Cold-Case Killer



“Keely Moreno, a Florida foot reflexologist who solves crimes in her spare time, surely must be one of the more unusual amateur sleuths in the genre.  Although she’s vowed to give up crimesolving, Keely just can’t say no to a woman who wants her help in finding out who committed the murder that put her son behind bars.  The investigation once again puts Keely square in danger S crosshairs, but our heroine is a little too resourceful to get herself in any real trouble.  This second in the series is written with a
light touch and plenty of offbeat appeal”

David Pitt

“Francis draws the reader into the laid-back appeal of Key West, her words eloquently portraying its lush beauty and brutal ruggedness.  This cozy mystery is loaded with suspense woven into a well-developed mystery that will keep the reader eagerly engaged.  The warm chemistry between Keely and Punt is a bonus for those who enjoy romance, and the secondary characters surrounding Keely add further depth to an exciting read.”

Christy Tillelry French
Midwest Book Review

In the first person narrative, Keely tells her story with clarity and attention to detail.  A chorus of eccentric friends and her Cuban grandmother inhabit her exotic world.  Her change from an abuse victim to a self-determined woman makes her an appealing character.  Her unusual profession and the humor of her interactions with her clients make her fascinating.  COLD-CASE KILLER takes you on a romantic trip to a sunny and hot resort city while its taut mystery makes you shiver.  An excellent read all mystery buffs will enjoy.”

Robin Lee
Romance Reviews Today

“When foot reflexologist Keely Moreno and her boyfriend P.I. Punt Ashford help Maxine Jackson and her son, Randy, search for the long-ago killer of Randy’s deceased girlfriend, they endanger their lives.  Randy had been wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years for his late girlfriend’s death and has returned to his home in Key West to find the real killer and to even the score.”

Sue Curry
Des Moines Register

”Dorothy Francis has created a tale full of authentic Key West characters and recognizable Key West locations which is intriguing and suspenseful.  Don’t miss
COLD-CASE KILLER—it’s a sizzler!”

Christine Dunn, Administrator
Monroe County Public Library
Key West, Florida

“Unlike so many novels that focus on professional investigators, Kelly does not ask to be in the middle of these situations.  They just kind of find her.  The ending keeps you guessing until the last line.  The backwoods, rural island ending has you wondering if this, indeed, may be the end for Keely.”

Ken Black, features writer
Marshalltown, Times Republican


Chapter One

My name is Keely Moreno and I'm proud of being the only professional foot reflexologist in Key West—maybe the only one in the Florida Keys. I'm not so proud of my reputation as an amateur detective. One important lesson my foot reflexology courses didn't teach me was how to deal with a corpse. Last year I'd learned that lesson on my own.


And it changed my life. Now I realize life is fragile and should be handled with care and respect. Last year, I worked seven days a week. This year, I've eased up. I close my office on weekends and Wednesday afternoons. My new work schedule allows me to relax and spend more time with Punt Ashford, my long-time friend, the man who saved my life.


No more mystery solving for me! I'm aware of Randy Jackson's problem, and even though his mother, Maxine, is my cleaning lady, a woman I respect, I'm turning a deaf ear to her, request that I try to help her son. Detective work can get a woman in big trouble.


This Wednesday morning I felt well and rested. Last night around midnight I'd managed to wake from a fitful sleep and throw off a recurring nightmare. I called it my Jude Cardell special. Even in death, my ex still managed to terrorize me in my dreams. But this morning I felt eager to meet the new day. I'd showered, given my hair its casual blow-and-go do, dressed in my work-a-day khaki jumpsuit. I'd unlocked my office and stepped outside into the sunshine, when I saw a folded paper tucked under a corner of my business sign bolted to the door. Who'd left that? I'd heard no knock. Maybe Maxine, my first client of the day, decided to cancel her initial appointment and felt too embarrassed to give me the news face to face.


I opened the note printed in blood-red ink on a half sheet of notebook paper. After I read the words, my heart pounded. I stood frozen.




I read the note twice, letting the words soak into my brain. Then the taste of fear, sharp and rusty, coated my tongue. I stepped forward to glance up and down the street, but I saw nobody near. My hands grew icy and the letters on my business sign wavered. I blinked, then blinked again until the words came into sharp focus.






In spite of this warm March morning, I shivered.


Returning to my office-apartment, I closed the door before my grandmother in her shop next door saw me and hurried over to wish me a good morning. Gram had a weak heart and I tried to avoid stressing it with my problems. Who wanted me dead? And why? Could the note be some weirdo's sick idea of a joke? Sitting on the edge of my bed, I jammed the message under my pillow as if hiding it from sight might make it go away, might keep its words from threatening my life and my world. Unless you want to die. Unless you want to die. The words kept zinging through my mind.


Following my divorce four years ago, I'd stopped playing the doormat role of abused wife. With help from the Ashford family, I'd taken charge of my life and earned my professional certificate from St. Petersburg's International Institute of Reflexology. I've worked hard to set up my private practice on Duval Street. Many people are searching for new and promising concepts of disease prevention and healthful living. I have a thriving business in spite of the media and the police having hounded me about my involvement in the Margaux Ashford murder and the accidental death of my ex. But those things happened last year. Someone was after me now and I had no idea why.


My hands shook as I reread the warning then pushed it out of sight again. Someone knew I'd been thinking about the Randy Jackson case. Snips of last week's conversation between me and Maxine Jackson replayed through my mind.


“Impossible, Maxine,” I'd said. “It wouldn't help you or Randy for me to try to investigate a cold-case murder that happened two decades ago. I wouldn't know where to begin. I was only a child then.”


I didn't tell Maxine that I found the idea of getting involved in the life of an ex-con repugnant. Criminals—the underbelly of society. No way did I want to be associated with people of that ilk. I considered Maxine a straight arrow, hard-working and honest as they come. I didn't fault her for Randy's problems, but neither did I want to get sucked into them.


“I need your help, Keely. You've solved one murder. You have detective experience. I think you can help me and my Randy now if you'll only give it a shot.”


I like Maxine and I tried to ignore her pleading. “Believe me. I want no part of playing detective. Too dangerous. Too time-consuming. It would intrude into my professional work. Why don't you talk to Punt Ashford at the Fotopolus and Ashford Agency?”


“Your boyfriend?”


“Right. Punt and I are close friends, but more important to you, he and Nikko Fotopolus have opened a private detective agency here in Key West. They might be able to help you—and Randy.”


“Keely, be real. No way can I afford to hire no private detective, and Randy, he don't have the purse for that high-falutin kind of thing either. So far, nobody on this island's been willing to give an ex-con a job. I can only afford your reflexology stuff because you'll let me pay you with my cleaning services.”


The conversation that had been replaying in my mind stopped when Gram knocked and I glanced at my watch. I do three treatments on Wednesday mornings—eight, ten, and noon. Maxine was due for her first treatment and I needed to make sure my office looked its best. Right now I had trouble keeping my mind on such every-day matters as reflexology treatments...


“Keely, you be up? Keely?”


“One minute, Gram. I'm coming.”


I stuffed the note farther under my pillow. No. That would never do. I pulled it out again. I couldn't risk leaving it there. I folded the note and slipped it into the pocket of my jumpsuit then finger-combed my dark hair before hurrying to open my office door and giving Gram a hug.


At seven in the morning, Key West throbbed with life. In the distance a cruise ship hooted a blast of sound into the day. I inhaled the scent of night-blooming jasmine that wafted on the tradewind. Looking down Duval, I saw some of the ship's passengers spreading across the island like a colony of fire ants following the scent of honey.


“I thought Wednesdays were 'no ship' days,” I muttered in Gram's ear, enjoying the fragrance of freshly ground coffee beans that travels with her.


“THE ROYAL SEA, Keely. She dock early this morning. Is a good thing. She carry many passengers—customers with deep pockets.”


We locals consider cruise ship passengers a mixed blessing. They sometimes crowd us off our sidewalks and they jaywalk until the traffic snarls and stops, but they make our cash registers ring. For the most part, our smiles of greeting are genuine.


Closer by, I heard the clang of the Conch Train and the voice of the driver spouting island history and trivia to his passengers. The train rattled down Simonton Street one block from Duval, and I caught snatches of information about the old post office. I could imagine him pointing out the pink and purple bougainvillea blossoms trailing from vines twining in the palms or caught on the balconies of Old Town's Conch houses. Conch train drivers had a knack for keeping tourists looking up—away from the broken sidewalks that allow banyan roots to break through the concrete and make walking a hazard.


CELIA HERNANDEZ SUNDRIES. That's what the sign above Gram's doorway says. Since she arrived here from Cuba over forty years ago she's operated her hole-in-the-wall coffee bar where she offers specialty coffees, teas, and hard-to-find gourmet items to food hounds, coffee lovers, and the local restaurants.


“What's up, Gram?” Her dour expression warned me of a problem.


“Is a sad morning that forces my begging.”


“You know I'm always glad to help you, Gram. What's today's problem?


“The usual. Cannot lift new bag of beans to countertop. Please to help me, then we sip a cappuccino.”


“Sure thing. No problem.” Although Gram pretends to be unaware of it, her appearance attracts as many people to her shop as do the sundries she sells. She wears her hair in a high topknot spiked with two tortoise shell hairpins. Her golden hoop earrings and sandals along with her scarlet caftan and head bandeau give her the look of an aging female pirate. I never say the word 'aging' within her hearing. At seventy-two Gram feels age challenged. She keeps her birthdays top secret along with the fact that she has to wear earplugs at night so she can sleep in spite of the Duval Street clamor. Gram's my favorite person and she knows I'd do anything for her.


“You have full schedule today, Keely?”


“Sure do. Three appointments this morning, and it's Wednesday, you know.”


“Your afternoon for fishing, yes?”


“Right. Sometime I wish you'd close shop on Wednesday afternoon and boat into the back country with me. You love casting to the bonefish and 'cuda in the flats as much as I do.” Although the early morning temperature hung in the seventies, I felt nervous sweat dampening my jumpsuit and I could hardly keep my mind on our chit-chat as the death threat in my pocket intruded into my thinking.


“No like to close shop for a whole afternoon. Folks even knock on my door during my siesta hour in spite of sign I hang in my window. People need my sundries.”


We entered her shop and I breathed the fragrance of vanilla mingled with cinnamon. Behind the pine serving counter with its high stools, a steaming cappuccino machine dominated one corner of the room and an espresso machine the other. A hand-operated coffee grinder sat beside the gallon-size glass jars filled with coffee beans that lined the floor-to-ceiling shelves. I grew up in this shop, living with Gram in an upstairs apartment after my mother's death. In those days the scents of coffee lulled me to sleep at night like a silent lullaby.


Hoisting the jute bag to the counter top, I opened the drawstring and helped Gram transfer part of the beans into a gallon jar. Once we finished the task, I set the bag in a storage closet, but I declined her offer of a cappuccino.


“Got to get back to my shop, Gram. Maxine Jackson's my first client today. This'll be her first treatment and I need to be sure everything goes well. She's edgy about the whole reflexology scene and I want her to feel at ease.”


“Maxine Jackson, your cleaning lady?”


“Right. Our cleaning lady.” I smooched a kiss onto Gram's cheek and left her.


Sometimes Gram hates to admit she no longer has the time or the strength to give her quarters a thorough cleaning. That's where she and I differ. It doesn't bother me a bit to have someone else take care of the dust-and-mop scene. I've never numbered housekeeping among my talents.


Back inside my office, I placed the OPEN sign in my window. I was pulling the wicker screen that separates my living quarters from my business quarters into place when my telephone rang. I half expected to hear Maxine's voice begging to cancel her appointment.


“Foot Reflexology. Keely Moreno speaking.”


For a moment I heard nothing on the other end of the line. That happened now and then. Maybe someone had dialed the wrong number. I started to hang up, then I heard heavy breathing. I thought I might be getting an obscene call when a muffled voice spoke. Man? Woman? The voice sounded so androgynous I couldn't be sure. But it didn't sound like Maxine.


“Did you find my note, Keely Moreno? Read it again and take heed. Poke into the Dyanne Darby murder and you're a dead woman.”