Choke by Kaye George



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Twenty-two-year-old Imogene Duckworthy has been waiting tables at Huey's Hash in tiny Saltlick, TX, itching to jump out of her rut and become a detective. When Uncle Huey is found murdered in his own diner, a half-frozen package of mesquite-smoked sausage stuffed down his throat, Immy, an unwed mother who has always longed to be a PI, gets her chance to solve a real crime.

2012 Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel of 2011

Choke is published by Kaye George and distributed by Untreed Reads.

Excerpt:

"That's it, Uncle Huey!" Imogene Duckworthy whipped off her apron and flung it onto the slick, stainless steel counter. "I quit!" If only her voice didn’t sound so young. Her order pad, pencil, even the straws skittered out of their pouches and across the floor. She took a step back, her shoes sticking to the trod-upon-after-lunch debris of squished lettuce, blobs of gravy, and bits of unidentifiable brown stuff.

"You can't quit, darlin'," drawled Uncle Huey in that thin, nasal voice that made him seem six inches shorter than his five-ten. "You're family." He dipped a scoop of mashed potatoes onto a plate, ladled thick brown gravy on top, and handed it to the cook.

"I'm not working double shifts again next week." Immy hoped she sounded serious. Mature. Convincing.

"Well, you'll just have to, won't you? Since Xenia just quit on me today, you and April are all the waitresses I've got left."

Clem, the portly cook, piled the hot plate with thick slabs of meatloaf, spooned green beans beside them, and shoved it into April's waiting hands. Immy hadn't eaten lunch yet, and the oniony smell of the meatloaf kicked up some saliva under her tongue. She watched April swing through the double doors and glimpsed the whitewashed dining room full of scarred wooden tables and chairs, almost empty of customers now.

She’d worked and played in this restaurant her entire twenty-two years. It had been started by her grandparents and handed down to her father and her uncle. Since her father’s death, of course, Uncle Huey had run it alone.

Would she miss this place? Maybe, but she was quitting anyway.

Immy pounded her fist on the work counter. Hugh Duckworthy jumped. "No, Uncle Huey. April is all you've got left, and if you'd kept your mitts to yourself, you'd still have Xenia." Immy's hands shook as she snatched her purse and jacket from her cubby, but she succeeded in stomping out the back door of the diner, past the cook and busboy who were staring open-mouthed. Aside from troublesome customers, she didn't talk back to people often, even when she wanted to.

Uncle Huey may have been her father's brother, but he was a first class jerk.

In the alley she paused beside the dumpster. Leaned against the sun-warmed metal. Gulped a big breath of relief. And choked on the stench of rotting vegetables. She moved a little farther from the dumpster for her next breath and collapsed against the brick wall, trembling in the aftermath of her bravery. Immy closed her eyes and let the Texas sun soak into her upturned face, willing it to calm her. She turned her mind to the future. A purchase was waiting for her in Wymee Falls, but she had no transportation to pick it up. What should she do now? She tried to focus.

"What in the hell got into you, Immy?"

Her eyes flew open at the sound of the deep voice. Baxter, one of Huey's two busboys, emptied a bin of food scraps into the dumpster, plunked it onto the alley paving, and strolled over to stand a couple of feet from her. Her pulse raced at the closeness of his lean, hard body. Damn, that man was handsome. Immy had had a crush on Baxter Killroy since he started to work in the diner two and a half years ago, even though he was at least ten years older than Immy, mid-thirties.

"I never heard you talk back to the boss like that before."

That lazy smile drew her closer. She pushed off the brick wall and took a step toward him. Her mind always messed up in front of a handsome man. "Well, I guess I never did before."

"Gotta admire that in a woman. That's spunk, Immy."

She glowed at his approval, feeling her face flush. She didn't think Baxter had ever thought of her as a woman before. To avoid falling into those deep, dark eyes, she looked over Baxter's shoulder. On the other side of the dumpster stood two pickups, Huey's and Baxter's. An idea formed.

"Say, I have a little problem," she said. "You don't suppose I could borrow your pickup to go into Wymee Falls, do you?"

He shrugged. "Don't see why not. I'm tied up here until the end of my shift, since I'm not quitting today. It needs gas. Can you bring it back full and have it here by closing?" He reached into his back jeans pocket and tossed her the keys.

Immy surprised herself by catching them.

"Hey," said Baxter. "You catch pretty good for such a scrawny gal."

She wasn't certain scrawny was a compliment, but being a good catch was. She'd take what she could get from him. She climbed into the pickup and backed into the alley, giving Baxter a wave. As she drove out of Saltlick, she couldn't help clenching a fist, yelling, "Yee haw," and pounding Baxter's grimy steering wheel. She was free. She had quit. Little, mousy Immy had shown gumption. Yes, she had. Even Baxter admired her for it. And she had an important, secret errand to run. The world was wide open to her without that job tying her down.

During the noon rush, Immy had watched in jaw-dropping awe as Xenia whirled on Uncle Huey, who had just pinched her bottom for the ten thousandth time, smacked his hand, as usual, then walked out, which had never happened before.

Soon after, when most of the lunch crowd was gone, something had reared up inside Immy, something she could no longer deny. It wasn't that she minded hard work. She could sling hash and run her legs off with the best of them, but that wasn't what she wanted to do with her life. It didn't coincide with her burning desire, her goal.

She had talked herself into thinking she hated working in the diner, hated working for Uncle Huey, hated waiting tables, period. There was a big, wide world outside Saltlick, Texas, population one thousand, two hundred, thirty-four, and it was waiting for Imogene Duckworthy. First step, pick up the purchase that would be a stepping stone.

It shouldn't be a problem getting another job to tide her over until she could land her dream position. The Wymee Falls paper was full of want ads every day, wasn't it? True, she hadn't looked lately, but it used to be.

She drove toward Wymee Falls, the nearest sizeable town and the county seat, to pick up the order she had placed over a week ago. On her way, driving past barbed-wire-fenced stretches of flat, sparse grassland dotted with distant cattle herds, she rehearsed what she would tell her mother. She rejected one scenario after another.

Immy drove past the fake, man-made waterfall at the edge of town. Her life lately reminded her of that waterfall, pointlessly going up and down, in and out, over and over, never making progress. It was time for her to do something for herself. Days, weeks, months were fleeting past, leaving her in the dust with a minimum wage job while her dream floated out of reach, seeming to recede more and more rapidly into the distance. She was going after that dream before it disappeared.

  • Published by: Kaye George


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