Excerpt From ‘Avenging Angel: A Shannon Wallace Mystery’ by Kim Smith
My Aunt Nancy always told me to dress in my best clothes when I went out, because I never knew whom I might meet. This time, I hadn’t done the best I could to make myself presentable. Jeans, tee shirt, and a ponytail didn’t qualify for modern chic. When the detective opened the door to the Homicide Office, I wished I’d worn a skirt and heels. In a moment of clarity, I understood my aunt’s concerns about going out half-ready.
The sexy, Hispanic man who raised an eyebrow and patiently waited for me to state my business was none other than Salvador Ramirez, formerly of Mississippi Junior College, the same school I attended back in the day. Of all the eligible men at college, he was the most highly sought after. Partly because he’d won the “sexiest legs” contest two years in a row, and partly because he had a bad boy quality, which made all of the girls want him.
Especially me. And damn the luck, I got a shot at him. When I discovered our date was based on a dare someone posed, I retaliated by publishing excerpts of his personal journal in the college’s monthly newsletter, The Bugle.
“Mr. Ramirez,” I said, trying to look harmless. “Of the award-winning legs.”
His expression changed as he looked at me and I knew he remembered our rocky past. My heart leapt into my throat. This was not the face of a man happy to see an old chum.
“Shannon Wallace, of the vigilantes for journalism,” he said, deadpan. “Mama said there would be days like this.”
Nope. He was not a happy cop.
He waved me into the room. “Come in.”
The entire office was a mess, most of it concentrated on two desks littered with papers.
“What are you doing here? Looking for a few good men to belittle in a new publication? Should I hide the personal notes on my cases?” he asked.
Sarcasm. I smiled. It was a beginning. He hadn’t forgotten, so that meant he intended on seeing I didn’t get a chance to repeat my past mistakes. Dandy by me. I just wanted to plead my case, and escape a free woman. If I never crossed the threshold here again, my feelings wouldn’t be hurt.
“I think you’ve held a grudge, but it was all in fun.”
“Fun?” He scanned the hallway before shutting the door. “You ruined every chance I ever had of getting a decent date. I never dreamed you would print my private journal for Christ’s sake.”
“It was no journal. It was a freaking scorecard.”
He frowned at me and turned away, muttering something in Spanish that sounded like curses.
Suddenly turning the details of my situation over to him didn’t seem like such a great idea. Had he harbored a desire for revenge all these years?
Dwayne’s words came to mind. I couldn’t have done it; criminals were innocent until proven guilty and all that jazz.
Would Sal see that?
“I’m not here to do an exposé on your life, Sal. I’m here about my own troubles. I need to tell a cop about a man who was murdered. But if you aren’t interested…”
He stopped clearing file folders from a metal folding chair and pinioned me with his Nestlé’s cocoa-colored eyes. “Murdered?”
“Yes. Richard Fine. Is he your case?”
“You know he is. Or have you given up your journalistic aspirations?” He shoved papers into the files. “Have you graduated from theft to murder, now?”
I sat there for a moment trying to squelch the anger that surfaced. “Would you stop being so disagreeable about what’s past between us and listen? You might get some information that could help you. I never intended to hurt you. It was a joke.”
“I don’t like your jokes.”
That was the final straw. “And I don’t like being made fun of. How much did they pay you to take me out on your little ‘dare date’ that night?”
He straightened, gripping the back of a nearby folding chair.
He carried the chair to where I stood, and I got a better look at him. He was a good deal taller than me, and even under the yellow Oxford shirt I saw he was well rippled with muscles, maleness, and menace. Sal seemed quite a different person from the jeans, golf shirts, and practical jokes days. The cologne was the same though. Aramis. I took a deep breath in appreciation.
The angry fire I’d stirred showed in his eyes. He skidded the metal chair a few feet forward. It made a scraping sound as it landed perfectly, facing his desk.
“Sit, Miss Wallace. Tell me why I should hear your story. And keep in mind I’m due for a meeting in about ten minutes.”
I sat and waited while he joined me behind his desk. It felt rather official all of a sudden. He crossed his hands and leaned forward, ready to hear my story.
“I was at Rick’s apartment at midnight. And when forensics finishes checking out his place, they’re going to find my hair and other assorted things.”
“Will they find your fingerprints on a knife?”
I thought about his question. We hadn’t done much cooking at Rick’s apartment, but there was the off chance that I had handled a steak knife. Or cleaver. I closed my eyes, and prayed Dwayne was right. I just knew I wouldn’t look good in a state uniform.
“They’ll find them on a lot of stuff. Do I need a lawyer present?”