BY: GINNY FITE
When it comes to murder, even brilliant scientists aren’t immune…
The night Harold Munson is shot dead in his car, the primary suspect is the man’s brainiac wife. But Charlotte, who has a passion for science and sex with strangers, swears all she wants is a Nobel Prize for curing brain cancer, even if that requires fudging her research and a few dead patients along the way.
When the next body drops, all signs point to Charlotte, but Detective Sam Lagarde doggedly follows the clues until he has his own Eureka moment.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Lying, Cheating, and Occasionally…Murder by Ginny Fite, Detective Sam Lagarde is called to the scene of a murder. Harold Munson has been shot while driving on a lonely country road in the middle of the night. His wife Dr. Charlotte Rolle, a brilliant scientist, is a prime suspect, but she has a solid alibi. Or does she? But who else would want to kill him, if not her? As Sam digs for the truth, he uncovers a web of deception and infidelity that shocks even this jaded and cynical detective.
Told in Fite’s unique and charming voice, the story is well written, clever, and intriguing—a fun and exciting read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Lying, Cheating, and Occasionally…Murder by Ginny Fite is the story of a high-powered real estate salesman murdered in the middle of the night on a deserted country road. His wife of five years has plenty of reasons to want him dead, but she has an alibi, and unless Detective Sam Lagrande can break it, she’s in the clear. But who else has a motive? When the second body turns up, all the evidence points to her, but Sam isn’t so sure. And as he is about to find out, there is more to this mystery than it might appear.
Lying, Cheating and Occasionally…Murder is fun, clever, fast paced, and well written, an excellent addition to the series and another jewel in the crown of this talented author.
March 30, 2016, 6 a.m.:
At two in the morning on a perfectly clear night, the full moon casting a beacon across western fields, and along two satin rivers unfurling between dark mountains, Harold Munson ended his perfect day by crashing right through the clapboard siding of the Weigle Insurance Company office building.
Munson’s front bumper nudged the insurance agent’s desk into the printer, which interpreted the jolt as an instruction to print and began beeping its out-of-paper alarm. Dave Weigle, broker and owner of the company—awakened by a newly downloaded intruder alert app on his cell phone—threw on sweat pants and a jacket, padded out to his car in slippers, and arrived first on the scene.
He peeked through the window of the car in his parking lot and saw a man slumped over the driver’s side air bag, but Weigle was too preoccupied with the damage to his building to look closely. Unlocking his unscathed office door, he first examined the gaping hole caused by the front of a car ripping through the side of his building, turned off the annoying printer beeping, looked around at the mess, and called the police, just in case the new automated security system hadn’t notified them.
Then he took photographs on his cell phone. He had insurance. He might as well use it. If nothing else, he could prove to his wife he really had gone to the office in the middle of the night.
Munson had been going northwest toward Martinsburg, based on the swerve marks made by his tires on the two-lane Charles Town Road, when his car rammed into the insurance building opposite the Kearneysville Post Office five miles west of Shepherdstown.
When Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies arrived ten minutes after Weigle, they bolted out of their vehicles thinking Harold was dead drunk, slumped over the airbag like that, not moving and unresponsive to their increasingly loud, shouted commands: “Hands where I can see ’em. Step out of the car. Get out of the car now.”
Sheriff Harbaugh was sure he saw Munson blink as officers approached the closed window of the driver’s side door, guns drawn, yelling at him to surrender. They attempted to wrench open the door to pull him out of the car and discovered it was locked. Then, in quick succession, they noticed a smear of blood and brains on the passenger seat and dashboard and two small holes in the driver’s side window surrounded by rings of spider-webbed glass.
Drunk or not, Harold had been shot through the head. That might have been the cause of his leaving the road and plowing into the building. Whether he hit the building first or the bullet smashing through his brain had caused him to veer off the road would be determined by further investigation. At that point, the deputies called in the West Virginia State Police with its forensics apparatus and crime-lab personnel.
After his initial reconnoiter of the Munson crime scene, a conversation with Weigle, whose cell phone alert app had recorded the moment of impact and whose photos of the scene might prove useful, Detective Sam Lagarde, assigned to the State Police Troop 2 Command, based outside Charles Town, reminded himself he was only a short trip on winding, narrow roads up and down a few hills from his eighteenth-century farmhouse. He decided to go home and let his horses out of the barn before he went back to the office to file his initial paperwork. When he got to his house, coffee was already brewing.
Lagarde stopped describing his new case and looked down into the mug of coffee Beverly Wilson put on the kitchen table in front of him. It was the right color. He took a sip. It had the right amount of sugar. He took two gulps. It was the right temperature. He felt like Goldilocks. He still wasn’t accustomed to having someone take care of him, or even give two hoots about how he liked his coffee. He marveled at his good luck. It was six in the morning, and Beverly was a tea drinker. He took a moment to savor this extraordinary gift. In a month or two, he knew, he would take it for granted.
He looked up at Beverly then out beyond the kitchen door, which he’d left open to let in the bracing spring air, and glanced toward the barn. It was too much to ask.
“Yes, Sam.” Beverly made a face at him and then smiled and put a hand on Lagarde’s shoulder. “I let the horses out and made sure they have water and a few leaves of hay. They’re set for a while, unless you want to ride, in which case you’re the one who’ll have to catch Jake.”
That was all it took, the mild pressure of her warm palm on his shoulder for him to feel completely calm and that the world was in order. The whole thing—Beverly Wilson, in his house, sleeping in his bed, making slight snoring noises that forced him to acknowledge her presence was real—was a marvel to him.
Here she was talking to him as if it was the most normal thing in the world for them to be living together. How had this happened? He didn’t feel entitled to such a miracle. After love, women were the second most indecipherable mystery he had never solved. But then, neither had anyone else.
“Where were the bullet casings?” Beverly asked.
Lagarde wrenched himself from his reverie. “Right.” He took a gulp of coffee. “They were in that pocket-sized parking lot and on the street.”
“So it wasn’t a random drive-by shooting.” She walked around the kitchen, her hands gesturing the way she did before marking a canvas, practicing the shape in the air. “The killer fired a shot out of the driver’s side window at Munson coming from the other direction.”
Beverly made the classic gun-shooting gesture with her pointer finger and thumb, her right arm across her chest, pretending she was shooting out of her driver’s side window. Lagarde noted she assumed the shooter was right handed.
She paced a few times around the kitchen table, generating electricity for her brain to work faster. “She must’ve been waiting in the post office parking lot on the other side of Charles Town Road.”
Lagarde looked up, astonished, and raised his eyebrows. “She?”
“She would’ve had to know the make and model of Harold’s car,” Beverly continued as if Lagarde hadn’t said anything. “She pulled out of the post office lot, zoomed up parallel with Harold’s car, driver’s side to driver’s side, and fired. Harold would’ve been startled.”
Lagarde certainly felt startled. He took a sip of his coffee and watched Beverly.
She walked to the kitchen door and stood looking out. “He panicked and automatically steered away from the gun. He crashed into the building, where he sat dazed and confused from the airbag exploding in his face and the whole experience of being shot at.”
Beverly looked over her shoulder at Lagarde. “The killer made a U-turn, pulled her car up beside Harold in the parking lot, got out of the car, walked over to Harold’s window and shot him in the head. Look for another set of skid marks that make a sharp U-turn just past the post office parking lot entrance. How many bullets?”
Lagarde blinked. “Three,” he answered automatically. “That we found.” He took another sip of coffee, too amazed to do anything except to answer her questions. “She?” he asked again.
Beverly again ignored his question. “Caliber?”
“So, the killer shot once to scare him, and two to get the job done. Deliberate, not random, or, what do you say? He was the target, not collateral damage.” Beverly was quiet for a few minutes while she stood in front of the open refrigerator. She pulled out an eggplant and two brown eggs. “And the killer isn’t a professional. She didn’t pick up her shell casings.”
“What have you been reading, Beverly?”
She looked over at Lagarde who gave her his quizzical look, eyebrows raised, eyes wide. She called this his “shock and awe” look caused by her doing something that took him by complete surprise. Her smile said she enjoyed surprising him.
“Are you delving into criminal justice websites these days?” Lagarde asked. He actually hated that term, an oxymoron that seemed to distort the goals of a country founded on the rule of law. Those two words side by side implied justice was criminal or only criminals, not victims, got justice. He resisted either assertion. He was a rule of law man—as in, everyone was equal under the law.
“Eggplant parmigiana, for tonight,” she said, answering a question he hadn’t asked. She opened the pantry door and took out a box of breadcrumbs and a large bottle of olive oil.
It briefly occurred to Lagarde that before Beverly moved into his house, he’d never had a bottle of olive oil in his pantry.
“I’ll make the marinara sauce with the last of the canned tomatoes and the basil I cut from my own garden last summer. I’ll have to run to the market for the mozzarella.”
Lagarde thought he should pinch himself. I’m really dreaming all of this. It had never occurred to him that Beverly might enjoy playing detective. Maybe she was taking a forensics class online so she could understand his work. All this out-of-the-blue speculation must be a way to fit into his life. He smiled at the thought.
Beverly pulled out the cutting board from the cabinet under the counter. “Was he married?”
“Don’t know yet. And before you ask, he was thirty-seven.”
“Where do they live?”
“In one of the new developments west of Shepherdstown along Route Four-Eighty, about ten minutes from where he was killed.”
“Check the wife’s alibi.”
“Of course. Those closest to the victim are primary suspects.” He wasn’t sure whether to be amused or annoyed at Beverly’s insistence that the wife was the perpetrator, but he let her play out her scenario in the way he might play out a line, standing in the river, hoping for a fish. She might help him catch something.
Beverly raised one shoulder in a half shrug. “Just a hunch she’s the killer. Or she hired the killer.”
“And how can you know who the killer is at this point, Miss Marple?” Lagarde preferred to plod through all the available evidence and check all alibis—putting together the puzzle pieces of motive, means and opportunity—before he started speculating about who the perpetrator was. “You haven’t even been at the crime scene.”
“Who else would know where Munson would be at two in the morning and what direction he’d be coming from? He could’ve been heavy into gambling at the casino and already bankrupted them, or he could have been cheating on his wife. She’s not a sentimental woman, I think you’ll find.”
He grinned. “Somehow, although he’s the dead guy, he sounds like the evil-doer.” He changed the subject. “What time is dinner?”
She leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “When you get here.” She walked back to the sink. “I guess I’m remembering one of your earlier cases—all those women who killed Ben.” She looked out of the window over the sink. Her shoulders sagged a bit.
Lagarde got up off the kitchen chair, scraping the wooden legs slightly on the tile floor, stretched elaborately hoping Beverly would turn, put her arms around him, and hold him for a few minutes, which she did. This miracle must have happened when I wasn’t looking, the way all the best things happen.
She looked up at him. “Was it at close range?”
He laughed, let her go, pulled his barn jacket off the chair back, and picked up his hat. “Gunpowder residue on the window. Close enough that it wasn’t accidental. Two shots, so not random.”
“He didn’t roll down the window,” Beverly said, almost to herself. “He must have known she wanted him dead. It was personal. She didn’t care if anyone saw her standing there in the middle of the night with a gun aimed at the car. She was desperate, maybe crazy. Was anything missing from the car?”
“The doors were locked when the deputies arrived on the scene. We had to pry them open to pull out the body after we checked for fingerprints and gunpowder residue on the doors.”
“She has a key to the car, so was anything missing that should have been there, or that you would expect to be there? Was the car still running?”
He looked at her—a long, steady look just in case he had never really seen her before and wanted to take inventory fast before anything else happened that changed his picture of who she was. She certainly looked like the same arty woman wearing a green sweater and yellow socks he’d met two years before. “No. The car wasn’t running.”
He took a gulp of coffee. It hadn’t even occurred to him that someone, and certainly not the dead Harold Munson, had shut off the car before the deputies got there. He’d have to check with Harbaugh to see if his deputies turned off the vehicle. If the car was off when they got there, that was a point in favor of Beverly’s assertion that someone got inside the vehicle before anyone else showed up, unless Munson had the presence of mind to turn off the engine before he was shot.
“I’ve got no idea right now what the killer might have been looking for. There was no briefcase or backpack in the vehicle, but I didn’t think anything about that. Only images on his smart phone were photographs of buildings, and that seems odd for someone in the selfie generation. The techs are working on his phone to see what information they can retrieve.”
“Maybe he had two cell phones, one for work, another for personal use.”
Lagarde rocked back on his heels at that idea and thought for a minute, watching her start to peel the eggplant, long purple ribbons of skin falling gently onto the counter. It was a contemplative occupation for her, the way cleaning his horse was for him.
“Also, he’s a slob. The floor of his car and the seats were littered with candy and food wrappers. There were empty drink cups, complete with straws, half-eaten sandwiches. It looks like he lived in his car.”
“What kind of car was he driving?”
“A Lexus. I’d have to check my notes for what model. New, though, with leather upholstery.”
“No way would he mess up the inside of that car. The killer was looking for something. She unlocked the doors with her remote key and went in through the back passenger door.”
Beverly sliced the eggplant into thin rounds, scooped them up, put the slices on a plate and salted them. “Maybe she emptied his car trash bag looking for something. Whatever it was, she thought he was hiding it from her deliberately. She had to move fast. It would be something that could hold a large amount of information, although that could be as tiny as a thumb drive. Was he wearing a suit?”
Lagarde nodded. “Yes, a suit. Thumb drive?”
“You know. Flash drives. Those two-inch devices with a small metal tip you stick in the USB port on a laptop. They have a hundred times more memory than our original personal computers did.”
He did know about thumb drives, but he’d never had a reason to use one. When, he wondered, did Beverly? Does she have a secret life I know nothing about? That wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
“When you interview her, ask to see his briefcase and see what happens.”
Lagarde strode over to Beverly, wrapped his arms around her and kissed her neck. “You are my favorite mystery, and you get better and better.”
He put on his jacket, settled the tan felt Stetson Outback that he wore in all seasons on his head, and went out the kitchen door.
Beverly watched him drive off down the lane. She looked out over the fields, just starting to come up green in the early spring. Blue mountains hugged the horizon beyond them. Horses romped in the paddock. She sighed and went back to preparing the eggplant, knowing she would have to reheat it for Sam’s dinner sometime around nine p.m. That was okay with her. She was, finally, right where she wanted to be, and, from where she was standing, she could see a landscape she wanted to paint.
© 2018 by Ginny Fite