In 1970, Violet Hawkins’ only wish at eighteen is to escape her life in the Dayton, Ohio, foster-care system and make her way to the west coast to enjoy a mellow life and find the love she’s been missing all her life. She makes it to San Francisco, but soon learns she needs a job if she’s to live properly. A kind, young man named Kenton Chandler offers her a sandwich and a job at his father’s inn and vineyards. With nothing to lose, Lettie takes him up on his offer and begins a whole new life in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. She immediately falls in love with the land and is fascinated with the idea of growing grapes in order to make wines. She, Kenton, and Rafe Lopez become friends as she learns about running the small inn on the property.
At the same time she marries Kenton, a stroke kills his father. And then before she can tell Kenton she’s pregnant, he dies in an automobile accident. Heartbroken and burdened with the gift of the Chandler Hill Inn and Winery, she’s left with the task of making them a success. Struggling to raise a child alone while working to grow the business, Lettie makes a shocking discovery that changes everything.
Some people’s lives unfold in the most unusual ways.
In 1970, the only things Violet Hawkins wanted for her eighteenth birthday were to escape the Dayton, Ohio, foster-care system in which she’d been raised and to make her way to San Francisco. There, she hoped to enjoy a mellow lifestyle and find the love that had always been absent in her life.
Though she made it to San Francisco easily enough, she soon discovered she couldn’t afford a clean, safe place in which to settle down. At first, it hadn’t seemed to matter. Caught up in the excitement and freedom of living in a large city where free love and openness to so many things reigned, she almost forgot about eating and sleeping. One couch, one futon was as good as any other as long as grass or other drugs were available, and others didn’t mind giving her a place to sleep. But after spending four months there, the dollars she’d carefully saved, which had seemed so many in Dayton, were nothing but a mere pittance in a city where decent living was too expensive for her. She took to wandering the streets with her backpack until she came upon a friendly group willing to give her a sleeping space inside or a bite to eat.
One June day, feeling discouraged, she’d just sunk down onto the steps outside a row house when a young man emerged.
He smiled down at her. “Tired?”
She was more than tired. She was exhausted and hungry. “Looking for work. I need to eat.”
He gave her a long, steady, blue-eyed look. “What’s your name?”
“Violet Hawkins. But call me Lettie.”
His eyebrows shot up. “With all that red hair, no flowery name for you?”
She shook her head. She’d always hated both her hair and her name. The red in her hair was a faded color, almost pink, and the name Violet indicated a delicate flower. She’d never had the luxury of being the least bit frail.
He sat down beside her and studied her. “You don’t look like the hippie type. What are you doing in a place like this?”
“On my eighteenth birthday, I left Dayton, Ohio, to come here. It sounded like a great plan—all this freedom.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Four months. I thought it would be different. I don’t know … easier, maybe.”
He got to his feet. “How about I fix you a sandwich, and then I’ll tell you about a job, if you want it. It’s at a vineyard in Oregon. I’m heading there later today.”
Her glance slid over his well-built body, rugged facial features, and clean, shoulder-length, light-brown hair. He didn’t fit into the usual crowd she’d been with, which made her cautious. “Who are you? And why would you do this for me?”
“Kenton Chandler.” His lips curved into the same warm smile he’d given her earlier. “I’m heading to Oregon, and, frankly, I could use the company. Keeps me from falling asleep.”
“Yeah? And what is this vineyard?”
He shrugged. “A couple of years ago, my dad bought a small inn with 75 acres in the Willamette Valley south of Portland. He’s planted most of the land with grapes. He doesn’t know that much about making wine and wants me to learn. That’s why I’m in San Francisco. I’ve been working at a vineyard in Napa Valley just north of here, learning the ropes.” He grinned. “Or maybe I should say, learning the vines.”
“What kind of sandwich?” she asked, warming toward him and his wacky humor. Her stomach rumbled loud enough for them both to hear it.
“How does ham and Swiss sound?” he said, giving her a knowing look.
“Okay.” Lettie didn’t want him to think she couldn’t manage on her own. That was dangerous. She’d learned it the hard way, fighting off a guy who thought he could have her just because he gave her a puff of weed. She’d been careful ever since to stay away from situations and guys like that.
“Well?” He waved her toward the door.
Lettie checked to see if others were within hearing range if she needed them. Plenty of people were hanging around nearby. Thinking it was safe, Lettie climbed the stairs behind Kenton. He didn’t know about the knife tucked into one of the pockets of her jeans.
Inside, she found the same kind of contrast between this clean house and others she’d been in. It wasn’t sparkling clean, but it was tidier than most.
He led her into the kitchen. “Sit down. It’ll only take me a minute to make your sandwich.” He handed her a glass of water. “Mustard? Mayo?”
“Both,” she replied primly, sitting down at a small pine table in the eating area of the room.
She sat quietly, becoming uncomfortable with the idea that he was waiting on her. She wasn’t used to such a gesture. She was usually the one waiting on others both in her foster home and at the church where she’d spent hours each week attending services and events with her foster family. Thinking of them now, a shiver raced across her shoulders like a frightened centipede. It had been her experience that supposedly outstanding members of a church weren’t always kind to those they’d taken into foster care primarily for the money.
“Ready!” said Kenton, jarring her out of thoughts of the past. He placed a plate with the sandwich in front of her and took a seat opposite her.
She lifted the sandwich to her face and inhaled the aroma of the ham. Keeping her eyes on Kenton, she bit into the bread, savoring the taste of fresh food.
He beamed at her with satisfaction when she quickly took another bite.
“Who lives here? Lettie asked.
“A friend of mine,” said Kenton. His gaze remained on her. “You don’t look eighteen.”
She swallowed, and her breath puffed out with dismay. “But I am.”
“And you’re not into drugs and all the free-love stuff everyone talks about?”
Lettie shook her head. “Not really. I tried weed a couple of times, but it wasn’t for me.” Her strict upbringing had had a greater influence on her than she’d thought.
“Good. Like I said, if you want to ride to Oregon with me, there’s a job waiting for you at the Chandler Hill Inn. We’re looking for help. It would be a lot better than walking the streets of Haight-Ashbury. Safer too.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “And if I don’t like it?”
He shrugged. “You can leave. One of the staff recently left for L.A. That’s why my father called me to ask if I knew anyone who could come and work there. You’re my only choice.”
Lettie’s heart pounded with hope. Acting as nonchalant as she could, she said, “Sounds like something I’d like to try.”
The ride to Oregon was mostly quiet as an easy camaraderie continued between them. Kenton answered any questions she had about him, the inn, and the way he thought about things. Lettie was surprised to learn he hadn’t joined in a lot of the anti-war protests.
“My best friend died in ’Nam. He believed in serving our country. I want to honor him,” he said to Lettie.
“A boy in my high school was drafted. His parents weren’t happy about it.”
“Well, if I’m drafted, I’m going,” Kenton said. “I don’t want to, but I will. I don’t really have a choice.”
As they talked, they agreed that John Wayne was great in the movie True Grit.
“And I love the Beatles,” said Lettie.
“Yeah, me too. Too bad they just broke up.”
“And what about the new group, The Jackson 5?” Lettie said.
“They’re great. And I like Simon and Garfunkel and their music too.”
At one point, Lettie turned to Kenton. “Sometimes you seem so serious, like an old man. How old are you, anyway?”
He gave her a sheepish look. “Twenty-two.”
They shared a laugh, and in that moment, Lettie knew she’d found a person with whom she could be herself.
Lettie woke to someone shaking her shoulder. She stared into the blue-gray eyes of a stranger and stiffened.
“Lettie, we’re here,” said a male voice.
As she came fully awake, she realized Kenton was talking to her.
“Here at Chandler Hill?” she asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
She looked out through the windshield of the Ford Pinto and gaped at the huge, white-clapboard house sitting on the top of a knoll like a queen overlooking her realm.
Lettie scrambled out of the car and stood gazing at the clean lines of the two-story building. Across the front, four windows offset by green shutters were lined up with identical windows below. Beneath a small, protective, curved roof, glass panels bracketed a wide front door, welcoming guests. To one side, a two-story wing had been added to the house.
Green, leafy bushes offset by an assortment of colorful flowers she didn’t recognize softened the front of the building. As she walked closer, she realized between the main house and the addition a small, stone patio and private garden had been installed.
“Come on in,” said Kenton. “There’s a beautiful view from the back porch.”
Feeling as if she were Alice in a different kind of Wonderland, Lettie entered the house. As she tiptoed behind Kenton, her gaze darted from the polished surfaces of furniture to gilt-edged mirrors to a massive floral bouquet sitting on a large dining-room table. It all seemed so grand.
Kenton led her to a wide porch lining the back of the house. Observing the rolling land before her and, in the distance, the hills crouching in deepening colors of green, Lettie’s breath caught. The sun was rising, spreading a gold topping on the hills like icing on cake.
Lettie smiled and answered, “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful, so peaceful.”
At the sound of footsteps behind her, she whirled around.
A tall, gray-haired man with striking features similar to Kenton’s said, “Welcome home, son.”
They shook hands, and then the older gentleman turned to her. “And who is this?”
Shy, she stared at the man who seemed so familiar to her.
Kenton nudged Lettie.
Minding her manners, Lettie held out her hand as she’d been taught. “Lettie Hawkins. I’ve come for a job.” A niggling feeling kept her eyes on him longer than necessary. When she could no longer stop herself, she blurted, “Aren’t you Rex Chandler, the movie star?”
He smiled. “Yes, I am. But I’ve changed professions.”
Lettie held back a chuckle of delight. A friend’s mother had privately adored him.
“Why don’t the two of you come into the kitchen,” said Rex. “Mrs. Morley will want to talk to Lettie, and I need to talk to you, Kenton.”
As Lettie followed the men into the kitchen, a woman hurried toward them, crying, “Kenton! Kenton! You’re home at last!”
Laughing, Kenton allowed the woman to hug him. “You’d think I’ve been gone a year, Mrs. Morley.”
“You almost were,” she said, smiling and pinching his cheek. “And look at you! More handsome than ever.”
Looking as if he couldn’t wait for her to focus her attention elsewhere, Kenton said, “Mrs. Morley, I’d like you to meet Lettie Hawkins. She’s here for a job.”
Mrs. Morley’s gaze settled on Lettie. “So, you like to work?”
“She likes to eat,” said Kenton, bringing a smile to Mrs. Morley’s full face.
“By the looks of it, Lettie, you could use more food,” said Mrs. Morley. “Let’s you and I talk about what kind of jobs you could do around here. I’m short-handed at the moment.”
Kenton and Rex left the kitchen.
Mrs. Morley waved Lettie over to a desk in a small alcove in the kitchen. After lowering her considerable bulk into a chair, Mrs. Morley faced her. Her green eyes exuded kindness as she studied Lettie. Her gray-streaked brown hair was pulled back from her face and banded together in a ponytail, giving Lettie a good look at her pleasing features.
“Have a seat, dear.”
Lettie sat in the chair indicated for her and clutched her hands. After seeing the small inn and the beautiful countryside, she desperately wanted the job.
“Where are you from, Lettie? And why in the world do you want to work here in the country? I’d think a pretty, young girl like you would want to be in a city having fun.”
Lettie paused, unsure how to answer her. She’d thought she’d like living in the city, being free to do whatever she wanted. But after four months of doing just that, the excitement had worn off. She liked to know where she was going to sleep at night and when she’d next eat.
“Maybe I’m just a country girl at heart,” she answered lamely. Her two best friends at home would scoff at her, but right now, that’s how she felt.
“Well, that’s what you’ll be if you stay on. A lot of activity is taking place around here, what with people buying up turkey farms and the like, turning them into vineyards, but it is country. I hope it always will be.” She leaned forward. “Know anything about cooking? Cleaning?”
“Yes,” said Lettie. “I used to do both in my foster home. I was the oldest of eight kids there.”
“Eight? My land, that’s a lot of kids to take in,” said Mrs. Morley.
“It’s a lot of money,” Lettie said, unable to hide her disgust. “That’s why they did it.”
“I see,” said Mrs. Morley, studying her. “So how long have you been on your own?”
“Four months,” she replied. “I was in San Francisco when I met Kenton.”
“Such a good, young man. I’ve known him for a while now,” Mrs. Morley sighed with affection. “You’re lucky he found you. Why don’t we start in housekeeping, see how it goes, and then maybe you can give me a hand in the kitchen.”
“Okay,” Lettie said, jumping to her feet. “Where should I put my things? I need to get them from the car.”
Mrs. Morley gave her an approving look. “I like your eagerness. Let me show you to your room and then I’ll give you a tour.”
The north half of the front of the house consisted of a large, paneled dining room she’d seen earlier. The long mahogany table that sat in the middle of the room held seats for twelve. A summer flower arrangement consisted of pink roses and pink hydrangeas interspersed with white daisies and sat in a cut-glass vase in the middle of the table. Along one wall, above a service counter, an open cupboard made of dark wood stored coffee mugs, extra wine goblets, and water glasses. A coffee maker and a burner holding a pot of hot water sat on the marble counter. A bowl of sugar, a pitcher of cream, and a dish of lemon slices were displayed nearby. At the other end of the counter, a large plate of homemade, chocolate-chip cookies invited guests to take one.
“How many guests do you usually have?” Lettie asked.
“We have six guest rooms, so we have as many as twelve people for the breakfast we serve. During the day, people come and go on their own, tasting wine at nearby vineyards or sightseeing. We offer a simple dinner to those not wishing to travel to restaurants at night.” A look of pride crossed Mrs. Morley’s face. “Sometimes my husband, Pat, grills out, or Rita Lopez cooks up Mexican food. Guests like these homestyle meals. In fact, we’re becoming known for them.”
Lettie’s mouth watered. It all sounded so good.
Mrs. Morley led her to a sideboard, opened its drawers, and gave her a smile. “Let’s see how well you polish silver.”
Later, after being shown how, Lettie was working on the silverware when Kenton walked into the kitchen.
“Well? Are you going to stay?” he asked.
“Yes,” Lettie said with determination. The whole time she’d been cleaning the silver she’d been able to gaze at the rolling hills outside. This, she’d decided, is where she wanted to be. It felt so right.
About the Author
Judith Keim was born and raised in Elmira, New York, and now makes her home in Idaho with her husband and their two dachshunds, Winston and Wally, and other members of her family.
Growing up, books were always present being read, ready to go back to the library, or about to be discovered. Information from the books was shared in general conversation, giving all of us in the family wealth of knowledge and a lot of imagination. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to the idea of writing stories early on. I particularly love to write novels about women who face unexpected challenges and meet them with strength.
A hybrid author who both has a publisher and who self-publishes, Ms. Keim writes heart-warming stories of strong women who face challenges and find love and happiness along the way. Her books are based, in part, on many of the places she’s lived or visited and on the interesting people she’s met, creating believable characters and realistic settings her many, loyal readers love.
A MAN COPES ANY WAY HE CAN AFTER KILLING HIS ONLY SON.
His team believes he’s calm and Zen. His boss finds him obsessive. Suspects think him gorgeous but dangerous. They’re all right.
Chief Inspector Gray James is sculpting the remembered likeness of his small son when he receives the call – a faceless corpse is found hanging by the choppy river, swirls of snow and sand rolling like tumbleweeds.
Montreal glitters: the cobbled streets slippery with ice, and the mighty St. Lawrence jetting eastward past the city. One by one, someone is killing the founders of a booming medical tech startup – propelling Gray into a downward spiral that shatters his hard-earned peace, that risks his very life, that threatens to force him to care and face what he has shunned all along: his hand in the storm.
From the prize-winning author comes a psychological, page-turning mystery with all the elements one needs on a rainy night: a complex murder, a noble yet haunted detective, and an evocative setting to sink into.
April 1, 5:30 am
MORE NUMBING PAIN.
At precisely five-thirty am on April the first, Chief Inspector Gray James tucked his cold hands into his pockets, straightened his spine, and looked up.
He breathed out through his nose, warm breath fogging the air as if surging out of a dragon and tried to dispel the mingled hints of flesh, cherry blossoms, and the raw, living scent of the river.
The drumming of his heart resonated deep in his chest – brought on more by intellectual excitement than by any visceral reaction to murder. Because of this, Gray accepted an atavistic personal truth.
He needed this case like he’d needed the one prior, and the one before that. That someone had to die to facilitate this objectionable fix bothered him, but he’d give audience to that later. Much later.
A car backfired on le Chemin Bord Ouest, running east-west along Montreal’s urban beach park. A second later, silence ensued, save the grievous howling of a keen eastwardly wind, and the creak of nylon against wood, back and forth, and back and forth.
Heavy boots tromping through the snow and slush came up from behind. A man approached. Tall, but not as tall as Gray, his cord pants and rumpled tweed conveyed the aura of an absent-minded professor, yet the shrewd eyes – not malicious, but not categorically beneficent either – corrected that impression.
Forensic Pathologist John Seymour looked up at the body hanging from the branch of a grand oak, gave it the eye and said, “Well, I can tell you one thing right off.”
“You wouldn’t be caught dead in that suit.”
Gray sighed. “What do you suggest? That I refer the victim to my tailor?” To which Seymour shrugged and got to work.
With every creak of the rope biting into the bough, Gray half-expected the swinging shoes to brush the snow-laden grass; each time the cap-toed oxfords narrowly missed. A grease stain marked the bony protrusion of the left white sock (with a corresponding scuff on the heel – from being dragged?), above which the crumpled brown wool-blend fabric of the pants and ill-fitting jacket rippled in the wind – like the white-tipped surface of the river beyond.
Dawn cast a blue light on the water and snow. A damp cold sank through Gray’s coat and into his bones. Amazing how the usually peaceful beach park took on a menacing air: the St. Lawrence choppier than usual, swirls of sand and snow rolling like tumbleweeds, the sky heavy and low. But a children’s playground lay behind the hanging body, and its red swings, bright yellow slide, and empty wading pool offered a marked contrast to the swaying corpse.
With every flash, Scene of Crime Officers photographed the body and documented what remained: only an exposed skull, framed by sparse hair on top, ears on either side, and a wrinkly neck puckered in a noose. A red silk tie under the hangman’s knot accentuated the complete absence of blood. Blood would have been preferable. The features were stripped to the bone, with eroded teeth set in a perpetual grin as if the skull were enjoying a joke at everyone’s expense.
“White male in his early fifties,” Seymour said. “Well off, by the look of him. Only small bits of tissue left on the cheekbones, lips, and around the eyes. Notice the distinctive gap between the two front teeth.”
That could help with identification.
The custom ringtone on Gray’s cell played “She’s Always a Woman.” Why was she calling him so soon? He stabbed the phone and tucked it back into his cashmere coat pocket before circling the body several times.
“What killed him?” Gray asked.
“The facial trauma preceded the hanging.”
That much was obvious since the rope wasn’t eaten away like the face.
“We can’t know the cause of death until I get him on the slab,” Seymour said. “And before you ask, the time of death is hard to say. Parts of him are already frozen. Maybe four to seven hours ago. I’ll have a better window after I’ve checked the stomach contents and what’s left of the eyes.”
Seymour crouched and felt the victim’s knees and lower legs. “Rigor mortis has set in, probably sped up by the cold.” He rotated the stiff ankles. “Look at these tiny feet. Can’t have been too popular with the ladies.”
Gray closed his eyes and counted to five.
All around, professionals bustled gathering evidence, clearing onlookers and photographing the scene. The park lay sandwiched between the beach and parking lot leading to the main road. On one side, the river flowed eastward in a blue-gray haze, blurring the line between water and sky. On the other, traffic going into downtown Montreal grew heavier by the minute. The road led to his neighborhood, where Victorian and Edwardian homes, bistros, and cafés crunched together for ten hipster-infused blocks.
This park held memories of weekends spent with his wife and son. A lifetime ago. Why did it have to happen here, of all places?
“Did some kind of acid cause the burns, Doctor?”
“Yeah. Parts of the eyes are still there. Almost as if they were left for last. I wonder why.”
Gray could think of a reason but didn’t elaborate.
A gust of wind swung the corpse’s legs sideways, narrowly missing an officer’s head.
“What the hell.” Seymour grabbed the ankles. “The sooner we cut him down, the better.”
Which couldn’t be soon enough. Gray bent down and held the lower legs. He gripped the ankle awkwardly with his right thumb and little finger, the middle three immobile these last three years since the accident, and a snake-like scar running from his palm to his wrist blanched from the cold.
Despite his hanging on tight, the corpse danced in the wind. “Don’t rush on my account, Doctor.”
Finally, attendants cut the victim down and laid him on a stretcher. Seymour hunched over, his blond hair parting in the breeze, revealing a pink, flaky scalp, the grinning corpse powerless to refuse examination.
“Definitely acid,” Seymour said. “Going to be hard for you to trace, since it’s so easy to get. Impure sulphuric acid’s available at any mechanic shop. You find the purer kind in pharmaceuticals.” He flashed a penlight into the facial crevices and probed them with a long, needle-like instrument.
The victim couldn’t feel it, but each stab and scrape made Gray flinch. “Must you do that?”
“Look at these chipped bones,” Seymour said. “Here, next to the supraorbital foramen, and here on the left zygomatic arch. They’re edged off, not dissolved by acid.”
Gray paced his next six words: “Was he alive for the acid?”
“I’m going to have to brush up on vitriolage. If he were, he’d have breathed it in, and we’d see scarring in the esophagus, nostrils, and lungs.”
Looking around at the flat, deserted beach park, the ropy ebb and flow of the water, Gray said, “He didn’t die here, did he?”
“No. From what I can see, livor mortis indicates he probably died sitting and was strung up later. I’ll let you know after all his clothes are off.” Seymour pushed himself up with his hands, his knees popping like the report of a firearm. “What could the poor bastard have done to deserve this?”
Gray didn’t answer. As someone guilty of the greatest sin of all, he considered himself wholly unqualified to make any such judgment.
His cell played “She’s Always a Woman,” again, and he pulled it out. Images from the previous night played in his mind: her hands flat on the mattress, his palm encircling her belly from behind. And those unexpectedly strong martinis she’d made earlier.
Putting away the phone, he spoke brusquely. “When will you have something ready?”
“Preliminary report probably later today. And I’ll send remnants of the acid for analysis to determine the type and grade.”
As the body was carried to a van and Seymour followed, second-in-command Lieutenant Vivienne Caron approached Gray carrying two cappuccinos from a nearby Italian cafe. Wonderful steam rose from the opened lids, and the dark, nutty aroma drifted forward, the first hint of comfort on this bleak morning.
Her chocolate brown eyes exuded warmth – eyes both direct and shy, their color perfectly matching her short, straight tresses now whipping about in the wind and framing gentle features.
“Chief Inspector.” She addressed him formally, despite their longstanding friendship. The sound of her nearly perfect English was pleasant and familiar, beautifully accented with the musical intonation characteristic of certain Québecois.
Even though she held the coffee before his left hand; he grasped it awkwardly with his right.
“Don’t spill any on that thousand-dollar suit,” she said.
It made him gag. “Why do you always add so much sugar?”
“Because I know that with a juicy case to solve, you’ll be too busy to eat or sleep.”
A moment of silence passed between them, pregnant with history he didn’t want exhumed.
“I have to make sure you’re okay,” she said. “Even if you refuse to… She was my best friend.”
He placed a hand on her shoulder. “You live with Sita’s ghost more than I do. Enough time has passed for me.”
“Maybe. It’s changed you.”
“For the worse?”
Vivienne stilled, her mouth open. “Non. For the better. That’s the problem.”
Her eyes were warm yet partly adversarial. He saw it as the conflicting desire for wanting him to be okay, but not to leave her to grieve alone. She’d once told him the same trauma that had disillusioned her had enlightened him.
“It doesn’t matter what happens,” he whispered.
“Doesn’t matter?” Her voice took on an edge.
“As long as you can control your reactions – it doesn’t matter. Freedom comes from living in grays – no black; no white. No convenient polarities.”
Her eyes pierced his, but he knew, out of respect, she wouldn’t directly say what she thought; that he oscillated between Zen and obsession, contentment and blackness.
She shuffled her feet. “I don’t know how you made that leap, after the tragedy.”
“The worst thing that could ever happen to me has happened. After that, I can either fear everything or nothing – I have nothing left to lose.”
Vivienne didn’t reply.
What right had he to preach when he still experienced unguarded moments which filled his insides with quicksand as that malignant though raced through his mind: what do I do now? How do I fill this day and twenty years of interminable days when everything is for nothing? When this life feels surreal, dissociated as though I’m on a foreign planet with strangers.
Those moments often occurred when he didn’t have a case; they occurred before sleep and drove his nightly obsession.
“Living in Gray?” Vivienne shook her pretty head. “I believe in good and evil.”
“Then where do I fall? Or will you make excuses for me?”
“Non. I won’t make excuses for you. “
Her eyes hooded over; she took a step back. A door slammed between them, again.
“No cell phone, no ID,” she said. “Any footprints or tracks are covered by snow.”
“Let’s have someone check with the occupants of the hospital rooms facing the river.”
Westborough Hospital sat directly across the road. A magnificent feat of engineering, its four glass-walled buildings were connected by skyways. It had taken twenty years of fundraising to build (with its founding director recently fleeing to Nicaragua under allegations of embezzling some of those funds) and took up several square blocks.
Gray forced down the coffee. Already, warmth and caffeine coursed through his system, bringing life to his numb toes tucked inside the slush-soaked loafers. “Did you check with missing persons?”
“Only one recent report matches. Norman Everett of Rosedale Avenue in Upper Westmount. He’s only been gone since last night and reported missing by his step-son, Simon Everett. And of note, Norman’s a doctor at Westborough Hospital.”
Gray’s head shot up. “Missing since last night, and works at this particular hospital? The timing’s perfect. Give me his details. I’ll do the interview myself while you finish up here.”
She handed over the number, and he made the call to Norman Everett’s house, reaching the missing man’s wife, Gabrielle.
Before Vivienne could go, a Scene of Crime Officer jumped forward and handed Gray a transparent evidence bag.
“Found this by the tree over there, Chief.”
“It lay just under the snow. The city cleaned this area recently; hardly any debris around.”
Gray thanked him and looked down at the four by six-inch identity badge, examined the photo, and read the identifying details, gripping it tight enough that his fist blanched. The image blurred for the briefest second before clearing.
Vivienne rubbed her hands together. “What’s wrong?”
He didn’t trust his voice yet. A shoal of uncertainties flooded his chest. The case suddenly became more raw, more urgent, but he’d handle it. He always did. Gray unclenched his jaw and fingers, and handed her the evidence bag.
“The killer?” she asked.
“Look at that ID. Look what it says. You can’t be sure.”
“Yes, I can.” His tone came out harsher than he’d intended. He could guess her next words, and he’d deserve them. Does anything matter, now? Will you be able to control your reactions? But she didn’t say it. Didn’t point out the one circumstance that sliced his calm with the efficiency of a scalpel. Instead, she met his eyes in a gentle embrace before moving farther up the beach.
Bells sounded from St. Francis, the eighteenth-century cathedral up the road for the Angelus prayer. Quebec had the largest Catholic population in the country, and maybe as a result, the lowest church attendance and marriage rate. But the familiar ringing comforted and smoothed the sharp edges of his morning.
Gray left the cordoned off area, crossed the breadth of the beach park, and headed to the attached parking lot and his car; the black metallic exterior gleamed in the distance.
At one time, the Audi S5 had consumed a substantial chunk of his detective’s salary, but he hadn’t cared. Memories of countless family road trips lay etched within its metal frame.
Still twenty feet away, he pressed the automatic start to warm the engine, just as Seymour summoned him from behind.
The doctor jogged over sporting a wry smile, breath steaming in the cold air, and his long coat flapping. Behind him, the van carrying the body left the parking lot.
“I forgot to ask you earlier – about your next expedition,” Seymour said. “Mind having some company?”
“I failed last time,” Gray said. “Or hadn’t you heard?”
“A fourteen-hundred-kilometer trek to the South Pole, on foot, is hardly a failure.”
“It is if you can’t make the journey back. Anyway–”
A boom drowned out his words. The earth shook, and air blasted towards them, throwing Gray to the ground onto his right shoulder, pain searing up his arm. Chunks of metal and debris flew from the newly obliterated Audi in every direction, denting nearby cars and clanging against the pavement. A puff of smoke shot upward, chasing the flames, leaving the smell of burning rubber and metal hanging in a thick cloud – while cars on the nearby road screeched to a sudden halt. The fire swayed as though alive, angry arms flailing and crackling, spitting sparks in all directions.
“What the hell!” Seymour lay in the snow, his mouth open, his arm up to ward off the scorching heat.
Gray’s car lay mutilated, the black paint graying as it burned. People jumped out of their vehicles to take a look. Vivienne and some officers ran towards him, their feet pounding on the asphalt.
“Someone is damn pissed off at you,” Seymour said, eying his own dented Mercedes. He turned to Gray. “What did you do?”
About the Author
A MYSTERY; A BEACH; A BEER: Ritu’s favorite vacation day.
Ritu’s first book, His Hand In the Storm has had nearly 50,000 downloads. It became an AMAZON BESTSELLER in the Kindle free store and was #1 in all its mystery categories. She needs coffee (her patch for Coca Cola), beaches, and murder mysteries to survive – not necessarily in that order. She won the Colorado Gold Award for the first in the Chief Inspector Gray James Murder Mystery Series, His Hand In the Storm. The book was also a Daphne du Maurier Suspense finalist.
She’s fulfilling her lifelong desire of becoming a mystery writer. Many thanks to all the readers who are making that possible.
I’m a monster. A literal monster. But I’m a “good” kind of monster. You know, like the serial killers who kill the drug dealers, rapists, and general scum of the earth.
The difference between those serial killers and me? I’m only part human; two-thirds of me is werepire. That’s right, werewolf and vampire. It’s not fun, but I make due. I’m also a therapist; the one these scum pay to… talk to. I listen, sure. But then I have my own personal brand of justice. It gets messy, so if you plan to stick around, might I suggest you wear a rubber suit?
Other Books in the Dr. van Wolfe Saga
Dr. van Wolfe Saga, Book Two
Publisher: Blacksheep Press
Published: December 2018
It turns out I have residents in the castle dungeons. They’re pretty helpful and we get along famously. I think I’m going to like having them around.
I’m still trapped inside my own body with these idiot monsters, but there’s good news. Dr. Fleming Heilsong heard about my search for a cure through a colleague and contacted me to offer his help. I can’t lie, this whole thing makes me nervous. I don’t want to die but the werepireism grows stronger every day. I’m fighting for my life – my very soul. Some days I think I’ll lose it altogether and so does Teddy.
How much longer can I hold on? Or will the monsters take control?
Let’s go back to how this all started. Call it a trip back in time, if you like. About four years ago, I, Dr. Miranda van Wolfe was not a doctor. I was still in school earning my Bachelor and Master Degrees. I was also a universe traveler, though I did not know it in the very beginning.
It started with a dream, or what I thought was a dream. That following weekend, I heard a voice and not just any voice – not something that sounded human, anyway. It told me it was going to take me to another universe to set things right there, so the universe I lived in and the one I was being sent to fix would merge. It really started simply and nicely enough.
Then things started getting…weird. The universe started referring to the trips it sent me on as errands, and finally, the last trip was a mission. I had saved my friends and family over and over. I even had a partner until that last mission. What I did not ever know, until the very end, was that I was not fully human. During an errand to an alternate universe to save my friend and her family, I fought, and killed, a magical werewolf with my own formidable magic. During that battle, I had been scratched and magically healed myself. I was never able to figure out how until my universe traveling days were over about a year ago. I all just…ended. Stopped dead in its tracks. Hah, stopped dead, what a reference, Miranda.
You see, that last mission was a battle for the entire fate of the multiverse. There was a woman named Venus who was able to control people’s minds just by whispering into their ear. My partner Xavier and I had gone to this universe (I had also earned my doctorate the day we left for that universe). So here I am, being sent on a mission with a man-child I am absolutely infuriated with because he missed my graduation that day, and we wind up in some 1940s style Twilight Zone. I was stuck in a dress half the time and finally managed to get some gear that allowed me to actually fight without flouncing around like a floofball.
Anyway, I got dark, and by dark, I mean my soul almost left me and had I not still had a part of me that was, err, is, human, it would be gone right now. So Xavier and I had to go meet up with his doppelganger in 1940s Twilight Zone to get whatever information on Venus we could, seeing how he was already under Venus’ mind control. There is no way to nicely tell you what I did to that poor man, but suffice it to say I did not kill him. The weird part was he was so grateful to me for saving his life and breaking the mind hold he let me stay with him until this whole mind control business was finished. He even bought me clothes, fed me…gave up his bed to me! I am pretty sure I will never again meet a human that incredibly grateful.
About the Author
Amanda Byrd has a love of horror and borderline obsession with fictional serial killers. She frequently makes Hannibal, Harry Potter, and Dexter references in “normal” conversation. She is also a full-time psychology major. When not writing, Amanda can be found reading, playing video games, or watching shows and movies like Mindhunter, Hannibal, Harry Potter, or Dexter. Amanda currently resides in Tampa, Florida with her husband and two cats.
Seventeen-year-old Kelly is in a spartan boarding school in northern Idaho, sent away for drugs—as planned. Her little brother Sammy is left home in Missouri, getting ready for high school. He is twitchy, quick, writes dark poetry and longs to play football. He’s also got a nose for trouble, and Kelly has left a sordid truckload. Her sadistic ex is involved, so is one twisted teacher, and so is the object of Sammy’s crush. He’s in deep, and Kelly’s warnings fall flat, and the consequences will be dire.
About the Author
After adolescence survived in the Midwest and a few obligatory years at the university, Idyllwild Eliot embarked on a journey of internal and external exploration. With stints in Houston, Louisiana, and even Thailand, where she studied yoga, Ms. Eliot has become a semi-professional vagabond. Most recently (at the time of publication) she has been experiencing the North American west. If not sipping a cocktail on a deck in the northern Rockies, she might be found bodysurfing in Southern California, watching Bald Eagles in Montana, or in some other picturesque town hiking, meditating, or sitting with her laptop open and, at its side, a stout mug of black coffee. Well Below Heaven is her debut.
The Portrait is a story about three people from different cultures struggling to live through the social evolution of the 1960s. The lives of a Latino trapeze artiste, a Black man survivor-of-the-streets, and the White daughter of a wealthy Bible publisher, were thrown together during the tumult and the violence of bigotry and racial hatred, during the Civil Rights Era. The challenges in each of their lives are not unlike the soul-searching that each of us faces in our own daily struggle to remain true to ourselves, and maintain a connection to the biblical commandment; “Love your neighbor as yourselves.” A challenge not easily embraced along with the admonition that all men are created equally. This is a story that has echoes and repercussions in our present-day circumstances, as we struggle to bring truth, justice, and peace to our lives. This story is a repeat of the words from George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
About the Author
Whitney J. LeBlanc is a Louisiana native. He has credits as a teacher, set designer, theatre/television director, writer and stained glass designer. He holds a Master’s degree from the University of Iowa. He has spent over half of his fifty-year professional career as a Hollywood director of sitcoms and daytime dramas. LeBlanc lives in the Napa Valley with his Physician wife, where he writes novels and creates stained glass windows.