J. A. Jance

Partner In Crime

The tenth book in the Joanna Brady series, 2002

For Mr. Bone. For Sunny, Huck, and Zeke.

For the Nickkis (both of them). For Tess and Mandy.

Azalea and Scratch. Boots and Barney.

Daphne and Ag.

And last but not least, for Daisy Mae.


“WELL?” DEIDRE CANFIELD ASKED, as she mopped her dripping forehead and straightened the last picture. “What do you think?” Rochelle Baxter stood back and eyed the painting critically. It was one of sixteen pieces in her first-ever gallery showing. With occasional heavy-lifting help from Dee’s boyfriend, Warren Gibson, the two women had spent the previous six hours hanging and rehanging the paintings in Dee’s recently remodeled and – for anyone doing physical labor – incredibly overheated Castle Rock Gallery in Bisbee, Arizona. For Dee it was a new beginning. For Rochelle, it was something else.

“It’s fine,” she said. Then, seeing how her lack of enthusiasm caused a cloud of concern to cross Dee’s broad face, Rochelle added quickly, “It’s great, Dee. Really, it’s fine.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Dee said. “And don’t worry. I know this show is going to be a huge success. You heard the phone calls that came in about it just today. I’m betting we’ll have an overflow crowd for tomorrow’s grand opening.”

Deidre Canfield may have been convinced, but Rochelle wasn’t so sure. “I hope so,” she said dubiously.

Dee grinned. “What’s wrong, Shelley? Sounds like you’re suffering from a case of opening-night jitters.”

“Maybe so,” Rochelle admitted. “In fact, probably so.”

“Take my word for it,” Dee assured her. “I’ve been managing art galleries for years. I know what people like, and I’m telling you, they’re going to love your stuff. What worries me is that we’ll sell out so fast that some people will go away disappointed. I’m a lot more concerned about that than I am about no one showing up.”

Turning away, Dee walked over to her desk and picked up her purse. “ Warren wants me to give him a lift to the house, and I have to stop by the bank before it closes. Want to ride along?”

Rochelle shook her head. “You two go ahead. If you don’t mind, Dee, I’d rather stay here. I want to be alone with the paintings for a little while.”

Dee smiled sympathetically. “It must seem like saying good-bye to a bunch of old friends.”

Rochelle nodded, but she kept her face averted so the tears welling up in her eyes didn’t show. Dee ’s comment was far closer to the mark than Rochelle Baxter wanted to admit. “Something like that,” she murmured.

Dee shrugged. “Suit yourself,” she said. “Stay as long as you like. I’ll be back in forty-five minutes or so. I also need to do some last-minute consulting with the caterer. I’ll lock the door and put up the closed sign. If someone wants in, ignore them. Don’t bother opening the door. Eventually they’ll get the message and go away. If you have to leave before I get back, pull the door shut behind you.”

“Will do,” Rochelle replied.

Dee and Warren left then, walking out into the warm autumn weather of a late-October Arizona afternoon. They made an incongruous, Jack Sprat sort of couple. Warren was tall and lanky and looked as though he’d never eaten a square meal in his life. Dee was short and almost as wide as she was tall. He wore a faded denim shirt, frayed jeans, and equally worn tennis shoes. Dee ’s roly-poly figure was swathed in a flowing tie-dyed smock that covered her from her plump neck to the toes of her aging Birkenstocks. The only similarity lay in their hairdos. Both wore their hair pulled back into single braids, although Dee’s gun-metalcolored plait was a good two feet longer than Warren ’s.

The afternoon temperature was a mild eighty-three degrees. Nevertheless, Dee insisted on keeping a reflective sunshade inside the windshield of her elderly Pinto station wagon. Rochelle watched as Warren pulled the sunshade out of the window and stowed it in the backseat. Then he climbed into the rider’s side of the multicolored rattletrap vehicle whose dented panels had been painted in vivid shades of lacquer that almost rivaled Deidre’s equally multicolored smock. Dee crammed herself behind the steering wheel.

After three separate tries, the touchy old engine finally wheezed to life. Driving with little-old-lady concentration, Dee eased the Pinto into what passed for rush-hour traffic in Bisbee and headed down Tombstone Canyon, leaving Rochelle to marvel at how a plump, wide-faced, oddly dressed white woman had, in the last few months, become both her good friend as well as an enthusiastic and unflagging artistic booster.

It was Dee Canfield who, after seeing Rochelle’s paintings, had decided on mounting a one-woman show. “Reminiscent of Norman Rockwell,” Dee had pronounced upon viewing Rochelle’s collection of work. “People won’t be able to keep from buying it. It has that same old-fashioned, uncomplicated look and feel to it. There are a lot of people out there who are sick and tired of so-called artists who throw globs of paint on canvas and pronounce it ‘fine art.’ “

Rochelle didn’t entirely share Dee ’s confidence about the salability of her work. There was good reason that her paintings were “reminiscent of” Norman Rockwell. As a child growing up in Macon, Georgia, Rochelle had pored over a book – one of her grandmother’s coffee-table books – that was chock-full of Norman Rockwell’s paintings. She had paged through each picture one by one, focusing all her attention and wonder on the occasional black people she saw depicted there – children and old people and ordinary adults whose appearance resembled her own.

Those few dark-skinned people in the paintings, like Rockwell’s other subjects, were caught while engaged in the most mundane of behaviors – standing outside a barbershop, riding in a wagon, playing with a ball, blowing on a harmonica. She had studied each picture with painstaking care, noticing how the artist had used light and dark to create the subtle variations of skin color. She had marveled at how Rockwell had captured intimate scenes in a way that made her feel as though she, too, knew the people depicted there. But most of all, seeing Rockwell’s work had made her want to emulate him – to paint her subjects with the same respect and dignity he had accorded those he had painted.

Now Rochelle had. Her paintings were finished and framed and hanging on the walls of Dee ’s gallery. But would anyone buy them? That she doubted. In a community populated by precious few African-Americans, Shelley wondered how much commercial appeal her work would have. Based on demographics alone, it seemed unlikely to her that there would be an overwhelming demand for the paintings. Still, she had allowed herself to be dragged along by Dee ’s unbridled enthusiasm as well as by the encouragement and stubborn-minded insistence of her new friend, LaMar Jenkins.

As far as Rochelle knew, LaMar was the only other African- American currently living in Bisbee. Everyone else called him Bobo, but Shelley preferred the quiet dignity of his given name.

If Deidre Canfield was Rochelle’s booster and cheerleader, LaMar Jenkins was her champion. It was no accident that the picture she turned to now was one of him, grinning amiably and leaning, with studied ease, against the back gate of his prized bright yellow El Camino. LaMar was a man in his late forties. His well- conditioned, muscle-hardened body may have belied his age, but there was wisdom in the lines that etched his

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