Dead over heels - By Charlaine Harris

Chapter One

My bodyguard was mowing the yard wearing her pink bikini when the man fell from the sky.

I was occupied with adjusting the angle of the back of my folding “lounger,” which I’d erected with some difficulty on the patio.

I had some warning, since I’d been aware of the buzzing of the plane for several seconds while I struggled to get the back of the lounger to settle somewhere between totally prone and rigidly upright. But Angel had one of those little tape players strapped to her waist (the plastic belt looked strange with the bikini) and the headphones and the drone of the lawn mower made her oblivious to the unusual persistence of the noise.

Circling low, I thought with some annoyance. I figured an aviator had spotted Angel and was making the most of his lucky day. Meantime, the ice in my coffee was melting and my book was lying on the little lawn table unread, while I wrestled with the stupid chair. Finally succeeding in locking the back of the lounger into a position approximating comfort, I looked up just in time to see something large falling from the little plane, something that rotated horribly, head over heels.

My gut recognized disaster seconds before my civilized self (which was pretty much just saying “Huh?”) and propelled me off the patio and across the yard to knock Angel, all five feet eleven of her, away from the handle of the mower and under shelter of an oak tree.

A sickening thud followed immediately.

In the ensuing silence, I could hear the plane buzzing away.

“What the hell was that?” Angel gasped. Her headphones had been knocked off, so she’d heard the impact. I was half on top of her; it must have looked as if a Chihuahua was frolicking with a Great Dane. I turned my head to look, dreading what I would see.

Luckily, he’d landed face down.

Even so, I was nearly sick on our newly mown grass, and Angel quite definitely was.

“I don’t know why you had to knock me down,” Angel said in a voice distinctly different from her flat south Florida drawl. “He probably missed me by, oh, thirteen inches.”

We were pushing ourselves to our feet, moving carefully.

“I didn’t want to have to buy a new lawn mower,” I said through clenched teeth. A side chamber in my mind was feeling grateful that our lawn mower was one of those that stop moving when the handle is released.

Angel was right about it being a man, judging from the clothes and the haircut. He was wearing a purple-and-white check shirt and brown pants, but the fashion police were not going to be bothering him anymore. A very little blood stained the shirt as I looked. He’d landed spread-eagled; one leg stuck out at a very un-alive angle. And then there was the way his neck was turned ... I looked away hastily and took some long, deep breaths.

“He must be three inches into the ground,” Angel observed, still in that shaky voice.

She seemed preoccupied with measurements today.

Paralyzed by the suddenness and totality of the disaster, we stood together in the shade of the oak, looking at the body lying in the sun. Neither of us approached it. There was a stain spreading through the grass and dirt in the head area.

“And of course, the guys aren’t here today,” I said bitterly, apropos of nothing. “They’re never home when you need them.” Angel looked at me, her jaw dropping. Then she began hooting with laughter.

I was unaware I’d said anything amusing, and I was at my most librarian-ish when I added, “Really, Angel, we’ve got to stop standing around talking, and do something about this.”

“You’re absolutely right,” Angel said. “Let’s put some tulip bulbs in potting soil on top of him. They’ll come up great next year.”

“It’s way too late to put in tulips,” I told her. Then, catching myself, feeling the day had already spun out of hand, I said, “We’ve got to call the sheriff.”

“Oh, all right.” Angel stuck out her lip at me like a six-year-old whose fun had been spoiled, and laughed all the way into the house.

I hadn’t seen Angel Youngblood laugh that much in the two years she’d been my bodyguard.

She was serious enough an hour later, when Padgett Lanier was sitting on my patio with a glass of iced coffee. Lanier was perhaps the most powerful man in our county. He’d been in office in one capacity or another for twenty years. If anyone knew where