Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Tell No Lies

Karen Court

Amateur sleuth Zadie Madden is just trying to hold together her sick mother’s catering business when she takes a three-day gig catering for a small town’s civic celebration. But when tragedy strikes at the baking competition, Zadie finds herself investigating the town’s sixteen-year-old cold case, pitting herself against the killers who intend to keep their secret at all costs—even if it means adding Zadie to the list of victims.

Age Rating: Age Rating 18+ (Assault, Child Abuse, Homophobia, Sexual Assault/Abuse, Suicide, Violence Against Women, Violent Death)

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Tell No Lies - Book cover
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Tell No Lies

Karen Court

Amateur sleuth Zadie Madden is just trying to hold together her sick mother’s catering business when she takes a three-day gig catering for a small town’s civic celebration. But when tragedy strikes at the baking competition, Zadie finds herself investigating the town’s sixteen-year-old cold case, pitting herself against the killers who intend to keep their secret at all costs—even if it means adding Zadie to the list of victims.

Age Rating: Age Rating 18+ (Assault, Child Abuse, Homophobia, Sexual Assault/Abuse, Suicide, Violence Against Women, Violent Death)

1: Chapter One

Zadie Madden threw another nervous glance out the living room window of her apartment. The path to her door was empty, and there was no one at the curb. He wasn’t here yet.

She did another hurried inventory. She had everything. She brushed her hair again and took one last hurried look in the mirror before rushing back to the living room.

She had applied minimal makeup for that natural effect and had left her hair loose, so it fell down to the middle of her back and framed her face.

Once she started working at the event, she knew she would have to tie it back in a formal style.

A car pulled up outside. She picked up her tote and hefted her overnight bag when she heard a bold knock at the front door.

Time to go! Her heartbeat picked up a notch as she opened the door. He was already walking back down her path to the curb where his black muscle car crouched, a late model Lexus RC F.

“Hi, Oscar,” she called gaily.

He paused and looked casually back over his shoulder. “You ready to rock and roll?”

“Sure. I sent everything up there with Sunny. So, I’m traveling light.”

“That’s the only way, babe,” he replied as he skirted the car heading for the driver’s side.

Zadie hastened down the path until she reached the curb. Oscar paused, then came back around the car and took her overnight bag. He tossed it into the trunk.

“You packed enough for at least three days?”

“Yes, it should be enough. My work clothes went up with the rest of the catering gear.”

He said no more as he returned to the driver’s side and climbed in. Zadie followed suit, buckling herself into the passenger’s seat.

The Lexus pulled smoothly away from the curb and soundlessly cruised down the suburban streets of Wakefield.

“Is it far to Cape Elizabeth?” Zadie asked.

Oscar checked the flow of traffic both ways at an intersection before replying.

“Should take us around two hours, I expect. We’ll be cruising up the I-95 S. It’s a pretty good highway.” He pulled out onto the main road, and they settled in for the journey.

Zadie looked around the interior of the Lexus. It was a beautiful vehicle, with sculpted space-age red leather seats and a bristling black center console.

“This is a pretty nice car,” she observed. “The seats are comfy.”

Oscar looked pleased. “Yeah, I think I fell in love as soon as I saw it. Then I took her for a test drive, and I was hooked.”

Zadie looked over her shoulder. “Not much of a back seat, though.”

“Well, I wasn’t looking for a family car, and I’m not a back seat romancer, so it was perfect.

“I love the advanced climate system, and I’ve got the sound and navigation audio upgrade to go with my 17-speaker audio system,” he said proudly.

“Okay, sounds like you’re all set then.” To Zadie, it was just a fancy sports car, but she conceded that guys took these things a bit more seriously.

She shot a glance at her companion. He was concentrating on the road and didn’t meet her gaze. She found herself considering his strong profile.

“Rugged,” her mother had described him. He was immaculately groomed with dark hair in a styled cut and perfectly clean-shaven.

He had tanned skin, hazel-colored eyes fringed with dark lashes beneath black eyebrows, and a domineering nose upstaged by a wide, expressive mouth.

You could tell he had Native American blood in him from somewhere, she decided, but only just.

He flicked a glance in her direction and those generous lips hinted at a smile. “What?”

“Oh, ah—” Zadie was caught off-guard. “Nothing. I was just thinking, this is the first big out-of-town event I will be working with your crew, and I’m hoping I don’t mess it up.”

Oscar burst out laughing, and his eyes twinkled. “Fair enough. But you’ll be fine. You’ve got your mother’s organizational skills, so I’m sure you’ve got all the bases covered.”

Zadie felt a stab of sadness when Oscar mentioned her mother.

He must have sensed her change of mood. “So, how is your mother doing, now, anyway?”

“Oh, not so well, really. She was in remission for nearly two years, but now it’s back. She’s in and out of the hospital at the moment and pretty much confined to home between treatments.

“Obviously, Sunny and I look after her, do her shopping and check she’s taking her medication and is comfortable.

“Sunny has just moved back in with her, but I’m not sure how long that’ll last before they get on each other’s nerves.”

“Is Sunny getting any support with the care? I mean, besides you, of course.”

“Sure, the nursing service comes three times a week, and they do a pretty good job. We can increase their visits if we need to.”

“Oh, shoot. Poor Zia. What’s the long-term outlook?”

“Well, if she can rally and go back into remission as before, she could be fine. It’s a wait-and-see situation.”

“So, in the meantime, you and Sunny are carrying the business?”

“Pretty much. I mean, of course, Sunny has been working with Mom for a couple of years now, but she hasn’t got a clue how to actually run the business.

“She’s so artistic, making the most sensational decorated cakes, and she’s a whizz at the catering menus and presentation. But she couldn’t organize her way out of a paper bag!”

“Each to their own. We’ve all got our skill set, and your sister always creates such delicious food that looks a million dollars but doesn’t cost the earth.

“I don’t know how she does it. Luckily, you’ve been able to step in while your mom’s out of action and keep things ticking over.”

“Yes, strangely, we make a good team despite being so different. I’m not sure how we manage to get along sometimes. We see things so differently, but we always seem to work it out.”

“And that’s what matters in the end.”

“I guess so. I mean, of course, I love her like a sister, but she can be annoying.”

Oscar nodded. “I suppose she would probably say the same about you, too. Your mom is quite a character, don’t you think?”

Oscar had worked with Zia’s catering services in recent times before the return of her cancer had forced her to hand the bakery over to Zadie and Sunny.

“How so? Are you referring to the bright, baggy clothing and chunky, cheap jewelry?”

“Well… I wasn’t quite going to put it that way, but now that you mention it, she has that kind of happy, hippie vibe.”

“Oh, yeah. She’s stuck in the sixties and seventies, for sure. And it’s not just the outfits and the free-spirit nature; she changed her name to Zia from her given name.”

“So, what was her original name?”

“Maryanne. She changed it to Zia when she ‘found herself.’”

“Fair enough.”

“And what about how she named us girls?”

“What do you mean? I thought Zadie and Sunny were quite nice.”

“Do you know our full names?”

“No…but I have an idea you’re going to tell me.”

“Oh, I like to share. I’m Scheherazade Xanthe, you know, the Persian Queen from the 1001 Arabian Nights and some Greek blonde, and my sister is Soleil Isadora.”

Oscar shot her a quick smile. “Impressive. But best stick to the shortened versions.”

Zadie returned his smile.

“Anyway, her retro nature doesn’t take away from the fact that she’s an ace caterer with a five-star reputation. And it’s been good for my events business to have a top caterer on board,” he said.

“Well, then, I hope I don’t let you down,” said Zadie grimly.

“You won’t. I’ve seen you deliver catering services, and it’s all run smoothly,” Oscar affirmed. “You’re a natural. And you’ve got Sunny. She knows what she’s doing, too. You’ll be just fine. I know it.”

Zadie said nothing. She appreciated the vote of confidence, but more than ever, she didn’t want to let her mother down or Oscar.

It was over an hour into their journey when Oscar pulled off the highway at a roadhouse.

“Gotta top up the tank,” he said. “That’s the downside to having a V8; they get pretty thirsty.”

“Speaking of thirsty, I’m going in to get a fruit smoothy. Can I get you one?”

Oscar nodded. “Sure. Berry.”

“No worries.” Zadie climbed out as Oscar went around to start refueling.

When she returned, she found Oscar had pulled into a parking space and was waiting for her. She got back into the car and passed him his smoothy.

He placed it in the center console cup-holder and eased the car out of its spot. When they rejoined the highway, the Lexus accelerated like a rocket and hit the maximum speed limit in seconds.

“Nice!” Zadie conceded, still reeling from the G-force.

Oscar couldn’t help but grin. “You liked that?”

They laughed.

Oscar became thoughtful. “So, what are you doing with yourself, anyway, Zadie? Obviously, I know you’re teaching karate at a few locations, but is that full-time?”

Zadie considered this for a moment. She and Oscar both belonged to the same karate organization, headquartered in Boston, which is where they had first met.

While they both ran their own dojos, she knew that Oscar had taken it to a whole other level.

“Yes, well, at the moment, it is full-time. I’ve got the school programs during the day and the adult classes four nights a week. And now I’m also helping out with the catering business, but I hope that’s just temporary.”

“So, where do you think your martial arts will take you? I mean, I know you are on top of your game there, international champion, second dan black belt, and training for your third.

“Pretty impressive for someone in their mid-twenties. And you’ve got a lot of students, but just running classes is never going to make you wealthy.

“Right now, it’s just a wage, living week-to-week. What vision do you have for the long-term?”

“Oh, ah, I was hoping to build it up. Maybe offer some online courses, YouTube training videos…you know, subscriptions,” Zadie finished lamely.

He looked across at her. “You don’t have a plan, do you?”

Zadie felt color tinge her cheeks. “Ah, well, it’s this distraction with Mom, you know? If she goes back into remission and comes back into the business…well, here’s hoping anyway.”

She looked at him. Was this a good time to tell him how much she admired what he had achieved? She took a deep breath. Here goes. “Actually, it’s pretty good what you have been able to build up. How did it all come about?”

He nodded. “It had small beginnings. I was running the club, and some of the guys liked my emphasis on fitness. They saw how it would take their martial arts to a whole other level.

“Some of them started joining me in my workouts in the DIY gym I set up on the ground floor of the building, you know, below the dojo.

“Soon, I found myself installing more weight equipment and more multi-gyms. And it took off from there.”

“That’s when you started offering memberships and keep-fit classes, circuits, Pilates, and the like?”

“Yeah. I just got some experts in each fitness area to come in and run classes, we built up a timetable, and soon people were joining the gym.

“Many of them were family members or people from the karate club. Then it was pretty much word of mouth.”

“I don’t know if that’s where my talents lie,” said Zadie thoughtfully.

“No problem. You just need to assess what your passions are, pursue them, and soon you’ll attract a following.”

Zadie laughed out loud. “You’d never guess what my main passion is.”

“What?”

“Sleuthing.”

“Eh?”

“Well, more like writing detective stories. I’ve been working on that in my spare time.”

“Goddamn. Really? You are a deep one, aren’t you? Have you had many published?”

“Nah, I guess I’m just too scared of being rejected to put any out there.”

“Babe.” He shook his head slowly. “You’ve gotta believe in yourself.”

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