Best of Texas Book Award for Cozy Mystery: Deadly Dominoes by Linda Pirtle

Who is the person or persons leaving dominoes and curses on the bodies of one murder victim after another?

Deadly Dominoes by Linda Pirtle has received the Best in Texas Book Award for Cozy Mystery. The award is presented by the Texas Association of Authors.

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The Story:

Caddo Lake, with cypress and ancient oaks dripping with Spanish moss, provides the perfect backdrop for murder. Lillian Prestridge and her husband Bill leave the security of their gated community in the heart of East Texas.

Lillian looks forward to a peaceful vacation in their brand new RV. The murder of Lillian’s Mah Jongg partner prompted her desire to seek refuge in a new environment. Their first stop is Caddo Lake in the Cypress basin of northeast Texas. Caddo Lake has existed from time eternal and is home to unusual events, including its violent origin.

Lillian is puzzled by but ignores the warning: “You’d better be careful. Crazy things have been happening out at that RV Park at Caddo Lake.” Lillian delves into solving the strange events – an explosion and murder.

Who is the person or persons leaving dominoes and curses on the bodies of one murder victim after another?

And what does the explosion have to do with the game of dominoes or murder?

Sample Chapter:

DARKNESS. NIGHT sky sans stars or moon. Heavy, dense clouds hovered over Caddo Lake. The beams of light from the SUV’s halogen headlamps revealed tendrils of Spanish moss dangling from tree limbs. Like calypso dancers, they swayed to the beat of a silent tune as the gentle night breeze waltzed over and through the limbs of the ancient oaks, guardians of each side of the road. No light emanated from the sign over the entrance to the RV park. To Lillian, it resembled an ominous, dark orifice ready to devour all who entered. She felt Bill tense. He eased the SUV through the gate. Lillian reached down and retrieved her revolver from beneath the passenger seat.

“Don’t forget your gun, Bill. We might need our weapons before this night ends.” For the first time on their trip, Lillian felt isolated. No cell phone. She made a mental note to get new cells and new laptops when they visited Jefferson the next day.

“Ain’t that the truth,” Bill said light-heartedly, but Lillian detected the tension in his voice. He retrieved his nine millimeter from the side panel of the SUV’s door.

He drove slowly by the camp director’s office – dark – and by the mobile home where Al and Milly resided – dark – and into the campground – no security lights, no light from RV windows. Silence. Then Lillian heard an eerie howl followed by Eli’s angry barks. “Hurry, Bill, let’s get inside. I hear Eli. He needs company.”

Bill accelerated and honked the vehicle’s horn.

“Why are you honking?”

“Scare away the bad guys,” Bill said lightheartedly. “Beats whistling every time.”

Lillian laughed at him. “Thanks. You do know how to calm a girl’s nerves.”

Bill slammed on his brakes.

Lillian peered through the windshield and saw two golden eyes gleaming, staring at them. “What is that?” The creature turned, ran into the woods.

“Beats me,” Bill said and drove the next few feet to their camper and parked closed to the front door. He hopped out and hurried to the passenger door. “Allow me.” He offered his hand to Lillian.

“Thank you, kind sir.” She took his hand and climbed out of the car. She reached the door of the RV and paused. Eli continued to bark and claw at the door.

“What’s wrong?” Bill took her elbow.

“A creepy feeling just crawled all over me. Someone’s watching us. Hurry. Get inside.” Lillian opened the door and entered. She grabbed Eli to keep him from darting out the door. “Quick. Lock it, Bill.”

* * * * *

Typical East Texas weather, Lillian thought as she blinked. Once more Mother Nature provided a beautiful sunrise. A red Cardinal perched on the green cover that protected the cable and electricity hookups. His happy chirps promised a new day. Fresh coffee, the sizzle of bacon, and the happy tune her husband whistled filled Lillian with hope. She said a silent prayer of thanks for all of God’s creation before she started her day.

The morning air was cool, so she chose her tight, black yoga pants, white and maroon Texas A & M long-sleeve T-shirt. Dressed, she joined her husband.

Bill stopped mid-note and kissed his wife. “Sleep well?”

“I did. Better than I thought I would.”

“Me, too. I have to admit yesterday was full of surprises. I was exhausted.”

“Some of those I could have done without.” Lillian poured a cup of coffee. The opened door of the RV allowed the crisp autumn air to filter though the RV.

Lillian looked at the lake. “It’s foggy. Looks like steam rising from the Lake.”

“That’s a sure sign of cooler weather,” Bill said. “Here. Take this.” He handed her a plate with three strips of bacon and a blueberry bagel.

“Looks delicious. Thanks.” She sat down at the table. “Where’s Eli? He usually wakes me up.”

“He wanted to go outside an hour ago and hasn’t returned. He’ll wander back home when he’s ready.”

As if on cue, Eli barked. He bounded up the steps and into the opened door, and then just as quickly, he turned and ran outside. Lillian heard the low rumble of a vehicle’s motor and the crunch of gravel as an automobile neared their RV. Grant stepped out of his Ford F150. “Hey, boy. How’s it going?” Footsteps approached.

Grant knocked gently on the door’s frame. “May I join you?”

“Of course. You’re just in time for breakfast,” Bill said.

“Just coffee, please. You folks might have the luxury of sleeping in, but some of us have been on the job for the past two hours.” He bent and kissed the top of Lillian’s head and then pulled back a chair sat across from her. “Been trying to call you this morning. Your cell battery must be down.”

“Could be. Hard to keep cell phones charged when one rests at the bottom of the lake and the other is about as crisp as this.” Bill put his plate and a platter of crisp bacon on the table and sat down to eat.

“How in the world?” Grant stopped. He grinned. “I’m sure you’ll tell me all about it, so I won’t ask. I know it’s going to be an interesting story.”

“More like a saga,” Lillian said.

“I’m sure it is.”

“You’re out and about mighty early,” Lillian said.

“Sheriff Tomas gave me permission to drive out here this morning to go over your notes. Do you have time now, or should I come back later?” Grant reached over and took a slice of bacon from the platter in front of him.

“Hoped you would drop by early so we could get your input.” Lillian handed Grant her notebook. “Think we can get something done without your admirers?” Lillian teased.

As Grant read, he underlined some items on the list and looked up when he finished. “Pretty thorough as always. After seeing this, I have more questions than input.”

“That’s okay. We can go over your questions, but first I want information about the note in Russell’s shirt pocket. “Here’s a pen. If you write it down, you won’t have to tell Sheriff Tomas a lie. I know he doesn’t want you to talk about it.”

Grant took the pen and opened the book. Lillian watched him add the next number on her list and write:

#42. Double blank =nothing. Nothing = a nobody.

A nobody = A failure. Failure = death.

Beneath those lines, Grant drew a rectangle with a line dividing it in half. He said, “You were right about the domino, Lillian. There was a double blank in the man’s pocket.”

Grant turned the book around so Lillian and Bill could see his note. “Does this mean anything to you?”

“Not really, except that it seems to follow the theme of the first murder,” Lillian said. “Did Sheriff Tomas fill you in on that one?”

Grant took another strip of bacon and big bite before he answered Lillian. “He showed me the first note. He’s completely baffled, especially after the last murder with almost an identical M.O.”

“Did he say anything about the truck explosion and the driver’s body?”

“No, but everyone knows about it by now. It’s been on all the television news stations. Besides, it’s out of his hands. The Feds have taken it over.”

Grant reached across the space between the dinette and the kitchen counter for the coffee pot. He poured himself another cup. He glanced back down at the notebook and with his index finger pointed to number five on the page. “You made note of it on your list.”

“Yes. I did.” She held her empty cup in the air. Grant replenished it.

“What do you think? Could all these deaths somehow be connected?” Bill looked at the notebook and then at Grant. “Personally. I don’t see how they could.”

“I trust Lillian’s intuition. If her gut tells her there’s a connection, I believe it, too.” Grant continued. “Tell me your opinion about a connection, Ms. Private Detective.”

“Whoa,” Bill interrupted. “You knew about her plans?”

Grant laughed. “Mom and I share all our secrets, don’t we?”

“Most of them.” Lillian patted Bill’s shoulder. “Don’t get riled again, partner.”

Bill looked at the ceiling, sighed, shook his head. “Continue, my dear. Explain.”

The low hum of a second vehicle’s engine entering the campsite diverted Lillian’s attention. She stood and walked to the door. A green Ford pickup parked in front of the camp director’s mobile home. “I wonder where she’s been.” Lillian said.

Grant’s cell vibrated. “Hello?” He listened to the caller and squeezed past Lillian.

“Gotta go.” He ran to his truck.

“Trouble?” Lillian yelled to his back.

“Problem at a grocery store.” He jumped into his truck, made a U-turn, and drove toward the exit.

Lillian grabbed her purse.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Bill asked.

“Edgemon’s. Make sure Brandon is okay.”

“No, you’re not. Brandon doesn’t need you to help him make a routine call.”

“But – “

“We’ll stop by there on our way back home, but we need to take care of our business first.”

“You’re right.”

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