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A Savvy Way to Kill: Denny McConnell PI, #2
A Savvy Way to Kill: Denny McConnell PI, #2
A Savvy Way to Kill: Denny McConnell PI, #2
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A Savvy Way to Kill: Denny McConnell PI, #2

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About this ebook

Has technology been used as a weapon in the murder of two victims? Denny McConnell, PI, is on the case.

Denny is hired by Amber Fagerstrom's law firm to help prove her innocent of the murder of Bad Boy Philip McDuggle. When another murder takes place in Ft. Worth, allegedly by the wife of the man for whom Denny provided expert testimony, Denny suspects the two cases are connected. Each of the two victims was involved in a coal venture, and Amber happens to have consulted for Philip McDuggle's company.

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS another entertaining, intriguing romp by one private investigator through some deadly wheeling and dealing in the Great State of Texas. [DRM-Free]


  • Denny McConnell PI – Book 1: A Family Feud Texas Style
  • Denny McConnell PI – Book 2: A Savvy Way to Kill
  • Denny McConnell PI – Book 3: The Texas Medicine Murders
  • ...and Books 4-5 are works in progress, so stay tuned.


  • The "PI Kowalski" Series by Chris Krupa
  • "10-30" and "Dormir" by Michael Golvach
  • "The Oz Files" Series by Barry Metcalf
  • The "Duncan Cochrane" Series by David Hagerty
  • "The Syndicate-Born Trilogy" Series by K.M. Hodge


Release dateOct 15, 2020
A Savvy Way to Kill: Denny McConnell PI, #2
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Kent Swarts

Kent Swarts was an aerospace engineer for 46 years, and is now an astronomer. He has edited the Central Texas Astronomical Society’s newsletter for 15 years. He’s published in six sci-fi and dystopian anthologies. Now retired, he finds retirement more demanding than any job he’s had. He lives in Waco, Texas with his wife and dog, and when not writing, he reads or goes golfing. Engineering has influenced his writing, particularly pertaining to characters and to penning sci-fi.

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    Denny McConnell PI – Book 2

    Copyright © 2020 Kent Swarts


    ISBN (EPUB Version): 1622538420

    ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-842-3


    Editor: Katherine McIntyre

    Cover Artist: Kabir Shah

    Interior Designer: Lane Diamond



    At the end of this novel of approximately 81,362 words, you will find two Special Sneak Previews: 1) THE TEXAS MEDICINE MURDERS by Kent Swarts, the third book in this Denny McConnell PI series, and; 2) 10-30 by Michael Golvach, the first book in the Payden Beck Crime Thriller series of noir detective/murder mysteries. We think you’ll enjoy these books, too, and provide these previews as a FREE extra service, which you should in no way consider a part of the price you paid for this book. We hope you will both appreciate and enjoy the opportunity. Thank you.


    eBook License Notes:

    You may not use, reproduce or transmit in any manner, any part of this book without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews, or in accordance with federal Fair Use laws. All rights are reserved.

    This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only; it may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



    This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.

    Books by Kent Swarts


    Book 1: A Family Feud Texas Style

    Book 2: A Savvy Way to Kill

    Book 3: The Texas Medicine Murders




    We’re pleased to offer you not one, but two Special Sneak Previews at the end of this book.


    In the first preview, you’ll enjoy the First 2 Chapters of THE TEXAS MEDICINE MURDERS by Kent Swarts, the third book in this exciting Denny McConnell PI series of detective murder mysteries.





    The DENNY McCONNELL PI Series at Evolved Publishing

    In the second preview, you’ll enjoy the Prologue and First Chapter of 10-30 by Michael Golvach, the first book in the Payden Beck Crime Thriller series of noir detective/murder mysteries.





    MICHAEL GOLVACH’S Books at Evolved Publishing

    Table of Contents


    Books by Kent Swarts


    Table of Contents



    Chapter 1

    Chapter 2

    Chapter 3

    Chapter 4

    Chapter 5

    Chapter 6

    Chapter 7

    Chapter 8

    Chapter 9

    Chapter 10

    Chapter 11

    Chapter 12

    Chapter 13

    Chapter 14

    Chapter 15

    Chapter 16

    Chapter 17

    Chapter 18

    Chapter 19

    Chapter 20

    Chapter 21

    Chapter 22

    Chapter 23

    Chapter 24

    Special Sneak Preview: THE TEXAS MEDICINE MURDERS by Kent Swarts

    About the Author

    More from Kent Swarts

    What’s Next?

    More from Evolved Publishing

    Special Sneak Preview: 10-30 by Michael Golvach


    For Jennifer and Stephanie,

    You have given me happy memories of the past, joyful moments of the present, and a promise for the future.

    Chapter 1

    Shortly after Amber Fagerstrom was charged with murder, Ed Darwin, a friend from my college days, coincidentally handed me part of his memoir to read. In it, Ed said Amber was brilliant, enjoyable to be with, and sweet. Then he called Amber terribly hot and a slut. I took exception to ‘terribly hot,’ instead finding her radiant, but I understood. I didn’t know her well enough to confirm or deny the latter comment.

    I met her for the first time in Evanston, Wyoming, the morning before she was arraigned. Amber’s light blonde hair flowed below her shoulders, and her oval face framed a pleasing smile and penetrating brown eyes. According to the police report, she turned thirty-one this past February 14th and had attained an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science and a Ph.D. in Geochemistry. She received her doctorate from Stanford at the age of twenty-six and went to work at Texas Environment Engineers, LLC (TEE) in Dallas where her single mother raised her. And while on a business trip to Evanston, she reportedly shot Philip McDuggle three times in the back.

    At an earlier date in Dallas, Amber stepped off the bus into a torrential spring downpour, ran the half block to the Mobile Building, and took the elevator to the tenth floor offices of TEE.

    As she walked by the receptionist’s desk, Patricia handed her three phone messages and a report. I stayed and printed the report last night. I believe you’ll find it interesting.

    Thank you, Patricia, you are definitely appreciated. Amber did not skip a step.

    As Amber turned the corner, Patricia lamented, But you don’t pay me what I’m worth.

    Amber ignored the comment. She didn’t entertain complaints.

    Fagerstrom stepped into her office and paused, making sure everything was where it belonged before she continued to the lime green and cream striped couch. She smoothed the cushions on instinct, even though the couch looked pristine. She adjusted two items on the small table in front and sat on the sofa.

    TEE’s offices, like most executive offices, were finished in a plain vanilla coat with brown trim and accented by a brown Berber carpet. Photos of oil derricks, offshore rigs, landforms, and mountains were arbitrarily hung in the entrance and on hallway walls. Apart from Amber’s, the offices were blasé. A year after she started work, she got fed up with the humdrum room and had the office painted fuchsia. She added the lime green sofa, an iridescent red side chair, end tables, and a desk made from clear Plexiglas. The tables and desk flowed in French curves, and even the drawers were translucent. She kept a 9mm pistol with a silencer in the top right drawer of her desk, but as far as anyone at the office knew, she had never used it.

    She smoothed her dress and began reading Amalgamated Wyoming Coal’s preservation report. Philip McDuggle, a wealthy tycoon, owned two oil and gas exploration companies, a drilling company, and had interests in pipelines and mines. His latest venture was coal. His partners found an enormous coal deposit in southwestern Wyoming on the Utah border and asked him to take the presidency. The report Patricia handed Amber proposed an environmental reconciliation related to 1,100-year-old Native American artifacts uncovered on the property. McDuggle had made no attempt to preserve the site, and when word got to Washington, the Department of Interior sued to preserve the relics. To settle the dispute, Amalgamated Wyoming Coal proposed creating a butte almost four hundred feet wide and a thousand feet long with a footbridge spanning two hundred feet to the Wyoming desert. Strip-mining coal deeper and deeper around the burial site would create the butte.

    She scribbled notes in the margins and wrote a brief but terse rejection on the front cover. Then she rose, smoothed the sofa, walked to her desk, and sat in the ergonomic wraparound chair. Amber electronically raised the footstool, propping her feet on it after taking off her high-heeled shoes and setting them by the end of the desk. She scrutinized the dark gray clouds moving ominously overhead and then shifted to the rain beating a steady rhythm on the window.

    I guess I’d better get this over with. Amber dialed McDuggle’s office number.

    Good morning, Amber. Isn’t this rain just what the doctor ordered?

    She held the phone away and frowned. What he should’ve said was, ‘This is the second day of rain. We’ve gotten over five inches, and the Trinity River is flooding.’

    She glanced out the window. Soon enough it’ll be dry. So, yes, I suppose I should agree with you.

    There you go. Are you satisfied with the environmental abatement report?

    Frankly, no, Amber said. The report is incomplete. You haven’t addressed erosion of the cliffs or water drainage. You avoid detailing your company’s role in land management, and the building you proposed is entirely too small for offices and outreach programs.

    You’re nitpicking. We are deeding the land to the state, so our responsibility ends.

    Are you aware the U.S. Congress discussed your venture?

    We are aware and don’t foresee any issues. We made contributions in all the right places, Philip responded.

    I hear DOE won’t even comment on the proposal because they’re so scared.

    Donaldson is an unscrupulous follower. It’s a done deal.

    I seriously doubt the validity of your statement, said Amber.

    Let me buy you a drink and we’ll talk about your concerns in detail.

    Sorry, Philip, I’m busy that evening.

    I haven’t mentioned a date.

    Then you get my drift. I’m sending the report back by courier this morning. Read my notes and call. She cradled the phone before he could answer.

    Philip’s marriage was on the rocks – faceted, expensive rocks. Had Amber known he was still married, she wouldn’t have slept with him.

    She dialed two other numbers, spoke briefly to clients, and walked to the break room to get a cup of coffee.

    David Underwood, a partner in the firm, strode in behind her. Hey. Philip is pissed at you. He told the old man you were undermining him.

    Amber laughed in her throaty chuckle. I’m the devil, and I wear Prada.

    It’s not funny. Philip was serious.

    David, so was I. He’s doing the bare minimum and could care less about the preservation of the artifacts. Congressman Forrester called me two days ago to say the rider for this venture, which is tied to the highway bill, will not pass.

    The highway bill will be vetoed?

    Won’t make it out of Congress, Amber continued. They compromised with the Senate. The Senate version will pass, and their version contains no coal rider.

    I’ll tell Stew.

    I sent him an email.

    This has disaster written all over it, David said.

    My concern is that DOE won’t touch any of the documents regarding the venture. They send them forward to who knows where, saying the garbage is not in their purview. Philip reeks of minimalism and shortsightedness. The Congressmen he bought added the rider, knowing the Senate version was going to be adopted by the Congress. That way they can honestly say, ‘it’s not our fault.’ AWC starts all over and spends another three years.

    There’s no chance?

    Forrester said as much and that AWC’s proposal lacks integrity. That’s the clue to getting back on track. The highway bill has yet to complete its way through the Senate, so I figure Philip and company have about two months to re-chart the waters.

    Have you told anyone? David asked.

    I thought you understood from our earlier discussions. Either you or Dr. Winslow should call him and explain the politics. He won’t take the word of a woman. Well, at least this woman.

    I will. Anything else?

    I want to be the tech, not the harbinger of the things he’s dredged up, Amber responded with a bitter frown.

    His partners are fed up with his, ah....

    Ego? Amber said, chuckling.

    David said, You said it, not me. We’ll make sure you remain his techie.

    She walked back to her office mumbling, I bet. Remain his tech, like a whore in a closet. She prepared notes for a telecom.

    During the conference call initiated by Underwood with a client in Australia, she doodled and watched the rain. She sat up straight, lowering the footstool, and began making a grocery list. She revised it three times before she was happy that it flowed logically from the door she would enter to the cash register at the end. Satisfied, she shredded all the scraps of paper she’d been writing on, turned off the desk lamp, and left her office after straightening the chairs in front of her desk.

    When she got to the neighborhood grocery store, she picked up a basket and began in the produce department, shopping according to her list. She paused in front of the canned beans, studying different varieties. She picked up a can, read the ingredients, and replaced it, reaching for another.

    Beans are beans. Get the plain kind, a deep voice said next to her.

    She turned toward the man and sized him up. She found him handsome. He wore a tweed sport coat with patches on the elbows, a bow-tie, and a pink button-down shirt. His face was rugged, accented by his short beard.

    Why? Amber made geological decisions, not ones about beans.

    Well, I suppose it depends on who you’re buying them for.

    I guess, she said and gestured to the bean shelf.

    Then plain. That way you don’t need to make decisions about what to serve with them. Original beans go with anything. Like white.

    She laughed and glanced at the beans. I don’t know.

    He took a can of the original variety and walked on. While she stood at the checkout counter, he walked up and placed his groceries behind hers on the conveyor belt. Well, did you make a bean decision?

    Yes. Thank you. I find I like white too.

    They laughed, and she walked to her condo. Inside, she dried her umbrella with a towel she put out this morning for that purpose. She dried her coat and took her shoes off, setting them by the door on the towel to dry. After she put her groceries away and started dinner, she leafed through the Dallas Arts District Magazine. She noted an art auction at Heritage Auction on Friday evening. She circled the event and continued reading. After dinner, she added the art auction to her calendar and read about the Civil War in a recently published book. She set the book down when a thought struck her.

    I had a great day, a really great day.

    A rifle shot shattered her living room window.

    Chapter 2

    I once worked as Denny McConnell, engineer, but I recently stepped into the role of Denny McConnell, private eye and expert witness. My background was in mechanical engineering, specifically in structures and loads analysis. After being laid off from Vought due to a major defense contract cancellation, I had an opportunity to provide two engineering analyses to Charles, a lawyer and friend of mine. One analysis proved his client wasn’t negligent, so the case never went to court. The other awarded damages to the victim. From that meager beginning, I built my reputation as a solid, articulate, and reliable PI. However, the personal side of my life lay in ruins. My wife divorced me, because she claimed I cared more for airplanes than her needs, and she took everything, including our savings. Thinking back, I was glad we were married, even if our marriage was transitive.

    Not having an income, I needed to find a cheap place to live. And I did.

    I lived in a modern home in University Park, two and a half blocks from Southern Methodist University. I was paid to house sit while the owners cavorted around Europe, enjoying the lifestyle of the rich. Above a winding staircase in the master suite was a third-floor study. The oval room was large. Antique, dark-stained bookshelves ran above the built-in cabinets lining the curved walls for about two-thirds of a room which reached up to twelve-feet. The rest of the wall was one large curved window covered with white drapes, featuring a fine, red thread. The minimal furniture and trappings made the office an airy, cordial space. The Tower was not only an impressive room but the most comfortable one I had ever used.

    This impressive room in a most stunning house amazed me. Never had I seen a room designed with such discerning care and so tastefully. Being foreign to me, I used the Tower in awe of its owners.

    The only quirk I had as a PI was that unlike a lot of others, I refused to carry a weapon. I supposed my interest in architecture was another quirk. When growing up in San Antonio, I lived in a typical suburban home, and once married, I did the same. The place I lived in now differed so radically in its design and elegance from what I was accustomed to, I became fascinated with it and consequently architecture as a whole.

    At thirty-four and five-feet-eleven with brown hair and eyes, I exuded academia, not brutality. While strong, I wasn’t ripped. More logical than iron-willed, I could carry on a conversation with anybody, as long as they didn’t discuss football. Football seemed brutal, and since I was anything but, I had little interest in the sport. On the other hand, I was a fan of baseball.

    About a week before I met Amber Fagerstrom, I carried my mug of coffee up the two flights of stairs and sat gazing out the Tower room’s floor-to-ceiling window. I intended to calculate the stresses of a single-engine airplane under stunt conditions. The owner, Jo Neiman of Ft. Worth, claimed in the lawsuit that the renter, David Grossman, crashed her plane doing aggressive aerobatic stunts. Moreover, she claimed his negligence caused her to experience an emotional breakdown.

    I leaned back in my chair, hands folded behind my head, and thought about how much I had changed due to being laid off. At that time, if someone asked me what I would do, I would have said, Engineering. Now that I investigated airplanes and other mechanical equipment to help lawyers and had solved onerous crimes, I could not be more gratified or enthusiastic in my new career. In short, I was happy, unlike when I analyzed structures at Vought where I was accountable to bosses. Plus, I now bathed in self-reliance, swam in pools of risk, and drank from cups of innovation. Life was good.

    The first thing I noticed as I spread the eight pictures on the desk was that the plane dove into the ground at about a twenty-degree angle. It canted toward the right side, the one with the missing wing. From the view of the camera, the wing root appeared to be intact and the fuselage aft of the cabin was relatively undamaged. Two pictures showed different views of the mangled wing some unknown distance from the small plane. I made notes regarding the details of the various breaks and twists.

    The Corvalis was advertised on Cessna’s website as a low-wing, high-performance aircraft. It could fly at 191 knots, climbed at 1255 feet per minute, and attained an altitude of 18,000 feet. For a single-engine sports plane, this was sensational. Its fully instrumented cockpit included the latest electronic gadgets, which helped the pilot navigate, fly, and communicate. Its wingspan of thirty-five feet contrasted to a body length of twenty-five feet. Its useful load was 950 pounds with a payload of 338 pounds. Thus, the plane could carry about 600 pounds of fuel. I made notes about the weights listed on the website.

    The weights were important, because if the plane were near takeoff weight, the stresses applied during aerobatics could be horrendous. David would need to tell me about this. I decided to call him. We talked on the phone for several minutes, agreeing that I would meet him at his house in Arlington for lunch.

    I left the house, following the navigation system lady’s voice to David’s. His home was on the south side of I-30 and backed up to Lake Arlington. As I pulled into the semicircular driveway, I was stunned by the size and appearance of his home. Made from white Texas limestone, the façade with large windows behind a wide, seventy-five-foot long veranda gave the house the marvelous appeal of a West Texas ranch house so common near Austin in the Hill Country.

    Once again, I was reminded of the grandness a home could exude. This single-story home radiated warmth, welcomed the visitor, and unlike my home, personified Texas. The house heightened my awareness of the different types of architecture, so I hoped it was a good thing.

    Hello, McConnell, David greeted me. Come in. Got beer in the cooler and the best damn barbecue in Texas on the grill, he said, sounding as if he were addressing a theater audience. He reached a hand toward mine while smoothing his long gray hair back from his face with the other. I’m pleased to meet you. Ben said a bunch of good things about y’all. He took my hand, yanking me through the door.

    Pleased to meet you, sir. Ben told me good things about you too.

    The patio is straight ahead. Introduce yourself to my wife while I go to the men’s room. Been drinking already.

    I introduced myself to his wife, Vivian, who was also large and spoke in a South Texas drawl. They were both in their sixties and appeared to be quite well suited to each other.

    Hon, grab yourself a bottle from the cooler over yonder and pop the top. Y’all got some catchin’ up to do. Vivian whipped her fleshy arm out and pointed to the cooler about thirty feet away.

    I walked past the grill to the cooler, taking in the enticing smell. When I came back, I stutter-stepped across the front of the grill. Great aroma wafting around there, I said, sounding too Texan.

    The country-like setting, the patio’s ambiance, and the aromas of barbeque reeked Texas. And being a Texan, I fit like a horse collar on a plow horse. I found it both enjoyable and invigorating to be a part of their afternoon.

    Davey is the best. He used to enter contests, but he says it’s boring anymore ‘cause there’s no competition, she nearly shouted, waving at Davey who just walked onto the patio from double French doors at the far end.

    Heck yeah. Ain’t any competition anymore. I got tons of prizes. Now if I show up at an event, everyone else packs up their barbecues. He laughed and slapped my shoulder while picking up the beer he’d been drinking. Hope Heines are okay?

    Absolutely, sir. One of my favorites.

    Call me Dave. I spell sir, c u r, which is no good. He walked over to the cooker and lifted the lid. Hope you’re hungry, Danny, ‘cause I got a ton of meat on.

    Starved, famished, I said savoring the odor again. Barbeque Texas-style ranked among the best in the world, and I had eaten grillers’ works all over the state. My wife loved barbeque, so we’d take weekend trips to places she researched to try their delicacy. Those had been happy days in an otherwise languishing marriage. Since the divorce, I still ate barbeque, but didn’t seek new and exciting Que restaurants. This was another change, but not for the better. I was determined to make today like the old days. I smiled and drank from my bottle of beer.

    He sat and turned to me, appearing serious and contemplative. Danny, tell me something. Can I win?

    This floored me. How on Earth would I know? I was a guest, and things were going good, so I hazarded a positive guess. Yes, Dave, you will, but only if you get my name right. Denny.

    Shoot. I knew that.

    His wife scowled at him from behind large sunglasses, making a tsk, tsk sound.

    Sorry, babe. I don’t make those mistakes very often. It’s the lawsuit. My insides are all jumbled.

    After all the pictures and technical reports I read this morning, I definitely understand why you’re topsy-turvy.

    So, you know I didn’t wreck her plane?

    No, sir. Not at this point. I winced but didn’t know why. My answer may have affected my sentiment about wanting today to be like times past. This afternoon had to work out for me.

    He gasped and leaned back in his chair, giving me a once over from head to foot. ’Nother beer, son? I thought we were on the same sheet of music. Denny!

    I already agreed with you on that, Dave. Vivian, you heard me? I joked and pointed to Vivian.

    He did, hon. He did. I’ll get you another beer and ask the maid to serve us, she said as she unwound from the lounge chair. She stood at least six foot one and was large but not overweight, although I wasn’t quite sure since her body was mostly hidden under a long, Hawaiian print summer dress.

    A maid in a navy blue uniform brought buns, condiments, a bowl of potato salad, and a tray stacked with various pickles and peppers. She set them on a side table and returned with huge glasses of iced tea and a bowl of lemon and mint.

    There are a few friends joining us. Jeb called and said he’s pulling in the drive now. He told me there’s a tiny white bug of some sort obstructing his parking spot. Wanted to know if he could smack it. Dave laughed and slapped the table.

    Jeb and a woman walked around the corner of the house, carrying drinks in their hands. Shortly, another couple followed. Dave introduced the four to me and made sure we had drinks. Jeb’s wife was Susie. Kathleen was the girlfriend of Matt, the other fellow.

    Jeb and his wife appeared to be near the ages of David and Vivian. Jeb was tall and had a beer belly while his wife was petite and chesty with bleach-blonde hair. Both wore wraparound sunglasses so their faces remained obscured to me. Matt was short, stubby, and cheerful. He appeared to be in his late forties or early fifties. His girlfriend was no more than twenty-five, if that. She was slightly taller than him and quite leggy. She smiled and squinted from behind huge round sunglasses, giggling at everything said.

    David, Dave, or Davey, depending on who addressed him, took the meat off the grill. He put the slabs on large platters held by the maid who set them on the serving table and sliced the meat into thin strips.

    Hey, y’all come and get it! Dave yelled while he struck the dinner bell.

    I prepared a beef and pork sandwich, pouring copious amounts of Vivian’s homemade sauce on it. I scooped a large helping of potato salad onto my plate, grabbed an iced tea, and sat. Compared to the rest of the men, Susie and I ate like birds.

    Dave and Vivian

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