The Baying Witness

Sheriff Delton Ross shifted in his chair. Through his office window, he watched late-August heat waves rise from the department parking lot. Halfheartedly, the sixty-year-old Ross listened to the improbable tale coming from the mouth of Ennis Archer.

She was a local woman, a sister to Dave Fairmont, the man who had recently run off and abandoned his wife of the last thirty years. The whole town of Willow Grove had heard the story.

Dave had left a letter for Lila upon his departure, and she’d run around showing the entire town its contents.

Case closed to his mind; had been for months, except for Ennis.

“I’m telling you Delt, my brother wouldn’t take off like that. Not without getting in touch with one of us. The ones he really loved. Somehow, sometime.”

That was a fact, Ross thought. The Fairmonts had always been more of a clan than a family. They were a tough bunch to get inside. Still, it was odd that the man hadn’t been heard from.

“And then there’s Edgar,” Ennis continued with a firm nod.

“Edgar? Edgar who?” Ross couldn’t believe Lila had taken up with another man already. She hadn’t seemed like the type. Besides, he couldn’t think of a single man in Hartford County named Edgar. Where’d this fellow come from?

“He’s the neighbor’s dog,” Ennis added, as though she had read Ross’ thoughts. “That poor thing sits and howls over that rose garden of Lila’s, day in and day out. Lila’s even built a fence to keep the beast away from her land. But the dog just sits on the other side of that fence and howls, anyway.”Ennis’s hard, gray-green eyes gave the sheriff a look that said, “There, now. What do you think of that?”

Ross blinked before leaning forward in his chair. Ennis now had his full attention. “What kind of dog is it?” Ross asked, taking care to keep his deep voice neutral. An avid sportsman, Ross knew his dogs. This could mean something, but he sure didn’t want to get this woman any more riled up than she already was.

“Oh, heavens,” Ennis answered. “How on earth would I know?”

Ross bit back a sigh and slumped back in his seat. “Which neighbor of hers is it that has this dog?”

“Ed Bracken. He lives in the house just behind Lila’s.” Ennis studied the sheriff a moment, then asked, “You gonna go out there? You gonna follow this up?” Continue reading “The Baying Witness”

My Hetty Fox Cozy Mystery, High Stakes Is Free Today

High Stakes (3)This is your chance to read my cozy mystery short, High Stakes, for free. In this short novella, Hetty sets out to find her grandson’s escaped gerbil but turns up a corpse instead. It takes resident ghost Andrew to convince Hetty to go after the killer. It’s the very least her grandson would expect of her. The book is available at Amazon.

In other news, I’m still hard at work for you on Old Bones, which is the third book in this series. I hope to have it out in late June or early July. Also next week, I’ll be running the short story, A Long Way Home. as a freebie. It features Angela Clark, who after enduring her husband’s murder, now faces an attempt on her own life. Living in small towns can at times, she learns, be murder.

Thanks for reading!

Launching a New Cozy Mystery Series

With one cozy mystery series underway, I’ve decided to launch a second series. While the first series focuses on two young women just starting out in life, this one features a weathered and wizened sleuth. Hetty Fox has a nose for scoping out trouble. But first she needs to resolve the problem in her own house.

Here’s the first chapter of my current effort. This is a rough draft and is subject to revision:

Bones & Boxes

Chapter One

“Admit it. You’re thrilled I’m here.”

I pulled more yarn from my skein of wool and kept on knitting. I didn’t believe in ghosts.

“Hetty,” he said, “tell me that you still care about me.”

I harrumphed. Visits from dead sweethearts didn’t happen. This thing wasn’t real.

Yet an exact image of Andrew Peters hovered in my living room. Dark hair, dark eyes, dark shirt. He looked entirely the same as he had in his youth, while I would turn sixty-five next month —  and looked every minute of it.

“You’re still beautiful to me,” he said.

I paused to count my stitches.

How dreadful  of me to pull up an image from my youth and put such flattering words in its mouth. Was I really that desperate?

Outside the winter wind whipped around the corners of the house. I pulled free more yarn and shook my head.

Obviously, I needed to get back out into the world. I’d spent too much time locked up alone in this house. But there had been all the unpacking to finish. Plus, my cat had been terribly upset by the move. He had only recently settled back to his normal self.

The ghost moved closer to me.

My fingers faltered. My breath caught in my throat.

“I am not your imagination,” he said.

Yeah, right.

But my gaze flitted back to the creature. His image pulled at my heart. I’d loved him completely in my youth. But shortly before high school graduation, he’d died in a deadly car crash.

Now, he hovered before me in my living room.

I glanced down at Alfred. The cat  looked up at me and blinked. He yawned. He stretched. He turned onto his side. I found his calm behavior comforting. If this ghost were real, Alfred would be hissing and bounding about the room.

The phone rang. I shoved my knitting aside, fled to the kitchen, and drew the receiver to my ear. “Hello?”

“Hetty?” a woman’s voice asked.

“Yes, Rose, how are you?”

She and I had met in the mystery section of the library a couple of weeks ago. We’d learned we were both widows who loved mystery books and had formed an instant bond.

“I’m a little stressed at the moment,” my new friend said.

“What’s the matter?”

“I’d rather not say on the phone. Can you come over?”

I listened to the wind roar outside. It was a bitterly cold night. Then, I glanced back at the thing hovering in the center of my living room, its feet not quite touching the floor.

“I’ll be right there,” I said.

Alfred meowed.

“Guard the house,” I told him. “And while you’re at it, chase that thing…. away.”

If only solving my problems could have been that easy,

***

In short order, I was out on the sidewalk, my coat collar gripped tightly about my neck. Both Rose’s house and mine sat atop a steep cliff in a small town located near the middle of Illinois. The dwellings came with a stunning view of the Illinois River and the houses beyond its rushing waters.

As for the town, Hendricksville didn’t have much to offer. A big box store and two nursing homes were its main attractions. Even its trees were old. But at least they were tall, and graceful. and provided welcome shade in summer. But at night, when lights from the windows in the houses below twinkled in the clear air, I found the house a charming place to live.

If it weren’t for this wrinkle with the ghost, I could be quite happy here.

I gave  myself a mental shake and scurried on, covering the short distance between Rose’s house and mine in record time. When I reached  her porch, Rose threw back the door before I’d even knocked..

She beamed at me. “You are a dear for coming.”

My new friend was an attractive  woman with twinkling blue eyes and a bright smile under a full head of fluffy, white hair. Once a sales clerk in a shopping mall, she was now retired.  She ushered me to the kitchen. “It’s not a fit night for man nor beast out there.”

“At least it’s not snowing yet.”

She took my coat, hat, and scarf. “Tea?” she asked.

“Yes, that would be lovely.” I stamped my feet to warm them up.

The room I stood in fit the town. Antiques were the norm here, and Rose’s house fulfilled that pattern. A pine hutch displayed old china. A braided rug lent warmth to the wide-board floor. Her cat laid stretched out in front of the heating vent. It  lifted its head briefly to view my entry, then returned to its winter’s nap. I smiled, he certainly had his priorities straight.

I sat at the small drop-leaf table and watched as Rose carried a tray containing a  tea-pot with matching sugar and creamer toward me. The set was obviously old and had violets painted on its cream-white surface. She settled the tray on the table and seated herself opposite me. “Sorry to have called you out on such a nasty night, but I’m so worried.”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s Carrie Flynt,” she said. She grabbed the pot and poured the dark, steaming liquid into one of the dainty cups. “Do you know her?”

“The name doesn’t sound familiar,” I said, nodding my thanks for the mug of steaming tea she slid before me.

“You probably wouldn’t. You haven’t had time to meet many people yet.. Plus. she’s about ten years older than we are.”

“Is she in  trouble?” I lifted the cup and blew across its surface,

Rose sighed. “I’ve been checking on her daily for about a month now. She can’t afford to pay for the service. So I started calling her… just to check on her as a friend.” Rose shrugged. “I touch base about six each night. But tonight, she didn’t answer. And that was even with me calling back several times. It’s been three hours now, and I’m so worried.”

“Maybe she’s visiting family… or perhaps she’s gone on a vacation.”

“I don’t think so. I made myself very clear.  If she was going to be away from home, she was to let me know. So far, she’s always done so.”

“How can I help?”

“I have a key in case of emergencies. I feel I should go over and check on her. But I can’t face doing it alone.”

“You want me to go with you?”

“Exactly.”

“Of course, I’ll go. Hopefully, you’re making too much of this. But I can understand your concern. If she’s fallen, it would be criminal of us to leave her laying there.”

Rose let out a sigh of relief. “On such an awful night, I was afraid you’d think it terribly nervy of me, calling you out of your warm home.”

“Nonsense.” I gulped down another swallow of tea and rose from the chair. “Does she live far?”

“Not really. Come on. We’ll take my car.”

We’d tossed on coats, and a short time later Rose pulled her little Honda from the garage and pointed its nose south. At Wilmot Street she turned right and proceeded straight for another two blocks. She slowed at the beginning of the next block and eased the car to the curb  before a two-story house.

“This is it?” I asked, eyeing the dwelling. Not a light shone from any of its windows.

“Yes.” Rose switched off the engine.

We stepped out of the car and took off down the sidewalk. The strong wind hurried us along. Rose fished a key from her coat pocket. I could tell from the deep lines on her face that she was worried. I crossed my fingers behind my back and prayed we weren’t walking into a disaster.

At the door, my friend knocked three times without raising anyone. She glanced at me for a quick second before inserting the key. Then, she swung the door open.

Backlit by the street light, I saw a long narrow hallway stretch out toward  the back of the home. To its right, a stairway rose to the upper floor.

“Carrie?” Rose called out.

I felt along the wall  and found a light switch. I flipped it on. An overhead light bathed the hall in a brilliant glare. Everything looked normal. Pictures hung on the walls. A small table in the far corner boasted a lamp and a small piece of decorative china. Nothing had been disturbed. Nothing was broken.

“How about you look around down here,” Rose asked. “I’ll check the second floor.”

“Fair enough.”

I crossed the hall to a set of French doors and entered the living room. Again I turned on lights. In the distance, the furnace rumbled. The scent of vanilla from a bowl of potpourri caught my nose. I checked the rest of the room for signs of trouble but found none. After I’d satisfied myself with the living room, I entered the dining room.

Again, all things seemed to be in their correct places.

I was just about to step into the kitchen, when something to my left attracted my attention. It was almost hidden by the dining room table. I bent over to get a better look. And when I realized what the object was, I instantly bounded up and screamed.

The Case of the Missing Elf is today’s Free Read

ElfCome one. Come all. The Case of the Missing Elf is free today at Amazon. Follow the exploits of Melanie Hart and her sidekick, Ginger Black, as they get to the bottom of what has happened to to this missing, elderly man. I mean, it’s the Christmas season. Ginger needs that blasted elf to keep Santa’s Cabin running smoothly. And, as is generally known, people who hack Ginger off often live to regret it. To download your free copy of this cozy mystery today, Click here.

Read the First Chapter from the Next Book

For those who have asked about the status of the next Melanie Hart Mystery, here’s the scoop. It’s well underway. The book is called Murder on the Slopes. I’m having a blast telling this story. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.

This post contains the First Chapter. I offer it with the warning that the piece is subject to revisions. Feel free to offer your comments on the story, the writing, whatever.

~~~

“I thought you made our reservation at least a week ago.” Ginger Black snapped. Her face was thunderous. The toe of her right shoe tapped out an irritated beat.

“But I did,” I protested.

Ginger and I stood before the front desk at the Cherry Hill Ski Lodge. We were on a getaway weekend, seeking to recover from our most recent round of murder and mayhem.

“So if you made the reservation,” Ginger complained, “why is this dear fellow saying he can’t find one?”

“I don’t know. It must be a glitch of some sort.” I only wished Ginger would keep her voice down. This was an upscale resort. Glancing around me at the well tailored people passing by, the British stiff upper lip seemed more the norm here.

The man behind the desk glanced over at me. “I can call around. See if there are any rooms to be had.”

I stared at him, sizing the man up. His name tag identified him as Troy Draper. He stood about six foot two, and he looked as though he’d been born to fly down a ski slope. But for now, he simply offered us a sympathetic smile.

“But I have reservations here,” I complained. I’d splurged on this trip. It was my thank you gift to Ginger for saving my life. Not two weeks ago I’d been under attack by a crazed killer. Only Ginger’s quick thinking had saved my hide. For her sake, I wanted this weekend to be perfect. I could hardly believe my plans had been so frustratingly derailed.

“I’m sorry,” Draper said, “but if you made a reservation, it’s not showing up on our computer.”  He reached for the telephone beside his right elbow. “Tell you what, I’ll make a few calls. The problem is, see, we’re so close to Valentine’s Day, the whole town may be booked up. But if there’s a free bed to be had anyplace in town, don’t worry, I’ll find it.”

That would be all well and good if our weekend weren’t special, but since it was, I wanted to stay here. I stiffened my spine and demanded to speak with the manager. I feared Ginger would grouse for two years if we got shunted off to some noname motel on the outskirts of town.

Draper returned his attention to me.  “Umm… our General Manager Mr. Conan is on duty. Would you like to speak to him?”

“I’d appreciate that, yes,” I said, trying hard to squeeze the venom out of my voice. After all, this probably wasn’t Draper’s fault. The responsibility was more likely due to some poor, overworked creature, who’d failed to key our reservation into the computer. Glitches happened. But they also should be freely admitted and fixed.

Draper pushed a button on the house phone. Soon another tall, good looking man joined our threesome. This one was about ten years older than Draper. And there was also a subtle suggestion in the way he held himself as he gazed at us that told me he enjoyed being in charge.

“I’m Kurt Conan, General Manager around here. How may I help you?” He was a broad man with a smooth voice, a chiseled chin, and a cold hand.

“I’m Melanie Hart.” I outlined our problem and pointed out that I’d been a satisfied guest here many times — which was an outrageous lie. But I knew repeat customers often scored perks with management-type folks. At that moment, I’d have lied to St. Peter if I thought it would get me a room here.

“Yes, well….” Conan straightened his tie, and in his eagerness practically hip checked his assistant out of the way. He started clicking computer keys.  “Ah…” he said a short time later, “you are in luck. We have a couple who are going to check out today, but not until late this afternoon. It’s not our usual arrangement, but they’re good customers.” He smiled at me sweetly.

“Anyway,” Conan continued, “their room should become available around six tonight. We can store your bags in the office until the room opens up. How does that sound?”

I nearly kissed the man until Ginger’s voice rose  up from beside me.

“Just where am I supposed to change?” she demanded. “I certainly don’t intend to head  out onto the slopes dressed like this.” She glanced down at her stylish slacks and sweater and jacket.

“No, of course not.” Conan laughed nervously. Ah… how about using the employee restroom to dress?  I can assure you complete privacy for as long as you like. Would that do?”

“I guess it will have to,” Ginger replied with a huff. She hated giving up on a righteous head of anger.

“And of course,” Conan added, “we’ll comp the first night of your stay as an apology for your inconvenience.”

“Thank you,” I said. Just because my father owned the small newspaper I worked for, didn’t mean I was flush with money.

Ginger merely grunted.

 

~~~

 

A Romantic Mystery Writer?

I’m currently working on my second novel, which has now morphed to a story titled Murderous Decisions. My heroine is battling her way through a host of issues, including a handsome attorney she’s recently met. Not the usual fare for mystery novels. But the romance angle is secondary to the mystery. Plus it’s part of the plot. And to make matter worse, Victoria Cross is married to a very nice guy.

So here’s today’s rough, unedited work. My only hope is that you enjoy it. The book’s working title is, Murderous Decisions.

Continue reading “A Romantic Mystery Writer?”