The Sixth R.A. Huber Novel
FINAL STOP ALBUQUERQUE is Alice Zogg’s 6th mystery novel in her R.A. Huber series. Also featured is the sleuth’s dynamic young assistant, Andi, whom the author introduced in “The Fall of Optimum House.” Elena Campione seemed to have vanished into thin air. She had apparently left her South Pasadena residence without telling a soul. The police traced her to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she was last seen boarding the shuttle bus to the Balloon Fiesta Park on the last day of the annual balloon festival. Bruno Campione hires R.A. Huber to find his missing wife. The investigation takes Huber to several towns in Arizona and New Mexico, while Andi pries into matters closer to home. When Elena’s body washes up at Lake Havasu, it is no longer a missing person case but a homicide. The women’s probing into the murder puts them both in harm’s way. Huber ends up in the hospital in critical condition, and Andi also barely escapes with her own life.
Final Stop Albuquerque is available in paperback and hardcover at
www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com
Hardback & Paperback
Publisher: Aventine Press (April 2009)
List Price - Hardcover US $27.50
List Price - Paperback US $14.50
Twenty-four-year-old Elena Campione watched in awe as the hot air balloons left the ground, beginning the Farewell Mass Ascension. This was the second wave of hundreds of balloons launched from Balloon Fiesta Park on the last day of the festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She gazed up into the dazzling array of colors filling the sky, captivated.
The young woman reflected on how glorious these last few days had been for her. She was lost in a crowd of thousands of spectators, and for once in her life she felt totally free. The "Special Shape" balloons launched early Friday morning had particularly caught her fancy. She had watched the balloon "characters" taking off from the ground and admired each one as it slowly joined the others in the sky. She recalled seeing a pair of bees holding on to one another, a two-story castle, an angel as well as a devil, two pigs and a cow. Her favorite was a stork holding a baby bundle in his beak.
Aware that her escape from reality would all come to an end soon, Elena sighed. She had made sure that no one followed her to Albuquerque, and she smiled secretively as she thought, nobody is the wiser of where I’m at! Why was it that people always made demands on her, she wondered. Her parents had held expectations that she could have never fulfilled. The pressures at college had been intolerable, and surely she could not be blamed for dropping out. Being married to Bruno had been wonderful, but now it turned out that even he was expecting too much of her. Grammy had been the only person who’d given her unconditional love, and she was dead. "Miss you, Grammy," she murmured into the on-looking crowd. If Elena had any qualms about shunning her responsibilities, they were pushed into the background of her mind as she enjoyed the moment.
When the final group of vibrant balloons glided into the distance, people around her started to disperse, but she stood and peered up into the firmament, mesmerized, until the vessels were nothing but specks in the distance. Then she turned around and … froze.
Recovering from the initial shock, she said, "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you!" was the menacing reply.
Excerpt from Chapter 1
Private investigator R. A. Huber was equally comfortable working out in the gym, on the dance floor, racing down the mountain on skis, dressed in a long gown at a black-tie function, or simply enjoying a game of chess. What made her unique, though, was how she chose to spend her golden years. Unlike most of her contemporaries who pursued hobbies or joined clubs after retirement, Huber had opened a private investigating business at that stage of her life. At first, family and friends had shaken their heads at her endeavor, but after she had solved some intriguing cases, even the most skeptical among them had to admit that the lady was good at detecting.
At the moment, she was fighting to keep her one-point advantage at a tie-breaker game of racquet ball. She had lost the first game 12 to 15, won the second 15 to 13, and the deciding one was now in progress at 11/10 in her favor. The scores ending in two digits for both players was an indication that they were well matched. However, Huber’s opponent was ten years younger, a man, left-handed, and deadly.
At this stage of the game, Andi, the private eye’s assistant, came in search of her boss and watched the end of the match. She was standing at the balustrade on the second floor of the gym looking down into racquet ball court number three. Andi was unfamiliar with the sport and at first glance only observed that a small blue ball was being hit by racquets, making it bounce off the walls. Regardless, it only took a moment before she followed the game with great interest and deduced that each player had to get to the ball and swing at it before it bounced on the floor twice. Huber had lost her serve and the man had aced his, so the score was now 11 all. Soon it was 12/11 for her opponent and Andi realized that a person could only score while being the server.
She hollered in her Southern drawl, "Gotta get your serve back, Mrs. Huber!"
The lady detective glanced briefly up to the alcove before her concentration returned to the match, killing her next shot into the right-front court corner where the ball bounced off and then rolled on the court floor, "dead." A couple of minutes later Huber had caught up, and the score stayed at 13 points all for a long time, with each player not wanting to give up the fight and getting the serve back time after time. Her rival knew that she was fast on her feet and preferred a game low to the ground. So to tire her out, he landed a few well-placed ceiling shots, which Huber returned, but they left her at a disadvantage. Finally, the man took the last two points by force, hitting the ball so hard that Huber could not see, let alone hit it in time. Both players were drenched in sweat and breathing hard as they shook hands, then took off their protective goggles and walked out to the hallway where they stowed racquets, ball, gloves and goggles in their bags.
Moments later, Andi found her boss outside the court door stretched out on her back with a towel tucked under her head. She was rotating her knees, pulling each up to her waist in turn. Her opponent had already left.
Andi asked, "You okay, Mrs. Huber?"
"Certainly! I need to do warm-up and cool-down exercises before and after each match, otherwise these old bones of mine will cave in."
"They seem to be holdin’ up damn good! You ran circles around that guy, and the only reason he won is because he overpowered you in the end."
Huber laughed and said, "That’s allowed, you know."
"Using power is part of the game."
"Yeah, but he really turned it on. I mean, he’s younger and a man."
Huber was now doing leg-stretches and said, "Well dear, I’ve learned a life-time ago that when competing with the boys, we play on their terms!"
"Reckon that’s true," Andi admitted.
They fell silent while Huber finished her exercise routine. She looked up at Andi and decided that the young woman from New Orleans had not changed much since bursting into her office looking for work over two years earlier. The auburn hair was falling around her shoulders in a mass of unruly waves as always, framing her porcelain complexion and mischievous cat-like green eyes. She was clad in jeans, a black leather jacket and cowboy boots, and the helmet she carried under her arm indicated that, as usual, she had ridden over on her Harley-Davidson.
Andi gazed down at her boss sprawled on the floor, red-faced from exertion, wearing running shorts, a tee shirt and high-top athletic shoes. Mrs. Huber’s appearance was in contrast with her customary chic elegance. I guess she’s in her sixties, she thought. What a jock! And a good thing she quit smoking too.
Finished with her cool-down, Huber said, "Surely you didn’t come here just to watch me play. So what’s up?"
"Well, ma’am, I’m afraid murder might be."
Astonished, her boss asked, "You’ve got a murder case for us to solve?"
Andi grimaced and admitted, "Actually, only a missing person, but I betcha she’s gotten herself killed."