January 29, 2010

First Graphs: Stirring Up Strife, A Hope Street Church Mystery by Jennifer Stanley

Today, we welcome Jennifer Stanley, author of STIRRING UP STRIFE, A Hope Street Church Mystery. (St. Martin's Minotaur, Dec. 2009).

WELCOME TO THE HOPE STREET CHURCH…where good folks study The Good Book, but everyone loves a good mystery!

Cooper Lee can repair a copy machine—but can she repair her life? After being dumped by her boyfriend, she moves back home and goes back to church.

The members of the Sunrise Bible Study Group offer the friendships she needs. Then her new friend- the woman who invited her to church-gets her wedding ring stuck in a copier and is found dead. The suspect? Her husband. Now Cooper and the the Bible Study group members hope to snoop out a murderer...


Chapter One

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
Psalm 25:16 (NIV)

Cooper Lee was more comfortable with machines than with people. She drove all over the city of Richmond to fix them. By the time she got to these copiers, laminators, or fax machines as they waited in their offices, hospitals, or schools, they were broken. Broken and quiet.

Cooper would arrive and meticulously lay out her tools, and as she did so, the machines didn’t raise their brows in surprise or barely concealed amusement that a woman worked as an office-machine repairman. A thirty-two-year-old woman dressed in a man’s uniform shirt didn’t seem odd or funny to them at all.

Most importantly, they never stared at her eyes.

Her left eye wasn’t worth a second look. It was a flat, almost colorless blue. No one would have dreamed of comparing it to sapphires or deep seas or cloudless summer skies. But the other eye, the eye Cooper had received through ocular transplant surgery after being smashed in the face with a field hockey stick in junior high, was a shimmering green. It was exotic—invoking images of lush jungles flecked with firefly light or the green shallows of tropical waters, in which sunshine was trapped just below the surface.

That single moment at field hockey practice, when a girl on Cooper’s own team had accidentally swung her stick too high as she prepared to hit the ball with incredible force, made Cooper more self-conscious than other teenagers. Still, she wanted what most people want. She longed to have one close friend, to be loved by someone she could grow old with, and for her life to have purpose. Cooper thought she had found all of those in her boyfriend, Drew. Until he dumped her.

Shaking off her gloomy thoughts, Cooper cut a piece of crumb cake for breakfast, wrapped it in a paper towel, filled her twenty-eight-ounce travel cup to the brim with milky, unsweetened coffee, and tossed a banana onto the passenger seat of her truck.

She drove east on I-64, the sun blinding her most of the way. According to Bryant Shelton’s weather report, there wasn’t going to be a cloud in the sky this April Friday. For once, it appeared as though Bryant might be right, though it didn’t matter much to Cooper. She’d be inside offices most of the day, but could enjoy brief moments of sunshine while driving the work van from one destination to another.

At ten minutes to nine, Cooper pulled into the parking lot belonging to one of a dozen corporate buildings re­sembling silvery LEGO blocks. The Make It Work! head quarters was on the fringe of an area called Innsbrook in which hundreds of different companies, replete with an abundance of office equipment, depended upon Cooper and her coworkers in order to operate smoothly.

“Mornin’, Coop!” Angela called out a chipper greeting as Cooper approached the reception desk. Angela’s smile, combined with a vase filled with plump, yellow roses, created a warm welcome. Few people visited the office as most of Make It Work!’s transactions were conducted via telephone, but Angela bought a dozen roses every Monday, claiming that a good workweek always began with fresh flowers.

Angela was in charge of setting up appointments and billing. She was at her desk every morning before anyone else, wearing one of her vintage sweaters, a pencil skirt (both of which were always too tight), and a pair of sexy heels. Angela’s platinum hair, powdered face, and fire-engine-red nails and lipstick were supposed to call to mind an image of Marilyn Monroe, but Angela was older and plumper than the late actress had ever been. Still, Angela was the heart and soul of their small operation. Filled with pluck and boundless optimism, even the frostiest customers thawed once Angela worked her magic on them.

“You’ve got an emergency waitin’ for you, sug.” Angela examined her reflection in a small compact that was never out of reach. “Some poor lady has gotten her weddin’ ring jammed in the insides of a copier.” She held out a pink memo pad and ripped off the top sheet with a flourish.

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