Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Deadly Sins, a Taci Andrews Mystery. 
Copyright November 2018, Amy Manemann


I pulled into the parking lot of the Riverdale Times and eased into a parking spot near the front. Shifting into park and cutting the engine, I looped my purse over my shoulder and headed inside. The front lobby of the Times had seen better days, but the welcoming scent of ink and paper greeted patrons when they first entered the building.

Standing like a sentry at his post was our receptionist and resident live action roll playing guru, Corey. The nineteen year was the Times editor and chief’s nephew on his wife’s side of the family, and rumor has it, Bryce’s wife, Alice, brow beat him into giving Corey the job.

“Good day to thee, M’lady Andrews. ‘Tis a fair day to behold, though doest not compare to thine beauty,” Corey said grandly in his usual flare.

I tried not to roll my eyes, humoring him with a smile.

Corey participates in live action roll playing, which requires the participants to dress up in whatever fantasy realm their world was made from. Corey’s realm consists of knights of the old days, and when he wasn’t on the larping field slaying dragons and enemies of his kingdom, he came to work dressed in brown slacks with a tunic thrown over top, and a velvet lined cape secured across his shoulders.

I know, kinda weird, but he's a good kid. When I was kidnapped while investigating illegal profiteering, it was Corey and his larping friends who came to my rescue. The kid could come to work dressed in a potato sack for all I cared. He was definitely okay in my book.

“I’m great Corey, thanks for asking. Any messages for me?” I inched my way towards the elevator doors, ready to make my escape.

Corey thumbed through the stack of messages on his desk, slowly shaking his head. “No messages for ye today, m’lady, but I shall notify thee should any come yonder.”

“Great. Thanks, Corey.” Giving a little finger wave, I turned to the elevator, preparing to hit the button. Only I paused when the elevator dinged, signaling its arrival to the first floor. I stepped back to get out of the way of whoever would be stepping off and came face to face with my younger brother, Reese.

“Heya, sis. Just getting in?” He pushed a mail cart ahead of him through the open doors, a floppy grin on his charismatic face that I was hard pressed not to return. I’d had my reservations about getting him the job in the mailroom at the Times, but even I had to admit my once irresponsible younger sibling had definitely taken a sharp u-turn onto maturity drive.

Not only did he cut his shaggy blonde hair into a shorter, more professional looking style, he showed up to work on time, stayed whenever they needed an extra hand, and was actually proving to be a responsible adult. Quite a shock coming from a man whose biggest aspirations to date had been trying to figure out which keg party served the best beer.

“Please. I’ve been in and out twice today running errands for Bryce.”

“Errand girl, eh? And here I thought you were a reporter,” he teased, sidestepping when I made to swat his arm.

“A girls gotta pay the bills, Reese. Speaking of which, I need to run.”

“You always do.” Reese ruffled my hair, steering his cart towards the back offices on the main floor. “It’s cool, though. I have deliveries to make. Catch ya later, sis.”

I rode the elevator to the news floor, a sense of calm washing over me as I stepped into the chaos. There was just something about being in the newsroom that quickened my step, sharpened my focus, and made my adrenaline kick up a notch. I was like a junkie needing a fix when it came to my work, and I couldn’t imagine any place I’d rather be. Other than home with Parsons, that is. Being a reporter was probably bad for my addiction, but hey, a girl needed to have her fix.

Shuffling past the rows of desks lining the newsroom floor, I headed to my office, already anticipating the millions of messages my inbox would have for me. It never seemed to matter how many times a day I checked my email and voicemail. My inboxes were always overflowing.

Just inside the doorway, I flipped on the light, drawing a sigh at the red light glaring at me from my desk phone. Ugh. I really should have just had my calls routed to my cell phone while I was out. It would have saved me the time and energy it was going to take to go through the messages.

I dropped my purse into the bottom drawer of my desk and nudged it shut with my toe before plopping into my chair. As I waited for the computer to log on, I quickly ran through the messages left on my phone, relieved to find only two were waiting for me.

“Yes, Miss Andrews, my name is Delilah Barnes and I was wondering if you might be able to help me with a little problem I have. Please, give me a call,” an elderly woman’s voice spoke, rattling off a phone number that I quickly scribbled down on the scratch pad of paper I kept next to my phone.

The next message was from Alex in copy editing, looking for the outline for my most recent story. I scowled, anger simmering. You have got to be kidding me. This is the second time this week they lost my outline. Deleting the message, I punched in the extension to Alex's desk. 

“Alex Mitchell.”

“Hey Alex, it’s Taci. What do you mean you need my outline?  I sent it over an hour ago. Do you need me to resend it?” I balanced the phone receiver between my shoulder and cheek as I logged into my email account. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time technology is a wonderful thing. It was that other one percent that made me yearn for the old days of life in a paper world. 

“You did? Hmm, let me check again." The sound of fingers tapping across a keyboard filled the phone line. Seconds ticked by, and he released a groan. “I’m sorry, I guess I do have it. Must have overlooked it in my inbox.”

Phew. That was a sigh of relief. “No problem, I’m just glad it’s there.” My inbox finally loaded, and I grimaced at the number of messages waiting for me. Jeez. Gone for an hour and everybody and their brother decides to email you.

“Yeah, we’re good to go. Speaking of good to go, you must be excited about the upcoming wedding. Are you going to Gavyn and Annie’s engagement party Friday night?”

Excited was an understatement. After watching my best friend, Annie Hastings, undergo a nasty divorce, I was thrilled that Annie and her three daughters were finally getting the happily ever after they deserved. Even if it was with my coworker. Don’t get me wrong, Gavyn Davis is actually a pretty great guy. I’d recently discovered he moved to Riverdale to escape the anonymity of his famous news reporter father, Hoerschelman Davis. Though Gavyn was the consequential poster child of a trust fund baby, his down to Earth, easy going attitude belied his richer roots. It's probably why he and Annie get along so well. 

“Since I’m the maid of honor, it probably wouldn’t look good if I ducked out. I’ll be there.” Not that I would duck out, of course. This was Gavyn and Annie’s big night. Whatever they needed, I was going to make sure they had it.

“Oh cool, I’ll be sure to look for you then. Mandy and I are going to go together."

That brought out a true smile, my earlier annoyance forgotten. “As in a date? I didn’t know you and Mandy were at that level, Alex.”

Alex chuckled. “It took her long enough, but she finally came around. They always do.”

“So you say. Talk with you later, Mitchell,” I laughed, setting the receiver back in its cradle. 

The next hour was spent trucking through emails, answering phone calls and following up on leads from the news room. Riverdale may be small town America, but we have more than our fair share of big city trouble. At any given time, finding the right story was literally only a stone's throw away. You just needed to know where to aim. 

It was after four when I finally pushed away from my desk. My eyes were dry and scratchy from spending the afternoon staring at the computer screen, and I was in dire need of a good backrub. Unfortunately for me, as good as that sounded, something told me Parsons wouldn't be around until much later and my backrub was going to have to wait.

As I leaned back in my chair, my eye caught on Delilah Barnes note. I hadn’t called her back to see what she needed, and though I could probably sweet talk someone else into doing it, there was something about the message that had me intrigued. Lifting the phone to my ear, I dialed her number. 

“Yes?” a frail voice tentatively answered. I could hear the pensiveness in her tone, an odd mixture of suspicion and worry. My curiosity grew.

“Miss Barnes? This is Taci Andrews. You left me a message to call you." I was careful to keep my voice gentle, not wanting to spook the poor thing. 

“Oh yes, thank you so much for calling me back.”

“Of course, Miss Barnes. What is it that I can do for you?”

“I had hoped you might pay me a visit so that I can discuss this problem with you in person. I’m told you’re the best investigator there is.” Her voice had lowered, as though she were afraid someone was trying to listen in.

I frowned. “Miss Barnes, you do know I’m a reporter for the Riverdale Times, correct? I’m not a detective.”

“Oh yes, I’m well aware of who you are, Miss Andrews, and of your investigative skills. If I wished to have a detective investigate this I would have phoned my nephew on the police force. No, this is something of a delicate nature and needs to be handled with…discretion.”

Yikes. I bit my lower lip, warring with indecision. Delilah Barnes definitely had my attention, but what was up with all the discretion? Something smelled fishy, and I wasn't referring to Pete's fish market down by the river. 

“It isn’t anything illegal, is it?” I felt it prudent to ask. I knew I wanted to know either way what Delilah’s story was, but being on the right side of law would probably sit better when Parsons heard of this. 

“Goodness no, child,” she laughed, before adding, “at least not that I’m aware of.”

I winced. Not exactly what I wanted to hear. She definitely had my attention. Now the real question was how much trouble was I about to get in to, and why did I get the feeling the calendar in Bryce’s office was about to be thrown off its perfect track record?

Read the Prologue and Chapter One of Deadly Sins HERE.

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