Authors: Sam Cheever
Text copyright ©2016 by the Author.
This work was made possible by a special license through the Kindle Worlds publishing program and has not necessarily been reviewed by Jana DeLeon. All characters, scenes, events, plots and related elements appearing in the original The Miss Fortune Series remain the exclusive copyrighted and/or trademarked property of Jana DeLeon, or their affiliates or licensors.
For more information on Kindle Worlds: http://www.amazon.com/kindleworlds
Trouble carves a spot out of the Bayou and threatens to sink Swamp Team 3 plus 1 into its murky depths.
Bubba―a.k.a. Felonius Chance―calls Felicity when one of the Brothers at the monastery goes missing. The monks think Brother Mike was pulled into the Bayou by Aristotle, their pet gator. But Felonius doesn’t believe Brother Mike was killed by the gator. He thinks his friend got on the wrong side of a whole different kind of predator. And he’s hoping Felly and the intrepid Cal, with the help of Swamp Team 3, can find him before he ends up feeding the fishes in the muddy waters of the Bayou.
You’d think by now I’d know better than to answer my phone. But sometimes a girl has to do something she knows is wrong to save her from something that’s even more wrong. Even if it feels so very right.
As the phone jangled again, the intrepid Cal’s oh-so-soft lips played over mine and my mind turned to jelly. My knees knocked together as pleasure drummed against me like water blasting through a broken dam. It was totally in self-defense that my hand left off sliding through the heavy silk of his midnight hair and reached for the ringing phone.
It wasn’t even a thoughtful decision. Just pure, unadulterated panic.
If I let Cal kiss me one second longer I’d be flinging him to the floor and having my way with him. And I was trying to convince myself, and Cal, that I wasn’t that kind of girl.
Besides, Cal Amity was an intrepid warrior and I was…well…I wasn’t. We just weren’t suited at all. Except for the kissing part. In that my sexy investigator and I were perfectly suited.
“Hello.” My voice crackled huskily over the word and silence met my greeting.
Cal kissed his way down my throat as I waited for my human chastity belt to respond. Time was running out. Under Cal’s determined assault my fingers were going numb and I was about to drop the phone…
Whoa! Cold shower time. “Father?” I put a hand on Cal’s broad chest and pushed him back, breathing a sigh of relief with two inches of Cal-free air between us. “What’s wrong?”
“Are you okay, honey? You sound sick.”
I cleared my throat, giving Cal the evil eye when he made as if to return to nuzzling my neck. “I’m fine. Allergies.”
“Well, I hate to drag you into this but…I didn’t know who else to call.”
My eyes went wide. “What is it? Are the Russians back?”
Cal lifted an eyebrow and sighed. He glanced at his watch. “I’ll pack and be back to pick you up in an hour.”
In that moment I could have kissed him for his understanding. But that was quicksand I didn’t dare stick my toe into again.
“Tell me what’s going on.”
“It’s Brother Mike. He’s disappeared and something strange is going on here at the monastery.”
“Disappeared? Are you sure he didn’t just leave. I mean, life at a monastery kind of sucks.”
“The general consensus is that he was dragged into the Bayou by Aristotle.”
The front door closed and I headed for my closet. “Aristotle?”
“Our pet gator. He’s disappeared too.”
I stopped, realizing I might not be going to the Bayou after all. “Dad, if he was killed by a gator I’m not sure what you want me to do about it.”
“Not you, Felly. Your boyfriend.”
“He’s not…” I expelled a sigh. Who was I kidding? Whether I was ready for it or not, Cal
my boyfriend. Whenever I looked at him I wanted to cover him in whipped cream and lick it off. Very slowly. “I’m guessing you don’t think Brother Mike was killed by Aristotle?”
“I know he wasn’t. But I don’t want to explain it over the phone, Felly. You know I don’t trust phones. Can you and Cal come here?”
I chewed my bottom lip. “I don’t know. I’m supposed to have lunch with Evil tomorrow…” Evil was short for Evil Stepmother, my father’s second trophy wife whom I’d recently caught taking too great an interest in pool cleanliness and the boy responsible for it.
“Stop lying. You hate Breze.”
I grinned. “No really, you asked me to be nice to her so I am.”
“Let’s be honest, honey. The woman’s disloyal. In fact, her tramp stamp isn’t just a tat, it’s an advertisement. Like a blinking light in Times Square. It proclaims, ‘Take me, I’m easy’.”
My grin widened. “Why, Father.”
“Cut the crap, Felly. I know you’re just teasing me. Distance has made me see things more clearly. I know now that Breze just married me for my money.”
“And your pool boy.”
He sighed. “You can be so cruel.”
“Sorry. I couldn’t resist. Cal and I will be there first thing in the morning. Until then, stay away from gators named Aristotle. Or for that matter, any alligators. You shouldn’t have them as pets. When they look at you they see leg of human, man sushi, pickled person. You don’t share a common interest. His interest is eating you and yours is to not be eaten. It’s stupid to make one a pet.”
“Got it. Thanks for coming, honey. I really appreciate it.”
“No worries. I’m always happy to break out my beaded alligator purse.” Aaaaas well as spend unfettered time with the sexy Cal. Though I wouldn’t tell my father that part.
I patted the ugly concrete alligator in front of the
in Sinful Louisiana on the head. “Did you miss me?”
Cal slid me a look which appeared to reinforce his opinion that I was well and truly crazy and disappeared into the manager’s office at our home away from home on the Bayou. I preferred to wait outside while he acquired our room at the charm challenged
The room the intrepid Cal was at that very moment procuring for us was depressing enough, I didn’t feel the need to subject myself to the dank and depressing armpit of the place known as The Office.
My gaze caught on the dirty brown ribbon of water behind the motel and narrowed as an airboat sailed past with three figures aboard. The person sitting in the driver’s seat was staring straight ahead, a towel around his or her neck whipping in the wind like a scarf. The other two appeared to be holding on for dear life, their hair stuck straight out around their heads like clay sun sculptures. The scenario reminded me of my adventures with Swamp Team 3. The boat not touching water thing was classic Swamp Team 3.
The door of the office slammed shut and I looked up to find Cal descending the stained concrete steps. To my vast surprise, he held two keys in his hand. “There were two rooms available?”
He smiled when he saw my surprise. “I know you don’t believe me, but I always
to get two rooms.”
“It’s not that I don’t believe you…”
He shook his head. “These aren’t right next to each other but they’re close. Hopefully we won’t need to use them for longer than a night or two.”
Clasping my small, chipped alligator in a suddenly damp palm, I nodded, swallowing back disappointment. The feeling made me want to smack myself upside the head. I’d been unhappy when Cal and I had been forced to share a room the previous two times we’d traveled to Sinful together because sharing a room with my sexy Greek PI was just too much of a temptation for one flawed woman. So why wasn’t I happy to learn I wouldn’t have to fight off temptation once again?
Because I was an idiot. And…well…it was Cal!
I glanced at my watch, seeing it was almost nine PM. The sun was low on the horizon and it was too late to go to the monastery. I frowned, my gaze sliding toward the ugly brown door to my room. I suddenly realized that, without Cal’s delicious distraction, the room was going to be a cold and depressing place.
“You want to walk down Main Street and get ice cream or something?”
“Yes!” I exclaimed in relief. Cal reared back just a little. “Sorry. It’s just…”
“Yeah,” Cal flung an arm over my shoulders. “I’m not looking forward to sitting around in the dank dungeon known as the
either.” He leaned in and kissed me on the temple, letting his warm, exquisitely soft lips linger for several pulses of my wildly beating heart.
When he finally moved away I sighed, feeling much better.
We walked in companionable silence for a few minutes, slapping at mosquitoes. The road leading from the Backwater to Main Street was growing darker by the minute and the only sound we heard for several moments was the slow trudge of muddy liquid along the Bayou and the throaty croaks of what had to be the world’s biggest bull frogs. Occasionally, the air sifted past and deposited the unpleasant stench of dead fish on my nasal mucosa, but if I turned my head and inhaled deeply, Cal’s sweet, intoxicating scent would blot it out.
As we neared Main Street the quiet was overridden by a variety of sounds. Somewhere down the road somebody was playing music, a drowsy kind of Blues that made me smile with pleasure. Cars slipped past at regular intervals, most of them driven by younger inhabitants of Sinful who were no doubt bored out of their skulls and looking for something…anything…to entertain them. And then, as we turned the corner where Backwater Street met Main Street, we found ourselves one building away from
The General Store
and a mere block from the town’s true entertainment.
Mayor Celia Arceneaux was stalking after another woman, whose giant purse slammed against her wide behind with every angry step. The crotchety mayor stabbed a thick finger into the air as she proceeded to turn the air blue. Celia was so mad her usually pasty face was a terrifying shade of purple with red splotches high on her cheeks.
For her part, Gertie seemed to be half smiling as the mayor stepped down off the curb and stopped.
Gertie stopped too and turned, grinning wildly.
A heartbeat later, Celia’s skirt lifted skyward on a gust of unexpected air that appeared to come from the grate she was standing on and, Marilyn Monroe-like, sent the ugly gray fabric fluttering around her shoulders.
Celia shrieked as laughter erupted all around her and attempted to pull the skirt back down around her thick legs. She was so panicked in fact, that it didn’t seem to occur to her to move off the grate until, fully enraged, she shot toward Gertie, fists pumping.
Cal pointed to the orange cable running from the nearby bus stop to the grate. “It looks like the mayor was set up.”
I rolled my eyes. “She’s going to throw them all in the slammer for this one.”
Cal started off again, tucking me under his shoulder. “I hope not. I’m probably going to need their help with this disappeared monk thing. If anybody knows what might have happened to Brother Mike, it’s those three.”
I had to agree. But I also knew that it wouldn’t be as simple as just asking them what they thought. If we went to Fortune, Ida Belle and Gertie with our monasterial intrigue, they’d be on it like white on rice. After all, there was only so much Celia torture they could do to pass the time in Sinful, Louisiana.
“Do you want to go see your friends?” Call asked me.
Watching Celia stalk toward the diner where they’d hunkered down to await her assault, I shook my head. “I’m not walking into the middle of that. I’ll find them tomorrow and let them know we’re here.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Cal dropped his arm back over my shoulders and steered me toward the cute little ice cream shop down the street. I nestled into his warmth, sighing softly. A creamy, sweet treat and Cal Amity for dessert. What more could a girl ask for?
The intrepid Cal knelt down and ran his fingers over what looked like drag marks in the grass. He cast his ocean blue gaze toward the Bayou in the near distance. “What makes you think the gator dragged him into the water?”
I looked up into my father’s worried face.
“This spot here…” He pointed to a flattened place in the grass mere feet away from the start of the drag marks, “…is where Aristotle likes to sun himself.” He sighed. “There’s blood there and we found this…” He lifted his hand and opened it, showing us a plain wooden cross on a broken chain. “It belongs to Mike.”
Cal took the cross and held it up so the hot morning sun shone over its surface. Even standing a couple of feet away, I could see the reddish brown crust covering one section of the chain. “Is that blood?” I asked my favorite PI.
“It sure looks that way,” he told me. Pulling a small, paper envelope out of his back jeans pocket, Cal slipped the cross inside. “I’ll have this checked to make sure it’s human blood.”
My father nodded. “I’m hoping it’s not. Brother Mike was a likeable fellow. He was nice to me when I first came, unlike others.”
Watching him frown, I felt a surprising jolt of pity for a man who’d left me behind seemingly without a thought when his questionable choices turned on him. He’d taken a job with the worst kind of criminal and had been forced to run when his conscience finally got the better of him. He’d taken life insurance, in the form of names and specifics, along with him but he would never be able to return to his old way of life. In the way of criminal enterprises everywhere, the Russian mob he’d crossed would forever hold a grudge for his perfidy.
So he’d become a monk in a monastery hidden deep in the Bayou near Sinful. Well…not really a monk…but a guy bearing a porn star’s name pretending he’s a monk.
“Hopefully he’s just gotten himself in a bit of trouble and he’s hiding out,” I told my dad.
He nodded but didn’t look in the least convinced.
Cal turned and started following the drag marks toward the Bayou. My father and I trailed him. I had no idea what my father was thinking about as we walked in silence toward the slow moving ribbon of mud in the distance, but, watching Cal walk, I was thinking it should be illegal for a man’s buns to look that good in jeans.
What? I might be playing hard to get where Cal was concerned, but in my mind I was easy peasy. I could lie to everybody else but I’d made a deal with myself not to lie to Felicity a long time ago. It was unseemly.
Cal stopped at the edge of the water and peered down into the opaque brown liquid, his sexy gaze narrowing.
“What is it?” my father asked Cal.
“Does the monastery have a boat?”
Father shook his head. “No. We fish from the shore when we need to. Why do you ask?”
Cal didn’t answer. Instead he cast his gaze toward the wide curve in the waterway a quarter mile away. I realized with a start that I could see the back side of Number 2 in the distance. My nose wrinkled in self-defense at the thought. I’d spent way too much time on the stinky island during my past two visits. The last time it took me a week to fully purge the stench from my hair and skin.
“Felicity, we should ask Fortune if we can use her boat.”
My eyes went wide at the thought. “Okay, but we can’t let Ida Belle drive.”
He turned to me with a slow, knee-wobbling grin. I’d been stupid enough to tell him about my last, acrobatic adventure on said airboat and he’d laughed for a good ten minutes.
That hadn’t exactly been the result I was looking for.
“Do you think Brother Mike is out there somewhere?” my father asked hopefully.
Cal shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure your alligator didn’t dump him into a boat and drive away so I’d say it’s a strong possibility.” He pointed toward the broken trail through the grass. “Somebody’s pushed a boat up to the shore here recently and the drag marks lead right to the spot.”
My father scrubbed a hand over his chin. “By dang, you’re right. Good catch, son.”
Cal didn’t acknowledge my father’s praise. In fact I realized in that moment that Cal had barely spoken to my father since we arrived. I wondered if he was nursing some ill will toward my faulty parental unit. It would certainly be logical if he was. Cal was a straightforward kind of guy. He believed in all the traditional stuff. Work hard, take responsibility, pull your own weight… All things Felonius Chance had barely a passing acquaintance with.
As we turned back toward the long, low-slung building in the distance, a rotund, rosy-cheeked man in rough, brown robes stumbled toward us across the grass. He seemed barely able to navigate the ever-changing terrain of sand, grass and weeds, his big feet in Jesus type sandals getting caught on everything he encountered along the way.
He fell over a clump of something unremarkable and nearly hit the ground, his hands never leaving the pockets of his robes as he stumbled forward several steps until he managed to regain a wobbly kind of balance. I didn’t think I’d ever seen a less self-protective creature in my life. I mean, who doesn’t put their hands out when they’re going to fall?
Felonius, a.k.a., Lance P. Fenus, lifted a hand and called out to the other brother, from another mother. “Brother Todd. Wait there. We’re coming.”
“Thank god,” Cal muttered. “I don’t think I could have watched that train wreck another minute.”
My father grimaced. “Brother Todd doesn’t get along with nature. He much prefers to hide inside except for the daily walks we all take through the gardens. He can’t get out of those.”
As we approached, Brother Todd smiled wearily, his wide face glistening with sweat. He swiped a sleeve of his robe over his brow and stood panting as we came near. His round cheeks were bright red from his efforts. For a moment I thought he was wearing a white skull cap. Then I realized he had a kind of reverse bowl cut thing going on. The top of his head was bald in a perfect circle, leaving a dark fringe of hair that covered his ears and curled wetly against his fat neck. A prodigious amount of dandruff speckled the shoulders of his robes. My hand twitched upward in anticipation of a handshake, but Brother Todd didn’t take his hands from his pockets so I lowered it again.
“Hello, hello.” He grinned widely at me. “My, you’ve certainly grown into a lovely young woman, Felicity.”
I glanced at my father, alarmed that the other man seemed to know me.
Brother Lance, a.k.a. my father smiled. “Felly, you remember Todd Stevens? We used to work together in Indy. He sponsored me when I came to the order.”
Ah, the guy who hated my father for sleeping with his wife. According to my father, the man had forgiven him due to his new religiosity and had offered to provide him a false identity and a place at
The Order of Saint Francis Assisi on the Bayou
. It probably never crossed his mind that all new brothers to the order had toilet scrubbing duty for a month.
Who ever said revenge wasn’t sweet?
“Of course. How are you Mr…erm…Brother Stevens?”
“Nestled safely in God’s palm, Felicity. No better place to be.”
“I guess Brother Mike fell out of God’s palm?” Cal asked.
Brother Todd skimmed my sexy PI a glance. “Yes. Well. About that.” He pointed toward a winding double row of cypress trees leading from the pink brick monastery building. “I wanted to show you something. It might have to do with Brother Mike’s disappearance.”
We followed him across the grass, hands outstretched from an instinctual response to his constant tripping and stumbling across the lawn. When we hit the flagstone path leading through the cypress trees, everyone seemed to breathe a sigh of relief that the ordeal was over.
Brother Todd turned to us, swiping perspiration off his wide forehead with a sleeve of his robe. “It’s just over h―” And he went down, landing on his round belly and skidding across several flat stones before grinding to a halt against the legs of a concrete bench with his thick, hairy legs exposed.
I threw Cal a look and found him rolling his eyes. He mouthed the word “disaster” and hurried over to help the clumsy monk to his feet.
Groaning softly, Brother Todd eschewed Cal’s offer of help and pushed himself to his knees. “Right there.” He pointed a thick digit with a ragged fingernail toward a wide hole beneath the bench. Cal crouched down and peered beneath the bench, his midnight brows arching. Reaching into the hole, he came up with a small piece of wood, examining it carefully. “It’s a religious figurine of some kind.” He handed it to me and I used a finger to brush black dirt off the tiny object’s surface. The figurine tugged a memory somewhere in my brain but I couldn’t quite capture it.
“Mary Magdalene,” Brother Todd said. He shook his head. “A strange thing for Mike to put into the hole don’t you think?”
My father frowned. “You believe he intentionally left this figurine behind?”
Cal stood up, brushing his hands over his jeans. “Why do you think Brother Mike put it in the hole?”
Brother Todd pointed to the figurine I held. “That’s his work.”
When Cal continued to stare, my father clarified. “He whittles things out of cypress.” Pointing to the bench he added, “This is…was…his favorite spot to whittle.”
“Do you have any idea why he hid it under here?”
“Not a clue,” my father admitted.
“Actually it might be just that,” Brother Todd said, frowning. “I think he was trying to tell us something.”
“Well, whatever it was,” Cal said, “I’m guessing it was the cause of his disappearance.” He took the figurine from me. “He must have known he was going to disappear and wanted somebody to know where he was.”
“Makes sense,” I agreed.
“Now all we have to do is determine what this means.” Cal held up the piece of wood.
Unbidden, the memory I’d been trying to grasp slid into my mind. I blinked and looked up into the intrepid Cal’s handsome face. “I think I might know.”
“What?” All three men asked in unison.
I shook my head. “We need to go back to Sinful. It looks like my friends might be able to help us after all.”
Cal’s jaw tightened but he refrained from comment. I knew he believed Swamp Team 3 was dangerous for my health and safety and of course he was right. But what he couldn’t know, because I’d never admit it to him, was that I’d never had more fun than when I was solving mysteries with the three Sinful sleuths.
And even Cal had to admit, Fortune, Ida Belle and Gertie got things done!