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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
BOB MAYER is a former Green Beret and the USA Today bestselling author of thirty-two novels under his own name and the pen names Robert Doherty and Greg Donegan. He has over two million books in print.
Date of Birth:1949
Place of Birth:Ohio
Education:B.A., Bowling Green State University, 1973; M.A., Wright State University; Ph.D., Ohio University, 1986
Read an Excerpt
Agnes and the Hitman
By Jennifer Crusie, Bob Mayer
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 Argh Ink and Robert J. Mayer
All rights reserved.
cranky agnes column #1
Do not be seduced by those big-box come-ons, full of "complete sets" of extraneous cookware. A complete set is whatever you need, and maybe all you need is a wok and a hot place to grill your bacon. In a pinch, I can do it all with my good heavy nonstick frying pan. Besides the obvious braising, browning, and frying, I can make sauces and stirfries in it, toast cheese sandwiches and slivered almonds, use the underside to pound cutlets, and in a pinch probably swing it to defend my honor. If I could find a man that versatile and dependable, I'd marry him.
One fine August evening in South Carolina, Agnes Crandall stirred raspberries and sugar in her heavy nonstick frying pan and defended her fiancé to the only man she'd ever trusted.
It wasn't easy.
"Look, Joey, Taylor's not that bad." Agnes cradled the phone between her chin and her shoulder, turned down her CD player, where the Dixie Chicks were doing a fine rendition of "Am I the Only One," and then frowned over the tops of her fogged-up glasses at the raspberries, which were being annoying and uncooperative, much like Taylor lately. "He's a terrific chef." Which is why I'm still with him. "And he's very sweet." When he has the time. "And we've got a great future in this house together." Assuming he ever comes out here again.
Joey snorted his contempt, the sound exploding through the phone. "He shouldn't leave you out there by yourself."
"Hey, Brenda lived out here alone for years, and she did just fine," Agnes said. "I'm as tough as Brenda. I can do that, too." Of course, Brenda sold me the house and beat feet for her yacht in the middle of a marina, but —
"Nah, there's somethin' wrong with a guy who leaves a sweetheart like you alone in a big house like that. You should find somebody else."
"Yeah, like I have the time," Agnes said, and then realized that wasn't the right answer. "Not that I would. Taylor's a great guy. And anyway, I like being alone." I'm used to it.
"He's a mutt, Agnes," Joey said.
Agnes took off her glasses and turned up the heat under the raspberries, which she knew was courting disaster, but it was late and she was tired of playing nice with fruit. "Come on, Joey. I don't have time for this. I'm behind on my column, I've got —"
"And there's Rhett," Joey said. "How's Rhett?"
"What?" Agnes said, thrown off stride. She stopped stirring her berries, which began to bubble, and looked down at her dog, draped over her feet like a moth-eaten brown overcoat, slobbering on the floor as he slept. "Rhett's fine. Why? What have you heard?"
"He's a fine healthy-lookin' dog," Joey said hastily. "He looked real good in his picture in the paper today." He paused, his voice straining to be casual. "How come old Rhett was wearing that stupid collar in that picture?"
"Collar?" Agnes frowned at the phone. "It was just some junk jewelry —"
The oven timer buzzed, and she said, "Hold on," put down the phone, and took the now madly bubbling berries off the heat. Rhett picked up his head and bayed, and she turned to see what he was upset about.
A guy with a gun stood in the doorway, the bottom half of his face covered with a red bandanna.
"I come for your dog," he said, pointing the gun at Rhett, and Agnes said, "No!" and slung the raspberry pan at the guy, the hot syrup arcing out in front of it like napalm and catching him full in the face.
He screamed as the scalding fruit hit him and then dropped his gun to rip the bandanna away as Agnes stumbled to scoop up the pan and Rhett barreled into him, knocking him down so that he hit the back of his head on the marble counter by the wall and knocked off every cupcake she had cooling there before he collapsed into the doorway.
"God damn it," Agnes said breathlessly, standing over him with her pan, her heart pounding.
The guy didn't move, and Rhett began to hoover up cupcakes at the speed of light.
"Agnes?" Joey shouted from the phone on the counter. "What the fuck, Agnes?"
Agnes kicked the gun into the housekeeper's room and peered at the guy, trying to catch her breath. When he didn't move, she backed up to grab the phone off the counter. "Some guy just showed up here with a gun and tried to take Rhett," she told Joey, breathing hard. "But it's okay, I'm not angry." Miserable little rat-faced jerk.
"Where is he?"
"On the floor, across the hall doorway. He knocked himself out. I have to —"
"Get the hell out of there," Joey said, sounding like he was on the move. "Take Rhett with you."
"I can't get out, the guy's lying across the hall door. If I climb over him, he'll come to and grab me. I have to call —"
"Get out the back door —"
"I can't, Doyle's got it blocked with screen and boards. I have to hang up and call nine-one-one."
"No," Joey said, and she heard the screen door to the diner slap shut on his end of the phone. "No cops. I'm comin' over."
"What do you mean, no cops? I —"
The dognapper stirred.
"Wait a minute." Agnes put the phone on the counter and held the frying pan at the ready, hands shaking, as she craned her neck to look closer at the dognapper.
Young, just a teenager. Short. Skinny. Limp, dirty dark hair. Stupid, because if he'd had any brains, he'd have grabbed Rhett when he went out for his nightly pee. And now that he was unconscious, pretty harmless looking. She probably outweighed him by thirty pounds.
As she calmed down, she could hear Dr. Garvin's voice in her head.
How are you feeling right now, Agnes?
Well, Dr. Garvin, I am feeling a little angry that this punk broke into the house with a gun and threatened my dog.
And how are you handling that anger, Agnes?
I never touched him, I swear.
The boy opened his eyes.
"Don't move." Agnes held up her pan. "I've called the police," she lied. "They're coming for you. My dog is vicious, and you don't want to cross me, either, especially with a frying pan; you have no idea what I can do with a frying pan." She took a deep breath, and the kid glared at her, and she looked closer at his face, and winced at the lurid welts of singed skin where the raspberry had stuck. "That's gotta hurt. Not that I care."
He worked his battered jaw, and she held the frying pan higher as a threat.
"So, tell me, you little creep," Agnes said, "why were you trying to kill my dog?"
"I weren't tryin' to kill the dog," the boy said, outraged. "I wouldn't kill no dog."
"The gun, Creepoid," Agnes said. "You pointed a gun at him."
"I was just gonna take him," the boy said. "There weren't no call to get mean. I weren't gonna hurt him. I wouldn't hurt nobody." He touched the sauce on his face and winced.
"No, you just broke into this house to terrorize me with a gun," Agnes said. "That's not hurting nobody, that's victimizing me. Do I look like a victim to you? Huh? You wouldn't have tried this crap on Brenda, would you?"
He frowned up at her, the raspberry sauce crinkling on his face. "Who's Brenda?"
"Everybody knows who Brenda is," Agnes snapped.
She took a deep shuddering breath and reached for the phone again, and he rolled to his feet and lunged for her. She yelped and smacked him hard on the head with her pan, and he staggered, and then she hit him again, harder this time, just to make sure, and he fell back onto the floor, blood seeping down the side of his face, and lay still. She felt a qualm about that, but not much, because it was self-defense. Brenda would be proud of her, he'd broken into her house and she'd defended it, he'd scared the hell out of her and —
Violence is not the answer, Agnes.
That depends on the question, Dr. Garvin.
— and she was not out of control, she was not angry, she was calm, she was shaking, but she was perfectly fine, and anyway it was a nonstick pan, not cast iron, so she was fairly certain she hadn't done any permanent damage.
Fingers crossed, anyway.
Beside him, Rhett collapsed, overcome by the number of cupcakes still on the floor.
"I hate you," she said to the unconscious boy. Then she picked up her phone and said, "Joey?"
"Don't do anything, Agnes," Joey yelled, the sounds of traffic in the background. "I'm on Route Seventeen. I'm almost there."
"That's good," Agnes said, realizing her voice was shaking, too. "He's just a kid, Joey. He said he wasn't trying to hurt anybody —"
The kid lunged to his feet, and Agnes screamed again and dropped the phone to swing the pan again, but this time he was ready for her, ducking under her arm and butting her in the stomach so that she said, "Oof!" and fell backward against the counter. He tried to backhand her, and she swung the pan again and hit him in the head, and then she couldn't stop, she hit him over and over, and he yelled, "Stop it!" and grabbed for her while she swung at him, driving him back toward the hall door, screaming, "Get out, get out, get out of this house, get out of this house!" as he lurched back, and stepped in Rhett's water dish and fell back against the wall and then through it, screaming.
Agnes froze, the frying pan raised over her head as he disappeared, and then the wall was solid again, and she heard a thud, and the screaming stopped, cut off.
She stood there with the pan over her head for a moment, stunned, and then she lowered it slowly and clutched it to her chest, warm raspberry sauce and all, her heart beating like mad. She stared dumbfounded at the wall, waiting to see if he'd come rushing back through, like a ghost or something. When nothing happened, she went over and pushed cautiously with the pan on the place where the kid had disappeared.
It swung open and shut again, the hideous wallpaper that had covered it now torn along the straight edge of a doorframe.
"Oh," Agnes said, caught between amazement that there'd been a swinging door behind the wallpaper and fear that there was also a crazed moron behind there.
"Agnes!" Joey yelled on the phone.
Agnes took a deep breath and stepped back to the counter and picked it up. "What?"
"What the fuck happened?"
"There's another door in my kitchen, right next to the hall door." Agnes went back and pushed it open again, avoiding the rusted, broken nails that lined the doorway edge, and peered into the black void. "Huh."
"Where's the kid with the gun?"
"Good question." Agnes dropped her skillet on the counter, yanked open the utility drawer by the door, and got out her flashlight. She turned it on, shoved the door open with her shoulder, and pointed it into the darkness.
"What are you doing?" Joey yelled.
"I'm trying to see what's behind this door. I didn't even know it was here. Brenda never mentioned —"
"Agnes, you can explore that goddamn house later," Joey said. "Take Rhett and get the hell out of there."
"I don't think the kid's a problem anymore." Agnes held the phone with one hand and peered down into the pool of light the flashlight cast on the floor below as Rhett came to join her, pressing close to her leg so he could peer, too. "He fell into a basement. I didn't even know I had a basement back here. Brenda never said anything about one. Did you know —?" She had been playing the light around the floor, and now she stopped as it hit the moron. "Uh-oh."
"What do you mean, 'uh-oh'?"
The boy was splayed out on what looked like a concrete floor, and he did not look good.
"I think he's hurt. He's definitely not moving."
"Good," Joey said. "He fall down the stairs?"
"There are no stairs." Agnes squinted down into the darkness as the light hit the boy's face.
His eyes stared up at her, dull and fixed.
Agnes screamed, and Rhett scrambled back, stepping in the raspberry sauce, which he began to lick up.
"Oh, God," Agnes said as her throat closed in panic. "Joey, his neck's at a funny angle and his eyes are staring up at me. I think I killed him."
"No, you didn't, honey," Joey said around the traffic noise in the background. "He committed suicide when he attacked an insane woman in the stupid house she bought. I'm almost there. You stay there and don't open that door for anybody."
"He's dead, Joey. I have to call the police." This is bad. This is bad. This is not going to look good.
"The police can't help you with this one," Joey said. "You stay put. I'm gonna get you somebody until we figure this out."
"Some body. Right." Agnes clicked off the phone and looked back down at the dead body in her basement.
He looked pathetic, lying there all broken and dead-eyed. Agnes swallowed, trying to get a grip on the situation.
How are you feeling right now, Agnes?
Shut the fuck up, Dr. Garvin.
Don't say "fuck," Agnes. Angry language makes us angrier.
Gosh darn, Dr. Garvin, I'm feeling ...
She put the beam on the boy again.
Okay, calm down, she told herself. Think this through.
She hadn't killed him, the basement floor had.
You hit him many times in the head with the frying pan — try explaining that one.
Okay, okay, but he'd attacked her in Brenda's house. No, in her house. So it was self-defense. Yes, he was young and pathetic and heartbreaking down there, but he'd been a horrible person.
Why do you always hit them with frying pans, Agnes?
Because that's what I always have in my hand, Dr. Garvin. If I were a gardener, it'd be hedge clippers. Think how bad that would be.
She punched in 911 on her phone, trying to concentrate on the good things: Rhett was fine, her column would be finished soon, Maria's wedding was still on track for that weekend, Two Rivers was hers — well, hers and Taylor's — pretty soon she was going to be living her dream, and her cupcakes were burning but she could make more —
There's a dead body in my basement and I lost my temper and I hit him with a frying pan many times, I was not in control —
"Keyes County Emergency Services," the police dispatcher drawled.
"There's a dead body in my basement," Agnes said, and then her knees gave way and she slid down the cabinet to sit hard on the floor as she tried to explain that the kid had been going to hurt her dog, while Rhett drooled on her lap.
"A deputy is on the way, ma'am," the dispatcher said, as if dead bodies in basements were an every-evening occurrence.
"Thank you." Agnes hung up and looked at Rhett.
"I have to make cupcakes," she said, and he looked encouraging, so she got up to get the blackened cupcakes out of the oven and clean the floor and get back to work, thinking very hard about her column, and Maria's wedding that weekend, and Brenda's beautiful house that was now hers, and everything except the dead body in her basement and the goddamned frying pan.
Shane sat on a bar stool, in a shady nightclub on the wrong side of the tracks in a bad part of Savannah, Georgia, and tried to estimate how many people he was going to have to kill in the next hour. Optimally it would be one, but he had long ago learned that optimism did not apply to his profession. He felt his cell phone vibrate in his pocket and pulled it out with his free hand, expecting to see the GO or NO GO text message from Wilson. There were only three people who had his number, and they never called to chat. One of them was across the dance floor from him, which left two options. He glanced at the screen and was surprised to see JOEY.
Jesus. First time ever, and he calls in the middle of a job. Shane hesitated for a moment, then thought, Hell, you gave him the number for emergencies, and hit the ON button. "Uncle Joe?"
"Shane, you on a job?"
"Where you at?"
"Good," Joey said. "Close. I need you home."
Shane frowned. Home? You send me away at ten and now you want me home? "What's the problem?" he said, keeping his voice cold.
"I got a little friend needs some help. She lives just outside Keyes in the old Two Rivers mansion. Remember it?"
Fucking Keyes, SC. Armpit of the South.
"Come home and take care of my little Agnes, Shane."
You adopt another kid, Joe? Gonna take better care of this one? "I'll be there in an hour."
"I appreciate it." Joey hung up.
Shane pushed the OFF button. Joey needing help taking care of something. That was new. Old man must be getting really old. Calling him home. That was —
"I'm a Leo — and you?"
Shane turned to look at her. Long blonde hair. Bright smile plastered on her pretty face. Pink T-shirt stretched tight across her ample chest with the word Princess embroidered on it in shiny letters. Effective advertising, bad message.
"What's your sign?" she said, coming closer.
"Taurus with a bad moon rising." The hell with Joey. He had a job to do. He looked at the upstairs landing.
Excerpted from Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie, Bob Mayer. Copyright © 2007 Argh Ink and Robert J. Mayer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Also by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer,
praise for don't look down,