Please enjoy this preview of the 5th Goode-Grace Mystery – Saving Grace.
“That was an interesting way to spend an evening,” Sheriff Bobby Grace said to Deputy Dahlia Savage.
Just before midnight, Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers notified the Miller County Sheriff’s Office that a high-speed chase was headed in their direction.
The suspects, driving a ten-year-old pickup truck, had exited off the highway in Potawatomi County and then crossed into Miller, zigging and zagging up and down country lanes before heading into Himmel.
Bobby had ordered that they pull back. He wasn’t willing to risk a high-speed chase in town. By that time, Deputy Tyce Hollywood had the sheriff’s drone unit in the air, sending a video back to the pursuit vehicles.
When the black truck drove into Downtown Himmel’s town square, four sheriff’s vehicles were blocking the streets. The suspects bypassed the intercept by driving up into Town Square Park and making a U-turn. They’d taken out the steps to the gazebo in the process. Back out into the countryside, they went.
The vehicle portion of the chase had ended near the new industrial park. Dahlia had deployed spike strips in the road. She, Deputy Alvin, and a trooper blocked the road with their vehicles. The suspect rammed straight into the trooper’s vehicle, knocking it into her patrol car and disabling the truck.
Deputy Alvin released K-9 Brutus. The suspects released their own pit-bull mix and then ran off into the rail yard behind the industrial park. Fortunately, the dog was way smarter than its humans. When it got a gander at Brutus in action, the pup quickly assumed a submissive posture.
Miller County deputies carried slip leashes in their patrol cars, so she took the dog into protective custody.
After contacting the railroad to make sure they didn’t move any trains, deputies and troopers spent the next six hours squeezing between trains and climbing in and out of rail cars like 1950s drifters.
To the sheriff’s credit, he’d been right in the thick of things during the search; even when it involved climbing into cattle cars. The cows were gone. Their crap remained. The suspects were covered in it. That provided at least a little satisfaction.
“I hope the dog is going to be all right,” Dahlia said.
“Seemed like a nice dog,” Bobby said. “He should pass the temperament test at the shelter. Hopefully, he’ll get a nice home.”
Since her patrol car was toast, he drove her back to the station.
“How are you holding up?” she asked.
Bobby had been gunned down during what seemed like a routine stop last year. The road to recovery had been a long one. Most days, he seemed to be back to his old self. Now and again, she’d notice him holding his shoulder.
“I feel like I’ve been climbing over railroad cars all damned night. I could use a hot shower and a nap. The nap will have to wait. It’s Olivia’s last day with us. Trinity’s making a special breakfast; then Liv’s heading home to her dad.”
Olivia Sufritz had been placed with Bobby and Trinity Grace as a foster child for the past six months. The 17-year-old was the youngest member of Miller County’s favorite family of petty criminals. Her mother and father had both drawn jail sentences at the same time. Something that had only happened once before.
In the past, Olivia and her older sibling would stay with their maternal grandmother in Columbus when their parents had legal difficulties. Unfortunately, the grandmother had moved into assisted living and was no longer an option for Olivia.
The Graces wanted to adopt and had signed up to be foster parents. Even though their goal was a permanent placement, they had agreed to be a temporary home for Olivia.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Dahlia said.
“No, no. It’s good. She loves her parents. They’re good parents… in their way. Obviously, excellent parents don’t commit crimes that cause them to be separated from their children. They aren’t abusive. The Sufritz family is good to each other. That’s something.”
“Arresting a Sufritz is usually a pleasure,” Dahlia said. “They don’t fight or spit or run.”
“We’ll miss her,” Bobby said. “It was a good trial run.”
“Seems more like a dive into the deep end. When Calla and I were seventeen, we were quite a handful. Poor Mom and Dad.”
“By the way,” he said. “Happy birthday to and your sister. Any plans?”
“She’s in town for a job interview at MWP this afternoon. We had cake and a board game Sunday with the Hollywoods yesterday. We’ll have dinner before she heads back to Sandusky.”
“Nice that you two can spend your birthday together.”
It was nice. For her first eighteen birthdays, Dahlia had resented having to share a special day with her twin. Then Dahlia’s military service had separated them for four years. Since then, celebrating their birthday together was a luxury.
She filled out her reports with extra attention to detail. The media were certain to request copies of everything to do with the chase. Bobby Grace insisted that his officers appear literate. Then she clocked out and drove home in anticipation of falling into her bed. Hopefully, Calla would be hard at work prepping for her job interview and not very talkative.
Right after pulling into her assigned slot in the carport, she saw the first clue that her morning would not go as planned. Dow Wilson’s green pickup truck was parked next to Calla’s vehicle in the visitor’s lot at her apartment.
Maybe he’d stopped by at eight in the morning hoping to catch her when she got off work. But why? Dow had handed her a birthday card with a gift certificate for a manicure at his stepmother’s salon the day before.
The other possibility was one she preferred not to consider. Calla and Dow had really hit it off during the afternoon of games and birthday treats. When she and Deputy Tyce Hollywood left for their late shift, the two were happily chatting while they helped Kylie Rae clean up.
She unlocked the door of her townhouse. It was a straight shot through the kitchen and living area. No Calla. No Dow. Two half-empty bottles of beer on the coffee table.
She walked cautiously up the stairs. The bathroom door was closed. The shower was running. The door to the guest room/office was open. The Miller County 4-H t-shirt Dow had worn yesterday was on the floor along with a pair of men’s jeans.
Dahlia pounded on the bathroom door. “Deputy Wilson!” she called out. “Are you taking a shower with my sister?”
“Nope!” he called back.
“No, he is not!” Calla said.
“Oh, for the love of God!”
Down in the kitchen, Dahlia put on a pot of coffee. Something was cooking in the slow cooker. She lifted the lid to find what appeared to be a breakfast casserole of some kid. Dow must have made it unless Calla had suddenly taken up cooking. That boy could cook.
She was sipping a cup of coffee when Dow came in. Dressed, but barefoot with damp hair.
“Morning,” he said. “I’m supposed to come in and gauge your mood. How much trouble am I in?”
“Seriously, dude? She’s my identical twin. It’s like you’ve seen me naked.”
He looked her up and down. “Why did you have to put that in my head? How am I supposed to unthink that?”
“Stop looking at me, Dow.”
“I made breakfast,” he said. “Eggs, cheese, sausage. The secret ingredient is toaster waffles.”
“Leggo my Eggo,” she said. “And my sister.”
“Aw c’mon. You guys aren’t that much alike. She’s really nice.”
“Screw you, Deputy Wilson.”
“I didn’t… I wasn’t… I think you are a great…”
Hell. He seemed genuinely upset. She couldn’t stand to hurt Dow’s feelings. He was just a big puppy.
Calla came flouncing in wearing a pink bathrobe. “Great, you made coffee! Breakfast should be ready to go. Kylie-Rae sent home some birthday cake. We can it for dessert! Dessert with breakfast sounds so decadent. And Happy Birthday!”
“Sounds like yours has gone better than mine so far,” Dahlia said.
“You ladies sit down,” Dow said. “It’s your birthday. I’ll serve you breakfast.”
“You owe me a new shower.” Dahlia sat down at the table. No need to turn down a good breakfast.
“Aw c’mon,” Calla said. “You’re the one that told me how cute and nice he was.”
“Really?” Dow said. “That’s sweet of you.”
When he put a plate down in front of Calla, she pinched his cheek. “How could I resist this face?”
“You don’t find it at all…weird?” Dahlia asked.
The weirdness being that last year Dahlia and Dow had both fallen for the same woman. Dow had fallen harder. He’d move JoLynn into his home and become engaged to the woman. The rivalry over her affections had led the two Miller County Sheriff’s Deputies to a public scuffle in the break room at work. Something neither of them would ever live down. Their fellow law enforcement officers still referenced “the Lean Cusine incident.”
It wasn’t as if they both had not been warned. Warned explicitly by Bobby Grace and two dozen other people. They had bonded in their mutual regret.
When Dahlia managed to track down his late mother’s ring at a flea market, he’d cried. JoLynn had sold her engagement ring for $14. The cubic zirconia setting wasn’t worth much to anyone but Dow. JoLynn couldn’t even seem to grasp why he was so upset since you couldn’t even sell it for $20. That mess of a girl had damaged Dow’s confidence.
“Oh…” Calla said. “Because you both decided to play Captain Save-a-Ho for the same damaged dipshit? Not really for me.”
“Captain Save-a-Ho?” Dahlia said.
“You love to rescue damsels in distress,” she said. “What about you Dow? Is this a reoccurring theme in your life?”
“Me?” Dahlia said. “What about you? What about Mike? Captain Save-a-Bro?”
Dow laughed. “Save-a-Bro. That’s a good one.”
“Whose side are you on here, Dow? And before you pick one, think about the last 12 hours,” Calla said.
“You’re both pretty close to perfect,” he said.
“See, he’s smart, too.” Calla said.
“No, he is not,” Dow said.
“Thank God you’re good in bed, then,” Calla said.
Dahlia covered her ears. “La, la, la, la…. I can’t hear you.” Her phone vibrated. The screen said ‘restricted number.’ She figured it was her father calling with birthday wishes for his girls. Stuart Savage didn’t think his phone number was anyone’s business. She answered with a pleasant “Hello!”
“Hey,” a familiar voice said on the other end of the call. It certainly wasn’t her father. “I need some…” She ended the call immediately. “Great.”
“Who was that?” Calla asked.
Almost immediately, Dow’s phone vibrated. He looked at the screen and blew a raspberry before ignoring the call.
“Is that the ho?” Calla said. “I’ll talk to her.”
Olivia’s bags were packed and waiting by the door. Bala, the family cat, sat on top of them. She hopped down to rub against Bobby’s leg.
The house smelled like cinnamon and butter and bacon.
Olivia popped out of the kitchen and smiled. “Good morning! Trinity’s making the best breakfast for me. I get a mimosa made with sparkling grape juice.”
Trinity, dressed in black leather pants and a red velvet shirt that resembled something a vampire might wear to the opera, was at the stove. She’d just pulled a French toast casserole from the oven.
“I heated up the maple syrup,” Olivia said proudly. “And I cooked all of the bacon. In the oven, the way Mrs. G taught me. Living with you guys has been like going to culinary camp.”
“Living with you has been like going to teenager camp,” Bobby said. He kissed Trinity good morning. “It was quite the night.”
“Tell me that it didn’t involve any of my relatives.” Olivia held up her hands with fingers crossed.
“Sufritzes don’t run,” Bobby said.
“We fall down like fainting goats when we see a cop,” she said.
“I’m gonna miss you Miss Sufritz,” Bobby said.
“We’ll keep in touch,” Olivia said. “Not professionally. I’m not going back to juvie or to jail. I’m done with it. Which is why my parents both went to jail. I wasn’t looking out for them. But my therapist says it’s not my job. Dad says better him than me. I’ve got it in writing.”
Olivia’s contacts with the juvenile justice system had been frequent but uneventful for the most part until last year. Until her bunkmate had committed suicide. She brought it up at odd times. It was never far from her mind. Bobby had put her bunkmate in the juvenile correctional facility. It was never far from his mind either.
“I gotta grab something. I’ll be right back,” Olivia sprinted out of the room.
“How are you doing?” Bobby asked his wife.
“Sad,” she said. “I knew it was temporary. But darn, we’re good at it. How about you? Being careful with your arm?”
“Yes Ma’am,” he said.
Olivia bounded into the room holding a framed collage. She’d worked on several art projects with Trinity’s assistance during her time at the farm.
“I’m leaving behind an original Oliva Sufritz collage to add to your art collection. I totally lied when I said this was for Mom and Dad.” She’d turned tiny bits of fabric into a landscape of bright green corn against a blue sky.
“That’s great work, kid,” Bobby said.
“You guys deserved something. This is not an experience that most kids would describe as fun. You guys made it as painless as possible. I really hope you get some kids you can keep really soon. You deserve it. Kids with awful parents deserve it. You’d think there’d be some way the universe would work this stuff out.”
“You’d think,” Trinity said.
The phone on the wall rang.
“God, I love that green phone!” Olivia said looking at the late 1970s model that had served the house for over 40 years without missing a call. “And I love having Morticia Addams and G.I. Joe as my life coaches. Can I answer it?”
The landline delighted the kid. She found it exotic.
“Go right ahead,” Trinity said.
“Goode-Grace Farms, this is Olivia the foster child speaking. May I ask who’s calling?” She grinned, pleased with her phone manners. “I’ll see if they’re available.” She put the phone to her chest. “A JoLynn Kimball wants to speak to Trinity, please.”
Bobby took the receiver from Olivia’s hand and hung up the phone. “Wrong number,” he said.