A fifteen-year-old girl and her horse have vanished from the local stable, leaving behind a splintered fence, a discarded riding boot, and blood—a lot of blood.
Joelle Chauncey lived with her father and two siblings in a mobile home. Cincinnati Police Specialist Sonora Blair—who has kids of her own—knows she’s looking at a parent’s worst nightmare. The case has all the earmarks of abduction, even though it happened in broad daylight and no one seems to have witnessed a thing. Was someone after Joelle? Or were they pursuing her mare? When a body turns up at a dumpsite, the investigation becomes a hunt for a killer. As pressure mounts to solve the crime, Sonora struggles to hold everything together on the domestic and romantic fronts. Nothing can prepare her for the truth that will reverberate across many lives, culminating in more violence and unimaginable loss.
No Good Deed is the 3rd book in the Sonora Blair Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Hightower’s novels, which have been translated into seven foreign languages, have appeared on the Times (London) bestseller list and have been nominated for the Kentucky Literary Award, the Kentucky Librarians First Choice Award, and the Mary Higgins Clark Award. She teaches at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, where she was named Creative Writing Instructor of the Year in 2012. The author lives with her husband in Kentucky.
Read an Excerpt
No Good Deed
A Sonora Blair Mystery
By Lynn Hightower
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 Lynn Hightower
All rights reserved.
The first time Sonora saw the farm, it was dusk, and there were horses running in the paddocks. It did not seem like the kind of place where a young girl of fifteen could saddle up a horse for an afternoon ride, and never come back – though Sonora did not know what such a place might look like. Girl and horse had vanished some time around three-thirty that afternoon.
The child had not disappeared entirely without a trace. She had left blood, and a discarded riding boot.
Sonora turned the Pathfinder off the dark ribbon of back road, on to the long dirt driveway that led to the barn. The sky was black and blue, like a bruise. It would be dark soon.
Gritty dust rose from the grind of gravel beneath tires that were much in need of replacing. The Pathfinder hit the bottom of a pothole and Sonora bounced. New shocks wouldn't be a bad idea either.
As soon as God and Visa allowed.
Three patrol cars were parked at odd angles at the end of the drive, and blue strobe lights arced across the face of a weathered twenty-stall barn. There were horses inside, looking out. Light blazed from the tiny barred stall windows.
Sonora parked her Pathfinder next to a gold Taurus. Sam was here, then, in the company car. Maybe he'd have it solved.
She put the Pathfinder in park, left the doors unlocked, paused to look out over the small ten-acre farm. The fencing was bad – slats broken, whole sections sagging, paint bleached from black to gray by the sun and the seasons. Sonora assumed the horses stayed in their paddocks because they wanted to.
There was an electric snap in the wind, like you got before a tornado, or the advent of fall. Sonora felt rain and chilled air – a welcome change from the heat of a miserable, bug-ridden summer. Ants in the kitchen, mosquitoes at night. Silverfish in the drain of the bath.
Something spooked the horses in the front field, and sent them cantering across the sparse grass and weed clumps, heads high, tails up.
Thirty minutes ago she'd been dog tired and ready to collapse, dreading the long drive out of Cincinnati's downtown into the suburbs of Blue Ash, counting her cash so she could bring the kids takeout. The cold air had revived her.
She checked her watch. Seven p.m. Her children were going hungry.CHAPTER 2
A uniform stood outside the office door, looking bored but alert. Sonora flashed her ID and the man relaxed his pose and stepped toward her.
'Officer Renquist, ma'am. Detective Delarosa told me to tell you he's out at the scene —'
'We got a body?' Sonora asked.
'No, ma'am. Just blood.'
Renquist was an older man, with the red flush of high blood pressure across his cheeks. A lot of lines around the eyes – worry or laugh lines, Sonora couldn't tell. He was on the portly side, but he'd be cuddly in a sweater. He reminded Sonora of her favorite uncle, who used to drink her milk for her when her mom wasn't looking. Renquist looked tired, but alert. It was not every day a whodunnit crossed his path.
Sonora rubbed the back of her neck. 'How much blood?'
'Officially speaking? A lot.'
Sonora glanced over her shoulder at the array of Mazdas, Explorers, and Camrys that were parked in and around the police cars. 'A lot of civilians around. Who are they?'
'Girl's father —'
'What's her name again?'
The officer flipped open his notebook, but didn't need to look. 'Joelle Chauncey. Her dad, one Dixon Chauncey, came home from work around five-thirty – he lives on the premises in a house trailer with two other children. Anyway, he comes home and finds out that his oldest daughter, Joelle, went out riding and didn't come back. They put up a search, but the girl and the horse were gone.'
'Gone? Disappeared, just like that?'
'Like what, I don't know, ma'am. But the girl and the horse are gone and there's a lot of blood.'
'Where's the father now?'
Renquist inclined his head toward the office door. 'In there with some of the people who ride here. Lady that runs the place, she teaches lessons, boards horses.'
'She was out at the scene talking to Detective Delarosa, but I think I saw her head back into the barn a minute or two ago. Her name is Donna Delaney.'
Answered the question before she asked. Experience was a wonderful thing. 'Give me one minute with the dad.'
The office door stuck, and Renquist leaned over and yanked it open. A gust of wind blew Sonora's hair, and set off the ting of wind chimes, a circle of pewter horses, hanging just outside the door.
The father was easy to spot.
Chauncey sat way back on the couch, knees tight, chin wobbly with the effort not to cry. Likely he had shaved that morning, but he was one of those men who would need to shave twice a day to stay presentable.
He was flanked by two women, parents of children in the riding program, Sonora guessed. They sat beside him offering the consolation of their presence, in exchange for their involvement, albeit on the sidelines, in a tragic but fascinating ordeal.
They would have brought baked goods and a ham, if they'd had sufficient notice.
Chauncey slid forward on the couch and stood quickly to shake Sonora's hand. He might be out of his mind with worry, but he would not neglect common courtesy.
'Police Specialist Blair. You're Dixon Chauncey?' Sonora showed him her badge, knowing he would find it a comfort. She wondered why he was not out looking for his daughter with the uniforms.
'Yes, ma'am. I'm Joelle's father.'
His knees were wobbly, and he teetered forward. Which answered her question as to why he wasn't out looking.
Sonora took his hand and nudged him back toward the couch. 'Sit down, Mr Chauncey.'
He obeyed instantly.
He wasn't overweight by more than fifteen or twenty pounds, which would have been unnoticeable if he dressed with a certain amount of common sense. He didn't. He wore his pants tight and curved over his hips, and the length was an inch too short. Likely the pants had fit perfectly until washed.
He could have been attractive, but he wasn't. The least endearing thing about him was his posture – back slightly humped, shoulders curved and sloping, elbows bent, like Popeye. He wore a short-sleeved plaid shirt with a pack of Marlboros in the pocket. His hair was black, like shoe polish, and dull as if he dyed it. It sat on his head like a plastic cap. Sonora figured he combed it straight down with water every day.
'Have you met my partner, Detective Delarosa? He got here ahead of me, he drives faster than I do.' Sonora smiled gently while she worked him, felt the ease of tension in the room. The rider mommies gave her a look of approval mixed with relief, and Chauncey braved a shy half-smile.
Let him know there was a man on the case, Sonora thought, on the chance that he was one of those people who were particular about the gender of their cops. Give an air of competent professionalism, and leaven it with 'I'm just a regular Joe'.
Confidence and a bit of comfort for him to hang on to while they found the body of his kid, and decided whether or not he'd had anything to do with it.
The tears looked genuine, at any rate.
The door leading into the barn proper slammed open, just grazing Sonora on the elbow. She heard a horse whinny and snort, then a thumping noise, as if the horse were pawing the ground.
'Shut that up or you're going out.' A woman's voice. Harsh. Inflection sounding kind of Chicago – Midwest, anyway.
The horse was instantly quiet, as was everyone else in the room.
The woman stood in the doorway, taking them all in. Her attention created a frisson of awareness that said watch your step. Her chin was pointed, face almost drawn, hair a cotton-white blond because she was worth it. She did not wear a lot of makeup and her features were strong. She bordered pretty, if you liked them hard-looking. Her eyes, dark, flat and judgmental, went back to Sonora, and she extended a hand.
'I'm Donna Delaney. This is my farm, and my office.'
Tiny lines, half-circle grooves like hoofprints, arced the corners of her mouth. She had thin slash lips, wore jeans and a flannel shirt that fit her loosely. She was slim and she looked good in jeans. She scraped her feet on the door-sill. She wore black rubber boots crusted with mud, manure and wood shavings, and her feet were long and slender. Her throat and shoulders were dark brown, the permanent tan of a woman who spent a lot of time outdoors no matter the heat.
'Detective Blair,' Sonora said.
'So you come in pairs. I've talked to the other one already. Delarosa.'
'I have a few questions —'
'I already talked to your partner.'
Sonora was aware of the rapt attention of the women on, the couch. 'That so?' She smiled, keeping it lazy. 'Ms Delaney, did you see Joelle Chauncey this afternoon?'
Delaney's eyes narrowed, then she turned and headed for the door, glancing back at Sonora over her shoulder. 'It's past feeding time and my horses are hungry. Want to walk along beside me while I work?'
'I won't keep you much longer,' Sonora said.
'I can feed them, Donna.' Chauncey stood up again, then leaned against the wall. His voice was small, sad and brave.
'You can't even stand up,' Delaney said.
'We'll do it.' The two women got off the couch, looked at each other, nodded their heads. This was something they could handle. Glad to be of help.
Delaney gave them a mere flicker of attention. 'Don't worry about the horses in the back stalls. And only give that pony a taste. He's pig-fat as it is.' She looked back at Sonora. 'No. I didn't see Joelle today.'
'Were you here? What's your usual schedule?'
'I get here in the morning, a little before eight. Leave around twelve-thirty. Got back at six. Today's Tuesday. I do private lessons on Tuesdays, usually in the evening. Other days I'm back by four.'
'Is there usually anyone here between noon and four, or six on Tuesdays?'
'No. Unless I'm showing a horse for sale or something, it's usually dead around here in the afternoons. Picks up at night for lessons from five to eight, except Tuesday, like I said. When I do private. Then I feed and bed the horses and go home. Joelle usually helps me.'
'Was Joelle in the habit of riding out by herself in the afternoon?'
'Yeah, she'd usually ride after school for a little while, before lessons started. She wasn't really supposed to go out on Tuesdays, though, because nobody else is here. It's better if someone's around to keep an eye out. But one of the arrangements I have with Dixon is that his kids get to ride the horses. He's supposed to look after them. I'm not their baby-sitter.'
Sonora glanced at Dixon Chauncey, wondering how Delaney's insensitivity would register.
'She wasn't supposed to ride by herself,' he said quickly.
Sonora looked back at Chauncey. 'She did, though, didn't she?'
'I should have been stricter with her about that. But she was a good rider.'
'She could handle herself,' Delaney said. High praise.
Joelle was only fifteen, Sonora thought. A lot of things could come up that a fifteen-year-old couldn't handle.CHAPTER 3
Dixon Chauncey insisted on showing Sonora through the barn, as if she could not make it down the dirt-packed aisle on her own. The rider mommies manned a wheelbarrow, scooping feed through the bars of the stalls. The horses nickered, waiting impatiently, snorting when the grain hit the feed tub.
The musk of horse mixed pleasantly with emanations from fresh cedar shavings that were piled all the way to the barn roof in an empty stall at the opposite end. Sonora found the noise of munching horses soothing. She peeped in through one barred window.
The horse, chestnut and skinny, did not lift his head from his dinner. The stall was rank with black muck and manure, cobwebs hanging in streams from the rafters.
A barn cat, tiger-striped and skinny enough to show ribs, scooted in front of Dixon Chauncey. Sonora bent down absently and caught its tail as it went by, got a handful of cat fur and barn dust.
The barn doors were open. An outdoor light sent a weak yellow glow over the weed-edged, beaten-down path that led to a small riding ring. Dixon Chauncey pointed to the lit section of backfield. Sonora saw the uniforms, Crime Scene Unit techs in heavy boots walking up and down the field, a man in jeans she thought might be Sam. Business as usual no matter where she went.
'Where's your trailer?' Sonora asked.
Chauncey pointed to the far left of the backfield. Lights shone through tiny square windows, much like the barn, but smaller.
'Mr Chauncey, did Joelle leave any kind of a note?'
'No, ma'am, I don't think she did.' He shook his head, eyes wide and wary. This was a concept he had not considered.
The trailer door opened and a little girl walked out to the front step. She wore a faded red sweatshirt and shorts, though it was chilly out. Her shoulders drooped and she rubbed her eyes, head tilted sharply to one side. Sonora thought she was crying.
'Mr Chauncey, how old are your kids?'
'Seven, nine, and fifteen, counting Joelle.'
Are we still counting Joelle? Sonora wondered. 'They alone?'
He waved at the little girl, but she did not seem to see him. 'Yeah. I really need to go and see to them.'
'Hang right here, just for a moment.' Sonora went around the front of the barn, called to Renquist.
He came toward her at a jog, which put him immediately out of breath. 'Press is coming.'
Sonora looked down the empty drive, wondered how Renquist knew. A car passed by on the two-lane road, switched on its lights. It would be full dark soon.
'They listen in on us. We return the favor.'
Sonora nodded. 'I'll send somebody out to watch the drive. I don't want them wandering. You I need.'
Renquist followed as she walked back around the barn.
'Escort Mr Chauncey back to his trailer – evidently this guy's got two other kids. Stay with him till I can get over there, go through Joelle's room myself. Let me know if he goes through her stuff, removes anything. Keep watch. In a sympathetic manner.'
'I got you.'
He understood. Sonora could tell by his tone of voice. He handed her his flashlight, a big black Mag Lite, cop issue.
'It'll be dark soon, ma'am. You may need this.'
She took it from him gratefully. Must be looking for promotion. Age discrimination would sink him.
'Thanks, Renquist. I'll make sure it's returned.'
She turned then, feeling the strong pull of the crime scene, and headed for the backfield, and Sam. She heard the murmur of voices over her shoulder as Renquist introduced himself to Chauncey and suggested they head for the trailer. Chauncey went like a lamb. Sonora gave them one backward look. Renquist moved like a marine, maybe he'd been one. Chauncey had a peculiar walk, head down, one foot forward, the other scooting behind in a soft shuffle that whispered low self-esteem.
Sonora glanced back at the trailer. The little girl was gone. The porch light, dim already, flickered once and went out.CHAPTER 4
The gate to the paddock had been white some years ago. The bars had rusted through, two of them had separated, and the whole mechanism sagged crookedly, wedged in a mound of dirt. Sonora passed through and stepped into knee-high clumps of sawgrass, ironweed and purple-topped thistles. She was wearing her newest Reeboks and the khakis that made her look skinny. She prayed to the god of detergents that she would not get anything on them that wouldn't come out.
No body, no smell.
It was a good walk to the end of the backfield, and the sky was going darker. Sonora took a breath. You could almost taste the metallic hum in the air. They'd better get this crime scene processed. It would be raining soon.
Wind ruffled the bright yellow crime scene tape, a loose end flapping. One of the horses took exception to the tape and took off, stampeding them all.
Something had come through the fence, smashing through an entire eight-foot section. Broken slats, the wood raw and splintered, hung on either side like badly broken bones.
A riding boot lay in the grass, maybe eight to ten feet from the broken fence line.
Sonora ducked under the crime scene tape, looked around till she spotted Sam – wearing Levi's, so he'd already been home. He was studying the edges of a broken fence board. He'd lost weight and she hadn't even noticed. Must be the jeans.
Excerpted from No Good Deed by Lynn Hightower. Copyright © 1998 Lynn Hightower. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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