Authors: Stacey Coverstone
LINE DANCING CAN BE MURDER
Copyright © 2013 by Stacey Coverstone
Cover Art © Sheri L. McGathy
Digital Layout by
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
To my lifelong friends: Dawn, Linda, Susan, Sallie, Brenda and Sheryl—ladies who love to line dance together, but have never murdered anyone, as far as I know.
Thank you to my first readers: Dawn Simpson, Brenda Hill, and Sue Billings for your comments and suggestions. Also, a big thank you goes out to Linda LaRoque and Sue Billings for your editing expertise.
It was my suggestion for the six of us to go on a bus tour to celebrate Annette’s birthday. She was going to be the first in our group to hit the big five-o, with the rest of us following close on her heels.
Every Monday night for the past couple of years, in between the country songs we line danced to in Crystal’s garage, I listened to my lifelong friends complain about their aches and pains, tiresome careers, disappointments regarding children and men, and the general dissatisfaction with getting older. That particular night, the whining seemed to hit an all-time high.
The weather didn’t help. It was January, which meant bundling in layers to go anywhere and trying not to go crazy listening to wind that screeched like a witch. It was so bone-chilling cold, the snow that had fallen two weeks earlier in our small town of Harley’s Grove, Illinois hadn’t yet melted. The miserable weather was enough to make a soul go into hibernation until spring. Adding to the black mood, all of us except Jackie had gained a couple of pounds over the holidays.
Never one for pity, self or otherwise, the light bulb moment flashed in my brain while dancing to Trace Adkins’
Honky Tonk Badonkadonk
. After the song ended, I gasped for oxygen and reached for my water bottle. “Hey, girls, I think we should start off our year of birthdays in grand fashion. An acquaintance recently told me about a bus tour out west she took last June. She said it was the best time she’s ever had. Let’s pick a date that works for us all this summer and go! We need to get out of Mayberry and do something special for ourselves. Who’s with me?”
Crystal’s eyebrow arched with interest. Jackie rolled her eyes and asked why a bus? Annette liked the idea. She said it would do her good to get away from the office for a week, as well as her husband and son. Kim said “no” immediately. She worries that her live-in boyfriend might find another woman if she’s out of his sight for one minute. Donna, who became widowed only a year and a half ago, smiled and said she had a little nest egg she could tap into. Her husband didn’t enjoy traveling, but she always wanted to.
It didn’t take much persuasion for the four of us eager for adventure to convince the other two who were initially opposed. That’s how the nine-day National Parks Wonders Tour plan came into being. We booked it for June during the same week as Annette’s birthday.
The decision lifted our spirits and helped us get through the rest of the depressing Midwest winter. We had something to look forward to besides turning another year older and dealing with life’s daily grinds. But I’ll admit, if I’d known I’d be coming home from that trip a murderess, I probably would have thought twice about going.
That’s right, I said murder.
To look at me, you wouldn’t guess me to be the homicidal type. My hair, which Kim dyes red to hide the gray, is naturally curly and frizzes like crazy on humid days. I wear glasses when I read or work on the computer. I’m slim but can easily put on weight when I give in to my obsession with sweets. I enjoy clothes and dress fashionably. On a scale from one to ten, I give myself a 7.5 in looks.
I grew up in Harley’s Grove, a happy and well-adjusted child with two parents who adored each other. They showered me with love and self-confidence, and although we were middle class, my every need was provided for. I won numerous awards in school, including one for being a good citizen, a band camp scholarship, and the Daughters of the American Revolution Award.
In other words, I’m a pretty normal person.
The local American Legion selected me as the Girl’s State representative during my junior year of high school. My reward for that honor was wasting a week of my summer vacation at Southern Illinois University. Girls from all over the state gathered to participate in mock government activities. I didn’t understand how government functioned then, and I still don’t care two hoots for politics. The best part of the experience was that I immediately clicked with my roommate, a Jewish girl from a Chicago suburb who was obsessed with sex, drugs, and European men, which made her seem very worldly, if not a little slutty. Somehow she’d managed to smuggle in some pot without the dorm mother knowing. Sneaking out at night to smoke with her made the week tolerable.
As an adult, I’ve made some mistakes (who hasn’t?), but for the most part I’ve behaved as a model citizen within my community. My grownup life has been relatively uneventful and lacking in stress (up until I murdered someone, that is). I attribute my carefree existence to having had no children and never being married. That’s not to say I haven’t been in love. I have.
Engaged twice in my younger years, it was my choice to break off the relationships both times. And before you ask, no, I’m not a closet lesbian or a-sexual or repressed or frigid. In fact, having sex is still as important to me as breathing air and as satisfying as eating chocolate.
My father pegged it, however, when he’d proudly tell people that I was too headstrong, outspoken and independent to put up with a man for an entire lifetime. I always agreed with him. But it’s not as if my expectations for a relationship were so high, especially in the beginning. With all that testosterone oozing from their pores, males are simply their own worst enemy. With Dad as the exception, the majority of guys I dated or was intimate with started out decent and then quickly morphed into dogs, pigs, or pig-dogs with monkey brains.
So I’ve made a life for myself. I don’t have complaints, because my choices have been my own. One of them was quitting college to find myself. Finding myself took quite a long time, and once I finally succeeded, myself had no interest in furthering my education. Therefore, I have no degree hanging on my office wall. What I do have is a certificate stating I was Employee of the Month in October 2002. That was the one and only time management gave out such an award. I’m not sure what that says about management, or my coworkers.
My job as Office Manager and Bookkeeper for the trucking company outside of town hasn’t been a thrill a minute, but it’s provided me with stability, freedom, and a good retirement plan. I drive a nice car, and I own my home, a three-bedroom rancher surrounded by oak trees in the same neighborhood where I was raised.
As for my love life… Occasionally, Phil, a butcher at the IGA who could pass for Sam Elliott at a distance, will park his truck in the alley behind my house. He’ll bring two steaks or a package of pork chops beautifully cut and wrapped in clean white paper. He’ll feed me and then stay the night. Phil works out. For a man closing in on sixty, his muscles are also cut beautifully.
Our trysts have been going on for about eight months. Though Harley’s Grove is a small town and gossip travels fast, people don’t seem to talk about us. We don’t give them reason to. The only time we’re together outside of my bedroom is when he takes me target shooting in the woods.
I’m good with guns. Shooting is serious business, but afterwards, we laugh and Phil will cup my bottom in his big hand and tell me I’m like no other woman he’s known. I just smile and remind him of our agreement: No strings attached, no promises for the future, and no using the “L” word. Most of the time he smiles back, but there are moments when his big mustache will droop under a frown. I feel bad when he looks at me that way. But I decided a long time ago that I would live life on my own terms, and no man would ever change me.
My entire existence has been spent in my hometown. At this age, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s comfortable here. I know every sidewalk and street so well, I could walk anywhere with my eyes closed and not get run down by a car or fall off a curb or bump into a trash can.
Life is full. I enjoy throwing casual dinner parties, going to the movies, and working in the garden in the spring and summer. In the winter, I catch up on reading and stay active by line dancing. The exercise keeps me in shape. More than that, it’s a way to stay connected to my good friends—the ladies I consider my sisters: Jackie, Crystal, Annette, Kim, and Donna.
Friends since childhood, we know each other better than we know our own family members. Growing up in our town, there wasn’t much for teenagers to do on Friday and Saturday nights except to hang out, gossip, and cruise Main Street scouting for members of the opposite sex. The hope was to find Mr. Right, or at least Mr. Right for Tonight. That was the seventies. The AIDS crisis hadn’t yet come onto the scene, and we were just looking for a fun time.
In this year of 2013, things haven’t changed much. Harley’s Grove has decreased in population by more than half, and most of the small businesses have closed down. Most people now work and shop in the university town thirty minutes away. Although kids still just want to have fun, Main Street cruising is a thing of the past. But that doesn’t mean the hunt for the right man has stopped.
A few of my girlfriends are still looking and hoping for a miracle in that department. But guys have a way of screwing things up big time, unless the woman controls the situation. I learned that ages ago as well. Unfortunately, before we took our trip together, some of my gal pals were still in need of learning that lesson. I became their teacher.
Actually, we were just kids when I naturally gravitated toward being the ringleader of our little circus. When one of us was mad at the other, I acted as peacemaker. If one of us was in trouble, I rounded up the troops and figured out how we could help. When group decisions needed to be made, I stepped up and made them.
I’d do anything for my friends. They know that. Which is precisely how I got myself into hot water. Dammit! If they didn’t mean so much to me, Keith Creswell wouldn’t have had to die that night in South Dakota.
“Can’t we forget the rest of the trip and stay here in Vegas? I like this hotel with its pool and gambling casino.” Wearing round sunglasses, strappy high-heeled sandals, a flowing top with big pink roses across the bosom, and white stretch pants that clung to a figure that could still be considered girlish, Jackie led our gang through the Hilton Hotel lobby to the area where we were to meet up with the tour guide and fellow travelers for a welcome reception. Looking like a super model, she flipped her long ash blond hair over a shoulder and strutted like a peacock, catching the glances of everyone we passed.
“I’m glad we’re only staying one night here,” Crystal said. She nervously stared at the one-armed bandit machines as we walked by an entire banquet-sized room filled with them. “I’ve heard people can lose all their money in one night of gambling. That would be terrible to lose everything on the first night of vacation. What would someone do for the other eight days of the tour? There wouldn’t be anything left for souvenirs or food.”
“Live a little,” Jackie snorted. “This is probably your one and only time in Sin City. You’ve got to try your hand at one game before we leave. You’ll regret it if you don’t. Who knows? Maybe you’ll strike gold.”
“Nope.” Crystal vigorously shook her head. “Easy for you to take risks with money. You’re married to a man richer than God.”
It was true. Jackie’s fourth husband was one of the wealthiest men in Illinois. He was also one of the oldest. In his eighties with a myriad of health problems, his body was expected to give out any day. When Jackie married him ten months ago, his doctor had given him less than three months to live. She hadn’t planned on him surviving this long. Her weekly updates about his stabilized health have become laced with more frustration as the months have drawn on.
The poor man was blind in one eye, had suffered congestive heart failure, and never got out of his wheelchair except to be put into bed. He wore a catheter and oxygen tube. Professional nurses watched him around the clock.