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Soul of a Killer
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 4, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Keaton and Koby are fraternal twins who were separated as children, but now they’ve found each other and opened Books & Biscuits in the pleasant Pacific Northwest town of Timber Lake.Business is booming, but even so, trouble always seems to find them.
Mama Zola, Koby’s devoted foster mom, has taken up residence in Timber Lake. She and Pete, one of the bookstore’s quirky employees, bring a peach cobbler over to her church’s potluck, and then someone who sampled the cobbler is found dead. Mama Zola and Pete find themselves suspects in the murder, but luckily Koby and Keaton are ready to sling out a side of justice.
"I hate living in the future."
That was Mama Zola's response every time my twin brother, Koby, mentioned to her she needed a cell phone.
"I like the past better. Simpler times," she said. "Just give me a rotary phone, a typewriter and a transistor radio and I'm good."
And that was the line she gave when he told her that a cell phone wasn't a thing of the future, people had been using them for more than twenty years.
But that was Zola Jackson. She wasn't much for change.
We were at Mama Zola's church, Everlasting Missionary Baptist Church on the outskirts of Timber Lake in the unincorporated limits of Porter. We were dropping her off, and Koby wanted to be sure she could reach us if she needed to.
I was with her on the cell phone, though. I rarely kept mine on, the bookstore and my house had landlines and I was always one place or the other. Plus, I didn't have many people to talk to.
Mama Zola was so excited about the day. It hadn't been long since she'd moved to our lakeside town. She'd come to help me and Koby at our cafŽ and bookstore, Books & Biscuits. This was a new church home for Mama Zola. She hadn't wasted any time joining the month after she settled in her new place, a few blocks from our store. Koby wanted to make sure she was okay since he would no longer be in the City to keep an eye on her.
Koby and I had driven her and Pete Howers to the church so they could get set up for the Annual Founder's Day Potluck. A red brick church with a white wooden steeple, it was one story and had had two additions added over the years, one on each side of the atrium, the original building where the chapel was located. The additions were long and L-shaped with lots of closed doors. We'd come in through the chapel.
Today would be Mama Zola's first time participating and she was trying to show out. She'd been up cooking since three a.m. And if she didn't turn us loose soon, we were going to be late opening our place of business. It was already a quarter to nine.
Everyone in Timber Lake who'd been to Books & Biscuits knew she was a great cook. An awesome cook. She was the one we gave credit to for our soul rolls. They were bringing in people in droves. Juicy greens or hoppin' johns inside a flaky, crunchy egg roll wrapper. And then Koby had even come up with dessert ones-sweet potatoes and apple crumble.
I sure was looking forward to anything Mama Zola was going to serve today for the church event. Koby and I had planned on coming back around lunchtime to eat. But now she was nervous just the same. And excited. And driving us crazy.
"I hope I cooked enough." She surveyed the spread of food. Worry etched across her face. "I bet a lot of people will come."
We were in the church's kitchen. A spacious area off the back of the main church in one of the additions. Right behind the baptismal area. Cabinets and counters flanked newer-looking appliances, and the walls were painted a cheery, but faint yellow. We helped Mama Zola unload her foil-topped dishes onto the large aluminum countertop island.
It seemed we were the first ones there and probably the ones with the most food. Most potluck attendees, at least in my experience, only brought one covered dish. She probably had about twenty.
"I think you'll be fine," Koby said.
"I don't know. I ordered four bags of peaches for my cobblers, and they only sent three." She turned and looked at me. "And you ate two of those, Keaton."
"I only ate two peaches." I held up fingers that could have denoted the number or a peace sign. Both gestures I hoped would help my cause. "Not two bags." A sheepish look on my face, I hung my head. I had eaten them. Couldn't deny that. And I knew I was going to hear about it from her. She did not hold her tongue at all. But they were ripe and oh so sweet and juicy.
"I didn't say you ate two bags. But those two made a difference."
"Sorry," I said. Again. But she had moved on.
"Are you sure you got all the pans out of the car?" She looked toward the door as if she could see it from there.
Pete, her designated assistant for the day, although his usual job was in the bookstore with me, had gotten a serving cart from inside the church with the help of Rocko.
Rocko Jackson (no relation to Mama Zola) looked more like a bouncer at a corner bar than the church's designated security and parking lot attendant. Muscles popping out everywhere, buzz cut and dressed all in black-T-shirt, pants and combat boots. He sat in a wooden booth, glass windows on all four sides, centered in the middle of the parking lot. Country gospel on his radio and a plastic container filled with umbrellas. It didn't take much convincing for him to let us in the building early, once we pried him off his cell phone and with Mama Zola's promise of an extra heaping serving of her peach cobbler.
"Yes, we got everything out of the car," my brother answered.
"What about the sweet tea from Biscuits?"
"Our soon-to-be-famous sweet tea?" Koby asked. It was intended to be our signature bestseller when we opened, it and Koby's buttery, flaky golden-brown biscuits, but it had been surpassed by Mama Zola's soul rolls.
"Did you spill anything?" She started lifting the foil covering over the aluminum containers. The smell of the food came wafting out, making my stomach grumble.
"Nothing spilled, Mama Zola," Koby said. "We were careful."
He knew how to handle her. She'd been one of his many foster parents.
We were separated when we were two. I was adopted into a great family, who gave me a loving home and an awesome childhood. Koby wasn't adopted. He spent his formative years in group homes and other people's houses and lives. That was until he got to Mama Zola's. She'd been his real first mom.
Starting when he was thirteen, Koby had put on a sleuthing hat and somehow, over the course of a few years and out of the seven point six million people in Washington State, found me.
But, even with Kobe's skills, our birth mother's present location was unknown, but, now together, we were working on that. Hopefully, though, we'd find our biological mother. I know Koby wanted that more than anything.
In fact, I had written to the King County Adoptions Department of Family Court Services to get any identifying information on her we were allowed by law to have. Morie Hill. That was her name. The reason that Koby and I had different last names. We'd gotten the correspondence from the county around the time when Koby's foster brother, Reef, had been killed. Inside, we'd found out a couple of things that may help on our search for her-like a last known address, where she went to high school and that she had attended a community college. And hits on our genealogy account with other people with matching DNA were also helpful. Meanwhile, the two of us together had started a family business, Books & Biscuits, a soul food restaurant and bookstore, and we were trying to make up for all the lost time from being separated for all those years.
"Oh." Mama Zola placed a hand on her cheek. "I hope I didn't leave anything at the restaurant . . ." Her eyes wandered back toward the door.
"You didn't leave anything," Koby assured her.
"I think you took all the food we had," I said, teasing.
I ran the books side of Books & Biscuits, so I didn't know about what went on over on the Biscuits side. My brother was the cook and manager of our cafŽ. I knew better than to try to give my input into anything on that side. I took my cooking skills after my mother-well, my adoptive mother, Imogene Rutledge-who, I had discovered since eating my brother's and Mama Zola's cooking, could win a place on the Food Network's Worst Cooks in America.
"I didn't take everything," Mama Zola said, using a napkin to wipe the sweat from her forehead. She turned her mouth down into a frown. "Just the things I made for the potluck."
"Nope, she didn't," Pete said. "She left a box of salt."
We laughed, even harder than we should have. Probably because Pete wasn't one to make jokes.
"It's not funny." Mama Zola didn't laugh, and she raised a finger and opened her mouth, ready to tell us why, but we were saved from her wrath by Reverend Calvin Lee. Her entire demeanor changed when she saw him.
He was standing in the hallway talking to a tall woman. Holding hands, they smiled at each other before he left her to come into the kitchen.
As they parted ways, I glanced down at their shoes. She had on the highest heels I'd ever seen, and the pair she wore were an emerald green, matching her green-striped dress. Nice shoes, I thought. I'd never seen any that color. I smiled. Certainly wouldn't be something I'd be seen wearing out, but for some reason I found myself admiring them.
The pastor almost outdid her in the shoe department. His were pretty. (Can you say that about a man's shoes?) They were polished and gleaming. They looked as if they had a spit shine put on them and then they'd been shellacked. They were brown with a gold buckle at the instep that glistened. I wondered if I could see my reflection in them.
He was dressed in a tan suit, lavender shirt and a purple-and-tan tie, and he seemed to have a habit of stroking his neatly trimmed beard.
I'd only seen him once before, when I went with Mama Zola the first time she visited the church. She insisted on introducing me to him. Who knew why? At first, I thought she was trying to be a matchmaker, even though he was quite a lot older than me. But then I found out he was married, and I realized that perhaps she was worried about my soul.
"Morning, Pastor," Mama Zola said, a big grin appearing on her face.
"Morning, family." He nodded his greeting. "Sister Jackson." He gave her a smile just as wide as hers. "I knew you must be here. I smelled your good cooking as soon as I walked through the door." He shook his head. "Made my mouth water."
"Aw. Thank you, Pastor. I'm just happy to be able to participate."
"And we're glad you became part of our church membership-"
He was interrupted by a loud and boisterous man. He was tall, slender and had excellent posture. Looking at him made me throw back my shoulders and stand up straighter.
He strode through the kitchen entryway like he owned the place. Dress to a T, too, he rivaled the pastor's look, kicking it up a notch with French cuffs, diamond-looking studded cuff links and pointed toe, black leather saddle shoes. A gold bracelet on his wrist had a single, small charm hanging from it.
In my opinion, his attire looked more expensive than the pastor's. More like Wall Street or the boardroom. He was what my father used to call "snazzy."
"Calvin," the newcomer said with a voice just as smooth as his dark skin, "why are you milling around with the help?" He came over and put a hand on the pastor's shoulder. "We need to get you into your office."
"Austin. I saw you pull up. Thought I'd make it to the office before you made it inside." A big grin came across the pastor's face. "But the aroma coming from Sister Jackson's food stopped me in my tracks." He licked his lips. "Had to take a detour."
"You knew that brute you've got guarding the parking lot was going to give me trouble. But he didn't know that I am not one to mess with before I've had my morning coffee."
I saw his eyes scan the countertops in the room and I followed suit, not quite sure what we were looking for.
The pastor let out a hearty laugh. "He helps me keep devils like you out."
They both laughed. The Austin guy's laugh didn't seem as genuine to me, or like he was even paying much attention to the conversation. Although, I couldn't be sure. I was finding more every day how much my twin and I were alike. We were growing closer. I enjoyed so much being around him.
But there were things, naturally, that one was better at than the other. For instance, my brother, Koby, was better at assessing people than I was. I mostly noticed people's clothing. He noticed their actions. After our involvement in and subsequent solving of Reef's murder, I had decided to try to be more like my brother.
"Pete Howers." Austin must have just taken in the other people in the room. "Who let you indoors? Aren't you used to camping out under the trees? Or in doorways?"
The pastor frowned. "Austin. We don't do that here. Pete is welcome and he knows it."
"He's with me," Mama Zola said and stepped in front of Pete. Our employee didn't usually have much to say. It seemed that Mama Zola thought she needed to speak up for him. "And who are you? You're looking out of place yourself." She looked Austin up and down.
"I've got oxtails!" We were interrupted again. This time by another potluck cook. Thank the Lord. Mama Zola had no problem speaking her mind, and I was thinking that might not be a good thing in a church or in front of her new pastor.
"Oh, I love your oxtails," Mama Zola said. A true compliment coming from her. She smacked her lips. His eyes twinkled.
Oxtail Guy had a deep voice and a jovial face. And like I always did, I noticed what he was wearing-a red apron, made like the black one that Koby wore at work, with Billy Ray emblazoned across the front. A white button-down shirt underneath and black pants. A pair of Crocs on his feet.
"Brother Patton," the pastor said, that wide grin returning to his face. "You got cornbread to go with that?"
"I sure do. I got hot water cornbread," he said, rocking his head from side to side in rhythm with his words. "Came in to see if I could find the cart to bring everything in. I got banana pudding and string beans in my SUV."
- On Sale
- Oct 4, 2022
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Hachette Book Group