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POISONED WATER: CHENOA CANE BOOK 1

by

RaeLynn Blue

TORRID BOOKS

www.torridbooks.com

Published by

TORRID BOOKS

www.torridbooks.com

An Imprint of Whiskey Creek Press LLC

Whiskey Creek Press

PO Box 51052

Casper, WY 82605-1052

Copyright Ó 2013 by RaeLynn Blue

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN 978-1-61160-482-5

Credits

Cover Artist: Gemini Judson

Editor: Fran Mathieson

Printed in the United States of America

Other Books by Author Available at Torrid Books:

www.torridbooks.com

Humania Tales

Prin in Porta

The Onyx Scion

Desire Into Gold

Dedication

For Jeannie—Some children are born to us; others choose us. I’m grateful you chose me.

Chapter 1

Monday’s morning sun stretched out and sprayed the area with bright yellow rays, as if with a fat, overworked paintbrush. I arrived at the Crabtree, Logan, and Lopez office right at nine o’clock. The three amigos—as they are commonly referred to—occupied a three-story adobe building right in downtown Nizhoni, next to the city’s Municipal building. They had been friends forever, Crabtree and Logan, or so it seemed to most residents. According to county lore, Crabtree and Logan had defeated the city and county on a number of lawsuits, and so their office’s position across the street from the mayor’s just seemed to say ‘up yours!’ in true Evelyn Crabtree style.

With my cup of java in one hand and a piece of toast wedged into my mouth, I fumbled to get the keys out of my pocket and into the keyhole to the office’s front door—as it seemed I was the first arrive—a rarity if nothing else.

I nearly lost the toast when someone asked, Need a hand, Chenoa?

I nodded furiously until I saw who took the keys.

Anderson Staples. First class jerk and the current mayor of Nizhoni. Only Route 66 separated our offices from each other. I’m sure Evelyn purchased the office building because it was downtown and convenient for clients—you know, for its location. If only that location wasn’t so close to Anderson.

He had been my prom date and steady boyfriend in high school, both junior and senior years. Recently divorced, he found himself back on the playing field and targeted me as his first attempt to score as a post-married, single man.

Power, privilege, and panache did not a mayor make.

Anderson didn’t believe it. A product of several generations of Irish immigrants, he had fiery red hair, sparkling green eyes and a patch of freckles across the bridge of his nose. He worked out and had the lean look of a movie star coupled with a taste in clothes that rivaled the most stylish actors on the screen. Nizhoni wasn’t known for fashion and Anderson’s silver BMW was the sole car of its kind in the entire area.

A product of old money (his father) and a beauty queen, Anderson’s life included nearly everything that money could buy, including the Nizhoni mayoral seat. The accomplishment was nothing more than bragging rights for his father.

With a wide grin, Anderson held the door open and probably watched my butt as I walked in.

Pig.

Once I had passed the receptionist’s desk and unlocked my own office, I leaned against the front of my desk, waiting for him to leave, for like a long lost puppy, he followed me right in.

After dumping me right after senior prom because I wouldn’t sleep with him, Anderson still made my blood boil and my irritation level rise just from being in the same room with him.

I hear you’re not going to support my bid for re-election. How can you not? Kevin Cowboy, Sheriff Polich and me. No contest. His sunglasses, dark and mysterious, hid his eyes.

I bit into my toast and swallowed. You know, I’m not sure who I’ll vote for. Just know that it won’t be you.

Cane, you in there? called Shodiin, the administrative assistant.

The lobby lights flickered on and the jingle and clatter of Shodiin’s keys as they hit her desk announced that she had officially arrived at work.

Yep. Beat you again.

She snorted, but didn’t come into the office to rid me of Anderson. I doubted she even knew that I wasn’t alone.

Anderson’s photographic-media smile dropped from his face as if it had been a prop all along. Perhaps fearing that Shodiin would interrupt us, he shut the door to my office, and stepped closer to me.

You should be nicer. He looked to the door and then back to me. You know how hard life would be if you weren’t, right?

We had a long history that intertwined like copperheads—slithering down a coiling, curvy, rocky path that led into a mass of venomous and long shed memories.

Tsk, tsk, I said, my voice like ice. "Threatening a citizen is not only a great way to land your name in tomorrow’s Sentinel, but also a fast way to get sued. You are in a lawyer’s office building."

He snatched off his sunglasses and glared at me.

Someone else might’ve dissolved on the spot beneath that stare.

Not me.

Even though I didn’t back down, I knew that Anderson wasn’t just blowing smoke about making my life difficult. He did wield a level of power that came with privilege. His father played golf with Nizhoni’s elite men. Old boy network in the South didn’t have anything on the network of boys in Nizhoni.

And I meant males.

In towns like Nizhoni, progress rolled backwards some forty years. Women didn’t matter so much as the men, and there were some who still believed that females were meant to be owned.

Men.

Hard, unmoving and logical, they drove city politics like they did most things...brashly, loudly, and totally without consideration for others.

I’m not here about that anyway, Anderson said, switching gears and pulling out his ‘nice guy’ persona. Tomorrow I’m going to Farmington.

The curse I had ready to spring on him died on my lips.

Why?

Jenny’s having a set of twins. His true, less-seen personality shined through. He loved his sister, and at the mention of her name, his face softened and a truthful smile emerged on his lips.

Don’t get me wrong. Anderson could do nice and loving and caring—but only if it benefited him.

So, she and Jorge are doing okay? I took another bite of toast. Jenny had been one of my two best friends since elementary school.

Thick trio of threes we were—Jenny, me, and Jaci. Jenny’s wealth didn’t come between us, and she wasn’t one to wear it on her sleeve like her brother. We never felt like we were in the presence of someone who could afford to buy three-quarters of the town.

In a word, Jenny was Anderson’s opposite in every way.

Yeah. He stepped closer and I could almost feel the heat radiating from him. I’d seen the look before, many times in high school, and I knew what it meant.

And so I knew where this was heading, and nine-ten in the morning was way too early for it.

Anderson…

We were done. I forced my mind to refocus on the fact that in less than a day, he’d be with someone else. That it wasn’t me he truly wanted, but moreover the fact that he was trying out his dated mack skills on me—sharpening them up, trying them out, and checking for dullness.

Our relationship had been over with back in high school. Terry Begaye would, and I wouldn’t.

Come on, Chenoa. He wrapped his arm around my waist. We can go to my house…or...

He glanced at my closed office door.

You can go on a break.

I gave a long sigh.

Anderson’s hands rubbed my lower back, stirring up desire that had long since been dormant from lack of use.

Did I tell you I don’t date much?

My breath came in fast and quick breaths. No. It’s over between us. You know that.

It doesn’t have to be, he whispered back.

Longing and lust seeped out with every word from his mouth. Oh, how I wanted to give in, to relapse, to be able to love and be loved with full trust.

Trust.

Anderson.

That didn’t add up to two. With that thought, experience, hell, survival instincts kicked in and shouted ­no!

You know I’ll be gooood, he cooed against my ear.

I twisted out of his arms and stood farther away from him, by my filing cabinet. That was exactly the point. I didn’t know he’d be good.

Goodbye, Anderson. I’ve got work to do.

The resurgence of pride turned his face a bright red, masking his freckles and making the tips of his ears pink.

Fine! he barked, before stalking out of my office.

Don’t be mistaken. My office was nothing more than a glorified storage room. It was small compared to the ones the lawyers received, but given that I didn’t bring in nearly the revenue they did, I guess it was fair.

With Monday living up to its reputation, I sat down at my desk to finish my toast and coffee. A copy of the Nizhoni Sentinel lay at the corner of my desk, where Anderson had left it.

I was part way through the comics when my telephone rang.

Cane.

Your expense report is four days past due, Shodiin said, the sound of grit grinding against stone.

As the office manager, or administrative assistant for Evelyn, she was the bearer of grave and the occasional good news from the boss. She and her boss were evenly matched and Shodiin acted as an extension of Evelyn’s wrath.

I scurried through the mass of papers on my desk searching for receipts. Had no idea the deadline was approaching.

It’s passed, sweetheart. Shodiin’s tone was so frosty, I shivered.

I’ll get it in uh, soon. I put my hand on two receipts for gas that littered the empty candy dish on my desk.

See that you do, Cane, and no fictional stories this time. She abruptly hung up.

I put the phone down and began searching the wreckage on my desk for receipts that survived the transition from my truck to the inside of my office.

After about fifteen minutes of intense searching, I located only one other receipt.

Looked like I was going to have to get creative with the report after all.

Shodiin would surely appreciate that.

Yeah, right.

Chapter 2

Mayoral seats may not be a big deal in large, urban cities like Denver, or New York City, but for Nizhoni, the mayoral seat was more than a first step on the path to governor. It was like being crowned emperor.

The computer hummed while I doctored up an expense report, and I pondered Anderson’s motive for showing up at my office so damn early in the morning. It wasn’t his style. What had he been up to? Did he just spot my truck as he was heading into his office and decide to pounce?

Could it have been that random?

My gut burned. No. Not likely.

Just then Evelyn Crabtree opened my office door and strolled in. Although nearly sixty years old, the woman’s posture was perfect; her silver hair had been cut artfully in a long bob that, when she bent over, fell into a nice geometric shape. Today she wore a tailored black suit with fine gray lines, a string of pearls, and a scowl. The pants had a bootleg cut and black glossy boots shined from beneath the bell of her pants.

Did I mention that it was May?

She smelled like some soft, expensive perfume.

Morning, pumpkin, she said as she entered. In her hands she carried a slick briefcase—a midnight black. I have an assignment for you, because of your unique skills. She cackled, but her lips barely opened—a trick I’ve never been able to master. The Native American church has decided to sue Sheriff Polich for slander and for harassment. Paperwork went through about a month ago. The clerks worked all the usual angles.

I nodded. When Evelyn spoke, she didn’t want any input from others, unless she asked a question.

I don’t know much about them or their relationship with the sheriff. That’s Logan’s department. Still, I want you to dig up anything that could help us.

I nodded again.

Try to start today, and don’t let on to anyone. Her eyes, artfully made up with eyeliner and powder of smoke gray, looked like a professional had done them. I wondered if she used Botox. Evelyn was well preserved and elegant. She turned on her heel and left.

For about a minute I didn’t move.

Sheriff Polich was running for mayor, just like the Native American medicine man, Kevin Cowboy. Funny how elections were less than a few weeks away, and Evelyn wanted to get some dirt on Polich. I wasn’t quite sure of her motives, but Evelyn did sign my paychecks.

Still, I couldn’t just rush out and start asking people about him. She did say keep it low and well, I needed a plan.

I sipped my coffee (my third cup in less than an hour) and picked up the newspaper from my desk where Anderson had so carelessly left it. As I read through the paper, I noticed a string of drive-by shootings occurred in the Dockers neighborhood. That wasn’t unusual; in fact, the report didn’t appear until page six. The Nizhoni Sentinel is only a ten-page newspaper.

Our fair town was no stranger to violence despite the mundane, plain small towns depicted on television. You can’t believe any of that shit you see on TV anyway.

In years past, odd pockets of violence had sprung up, releasing hideous, but invisible, vapors across our city—infecting normal, average citizens, turning them into homicidal, suicidal, and in some weird cases, genocidal madmen.

Then once the carnage ran scarlet into the streets, the flip of some proverbial coin would occur, and all was back to normal.

Just last summer, Nizhoni had had more violent deaths than any other town in the state of New Mexico. Most of those murders didn’t make the headlines either, or even the back pages. The obituaries were the only section dedicated to those deaths. In fact, more women were murdered by their abusive husbands in Nizhoni, and the surrounding reservations than any other place in the United States per square foot, or something like that. Too many to make headlines, unless it reinforced that the poor were dangerous, and besides, most of the murders occurred on the reservation and the local newspaper didn’t really care about that.

Now the local high school’s basketball team, readers cared about that. When Nizhoni went to state last year, I thought we’d been given a grant to rebuild downtown as there were so many celebrations, parades, and parties.

Remarkably there wasn’t anything about Polich in the news. It other cities, like Chicago where my brother lives, media is swamped with all the dirt and secrets of those running for office.

Not here.

Nothing.

Clean.

Just the usual trite paid-for-blah-blah for blah-blah advertisements.

Something stank and right away I couldn’t put my finger on it. There were always some articles written by reporters about the mayoral candidates. So why none this go around?

Stumped, I called my friend, Jaci. She and I go way back—all the way back to elementary school and she is one of the few members of my high school graduating class that wasn’t dead, incarcerated, or living in Albuquerque.

Nizhoni’s police department. Officer Eagleman speaking, Jaci said, her voice serious and polished and totally ready to state ‘no comment’ as if it was her entire name.

It’s me.

I sipped some coffee.

Hold on. I heard her put the phone down. She mumbled a few words to someone and then returned to the phone. Okay. Nice to hear from you. I’m fine. How about you?

Sorry, I walked around my desk to toss the paper cup into the recycling tray on my floor. Listen, if you’re busy I can call back later, or you can give me a holler when you’re ready.

I am busy, as well you know, Jaci said, her voice clipped and tired. Double shift. Mark Lee quit yesterday. Right in the middle of that drug bust over at Walden. Said he was going to work for border patrol.

Nizhoni’s officers would make more if they worked at McDonald’s, but Jaci had been there for about five years. So she had a desk that sat directly across from her partner, Kiki. Her pay was slightly higher too, but not by much. As a result of the low wages, Nizhoni’s police department had a difficult time retaining officers.

Mark Lee was yet another number in a long line of police deserters.

Do you know anything about the Native American Church? I asked, this time adding a little sugar to my words. Jaci usually worked with me on some of my cases for Crabtree, although off the record.

Nothing questionable, you understand.

Ahem.

Uh, not really. Only departmental stuff, you know, drug raids and such. Don’t tell me it’s because of a client or something…

Well, no, just ideal curiosity, I said with a smile she couldn’t see.

But she could hear it.

Che, come on! You promised. No more client work. I always get dragged into court over it and it makes the sheriff mad!

I was just asking…

This one last time, Chenoa, I mean it. Here’s what I know about the NAC. Kevin Cowboy runs that outfit here in Nizhoni, and from what I hear he’s all right. Everyone thinks they’re just a bunch of potheads and peyote smokers hiding behind the right to practice any religion… Jaci whispered into the telephone. Look, I’ve got to go…another call coming in.

All right, thanks girlie.

Sure.

We disconnected with promises to meet for lunch one day this week.

I collected my notepad and my piece, locked my office door, despite being inside a large office building and headed out. Some of the files inside my cabinet were worth killing for.

Anderson once said that I was the most dangerous person in Nizhoni, because of all the dirt I had on people from my years of investigating for Crabtree.

He couldn’t be more right.

Chapter 3

I spent the remainder of the afternoon in the Nizhoni Public Library, a rectangular building that sucked up half a block of asphalt. Just two short blocks from the Crabtree offices, many of the clerks spent their time here as well, so I had company.

Cane, good to see you, called A.J. Yellowfeather, the librarian in charge of references. He and I knew each other well. I’d spent a lot of time in the library in my youth, researching, reading, checking out books. The place had a calming effect on my person and a soothing atmosphere that forced me to let stress go.

At least while I was inside the building.

Once I exited, the stress came crashing back down onto my shoulders.

I got down to researching Polich because I had to start somewhere.

After about two hours of that snoozefest, I had lunch and returned to the office with about as much knowledge about Polich as I had before. No one liked angering the sheriff, which in a town like ours could mean angering the Roman general. Only Caesar or, in this case, Anderson, had more power.

* * * *

Around four o’clock, I was cruising the potluck treats at Mary Tsosie’s Battered Women’s Center. Potlucks are a staple of small town life, and Nizhoni was no exception. A retirement party for director Angela Rodriguez was the most recent excuse to break out nana’s favorite recipe. I’d dealt with Angela on more than one case, and was sorry to see her retire. She was only forty-six—a woman full of life and robust laughter. Still, a recent diagnosis of breast cancer had prematurely ended her career.

She wanted time to battle the disease and in true Angela form, wanted to be safe rather than sorry.

And although safety was important to Angela, at the moment, I wasn’t even sure the potato salad could count as safe for ingesting.

In the center’s employee break room, three long, rectangular tables were covered with tablecloths of turquoise and sand—not red and white checks. Covered by big bowls of salad: fresh frybread, and New Mexican chilies, burritos, tacos, and burgers, the tables were a homemade smorgasbord of chow. My paper plate threatened to collapse to the tile floor it was so full of grub.

I headed to the closest round table designated for guests with little pink breast cancer awareness ribbons tied and taped to the front. For guests, plain, hard white paper kept spills from reaching the actual table surface. Pockets of buzzing conversations peppered the somewhat small room. I navigated my way through, catching bits and pieces of current drama, family dysfunctions, and jokes. I plopped down in the first available seat.

The rich smell of coffee mixed and mingled like the guests. Large guffaws broke through the humming peaks of pointless small talk, which included the remnants of rumors and gossip that could span several generations. It wasn’t just who did what to whom, but who did what to your aunt, your cousin, or your grandma.

Close to the vending machines was a trio of officers, one of whom was Officer Yazzie, or Kik,i to everyone in Nizhoni. We were the same age, but he still looked as fit and solid as in high school. He and Jaci were partners of sorts for Nizhoni PD.

There was a time when I had wanted to partner up to Kiki in a non-work-related way, but I got sideswiped by Anderson, and well, that’s all she wrote on that.

But seeing him again put everything back into perspective.

Sort of.

Kiki’s uniform seemed to fit perfectly. His department-issued pants were creased and hugged his muscled thighs. His shoes gleamed and his short-sleeved shirt exposed his beautiful brown arms, toned and tight. Thank God for summer.

He glanced at me and waved, forcing my stomach to flip-flop. Sure I found him attractive in a way that made me worry, and I won’t lie, he starred in many of my fantasies—but every free and single woman in town wanted him. He