Bait & Switch (Mayfield Cozy Mystery Book 1)

BOOK: Bait & Switch (Mayfield Cozy Mystery Book 1)
3.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub




A Mayfield Mystery — book #1



Jerusha Jones











This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.


Text copyright © 2014 by Jerusha Jones


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.


For more information about Jerusha Jones’s other novels, please visit


Cover design by Elizabeth Berry MacKenney.

















His giant blue-gray eye bulged in the peephole, the red squiggly veins in his sclera pulsing. I held my breath, then nearly jumped out of my skin as the door beneath my fingertips thumped with another volley of determined knocking.

“Mrs. Sheldon. We know you’re in there.” He spoke in a low voice, as though his mouth was pressed against the crack between the door and the frame.

I squinted through the peephole again, this time to see a badge — an ID card? — waved across the distorted scope of my view.

“FBI. If you don’t open up soon, we’re going to collect a bunch of spectators out here on the lawn. Not something you want, I’m thinking.”

I didn’t care what he thought I wanted. I exhaled and spun so my back pressed against the door. What I really wanted was my husband of fourteen hours to return.

Skip had promised, “I won’t be long, honey.” He’d kissed me on the forehead while sliding his arms back into his linen suit jacket sleeves. Then he’d gone out, and I was left standing in the middle of one of El Escondite’s luxury bungalows surrounded by our luggage and staring at a closed door.

The same door rattled again, and I leaped away from it. “One minute — a few minutes. Please?” My voice shook, and I tried again, louder. “It’s late. I need to dress. Five minutes?”

“Five minutes,” Mr. Badge echoed into the crack. “Hurry up.”

I fled for the bedroom and the piles of clothing I’d just started unpacking. I’d figured the silky negligee and skimpy robe I had on were all I was going to need tonight. I dug through my suitcase and found a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, the appropriate underwear.

My hands shook as my mind raced through scenarios. Skip had been injured —  fallen off an embankment into the sea, hit by a car in a crosswalk, held at gunpoint — that one made my heart stop. Skip had the net worth to make kidnapping appealing. But he was strong — he wouldn’t go without a fight. A knife fight with banditos? What else could it be?

But why was the FBI at my door? They didn’t follow ambulances around, informing the family, especially not in Cozumel, Mexico.

I hopped on one foot, trying to pull a sling-back espadrille onto the other. I’d bought these shoes for our honeymoon, thinking they’d be good for long walks through El Mercado and the side street shops while holding hands with Skip. I closed my eyes and gulped a deep breath. Maybe the nice man outside would explain everything — a simple misunderstanding, a knock on the wrong door in the wee hours of the morning.

But he knew my name — my new name.

A quick check through the peephole showed two cheap suits standing under the bright porch light, poking their phone screens. Just like the television shows — the FBI always comes in pairs. I squared my shoulders and opened the door.

The lead guy’s head popped up. He wrapped a warm hand around my elbow. “The car’s at the curb.”

“Who are you?”

“Special Agent Mick Jordan. And Patrick Moreno, my partner.” He gestured toward the man who took up position on my other side.

“Are you here about Skip? Is he okay? You’d at least tell me that, wouldn’t you?” At the hard look on both men’s faces, I bit my lip and whispered, “Please?”

“It’s best if we save the questions for when we get to the office,” Agent Jordan said.

They propelled me through the sticky night, cutting across the curves of the resort’s meandering lighted path to an idling dark sedan. Agent Jordan followed me into the backseat while Agent Moreno folded his bulky body into the front passenger seat.

The unintroduced driver gunned the car into the sparse traffic. He had a pale strip of skin between his haircut and shirt collar. Yet another non-local.

I twisted my purse strap between my fingers, rubbing it hard the way my housecleaner, Rosemary, parses her rosary beads. I’m not Catholic, but having something to hold onto right now seemed an absolute necessity.

Five minutes later we pulled up in front of a bougainvillea-covered wall in what was clearly a residential neighborhood.

“Office?” My voice quivered.

“For now.” Agent Jordan let me exit the car unassisted then pushed open the silent wrought iron gate.

The house was typical — whitewashed adobe walls and barred windows with a heavy wood door. We stepped into a tiled foyer and around the corner into a sparsely furnished sitting room. And by sparsely, I mean a few metal folding chairs and a card table crammed with electronic equipment and laptops. A couple empty duffel bags lay crumpled in a corner. Not exactly hospitable, and certainly not the usual government agency office.

A very large, very white, barefoot man wearing a Madras plaid shirt that stretched taut across his beer belly and khaki cargo shorts slouched in one of the chairs — the only one of the four men who even came close to fitting in with the local tourist population. He glanced up for a fraction of a second, one bushy gray eyebrow raised. “Still got nothin’,” he grunted. His right hand flicked a computer mouse, and his eyes returned to scanning the screens.

“In here, Mrs. Sheldon.” Agent Jordan led me through a galley kitchen that looked and smelled the way I imagine a frat house would — partially empty take-out cartons, tipped soda cans, scrunched plastic bags, even a bunch of brown-spotted bananas swarming with fruit flies. I never got near those places in college for precisely this reason. I pressed a hand to my nose and almost tripped on the back of Agent Jordan’s heels in my haste.

The dining room looked more normal, and unused, with heavy, carved wood chairs lined up around refectory-style table. Agent Jordan pulled out a chair and pointed me into it.

He peeled off his suit jacket and slung it over the back of another chair. “Something to drink?”

I shook my head. I pressed my knees together and clenched my purse on my lap, trying to suppress my trembling. I had a horrible, irrational thought that the less DNA I deposited, the better. I didn’t know the first thing about how FBI agents work, but this crew seemed shady and poised to clear out in a hurry.

Agent Jordan returned with a steaming Styrofoam cup and dropped into his chair with a heavy sigh. “Your husband’s gone.”

I scowled. He had to drag me out of my comfortable bungalow to tell me something we both already knew?

“You wanna tell me where?” He loosened his tie and ran a hand through his stiff hair.

“What do you mean? Is he hurt? Have you checked the hospitals?” I pitched forward on the edge of my chair. “Why are you interested in my husband’s health?”

“Believe me, lady, I’m not. He’s in a high-risk occupation. It’d just be nice to have a body as proof — that’s all.”

















“Body?” I spluttered. “He’s a businessman. Car wash franchising. If that’s dangerous, well then — this is ridiculous.” I sprang out of my chair. “I’ll check the hospitals myself.”

“Sit down, Mrs. Sheldon.” Agent Jordan half rose and pointed at my empty chair. “Sit. Why don’t you just call him?”

“I can’t.” The past few hours at the bungalow, I’d been trying to make myself useful, and that included finding Skip’s phone between sections of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal in his soft-sided carry-on briefcase. He must have dropped it in there when we’d boarded the charter jet. He’s notorious for losing small but important items like his car keys and inhaler.

“He didn’t take his phone with him, did he?”

I shook my head and sank back onto the chair. “How do you know?”

“GPS. We’ve been tracking him for a while.”


Agent Jordan squinted at me. “I think the question is how much do you know?”

“Is this about the Indonesian orphanage fund that turned out to be a cover for the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group?”

Agent Jordan choked on a sip of coffee.

“We figured it out in time and halted the transfer,” I blurted. “So technically we didn’t do anything illegal.”

Agent Jordan rubbed at the brown spray pattern on the front of his white shirt. His fingers were thick and stubby. One nail had a black spot from a run-in with a hammer or other similar injury.

I clamped my jaw closed. I might have just said too much.

Agent Jordan fished in the pocket of his suit jacket, came up with a small leather-bound notebook and a pen. He made a show of clicking the pen and writing a few lines. “Anything else you want to tell me?”

“No.” I spun my wedding ring on my finger. It was too heavy and too big. Skip had promised to get it resized when we returned home. I had told myself I would become accustomed to the huge emerald bauble surrounded by diamonds. I glanced up at Agent Jordan. “This is my husband we’re talking about. What danger is he in? Why did you say ‘body’?”

Agent Jordan puffed out a long breath and propped his elbows on the table. He had dark pouches under his eyes. “You know you married the biggest money launderer west of the Mississippi, right?”

I snorted. Then I got the giggles. It was just so absurd. “Skip can’t balance his own checkbook. He’s full of good intentions, but that doesn’t translate to spreadsheets — which is how we met in the first place.”

Agent Jordan pinched the bridge of his nose and spoke from behind his hand. “I might be inclined to believe that
believe what you just said. But if you knew your husband better, you wouldn’t find this so funny.”

“He hired me to oversee his portfolio of non-profits. I’m the one who makes sure his foundation isn’t taken advantage of — that our grants go to well-managed organizations with stellar track records. We check.” I thumped my purse on the table. “My team and I make surprise visits. We audit their books. We interview the people who benefit from their services. I personally sign off on every approved request.” Sweat trickled between my shoulder blades, and my temples were pounding. “I don’t think you’ll find a better-run philanthropic organization — even west of the Mississippi.”

My sarcasm was wasted on Agent Jordan. His face remained as impassive as a bowl of congealed oatmeal. “I’m talking about his for-profit enterprises.”

“I’m sure Robbie — Robert Van Buren, the company’s controller — can set things straight, if you’ll just talk to him. You’re evading the issue. Where is my husband?” My voice pitched up an octave.

“I don’t know. I told you that.”

“Did he vanish before your very eyes or what?” I shouted. So much for my veneer of civility. My mother would be appalled. Yelling at a government employee is not proper form.

“Pretty much.” His voice was so quiet, I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly.

I swallowed and started blinking fast.

Agent Jordan rose and plodded from the room. He returned with a roll of toilet paper. “Sorry. I realize this is your wedding night, and it’s not turning out the way you expected.”

I blew my nose. “Please tell me what you do know.”

“He exited the bungalow at 8:23 p.m. He borrowed one of the resort’s golf carts, drove down the walkway to the beach entertainment area—” Agent Jordan glanced up from his notes.

I nodded. He meant the string of grass huts that festively shroud open bars where the resort’s guests can obtain all manner of mind-numbing beverages and spend the day and well into the night telling themselves they are having a fabulous time when in fact they are smashed-into-a-lounge-chair-face-first drunk.

“He parked, walked straight to the first hut — the Pineapple Express — and ordered a whiskey. When his drink arrived, so did four other men. We know who three of them are. They stepped away from the hut, had a short conversation, then a scuffle. One man was kidney-punched hard enough to drop to his knees.”

I gasped. “He is hurt. Why didn’t you do something?”

Agent Jordan held up a finger. “That’s when the agents watching moved in. Tiki torches don’t provide the best illumination. Like you, they thought it was your husband getting roughed up. It wasn’t.”

I scowled and opened my mouth. At Agent Jordan’s warning look, I snapped it shut.

“The men scattered, leaving behind their injured companion — the one we don’t have an ID for, and he’s not talking. Your husband fled with the others. Given who they are and the kind of working relationship they have, we’re not convinced he went willingly. We’re not sure they have enough reasons to keep him alive.”

“But you know where he is and who’s holding him.” I balanced precariously on the edge of my seat. “You can go after them.”

“It’s not that easy. We know the who, but not the where. And these three men — they work for completely different criminal organizations. If they were coordinating tonight, it would be an unprecedented political move in the underworld. Either they’ve turned renegade and formed a new coalition or your husband royally screwed over the groups they represent and they’re united for revenge.”

I forgot how to breathe. I wanted to scream, to pound on the table and bellow that this is not the man I married, that there must be some terrible mistake, that Skip is kind and generous and gentle and nearsighted and asthmatic, for goodness’ sake. Not the sort of man who keeps company with criminals, let alone steals their money.

As though he could read my mind, Agent Jordan said, “These guys are picky about their money. Billions.”

“You think my husband was using our honeymoon as cover for illegal activity?” I croaked.

“I know he was.” Agent Jordan sighed heavily. “Your continued presence in Cozumel would not be helpful. You need to call the charter company and tell them you’re going home early. The honeymoon’s over.”




I spent the next few hours repacking, pacing, pressing against the sliding glass doors to the patio and ocean beyond hoping that my husband would walk up the path, apologetic and worried because he’d been detained by some fluke accident. And then he’d tell me that the FBI was delusional or I’d had a really bad dream.

My hands ached from clenching into fists, half moons from my fingernails permanently imprinted in my palms. I didn’t dare say anything out loud. I couldn’t talk to myself as I normally would. Every dark spot in the wallpaper and shadow in the exposed-beam rafters turned into a tiny camera lens or microphone in my imagination.

If the FBI was tracking Skip’s phone — which was still on the kitchen counter next to his briefcase — then what else were they doing? Skip had made the reservation for this particular bungalow a month ago. They’d have had plenty of time to bug it.

The call to the jet charter service was torture. The agent tried to sound comforting and understanding, but I could tell she was biting her tongue not to ask why we were returning from our honeymoon so soon. Then I had to tell her there’d only be one passenger. Talk about a pregnant silence. She repeated that the bar on the plane would be fully stocked — anything I wanted — and, another pause, was I okay?

I whimpered yes because I’ve been trained to maintain socially acceptable behavior at all times, and this includes bald-faced lies. I come from a world where people are admired for their ability to pretend even when everyone around them knows that’s exactly what they’re doing. I hung up.

I debated leaving Skip’s luggage in storage with the concierge, but that would involve explanations and dragging the suitcases past the FBI agent installed in a rattan rocking chair on the front stoop.

Agent Jordan had insisted on having the black suit and sunglasses-clad young man watch over me and openly escort me to the airport, just so the bad guys would know that the FBI knew — what, I wasn’t sure. Not a bodyguard. Just sending a message in case anyone was watching.

Which really meant that Agent Jordan in particular and maybe the rest of the FBI didn’t trust me. They were watching
to see what I would do. The terrible thing was I had absolutely no idea what to do, except cry. And I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.




One of the great things about chartered flights is the opportunity to miss the mess — the long lines through customs and security, witnessing tourists behaving badly, being crammed together with sweaty, overweight people whose ideas of personal space and hygiene are considerably different from my own.

A be-tasseled customs official banged his stamp on my passport and handed it back with a brilliant smile.

An air steward in a set of dress whites that would make the preppy tennis set proud wrangled my luggage onto a cart, leaving me free to climb the rolling stairs into the gleaming Learjet. I felt no need to wave goodbye to the FBI agent in his broad stance on the far side of the chain link fence. A stiff ocean breeze called his bluff, whipping his pant legs against his skinny calves.

I sank into a smooth leather recliner and closed my eyes. I’d have a few hours of anonymous oblivion in this quiet, cool cabin. And I needed a plan before the wheels touched down again.

BOOK: Bait & Switch (Mayfield Cozy Mystery Book 1)
3.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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