Rainy Day Women by Kendall Kay is the 2nd Austin Starr mystery set in 1969 amidst the Charles Manson murders and the Woodstock Music Festival (available July 7, 2015).
In 1969, during the week of the Manson murders and Woodstock, Austin Starr, the intrepid amateur sleuth with an infant in tow, flies across the continent to support a friend suspected of murdering women's liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver. Then her former CIA trainer warns that an old enemy has contracted a hit on her. Her anxious husband demands that she give up her quest and fly back to him. How much should Austin risk when tracking the killer puts her and her baby's life in danger?
David and I stared at each other. I stood with my back against the wall, my hand covering my mouth, my eyes popping wide.
He broke the silence.
“Larissa’s a murder suspect, and she wants you to fly out to Vancouver?”He turned away to straighten a stack of books on the nightstand. “Naturally you said you couldn’t possibly do that.”He shifted back around and waved a book at me. “Right?”
I swallowed. “Not exactly.”
“Austin, you’re my wife. I need you here. You know how much pressure I’m under.”
“Believe me, I know.”
“Besides, nobodyis gonna believe Larissa killed anyone.”
I raised a brow. David should know better than anyone that the authorities would consider anyone a murderer.
But I understood why he didn’t want me to go. My own graduate studies placed third behind the needs of my guys. Having no time for myself depressed me, but David didn’t want to hear about that. Especially not now.
He slammed the book on the table, and several other books fell to the floor.
“Shh. You’ll wake up Wy.”
We stood still, waiting to hear our son’s cry. When none came, my shoulders relaxed.
“Should we talk about this now or wait until the morning?”I forced my voice to sound conciliatory.
David marched across the room and wrapped me in his arms. “Sorry, babe. Not fair to take my nerves out on you. Let’s sleep now and talk it out tomorrow. I’ll feel more human then.”
We shared a kiss and got into bed. He spooned against my back and relaxed into sleep faster than I expected him to.
Not me, though. Peaceful slumber was impossible. I flipped and flopped, got up for a glass of milk, tried to read. And made such a ruckus that David plopped a pillow over his head.
He didn’t complain. He knew how much Larissa’s phone call had upset me.
I didn’t have to imagine how she felt. I recalled the horror of David’s time in jail and how it affected us. Now, a whole year later, we still struggled with the shadows cast back then. Sometimes I wondered if we’d ever emerge.
Imagining my normally confident friend standing in—no, engulfed by—similar shadows, I wanted to cry. To beat my head against the wall.
Her father would help her, of course. His devotion was total, a joy to witness. His own life had prepared him for facing the worst that hard-fought military battles and evil Soviet minions could fling his way. Dr. Klimenko, who doubled as my Russian history professor, could handle ferocious foes. Yet could he deal with the subtlety of the Canadian justice system?
I pictured him smashing his leather-clad fist on a magistrate’s desk and yelling po-russki, in Russian, at a hapless Canadian bureaucrat. None of that would help Larissa’s cause.
What she needed was someone calm and consoling to support her. To buck her up when events overwhelmed, assuring her she’d get through whatever was thrown her way.
What she needed was a good, stalwart friend.
What she needed was me.
A vision of my clogged schedule appeared in my mind’s eye. Today was Monday, and every day in the coming week held a long to-do list. I had a household to run and research to do.
And Wyatt, what about him? I couldn’t possibly leave him with David. With the deadline for defending his dissertation hanging over him, David was too busy to cope with an infant. I gnawed on my thumbnail, knowing I shouldn’t even be thinking about leaving. To consider for even one second flying across the country to comfort Larissa was nuts.
Still, the idea wouldn’t leave my mind.
Hence the flipping and flopping instead of sleeping.
When David was jailed for murder and I’d tried to find the real killer, I hadn’t been a mother. And I’d learned the hard way that getting involved in a murder case brought unexpected dangers.
I sat up in bed, careful not to wake David, and was staring out the window when my thoughts took a sharp turn toward the light. I was viewing a trip to Vancouver the wrong way. I needn’t play sleuth again. I only needed to go support a friend.
The two sides of my brain immediately roared into an argument with each other.
See, said one, the danger won’t be great. Any comparison between what I’d done for David and what I’d do for Larissa wouldn’t hold up. I could safely take Wyatt to visit Auntie Larissa.
You’re crazy, the other side said. You may fool yourself, but you don’t fool me.
The war inside my brain made my head ache.
The last time I noticed the bedside clock it said three thirty. I must have slept because three hours later, the danged thing rang and woke me up. I trudged down the hall to check on Wy. Hallelujah, he still slept. I lumbered into the kitchen, rubbing tired eyes.
I was making coffee when David walked in and strode to where I stood at the stove. “What’re you muttering about? You had a restless night, didn’t you?”He slapped my bottom, then ruffled my already-tousled hair. “Did you worry about Larissa all night?”
I wrinkled my nose and ducked my head, shielding my face so he couldn’t read it. He was too astute.
“I’ve been trying to figure out a way to help her. Just moments ago, I had a breakthrough and—”
“Bet I know what it is.”
“Sure, Mr. Smarty Pants. Tell me.”I reached up to smooth his beard and then burrowed into his chest.
“You still want to fly out to Vancouver, even though you know I’m against it.”He drew back from me.“Furthermore, you’re going to ask me to babysit while you’re gone.”
Oh, he thought he was so clever.
“Am not. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
“No?”His eyebrows lifted.
“No.”I backed up and looked him straight in the eye—easy to do since he was only an inch taller than me. “My plan is”—I hitched a breath—“I’ll take Wyatt with me.”
David stared at me. His mouth opened and shut without making a sound.
“Cat got your tongue?”I beamed. Victory. “See—you didn’t know what my bright idea was.”This was a game we played, each trying to prove we could read the other’s mind. I’d won this round.
A muscle jumped in his cheek. “Look, don’t be cute about this. It’s not funny. How can you dismiss what happened last year?”He put his hands on his hips. “No way will my wife and son fly out and get tangled up in another murder case. You could run into some homicidal psychopath, and I think—”
What?He had switched arguments on me.
I spread my hands wide and smiled at him, attempting a beguiling look—or at least a pleading one. “This won’t be like last time. I won’t be in harm’s way. I’ll be there for moral support only. Wyatt will be safe. And so will I.”
“Why can’t you provide support over the telephone?”
I cocked my head, wrinkled my nose, shut my eyes. Hoped I demonstrated my pain. Yes, I was trying to work the situation.
“Look, here’s my logic,”I said, lowering my tone and slowing my words, hoping I sounded reasonable. “Phone calls aren’t good enough. You should’ve heard her last night. Larissa’s beyond upset. She needs me.”
“I need you. Wyatt needs you. We’re your family.”He kicked the table leg.
Now we’d gotten to the nub of the issue. My rationale had to be clear and persuasive. “First, youdon’t need me right now. You’re busy with your dissertation. If Wyatt and I leave, you’ll be able to focus and get tons of work done.”
I ticked off one finger and then another.
“Second, Wyatt will still have me. Third, my trip won’t cost anything. Larissa said we can stay at her aunt’s house, so no hotel costs. Then we’ll be back in a jiffy, gone only long enough for you to miss us. And besides”—I ticked off a fourth finger—“Larissa is family too.”
Would he leap to agree? When he didn’t—and really, I’d doubted he would—I played my top card. “Okay, here’s my backup plan. But be warned: bringing Wy with me will work out better than my other idea, but you can choose.”
“Choose from what?”David frowned.
“I’ll ask Mother to fly up and babysit while you study.”
“Damn it, Austin,”David yelled. “You know that I—”He stopped abruptly and burst out laughing. “You’re really determined if you’re willing to ask your mother.”
“What makes you believe she’d agree? Since we’ve been in Toronto, she hasn’t deigned to visit, even though your dad wants to.”
“Won’t know until I try.”I turned on the full wattage of my smile. “Shall I ask her?”
He stroked his beard and chewed on his lip. Then he pulled me to him and wrapped his arms around me.
“I’ve suspected your mother, in her heart of hearts, was glad when I went to jail. Regardless of my innocence, I bet she wanted me to stay behind bars. Then maybe you’d leave Canada, return to Texas, and forget your unsuitable, draft-resisting husband.”
I pulled away and flounced to the other side of the kitchen. “Isn’t that a little unfair?”
“No. I wasn’t the future your mother mapped out for you. She’d give anything to get you back in Texas and remarried to some oil millionaire.”
“Maybe, but remember this. She also drummed into me stuff about whither-thou-goest and making marriage and family the be-all and end-all of a woman’s life.”I pointed out the window at our neighbors hurrying off to work. “So I’m right here. I followed her grand scheme, just took a little detour north. If she’s not happy, she needs to blame herself.”
“Your logic is right on, but your mom won’t see that.”His mouth twisted into a big grin. “Nix this idea. Your mother would only add to my stress.”
He shut his eyes for an instant, shook his head, and turned away. He poured a cup of coffee before he said,“Look, here’s my biggest objection. You will not be able to stop yourself from nosing around, playing sleuth again in Vancouver. It’s your nature. No matter how many times you promise, you’ll forget, just like that.”He snapped his fingers.
He walked closer and stopped two feet away from me. “You know I’m right.”
His gaze bored into me, and I found it difficult not to look away. Still, I forced myself to hold my eyes steady and kept my voice assured. “I promise I will not play detective, not this time. Cross my heart and hope to die.”I mimed crossing my heart.
David didn’t laugh. He scowled. “Not funny, sweetheart. You nearly died from giving me support last year. You’ll forget about your promise. I know you will.”
“But I promise, I do promise. Thistime is different. I wasn’t a mother before. That’s made me more, uh, serious, I suppose. More cautious. I won’t be cavalier with my actions this time. I did learn my lesson, truly I did.”
He shrugged and clomped to the kitchen table, lowered himself onto a chair and shook his head. I felt a flicker of remorse, watching his struggle. He picked up his cup of coffee. But instead of drinking it, he stared into its blackness.
The wall clock clicked.
I needed to let David come to his own decision. I was impatient—wanting to hurry him along—but I didn’t tap my foot or fidget. Well, not if you didn’t count the two toes on my right foot that I surreptitiously crossed for luck.
The screech of a chair against the floor made me jump. David stood. “Okay, you win. Go and take Wyatt with you. But I am not happy about this.”
My stomach tightened. I diagnosed a slight case of guilt. “So why are you giving in?”
“I don’t have time to argue, and I know you won’t give up. Besides, our boy needs his mother.”
As if to confirm David’s words, Wyatt’s good-morning cries came from down the hall.
“I’ll be right back.”I rushed out to get our three-month-old before his wails turned to a full-force gale.
And before his father could change his mind.
Copyright © 2015 Kay Kendall.
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A fan of historical mysteries, Kay Kendall writes atmospheric books about the 1960s that capture the turmoil and spirit of the age. Kendall is also an award-winning international PR executive who lives in Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Kendall has degrees in Russian and Soviet history, and her book titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff.