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by Jessie Chandler
Secrets. It all begins with secrets. A long-held secret is about to implode with potentially catastrophic results.
It’s St. Paddy’s Day, and Shay O’Hanlon is finishing her shift at the Rabbit Hole, anticipating the grand reopening of her father’s bar, the Leprechaun. Two suspicious-looking strangers show up at the Hole demanding to speak to Eddy Quartermaine, the closest person Shay has to a mother. That visit sparks a firestorm spanning twenty-five years in a deadly mix of love gone wrong, stolen money, murder, and betrayal.
Will Shay and her sister Lisa pay the ultimate price for Eddy’s sins, or will Eddy confront her twenty-five year secret head-on before time runs out?
“Blood Money Murder is fast-paced and skilled—and the ending comes all too soon.”
-Lee Lynch, award-winning author of An American Queer
Blood Money Murder is the fifth installment in the Shay O’Hanlon Caper series.
GCLS Goldie Awards
Blood Money Murder — Finalist, Mystery/Thriller.
Lambda Literary Awards
Blood Money Murder — Finalist, Mystery.
Lambda Literary Foundation
Blood Money Murder — Finalist, Lesbian Mystery.
What a terrific read! Shay O'Hanlon is the kind of person I'd love to hang out with—she's got a big heart and a smart mouth—and her adventures are funny and nail biting (often at the same time). The secrets, insecurities, and deep friendships in Shay's world all come center stage in Blood Money Murder—and we get to see Shay go farther than we ever thought possible for the people she loves. Well done Jessie Chandler!
—Clare O'Donohue, author of The Someday Quilts and Kate Conway Mysteries
Crammed with action and excitement, Blood Money Murder kept me turning pages at breakneck speed. Shay O'Hanlon is one tough broad, and Chandler's latest takes us with her on a nonstop ride all the way to the delightful conclusion. Highly recommended.
—Alice Loweecey, author of the Giulia Driscoll Mystery Series
Jessie Chandler really knows how to take the reader for a wild ride. Blood Money Murder delivers suspense, snappy dialogue,fun, and the host of lovable characters who have become family in Chandler's Shay O'Hanlon Caper Series. Not that the author skips the serious issues that beset her mix of urban Midwest gay and non-gay characters. Chandler takes on alcoholism, domestic violence, morality and relationships, always with a touch of her offhand yet right-on-target humor. From the scary scenes to the laugh out loud moments, Blood Money Murder is fast-paced and skilled—and the ending comes all too soon.
—Lee Lynch, award-winning author of An American Queer
An emotionally-charged roller coaster of a romp jam-packed with hot pursuits, bumbling bad guys, and leprechauns. A sizzler of an adventure!
—Maddy Hunter, author of the Passport to Peril Mystery Series
Secrets, love, crime, and family all vie for center stage as Jessie Chandler masterfully conducts her quirky ensemble cast through the latest installment in the Shay O'Hanlon caper series, Blood Money Murder. Fans of Chandler's work will enjoy seeing Shay and her loyal band of cohorts join forces to help one of their own, while newcomers to the series are treated to a rollicking introduction to Shay's world that's sure to have them reaching for all the titles in the series.
—Carsen Taite, award-winning author of the Luca Bennett Bounty Hunter Series
The BOLO Books Review
…Blood Money Murder is the perfect afternoon escape from the realities of the world. Fortunately, the end of the novel opens up some new possibilities for Jessie Chandler to explore in future escapades.
Dru's Book Musings
I always enjoy myself when I'm reading about the capers involving Shay and her friends. In their latest adventure, secrets are exposed and it's the journey that keeps this story light and fresh and entertaining. This fast-paced and well-written drama grabbed my attention immediately from the first page, quickly becoming a page-turner. Such a hard book to put down with all the goings on between the various characters putting me smack dab in the middle of all the action and boy was a fun ride it was. Jessie does a great job of telling a story that comes alive on the written page. Such depth kept me engaged amidst all the intricacies that played out that I was sad to see this story end, especially after that ending which definitely put a smile on my face. This series continues to get better and better which each episode told and I'm so happy that Jessie has a new publishing home and I look forward to more adventures with Shay, JT and the gang.
Rainbow Book Reviews
It's another rollicking tale that I couldn't put down, and Chandler delivers an absolutely perfect ending that had me cheering out loud. I don't believe this is the last we'll hear from Shay O'Hanlon, and I certainly hope not"“what a great series.
“Can I get some damn help here?”
I glanced up from the espresso I was pulling. An older guy, maybe six feet with wide shoulders and a stark white Donald Trump comb-over, impatiently bounced on the balls of his feet in front of the cash register. A threadbare gray sweatshirt and black jeans clung to his thick frame.
A shorter man of similar age, mid-sixties maybe, with similar antsy-ness, fidgeted beside him. If he tapped his leg with his fingers any harder he’d give himself a bruise. The poor man’s crooked, bulbous nose would be at home at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Both of them looked unnaturally pale. Hopefully they didn’t have some kind of a bug—I had no time for that.
“Be right with you,” I said evenly. It’d already been a long, busy Saturday, and I was a hairbreadth from the end of my shift at the Rabbit Hole. I so did not need attitude this late in the game. A pained sigh that sounded like a strangling cat came through loud and clear over the hiss of the espresso maker.
“Lady!” The Donald hollered, “I don’t have all day.”
I narrowed my eyes and bit my tongue. I handed off the espresso to my customer and wiped my hands on a bar towel. “What can I get for you?”
The Nose said, “We’re looking for Eddy Quartermaine.”
“Eddy?” Was that all? Good grief. “Okay, hang on.”
Edwina Quartermaine, better known as Eddy, had been a neighbor and my mother’s best friend. When my mom had died in a car accident, she’d taken over mothering duties and raised me as best she could. The short, African-American, sixty-something spitfire who preferred to wear neon and tennis shoes would do anything for me, as I would for her.
I hustled through the back of the café, down a short hall, and stuck my head past a set of French doors that led into Eddy’s half of the huge Victorian that housed the Rabbit Hole Coffee Café and her apartment. “Eddy!” I bellowed.
She bellowed back, “In the kitchen!”
“You have visitors.”
“Be there in a minute. Thirty more seconds on these brownies.”
“I’ll let them know.”
All morning long Eddy had baked cookies, cupcakes and now brownies for the grand reopening of my dad’s bar, the Leprechaun. The Lep, located in northeast Minneapolis, had been closed for the last three months after a leak in the cellar led to the discovery of a body beneath the floor. Of course I’d looked into it, and my snooping around had evolved into one great big giant mess concluding with a near-murderous chase through an abandoned mental institution. The good news was my best friend Coop and I evaded a maniac with murder on his mind and my father was cleared of any responsibility in the death of the poor soul under his bar.
Now new concrete covered the cellar floor. The exterior of the bar was freshly painted, and various items in dire need of fixing were repaired. Tonight at seven my father was set to unveil the new and improved Lep, and his regulars were itching to return to their favorite watering hole. The timing had worked out perfectly, since today was St. Patrick’s Day. Green beer was going to flow tonight.
I informed The Donald and The Nose that Eddy would be out momentarily. True to her word, in less than a minute Eddy emerged from the back room wiping her hands on an apron and entered the Hole.
“Where’s the fire?” She stopped abruptly and her eyes widened.
I shot her a quick look, and the expression on her face almost caused me to overflow the coffee beans I was adding to the hopper. Some strong emotion chased its way across Eddy’s nut-brown face, but then it was gone before I could define it. Then she rounded the corner of the counter and approached The Nose and The Donald. She said something I couldn’t hear, and they all disappeared into the back.
Twenty minutes later, Anna, my evening replacement, shuffled in. Anna was a tall, muscular woman, a stellar track athlete at the University of Minnesota who was also the sister of my business partner and good friend, Kate McKenzie. Kate and I had opened the Rabbit Hole as a joint venture a few years ago. On a pleasantly consistent basis, we managed to keep our eight café tables filled and customers relaxing in the overstuffed chairs next to the fireplace. No one was getting rich, but we were making it work.
After a quick chat with Anna, I tackled the last of the dishes in the kitchen. Suds tickling my elbows, I was startled by an angry, raised voice. I wasn’t sure if it came from the front of the café or from Eddy’s living space. An indecipherable exclamation from Eddy followed.
The soup pot I’d been scrubbing hit the water with a splat and soap bubbles exploded over the edge of the sink. I took off for her side of the house. Loud discussions were not Eddy’s usual discourse.
“Bobby, I said you two need to get out. Now.” Eddy’s voice was uncharacteristically high-pitched.
I stormed into Eddy’s kitchen. “What’s going on?”
Three heads whipped toward me.
“Nothing, child,” Eddy said, although the look on her face negated her words. “These two were just leaving.”
The Nose tossed a picture on the table, a framed, candid shot of Eddy and me taken the previous summer during a barbeque in our backyard. The photo was usually kept in the living room on a side table. In the shot, I smiled with delight into the camera. Eddy gazed at me with the look an elder gives someone they obviously cherish. I’d just won a watermelon seed-spitting contest against my best friend Coop and my brown-eyed, pony-tailed partner JT. I was giddy, happy, baked by the sun and buzzing with too many beers.
The Donald said, “We’ll talk about this later. Come on, Sheets.”
Out the back door, Sheets trailed The Donald, who, by process of elimination, was Bobby. Through the window I watched them follow the patio-stone walk to the gate, let themselves out and disappear down the alley.
“What was that all about?” I reached for an appropriately green-colored cupcake cooling on a rack on the kitchen table.
“No, you don’t.” Before I could yank my fingers away, Eddy cracked my knuckles with a wooden spoon.
“Ow!” I jerked my hand back. Her aim was deadly.
“Those are for tonight. I let you have one and before I know it you’ll have cleaned me out.”
She was probably right. I asked again, “So what did those yahoos want?”
Eddy peered through the oven door. “Nothing you need to worry about, child. Just a couple of useless, no-good poops.”
I raised my brows. “No-good poops, huh?” Both men rubbed me the wrong way but it could be that I still felt touchy about their less-than-stellar behavior upon arrival at the Rabbit Hole.
“Poops.” Eddy nodded once but emphatically. “In my wild and crazy youth, I found myself mixed up with what polite society might call a questionable crowd. Which included these two ding-a-lings. They think I have something they want. Which I don’t.”
Eddy’s youthful devious dealings? Right. Eddy was the straightest shooter I knew. My cell went off, blaring JT’s ringtone before I had a chance to respond. I’d been waiting all day to hear whether or not she’d be able to make the evening’s festivities.
Along with being my partner, JT Bordeaux was a Minneapolis homicide detective, and for the last three weeks she’d been loaned out on special assignment working some hush-hush case on a drug task force. As far as I knew, she was currently sitting somewhere on a stakeout where she’d been for the past thirty-six hours. She’d finally come home yesterday morning, scored four hours sleep, and dragged herself back to work.
“Tell me some good news,” I said to her as I waved at Eddy and headed back to the Rabbit Hole.
“I’m sorry, Shay. With the budget cuts, we’re short on personnel, and this thing is about to blow wide open.”
“It’s okay, babe.” Not unexpected, but not what I wanted to hear. I understood the demands of JT’s job, but that didn’t mean I had to like them. “I’ll save you some dessert. Eddy’s been baking all day long. Speaking of Eddy, you should’ve seen these two bozos who just dropped in to talk to her. Rude jerks. They kind of reminded me of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau from Grumpy Old Men.”
“Really?” JT laughed. “I’m surprised Eddy didn’t pull her Whacker and give them a tap. What was up with them?”
“Not sure. They thought she had something of theirs. She doesn’t. They left.”
“Huh. Okay. Can you pick Lisa up on your way over? I told her I’d grab her about four.”
Lisa Vecoli was my newly found half-sister. She’d appeared on the scene three months ago looking for a man named Pete O’Hanlon at the request of her recently deceased mom. She wasn’t sure if my dad was the correct Pete she was looking for, but it turned out he sure as hell was.
After my mother died, seeking solace, he’d had a brief dalliance with one of the servers at his bar. She’d left and he never saw her again. What he didn’t know was that she’d left with a little more than either one of them had bargained for. Now I had a sister I really wasn’t sure I wanted. We did have some remarkable similarities, mostly in our sometimes-explosive personalities. We were both angular, but Lisa was taller than my five foot-eight. My hair was black and short, Lisa a longhaired blonde. We both possessed the same strong chin with the same dent in the middle as our father.
That’s where the similarities ended. In three short months Lisa’d managed to wrap my homophobic father around her lesbian pinkie finger. For years my dad and I had butted heads over my sexuality. Only in the last year, when he realized I was serious about JT, had he started to come around. I’d spent almost fifteen years banging my head against his anti-gay wall, and my head still hurt. I admitted to feeling just a tad resentful when he immediately accepted Lisa with the open arms I felt I’d always deserved.
These days, all my father talked about was Lisa. I ground my teeth a little harder each time he’d tell me, “Lisa fixed this,” or “Lisa bought new chairs for the Leprechaun,” or “Lisa came and took the old man out for lunch.”
Yes, I’d taken a full week off from the Rabbit Hole and painted the Lep’s exterior, but I couldn’t afford to be away any longer. I couldn’t compete with someone who was in school and had the extra time and energy to do all the things my father bragged about.
Okay, if I were to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t just a little resentful. I was pissed off. I knew I shouldn’t feel this way—it wasn’t Lisa’s fault my father fawned over her. I managed to keep my envy-filled thoughts to myself most of the time, but occasionally some snarky comment snuck between my tightly clenched teeth.
Today was a very big deal for my dad, and I was determined to keep my mouth shut and put a smile on my face. If I needed to play nice and pick up Lisa, I would do it.
“Yeah. If I have to.”
“Thanks. I owe you one. Sorry to run, but I gotta go.”
The story of my lover’s life. “Call when you can. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
I headed back to the kitchen. Once the dishes were finished, I needed to make sure everything was packed and ready to haul over to the Lep. I’d picked up three rolls of green crepe paper and a bunch of balloons. As a reopening and so-glad-you-recovered gift for my dad, I’d also framed a poster-sized photo of the Leprechaun, which, freshly painted, was looking proud once again. He’d been wounded in January when the son of his ex-best friend shot him point blank in the abdomen. Thankfully, no major organs were hit. My father healed fast and was almost back to his old self.
Of course Lisa visited him in the hospital every day while I’d been tied up with work. She’d taken the lead on getting him to physical therapy and various doctors’ appointments, too. I’d managed to paint the bar’s exterior, and that was about the extent of my contribution.
Jesus. I really needed to let go of these suck-ass emotions. They weren’t doing me, or Lisa and certainly not my father, a bit of good. Every time I promised myself that I’d stop blowing things out of proportion, Lisa did something nice, and I couldn’t help but pop a gasket. I usually managed to hold the meltdown back until I was far, far away, but the by-product was that I’d become stiff and uncomfortable around her. JT and my oldest friend, Coop, tried numerous times to talk me down, but I was a stubborn cuss. Just like my old man.
The grand reopening was scheduled for seven. Two and a half hours should give us plenty of time to transform the Leprechaun. I gathered the decorations I’d bought and loaded them into my Escape, which was parked at the curb in front of the café.
Then I checked in with Eddy. She’d baked eight tins of brownies and six pans of cupcakes. She handed me the goods and told me to skedaddle because Rocky and his wife, Tulip, would help her with the rest.
Both Rocky and Tulip were mentally challenged geniuses that lived in my old apartment above the Hole. Rocky had come into our lives a little more than a year and a half ago. He’d helped prove Coop hadn’t murdered his boss with a great big bronzed bingo dauber, and along the way had been absorbed into the family.
Rocky was a savant-like Rainman, a munchkin whose rotund belly tented his shirts over skinny, bowed legs. He was quirky, kind and always wore an aviator hat no matter the temperature.
Rocky had met Tulip in New Orleans not long after the bingo dauber trauma, and he fell head over heels. She was a cheerful, curvy, dark-skinned Creole who’d made her living busking balloon animals on the streets of the Big Easy. Rocky wooed her via Facebook, and eventually she moved up to Minneapolis to hawk her inflatables at kids’ birthday parties. The two were hitched in a clown-themed wedding a few months ago. Yeah. Clown-themed. But that’s a story for another day. Anyway, the two of them had this uncanny ability to pop up out of nowhere, and occasionally their sudden appearances nearly gave me a coronary. I had a sneaking suspicion one or both had bionic hearing.
Today Tulip’s curly red hair was gathered in two braids that stuck out from the sides of her head. I thought they bore a remarkable resemblance to the horns on Bullwinkle the Moose’s head. She was the balm that calmed even the most agitated person—a real-life people whisperer. Tulip and Rocky were perfect together.
I made it to my ride, a not-so-late-model Ford Escape, without dumping my load of desserts and took a peek in one of the cake pans. Eddy had decorated the cupcakes with green frosting and tiny shamrocks. I wasn’t surprised she’d take the time to add that little special something. Eddy was that kind of person, always looking out for my father and me. I fought off the temptation to grab one.
* * *
Lisa lived in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis above Eddy’s favorite mystery bookstore, Once Upon a Crime. The owners, Pat and Gary, grinned gleefully every time Eddy graced their doorstep. Eddy grinned gleefully at the hard-to-find treasures she dug up in the Annex, a magical set of rooms where rare first editions and hard-to-find mysteries resided. Eddy had heard Lisa was looking for a new place to rent, and found her the apartment when she’d dropped into the bookstore a few weeks ago.
I pulled to the curb on Garfield and idled the car in front of the lobby door. Promptly at four o’clock, Lisa emerged from the building toting a colorful gift bag. She came to an abrupt and comical stop when she realized it was me picking her up instead of JT.
Initially, before I found out we were related, I’d thought she was a pretty good-looking chick. She’d fit right in with the Amazons, or maybe, more accurately, with a band of biker-Xenas. Straight, golden hair hung down past the middle of her back, and she had the same short fuse I did. Lisa was partial to blue jeans, black leather jackets and Harley Davidsons. Now that we were related, any theoretical attraction was gone, replaced with constant unease every time we were in the same breathing space.
After a moment’s hesitation, she gave me a nod and situated herself in the passenger seat.
“Hey.” She slung the seat belt across her chest and clicked it into place. “Thanks for picking me up. JT stuck working?”
“She’s still caught up in the surveillance they’re running on some unspecified building for unspecified suspects performing unspecified nefarious deeds.” I checked my rearview, pulled out, and headed north toward I-94.
Lisa glanced at me, one side of her mouth raised in a half smile. “Unspecified stress too?”
We rode in an uneasy silence until I merged onto 94. I knew I should be polite. Eddy’s voice echoed through my mind, pestering me to lighten up. So I tried out some small talk. “How’s school?”
Lisa was attending classes to get an art degree of some kind. She’d been doing an internship at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, but that ended when the second semester started in late January. I still wasn’t clear on what she wanted to do with her degree, but it sounded like she was going more for the curator end than the creating end.
“School is school. Can’t wait to get out and get on with my life. Another two semesters.”
“You think the internship helped?”
“I know it did. The Minneapolis Institute of Art asked me to let them know as soon as I finish, and they’d see what was available. I might start off dusting artwork, but it’s a foot in the door.”
I had to give her credit. At twenty-five, Lisa was seven years younger than me, and she still held onto the youthful “nothing’s going to stand in my way” mentality.
We actually chatted like normal people for the next few minutes about college, jobs, the economy and spring, which was coming on fast. The snow had finally melted and I hoped we were done with the brunt of it. However, in Minnesota the potential for a snow-dump in March was always in the cards.
The parking lot beside the Leprechaun was newly paved and still empty. I pulled in and killed the engine.
“Shay,” Lisa said quietly. The tone of her voice was odd, and I glanced at her. “We need to talk. About this.” She waved a hand between us.
She was right. A huge part of me was appalled at my jealous and irritated attitude, but contrition always went right out the door when my father started reciting Lisa’s growing list of glowing accomplishments. Somehow, I needed to get past this. Maybe now was the time.
“Okay.” I gripped the wheel hard enough my knuckles turned white. “You’re right. I’ve been an ass.”
A dimple popped on Lisa’s cheek and she laughed. “I wouldn’t go that far. But this—thing—between the two of us has made it harder for everyone. I never asked for any of it, Shay.” It was her turn to look out the window. “I never asked for my birth father to come into my life.”
The windshield had thousands of minute pits I’d never noticed before. Why were small, weird things so mesmerizing when one was having a conversation in which one didn’t want to participate? I heaved an exasperated sigh. “I know you didn’t. And I know the assumptions I made when you first showed up looking for my father—our father,” I amended, “were wrong. I’m not usually the kind of person that holds grudges.” After a second, I added, “That aren’t deserved.”
Lisa didn’t know how my father had reacted to my coming out, wasn’t aware of the many years of fights and tears and fury that followed. She’d need to understand that for my overreactions to make any sense. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to go there right now.
The other problem was that she and I were entirely too similar. We both thought we were right, and our stubborn personalities made it far easier to bang heads than to compromise. A part of me felt betrayed by both my father and by Lisa, although she didn’t have anything to do with it except for the fact she existed.
I inhaled slow and deep. What the hell. “When I told Pete,” I could not bring myself to embrace the “our father” thing again, “that I was a lesbian, he didn’t hit the roof. He blew right through it. I’ve never seen him so angry. I was nineteen, a freshman in college. Good thing I was living in a dorm, because he kicked me out of the house.” I laughed but the sound came out a bitter bark. “I should say he kicked me out of the apartment above the Lep.
“Anyway, I can go into it in painful detail some other time, preferably when I’m lubed up with a lot of alcohol.” I rubbed a hand over my eyes. Bone-deep weariness settled like a shroud. “Bottom line, I guess, is that I resent how he’s welcomed you with open arms when it took me a decade and a half to get to the point where he looks at me, really looks at me, without disgust on his face. I never doubted he loved me, but for a long time I wasn’t sure he liked me.”
The look on Lisa’s face was cautiously sympathetic. “That’s harsh.”
“He winds up with two gay kids, and when he finds out about the second one, he doesn’t even twitch.”
“I’m so sorry, Shay. Now it makes sense why you feel the way you do. But please…” She reached over to touch me but stopped before making contact. “Know I’m not here to take anyone, or anything, away from you.” Lisa sucked in her own calming breath while I studied the dashboard.
“So,” she said hesitantly, “what do you want? Do you want me to leave?”
Was that what I wanted? To deny family to someone who carried the same blood I did? To push a sister away—a sister I hadn’t known about? Lisa’s mother had died not long ago, and what would Lisa have if she didn’t have us? No. I didn’t really want her to leave. I wanted the hurt and the resentment to go away. I wanted to get to know Lisa better. The only way that would happen was for me to deal with my own shit.
I met Lisa’s eyes. Her apprehension was palpable. “I don’t want you to walk.” I blew out a frustrated breath. “The adult thing for me to do is to talk to him. Tell him how I feel when he starts waxing poetic about you. Maybe he’ll lighten up on the over-the-top stuff. You and I, we’re both hardheaded, used to getting our way. We’re destined to clash, I think, whether we like it or not. But I’ll try to stop before things go too far and we argue like a couple of hormonal teenagers.” I gave her a rueful smile. “But I’m not always good at reining myself in.”
“Neither am I. But I’ll try and cool it too. I know I overreact sometimes and then off we go. If we get ourselves in a situation that blows up, how about we agree to apologize afterward?”
I felt a little lighter. This talking business was long overdue. Good thing Lisa had more balls than I did. “Sounds good. Thanks for forcing the issue.”
Lisa said, “Let’s get in there and give ’em hell.”