Book 2 in the Kenni Lowry Mystery Series
In the South, it’s better when the food is fried and the secrets kept buried…After the dead body of a beloved Cottonwood resident is found tangled up in an electric fence, Sheriff Kenni Lowry has a hunch that somethin’ ain’t right.
Her investigation heats up with a fierce cook-off competition, a euchre game where the intel is sweeter than the brownies, and a decades old family recipe that may just be the proof in the pudding.
The icing on the cake: Kenni is fighting an attraction to her recently sworn-in deputy sheriff, and election season is hot on her tail.
When the killer comes after who she holds most dear, even her poppa’s ghostly guidance might not be enough to keep her and her own out of the frying pan.
Book 2 in the Kenni Lowry Mystery Series
“Someone cooked his goose and cooked it good.” Poppa squatted next to the lifeless body Myrna Savage had found in her greenhouse, right on top of her tomato plants. The body had on jeans and a dark blue hoodie with the hood still pulled up over the head, the face smashed right down into a pile of tomatoes—so we couldn’t tell whether it was a man or a woman. “Peee-uuu.” Poppa pinched his nose with one hand and waved the space in front of his face with the other. “Where are his shoes?”
It took everything I had not to shush him since everyone was staring at me for guidance and since they couldn’t see the ghost of Elmer Sims. Not only was Elmer the ex-sheriff of my small town of Cottonwood, Kentucky, but also my grandfather, who’d come back in ghost form to be my guardian when I became sheriff. I was the only one who could see—or hear—him.
“Why did he have to fall on my prize tomatoes?” Myrna Savage lifted her hands up to the sides of her head and tugged a little at the edges of her dark hair.
She moved without haste over to the greenhouse window, where the juice and seeds from the squished tomatoes had splattered and dripped down the glass. She pointed her finger at the very dead, facedown body. Flattened tomatoes stuck halfway out from underneath the body. Myrna’s lips contorted to the left and to the right before she brought her fists up to the side of her body and thrust them back down to the side.
“It took me months to get them that plump,” she protested.
“Myrna, I know you’re upset.” I put my hand out to stop her from moving all over the place and tainting the scene.
“Upset?” she wailed. “That’s an understatement. Do you know how long it takes to grow prize tomatoes such as those squished up under that body?”
“Until we can determine what happened, that body is going to stay right there.” I clenched my jaw and lifted my eyes to meet her icy stare. I gripped the handle of my police bag that I always kept ready in my Wagoneer.
“I can tell you what happened to that body.” Myrna pointed. “They came into my greenhouse and keeled over right on my prize tomatoes.”
“We don’t know anything for sure.” I bent down and used my finger to slightly move the hood so I could try to feel for a pulse on the neck.
“Turn ’em over. See who it is.” Poppa stood next to Myrna. I ignored him. There was a protocol, and I was going to follow it as sheriff. Just in case the person was alive, we didn’t move a body in fear it would harm them more.
I stood up and looked at Finn.
“Who are you?” Myrna asked in a grudging voice. Her eyes slid past my shoulder and fixed on Finn Vincent, my new deputy.
“I’m Officer Finn Vincent from the State Reserve.” Finn took his wallet out of his back pocket and flipped the badge at her. “I’ve been helping Sheriff Lowry over the past few days since Lonnie Lemar retired.”
“Lonnie retired months ago,” she snarled. “You mean you helped Kenni solve the murder of Doc Walton?”
No one could put nothing past Myrna Savage. Her name was fitting. She was a long-time widow who owned Petal Pushers Landscaping. She hired many people I wouldn’t trust to take care of Duke, my dog. Not Myrna. She’s not scared of anyone and if they crossed her, they better watch out. I couldn’t help but wonder if this person had crossed her in some way.
The faint sound of an ambulance echoed in the dark.
“Gosh darn,” Myra snapped. “”Bout time they got here. I called them first and you second.”
Finn hadn’t been formerly deputized since the mayor had offered him the open deputy’s job we had in the sheriff’s department. Luckily, in the state of Kentucky, I could use my power to deputize on the spot. Now was as good as time as any.
“By Kentucky law PC 150, I hereby deputize you, Finley Vincent, to the Cottonwood Sheriff’s Department.” My words were swift and fast. The mayor had already told Finn the job was his and was going to officially swear him in later in the week. I was just helping it along. “Myrna Savage is a witness to this appointment until we can go before the judge.”
I looked at Myrna.
“What?” she snarled.
“Say okay.” I helped her along.
“Okay,” she responded.
The ambulance light flooded the lawn and made a spotlight on the greenhouse. Two EMTs rushed over with their medical bags and immediately felt for a pulse. Both of them looked at each other before they slid their eyes up to me.
They confirmed what I already knew.
The death stare. Something I’d gotten used to seeing over the past few weeks. Slowly they shook their heads. They stepped outside of the greenhouse and started filling out some paperwork.
Finn and I looked at each other for a second before we bent down over the body, both of us knowing what was coming next. I took the shoulder region and Finn the legs.
“On three.” I sucked in a deep breath of dread before I began to count.
After we flipped the body, both of us stood up, looking down.
“Well, I’ll be.” Poppa stood at the man’s head. “It’s Owen Godbey. What on earth did he do to anyone?”
“Do you know him?” Finn asked.
“Owen Godbey. He’s Myrna’s delivery man.” I acted as if I knew the man. I had seen Owen a handful of times around town delivering flowers for Myrna, but he and the rest of the Godbey crew kept to themselves out on Catnip Road. Never in any trouble that I could recall. “Maybe he had a heart attack or something,” I said as I took in my first good look at his body.
There were no visible signs of blood anywhere and no signs of trauma. Simply a man that was clothed without shoes, with tomato seeds on his face and imbedded in his mustache. He’d been there for some time.
Myrna’s hand flew up to her mouth as her eyes descended down on Owen. She gasped. “Is he really d…d…”
“I’m sorry, Myrna.” I took off my hat to give my condolences and showed her the door of the greenhouse. “I know Owen was your only employee and I’m sorry.”
Finn followed us out.
“But he’s not supposed to be in there.” She shook her head. “I mean, it’s late.”
“Finn, can you give Max Bogus a call and let him know that we have a body?” I stuck my hat back on my head. “Myrna, you stay here.”
I walked bac into the greenhouse and took a closer look at Owen, and considered what my poppa’s ghost was insisting. My gut told me this was no accident.
“Myrna.” I took a deep breath and set my police bag on the dirt floor, bending down to get out a pair of gloves after she’d walked back in with Finn. “Can you tell me what you were doing when you discovered the body?”
“I was working on my tomato salad recipe,” she said matter-of-factly. “I am going to enter it into the cook-off. But Kenni, there is a body right there.” She wrung her hands and told me something I already could see.
“Myrna, I know this is upsetting, but it’s crucial you give me all the details leading up to when you discovered the body.” I put a reassuring hand on her arm. “Now, what cook-off?” I asked, wondering if a salad would even qualify.
I hadn’t heard of a cook-off being held. There weren’t too many kept secrets around here. Especially anything that involved food.
“Between Jolee and Ben.” She straightened her shoulders. Pride glowed in her green eyes. “I’m team Jolee.”
My brows furrowed.
“While you’ve been off solving crimes, Jolee and Ben’s competitive streaks have been going ninety miles an hour.” Myrna talked ninety miles an hour. “They’re hosting a friendly food competition. They had people apply and cook something for them. They each picked a team of three. This week they’ll pick the winner of their three. The finalists on each team will go up against each other. Whoever wins gets a monthly licensing fee along with their dish served at both restaurants. I’m making my family’s secret tomato salad recipe with my prize tomatoes that Owen just took out.”
“But I thought you were in the flower contest up in Lexington this week.” That I did hear.
Myrna raised the most beautiful flowers in her greenhouse. She was the only florist in Cottonwood, so we didn’t have much choice when it came to buying flowers. She even owned the floral department space at Dixon’s Foodtown, our local grocery store. Story went, she and Mr. Dixon had a bet late one night. I hadn’t heard what they were betting on, but I did hear that he lost and Myrna won a contract to be the only florist in his store.
“Kenni Lowry, have you been checking up on poor old Myrna?” she asked.
“Obviously not good enough,” I mumbled, because I hadn’t heard of any cook-off and I was a frequent diner at both places.
She scurried next to the counter and practically threw herself down next to the body. She stuck her hand up underneath the counter and pulled out a tomato just as plump as a peach. “You didn’t get this one!” She shook the tomato at the body before she bounced up and brushed herself off.
Myrna’s odd behavior over her concern of her tomatoes over the body didn’t sit well.
“Well, Myrna, if listening to idle gossip in the front pew of the Cottonwood Baptist Church on a Sunday morning waiting for Preacher to give me a weekly dose of Jesus is checking up on you, then I guess you can say that I’m checking up on you and all the fine citizens of our community.” I snapped the gloves on my hands and held a pair to hand to Finn when he walked back in. “Now if you could answer my question.”
“Um, hmm. What question was that?” Myrna rubbed the tomato like a newborn baby’s butt.
“Let’s step outside.” I had to get her out of the greenhouse before she contaminated any more evidence at the scene.
“The flower show?” I asked again as I led her out.
“Oh, yes. Of course I’m doing the flower show.” She shot a penetrating look my way.
“Both?” I found it odd that Myrna suddenly had a lot of time on her hands.
“The flower show is one weekend, whereas the cook-off is span over a week,” Myrna said.
“What about the van?” I gestured toward the delivery van outside the greenhouse that Myrna had wrapped with images of flower arrangements. “Would Owen have been delivering flowers and come in here?”
“I told you, it’s late and he didn’t have any deliveries.” She chewed on her bottom lip. She tilted her head to the side and looked back into the greenhouse.
“Besides, he liked to use his truck on most delivery days. He said something about not having to get a ride back to his house.”
Finn walked back in the greenhouse. “I hate to interrupt this questioning, but, Ms. Savage, there is smoke coming out of your house window.” He gestured toward Myrna’s house, where black smoke was billowing out of an open window.
“My stewed tomatoes!” She shoved past Finn, nearly knocking him down, and flew out of the greenhouse, the plump tomato held gingerly in the palm of her hand.
Finn and I took the opportunity to comb the crime scene without Myrna keeping watch.
It was dark. When I had gotten the call about Myrna finding the body, Finn and I were sitting on the Ferris wheel at the annual Cottonwood festival at the fairgrounds. I was looking into his big brown eyes as he told me the picture of the beautiful brunette in his wallet was not his girlfriend, but his sister, which sent my heart into a tailspin. Something I wasn’t really expecting. And if I wasn’t mistaken, on the downswing of the Ferris wheel, Finn Vincent was about to ask me out on a real date. Then we got interrupted by the call.
Owen’s murder, if it was one, would be the third crime that’d happened in Cottonwood over the last few weeks. To some small towns or even big cities, that might seem to be a little low on the crime side, but not in Cottonwood.
“This is so odd,” Finn noted. “There isn’t a lot here to go on.”
I looked around and retraced our steps, taking a few notes. With Myrna out of the greenhouse, I took the time to talk to Finn.
“There isn’t a weapon. There isn’t much blood splatter. And there is no sign of a struggle.” This was very unusual for a crime scene.
“Which makes me believe that he was dumped here,” I said and continued to make notes on the note pad.
“Someone wants us to believe that Myrna did it.” Finn rocked back on his feet. “But her attitude went from being upset to suddenly only caring about her tomatoes is also worth noting and disturbing.”
“I noticed that too.” I looked out the door when I heard Myrna’s feet stomping back down to the greenhouse.
I walked out of the greenhouse with my bag in my hand and let Finn have a few more minutes alone in there without Myrna eyeballing our every move.
“Do you have any idea why he might be here?” I asked Myrna when she came back from tending to her stewed tomatoes.
“Well, we were both on Jolee’s team and we each have to come up with our own recipe.” She bit the edge of her lip and looked around my shoulder into the greenhouse, not once taking her eyes off of him. “Do you think he was trying to sabotage me? Steal my ’mators, and then he had a heart attack?”
Finn walked out at took my bag from me.
“You never know. Anything is possible,” I said. Finn took the camera out of my bag and walked back in the greenhouse to take some photos. We were going to treat this like a crime scene until we figured out how Owen died.
“He was so jealous of my tomatoes and how good they were growing. I could see it on his face when we met with Jolee.” Myrna picked at the edges of her nails. “I thought his recipe was stupid. Okra.”
My mouth watered. I did love a good southern fried okra.
“Rae Lynn did make a mighty fine okra dish.” Poppa licked his chops and rubbed his hands together as he recalled Owen’s mama’s recipe.
“Jolee questioned him about it too since she already makes that okra burger everyone loves.” Myrna nervously talked and talked. Her voice rose an octave. “Now Viola is the only thing standing between me and the prize.”
“Viola White?” I asked, looking her over with a critical eye. I had a niggling suspicion she was keeping something from me.
“Yes. Me, Owen, and Viola are Team Jolee.” Her face was stone-cold serious. “Now with Owen out of the way, I’m sure I can beat Viola.”
I couldn’t help but think that if it did turn out Owen Godbey had been murdered, Myrna had just handed me a motive.