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The Highway Shooter: A South Texas Cozy Mystery

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In The Highway Shooter: A South Texas Cozy Mystery, newspaper reporter Glennis Dunning and Deputy Sheriff Jake Briggs join forces to free a Hispanic teenager wrongly accused of murder.
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Author: C.E. Chessher
Description

The Highway Shooter: A South Texas Cozy Mystery

Genre: Cozy Mystery

Release: March 23, 2012

Editor: Ellee Braun

Line Editor: Valerie Haley

Cover Designer: Delilah K. Stephans

Words:59682

Pages:189

ISBN: 978-1-77127-004-5

Price: $5.50

Back Cover:

In The Highway Shooter: A South Texas Cozy Mystery, newspaper reporter Glennis Dunningand Deputy Sheriff Jake Briggs join forces to fight for justice for a Hispanic teenager wrongly accused of murder.

As Enrique Sandoval awaits his murder trial, disenfranchised Latinos, convinced of the teenager’s innocence, rise up for the first time ever to challenge the entrenched power structure.  As Latinos flex their new-found power, a labor movement arises from neighborhood meetings in 1967 Pettrolius, Texas, a Coastal Bend oil town.

Dunning and on-again, off-again boyfriend Briggs mount an effort to bridge the racial divide and restore order before the town spirals toward disaster.  The pair has a month to disentangle the real murderer’s web of deceit.  If they fail, an innocent boy faces the electric chair, and the town’s wounds may prove permanent.

Excerpt:

Inside J&B Grocery Store in downtown Pettrolius, Glennis Dunning and Ruthanne Heggeman narrowly averted a shopping cart collision in front of the lettuce bin.

Ruthanne, who looked and sounded like Ethel Merman with a hangover, glared and launched into a tirade. “That Sanger woman is stirring up the Mexicans,” she snarled, hurling heads of lettuce into her cart. “The town is headed for some serious trouble.” She glared back at Glennis. “Just what are you going to do about it?”

Glennis didn’t appreciate being put on the spot in front of the entire grocery store. “I’d certainly like to hear more,” Glennis stammered, unable to think of anything better to say. “Could you drop by the newspaper office this afternoon, or would you rather discuss it at the café?”

Ruthanne sighed and thought for a few moments. “I suppose I could stop by your office,” she snapped. “About three?”

“Fine,” Glennis said with a tight smile.

Later that afternoon during the interview, Ruthanne, owner of the Highway Café on the north end of the business district, revealed that Peggi Sanger, wife of First Methodist Minister Glenn Sanger, had been making periodic visits to workers in the restaurant kitchen.

“She’s been leaving them literature about unionizing. Glennis, I’d have to shut my doors if my kitchen helped started a damn union.”

Glennis gnawed her lip as she considered what Ruthanne had just revealed. “My first thought is that Peggi simply wanted your kitchen workers to pass the union material on to their spouses. I’ve never heard of a restaurant staff joining a union.”

“Well, I hadn’t thought of that. But whatever the reason, we can’t have that sort of thing going on in Pettrolius. If the oil workers unionize, they’ll shut the refineries down, and then where would we be?”

“It’s frightening to consider,” Glennis admitted.

* * * *

Glennis jumped into her gold-and-black Belvedere in front of the newspaper office, punched the car into reverse, and screeched off, sailing toward the south side of town. At the town limits, she stomped the accelerator to ninety mph as a series of troubling thoughts tumbled through her mind.

She had been off-kilter since her encounter earlier in the day with Ruthanne Heggeman. It was common knowledge the Reverend Glenn Sanger and his wife Peggi had sparked controversy from the moment they’d lumbered into town two years ago driving a VW van towing a U-Haul trailer crammed with most of their possessions.

The young couple was popular with youth groups, but didn’t connect with older congregants, who were off-put by the Sangers’ avid support of human rights. A sermon Sanger had delivered at First Methodist Church in support of the national Civil Rights Movement fueled a firestorm. Janet Strickland, one of the church’s wealthiest benefactors, had stomped out of services and called Methodist headquarters demanding Sanger’s job.

For the first time, Glennis doubted her ability to surmount the challenges she now faced. Had she had finally bitten off more than she could chew? What a shameful signpost for the ambitious girl her daddy raised to believe anything was possible. Was Pettrolius about to descend into the kind of social chaos plaguing other parts of the country? Reverend Sanger’s sermon had set the stage for the discontent simmering within the Mexican-American community. The whole town felt it.

That challenge alone probably would not have been insurmountable. But there was more. Personal challenges zapped her energy and her confidence. She was sick of being poor, for one. Her salary barely covered the bills, and she still had trouble balancing her checkbook each month. The Home Demonstration Club seminar on household finances she had attended last summer helped, but the truth was she simply did not make enough money to raise a family.

Marilyn, her eldest, seemed moodier by the day—staid and mature one moment, rebellious and sullen the next. Jake had urged her to let Marilyn handle the household bills, an idea with which she hadn’t yet become entirely comfortable.

Glennis’ best friend, Ruby, a Pettrolius telephone operator, pointed out that half the women in May County would give their eye teeth for a man like Deputy Sheriff Jake Briggs. “He’s handsome, smart, and sexy—a real man,” Ruby said.

Glennis knew all that, but when Jake had asked her to marry him in August, she couldn’t commit. A.J. had been dead only a year. She just wasn’t ready, yet.

The next few months looked daunting, to say the least. The way she handled things could have a major impact on her life.

With a sigh, Glennis realized that even though it was midafternoon, she still faced a formidable list of tasks before she would have the luxury of collapsing into bed later that night. If she was lucky, she might hit the pillow around midnight. Juggling her responsibilities at the new newspaper office had proven more difficult than she had imagined, and after her second month on the job, she doubted her ability to run a town newspaper. This week had been particularly trying, and in her view, just making it through was a major accomplishment in itself.

But she had to do more than just make it through. A mind-numbing list of responsibilities awaited her. If she could actually complete all the tasks she had to juggle, she would be pleased enough to treat herself to some kind of reward. She was debating what kind of reward as she rounded the big curve outside of town. She’d sworn off chocolate last summer, and had relapsed only twice.

Well, maybe three times.

As she hurtled toward the curve at eighty mph, an object beside the highway caught her attention. From a distance, it looked as if someone had tossed out a bag of golf clubs, but a moment later, she realized it was something far more ominous. She tightened her grip on the steering wheel to keep from losing control of the car. “Oh, my God!” she muttered aloud as she slammed on the brakes, her gaze locked on what looked like a dead body crumpled beside the highway.

Glennis passed the macabre scene before she could bring the car came to a complete stop. Glancing into the rearview mirror, she punched the reverse button on the Belvedere’s dashboard and began backing up on the shoulder of the highway. When she reached the scene, she bolted from the car and trotted over to inspect the collapsed mass that had looked from a distance like human remains.

The body lay motionless in a pool of blood that had congealed around the head. “My God,” Glennis gasped aloud. “It’s Reverend Sanger.”

At that moment, Glennis heard another vehicle approach from the direction of Pettrolius. As the vehicle came into view, she recognized a red Chevrolet pickup truck that matched the description of one owned by Luke Elsner, the bartender at the Pettrolius Beer Joint downtown.

“Luke!” she called out, waving her hands frantically. “Stop. Someone has killed the preacher!”

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