Lowcountry Bribe

Lowcountry Bribe
C. Hope Clark

January 2012 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-090-9

A killer wants to make certain she buys the farm.


 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

A killer wants to make certain she buys the farm.

Threats, a missing boss, a very dead co-worker, a high-level investigation and a sinister hog farmer: Lowcountry Ag Department manager Carolina Slade is a bean-counting civil servant in hot water.

Carolina Slade is a by-the-book county manager for the Department of Agriculture—a civil servant who coordinates federal loans for farmers in the coastal Lowcountry of South Carolina. When one of her clients, a hog farmer named Jessie Rawlings, offers her a bribe, Slade reports Jessie to her superiors. The next thing she knows, she’s besieged by Resident Agent-In-Charge, now a Contract Investigator, Wayne Largo from the Feds’ IG Office in Atlanta. He and his partner have come to investigate Slade’s accusations, and if possible catch Jessie in the act of handing over money.

However, the IG isn't telling Slade everything. The agents are also investigating the disappearance of Slade's boss the year before in connection to possible land fraud. And when the sting on Jessie goes bad, the case is put on hold and Wayne is called back to Atlanta, leaving Slade to fear not only for her life and job, but for her children’s safety.

Author C. Hope Clark, the granddaughter of a Mississippi cotton farmer, holds a B.S. in Agriculture from Clemson University and has 25 years’ experience with the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Now an award-winning writer, she manages FundsforWriters.com, a weekly newsletter service she founded that reaches almost 50,000 writers to include university professors, professional journalists and published mystery authors. Writer's Digest has recognized the site in its annual 101 Best Web Sites for Writers for a dozen years. Hope is married to a 30-year veteran of federal law enforcement, a Senior Special Agent, now a private investigator. They live in South Carolina, on the banks of Lake Murray. Hope is hard at work on the next novel in her Carolina Slade Mystery Series. Visit her at www.chopeclark.com .

Reviews

"I thought Lowcountry Bride was a great read... I would highly recommend this book." -- Chris Swinney, Buried Under Books

"Ms. Clark debuts with a sharp novel combining all the right elements into a page-turner…What makes this book work—aside from smooth writing, a rich sense of place, and a dastardly plot—is Slade’s realness." -- Caroline Haley, NY Journal of Books

"Entertaining, witty, engaging, it leaves me hungry for more. It was tight and energeticand moved like a spring creek winding down a mountain, mesmerizing and beautiful." -- Chaleen Dugan

"...an authentic Southern mystery,." -- Cynthia Brian, "The Oprah of the Airwaves"

"Lowcountry Bribe is a fast-paced, roller coaster ride of a mystery, full of intriguing characters and a heroine as feisty as she is vulnerable. A rare glimpse into a rural part of the Lowcountry most coastal residents and visitors didn't know existed. A sparkling debut from an author who obviously knows her stuff." -- Kathryn R. Wall, author of the Bay Tanner mysteries

"Clark weaves a tale told as clearly and succinctly as if she had lived it, but don't let you think this is some sweet country gal spinning quilting yarns. Lowcountry Bribe <http://chopeclark.com/books/> is as good a suspense thriller with a strong female protagonist as I have read, and that include the likes of Patricia Cornwell, Janet Evanovich, J.D. Robb, or Jan Burke. This is a spine tingling thriller with a twist that will take your breath away, and enough 'Bless your heart's' to give you time to catch your breath. I don't often do this for a first time novelist, but 5 stars out of 5 for Lowcountry Bribe <http://chopeclark.com/books/> by newcomer C. Hope Clark." -- David Roth, The Examiner

Excerpt

O-positive primer wasn’t quite the color I had in mind for the small office, but Lucas Sherwood hadn’t given the decor a second thought when he blew out the left side of his head with a .45.

As the county manager, I identified Lucas’ body for the cops, and gave the poor man a quick moment of silence with thoughts to a higher power that he be let through the pearly gates. He died in a place he didn’t like, doing work he wasn’t very good at, having no place else to go. No mother gives birth thinking her child will end up like this. The unexpected note scrawled across his desk pad gripped me. "Sorry, Slade.” Apologizing for what, I didn’t know.

Damn it, Lucas. What were you thinking?

He was a fifty-year-old divorced alcoholic, an agricultural technician five years short of a dreaded retirement. I was the closest thing to family for him, but couldn’t dial his phone number without looking it up. What forgiveness did he think I owed him?

Three days later, I stood poised at the door of Lucas’ office, hand on the knob. Yellow crime tape blocked the doorway to a room resembling a Tarantino movie set. A cleanup crew waited in the lobby. I’d received the official nod from local authorities to enter his office and have it cleaned. Finally, I broke the spell and opened up the room. Painful or not, we ran a business that couldn’t stop long for tragedy. People depended on us . . . on me.

My signature line read Carolina Slade Bridges, County Manager, United States Department of Agriculture. I made government loans on behalf of the American taxpayer to the rural residents of Charleston County, South Carolina. Problem was, I spent more time trying to get the money back. Poverty made repayment difficult. My job made for stories the average urban dweller would never comprehend.

Charleston County contains the stylish historic city, which everyone associates with culture, Southern charm, and plantation blue bloods living in antebellum splendor overlooking The Battery. No one envisions small-time farmers scrambling to make a living on Rhett Butler’s stomping ground, but the string of islands along the coastline offered them a reasonable subsistence with the support of federal monies. I admired their pride and tried to ignore their plight, so I could sleep at night.

On the Friday after the suicide, the three remaining members of my staff expected directives from me. A pile of work awaited us, and I assigned tasks attempting to create a semblance of normalcy. Normal lasted about five minutes.

"How can we just sit here like nothing happened?” said Ann Marie. My middle-aged, wide-eyed clerk always wore a look of surprise on her face, as if she’d just witnessed a miracle. For some reason she adored me, and her ritual Monday morning sugar cookies were a thank-you for taking the time to explain instructions to her. Her perpetual smile dimmed on rare occasions, and talking about Lucas was one of them.

Jean Sparks, my office manager, sat with a ramrod spine and a steno pad. "Honey, life goes on.” She tossed her coifed head of ink black hair locked with sprayed lacquer.

"He seemed so lonely,” Ann Marie said, her soft pout bordering on tears.

"He didn’t do sh—”

I cut Jean short with my stock, green-eyed "don’t start with me” glare.

"He’s gone,” I said. "Let’s honor him with our prayers, but remember the work’s stacking up.” I turned to Miss Mouth. "Jean, how far behind are you with your deadlines?”

My return to discussion about workloads settled them down. We covered the

basics, and with a residual mourning of a minute and a half, we adjourned minus the usual chatter about kids, mall sales and local politics. Felt funny without a man in the room.

Lucas Sherwood was death number two. A year ago, almost to the day, my easygoing boss Mickey Wilder drove to one of the islands and never returned. I’d immediately stepped into Mickey’s job, but sensed he continued to peer over my shoulder, my perpetual mentor. His leadership spirit still hovered in the office. Based on a string of personal factors I wasn’t privy to, the cops had labeled his disappearance a probable suicide. Then they’d moved on. We remained behind, our respect for Mickey shaken, thanks to the whispers and innuendo. At least in Lucas’ case, the staff had found closure.

I didn’t. Mickey made no sense. I still expected to see either man walk into my office, Mickey telling me to get out of his chair.

By ten, phones rang and clients trickled through the door. I remained in my office dissecting complex applications. Slim chance upper management would replace Lucas, considering the minor contribution he made in the grand scheme of things. He inspected property held as collateral for the millions of dollars in loan portfolios. I would assume his duties, which meant counting heads of livestock, inspecting equipment and monitoring crops. Mud-on-my-shoes work. Duties in the outdoors I’d genuinely come to miss since becoming the boss.

Ann Marie poked her head around the door. "Slade, the Rawlings are out here to see you.”

Slade was my maiden name going back to my great grandmother from Mississippi. Only my Mom and Daddy called me Carolina, and nobody who knew me used my married name, Bridges. I loved my heritage, but I didn’t love my husband. Slade was the best title for all concerned.

"Did they say why?” I hated drop-ins. I liked order. Especially since I’d seen so little of it lately. I slid the oversized paper clip out of my hair. I’d been too busy to schedule a trim and the thick dark strands didn’t take well to a curling iron once they overlapped my collar.

"Jesse said he has a check to give you, but he’s short on his payment.” Ann Marie preferred to make nice with the public and direct problems to me, since I possessed a reputation for squeezing money out of rocks.

 



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