Excerpt: Cajun Fried Felony

Excerpt: Cajun Fried Felony

Book 15: Miss Fortune Mysteries

Chapter One

When I heard the car horn, I ran out my front door and jumped into Ida Belle’s SUV. Gertie was already in the back seat, looking entirely too excited given that it was Saturday morning and we were on our way to exercise.

“I wore my new running shoes all day yesterday,” I said. “I hope they’re broken in good.”

Gertie’s eyes widened. “You’re participating? That’s awesome!”

I looked at her, then Ida Belle, wondering what I’d missed.

“It’s for charity, right?” I asked. “Town tradition. Every Thanksgiving.”

“Oh yes,” Gertie said. “It’s a total hoot. Every year I think I’m going to win and then there’s always some sneaky junior high student who dashes all my hopes of taking home that trophy.”

I stared for several seconds. “I am so confused. You said this was a turkey run. Like a race for charity? Why are you this excited about running? You hate running. And why do junior high students win a marathon on a regular basis?”

Ida Belle chuckled. “It’s not that kind of turkey run.”

“What other kind is there?” I was almost afraid to ask.

Ida Belle grinned. “The kind where the volunteers turn loose a bunch of wild turkeys in the schoolyard and those who signed up for the race try to catch one with their bare hands.”

I stared at her in dismay. “And you participate in this?”

“Heck no,” Ida Belle said. “At least not the running and catching part. I help, uh, prepare the turkeys for transport home.”

“She whacks them,” Gertie explained.

“Can’t fry them if they’re still flapping around,” Ida Belle said.

“I’m not chasing wild turkeys,” I said. “Not even for charity. And I’m not whacking them either. I got out of that business.”

“But you have no trouble eating them,” Ida Belle said.

“Of course not,” I said. “Well, wait, are we going to be eating whatever Gertie catches?”

“Lord no,” Gertie said. “I bought a Butterball when they were on sale a week ago. Wild turkey tastes different than tame turkey.”

I sighed. “I am so confused.”

Ida Belle nodded. “Goes with the territory.”

“Which territory?” I asked. “Sinful or Gertie?”

“Both,” Ida Belle said. “And it’s nothing to worry about, anyway. Gertie is 0 for 10 on actually catching one of those birds.”

“But this year, I’ve got expensive running shoes,” Gertie said. “And I’ve been working on my arm speed. I might get lucky.”

“And what happens if you do?” I asked. “I mean, you and Butterball already have a date on Thanksgiving.”

“I’ll give it to another family,” Gertie said. “Not everyone can afford a turkey. The Sinful Ladies try every year to get birds out to families we know can’t spring for the cost, but some of them are too proud to accept the help. But if I won the bird fair and square and wasn’t going to use it myself, they wouldn’t want to see it go to waste.”

I smiled. The more I learned about these women, the more thankful I was that we were friends. “Then I hope you get lucky. Carter told me he was working the run as well. Is he chasing or working with Ida Belle on the whacking team?”

“Neither,” Ida Belle said. “He’s there to make sure the protest doesn’t get out of hand.”

“Protest?” I stared. “Don’t tell me there’s a save-the-turkey movement in Sinful.”

“Good Lord, no,” Ida Belle said. “This is Louisiana. You can’t make noise about protecting meat here. If you even tried, the South would rise again.”

Gertie nodded. “There’s people in Sinful who probably haven’t ever eaten a vegetable.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask,” I said, “but then what is the protest about?”

Gertie rolled her eyes. “Everyone’s favorite pain in the butt, Celia, protests me competing in the turkey run. She says it’s only supposed to be for kids.”

“I’ve made the logical argument about age being relative,” Ida Belle said. “But you know Celia.”

“Doesn’t the event have organizers?” I asked. “Rules?”

“Sure,” Ida Belle said. “The Baptist church organizes the event. I’m the committee chair. Marie and Gertie are my committee.”

I laughed. “Now I understand. So why don’t the Catholics organize their own turkey-catching fun?”

“Oh, don’t think she didn’t try,” Ida Belle said. “But the wild-turkey catchers wouldn’t sell to her. They said they’d rather eat turkey for a year than help Celia out.”

Gertie grinned. “That first year she tried it and she couldn’t acquire the turkeys, she attempted to do the same thing with pigs.”

I frowned. “I love bacon as much as the next person, but that doesn’t exactly say Thanksgiving.”

“I was verythankful,” Gertie said. “The guy who delivered the pigs got the address wrong and stopped by Celia’s house to ask for clarification. While he was talking to Celia, the latch on the trailer failed and all ten pigs ran straight for the farmer, who dashed into Celia’s house to avoid the stampede.”

“Leading them straight into Celia’s living room,” Ida Belle said.

I let out a laugh, the visual of pigs running through Celia’s house clear in my mind.

“It took the fire department, the delivery guy, and six neighbors over an hour to get the pigs back into the trailer,” Gertie said. “They destroyed her entire downstairs. Broke every table and chair and left a mess—the unmentionable kind—all over the floors. Celia was so distraught the paramedics had to come and sedate her.”

“She couldn’t find a cleaning crew in the entire state that would handle the mess,” Ida Belle said. “Finally ended up hiring a forensics cleaning crew out of New Orleans. Cost her two thousand dollars to have the pig crap removed from her floors.”

Gertie shook her head. “Two thousand dollars would buy an awful lot of dynamite. I mean, really, tie a rag around your nose and get to work, right?”

“Right,” I said. “About the cleaning part. Not so much the dynamite.”

“Anyway,” Ida Belle said, “thus ended Celia’s attempt to host an event counter to ours.”

“What happened to the pigs?” I asked.

“Celia refused to take delivery,” Gertie said, “and the farmer refused to issue a refund. She sued but the judge said she either took the pigs or shut her yap.”

“I can’t imagine she did either,” I said.

“She bitched to the moon and back,” Ida Belle said. “But the judge’s order held. The farmer was so fed up with Celia by then, he rewarded the pigs by making them all breeding stock.”

I grinned. “I love a happy ending.”

Ida Belle nodded as she pulled into the parking lot of the elementary school. “Then let’s hope for another one. I’d really like this event to go off without a hitch. I’ve been praying for a quiet holiday.”

Gertie rolled her eyes. “Boring. There’s been no excitement since we came back from vacation. I’m still bummed the DEA wouldn’t let us investigate that barrel of money and skeleton.”

“I don’t think it required much of an investigation,” I said. “A barrel of money with a dead person buried on a known drug lord’s former property. Seems pretty straightforward to me.”

“Well, they could have at least called and given us an update,” Gertie said. “Or maybe a stack of that cash as a reward.”

“You mean the blood money that had been housed for God knows how long with a dead person?” Ida Belle asked.

Gertie shrugged. “It still spends. And my having some wouldn’t make the guy any deader.”

“More dynamite?” I asked.

“A girl’s gotta have a hobby,” Gertie said.

“You should concentrate more on a legal one,” Ida Belle said.

“Like what?” Gertie asked. “Stamp collecting? Bird-watching?”

Ida Belle nodded. “Either. Your purse would be a lot safer.”

“She’d climb a tree to bird-watch,” I pointed all. “That lends itself to all manner of chaos.”

“No bird-watching then,” Ida Belle said as she parked. “You can take up watching grass grow.”

I looked at the crowd gathering in the fenced playground and now understood the wisdom of holding the event at the school. It offered a decent-sized fenced area for the turkey-chasing fun. We all climbed out of the SUV, and Ida Belle went to the back and collected her rifle and a hatchet.

“Let’s get this over with,” she said, and headed off for the crowd.

I spotted Carter standing next to a horse trailer with cages stacked in the back. I could hear the turkeys gobbling in unison. It wasn’t an altogether pleasing sound and I wondered why he had chosen to stand in that particular location. Then I saw a local young woman standing just a bit away, staring wistfully at him.

Five feet four. A hundred twenty pounds. Limited muscle tone. Cell phone permanently attached to her hand. Gertie could take her.

I’d seen her before around town but only once close-up. It was at the General Store and I’d issued a greeting, as I’d been instructed was the polite thing to do in a small Southern town, but her response had been a scowl and then she’d stomped off. I’d meant to ask Ida Belle and Gertie about her but had forgotten.

Now I had a good idea what all the scowling and stomping was about.

I walked toward Carter, keeping a side-eye on her to test my theory. As soon as she caught sight of me headed his way, her eyes widened, then she whipped around and hurried off toward a group of mothers with young children.

“You got a stalker I need to know about?” I asked as I stepped up.

He looked over at the retreating woman and sighed. “That would be Ashley Prejean. She graduated from college last year and came back home to Sinful. I’m pretty sure her original plan was to nab a husband while she was in school and never come back at all, but apparently, that didn’t pan out.”

“So she decided to turn her attention to the most eligible bachelor in Sinful.”

Formermost eligible bachelor.”

“Maybe she didn’t get the memo.”

He grinned. “Jealous?”

“I’m pretty sure if you’d had any interest in the local women, the eligible title wouldn’t have been in place when I arrived.”

He shook his head. “You’re going to be really rough on my ego if you’re never threatened by a pretty young woman.”

“You and your ego will have to get over it. Given my former profession, it’s hard to feel threatened by scowling and stomping.”

“She scowls at you?”

“She did when I spoke to her in the General Store one day, but that was before everyone knew my real identity. This time she just looked frightened and hurried off.”

He laughed. “Your reputation precedes you.”

“People say that a lot.” I glanced at the trailer load of noisy birds. “So why are you standing over here, anyway?”

“Because I avoid pretty young stalkers and old complainers that way. They don’t like the noise.”

I grinned. “I assume you’re referring to our friend Celia?”

“That’s your friend, not mine. I swear, if that woman moved away, I could cut my working hours by ten percent.”

“If Gertie moved, you could cut them by fifty.”

“Yeah, but it wouldn’t be as interesting. And if you tell her I said that, I’ll deny every word.”

“What are her odds on this turkey-chasing thing?”

“Of not injuring herself or actually catching a turkey?”

“Both?”

“Slim and none. But the entertainment possibilities are high.”

“Goes without saying.”

I heard a loud whistle and looked over to see Walter standing on a picnic table.

“There’s our cue,” Carter said.

I pulled out my cell phone as we headed for Walter. I wanted to make sure I got the entertainment portion of the day on video.

“Welcome to the annual Sinful Turkey Run,” Walter said as the crowd gathered around him. “You all know the drill, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you a reminder. When we get ready to start, everyone but the competitors will exit the playground and will remain behind the fence until the event is over. When the competitors are staged, the handlers will turn the birds loose in the playground. I’ll put five minutes on the clock. When I sound the bullhorn, it’s time to run.”

“My group is here to protest,” Celia shouted from Walter’s right.

“No one cares,” a woman shouted.

“Get a life,” another woman yelled.

“Preferably in another state,” a man added.

“Someone needs to send her some pigs and give her something else to do,” another man said.

“I see Celia’s making her usual strides with the community,” I said.

Ida Belle nodded. “Like a broken record.”

“If everyone will please leave the playground except for the competitors,” Walter continued.

Celia stomped up to where Walter was standing and looked up at him. “As a citizen of Sinful, I have a right to protest anything that isn’t in the best interest of this community. And I don’t think letting a grown woman compete against children is in our best interest.”

“The children are quicker and more limber,” Walter said. “Seems fair enough to me. You know the rules of this event. If you don’t like the rules, then take them up with the event coordinator.”

Celia glared. “You mean the woman who enables Gertie to be an insult to our society.”

“That would be the one,” Walter said and waved his hand, trying to get parents out of the playground.

“I don’t waste my time with people who don’t listen,” Celia said.

“Funny,” Walter said. “You’re doing it now.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake!” Sheriff Lee stomped over to the picnic table and pointed his finger at Celia. “Woman, if you don’t shut your yap and get out of the way, I’m going to arrest you for being an affront to human beings.”

“You will do no such thing,” Celia retorted.

“Try me and you’ll spend a night in jail just so this town gets twenty-four hours of peace,” Sheriff Lee said.

Celia put her hands on her hips. “I am notthe problem here.”

“You’ve been the worst problem this town has had since your birth,” Sheriff Lee said. “You’re a wart on the butt of humanity and if one more thing comes out of your mouth, even a sigh, I swear to God, I’m pulling out the handcuffs.”

I raised an eyebrow. I’d never heard Sheriff Lee sound that aggravated. Celia must have drawn the same conclusion, because she’d gone silent. Finally she gave him a disgusted look and stomped off for a spot along the fence where her cronies were clustered. Sheriff Lee waved at Walter.

“Well, get on with it,” Sheriff Lee said. “We’re burning daylight.”

“What’s up with Sheriff Lee?” I asked. “He’s always been direct but not quite that honest.”

Ida Belle frowned. “I have noticed a difference lately. I wonder if he’s hitting that late stage in life that a lot of people do.”

“What stage is that?” I asked.

“The one where you stop filtering anything before you say it,” Ida Belle said.

“Ida Belle hit that stage before she started talking,” Gertie said.

“All contestants, please enter the playground,” Walter yelled again.

“Wish me luck,” Gertie said and headed off.

“I’m wishing for a miracle,” Ida Belle said. “You know, the kind where things don’t end with Gertie visited by the paramedics.”

“Unless a bear or a bad guy with a gun starts chasing her, she’ll run herself out quickly.”

Ida Belle nodded. “There is that.”

I watched as Sheriff Lee left the picnic table and stomped in our direction, then I elbowed Ida Belle. “Here comes Mr. Sunshine.”

I waved at him as he approached. “Good morning, Sheriff Lee. Everything okay?”

He scowled. “Same crap, different day.”

“Are you feeling all right?” Ida Belle asked.

“Why do people keep asking me that?” Sheriff Lee asked.

“Maybe they’re worried about you,” I said.

“Another waste of time,” Sheriff Lee said. “I can take care of myself. Young woman, do you know how old I am?”

“No, sir,” I said.

He frowned. “That’s too bad. I don’t either.”

He shook his head and headed for his horse, who was tied to a fence post about twenty feet away. I looked over at Ida Belle.

“I got nothing,” Ida Belle said. “Something’s definitely up with him, though.”

We watched as Pastor Don approached Sheriff Lee, a concerned look on his face.

“Sheriff Lee,” Pastor Don said, “you appear distressed. Is there something I can do to help?”

Sheriff Lee threw his hands in the air. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I don’t need any help. Maybe you should spend your time praying for the people that woman harasses, because I don’t think it will do any good to pray for her. She’s been batting for the wrong team for a long time.”

Sheriff Lee stomped off, leaving Pastor Don staring after him, a dumbstruck look on his face.

“Maybe he shouldn’t be riding a horse with a loaded weapon and that attitude,” I said.

“You want to tell him that?” Ida Belle asked.

I shook my head. “Guess I’ll just let Pastor Don get on with the praying.”

“Good call,” Ida Belle said. “In the meantime, I’ll see if I can figure out what’s stuck in Sheriff Lee’s craw. But don’t tell Gertie. She’ll be on it like we were hired to investigate.”

“Handlers,” Walter called out. “Bring in the turkeys.”

 

 

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