Monday, January 2, 2012

Buyer’s Remorse excerpt by Lori L. Lake

In Lori L. Lake's Buyer's Remorse: Book 1 in The Public Eye Mystery Series, the debut of mystery fiction's newest lesbian detective, Leona (Leo) Reese, Lake "takes us on a twisted ride through sinister secrets and lies and gives us a story that promises to keep everyone up way past bedtime." (Ellen Hart, author of The Jane Lawless Mystery Series)

Leona “Leo” Reese is a 33-year-old police patrol sergeant with over ten years of law enforcement experience. After she fails her bi-yearly shooting qualification due to a vision problem, Leo is temporarily assigned to the investigations division of the state’s Department of Human Services. She’s shell-shocked by her vision impairment and frustrated to be reassigned to another department, even temporarily. On her first day on the new job, she’s assigned a case where a woman at an independent living facility for elders has been murdered by an apparent burglar. But all is not as it seems, and it will take all her smarts to outwit a dangerous criminal. Will she uncover the murderer before other people are robbed and killed?

Buyer's Remorse
Publisher: Regal Crest/Lori L. Lake Enterprises (November 10, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-1-61929-002-0


Chapter One

THE SUN HID behind a cloud as Sergeant Leona “Leo” Reese walked across the parking lot to the Saint Paul Police Station. She was dismayed to see Bob Hannen near the door, a cigarette burning between his fingers. She hated cigarettes—not quite as much as she despised Hannen, but close. Cops weren’t supposed to smoke in the squad cars, but the minute Hannen made sergeant, he’d started doing whatever he wanted.

She hoped he’d go back inside before she arrived, but no such luck. He caught sight of her and broke into a wide smile, his bright-white dentures gleaming in the sunlight. He’d just turned forty, but he had the body of a sixty-year-old and the brains of a teenage boy. A teenage boy with hidden ’Roid Rage. The guy loved to manhandle suspects.

“Well,” he said, “if it isn’t Little Miss Can’t Shoot Straight.”

The double meaning was clear, and Leo choked back a reply replete with curse words and references to his parentage. “Get out of my way, Hannen.”

“I’m glad to catch up with you, Blondie. I wanted to thank you for your kindness.”

She wrenched the door open and hesitated. She hated looking back. The gloating expression sure to be on his face made her feel homicidal.

He dropped his cigarette and ground it into the cement with his heel. “Thanks to your incompetence, I’m the new FTO coordinator.”

“Screw you, Hannen.”

“You wish,” he said, laughing. He followed her inside, the smell of sweat and stale smoke wafting around him.

Leo concentrated on breathing. If she didn’t, she was afraid she’d pull out her sidearm, aim at his foot, and show him what a straight shooter she was. Of course the guy’s foot was usually in his mouth, so she’d get the delightful experience of also blowing his head off.

“Have fun talking to the commander,” he said in a mocking voice. “I’m sure he’ll have some sweet nothings to whisper into your queer ear.” With a cackle, he peeled off and went toward the Roll Call Room. She headed to the women’s lockers.

Leo had always gotten along well with men. Some of the cops may have had reservations about her at first, but she was persistent. Little time passed before she learned the names of wives and kids, the hobbies her coworkers enjoyed, the quirks and prejudices they possessed. Dad Wallace had taught her that one of the biggest compliments you could pay a fellow cop was to listen and be respectful, offering calm support and no judgments.

The tactic worked on the street, too. She kept track of people whose houses had been vandalized, ministers whose churches had been broken into, businesses with robbery and shoplifting calls, and she stopped by periodically to touch base with those victims—even now when her role was supervisory.

But none of this worked with the Bob Hannens of the world. He was all about power: who had it, how they got it, how he could snatch it away. He wasn’t particularly smooth, either. In Leo’s opinion, Bob’s name had one too few O’s in it. Her competence was a threat to his ascension, and when she made sergeant two years before he did, Hannen declared war, a silent, festering sort of war characterized by snide comments and constant needling. The man gossiped and passed on lies and inaccurate information more than any neighborhood busybody she’d ever met.

She hated him for it, and today her anger was so close to the surface that she worried she’d say something she’d regret to the commander. Breathe, she reminded herself again. Just keep breathing.

She changed from the casual apparel she’d worn at the shooting range into her uniform, all the while wondering how Hannen had found out about her situation so quickly. She’d left the range less than an hour earlier. Had the range master called in her scores so quickly?

As she holstered her sidearm, she rethought her shooting performance. Her first few rounds at the target always went fine. After six or eight shots, though, her vision went fuzzy, and despite wearing hearing protection, the gunshots gave her a headache. By the time she was a few minutes into a relay, she felt physically shaky, sometimes even dizzy.

Today she’d clearly seen the irregular pattern of pockmarks in the safety berm behind the target area. Every line, every dent in the dirt, every crease in the wood frame around the box was defined. The color gradations were unmistakable. So her sight—her vision—was fine. Up until she fired her weapon a few times, her vision was always crisp.

After she failed three times to score the required eighty percent, the range master suggested it might be an emotional reaction. Her face flamed now as it had then. Emotional reaction? Who was he to bring that up? She’d been an expert marksman her entire career, and there was no possibility that her failure to pass the shooting qualification was psychological.

“It’s probably something easy,” he’d said, “a visual problem. Go get squared away, then call me for an appointment. We’ll work through a remedial program to get you back on rotation.”

Remedial! How embarrassing. In a decade of being a cop, she’d never failed her shooting quals. She couldn’t report for roll call and let anyone know she couldn’t shoot reliably. Her authority as sergeant in charge of a team depended upon her skills. She currently supervised two rookies, six veteran cops, and two Field Training Officers. How could she show her face to them if she failed routine shooting quals they’d all handily passed?

She closed her locker and concentrated on her breath as she headed up to see the commander.

“Sergeant Reese!”

Startled, she looked up to find Commander Malcolm down the hall in the doorway to his office, the late afternoon shadows pooling around him so that she couldn’t make out his face. “In my office,” he said. “Now!”

“Yes, sir.” She hustled toward him, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.

“Sit down.” He slammed the door and stood over her, his normally calm face pink with anger.

“When were you going to come see me about your shooting quals?” He paused, but she didn’t answer. “Is there any reason why you’ve withheld this vital information?”

“No, sir.”

“How long were you going to go on before informing somebody in command?”

“I thought last time was a fluke. I honestly thought I’d pass today, sir. I’m as surprised and concerned as you are.”

He slipped around the other side of his desk and sat heavily in his chair. “You didn’t, though, and now I have to make special arrangements for you.”

“Commander, I spent all afternoon at the range. I’m doing much better.”

“Good for you.” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “You should have done much better a helluva lot sooner because now you’re reassigned.”

She groaned. Hannen hadn’t been kidding. She was going to get stuck with the dreaded desk duty. Hours of boredom. “I’ll shoot another relay Friday, boss. I’ll pass. I promise.”

“Should’ve done that while you had the chance. You’ll need to take the remedial course, and in the meantime, you’re off rotation.” He ran a hand from his forehead across the top of his balding head.

“You’re not really going to let Hannen supervise my team, are you?”

“Who else have I got? You’ve left me no choice.”

“Damn,” she muttered.

“Damn it all is right.”

Hannen wasn’t just a power-hungry jerk. He was a hotshot showoff who bragged about every angle of his work and sex life. A few nights with him in charge of her rookies could be detrimental to their training. She needed to get to her FTOs as soon as possible and give them instructions to counteract Hannen’s attitudes.

“Isn’t there anyone else who can cover for me?”

“No, Reese, there isn’t. You know we’re short-staffed, and I’ve got another paternity leave coming up next week. I don’t take too kindly to being put in this situation. With some foresight on your part, this could have been avoided. Why the hell didn’t you tell me about this sooner?”

A cold chill passed through her, and she could no longer meet his gaze. Leo had always liked Commander Malcolm and enjoyed working for him. He was fair. Very strict, but he usually stuck up for his officers. She’d never been in this sort of situation with him before, and she felt like a traitor, an idiot, and a huge disappointment.

“Do you have an answer? Why did you fail to report this?”

She fumbled for words. “I guess I—I couldn’t believe it, sir.”

“You didn’t pass in July and completely tanked today. I can’t believe you didn’t think you had a problem.”

Her face and neck flared with heat, and for a moment she felt like she might cry. Instead, she said evenly, “That’s why I’ve spent a couple of afternoons at a private range on my own dime. I’m highly motivated. You know that, sir.”

“Are you feeling any aftereffects from the Littlefield shooting?”

“No, sir, I’m not. You know the shrink cleared me for work. Littlefield is not an issue.”

“You’re not having any dreams or flashbacks or anxiety?”

She shook her head.

“You’re sleeping well?”

“Yes, sir, I am.” She waited while he peered at her, eyes sharp, but she calmly met his gaze.

He sighed and picked up a pencil, tapped its eraser on the desk. “This is alarming judgment on the part of a sergeant, and I’m disappointed. Listen to me, Leo.” He met her eyes, and now she knew he spoke not only as her superior, but also as a man concerned for her personally. “I’m forced to take drastic measures. Please understand that this isn’t meant as punishment, but it’s the only way to adequately police the community.”

She stared at him, suddenly fearful that he was going to fire her. But he couldn’t. Wouldn’t.

Would he?

She had the right to a union representative. And a chance to go before a board of professional responsibility.

“I need bodies,” he said. “I need you guys out on the street getting the job done. Since I’ve got to pull you indefinitely, I’m bringing up two rookies. While you’re gone, we can afford to pay them.”

Gone? What did he mean “gone”?

“At the rate we’re losing officers, by the time you get back, I’ll have a place in the rotation for the two new staff.”

She forced herself to speak calmly. “Where am I going, sir?”

“Department of Human Services.”


He continued to tap the desk with the pencil. “They’re even more shorthanded than we are. You’ll continue to be employed by SPPD, but DHS will reimburse us for your salary.”

DHS? She was instantly filled with visions of destitute welfare clients, the Dorothy Day Center, homeless men with mental problems. “I don’t understand.”

“You’ll work in their Investigations Division and report to them.”

“You’re suspending me?”

“No, no, no. We’re lending you, Reese, that’s all. You’re still an officer in good standing.”

“This isn’t right, sir.”
He narrowed his eyes, but his expression wasn’t angry, and he let out a sigh that showed how tired and deflated he felt. “Your only other choice is unpaid leave of absence. I didn’t think that would fly with you. Go to DHS, work on the remedial shooting course, and we’ll get you back here in about twelve weeks.”

She exploded up from her chair. “Twelve weeks!”


Leo leaned over his desk, her palms pressing on the edge. “No way. You can’t do that, Commander.”

“Oh, yes, I can. Your only choices are to go to DHS on special assignment or take leave without pay. If you do it my way, DHS gets help, I get to train two new staff, and you come back after a little career enrichment.” He tossed down the pencil. “In the meantime, you get your shooting skills in order and fulfill the obligation to DHS, and you’ll be back on duty before you know it. That’s the deal.”

She sank back in her chair, hardly able to process this news. She’d be off duty until nearly the end of the year, and she couldn’t quite imagine it. Three months working at what? “What in the world would DHS need me for?”

“Their Investigations Division is shorthanded. Couple of medical leaves, somebody had a baby. They’re not meeting their mandates. I golf with Ralph Sorenson, the division director. He and I cooked this up over the phone earlier today.” Commander Malcolm looked at his watch. “It’s 1800 hours, Reese. Don’t clock in. You better go home and get some rest. You’ve got exactly fourteen hours before you report to the DHS building.”

Leo cleared nearly everything out of her locker. She whisked the last items off the top shelf into a duffel bag and sat down for a moment on the bench, head in hands. In a couple brief hours, her life had turned upside down. Why the hell was this happening to her? She didn’t deserve it.

She glanced over her shoulder when the locker room door opened. Her fellow FTO, Dez Reilly, strode in. Reilly drew near, and Leo rose so her colleague’s six-foot height didn’t loom over her quite so much.

“Leo, I just heard the news.”

“I hope it was from someone more reliable than that asshole Bob Hannen.”

“Unfortunately, the asshole speaks. Way too much.”

Leo let out a peeved sigh. “I hope you can keep him in line.”

Reilly crossed her arms over her blue uniform shirt. “Not much anybody can do about that guy. He’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

“Yeah, I know. I can’t say enough bad things about him. I hope he doesn’t make your life too miserable while I’m gone.”

“There’s something else,” Reilly said. “I know what it’s like to have a critical incident, and I—”

“Oh, God, not you, too? Dez, there’s nothing wrong with me that a little ibuprofen won’t cure. Really! This is not about PTSD.”

“That’s the same thing I told myself when I—”

“No.” Leo held up a hand. “Don’t go there. I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m not having any psychological issues.”

“I didn’t say that. I just want you to know you’re not alone if you do.”

Dez Reilly’s blue gaze, sincere and honest, drilled into Leo’s eyes. She knew Dez was just trying to help, and she let go of the angry tirade at the tip of her tongue. “Okay, thank you.”

“Let me just say one more thing before you go. If you change your mind and want to explore anything at all about the Littlefield shooting, give me a call. There’s a few of us who get together once a month and talk about this stuff. It’s a good thing, Leo. If you need any support, you know I’m there for you.”

“Thanks. I mean that. I appreciate your concern.” She picked up her duffel. “Now if I can just get out of here without running into Hannen again.”

“He’s holding court in the front. Take the back stairs and you’ll probably miss him.”

Leo knew what the cliché writers meant about having a heavy heart. Between that and the piercing headache stabbing between her eyes, she wanted to hit something. She only had to make it to the parking lot. Buck up, she thought. I can do it.

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Victor J Banis said...

Ah, gee, it's always a treat to read something from a genuine master of the genre. And a double treat for me because not only is Lori a super writer, but I have the honor of calling her a super friend as well. Pay attention, kiddies, this is how it's done.

AlanChinWriter said...

I hate the title, but only because I just bought a house in Palm Springs. But I loved the excerpt. A very nice piece of writing indeed. Looking forward to reading this one, Lori.

Congrats on the new release.