2023 IPPY Bonze Medal for Wartime Fiction
Deliver Us From Evil...and the 6 O'Clock News
Book 1 in the Brentwood Women Mystery Series
Hildegard "Hildy" Brentwood, a 50-year old University PR executive at Gulf State University, is faced with her toughest assignment--discover who killed her faculty friend Adrienne and student assistant, Bobby, before the university and the police shut down the investigation labeling Adrienne guilty of murder/suicide.
She enlists the help of her CEO mother Victoria and her investigative journalist daughter Grace to comb through the possible suspects--Adrienne's misogynistic department chairman, her violent ex-husband, a smarmy journalist, or perhaps someone from her past involved in her 20-year-old rape. They uncover myriad secrets in both Adrienne's and Bobby's past, any of which could have been motive for murder.
Taking on the university leadership and the campus and Houston Police departments, Hildy is attacked and threatened before they uncover the truth behind the violent deaths.
Hildy and her family look into the highest and lowest realms of Houston to find answers, with a little help from their fur-buddies: Victoria's greyhound, Minuit; Hildy's white schnauzer, Shasta; and Adrienne's Russian blue feline, Caterina, who is adopted by Grace.
Read the First Chapter Now!
“Bringggg.” Juggling my phone, the TV remote, and pizza, I plopped down on the leather sofa, kicking off my work heels. My left knee was still acting up weeks after the Costa Rica trip. I’d called Adrienne from the car and got voice mail. No better luck now. She was supposed to meet me to celebrate our great coup.
As head of PR for Gulf State University (Gulf U to insiders) I’d visited many places— Chicago, New York, London, even Lagos, Nigeria—working with alumni, raising funds, recruiting students. But digging in the dirt in Central America with a dozen students was more fun than anything. I recently turned fifty, but no one could say Hildegard Brentwood couldn’t keep up with the kids. We were two miles above my normal sea level life, and my arthritic knee acted up, but thank God I remembered to bring the three-inch air mattress.
“And on the President’s...” Click. I pushed the remote to find KRVU. I tried again to reach Adrienne and got her “not here” message.
“The Rockets today...” Click.
“...jungles of Central America, a group of Houston students uncovered mysteries centuries old. The Gulf State University students were led by their personal Indiana Jones, Dr. Adrienne Harrington. And Jack Tremayne was with them. Jack tell us what you found.”
I shivered at the mention of Tremayne, a sleazy one. Adrienne seemed leery of him at the dig. When I asked, she swore she only met him once for dinner. He also seemed familiar with Bobby Jake, Gulf U’s golden boy quarterback and Adrienne’s student assistant.
The screen filled with the helicopter shot of Tremayne arriving. They shot it twice to get his best side. He was decked out in a green turtleneck under a hiking jacket with multiple pockets, khaki pants, and hiking boots—straight from Indiana Jones. Of course he carried the fedora…so it wouldn’t mess his hair, I suspected.
The clip moved to the girl who discovered a silver spoon. Bobby smarted off that it was probably a bribe from the master to a woman he was “banging.” Adrienne reined him in.
Thankfully Tremayne didn’t hear.
Shasta wiggled closer on the couch to get her tummy rubbed. The white schnauzer, whose name was shortened from “She Has To” (i.e. she has to be walked, she has to sleep in my bed,) stared at the pizza box without blinking.
“Well, Shasta, it’s finally out.”
We held releasing our story to coincide with the KRVU piece. It was the beginning of sweeps, three weeks after we returned from Costa Rica. This story had everything…smart female scientist, eager diverse students, and historical significance. The PR trifecta. It was about time they ran it. We posted the university’s piece online that afternoon.
“Worth the week in the kennel, right?”
The doleful look should have made me grab a treat. “No, I couldn’t have left you with Minuit. You know Mother wouldn’t deal with your craziness for a week. You aren’t as refined as Minuit, but I adore you anyway. You had the luxury Paris suite at the Pet Hotel.”
I ruffled her ears and gave her another belly rub. “I had a blast. OK, we worked in the dirt all day with tiny brushes, but it was fun…and where’s Adrienne? She should be here celebrating with us.”
I checked my phone for messages. Maybe she left a text. Nothing.
The story unfolded as I tried Adrienne's number again, listening to the end so I could holler at her.
“Hi, I can't come to the phone, leave a message at the beep...”
Why wasn’t she glued to her set at home if she wasn’t coming over?
“Ade. Hi, me again. Wanted to gloat about our piece. It’s great. You and the kids look very scientific! Thought you were coming here. Hope you’re out celebrating. Give me a call.”
Turning my attention to the screen, the anchor moved on to the important happenings of the day…traffic wrecks, drug busts.
I was basking in my glory, even if I had to do it alone. Perhaps I should have invited Mother to my impromptu premier. Not sure she’d appreciate it. Oh well. Don’t really need an audience. I’ll get my accolades at work. I was about to attack the cold pizza when my cell rang with the Gulf U fight song. As I reached for it, a “Breaking News Bulletin” flashed on the screen. The cameras were on campus.
I automatically answered “Hello” into the cell. It took a few moments to sort out the stereo sounds—the reporter on the television screen and the person on the phone.
“Ms. Brentwood, is that you?” A familiar voice asked.
Still trying to catch what was being said on TV, I mumbled something.
The television was saying, “Just in from Houston Police, this late breaking story of tragedy on the Gulf State University campus...”
Great, a drive-by shooting on Fraternity Row. It will totally erase all the good vibes from Adrienne’s story.
“Ms. Brentwood, Hildy, this is Charles West. We've got a situation, and we're going to need you to handle the press.”
My shoulders dropped back down from around my ears. Good, the chief of Gulf U police. He’ll know what's going on.
But it was the visual message that got through first. As Chief West continued speaking, my eyes were glued to KRVU's ubiquitous reporter Jack Tremayne. He stood in front of the social sciences building, police car lights flashing in the background.
“Well, Sherry, this tragedy sure provides an eerie coincidence for us at KRVU. We just aired our exclusive report on Dr. Adrienne Harrington's archeological work in Costa Rica, and we are now at Gulf State University reporting on what appears to be a double tragedy.”
“Oh, my God,” I gasped into the phone, while staring in disbelief at the screen.
“According to our exclusive police sources, Dr. Harrington, and we believe one of the students we just saw on our exclusive video, were found dead in this building. Gulf U and Houston police authorities won't elaborate at this time, but we'll stay with this one. Back to you, Sherry.”
“Ms. Brentwood!” Chief West's voice was getting edgy, even for a former LAPD detective.
“Oh, sorry, yes, Chief, I'm here. Is it true, what I just heard that slimeball Jack Tremayne say? Is Adrienne Harrington dead?”
I still couldn’t pull my eyes from the TV.
“That's what I just said, Hildy.” The Gulf U Police Chief answered, more patiently than I expected. “We need you over here, now. Channel 7's already on site, and I know the rest of the vultures will follow fast.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Moving as a trained public relations automaton, I avoided stepping on Shasta. Luckily I hadn’t shed my work attire. My heels ended up under the couch, so I slipped into more comfortable shoes. Whistling the dog to the back door. She’ll be fine in the yard for a few hours, I thought, dropping a chew toy on the deck.
I locked the door, headed for the car. The damn phone jangled in my pocket. The theme from Maleficent. I hit the red button. If I stopped to talk to Mother now, I’d never get to campus. I texted her. “Busy. All OK. Call in am.”
Clutching the steering wheel, I headed to campus. If I’m very lucky, I’ll make it through the night before it becomes real.