Mellow Yellow Dead Red
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

This morning Susan Griffin awoke to a great start—no dead bodies. 

 

Tightening the robe around her waist, she poured a cup of coffee and stepped past the sliding doors onto her patio.  Nothing would please her more than to greet the arrival of fall—leaves of red and gold, a nip in the air, perhaps a dusting of frost.  Dream on, kiddo. 

Mother Nature had yet to pay a visit to Louisiana.  Everywhere Susan looked lush green trees continued to thrive in an environment as hot and humid as a steam bath.  At seven o’clock, the garden thermometer registered seventy-eight degrees and climbing.  Hello!  It’s mid-October. 

 

As she lifted the cup to her lips, the sun’s tingling rays laughed their way up her arms.  Susan was no match for such an enemy.  With a sigh of resignation, she sauntered back into the cool comfort of her apartment. 

Marmalade, her Calico cat, pranced around an empty bowl and screeched a whiny meow. 

 

“Okay, Your Highness, I’m coming.”  Susan shook out a cup of dried cat food.  “It’s not like you’d starve if you missed a meal.” 

 

A glance at the clock told her she was falling behind time.  She had less than twenty-five minutes to shower and dress if she wanted to get to the Bawdy Boutique before eight.  Good thing she had laid out an outfit the night before, or she’d never make it.  Twenty minutes later, she was dressed and out the front door. 

 

Her quick departure allowed just enough time to stop by Tilly’s Diner.  Susan had a winning sales team, and she enjoyed spoiling them with hot, sausage biscuits.  At five minutes to eight o’clock, she arrived at her boutique.  The brick structure with a courtyard entrance never failed to bring a smile to her lips, but the pleasant thoughts vanished the moment she stepped from her Camaro.  The parking lot had turned into a sauna. 

 

A blue suede skirt, matching blazer, and high-top boots from the new winter line might look fashionable, but if she didn’t get into air conditioning soon, she was going to melt like the Wicked Witch of the West.  As she scooted past the fountain surrounded by ferns, her keys dangled from her hand.  “Help me,” she whimpered, mimicking the infamous character.  The minute she opened the door, a blast of cold air assaulted her.  Her body tingled, and her stomach muscles tightened.  The sensation was fantastic, almost as good as sex…almost.   

 

Susan lingered at the front of the shop while the air conditioning revived her.  Patting perspiration off her chin, she pushed damp, blonde tendrils from her forehead.  Soon, the good thoughts returned.  Her little shop was an owner’s dream.  Overhead vents stirred fragrances from the perfume counter, a subtle way to greet customers.  Display racks and tables put the latest merchandise at their fingertips.  Behind glass cases filled with jewelry and other accessories, intimate apparel tempted the more adventurous buyers.  A glassed-in office occupied space at the rear of the store near a door that led to a warehouse. 

She took pride in having accomplished her goal--to come home to Palmetto, a town far removed from the frantic pace and dangers of the Big Apple…or so she thought.  Soon after her arrival, a near fatal fall and several gruesome murders had catapulted her into a world of mystery and intrigue.  In her wildest dreams, she had never imagined herself involved in solving such horrific crimes.  Only recently had she come to realize that she was exactly where she was supposed to be, doing exactly what fate had intended.  

 

The smell of sausage and biscuits chased away those thoughts and snapped her back to reality.  She was wasting time.  There was much to do before opening the store.  As Susan turned on the overhead lights, a Toyota Tundra pulled into the lot and parked alongside her car.  Her lips crinkled into a smile at the sight of the familiar vehicle. 

 

Detective Wesley Grissom often stopped by during the day, but never this early.  That good looking hunk was another reason she had returned home.  Still, she couldn’t imagine what he was doing here at this time of the morning.  His first stop was usually the sheriff’s department where he’d meet up with his partner, Charlie Morgan. 

 

She opened the door and waved. 

 

“Morning,” he called, stepping down from the cab of the truck and tossing a camouflage cap onto the seat.  Instead of a suit and tie, he wore a long-sleeved, chambray shirt and a pair of faded jeans.  Susan liked how the denim snugged his muscular thighs and how the sunlight danced through his sandy hair.  Her stomach fluttered as he lumbered toward her.   

 

His casual dress and the ATV in the bed of his truck told her he was headed for the woods.  A recent discovery had shed light on a particular cold case, and he was eager to look for additional evidence.  Halfway to the building, Wesley raked his hair from his forehead.  “Glad I caught you.”  

 

“You timed it just right.  I have sausage and biscuits.”  She held up the take-out bag from Tilly’s Diner.  “Coffee won’t take but a minute.” 

 

Tucking her purse under her arm, Susan made her way to the office, assuming Wesley would follow.  But after putting on the coffee, he still hadn’t entered the store.  She walked up front to see what was keeping him. 

 

Kara Dubason, Susan’s new sister-in-law, had corralled him.  Obviously excited about something, she had left her car door open and was talking as much with her hands as with her mouth. Whatever she was saying, she had his undivided attention.  This was one time Susan wished she could read lips.  When Kara inched closer, it was all Susan could do not to interrupt them. 

 

Susan and Wesley were well on their way to reestablishing a long-ago romance, and she didn’t care for the way Kara was flaunting her charms, sister-in-law or not.  The five-foot, eight-inch beauty might belong to her brother, but she was a magnet when it came to guys.  As Kara shifted her weight from one curvaceous hip to the other, the movement seemed hypnotic.  Long lashes shadowed mysterious onyx eyes.  She had pulled her shiny, black hair into a twist, but a few wispy tendrils had escaped and danced about her face.  The slightly unkempt hair-do suggested a just-woke-up bedroom look.    

 

Kara wore Capri pants and sleeveless shell, tailored to leave nothing to the imagination.  There was no chance of her melting. 

 

Wesley seemed mesmerized by whatever she was saying.  After nodding several times, he mumbled something then said, “Thank you.” 

 

That much Susan could decipher. 

 

“I do hope I’ll hear from you,” Kara said in a voice loud enough for Susan’s benefit.  Flashing a smile, Kara batted her lashes and climbed into her late model, white Lexus.   

 

Wesley waited until she had pulled onto the highway before he headed in Susan’s direction.   Once inside, he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. 

 

“What was that all about?” she asked. 

 

“Let me grab a cup of coffee, and I’ll tell you.”  In the office, he filled a mug and helped himself to a sausage biscuit. 

 

Susan took a seat behind her desk and waited to hear what Kara was up to.  It bugged her that she knew so little about her, only that Kara had won over her brother in a whirlwind romance.  A confirmed bachelor, Edward had fallen hard, and by the time he had introduced Kara to the family, they had already made wedding plans.  They were to be married by a judge in chambers.  Then with less than a day’s notice, the two had upped and eloped to the Bahamas.  Susan was still upset with her brother for the change in plans. 

 

She had seen little of Kara since the newlyweds had returned, and now she showed up here, having tracked down Wesley.  That was not a good sign.  “So, what did she say?” Susan asked. 

 

Wesley took a chair beside her. “She thinks she can help me with my cases.”  He took another bite of biscuit and washed it down with some coffee.  “She also warned me to be careful, said the Tarot cards foresaw danger.” 

 

“Well, that’s not news. You face danger every day on your job.” 

 

Kara claimed to have psychic powers, but Susan had yet to see any proof.  Supposedly, Kara had left home in southwest Louisiana as a teenager to live with an aunt in New Orleans.  It was there she had discovered her gift. 

 

Susan knew all too well about precognitive experiences, but too many charlatans used séances and Tarot cards to scam people. It would take more than Kara’s word to convince Susan that her sister-in-law was for real. 

 

Wesley wadded his biscuit wrapper and tossed it in the trash.  “Remember the first day we met Kara, the day she and Edward announced their engagement?  You and I were discussing my cold case.  She found the story about the young girl’s disappearance intriguing.  This morning, Kara asked if she could see a picture of Edith.  She also wants to hold the bracelet that the hunter recently found.  Seems touching items that belonged to a victim helps her with…well, with whatever it is she does.” 

 

Susan searched his hazel eyes, trying to get a read on what he was contemplating.  “Do you really want her involved?” 

 

Wesley shrugged.  “I told her I’d give it some thought.  Before I make any decision, I want to check with New Orleans.  She claims to have worked on some of their cases.”  He reached across the desk and squeezed Susan’s hand.  “I keep hoping you’ll come through for me.”   

 

“You know I’d help you if I could.” 

 

Once again, she thought about the past murders, and how she became involved in the cases.  Susan, like her grandmother, had visions--flashes of people and scenes that had proved helpful in solving the murders.  But for the past few months, she hadn’t had any paranormal experiences, and that was fine with her.  She wanted to spend time in her shop, building her clientele, not traipsing around the countryside searching for clues that might solve a murder. 

The idea of Kara taking her place in helping Wesley didn’t sit well.  How could she be sure Kara wouldn’t take advantage of him?  He could be a great help to her in establishing her business in Palmetto.     

 

Wesley leaned forward, getting Susan’s undivided attention.  “You’re not worried about a little competition, are you?” 

 

It was as though he had read her mind.  “Of course not,” she said, avoiding eye contact. 

 

Wesley got up and put his mug in the sink.  “Hate to eat and run, but duty calls.  Charlie’s going to meet me at the Burger Shack.” 

 

Susan pictured the small diner located a few miles south of the boutique. 

 

“The hunter found the bracelet in the woods across the highway,” Wesley said.  “He gave me a map of the entire area, and I’ve marked it off in grids.  While the depth of the woods is only a few miles across at the Burger Shack, going south it fans out like an inverted pyramid and extends all the way to Lake Pontchartrain.  What we face is the proverbial needle in a haystack.” 

 

“Any way you can get extra help?” 

 

“On a cold case?  Not likely.  Even I can’t work on it except for when I don’t have an active case.  Of course, I can work on it on my time off, and I often do.  Well, I’d better hit the road and see if Charlie’s up to the task.  He called to say he had a late date and is slow getting it together this morning.”  Wesley stared at her with laughing eyes.  “I’m glad I’m off that merry-go-round.”

 

Taking her hand, he pulled her up and into his arms.  His soft, warm lips found hers and sparked a yearning deep inside of her.  Wesley managed to do what no one else ever could—turn her mind into mush and her body into a quivering mass of nerves. 

 

“Any chance we can continue this tonight?” he whispered in her ear. 

 

Running her hand through his hair, she stole another kiss before he stepped away.  “I’d like nothing better.  How about I whip up something for dinner?” 

 

The front door opened. 

 

“Anyone here?”  Melanie Oliver, one of Susan’s employees, waved to let Susan know she had arrived. 

Susan looked through the glass petition at the petit brunette.  She looked stunning in brown slacks and a cream-colored sweater.  Melanie’s late husband, Terrance, had been Wesley’s partner.  Terrance had died during an explosion while executing a warrant.  Because he was first to open the suspect’s door, his body had caught the force of the blast, saving Wesley’s life. 

 

Susan watched as sadness dulled Wesley’s eyes.  He never saw Melanie that he wasn’t haunted by that night.  She knew what he was thinking--why Terrance and not me? 

 

“Be right there,” Susan called. 

 

She hugged Wesley’s arm and together they crossed to the front of the store.  

 

“Good to see you, Wesley.”  Melanie bent down and put her purse under the cash register. 

 

“You, too.  I’d love to stay and chat, but I’m on the clock.  You two ladies have a lovely day.”  He gave a partial salute and made a quick exit. 

 

Susan and Melanie stood staring at one another. 

 

“Does he ever slow down?” Melanie asked. 

“Not when he’s working a case.”  Susan removed a dress from a rack and hung it on the end for display.  “We might as well get started.  I’m afraid it won’t be easy selling winter clothes in eighty degree weather.” 

 

“Maybe we should push lingerie today,” Melanie said, her blue eyes sparkling.     

 

“You know what?  Christmas is only a couple of months away.  Why don’t we entice customers with a pre-Christmas discount?  Help me carry the grease-board easel.  We’ll set it up close to the highway.  We can also use some balloons and ribbons from the warehouse.” 

 

Within minutes, she and Melanie had decorated the easel and advertised in huge letters a thirty-percent discount on new arrivals.  They set up their handiwork on the boutique’s property, but close to the highway.  A horn blew then someone turned into the parking lot. 

 

“That was quick,” Melanie said.  “I’ll go inside and handle the customers.” 

 

“Okay, but I don’t think this person is coming to shop.” 

 

A scarf and maybe some earrings were the extent of Myrtle Thigpen’s past purchases.  The middle-aged woman exited the car and called to Susan.  “Yoo-hoo, Susan, could I have a word?” 

 

“Sure.  Let’s go inside where it’s cool.” Susan dabbed at the perspiration on her brow and held the door open for Myrtle.  “I’m always glad to see you, but I’m pretty sure my thirty percent discount isn’t the reason you’re here.  What can I do for you?” 

 

“I have a favor to ask.  Ever since my sister’s death, I’ve tried to stay busy.  Cooking is something my friends and I enjoy, so we formed a culinary club.  As a sideline, we decided to make monthly contributions to the Palmetto Food Pantry.” 

 

“That’s very thoughtful,” Susan said, wondering where this was leading. 

 

“Well, when I visited the pantry last week, I discovered it was low on everything.  The director told me that unless something was done, many families would go hungry this Thanksgiving.”  She paused and clasped her hands as if in prayer.  “We wouldn’t want that, would we?” 

 

Myrtle had that school-teacher look that required a no-ma’am answer. 

 

“That would be terrible,” Susan said. 

 

“Then I remembered what a terrific job you did raising money for Melanie when her husband was killed.  I’m hoping you’d be willing to do the same for the pantry.”  Myrtle glanced across the shop at Melanie and gave a friendly nod. 

 

With the holidays approaching, Susan wanted to concentrate on end-of-the-year sales, but she couldn’t bear the thought of someone going hungry.  “Well, I--” 

 

At that moment, A. K. Williams wheeled her red Mustang into the parking lot and came to a screeching halt near the front door.  Susan’s business partner knew only one speed--fast.  She scooted from the sports car and hustled toward the boutique.  Her turquoise silk sheath shimmered in the sunlight, and the flowing scarf fluttered with each step of her matching, five-inch heels.  Yep, she had it all together, except for her hair. The humidity had plastered her short red curls to her head like the Betty Boop character…something Susan thought best not to mention. 

 

A. K. used to be a manager at the Bawdy Boutique, but now she was Susan’s business partner in the Purple Pickle, the costume shop located adjacent to the boutique’s parking lot. 

 

“How come I didn’t hear about the sale?” A. K. asked, fanning her face with her hand. 

 

“Because I just thought of it.  I’m glad you’re here. Myrtle has a problem, and I think you’re just the person to solve it.” 

 

“Me?  Hi, Myrtle, what’s up?”  A. K. stopped and checked out her appearance in one of the floor mirrors.  “Egads!  My hair’s a disaster.” 

 

While she poked and lifted her curls, Myrtle explained the situation. 

 

“And you think I’m the one to handle this?” She gave Susan a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding glance. 

 

Susan spoke up before A. K. could decline.  “Next week is Halloween, a great time to sell costumes.  Maybe you could tie it into a fundraiser.  I’m sure you can come up with something.” 

 

A. K. twisted her mouth from side to side and tapped the toe of her stiletto against the slate floor, something Susan knew A. K. did when she was deep in thought. 

 

“No…yes…no,” A. K. mumbled and shook her head. 

 

Myrtle stared at A. K. as if she had lost her mind.  “I’m sorry if I--” 

 

Susan held up her hand.  “She’s thinking, Myrtle.” 

Like a neon sign, A. K.’s face lit up.  “Got it!” 

 

After a few moments of silence, Susan asked, “Well, are you going to give us a hint?” 

 

“Not yet.  I want to work out the details.  She turned to Myrtle, who still had a confused look on her face.  “Don’t worry, friend.  We’re going to stuff the pantry like a Thanksgiving turkey.  Susan, I need to borrow Sheila for today.  She and Debbie will have to run the costume shop so I can think this through.” 

 

Debbie and Sheila, both about nineteen, were Susan’s first employees.  They often alternated working between the Bawdy Boutique and the Purple Pickle, and there was nothing they couldn’t handle. 

 

“Well, I can’t wait to hear what you have in mind,” Susan said. 

 

Myrtle raised her eyebrows, which tended to elongate her already narrow face.  “Me, too.  Halloween is a holiday I prefer not to celebrate, but if it’ll help the needy, I shouldn’t complain.  They say the Lord works in mysterious ways.”  She tucked her purse under her arm and turned toward the front door.  “Let me know if I can be of help.” 

 

Watching Myrtle march to her car, Susan was reminded how the thin woman with her holier-than-thou attitude had gathered her followers and had picketed the opening of the boutique.  Myrtle, a pillar of the church, had made claims that the shop’s decadent apparel had no place in Palmetto.  Only when she realized that the shop also offered designer clothing and accessories, did Myrtle stop with the protests.  But it was the tragic loss of Myrtle’s sister that had really cemented their friendship. 

 

“Whatever made you think Myrtle would be willing to work with me?” A. K. asked.  “We’re not exactly compatible, and now that I run a costume shop, she must really believe I’m the devil’s handmaiden.” 

 

“Look at it this way—it’s your chance to score points.” 

 

“Do I really want to?” 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 



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