Close to a Killer by Marsha Qualey



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Two prominent city residents have been murdered, and Barrie knew both of them. But does she know their killer? The police have connected both victims to her mother's hair salon, and the obvious focus has become Barrie's mom and the other stylists, all of whom happen to be convicted killers who met in prison vocational school.

Amidst intriguing people whom she can't quite trust, and forced into living with the mother she can't forgive, Barrie tries to ignore the uproar by immersing herself in her writing. But when she shares a troubling suspicion with the homicide detective, she suddenly finds herself pulled deeper into a situation that's growing more frightening every day.

EXCERPT:

PEOPLE ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW about the Killers. Curiosity that might be held discreetly in check on some other sensitive subject—a birthmark, a leg brace, a lesbian grandmother—was always unleashed when the subject was murder.

Not that Barrie had ever decided if her mother was, technically speaking, a murderer. When Barrie was only five, Daria and two other women had staged a protest at a nuclear power plant. They'd wired posters and signs to the fence at the plant and covered their bodies with bloodred paint before chaining themselves to the employees' gate. They blocked the gate with Daria's car, which was booby-trapped with a bomb. A physics student at the university had made the bomb, which was set to go off if the ignition was turned back on; they didn't want the police ending the protest before they were ready to go.

They had paid the student a hundred dollars for the bomb and the instructions on how to attach it to the ignition. But they should have paid more, Barrie figured, because the bomb went off when it wasn't meant to and a guard was killed.

Daria had never touched the weapon that killed her victim—one of the other protesters had hooked up the wires. But Daria had written the check that paid for the bomb, and her prison sentence was the longest of all: fifteen years.

Her mother had killed, but was it murder?

TaNeece had murdered; she used the word herself. On her twenty-first birthday she'd come home from a night of partying and found one of her brother's football teammates stroking and kissing her sleeping eleven-year-old sister. TaNeece had grabbed the nearest thing at hand—her sister's softball bat—and slammed it across the guy's neck and head. Slammed it three times, four times, who knew how many? "I wasn't counting," she told the court, "because I was too busy murdering the sonofabitch."

Crystal, twice raped by the time she'd turned twenty-one, had used a knife on a man who approached her from behind as she walked to the bus stop after visiting an aunt in the hospital. The man laid a hand on her shoulder, and tried directing her into an alley, but instead ended up bleeding to death in a gutter.

Cyndy killed her husband with an '87 Pontiac after an anniversary celebration that turned nasty. She ran out of the house after she'd bloodied him and he'd bruised her. She got in the car and backed down the driveway at full speed. He ran into the street, waving his arms, fists high overhead. Witnesses said the car practically leaped at him, but Cyndy always said she didn't mean to hit him. She claimed she was driving so fast because she wanted to get away before either of them hurt the other any worse. "I wouldn't of killed him," she insisted, "if he hadn't stumbled on that pothole."

They'd all been in Washburn State Women's Prison at the same time for the same reason, though there were different tags to the crimes: vehicular homicide, manslaughter, man two. But to Barrie, the different words were just a verbal sleight of hand. The result was the same: someone was dead.

* * *

Wylie's eyes glazed as she recited the facts. It was all true crime, but perhaps not gruesome enough.

"Your mother made a deal?" he said scornfully. "There wasn't even a trial?"

"Sorry to disappoint you," she said.

"Here's something 'neat' Wylie," said Dean. "Barrie knew that dead guy, the one who was shot in his house in Lakeside last week."

Barrie took the receipt he handed her and stuffed it into her pocket. She looked at him with narrowed eyes. They shot a message: Oh, thanks.

Wylie stiffened and his eyes brightened. He tugged on his belt and licked his lips. "Really? It wasn't in the paper, but I heard around that the cops aren't sure it was a burglary. I heard around that he liked to pick up girls for afternoon fun."

"I don't know anything about that," Barrie said. "Dean, do you know if the buses have switched to the summer schedule? I should get going."

"They changed today. The Humboldt-Henry runs every half hour on the quarter hour."

Wylie tugged on her arm. "How did you know him?" 

"I didn't, really. Mr. Book Clerk here is exaggerating. The dead man's wife is a regular customer at my mother's salon. Sometimes I'd see him when he'd come to pick her up."

Once again Wylie's eyes dulled. "That's it?"

"Yes," she lied.

  • Published by: Untreed Reads


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