About the Author
About the Author
Thirteen hours late, my cross-galaxy voyage to the All-Souls Transit Center ends in a puff of soft lunar dirt on Mare Tranquillitatis. I expect to meet the legendary God of planet Earth in his office but as I deplane he’s shuffling down the concourse toward his departure gate. He’s easy to spot – inside this small, sparse four gate terminal we are the only life forms in sight.
With his stooped posture and unkempt shoulder length gray hair, God reminds me of the mythical Atlas. His tremors underscore the physical and emotional toll he has had to bear. Did his mental state also degrade? He spent two millennia managing a planet populated by quarrelsome headstrong terrestrials. Over that much time any deity posted to such a world would succumb to the effects of prolonged stress.
I quicken my pace, catch up to him and extend a hand. “Good day, Lord.”
“This is how you address your superiors?” The decibel level of his gruff voice implies impaired hearing. “Where are your manners? A bow is in order.”
Though I have not yet fully adapted to the musculature of this adult male body I inhabit, my flawless execution of a deep obeisance brings a quick smile to my face.
God gives me a brusque signal to rise. “You’re my replacement, are you?”
“Correct, Lord. I am humbled and honored to take your place.” I bow again, less fully.
“Call me NTG if you wish. I prefer answering to that nickname.”
So the rumor is true. That he calls himself the New Testament God instead of his given name means he has indeed gone native. This explains a lot.
We sink into a ‘maximum comfort’ couch – or so the attached tag boasts – stuffed full of condensed nimbostratus cloud threads imported from Earth. An ugly green tarp spread over the cushions prevents our clothes from getting soaked by residual moisture.
God adjusts his overcoat and leans toward me. “I trust you had an enjoyable flight?”
“I would like to say yes, but what a hellacious trip.” That’s an understatement. “We flew through several cosmic storms, circumvented an unmapped black hole and limped here on back-up power after the anti-matter fuel engine failed. I will never fly by chartered spaceship again.”
“Now that you’ve arrived, what makes you think you can take on a tough job like this?”
“This is my fourth assignment, though the first for Milky Way Galaxy, Inc.” I place my carry-on bag on the tan moonrock table and open a side pocket. “I have a résumé, if you want to peruse it. In each previous posting, the planets I shepherded returned to optimal status. Whilst this assignment is more complex, I assure you my record shall remain unsullied.”
“Humph.” He spits into the thin puddle created by the leaky couch and waves off my résumé. “I thought those spineless MWGI decision-makers would send a rank amateur. After only three postings, you expect to fix this mess? You’re still wet around the ears, sonny. Have you even hung your precious university degrees on a wall yet?” He points at the nearby picture window. “On Earth they say you learn more through failure than success.”
“Elder, I did not travel here to fail. MWGI reached out because of my extensive training as a planetary turnaround specialist. They are confident I am the best available deity for this job.”
“And you agree with that assessment, do you?” He fidgets, as though trying to stand and walk away, but can’t get off the couch.
“I would not otherwise have taken the job, Lord. Once I did, I undertook considerable research. The travel delays afforded me extra preparation time. I have learned everything a new deity should know about Earth and its inhabitants. I am ready to take the reins.”
“Your extensive reading helped you form opinions regarding the humans, did it?”
I disregard the sarcasm implicit in the question. If I ever reach his wizened old age, young deities will receive better treatment from me than this. His attitude is understandable, though. Forced retirement is a difficult pill for anyone to swallow, supreme beings included.
“Lord, these sentient beings do have many laudable qualities. However, whilst I prefer not to focus on the negative, on the whole humans strike me as a rather unpredictable species.”
NTG spits again and rummages through the pockets of his black overcoat, pants and vest. “Where’s the damn thing? Did I forget it? Ah, here. Since you’re not dead, you’ll need this to get into heaven.”
He hands me a Holyday Inn card key with “NTG” stenciled on the back side. I stare at the card whilst mulling over my research, which characterized heaven as an imaginary afterlife sanctuary. With a shrug, I deposit the card in the pocket of my blue denim shirt.
“Many humans call it heaven, but I consider it home.” God’s melancholic smile comes and goes in seconds. “Souls get over the false advertising once they adjust to their newly deceased status. Follow the overhead signs to the tram that’ll take you to the complex. My office is by the main gate so I can greet arrivals on St. Peter’s days off. Ask for Angie, my chief of staff. She’s a real angel in every sense of the word.”
A Zachary Blake Legal Thriller. Book 5
Release Date: August 1, 2020
Publisher: 8Grand Publications
What does a kid do when it just won’t stop?
Kevin Burns has had enough. Today, the bullying stops. Today, he has easy
access to his father’s gun cabinet. Today, Kevin exacts his
“You think I’m small? Maybe I am, but my gun is huge . . . Size
does matter—the larger the gun, the larger the . . .”
Jake Tracey’s phone buzzes. It’s a text from his brother,
Where are you?
Stay there. Someone has a gun. Lock the door.
Bloomfield, Michigan, an affluent Detroit area suburb, is home to trial
lawyer Zachary Blake. Other school districts envy Bloomfield, that is, until
Kevin Burns commits shocking, all too familiar, acts of senseless violence.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, everyone wonders ‘why?’.
Zack Blake seeks answers, justice for the victims, including his own
How does a kid get a cache of weapons?
The sellers are politically powerful and cover up their role in the
bloodbath. The 2nd Amendment protects them, doesn’t it? And President
Ronald John, Zack’s old nemesis, is a friend.
Can powerful evildoers be brought to justice? Can Zack expose a dark web
weapons conspiracy and the abuse of absolute political power in court?
How does a broken community heal?
In Betrayal High, a Zachary Blake legal thriller, award-winning
author/attorney Mark M. Bello answers these questions and more in this fifth
installment of what many readers are calling the country’s best
courtroom drama series. Prepare to get Betrayed . . . again.
Other Books in the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series:
Betrayal of Faith
A Zachary Blake Legal Thriller, Book 1
Betrayal of Justice
A Zachary Blake Legal Thriller, Book 2
Betrayal in Blue
A Zachary Blake Legal Thriller, Book 3
Betrayal in Black
A Zachary Blake Legal Thriller, Book 4
About the Author
As an attorney and social justice advocate, author Mark M. Bello draws upon
over 40 years of courtroom experience in writing his Zachary Blake Legal
A Michigan native, Mark received his B.A. in English Literature from
Oakland University and his law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
After 40 + years in and around the law, Mark turned to writing to provide
readers with real-life snippets of how our criminal or civil justice systems
might handle various “ripped from the headlines” topics. Combining
his legal experience and passion for justice with a creative writing style,
Mark brings captivating and thought-provoking novels to his readers.
When Mark’s not writing legal and political novels, he writes and
posts about fairness and justice in the civil justice system on his website,
Legal Examiner and Injury Board. In his spare time, Mark enjoys traveling
and spending time with his family. Mark and his wife, Tobye, have four
children and 8 grandchildren.
Mark loves hearing from his readers! Drop him a line on the Contact page or
follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or Bookbub.
Read FREE With Kindle Unlimited
Date Published: July 15
Publisher: Acorn Publishing
It’s 1985. Lady Laura Lacy of Britewood is beautiful and graceful, a
celebrity in her own right. She is cousin to Her Majesty The Queen, and her
father is the well-respected Earl of Britewood, honorary commander of the
Army’s elite reserve special forces unit. Laura seemingly has it all.
She should be happy.
However, due to unspeakable acts committed against her as a child,
she’s developed a blood lust for revenge. Secretly trained by her
father’s regiment in the arts of war, Laura begins to target men who
prey on the innocent and helpless. As her skills sharpen, Laura becomes a
formidable force against evil.
That’s when she uncovers a transatlantic child trafficking ring led
by an elite group within British society. With the help of commanding
officer and police inspector Billy Smythe, her mysterious family attorney
Arthur Mosely, and an unorthodox group of American allies, Laura sets out on
a vengeance-fueled quest to stop them. She is determined to save as many
innocents as she can.
It’s a mission that will put her very life and sanity at stake,
making her question everything she’s ever believed in. But to make
things right, Beauty must become the Beast.
Laura arrived at just after two o’clock in the afternoon. Her heart beat with excitement touched by melancholy as the limousine dropped her off at The Dorchester on London’s Park Lane. This was her treasured tradition. Usually, the tea party was held on the Friday before Christmas, but Henry asked Laura if she’d mind if it was scheduled a week earlier this year.
Henry, as usual, had arranged everything. Afternoon tea for four at three o’clock in The Promenade, a table for four for evening cocktails at eight o’clock in The Spatisserie, and two two-bedroom suites connected, so the girls could mingle freely.
Today, however, was Thursday. As was custom, Laura would meet her best friend from St. Francis Preparatory School, Jenny Waldron, and spend the evening reconnecting before Sara and Nicola arrived the next morning. Jenny held an irreplaceable piece of Laura’s heart, as the two had been there for one another when they each needed someone most.
Laura checked in and hurried to her usual suite on the third floor. She walked to the window and marvelled at the view of the magnificent plane tree at the edge of the hotel’s front garden. She scanned the entirety of the suite. Everything was as she remembered. The mahogany trim and furniture contrasted with the well-polished brass rails, fused to create a 1930’s ambience. She touched the eight-hundred-thread Egyptian cotton sheets, and then smoothed them back over the bed.
Her luggage arrived moments later, and, after tipping the bellman, she changed into her comfortable pink Lycra leggings and a soft Benetton T-shirt. She grabbed her small Puma shoe bag and made her way to the fitness centre to blow off some steam.
She unzipped the bag and retrieved her Sony Walkman. She checked if there was a tape inside. Duran Duran’s Arena popped out to her pleasant surprise. She placed her headphones on and secured the Walkman to her fluorescent green belt as she stepped onto the treadmill. She pressed play and “New Religion” blasted into her ears. She began to run, preparing herself for an emotional reunion.
Forty minutes later and five miles in, she lowered the speed to a walking pace and checked her watch. It was three-fifteen. Jenny would be there by five. She grabbed her belongings and hurried up to her room.
She was well aware of Jenny’s financial difficulties, so she made a point to dress down when they met. She waited in the lobby in a white Topshop trouser suit and black satin blouse. A plastic, black-and-gold brooch, which came with the shirt, was affixed to the top button where usually a tie would be. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She wore plain, black slippers. Jenny was five-foot-four, and she wanted to be as close to her height as possible.
Jenny arrived in a black, floral-printed Laura Ashley dress with a thin, plastic belt tied around her waist. As she walked through the doors, she saw Laura. They ran to each other, and embraced.
Laura held Jenny by the waist and looked at her. “It’s so good to see you my friend. You are as beautiful as always.” Jenny’s perfectly combed bobbed blonde hair rested symmetrically on her shoulders. Her sky-blue eyes and flawless complexion were both striking and soothingly familiar.
“How’ve you been?” asked Laura softly.
“Just the same, but better now, after seeing you,” replied Jenny before sinking her head into Laura’s shoulder. Laura swayed her gently and stroked her hair.
“Are you hungry?” asked Laura, as she always did when they met.
“A little,” replied Jenny in her standard manner.
Laura and Jenny were seated in The Spatisserie as was the norm, and they ordered their traditional first meal of French onion soup, followed by rare petit filets with tiramisu and breakfast tea for dessert. They sat at their table after the meal and finished off their bottle of Château de Rothschild.
“How are you coping?” asked Laura with concern.
“I’m okay, I suppose,” answered Jenny.
“Have you spoken to anyone, or sought help?” Laura asked as she leaned closer to Jenny.
“You ask me the same question every year, Laura. I’m okay, I’ll never tell anyone anything. Everyone has their cross to bear, and we have ours.”
Laura nodded and softly grasped Jenny’s hand across the table and began stroking it with her thumb.
“You know you have my full support if you ever want to talk with a therapist. It could give you some relief. And, if you ever need anything, Jenny, I . . .” Laura was interrupted midsentence.
“The same goes for you.” Jenny looked into Laura’s concerned eyes.
Laura waved her hand in dismissal. “This is enough, you know me. I have my own ways of fighting my demons. I’m fine. I was thinking, though, maybe I can have you moved closer to the manor. The estate has many cottages, and I’m sure we could find someone close, who’s in need of a decent secretary.”
“I’m okay, Laura. I appreciate the sentiment, but I want to stand alone. I’d hate to feel like I’m a burden or beholden to you.
“Nonsense,” said Laura. “you’re my friend. You’re more than my friend.”
Jenny reached across the table and touched Laura’s fingers. “I love our get togethers, Laura,” she said, “but sooner or later, I want to build a life of my own. Let’s cherish and celebrate these gatherings. If I moved closer to you, you might get tired of me.”
“I’ll never tire of you,” whispered Laura.
“Have you found anyone?” asked Jenny.
“What do you mean?”
“A man, Laura, have you found a man, someone who’s suitable for marriage?”
“Good heavens, no,” said Laura. “They’re all either useless and full of arrogance, or quite the catch, but afraid of their own shadows.”
“Yes, I know what you mean. But I do get lonely, and I long for someone to spend my life with. Although, I worry about what would happen between us if one or both of us gets married.”
“I’m sure we’ll be able to make time for each other, Jenny. Stop worrying. Come now, let’s get out of here . . .”
When they arrived back to the suite, Laura took Jenny by the hand and led her to her bedroom. Behind closed doors, where they both felt safe, Laura looked down at Jenny’s unclothed body. The cheeks of her backside still had the deep, straight red scars from the beatings she’d received as a young girl. They were a constant reminder of her suffering, of their suffering.
Laura wondered how things might have been if Mr. Clark had never entered their lives. Her mind flashed back to another place and time. Spring, 1963. Laura was ten years old. St. Francis Preparatory School in Kent was the finest school for girls in the whole of England. She’d been there for two years when, at one morning assembly, the dashing Mr. Nigel Clark was introduced as the school’s new headmaster. A graduate of King’s College with a first in economics, Nigel was as clever and charming as he was good-looking. He was tall and broad, with shoulder-length sandy-blond hair, which reminded Laura of the Hollywood actors she’d seen on her rare visits to the cinema.
She was flattered that he remembered her name, and she noticed how the other girls would swoon when he would treat them to readings of Romeo and Juliet in English class. Mr. Clark made her enjoy school all the more. That was until he invited Laura and her best friend to visit him alone at his home. Nothing was the same after that. His unforgivable violence and predatory greed stole their childhood.
Fortunately, Henry sensed something was terribly amiss and Laura confided in her chauffeur. At her request, he trained her in the dark arts. With her new skills, she was able to eviscerate her headmaster the way she did to so many men after him.
That night she made her first kill, Laura left Mr. Clark’s house empowered. She became fearless. She liked her new self and knew that the frightened little girl she’d once been was gone. Girls like Jenny had to be protected, and she was the one to do it.
The trauma however, remained. If it weren’t for that monster, Laura’s mother might still be alive. She might not be afflicted with her unquenchable thirst. She might just have grown into a normal woman.
Laura pulled Jenny close and fell asleep in her arms, training her mind on all that was good. Tomorrow would be a joyful day for them. By five o’clock, they’d be bonding over finger sandwiches and pastries and marvelling over the gossip from the last year.
About the Author
Domnic “DJames” McGee was born in Leeds, West Yorkshire. A
sickly child, he was raised in a council estate to a single mother. At
school, he was a poor student and failed dismally.
He developed a passion for martial arts, so in his teens, he moved to
Ireland where he trained full-time while working in menial jobs to
A chance encounter then gave him the opportunity to work as an Executive
Protection Agent for some of the most influential figures in European
He came to the US in 2001 to further his studies of martial arts. He
decided to stay and earned his citizenship by serving in an Army infantry
unit and later with a reserve Military Police unit.
He currently lives in Huntington Beach, where he works as an Executive
Protection Agent and trains and writes as much as he can.
y aunt lay dead and I was lost in her life. It came complete with auntie’s beloved bed and breakfast fully booked and brimming with guests. Too bad, since I slung a mean tea bag but was a hopeless cook. Instead, I was a murderess. Well, okay, call it guilty of failing to render assistance, but it felt worse.
Yesterday, Aunt Eve had rung me, panic vibrating in her voice.
“Myrtle, I need your help. This is getting out of hand.”
“What is? Listen, I’m so sorry, but there’s a faculty meeting in two minutes and—”
“I can’t do this on my own.”
“Not for this. I need you. I won’t let him win.” The last bit came out as a wail and triggered my monumental mistake. Aunt Eve was the most rational person on Earth, though she had her wild moments. I decided this was one of them, made soothing noises and promised to ring back.
I never made that call.
Now, on a deceptively pleasant Tuesday afternoon, I found myself standing in the kitchen of my aunt’s bed and breakfast, caught in a haze of loss and anguish, assaulted by the lingering aromas of fry-ups gone by. To make matters worse, the Witch’s Retreat was also overrun by the police in their size elevens.
Bang on cue, a copper tramped in from the corridor and pushed his way through the saloon-style swing doors, his helmet under his arm.
He beamed at me. “Hi there, any chance of a cuppa?”
Such a simple request. Aunt Eve would have had the kettle boiling in no time. Why was I still standing there, the strap of my purse cutting into my shoulder, the industrial-sized fridge humming away
“Give me a moment.” I dumped my suitcase onto terracotta tiles as immaculate as the cupboards with their glossy eggshell finish.
Illuminated by ceiling spots so bright they out-dazzled the watery April sunlight, the doors of the cabinets reflected my haggard face, colorless and distorted as if I were a specter haunting auntie’s world.
Everything looked like it did in November when I visited this place for the last, and first, time. My scruples had nothing to do with the old house. The renovations did the Georgian elephant proud. The village it stood in was a different matter.
Don’t be such a Moaning Myrtle, my inner voice scolded.
True, this mawkishness was not my style. I heaved a shuddering breath and searched my surroundings. In a corner, close to the steel double sink, I spotted a toaster and the kettle. Tea bags were nowhere in sight, but then the blasted tears were once more blurring my vision. I searched my pockets for a tissue, wiped my eyes and blew my nose. All the time, my uniformed companion was tactful enough not to comment.
Trying to calm my breathing, I focused on the flowerpots lining the windowsill from the back entrance to the sink, their occupants the only sign something was amiss and must have been for a while. Aunt Eve took good care of her green boarders. These plants, primulas from what I could make out, were as shriveled and dried as last autumn’s leaves.
Fabric rubbing on fabric reminded me of the young police officer still waiting, his helmet now parked on the quartz countertop. His eyes narrowed and he cleared his throat. “Uh, I’m sorry. You’re Mrs.
Coldron’s older daughter, correct? Or would that be niece?”
The bloke was as well informed as he was nosy. “Take your pick,” I said.
“Ah. Put my foot right in it, then. Thought you might be another helper. My apologies. The ladies who do the cooking are ever so good with the drinks and sandwiches.”
Had this place turned into a police canteen?
“You seem to be familiar with the arrangements, officer.”
Policeman Plod snapped his heels together in a mock salute and bowed. “Constable Alan Hunter, at your service. Actually, I’m one of
the houseguests. Just transferred to Swindon. I’m still looking for a flat, so I booked a room here for the time being. It’s a great place.”
His gaze slipped aside. “Well, it was.”
The bloke was easy on the eyes in his natty uniform, and his voice sounded genuinely contrite and well educated, so I forgave him.
When he spoke again, he addressed his helmet rather than me.
“I’m sorry about…what happened. You must be in shock.”
Polite despite the thing with the helmet, “shock” was not the word I would have used. One moment all I had to worry about was a mountain of essays for English Lit and A-grade German that needed correcting, wondering what the girls might be commenting on. It didn’t sound at all like the set novels. Moments later, the headmistress had called me in, the lines in her sourpuss’s face distorted by what I only afterward identified as concern. She had passed me the phone and my world went black.
“I’m afraid Mrs. Coldron met with a fatal accident,” the female voice on the other end of the line said. “In fact, we are treating this as a suspicious death. Can you come?”
I packed my case in a daze and spent a tortured hour in the teachers’ wing, the headmistress having stopped me from belting up the motorway to Avebury. Instead, a colleague was to drive me in my car and return by train. The headmistress had been surprisingly compassionate; she granted me a week’s leave and had given me tea and a pat on the back before I set out. I understood this to mean the job that meant so much to me—despite the crappy essays—might still be waiting once I escaped from this nightmare.
Auntie was my anchor, the one person who had always been there for me. She took me in when my parents died in an awful accident.
Now I was grieving for her.
My vision wobbled, and I sagged onto the rubber gymnastic ball auntie used instead of a kitchen chair. She insisted it did wonders for her spine and, whenever excited, bounced up and down on it like a toddler. Tears burned the back of my throat.
No more bouncing.
“You all right?” The copper’s voice dragged me back to the present.
“Need some tea?” That was the UK for you. If in distress, stay calm and switch the kettle on. To tell the truth, I was thirsty. And hungry.
My body craved sustenance, no matter what was going on and whether or not I liked it.
“No, thank you. If you don’t mind, I’ll unpack in Number Seven and then…”
No idea what to do then. My aunt was gone. Neither tea nor tears could bring her back.
“Room Number Seven?” my police officer asked. “I thought it stood empty?”
“It’s a spare, for emergencies,” I said. “It suits me.”
That had been an odd thing to say, so I changed the subject. “Any suggestions where my cousin might be?”
The constable shook his head. “The other Ms. Coldron suffered a breakdown when she heard the news, and the doctor gave her a sedative. She’s not in the house for sure.”
Yup, that sounded like something Daisy would do. If she was not at my aunt’s place, she had most likely returned to her room in the pub where she tended the bar. Running a B&B was beyond her, coping with emergencies was beyond her—in a way, life was beyond her.
As usual, it was all up to me. Not that she would appreciate my efforts.
The ball hurt the small of my back, and I dragged myself up. “Can I talk to your superior? I still don’t understand what happened. Is he around somewhere?”
Constable Hunter pushed the blond fringe from his face and twinkled his baby blues at a point somewhere over my right shoulder, which was an improvement over the helmet.
“She,” he said. “The Sarge is upstairs with the SOCO. They should be done soon. I’ll tell her you’ve arrived.” He bounced a smile in my general direction and trooped off, the doors swinging shut behind him.
Upstairs with the what? SOCO sounded ominous. And where upstairs? At least he didn’t mention pathologists. That was the last thing I needed now. What I needed was a porter, but even if the Witch’s Retreat was reasonably upmarket, it was no five-star hotel.
With every step I took up treads carpeted in midnight blue, my battered suitcase got heavier. The big three-oh was recent, so I shouldn’t wheeze like this. Not that I did, usually. Back at the school,
I bounced up and down stairs along with the girls. Here, I felt like I was climbing Mount Everest without a Sherpa.
The first landing gave me an excuse to let go of my luggage and catch my breath. The silent corridor, with the pine doors mirroring each other on both sides, seemed to have slipped out of the time stream and I with it. No creaks, no groans, none of the noises old buildings tended to make. Even the guests remained mum. The result was an oddly appropriate otherworldly stillness. Aunt Eve’s brilliant mind had created this place. Here, her memory would live on. I could almost see her smiling, her tall figure striding along the passage.
The phone at reception downstairs rang once, twice, then stopped.
The spell was broken, and I loosened my death grip on the blond wood of the handrail.
Something, probably a window, banged shut in the bedroom closest to the stairs, telling me the guests were awake after all.
Perhaps the police had forced them to stay, and those innocent-looking doors hid a killer.
Despite the plushy comfort offered by my favorite moss-green fleece jacket, a breeze sneaked along my spine. I was overwhelmed by an urge to scamper back down and keep running. Instead, I forced my unwilling legs to hoist myself and my luggage to the top floor.
Whoever had so diligently vacuumed below had capitulated here.
Footprints marred the dark blue of the carpet leading up the steps and into the upper corridor.
The cold spread from my spine to my arms and drew goosebumps.
I must be close to the crime scene. No sooner had the thought chilled my brain than I heard voices on the draft coming from the door at the end of the corridor. It led to a little landing with Aunt Eve’s room on the left and Daisy’s on the right. Both door and landing were half-hidden by a curtain featuring tiny mauve roses. Where the furnishings chosen by my parents had been all about angles and squares, Aunt Eve’s taste in interior decoration had leaned toward the floral, although she restrained herself to her private sphere. Her Wiccan spleen she had vented openly when she chose this village, of all places, for her business, naming the bed and breakfast “Witch’s Retreat” and hanging kitschy ceramic tiles displaying the room
number and a witch motif on the doors to the rooms.
When I reached for the brass knob of Number Seven, featuring a teal-colored seven and a broomstick, I caught movement from the corner of my eye. A blue and white plastic band, unnecessarily labeled “POLICE,” barred access to the private part of the corridor.
Had my aunt been killed in her bed?
The carpet was even dirtier up here, showing the evidence of many a booted foot trudging to and from the makeshift but ominous barricade. For a moment, I considered searching for another place to stay. Unfortunately, apart from the Witch’s Retreat, Avebury offered little choice of accommodation. Next on the list was the Crystal Dawn, a quixotic New Age B&B down the road, a flat over the Magic Mushroom Café, available only during the summer months, and the few rooms at the Whacky Bramble, the pub where my cousin worked.
If I had any home in this village, this would be it, crime scene or not.
At least my aunt’s remains had been removed. The disembodied voice on this morning’s phone call had told me that much.
When I entered Number Seven, the room welcomed me with the sweet perfume lilies release into the summer skies. Aunt Eve must have refreshed the potpourri before she died. Sobs tickled the back of my throat, but I slammed the door before they escaped. I dumped my luggage to fumble for a box of tissues on the nightstand of the nearest twin bed.
Several sniffles later, I opened the suitcase. My packing had been hurried, and it showed. I could only hope the motley collection of charity rejects would yield some useful items of clothing. First things first: I needed a shower before confronting Constable Hunter’s sergeant.
The moment I entered the bathroom, a knock sounded on the door to Number Seven. I cracked it open and beheld the same lantern-jawed face and roving gaze I had encountered earlier.
“Sergeant Widdlethorpe can talk to you now if you like. She’s got to leave soon to attend the—eh, never mind. She’ll be back tomorrow.
You can meet her then if you prefer.” He looked at my ear expectantly. We were making progress.
I opened the door farther. “For how much longer will I have the pleasure of a police presence?”
“You mean the on-site investigation? They’re almost done, don’t you worry.”
The urge to talk to Constable Hunter’s superior became overwhelming, so I stepped into the corridor. “If your sergeant is ready, I wouldn’t mind having a word with her now.”
Hunter nodded and led the way. Ever the helpful neighborhood bobby, he lifted the plastic strip for me to bend under and pushed the curtain aside so I could enter the landing. Fluorescent lamps threw their glare into what used to be such a cozy place, illuminating a figure in a white hooded suit next to an aluminum stepladder lying on its side. A young woman in street clothes leaned against the wall opposite the entrance, her neck craning toward a trapdoor in the ceiling. The tips of her shoes rested inches away from the chalked outline of a person with one arm reaching out, knees pulled up.
My stomach lurched.
Dried red rose petals lay strewn about the grisly smear, flattened and crumpled in places. They clustered in the part marking the splayed fingers.
Bile rose in my throat. Those dark splotches half-hidden by the wilted and crushed petals could only be blood.
My aunt had not died in her bed.
She had plummeted from the attic.
Killed by a bouquet of roses?