Sharlah Webb thinks her life is changing for the better, until the day she comes home and finds police cars surrounding her house.
Advance praise: “Author Shawna Seed’s characters are engaging, her plot satisfying, and she writes like a dream! Entertaining debut!”
— Paula LaRocque, author of Chalk Line, a Ben Gallagher mystery.
Here’s an excerpt of Identity.
When the cop first said it, Sharlah wasn’t sure what he meant. It was one of those words she’d read but never actually heard anyone say. In her head, she always rhymed it with “cave.”
“Sweetheart, if you believe that, you are some kind of naïve,” he said. “Wise up.”
Sharlah leaned toward the wire mesh that separated her from the officer in the front of the parked cruiser. “I’m telling you, this is a mistake. Brian’s working at a construction site in Houston today.”
Construction accident – that had been her first thought when she rounded the corner on her way home from work and saw all the cars in front of the house. She thought the police were there to tell her something terrible had happened to Brian.
One minute she was driving along, half-listening to the news – something about President Reagan and El Salvador – and trying to decide whether the clutch in her Colt felt mushier than it had that morning. The next minute, she was met at the curb by a cop who ushered her into the back of his car.
He said Brian was being charged with drug trafficking, whatever that meant, and they were searching the house. He showed her the warrant, but he wouldn’t tell her anything.
Sharlah shifted uncomfortably in the back seat and tried, discreetly, to pull her skirt away where it was sticking to the backs of her thighs. It was 3:30, getting on toward the hottest part of the day, and her waitress uniform was 100 percent polyester. That was great for repelling bacon grease and ketchup stains, but not so comfortable on an August afternoon. She was glad she’d at least peeled off her pantyhose in the car and changed into her flip-flops before she drove home from work.
She’d been sitting in the back of the stifling cruiser for 10 minutes, silently fuming after answering an initial barrage of questions.
Sharlah Marie Webb. Yeah, Sharlah with an h on the end. Nineteen. Yeah, she lived here. No, she never saw any drugs. No, she never saw Brian with lots of cash – she wished! Guns? No. Not even to hunt? He kept his deer rifle at his folks’ house, she said, not bothering to add that Brian liked fishing better than hunting.
Tired of waiting, she aimed a question of her own at the back of the cop’s neck. “How long do I have to sit out here?”
“Go on up if you want,” he said without turning around. “Nobody said you couldn’t.”
That made Sharlah mad, because if anybody had told her she could go on in, she sure as hell wouldn’t have been sitting outside all this time. She didn’t say anything, but she made sure to slam the car door extra-hard when she got out.
A dark-haired cop with an impressive mustache and mirrored sunglasses was on her front step. He gave her the once-over, lingering on her chest, then smirked at her like he’d gotten away with something. Sharlah, who’d needed a bra since fifth grade and had dealt with worse, glared at him and pushed through the front door.
She stepped inside the house and gasped. Every piece of furniture in the living room had been turned upside-down. The lining of the couch had been slashed and pulled back. Albums spilled across the floor. The back of the TV had been removed, exposing the wiring.
It was a shotgun house, and all the doors were open, so Sharlah could see straight through the bedroom and into the kitchen at the back of the house. The cops had tossed every room.
Two of them stood in her living room going over some papers. One was older, with gray hair and a soft, jiggly gut that slopped over his belt. Sharlah recognized the younger one, who came to the restaurant sometimes. Never wanted a coffee refill, 15 percent tip to the penny, didn’t stare openly at her boobs – pretty much an ideal customer in her book.
Another cop stood in the doorway to the bedroom with a pair of her panties in his hand.
“Hey!” Sharlah’s foot hit the squeaky floorboard in the living room, and all three cops looked up. “Goddammit! Put those down!”
The expression on the older cop’s face soured. He said something to the one in the bedroom, who put the panties down, then sidled past Sharlah and out the door.
“Pervert,” she said under her breath as he walked by.
Sharlah turned to the older cop. “Are you in charge? Where’s Brian?”
He took a few steps toward her. “So you’re the suspect’s girlfriend? I’m going out to the car to finish the paperwork. You’ll need to sign.”
The suspect’s girlfriend. Sharlah didn’t like the sound of that. She called after the retreating cop. “Are you done? Can I start picking up?”
“You can pick up,” the younger cop said, the same way he said, “Eggs over easy, bacon, wheat toast, coffee.” Flat. No expression.
Sharlah knelt and gathered albums into a neat stack, unconsciously alphabetizing as she went. She slotted Def Leppard after The Clash, Joan Jett between Joe Jackson and Billy Joel, all three of them before Journey.
“Did you guys really have to make such a goddamned mess?”
Loverboy, Men At Work, Metallica…
The Men At Work album belonged to her friend Missy and needed to be returned. Sharlah set it to one side.
The cop was looking out the front door, pointedly ignoring her. He was tall and wiry, with strawberry blond hair, cut short. His neck was sunburned.
Redneck jerk, Sharlah thought. He’d always seemed nice when he came to the diner, but now she regretted the effort she’d put into getting his orders right.
The dark cop with the mustache and sunglasses called through the screen door. “Clearing out. See you later.”
The red-haired cop bobbed his head once. “Later, Moreno.”
Sharlah couldn’t believe the way the cops went about their business like it was no big deal to make a mess of someone’s house. She spotted a library book – Mistral’s Daughter – sprawled under the coffee table, her bookmark a foot away. “You lost my place in my book,” she snapped at the redhead. “Thanks a lot.”
“What’s the red stain on your steps?”
“Grenadine,” she said, which was basically the truth. “It’s hard to get out.”
“It smells bad. You should try bleach.” The cop turned around and studied her for a minute. Then he walked toward the couch. “Take the other end,” he said.
Working together, they righted it. He glanced toward the front door.
“Morgan’s coming back. Don’t cuss in front of him. He’s born-again. It’ll just make things worse.”
“Worse than this?” Sharlah said, sweeping her hand around the room. “Must be nice to be a cop and get to bust shit up whenever…”
“Your boyfriend’s in the county jail.”
Sharlah had been working up a head of steam, but she stopped. “Can I go get him now? Or will they keep him overnight?”
The cop shook his head. “He’s looking at felony charges. If he can’t afford a lawyer, they’ll give him a public defender in time for his arraignment. That’s when they’ll set bail, but it won’t happen until Monday.”
Sharlah’s shoulders slumped. “Not until Monday?”
- Should I keep reading?
- How do I get the book?