Mystery Musings

Thought I’d write a little short-short story for you:

Seth pulled on his line, but it was stuck on something.  He scanned the water near the shore.  No fallen log that he could see.  Maybe it was submerged.  He pulled harder and whatever he’d snagged started to move.  He reeled in his line and noticed a red sweatshirt rise within sight.  A body soon became visible, floating face down.  Whoever it was, he was so bloated, Seth didn’t recognize him until he reeled him into the shallow water.  Even then, he might not have known who it was except for the flame tattoos reaching up his neck to his hair line.

Billy Sanderson.  The meanest know-it-all in Dillard County.  Seth walked closer to get a better look at him.  The back of his skull was cracked open–a long, narrow gape like maybe he’d been hit from behind with a crowbar.  Seth was no expert, but it looked as if he’d been in the water a while.  He thought back to remember when Billy had gone missing.  Two months ago?  In early spring?

There’d been a ruckus for a while, and the sheriff had questioned Billy’s wife, Lizbeth.  Her black eye and bruises attested to Billy’s handiwork.  He’d asked her when she’d last seen her husband.

“Two days after he beat me.  He said he got a job out of town, and he wanted me to move with him.”  She shook her head.  “If I left Dillard, and he didn’t have to answer to my brothers, he’d beat me every time he felt like it.  When I told him that, he said he was gonna give me a better whopping than usual so I’d remember him and mind my manners till he came home.”

The foreman at the quarry where Billy worked, and where Seth was fishing, told the sheriff that Billy had strutted into his office the day he went missing and quit.  “Told me he had a better job with more money, and he didn’t need to put up with me anymore.”

He’d told Carrie Mae the same thing when he stopped in the diner for lunch that day.  No one saw him after that.  The sheriff asked Lizbeth’s brothers about Billy, but they swore he stayed clear of them, because he knew what was coming if they saw him.  Lizbeth’s brothers were built like grizzlies.  Why a  man would risk their tempers, Seth didn’t know.

Seth glanced at Billy’s body again, then rubbed his chin, thinking.  He started to reach for his cellphone but stopped.  He liked Lizbeth’s brothers.  The foreman here, too.  And he’d always felt sorry for Lizbeth.  He didn’t particularly like Billy’s parents or family, and they didn’t seem to miss Billy all that much.  If he called this in, someone would probably be punished for bashing in Billy’s head and dumping him in the quarry, but Seth was pretty sure Billy had probably deserved what happened to him.

A rowboat was tied to the pier a little ways away.  Employees took it out to fish once in a while.  No one was here so early on a Sunday morning, so Seth walked down, got in the boat, and rowed it to where Billy floated.  He pulled in close to shore, got his pole, and started rowing out to the deepest part of the quarry, dragging Billy’s body behind him.  A little island jutted from the water, and he pulled the boat to land there.  Rocks littered the ground, and he stuffed as many of them as he could under Billy’s sweatshirt, even pushed them under his jeans.  Then he got back in the boat, rowed the short distance to the deep water.  That took some effort, since the body wanted to sink, but his fishing line held, and he didn’t cut it until he’d reached the spot he was looking for.

He watched Billy sink out of sight.  Hopefully the fabric of his clothes would pin him to the bottom until enough flesh had rotted from his bones that he wouldn’t float again.  That done, Seth rowed back to the pier and tied the boat in place.  He got his fishing pole and tackle box and decided to call it a day.  As he loaded his pickup and drove back to town, he heard the church bells ringing at the end of Sunday service.  Lizbeth and her brothers never missed a week.  Neither did the quarry’s foreman.  But Seth didn’t feel one twinge of guilt for playing hooky this time.  Instead of worshipping, he’d performed a good deed.  And hopefully, on the Lord’s day, good deeds did go unpunished.

 

 

Snippet

This comes from my Muddy River short read, UNDER SIEGE.  Once you read it, you might understand why I chose the cover I did for it.  It’s only 99 cents now.

I sent birds ahead of us to search for the hospital van. An hour later, a flock returned to us on the country road Strike knew they’d taken. Swooping and cawing, they led us to the vehicle. Both the driver’s and passenger’s doors were open. Deep grooves lined the soft dirt at the side of the road. It looked as though Tianne and Hans had been dragged into the tall grasses. We followed the trail and stopped short when we saw their bodies.

Tianne’s eyes and mouth gaped wide in horror. Flies walked across her eyeballs, flew in and out of her open lips. I couldn’t stand it. I sent a stiff breeze to blow them away. Her abdomen was ripped open, an empty cavity, the flesh torn off her limbs. Blood pooled on the grass and weeds beneath her. I pressed a hand to my stomach. I refused to retch. I didn’t want to sniff for magic, but there were no other marks on her that I could see, so I made myself. Disgusting. But I only smelled fear and blood. I had just as much trouble looking at Hans. His head had rolled a little away from his torso, leaving only a bloody stump for a neck. He’d been chewed on, but nothing like Tianne.

Strike’s face drained of all color, and he turned away. I couldn’t imagine what he must be feeling. It’s bad enough losing a sister, but to see her like this? I shivered and rubbed my arms. He could never UN-see it. It would stick in his memory forever. Amaris laid a hand on his arm, trying to soothe him. Brown and Raven’s hands were curled into fists. Meda had turned her face away.

Finally, Raven rasped, “Let’s spread out to look for evidence of who or what killed them. Maybe we can find out what we’re up against.”

Gratefully, we turned away from the remains and started our search. Claws stayed close to my side. If something or someone had surprised the other victims, they wouldn’t catch my ocelot off guard. He’d smell them before they were close. I passed a few scrub bushes and frowned at faint marks in the soft dirt. Stooping, I studied the ground more closely, then called, “I found paw prints.”

The others came to see.

“Not big enough for any Were I know,” Brown said. “I’ve never seen any shifter this small.”

“A coyote?” Meda asked.

“Maybe, but if it was this size, it couldn’t kill someone with any kind of magic. Was your sister powerful at all?” Brown asked Strike.

His voice unsteady, Strike said, “Powerful enough. She was half vampire.”

Claws bent his head to sniff the ground and started following the scent. We trailed behind him. I took the front so that if we came on something, I could throw up a fast, protective shield while the others got ready to fight.

Raven pointed to the trampled grass and weeds. “We’re dealing with a good-sized group. I’ve seen a few footprints. Someone’s traveling with whatever animals there are.”

Strike’s fangs had slipped past his lips, and his nails had grown and curved into vicious claws. He was too upset to control them. If we met his sister’s killers, he’d bulk up even more. It would be a blood bath.

I tugged the zipper on my heavy coat higher. The area was so open, the wind hit us full blast. I pulled my knit cap out of my pocket and yanked it over my ears. I wished I’d brought my gloves. Then Raven touched me and sent heat through my fingers and palms. My fingers could move again, less stiff. There were advantages to living with a fire demon.

We tramped up a small hill and then down it into a ravine. We followed that for a long time. Raven asked Strike, “Does someone have a vendetta against your family or the settlement you left?”

“Not that I know of. We lived in peace with the mortals we knew. I never expected the predator to follow us. I thought it was picking us off because we were convenient prey.” His gaze scanned the area, his muscles bunched, ready to spring into action.

Raven turned to me next. “If this was a monster, you’d smell some kind of magic, wouldn’t you?”

My nose started to drip, and I had to press a Kleenex to it. “I haven’t gotten one whiff of magic of any kind.”

We kept walking and finally came into a clearing. A fire pit surrounded by stones sat in its center. A large rectangle of grass and weeds was matted down.

“The size of a tent.” I sniffed again. This time because of the cold, but also to look for a scent. “No magic. I think we’re dealing with humans.”

 

Snippet

This snippet is from Muddy River Three:  ALL THE MISSING CHILDREN.  Prim Tallow, a Fae who lives in Muddy River, married the town’s bartender, Derek–a vampire.  They’ve been sending money to help a new supernatural community that’s started up on the Mississippi River.  Prim grows worried when she can’t get in touch with anyone there for three days.  She convinces Hester and Raven to drive there to check on them, and she and Derek go with them.  They join a supernatural law enforcer for the area to see what’s happened. 

A half hour later, we set off, Raven driving my SUV west toward the Mississippi. Claws curled on the backseat, and I fell asleep with my head propped on a pillow, pressed to the passenger window. Raven had told me once that he could go days without sleep when he was on a case. Witches might not have to sleep, but I sure enjoyed it. And I was a lot less grumpy when I could get my eight hours.

That wouldn’t happen tonight. Raven didn’t know a speed limit, so we’d cross the Mississippi into Missouri sooner rather than later. My night’s sleep would feel more like a nap. But I’d be with Raven. And that’s what mattered.

Nyte was waiting for us at the ferry crossing. His name fit him. Longish, ebony hair framed a lean face. His eyes were so dark, they looked black. He wasn’t exactly handsome, but compelling. About the same height as Derek, he was still inches shy of Raven’s height.

He strode forward to shake hands with my demon. “Haven’t seen you for a while.”

“Maybe three years? Probably a good thing. We only work the worst cases together.” Raven introduced all of us and when he included Claws, Nyte’s black brows rose in surprise.

“Your group is quite a mix. Did the new settlement have this many different types of supernaturals?”

Prim shook her head. “Most of them were shifters and vampires with only a few witches. The witches were all younger, not very well trained. I was hoping to travel here with Hester someday so that she could teach them more spells and potions.”

I’d wondered why the town wasn’t protected by wards and shields to fend off whatever had attacked them. From what Prim said, maybe they didn’t know how.

We boarded the ferry and rode to the far side of the river, then Nyte drove off, staying in the lead to guide us to the settlement. He drove as fast as Raven, zipping alongside the banks of the Mississippi so fast, I couldn’t make out much of anything. I could smell the river water, though, heated by the early August sun. A combination of fish and murky mud. We only headed north a few minutes before a dozen small houses came into view. Every one of them was built shotgun style, long and narrow with a second story. Only three buildings formed the town center—a market, a gas station, and a school.

As we clamored out of our vehicles, I frowned. “A school? How many young children lived here?”

“Every family had kids,” Prim said.

Nyte turned to stare at her. “I didn’t find any kids’ bodies. I didn’t find any kids period.”

“No kids?” Prim marched toward the too-still town. No voices drifted from the houses. No lawn mowers broke the quiet. No kids on bicycles pedaled on the sidewalks. “That’s not possible,” she called over her shoulder. “I’ve talked to every adult who lived here at one time or another. They all had children.”

“Follow me.” Nyte hurried to catch up with her and led her to the last house on the street. He had the smooth, easy glide of all vampires. Opening the door, he led us inside. Claws padded behind us, then arched his back and hissed. My ocelot wasn’t fond of dead bodies.

Prim glanced at the house number as we entered. “White Tip and her husband lived here, a shifter and a vampire.”

Nyte motioned us up the stairs and led us to the first bedroom on the right. A man lay on the floor in pajama bottoms and a woman lay next to him, dressed in a long nightgown. Nyte bent to turn them over, and we saw the bite marks covering their faces, necks, and shoulders. Claws growled deep in his throat and backed up so that he was half in, half out of the room.

Raven pressed his lips together in a tight line. I waved my hand over the bodies, looking for residual magic. “Serpent bites and venom from some supernatural being. Nothing I can identify.”

Nyte scrubbed a hand through his dark hair. “There are so many bites. I thought it must be a swarm of something that attacked them.”

“Flying serpents?” I asked. “Are there any such things?”

“I’ve never dealt with any.” Raven started to another room. We followed him. Empty. A pink comforter with kittens prancing on it lay rumpled, half on the bed, half on the floor. He went to the last bedroom. It was empty, too. This comforter was blue, covered with toy trains. He looked at Prim.   “How old were their kids?”

She leaned into Derek, and he wrapped her in an embrace. Voice strangled, she said, “Auriel was five. Tad was seven.”

The names made it more personal. The comforters bothered me even more. Every school day, I taught kids aged five to eighteen. I had a thing for them. Loved watching them grow into their potential. Where were these two? What had happened to them?

Raven yanked a piece of folded paper out of his back pocket and a pen. He handed them to Prim. “Let’s start listing names of the dead and the missing.”

We went from house to house, and Prim told us the name of each parent and names of their missing children. True to her word, every house had kids’ beds or cribs. My stomach started feeling queasy. Too many dead bodies. And too many horrible possibilities of what had happened to the kids. I tried to push fears out of my mind, but they crept into all of the unguarded crevices of my psyche. I shut them there. I didn’t want to think about them.

Snippet

Since each of my Muddy River books is on sale for 99 cents, I thought I’d try to tempt you with Book Two this week.  Raven has a surprise for Hester:

Where was the man taking me? We hadn’t even packed any food, and I’d learned from experience that my demon loves his luxuries. I shook my head. I could guess all I wanted, but it wouldn’t do any good. I settled back to enjoy the ride.

Indiana in summer stretched out like a lush landscape of verdant green. The miles flew by, the music relaxed me, and we were turning onto a narrow dirt drive before I realized it. I sat up to concentrate more on my surroundings. Lots of trees.   Wherever we were going was private and secluded. And then I saw it.

A small, pristine lake sparkled in front of us with a large log cabin situated at the end of the lane. The dirt road curved to follow the lake’s shores, and a dozen tiny cabins clustered at its far tip. No cars were parked in any of the driveways.

“Did you rent the entire thing?”

His grin tilted, cocky. “I bought it. I thought it would be fun to be able to get away from Muddy River once in a while, to take short mini-vacations.”

“And the cabins at the end?”

“Your coven might want a weekend gathering spot once in a while, maybe come here to celebrate each solstice. And we could let friends use them, even if we’re not here. But the big cabin’s just for us, our private sanctuary.”

Excitement buzzed through me. I loved Muddy River, but sometimes, it felt like living in a goldfish bowl. Everyone knew our business. He parked at the cabin, and I threw my arms around him. “You’re brilliant.”

But it turns into a shock:

Claws growled, and I returned my attention to him. He stalked off toward the end of the lake where the small cabins were clustered.

Raven’s lips pressed into a tight line. “Your cat’s too upset. I have a bad feeling about this.”

So did I.

He led us to the last cabin in the group and Raven scowled at its open door. “I didn’t leave this unlocked.”

My stomach knotted. I wasn’t sure I wanted to look inside, but Raven pushed the door wider and we both stared at a man and a woman lying on the floor, their skin stretched tight over their skeletal bones. Every ounce of blood or life force had been sucked out of them.

Happy Book Birthday to THE BODY IN THE APARTMENT!

Sorry.  I can’t help it.  It’s too exciting when one of my books finally comes out.  So I have to share that The Body in the Apartment is officially on sale today.  Hooray and Happy Dance!  And for the first time ever, the audible for the book came out on the same day as the ebook.  A first for me.  On top of that, I’m getting good reviews.  I might float all day.

THE-BODY-IN-THE-APARTMENT-1--(can share AFTER it comes out in March)

https://www.kensingtonbooks.com/book.aspx/39309

Here’s the cover for the audiobook.  Pretty cool, huh?

The-Body-in-the-apartment_--audio cover

Thanks for sharing in my celebration.  And hope you have a happy, wonderful St. Patrick’s Day!

More TV, No Reading

My grandson’s on leave, and he stayed with us all last week.  Awesome!  This week, he’s staying in Indy to see his mom and his brother and his wife.  We’ll probably drive down to see him one more time before he flies back to California, but we sure loved seeing him while it was our turn.

Reading is pretty much a solitary endeavor, so I didn’t do any of it while he was here.  He’s not a voracious reader, even though he still manages now and then.  Like HH, he likes nonfiction more than fiction.  But during his stay, since TV and movies are more social, that’s what we did in the evenings.  He brought most of the shows on his laptop for us to watch, but on Thursday, we waffled about what to try, and I talked him into watching Ford vs. Ferrari.  He and HH weren’t sure they could trust me (I’ve talked them into one English mystery too many), but they got even more into the movie than I did–and I really enjoyed it.

I’m not a car person, and I usually have to make myself sit through movies about racing, but the characters in the movie were so well done–and the small mindedness and pettiness of the Ford executives so irritating–that the tension between men who love cars and men who focus on selling them to climb the corporate ladder drew me in.  Wonderful acting.  Wonderful story.

HH and I, somehow, have gotten out of the habit of watching movies.  I didn’t realize how much I miss them until Nate’s visit.  HH and I have made a pinkie pledge to start renting one every weekend–IF there’s one that looks good.  But we’re so far behind, if every new movie is a bust, we have hundreds of old ones we missed.  At least, that’s our intention.  For now.  But you know how life goes.  Pretty soon, it will be warm outside, and we’ll sit on our favorite couches later than usual.  So it might be easy to slip into plop fanny on sofa and read mode.  We’ll see.

Hope you find the time to read a good book, watch a good movie, or write a great scene.  So, for now, happy writing!

Fishing for Plots #Plotting #StoryEmpire #WIPs

What kinds of plots do you hook? A great comparison by Mae Clair.

Story Empire

Hi, SEers! It’s Mae Day on Story Empire, and I’m here to talk plotting—and fishing. 

Early in our marriage, my husband introduced me to flounder fishing. That attachment eventually evolved into crabbing, clamming, and a long stretch of boat ownership, but in the beginning, it was all about catching the coveted flounder.

I quickly learned there were several types of fish and sea critters attracted by the bait I dangled in the water and not all were desirable. Kind of like plots.  Sound crazy? Let me put it in perspective:

SeaRobin_LongIslandSound1 This is a Sea Robin
Photo courtesy of Versageek via Wikimedia Commons

JUNK FISH
When you’re fishing for flounder, just about everything else falls into the category of “junk fish.” The most common junk fish we’d hook were sea robins. These guys will never win a beauty contest. If you don’t believe me, take a gander at the…

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