Home > Dirty Minds (J.J. Graves Mystery #12)

Dirty Minds (J.J. Graves Mystery #12)
Author: Liliana Hart

 


Chapter One

 

 

The Purple Pig had only been open a few months, but the locals seemed to love it. Maybe it was the vivaciousness of the atmosphere, or maybe it was because of the neon purple pig on the front of the building. But whatever the case, the place was hopping on a Friday night.

King George County was growing away from the silent, sleepy place I’d grown up in. Its proximity to both DC and Richmond made it not too terrible of a commute for those who wanted to raise families away from high crime and politics, and when tobacco farming had become unpopular over the last couple of decades, a majority of the landowners had sold their property to big developers.

Back in 1945 there had been over two thousand farmers producing tobacco. Less than a hundred years later there were fewer than two hundred. Someone famous once said that progress was impossible without change, and those who couldn’t change their minds couldn’t change anything. There were a lot of residents who’d tell you they were just fine with their minds the way they were, so progress in King George had been about as slow as the Titanic trying to avoid an iceberg.

But the Purple Pig was a sign of progress, and the prime location across from the courthouse assured that young attorneys and clerks and others who worked downtown would make their way over after work for happy hour to consume cheap drinks and have a good meal before heading home. The atmosphere and hospitality was what had them staying to pay full price after happy hour was over.

My name is J.J. Graves, and I wouldn’t consider myself trendy or hip, and I wasn’t sure where I fit on the progress side of things. I tended to stay in my own lane for the most part. I liked going to work and then going home. I preferred NASCAR-style grocery shopping where I got in and out without having to talk to too many people. And I liked drive-thru windows and self-service gas stations. There was a reason I worked with the dead.

But marriage had changed me—some—and I had to admit I enjoyed the new conveniences that had been popping up around town. It was nice to have grocery stores and gas stations that stayed open after the sun went down, and it was nice to have restaurants that didn’t have fifty years of grease caked on the floor, though Martha’s Diner was still thriving for those who preferred the good old days.

Which was how I’d come to be at the Purple Pig on a Friday night, in the midst of a rambunctious happy hour, with a group of people I called friends. I closed my eyes and breathed in the atmosphere—the smell of beer and the yeasty bread they served on all the tables, the clink of glasses, the raucous laughter. There were some things worth savoring.

Lily sat to my right. She was one of those people you couldn’t say no to, and it had been her suggestion to let off some steam after work. I knew cops pretty well, and it took a lot for them to agree to being shoved in a crowded room where reaching for their weapon would be interesting if the situation called for it. But Lily had a way of getting people to agree to things they didn’t necessarily want to do. It was a good thing she used her powers for good. Otherwise, she would’ve been a menace.

Lily had just started her graduate work, and after a short hiatus, she’d come back to work for me as assistant coroner. She’d somehow managed to turn the boring black suit she’d worn to work that day into a date night dress that had Detective Cole drooling into her very bountiful bosom. Lily was one of those people who turned heads no matter where she went, and if it wasn’t for Cole sitting protectively with his arm across her shoulder, several of the men eyeing her from the bar would’ve been crowding our space.

We were all still getting used to the idea of Cole and Lily as a couple. Their age difference was a factor, not to mention cops weren’t typically the best bet for relationships, but to all of our surprise, they’d connected on a deeper level. And after Lily had been kidnapped by a serial killer and had been rescued by the skin of her teeth, it had been plain for anyone to see that Cole was more than just infatuated. Now we were just waiting to see if he recognized it, and whether or not it would scare him into running the opposite direction.

Jack sat on my other side with his back to the corner. His chair was tilted back on two legs as he carried on a lively conversation with Martinez about baseball. Martinez had also maneuvered his chair so his back was against the wall, and even though Jack and Martinez were talking to each other their eyes constantly scanned the room looking for potential threats.

Jack’s arm was draped over the back of my chair and his other hand balanced a bottle on his knee. It wasn’t often Jack was relaxed, and I was glad to see he’d let the worries of the last couple of days slide away—at least for a moment.

Tom and Emmy Lu sat across from Lily and Cole. Tom and Emmy Lu weren’t cops or in the business of death, so it was odd they’d made their way into our merry band of misfits, but the donut king and my receptionist had been grafted in as if they’d always been there. I wasn’t sure what they were all talking about, but Lily and Emmy Lu were crying with tears of laughter.

And at the very end of the table was my assistant Sheldon Durkus, his eyes wide behind his Coke-bottle glasses and his cheeks pink with embarrassment over whatever Lily and Emmy Lu were laughing about.

I exhaled—content—and let it all soak in around me. It had been a hard week, and things would get harder in days to come. But it was good to forget, at least for a little while.

I looked at the almost empty plate of nachos in front of me and debated on whether or not to order dessert. I would regret it, no doubt, but I couldn’t start a weekend without dessert. A weekend where we didn’t have any plans. A weekend Jack and I would get to spend alone since Doug had decided to go visit his mother. A weekend where there were no funerals scheduled, no bodies in my lab, and no social events planned.

As if Jack were reading my mind, he squeezed my shoulder lightly and kept up his commentary about a strike and money and things that seemed ridiculous considering they were talking about a game, but I leaned into him and felt the smile spread across my face.

I didn’t recognize the person I’d become over the last couple of years, but I liked her. I liked that we were surrounded by friends and the bonds that had formed between us were deep and long lasting. I liked the woman who hadn’t given up, who’d fought the demons inside of her until she was whole and free. And I liked the woman who’d learned how to love—who was still learning—and who’d finally found the joy that had always seemed just out of reach.

The large plate-glass windows at the front of the restaurant were like living frames for the outside world. I watched a steady stream of people bustling along, leaving work or meeting friends for drinks, shopping or passing people they knew and stopping to chat. The neon sign cast them all in a purple hue. Many of them decided to come inside, and all stopped to stare at the ridiculously gaudy crystal chandelier that hung over the bar. But it somehow added to the charm of the place.

There was a boisterous six-top in the front corner that caught my eye. More so, it was the woman in the red dress that caught my eye. I didn’t recognize her, but gone were the days where you knew every person you came across in town. She was young—very young—with gorgeous white-blond hair she wore up in a messy bun, and her dress was thin and strappy and not at all appropriate for the cold temperatures outside. There were several empty drink glasses in front of all of them, and they’d been knocking them back steady since they’d come in.

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