Yellow Fever has gripped the city. The symptoms are dilated pupils, a rapid heart rate, a heavy right foot, and a complete lack of common sense at the sight of a yellow traffic light. All rational cogitation leaves the victims’ brains, and they are left with one desperate thought—GO! This illness often leads to whiplash and air bag burn as they crash into the person in front of them not afflicted with the disease.
Let Cinnamon Girl explain it.
One person, and one person only, should go through a yellow light. The purpose of the yellow light is a warning for the upcoming red light. It is not a challenge to see how many cars can get through without the red light spanking them on the butt. No one is entitled to the yellow light except the first person to come upon it, and he should only take advantage of it if it isn’t safe for him to stop. Remember the day when the yellow light belonged to the poor guy trying to turn left? Those days are long gone as more and more, the yellow light is seen as an entitlement for the impatient and demanding driver—the one that thinks that his time is more important than your life.
Or are you the one with Yellow Fever?
Cynthia Grace Harrellson, known to her friends as C.G., sat staring out the window of her boss’s office at the Kansas City Gazette. Spring had been hiccupping forward for several weeks with alternating sun and rain, cheer and gloom. Today was stuck in gloom, and the thunderclouds rolling in turned the windows into mirrors. She pulled her sagging pony tail out of its rhinestone-studded silver scrunchy, ran her fingers through her hair a few times, then wound the worn out hair accessory back into place. The elastic nearly spent, it started to slide almost immediately down her long light brown hair.
Expressionless, she swiveled back to face Rita Engels, the woman she considered more friend than boss. At least at one time she knew she felt that way. She really hadn’t felt much of any way at all for some time. C. G. noted that Rita’s usually short brunette hair had sometime over the weekend turned jet black, and she was mesmerized by the intense shade of red on Rita’s moving lips. Tuning in mid-sentence, C.G. realized that she had zoned out. She shook her head. “I’m sorry, Rita, what were you saying?”
Rita gave her a sigh and one of her exasperated looks. “I was saying,” she began again slowly, “that I’d like you to be the one to meet with the detective to do this little weekly crime report that the mayor is pushing. His name is Wolf Hunter.” She shuffled through the papers on her desk until she found the scrap she was looking for. She paused, looked at C.G., and repeated it. “Wolf Hunter.”
“Okay, do you have a contact number?” C. G. started to dig through her shoulder bag for a pen.
“C.G., I don’t think you’re listening. Wolf Hunter. His name is Wolf…Hunter.”
C.G. looked up and blinked.
“Don’t you think his parents should be shot—pardon the pun—for that horrible name?”
She went back to digging. “I suppose.”
“And now he is a detective trying to track down a serial killer. I think that’s pretty freaky.”
C.G. finally produced a pen and started digging for a notepad. “If you say so.”
Rita sighed and shoved the paper across her desk. “Here, take this. It has all the info you need. He was actually in my class in high school, although I doubt he would remember me. But no one forgets a name like Wolf Hunter—or anything else about the man, for that matter. Tall and good looking with brown hair and big brown eyes…he always seemed like a nice guy, too—very polite.”
C.G. felt Rita’s eyes studying her as she folded the paper, stuck it in her bag, and got to her feet. She looked down to survey her outfit but couldn’t see anything out of place. Not that she could really tell on her own, but Rita had picked out the green and salmon striped shirt herself, and you can’t go wrong with tan pants. Can you?
“Are you still seeing Dr. Peers?”
C.G. shouldered her bag and looked at Rita squarely. “Yes.”
Rita pushed herself up from her chair and came around the desk to face C.G., hooking a stray hair that had slid out of her ponytail behind her ear. “And does he think you are still making progress?” she asked softly. Rita was looking down at her, even though they were more or less the same height in bare feet. Rita lived in high heels; C.G. in flats, mostly sneakers.
“No, he says I’m stuck—that Cinnamon Girl has become a crutch instead of a cure. He thinks I should quit the column.”
Rita’s eyebrows flew up, and she put a hand on C.G.’s arm. “You’re not going to, are you?”
A soft rap on the door kept C.G. from answering. Rita put a finger to her lips and opened the door six inches. “Dennis, I’m in a meeting right now.”
C.G. could see the tall, wiry Dennis Richman over Rita’s head. His wavy dark hair fell across his forehead and curled slightly at the edge. He had a hawk-like nose and penetrating hazel eyes set close together.
“Just wondered if you’d like some coffee, Ms. Engels.”
“Not at the moment, thanks.” Dennis gave her a slight smile and moved away as Rita closed the door. “I think we need to find more for Dennis to do. I know he’s a relative of the big guy, but really, sometimes he just gets on my nerves.”
C.G. wound her hair up once again. “He keeps telling me he wants to be a reporter, but no one takes him seriously.”
“Yeah, well, have you ever read anything he’s written? I think he’s a few bricks short of a load.”
C.G. looked to the door. Like me.
Rita moved back to C.G. “Now about” –she dropped her voice—“Cinnamon Girl…”
C.G. knew how much Rita depended on Cinnamon Girl. The column had been syndicated, and Rita held all the cards. Only she and Dr. Peers knew who the column’s writer was. “Don’t worry, I can’t give it up” –she shook her head—“even if I wanted to. I’m not sure what would happen.” She paused and met Rita’s concerned gaze. “But it could be bad.”
Rita gave C.G. a hug, which she only weakly returned. “Well, what does old man Peers know, anyway? I sometimes think you should look for a different doctor.”
C.G. pulled away and cocked her head at her friend, trying to gauge if she was serious. “Do you really, because I’ve got—”
“No opinion,” they said together.
Rita gave her a weak smile. “I know, honey.” She smoothed her red sweater over her slim skirt and turned back to her chair. “Let me know how it goes with Detective Hunter.” She sat as C.G. reached for the door knob. “Oh, and by the way, it was a great column this week. It made me feel guilty as hell, but it was great.”
“You know you were my inspiration.”
Rita bit her lip. “Cinnamon Girl has shown me the error of my ways.”
C.G. turned to go. “That’s what she’s here for.”
Wolf Hunter leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, yawned, and stretched, his hands clasped behind his very tired head. It was pushing 2:00 a.m., but he just couldn’t let himself go home. People were dying, and so far, he had not been able to figure out the killer’s pattern beyond the weapon used. A young man, an old man, a middle-aged woman; wealthy, poor, middle class; black, white, Hispanic; up north, down south, over west—the killings had crossed all lines and locations in Kansas City, with none being robbed or raped. Only shot. One shot in the back of the head.
That and the Bingo token found in the pocket or handbag of every corpse.
He struggled to his feet to pour himself another cup of coffee, only to find the pot empty. He sat back down with his mug in hand, staring at the files and reports covering his desktop. Wearily, he ran his hands through his thick walnut-brown hair and propped himself up on his elbows. When the page in front of him started to blur, he leaped up and made the decision to head home.
Shrugging on his jacket, a few papers fluttered to the floor. Picking them up, he read again the memo the captain had sent him about meeting with a reporter for lunch on Tuesday. Shit, that’s tomorrow.
He stuffed the memo in his pocket and grumbled his way through turning out the lights and locking up. He had tried to argue his way out of this meeting. He had tried to bribe his way out of this meeting using prime Royals tickets. He had even begged to get out of this meeting, but the captain had insisted that he was the best man to handle it.
Reporters. That’s the last thing I need to deal with. I’ve got a serial killer to catch.
He understood the politics behind what the mayor wanted. He had promised more transparency in the last election, and with the crime rate sky-rocketing, he had promised a weekly report from the police department. Wolf had even thought it might be a good idea. That is, until he was picked for the job.
“You’ve got good sense and good manners,” his boss had said. “You need both to deal with the press.”
As he strode through the nearly empty parking lot toward his black Mazda, he pondered who to blame for these attributes that had “won” him the chance to play nice with the Kansas City Gazette. He smiled. In most families, he guessed that good manners were instilled by the mother and good sense by the father, but that couldn’t be further from the truth in his own.
He unlocked his car with a click of a button and slid in behind the wheel. Good ole’ Mom had way more sense than Dad. Pulling onto the deserted street, he shook his head at how many times his dad had nearly sunk them financially. When he finally gave up the books to his mother, she saved enough to get them out of debt and even put some away for her twin boys, Wolf and Tiger, to go to college. More evidence, in Wolf’s opinion, of his dad’s lack of good sense was the names he had given his sons.
But for all his lack of financial acumen and name picking ability, no one could fault Wolf’s father for manners. Always the gentleman, he had instilled the “proper way to treat a lady” into his two sons as if it were the secret to life itself. And Wolf wondered if maybe it was as his parents had been happily married for forty-five years. Wolf, however, hadn’t swept any lady off her feet—good manners or no. Not that he couldn’t, he reminded himself; he just hadn’t.
Wolf hit the garage door opener on his visor as he pulled into the driveway of his older two-story home. Waiting for the door to rise, he felt a wave of regret. He knew that no one was in his dark house keeping his bed warm for him. No one would welcome him with a loving embrace and ask him about his day. His life for nearly twenty years had been all about chasing the bad guy, not catching a good woman.
He got out of his car, yawning, and unlocked the door that led to his kitchen. It’s probably best. What woman would want to deal with my line of work? He knew immediately that he could name quite a few of his police buddies’ wives that managed to somehow deal with it, including his partner’s wife and his own sister-in-law, but he shoved that thought aside as he stumbled upstairs, shed his clothes in a pile, and crawled into his unmade bed.
C.G.’s radio alarm had begun spouting the news some time ago, but she was coming out of a deep sleep slower than usual. The week’s temperature highs and lows slid into the highway report and then into Middle East unrest before she managed to blink her eyes open with any staying power. Finally in the moment, she swung her head to look at the clock then turned over to see the empty spot beside her. Except for the radio, the house was quiet.
Sighing, she slid out of bed and headed for the bathroom, glancing into her kids’ rooms on the way.
Gone. Everybody’s gone.
She turned on the shower and peeled off the big t-shirt she had slept in. While she waited for the hot water to find its way through the pipes, she found herself wishing for simpler times. Days long ago when the kids had wanted to spend time with her. Days when she and her husband, Matt, had always eaten breakfast together before work. The days before…these days.
Days and days and days.
C.G. stepped into the shower and dialed the shower massage to a hard, driving pulse.
Detective Hunter scanned the restaurant where he was supposed to be meeting the Kansas City Gazette reporter. He hadn’t taken the call personally to set up their appointment and realized he had been assuming a man. He wondered if his subconscious was being sexist to think a female reporter wouldn’t be dealing with crime. Shifting his gaze to the women in the room, he couldn’t see anyone sitting alone save one mousy woman in a grey hooded sweatshirt, her hair pulled back in a falling down ponytail. He hardly thought a reporter would dress so unprofessionally for an interview and looked around the room a second time. I guess I got here first.
He had just sat down on a bench by the door to wait when a hostess arrived back at the front of the restaurant. “Are you Mr. Hunter?”
When he rose and affirmed, she waved for him to follow her. Focused on her swinging hips, he nearly collided with her backside when she stopped suddenly. Wolf looked abruptly to where the hostess was placing a menu and then into the eyes of the woman across the table—the one in the over-large hoodie. It looked even bigger and baggier up close.
Wolf blinked then switched on his good manners autopilot and stuck out his hand. “Hi, I’m Detective Hunter.”
C.G. shook his hand weakly. “I’m Cynthia Harrellson with the Kansas City Gazette.”
Wolf gave her a smile and sat. “Cynthia. That’s a pretty name.”
C.G. clicked her ball point pen repeatedly with an almost peeved look that Wolf had no idea how to respond to. Finally she spoke. “Well, my friends call me C.G. You can, too, if you like.”
Wolf smiled. “And what does the “G” stand for?”
He kept smiling and nodded as he picked up his menu. Yeah, I’ll call her C.G. Cynthia Grace is far too pretty a name for this pile of laundry. Good grief, what is the Gazette thinking, sending her out like this? He noticed she was wearing a wedding ring and inwardly rolled his eyes. Well, there’s someone for everyone, as Grandma used to say.
After a few awkward minutes where he stared at the menu, and she stared at him, Wolf laid it down and took a long drink of his water. With her eyes still boring through him, he tried to catch the eye of the waitress. Come on, honey, let’s get this over with.
The waitress came over, and Wolf waited politely for C.G. to give her order first. She wasn’t forthcoming with that information, however, so the waitress looked back to him. He smiled and cleared his throat. “C.G., what would you like to order?”
“You order first, please.”
“Oh, okay.” Wolf pointed to the Big Boy Burger and fries on the menu then gave C.G. a smile. What a spook. Do I really have to go through this every week?
C.G. turned to the waitress. “I’ll have the same.”
Wolf’s eyebrows shot up, and before he could think better of it, he blurted. “You must be pretty hungry. That’s one big burger for a lady your size.”
C.G.’s eyebrows collided. “Is it? You don’t think I can finish it?”
Wolf chuckled. “I’d be darned surprised if you could.”
“Hmm. Well, Detective, what can you tell me about crime in the city and particularly about the serial killings that have plagued us recently?” She pulled out a pad of paper.
Wolf shook his head at this sudden leap from burgers to crime. He unrolled his utensils from his napkin to give him a few moments to gather his thoughts—to put aside the things he knew he did not want to spill to the general public at the moment.
“Well, the good news is that aside from the serial killings, domestic violence and robberies are down so far this year. We believe that this is directly due to having more policemen patrolling the lower income neighborhoods. This is the people’s tax dollars at work.” He paused to let her catch up with her notes and took another drink. Keep sounding positive. Say nothing to cause a panic.
She finished and looked up. “So we’ve had three killings in about four months that the police say are related.” She leaned forward, and Wolf saw a sparkle of something in her eyes that took him by surprise. “Who done it?”
He straightened and sat back, wondering at that glimmer that was there for just a moment and then gone. “Well, I wish I could tell you that, but we haven’t reached any definite conclusions yet. We’re still gathering and mulling over the evidence. It would be premature to discuss the killings.”
She didn’t write anything down—just continued to stare at him in expectation.
“A…a…a pattern—” He was interrupted by the waitress sliding their plates onto the table. Wolf took the opportunity to take a bite of his burger to occupy his mouth, so he could think how to sidestep the fact that they couldn’t see a pattern. I had a statement all rehearsed. What happened to it? He refused to admit that the intensity of this little reporter had scared it right out of him. Must be the late nights catching up with me.
She had taken a bite herself but hadn’t really let go of him with her eyes. She swallowed and took a sip of her water. “A pattern…” she encouraged, again picking up her pen.
“Serial killers usually have a pattern—something that helps us predict where they might strike again or who they might target.” He took another bite and found himself searching her eyes for whatever had sparked before but found nothing except mild interest.
“So are you saying that in this case there isn’t a pattern?”
“No, I didn’t say that.”
“Are you implying that?”
“No, I was just giving you the basics.”
“But what do you have to say about this particular killer? If there isn’t a pattern—”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Okay, but hypothetically, if there really weren’t, how would you know it was only one guy doing the killing?”
“If we had no other clues,”—Wolf crunched down a fry— “there still could be physical evidence to suggest a link.”
“Like…a…calling card of some kind or a certain way the murder was done, the weapon, etc.”
“And have there been any calling cards or certain ways?”
“I told you it would be premature—”
“Yes, I heard that part.”
Wolf stared her down for a moment or two then smiled. “Look, I know the mayor has pushed you guys into doing this report, and sometimes it’s just not going to be all that interesting.” He added some ketchup to his fries and went back to eating.
C.G., however, didn’t. “Do you want to know what I think?”
Wolf swallowed and couldn’t help it when a grin slipped out. “Shoot.”
“I think the police are stumped, because there isn’t an obvious pattern. I’ve looked up the victims and the places they were found. With that information alone, no one would ever suspect a serial killer. But since you do, there must be something that links them, and if you don’t want to say what, then it must be something weird or frightening. Something you think would cause panic.”
Wolf schooled his face to neutral.
“Because without a pattern, anyone could be a target, and that’s pretty scary. So,” C.G. continued, picking up a fry and using it to emphasize her words, “do you think your silence will really do less harm? Is there nothing you can say that might keep someone from becoming the next victim?”
Wolf was fascinated by the fire that had stirred to life in C.G.’s eyes during this last discourse, turning them into two brilliant emeralds. He didn’t breathe for fear of dousing the flame. After a long pause, he let out his breath and shook his head. “C.G., if you don’t get busy, you’re not going to get that burger done before supper time.” He took another big bite and winked at her, and for the first time, he saw a hint of a smile.
Wolf was feeling stuffed and sleepy by the time he had gotten around his lunch, so he ordered a coffee to-go before heading back to his office to beat his head against the files that refused to give up the answers he sought. Damn, if this strange little firebrand hadn’t come close to hitting the nail directly on the head. Is she right? Is there something I could say that would keep someone—anyone—from becoming the next victim?
Conversation had been awkward after Wolf had refused to elaborate on the murders. C.G. obviously didn’t like to talk about herself, which left Wolf to ramble about the police department. Before he knew it, he had told her his whole history with the force. She had seemed interested—at least she asked a lot of questions. Must be the reporter in her.
He smiled thinking about the moment she had slid out of the booth to visit the ladies room, revealing that she was also wearing way-too-big sweat pants under the monstrous sweatshirt.
The waitress brought his coffee and his credit card just as C.G. emerged from the ladies room. He smirked as he added a tip and signed the receipt. She had only been able to eat half her lunch and had seemed genuinely surprised that she wouldn’t be able to finish a burger called The Big Boy. What an odd duck.
She paused when she reached the table, and Wolf couldn’t help looking her up and down. The grey sweats were easily two sizes too big for her. Her hair scrunchy was sliding down her ponytail as he stood up, and when she turned her head, it slipped to the floor.
He picked it up, handing it to her as he took in the feathery light brown hair that now extended to just below her shoulder blades. He had to fight the urge to touch it before she swept it back up in a haphazard ponytail. He took a step back, composing his face, and swept a hand in front of him. He watched her walk toward the door with at least six inches of extra sweat pants bunched up at her ankles and several inches gathered at her wrists. I wonder what she would look like out of those. He maneuvered in front of her to hold the door. Stop, Wolf–she’s married.
And not just a little strange.
They paused a minute out on the sidewalk. A sputtering rain was just getting started. Wolf held out his hand again, and she took it. “Well, C.G., it was a pleasure having lunch with you. I guess I’ll see you next week.”
She nodded blandly and turned to go. Wolf kept hold of her hand, and she turned back questioningly. “C.G.,” –he put his other hand over hers —“don’t go out at night alone. No one’s home has been broken into; all the victims were out and about…alone.”
She nodded again slowly, her eyes bright in the gloom, and slipped her hand from his. Then she turned abruptly and headed up the street. Wolf watched her for a minute as he sipped his coffee, trying to decipher the amalgamation of oatmeal with flashes of cayenne that was walking away in grey sweats and red sneakers.
What People Are Saying:
You are not going to want to put this one down! As descriptive and rich in details as her other books; this mystery draws you in and keeps you guessing. The serial killer could be ANYONE. The relationships among and between the characters are realistic and riveting. And the ending is action packed and surprising. I can’t wait to read it again!
SO loved this book. The third I’ve read by Jodi Bowersox. Truly up and coming author, I believe. Her stories grab my attention at the beginning, and each one just keeps winding up to a great ending.
This one has romance, mystery, tragedy, joy, and so much more. If you are looking for something that ‘explains it all’, this one’s for you.
Great job, Jodi!!! Can’t wait for the next one!!
I have read everything this author has written and am anxiously waiting for the next book! Cinnamon Girl Explains it All was a great read! Some mystery, some suspense, some love and relationship issues all wrapped up in a great story. If you need something to read this weekend this is it! I highly recommend this!
Jodi’s books are always fun to read, trying to decide “who-done-it” plus tasteful romance. I loved it and can hardly wait for her next book to be published.