Murder Passes the Buck: A Gertie Johnson Murder Mystery (Book 1)
“Fans of Janet Evanovich, imagine Grandma Mazur with a shotgun.”
—Green Bay Press Gazette
“One of the most memorable heroines in recent crime fiction.”
—Lansing State Journal
When her neighbor is shot and killed in his hunting blind, sixty-six-year-old widow Gertie Johnson seizes the opportunity to move on with her life by investigating his death. Gertie is abetted (and hindered) by her grandson Little Donny, man-hungry best friend Cora Mae, and word-of-the-day challenger, Kitty. It doesn’t help that Chester’s death has been ruled an accident by the sheriff of this backwoods community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Or that Sheriff Blaze Johnson happens to be Gertie’s son. Whether it’s interrogating neighbors, spying, or impersonating the FBI—not to mention staying one step ahead of Blaze—Gertie will do whatever it takes to solve the case, even when the killer takes aim at her.
Murder Passes the Buck is approximately 60,000 words.
Book Excerpt from Murder Passes the Buck:
Word For The Day
INCHOATE (in KOH it) adj.
Not yet clearly or completely formed; in the early stages.
INCHOATE (in KOH it) adj.
Not yet clearly or completely formed; in the early stages.
IF MY GRANDSON LITTLE Donny hadn’t taken so long getting out of bed this morning, I would have been at Chester’s hunting blind in time to see them haul Chester out. I’ve never seen a bullet hole smack in the middle of someone’s head before.
Instead, I sat in the passenger seat of Barney’s white Ford pickup truck with my twelve-gauge shotgun at my feet and a box of buckshot in my lap. I laid on the horn until all two hundred and fifty pounds of six-foot-four Little Donny shuffled out and stuffed himself into the driver’s seat. He was clutching a chicken salad sandwich in one hand and tucking his shirt in with the other.
It’s times like these I wish I’d learned to drive. Up until Barney passed on, I didn’t need to. He took me wherever I wanted to go. Now I’m at the mercy of slugs, and I don’t mean the bullet kind.
Little Donny is nineteen-years-old, and he really appreciates the backwoods. He came to the Michigan Upper Peninsula, the U.P., as we call it, from his home in Milwaukee the day before yesterday for the opening of deer-hunting season, which is today, November fifteenth. At the first gray streak of daylight you could hear rifles going off all over the woods, and that’s when Chester got it right between the eyes.
“I suppose I missed the whole thing,” I called out the window when we pulled up outside of Chester’s blind.
My son, Blaze, leaned against his rust-bucket yellow pickup with SHERIFF printed on the side, filling out paperwork. No one else was around. Either we’d beat the ambulance or it had already transported its patient.
“Just finishing up,” he muttered, still writing in his notebook, not noticing my disappointment. “Chester’s body is at the morgue in Escanaba by now. How did you find out about it?”
“Heard it on the scanner.”
Last year when Barney died, I cold-packed my dreams in a canning jar and placed them high on a dusty shelf in my pantry. A few months after I buried him I turned sixty-six and Cora Mae bought me a police scanner for my birthday. It sat in my closet until three days ago when I mentioned to someone that I’m a recent widow and Cora Mae let me have it. “Gertie Johnson, I
know you loved Barney, but it’s time to start living again. Let’s go over to your house and listen to that scanner I gave you. Maybe something will pop up.”
Something had popped up, and that something had popped Chester.
I jumped down from the cab and the box of buckshot fell to the ground.
“That thing better not be loaded,” Blaze said, after heaving himself off the truck and glancing at the shotgun on the floor. “You know it’s against the law to transport a loaded weapon in a vehicle. We’ve been through this before.”
“Of course it’s not loaded,” I lied, picking up the box of buckshot and jamming it under the seat.
Little Donny crawled out of the driver’s seat, and I couldn’t help noticing a glob of mustard stuck on his chin. And I couldn’t help noticing that Blaze couldn’t button the bottom of his sheriff’s uniform shirt anymore.
I sighed thinking of Chester’s family and how they’d feel when they heard the bad news, and for a few minutes Little Donny’s sloppiness and Blaze’s escalating weight gain didn’t seem important at all.
“What happened here?” I asked.
“Nothing much to it,” Blaze said, shaking his head. “Stray bullet whomped into the blind and caught poor unlucky Chester right between the eyes. We have at least one shooting accident every single hunting season.”
The air was clean and crisp, and Blaze’s breath steamed around his head while he talked. I could smell cheap cologne hanging in the air. Blaze always wore too much.
“Remember last year,” he continued, “that guy in Trenary was shot in the stomach sleeping in bed. Remember that, Little Donny?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“Let me get this straight,” I blurted, in disbelief. “You’re writing this off as an accident?
Blaze looked surprised that I would even suggest anything else. “It was an accident and don’t go saying anything different.”
Ever since Blaze turned forty-four all he thinks about is retirement, even though he still has a few years left if he wants a full pension. He’s already retired in his mind and that’s the scary part. He doesn’t care anymore and is just putting in his time. Maybe he needs me to watch out for him, make him walk the straight and narrow. Maybe I have to be tougher with him.
“What if someone murdered Chester and you’re letting a killer get away with it?” I pulled off my Blublocker sunglasses so he could see my glare. “I bet that’s what happened, and you’re too lazy to follow through with a proper investigation.”
“Ma, quit. I really hate to disappoint you, but nobody ever gets murdered in Stonely. You’ve been watching too many soap operas again.”
“I’ve never watched a soap opera in my life. But I have some inchoate ideas about this.”
“It’s my word for the day.”
Last week I decided it was time for some self-improvement. I’m expanding my vocabulary by learning one new word every day and I have to use it in normal conversation so it sticks with me. I’ve found it’s best to try out my new word first thing in the morning or else I forget to use it.
“Who found Chester?” I wanted to know.
“Floy…” Blaze paused and shook his head. “Oh, no. I’m not telling you right now. You’ll just go over and bother the poor man. He’s upset enough as it is.”
“Well, stop by on your way home later and let me know what’s happening.”
Blaze lives in a mobile home on the east forty. Barney and I—well, just me now—own three forties, meaning I own one hundred and twenty acres. The properties in Tamarack Township are sectioned in blocks of forty acres so when someone asks how much land you own, you say two forties, or five forties, or whatever.
The terrain in the Upper Peninsula is as rugged and as difficult to categorize as the people who settled here—miles and miles of swampy lowlands, then miles of even country with every type of pine tree you can imagine, and when you think you have it all figured out, the elevation soars and you find yourself high on a wind-blown ridge overlooking one of the Great Lakes, watching waves slam against enormous rocks.
Most of us own a lot of land and we’re proud of it even though it comes cheap. It’s all we have.
Blaze lives on the east forty with his wife, Mary. His two girls are off at college. My youngest daughter Star lives in a log cabin on the west forty. Her kids are grown and gone and her no-good husband left her for a blonde bimbo, so she’s there alone. But her kids visit often.
Heather is Little Donny’s mother. She, her husband, Big Donny, and Little Donny, my favorite grandson and current chauffeur, live in Milwaukee.
I like the fact that two of my kids stayed in Stonely and decided to live on the family property. I like the fact that they have to drive right past my house coming and going. Sometimes it’s stressful having family right on top of me, but in the final analysis, it’s worth it.
“Let’s go hunting later, Blaze,” Little Donny said.
“Stop calling me Blaze,” Blaze said, glaring at me while prying open the door of his rust-bucket truck. “I legally changed my name to Brian. I keep telling everyone in town over and over, and no one can seem to get it straight.”
“Brian?” Little Donny was confused, which isn’t anything new for him.
“You weren’t born a Brian,” I huffed, “And you don’t look like a Brian. Who’s going to call you that? It’s not your real name.”
“Your Granny, here,” Blaze said to Little Donny, ignoring me except for an accusing finger pointed in my direction, “named me after a horse.”
Which was true.
About the Author:
Deb Baker was born in the Michigan Upper Peninsula (yes, she is a Yooper!), which is the setting for her humorous award-winning Gertie Johnson mystery series. She also is the author of the Dolls to Die for series and is currently at work on the Queen Bee mystery series under her pen name, Hannah Reed.
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