While in the middle of investigating a domestic case, Rhode Islander PI Paula Mitchell finds an old friend, ragged and homeless. Paula learns that Martha Hendricks is the victim of identity theft. Three years earlier a woman, with ID confirming her as Martha, was busted on a drug charge. After Martha’s boss found out about it, he fired her.
Soon Paula begins to receive threatening phone calls. The doctor Martha worked for is murdered. And Martha disappears–until Paula finds her, beaten and left for dead, in her own backyard.
For two days, Martha is unconscious. As Paula investigates further, she learns more about the doctor’s employees, meets Martha’s old boyfriend, and one of her former roommates. Paula’s suspect list grows. When she’s almost run down in a parking lot, her lover pleads with her to stop her investigation.
Paula refuses. Not only is Martha in danger, but if Paula doesn’t push harder for answers, she knows she’ll be the next person on the killer’s hit list.
Excerpt from A BROKEN LIFE
The woman huddled in the doorway, shivering. Ragged jeans barely reached the tops of her battered athletic shoes, and a faded green jacket with a ripped sleeve completed the outfit. A bulging black trash bag sat on the sidewalk next to her. When I came closer, I was astonished to recognize Martha Hendricks, an old high school classmate.
“Are you all right?” I asked. A stupid question, I knew, but I had to start the conversation some way.
“Fine,” she muttered through chattering teeth. “Just fine, thank you very much.”
Well, at least she has enough gumption left for sarcasm. I looked into her deep blue eyes. Clear eyes, I noticed with a jolt. Martha was clean–no drugs, no drink. What catastrophe had brought her to being homeless? I shivered, too. It could be me standing there, if the circumstances were right. It could be anyone.
“Don’t you recognize me?” I asked.
“Yes, Paula. Now, please leave me alone.”
“But you look so cold. Come have a cup of coffee.”
She shook her head and started to walk away.
I grabbed her arm. “Maybe you don’t know, but I’m a licensed private investigator. Let me help you.”
I let go of her arm and walked around to face her. “What do you have to lose?” I asked softly.
Her face crumpled, but she didn’t cry. I led the way through heavy glass doors into the building, where a coffee shop occupied the right front corner of the lobby. We sat down at a tiny table, and Martha stuffed her trash bag between herself and the wall. The waitress came over with a frown, looking at Martha over half-rim glasses perched at the end of her nose. She turned her attention to me and smiled. “Hello, Ms. Mitchell.”
“Hi, Connie. Two coffees and an assortment of Danish.”
She glanced at Martha again, and then walked away.
“It’s been awhile since high school,” I said. “What, about twelve years?”
“I remember you were going to business school–to learn about working in the medical field? Medical assistant, if I remember right?”
“You remember that? I went to Gibbs College, got my degree in office administration.”
Her blue eyes were lusterless. I noticed her hair had turned from blond to dingy brown. Slowly, she removed her worn fingerless gray gloves.
The waitress put cups of coffee in front of us and the Danish in the middle of the table.
Without using cream or sugar, Martha picked up the coffee, blew on it and began to drink. Before the waitress had gotten three or four steps away, it was gone.
“Oh, Connie,” I said.
She turned around, and I motioned toward Martha’s empty cup. Connie gave me a long-suffering look and headed for the coffee pot. Too bad for Connie, I thought. At least she had a job in a nice warm building.
Martha choose a cheese Danish and slathered it with butter. I sipped my coffee and watched her through narrowed eyes. Why wasn’t she working?
She looked up from the Danish, but wouldn’t meet my eyes.
“What happened?” I asked softly, leaning slightly forward.
“I was robbed,” she said tartly.
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