Title: MERIT BADGE MURDER
Author: Leslie Langtry
Genre: Cozy Comedy
Publisher: Gemma Halliday Publishing
When CIA agent Merry Wrath is “accidently” outted, she’s forced her into early retirement, changes her appearance, and moves where no one will ever find her—Iowa. Instead of black bag drops in Bangkok, she now spends her time leading a young Girl Scout troop. But Merry’s new simple life turns not-so-simple when an enemy agent shows up dead at scout camp. Suddenly Merry is forced to deal with her former life in order to preserve her future one.
It doesn’t help matters that the CIA sends in her former, sexy handler to investigate…or that the hot new neighbor across the street turns out to be the local detective in charge of her case. And when Merry is forced to take on a roommate in the voluptuous form of a turned KGB agent/bimbo, things become trickier than wet work in Waukegan or cookie sales in the spring. Nothing in the CIA or Girl Scouts’ training manuals has prepared her for what comes next…
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It’s not every day you find Al Qaeda’s number four operative dead in a Girl Scout camp in Iowa.
The body was twisted unnaturally in the spider web element of the course that consisted of a large wood frame crisscrossed with elastic bungee cords. Sadly, it was my troop’s favorite thing to do at camp. Now I had to disappoint them. I hated disappointing them.
A man hung there, in what had been his twenties, of Middle Eastern descent. The neck was clearly broken before he was placed in the ropes at Camp Singing Bird. He looked surprised to find himself here. I’m sure the irony would be lost on him that in death, he really was surrounded by seventy-two virgins. Did it matter that they were grade schoolers, I wondered? Maybe that was just splitting hairs.
I would’ve been surprised too, had I not been through this kind of thing before. But I’d seen this stuff in Syria and Uzbekistan – not in the placid, wooded hills of eastern Iowa.
And my second grade troop was due at any minute. I was pretty sure I couldn’t pass this off as something adorable – like I had with the bats in Tinder Trails Cabin or the mice in the latrines. Troop Leader’s Helpful Hint #1 – if your Girl Scouts freak out upon meeting a bat/mouse/wolf spider for the first time – tell them it’s just a baby bat/mouse/wolf spider. Little girls are suckers for that and soon what was scary is ‘adorbs!’ – whatever that means.
I bent to take his pulse, just to make sure. Yup. He was dead. His glassy eyes were opened wide and his mouth hung open. Dammit. I need this like I needed wet work in the slums of Rio.
The sounds of giggles and singing came from the trees just around the corner. Any minute the fourteen, seven and eight year old girls who called me their leader would appear. I was pretty sure I couldn’t convince them that this dead terrorist was a cute, dead baby terrorist. I pulled the parachute I was going to use for games later out of my backpack and threw it over the spider web.
“Mrs. Wrath!” The girls squealed in unison before tackling me in a sticky, group hug. Kelly, my co-leader, smirked at me. She could get away with smirking at me because she’s known me since we were six-year old scouts.
“Girls,” I gently pushed them away. “How many times do I need to tell you – it’s Ms. Wrath. I’m not married.” Of course, I knew the answer to this question. Ad infinitum. Meaning, they’d always call me Mrs. Any woman over the age of twenty-one in Iowa was ‘Mrs.’ Clearly it was me who didn’t get it.
“Mrs. Wrath?” The third Katelynn asked. Or was it the Kaitlin the Fourth? They all looked the same to me. And each one of them spelled their name a completely different way. Spy work had not prepared me for that.
“It’s Ms. Wrath, Katelynn.” I said with a smile. Leader Helpful Hint #2 – when talking to little girls, always smile. They cry if you don’t. I’m not kidding. You don’t know real terror until you’ve stared at the watery eyes and rubbery bottom lip of a cute kid.
The second grader looked confused for a moment, which was to be expected. “Okay. Mrs. Wrath?” She asked again.
I sighed. “Yes, Katelynn?”
“Why is the parachute over the spider web? And why is it all lumpy?”
Kelly squinted at the parachute, eyebrows knit together. She’d probably figure it out, being a nurse and all.
“The spider web is out of commission, girls.” I announced, stepping between them and the dead man.
A chorus of complaints came from the little girls and I held up my right hand in the universal Girl Scout symbol for silence. They quieted down immediately. I once again, really wished I’d known about this trick when I was surrounded by Farc rebels in Colombia.
“Head on over to the Peanut Butter Pass – I think you’re old enough for that one now.” I said in a nice save worthy of someone of my caliber.
“YAY!” The girls exploded in shrieks and raced off to that element, leaving me in the dust.
Kelly narrowed her eyes. “They aren’t old enough for the Peanut Butter Pass.”
“You’d better get after them before they start scaling the rope, then. I’ll be there in a minute.” I shoved her in the direction of the squealing herd before she could respond. “We can’t leave them alone for a minute, you know.”
Kelly gave me a weird look, but took off after the troop. I turned back to the dead man in the parachute. It kind of looked like he was cocooned in the web – as if a giant spider had caught him, poisoned and wrapped him to save for later. If only that was what had really happened.
With a heavy sigh, I took out my cell phone to call the ranger. This was going to suck. You think the CIA is bad with paperwork? Langley has NOTHING on the Girl Scouts of America when it comes to filling out forms and accident reports in triplicate. Nothing.
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Leslie Langtry is the USA TODAY Bestselling author of the Merry Wrath Mysteries, the Greatest Hits Series, the Aloha Lagoon Ukulele Mysteries and Sex, Lies & Family vacations.
She is not, nor ever has been a former CIA agent or an assassin (a question that surprisingly comes up more than you’d think). She has been a Girl Scout Volunteer for 15 years and was a troop leader for 10 years – which gave her a wealth of material that she uses in her books.
Leslie lives in the Midwest with her family and assorted animals and has an unnatural obsession with cake. You can find out more about her and her books at http://www.leslielangtry.com .
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