Samantha Kidd Mystery #11
Paperback ISBN: 9781939197900
eBook ISBN: 9781939197894
She wanted to visit an old friend. The “friend” is in jail for murder. Can Samantha find new evidence to clear a convicted killer?
Fashionista Samantha Kidd’s new role as style columnist for the local paper encourages her to attend events and discover new trends. But when an out-of-the-blue invitation to visit an acquaintance arrives, standing out is the last thing she wants. The acquaintance is the heiress to a pretzel fortune—or she would be if she were free. Instead, she’s quietly serving a double life sentence after being convicted of killing her media mogul husband.
When new evidence surfaces, the heiress is ready to break her silence. But while the press lines up to get the scoop (and the ratings!), Samantha can’t help wondering who the victim is in this scenario. And after hearing the heiress’s story firsthand, Sam suspects the wrong person was locked up. If she’s right, a killer's on the loose and will stop at nothing to silence Samantha too.
Can Samantha infiltrate the high life to expose a down and dirty crime?
Tough Luxe is the eleventh fashionable mystery in the humorous Samantha Kidd mystery series. If you like manipulative characters, stylish crimes, and Orange-Is-the-New-Black drama, then you’ll love Diane Vallere’s high-stakes comic mystery.
MONEY OPENS DOORS
Money, as they say, opens a lot of doors. In this case, the door that opened for me belonged to the Berks County Correctional Facility for Females. It cost me little more than my reputation as a local amateur sleuth who attended the same high school as Suzy Kintz, the prisoner who extended the invitation.
Considering Suzy was an heir to the Kintz pretzel fortune, her money probably opened a lot of doors too. Just not the very heavy one that had kept her inside for close to three decades. And to be accurate, it was her lawyer who extended the invitation, not Suzy, but he made it clear it was her idea.
One week ago, a letter from the law offices of Brewster & Case was delivered to me at the Ribbon Eagle, the newspaper where I wrote an occasional column on style. The opportunity for the column came about on the suggestion of a reporter who’d written a profile on me after my involvement in a string of homicide investigations became impossible to ignore. I accepted for the sheer fun of it; an unexpected windfall had changed my tax bracket and left me, for the first time in my life, with the luxury of not stressing about money.
The prison invitation was accompanied by instructions on the date and time of our proposed meeting. I’d thought it was a practical joke. I waited twenty-four hours before calling Suzy’s attorney to confirm and did so from the privacy of my current loaner car while going through an automatic car wash. If it were a joke, then the jokester wasn’t going to get their payoff while I was in public.
Turned out, the invitation was legitimate.
The Berks County Correctional Facility for Females, or BCCFF as nobody called it ever because those letters don’t make up a pronounceable word, sat on a stretch of land north on Route 222, otherwise known (to me) as the road to the good ice cream shop. Somewhere past the strip malls of Ribbon, interspersed with farms and corn fields, sat a compound that housed women who’d been convicted of major crimes. Like Suzy, most of them were in there for life.
I sat in the passenger-side seat of my husband (and favorite shoe designer) Nick Taylor’s white truck. Nick sat behind the wheel. The stress of working nonstop on his start-up sneaker collection, Saint Nick, tired him, and the tolerance with which he treated my unusual activities had been wearing thin. (Marriage is awesome, by the way, but having a roommate makes it harder to participate in covert and questionable activities.)
Last night, while he was under the influence of fettuccini alfredo and my new lace-trimmed nightie, Nick offered to give me a ride to the prison. Me being under the influence of his root-beer-barrel-brown eyes and the romantic full moon, accepted.
This morning, Nick wore a dark-amber French terry sweatshirt over a white tee, soft, worn-in jeans, and white leather sneakers. Last week’s stubble had officially turned a corner into beard territory. The crinkles around his eyes had grown deeper, and not because he’d spent the past six months grinning over his success.
It was one thing for Nick to help me out me when my life was in freefall; he’d saved me from danger more than once. (I’d saved him from danger too, but pride goeth before the fall, so I stopped reminding him about it after our first month of marriage.) But his shoe business had crashed and burned, around the same time my car suffered a similar fate, and the sneaker venture was turning out to be more work than he’d originally thought. His offer to drive me today had been sweet at the time, but under the cold light of day, he seemed less enthused about the time my activities were taking out of his day.
“Tell me again why we’re here,” Nick said. “Is this for the paper? You never mentioned that you applied to visit a prisoner.”
“A lawyer contacted me through the newspaper office. He sent a letter saying someone I knew in high school put me on her approved visitor list. I filled out the application and approved the background check and here we are.”
“Do you know where you’re supposed to go?”
“The letter said to arrive between eight and eight thirty and park in the visitor spaces outside the prison. There were no instructions about when to enter, but I found visiting hours on the prison website.” I glanced at the dashboard clock. “We’re early.”
“Because you’re excited,” Nick said. He allowed a smile. “You’re a funny woman.”
“It’s a prison,” I said. “For women. Some of the women inside killed people.” A thought I hadn’t yet considered crossed my mind. “You don’t think any of them are serving time because of me, do you?” My reputation as an amateur sleuth did not come without having interacted with the local criminal element.
“I think if you recognize anybody, you should pretend you don’t. Don’t think of this as a Meet-Up group.”
The building in front of me was the sort of gray-beige concrete that conjured up images of asylums, which, in this case, was both chilling and accurate. It was a flat-roofed job built around the time shirtwaist dresses and pearls were the everyday norm. A round overhang supported by white columns framed out the entrance. Under any other circumstances, it might have been described as majestic. Under these, it just looked cold.
To the left of the main building was an attached two-story, boxlike structure. Small, square windows were evenly spaced along the roofline but nowhere below. I stared at those windows for close to a minute before concluding the building was probably where the prisoners slept.
In contrast to the unimaginative color of the building was a lush green yard that stretched from the perimeter of the prison to the parking lot. I hadn’t seen grass that green since watching the Masters golf championship with Nick’s dad. There was something about the color palette — beige and green — that would have made a nice backdrop for a fashion photo shoot.
“What’s her name?” Nick asked idly.
“Suzy. Suzy Kintz.”
He tightened his grip on the steering wheel. “Of Kintz pretzels? The one who murdered her husband?”
Suzy Kintz, would-be heiress to the Kintz pretzel fortune, was serving time for the murder of her husband, Trenton Vega. Though she maintained her innocence, enough evidence had stacked up against her that the prosecutor secured a guilty verdict without breaking a sweat. That was seventeen ago.
Whatever chances there might have been for Suzy to get a retrial were dashed when a second body, eight miles from the initial crime scene, was discovered the same night. The prosecution argued the murders were related, and the jury had agreed. A term of twenty-five years to life had been tacked on to her initial sentence, meaning even with good behavior, her chances at seeing an early release were nonexistent.
Countless reporters had tried, and failed, to arrange interviews with her over the years. When I asked her lawyer why I’d been contacted, he said his job was to make the arrangements. Any further explanation would come directly from her.
Nick switched off the radio. “You never mentioned you were friends with Suzy Kintz,” he said.
“I’m pretty sure I’d remember if you did.”
“We weren’t friends,” I said absentmindedly. “We weren’t enemies either. We just traveled in different circles.”
Or more accurately, I traveled in my circle, and Suzy traveled by herself.
I’d grown up in Ribbon, in the very house that I’d bought from my parents a few years ago when I chose to give up my life in New York and simplify (ha!). I’d hung with a crowd that cared more about music and clothes than deep learning. It wasn’t until after I went to college that I discovered I could turn a lifetime of reading Vogue into a future; a major in the history of fashion combined with a minor in business led me to a lucrative career as a shoe buyer for a top luxury store.
Suzy had joined our class in the tenth grade after being expelled from a Pennsylvania prep school. I still remember the day she first arrived in a shiny white convertible Audi Cabriolet that was a rumored sweet sixteen gift. Instead of eating lunch in the cafeteria, she drove off by herself and returned for sixth period.
From the moment she became my classmate, she was the girl everybody liked but nobody knew. She had an innate sense of style that didn’t follow magazine or shopping mall conventions, but always looked great. I remember eagerly waiting to see what she wore to school. She seemed unaware of my fan-girl attention. She was physically there but not present all the way through graduation. I wondered, briefly, what almost two decades of incarceration had done to her sense of style.
I was so lost in my thoughts about high school and Suzy’s fashion sense that I didn’t see the man who appeared alongside of Nick’s truck. His closed fist pounded on the window and I jumped and spilled coffee on the leg of my skirt. Nick pulled a stash of napkins out of his door. I grabbed them and dabbed at the stain.
The man stared into the window, first at me and then Nick and back to me, and either the caffeine overload, the adrenaline rush, or the general excitement over entering a correctional facility made my hand shake while I lowered the window.
When I finally succeeded, the man spoke. “You need to move your car over there,” he said. He waved his hand toward a far corner of the parking lot that was rapidly filling with cars.
“I thought these were the visitor spaces,” I said.
“Not enough spaces today.” He looked annoyed. Instead of answering my question, he leaned forward and looked past me to Nick. “Move your truck to the press lot. Get your equipment and take a seat in one of the folding chairs.”
“I’m here to visit with a prisoner,” I said. I reached into my handbag and pulled out a folder that contained the letter from Suzy’s lawyer.
The man shook his head. “The prison’s in lockdown. No visits. There’s one thing happening at this prison today, and that’s the press conference. If you have a letter telling you to be here, then that’s where you want to be.”
Lockdown? Press conference? It appeared as though my invitation wasn’t the stuff of class reunions.