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A Southern Mystery
Third in the Sheila Travis series
Author: Patricia Sprinkle
2016 Reissue Edition
5.5"x8.5" Trade Paperback
Retail: $15.95US
ISBN 978-1-62268-045-0 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-046-7 ebook
LCCN 2016938445


A Southern Mystery
Third in the Sheila Travis series
Author: Patricia Sprinkle

Chapter One

MONDAY, October 15
7:45 A.M.

Dean Anderson was not a patient man. He perched on the side of his bed—a stocky man just past sixty, of medium height with a shock of silver hair—and tapped a pencil against the edge of his nightstand while the phone purred an eighth ring in distant California. Where could Raven be at this hour?
    At last she answered, her voice thick with sleep. "Hullo?"
    "Raven? It's Dean. I woke up this morning with a marvelous idea. Let's get married!"
    "Ummm." He could almost see her rolling her lovely body over and pushing herself up on her satin pillows, dark hair cascading over her shoulders as she squinted at the bedside clock. "Dean, do you know what time it is? Not even five o'clock!"
    "It's almost eight here in Atlanta, darling—I'll be leaving for the office in a couple of minutes. I waited as long as I could stand it. What do you say? Will you marry me?"
    "Ummm." Now she was yawning, probably stretching her long arms over her head. Raven always found it hard to wake up.
    "Wish I was there in person." He lowered his voice, although he lived alone. "Got on your peach satin pajamas?"
    She gave the deep chuckle he loved. "Blue, sweetheart. And maybe I'll marry you, if you'll fly out and ask in person like a gentleman. But don't tell the press until I say yes. Promise?"
    "I promise, if you'll promise to marry me soon."
    "Not until this picture is finished. How does Christmas sound?"
    "Like ten weeks away. But if that's the best I can get, I'll take it. What does your schedule look like tomorrow?"
    "Hectic. Filming all day. But my evening is clear. Will you call back then?"
    "Better than that. I'm coming to propose like a gentleman. Make reservations for two somewhere you'd like to be proposed to, and I'll be at your place by seven. Suit you?"
    "Can you get away?"
    "Galaxia doesn't own me, sweetheart. I'll get away." He spoiled the effect by adding, "I have to be in Seattle Wednesday anyway, so I'll swing by L.A. en route."
    She yawned audibly into the phone. "You did ask me to marry you, didn't you, darling?"
    "Sure did."
    "Ummm. That's what I thought. Ask me again tomorrow night, when I'm awake. Goodnight, Dean."
    The phone clicked, then buzzed in his ear. He bent to scratch the ears of a small sheltie at his feet. "Lady, we are about to become a family. And we are going to live happily ever after."

8:30 A.M.

Bayard Anderson shoved tousled blonde hair out of her eyes and glared at her mother. "This is the first day of my vacation, and already you're bugging me about Daddy."
    "I'm not bugging you, dear." Laura dumped frozen orange juice into the blender, added water, and turned it on. She was tinting her hair blonde and frosting it to hide the gray, her daughter noticed. The new shade made the most of her tan eyes. She'd shed a few pounds, too. At almost fifty, she still looked great. (She ought to, Bayard thought sourly, with all she spent trying. Her monthly salon bills could more than keep her daughter in groceries.)
    Laura, meanwhile, was wishing once again that Bay didn't look so much like Dean. If only Neal had inherited some of his dad's muscle and Bay had gotten her own slimness, instead of the other way around. Bay had Dean's blue eyes, and her hair was the same white blonde his used to be. Even her chin was square with a dimple, like Dean's. Just looking at that chin was enough to make Laura want to hit something, but she resolved to stay calm. Above the noise of the blender she shouted, "I'm just asking you to do me a favor, honey. He'll listen to you. He doesn't even return calls."
    "I'm not surprised." Bayard thought she had muttered too low to be heard, but Laura turned in time to see her lips moving.
    She turned off the blender and dumped the juice into a waiting pitcher. "What did you say?"
    Bayard leaned on her elbows and gulped her coffee—both calculated to upset Laura to the fullest. "I said, I'm not surprised. You haven't exactly been easy for him to deal with since the divorce. Don't you think ten years of war is enough?"
    "Oooh." The syllable was drawn out to its fullest, followed by a pause. "And I suppose he's been easy to deal with—gallivanting around the world while I've been raising his children."
    Bayard sighed in self-disgust. When would she ever grow up? Now that she was out of college and working, she had promised herself at least six times she would not argue with Mama about Daddy during this vacation. If only Laura would let the subject alone!
    "She's worse these last three months, Bay," Neal had said last night, sneaking into his sister's room for a talk after mother's light was out. "Ever since Daddy came back to Atlanta to take that job with Galaxia. He's bought house in Morningside. The nerve of him!" He had pounded the foot of her bed with one fist, and Bayard saw with a pang how thin he still was. At seventeen, Neal looked least two years younger. His emotions, too, were still out of control. Tears had rolled down his cheeks as he'd cried, "We need to do something. Mama can't take much more!" Bayard had shrugged in the enormous T-shirt she favored for sleeping. "I don't know what we can do, Neal. Daddy has a right to live where he pleases, and the parts of Atlanta he likes are all near here. Has she seen him?"
    "I don't know. She talks about him all the time. You'll see."
    Bayard had seen. She hadn't poured her first cup of coffee before Laura had asked, too casually, "Have you seen your dad yet?"
    "I just got here yesterday afternoon, Mama. Came straight from the airport on MARTA and called you from the station." She was surprised how easily she used the acronym for Atlanta's rapid transit system. In New York she always said "the train." But nobody in Atlanta called trains anything but MARTA. She realized her mother was looking at her carefully, as if weighing whether or not she was telling the truth. "No, I haven't seen him," she said.
    "I thought maybe you'd gone to see him for a day or two. You've always been so close. When you do see him, Bay, I've got a little something I want you to ask him about."
    That's when Bayard had shoved the hair out of her eyes with the accusation ". . . already you're bugging me about Daddy" and Laura had risen to make the orange juice.
    Just as Bayard silently vowed not to say one more word until breakfast was over, Laura turned penitent. Pouring herself a cup of coffee, she sat across the table and leaned forward as though they were two old friends having a confidential chat. As Laura started to speak, Bayard braced herself.
    "Honey, I know you love your daddy very much. I don't want to take that away from you. But you've got to help me talk some sense into him. Neal turns eighteen in April, and unless we can reach a new agreement, his child support will stop that very day." Bayard said nothing. Laura continued, rapidly. "Bay, when those documents were drawn up, Neal was a baby—not even seven. Eighteen seemed a hundred years away. I didn't think about his birthday coming in April, before he's even out of high school. Unless your daddy makes a new arrangement, I won't have money for his graduation expenses!"
    "Neal will. Daddy's been giving me an allowance since I was eighteen, and I'm sure he'll do the same for Neal. He's already agreed to pay for college. So what's the problem?" Bayard knew, of course, but she wanted to hear her mother admit it. This same old melody was harder to take after earning her own living for a few months.
    Laura looked shocked. (She always did when her children failed to understand how much she suffered for their sakes.) "It's not just college bills, Bay. We need a home for you children to come back to while he's in college and until you get"—she caught the glint in Bayard's eye and changed what she was about to say—"settled a bit. It's not forever, but we're going to need help for a few years yet."
    Bay sipped her coffee. "You could find a job." She said it with the cruel assurance of youth.
    "Doing what? I'm almost fifty, and I've spent my life caring for you children. That's what your daddy wanted—he told the world how much he was paying me to stay home with his children, those children he couldn't be bothered to come home to if a news story broke anywhere on the globe—"
    She caught herself. She'd never win Bay this way. "All I ask is that you remind him that you both need a home until Neal's out of college. Meanwhile I can get some training—maybe I'll try real estate. I'll be ready to support myself by the time Neal finishes college. I promise. But until then—"
    Bayard shook her head. "Not this time, Mama. I'm not going to upset Daddy during this vacation. I'm not!"

7:30 P.M.

In a penthouse high above Peachtree Street, two women were enjoying a leisurely dinner.
    Mary Beaufort, a tiny elderly woman with silver hair, sharp brown eyes and the bearing of a duchess, wiped her lips with a snowy napkin before she asked, "So you think you will enjoy this job, Sheila?"
    Her companion was reflected in the mirror above the buffet—a tall lean woman nearing forty with black eyes and thick dark hair that curled and frizzed in spite of all her best efforts. She smiled. "I only started today, Aunt Mary, and the job's a bit vague yet. They've just created the position, you know, and Mr. Hashimoto is certain to add to the job description as we go along. But yes, I'm enjoying it so far."
    "What exactly do you do, dear? When Ada Williams asked me this afternoon, I found it hard to tell her."
    Sheila rose. "Here—I'll show you what they've sent to the papers." She went to her briefcase and brought back a news release. "And here are your reading glasses."
    Aunt Mary perched the half glasses on her nose and perused the text while Sheila started her dessert. "'Hosokawa International is pleased to announce that Sheila Beaufort Travis has joined the company in the newly created post of Director of International Relations.'" She looked up. "I'm glad they included the Beaufort, dear, so people who knew you in high school can get in touch."
    Sheila, thoroughly enjoying her chocolate cake, shook her head. "People who knew me in high school have probably all moved away."
    "You never know, dear." Aunt Mary resumed reading. "'Ms. Travis, who has extensive experience in diplomatic service, will be based in Hosokawa's U.S. headquarters in Atlanta. Her duties will include serving as liaison between U.S. and Japanese staff, orienting staff for short-term overseas assignments, and arranging hospitality for visiting executives and their families.' That sounds very exhausting, Sheila. Do they expect you to do all of that?"
    "I have an administrative assistant, Masako Nanto, who's been with Hosokawa for several years. I'll rely on her a good deal."
    "I would, dear," she murmured, then went on reading aloud. "'Widow of Tyler Travis who served the U.S. Embassy in Japan until his untimely death—' Now, why do people say that, as if the Almighty made errors?"
    "People don't know how to deal with a man dying at forty-four, I suppose. At least this release didn't call him 'a legend in his own time.' Tyler may rise up and haunt whoever coined that phrase."
    "Nonsense." Aunt Mary's eyes twinkled with mischief. "Tyler probably coined it himself."
    "Now, Aunt Mary . . ."
    But Mary Beaufort was again reading aloud. "'Ms. Travis was born in Shikoku, where she lived until she was sent to Atlanta for high school and college—' That's not right, Sheila. You didn't go to college in Atlanta."
    "I know, but what difference does it make?"
    "It could have been worse," her aunt agreed. "They could have misspelled your name." She quickly finished the final sentences of the release. "'. . . comes to Hosokawa from Markham Institute of International Studies in Chicago.'"
    She stopped reading, a puzzled frown creasing her forehead.
    "Is something the matter, Aunt Mary?"
    "It doesn't mention your experience as a detective, dear."
    "Perhaps," Sheila suggested, "that's because my days as a detective are over. I never really wanted to get involved in those cases, you will remember. It was always your idea." If Aunt Mary remembered anything of the sort, she gave no sign.
    Sheila persevered. She had run a risk just by moving near her aunt. It was not for nothing that Sheila's father often said of his elder sister, "Trouble follows that woman like fleas a dog."
    "I know you like a little excitement in your life, Aunt Mary. But I haven't moved here to provide you with excitement. I don't like poking and prying into people's affairs, and I am still trying to get my own life in order. Do you understand?"
    Aunt Mary's eyes widened and her voice was full of reproach. "Of course, Sheila. I should never dream of involving either of us in prying and poking. In our last case I felt you did far too much of that."
    Sheila smiled. Their last case had involved poking and prying into Aunt Mary's own past. Her smile faded, however, as Aunt Mary continued, "Of course, if a situation arises in which we can be of service—"
    "It won't," Sheila interrupted ruthlessly. "Read my lips: I have not come to Atlanta to be a detective."

Chinese fortune cookie say:
Beware of Monday resolutions.
By next Sunday they may all be broken.

copyright ©2016 Patricia Sprinkle

A Southern Mystery
Third in the Sheila Travis series
Author: Patricia Sprinkle
2016 Reissue Edition
5.5"x8.5" Trade Paperback
Retail: $15.95US
ISBN 978-1-62268-045-0 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-046-7 ebook
LCCN 2016938445

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