Exclusive Excerpt: The Serpent’s Tongue (A Dick Hardesty Mystery Book 15) by Dorien Grey

Blurb:

When Dick Hardesty is hired to look into threats against former priest Dan Stabile, possibly from someone whose confession Dan heard while still in the priesthood, it’s just another case. Then, on a stormy Sunday, on a rain-slick road, Dan is killed, Dick’s partner Jonathan is severely injured, and suddenly, it’s personal. Was the accident really an accident…or murder? Dick learns Dan’s secret could involve a child murderer, and now it seems the man is stalking their son Joshua and tormenting Jonathan. The objectivity so vital to Dick’s role as a private investigator goes out the window as he pursues one lead after another, and it begins to look like Dan wasn’t the target after all.

Excerpt:

The weather forecast had called for storms Sunday, and they were delivered. After Jonathan and Joshua went off to church in the driving rain, I went through my usual Sunday morning ritual of reading the paper before going into the kitchen to get the quiche ready to go into the oven for when they got back with Dan Stabile. I was trying to figure out how best to approach him on the subject of the threats.

If they were related to something he’d heard in the confessional while a priest, I was sure he couldn’t tell me. But there might be a way to get around it.

I turned the oven on at twelve fifteen, expecting them at any minute. Twelve thirty came and went. At ten-to-one I was beginning to get worried.

The sky was black, and visibility was limited by the downpour. I knew Dan might not have been able to leave right after the service but was a little angry with Jonathan for not calling to let me know they were going to be late, especially with the weather being as bad as it was.

By one thirty, I was definitely concerned and wondered if I should call the MCC. Just as I finished that thought, the phone rang, and I hurried to pick it up.

“Dick Hardesty?” I didn’t recognize the voice.

“Yes?”

“This is Officer Lucas of the metro police. There’s been an accident.”

Someone poured a bucket of ice water over my head.

“Are Jonathan and Joshua okay?” I heard myself ask.

“I think you’d better come down to Mercy Memorial as soon as you can. I’ll explain everything then.”

I almost dropped the phone in my rush to hang up and run out the door, not even taking the time to get an umbrella or lock the door after me. I reached the garage fumbling for the key to the lock and I jumped into Jonathan’s truck. I didn’t bother to close the garage door when I drove off.

What was I thinking? I don’t know. I was too busy fighting off nausea and trying to focus my eyes on the road through the heavy rain.

Calm down! Calm down! It isn’t bad. Just a minor accident. The police often insist people go to the hospital just to check them out. They just called me to pick Jonathan and Joshua up and take them home.

I don’t know how long it took me to get to the hospital, but I was lucky not to get into an accident myself on the way. The parking garage was located across from the hospital’s new wing, which included the emergency room. Rather than go around to the main lobby, I raced to the emergency room entrance, getting drenched in the process, and went directly to the nurses’ station.

“Can I help you?”

“I just had a call from the police. My partner, Jonathan Quinlan, and his nephew Joshua were just brought in.”

“Oh, yes. Why don’t you have a seat, and I’ll tell Officer Lucas and let the doctor know you’re here.”

“Thank you,” I said as she moved from behind the desk and went down a hall to the right. I did not take her offer to have a seat.

A moment later, two uniformed officers came down the hallway. Spotting me, they came directly over.

“Mr. Hardesty,” the older of the two said, “I’m Officer Lucas. This is Officer Curtis.”

“Yes! Thank you for calling.” Thank you for calling? Of all the stupid things to say at a time like this! “How’s Jonathan? How’s Joshua? Are they okay?”

Lucas did the talking.

“Mr. Quinlan’s car—your car, according to the registration—was sideswiped on the approach to the Booker Street overpass and went off the road and over the embankment. It rolled over several times. The boy—Mr. Quinlan’s nephew, I assume, since he kept calling Mr. Quinlan ‘Uncle Jonathan’—fortunately was wearing a seatbelt, and his injuries are not life-threatening.” He paused then added, “Unfortunately, the adult passenger in the car was killed. Was he the boy’s father?”

“No, Joshua’s parents are dead. Jonathan and I are raising him.”

The passenger in the car was killed.

“Killed?” I heard it, but it didn’t register. All I was really aware of was that my heart was racing, and my knees were very weak. I forced them not to buckle.

“Can I see them?”

“The boy is being treated in Pediatrics now. Mr. Quinlan is in surgery.”

There was a momentary rush of relief, replaced by concern over how seriously he was hurt.

I noticed that Officer Curtis was looking at me, lips pursed.

“Are you the private investigator?”

“Yes. Why?”

“I’ve heard your name mentioned around City Annex. Do you have any reason to think this might not have been an accident? Our one witness said it looked as though the truck deliberately swerved into the vehicle. Have you had any problems lately relating to your work? Anyone you can think of who might want to do you harm?”

The idea sent another chill through me.

“But I wasn’t even in the car.”

“But it was your car. It was raining so heavily the truck driver probably couldn’t see who was driving.”

The thought that somebody might have been trying to kill me, and that Jonathan and Joshua had suffered—and Dan Stabile killed—because of me made me physically ill.

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