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Dying To Call You

A DEAD-END JOB MYSTERY

Elaine Viets

“Wit, murder, and sunshine... it must be Florida. I LOVE THIS NEW SERIES BY ELAINE VIETS.” —Nancy Pickard, author of Ring of Truth

Murder Between the Covers

“Wry sense of humor, appealing, realistic characters, and a briskly moving plot.” — South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Shop till You Drop

“Elaine Viets has come up with all the ingredients for an irresistible mystery.... I’m looking forward to the next installment in her new Dead-End Job series.” —Jane Heller, national bestselling author of Lucky Stars

“Fans of Janet Evanovich and Parnell Hall will appreciate Viets’s humor.”— South Florida Sun- Sentinel

“Elaine Viets’s debut is a live wire. It’s Janet Evanovich meets The Fugitive as Helen Hawthorne takes Florida by storm. Shop no further—this is the one.”—Tim Dorsey, author of The Stingray Shuffle

“I loved this book. With a stubborn and intelligent heroine, a wonderful South Florida setting, and a cast of more-or-less lethal bimbos, Shop till You Drop provides tons of fun. Sixtoed cats, expensive clothes, sexy guys on motorcycles—this book has it all.”—Charlaine Harris, author of Club Dead and Poppy Done to Death

“Fresh, funny, and fiendishly constructed, Shop till You Drop gleefully skewers cosmetic surgery, ultraexclusive clothing boutiques, cheating ex-husbands, and the Florida dating game as attractive newcomer Helen Hawthorne takes on the first of her deliciously awful dead-end jobs and finds herself emeshed in drugs, embezzlement, and murder. A bright start to an exciting new series. This one is hard to beat.”—Parnell Hall, author of The Puzzle Lady crossword puzzle mysteries

Acknowledgments

The boiler room in this book resembles none of the telemarketing companies I’ve worked for, except in this way: Most telemarketers have rotten jobs. Hang up on them gently, please.

As always, I want to thank my husband, Don Crinklaw, for his extraordinary help and patience. My agent, David Hendin, is still the best.

Special thanks to my editor, Kara Cesare, who devoted long hours to editing and guiding this project, her assistant, Rose Hilliard, and to the Signet copy editor and production staff.

Many people helped with this book. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out.

Thanks to Captain Brian Chalk for his help with the boat chase scene, and to Charles A. Intriago, president of Alert Global Media, Inc., and the Money Laundering Alert newsletter.

Thanks to Joanne Sinchuk and John Spera at south Florida’s largest mystery bookstore, Murder on the Beach, in Delray Beach, Florida.

Thanks also to Valerie Cannata, Colby Cox, Jinny Gender, Karen Grace, Kay Gordy, and Janet Smith.

Rita Scott does indeed make cat toys packed with the most powerful catnip in kittendom. They have sent my cats into frenzies of ecstasy. Read all about them at www.catshigh.us.

Special thanks to the law enforcement men and women who answered countless questions on weapons, police interrogations, and emergency procedures. Rick McMahan, ATF special agent; the Broward County sheriff’s office, and the United States Coast Guard. Thanks to Robin Burcell, author of Cold Case. Particular thanks to Detective RC White, Fort Lauderdale Police Department (retired). Any mistakes are mine, not theirs.

Jerry Sanford, author of Miami Heat and federal prosecutor for the northern district of Florida, answered many complicated legal questions.

Thanks to the librarians at the Broward County library and the St. Louis public library who researched my questions, no matter how strange, and always answered with a straight face.

Thanks to public relations expert Jack Klobnak, and to my friend Carole Wantz, who takes such joy in books and bookselling.

Special thanks to librarian Anne Watts, the person who lives with Thumbs. Thumbs is a real cat and a real polydactyl.

Chapter 1

“Hi, Mrs. Grimes. This is Helen with—”

“Not interested.” Click.

“Hi, Mr. Lester, this is Helen with Tank Titan Septic System Cleaner. We make—”

“I told you people to take my name off this list.” Click.

“Hi, Mr. Hardy, this is Helen with Tank Titan Septic System Cleaner. We make a septic-tank cleaner for your home system that is guaranteed to help reduce large chunks, odors and wet spots...”

“You just woke me up, bitch. Call here again and I’ll kill you.” Click.

“Have a good day, sir,” Helen said, as he hung up on her.

It was ten o’clock in the morning. Helen Hawthorne had made more than a hundred calls all over the country in two hours, waking up people in Connecticut, irritating them in Iowa, ticking them off in Texas.

She hadn’t sold anything so far today. She was desperate.

So was everyone else in the telemarketing boiler room. Desperation was ground into the foul wrinkled carpet. It clung to the dirty computer screens. It soaked into the scuffed white walls.

How did scuff marks get eight feet up on the walls? Helen wondered.

“Let’s hear you selling, people,” Vito the manager said, as he prowled the aisles, making sure everyone was calling.

“Loud and proud.”

There was nothing proud about this job, although it was loud. All sixty telemarketers were shouting their sales spiel into the phones.

Suddenly, Helen’s computer went blank. It crashed again, making it the third time in a week.

Vita screamed like a wounded animal. “Goddamn it, I’m paying thousands to these computer geeks, and these worthless machines still don’t work. How can I make money when nobody’s calling? Don’t sit on your heinies, people. Everyone in the break room for a pep talk.”

Vito was always giving pep talks, so the boiler room would meet the quotas set by the New York headquarters.

Helen had seen some of the quota makers when they visited the Fort Lauderdale office. They looked like elegant reptiles.

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