Friday, September 13, 2013

Desolation Row - Excerpt

“Deception, intrigue  and authentic sixties nostalgia. Those who remember this turbulent time-gone-by will connect with the tension and conflict of the passionately anti-war generation that hoped  to give peace a chance, but in this entertaining mystery, wound up with murder instead.” 

    -Hank Phillippi Ryan, Anthony, Agatha and Macavity award-winning author 


CHAPTER NINE

The telephone was ringing when Austin entered the apartment. She rushed to answer, hoping for good news about David.

“Austin Amelia, it’s time for you to pack up and come right home.” Mother spoke without preliminaries.

Austin’s teeth clenched, and her stomach tightened in knots.

Mother pressed on, not waiting for a response. “Your father and I agree that’s the best thing to do. We‘ll wire the money for a plane ticket tomorrow. How soon can you be ready to leave?”

The moment she heard the words “Austin Amelia,” Austin had prepared for the thousandth battle with Mother in their ongoing war. Her middle name irritated Austin since it was Mother’s first name,
making it harder for Austin to ignore her connection with the woman who’d tried to control her since time immemorial. Or at least for as long as she could remember.

How wrong Austin had been, thinking she’d won independence by marrying David. Mother merely changed the nature of the war and moved to another battle, one called “how a young matron should behave.”

The distance between Cuero, Texas, and Toronto, Ontario, was seventeen hundred miles, but unfortunately, the mail and the telephone could bridge that gap. She focused on the provocations pouring from her phone.

“Your father’s very concerned about this turn of events.”

“Naturally Daddy’s upset, and who wouldn’t be? Don’t you think I am?” Austin’s anger was reaching gale force. “This is no picnic for me either, you know.”

“My point is that you don’t want to upset your father, do you?” Mother’s tone was civil, but nevertheless she’d upped the stakes of the current battle by deploying her not so secret Daddy weapon. It was obvious to everyone—especially to her mother—that Austin adored her father, a fact that infuriated Mother.

And it was always Mother—never Mama or Mommy. But Daddy got the loving endearment.

“Where’s Daddy? Put him on and I’ll tell him why I can’t leave Toronto.”

“He’s not here. He’s sitting on another well and won’t be back for days. But I know what he’d say if he were here.”

Austin’s family ran an oil production company, and her father and uncle were often out in the field while new wells were drilled. How she’d envied their freedom. 


“Mother, you’re the one who always told me that a woman’s place was beside her hus—”

“Not if he’s in jail.” Her mother’s voice went up an octave, and the word squawk leapt to Austin’s mind.

“All the more reason to support David,” Austin said. “He’s been wrongly accused.”

“And what makes you so sure, Austin Amelia?”

“Mother!”

Austin banged down the receiver, then looked in awe at the phone. That was a first. She doubted anyone had ever hung up on Amelia Starr before. She allowed herself a smile. She was feeling better already. If only she’d remembered to ask Mother to send boxes of grits before she hung up on her.

She ran to the refrigerator and opened the freezer compartment. She unwrapped a package of  brownies, used a butcher knife to separate them, and began gnawing on one. She immediately relaxed.

Thank God for baked goods and chocolate.

The freezer in her parents’ garage held leftovers from their daily desserts. The freezer was padlocked, ostensibly so no one could sneak into the garage and steal her mother’s prized baking. Austin
knew the real reason had been to keep her from doing the sneaking. The goodies were meant for Daddy, who loomed large at six feet five inches, but Austin always wanted to eat as many cookies as he did.

“Little ladies do not eat like that,” Mother would say, the words often intermingled with the warning, “No boy will want to marry you if you’re fat.”

Alone in her rental kitchen in Toronto, grinding through frozen brownies, Austin recalled hunting for the freezer key she’d known was secreted in the garage. She eventually found it but until she had, she’d obsessed over the mystery.

Right now she felt the same. Obsessive.

Someone had murdered the senator’s son, and that someone wasn’t David. Austin had no choice but to track down the killer. All she had to do was find the missing key.


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