With a classical series sold and a portrait commissioned, Cherry Tucker's art career is in Georgia overdrive. But when the sheriff asks Cherry to draw a composite sketch of a hijacker, her life takes a hairpin as the composite leads to a related murder, her local card-sharking buddy Max Avtaikin becomes bear bait, and her nemesis besmirches her classical series.
Cherry's jamming gears between trailer parks, Atlanta mansions, and trucker bars searching for the hijacker who left a widow and orphan destitute. While she seeks to help the misfortunate and save her local reputation, Cherry's hammer down attitude has her facing the headlights of an oncoming killer.
We stared at each other for a long moment. Long enough to set my nerves to tingle and my brain to partially shut down. I hopped from my chair and did three laps around the kitchen to encourage my blood to flow to other parts.
“So tell me about this lawyer who wants his portrait done,” Luke said, turning in his chair to watch my tour of the kitchen.
I noticed his eyes remained on my legs.
“Rupert has horrible taste in everything but me and vodka. By the way, he knows Max Avtaikin. He said he bought my paintings to kick Max in the pants. How do you like that? Spending thousands of dollars just to tick someone off. Rich guys are crazy.”
“Your art cost thousands of dollars?”
“He bought three life-size oils from a gallery. He wants a full-size portrait of himself standing by a Christmas tree and maybe one of his family. We’re talking serious cash.” I wandered into my studio-turned-living-room to look at my rows of portraits hiding behind the big television. “That guy is nuttier than a giant pecan, but he’s richer than Croesus.”
“That’s great, hon’,” Luke followed me into the living room. “I guess you’ll be moving on to bigger things sooner than later.”
“Halo’s not a stepping stone for me, Luke. I love my town and my family.” My thoughts flashed to Pearl and Grandpa. “Most of the time, anyway. I had always hoped to settle here and have a family. Atlanta’s close enough to gallery hop.”
“You’d do better elsewhere.”
I turned to face him. “Your cousin Shawna...”
“Your step-cousin is trying her best to destroy me,” I said. “She thinks I have incriminating pictures of her, which I do not. And she’s using my art, the paintings Rupert Agadzinoff bought, to sully my reputation.”
“Sully your reputation?”
“Yes. Sully. As in blackmail me. She has threatened to broadcast the paintings in local churches if I don’t hand over these pictures. She had posters made to humiliate me. Do you know what will happen? She’ll ruin me. I’m not even allowed to eat at the farm now.”
“Don’t you and Shawna have more important things to worry about? She’s got her new art shop. You’ve got this big painting deal.”
“Let it go,” he said.
“You don’t realize how hard I’ve worked these past five years to establish my studio, Luke. You weren’t here. I finally had folks trusting me to capture their children and hunting dogs on canvas. It’s not about the money. If I wanted to scramble for gallery shows, I would have stayed in Savannah.”
I felt close to tears and I don’t do tears, so I stomped my foot. “In a matter of months, Shawna has wiped out everything I’ve worked for. Now she’s ready to deliver a pile driver to my career in local culture. And I don’t know why.”
“Ever since I moved back you two have been at each other’s throats,” said Luke.
“Before you arrived she barely acknowledged my existence.”
“So you’re blaming me for this?”
Luke could be such a man sometimes. I held my outrage in with crossed arms. “I’m asking you if you know of any reason for your step-cousin to want to drive me from my hometown. Other than her usual snobbery, jealousy, and ugly antics.”
He stared at me for a long minute. “You’re being overdramatic.”
“Thank you for the interesting evening. I hope your chin heals quickly and goodbye.”
“Cherry, don’t be like that.”
He reached for me, but I retreated and bumped into the infernal television.
He shoved his hands in his back pockets and shuffled back a step. “Look, I don’t want to get involved with Branson business, whether it’s Shawna or anybody else. You know my feelings about my stepfamily. And now that I’m living back at home, I can’t get away from the Bransons, particularly Shawna. Don’t ask me to get entangled in your Shawna mess.”
“Max Avtaikin is willing to help me, but you aren’t.”
“What does Avtaikin have to do with this?”
“He’s the only one in town who will back my art. You see what Shawna’s done? She’s made me challenge my scruples by getting in bed with Max Avtaikin.”
“Getting in bed?”
“You know what I mean.”
Growing up in a small town, Larissa Reinhart couldn’t wait to move to an exotic city far from corn fields. After moving around the US and Japan, now she loves to write about rough hewn characters that live near corn fields, particularly sassy women with a penchant for trouble. HIJACK IN ABSTRACT is the third in the Cherry Tucker Mystery Series from Henery Press, following STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW (May 2013) and PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY, a 2012 Daphne du Maurier finalist. QUICK SKETCH, a Cherry Tucker prequel to PORTRAIT, is in the mystery anthology THE HEARTACHE MOTEL (December 2013). She lives near Atlanta with her minions and Cairn Terrier, Biscuit. Visit her website or find her chatting with the Little Read Hens on Facebook.
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