eyes were swollen and bloodshot, and her blotchy red face matched the color of her #R42 L'Oréal dye she probably bought from Dixon’s Foodtown.
“I just got off the phone with Betty and we just can’t believe it.” She shook her head and held a ripped-up piece of toilet paper up to her face. The shredded roll sat on top of the desk.
“I bet you did.” I groaned inwardly, knowing gossip around here spread like wildfire, thanks to Toots and Betty. “Where is he?” I asked, glancing around the home’s family room Doc had turned into a receptionist area for his office.
Without looking up, Toots let out a sob and pointed behind her. With a few sniffs, she whispered, “First door on the right,” before she planted her face back in the piece of toilet paper in her hand.
“Did you see anyone else here?” I asked. Wyatt said that he had secured the premises when he got there, but what about before? Had Toots seen anyone when she had gotten there?
“Not that I’ve seen.” Her eyes widened at the prospect of the killer still lurking in the house somewhere.
“Please stay right here and don’t touch anything.” I walked around the desk and carefully stepped over the scattered files strewn on the floor.
“Take your shoes off and place them over there.” Toots pointed between sobs.
“What?” I asked.
“Doc Walton doesn’t let anyone wear shoes beyond this point. He says shoes carry sickness and disease on their bottoms.” She sniffed, twirling around in her chair and sticking her piggies in the air and wiggling them.
“I don’t believe there will be any more patients here, but for good measure.” I sat my bag on top of the files on her desk and unzipped it, taking out two pairs of surgical booties and two pairs of gloves along with a couple evidence markers. I gave a set of gloves and booties to Wyatt. “Here.”
I placed a couple of the evidence markers next to the papers all over the floor. In the police academy I learned that no one could ever be too cautious when it came to a crime scene.
Straight down the hall, I could see the kitchen and the back door to the house. There were two doors on each side of the hallway. I put on the gloves.
With one last look at Wyatt, I slowly turned the knob and pushed the door open, not fully prepared for what I saw.
Copyright © 2016 Tonya Kappes.
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Tonya Kappes has written over 20 novels and 4 novellas, all of which have graced numerous bestseller lists including USA Today. Best known for stories charged with emotion and humor, and filled with flawed characters, her novels have garnered reader praise and glowing critical reviews. She lives with her husband, three teenage boys, two very spoiled schnauzers, and one ex-stray cat in Kentucky.