Murder is Academic (Laura Murphy Mysteries, #1) by Lesley A. Diehl

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Laura Murphy, psychology professor, thinks there’s nothing she likes better than coffee and donuts on a summer morning until she says yes to dinner with a Canadian biker and finds herself and her date suspects in the murder of her college’s president. Laura’s friend, the detective assigned the case, asks her to help him find out who on the small upstate New York college campus may be a killer.  The murder appears to be wrapped up in some unsavory happenings on the lake where Laura lives.  A fish kill and raw sewage seeping into the water along with the apparent drowning suicide of a faculty member complicate the hunt for the killer.  And then things become personal.  The killer makes a threatening phone call to Laura. With a tornado bearing down on the area and the killer intent upon silencing her, Laura’s sleuthing work may come too late to save her and her biker from a watery grave.

From Chapter 1:
I pulled at the clothing to dislodge it from under the gravel and touched something far more substantial than cloth.  I felt flesh.  Not warm, living flesh, but cold, hard skin, the kind you read about in crime novels.  Dead flesh. 
“Annie!  Come here.  Quick!” 
We both looked down at the body, most of it still buried under the gravel.
“Ugh,” said Annie.  “What do we do now?”
Annie was no more eager than I to share our resting spot with a dead body, but, until Frank arrived, we were stuck.  We debated calling the police, but thought we’d like Frank to be here when we did that.  I don’t know why.  It just seemed safer somehow.  But we did feel compelled to sit with the body until he showed up.  As if someone would carry it off?  
I wished Frank would hurry.  The sun was setting, shrouding the construction area in shadows and making me shiver with apprehension.  I didn’t believe the body found its way under that gravel pile by accident.  Someone put it there and moved rock to hide it.  That someone could still be around.  I scooted closer to Annie on the downed log and picked up a rock in each hand for defense.
Annie got up.
“Where are you going?  Don’t leave me.” 
“I’m going to get our paddles.  They could come in handy.”
“What’s up, ladies?” said a voice out of the darkness behind us.
Annie sat back down with a thump.  I started with fear and dropped both of my rocks.
“Oh, I know you.”  A tall man dressed in a tee-shirt that clung to his muscled chest approached us and, when he got nearer, I recognized him too.
“You work on the bridge crew,” I said.
“And you drive by the site on your way into the college everyday.  Right?” 
“How did you know that?” Annie’s voice shook with fear, but I heard suspicion too.
I stood and pulled her up with me.  “What are you doing here?  I mean, now, at this hour?  When the construction is over for the day?” 
He smiled at me, and I couldn’t help but notice his straight white teeth.  Was it better to be accosted by a killer who brushed and flossed daily and had regular checkups than someone who couldn’t take the time for dental hygiene?  
“I stopped by to make certain the foreman locked away the keys to my road grader once he moved it.  He didn’t.  Here they are.”  He dangled a set of keys from his fingers.  “Can’t have the public going for a joyride on the equipment.  They might get hurt.”
Annie and I exchanged looks and moved closer together.
“You two seem on edge.  Anything I can do for you?”  He took a step towards us.  We moved further toward the end of the log.  “This is a work area, you know.  The company wouldn’t be happy to find you here.  There are ‘no trespassing’ signs out front.”
“We came by canoe,” I pointed toward the river.  “And we should be going.”
“It’s too dark to paddle now.  I’d give you a ride, but…”
Annie held up her cell.  “Someone’s coming for us.”
“Good.  Great.  I’ll wait with you until your ride gets here.  For protection.  Just in case.”
“In case of what?”  It occurred to me that, if he didn’t know we found the body, then we had nothing to worry about.  I really was stupid tonight.  He knew someone would find the body, and then we could tell the authorities we had seen him here.  I had to take action.  
It had been twenty years since my martial arts classes in graduate school, but maybe self-defense was like riding a bicycle or swimming.  Maybe you didn’t forget it.
“How rude of us.  Let me introduce myself.  I’m Laura Murphy.”  I got up and pushed Annie back down onto the log.  I put out my hand to take his.  I intended to pull his arm up and over my head while I moved under his armpit, turned and flipped him over my back.  It didn’t quite work out that way.  Once his hand touched mine, I remembered I’d flipped someone a total of maybe two times with the help of my instructor.  I got in close enough to get a whiff of woodsy aftershave, which distracted me for a moment, making me forget to turn.  His hard chest slammed against my breasts, a position I wouldn’t recommend when trying to subdue a murder suspect.  We must have looked like a jitterbugging couple in the middle of a twirl.  
The headlights of a car pulling into the parking area caught a puzzled and somewhat amused expression on his face as I twisted and pulled his hand, grunting and groaning in impotent frustration.  He let go of me, and I fell on my ass in exhaustion.
“Annie, Laura,” called Frank.  “What’s going on?  Are you okay?”
“Grab him, Frank.  He just killed someone, and he buried the body under that rock pile.  He was going to get us next.”  I was breathless with the fatigue of my martial arts maneuver, but I managed to raise my hand and gesture toward the leg peeking out from under the rocks.  Mr. Road Grader’s eyes followed my pointing finger, and his smile faded.
Frank jumped out of the car, leaving the headlights on.  They illuminated the three of us, me on the ground, Annie motionless on the log and the construction guy standing over us.  Frank ran toward us, stopping just short of the bridge worker, to take up his karate stance. 
“Get away from the women,” Frank said.
Mr. Road Grader shook his head.  “This guy your rescue party?  “Did he take any more martial arts classes than you did?”  
Frank lowered his arms.  “Take me, and let the women go.”
“No, Frank.  You’ve got a new grandbaby.  Take me,” I said.  We both looked at Annie who continued to sit silently on her log.
“Take one of them.  Either one.  I don’t care.” She looked as if she was about to burst into tears.
The man reached into his pocket.  I expected a gun, or at least, a knife.  He withdrew a cell phone, walked away from us and talked to someone.
“He’s calling his buddies to help him,” I whispered to Annie and Frank.  “There are too many of us.  Let’s rush him.”  But before we could act, he turned and called back to us.
“I called nine-one-one.  Now, if the three of you crazies will just stay where you are until they arrive, I’d feel a lot better.  Somebody could get hurt here with all your physical flailing around.  I think you dislocated my thumb.”  He wiggled it back and forth.
“I wasn’t ‘flailing’.  That was karate or judo, one of those defense moves.  Very deadly.”  It was deadly when it worked.

  • Published by: Lesley A. Diehl

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