By Karen Pullen
We are honored to have with us today Stella Lavendar from the State Bureau of Investigation in North Carolina. Stella, tell us about yourself.
I’m a professional shopper, for drugs. In the market for coke, crack, smack, pot, ice, and pills. If you’re selling, I’m buying, and recording each transaction on video or voice. Later you’ll be visited by an arresting team, and you’d better lawyer up, agree to a plea deal, or join us–we can always use a cooperative informant. My employer is the state of North Carolina, the State Bureau of Investigation. I joined the SBI out of college, after I graduated with a BS in criminal justice, four years ago. I always wanted to be a cop, because of what happened to my mother.
What happened to your mother?
When I was five, she went into a gas station to pay and intercepted a robbery. An
attendant was murdered and mom was abducted, never found. I became obsessed with
cold cases and the criminal justice system. For years I kept notebooks of murders and investigations and trials. I’ve promised my grandmother Fern that I’d find out what happened to my mother, some day.
After your mother died, who raised you?
Fern. She is an artist, miserably poor, but she has a lot–I mean a lot–of boyfriends who take her out to dinner, do chores around her falling-down farmhouse, treat her to mini-vacations in charming B&Bs. She is light-hearted, amusing, and sexy.
How did you become involved in this case?
Fern and I went to a wedding. We sat with the other guests on the lawn of this fake Scottish castle bed & breakfast, just waiting and waiting for the bride to walk down the aisle. After observing a kerfuffle between a bridesmaid and the innkeeper, I followed them inside to the bride’s bedroom. She was dead, her body contorted, and I suspected
poison. The investigating detective asked for my help because many of the people involved in the wedding were related to the local police. Once I had my boss’s permission, I was free to work on the case, though I had to continue doing my night job buying drugs.
Tell us about this case.
The timing was curious. Did someone get cold feet and want to prevent the wedding? We were interested in the groom, of course. He swore that Justine was an angel and
couldn’t possibly have had any enemies. Well, Justine may have been a lovely person but a number of people were not happy with her. One guest had lost his job after a brief affair with her. The groom’s ex-girlfriend obsessively stalked him and crashed the wedding. An angry couple blamed their daughter’s disabilities on Justine, as the midwife present at the baby’s birth. And then it turned out that Justine’s past was very different from what one would assume. She’d kept it secret, or had she? Who knew?
Was there ever a time during this case that you doubted those that you normally trust?
My grandmother Fern’s motives are mixed where men are concerned. When her new boyfriend turned out to be a drug dealer, she wasn’t sure whether to believe me when I told her he was dangerous. I could only tell her so much, because any involvement was unsafe for her and me.
How dangerous was it to solve this case?
In my final encounter with Justine’s murderer, I nearly lost my own life while saving a witness. Furthermore, since I was concurrently working as a drug agent, physical danger was a continued possibility. After selling me a kilo of coke, a paranoid dealer evaded arrest and came looking for me. Good times.
Did working on this case affect you emotionally?
On many levels. It was my first homicide case and I wanted to solve it to prove myself. It brought back memories of my mother’s presumed death, and wanting to bring solace to Fern. The danger to Fern – my only living relative – was real. Finally, the whole issue of marriage continued to churn around in my psyche. Neither my mother nor Fern married, but I had just been dumped by my fiancé Hogan in the midst of planning my own wedding. To make matters worse, I had to work on this case with Hogan, who is a fine SBI researcher.
How did this case affect your personal life?
I sleep with my dog Merle while my grandmother has all the fun, though I developed a major crush on the investigating detective who is married and therefore off-limits. Working with Hogan, a serial cheater who hadn’t quite given me up, was challenging. It was an effort to remain professional.
Will you ever become a full-time homicide investigator?
Yes, tomorrow would be my preference, but my SBI boss wants me to keep buying drugs. He says I’m good at it because I don’t look like a cop. Yay for me.
What do you do in your spare time?
During this case, I had none, because I had to fit the murder investigation around my regular assignment as a drug agent. I try to visit Fern a few times a week to make sure her house hasn’t fallen down yet, and go for a slow jog with my dog Merle. Guess that sounds boring, but after my workday, boring is just the ticket.
Thank you for being with us today. Good luck with the …drug buying. Be sure and give Merle a treat for letting you visit with us.
Karen Pullen left a perfectly good job at an engineering consulting firm for more creative endeavors as an innkeeper and a fiction writer. Her B&B has been open for 12 years, and her fiction has been published in Every Day Fiction, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Spinetingler. She earned an MFA from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine on beautiful Casco Bay. She lives in Pittsboro NC. Cold
Feet is her first novel. She blogs at her website, www.karenpullen.com where you can
also find details on a contest to win a weekend at Rosemary House B&B (imagine spending a weekend in a cute artsy town and two nights in a charming historic B&B, an airjet tub for two, flickering fireplace, eggs Benedict and strawberry-topped Belgian waffles for breakfast). Cold Feet will be published in January 2013. It’s currently available for pre-order at bookstores and online retail outlets, and should be on the street in early February.