Deliver Us From Evil...and the Six O'Clock News

2024 Young Or Golden Writer
Book Cover Image
Logline or Premise
Hildy Brentwood, PR exec at Gulf State University, must discover who killed her friend faculty member Adrienne Harrington and student Bobby Jake before the university and the police shut down the investigation labeling Adrienne guilty of murder/suicide. First in the Brentwood Women Mystery Series.

First 10 Pages

Deliver Us From Evil...and the Six O'Clock News

Chapter 1




Juggling my phone, the TV remote, and a pizza, I plopped down on the sofa, kicking off my sensible work heels. My left knee was still acting up weeks after the Costa Rica trip. I’d called Adrienne from the car and gotten her voice mail. No better luck now. She was supposed to meet me here 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—while working with alumni, raising funds, and recruiting students. But digging in the dirt in Central America with eighteen- to twenty-year-old students was more fun than any of those fancier venues. I recently turned fifty, but no one would say Hildegard Brentwood couldn’t keep up with the kids. We were nearly two miles above my normal sea level life, and my arthritic knee slowed me down, but thank God I remembered to bring the three-inch air mattress.

With the latest update on the president’s¾


I pushed the remote to get to the right channel. Shasta had already gotten in a face lick and pushed as close as possible to the pizza box. I tried again to reach Adrienne and got her “not here” message.

The Rockets today¾


¾jungles 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 our own Jack Tremayne was with them. Jack, tell us what you found.

I shivered at the mention of Jack Tremayne. He was one of the sleazy ones. Adrienne seemed leery of him at the dig. When I asked, she swore she’d met him once for dinner before the dig. He also seemed very familiar with Bobby Jake, Gulf U’s golden boy quarterback and Adrienne’s student assistant.

The screen filled with the posed helicopter shot of Tremayne arriving at the dig, and I laughed. They shot it twice to get it right. He was decked out in a green turtleneck under a hiking jacket with multiple pockets, khaki pants, and boots that gleamed in the morning light. An outfit straight from Indiana Jones. And of course he had the fedora, though he carried it . . . 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 it wasn’t said in front of Tremayne.

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 be fed, she has to sleep in my bed), stared at the pizza box without blinking—whoever blinked first lost, forfeited their piece of pizza. I think that was how she thought it worked.

“Well, Shasta, it’s finally out.”

We’d 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 to appease the sad eyes. “No, I couldn’t have left you with Minuit. You know Mother wouldn’t deal with your craziness for a week. You might smudge something or bring in dirt. You aren’t as refined as Minuit, but I adore you anyway. And I put you in the luxury dog suite at the Pet Hotel—it was painted with a Paris scene. I thought you’d love that.” I refused to feel guilty.

My eyes were pulled back to the television. I locked back into my story and ruffled her ears. She didn’t care about fame. Just food.

Shasta rolled back over to get another belly rub.

“Even if you didn’t, I had a blast. OK, we worked in the sand and dirt all day with tiny brushes, but it was still fun . . . and where’s Adrienne? She should be here celebrating with us.”

Yes, I kept up a running commentary to a dog. Less crazy sounding than talking out loud to myself. I guess I could carry my cell and pretend to be talking on that . . . or get one of those fancy earpieces.

Picking up my phone, I checked for messages. Maybe she left a text. Nothing.

The story unfolded on the TV screen as I tried Adrienne’s number for the fourth time, listening all the way to the end this time so I could holler at her.

“Hi, you guessed it, I can’t come to the phone, so leave a message at the beep, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can . . . Beep.”

She should have been glued to her set at home if she wasn’t coming over.

“Hmm, Ade. Hi, me again. Just wanted to call and gloat about our piece. It’s great, and you and the kids look wonderful. Very scientific! Thought you were coming here. Hope you got a better offer and are out celebrating. Give me a call.”

I turned my attention back to the screen, and the anchor moved on to the important happenings of the day . . . traffic wrecks, drug busts, shootings.

# # #

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. Although she would probably note the amount of work it took. That might strike a chord. Oh well. Don’t really need an audience. I’ll get my accolades at work.

I was about to chow down on 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.

Staring at the screen, 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 voice on the phone.

“Ms. Brentwood, is that you?” a familiar voice asked.

Still trying to catch what was being said on the screen, I mumbled something.

The television was saying at the same time, “Just in from Houston Police, this late breaking story of tragedy on the Gulf State University campus . . .”

Great, just what we need, some drive-by shooting on Fraternity Row. It will totally erase all the good vibes from Adrienne’s story.

The voice on the phone was still trying to get through. “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 investigative reporter Jack Tremayne. He stood in front of the social sciences building, police car lights flashing in the background.

“Well, Sherry, this tragedy tonight 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 twenty-five-year police veteran and former LAPD detective.

“Oh, sorry. Yes, Chief, I’m here. Is it true, what I just heard that slimeball Jack Tremayne at Channel 7 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.”

“Of course. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Moving as a trained public relations automaton, I stood up, not even looking down to avoid tripping over Shasta. Luckily I hadn’t shed my work attire. My heels had ended up under the couch, so I slipped into more comfortable shoes, put the pizza on top of the counter, and whistled 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 to keep her amused.

Grabbing my purse, I automatically locked the door and headed for the car. The damn phone jangled in my pocket. The theme from Maleficent rang out. I hit the red button. If I stopped to talk to Mother now, I’d never get to campus. After rejecting the call, I texted her. Busy now. Call in am. All OK. I figured the call was about the tragedy and not my video piece. She could hold until morning.

Throwing the car into drive, I headed to Memorial Park. The crush of drivers exiting downtown for the more refined suburbs had dropped to a trickle, and the scenic drive was much safer than the freeway in my frazzled state. I expected to be hit hard as the reality set in, but for now I felt nothing . . . numb all over.

If I’m lucky, the numbness will last for the next few hours. If I’m very lucky, I’ll make it through the night before it becomes real.

Chapter 2


One Month before the Dig

Adrienne had less than a month before wrangling a dozen students and now a damn news crew to Costa Rica. No way she could pull everything together in time. At least she’d filed her grades for the semester. One thing off her list.

Greatest benefit from the winter break is not dealing with Gruesome Gus until after Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, she thought, taking a moment to savor it. She was giving her boss until the start of the next term to move on her tenure approval. Otherwise she was bringing in her lawyer and throwing her contract on the dean’s desk with the papers for a discrimination suit.

She shook off the negative thoughts and looked over the materials she needed for the dig. She pulled out thumb drives with the basics of the surveying grid system and the methodology for gently uncovering possible specimens. Each student would get a kit with brushes, a small hand pick, a trowel, safety glasses, a line and surface level, a knife, and five hundred feet of surface line. Twelve kits plus one for Hildy and at least one for the KRVU reporter. She’d put together fifteen just in case. The students would probably keep their notes in their phones, but she had the proper small notebooks for each of them as well.

One more look around the office to make sure everything was in order. She took a second to admire how she’d made the small space her own, filled with books and mementos from her many journeys. In the box on her desk, she thumbed through the waivers for any injuries incurred¾per the lawyers¾medical kit, her own personal kit, and maps of the area. Approvals and government authorizations. Check and check. Still time for any last-minute changes and to verify travel arrangements. A dozen students for four days in the jungles of Costa Rica with Hildy, the videographer, and a local guide the only adults. She shook her head wondering if she were a raging idiot.

At least her student assistant, Bobby, could help keep the others in line. He’s a real surprise for a football player.Adrienne figured he counted on this course being an easy elective for his political science degree. Turned out he had a real aptitude for the work and earned his internship and more.

If she hurried, she might escape the office unnoticed. The harsh ring of the office phone broke through the divine silence of the post-fall graduation and pre-spring term emptiness of the faculty offices. As if on cue, there he was, Gruesome Gus Minor, chairman of the department and her personal nemesis. How the hell does he know I’m here? Ah, hell. No escape. He’ll see me passing his office on the way out.

“Professor Harrington here.”

A harrumph and gravely cough preceded the response. “Ah, yes, Dr. Harrington. See me before you leave for the holiday. I’m in my office now.”

# # #

She’d skipped makeup on her day off. Not that she cared what Gus Minor thought of her appearance. But he’d add it to his list. At least she’d put on a bra before coming to campus.

“Male faculty never have appearance checks for dried food on ties, or sandals with socks,” she mumbled. She did smooth her dark hair back into a ponytail. Her torn jeans, frayed Gulf U sweatshirt, and GORE-TEX boots would have to suffice.

Grabbing her satchel, she pulled the door closed. The department chair’s office was in the corner of the building, overlooking the fifteen-foot statue of Rutherford Masterson. The founding dean and trust fund heir had donated $10 million for a scholarship endowment. Adrienne imagined Minor cursed him every morning for not leaving the money for administrative support.

Sauntering into his fiefdom, she paused at the door before entering.

“Yes, yes. Don’t dawdle. Come in. Sit there.” Dr. Minor spoke in cutoff phrases as if he were too important to build complex sentences.

His office screamed of his position. Diplomas and certificates were framed in gold. He was shaking hands with some VIP in every photo. No family pics. No shots of a dog or cat or ferret. No potted plant, but a number of copies of the book he authored on his own tenure trail. He was seated behind an antique desk topped with deep brown leather . . . not university-issue.

“Harrington. You are taking responsibility for a number of students.”

He glared at her, his eyebrows seeming to move independently on his square, craggy face.

“Sir. You mean my university-authorized dig and field trip?”

Minor dropped his gaze, staring at a stack of papers in the center of his desk. “Exactly. Your actions reflect on this department. The university and college. I’m watching you. You will keep your students in line. And yourself in order.”

She took three deep breaths. “Dr. Minor. These are young adults who have signed insurance waivers. This is not my first dig with students in the field. I do not need babysitting.”

As much as she tried to control it, the words tumbled out.

He smirked like he’d won a point. “Harrington, you are an associate professor. Your tenure application is under review. I’ll exercise my responsibility as I see fit.”

Three deep breaths were not enough. Adrienne bit her cheek to keep from screaming.

“You’re holding up my tenure review from going to the dean and provost. Let me remind you, Doctor Minor, I had tenure at University of Virginia. I came here with a promise and an appointment letter stating that my application for tenure would be reviewed within one year—which was more than two years ago. My materials have been filed for eighteen months. I’m not going to wait much longer before lodging a formal breach of contract and discrimination complaint. And from what I’ve heard, it won’t be the first time you’ve been charged.”

He slipped into a glare as she continued.

“If my tenure application doesn’t move forward by the start of next term, my lawyer and I will be speaking with the dean and the provost. Tenure might protect you from being canned, but they can still remove you from your administrative duties and this fancy office.”

She wanted more than anything to slam the door as she left, but she grabbed the handle and gently pulled it until she heard the click.